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Looking ahead at future Hall of Fame classes

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The seven members of the 2014 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame have received their busts in Canton, Ohio, and now that enshrinement weekend is behind us, let’s look ahead at the players, coaches and contributors who could comprise the next five Hall of Fame classes.

2015

Junior Seau will be eligible for the first time next year, and he’s the one man who looks like a lock for the class of 2015. Seau’s enshrinement will bring up stories about his suicide and questions about whether brain damage on the football field could have led to his depression, but his enshrinement should also be a celebration of one of the greatest linebackers ever to play the game.

Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner, may be the biggest beneficiary of the Hall of Fame’s new policy of voting on contributors separately from players and coaches. In past Hall of Fame votes, Tagliabue has lost out, but now that he’s no longer competing with players and coaches, there’s a good chance that he’ll be enshrined next year.

Steve Sabol would also be a good choice in 2015, when there will be two Hall of Fame finalists from the separate contributors category. Sabol’s father Ed is already in the Hall of Fame, but both Sabols deserve busts in Canton for building NFL Films.

Kurt Warner is, after Seau, the player with the best chance of being enshrined in his first year of eligibility next year. Some may say Warner’s greatness was too short-lived to merit Hall of Fame induction, but a player with two regular-season MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP award is probably going to end up in Canton.

Orlando Pace protected Warner’s blind side in St. Louis and was one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL for a decade, and he’ll also be eligible for the first time next year.

Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were the top two receivers on the Greatest Show on Turf, and they both retired after the 2009 season, making them eligible in 2015. (You can be forgiven if you’ve forgotten that Holt was in Jacksonville and Bruce was in San Francisco in 2009.) It would really be something if they were both inducted along with Warner and Pace. That, however, is awfully unlikely. Wide receivers have had a hard time getting into Canton in recent years, and Holt and Bruce may end up competing against each other and therefore hurting each other’s chances in much the same way that Steelers greats John Stallworth and Lynn Swann did for many years.

Jerry Kramer, the great Packers offensive lineman, would be a strong choice as a senior candidate. Next year will be a harder year for seniors to get in, as only one senior finalist will be nominated. But Kramer may be the most deserving senior candidate eligible.

2016

Brett Favre is a sure thing to be inducted in 2016, and the Packers have already begun the process of turning the year before his induction into a long ceremony honoring Favre, who will have his number retired in 2015.

Terrell Owens also becomes eligible in 2016, but he’s a long shot. Owens is second only to Jerry Rice on the all-time receiving yards list and third behind Rice and Randy Moss in receiving touchdowns, but Owens acted like such a jerk, so often, that he’s remembered as much for becoming a disruptive force in the locker room as he is for being a dominant force on the field.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former 49ers owner, may benefit from the new contributors category and be enshrined soon. The question is whether Hall of Fame voters will reward DeBartolo for his role in building the great 49ers teams of the 1980s and 1990s, and overlook the circumstances that led DeBartolo to be forced out of the NFL.

Jerome Bettis may finally get his bust in Canton in 2016, as a relatively weak crop of first-year eligible players will make room for those who have previously been passed over.

Will Shields, the great guard for the Chiefs, would also seem likely to benefit from a lack of first-year eligible players, although there have been so many great offensive linemen enshrined in Canton in recent years that it’s hard for any one to gain recognition over all the others.

Marvin Harrison was voted down this year, but he had so many great seasons as a receiver for the Colts that it seems like just a matter of time before he gets in, and 2016 may be the year.

Randy Gradishar and Ken Stabler are a couple of good senior candidates who may be enshrined in 2016, when two seniors will be eligible. (Only one senior is eligible in 2015, 2017 and 2019.)

2017

LaDainian Tomlinson becomes eligible for the first time in 2017, and with 13,684 career rushing yards, Tomlinson looks like a good bet to make it. Only four players have more yards than Tomlinson (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin) and all four are already in the Hall.

Jason Taylor becomes eligible in 2017 as well, and he has a good case, although he may be joining a crowded field of pass rushers, as we’ll detail momentarily.

Kevin Greene was voted down as a Hall of Fame finalist last year, but with 160 sacks in his career, he seems sure to get in eventually: The only players with more career sacks than Greene were Bruce Smith and Reggie White, two of the greatest players in NFL history. The 2017 class may be the one that finally makes room for Greene.

Charles Haley also might finally get his Hall call in 2017. He’s been voted down five times already, but his contributions to Super Bowl winners in both San Francisco and Dallas should be enough to earn him a bust at some point.

