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Report: Rita Benson LeBlanc grabbed, shook Gayle Benson before December game

Benson AP

The Benson Family Feud features hard feelings and strong opinions and high stakes and plenty of lawyers, sparked by Saints owner Tom Benson’s decision to re-write his will in a way that altered the succession plan for his NFL and NBA franchises.  A new report indicates that the change from Benson’s daughter and her two children to Benson’s current wife was sparked by a December confrontation between Rita Benson LeBlanc (right in the photo) and Gayle Benson (left).

According to Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times Picayune, LeBlanc (Mr. Benson’s granddaughter, who previously was pegged to run the Saints after his passing) and Gayle Benson (Mr. Benson’s third wife) had a disagreement in the presence of others in a suite at the Superdome before the Week 16 game against the Falcons.  Duncan reports that LeBlanc was the aggressor, and that she eventually “grabbed Gayle Benson by both shoulders and shook the then-67-year-old repeatedly during a confrontation that lasted several minutes.”

“[Rita] was shaking [Gayle] to emphasize her point and to be heard,” a source who witnessed the incident told Duncan.  “It was pretty ugly.”

Duncan reports that, six days after the encounter, Mr. Benson “mailed a letter to [daughter] Renee Benson, Rita Benson LeBlanc and [grandson] Ryan LeBlanc telling them he never wanted to see them again and banning them from his business operations.”

In January, Mr. Benson finalized the change to his will that shifts ownership of the Saints and the NBA’s Pelicans to Gayle Benson after his passing.  That move prompted a lawsuit from Renee Benson, Rita Benson LeBlanc, and Ryan LeBlanc challenging his mental capacity to alter his plans for the future control of the teams.

While the incident between LeBlanc and Benson has no direct relevance to the question of whether Mr. Benson had the appropriate mental capacity to alter his will, it helps explain why he made the decision — and it likely will prompt plenty of fans in New Orleans who haven’t chosen a side in the Benson Family Feud to side with Gayle Benson.

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Chiefs, Houston move closer to franchise tag

Houston AP

Rarely (if ever) does a guy finish his rookie contract with a 20-plus-sack season.  Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston did just that, and now the question becomes whether the Chiefs will find a way to keep him with a long-term deal or apply the franchise tag.

An agreement seems unlikely at this point.  The Chiefs weren’t willing to meet Houston’s position at times when he had far less leverage than he currently enjoys.  Now, the 22 bales of hay are in the barn and Houston’s expectations won’t be any lower than they were during the season, when the Chiefs failed to meet them.

It makes application of the franchise tag, barring a sudden change of heart, a virtual certainty.  And that’s when things could start to get interesting.

During the season, Houston’s plan was to gladly accept the franchise tender, and the $13 million or more that goes along with it.  After one of the best seasons an NFL pass rusher ever has had, Houston is now content to let things percolate.

If the market goes haywire for available pass rushers like Greg Hardy, Jason Pierre-Paul (if not tagged), and Jerry Hughes, Houston’s leverage shoots even higher.  Then there’s defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  If he sets a new high bar for all defensive players, Houston with his average of 1.22 sacks per game over the last two seasons could argue he should at least come close.

The wildcard in Houston’s case will be the willingness of other teams to consider signing him to an offer sheet, knowing that, if the Chiefs don’t match, the price will be a pair of first-round draft picks.  With the Bills giving up a top-10 pick, another first-round pick, and a fourth-round pick to get receiver Sammy Watkins a year ago, why not at least ponder pursuing Houston with a low first-round pick in 2015 and, if a team that finished with a good enough record to be low in the draft order this year has Justin Houston, a low first-round pick in 2016?

The difference, of course, is the investment in the player.  Watkins cost the Bills $19.9 million for four years.  Houston may want $19.9 million per year.

The possibility of another team signing Houston to an offer sheet could prompt the Chiefs to apply the exclusive franchise tag, which would give him the average of the five highest-paid linebackers in 2015.  It also would make a Terrell Suggs-style linebacker-versus-defensive end tag fight more likely, since the gap between the two positions likely will be even higher based on 2015 cap numbers for the two positions.

However it plays out, the application of the tag to Houston likely will be something far closer to the beginning of the process than the end of it.

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More talk in Philly that McCoy may be asked to take a pay cut

LeSean McCoy, Chip Kelly AP

LeSean McCoy is one of the best running backs in the NFL. But he’s also one of the most expensive running backs in the NFL. And there’s talk in Philadelphia that the Eagles may conclude that McCoy isn’t worth the money he costs.

