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Falcons’ special teams coach blows a gasket on Hard Knocks

keitharmstrong Getty Images

In an ordinary workplace, a boss who screams obscenities into the faces of his underlings would not be tolerated. One of the lessons that HBO’s Hard Knocks has taught us through the years is that an NFL team is not an ordinary workplace.

On Tuesday night’s episode, Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong lit into several players with a string of profanity and nasty insults.

“Who do you think you are? The game don’t mean enough to you, and that’s very f–king apparent,” Armstrong told one player during a film session. “You better wake up and get your pride in the game. Go out there and play like s–t? The s–t was coached the right way! I don’t want any excuses, selfish ass. What the hell is this? Look at this crap. Are you kidding me?”

As the team reviewed tape of a blocked punt, Armstrong exploded.

“It ain’t OK to go around here and not know. That ain’t cute. It ain’t OK. Really don’t care. That’s as selfish an act as you can make. Grow the f–k up,” Armstrong said.

Two rookie defensive linemen were singled out for poor play on the field goal unit. Armstrong told Jacques Smith, “You do what I tell you to do. You understand, Smith? You ain’t good enough to be an asshole. Do you understand that? Do you understand that?” And Armstrong told Ra’shede Hageman, “Do you start on defense? No. So what you going to do, sit your ass on the sidelines and watch the goddam game? We got enough people around here doing that s–t. Ain’t important to you.”

Armstrong made a point of explaining to the players that when he’s disappointed with them, he’ll tell them to their faces, “one man talking to another man.”

That’s fine, but Armstrong’s tirade raises some questions about where, exactly, the line is when coaches are addressing their players. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made respect the theme when he opened the owners’ meeting in March. Goodell’s emphasis on respect was a direct result of the situation that unfolded in Miami last year, when Jonathan Martin decided to leave the team because he couldn’t take the way he was being treated in the locker room anymore. Richie Incognito may be wondering why he was suspended and treated like the NFL’s worst villain last year for his unkind treatment of Martin, while Armstrong can insult players with impunity.

An NFL meeting room may never look like an ordinary workplace, but NFL players do have the right to be treated respectfully. Armstrong treated his players with something less than respect.

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De Smith says 18-game season isn’t his decision

DeMaurice Smith AP

Sean Gilbert, who conducted a media conference call on Tuesday in connection with his plan to pursue the position of NFLPA executive director, wants to achieve a variety of gains for the players.  In return, Gilbert is willing to give the NFL something for which it had stopped asking:  An 18-game regular season.

Appearing that same day (coincidentally, or not) on ESPN’s SportsCenter, De Smith addressed the issue of expanding the regular season.

It’s not my decision to make,” Smith said.  “If someone thinks it’s better for them to play 18 games.  I know that there’s a healthy number of football players now who would say go ahead and do play 18 games.”

Current NFLPA president Eric Winston strongly opposes the idea of expanding the regular season to 18 games.  Few players have argued in favor of adding a pair of games.  Given the current climate of player health and safety, it’s hard to imagine Gilbert’s proposal taking root among the rank and file.

Smith also addressed the fact that he faces an actual challenger for the job, a dynamic that the sitting NFLPA executive director hasn’t confronted in decades.

“I don’t give much thought to people who want this job,” Smith said.  “I have the pleasure of working for the players of the National Football League, the players decide who their leaders will be.  I look forward to March.  I intend to be in this job for as long as the players will have me.”

The issue could be resolved long before March.  The election of the 2014-15 team-by-team player representatives, which will occur in the coming weeks, potentially will result in the eventual winner being determined, if at least 17 of the 32 reps favor one of the candidates.

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Rooney breaks ranks on increased penalties in the passing game

Art Rooney II AP

When it comes to the renewed emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding, the league office has been acting like that dad who threatens to turn this car around and go home. The teams and players have been the kids sitting in the back seat, continuing to push the old man’s buttons in order to see whether he really means it.

With 230 defensive holding and illegal contact penalties called through 49 preseason games (4.69 per game), the question becomes whether that rate will continue once the regular season begins.  One of the more influential owners in the NFL has declared publicly that he hopes it won’t.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s concern around the league about [the increase in penalties] and I think that the point has been made by the officials,” Art Rooney II said, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “I hope we’re going to get back to a more normal number of penalties per game.”

Rooney believes that the officials have been calling defensive holding and illegal contact more zealously in the preseason, in the hopes of sending a message that players and coaches must adjust.

“I think that’s been the history that you’ve seen things called in the preseason more than you’ve sometimes in the regular season when they’ve decided to make a point,” Rooney said.  “That’s been the pattern that I’ve noticed in the past so we’ll see if that holds true this year.”

The league insists, however, that the fouls will be called the same way once the real games start.  Which means that, at a minimum, Rooney is disrupting the ruse.

