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Tottenham hopes to share London stadium with NFL team

Tottenham Getty Images

With all the talk about the inevitable relocation of one or two NFL teams to Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget that the NFL still intends (or so it periodically says) to uproot another franchise and re-plant it in London.

Some think it’s idle chatter aimed at getting fans in England feeling more warm and fuzzy about the growing slate of games played at Wembley Stadium every year.  Others believe it’s a very real possibility — including a soccer club that doesn’t play at Wembley Stadium.

Per the London Times (via SportsBusiness Daily), Tottenham hopes to share a new venue with the NFL.  The structure would have an artificial field on which the NFL team would play, with a grass field that slides in and out for use by the soccer club.

The stadium also would have larger locker rooms and other features making it more conducive to hosting football games.

Even if a team doesn’t move to London, the NFL seems intent on expanding the annual slate of neutral-site contests, which at some point could match the eight games that one team would play at home in London, without the scheduling quirks that putting one team there would entail, such as two- and three-game home stands, two- and three-week road trips, and playoff games staged in England.  Those games could be moved from Wembley to the Tottenham stadium that would be built in north London.

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Jets brought Marcus Mariota in for a pre-draft visit

SUBWAY Introduces Marcus Mariota as New Famous Fan AP

Barring a surprising move in the next six days, the sixth-picking Jets won’t have much of a shot at either of the top two quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL Draft.

But they’re doing their research, just in case.

Via Brian Costello of the New York Post, the Jets had Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in for a pre-draft visit on April 2, shortly after they sent a large contingent to his pro day workout.

The Jets bought themselves some Geno Smith insurance this offseason by signing veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is familiar enough with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey from previous stints together that he could reasonably handle things.

But they’re still the Jets, and having gone so long without a quarterback to hang their headband on (other than the brief-but-glorious Mark Sanchez era), it’s hard to imagine them not itching to do something there.

And despite the attached photo of the Mariota sandwich which will haunt your dreams forever (I can’t unsee it, so I figured I’d share with you, gentle readers), the Jets have been having visions of a quarterback of his caliber for some time.

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Justin Pugh wants Giants to draft guy who could replace him at tackle

New York Giants v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

One of the players that has been linked with the Giants during the pre-draft process is Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, who is expected to be the first blocker to come off the board when the first round gets underway next Thursday.

Part of the reason that Scherff makes sense is that Justin Pugh, who was drafted in the first round two years ago, has failed to impress at right tackle. Scherff could take over that spot and kick Pugh inside to guard, something that isn’t worrying Pugh. He said Thursday that he hopes the Giants draft Scherff and that he’d happily move inside if that’s what the team wants him to do.

“Not at all,” Pugh said, via ESPN.com. “I think, if you look at every single Giant offensive lineman that’s been here when we’ve won Super Bowls — the David Diehls of this world, who moved from guard to tackle to left tackle, won a Super Bowl playing left tackle, no one thought he could do that. If you don’t have that mentality in that offensive line room, you’re not going to be successful. You have to have that versatility.”

The Diehl example is actually the opposite of what Pugh would be doing as the fifth-round pick’s play moved him into a more prominent position on the line before then going back down the ladder later in his career, not that those facts make Pugh’s attitude about things any less helpful to the Giants. If they draft Scherff, they would be able to have flexibility about how they deploy their offensive line while improving their chances of improving last year’s woeful run blocking.

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Bill Belichick uses White House trip to make larger points

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It’s easy to view Patriots coach Bill Belichick as a football automaton, a man so focused on his job that saying “We’re on to Cincinnati” isn’t a tactic, it’s a way of life.

But in a pair of acts yesterday, Belichick established himself as a man with an emotional side as well.

Via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Belichick made his own subtle personal statement yesterday, wearing an Armenian flag pin on his label.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, when 1.5 million of their people were killed by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Belichick has a number of Armenian friends, and the pin was described as a personal statement rather than political.

He also took a busload of players to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before their visit to the White House. The team began doing that after winning Super Bowl XXXVI.

“The first year we did this, we went over to Walter Reed and started a tradition that we’ve continued and we had a chance to do it this year,” owner Robert Kraft said. “We’ve realized what a great country this is and how thankful we are to be here. We celebrate sports today, but we also celebrate what’s great about America, being at that hospital and seeing those men.”

Belichick has made similar trips before, taking his team to Naval Medical Center in San Diego in December to see wounded veterans.

So as good as they are at football, it’s a solid reminder for all of them and all of us that there are actual heroes out there as well.

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Michael Crabtree: I have a lot to prove

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s entry into free agency was not met with a rush of interest from around the league.

