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Jerry Jones has talked to Ezekiel Elliott but not to NFL

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Jerry Jones said he has talked to Ezekiel Elliott about Elliott’s latest off-field incident but not to anyone at the NFL about a possible suspension for the star running back.

“First of all, I haven’t spoken to anyone at the NFL, but I have detail, some detail. More to get,” Jones said Tuesday at a press conference for the topping off for the Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research at The Star. “Certainly as you can imagine, and I appreciate why, but probably could count the way things are, and so I’ll be getting more detail and will be commenting on if there’s any comment from me, which you need in the future.”

In other words, in eight minutes of questions, Jones said little about Elliott’s alleged involvement in a disturbance at a Dallas bar on Sunday night. He has press conferences scheduled the next two days so he will have to continue to answer questions about Elliott as the Cowboys prepare to depart for training camp Saturday.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported last week, before Elliott’s latest off-field headline, that Elliott was bracing for a suspension to start the season. Jones, who as recently as March said he expected the NFL to clear Elliott, was not as emphatic in his answers regarding a possible suspension for Elliott.

“I actually don’t know the status, but I surely don’t want to speculate about any decisions from the league or any potential injury or lack of having a player available,” Jones said. “Availability is a key. Ability is a key. But availability is a key, and we really do plan personnel-wise, we plan for a player not being available. That’s just part of our DNA.”

Jones said Elliott, who led the league in rushing last season, still is adjusting to the spotlight that comes with being a star NFL player.

“I know that and I can say first hand that developing an awareness of where you are with the visibility that is involved today is in and of itself a learning, evolving thing,” Jones said. “People who have been in the public eye for years and years are having to rethink about how they are and how they approach the public eye. So it’s not just someone that’s recent to the public eye, as you well know, because of his style, personality, it’s like a rock star wherever he goes as far as potential. That anybody that thinks about it but certainly anybody that’s experienced that knows that takes some getting used to to have to learn many aspects of that. So certainly Zeke is evolving and being subject to needing to learn how to deal with the media and social media the way it is today.”

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Kirk Cousins: Needed more time to make long-term decision with team

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Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins said a long-term deal was “closer than people would think,” but that he wasn’t rushing into accepting the team’s proposal or to counter.

He didn’t necessarily dispute the team’s version, that he didn’t come back with his own proposal.

During an interview on 106.7 The Fan, Cousins said he was “at peace” with the decision and that he needed more time.

“Up until a week ago, I was praying over whether we should send them an offer,” he said. “I felt peace about not making an offer and leaving it in the team’s court.”

Cousins said he spoke with team president Bryce Allen (sorry, typing accent) often over the weekend, and emphasized the need for more time to make a long-term decision.

They lost offensive coordinator Sean McVay, and turned over his receiving corps, and Cousins said he wanted to see how things develop. That means playing out the year for $23.94 million, his second straight year on the franchise tag.

He also said signing with the team after the coming season was a possibility, calling it his “first choice” to stay with one team.

That’s far from a yes, and without a guarantee beyond this season, there’s no way to know where he’ll be a year from now.

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Will Le’Veon Bell show up for training camp?

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Now that the Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell have failed to negotiate a long-term deal prior to the deadline for doing so, the next question is an important one: Will Bell sign his franchise tender and show up for training camp?

Bell still hasn’t inked the one-year, $12.1 million offer that was made earlier this year. By rule, he can skip camp and the full preseason without financial consequence, showing up only days before the Week One game against Cleveland, signing the tender, and getting 17 weekly checks worth more than $711,000 each.

Although there’s nothing he can do at this point to squeeze Pittsburgh to give him a multi-year contract, the Steelers could offer more money on a one-year deal and/or a promise not to tag Bell in 2018. They also could decide to go the full-blown hardball route and rescind the franchise tender, making Bell a free agent late enough in the calendar to keep him from getting $12.1 million in 2017.

Bell’s comments make it clear that he’s not happy with the manner in which the team has valued him. Will he show up early to demonstrate his value, or will he opt to show what he’s worth by letting the team prepare for the season with someone not as skilled as Bell getting the reps?

If Bell wants to prove a point through his absence, he also could extend his holdout into the regular season, refusing to sign the tender and giving up game checks for up to 10 weeks. He can then show up, collect $711,000 for each remaining week of the season, and force the Steelers to decide whether to offer him $14.52 million to do it all over again in 2018.

However it plays out, the ride could be getting a lot bumpier for Bell and the Steelers, sooner than later.

