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Suh says his contract won’t be a distraction

Suh AP

With the Lions tabling Ndamukong Suh’s contract talks until after the 2014, his future with the team instantly becomes one of the top stories surrounding the franchise.

Suh would like other employees of the franchise to not be asked about his future with the team.

“I would ask you guys to not bother my teammates about something that they have nothing involved in,” Suh told reporters on Monday.  “So, for sure, I definitely don’t want them to have to answer any questions about it.  It’s really a tough situation, more so for them.  They have no clue, they’re blindsided or whatever it maybe is, as most people are blindsided about things that come out in the media, and that’s the way it is.  So I’d ask you all not to ask them questions about it and let it be a distraction to our team.  As I don’t think it will.  It won’t be a distraction to me.”

Of course, they won’t be “blindsided” by questions about Suh’s contract because everyone knows that the talks are being tabled until after the season, which in turn increases significantly the possibility that Suh won’t be a Lion come 2015.

It could be that Suh doesn’t want his teammates to be asked about the situation because he doesn’t want them talking about it, on or off the record. By not doing a new contract, Suh accounts for more than 16 percent of the team’s total cap space. That’s money that could have been spent on other guys at other positions of need, like cornerback. In a room full of players having the ability to talk to a reporter under the condition of anonymity, it’s inevitable that someone would say Suh is being greedy.

The high cap number increases the possibility that Suh will leave in 2015 because the Lions could force him to stay only via the franchise tag, which under the rules would entitle him to a 20-percent raise on his 2014 cap number. Which would give him more than $26 million for one more year.

He’s not worth that much, and the Lions won’t pay him that much. But every offer the Lions make necessarily will be compared to the $26 million he’d get under a franchise tag the team will never use. Which means that the only way to determine his actual value will be to let Suh negotiate with other teams. Which increases the probability that someone else will offer more than the Lions, or that Suh will choose to go to a team that offers as much or less.

That’s the bottom-line in this one. With the Lions as a practical matter unable to use the tag on Suh and unwilling to negotiate further until the 2014 season ends, why should Suh do a deal with Detroit until he knows what someone else will pay?

Along the way, Suh hopes that his teammates: (1) don’t realize it’s likely his last year in Detroit; and (2) won’t say negative things about him when asked about his contract or anything else about Suh, such as the report from earlier this year that Suh has been uncontrollable, a contention that his teammates previously denied because that’s what good teammates do.  If/when Suh’s teammates realize he won’t be a teammate beyond 2014, he may no longer get the benefit of that specific provision in the unwritten rules of team sports.

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Bruce Allen: RG3 was asked to do the impossible last year

Redskins' Griffin III is tackled by Eagles' Ryans during second half action of their NFL football game in Landover Reuters

Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was rushed into starting Week One last season after an offseason of rehabbing his surgically repaired knee left him unprepared to run the offense.

That’s the word from team President Bruce Allen, who said on ESPN 950 that Griffin was unprepared last year through no fault of his own.

“What you saw last year was almost a little disrespectful to the game of football,” Allen said, via the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “It’s impossible to ask a player to perform well during the regular season if you haven’t practiced. Last year at this time, he was still rehabbing his knee, and he wasn’t allowed to practice or work in team drills. We put him on the spot by trying to do that. And this year he’s had a full offseason, his knee is 100 percent, knock on wood, and he’s had all [the practices], and that’s how you get ready to play a football season.”

Although Allen didn’t name former head coach Mike Shanahan by name, that sure sounds like Allen is saying Shanahan botched the Griffin situation by starting him in Week One, rather than letting Griffin come along slowly. Just about everyone in Washington seems to agree that Griffin will be better off this year, with Jay Gruden as his coach.

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Ravens fans cheer Ray Rice at open practice

rayrice AP

Ravens running back Ray Rice may be loathed in most of America after an offseason that saw him face an assault charge for hitting his wife. But Rice is still beloved in Baltimore.

The Ravens had an open practice at their home stadium on Monday night, and Rice heard loud cheers from the fans in attendance. Rice was twice shown on the big screen, and both times he got enthusiastic ovations, according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. Rice tapped his chest to show his appreciation as he soaked in the applause.

Many fans wore Rice jerseys, and several Rice jerseys were spotted on women and children.

Rice’s actions this offseason have not been worthy of people cheering him, and when the NFL let Rice off with only a two-game suspension, it provoked nationwide outrage. That doesn’t seem to matter to the adoring public in Baltimore, however. What matters there is that Rice remains an important part of the Ravens’ offense.

It happens often, in every sport and every city. No matter how heinous an athlete’s actions, if he can help the home team win, he’s going to hear the cheers.

