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Chris Berman’s agent denies report of looming retirement

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  TV personality Chris Berman attends ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN) Getty Images

Chris Berman is retiring. Unless he isn’t.

In response to a report that the George Ehhh-weeah-ashington of ESPN’s Mt. Rushmore is retiring after the 2016 NFL season, Berman’s agent tells Richard Sandomir of the New York Times that Berman isn’t calling it quits.

Chris is NOT retiring,” Berman’s agent told Sandomir. “Loves what he’s doing too much and is too young to hang ’em up.”

Berman’s agent also suspects foul play.

Perhaps people with an agenda put it out there,” Berman’s agent told Sandomir.

The news of Berman’s looming retirement comes at a time when ESPN is gutting its Sunday morning NFL programming. Even before TheBigLead.com reported that Berman will call it quits, rumors were rampant that Berman and Tom Jackson would eventually be joining Mike Ditka, Cris Carter, and Keyshawn Johnson as former members of the four-letter network.

If the “people with an agenda” occupy management positions at ESPN, it’s inevitable that Berman will continue his career elsewhere, if he indeed doesn’t retire following the upcoming season, when his contract expires. The last time Berman approached free agency, he reportedly was considering an offer from DirecTV.

With more and more non-traditional companies jockeying for NFL broadcasting rights both now and in the not-too-distant future, it makes plenty of sense for the likes of Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, etc. to consider Berman, who would instantly bring gravitas to any NFL-related production. Whether Berman would be interested in working for a non-traditional outlet is a much different proposition, but very large piles of money go a long way toward the defiance of expectations.

Sure, Berman has become a popular pin cushion for many, but it has happened in part because he’s a broadcasting institution — and because his approach skews toward making himself the center of attention. This doesn’t undermine his skills and his persona, both of which are still significant.

Besides, he’s only 61. At a time when Vin Scully has worked deep into his 80s and Al Michaels is as good as ever in his 70s, Berman surely has plenty of solid years left.

It’s fairly safe to say that those years won’t happen on the air at ESPN. And it’s possible that someone is hoping to provoke the kind of eruption from Mt. Berman that will trigger a possible buyout of his current deal, accelerating his exit from Bristol.

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Report: ESPN’s Chris Berman retiring after ’16 season

chris-berman Getty Images

ESPN’s Chris Berman is retiring after the 2016 season, TheBigLead.com reported Thursday.

Berman, 61, is an original ESPN employee and the host of two of the network’s most popular NFL-related shows, Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown.

The report said Berman is in the final year of his contract and will retire sometime after the end of the season that starts this September and ends with the Super Bowl next February. ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz declined comment to TheBigLead.com on the report.

The report lists Trey Wingo and Suzy Kolber as potential Berman replacements. Wingo hosts NFL Live daily, and the report said there’s a “strong internal push” for Kolber to replace Berman.

ESPN has made other changes to its extensive NFL coverage in recent weeks. Ray Lewis and Cris Carter are out at ESPN, and Randy Moss and Charles Woodson are among the new analysts set to join the network’s NFL coverage.

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Goodell letter reaffirms $30 million commitment to NIH

Roger Goodell AP

The week began with a Congressional report accusing the NFL of rescinding $16 million from a $30 million gift to the National Institutes of Health due to the league’s disagreement with the NIH’s selection of a researcher to oversee testing aimed at detecting Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in living patients. The week is ending with Commissioner Roger Goodell emphasizing to his constituents that the full $30 million gift remains in place.

“As discussed during our recent meeting, the NFL has a unique responsibility and opportunity to drive change and advance progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries,” Goodell said in a letter to all owners and team presidents, a copy  of which PFT has obtained. “That is our unwavering commitment to our players, former players, athletes at all levels, and society more broadly.”

Goodell explains in the letter that the commitment arises primarily from “continued and robust support of independent medical research,” including the $30 million NIH donation.

“I want to reaffirm in the strongest possible terms my comments to you during the league meeting and my public statements this week reaffirming the NFL’s commitment to the NIH of the $30 million in grant funding we pledged to accelerate scientific understanding of concussion and head injury,” Goodell wrote. “There was no consideration given to anything other than honoring that commitment in its entirety.”

