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Tagliabue gives Goodell some advice, indirectly

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A decade ago, Roger Goodell served as the right-hand man to former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  A “wingman,” one unnamed executive recently told Gabriel Sherman of GQ in a new profile of Goodell.

By 2005, Goodell wanted to be the guy with the wingman.

He was getting impatient,” Tagliabue told Sherman, who noted without specifically quoting a source that Goodell was “agitating” for Tagliabue to relinquish the throne.  At one point, Goodell reportedly considered leaving for ESPN.

Now, as Goodell tries to guide the league and his own career through murky waters in large part of his own making, Tagliabue would be a great person to give him some advice — especially regarding, for example, challenges like how to deal with anecdotal evidence that a team may be underinflating footballs.  But Goodell doesn’t take advantage of the experience, knowledge, and expertise of his predecessor.

“We haven’t talked much since I left,” Tagliabue told Sherman. “It’s been his decision. Bountygate didn’t help.”

Tagliabue is referring to his role as the hearing officer in the appeals of the Saints players Goodell suspended in 2012.  Tagliabue overturned all punishments, based in part on a belief that it was unfair to selectively enforce the rules regarding a broader cultural phenomenon against only one small group of players.  The point?  If a certain practice has become widespread in the sport, catching and severely punishing one violator in the hopes that everyone else will clean up their act isn’t the best way to solve the problem.

Coincidentally (or not), that could be one of the basic realities of the latest rules controversy undermining the sport.  If the Patriots were causing footballs to be underinflated in order to make them easier to throw, they surely weren’t the only ones doing it.

But the Patriots have become the only ones investigated for it, and they likely will be the only ones disciplined for it — if the NFL ultimately can develop proof that something improper was occurring.  Even if the NFL finds no smoking gun, the cloud of suspicion will reside over the Patriots, indefinitely.

“There’s a huge intangible value in peace. There’s a huge intangible value in having allies,” Tagliabue explained to Sherman.

The shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach won’t promote peace or the development of allegiances.  In the bounty scandal, Goodell created enemies in New Orleans.  Now, he’ll have to choose between preserving whatever credibility he has left in the wake of the Ray Rice case and preserving one of his staunchest supporters in Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who could be on the brink of an epiphany that eventually could lead to Goodell being interviewed about the challenges faced by his successor.

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Adam Vinatieri: If you’re going to make it harder for kickers, make it harder for everyone

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The NFL continued their experiments to make the placekicking part of the game less automatic at Sunday night’s Pro Bowl.

The uprights were narrowed by over four feet and extra points were pushed back to the 15-yard-line, which contributed to three missed kicks for Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri and Eagles kicker Cody Parkey, who made both his extra point tries, both said after the game that they weren’t in favor of the changes being extended beyond an exhibition game with Parkey saying that he felt like the league was “picking on” kickers. Vinatieri, meanwhile, said that the league should make other changes if they’re concerned with things being too easy for players.

“My answer to that is take the receiver gloves off the receivers and see how if they can make these amazing one-handed catches,” Vinatieri said, via ESPN.com. “Things might change. If we’re going to do it to make it harder on guys because they’re getting more accurate or more whatever, then maybe we should change a bunch of things.”

There’s some truth to the point that Vinatieri makes about receiver gloves helping the likes of Odell Beckham make ridiculous catches on a weekly basis, but until field goals join those catches on highlight films the league isn’t likely to treat the two things in remotely the same way.

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Mike Westhoff thinks Pats are clean, this time

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One week ago this morning, the world was waking up to #DeflateGate.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, sounding still not quite fully awake for his Monday morning visit to WEEI in Boston, laughed the whole thing off as “ridiculous.”

While it may indeed now be “ridiculous,” it’s for reasons far different than Brady meant.  On Sunday, PFT pointed out that much of the blame for the distraction and debacle belongs to the NFL, which apparently set a trap without quite knowing what to do with the beast whose foot they caught in it.  Throw in the involvement of former Jets executive Mike Kensil, who now works for the league office, and the whole thing takes on a Hatfield-McCoy dynamic, with one of the Hatfields now walking around with a badge.

But former Jets special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff has chimed in on this one, and he has reluctantly exonerated the Patriots.