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Jim Harbaugh denies desire to be paid like Super Bowl-winning coach

Harbaugh AP

It’s a given in league circles that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has yet to sign a new contract because he wants more money than the 49ers are willing to pay.  Per multiple reports (which are accurate), Harbaugh wants to be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach, and the 49ers aren’t ready to do that until he, you know, wins a Super Bowl.

Earlier this year, Harbaugh denied wanting to be the highest-paid coach in football, without specifically addressing whether he wants to be paid like a coach who has won a Super Bowl.  More recently, Harbaugh has gone the rest of the way.

“For the record, I have never asked to be the highest-paid coach in football,” Harbaugh tells Jason Cole of Bleacher Report.  “I have never asked to be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach.  I have never asked for more power.  Nor has anybody asked for those things on my behalf, which anybody in this organization can attest to, and all the focus will be on the 2014 season and achieving our goals of the team.”

Harbaugh also denies betting that his value will go up, not down, over time by not doing a new deal with two years left on his current contract.

“I don’t bet,” Harbaugh said.  “If I bet on anything, it’s for a chocolate milkshake. That’s the extent of the stakes I bet on.”

Here’s the flaw in Harbaugh’s denials.  If he didn’t want to be the highest-paid coach or to be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach or to bet on himself in the hopes of getting more money later, he’d already have a new contract.

Last year, an effort to extend his contract occurred.  And failed.  This year, more talks occurred.  As of June 5, the 49ers had made Harbaugh an offer.  And Harbaugh had not responded.

Downplay it or deny it, there’s an impasse because Harbaugh wants more than the team has offered.  If he didn’t, he’d already have financial security beyond 2015.

For even more obtuse remarks from Harbaugh that could trigger a sudden desire to bang your head against the wall, read the whole interview.  But put on a helmet first.

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Cardinals OLB John Abraham charged with DUI in June

John Abraham AP

Cardinals outside linebacker John Abraham, a key part of a strong Arizona defense, was arrested in late June in DeKalb County, Georgia on a DUI charge, the Arizona Republic reported Monday night.

The 36-year-old Abraham has been excused from the club to attend to personal business since the beginning of training camp.

According to the Republic, the Cardinals know of Abraham’s arrest but declined comment on the matter.

On Monday, Cardinals G.M. Steve Keim told the club’s website that he was “not concerned at all” about Abraham’s time away from camp, noting that coach Bruce Arians had excused the linebacker.

DeKalb County public records show that a John Antonio Abraham was cited for DUI and parking, stopping or standing in a prohibited place on June 29. A booking photo of Abraham was included in the online records.

Abraham recorded 11.5 sacks for the Cardinals last season. He joined Arizona last July.

Abraham was also reportedly arrested on a DWI charge as a member of the Jets in 2003. According to published reports, Abraham pleaded guilty to driving while impaired and was benched for one game as punishment by Jets coach Herm Edwards.

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Broncos DT Kevin Vickerson has strong words for Seattle

Washington Redskins v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Well, the Seahawks-Broncos preseason opener on August 7 in Denver just became a little more intriguing, to say the least.

In a column written Monday by Paul Klee of the Colorado Springs Gazette, Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson voiced his dislike for the Super Bowl-champion Seahawks in memorable terms.

“(Bleep) Seattle,” Vickerson said, according to the Gazette. “Write it down. Take a picture.”

Vickerson, it should be noted, was released by Seattle in September 2010 — Pete Carroll’s first season with the Seahawks. The Broncos picked him up the next day, and he’s been with Denver ever since. Also, Vickerson didn’t play in Super Bowl XLVIII after suffering a dislocated hip in the November loss at New England.

“It was a very personal game for me,” Vickerson said of Super Bowl XLVIII, according to the Gazette.

In the Gazette story, Vickerson also indicated he doesn’t like off-field trash talk. And some Seahawks personnel have taken the opportunity to needle the Broncos at various points after their Super Bowl win, as Mike Klis of the Denver Post noted in a feature published earlier Monday.

“Some guys, that’s what they do to get ramped up. But when you step in between the lines, pads talk. Let your pads talk,” Vickerson told the Gazette. “That’s my mindset, that’s my demeanor when I go out on the field. Some guys are media guys. Some guys are cut different. But when you go to really looking at football and playing football, it’s between the lines. Buckle your chinstrap and let your pads talk, man.”

The pads figure to be howling when these teams meet in Seattle in September. And the preseason matchup in August just got a dash of hot sauce, too.