Goodell then explained how the money is being distributed: (1)$12 million allocated through the NIH for two $6 million agreements dedicated to studies that define the long-term changes that occur in the brain after a head injury or multiple concussions; (2) $6 million to the Boston University School of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a study on CTE and post-traumatic neurodegeneration; (3) $6 million for Mount Sinai Hospital for a study on the neuropathology of CTE and Delayed Effects of TBI; and (4) six pilot projects totaling more than $2 million to provide support for the early stages of sports-related concussion projects.

Implicit in this explanation is the concession that the NFL did indeed rescind $16 million that had been earmarked for a study aimed at detecting CTE in living patients. The Congressional report claimed that the NFL removed that specific contribution over objections to the selection of Robert Stern to oversee the research.

While the league definitely deserves credit for the $30 million donation, the issue of the $16 million for a study that would detect CTE in living patients remains. Goodell has characterized any communications with the NIH as part of a normal back and forth. But what the league may regard as normal dialogue apparently was perceived by someone with the NIH and/or Congress as an abnormal attempt to steer away from a researcher whom the league apparently believes has an agenda against the NFL a critical study that could, if it shows widespread CTE in current players, seriously damage the league’s interests.

Regardless of whether the league had just cause to be concerned about Robert Stern presiding over the study, Congress and ESPN (which instigated the investigation with its reporting from last December) caught the league flat-footed on Monday, and the NFL’s efforts to close the gap since then have failed to wipe away the general belief that the league engaged in the kind of behavior chronicled in the film Concussion.

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Ray Rice addresses Ravens rookies

rayrice AP

The Ravens had an interesting speaker in Wednesday to address the team’s rookies as part of an ongoing series of speeches and seminars.

Ray Rice.

The Ravens released Rice in 2014 after video surfaced of Rice punching his then-fiancee. He was suspended indefinitely by the NFL when the video surfaced; he’d previously been facing a two-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Rice has been out of the NFL since.

The team’s statement on Rice speaking to the rookies, released via the team’s Twitter account on Thursday afternoon, said: “Our 27 sessions to our rookies through our player engagement program review and teach life management and life lessons. Rice, who played for the Ravens from 2008-2014, delivered an important message that included his story, both the good and the bad. He clearly had the attention of our rookies.”

The NFL eliminated the Rookie Symposium this year, instead opting for individual team programs and seminars like the one that brought Rice back into the Ravens’ building this week. The goal remains to deliver messages that might keep at-risk players out of bad situations and reinforce that being an NFL player is a privilege, and that’s why the Ravens took the rather bold step of inviting Rice back into their building.

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Ryan Tannehill: A lot of freedom in Adam Gase’s offense

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 03:  Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins in action during the second half of the game against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dolphins defensive end Mario Williams said this week that he’s enjoying what he’s seen from the team’s defensive scheme after a dismal year with the Bills in 2015.

Williams isn’t the only member of the team excited about life under a new coaching staff. Unlike Williams, quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t have to switch teams to find something more to his liking.

Tannehill said that the offense being installed by coach Adam Gase allows for the quarterback to have more control over adjustments before the play, something that wasn’t the case under the previous regime and something that Tannehill’s teammates said hurt the quarterback at times.

“We do a lot of things differently now,” Tannehill said. “Being on the line of scrimmage adjusting, whether it’s protections, routes, a whole new play — there’s a lot of freedom in what we do. I think it’s going to make us always on the attack. We’re not going to have to sit on our heels and feel like the defense is coming after us and we have to figure out a way to make it work. We can put pressure on the defense by getting in a good play and always keeping the heat on the defense.”

The first year in a new offense can make for some growing pains, but the change in coaches won’t do anything to lower expectations that Tannehill show he can take the next step in his development during the 2016 season.

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Fines imposed against Harbaugh, Ravens show NFL didn’t think there was a “mistake”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 24:  Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens watches action during the first quarter of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 24, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL did the Ravens a favor by not disclosing the amount of the fines imposed on the team and coach John Harbaugh for violating the rules regarding offseason practices. That’s the extent of any gratuity given to the team or its coach.