“I don’t think anybody’s trying to increase the number of penalties or the number of stoppages in games,” Rooney said.  “It will go up and down depending on a game, but on the whole I think we need to hopefully get back to something that’s more like we had last year in terms of number of penalties per game.”

A cynic would say that, given the quality of the cornerbacks on the team Rooney owns, Rooney hopes that a certain amount of down-the-field hand fighting and pushing and shoving and tugging will be permitted.  Otherwise, the Steelers will be giving up an uncharacteristically high numbers of points.

Regardless, the rules are the rules.  (Profound, I know.)  Officials don’t throw flags for the exercise value of it.  Generally speaking, if players don’t commit penalties, penalties aren’t called.  So even though fans and media will blame the men in black and white, flags during the regular season will reflect that the coaches and players have failed to adjust to the rules.

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Burfict won’t talk about his contract

vontaze AP

A week after it was reported that the Bengals and linebacker Vontaze Burfict had reached a deal on a new contract, he remains unsigned. And he remains unwilling to talk about it.

Burfict was asked about his contract situation and said, “No comment,” according to Cincinnati.com.

The subject is apparently a topic of conversation in the Bengals’ locker room, however. Bengals cornerback Terence Newman piped up to reporters with a line from Rounders.

“Just like the line in that movie, pay that man his money,” Newman said.

The situation with Burfict is strange: A week ago the reports said the contract had been agreed upon, and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has said he expects Burfict to sign. Until the contract is signed, however, everything else is just talk. And Burfict won’t talk.

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CBA makes coaches, teams jointly responsible for offseason violations

Carroll AP

Some of you have asked why the NFL fined both the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll for violating the rules prohibiting contact during offseason workouts.  It’s a new twist to the 2011 labor deal, which contains enhanced penalties for the team and the coach if/when offseason workouts result in contact.

Prior to 2011, the labor deal prohibited offseason contact, and a certain amount of it routinely was ignored.  Only in egregious cases would the league get involved, with teams losing one or more OTA days and fines rarely if ever imposed.

Carroll didn’t receive a fine when the Seahawks violated the rules two years ago, presumably under the portion of Article 21, Section 8 that allows the Commissioner to reduce or eliminate fines if the violation resulted from a good-faith interpretation of the rules or if the violation wasn’t “material.”

This time around, the Commissioner opted to fine Carroll more than $100,000 — but less than the $250,000 specified for a second offense.  The Seahawks were fined more than $200,000 for the second offense — but less than the $500,000 specified for a second offense.  This suggests that the Commissioner believed the certain circumstances justified a reduction in the fines contemplated by the CBA.

While the Seahawks reportedly have lost “at least two minicamp practices in 2015,” the rules contemplate the elimination not of minicamp practices but of a week of OTAs.  If two violations occur in the same league year, the team also loses a fourth-round draft pick.

Violations of the rules against offseason contact are inevitable, given that players are competing for roster spots and depth-chart position.  But the Seahawks have become the first team to receive a fine for violating offseason rules under the new CBA, and Carroll has become the first coach to personally be fined for an offseason workout violation.  Whatever happened was noteworthy, but also isolated.

Otherwise, the fines would have been much higher, and the Seahawks would have lost a fourth-round draft pick.

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Torrey Smith: I don’t think Meriweather should be suspended

smithmeriweather AP

Washington safety Brandon Meriweather is suspended for the first two games of the regular season for an illegal hit to Ravens receiver Torrey Smith. One person who doesn’t support the suspension is the player who bore the brunt of the illegal hit.

Smith wrote on Twitter that he doesn’t think Meriweather should have been suspended, although he hastened to add that he knows it’s not up to him.

“I don’t think he should be suspended,” Smith wrote, “but I don’t make or enforce the rules…I just play.”

It’s not uncommon for players to say they don’t want a fellow player punished, but in the case of Meriweather, the NFL really didn’t have much choice but to act. Meriweather has a long history of illegal hits to opponents’ heads, and fines don’t seem to deter him. A suspension was expected as soon as Meriweather delivered that hit, even if Smith didn’t think it was warranted.

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All 32 teams reach 75-player limit

Logan Mankins AP

The first of this week’s two big roster cutdown days has ended, and all NFL teams are down to the 75-player limit.

We’ve updated our NFL roster cuts tracker to give you one place to keep track of all the transactions that have been made in the NFL over the last couple of days.

There were no big surprises among today’s cuts. The biggest roster transaction of the day came when the Patriots traded guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick. But that move didn’t have any bearing on the 75-man roster limit, as each team lost one player and gained one player.

Some surprises are likely to come on Saturday, when all NFL teams must reach the 53-player roster limit for the regular season. We’ll be tracking all of it right here.

