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Strange developments at Hernandez trial

Hernandez AP

On Thursday, a bomb threat interrupted the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial.  On Friday, things could get even more interesting.

The day has begun with Judge E. Susan Garsh individually questioning the jurors, in the presence of the lawyers and Hernandez.  Via Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated, the jurors were standing two feet from Hernandez while fielding and answering questions.

It’s not known what the jurors are being asked, but it’s entirely possible (if not probable) that the judge and the lawyers are ensuring that each juror will continue to serve without bias or prejudice in the aftermath of Thursday’s events, for which an arrest has been made.

Once testimony resumes, Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, is expected to testify.  Via Michele Steele of ESPN, Jenkins has arrived in court wearing her engagement ring.  Which suggests that she won’t be flipping on Hernandez today, regardless of the immunity from prosecution that she has received.

Then again, the presence of the ring will make her testimony even more credible, if she provides information that hurts Hernandez’s case.  Prosecutors believe Jenkins disposed of the murder weapon.

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Despite concussions, Troy Aikman says he feels good in retirement

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Both the book League of Denial and the PBS documentary that draws from it devote a great deal of attention to Troy Aikman, who played in a Super Bowl after suffering a serious concussion in the NFC Championship Game, and who retired in part because of concerns about concussions. But 15 years after his playing career ended, Aikman says he’s doing fine.

Aikman told Richard Deitsch of TheMMQB.com that he had a thorough neurological exam that gave him a clean bill of health. Aikman also said he has always felt that he remains mentally sharp and has never had any issues such as memory loss that would affect his ability to work as a broadcaster.

“It certainly gave me some peace of mind,” Aikman said. “But the reason I have never been concerned is that the job that I have with Fox is a mental exercise—recalling numbers and names and things of that nature. I am able to do that pretty readily. I do think broadcasting with Fox keeps my mind active, and I think it helps.”

Aikman says he would neither encourage a child to play football nor discourage a child from playing football, as he views it as an individual decision that may be right for some and wrong for others. But he’s clear that from his perspective, he’s benefited from playing the game.

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Michael Sam: “I am not the only gay person in the NFL”

Michael Sam AP

Michael Sam was going to be the first openly gay player in the NFL, when he was drafted by the Rams last year.

But he said he quickly found out he’d have been far from the only gay player in the league.

During an appearance at an event in Dallas last night, Sam declined to offer a number, but said there were many players who reached out to him last offseason to thank him.

I am not the only gay person in the NFL,” Sam said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I’m just saying there is a lot of us. I respect the players that did reach out to me and had the courage to tell me that they were also gay, but they do not have the same courage as I do to come out before I even played a down in the NFL.

“Was it a risky move? Yes. But at that moment, the reason why I came out is I thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal. Maybe I was naive. Maybe I thought it was 2014, and people will understand that there’s gay NFL players. There’s gay athletes everywhere. But I was clearly wrong. It was a huge deal.

“The players who have reached out to me and told me about their sexual orientation, it just means a lot. But I will never say anything about who they are, what teams they are [on]. I’m just saying there’s some famous people, and I’m not the only one.”

Of course, Sam’s not an NFL player at the moment, and after his subpar showing at last week’s veteran combine, he might not be one anytime soon. But he said he was confident he’d play this season, indicating a stint in the CFL might be in his future.

Sam had a stint on the Cowboys practice squad after the Rams cut him, and doesn’t have anything pending this season. He said he didn’t think the reason was his sexual orientation, but thinks his unemployment could be the reason others haven’t made the decision to come out.

“Hopefully I’m not being discriminated [against] because I’m gay,” Sam said. “I don’t believe that I’m being discriminated [against] because I’m gay. I just want to know if I’m truly not in the NFL, it’s because of talent. Let it be because of my talents. But you’ve got to prove that I can’t play this game. If you look at the film, clearly I can. So, I’ll leave it at that. . . .

