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Roethlisberger contract looms over Steelers’ season

Ben AP

It was no accident that, in an “exclusive” interview with the website he ultimately owns, Steelers president Art Rooney II declared that his most important employee, Ben Roethlisberger, won’t be getting a new contract until after the 2014 season.  Obivously, the Steelers wanted to push their version — the practical equivalent of a press release — to the public before Roethlisberger had a chance to share his own narrative.

Roethlisberger has now shared his own narrative.  And it goes a little something like this:  I want $20 million per year.

He should.  Lesser quarterbacks with fewer Super Bowl wins already get that much and more.  Despite having an $18.895 million cap number pumped up by restructurings in past years that helped the team stay on the right side of the salary cap, Roethlisberger gets $12.1 million in 2014.  Next year, the final season of his long-term contract, Ben will receive $11.6 million.

“Playing this year at my current salary, it’s kind of taking a hometown discount,” Roethlisberger told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  “I’ve played seven years on my current contract, which is the most of any [NFL] player or any quarterback. . . .  It is kind of taking a discount compared to maybe where it could be compared to other quarterbacks.”

On one hand, no one forced Roethlisberger to commit through 2015.  On the other hand, his currently resides well below market value.  Although he has two years left on his contract, that’s typically when the Steelers have addressed quarterback deals in the past.

“Usually the Steelers do a quarterback deal with two years to go, which would be this year. . . .  It’s kind of a unique thing,” Roethlisberger said.

He could have said a lot of words other than “unique.”

While Roethlisberger said he “prays” he can stay with the Steelers, he added that he must “do what’s best for his family.” That’s a mild adjustment to his comments from the 2013 season, when reports attributed to “Steelers sources” from the national network the Steelers partially own indicated that Roethlisberger possibly wanted to be trade, forcing Roethlisberger to declare that he never wants to leave.

Is it that crazy to think the Steelers may have leaked the information (before officially denying its accuracy, of course) in order to cajole from an angry Roethlisberger the kind of strong verbal commitment to stay that would make it a lot harder for him to threaten to leave if he doesn’t eventually get top dollar?

I’d retire before I’d accept a trade,” Roethlisberger said at the time.

Whether that works remains to be seen.  He told Robinson that the Broncos have built a Super Bowl team around Peyton Manning, despite paying him $15 million this year and carrying a cap charge of $17.5 million.  With the salary cap going up $10 million in 2014 and expected to begin an annual series of spikes, the Steelers should be able to pay Roethlisberger market value.

Then again, the only way to get true market value is to get to the market.  The Steelers hold Roethlisberger’s rights through 2015, and an $18.395 million cap number next year would drive his franchise tender to $22.074 million.  If the Steelers opt for the exclusive version of the tag (which probably wouldn’t increase the tender beyond $22.074 million), Roethlisberger will have to play for the Steelers, or no one.

Under that formula, freedom may not come until 2017, when Roethlisberger would be due to make $26.4888 million, at a time when he’ll still be three years younger than Peyton Manning is right now.

It all becomes moot if the Steelers work Roethlisberger out to a long-term deal after the season.  But if he believes he’s already giving the Steelers a hometown discount, he may not be inclined to do it again.  Which could make it harder to find a middle ground that both sides find acceptable.

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PFT Live: Ben Volin, Peter King, Kurt Warner

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The ruling is in and Tom Brady’s suspension is off.

As you can imagine, Judge Richard Berman’s decision to wipe out the Patriots quarterback’s four-game suspension will be a major focus of Thursday’s PFT Live. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports and Peter King of MMQB.com will join Mike Florio to discuss the ruling, whether the NFL will appeal and more fallout from a major victory for Brady and the NFLPA on Thursday.

We’ll also be talking to two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner during the show and Florio will also be visiting with PFT Commenter, so we’ll get several opinions about the long-awaited decision.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour by clicking right here.

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Brady will face reeling, remade Steelers defense

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

After Thursday’s court ruling that a few people are talking about, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be in the lineup Sept. 10 when the Patriots open the season vs. the Steelers.

That’s not great news for a Steelers defense that’s been retooling on the fly and has gotten gashed in the preseason. In four preseason first halves the Steelers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 80 percent of their passes while compiling an interception-free 122.3 quarterback rating.

The Steelers have a new defensive coordinator in Keith Butler and are transitioning to a new scheme following the firing of Dick LeBeau last winter. It’s just the preseason, but the Bills last weekend racked up 542 yards on seven plays of 20 yards or longer against the Steelers.