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Le’Veon Bell: No rush to sign “if I feel I’m worth more than” offered

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Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s first response to the passing of the deadline for him to sign a multi-year deal with the Steelers before the end of the 2017 season was to say “I guess I just gotta get better” on social media.

He expanded on his thoughts about the failure to agree on a deal a bit later, but not into the specifics of any offers that he received from the Steelers in recent weeks and months. It was enough to say that whatever was on the table wasn’t particularly compelling for a player who feels like his entire position is undervalued around the league.

“It’s a little frustrating, but it’s a business,” Bell said, via ESPN.com. “I’m not in a rush to sign for something I’m not valued at if I feel I’m worth more than what they are offering me. … The running back market definitely took a hit, and I can’t be the guy who continues to let it take a hit. We do everything: We block, we run, we catch the ball. Our value isn’t where it needs to be. I’m taking it upon myself to open up some eyes and show the position is more valuable.”

Bell said he “definitely” doesn’t want to play for anyone else and referenced his initial comment by saying he plans to have his best year before heading back to the negotiating table with the team. He did not share his plans for signing the tender and reporting to work with the Steelers, but said “all it’s going to take for me is a few practices and some game action” to be at full speed because of the way he trains during the offseason.

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New stadium will be ready for Hall of Fame Game, barely

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Last year’s Hall of Fame Game was cancelled because of wet paint on the field. This year there may be some wet paint on the Hall of Fame’s newly renovated stadium, but the Hall says the facility will be finished in time.

With work still ongoing and the Hall of Fame Game just 16 days away, the Canton Repository reports that the stadium will get done just in the nick of time.

“It will be done, but just don’t brush up against any walls because the paint may be fresh,” joked Kevin Shiplett, vice president of operations and facilities for the Hall.

The stadium won’t be completely finished, so temporary bleachers and a temporary scoreboard will be used. But unlike last year, they’re expecting conditions to be good enough for the Cowboys and the Cardinals to play.

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Le’Veon Bell: I guess I just gotta get better

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The Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell did not come to agreement on a multi-year deal before Monday’s deadline for franchise-tagged players to do so, leaving Bell to play out this year under the terms of his franchise tender.

Unlike their peers in Washington, the Steelers did not mark the deadline by relaying their account of the negotiations that led up to the deadline. The Steelers released a brief statement from General Manager Kevin Colbert that said, in part, that the team plans to “resume our efforts to address his contract situation” after the 2017 season comes to an end.

Bell released a short statement of his own on Twitter on Monday evening.

With the deadline passed, the next question is whether Bell will be working on his own to get better or if he’ll sign his $12.1 million tender in order to join the team at camp.

Bell’s production over the last four years has put him among the very best backs in the game right now, but his availability could be better in 2017 after missing 14 games and parts of others, including last season’s AFC title game, to injuries and suspensions. If he can be on the field and at the top of his game every week this year, Bell will be in line for a big payday one way or another next year.

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Washington wanted a six-year deal with Cousins, with four of them not guaranteed

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A year ago, Washington wasn’t inclined to guarantee at signing the amount that quarterback Kirk Cousins would have gotten under the franchise tag in 2016 and 2017. This year, that attitude changed; the back end of the deal was the problem.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the team’s offer that included more than $53 million guaranteed at signing covered the $23.94 million franchise tag in 2017 and the $28.72 million transition tag in 2018, and then some (by a little). The problem is that the team wanted four more non-guaranteed years after that.

In other words, the team wanted a two-year commitment and then a series of four one-year options. Cousins wasn’t inclined to commit to a deal that committed him (but not the team) from 2019 through 2022.

And that’s a smart move. If we’ve learned one thing in recent years, thanks to the growth in the cap and the decision of arguably the best quarterback in the game to sign from 2013 through 2019 at 2013 dollars (Aaron Rodgers), it’s that long-term deals don’t work for the players, beyond the first couple of years.

Last year, by not guaranteeing Cousins the 2016 and 2017 franchise tags at signing, Washington gambled and lost. This year, Cousins is gambling on the notion that he’ll at least play well enough to get the team to give him at least the transition tag next year. (If they give him the franchise tag again, he will have made $58.41 million over the same two-year window, $5 million more than the team offered.)

But how much of a gamble is it, really? Cousins threw for more than 4,900 yards in 2016. No matter what he does this year, someone will be interested in paying him significant money (remember, Mike Glennon is getting $16 million this year from the Bears) in March, even if Cousins regresses. (Indeed, if he regresses it will be easy to blame it at least in part on the team’s stubborn refusal to give him a real commitment.)