“Dancing with the Stars is my employer. That’s my main source of income. … I’m unemployed, and I don’t believe I’m out of the NFL because I’m gay. But if it was a reason, it can hurt their livelihood, and you don’t want to take that chance.”

Regardless his personal life, Sam’s lack of prototype size and speed is the primary reason he doesn’t have a spot on an NFL roster at the moment. He was a good college pass-rusher (11.5 sacks and the SEC defensive player of the year), and a stint in Canada might help him put together enough game tape to get another shot at the NFL.

And if he does, perhaps others will join him in his openness.

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John Fox: Cutler will have to earn the job in an open competition

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears are on the hook to pay Jay Cutler a guaranteed $15 million this year and $10 million next year. But that doesn’t mean Cutler is their long-term starter. It doesn’t even mean Cutler is the Bears’ Week One starter.

Bears coach John Fox says Cutler will have to beat out Jimmy Clausen and David Fales if he’s going to be the starter because everyone on the roster will get an equal chance to earn the starting job.

It’s all an open competition,” Fox said, via CSNChicago.com. “Obviously you’ve got to start somewhere and my experience in football, really in anything, it’s not where you start a competition; it’s where you finish it. But we’ve got to start the race with some kind of lineup. We have not discussed that in depth. We have not presented it to our players yet. I kind of have it in my brain and then they compete.”

Cutler was benched for Clausen late last season, but it’s awfully hard to believe that Clausen could win the starting job this year. Fox may say he wants everyone to compete in training camp, but the Bears aren’t paying Cutler all that money to hold a clipboard.

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Chiefs owner: We’re going to get Justin Houston signed

Justin Houston AP

Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston would love to leave Kansas City in free agency, but the franchise tag makes that a long shot. Which might be why Chiefs owner Clark Hunt is confident that in the end, Houston will stay where he is.

“He knows, and his agent knows, how much we want him back,” Hunt said. “We just all have to be patient, and eventually, we’re going to get him signed to a long-term deal.”

If Houston doesn’t want to play for the Chiefs, he can try to work something out with another team, although that would be hard to do because the Chiefs would have the right to match any offer, and would receive two first-round draft picks from Houston’s new team if they don’t match the offer. Houston could also sit out all of training camp and the preseason and then sign the franchise tender just before Week One and still make his full $13.1 million salary. And if Houston really doesn’t want to play for the Chiefs, he could wait until Week 10 to sign the franchise tag and play just six games while still accruing enough service to become a free agent again next year.

But Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey said the team thinks things will work out with some patience, and Hunt echoed that.

“I’ve been very consistent in saying that we not only value Justin as a football player, that we not only value Justin as a person and leader, and we want him to be a Chief for life,” Hunt said. “And the negotiating process in these type of situations, as John has said, takes some patience. You just have to have patience. It will work out.”

The only question is whether Houston agrees. It takes two to sign a contract.

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Hearing over Hardy exhibits is postponed

Hardy AP

Next Tuesday, the dispute between the NFL and North Carolina prosecutors over documents introduced into last July’s trial in Greg Hardy’s criminal case had been scheduled to go to court.  That now won’t happen.

Via David Newton of ESPN.com, the two sides agreed to delay the effort.

“The hearing was postponed so that we could discuss an amicable resolution of our request for documents,” said Monroe Whitesides, Jr., a Charlotte lawyer hired to handle the case for the NFL.

The NFL wants to review the documents (possibly including photographs of the alleged victim’s possible injuries) before reaching a conclusion regarding Hardy’s punishment, if any, under the personal conduct policy.

Hardy spent 15 games last season on the Commissioner’s-Exempt list, receiving his full base salary while not playing.  The criminal charges against him were dismissed after the alleged victim failed to show up for a February jury trial; Hardy reportedly reached a civil settlement with her.

He signed last week with the Cowboys.  Owner Jerry Jones told PFT Live on Wednesday that the team received no indication regarding Hardy’s fate before adding him to the roster.

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More countries could be hosting regular-season games

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The NFL’s international series has focused in recent years on building a presence in London.  But that’s not the only foreign country in which the league is willing to ignore that “N” is for “National.”