Hines Ward was a great wide receiver and a Super Bowl MVP winner, and he’ll be eligible for the first time in 2017. But Ward’s career numbers (1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns) are dwarfed by those of some other recent receivers, and Ward may suffer by comparison.

Brian Dawkins was a nine-time Pro Bowl safety who also becomes eligible in 2017, but he seems unlikely to be selected in his first year of eligibility. Dawkins was a beloved player both on and off the field, and at some point the voters may put him in Canton, but that point probably won’t be until he’s on the ballot for at least a few years.

George Young, the former Giants general manager, is just the kind of person that the new “contributors” category is designed to recognize, and the 2017 class may be the year that the late Young gets his due.

Don Coryell would appear to be a likely choice as a senior candidate some day, and 2017 may be when that day comes. Coryell never won a championship as a coach, but he was such an innovator of the passing game that he’s a significant figure in the history of football.

2018

Ray Lewis will be an easy choice as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. There’s no room for debate on that.

Randy Moss may leave some room for debate, as his numbers are comparable to those of Terrell Owens, who looks like a long shot. But Moss at his best was such a game-changer that he just feels like exactly the kind of player who belongs in Canton.

Brian Urlacher, who like Lewis and Moss becomes eligible in 2018, has a very good case for enshrinement as well. Although he’ll suffer in comparison to Lewis, there will probably be enough support for Urlacher to get him enshrined in his first year of eligibility.

Steve Hutchinson was a great guard and also becomes eligible in 2018, but he won’t get in on his first year of eligibility. Hutchinson may be a finalist many times, but getting the necessary 80 percent of the vote will be tough.

Tim Brown is a longtime finalist who feels like he accomplished enough in the NFL (usually while serving as the only decent threat in his teams’ passing games) that he should be recognized eventually. The 2018 class may be the year.

Art Modell has been voted down several times, and the opposition to his candidacy is strong from some who say that taking the Browns out of Cleveland was an unforgivable sin. But the new contributors category gives Modell a much better chance, and 2018 could be his year.

Bob Kuechenberg and Cliff Harris are among the best senior candidates who haven’t been selected yet.

2019

Tony Gonzalez becomes eligible for the first time in 2019, and he’s just about a sure thing as one of the greatest tight ends ever to play the game.

Ed Reed also becomes eligible for the first time in 2019, and he also looks like a sure thing as one of the greatest safeties ever to play the game.

Tony Dungy was voted down in his first year of eligibility last year and may be voted down a few more times, but he’s likely to get in eventually, and 2019 could be the year.

Morten Andersen was also voted down this year in his first year as a Hall of Fame finalist, but he also has a good case to make it eventually. Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leader in points scored, would join Jan Stenerud and Ray Guy as the only kicking specialists in the Hall of Fame.

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Brian Cushing will miss at least a week with knee issue

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When discussing highlights of Pittsburgh’s Monday night win over the Texans on Tuesday’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, Ross Tucker noticed that Houston linebacker Brian Cushing was having trouble moving.

He was, because of his knee.

Per a league source, Cushing will miss at least one game to rest his knee, which has been bothering him for the last two weeks.  The source says Cushing hasn’t been close to 100 percent, and that the knee has been drained a few times recently.

It’s the same knee in which Cusing tore the ACL last year.

The goal is to give Cushing some rest in the hopes that the knee will improve.  With two games left before the bye (against the Titans and Eagles), don’t be surprised if he’s out until Week Eleven at Cleveland.

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Roger Goodell will testify in Ray Rice appeal hearing

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Ray Rice 1, NFL 0.

The first skirmish in the Ray Rice appeal hearing has resulted in a big victory for Rice and the NFL Players Association — and a potentially costly loss for the league office and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Per a league source (and as multiple others are reporting as the news is leaked to multiple reporters), former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones has decided that Goodell should testify at the hearing.

It’s so obvious that Goodell should testify in a case that hinges on whether Ray Rice lied to Goodell that it’s surprising the league resisted.  It makes Goodell and the league look like they have something to hide, at a time when the NFL is trying to create the impression of transparency.

Then again, lawyers representing a large company typically try to shield the chief executive from testifying.  While it often happens because the chief executive actually has something to hide or lacks the ability to engage in effective verbal fencing with a skilled trial lawyer, folks who are used to having a lot of power typically don’t like submitting to someone else’s authority.

Goodell now will be submitting to the authority of Judge Jones — and answering potentially hostile questions from lawyer Peter Ginsberg, who has a history of hostilities with Goodell and the league, via his representation of Jonathan Vilma in the Saints bounty case.