“If it’s anybody that walks the edge on the rules, it’s these guys,” Westhoff told the Toronto Sun (via Tom Curran of CSN New England).  “Sometimes they remind me a little bit of Enron — they’re always the smartest guys in the room, until some day maybe they’re not.  That’s how I feel about them. . . .

“Did they do it? I honestly don’t think they did.  To tell you the truth, I’m not so sure they’re not sitting around today thinking, ‘I wish we’d thought this up,’ knowing them. . . .  As much as I hate to, I’m going to defend them.  And trust me, I hate to defend them. [Spygate] was only a part of it.  The number of things that were like this?  There’s only a handful of them that have been made public.”

“Trust me, what I’m tellin’ you.  There are quite a few others.  Clock violations.  You can go on and on.  There’s a whole sh-tload.”

The truth is there’s “a whole sh-tload” for many (if not most . . . if not all) teams.  Westhoff worked for the Jets when former strength coach Sal Alosi (supposedly acting alone) created a wall of humanity on the sideline with the goal of impeding the opponents’ gunners on punt coverage.  Other teams have done other things; in the recent Bill Walsh:  A Football Life documentary, Bill Parcells talked about his strong suspicion that the 49ers took down the communication lines early in playoff games at San Francisco, when the 49ers already had their first 15 plays scripted.

The current case has received much greater attention and scrutiny because of the profile of the team, coach, and quarterback involved — and because of Spygate.  But that made it all the more important that the NFL crafted a clear, reliable plan for connecting underinflated footballs to deliberate misconduct.  Apparently, the NFL didn’t.

Which in some ways makes this a lot like the Ray Rice case, only with different players and different details.  The incompetence of an organization shows itself in many ways, especially when the organization is confronted with an unusual situation.  The NFL’s handling of unusual situations in recent months has been quite unusual indeed, and the impact of this specific incident on the Patriots could be the tipping point for prompting one of the most influential owners in the sport to demand significant changes at 345 Park Avenue.

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Andrew Luck: Nothing doing on contract front

Andrew Luck AP

There has been talk of a fat new contract in the offing for Colts QB Andrew Luck, but Luck said Sunday that he has as much need for a pen to sign for millions as he has need for a razor.

An ESPN report indicated that the Colts have been “working on the parameters” of an offer that would make Luck the highest-paid player in the league this offseason, but owner Jim Irsay said after the AFC Championship game that such a deal was not part of his “thought process” at this point. Luck sent a similar message after the Pro Bowl.

“There’s nothing there right now,” Luck said, via the Indianapolis Star. “I didn’t think about it all during the season and it’s only been a few days since it ended. I haven’t thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I’m not sure where that report came from.”

Luck can’t sign an extension until the start of the new league year in March, so things could change. The Colts don’t have much pressure to do something now, though. Luck is signed for one more year on his relatively small rookie deal and they will obviously be executing their fifth-year option on his contract, so it will be at least 2017 before there’s a chance of losing Luck. That’s not much of a chance thanks to the franchise tag, one more reason why the Colts have time to figure out how they want to go forward with their quarterback.

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Bears keep it in the family with defensive line coach hire

Drew Brees, Stephen Paea AP

The Bears have shown a preference for assistant coaches that worked with head coach John Fox in Denver, including their hire of special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

So it’s no surprise that they found another former Broncos assistant to coach the defensive line, especially when that defensive line coach is also the older brother of the guy running the special teams.

The Bears announced the hiring of Jay Rodgers late on Sunday as they continue filling out Fox’s initial staff in Chicago. The elder Rodgers spent the last three years coaching the defensive linemen in Denver and was on the Broncos’ staff for six years overall.

Rodgers coached a pair of Pro Bowlers in DeMarcus Ware and Elvis Dumervil during his time with the Broncos and the Broncos were the league’s stingiest defense against the run for the last three seasons.

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Monday morning one-liners

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Looking back at one of the Bills’ unsuccessful trips to the Super Bowl.

It’s apparently not too early to predict all seven rounds of the Dolphins draft.

What kind of impact can Patriots RB Shane Vereen have in the Super Bowl?

Longtime Jets beat writer Paul Needell died at the age of 57.

The offensive line went from a weakness to a strength for the Ravens.

Former Bengals RB Ickey Woods’s career as a pitchman continues to grow.

