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Michigan reportedly makes run at Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh Getty Images

When it first became obvious Brady Hoke wouldn’t be back next year as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, a report suggested that the folks at Ann Arbor were more interested in John Harbaugh (who didn’t go to Michigan) than Jim (who did).

Now, Michigan apparently has a keen interest in the soon-to-be-former 49ers coach.

Per multiple reports, Michigan has offered Harbaugh the job.  The package leaked to the media would pay Harbaugh $8 million per year over six years.

That’s far more than Harbaugh currently makes in San Francisco, and far more than the 49ers had offered in failed negotiations on a new deal.  The impasse arose, as one source with knowledge of the talks previously told PFT, because Harbaugh wanted to be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach without, you know, winning a Super Bowl.

If the offer from Michigan, where it’s easy to finance a large coaching salary since the players get jack squat and free snacks, is real, he’d be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach without winning a Super Bowl and without ever competing for one for as long as he’s at Michigan.

The leak and its origin suggest that Harbaugh’s agent hopes to use the offer as leverage in talks with interested NFL teams.  If Michigan will pay $8 million per year, how much will the Raiders, Dolphins, or other interested team fork over?  With the talent gap among teams as narrow as ever, a great coach can be the difference between mediocrity and a championship; great coaches at the NFL are worth far more than they currently get.

The possibility that Harbaugh will leave for Michigan also pressures Jed York and company to be very reasonable in any trade talks regarding Harbaugh.  If he chooses to go back to college, the 49ers get nothing.

Then again, the 49ers may prefer that outcome, since they wouldn’t have to worry about Harbaugh finishing with another franchise that which he started in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, some have suggested that Harbaugh wouldn’t use his alma mater as leverage for a better NFL job.  Why shouldn’t he?  Harbaugh played football there at a high level.  In return he got jack squat, without the free snacks.

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Bears bench Jay Cutler, start Jimmy Clausen

Jimmy Clausen, Micheal Spurlock AP

The Bears’ collapse has reached epic proportions, as Jay Cutler has lost his job as Chicago’s starting quarterback.

Cutler has been benched and Jimmy Clausen will start on Sunday against the Lions, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

For Cutler to get benched after playing just 14 games into the enormous contract he signed this offseason demonstrates just how big the mess in Chicago is. That contract may cost both Bears G.M. Phil Emery and Bears coach Marc Trestman their jobs.

And Cutler’s play has already cost him his job. Whether Cutler has any future in Chicago or anywhere else in the NFL remains to be seen, and the Bears owe Cutler a guaranteed salary of $15.5 million next season whether he’s on their team or not.

But at the present, Cutler is out, and Clausen is the Bears’ starting quarterback.

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Painkiller lawsuit dismissed

image2 Getty Images

When a group of former players sued the NFL for the improper distribution of painkillers by team doctors, the effort got a lot more traction in the media than the concussion lawsuits received in their early stages.  Viewed as the next wave of liability for a league plagued with safety concerns, it was presumed by many that the NFL was on the ropes, from a legal perspective.

While the concussion lawsuit ended up generating significant liability for the NFL, the painkiller lawsuit apparently will create none.

U.S. Judge William Alsup has dismissed the lawsuit, explaining that it is preempted by the Collective Bargaining Agreements governing the relationship between the NFL and its players.

“In ruling against the novel claims asserted herein, this order does not minimize the underlying societal issue,” Judge Alsup wrote in a 22-page order, a copy of which PFT has obtained. “In such a rough-and-tumble sport as professional football, player injuries loom as a serious and inevitable evil. Proper care of these injuries is likewise a paramount need. The main point of this order is that the league has addressed these serious concerns in a serious way — by imposing duties on the clubs via collective bargaining and placing a long line of health-and-safety duties on the team owners themselves. These benefits may not have been perfect but they have been uniform across all clubs and not left to the vagaries of state common law. They are backed up by the enforcement power of the union itself and the players’ right to enforce these benefits. Given the regime in place after decades of collective bargaining over the scope of these duties, it would be impossible to fashion and to apply new and supplemental state common law duties on the league without taking into accountvthe adequacy and scope of the CBA duties already set in place.”

In other words, if individual teams and/or individual team doctors have been prescribing medication improperly, the players should pursue claims directly against the teams, through the arbitration procedures available under the labor deal.

The ruling doesn’t account for the period when there was no CBA, following the 1987 strike and until 1993.  Still, even without the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it seems that it would have been difficult if not impossible for former players to prove that the NFL has responsibility for the actions of its teams.

“The essence of plaintiffs’ claim for relief is that the individual clubs mistreated their players and the league was negligent in failing to intervene and stop their alleged mistreatment,” Judge Alsup wrote.  “Plaintiffs anchor this claim for relief in supposed common law duties of each of the various states whose law would apply and vaguely suggest that all such states would impose the same uniform duty on the league to oversee the clubs.

