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Preseason Power Rankings No. 6: New Orleans Saints

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The Saints are in an interesting position.

There might not be a team in the NFL as good as the thing they do than the Saints are at throwing the football.

The combination of Sean Payton and Drew Brees continue to be one of the best coach-quarterback pairings, and now that the contract unpleasantness with tight end* Jimmy Graham is over, their offensive weapons are in place, mostly intact from last year.

But where does that get them?

When the top teams in the NFC are playing power football, can the Saints push beyond big fantasy stats with finesse?

They benefit by being different from the teams that topped the conference last year (the Panthers likewise want to play physically), but this year will be a test to see if that difference is meaningful.

Brees is still at the top of his game, but that might not be enough any more.

Strengths.

Did we mention Drew Brees was good at throwing the ball?

He threw for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions last year.

And with Graham paid, they still have an impressive array of targets.

Marques Colston is still producing at a high level, and even with a change in the backfield (more on that in a moment), they’re going to be able to move the ball.

Payton is tremendous at the chess match of offense, and incorporating some new guys into the scheme will allow them to develop that capability.

Adding first-round speedster Brandin Cooks should more than make up for the departure of Lance Moore, especially with Kenny Stills developing into a more dependable target.

Weaknesses.

Last year, the Saints’ defense might have been better than their offense, or perhaps it was just by contrast to the year before.

Rob Ryan transformed a group that set a league record for yards allowed in 2012, and it’s not as if they had a gigantic personnel upgrade.

Ryan was patching together parts, and injuries didn’t help.

But Junior Galette emerged as a legitimate outside linebacker option, and defensive end Cameron Jordan had a breakout year with 12.5 sacks.

The offseason’s big acquisition, safety Jairus Byrd, ought to be able to make a big impact, paired alongside Kenny Vaccaro. That enthusiasm was dampened a bit when Byrd needed back surgery, knocking him out of most of the offseason work.

The only problem is, the Saints still might not have sufficient personnel on that side of the ball, so regression is a real possibility.

They finally pared away some of the old parts on defense (cutting Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer), which might have been necessary.

But other than bringing in last-legs cornerback Champ Bailey, there wasn’t the kind of influx of talent they might have needed.

They improved last year based largely on energy and emotion, and we’ll see how long that lasts in the face of a talent discrepancy.

Changes.

The Saints traded a complementary running back, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a headline move.

But that back was Darren Sproles, who was such an integral part of their offense, catching 71 passes last year.

Replacing him will be a huge challenge, and they’re going to be relying on a deep group of backs.

Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram will likely get most of the carries, but Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet will need to make a big step to pick up the slack from Sproles’ departure.

Cooks might be the biggest beneficiary of the change, as they want to take advantage of his 4.3 speed. While it’s not a like-for-like replacement, he does have the same kind of game-changing ability as Sproles.

Camp Battles.

The Saints offensive line was a work in progress last year, but rookie Terron Armstead settled into a spot where they’re comfortable with him at left tackle. They were also able to hang onto right tackle Zach Strief and guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans return.

That leaves a hole in the middle, after Brian de la Puente left in free agency for Chicago.

Tim Lelito will get the first crack, but they brought veteran Jonathan Goodwin back for cover, giving them a reasonable competition.

It would also help if a young cornerback would step up opposite Keenan Lewis. They brought in Bailey, but all parties are probably best served if he’s able to limit his snaps a bit. Second-rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste gives them some new size at the position, which will enable them to match up better with the big wideouts in their division.

Prospects.

They’re going to be pretty good.

If the defense continues at last year’s pace, they can be very good.

But the Saints have problems local and national.

They play in perhaps the league’s deepest division, with the Falcons healthy and re-tooled and the Buccaneers on the upswing with Lovie Smith along with the defensively stout Panthers.

Then comes the matter of whether they can stand toe-to-toe with the Seahawks and 49ers to make a push for another title.

That makes the regular season of extreme importance. They’re a different team in their own building, so getting home field advantage might mean more to them than any team in the NFC.

If they can get it, the Saints could easily be a Super Bowl team.

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Seahawks add another long snapper

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 8: Khairi Fortt #54 of the New Orleans Saints warms up prior to a pre-season game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on August 8, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks signed rookie long snapper Nolan Frese Tuesday and released linebacker Khairi Fortt.