The Bills.

“(Our players) need the experience together, and even if it is experience of failing, it is better than not being out there,” Butler told reporters this week. “You have to put some stock in the preseason because you have to see who can do what and you evaluate like that.”

It’s not all about scheme and what’s new. The Steelers ranked 18th in total defense last season, 27th against the pass, and their 33 sacks were 10 fewer than they recorded the previous season.

Before next week, the Steelers are hoping for reinforcements from within. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons has been out three weeks with a toe injury; defensive end Stephon Tuitt twisted his ankle during the third preseason game against the Packers, an injury initially feared to be significant; and safety Mike Mitchell has battled a sore hamstring and a twisted ankle that has forced him to miss most of the preseason.

The Steelers visited with former Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor one day after his release, but the team’s medical staff reportedly doesn’t believe Taylor’s knee is healthy enough. The team drafted outside linebacker Bud Dupree in the first round last spring and cornerback Senquez Golson in the second, but Golson is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Cornerback Brandon Boykin was added in an Aug. 1 trade with the Eagles.

So, Butler and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will take what they have seen and the players who are available and get to work this weekend on defending the Brady-led Patriots. Preseason results are quickly forgotten, but a remade defense trying to keep up with Brady in the first game figures to be a tall task.

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Berman cites Jets K-ball case in ruling wiping out Brady’s suspension

Jay Feely, DeMaurice Smith AP

Among the grounds that Judge Richard Berman used to come to his decision to wipe out Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension was the lack of notice of potential discipline from the league to Brady.

In his ruling, Berman lays out some of the cases that led him to that conclusion. Those include Brett Favre’s fine (and no suspension) for failing to cooperate with a league investigation and previous cases of violations of equipment policy that led to no punishment for players. One of those cases was the Jets’ attempted use of unapproved kicking balls in a 2009 game against the Patriots. An equipment employee was suspended, but no players were investigated for being “generally” or specifically aware.

Berman notes that the NFLPA pointed out that includes then-Jets kicker Jay Feely, who stood to gain the most from using the balls and, by the logic used by the NFL in regard to Brady, would have been the likeliest player to be aware of any improprieties. Feely was in Berman’s court on Monday as part of the NFLPA’s executive committee and revealed that he discussed that case with Brady.

“We talked about the similarities in that case and the differences in the way the NFL responded,” Feely said. “I didn’t get in trouble. I had no culpability in that case.”

Berman’s ruling makes it clear that he saw merit in the argument that both the investigation and Brady’s punishment were handled arbitrarily by booting the NFL’s suspension the way Feely used to boot the football.

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Brady gets a slam-dunk win

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The 40-page ruling is out, and it’s clear that the win for Tom Brady was a slam dunk. Or maybe a ball-deflating Gronk spike.

Judge Richard M. Berman delivered a near-total victory for Brady and the NFL Players Association, finding that the NFL can’t suspend Brady for knowledge of a deflation scheme because Brady was not placed on proper notice of the possibility of a suspension for such conduct. Judge Berman also adopted the observation from former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in the Saints bounty scandal regarding the fact that the NFL has never before suspended a player for obstructing an NFL investigation.

So basically Brady can be fined at most for the two infractions, but he cannot be suspended.

It’s a complete and total win for Brady and the NFLPA (with one exception noted below). Judge Berman also found that Commissioner Roger Goodell should have allowed the NFLPA to call general counsel Jeff Pash to testify at the appeal hearing, and that Goodell should have given the NFLPA equal access to the files generated by “independent” investigator Ted Wells.

The only good news for the NFL is that Judge Berman stopped short of addressing the question of whether Goodell was “evidently partial” in the appeal process or whether Goodell improperly delegated his initial authority to punish Brady to executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent.

The NFL has the right to appeal the decision. We’ll have more on how that process works in a later post. For now, I have to go make sure PFT Commenter isn’t taking any liberties with my farm animals.

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Report: Judge Berman overturns Brady suspension

Tom Brady AP

The #DeflateWait is over. (Credit to Trey Wingo for the name.)

According to the Associated Press, Judge Richard M. Berman has “nullified” the four-game suspension imposed on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

The ruling has not yet been released, and it’s unclear whether the suspension has been permanently wiped clean or whether the case has been sent back for a second hearing.

The NFL has appeal rights, but it’s highly unlikely that the league would be able to block Brady from playing next Thursday night against the Steelers.

More to come. Throughout the day. And beyond.