A call for the Browns to cut WR Josh Gordon to show they are serious about accountability.

Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons was miked up during Pro Bowl week in Arizona.

Texans DE J.J. Watt added to his highlight reel in the Pro Bowl.

Colts QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton hooked up for one more touchdown on Sunday night.

Talent will have more to do with the Jaguars’ results than the identity of the play callers.

Titans S Michael Griffin is expecting a close Super Bowl.

The Broncos should move forward in their defensive coordinator search this week.

Seven free agents who could interest the Chiefs.

Raiders FB Marcel Reece showed off his kicking leg at the Pro Bowl.

Said Chargers S Eric Weddle, “Obviously, I play to win a Super Bowl. I play for my teammates and the organization. I just hope we don’t waste the guys we have on this team and they give us a shot to win the Super Bowl.”

How will the Cowboys move forward at linebacker?

Giants WR Odell Beckham had a couple more highlights at the Pro Bowl.

Eagles RB Darren Sproles helped his team to a Pro Bowl victory.

A review of the Redskins’ outside linebackers.

A hand injury didn’t ruin Bears G Kyle Long’s trip to the Pro Bowl.

The sight of several Lions on Pro Bowl rosters is a sign of how well their season went in 2014.

A Pro Bowl touchdown was cause for Packers WR Jordy Nelson to celebrate with everyone.

The Vikings hope former C Mick Tingelhoff makes the Hall of Fame.

The Falcons coaching staff will have a lot of pieces in place when their new head coach is announced.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen had a pair of touchdowns in the Pro Bowl.

Saints TE Jimmy Graham brought back the goalpost dunk on Sunday night.

David Garrard is a fan of new Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Said Cardinals DL Calais Campbell of his Pro Bowl impressions, “Just how cool everybody is. These are all the superstars of the game, and guys you admire, just getting to know them and seeing how cool they are.”

Are the Rams right to want Sam Bradford back in 2015?

49ers coach Jim Tomsula has roots in Pennsylvania.

Seahawks T Russell Okung said things feel the same as last year’s Super Bowl thus far.

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Joe Lombardi: “Added layers of complexity” in coaching Calvin Johnson

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

One of the things that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi learned during his first season with the Lions is that getting the ball to Calvin Johnson isn’t as easy as just telling him to run down the field and throwing the ball in his direction.

Lombardi learned that the way he could use Johnson was impacted heavily by the way that other teams defended him, pointing to a game against the Vikings when the Lions installed a new play during halftime in order to beat the coverage that Minnesota was sending Johnson’s way. That taught Lombardi to always have a few calls in reserve for use against unexpected defensive looks.

“I don’t want to say [Johnson] makes it more difficult because he really makes it easier,” Lombardi said, via the team’s website. “But there are added layers of complexity when you have a player that can be that dominant. If they play like this than maybe we go to this. There is definitely a comfort level in watching film during the week and saying this is who they are, this is what they are going to do and I’m not sure you can ever do that with him.”

Tackling that learning curve in 2014 should make things easier in 2015, especially if Johnson is able to avoid the injuries that cost him three games and limited him in several others. While the Lions Offense had its issues over the course of the year, Lombardi was able to feed Johnson and Golden Tate often enough for both men to finish with more than 1,000 receiving yards and that offers reason for optimism about a more productive second season in Detroit.

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Jets players enjoy seeing Patriots in another controversy

New England Patriots v New York Jets Getty Images

We’ve found someone more skeptical of Bill Belichick’s #DeflateGate claims than Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Jets Pro Bowlers Nick Mangold and Sheldon Richardson said after the Pro Bowl they weren’t surprised to hear their division rivals involved in another controversy.

“That’s the Patriots,” Richardson said, via Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post. “I’m not surprised at all. If they ain’t winning with controversy, they ain’t winning. . . .

“It’s funny when they say, ‘We keep it professional and clean cut.’ Because they don’t. They don’t at all.”

Mangold was also skeptical of the fact 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots put into play were all under-inflated, while none of the Colts’ were.

“All 12 of [the Patriots’] balls having something wrong with them does tell you something is amiss,” Mangold said. “It does seem like it’s always something with the Patriots. It does seem that way.”