Frese tried out for the Seahawks Monday and becomes the third long snapper the team has signed this offseason. Andrew East was signed and later released and is now with the Raiders, and now the signing of Frese means he’ll compete with Drew Ferris for the team’s long snapping job when training camp opens in late July.

The Seahawks released Clint Gresham earlier this offseason. Gresham had been the team’s long snapper for the last six seasons.

Ferris signed with the Seahawks in March. He was briefly with the Jets last season.

Fortt has bounced around the league the last two seasons. He had signed with the Seahawks last month.

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Former Colts RB Zurlon Tipton dead after accidental shooting

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 07: Running back Zurlon Tipton #37 of the Indianapolis Colts carries the ball against the New York Jets during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 7, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office has announced that former Colts running back Zurlon Tipton died in Michigan on Tuesday after accidentally shooting himself at the age of 26.

FOX2 in Detroit reports, via Roseville police, that Tipton pulled into a car dealership on Tuesday morning and removed a duffel bag from his trunk. The bag had two guns inside of it and police say that one of them went off with the bullet striking Tipton in the stomach.

Tipton was reportedly speaking to people on the scene before being transported to the hospital. An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.

Tipton, who was arrested on a gun charge last December, played 16 games for the Colts over the last two years after making the team as an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan in 2014. Tipton was waived near the end of last season and was not on any NFL roster this offseason.

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Jaelen Strong not threatened by new arrivals at receiver

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 30:   Jaelen Strong #11 of the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 30, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Just as receiver Jaelen Strong, a third-round pick in 2015, was ready to emerge as the primary complement to star Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans added two more in the draft — first-rounder Will Fuller and third-rounder Braxton Miller. So how did Strong react to the development?

“I felt like it was a great addition,” Strong told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. “I feel like we’re going have some fun out there this year and I’m very excited for Braxton and Will. Two young guys ready to come to work every day. Every day they’re excited, they ask questions and that’s the stuff we need.”

How do you keep everyone happy when there’s that many talented receivers and only one football?

“Well, we all just want to win,” Strong said. “That’s all there is to it. We stay on top of each other. When the opportunities come you have to make the best of your opportunities. With those guys around us, around everybody and the teammates that we got, Brock [Osweiler] and Coach [Bill] O’Brien it’s all business, all fun. We’re just ready to go out there and do whatever we can to help our team win.”

Having four quality wideouts will help the team win plenty of games this year, assuming Osweiler and O’Brien can figure out hot to get the ball into their hands as often as possible.

The full interview with Jaelen Strong appears below. Or you can get the podcast for the full show at iTunes or audioBoom

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EA to pay Jim Brown $600K for unauthorized use of his likeness in Madden game

Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 1 Getty Images

The long legal battle between Hall of Famer Jim Brown and video game maker Electronic Arts over the use of Brown’s likeness in an edition of Madden NFL has come to an end.

Brown’s law firm Hagens Berman announced that their client has accepted $600,000 from the company to settle Brown’s claim that his likeness was used without his authorization. Brown claimed EA approached him about using his likeness as part of the roster of old Browns teams in the game and then used an avatar with the height, weight, skin color, experience, team, position and ability level after Brown, who originally filed suit in 2008, refused their request.

“I took a stand for all athletes and laid a framework for future plaintiffs with my great legal team,” Brown said in a statement. “Hopefully, this is a step forward in getting companies like Electronic Arts to recognize the value that athletes have in selling their products.”

Brown’s attorney Robert Carey said companies like EA “should think twice before it turns players’ hard-won identities and achievements into merchandise without permission or compensation.” EA had argued that the use of the likeness was “incidental,” which did not sway a Los Angeles court to grant their motion to dismiss the case in 2015.

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Eugene Monroe: I don’t feel I have to jump on first opportunities that come up

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It’s been a couple of weeks since tackle Eugene Monroe was released by the Ravens and it doesn’t sound like an announcement of his next team is imminent.

Monroe had conversations with the Giants right after being dispatched by Baltimore that were reportedly centered around Monroe making the move to right tackle after playing on the left side throughout his time with the Jaguars and Ravens. During an appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Bruce Murray and Brady Quinn, Monroe said he’s “very respectful” of the early interest but that he doesn’t feel pressure to sign with a team right away.