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Jen Welter: Maybe more female coaches could help limit domestic violence cases

Jen Welter AP

Jen Welter’s time as a coaching intern with the Cardinals has come to an end after what she called a “great time” that lacked “an ‘uh oh’ moment” that would have made having a female coach look like potential trouble for teams who might consider adding one as an intern or permanent member of their staff in the future.

Welter said that Cardinals players were “receptive” to her this summer and that the experience left her wondering if there’s a way that female coaches could help teams off the field as well. Welter noted during an interview with Katie Couric of Yahoo that while domestic violence is a societal problem rather than just one in the NFL, there’s an opportunity for the league to do better and she wonders if female coaches could help on that front.

“We put them up as role models so people are watching, and for good or for bad there’s an opportunity to deal with this,” Welter said. “I think if you saw the reaction that maybe my players had to having a female coach and loving it… maybe there’s a need for more of that. You have an opportunity to make them better men and not just better football players, and ultimately that is the goal.”

That may be part of the goal, but no football coaches are going to be employed long if they aren’t getting their players better and winning games. Off-field problems are embarrassing, but plenty of football coaches at all levels of the game have survived them as long as their teams have succeeded on the field.

That’s not to say that she’s wrong about a potential benefit, especially when suspensions for domestic violence crimes can hurt a team’s chances of winning. It’s just that it would take more female coaches and a lot more time to prove any correlation, and there aren’t many coaches that have enough of the latter to make exploring it a high priority.

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No league punishment for Jamison Crowder after abuse allegation

Jamison Crowder AP

Given the current state of professional football in Washington, even the absence of bad news is considered good news.

According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, a league spokesman said that Washington wide receiver Jamison Crowder would not face league discipline for the allegation of domestic violence he faced in June.

The fourth-round pick from Duke was accused of hitting a former girlfriend in a post on his own social media account, but his agent denied the allegations and said he was hacked.

The post was deleted, and no charges were filed against Crowder. The fact the league turned up nothing through it’s own investigation lends credence to the agent’s denial.

Crowder missed the first two preseason games with a hamstring injury, but caught a touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins last week.

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Jon Gruden: Kirk Cousins has to take better care of the football

Jon Gruden, Jay Gruden AP

The brother of Washington coach Jay Gruden says quarterback Kirk Cousins had better learn to stop throwing so many interceptions.

“He’s just got to prove he can take better care of the football,” Jon Gruden said on an ESPN Monday Night Football conference call. “You saw it last year. When he was on, he was on. That performance, at Philadelphia, against Jacksonville was unbelievable at times. But he proved that the turnovers, the inconsistency weren’t good enough.”

No quarterback has turned the ball over more often than Cousins in the last two seasons, and Jon is right that his brother’s new starting quarterback simply has to improve.

But Jon, who has been a Cousins fan since before his brother was Washington’s coach, thinks Cousins will improve.

“I liked Cousins coming out of Michigan State for the same reason a lot of coaches did,” Jon Gruden said. “He was a three‑time captain. He had prototype size. I think now that he is the starter and is going to get the majority of the reps, he has a chance to tune‑up the offense to suit his strengths and the things that he likes. There will be more input and more opportunities to reverse things and get things right. I don’t care what anybody says, I think repetition is the mother of learning. You have to have that for your quarterback.”

Cousins hasn’t had many reps with the first-string offense in his NFL career. He’ll get those reps now. How long he lasts as the starter will depend largely on how often he throws interceptions.

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“PFT Commenter” visits PFT on Thursday

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I didn’t piece him together in a lab with a variety of mismatched body parts and the brain of Abby Normal. But PFT (more specifically, the comments section of PFT) spawned at some point in the not-too-distant past the Twitter parody account known as PFT Commenter.

And PFT Commenter has donned his best Frankenstein blazer as he prepares to storm the castle on Thursday.

Yes, PFT Commenter is a real person. He’s coming to West Virginia for a real visit to PFT headquarters. In exchange for inviting him to my office (which is also my home), I’m now among the very few who know his true identity. I’ve vowed to tell no one. I’ve honored that promise so far, in part because I already have forgotten his real name.

Mr. Commenter reached out to me with a request to visit in order to observe how football takes are made, or something, as part of a season preview he’s writing for SB Nation. After doing my due diligence on the man behind the Colbert-style football faςade (at least I think it’s a faςade), I decided to invite him to join me for PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, and then to hang out for a bit after the show ends.

So if you were looking for another reason to listen to PFT Live today, dial us up at Sirius 213, XM 202, or NBCSportsRadio.com at noon ET for the three-hour extravaganza, which will definitely be a different kind of experience for me, for PFT Commenter, and for pretty much everyone.