Crabtree’s market developed slowly and it wasn’t a particularly robust one once teams started turning interest in his direction. Crabtree wound up signing a one-year, $1.3 million deal with the Raiders and Crabtree is aware of the meaning of the way things played out.

“I have a lot to prove,” Crabtree said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “A lot to prove. Ain’t got nothing to lose and have a lot to prove.”

Crabtree also said that he’s feeling healthier than he has for the last couple of seasons and took issue with those who took issue with his attitude while he was with the 49ers, saying it is “just talk” that he’s been a less than ideal teammate over the years. Given the persistence of such talk, that’s something else that Crabtree will have to prove this year with Oakland.

Should everything go right, Crabtree should find a warmer response from the market next year but more of the same will provide the opposite proof of Crabtree’s NFL standing.

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Eagles exec: “Intrigued with what we saw” from Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow AP

Given that we haven’t heard much from the Eagles since the signing of Tim Tebow, a press conference with vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz was a first chance to explore their deepest feelings on the matter.

Or to, you know, chum the waters of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers.

Marynowitz said the team saw enough in Tebow’s workout to be encouraged, and that he was there to compete as a quarterback, despite the fact he hasn’t done that in exchange for money since the Patriots cut him in the 2013 preseason.

“We brought Tim in for a workout,” Marynowitz said, via John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly.com. “Obviously we were intrigued with what we saw there. We saw a player that had improved from the last time that we saw him live, which was when he was here with New England. We had some conversations, some discussions, and we felt it was an opportunity to bring in somebody that could compete for a spot.

“We’ve got 68 players that are on our football team right now. Tim is one of them. He’ll have an opportunity to compete for a roster spot and his role will be determined by his performance. I think it’s as simple as that. We’re bringing in a guy who can compete, and we look forward to that.”

There’s going to be plenty more to be said about his development moving forward, and whether he actually looks like an NFL quarterback.

And regardless your thoughts (#hotsportstake and otherwise), the looming changes to the two-point conversion rule make him a potentially valuable part to have around, as he’s proven he’s useful in that area of the field.

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Jameis-JaMarcus comparison made by “unnamed executive”

Jamarcus Russell Getty Images

Is Jameis Winston the next JaMarcus Russell? He is according to one unnamed executive.

“With Jameis Winston I see JaMarcus Russell,” an unnamed personnel executive told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

McGinn is a longtime NFL reporter who frequently quotes unnamed scouts and executives ripping top prospects just before the draft. This year he’s found an unnamed executive who’s going all-in on Winston, comparing him to Russell in terms of their mental makeup, their physique and even the fact that both were coached by Jimbo Fisher in college.

“Lack of focus by JaMarcus is what I see in Winston,” the personnel man said. “They’re physically talented, but during the course of a game they kind of lose their focus and just put the ball up for grabs. I see the body. I see the lack of focus. I see the same coach and system. Only Winston’s not as good an athlete and his arm isn’t as strong as JaMarcus’.”

It’s worth noting, however, that Winston was a better college quarterback than Russell was. Russell was good at LSU, but he wasn’t on Winston’s level. Russell was drafted first overall because of his physical tools (6-foot-6 with a cannon for an arm) while Winston is likely to be drafted first overall because he’s a complete quarterback (a Heisman Trophy winner who led his team to a national championship).

Still, McGinn’s reporting makes clear that not everyone believes Winston should be picked first.

“Is this guy really going to be the first pick of the draft? You’d be drafting a quarterback that can’t run, has off-field problems, has no power in his legs and makes bad decisions on the field. Somebody’s going to make a horrible mistake,” another personnel man said.

That somebody is almost certainly going to be the Buccaneers, who appear poised to make Winston the first overall pick on Thursday in the hopes that he’s a No. 1 pick more like Peyton Manning than like JaMarcus Russell.

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Elway says it makes no sense for Demaryius Thomas to stay away

Demaryius AP

A recent item regarding the decision of franchise-tagged Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to work out on his own in lieu of participating in offseason workouts with the team explained that Pierre-Paul risks suffering a serious injury and then losing the $14.8 million he’d make this year if the injury happens at team facilities.

Based on his comments to the media from Thursday, Broncos G.M. John Elway agrees with that logic as it relates to franchise-tagged receiver Demaryius Thomas.

“That makes no sense to me,” Elway said.  “If he gets hurt here, he’s covered.  If he gets hurt somewhere else, he’s not.  Tell me why that makes sense that he wouldn’t be here working out with us?  That’s why I don’t understand it at all.  That’s part of the game, but it makes no sense for him not be here.”