“After the Ravens released me, some interest sprung up,” Monroe said. “We’ve been in discussions with a few teams, but this is very new. I’ve been released and it’s been just a short amount of time since that happened. I’m weighing my options right now. I don’t feel like I have to jump on one of the first opportunities that come up.”

Monroe didn’t say anything concrete about whether he’s willing to move to the right side when asked on Tuesday, saying only that “time will tell” what’s best for him. He did say that he hoped that his outspoken support for the NFL to OK the use of medical marijuana would not impact his playing future. Giants coach Ben McAdoo said that the team isn’t put off by that advocacy, which may leave his willingness to take on a new position as the biggest thing standing in the way of a new job.

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Rex Ryan: We take comfort knowing Buddy lives through us

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Hours after the death of Buddy Ryan, Bills coach Rex Ryan has released a statement remembering his legendary father.

“On behalf of the entire Ryan family, we want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their sympathies, prayers and warm thoughts with the passing of my dad,” Rex Ryan said. “He was many things to many people–outstanding coach, mentor, fierce competitor, father figure, faithful friend and the list goes on. But to me and my brothers Rob and Jim, he was so much more. He was everything you want in a dad–tough when he had to be, compassionate when you didn’t necessarily expect it, and a loving teacher and confidant who cherished his family. He truly was our hero.”

Rex, who hired his twin brother Rob as an assistant this year, said he takes pride in following in his father’s footsteps in the coaching profession.

“For Rob and me, we’ve had the great fortune of sharing the coaching profession that he was so proud of and cherished so much. There is no way we can possibly begin to measure how much football we have learned from him over the years and we are forever thankful to him for instilling within us his unwavering love for the game of football,” Rex said. “While today is a tough day for all of us in the Ryan family, we are consoled in knowing how much dad was loved by so many and the love he gave back in return. Though we will miss him dearly, we take comfort in knowing that his memory will live on through all of us.”

Rex and Rob got their first NFL job coaching on Buddy’s staff in his final stint as a head coach, with the Cardinals in 1994 and 1995.

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Danny Amendola feeling “really good” after surgeries

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Danny Amendola #80 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s a quiet time around the league right now, which leaves players coming off of injuries with little to do other than make sure that they’re feeling well when it comes time for training camp.

Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola is in that group. Amendola had knee and ankle surgeries earlier this offseason that kept him off the field during OTAs and minicamp, but he didn’t sound like he expects the procedures to have much impact on the regular season during an appearance on ESPN Tuesday.

“I feel really good,” Amendola said. “I had a couple minor procedures done after the season. Everybody knows how long the season can be. I wanted to go into next season feeling as fresh and ready as I can.”

Amendola will likely be eased back into work once camp gets underway and he’ll join Chris Hogan, Nate Washington, Keshawn Martin, rookie Marvin Mitchell and others in a competition for snaps along with Julian Edelman at receiver. Taking a pay cut for the second straight year probably doesn’t hurt a healthy Amendola’s chances of emerging with a similar role to the one he played while catching 65 passes for 648 yards.

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Raiders survey sent to Las Vegas residents

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 23:  The famous neon "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign located at the south entrance to town is viewed on December 23, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Las Vegas, the popular Southwest desert tourist getaway, appears to be making a slow economic recovery following a tough global recession.  (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Raiders and Las Vegas continue a money-fueled mating dance, the team that may move to Nevada has officially commenced the process of getting to know more about its potential new neighbors.

Via Richard N. Velotta of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, an 83-question survey has been sent to more than 10,000 addresses in the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce’s database.

The Chamber of Commerce sent the survey as a community service, at no cost to the Raiders.

The survey addresses issues like potential interest in a move and seating preferences at a new stadium. It steers clear of the potentially controversial question of public vs. private financing.

And for good reason. Lawyers shouldn’t ask questions to which they don’t already know the answer, and pollsters shouldn’t ask questions that could lead to answers they don’t want to know.

A potential tug-of-war looms regarding the existing plan to use roughly $750 million in taxpayer dollars and a recent suggestion from a top economic consultant to the governor that the amount should be reduced by $200 million.