And it does seem like the Jets would be all too happy to enjoy their rivals’ misfortune.

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Giants matriarch Ann Mara recovering after a fall

2014 Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation's "Champions for Children Gala" Getty Images

The Giants didn’t have a season to remember, but things got worse for team matriarch Ann Mara recently.

Via Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, the matriarch of the team is recovering after slipping on ice and hitting her head.

The 85-year-old Ann is the wife of late Giants owner Wellington Mara, and the mother of team co-owner John Mara. She’s still hospitalized

While she’s not very public, her son John did mention her at the end of the season, when discussing a disappointing season.

“She is not very happy with me right now, believe me,” John Mara said. “She suffers through this probably even more so than I do.”

We wish her a speedy recovery.

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Pete Carroll knows every step of football handling procedures now

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In his first of two press conferences about the NFL’s investigation into the use of under-inflated footballs during the AFC Championship game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said that he had no knowledge of the way footballs were prepared for games.

He was the only coach facing questions about whether his team was breaking the rules about the way they were doing that, but he wasn’t the only coach in the dark about the procedures. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was asked about the story of the day in his arrival press conference on Sunday and said that he was just as clueless as Belichick when the week opened. And, like Belichick, he’s spent some time brushing up on football handling procedures.

“Things come up and we have to face things sometimes for the first time, a first-time realization, that maybe everybody would think you should have seen it before. But I never checked on the whole process of how our footballs were handled until this week,” Carroll said. “I can empathize with Coach Belichick in that same way. I never have, so I can understand that he never has either. It’s something that just is part of the equipment standards that are carried out by our people in the organization. That’s one that has not been looked at maybe as intently as it is now, but I know every step of it now. So my awareness is up and I’m sure theirs is and everybody else that’s around our game in particular will never be the same because of what just happened.”

Carroll was asked other questions about the integrity of the game after a year that saw the league face crises on several fronts. He said he thought the deflated ball controversy provided the league with “another opportunity for us to grow and to see that we don’t have everything nailed yet,” but avoided the kind of direct comment on the Patriots’ situation that cornerback Richard Sherman made upon arriving in Arizona.

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Michael Irvin’s team wins the Pro Bowl

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The team chosen by Michael Irvin has defeated the team chosen by Cris Carter.

The Pro Bowl, in its second year of the new format with team captains picking the teams, went down to the final minute, with Team Irvin beating Team Carter 32-28. Team Carter’s last, best chance ended when an Andy Dalton pass fell incomplete; on a day when offenses dominated, Dalton was an exception, completing just nine of his 20 passes for 69 yards.

Does it matter who wins the Pro Bowl? Not really. There’s $27,000 on the line (players and coaches on the winning team get $55,000 while those on the losing team get $28,000), but that’s not enough to make the players play particularly hard.

But what does matter is whether the Pro Bowl is a compelling enough product for the fans to keep watching. The fans at University of Phoenix Stadium seemed to be enjoying themselves, although thousands left early, and there were many empty seats late in the fourth quarter, even though the game was close. The Pro Bowl needs to be well played enough that the fans don’t turn away.

So far, the fans aren’t turning away. And that alone makes it a success, from the NFL’s perspective.

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Jim Irsay compliments Patriots, says he’s “confident” in NFL’s investigation

Jim Irsay AP

While complimenting the Patriots on their rout of his club in last week’s AFC title game, Colts owner Jim Irsay expressed support Sunday night for the league’s investigation of the Pats’ alleged under-inflation of footballs.

Via his verified Twitter account, Irsay said his franchise is “confident the NFL and Commissioner [Roger Goodell] will address the concerns that arouse from our [championship game].”

Wrote Irsay: “The integrity of the game is critical.”

The footballs used by New England in the first half of its 45-7 victory vs. Indianapolis were tested by the NFL, which said Friday that “the evidence thus far supports” the Pats used under-inflated game balls in the first 30 minutes of regulation. The NFL’s investigation remains ongoing.

On Saturday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick defended his club, saying the team didn’t break any rules and offering evidence to support his contention.

Before directly addressing the inflation controversy, Irsay published three Patriots-related tweets, at one point calling New England “a team with championship lineage.”

Here were Irsay’s remarks:

“We congratulate The Patriots as AFC Champions. We knew the difficulties of going to New England and did not overcome the obstacles we faced.