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Report: Seahawks fined, stripped of minicamp days for violating no-contact practice rules

Pete Carroll

In 2012, the Seahawks were disciplined by the NFL for violating the league’s rules governing contact in offseason practices.

They were fined an undisclosed amount and stripped of two OTA practices for the violation, but that apparently didn’t stop them from crossing the league’s line again this year.When the Seahawks were punished in 2012, Carroll complained that it was unclear what constituted illegal contact during practices and the question has been raised by others during the last few off seasons as well.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll have been collectively fined more than $300,000 for again violating the rule. Per Mortensen, Carroll was fined “at least” $100,000 and the Seahawks were fined more than $200,000. In addition, the team will lose two minicamp days during the 2015 offseason.

Like all the rules stemming from the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, the rule barring contact in offseason practices was agreed to by both the NFLPA and the league. NFLPA president Eric Winston is now a member of the Seahawks, but was not with the team in the offseason.

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Clark blames Meriweather suspension on Troy Vincent

Clark Getty Images

Washington safety Ryan Clark has a habit of speaking out on various topics.  He tends to speak out the loudest regarding the NFL’s rules regarding illegal hits against offensive players.

With teammate Brandon Meriweather receiving a two-game suspension for his sixth violation of the rules regarding unnecessary roughness, Clark has opted to blame not Meriweather or the rules generally, but the man who imposed the ban.

“Roger [Goodell] kept full control of certain things and he passed this [the decision on safety rules fines and suspensions] on to Troy [Vincent], a guy who was up for the [executive] director’s job of the NFLPA,” Clark said Tuesday, via Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com.  “He didn’t get it.  Quickly switched sides and now this is his first opportunity to have power.  This is the only power he has in the office and this is what he comes up and does.  I think it just shows where he’s at.”

Clark’s arguments often contain a flaw in logic; this one is no different.  Vincent’s decision to impose a two-game suspension — the next step of progressive discipline in light of Meriweather’s one-game suspension in 2013 — represents not an effort by Vincent to stir the pot with kettle corn muscles but an attempt to ensure that players play the game as safely as they can.  Meriweather has been one of the worst offenders in recent years, which makes him a target for enhanced discipline.

When referring to Goodell’s “full control” that was partially “passed” to Vincent, Clark also ignores the fact that Meriweather’s suspension will be reviewed by Ted Cottrell or Derrick Brooks, who have been jointly hired and who are jointly compensated by the NFL and the NFLPA.  So while Goodell still has judge/jury/executioner power in several key areas of discipline, neither he nor anyone else has it as to on-field misconduct.

Which means that, if Vincent was indeed caught up in his newly-acquired title or authority, the NFL and the NFLPA have put in place a system that protects the players against mistakes or agendas.

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Gordon delay could make it easier to get an injunction

Josh Gordon AP

It’s not known whether Browns receiver Josh Gordon will go the StarCaps route if/when he’s officially suspended for a year, filing a lawsuit attacking the arbitration decision and seeking a preliminary injunction that would allow him to play until the litigation ends.

If Gordon chooses to go that route, the 22-days-and-counting lag since the completion of his appeal hearing could actually help his cause.

Gordon may have a hard time conjuring an argument or two that would prompt a court to take the fairly extraordinary step of eventually overturning the outcome of a private arbitration proceeding, since private arbitration proceedings tend to keep plenty of cases out of the court system.  But the NFL’s inexplicable failure to reach on a more timely basis what should be a very straightforward decision could make the judge who is asked to prevent the suspension from being implemented a bit more sympathetic to Gordon’s plight.

The delayed issuance of the decision by hearing officer Harold Henderson will put more pressure the judge to whom the case would be assigned to process the facts, to research the law, and to make a fair and proper decision as to whether Gordon should be allowed to play pending a final ruling in the case.  And the judge to whom the case is assigned could blame the NFL for dragging its feet, which could make the judge more favorable to Gordon’s cause.  Which eventually could make Gordon available to play for most or all of the 2014 season.

Again, it’s not known whether Gordon will choose to take the NFL to court.  With each passing day, his case for an order allowing him to play until the case ends could be getting stronger.  It’s definitely not getting any weaker.

In the end, Gordon may still be suspended for a full year.  However, like the StarCaps plaintiffs several years ago, Gordon may be able to delay indefinitely the start of the banishment.

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Brady Quinn’s tenure in Miami ends after two weeks

bradyquinn AP

Brady Quinn didn’t last long in Miami.

Quinn, the veteran quarterback who signed with the Dolphins two weeks ago, wrote on Twitter today that he has been released.

“It was short lived but I enjoyed every second. Thank you Miami Dolphins for the opportunity to play the game I love again. Best of luck to all the players and coaches this season,” Quinn wrote.