Elway otherwise sees no value in Thomas opting not to work out with his teammates.

“To be dead honest, I see absolutely zero value in him being away from here — zero value for him,” Elway said.  “There is no value for him not to be here with his teammates.  As far as negotiations and his new deal and what’s going on, we’d like to get something done.  By him being away from here, there is zero value not only to us, but also to him.  To me, it makes no sense.  That actually has no effect on anything that we’re talking to about trying to get a contract done with him, because that’s what we’d ultimately like to do.  For him not to be here has zero effect.”

Players believe that withholding services provides leverage toward a long-term deal, even if as to players with the franchise tag the team feels no extra compulsion to cave in April.  Teams regard the real deadline as July 15, the final day for signing the franchise-tagged player to a long-term deal.

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Seahawks still want Tarvaris Jackson back

Tarvaris Jackson Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks are still hoping to bring back Tarvaris Jackson to serve as backup to Russell Wilson.

Jackson has spent three of the last four seasons with Seattle and has become a well-respected member of the Seahawks locker room.

However, Jackson remains unsigned after becoming a free agent in March. General manager John Schneider said Wednesday that the Seahawks would “absolutely” want Jackson back.

I think it’s just a matter of free agency and the timing,” Schneider said as to why there hasn’t been a deal yet. “He’s feeling his way through free agency as we are. He knows we’d love to have him back.”

Jackson may be waiting until after the May 12 deadline that factors into the determination of compensatory draft picks to see if the market for his services is any better. By waiting until after May 12 to sign, teams could sign Jackson without him factory into the compensatory formula.

If the market isn’t what Jackson would like, a return to the Seahawks would make a lot of sense. He appeared in just one game for Seattle last year but is a trusted option and would be the only quarterback with experience behind Wilson on the roster. B.J. Daniels has been back and forth between the practice squad and hasn’t played in two seasons since being claimed off waivers from San Francisco in 2013.

Jackson visited the Dolphins before Miami elected to sign Matt Moore (and Josh Freeman) to backup Ryan Tannehill.

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Still waiting for #DeflateGate outcome

Obama AP

Even though the NFL waited to issue a ruling on #DeflateGate before the Patriots visited the White House, President Barack Obama found a way to poke fun at the team absent a recent reminder of the scandal.

Now, the wait for a report from Ted Wells and a ruling from the league office can resume.

With the draft a week away, it remains unknown whether closure will come before the process of making picks begin.  Some in league circles think that, whenever it ends, the Patriots will be cleared of any wrongdoing, given the absence of clear evidence of intentional, deliberate tampering with the air pressure in footballs used during the AFC title game.

But that doesn’t mean no one will be getting in trouble.

As one league source recently explained it to PFT, the league’s investigation has expanded to explore its own behavior, including for example the identity of person(s) who leaked to the media information that suggested the Patriots did something wrong.

Regardless of how it plays out, it needs to play out.  No matter how played out it all has become.

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Linemakers have variety of opinions on Colts-Bills

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Of the 16 Week One games on the board for betting at Nevada sports books, no matchup has a wider range of point spreads than Colts-Bills.

While the AFC South-champion Colts are consensus favorites across Nevada, they are favored by as little as 1.5 points to as much as three points. The CG Technology sports books have Indianapolis just a 1.5-point favorite, per VegasInsider.com, while the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has Indianapolis -3 at even money.

Both clubs could be improved in 2015. The Colts, with quarterback Andrew Luck still on a rookie contract, spent heavily in free agency, while the Bills hired Rex Ryan as head coach and traded for tailback LeSean McCoy.

With a good number of key changes for Indianapolis and Buffalo, some variance in the numbers is probably to be expected. The 2015 NFL Draft doesn’t figure to have much of an effect on the market; the Bills don’t have a first-round pick, while the Colts select toward the end of Round One.

While Colts-Bills has the widest range of spreads in Nevada, there are three games where the sports books are just about in lockstep, according to the VegasInsider.com lines. Two of the games feature road favorites of more than a field goal: Green Bay (-4) at Chicago and Carolina (-4) at Jacksonville. Also, sports books seem to be in agreement on Titans-Buccaneers, making Tampa Bay a three-point favorite.

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Broncos waive WR Kerry Taylor

LaRon Landry, Kerry Taylor AP

The Broncos reduced their wide receiver ranks by one on Thursday, waiving second-year pro Kerry Taylor, per the NFL’s daily personnel notice.

The move leaves Denver with 75 players one week before the NFL draft. The Broncos have 10 wide receivers, and it would not be a surprise if that number grew either via draft picks or free agent signings after the draft.

