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Roger Goodell says both Los Angeles stadium projects look good

Roger Goodell AP

St. Louis officials might have felt good about what they told the NFL this week.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that not one but two Los Angeles projects are also appealing to the league, based on what he’s seen of both stadium plans.

Speaking to the Associated Press Sports Editors Friday, Goodell said both the Inglewood site being planned by Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the Carson location being proposed for the Chargers and Raiders were both “viable” and have a “great deal of potential to be successful.”

We had presentations earlier this week that are very exciting,” Goodell said, via Barry Wilner of the Associated Press. “Not just for a return but to continue being successful going forward.”

He also suggested the timetable is accelerating, with the currently January 2016 window for applying for relocation could be moving up.

Goodell said he thought the St. Louis group was making progress, though it’s unclear if it’s too late to keep the Rams, as Kroenke has practically placed shovels next to the ground ready to move dirt in Inglewood.

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NFL moves on from ATC spotters with team affiliations

Spotter Getty Images

The ATC spotter charged with scanning the field for evidence of players in distress now has unprecedented power:  The ability to stop the game and direct the officials to remove a player for further evaluation.

Given the potential for that power to be abused through, for example, the erroneous perception that a quarterback needs to be removed from the game for evaluation on a key play late in the game, the NFL has decided to ensure that the ATC spotters have the appearance of independence.

According to the league office, any ATC spotter who has worked as an athletic trainer at any time for a team or who has been employed by any NFL team within the prior 20 years was relieved of their duties on Friday.

“It was done to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest with the new safety rule change regarding the medical timeout that was passed last month,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarth told PFT by email.

While that amounted to only 12 of the 64 spotters, the 12 presumably aren’t happy.  One of the 12, who requested anonymity, expressed strong disagreement with the move.

“It’s sad to me that the NFL overreacts in this way, so as to put people who are much less able to know what’s going on down on the field (since they’ve never been there, as an Athletic Training Intern, ATC, or otherwise) and are going to be calling and stopping play for things that are not necessary,” the now-former ATC spotter said.

The move underscores the unprecedented authority that the ATC spotter will have, along with the league’s ongoing responsibility to ensure that it’s exercised properly.  It also arguably underscores the need for ensuring that potential conflicts of interest be avoided for other league employees with influence on the game — an issue with which Patriots fans have become acutely familiar in the wake of the #DeflateGate scandal.

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Norv Turner tells Bridgewater doubters where to stick their brooms

New York Jets v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

A year ago, when the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of the NFL draft, there were plenty of doubts. After Bridgewater’s lousy Pro Day workout, some around the NFL believed he simply lacked the physical tools to become a franchise quarterback.

A year later, after Bridgewater showed a lot of promise as a rookie, the Vikings are feeling pretty good about their pick, and Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner is taking shots at those who doubted Bridgewater. Noting that one of the drills Bridgewater struggled with at his Pro Day involved throwing passes over upraised brooms, Turner said anyone who downgraded Bridgewater over that is a fool.

“Someone should take those brooms and shove them up someone’s backside,” Turner told ESPN.

Turner’s son Scott Turner, the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach, said Bridgewater made up for his poor Pro Day with a good private workout with the Vikings, and that alleviated any concerns.

“We didn’t think he put forth his best effort on his Pro Day, but we weren’t sounding alarms like the whole world was at the time,” Scott Turner said. “That [private] workout answered those questions for us, positively.”

A whole lot of teams are now wishing they hadn’t dropped Bridgewater on their boards just because he couldn’t throw over a broom.

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Ray Rice tells Rutgers football players to “not make the mistakes that I made”

Navy v Rutgers Getty Images

Before Rutgers held its spring football game Friday night, a prominent former Scarlet Knights star addressed the team:

Ray Rice.

Rice, the former Ravens running back who has been out of the NFL since being released by the Ravens in September, told Steve Politi of New Jersey Advance Media he wanted to give the current Rutgers players some life advice.

“I just shot them straight. I’m sure if you speak to them, they’ll give you a lot better explanation of what I told them, but I gave them the message to go out there and not make the mistakes that I made,” Rice told Politi. “If I can help them understand, then I’ve made an impact. It costs no money to give them a good message like that.”

Rice was released by Baltimore after video surfaced of him striking his now-wife in an Atlantic City elevator. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, who asked Rice to talk to his players, told New Jersey Advance Media the former star running back had some valuable knowledge to share.

” . . . Ray made the wrong decision, and he’s held himself accountable to it, and he’s paid the price for it, and I thought today was an opportunity for him to deliver a message to try to prevent one of our young people doing that in the future,” Flood told Politi.

Rice rushed for nearly 5,000 yards in just three seasons at Rutgers and is the school’s all-time leading rusher.