The transcript of Goodell’s testimony, along with the rest of the evidence generated in the Rice appeal process, also will (or at least should) become part of the official investigation conducted by former FBI director Robert Mueller.  Anything Goodell says while testifying in the Rice appeal hearing should be compared to anything he said to Mueller for evidence of any inconsistencies.

With multiple owners reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach to Goodell’s employment status based on the outcome of the Mueller investigation, Goodell’s performance while testifying in the Rice appeal could, in theory, influence whether he’ll remain on the job.  He’ll need to be more direct and responsive before Judge Jones than he was during his September 19 press conference — and during his testimony in the Super Bowl ticket case.

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Pete Carroll has nothing more to say about Percy Harvin

CARROLL AP

The Seahawks haven’t really said all that much about the stunning decision to trade receiver Percy Harvin.  Coach Pete Carroll didn’t add much to the collection in his weekly Wednesday press conference.

“We already have made that move,” Carroll said in response to the question of how the team has moved on from Harvin.  “It doesn’t feel any different today.  We’re moving on.”

Still, plenty of questions remain unanswered regarding Harvin, including the specific things he did that prompted the decision to trade him for far less than what the Seahawks gave the Vikings to acquire him less than 20 months ago.  There have been plenty of reports about belligerence and refusal to play and fights with teammates, but the Seahawks have avoided confirming or commenting on any of them.

They probably never will.  And for the same reasons no one knew what was going on with Harvin while it was happening, no one will really know what’s going on in the wake of the Harvin trade, including but not limited to whether a locker-room division has emerged — and whether any potential resentment of quarterback Russell Wilson has increased in the aftermath of what some believe was an effort to clear Harvin off the roster before he could challenge the franchise quarterback who is less than three months away from becoming eligible to be paid accordingly.

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Report: LaMarr Woodley has torn biceps

LaMarr Woodley AP

One of the Raiders’ notable free agent additions could be lost for the season.

Defensive end LaMarr Woodley suffered a torn biceps in Sunday’s loss to Arizona, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported Wednesday night. The injury is thought to be season-ending, according to Rapoport.

Earlier, Raiders coach Tony Sparano indicated Woodley had suffered a potentially “serious” biceps injury, per Fallon Smith of CSN Bay Area.

The 29-year-old Woodley has played in each of Oakland’s first six games, logging 295 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus data. However, Woodley has been credited with just five tackles, and he has yet to notch a sack.

Woodley joined the Raiders in the offseason after spending six seasons with Pittsburgh. He is in the first year of a two-year contract.

Benson Mayowa is listed as the top backup to Woodley at defensive end.

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Rodgers reflects on “R-E-L-A-X” remarks

Rodgers AP

After the Packers slipped to 1-2 following a miserable loss to the Lions in Detroit, Aaron Rodgers had some advice for antsy Cheeseheads.

“Five letters.  R-E-L-A-X.  Relax.  We’re going to be fine,” Rodgers said.

Fine they’ve been.  With wins over the Bears, Vikings, Dolphins, and Panthers, all that’s standing between a 6-2 record at the bye week are the Saints at the Superdome.  In a conference call with New Orleans reporters, Rodgers was asked about the reaction to his R-E-L-A-X routine.

“First people were impressed I remembered how to spell it,” Rodgers said, via quotes distributed by the Saints.  “I think when you say something like that you take on greater responsibility as a leader and you take some of the focus off the team and I think there is a time and a place for that.  Maybe we needed a little something like that before our Week Four game in Chicago.  We responded with a good performance, four in a row, our defense is playing really well, offensively we are starting to get things going a little bit, so every now and then you say stuff like that that sticks.  If we had lost Week Four it probably wouldn’t have gone over as well as it has because we’ve won four in a row.”

It won’t be easy to extend the run to five.

“They are better than that,” Rodgers said of the Saints’ 2-4 record.  “They are 2-0 at home I believe.  They are better at home.  They have lost some close games.  Very talented offense, a very talented defense and very well coached.  I have competed against Coach [Rob] Ryan before and I have a lot of respect [for] the whole family, Rex, Rob, and their father, a guy who obviously changed how defense is played in the league.  I have a lot of respect for them and their defense.  Talented group, they play really well at home, they put up a lot of points.  You have to be expecting Drew [Brees] and those guys to be scoring points so we need to score touchdowns in the red zone and score some points ourselves.”

We’ll find out how it plays out on Sunday night.  And hopefully it’s play out with a closer game that what we’ve seen on Monday Sunday nights this season.

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Barry Cofield, Evan Mathis among Wednesday practice returnees

Howard Mudd, Evan Mathis AP

Eagles Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis was among four players on reserve lists to return to practice on Wednesday, per the NFL’s transactions.