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Victims’ lawyer fires back against Pounceys

Pouncey AP

On Friday, three people filed a lawsuit against Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, alleging that they committed an assault during their birthday party at the Cameo nightclub.  On Saturday, the lawyer representing the Pounceys called the case a “complete sham.”

On Monday, the lawyer representing the three alleged victims fired back.

Appearing on WINZ with Andy Slater, attorney Marwan Porter predicted that criminal charges will be filed.

“We’ve been in contact with the Miami Beach Police Department and the investigators on this particular case,” Porter said.  “My clients have been very cooperative with them.  And more importantly that have independent witnesses who are corroborating the allegations made by my clients.  So when you have independent witnesses who are swearing under oath to certain allegations, I think it’s gonna be tough for them not to make a charge in this particular case.”

Porter added that surveillance video exists, but that he has not yet seen it.  He added that letters have been sent to Cameo nightclub instructing them to preserve the evidence harvested via the cameras in the facility.

Porter also said the comments from the Pounceys’ lawyers displayed a lack of professionalism.

“These people were beat up, bad,” Porter said.  “So I really think that shows a lack of taste. . . .  These people had physical injuries.  The injuries were visible, and obviously something happened to these people.  And you have witnesses that said it was the Pouncey brothers who were responsible for inflicting these injuries. . . .

“The fact will come out.  The facts will come out, and the truth will come out.  And justice will be served, and they will have to be accountable for their actions.”

Ultimately, the surveillance video will help tell a lot of the story.  But if independent, neutral witnesses have submitted sworn statements claiming that a Pouncey pounded one or more of the plaintiffs, the only viable defense for each Pouncey could be to blame it all on his identical twin.

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Colbert can’t envision scenario where Roethlisberger would leave Pittsburgh

Ben AP

Probably because franchise quarterbacks without serious injury questions (Peyton Manning, Drew Brees) rarely if ever change teams, few have taken notice of the situation in Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger is grossly underpaid and the team won’t do anything about it until 2015 at the earliest.

The situation has prompted speculation that the two sides may not be able to work out a new contract next year, which would compel the team to pay more than $22 million to keep him under the franchise tag in 2016 and more than $26 million in 2017.  Which eventually could prompt the Steelers and Roethlisberger to go their separate ways.

G.M. Kevin Colbert doesn’t see that happening.  In fact, he’s gone all in, telling reporters, “I don’t see any circumstances where Ben does not finish his career here,” via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

While it remains probable if not highly likely that Roethlisberger will remain in Pittsburgh, circumstances definitely exist where Ben moves on.  What if he gets injured this year or next year and the Steelers aren’t willing to make a huge financial commitment to keep him, a la the Colts and Manning?  What if Ben won’t accept the team’s best offer on a new deal for 2015, forcing the team to use the franchise tag until the price gets so high that they can’t afford to do it?  While $22 million for 2016 could be stomached, $26 million for 2017 gets a little pricey.  By 2018, when Ben would be the same age Manning was when he left the Colts (36), and the price tag for one more year will shoot to $38.1 million for one season.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger would have made more than $70 million on a year-to-year arrangement.  If he’s willing to continue to bear the injury risk, why not let it play out that way?

So, yes, there’s a way that dominoes fall that will lead to Roethlisberger walking away.  Given the zeal with which Steelers fans follow the team, both sides need to tread lightly for fear of catching the blame for an eventual divorce.  And, ideally, to ensure that as few Steelers fans as possible realize that a divorce, while still far from likely, could indeed happen.

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Emmanuel Sanders: Peyton is a far better leader than Ben

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Emmanuel Sanders arrived in Denver this offseason after four years in Pittsburgh. He immediately noticed a big difference between Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

Sanders said on 104.3 The Fan in Denver that Manning’s leadership and determination to win goes far beyond that of Roethlisberger or any other teammate Sanders has ever had.

“I feel like Peyton is a far better leader, in terms of staying after practice, catching balls, wanting guys to get on the same page with him, things of that sort,” Sanders said. “This is the first time that I’ve had a quarterback that every single day after practice — no matter what his accolades, NFL MVP, Super Bowl ring — he keeps guys like me and [rookie receiver Cody] Latimer after practice. . . . He’s not one of those guys you’ve got to chase down. He’s going to be right in the same spot, ready to work, every single day. I just feel like that’s a difference from a mental standpoint.”

Sanders said he views Roethlisberger as a winner, too, and he enjoyed their time as teammates. But he’s enjoying his time with Manning even more.

“I’ve got so much love for Ben,” Sanders said. “At the same time, I’m not going to lie. I’m happy to be part of this organization and happy that Peyton is my quarterback.”

Those comments will surely be received better in Denver than in Pittsburgh.