An Arizona State product, the 26-year-old Taylor has appeared in 10 regular season games in his NFL career, catching 22 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown in stints with Jacksonville and Arizona. He saw his most extensive action with the Jaguars in 2013, catching 19-189-1 in seven contests (four starts).

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are Denver’s top two receivers, with second-year pro Cody Latimer perhaps in line for a bigger role in 2015.

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Marynowitz sheds light on “mortgaging the future”

Mariota AP

New Eagles V.P. of player personnel Ed Marynowitz met with the media on Thursday for a pre-draft “reporters round table.”  The team has supplied a transcript of the event, and it contains significant elaboration on the question of whether the Eagles will trade up from No. 20 in an effort to get quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“Philosophically, we are opposed to ‘mortgaging the future’ was Chip’s term,” Marynowitz said.  “Really, the way we look at it is draft picks — every draft pick you have is an opportunity to improve your football team.  So the more opportunities we have to improve our team, we’re excited about that.  So I’d rather have more picks than less picks.  I think Chip shares the same philosophy.  That doesn’t preclude us from moving up and doing something.  I think you never say never.  But, philosophically, we have eight picks and we’d like to pick eight players or more, not less.”

But, philosophically, Kelly sees every pick as a crapshoot.  He sees Mariota as a sure thing.  So how many lottery tickets would be swapped for a certainty?”I think there is an internal number on that that we’re not going to share outside the building, but we know what mortgaging the future is internally,” Marynowitz said.

But it’s not just picks that the Eagles could surrender.  They also have quarterback Sam Bradford, and a three-way deal could send Bradford to Cleveland and multiple first-round picks to a team in the top five and bring Mariota to Philly.

Whatever the outcome, it seems clear that the Eagles will at least give it a try in the next week.  With Bradford to dangle and with the Browns trying before on multiple occasions to get him, that could be the key to flipping No. 20 for Mariota.

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NFL’s new disciplinary process, player rights make for delicate balance

Scales Getty Images

Even without the benefit of an opportunity to interview Nicole Holder, plenty of evidence exists to believe that Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy did something he shouldn’t have done.  The NFL has concluded that Hardy did several things he shouldn’t have done, even though Hardy in the eyes of the State of North Carolina officially did nothing wrong.

The unique posture of the case — with Holder choosing not to testify at a jury trial and not to file a civil lawsuit but to accept a settlement and to agree to no longer cooperate in the criminal case — placed the NFL in a potentially awkward spot.  How does the league determine what occurred, and what standard will used to assess guilt or innocence?

Those issues apply in every case, creating a push and pull between league and union over the proper penalty to apply, if any.  That balance between NFL and NFL Players Association takes on greater importance because, as NFL executive V.P. and general counsel Jeff Pash emphasized during an appearance on ESPN’s Outside The Lines, the league used a new process in investigating and resolving the Hardy case.

“Everyone’s focused on Greg Hardy getting a 10-game suspension, but really the more important point is the process that was followed here,” Pash said.  “This suspension was imposed after a lengthy and detailed independent investigation of the kind that we really haven’t done before.  We said last September, and throughout the fall, and in the new personal conduct policy that we were not going to simply defer to the criminal justice system and rely on law enforcement.  And that’s exactly what happened here.  We did an independent investigation.  We didn’t rely simply on the records here.  Greg Hardy had a tremendous amount of due process and procedural safeguards after the charges were dropped.  We undertook to find out what the facts were, and it was on the basis of a voluminous record that the suspension was imposed.  And I think the process that went into the decision that the Commissioner made is really what’s important and really what’s meaningful and new in terms of how we’re going to approach these issues going forward.”

While Pash also made clear the league’s position that a new standard didn’t apply to Hardy (because a new standard can’t be applied to conduct that occurred before the standard changed), the new process still must yield at some point to player rights.  As noted on Wednesday, the NFL has not identified a specific legal standard that applies to the yes-or-no question of whether the player did what he’s accused of doing — a question that becomes more complicated at a time when the player is no longer officially being accused of anything.  And this requires, both in Hardy’s case and every other investigation regarding possible player misconduct, the process to be carefully balanced against the rights provided to players under the labor deal.