The best part of the visit from PFT Commenter is that it’s made PFT Live producer Rob “Stats” Guerrera extremely nervous about what may happen once the man with the hottest taeks in football gets his hands on a microphone.

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Lions president says they’re “looking for greatness”

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

The Lions have had good seasons before, just not often in succession.

But after going 11-5 last year, team president Tom Lewand thinks this is the team that can not just equal last year’s mark, but better it.

“It’s not sustaining it; it’s building on it,” Lewand said, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. “That’s the important thing. Sustaining it gives sort of an impression that we’re comfortable with what happened last year. I think as coach (Jim Caldwell) has acknowledged several times, it was a very good season for us, but not a great one.

We’re looking for greatness.”

Of course, last year marked their best finish since 1991, and they haven’t had consecutive winning seasons since 1993-95. And this offseason was marked by star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s departure in free agency, but they still have high hopes.

“The critical piece is, don’t rest on our laurels,” Lewand said. “Look at the things that we did well and continue to do them; look at the things we can improve on and do those better. It sounds simple, but it’s true.”

For the Lions, simply being above .500 would be an accomplishment, but they don’t want to think that way.

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Chiefs keep investing in backup QBs, extend Tyler Bray

Kansas City Chiefs v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Chiefs are continuing to invest in the quarterback position, beyond Alex Smith.

Backup Tyler Bray has agreed to a two-year, $1.925 million contract extension through 2017, Field Yates of ESPN reports. Although the deal contains no guarantees, it’s a great deal for Bray in one respect: The Chiefs are agreeing to pay Bray’s $510,000 salary this year, even though Bray is on the non-football injury list because he tore his ACL this offseason. Teams are under no obligation to pay players who suffer non-football injuries, but the Chiefs think enough of Bray’s potential that they’re willing to pay him as part of a longer deal to keep him in the fold.

Kansas City isn’t shy about spending money on backup quarterbacks. No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel costs $4.8 million this year, making him the second-most expensive backup quarterback in the NFL, second only to Washington’s Robert Griffin III. The Chiefs are also slated to pay Aaron Murray $563,000 this year, in addition to the $15.6 million Smith will count against their cap.

Although he hasn’t gotten on the field in the NFL yet, Bray is a talented quarterback who showed off a good arm in his college career at Tennessee. Right now he’s buried on the depth chart, but if he eventually becomes the starter in Kansas City, this will look like a great deal for the team.

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Peyton Manning visits PFT

Peyton Manning AP

Wednesday’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN included a visit from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who could be on the front end of his last NFL season.

Manning said that he still enjoys training camp, something that not all franchise quarterbacks (especially those with five-letter last names including an “F” and a “V”) can say. Manning also talked about the differences between timing in practice and timing in games when making throws to receivers like Cody Latimer and Jordan Norwood and Manning’s reduced practice reps under new coach Gary Kubiak.

The full, eight-minute interview, including plenty of stuff that was omitted from the show due to time constraints, appears below.

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Pagano: Colts better have “somebody fast enough” for when Tyrod Taylor runs

Tyrod Taylor AP

When Bills coach Rex Ryan discussed the team’s ultimate decision about a starting quarterback this summer, he said he was planning to keep the identity of the starter for Week One under wraps until as close to the game as possible.

The idea was to keep the Colts from getting any edge when it came to planning to face the Bills offense, but Ryan had a “change of heart” this week and opted to announce publicly that Tyrod Taylor is the team’s starter. That confirmed what was already reported and Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who was in Baltimore when Taylor joined the Ravens, confirmed that the information is being put to use in practices.

“It doesn’t mean that they couldn’t throw another guy in there at some point during the course of that game, but you can kind of hone in on what you want to do, especially from a pass-rush standpoint, if you have a pure pocket passer that is not mobile, can’t run around, you’re probably going to go after him a certain way,” Pagano said, via ESPN.com. “If you’ve got a guy that’s as athletic and mobile as Tyrod is, then you have to plan accordingly.”

One part of that plan is to be prepared for when Taylor tucks the ball and runs with it. Pagano said the team “better get a package in to have somebody fast enough” to run down Taylor when he takes off and runs the ball.

Another issue for the Colts will be replacing Arthur Jones on the defensive line against a Bills team that’s expected to run the ball a lot this season. The health of LeSean McCoy may be an issue, but teams haven’t needed a running back of McCoy’s pedigree to have success running on the Colts the last couple of years.