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Lions table Suh contract talks until end of season

Ndamukong Suh AP

Lions coach Jim Caldwell thinks that the team will be able to get a deal done that keeps defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in Detroit, but it won’t happen before the start of the regular season.

It won’t come during the regular season, either. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that Lions president Tom Lewand said on Monday that the team was putting contract talks with Suh on hold until after the end of the regular season.

Lewand and General Manager Martin Mayhew both said they thought a deal could still get done, although the timing has obviously changed and the decision to call off talks for now suggests the two sides weren’t particularly close to reaching an agreement. The window to get an extension done at the end of the season will be short. One deadline they will face is the one governing the use of the franchise tag, something that neither man ruled out despite Suh’s price under the tag standing at a massive $26.9 million for the 2015 season.

That won’t be a factor if Suh doesn’t have a good season or if he gets hurt, but another strong year will make for some tough calls in Detroit come next winter. And those calls could lead Suh to another uniform for the 2015 season.

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Jets’ Calvin Pace: We’re the best defense in the NFL

New York Jets v Washington Redskins Getty Images

Jets linebacker Calvin Pace says he’s part of the best defense in football.

“[Compared to] the rest of the defenses in the NFL? S—, man, we’re the best,” Pace told the New York Daily News. “You ask anybody around the league, we’re not the team you want to see coming in, even in a down year.”

A lot of people in Seattle (among several NFL locales) would disagree with that statement, but Pace believes opposing offenses fear coach Rex Ryan’s defense more than any other.

“There’s a certain type of aggression when we come . . . you know we’re going to come with a lot of stuff and teams don’t want to see that,” Pace said. “They want to see a vanilla defense, that just lines up and you know where they’re going to be. . . . I’ll take these guys and Rex and this system any day.”

If you’re keeping track of the Jets’ bold statements in training camp, Pace joins Dee Milliner proclaiming himself the best cornerback in the NFL, Ryan calling David Harris the most underrated linebacker in the NFL and Ryan describing himself as “a great coach.” (Ryan did modestly acknowledge that he may not be the best coach of all time.)

If the Jets are half as good as they think they are, they’ll be a playoff team.

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NFL paying attention to influence of high-stakes fantasy football leagues

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Risking money, whatever the amount, on the outcome of NFL games constitutes gambling.  Risking money, whatever the amount, on the outcome of the performance of specific players in NFL games does not constitute gambling.

Playing fantasy football for money isn’t gambling because Congress has decided that “an outcome that reflects the relative knowledge of the participants, or their skill at physical reaction or physical manipulation [but not chance], and, in the case of a fantasy or simulation sports game, has an outcome that is determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of sporting events” isn’t gambling.

Obviously, the same kind of skill needed to predict the winners of NFL games applies when projecting the performances of individual players.  In many ways, a fantasy football team resembles a convoluted parlay card, where the non-gambling gambler tries to compile a roster of players who will “win” more yards and points than the team put together by an opposing non-gambling gambler.

The hair-splitting and nonsensical distinction from Congress has made gambling on fantasy football as legal as gambling on stocks, which has spawned an industry that includes some very high-stakes fantasy leagues, some of which undoubtedly include NFL players.  But while it’s only a matter of time before word emerges of the involvement of NFL players in six-figure fantasy leagues, another potential complication could emerge when it comes to the non-gambling gambling of large amounts of money on fantasy football.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com explains that, during his training-camp tour, he has caught wind of “undue pressure some players and coaches feel from big-money fantasy-football players.”  Writes King, “I had one coach tell me there’s so much money in some of these fantasy-football playoff pools that people who used to gamble with bookies illegally are now gambling in high-stakes fantasy-football leagues, which is not illegal.” King adds that the “NFL has its antennae up over this, and it’ll be interesting to see if the pressure escalates to more serious threats on players or coaches.”

Interesting, and incredibly alarming.  Although physical threats against those responsible for poor player performances are possible, it seems more likely that those who would consider breaking the law to express displeasure in losing large amounts of money would be far more inclined to break the law in order to win large amounts of money.

In what would be a bizarre twist on point shaving, coaches and players could in theory be bribed to ensure that certain players will generate significant production, or that certain players will be shut down.  Getting to coaches and assistant coaches who control the offensive game plan would be the most efficient approach.  It also would help to grease defenders who would be inclined to slip on an invisible banana peel, springing a specific player for a touchdown or two.  Or four.

The league, which generates significant profit and attention both directly and indirectly from fantasy football, should be concerned about the potential for corruption.  Even if playing fantasy football for significant amounts of money isn’t illegal, at a certain point the money in the balance will open the door for all sorts of illegal activity.