Via Albert Breer of NFL Media, the league is considering the staging of regular-season games in Mexico and Germany, in addition to the recent suggestion that the 2017 Pro Bowl could be played in Brazil and ongoing efforts to play in Canada and China.

“The work we’re doing now is to ask, ‘How do we accelerate the agenda in Mexico, Canada and China?'” NFL executive V.P. of international Mark Waller told Breer.  “Those would be our next stage, and we have offices in those three countries.  And then, after those, where should be our focus?  I think we’ve concluded that Brazil and Germany are the next two frontier markets, which is where the Pro Bowl idea comes from.”

Ten years ago, more than 103,000 fans showed up for a Cardinals-49ers game in Mexico City, but the league has not yet played another game there.  Security concerns often have been cited as one of the reasons for no sequel, yet.

If the league decides to play games that count while playing three games per year (and possibly more) in London, the league will need more teams to give up home games.  Apart from the fairly new rule that teams hosting a Super Bowl must give up a home game, Breer points out that teams relocating to a new market must sacrifice one home game per year while playing in a temporary venue pending the construction of their new stadium.

This could give the NFL up to two extra exportable games per year for several seasons, if two teams move to L.A. in 2016.

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Jerry Jones believes Darren McFadden can be a difference maker

Raiders running back McFadden is tackled behind the line of scrimmage by Texans linebacker Reed during NFL game in Houston Reuters

The Cowboys let running back DeMarco Murray, a third-round pick in 2011, walk away via free agency.  They replaced him with running back Darren McFadden, the fourth overall selection in 2008.  Murray led the NFL in rushing last season, with a franchise-record 1,845 yards.  McFadden, in contrast, sputtered to a mere 534 yards in 2014.

So why do the Cowboys regard McFadden as a competent replacement?

“[Y]ou’ve got a good chance to not live up to expectations,” Cowboys owner and G.M. Jerry Jones told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio regarding the lackluster career of McFadden, who has only one 1,000-yard campaign in seven seasons.  “Because when you are drafted that high, people think that you are going to be the next Jimmy Brown.  So, yes he would have liked to have had a more productive career.  But the kinds of skills that got him drafted with the fourth pick in the draft, he still has.

“You worry about injury, but we were worried about injury with Murray.  In eight seasons, four in Oklahoma and four with the Cowboys, Murray only had two injury free seasons.  And so the position is one you have to take into consideration no matter what the skill level is, they take a lot of hits, lot of punishment, and you got a good chance to have an injury issue.  And that’s why we couldn’t make that kind of commitment of dollars to that position.”

The team’s position on not investing a lot of cash in an injury-prone position would also suggest that the Cowboys won’t make a play for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  But Jones wouldn’t confirm that Peterson won’t be a Cowboy.

“I get in enough trouble in a lot of areas anyway with this mouth but I’m not going to talk about that,” Jones said.

He doesn’t need to say it.  There’s no way the Cowboys will make a major financial investment in the tailback position with Adrian Peterson or anyone, hoping instead to get the most out of underpriced talent running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Regardless of how it works, it will be one of the great experiments of the 2015 season.

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49ers cut Jonathan Martin

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Jonathan Martin, the offensive lineman best known for leaving the Dolphins after he was bullied by teammate Richie Incognito, has been released by the 49ers.

The 49ers announced the move today. Martin will be placed on waivers, which means all 31 other teams have the right to put in a claim for him. If he does not get claimed, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

San Francisco gave up this year’s seventh-round draft pick to acquire Martin last year. He started nine games for the 49ers last season and had a strong supporter in former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who also coached Martin at Stanford. Now that Harbaugh is gone, it’s no surprise that Martin is gone, too.

The Dolphins took Martin in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. He started his first 23 games in Miami before leaving the team in his second season.

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Rex Ryan is surprised the Bears didn’t want to hire him

rexryan AP

After Rex Ryan was fired by the Jets, and before he was hired by the Bills, he was expecting the Bears to call him and ask him to interview for their head-coaching vacancy. But that call never came.

