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Steelers re-sign Steven Johnson

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 12:  Jace Billingsley #16 of the Detroit Lions catches a 27 yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against Steven Johnson #51,  Jordan Dangerfield #37 and Ricardo Mathews #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on August 12, 2016 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers signed a couple of impending exclusive rights free agents recently and they moved on to a player who was set to hit the open market on Wednesday.

The team announced that they have re-signed linebacker Steven Johnson to a one-year deal. Johnson was on track to be an unrestricted free agent next month.

Johnson signed with the Steelers last year, but only saw action in six games due to an ankle injury that forced him to injured reserve. He had six tackles and a forced fumble in those appearances.

Johnson played 16 games for the Titans in 2015 and spent the first three years of his career with the Broncos. The Steelers have 12 other unrestricted free agents-to-be, including running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker Lawrence Timmons.

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Chad Henne will be back with Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 15:  Chad Henne #7 of the Jacksonville Jaguars attempts a pass during the game against the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field on December 15, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars have re-signed veteran quarterback Chad Henne.

Henne has been the team’s primary backup quarterback for the last three seasons after starting 13 games in 2013. He would have been eligible for free agency next month if he and the team hadn’t agreed to a new contract.

Henne is a veteran of eight NFL seasons and has been with the Jaguars since 2012. He was a full-time starter in 2009-10 with the Dolphins and has made 53 career starts. The Jaguars’ new coaching staff clearly values that experience as it prepares to try to get the most out of starter Blake Bortles.

“With nine years of NFL experience, Chad has an abundance of knowledge,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said in the team’s release on Henne’s new deal. “Chad provides leadership to our offensive meeting room.”

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Texas governor says NFL is “walking on thin ice” with Super Bowl threat

AUSTIN, TX -  FEBRUARY 18:  Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at a joint press conference February 18, 2015 in Austin, Texas.  The press conference addressed the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas' decision on the lawsuit filed by a Texas-led coalition of 26 states challenging President Obama's executive action on immigration.  (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Everything may indeed be bigger in Texas, including the bravado of its politicians when talking about targets that are safely out of town.

After the NFL suggested last week that future events in Texas could be threatened if they pass a “bathroom bill” that would limit the rights of transgender Texans, Texas governor Greg Abbott fired back at the league.

He did so in a friendly environment, appearing on conservative talk show host Glenn Beck’s program, allowing him to jangle his spurs with great vigor.

The NFL is walking on thin ice right here,” Abbott said, via the Texas Tribune. “The NFL needs to concentrate on playing football and get the heck out of politics.”

Last week, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said proposed laws that are “discriminatory or inconsistent with our values” would “certainly be a factor” for considering future events in the state, such as Super Bowls like the one that just left Houston.

But Abbott fired back when given the opportunity to discuss an issue he’s previously been very quiet on, after letting lieutenant governor Dan Patrick take the lead on the proposed legislation which would require transgender persons to use the bathrooms corresponding with their genetic identity rather than how they identify.

“For some low-level NFL adviser to come out and say that they are going to micromanage and try to dictate to the state of Texas what types of policies we’re going to pass in our state, that’s unacceptable,” Abbott told Beck. “We don’t care what the NFL thinks and certainly what their political policies are because they are not a political arm of the state of Texas or the United States of America. They need to learn their place in the United States, which is to govern football, not politics.”

For one thing, McCarthy is a rather high-level adviser. For another, it’s not dissimilar to veiled threats by the league toward governments in the past. Georgia governor Nathan Deal vetoed a “religious liberty” bill which many considered discriminatory, and lo and behold, Atlanta was awarded a Super Bowl shortly thereafter.

But Abbott was on a roll, so he threw some more red meat into the cage, suggesting that Texans were no longer as fond of the NFL because of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests.

“I cannot name or even count the number of Texans who told me that they were not watching the NFL,” Abbott said. “They were protesting the NFL this year because of the gross political statement allowed to be made by the NFL by allowing these players, who are not oppressed, who are now almost like snowflake little politicians themselves unable to take the United States national anthem being played.”