 

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Preston Parker gets three years probation for drug charges

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 14:  Josh Shaw #26 of the Cincinnati Bengals breaks up a pass intended for Preston Parker #15 of the  New York Giants during an preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 14, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former NFL wide receiver Preston Parker hopes to get back into the league.

But for now, staying out of jail will suffice.

According to Hannah Winston of the Palm Beach Post, the former Buccaneers, Saints and Giants wideout got three years of probation after pleading guilty to drug charges.

The 29-year-old Parker pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and paraphernalia. Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer told him if he violated his probation he could serve up to 16 years in prison, but he said he hoped to return to football.

“You’ve been given a lot of opportunities, this is your last chance,” the judge said. “I do hope you go back to NFL, but you need to do well on probation first.”

Parker was arrested in March after he ran a stop sign, and cops found drugs and a legally registered gun in his possession. He was later arrested for possession of marijuana, charges which are still pending.

The Giants cut him last September after a rough stretch of dropped passes. He entered the league with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent from Florida State.

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Miko Grimes say Brent wanted out of Miami

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Cornerback  Brent Grimes #21 of the Miami Dolphins warms up before a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 20, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Many have blamed Miko Grimes for getting her husband, Brent, cut by the Dolphins. Miko Grimes recently suggested in an interview with Sarah Spain, Jane McManus, and Kate Fagan of ESPN Radio’s The Trifecta that perhaps Brent wanted out. She nevertheless contends it happened regardless of anything she said or did.

It had nothing to do with me,” Miko Grimes said, via JoeBucsFan.com. “It had everything to do with my husband wanting to leave the Miami Dolphins and them not wanting him to leave. You guys don’t know that, though. You’re listening to what [Dolphins owner Stephen Ross] is saying. That’s why I was able to say whatever I wanted to say because my husband wanted to leave.”

But even after the Dolphins cut Brent Grimes, they still wanted to bring him back at a reduced rate — which undercuts the idea that they no longer wanted him because of the things his wife was saying (attacking Ryan Tannehill, e.g.) and doing (getting arrested before a game, e.g.).

“When we signed with the Bucs, the Dolphins asked to match the offer,” Miko Grimes said. “So was Miko really the problem? Why would you want to match it? See what I mean. You guys don’t know what’s really happening.”

She added that 17 total teams called about Brent Grimes once he became available. Ultimately, Miko had significant say in the final outcome.

“My husband does not negotiate his contract. I do,” Miko Grimes said.

Ultimately, the Buccaneers had no qualms about Miko Grimes because they’d rather have the distraction that comes from a good player with an outspoken wife than the distraction that comes from having a crappy defense. While it appears that Brent Grimes inevitably would be let go by Miami due to his contract, the Buccaneers are happy to have him, and they apparently have no problem with anything his wife may say or do.

UPDATE 2:12 p.m. ET:  A prior version of this item failed to identify the hosts of the ESPN Radio program or its name. That oversight has been pointed out to us, so we have updated the story to include the information, the omission of which was not deliberate. Besides, it’s important for us to provide that courtesy at all times because ESPN and ESPN.com always take great pains to make sure that the full show name and host is mentioned whenever using quotes from radio shows on a rival network. Wait, did I say always? I meant rarely-to-never.

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Mike Singletary says he’ll be a defensive advisor to Rams this season

Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary  competes in a flag-football legends  game during 2005 Pro Bowl week in Ko Olina, Honolulu February 11, 2005.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The death of Buddy Ryan on Tuesday has led to remembrances from around the football world, including many from players he coached across many stops in his long career.

Mike Singletary was one of the leaders of the most famous defense that Ryan put together. The 1985 Bears defense ransacked the league on their way to the Super Bowl, which ended with Ryan being carried off the field along with head coach Mike Ditka. Singletary has spoken about his respect for Ryan many times, including saying that he would have been just another guy if not for Ryan’s tutelage during the recent 30 for 30 film about that Bears team.

Singletary followed in Ryan’s footsteps by becoming a coach when his playing days were over and rose to head coach of the 49ers for two-plus seasons before moving back into the assistant ranks with the Vikings from 2011-2013. He’s been out of the league for the last couple of years, but said during an interview with 670 The Score in Chicago on Tuesday that he’ll be back at work in 2016.