“One problem is this: no decision in any state (including California) has ever held that a professional sports league owed such a duty to intervene and stop mistreatment by the league’s independent clubs.”

Judge Alsup gave the players until December 30 to file a motion for permission to amend the complaint that states a viable legal cause of action. The players also have appeal rights. So while the case isn’t over, it’s the players who are now on the ropes, from a legal perspective.

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Philip Rivers held out of practice, expected to play

Philip Rivers AP

Philip Rivers‘ tough-guy credentials are well-established. Playing with a torn ACL earns you that much.

But even Philip Rivers needs a day off.

According to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego, Rivers was held out of practice Wednesday with chest and back injuries.

Rivers has started 128 consecutive games since winning the starting job in 2006, and has played through plenty of aches and pains.

They still hope he’s going to be able to play Saturday night against the 49ers.

“I feel good,” Rivers said Tuesday. ‘I’ll be ready to roll on Saturday evening.”

Head coach Mike McCoy took it a step further today, telling reporters “I expect him to play.”

He wasn’t the only one missing, as the Chargers were without wide receiver Keenan Allen (collarbone), running back Ryan Mathews (ankle), tight end Ladarius Green (ankle) and defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle).

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49ers cut Ray McDonald amid rape investigation

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have released defensive lineman Ray McDonald, hours after news broke that police searched his home in connection with an investigation into a sexual assault.

General Manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers made the decision to terminate McDonald’s contract because of a pattern of behavior that the team finds unacceptable.

That represents a sharp contrast from the 49ers’ approach to McDonald early this season. When McDonald was arrested and investigated in a domestic violence case, the 49ers steadfastly stood by him, even as they faced harsh criticism from those who said he had no business on the field at a time when Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson were all banished from the league. In that case, authorities ultimately decided not to charge McDonald.

There’s no word yet on whether McDonald will be charged in the new sexual assault case, but it’s clear that the 49ers have decided that McDonald is someone they no longer want representing their franchise.

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Jay Gruden: No matter what I say about RG3, it gets twisted

Gruden Getty Images

Washington coach Jay Gruden has seen his comments about quarterback Robert Griffin III get turned into something worse than they really were, and he’s come to believe that’s just part of life as an NFL head coach.

“I don’t have much of a concern really,” Gruden said, via CSNWashington.com. “I know that no matter what I say about Robert, it’s going to get twisted one way or the other.”

Gruden believes that people will seek to put a negative spin on anything he says about his quarterback.

“If I say he’s doing great, it’s going to be, ah, I’m too easy on him. If I say he needs to work harder, it means I said he’s lazy. If I said he needs to work on his fundamentals, it means I don’t like him,” Gruden said.

Although Gruden has benched Griffin this season and only put him back on the field after an injury to Colt McCoy forced his hand, Gruden says he has positive feelings toward Griffin.

“I have a ton of respect for Robert, man, and for what he goes through at the quarterback position,” Gruden said, “for what he’s already accomplished as a young quarterback, and what he’s going to accomplish in the future.”

It remains to be seen whether Gruden and Griffin have any future together beyond this season, but for the final two weeks, Gruden is going to say what he pleases about Griffin and let others interpret his words how they please.

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Revis not talking about next year

Revis AP

When cornerback Darrelle Revis signed a two-year deal with the Patriots, it became clear that the Patriots would either extend the contract or terminate it.  Currently, the second year of the deal calls for total compensation of $20 million and a cap number of $25 million.

So what will Revis do next year?  He’s not saying.

I don’t know what my future holds,” Revis said Wednesday, via Dom Cosentino of NJ.com.  “Right now, my focus is on this week.”

Could Revis reunite with coach Rex Ryan, who is expected to be fired by the Jets soon?

“I don’t know what my future holds, like I said,” Revis said.  “We’ll see.  The future will take care of itself.”

Fairly early in his tenure with the Pats, talk emerged of a potential extension.  Negotiations along those lines have not yet happened, and possibly won’t.  Revis hold the cards and has the leverage, thanks to a second year that works far better than a one-year contract, given that the franchise tag necessarily isn’t an option.  New England either has to keep him at $20 million for 2015 or cut him.

Ultimately, money will be an issue — what the Patriots will offer him versus what other teams (possibly the team coached by Ryan next year) would offer.

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Report: Police search Ray McDonald’s home

McDonald

As part of a rape investigation, San Jose police have served a search warrant at the home of 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald, according to ABC 7.

Per the report, an adult female received treatment at a local hospital for a possible sexual assault that occurred on Tuesday.  The hospital contacted San Jose police.

The victim reportedly alleged that she was “possibly sexually assaulted.”  Based on the preliminary investigation, the alleged suspect is McDonald.