It’s great fodder for the base back home, and it will be years before the Super Bowl rotation goes back to Texas anyway. But Abbott staked out of a strong position, taking that “Don’t Mess with Texas” spirit to a level that Jerry Jones and Bob McNair may be uncomfortable with one day.

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Titans likely to be “overly cautious” with Marcus Mariota

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota passes against the Oakland Raiders in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski) AP

Titans coach Mike Mularkey provided an update on quarterback Marcus Mariota’s recovery from a fractured fibula last month and said Mariota was “on track” for a return by the start of the regular season.

Mularkey gave another update on Wednesday and it sounded a lot like the last one. Mularkey said on “The Midday 180” on 104.5 The Zone that he texted with Mariota recently and watched video of the quarterback walking on a treadmill in a pool, which the coach said keeps him “on schedule” for his recovery.

Mularkey didn’t specify when that recovery would progress to a point when Mariota would be on the field and suggested there won’t be any rush to get to that point.

“I think we’re going to be really smart about how we handle him and probably be overly cautious,” Mularkey said, via Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.

There will be a lot of interest in making sure that Mariota is back to full health as the offseason and training camp unfold, but there’s little for the team to gain by risking his availability for the regular season.

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Report: Jaguars will sign Arrelious Benn

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 16: Arrelious Benn #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs for a 51-yard touchdown after a reception against the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter of the game at Soldier Field on October 16, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Jaguars defeated the Bears 17-16. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars will sign wide receiver Arrelious Benn to a new contract before he can hit the free agent market, the Florida Times-Union reported Wednesday.

Per the report, the deal is for 2017 with an option for a second year. Benn played in 15 games for the Jaguars last season, catching five passes and playing on special teams.

A second-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2010, Benn spent three seasons in Tampa Bay then spent time with the Eagles but did not play in a regular-season game from 2012 until last year with the Jaguars. The Bucs traded him to Philadelphia in 2013 but he ended both of his seasons with the Eagles on the team’s injured-reserve list.

He has six career touchdown catches in 52 games, 24 starts.

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Report: NFL invited Chad Kelly to Combine, then rescinded invitation

OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 29:   Quarterback Chad Kelly #10 of the Mississippi Rebels throws a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against the Auburn Tigers on October 29, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was not invited to the Scouting Combine. Or perhaps he was invited, only to later learn it was a non-vite or an un-vitation.

According to Bill Polian of ESPN, Kelly initially was invited to the Combine, only to have that invitation rescinded by the league office. Polian, who signed Chad’s uncle Jim Kelly in 1986 and has been close to Kelly’s family for decades, indicated that the family isn’t sure why the invitation was rescinded.

It’s obvious why Kelly won’t be at the Combine: The NFL implemented a new rule this year that players who have been convicted of violent crimes won’t be permitted, and Kelly pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct two years ago as part of a case in which he was initially accused of punching two people, threatening to shoot up a bar with an AK-47 and resisting arrest.

What’s unclear is why the league would initially invite Kelly, only to rescind that invitation later. It may be that this new policy hasn’t been thoroughly considered, and the league is still deciding which types of offenses merit exclusion from the Combine. A disorderly conduct plea might not necessarily keep a player from the Combine, but when that plea stemmed from an incident in which the player was initially accused of violence and serious threats, the NFL steers clear.

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Report: Broncos have not discussed Victor Cruz

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 16:  Jimmy Smith #22 of the Baltimore Ravens tackles Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants during the first half of the game at MetLife Stadium on October 16, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Getty Images

Almost immediately after the Giants cut receiver Victor Cruz, reports emerged that the Broncos were interested. But those reports are now being contradicted.

Veteran Broncos reporter Mike Klis of KUSA reports that the Broncos have not discussed Cruz.

The Broncos could use a slot receiver like Cruz: They have a good 1-2 pair of starters in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but not much after him.

However, there are questions about whether the 30-year old Cruz has anything left. Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon in the sixth game of the 2014 season, missed the entire 2015 season after suffering a calf injury, and managed just 39 catches in 15 games last year. The Broncos may not be convinced that Cruz will be able to contribute anything next season.