He’ll be working with another of Ryan’s former charges as a defensive advisor for the Rams. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher spent 1985 on injured reserve after playing for the Bears for the previous four seasons and interviewed Singletary for a defensive coordinator vacancy in 2013 before moving in a different direction.

There’s been no word from the Rams about what Singletary’s duties will be in Los Angeles at this point, but, as with all defenses, the ultimate goal will be to get as close to that 1985 Bears ideal as possible.

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Bidwill calls Buddy Ryan one of the NFL’s “most colorful characters”

25 Dec 1995:  Coach Buddy Ryan of the Arizona Cardinals watches his players during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.  The Cowboys won the game 37-13 and was Ryan''s final game. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire  /Allspo

Following the death of legendary coach Buddy Ryan, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill called Ryan one of the NFL’s “most colorful characters” in a statement released by the team.

Pretty fitting.

Ryan was the head coach of the Cardinals in 1994-95, his final job before retiring. Ryan coached for 35 years; he was head coach of the Eagles and Cardinals after famously serving as the architect of many great Bears defenses in the 1980s.

Bidwill’s full statement read: “Buddy was truly one of the great defensive minds in the history of our game and without a doubt one of its most colorful characters. All of us send our condolences to Rex, Rob and the entire Ryan family.”

Both Rob and Rex Ryan served under their father as assistants for those two Cardinals teams.

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Bears praise Buddy Ryan’s “unwavering confidence” in his players

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Legendary Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan has died at the age of 82. The franchise with which he became a household name has praised his work with the team.

“Buddy Ryan was the architect of the greatest defense our league has seen,” Bears chairman George McCaskey said in a statement issued by the team. “He was brilliant when it came to the X’s and O’s of the game, but what made him special was his ability to create an unwavering confidence in the players he coached. From the day he was hired in 1978, his defenses bought into more than the scheme, they bought into him and took on his personality.  Buddy was brash, intelligent and tough. He was a perfect match for our city and team, which is why George Halas took the extraordinary step of keeping him at the behest of his defensive players while transitioning to a new coaching staff in 1982. We will always be grateful for Buddy’s contribution to the Bears. He is one of the team’s all-time greats. Our prayers are with his family.”

It was Ryan, combined with coach Mike Ditka, who led the Bears to their only Super Bowl championship, in 1985. Ryan’s defense pitched back-to-back shutouts in the NFC playoffs before allowing only 10 points to the Patriots in the title game.

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Eagles say Buddy Ryan “forever left his mark” on the team and the city

GettyImages-2717173.0 Getty Images

After Bears players carried defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan off the field following Super Bowl XX, he left Chicago for his first NFL head-coaching job, in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, the Eagles remembered the 17th head coach in franchise history.

“Buddy Ryan was arguably one of the greatest defensive masterminds in NFL history and forever left his mark on the Eagles organization and the city of Philadelphia,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a team-issued release. “Over the last 20-plus years, I had the pleasure of discussing football with Buddy and I always came away from those conversations intrigued by his knowledge and passion for the game. On behalf of myself and the entire Eagles family, I’d like to offer our deepest condolences to the Ryan family.”

Ryan coached the Eagles for five seasons, leading the team to a record of 43-38-1 and three straight postseason appearances. He thereafter coached the Cardinals for two seasons, after spending a year with the Oilers a defensive coordinator.

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Potential sale process for Broncos stadium naming rights commences

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:  Denver Broncos fans cheer during the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

With the Sports Authority circling the drain and/or already passing through it, the Broncos will need another naming-rights partner at Mile High Stadium. The biggest question remains how that will actually transpire.

Alicia Wallace of the Denver Post reports that the Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District’s board of directors decided on Monday to begin the process of making seeking bids from marketing firms for selling the naming rights, if the existing arrangement with the Sports Authority isn’t sold as part of the company’s ongoing liquidation of assets.

The name still could be sold as part of the trademarks and other intellectual property of the Sports Authority, a brand that had tangible value if attached to the right provider of goods or services. The current deal runs through 2020, at roughly $20 million per year.

Other than a marijuana company, no one has expressed interest in purchasing the naming rights to Mile High Stadium. It’s frankly hard to think of a partner more perfect than a marijuana company, given the name of the venue and the legalization of a substance that can get its users even higher than a mile.

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