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Irsay says it’s not “Super Bowl or bust” for Pagano

Irsay Getty Images

Last month, a report emerged that the Colts and coach Chuck Pagano aren’t expected to strike a new deal before the final year of his contract expires.  Owner Jim Irsay has remained silent, fueling speculation that Pagano could be on the outs if the team doesn’t get to the Super Bowl.

Irsay has finally addressed the situation, opting to downplay the situation.

“These things are ongoing a lot of times behind the scenes,” Irsay said Friday night at a charity gala to support Pagano’s efforts to raise funds to fight cancer, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.  “We’re working on contracts, whether it’s management, coaches, players.  We had discussions and it doesn’t mean that they won’t continue.  It’s not a Super Bowl-or-bust season or anything like that.”

Irsay’s comments leave the door open for a new deal before the season begins.

“Really, it’s only been two years, kind of, that he’s been coaching,” Irsay said, referring to the fact that Pagano missed most of his first year with the team while fighting cancer.  “So, he’s done a very good job and nothing rules out that we couldn’t have an extension done before the season.  And if not, we can still, I’m sure, work things out.”

Irsay said talks already have occurred regarding a new contract.  And Irsay seemed to blame the lack of a new contract on Pagano’s agent.

“There were some efforts to talk about it,” Irsay said.  “We just didn’t get there.  Sometimes that happens.  If you go back to the old days, there were no agents involved, either.  Now General Managers and coaches sometimes have agents. In fact, oftentimes. . . .  We’re real positive about Chuck Pagano and the things that he’s done.  It’s not a sign of anything extremely negative.  We just haven’t gotten anything done in terms of a long-term contract.”

Irsay’s words suggest that the absence of a contract doesn’t result from his reluctance to commit to Pagano, but from Pagano’s reluctance to commit to the terms the team has offered.  Which could set the stage not for Irsay to fire Pagano but for Pagano to walk away.

If he does, the vacancy in Indianapolis, with the presence of quarterback Andrew Luck, would become the most attractive job in the 2016 hiring cycle.

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Greg Hardy flap escalated when teammate “called him a woman beater”

Greg Hardy AP

It didn’t take much imagination to see the latest twist in the Greg Hardy story, after he was involved in a verbal altercation with a teammate during the first week of Cowboys conditioning workouts

According to Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports, the incident escalated when Davon Coleman referred to Hardy’s history of domestic violence.

He called him a woman beater,” a source told Getlin.

The first reports from FOX Sports said Hardy challenged Coleman’s effort during conditioning work.

Hardy is suspended for 10 games for last year’s domestic violence incident involving an ex-girlfriend. He has appealed that suspension, as you’d imagine.

But if Hardy can’t get through the first week of running and weightlifting without someone getting under his skin, imagine what’s going to be said when he takes the field against another team.

Coleman made the Cowboys last year as an undrafted rookie, and started the opener before injuries derailed his season.

But they obviously have less invested in him than Hardy, so it’ll be curious to see how this story develops. But a guy who got a harsher-than-he-expected punishment for a number of mitigating factors isn’t doing a good job of showing he can control his temper.

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Report: Greg Hardy has “verbal altercation” with teammate on Friday

Greg Hardy AP

The 10-game suspension that Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy received from the league this week doesn’t kick in until the start of the regular season, which means Hardy is free to take part in offseason workouts with his teammates.

One of those workouts was reportedly the setting for a contentious moment between Hardy and one of those teammates on Friday. Mike Garafolo and Alex Marvez of FOX Sports report that Hardy was involved in a “verbal altercation” with defensive end Davon Coleman during the team’s conditioning session and had to be separated by teammates.

Coleman’s agent Michael Loeffler confirmed that the two men exchanged words and that there was no physical fight between the two men. The incident was reportedly sparked by Hardy taking issue with Coleman’s effort during the conditioning work.

While it certainly isn’t ideal for two teammates to get into a scrap of any kind, these kinds of things happen often during practices and teams move past them without further incident. We’ll see if this falls into the same category and the Cowboys surely hope that it does so that this week’s negative headlines regarding Hardy are the last ones he’ll generate while a member of the team.

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Bill Polian sees Shane Ray as the next Robert Mathis

shaneray AP

The man who drafted six-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Robert Mathis says there’s a player in this year’s draft who will be the same kind of player: Shane Ray.

Ray, the Missouri pass rusher who’s widely viewed as a Top 10 talent, reminds former Colts General Manager Bill Polian of Mathis more than any other player.

“When I see him I see Robert Mathis,” Polian said of Ray on ESPN. “Near a Hall of Fame player. People who don’t like him are going to say he’s narrow of build and therefore can’t stand on the line of scrimmage, and that’s fine. I don’t want him to stand on the line of scrimmage, I want him to go chase the quarterback, and he’s about the best in this draft at doing that.”