The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement provides that the head coach “shall be subject to a fine in the amount of $100,000 for the first violation,” and the team “shall be subject to a fine in the amount of $250,000 for the first violation.” The base amount of the fines from 2011 increase each year based on growth in league revenue.

In this case, PFT has confirmed that the infraction resulted in fines of $137,223 for Harbaugh and $343,057 for the Ravens. (Jim Trotter of ESPN first reported the fine amounts.)

Article 21, Section 8 of the CBA permits the Commissioner, in consultation with the NFLPA, to reduce the fines if the conduct of the coach resulted from a “good faith” interpretation of the rules regarding offseason workouts or that the violation did not result in a material violation of the rules. Based on Trotter’s report, there was no reduction.

This means, as a practical matter, that the NFL didn’t buy the team’s claim that it made a “mistake” when it put players in pads during rookie minicamp. Ultimately, the NFL cut the Ravens no slack, imposing more than $480,000 in fines on the coach and his team.

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NFL fines John Harbaugh, cancels a week of Ravens’ OTAs

John Harbaugh AP

The Ravens and head coach John Harbaugh have been punished by the NFL for breaking the rule requiring rookie minicamp to consist only of non-contact practices without pads.

“We made a mistake and we are sorry for that. We accept the NFL discipline,” the Ravens said in a statement.

That discipline will consist of a fine for both Harbaugh individually and the Ravens as a team, as well as forfeiting their OTAs which had been scheduled to take place June 1-3.

The Ravens used the word “mistake” in their statement, but the NFL reportedly believes that the Ravens knew the rule against full-pad practices at rookie minicamp and violated it anyway. That’s not a mistake, it’s a conscious effort to break a rule that all teams must abide by.

The decision to fine the Ravens and dock them some practices is consistent with language in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that says more stringent penalties — including losing draft picks — will only be imposed if a team breaks the rule multiple times in a year. But in a league where there’s a widespread belief that the rules are enforced inconsistently, fans of other teams will surely say the Ravens are getting off easy.

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Art Briles should be a coaching pariah after Baylor investigation

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 5: Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears waits in the tunnel before the Bears take on the Texas Longhorns at McLane Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) Getty Images

When news broke this morning that Baylor would fire head football coach Art Briles, I dashed off a quick post about whether he would have a future in the NFL. A few minutes later, Baylor posted a statement about the investigation that led to Briles’ firing.

Having now read that statement, here’s what I think about Briles’ coaching future: Briles should have no coaching future.

Baylor’s statement suggests that women who were sexually assaulted by football players were discouraged from reporting those assaults, and in at least one case a woman actually faced retaliation for reporting an assault.

“There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct,” Baylor’s statement reads.

That ultimately falls on Briles. Major college football programs are essentially dictatorships in which the head coach outranks even the college president and athletic director, and if there’s a pattern of sexual assault and a refusal to hold football players accountable for sexual assaults, that falls on the head football coach. Briles was a highly successful coach and well respected offensive innovator, but that will not be his legacy at Baylor. His legacy will be the damning statement Baylor released today that made it clear that Briles cared more about winning than about the safety of Baylor students who were victimized by his players.

The football world should treat Briles as a pariah.

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Report: Abdullah recovering from surgery on torn labrum

New York Jets v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah had shoulder surgery in January and could be out until training camp, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported Thursday.

The report said Dr. James Andrews repaired a torn labrum that Adbullah had suffered during a mid-December game. The report also said Abdullah is ahead of schedule in his rehab but the team intends to proceed with caution through the rest of the spring.

Abdullah figures as the starting running back this season for the Lions. He led the team with 597 rushing yards last year as a rookie and also led the NFL in kick return yardage with 1,077.

A second-round pick last spring, he played in all 16 games, carried 143 times and caught 25 passes.

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Mario Williams happy to “cut it loose” in Miami

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 30:   Brian Hoyer #6 of the Cleveland Browns is hit after throwing the ball by Mario Williams #94 of the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 30, 2014 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Defensive end Mario Williams‘ 2015 season with the Bills was marked by his complaints about what the team was asking him to do on defense and complaints from others that Williams wasn’t giving the team everything he had.