Mathis, who is on injured reserve/designated for return with an MCL sprain, can re-enter the Eagles’ lineup on November 16 at Green Bay.

The other players returning Wednesday were Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin (ACL tear), Washington nose tackle Barry Cofield (high-ankle sprain) and Buccaneers tailback Charles Sims (ankle surgery). Cofield and Sims are on injured reserve/designated for return, while Colvin is on the reserve/non-football injury list.

Sims is eligible to return for the Buccaneers’ Nov. 9 matchup vs. Washington, while Cofield can be activated for the Nov. 16 meeting with Tampa Bay.

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Judge will continue to preside over Peterson case

JudgeCase AP

The prosecution may still win the war, but its lost the battle over who’ll preside over the war.  Or something.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Kelly Case will continue to handle the Adrian Peterson child abuse prosecution.  A retired judge has decided that Case should not be recused based upon an alleged bias against the prosecution.  The allegations included Judge Case’s admitted reference to the lawyers for both parties as “media whores.”

Retired Judge Jeff Walker determined that prosecutors failed to meet the high standard necessary for forcing a judge out of a case.   And it appears that there will be no appeal of the decision.

“We’re going to hope Judge Case does the right thing, gives us a fair trial and at the end of that trial, we’re confident that Mr. Peterson is going to be found guilty,” First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant said.

While the swing and a miss could alienate Judge Case, the allegations of bias could force him to go out of his way to create the appearance of fairness and even-handedness in any rulings made before and during the trial, which is still tentatively scheduled to begin on December 1.

Peterson hopes to stand trial as soon as possible, given that he is essentially suspended with pay while the legal process is pending.

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Rex doesn’t want unrealistic expectations for Harvin’s instant impact

harvin AP

Jets coach Rex Ryan says no one should expect Percy Harvin to become the team’s best offensive playmaker instantly.

Ryan says Harvin will have a role in the offense on Sunday against the Bills, but no one should expect him to know the whole playbook after a week with the team.

“I’m just saying that it’s hard to expect a guy to come in and learn an entire offense,” Ryan said. “We’re going to use him. It’s not to expect him to play 50 plays or something like that. That’s probably unrealistic.”

Ryan said the Jets may use Harvin on both kickoff returns and punt returns, even though Harvin has never returned a punt in the NFL or in college. For Ryan, the goal is just to find the best ways to use Harvin.

“I think when you look at how we are going to use Percy, it might be different than how he was used in Minnesota [and] how he was used in Seattle. I guess time will tell, but I truly believe with his kind of talent it’s going to be a big help, obviously for our offense and with that, our whole team,” Ryan said.

If the Jets can go on a run in the second half of the season, big plays from Harvin may contribute to saving Ryan’s job.

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Arians says Carson Palmer’s shoulder is fine

Palmer

That dead nerve in Carson Palmer’s shoulder has come back to life.  And it looks like Palmer’s zombie arm joint will continue to get the job done, indefinitely.

Coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that Palmer no longer has to worry about the shoulder, according to Darren Urban of the team’s official website.  Arians also said that Palmer is once again lifting weights in the upper body.

Arians also said that Palmer shouldn’t miss any practice time, and that he’s getting closer to 100 percent.

Palmer missed three games due to the shoulder injury, and the Cardinals won each of them.  They’ll get perhaps their biggest test of the season when the Eagles come to town with an extra week to get ready.

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Chiefs say Charles was checked for concussion

jamaalcharles AP

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles says he tried to avoid having to go through the league’s concussion protocol after a collision on the field Sunday. But the Chiefs say Charles was, in fact, checked out on the sideline before being allowed to go back in the game.

Chiefs head trainer Rick Burkholder said Charles was checked during Sunday’s game and has been checked this week and did not get a concussion in the collision, which did cause a concussion for Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers.

“When he got hit, I obviously checked with him,” Burkholder said. “I know coach talked to him a bit there. I came back and consulted with the team physician; he was absolutely asymptomatic, wasn’t complaining about anything. . . . Obviously, we check on those guys as they come off the field almost every series. I know coach spent time with him on the plane after the game.”

Burkholder’s statement that Charles was “absolutely asymptomatic” contradicts Charles’s statement that he “was seeing light bulbs, like, light bulbs around my eyes.” Seeing flashing lights is one of the symptoms of a concussion.

Charles may not have told Burkholder that he was seeing flashing lights, and Charles may not have exhibited any other symptoms of a concussion when he was examined. But Charles has said since that he had a symptom associated with concussions. And whether he actually had a concussion or not, it’s alarming that he indicated he wanted to avoid being diagnosed.