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Movie about Malcolm Butler’s life in the works

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots reacts against the New England Patriots during the first quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The story of an undrafted free agent going from working at Popeye’s to sealing a Super Bowl victory with an interception at the goal line is the kind of thing that sounds like a Hollywood movie.

That’s just what one producer hopes Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler’s life story will be in the near future. Producer Daniel Levin, whose film Lion is nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, has purchased Butler’s life rights along with those of agent Derek Simpson for a film currently being called The Secondary.

Lion and The Secondary are against-all-odds stories of struggle and inspiration,” Levin said, via The Hollywood Reporter. “Derek would not stop until Malcolm got a chance.”

Football movies have been a mixed bag over the years, but the overcoming obstacles angle worked well for The Blind Side. That film about Panthers tackle Michael Oher’s high school days wound up nominated for Best Picture while Sandra Bullock won Best Actress for her performance in the film.

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T.O. controversy underscores need for Hall of Fame transparency

ST. LOUIS - OCTOBER 19:  Terrell Owens #81 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during their NFL game against the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome on October 19, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Rams defeated the Cowboys 34-14.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

I started down the T.O. Hall of Fame time out rabbit hole a week ago due primarily to concerns regarding a lack of transparency in the selection process. After a week of arguments, counterarguments, and a few condescending comments from voters who resent being questioned or criticized by people who don’t know the inner working of the process, I’m back to where I started.

Those who criticize the process indeed don’t know the inner workings of the process because the process is kept completely secret. And the T.O. case proves that the time has arrived for transparency.

As Peter King of TheMMQB.com pointed out earlier this week, those who voted against Owens largely have slipped into hiding.

The fact that Owens didn’t make it from the final 15 to the final 10 suggests that the nays are more plentiful than necessary to transform him from one of the final five into a Hall of Famer. Don’t underestimate, however, the possibility that the voters collectively realized that enough of them would never get behind Owens on the final ballot (where it takes only 10 to put the kibosh on Canton) to make pushing Owens to the final 10 or the final five an exercise in futility.

It ultimately may be only 10 people who are anti-T.O. Maybe there aren’t that many; maybe the handful was loud enough and zealous enough that they managed to convince enough of their peers to think that pushing Owens through to the final five would set the stage for an ugly filibuster at best or a complete waste of time (and a spot that could have gone to someone else) at worst.

The only obvious “no” votes currently known (by me) are Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News (he wrote a column about it), Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (ditto), Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts (he made his case against Owens in a radio interview), and Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report (his Twitter account makes his position clear). All of the “no” votes should be known, and those who have kept quiet while the process has been challenged generally and a small handful of their colleagues have been attacked specifically should speak up.

Even if all the “no” votes were known, we still won’t know everything that needs to be known. Those voters who have chosen to disclose their position on Owens refuse to disclose the identity of other Hall of Famers, players, and/or coaches who have privately said that Owens doesn’t belong. Setting aside the question of whether these non-voters should have so much sway over the process, the refusal to name them makes the process even harder to accept.

It’s one thing to gather facts anonymously. Gathering opinions anonymously allows for those anonymous opinions to be tainted by personal animus. Also, it makes objective assessment of the basis for the opinions impossible, allowing for all sorts of subjective factors to be twisted and warped — and for the voters to abdicate their responsibility to assess the candidate to the whispers of those who, given the benefit of secrecy, are far more likely to yield to the temptation of human factors.

The broader concern is this: When evaluating a player based on what he did on a 100-by-53-yard patch of grass or FieldTurf or green cement, it’s easy to assess the opinions of the voters and to develop opinions on the accuracy of the outcome of the votes. When things that happened from the sideline to the parking lot become relevant to the process, it becomes impossible to know what is being considered, why it’s being considered, which others have made it through despite similar concerns, and whether those standards will be applied to future candidates.

There can be no consistency without transparency, and with no transparency it’s impossible for those who view Owens as a knee-jerk Hall of Famer to understand his omission for a second straight year. The voters who oppose Owens can either sneer at those of us who think they got it wrong or they can heed the criticisms, lobby for meaningful change, and bring a different approach to the process in 2018.