That unhappy mix and Williams’ big cap number led the Bills to part ways with Williams once the season came to an end. Williams landed with the Dolphins as a free agent and he’s singing a different tune when it comes to fitting into a defense than he was last season.

“At the end of the day, whatever scheme that defensive coordinators have or whatnot, you have to take it and adjust to it and run with it,” Williams said, via ESPN.com. “It could be anything. It varies not just [for] myself, but my teammates. They’ve been other places and experienced other things.”

The reason behind Williams’ change of heart isn’t difficult to figure out. The Dolphins want Williams to rush the passer first and foremost, which eliminates his biggest bone of contention from last year.

“I think the biggest focal point and exciting for us is knowing that [we can] cut it loose,” Williams said. “It’s almost like saying, ‘Go! Every time, just go. We’re going to put you in the best position for you to get after it and everything else is going to trickle downhill from there.'”

It’s not the first time we’ve heard this kind of positivity from Williams about his role since he joined the Dolphins. That probably won’t make for many smiles in Buffalo, but it could be the foundation for a rebound from Williams in Miami.

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Brandon Marshall also appears to be protesting Fitzpatrick situation

Brandon Marshall AP

Amid a report that Jets receiver Eric Decker is skipping Organized Team Activities to make a statement in support of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, it appears that Jets receiver Brandon Marshall is doing the same.

Although Marshall hasn’t said anything about the issue, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News connects the dots and concludes that both Decker and Marshall are skipping OTAs to show solidarity with Fitzpatrick, who remains an unsigned free agent.

It’s widely expected that Fitzpatrick will be the Jets’ starting quarterback this season, but the Jets aren’t offering Fitzpatrick the kind of money he wants, and so far it appears that neither side wants to budge on contract talks. The Jets are waiting until Fitzpatrick brings his price down, while Fitzpatrick is waiting for the Jets to increase their offer. Neither side has a lot of leverage: Fitzpatrick doesn’t have another team willing to make him its starting quarterback, while the Jets don’t want to be stuck with Geno Smith as their starter.

Marshall and Decker don’t want Smith, either. They’re making it clear that they want Fitzpatrick to be their guy, and they’re skipping voluntary workouts to make that point.

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Drew Brees applies deadline to talks with Saints on a new deal

Drew Brees AP

The Saints and quarterback Drew Brees still haven’t worked out a new deal that reduces his salary-cap number for 2016 below $30 million. There’s now an apparent deadline for getting a deal done.

I don’t like to talk about contracts during the season,” Brees said Wednesday, via the Associated Press. “If you remember in 2011, where it began to drag into the season, three weeks in I was like, ‘I don’t want to deal with it anymore. I want to focus on football, focus on the season.’ That has always been my approach. That’ll be my approach again. There’s a deal to be done now, and if it doesn’t get done now, it’ll be a different deal to get done at the end of the year.”

That’s the closest Brees or his agent have come to pointing out the reality that, if the Saints allow Brees to play out the final year of his five-year, $100 million contract, the circumstances will change, dramatically. They’ll change thanks to the arbitration claim filed by Brees after the Saints applied the franchise tag to him in 2012, which resulted in a ruling that the next application of the tag to Brees will be the third of his career. As a result, he’ll be entitled to a 44-percent increase over his cap number from 2016.

That’s $43.2 million. For one year. For a quarterback who will be 38 in January.

This means that the Saints likely wouldn’t apply the tag to Brees, allowing instead for the market to set his value. Which creates the very real possibility that someone else will offer Brees dramatically more than the Saints will offer. Which, in turn, sets the stage for the possibility of Brees changing teams after what will be his 11th season in New Orleans.

While Brees leaving remains a long shot, teams use the franchise tag to keep key players off the market. When a player has a chance to go to the market (e.g., Ndamukong Suh), anything can happen. And with plenty of teams always searching for franchise quarterbacks, someone out there surely would love to have a Favre-in-Minnesota year or two with Brees.

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Report: Peyton Manning won’t sue Al Jazeera

BRISTOL, TN - APRIL 17:  Former NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning, huddles with crew chief Greg Ives and the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet crew in their hauler prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2016 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Getty Images

Peyton Manning has plenty of decisions to make, now that he has retired. One of the first decisions he made was a smart one.