Bottom line: Cousins finally has shown all players the value of going year to year. Since teams essentially want to do that with every deal after the first two or three years of a long-term contract, why shouldn’t players subject to the franchise tag opt for one year at a time? The rules of the tag favor them, and the long-term deals usually don’t.

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Michael Vick: Colin Kaepernick’s problem is his play, not his protest

AP

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick does not believe Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest is the reason he’s currently out of the NFL.

Vick told Jason Whitlock on FS1 that he thinks the real reason Kaepernick can’t find a team to sign him is that Kaepernick didn’t play well enough in the last two years, as well as that teams are looking more for a pocket passer than a mobile quarterback like Kaepernick is (and like Vick was).

“It has nothing to do with him being blackballed,” Vick said. “The gesture that he made last year when he took the stand to do what he did, listen, we all appreciated it, we respected it, and it was a good thing. I really think the stand that he took has nothing to do with him not having a job playing in the National Football League right now. And being frank, Colin didn’t have the best two years his last two seasons. It wasn’t as productive as what we’ve seen him do. And maybe it was due to coaching changes and musical chairs in the positions around him and players, but I think in terms of him getting back on the field, it’s going to have to be a team that suits his skill set and what he does well: mobility inside and outside of the pocket, making plays with his feet, maybe a little bit of the wildcat — whatever they want to call it — mixed in, but it has to be some kind of scheme that helps Kaepernick and that team in terms of productivity. Any other type of offense I don’t think will help him right now because it’s going to take him so long to adjust and learn the system, protections, blitzes, what to look for, receivers, that type of camaraderie doesn’t happen overnight.”

Vick did say he’s surprised no team is willing to give Kaepernick a shot as a backup, and he doesn’t doubt Kaepernick’s commitment to football. But Vick also thinks Kaepernick may lack what teams are looking for in their quarterbacks.

“We don’t know his commitment, his dedication to the game right now. Unless you talk to Colin personally, you probably won’t know. I still think his heart is in football. He’s fairly young,” Vick said. “He still has football left in him, but it’s still predicated on what teams want in the quarterback position.”

With training camps opening soon, there still hasn’t been a team to step forward and say Kaepernick has what it wants in a quarterback, even in a backup quarterback.

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Bruce Allen: We never got an offer from Kirk Cousins this year

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The deadline to sign players with franchise tags to multi-year deals has come and gone and Kirk Cousins remains without such a deal for the second straight year.

There were many reports about what each side was looking for over the course of the offseason in terms of both a deal and a future together, but nothing materialized so Cousins is set to play out this year on the tag. That will pay him $23.94 million and Redskins president Bruce Allen used the moment to share the team’s take on how negotiations played out.

Allen, via the team’s twitter, said that Cousins was offered a contract on May 2 that included $53 million in guaranteed money (or, put another way, a little more than $29 million more than he was already guaranteed after signing his tender) at signing and $72 million guaranteed for injury in a deal that “would have made him at least the second highest-paid player by average per year in NFL history.” He then said there was no return from Cousins’ side of the table.

“But despite our repeated attempts, we have not received any offer from Kirk’s agents this year,” Allen wrote. “Kirk has made it clear that he prefers to play on a year-to-year basis. While we would have liked to work out a long-term contract before this season, we accept his decision.”

Allen said the team remains hopeful that they can reach a longer agreement with Cousins after the 2017 season comes to a close, but the failure to do so over the last two years leaves open the possibility that this is going to be Cousins’ final season in Washington. If Cousins takes issue with anything Allen had to say or the choice to say it publicly, it may do more than leave it open as a possibility.

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Marty Hurney’s name floated as a Panthers interim G.M.

AP

Today’s surprising news that the Panthers have fired General Manager Dave Gettleman could be followed by another surprise: The return of former G.M. Marty Hurney.

Both Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network have mentioned former Panthers G.M. Marty Hurney as a consideration for an interim G.M. to handle the job in Carolina this year.

With training camps opening in less than two weeks, there’s not a lot of time to find a new G.M. in Carolina. Bringing Hurney on to handle the job through the 2017 season, and then hiring a new full-time G.M. early in 2018, could make some sense.

Hurney joined the Panthers’ front office in 1998 and was promoted to G.M. in 2002. He was fired during the 2012 season.