Ryan said at the league meeting that he expected the Bears to interview him and was surprised they didn’t.

“I actually did, but they got a great coach there with John Fox,” Ryan said. “I did. I thought, It made sense to me. But apparently it never made sense to them. So that’s the way it is.”

Ryan, who worked as a ball boy for the Bears when his father Buddy was Chicago’s defensive coordinator from 1978 to 1986, said he isn’t sure why the Bears wouldn’t want him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I must have done a bad job as a ball boy there or something.”

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Report: Chuck Pagano enters lame-duck season in Indy

Pagano Getty Images

While recently reading Chuck Pagano’s 2014 book, Sidelined, it became impossible to envision him coaching any team other than the Colts. But it’s now seems to be a distinct possibility.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Pagano and the Colts aren’t expected to reach agreement on a contract extension before the fourth and final year of the contract he signed in 2012.

Which means that Pagano will be a lame duck, a phenomenon that some teams try to avoid but multiple franchises have embraced in recent years. Last season, the Cowboys opted not to extend the contract of coach Jason Garrett before or during the season, signing him to a new contract after he technically was no longer employed by the team.

Garrett could have made life interesting for the Cowboys by expressing a desire to coach elsewhere.  He didn’t.  Pagano may feel differently, if Colts owner Jim Irsay opts to make Pagano wait until after the 2015 season to get a new contract.  At some point, the team needs to demonstrate real loyalty to a coach who has helped the team become successful.

The problem may be that owner Jim Irsay wants more success before making a fresh commitment to Pagano.  Ditto, possibly, for G.M. Ryan Grigson, who also is entering the final year of his contract, who traded a first-round draft pick for Trent Richardson, and who possibly won’t be getting an extension, either.

Irsay had no qualms about firing Jim Mora after the 2001 season, after a 6-10 season followed a pair of playoff appearances with Peyton Manning.  Perhaps Irsay believes that, unless Grigson and Pagano can get more out of franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, Irsay will find someone who will.

That’s his right, but it also will be Grigson’s and Pagano’s right to accept employment elsewhere, if they take the Colts to or close to the top of the NFL and attract interest elsewhere.

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Mariota may be drafted No. 2, by the Titans or someone else

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Most people think the Buccaneers will take Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the draft. But will the Titans take Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota second overall?

That’s an open question, but there’s been increasing chatter lately that if the Titans don’t take Mariota, they’ll be able to trade the second overall pick to another team that wants him. That’s what one G.M. told Jason La Canfora of CBS.

He’s going second overall,” the unnamed G.M. said of Mariota. “I don’t know to which team, but he’s going second overall.”

One intriguing option that has surfaced recently is the possibility that Philip Rivers — who says he plans to play out the final year of his contract this season, rather than signing an extension with the Chargers — could be available in a trade. The Chargers say that’s not happening, but if the Titans were to offer the No. 2 overall pick for Rivers, that could make sense for both teams: It would reunite Rivers with Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the former Chargers offensive coordinator, and it would give the Chargers a long-term quarterback of the future, rather than a quarterback who could be gone after one more year. The Titans have more than $27 million in cap space, so they could afford Rivers’s $17 million cap hit this year and could either franchise him or sign him to an extension after that.

All of this is a long way from actually happening. But with the draft five weeks away, it’s sounding increasingly likely that Winston will go first and Mariota will go second, to the Titans or to some team that makes a trade with the Titans.

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Jerry Jones has no problem with the current catch rule

Jerry Jones AP

I’ve been agitating all week for the owners to take the reins of the sport over which they reign and do what the league office won’t regarding the catch rule.  Namely, change it.

Not tweak the language or otherwise pretend to change the rule without changing it.  Actually change it, making what Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant did in the playoffs against the Packers into, if/when it happens in the future, a catch.

In Arizona, I tried to lobby V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent, and Competition Committee member Jeff Fisher to change the rule from a subjective test to an objective one.  It didn’t work.