Christine Brennan of USA Today reports that Manning won’t be suing Al Jazeera over the report that HGH was delivered to Manning’s wife in 2011, while Manning was dealing with chronic neck problems. Per Brennan, the decision came “after a dozen conference calls with attorneys” prompted Manning to conclude “that he doesn’t want to spend the time and money necessary to file a lawsuit that would make public the personal records and private lives of both he and his wife Ashley.”

That’s precisely what a defamation case would do, especially since truth is the ultimate defense to a claim of libel or slander. A lawsuit would give Al Jazeera license to demand the production of all medical records reflecting treatment received by Peyton or Ashley Manning at the Guyer Institute in Indianapolis, and anywhere else.

Brennan also explains that Manning is watching closely defamation lawsuits filed by baseball players Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard against Al Jazeera arising from the same documentary. If/when those cases are dismissed, Manning will know that his case would have been dismissed, too.

Frankly, dismissal would have been the least of Peyton Manning’s problems. If the medical records suggest that Ashley Manning did indeed receive HGH for use by Peyton, that information could then be used by the NFL as part of its own investigation that according to Brennan remains stuck in neutral, five months after the report came to light. With Manning possibly aspiring to run an NFL team in the future, its possible that he’d be disciplined as an executive for violations occurring as a player.

Without litigation or some other court proceeding that will bring the information to light, the NFL has no way of obtaining the documents. Unless, of course, Peyton and Ashley Manning execute the appropriate legal documents authorizing the Guyer Institute to provide that information.

At one point, Peyton Manning suggested that he’d allow the NFL to examine that information. He may have a different feeling on that issue, now that his playing career is over.

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Report: Decker absent from OTAs in protest of Fitzpatrick situation

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 29:  Eric Decker #87 of the New York Jets celebrates his touchdown with  Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 in the third quarter against the Miami Dolphins on November 29, 2015 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker has been absent from the team’s organized team activity (OTA) practices this week, and Brian Costello of the New York Post reported Wednesday night that Decker’s absence is related to the team’s ongoing contract standoff with free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Citing a source, Costello reported that Decker stayed away from the practices because he’s upset with the organization that Fitzpatrick remains unsigned.

The dots there are pretty easy to connect, though there are many reasons players miss OTA practices. With the quarterback market seemingly stagnant, it does seem time that the Jets and Fitzpatrick just do a deal. Whether or not Decker’s reported protest could impact that, we probably won’t ever know. We do know that Decker had a big season with Fitzpatrick throwing to him in 2015, and that Fitzpatrick has said he’d like to get a deal done to return.

These things happen — these absences and these negotiations — and at this point it seems like the Jets and Fitzpatrick will eventually get a deal done. Decker isn’t required to attend OTAs, and the front office obviously has its reasons and its stance in this matter.

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Arian Foster says he “probably” needs another month to be back to where he was

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 25:  Arian Foster #23 of the Houston Texans looks on during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

He’s still not yet 30, but people think he’s washed up. They could be rethinking that position soon.

Free-agent running back Arian Foster, still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and still looking for a new job after being cut by the Texans, believes he’s getting closer to a return to full strength.

“I probably need another month to get where I am, the person everyone is use to seeing,” Foster told abc13.com in Houston. “I can definitely play, but I need another month to be where I want to be and be at that Pro Bowl level I can be at.”

Can he get there? Foster’s brother, Abdul, believes Arian can be “probably better.”

Two years ago, Foster was pretty good, with 1,246 yards rushing and an average of 4.8 yards per carry. From 2011 through 2013, Foster had three straight 1,000-yard seasons, with a total of 4,264 rushing yards.

Despite his track record, Foster seems to be concerned that his personality could be an impediment to getting work.

“I am not one of those Captain America, ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ kind of cats, and a lot of that comes across as arrogance. But if anyone has spent any real time with me, they’ll say I’m not arrogant,” Foster said.

Most teams seem to have filled their needs at tailback, but injuries are inevitable. Someone will give Foster a chance, and there’s a decent chance he’ll still be pretty good, if not better.

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