McDonald was investigated in August and September for domestic violence.  He was never charged with any crime.

Just as McDonald provided the first potential case under the then-new domestic violence and sexual assault policy, McDonald now becomes the first potential case under the new personal conduct policy.  If charged or if the league determines via an investigation that McDonald may have committed a violent crime, he’ll be suspended with pay.

With only two games left in the 2014 regular season, the team and the league soon will have the entire offseason to determine whether and to what extent McDonald should be placed on paid leave or otherwise disciplined.

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DeMarco Murray practices on Wednesday

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said it was not “unrealistic” for running back DeMarco Murray to play against the Colts on Sunday despite having surgery to repair a broken bone in his left hand on Monday.

Murray’s presence in the lineup didn’t get any less realistic on Wednesday. Murray was able to take part in individual drills and coach Jason Garrett said that the team hopes to keep ramping things up as Sunday draws closer.

“He has to get something out of each day,” Garrett said before practice Wednesday, via the team’s website. “Today we don’t anticipate him practicing much but he’s got to move around and get himself physically ready to play in this game. As we go, we’ll see how functional he is – how he can hold the ball, hold it under duress, catch the ball, block do all the things necessary to be ready to play. We’ll try to ease him into drills and practice as the week goes on.”

Murray’s presence was a welcome one for the Cowboys, but two of his blockers weren’t able to get on the field. Right tackle Doug Free and right guard Zack Martin both missed the day of work with ankle injuries, although Garrett said they avoided the dreaded high ankle sprain and are day-to-day heading into the weekend.

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Trent Cole having hand surgery, out for Saturday

Carson Palmer, Trent Cole AP

Earlier this week, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray had surgery on a broken bone in his hand after suffering the injury in Sunday night’s game against the Eagles.

It turned out to be a popular sequence of events. Eagles linebacker Trent Cole also broke a bone in his hand in that game and coach Chip Kelly announced that Cole will have surgery on Wednesday. Cole had been deciding between different possible ways to deal with the injury, including possibly wrapping it and playing through any pain.

He ultimately went the other way, though, and Kelly said he will miss Saturday’s game as a result. That’s a deviation from Murray’s path as the Cowboys are holding open the possibility that their top rusher will play against the Colts in Week 16 and the Eagles haven’t said whether Cole will play against the Giants in the season finale.

Brandon Graham will step into Cole’s spot against Washington and he’ll be trying to boost his value to the Eagles with a good performance in an expanded role.

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Aaron Rodgers is glad the Packers don’t leak like the Bears

Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler AP

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler don’t have much in common.

But despite their divisional rivalry, Rodgers said he’s upset about what Cutler has been through in recent weeks.

Speaking specifically about Cutler being the victim of an unnamed source (who later named himself) ripping him to an NFL Network reporter, Rodgers told another NFL Network reporter that kind of treatment is unfair.

Rodgers told Mike Silver that he was “baffled” by the account of Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer taking veiled shots then unveiling himself, and that he “would have a major problem” with such a situation.

Of course, they haven’t had such situations often under General Manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, at least that we’ve heard much about.

“I think there’s a way of doing things when you have issues, and it’s keeping it in-house,” Rodgers said. “We talk about that with our group a lot, and Mike always talks about, usually on Mondays or Wednesdays, ‘Here’s some of the media topics [that we’ll be asked].’ It gives guys a chance, if there are any questions or anything we need to talk about, to get it out there.

“The great thing about our team is that we’ve always had really open lines of communication. You know, we’ve had a couple of guys over the years be those unnamed sources, but thankfully Mike and Ted have weeded those guys out. So we’re not worried about these guys ripping on people and going out and doing things. Because if something happens like that, we address it directly.”

Of course, there’s the small matter of chickens and eggs here.

First, Rodgers has avoided the need for having coaches rip him, because he’s been a lot better at his job than Cutler has. The first step in avoiding anonymous criticism is being above it.

And that level of play has helped breed a stable workplace atmosphere in Green Bay, and when teams win there are usually less reasons for the boat to either rock or leak.

That’s not to say he or they are perfect, they’re just better at managing problems than their neighbors to the south.

Rodgers has aired out teammates on the sideline and on the field before too, but because he wins more often, it gets described as “fiery” while Cutler can bark at offensive linemen and be called “immature.”

But in addition to being a much better quarterback, Rodgers apparently works for an organization better at weeding out moles, which helps everyone except those who trade in information.

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Tim Couch: There’s no commitment, no loyalty in Cleveland

Ravens v Browns Getty Images

Tim Couch may be the most disappointing of all the Browns’ disappointing quarterbacks in the last 15 years. But Couch says it’s time to look at the franchise, not at the quarterbacks, as the reason for their continued failure.