There have been conflicting reports this week about the foot injury Ray suffered in Missouri’s bowl game and whether Ray will need surgery. Polian said Ray’s injury is similar to turf toe, and that when Polian was running draft boards, he didn’t move players down for turf toe injuries.

“There is no long-term lingering issue with turf toe, not like a knee injury. You recover from it, you’re back, and you’re ready to go. I would not move him. I’d be praying that he’d come to me,” Polian said.

There are obvious differences between Ray and Mathis, namely that Mathis was a little-known player out of Alabama A&M whom Polian stole with a fifth-round pick. But Polian said Ray and Mathis are similar as athletes. If they’re similar as NFL players, Ray surely belongs near the top of the first round.

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Tony Romo: We’re going to win a Super Bowl next year

Tony Romo AP

Giants running back Rashad Jennings isn’t the only NFC East player talking Super Bowl in April.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was this year’s recipient of the Nancy Lieberman Lifetime Achievement Award given by the basketball Hall of Famer’s foundation and accepted the award at an event in Dallas last week. Romo’s speech was mostly about giving the same kind of help he’s received over the years to the kids supported by the foundation’s work, but he closed with a prediction that he’d be winning another prize early in 2016.

“This award is very meaningful to me, mostly because I get to be associated with this and to be associated with Nancy,” Romo said, via the Dallas Morning News. “It’s incredible and I really appreciate you, and we’re going to win a Super Bowl next year. Thank you.”

Predictions about the Super Bowl at this point are worth about as much as stock in a VCR manufacturer, but Romo and the Cowboys have plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves coming off of a 12-win season. Their passing game remains potent and they’re likely to add another back in the draft to run behind an offensive line that might be the best in football, which should lead to points on the scoreboard.

If the draft can also turn up some defensive contributors, this year’s unit should look better equipped than the group that outperformed expectations in 2014. Saying that all adds up to Dallas’ sixth Super Bowl title is a stretch at this point, but it’s hard to blame Romo for feeling good about his chances.

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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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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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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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Some teams think Randy Gregory will slip to the late first round

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A few months ago, Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory looked like a sure thing to be a high first-round pick. But now there’s increasing talk around the league that Gregory will still be available in the late first round.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network said today that he has talked to personnel people on several teams picking in the late first round who now believe Gregory could be available when they pick. As a result, those teams are having internal conversations in which the personnel people are talking to the owners about whether Gregory — who failed a marijuana test at the Combine — is the kind of person they want representing their franchise.

“I’ve had a bunch of teams in the bottom half of the first round going, uh oh, we’ve got to be all over this guy from our owner, because you might have to bring him into this conversation, from our owner down to our coaching staff,” Mayock said.

Early in the draft process, teams in the bottom half of the first round weren’t giving a lot of thought to Gregory because they didn’t expect him to be available to them. But with questions about Gregory off the field (not to mention questions about whether he’s too skinny to be effective in the NFL), it now seems entirely possible that Gregory will fall from a high first-round pick to a late first-round pick.

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At least 10 players declined invitation to draft

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It’s been known for weeks that quarterback Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota won’t be attending the draft.  They won’t be alone.

Per a league source, at least 10 players declined the invitation to travel to Chicago and wait to hear their names called.

Last week, the NFL announced that 28 players will attend.  It’s not known precisely how many passed, and that’s not information the NFL will be volunteering.

Players who attend the multi-day event risk having to return for the second — and possibly the third — day of the draft.  The key becomes having the right expectations, a process that becomes difficult in an industry that relies so heavily on confidence.

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Rivers addresses his situation in San Diego, sort of

Rivers Getty Images

On Wednesday, Chargers G.M. Tom Telesco said the it’s the team’s “plan and intent” to keep quarterback Philip Rivers.  On Thursday, Rivers essentially said it’s his plan and intent to stay.

Thanks to the magic that is Twitter, Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report shared a message from Cameron Curran of The Classical Academies, who says that in a visit to the school Rivers told the assembled crowd “he’s playing in San Diego and not to believe the media.”

In this case, “the media” includes former Rivers teammate LaDainian Tomlinson, who has said that he believes Rivers wants out of San Diego.  “The media” also includes U-T San Diego, to which Rivers said last month that he’s not inclined:  (1) to extend his contract before it expires after the season; or (2) to move his family to Los Angeles.

It’s entirely possible that the chatter about a potential trade arises from posturing regarding the quarterback’s next contract.  But with Telesco not clearly and unequivocally dismissing the possibility of a trade and declaring that Rivers will remain with the Chargers for the rest of his career and acting as if even the mere question of a possible departure is an affront to Telesco’s intelligence, the door remains open for Rivers to walk out of town.

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