“Our rivalry with The Pats is something we treasure in the depths of our competitive soul,where the fire burns hot. We look forward to 2015.

“Seahawks/Pats will be a great Super Bowl. It’s a great matchup between defending Champions and a team with championship lineage.”

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Browns blew it with Josh Gordon

Gordon Getty Images

With Browns receiver Josh Gordon facing a one-year suspension that he’s not expected to be able to defeat via the appeal process, his time with the team probably is over.  After not having him for 10 games to start 2014 due to a marijuana violation and suspending him for the regular-season finale after missing a walk-through practice, the Browns now won’t have Gordon for all of 2015.

Her arrived in 2012 via the second-round of the supplemental draft.  Despite plenty of warning signs regarding marijuana use in college, the Browns under former CEO Mike Holmgren, G.M. Tom Heckert, and coach Pat Shurmur rolled the dice, likely knowing that with Jimmy Haslam poised to purchase the team from Randy Lerner, a strong season would be a key to remaining employed.  So why not use the 2013 second-round pick in July 2012, if there’s a chance they won’t be there to use the pick in April 2013?

A negotiated two-game suspension to start the 2013 season showed that concerns about Gordon were well founded.  But the Browns could have traded Gordon before the October deadline, and ultimately Haslam prevented president Joe Banner, G.M. Mike Lombardi, and coach Rob Chudzinski from doing so.  After the season, Gordon had outlasted a pair of team presidents, a pair of General Managers, and a pair of head coaches.

Then came the news at draft time that Gordon was facing a one-year suspension.  The Browns didn’t draft a single receiver to replace him, even though they could have had Sammy Watkins with the fourth pick or Odell Beckham after trading down with Buffalo to No. 9.

Now, Gordon has once again let the Browns down, and it becomes very hard for the Browns to trust him again.  If he’s reinstated in a year, the Browns would be wise to trade him.  This time around, they surely won’t get anything close to what they could have gotten in 2013.

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Rob Gronkowski favored to score a touchdown in Super Bowl 49

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We’ve entered the third day of PFT’s Prop Challenge, our daily look at a Super Bowl proposition bet.

The first two props studied were Over-Unders — bets that require choosing whether a given statistic will finish above or below a given number.

On Day One, we pondered Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell’s chances at exceeding 50.5 receiving yards in the Super Bowl.

On Day Two, we looked at the Over-Under on catches by Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin (four).

In both cases, PFT Planet preferred the OVER by a roughly 55-to-45 margin.

Now, on Day Three, we look at a “Yes” or “No” prop made by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Here’s the prop: Will Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown in Super Bowl 49?

“Yes” is favored at -130, meaning a bettor have to lay $13 to win $10.

“No” is +110, with a successful $10 resulting in $11 of profit.

Gronkowski has 14 touchdown catches in 17 games this season, with one TD catch in five consecutive games.

On the other hand, the Seahawks have surrendered 11 TDs to tight ends in 18 games, per ESPN statistics.

So here we go. Does Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown next Sunday, or does Seattle hold him out of the endzone? Let us know via the poll and in the comments. Remember: after the Super Bowl, we’ll tally the votes and see just how well PFT Planet handicaps in this hypothetical, just-for-fun exercise.

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Raiders continue filling out coaching staff

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The Raiders have continued putting together head coach Jack Del Rio’s first Oakland staff by adding a pair of former NFL players.

Jerry McDonald of Bay Area News Group reports that the team has added Rob Moore as their new wide receivers coach and Bernie Parmalee as the new running backs coach.

Moore spent his first year as an NFL coach working with the wide receivers in Buffalo after spending several years on the staff at his alma mater Syracuse, where he worked for former Bills coach Doug Marrone as well. Moore played 10 seasons for the Jets and Cardinals, making the Pro Bowl twice and the All-Pro team once.

Parmalee played nine years for the Dolphins and Jets and moved into coaching after his playing career came to an end following the 2000 season. He worked for the Dolphins and then spent time working under Charlie Weis when he was a head coach at Notre Dame and Kansas as well as during his time with the Chiefs.

The Raiders have filled out the majority of their offensive staff and hired a few defensive assistants, but they’re still looking for a defensive coordinator.

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