If it’s the former, there will be more sneering at those of us who think they got it wrong, both as to Owens and as to others who seem to pass the Hall of Fame eyeball test but can’t get in.

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Pollution a concern for NFL game in China

unknown Getty Images

The NFL wants to play a regular-season game in China. The league may have to wait until the league develops a uniform that includes scuba gear.

According to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, pollution remains an impediment to scheduling the game — and the NFL has yet to come up with a solution.

Reports emerged in 2016 that the NFL plans to stage a Chinese regular-season game in 2018. Since then, the NFL has made no specific announcements in this regard.

As Kaplan notes, China likely won’t shut down coal plants and seed clouds like it did before the 2008 Olympics to accommodate an NFL game. Which could be a problem for players who are, you know, inhaling the air in order to provide oxygenated blood to their muscles.

NFL executive V.P. Mark Waller told Kaplan that a decision on a 2018 game in China may not come until the owners meet in May 2017.

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Bears sign center Eric Kush to two-year deal

wbbm-1101-bears-helmet Getty Images

Eric Kush was brought in as depth last year when the Bears lost center Hroniss Grasu to a torn ACL.

They must have liked what they saw, since they’re keeping Kush around.

The team announced they had signed the journeyman offensive lineman to a two-year deal.

Kush may be best known for his “Man of a Thousand Tank Tops” persona on Hard Knocks, and has had previous stints with the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Texans.

Kush started four games for the Bears last year, so he figures to be a valuable reserve in case their line isn’t ravaged by injuries again.

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NFL announces 330 participants in the Scouting Combine

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers rushes against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL has released the list of players expected at this year’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and there are 330 names on it this year.

Big names like Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett and Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen are all on the list and expected to be taking part in some or all of the activities. Others like Ohio State safety Malik Hooker and Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis are recovering from injuries and will be limited to meeting with teams at the event, which starts on February 28 and runs through March 6 this year.

As always, though, there are some players who failed to get on the list whose names are familiar to those who follow the college game. A NFL rule barring the participation of those convicted and/or charged with violence or use of a weapon, domestic violence or sexual offenses means Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, Baylor wide receiver Ishmael Zamora and Ole Miss wide receiver Damor’ea Stringfellow won’t be taking part.

Michigan has the most players participating with 14 Wolverines on the list, but neither right tackle Erik Magnuson nor right guard Kyle Kalis will be there. Magnuson was an All-Big Ten selection in 2016 and both made a lot of starts in Ann Arbor over their collegiate careers. Kalis has already considered an alternate career path should the NFL not work out.

Northwestern wide receiver Austin Carr isn’t on the list despite 90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns and spearheading the effort to shut down Heisman winner Lamar Jackson in a win over Louisville wasn’t enough for Houston linebacker Steven Taylor to get a call. Utah defensive end Hunter Dimick led the FBS in sacks with 14 last year will also be absent in Indy.

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports points out that 15 percent of the players drafted last year did not take part in the Scouting Combine while 35 percent of those that did were passed over in the seven rounds of the draft, so a combine invite doesn’t make or break the chances of an NFL career.

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Report: Chiefs likely to move on without Nick Foles

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 6: Quarterback Nick Foles #4 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Arrowhead Stadium during the second quarter of the game on November 6, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chiefs turned to Nick Foles after starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered a head injury during Week Eight of the 2016 season and Foles turned in a strong outing by going 16-of-22 for 223 yards and two touchdowns.

Foles got a start the next week amid some confusing injury reporting from the Chiefs about whether Smith was in the concussion protocol or not, but he wasn’t able to repeat his play from the previous game. It looks like that will stand as his one and only start in a Chiefs uniform.

Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reports that the Chiefs are likely to pass on their option on Foles’ contract for the 2017 season. Previous reports had pegged his salary at over $10 million, but Garafolo reports he’s actually due $6.4 million. Either way, that’s money the Chiefs will have to spend elsewhere.

Kansas City has Tyler Bray on hand as a backup option to Alex Smith, although it’s a spot they may look to address over the offseason with an eye on Smith’s contract expiring after the 2018 season. As a player with experience in a variety of systems thanks to moving from the Eagles to the Rams and Chiefs, Foles should find a market as at least a backup once he’s free to talk to other teams.