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PFT preseason power ranking No. 17: Carolina Panthers

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For a team with a lot of star power, the Panthers get to enter this season without the burden of expectations which weighed on them after a Super Bowl appearance.

But if things break right for them, they might be more talented than the team that went 15-1 en route to the NFC title.

There’s still plenty of work to do, especially on offense. They’re trying to “evolve” on that side of the ball, because, well, they needed to. With Cam Newton playing slowly and/or hurt last year, it was hard for all those long-developing deep routes to get open (and when they did, Ted Ginn dropped them half the time). So the emphasis this year is on allowing Newton to get the ball out more quickly, and let some fast young kids help him. The hope is that keeping him from feeling compelled to run as often will benefit him from a health and a strategic standpoint as well.

He’s also coming off surgery on his throwing surgery which cost him the entire offseason program and OTAs. So they’re installing (and writing) new chapters of the playbook on the fly in training camp, when we assume Newton will be well.

They’re also going to lean on a defense with several highly paid stars (Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short), some veterans who need to win soon, and some young cornerbacks who showed real promise last year. James Bradberry looked more polished as a rookie than the guy he was replacing (Josh Norman) did at a similar point in his career. And any defense which already included guys such as Thomas Davis, Star Lotulelei, Charles Johnson, and Kurt Coleman is going to be factor.

Then they added some reinforcements, for what they think is a run at the top.

Biggest positive change: Former General Manager Dave Gettleman went down the grocery list this offseason, filling just about all of the major questions marks from last season. Speed on offense? Check (Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel). Starting-caliber left tackle? Check (Matt Kalil). Veteran pass-rusher? Check (Julius Peppers). Nickel corner? Check (Captain Munnerlyn). Veteran strong safety who can be trusted to allow Kurt Coleman to play deeper? Check (Mike Adams).

Now all of those guys have to play to the level they can. Kalil in particular is going to have to be better than he was the last few years in Minnesota, but they’re hoping he’s healthy now and in a more conducive environment.

Biggest negative change: The Panthers’ bench is nearly as deep as it used to be. And that only has a little bit to do with the roster.
They lost assistant G.M. Brandon Beane and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to the Bills as their G.M./head coach. That’s not an insignificant loss, for an organization which prides itself on stability.

And that’s before they fired Gettleman Monday, leaving them short-handed in personnel at a time of year when decisions have to be made.

They’re also a little picked-over in terms of players. Losing guys like Luke Kuechly-understudy A.J. Klein to the Saints isn’t fatal, but they’re not as well-equipped to handle injuries as they have been in past years. That’s what happens when you build a top-heavy roster.

Coaching thermometer: It’s far from boiling in this pot, as Ron Rivera’s a two-time coach of the year. But you could definitely poach something in it.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson rejected former coach John Fox’s pleas for a lucrative extension in part because he never had back to back winning seasons. Well, Rivera hasn’t either. Their three straight division titles included a backed-in 7-8-1, leaving the franchise still searching for that mythical feat. With Rivera in his seventh season, the clock is ticking, and if they don’t have their traditional bounce-back year he’s not going to be the only one around there on unsteady footing.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Peppers remains one of the most fascinating players of this generation. Blessed with NBA-caliber athleticism, he’s remained a productive sack man throughout his long career, and now ranks fifth on the league’s all-time list. He has never been a big talker, and his first stint in Carolina was marked by his extreme privacy, the result of being a homegrown star and in a bit of a fishbowl. But he’s opened up a bit in time, and has a better perspective on the game (and life) than he’s been willing to show to most people.

How they can prove us wrong: For all the offseason additions, the core issue will be for Newton to play better. Though he was dealing with injuries (to himself and several important others), Newton simply wasn’t very good last year, a big drop-off from his MVP the season before. If he can spread the ball around better, and if his big, plodding receivers (Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess) can get themselves open and catch it when it gets there, if Kalil makes the same kind of jump under this coaching staff that Michael Oher did, and the defense stays healthy, they have a real opportunity to contend for a playoff berth and much more.

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Thomas Davis contract could have been central to Gettleman’s firing

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis has literally given his body to the Carolina Panthers, playing the Super Bowl with a badly broken arm, and coming back from three torn ACLs. So when he asked for a contract extension prior to the last year of his deal, it seems like an almost automatic call for the owner who had practically made Davis a part of his family.

But Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman always vowed that if he ever got a top job after years of waiting, he’d do it the way he always wanted to, and if that meant making cold, calculating business decisions about popular older players, then so be it.