That balance becomes even more important where the NFL could be tempted to over-punish a player in order to avoid another P.R. nightmare resulting from the perception that the league didn’t go far enough, especially since fan and media reaction is minimal when the league goes to far.  The league has had three high-profile legal failures in connection with the discipline of players since 2012 (i.e., the bounty case, the Ray Rice appeal, and the Adrian Peterson lawsuit), and those losses collectively did little or no damage to “The Shield.”  In contrast, the perceived bungling of the Ray Rice investigation and disciplinary process did significant short-term harm to the league, and nearly fatal damage to the Commissioner’s employment.  That contrast easily could cause the NFL to err on the side of finding a player guilty and imposing significant punishment when assessing future cases of domestic violence.

Thursday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio included a visit from Jay Feely, a long-time NFL kicker and member of the NFL Players Association’s Executive Committee.  Feely addressed the balance that the league and union face in these cases.

“I don’t like the actions,” Feely said.  “And when you take a look at Hardy and you look at Adrian Peterson and you look at Ray Rice, you have to, which you’ve done, talk about what they did and say that it’s not OK and say that it’s not acceptable but also be able to separate that from the argument of whether the way the NFL has handled the case is the appropriate way.”

Feely called the league’s process arbitrary, expressing concern that proper safeguards aren’t in place for those who are truly innocent, especially with the NFL now willing to put a player on paid leave based simply on allegations.

“When you look at players who are taken off the field and not allowed to perform and have a short window, that is a penalty,” Feely said.  “Whether they pay them or not, you’re penalizing them.  You’re not allowing them to be on the field, you’re not allowing them to accumulate numbers for their career and the longevity of their career and they’re not taking that into account simply because they’re paying them.”

Feely said he has discussed these issued directly with the NFL during labor negotiations, in a meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell, Giants co-owner John Mara, and the league’s lawyers.

“They basically said, we don’t care, we don’t want them on the field,” Feely said.  “Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because of the look that it provides.  Because of the way that their fans could react.  And I don’t think that’s the right way to govern.  You have to find an appropriate measure that protects innocent players and protects the game at the same time.  I understand it’s a very hard line to walk and it’s not an easy fix and not an easy solution.  But the way that they’re doing it right now haphazardly is not the right way to approach it, in my opinion.”

That sense of arbitrary and results-oriented decisions quite possibly comes from a preference to get it wrong by going too far than to get it wrong by not going far enough.

“They would be candid about that behind closed doors,” Feely said, “and they would be willing to take somebody who is innocent but accused of something off the field because they want to protect themselves and go too far, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they refuse to have neutral arbitration when it comes to these cases, because they want somebody like Roger Goodell to be the final arbiter who has their financial wherewithal at the heart of the decision that they’re making. . . . You have to find a way, you have to find a balance to protect the innocent while also saying we’re not going to accept this kind of behavior.”

Currently, that balance comes on a case-by-case basis, with the league overshooting and the NFLPA fighting back, whether in arbitration or in court.  It would be better for that balance to manifest itself in the initial decision, which would keep the NFL and the union from constantly fighting over each and every case.  As long as that initial decision is made exclusively by the league, that most likely won’t be happening.

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88 years ago Thursday, the NFL made a plan to get smaller

nfl-logo_1400603306311_4966139_ver1-0_640_480 Getty Images

Eighty-eight years ago Thursday, the NFL finalized a plan to get smaller.

A lot smaller.

The plan, which was led by Commissioner Joe Carr, was to contract some of the struggling clubs to improve the league’s financial health, as the NFL’s Record and Fact Book points out. “The Man Who Built The National Football League,” a biography of Carr, notes contraction discussions began earlier in the winter, were formalized on April 23, 1927 and executed in July.

When the 1927 season began, a leaner-and-meaner NFL was in place. The league, which fielded 22 teams the previous year, now had just 12 clubs — 10 holdovers and two teams that were not in the NFL in 1926.

Moreover, a dozen teams had exited stage left, never to play again in the NFL. Ultimately, the Akron Indians, Brooklyn Lions, Canton Bulldogs, Columbus Tigers, Detroit Panthers, Hammond Pros, Hartford Blues, Kansas City Cowboys, Los Angeles Buccaneers, Louisville Colonels, Milwaukee Badgers and Racine Tornadoes disappeared from the NFL for good.

For eight cities — Akron, Canton, Columbus, Hammond, Hartford, Louisville, Milwaukee and Racine — this was the end of having an NFL team within its boundaries.

So what happened to the 12 teams that remained in the NFL in 1927?

Within five years, eight of the clubs — the Buffalo Rangers, Cleveland Bulldogs, Dayton Triangles, Duluth Eskimos, Frankford Yellow Jackets, New York Yankees, Pottsville Maroons and Providence Steam Roller — were gone.

However, the Chicago Bears, Chicago Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants were still around, just as they are today, with only the Cardinals (now in Arizona) having changed markets.

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