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Most players pull out of planned trip to Israel

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 (L) of the Seattle Seahawks is greeted by his younger brother  Martellus Bennett #83 of the Chicago Bears after the game at CenturyLink Field on September 27, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Eleven NFL players were scheduled to take a trip to Israel this week, where they would both learn more about the culture and teach people there about American football. But only five players went through with the trip.

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett announced that he would not attend because “my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government” in a way that he thought would constitute Israel using him for its own public relations purposes. After Bennett made his statement, other players joined him.

According to the Times of Israel, Bennett was joined in skipping the trip by his teammate Cliff Avril, his brother Martellus Bennett, Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, 49ers running back Carlos Hyde, Broncos running back Justin Forsett and former NFL linebacker Kirk Morrison.

The five players participating are Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, Raiders defensive tackle Dan Williams, Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, Titans tight end Delanie Walker and Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

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Seahawks, Jets injury-reporting outcome can’t be reconciled

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the football against cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

At a time when the Seahawks reportedly faced the loss of a second-round draft pick for hiding cornerback Richard Sherman’s knee injury, the NFL shocked everyone by imposing a punishment of nothing.

Well, not completely nothing. They got off with a warning. A wagging finger and a “don’t do that again” but as a practical matter a full and complete pass for a blatant violation of both the letter and spirit of the rules aimed at providing equal access to injury information.

As explained by the NFL employee who wrote up the story based on the report from an NFL employee who presumably got the scoop directly from the NFL, the NFL has opted to issue only a warning to the Seahawks for not disclosing Sherman’s knee injury. Given the plain language of the policy, which requires all “significant or noteworthy” injuries to be disclosed “even if the team is certain that he will play in the upcoming game,” Sherman’s injury should have been disclosed, even if he fully participated in each and every practice.

Of course, to make that shoe fit Sherman and the Seahawks, the NFL had to assume that Sherman’s multiple “general rest days,” when he practiced at least three times after mid-December with the “not injury related” designation, had nothing to do with resting or recovering from his undisclosed injury. It’s illogical, it’s inconsistent with the rule, and it meshes with the perception (as Drew Brees aptly pointed out two weeks ago on PFT Live) that the league picks a preferred result and works backward to justify it.

Indeed, the same reasoning that applied to the Seahawks and Sherman would have applied to the Jets and quarterback Brett Favre. In 2008, Favre finished the year with an undisclosed arm injury (a partially torn biceps tendon). Favre fully participated in every practice (without any Sherman-style “general rest days”), Favre played in every game, and no one would have known anything about it unless and until Favre decided as part of his arrival in Minnesota to explain his sputtering performances down the stretch in 2008 by talking repeatedly about an arm injury that hadn’t been disclosed.

Did the Jets get a warning? Nope. The NFL fined the team $75,000, it separately fined then-G.M. Mike Tannenbaum $25,000, and it also fined former coach Eric Mangini $25,000.

So how can Sherman’s case be distinguished from Favre’s? It can’t be. In both cases, the player’s injury was concealed. In both cases, the player fully participated in every practice. In both cases, the player played in every game.

The only difference is that Sherman had multiple “general rest days,” which if anything makes Sherman’s situation worse that Favre’s. Still, the Jets were whacked, and the Seahawks were only warned.

It’s possible that the league opted to fashion an inconsistent outcome because the Seahawks, given three separate violations of the offseason workout policies, would have been in line for something far more serious than a $125,000 fine, if the NFL had opted to issue any punishment at all. It’s also possible that the league plans to issue a warning to the Steelers for failing to disclose running back Le’Veon Bell’s injury, requiring them as a practical to do the same for the Seahawks.

Regardless, what would the outcome have been if the Patriots had hidden an injury to Tom Brady and, in his final press conference of the year, coach Bill Belichick had blurted out that Brady had an injury that previously hadn’t been disclosed? We’ll let the Patriots fans in the crowd answer that one in the comments.

As if anyone needs to have it spelled out.

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