The difference between those two positions might be a large part — if not the central part — of Gettleman’s sudden unemployment.

The 34-year-old linebacker has been clear about his desire to finish his career with the Panthers, and that he thought he had more than one year left in that career. He’s made his only two Pro Bowls the last two seasons, and considering the physical setbacks he’s overcome, that means a bit more.

But if you want to see how deeply the divide between Gettleman’s pragmatism and Davis’s emotional draw was felt, you only need a peek at a post that didn’t last long on social media.

A month ago, Davis’s wife Kelly posted on Twitter a message which read: “Loyalty means NOTHING nowadays but I love a person who knows their worth! #BigOlFacts #KnowYourWorth #NotShockedAtAll #ItsRumbleTime.”

It was worth a screenshot at the moment, if not an immediate news story, as the negotiations were at an early stage and she deleted it within minutes.

But looking back in the context of today’s news, and it was absolutely an omen for the future of Gettleman.

Richardson has always played favorites. He signed off on a number of contract extensions for players with dubious medical situations (Jake Delhomme, Dan Morgan) because he liked the players involved. He was willing to let Gettleman make some hard calls on others (Jordan Gross, Steve Smith), because he felt compelled to in the wake of overspending to keep a core together previously.

If the Davis situation turns out to be the linchpin in this move, then Gettleman deserves credit for sticking to his beliefs, and running a team in a practical way, without the intrusion of feelings. Giving money to aging players who are blocking former first-round picks (Shaq Thompson) is not the way to run a business.

But Richardson runs this particular business, so he gets to decide.

The Panthers owner is about to turn 81 years old tomorrow, and he’s more than eight years removed from the heart transplant that saved his life. His legacy matters very deeply to him, now more than ever.

Today’s move seems to make clear that when Richardson was deciding what he valued more, he went with that heart instead of his head, and Gettleman’s out of a job because of it.

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Panthers boot G.M.Dave Gettleman

AP

The Panthers have made plenty of news this offseason. None has been bigger than this.

The Panthers just announced that General Manager Dave Gettleman has been relieved of his duties the week before training camp begins.

“After much thought and a long evaluation of our football operations, I have decided to relieve Dave Gettleman of his duties as General Manager,” owner Jerry Richardson said in a statement. “I want to thank Dave for the role he played in our success over the past four seasons. While the timing of this decision is not ideal, a change is needed.”

The Panthers are in the midst of a number of contract negotiations with beloved veterans (Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen) and Gettleman drew notorious hard lines with beloved veterans such as Jordan Gross and Steve Smith in the past. That might not have suited Richardson, who takes pride in his relationships with long-time players.

The move leaves them short-handed, as assistant G.M. Brandon Beane left for Buffalo’s G.M. job earlier this offseason.

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Ezekiel Elliott accused of breaking man’s nose

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More information regarding Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s alleged involvement in what Dallas police called a “disturbance” at a bar on Sunday night has begun to filter out.

The police said a 30-year-old man told them he had been assaulted, but that he did not know who had done it. TMZ has a video of the alleged victim on the ground after being hit and reports the person who took the video said the man had been in a verbal altercation with a woman in Elliott’s party.

That person says Elliott than got involved and punched the man. TMZ also spoke to someone identifield as “Sgt. Williams” from the Dallas police who said that a friend of the alleged victim also identified Elliott as the assailant and a social media post from Sunday night carried the same message, with some NSFW language.

Per the TMZ report, Elliott was not at the bar when police arrived on the scene. No one has been arrested and police say they are continuing to investigate. The NFL is also looking into the incident.

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NFL already investigating latest Ezekiel Elliott incident

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His name may not appear in the police report, but it’s on the NFL’s radar screen.

“We are aware of the matter and looking into it to understand the facts,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email regarding the report of a Sunday night incident at a Dallas bar involving Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The problem for Elliott is that the NFL is now aware of, and looking into, multiple incidents involving the star tailback. For nearly a year, the league has been investigating a claim of domestic violence against Elliott. And while the league had no comment after video surfaced of Elliott pulling down a woman’s top at a St. Patrick’s Day parade earlier this year, the powers-that-be can’t be thrilled with that kind of behavior.

As to the most recent incident, it’s hard to say where this one will go absent reliable witness testimony or persuasive video evidence. The fact that Elliott isn’t named in the police report plays to his advantage, but since the NFL no longer defers to the criminal justice system, the final outcome of this specific incident depends on what the league finds when conducting its investigation.

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