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LaVar Arrington points to “weird phenomenon” in D.C. that makes a player ordinary

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 24:  Linebacker LaVar Arrington #56 of the Washington Redskins looks on against the New York Giants at FedExField on December 24, 2005 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Giants 35-10. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) Getty Images

While the current dysfunction in D.C. has manifested itself in plenty of new and unusual ways, the current sense that the franchise can’t get anything right currently flows from the circumstances surrounding a guy who seemed like the right man for the present and future only three years ago. But that dysfunction has been there long before the arrival of Robert Griffin III.

Fifteen years ago, the team entered the 2000 season with a Dream Team of free agents and a pair of top-three draft picks in Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington, causing many to presume that another Super Bowl run was coming. The team didn’t even make the playoffs, and it feels as if the organization has never fully recovered from a failure that in most corners of the NFL has been long forgotten.

Arrington, who now works for NFL Media, hasn’t forgotten it. And he sees similarities to his career in Washington and the career of the team’s current quarterback.

“Every year that the Hall of Fame inductees go in and I watch it, I just sit there and I think about, I gave my best years to dysfunction,” Arrington told Sportsnet 590 The Fan, via Scott Allen of the Washington Post. “It just kind of bothers me a little bit . . . because it’s like if you had the structure in place to have success, my track record kind of speaks for itself. Guys that have come in there, Robert Griffin III, guys that have been there, their track records speak for themselves. How does a guy go from being special on every level, and then they come to the Redskins and it’s gone? The magic is gone. I can’t explain it. It’s almost a weird phenomenon, and I hate that I’m a statistic of that weird phenomenon.”

With the chances of success in Washington now seemingly destroyed, where could Griffin thrive?

“A different profession, probably,” Arrington said. “For me, I look at it like this: Once you’ve damaged somebody the way he’s damaged right now, I just think that it will be a long shot for him to turn out to be what he was and what people expected and anticipated him to be.”

Arrington may be right, but for now there seems to be no inclination to cut the cord on a guy to whom the franchise owes $3.249 million in 2015, whether he’s on the roster or not. Besides, if Griffin goes elsewhere and thrives, that would only punctuate the notion that it’s not about any given player, but that it’s about the “weird phenomenon” to which Arrington alluded.

Still, at some point the effort to justify a mistake becomes an even bigger mistake. It’s now clear that three first-round picks and a second-round pick shouldn’t have been invested in Griffin. The best thing the team can do is to cut him.

And the best way to handle that would be to tell Griffin that the team will cut him the moment he’s cleared to play following a concussion suffered two weeks ago. Currently, a $16.1 million injury-guaranteed salary for 2016 creates a potent temptation to exit from football not by admitting failure but by pointing to a head injury that, if he’s never cleared to play, would give Griffin nearly $20 million over the next two years.

The best move for a team that hasn’t made many good ones in recent years would be to flip that incentive around, tap into his lingering (if not flickering) confidence that he could thrive elsewhere, and tell him that, the moment he’s cleared by an independent neurologist to play, he’ll be released — freeing the team of the potential $16.1 million obligation for 2016 and giving Griffin a chance to pick his next team after he inevitably clears waivers.

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Clark Hunt expects Chiefs to build on and “hopefully better” last two seasons

Seattle Seahawks v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Chiefs have won 20 games in the regular season over the last two years, but they haven’t added any postseason victories to the ledger.

A playoff loss to the Colts after the 2013 season was followed by nine wins and no playoff berth last year, although it sounds like a winning record alone won’t be enough to satisfy team chairman Clark Hunt’s expectations for 2015. Hunt stopped short of naming any specific milestones that the team has to reach this season while making it clear that he thinks the pieces are in place for bigger things in coach Andy Reid’s third season with the team.

“I think we have a very talented roster, I think we have a very deep roster,” Hunt said, via the Kansas City Star. “I think Andy, his coaching staff, [General Manager] John Dorsey and his staff have done a tremendous job, not only this year but really in the last three years, of building this thing, this team. I’m always a little reluctant to say this is going to be our record, but I certainly expect us to build on what we’ve accomplished the last couple of years and hopefully better it.”

The Chiefs still have question marks on the offensive line and Alex Smith is far from everyone’s cup of tea at quarterback, but there’s enough talent on the roster to make Hunt’s expectation of growth from the last two seasons both reasonable and realistic. A quick start to the season would make them more attainable, although the Chiefs may have to pull it off without injured nose tackle Dontari Poe in addition to the suspended cornerback Sean Smith.

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