McCoy has already been asked about it this offseason and responded that he’s not interested in taking a pay cut, but Philly.com is raising the question of whether McCoy is in danger of being asked to take a pay cut — and getting cut if he declines.

Under his current contract, McCoy is scheduled to count $11.9 million against the Eagles’ cap this year, which makes him the second-most expensive running back in the NFL for 2015, behind only Adrian Peterson. Darren Sproles is also scheduled to cost $4.1 million against the Eagles’ cap, and the Eagles are expected to tender restricted free agent Chris Polk at $1.6 million for 2015. That would be a total cost of $17.6 million just for three running backs. That’s an awful lot of money to spend on a position that is being devalued around the NFL. And the easiest way to reduce that awful lot of money would be to reduce McCoy’s cap number.

McCoy has already said he’s willing to restructure his deal to lessen his cap hit for this year, but he was clear he just means a simple restructure that pays him the same amount of money, not a new deal that pays him less money. That means that if the Eagles think he’s overpaid, their only real option would be to release him.

It sounds crazy that a player as good as McCoy would be told to take less money or get cut, but then again a lot of people thought it sounded crazy at this time last year when discussions were first raised about the Eagles potentially cutting DeSean Jackson. Eventually, that happened. The two aren’t perfect comparisons because there were reportedly off-field issues that gave the Eagles pause about committing to Jackson, and that isn’t an issue with McCoy. But we saw with Jackson that Chip Kelly won’t hesitate to get rid of a productive player. We may see that with McCoy as well.

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“Safe bet” Demaryius Thomas will be tagged

Thomas AP

With two days to go until the window closes for using the franchise tag and no indication that any of the primary candidates for the tag are poised to strike a long-term deal, one of the biggest names due to hit the market most likely won’t.

It’s a “safe bet” the Broncos will be applying the franchise tag to receiver Demaryius Thomas, per a source with knowledge of the situation.  While the two sides are talking, a deal currently isn’t expected in the next two days.

While the magnitude of the parties’ positions isn’t known, Thomas stands to earn $13 million fully guaranteed in 2015, if the tag is applied and if he signs the franchise tender.  After the tag is applied, the Broncos and Thomas will have until July 15 to strike a long-term deal.

The eventual market for veteran receivers surely will be a major factor in negotiations.  If the coming glut of older pass-catchers sees the willingness of teams to spend plummet in light of the trend toward game-ready rookie wideouts, the Broncos may be less willing to pump up the numbers in order to get a deal done.

If/when Demaryius Thomas gets the tag, the stage will be set for tight end Julius Thomas to hit the market.  While many believe Julius is destined to no longer wear orange (yeah, I said it), quarterback Peyton Manning’s willingness to restructure possibly comes with a specific request to keep both Thomases around for 2015.

If that’s the directive, the smarter move could be to work out something with Demaryius Thomas before Monday, and then to use the franchise tag on Julius.  If agent Todd France anticipates the receiver market will soften to the point that the Broncos may actually offer less by late March or beyond, maybe the best move will be to take the best offer they’re willing to make now.  And maybe the Broncos’ best move will be to throw just enough extra on the pile to get Demaryius under contract — and then to keep Julius around with the tag.

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Bucs haven’t asked Vincent Jackson to take a pay cut

Jackson Getty Images

With so many veteran receivers in line for potential pay cuts, a myth has emerged that the Buccaneers have asked veteran receiver Vincent Jackson to take a pay cut.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, they haven’t.

While that technically doesn’t preclude the Buccaneers from doing so in the not-so-distant future, consider this:  They really like Jackson, they consider him to be part of the team, they believe they need him in order to be successful this year, and they consider his $9.77-million salary to reflect current market value.

Things could get interesting if/when the veteran receiver market goes the way of the veteran running back market, with teams realizing young, cheap wideouts can now be expected to do more than ever before, making them reluctant to pay enormous amounts to players like Jeremy Maclin, Randall Cobb, and/or Michael Crabtree.

Some of the speculation regarding a looming request to take less surely comes from the trade chatter that emerged last season regarding Jackson.  But the Buccaneers, we’re told, never actually shopped him.  Instead, they listened to all offers for any players.  If a team like the Eagles made an offer for Jackson and the Bucs didn’t trade him, that says plenty about their desire to keep him around in 2015.