So when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones arrived at the set of PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, I assumed I’d get one of the more influential members of NFL ownership to co-sign the notion that a new rule is needed.  Not so.

“First of all, we know that just as these rules could go against you they could go with you, and we had a couple of other calls that went with us during the playoffs,” Jones said.  “But since we have instant replay you really strive to get it right because you have a lot of time to look at it with instant replay.  It was a catch, it just didn’t fall under the rules. . . .  Those are the kinds of rules that I think need to be reconciled with more of reality.  Did he catch it, or did he not catch it?  Well, he caught the ball, we all know in any definition there is except the rules of the NFL.  I live with it though because we live with a lot of rules that have those caveats.”

While Jones ultimately says all the right things from the league’s perspective, lurking in his response is a concession that the rule indeed should be “reconciled more with reality.” The only thing that seems to be keeping Jones from flat-out revolting against the rule is the likelihood that, the next time around, he’ll potentially benefit from it.

“Well, obviously everybody that makes decisions on these rules know that the same thing could happen against them,” Jones said.  “Everybody has to play offense and everybody has to catch the ball.  And so it really is an attempt by very knowledgeable people, very focused people to try to come up with the most competitive way to make these calls and so there was no club bias when we were sitting there.  Now, we had a little bias because we had visions of Super Bowl if we make that catch.  But still, I’m totally satisfied that every rule we’ve got is an attempt to do the best job for competitiveness, which in turn does it for the fans.”

If Jones, whose team was burned by the rule in a high-profile setting, ultimately is satisfied with the language, maybe everyone else should be, too.  Still, it’s not good for the NFL to have a disconnect between what we see — that Bryant, as Jones said, caught the ball — and what the rules later tell us that we saw.

For the full conversation with Jones, click the thing in the thing below.

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NFL seems set with current overtime format

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NFL owners voted down a proposal to change overtime this week, and from all indications the league does not want to tinker with the overtime format.

This week’s proposal, which would have guaranteed each team a possession, was the latest idea to change overtime that got to the discussion phase but didn’t have enough support to come to fruition. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before the league meeting that he sees no reason to change overtime, and most owners seem to agree with him.

Still, the overtime format will continue to be debated. Some want every team to be guaranteed a possession, so that the team receiving the opening kickoff can’t march down the field and win without the team that kicks off ever getting the ball. Others want to adopt the college football format of alternating possessions. Still others want more radical changes, like doing away with field goals in overtime so that only a touchdown (or safety) can win the game. Or replacing the coin toss with an “auction” format so the two teams can “bid” on which yard line overtime will start from.

At the moment, that’s all talk. PFT Planet, let us know if you’d rather see the NFL take some action to change overtime.

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Chip Kelly says he tried to trade for Bradford without losing Foles

St. Louis Rams v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Rams coach Jeff Fisher has said that his team only agreed to trade Sam Bradford because Nick Foles was the player the Eagles’ offered, and that the Rams thought Foles could be their franchise quarterback. That meshes with what Chip Kelly revealed at this week’s league meeting: He tried to get the Rams to trade Bradford for draft picks, and agreed to give up Foles only when Foles was what the Rams demanded.

“It went on for a couple weeks,” Kelly said, via the News Journal. “We were trying to keep Nick if we could. It was just at the last second, they wanted players. We were trying to get it done with draft picks, but it didn’t work out that way.”

Presumably, if the Rams had agreed to give up Bradford for draft picks, the Eagles would have kept Foles and let Mark Sanchez walk in free agency. Instead, the Eagles re-signed Sanchez and will have him compete with Bradford for the starting quarterback job.

Despite speculation that Bradford could be turned into a bargaining chip for a trade up in the draft to select Marcus Mariota, everything Kelly says indicates that he thinks highly of Bradford and believes Bradford can run his offense effectively. Bradford is a player Kelly wanted badly — so badly that he gave up Foles and draft picks to acquire him.

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