Couch, the 1999 first overall draft pick who spent five seasons in Cleveland and never even reached a passer rating of 80 in any of them, said that the Browns need to find a coach and a quarterback who can work together, then stick with them through good times and bad.

“It’s been a long 15 years of watching the same thing repeat itself over and over. The biggest that frustrates me is the lack of commitment and loyalty to let a coach see it out and a quarterback play it out,” Couch told ESPN.

Couch agrees with Bernie Kosar, the former Browns quarterback who says the front office has created a culture in which there’s never a quarterback the franchise can get behind completely.

“I thought everything he said was right,” Couch said. “This is just repeating the same process of the last 15 years, like Bernie said. Whether it was me, Kelly [Holcomb] or on and on and on, the finger keeps being pointed at the quarterback. It’s the team. Build a team and then worry about the quarterback.”

It may be too late for that now: The Browns are wedded to Johnny Manziel for the last two games of this season and as their Week One starter in 2015 as well. Now they just have to hope Manziel proves to be the kind of quarterback who earns loyalty from the franchise.

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Chris Conte: I’d rather play in the NFL and die 10-15 years earlier

Buffalo Bills v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Bears safety Chris Conte has suffered a back injury, two concussions, a shoulder injury and an eye injury this season. And he says he’s OK with that.

Conte told WBBM in Chicago that playing football means so much to him that he’s willing to do it even if it’s bad for his long-term health.

“I’d rather have the experience of playing in the NFL and die 10 to 15 years earlier than not play in the NFL and have a long life,” he said. “I don’t really look toward my life after football. I’ll figure things out when I get there. As long as I outlive my parents.”

Conte’s point of view actually isn’t much different from that of people in all walks of life who say they’d rather enjoy the years they have than delay death as long as possible. Some people enjoy skiing, some people enjoy rock climbing, some people enjoy eating junk food. All of those things have health risks, but if a consenting adult chooses to accept the risk, who’s to tell him he shouldn’t?

But what Conte may not realize is that the risks associated with playing in the NFL are more about quality of life in old age than about taking years off life. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “On average, NFL players are actually living longer than the average American male.”

What Conte and all NFL players should weigh is the risk of injuries suffered on the football field affecting them later in life. Conte probably will live to be a senior citizen, and he will probably want to be not just alive but healthy when he’s 60, 70 or 80. Conte says in his 20s that the enjoyment he gets out of playing football makes the risk worth it. I hope he says the same when he’s in his 80s.

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Aaron Rodgers moving on from “rough one” against Bills

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Earlier this season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers used his Tuesday radio show as an opportunity to tell everyone worried about the Packers Offense to relax.

That proved to be the right message because he and the rest of the offense were about to catch fire and they’d remain hot for weeks. The first real chill came last Sunday against the Bills, when Rodgers posted the worst numbers of his career in a 21-13 loss to the Bills. While the struggles were undeniable, his message on the radio was a bit different when he hit the radio after what he described as a “rough one.”

“It was just disappointing because I missed a few of them by more than I wanted to, but I felt good about the ball coming off,” Rodgers said on ESPN Milwaukee. “It was just a little bit off. It was one of those days. As an offense we were a little out of sync, and then obviously it didn’t help some of the throws I made, but we had some opportunities. We had some opportunities to convert some third downs, to make some plays, and we didn’t do it. So we all look squarely in the mirror, and we’re very self-critical — myself as much as anybody.”

After weeks of high level performances, it’s hard to imagine that anyone needed to be told to relax after Sunday’s loss. Rough as it was, the performance wouldn’t have looked nearly as bad if receivers had held onto the ball more often and Buffalo’s defense had just come off a strong outing against Peyton Manning to further prove its bona fides.

This week’s opponent, the Bucs, have no such strength and they just placed Gerald McCoy on injured reserve to take things down another notch. That means the chances are that the Packers are back on track by the time Rodgers next hits the airwaves.

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Chargers say they will remain in San Diego in 2015

Dallas Cowboys v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers will remain in San Diego for at least one more year.

Amid talk that the Chargers could move to Los Angeles as soon as the 2015 season, the team released a statement this evening saying that they are committed to staying in San Diego next year.

“On February 1st of every year since 2007, the Chargers have been eligible to terminate the team’s lease for Qualcomm Stadium. And each year since 2007, the Chargers have announced that the team will not exercise the termination clause and instead continue to work toward a permanent stadium solution in San Diego,” the team said in its statement. “Today, the Chargers are making the same announcement that the team has made each year since 2007: The team will not be exercising the lease termination clause and will keep working to find a publicly acceptable way to build a Super-Bowl quality stadium in San Diego. Calendar year 2015 will constitute the team’s fourteenth year of work on a San Diego stadium solution.”

Whether the Chargers and San Diego can ever come to terms on building the kind of stadium the team wants remains to be seen. But the Chargers are going to keep trying, for at least one more year.

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