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Harvin doesn’t show up on the Jets’ injury report

Harvin AP

Former Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin had been battling a thigh injury for the couple of weeks before he was traded to New York.  Or maybe it was a “thigh” injury.  As in not an injury at all but just an excuse to not practice.

Either way, Harvin didn’t show up on his first injury report as a member of the Jets.  So his thigh — or “thigh” — injury has healed — or “healed” completely.

Is it fair to suggest Harvin was perhaps embellishing an injury to justify missing practice?  Yes, given that one of his disputes with former Vikings coach Brad Childress happened when Childress questioned whether Harvin’s ankle injury was an “ankle” injury.

Regardless, Harvin launches his time in New York at 100 percent.  We’ll see how long he stays there.

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Jimmy Graham limited at Saints practice

Jimmy Graham AP

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham wound up in the lineup against the Lions last week after several days of uncertainty because of his shoulder injury, but he only played a limited number of snaps and didn’t have a catch as the Saints blew a lead in the fourth quarter.

The Saints got back to practice on Wednesday to start their preparation for facing the Packers on Sunday Night Football and Graham remained a limited participant in the action for New Orleans. Barring a setback, his presence last week suggests he’d be in the lineup again this week in a game that the Saints could really use to give themselves boost in the struggle for playoff spots in the NFC. The question will be how effective Graham can be, but it’s not one that will be answered on the practice field.

Running backs Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas both missed practice, which was no surprise in Thomas’s case as he’s expected to miss a couple of weeks because of a shoulder injury. Robinson is dealing with a forearm issue, which he said, via the Baton Rouge Advocate, was just “a little boo-boo.”

Center Jonathan Goodwin was also out of practice for the Saints and the team’s move to add Eric Olsen to the roster could be an indication that he’s going to miss his first game of the season.

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Report: Bill Belichick sent Darrelle Revis home for being late

New York Jets Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has sent players home for being late during blizzards.

So it’s no surprise that the same rules apply to the Island.

According Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, the absence of cornerback Darrelle Revis from Tuesday’s practice was because Belichick sent him home for being late.

The report said Revis arrived late to the team facility, and Belichick sent him away rather than allow him to participate in meetings or practice.

Players had the weekend plus Monday off after last Thursday’s win over the Jets, with instructions to return Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. There was no word how late he was.

A source close to Revis said he accepted responsibility for his tardiness, and he was back at work Wednesday.

Given the hot-and-cold nature of Revis’s relationships with employers, this one is worth filing away.

It’s also an important play for Belichick in establishing control, proving to his roster that no star is beyond the rules (though we wonder what would happen if Tom Brady had a flat tire).

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West says Jaguars simply wanted it more than the Browns

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So how did the previously 0-6 Jaguars upend the previously 3-2 Browns by a score of 24-6?  Chalk it up to good, old-fashioned motivation.

They wanted it more than we did,” rookie running back Terrance West said Tuesday, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“We looked like the 0-6 team, and they looked like the 3-2 team,” West said.  “That was the big difference.  They just had more plays.  The team that had the better plays, big plays are going to come out with a win, and that’s what happened yesterday. Their fans, they were in the game.”

Some think the absence of center Alex Mack, who suffered a season-ending broken leg the prior Sunday, kept the Browns from winning.  West disagrees.

“I think we probably would’ve had more rushing yards if Alex Mack’s there, but the way the Jaguars played us, they wanted it more,” West said. “He probably wouldn’t have made a difference.”

The Browns face another winless team on Sunday who may want it more, especially since the Raiders face a murderer’s row of opponents for most of the rest of the season.  Playing a team that just lost to the 0-6 Jaguars could give the 0-6 Raiders some real hope.

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Sam Shields, James Starks and Morgan Burnett miss practice

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The Packers got back on the practice field on Wednesday without several regulars in their lineup.

Cornerback Sam Shields, safety Morgan Burnett, running back James Starks and defensive end Datone Jones were all held out of practice as they recover from injuries. Shields missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury and the Packers have a bye after they face the Saints on Sunday night, but coach Mike McCarthy said that the team wasn’t going to let that keep Shields out against Drew Brees if he’s given the green light to play.

“I don’t keep players out for games,” McCarthy said, via the team’s website. “If a player can play, he plays. Sam is going through medical situation and if he’s ready to play, he’ll play.”

Jones also missed the victory over the Panthers, which made it two straight weeks out of the lineup because of an ankle injury. Starks is also bothered by an ankle injury while Burnett is nursing a calf problem, but McCarthy said that all three were moving well during their rehab work.

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