The 29-year-old Quinn, a 2007 first-round pick of the Browns, has made clear that he wants to keep playing. But Quinn may be out of options. There wasn’t much interest in Quinn this offseason, and the one team that gave him a shot wasn’t impressed enough to keep him around. We may have seen the last of Quinn in the NFL.

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Bucs trade for Logan Mankins

Mankins AP

A day after the Buccaneers met with free-agent Richie Incognito in an effort to bolster their line, the Bucs opted to go one step farther.

According to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, the Bucs have agreed to the parameters of a deal that will bring Logan Mankins from the Patriots.  In return, New England gets tight end Tim Wright and an undisclosed draft pick.

A six-time Pro Bowler, Mankins joined the Patriots via round one of the 2005 draft.  Signed through 2016, Mankins is due to earn a base salary of $6.25 million in 2014, $6.75 million in 2015, and $6.75 million in his final season.

He’ll count $4 million against the Patriots’ salary cap in 2014, and another $4 million in 2015, based on the $20 million signing bonus he received in 2011.

The structure fits Tampa’s pay-as-you go preference.  More importantly, it gives them a guy who can step right in at left guard.

The move shows that coach Lovie Smith and G.M. Jason Licht don’t view 2014 as a scholarship year.  They are trying to win now, and with Mankins the chances of that happening have increased.

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Gordon’s DUI case continued to November

Cleveland Browns v St. Louis Rams 8-8-2013 Getty Images

Lost in the lingering delay regarding Brown receiver Josh Gordon’s appeal is the fact that Gordon faces DUI charges in North Carolina.

Per the Associated Press, a hearing scheduled for Tuesday has been continued until November.

The DUI has no bearing on Gordon’s pending suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy.  However, his history of substance-abuse violations could prompt the NFL to suspend him for a first-offense DUI, even though the standard penalty is a two-game fine.

If Gordon ultimately beats the DUI charge, there will be no discipline of any kind.  For this situation.

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Richie Incognito has “very constructive” meeting with Bucs, but doesn’t sign

110413_Incognito-Richie_600 AP

The Buccaneers met with guard Richie Incognito for several hours on Monday night, but the meeting did not end with a contract that would bring Incognito back into the NFL.

Incognito, who became a free agent after serving out a suspension handed down by the Dolphins last season for his behavior toward former Dolphin Jonathan Martin, met with team officials and took a physical during his visit on Monday. General Manager Jason Licht said the team hasn’t signed Incognito now, but could in the future as they continue to look for ways to bolster a weak group of guards.

“We had a very constructive meeting with Richie. It went on for about 5 hours. He haven’t ruled it out. He remains an option,” Licht said, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

There are other teams believed to have interest in talking to Incognito. As with all vested veterans, Incognito would be guaranteed a full year’s salary if he’s on a roster for Week One and that may keep him from landing with a team until September if teams are concerned about his ability to be a useful member of the team for the entire year.

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Gilbert platform advocates blowing up CBA, 18 games

Gilbert AP

Next March, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith will face re-election for the second time since getting this job.  This time around, Smith may be facing an opponent.

Former NFL defensive lineman Sean Gilbert has announced his intention to run for the job.  Later this morning, Gilbert will conduct a media conference call discussing his candidacy, along with his platform.

PFT has obtained a copy of Gilbert’s platform, which consists of 23 total points.

The first — and arguably most notable — point reiterates Gilbert’s desire to pursue termination of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, via the anti-collusion provisions of the labor deal.

The goal, as we understand it, won’t be to strike, but to get the NFL back to the bargaining table with the goal of improving the current contract.  Of course, if there’s no labor deal there will be a chance the league will lock out the players, again.  But if there’s a work stoppage, it won’t happen due to a strike.

Gilbert also advocates a $1 million minimum player salary, a reduction in dues from $15,000 to $10,000, three-year rookie deals, free agency after three years, permissible renegotiation after only one year (with Russell Wilson specifically mentioned as an example), a one-time career limitation on the use of the franchise tag, elimination of the transition tag, removal of two preseason games, elimination of compensatory draft picks, increase of roster size from 53 to 57 (with an 11-player practice squad), increase in the practice-squad salary to $20,000 per week, elimination of “contract splits,” elimination of certain exclusions from “all revenue,” such as Cowboys merchandising and Jets/Giants PSL fees, and restriction of the Commissioner’s judge-jury-executioner power.

Gilbert also extends a major carrot to the league, proposing an 18-game regular season and a shifting of the Super Bowl to President’s Day Weekend.

While the election won’t happen until March, the election will be largely won or lost in the coming weeks.  Since the team-by-team player representatives ultimately vote on the executive director, the ability of Smith, Gilbert, or any other candidate to successfully place 17 of their supporters in those positions for 2014-15 will eventually deliver the election.

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