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Giants want Eli Manning to complete 70 percent of his passes

eli AP

The Giants are setting a high goal for Eli Manning’s completion percentage this season. A very high goal.

Giants quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf told reporters today that he wants Manning to reach a 70 percent completion rate this season.

Frankly, that’s preposterous. Manning completed just 57.5 percent of his passes last season, and his career completion percentage is 58.5 percent. The highest rate he’s ever had in any season was 2010, when he completed 62.9 percent of his passes. Unless the Giants are planning an offense that consists of nothing more than dump-offs to running backs, the idea that a career 58.5 percent passer is suddenly going to become a 70 percent passer is silly.

A 70 percent completion rate has only been reached five times in NFL history: Twice by Drew Brees and once each by Ken Anderson, Steve Young and Joe Montana. It’s less common than a 5,000-yard passing season or a 2,000-yard rushing season.

Maybe the Giants also have a goal for Rashad Jennings to rush for 2,000 yards this year. But that goal wouldn’t be any more unrealistic than Manning completing 70 percent of his passes.

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NFL V.P. Adolpho Birch struggles to justify Ray Rice suspension

Ray Rice AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not yet spoken publicly on the controversial two-game suspension given to Ravens running back Ray Rice for assaulting his wife. But one of Goodell’s top deputies, NFL V.P. of labor policy and government affairs Adolpho Birch, went on the radio this morning in an attempt to explain. It did not go well.

Birch’s appearance on this morning’s Mike & Mike was so bad — so totally incapable of justifying the relatively light punishment handed to Rice — that host Mike Greenberg felt the need after the interview to address the listeners who had contacted the show to express their frustration with Birch’s evasions. Greenberg said he was frustrated by Birch’s evasions, too.

“I’m a little taken aback by the conversation, to be honest with you. The reaction is overwhelming and no one seems to think that he did a particularly good job of answering the questions,” Greenberg said minutes after the interview with Birch ended. “I do not feel that most people listening to that discussion feel they got an adequate explanation of how they arrived at two games.”

So how did the NFL arrive at two games for Rice? Well, Birch didn’t really have much of an answer. At one point he said the NFL was “bound in large part by precedent in prior cases.” But Birch said that just moments after insisting that prior cases — particularly the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger after he was accused of (but not criminally charged with) sexual assault — couldn’t be compared to the Rice case.

Birch also refused to answer whether the NFL is aware of information that isn’t available to the general public, such as surveillance camera footage beyond what has been widely distributed showing Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancee out of an elevator. But Birch insisted that a two-game suspension without pay isn’t a minor punishment.

“It is multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think it’s fair to say that doesn’t reflect that you condone the behavior,” Birch said.

But the question isn’t whether the NFL condones a player beating up his wife. The question is whether the NFL is willing to take severe disciplinary actions against a player who beats up his wife. And the answer to that question is a resounding, “No.” The NFL hands out longer suspensions for everything from getting caught smoking pot repeatedly, to taking Adderall without filling out the necessary paperwork to — in the case of Roethlisberger — being accused of crimes without any arrests or charges. For the NFL to come down harder on pot smokers, Adderall users and players who weren’t evan arrested than it came down on Rice is baffling and requires an explanation.

Birch may have been trying to explain, but he failed. Greenberg said that in the minutes after the interview, the show got thousands of reactions via Twitter and email and that, “I can’t find a single one of them that said, ‘Well, that explained it for me.’ Literally not a single one.”

After Birch’s unsuccessful attempt to to explain the suspension, it’s time for Goodell to step up. NFL fans want to know why Ray Rice got off easy, and they want to hear it from Goodell.

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Chris Rainey cut for disciplinary reasons, not football reasons

raineypagano AP

For the second time in his brief NFL career, running back Chris Rainey has been cut for off-field reasons.

Rainey was cut by the Colts today for violating team rules, Adam Schefter ‏of ESPN reports. Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star adds that the release is conduct related and that head coach Chuck Pagano plans to provide more details.

What’s clear is that the decision was not about Rainey’s performance on the football field at training camp, which is consistent with what Pagano has been saying about Rainey: Pagano raved over the weekend about how much he likes Rainey, and when running back Vick Ballard was lost for the season with a knee injury, it appeared that Rainey would play an important role on the team as a backup running back as well as a kick returner.

Instead, Rainey has been released for something he did off the field. We don’t know exactly what that “something” was, but we do know that this has happened to Rainey before: The Steelers cut him shortly after his rookie year ended following an arrest on a charge of battery against his girlfriend. Now that Rainey has blown his second chance with the Colts, he’ll have to hope some team is willing to give him a third chance.

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