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Reggie Wayne unsure if he’ll play in 2015

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Longtime Colts receiver Reggie Wayne doesn’t know yet if his NFL career has reached its conclusion.

Wayne said after the Colts lost the AFC Championship Game that he didn’t have a plan for 2015, and he still doesn’t. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Wayne had triceps surgery and is still mulling whether to play in 2015.

If Wayne does want to play, it’s unclear whether it will be in Indianapolis. Wayne becomes a free agent on March 10 and there has been no talk of any contract discussions with the Colts.

Wayne started 15 games last year, but he was limited to 64 catches for 779 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers are his worst across the board for any full season of his 15-year career. So if the 36-year-old Wayne wants to play, it’s unclear whether any team will want him.

In other words, Wayne’s great career may have come to an end. Even if he doesn’t know that yet.

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AEG says Inglewood stadium presents terrorism threat

LAX Getty Images

In the Gumball Rally that has emerged as Inglewood and Carson race to build stadiums in the L.A. area, the company that has been trying to build a downtown venue for the past several years has thrown a fistful of nails into the path of the project proposed for the now-defunct Hollywood Park.

Via Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, a study commissioned by AEG concludes that the Inglewood site presents an unacceptable risk of terrorism.

The study, performed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, warns that terrorists may try to hijack or shoot down a plane landing at LAX, with the goal of crashing it into the stadium.  Ridge calls the possibility a “a terrorist event ‘twofer.’”

The NFL is aware of the report, but it doesn’t seem to be ready to endorse it.

“We feel that the best approach is to look at these things with an independent eye,” NFL executive V.P. Eric Grubman told the Times.  “You should assume the NFL has its own experts hired and at work to assess any potential NFL site, in any city, regarding these matters.  And it is that advice that we will rely on.”

AEG has a clear bias; it wants to build the stadium in which one or two NFL teams will play.  But the concerns shouldn’t be dismissed.  The Inglewood site is in the LAX landing path.  If/when a Super Bowl is played there, any and every plane that passed by becomes the potential weapon for mayhem and destruction that would rival — and possibly surpass — the events of September 11, 2001.

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Browns sign Josh McCown

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Josh McCown is a Cleveland Brown.

The veteran quarterback and the Browns have agreed on a contract today, the team and McCown’s agent Mike McCartney both confirmed on Twitter.

McCown was released this month after a rough first year in Tampa Bay. He previously had a very promising showing during the 2013 season while filling in for Jay Cutler in Chicago. Cleveland has to hope it’s getting the Chicago version of McCown, and not the Tampa Bay version of McCown.

Cleveland also has to hope that McCown can work well with Johnny Manziel, teaching Manziel what it takes to become an NFL quarterback but also starting for the Browns this season if Manziel isn’t ready.

The arrival of McCown in Cleveland will almost certainly mean that free agent Brian Hoyer, Cleveland’s starter for most of last season, is going to sign elsewhere.

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Adrian Peterson issues statement

Peterson Getty Images

On Thursday, Judge David Doty overturned the arbitration decision upholding the suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  While Peterson is not yet reinstated (and who knows when he will be?), he has been returned to the Commissioner-Exempt list, which allows him to speak to the Vikings.

On Friday, he spoke publicly, via press release.  Here’s the full content of it:

“I was pleased to learn about Judge Doty’s decision.  It is a positive step in protecting players’ rights and preserving due process for all players.  It also brings me one step closer to getting back on the football field and playing the sport I love.  As I prepare for my return to football, I am still focused on my family and continue to work to become a better father every day.  I want to express my gratitude for all of the support I have received from the fans, NFLPA, Jeffrey Kessler, and my agents Ben Dogra, Tracy Lartigue, and Mark Heligman from Relativity Sports.”

Peterson says nothing about whether he does or doesn’t want to return to the Vikings.  Last week, he confirmed that he has some misgivings about returning to Minnesota, which holds his rights for the next three seasons.

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Cardinals release Darnell Dockett

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Cardinals were able to reach agreement with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a new contract that lowered his cap hit for the 2015 season significantly and they hoped to do the same with defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Arizona announced Friday that they have released Dockett, who missed the entire 2014 season because of a torn ACL. Dockett had $6.8 million coming his way from the Cardinals before the move and he was set to count $9.8 million against the cap.

Dockett joined the Cardinals as a third-round pick out of Florida State in 2004 and has been a fixture in the starting lineup since his arrival. He made one All-Pro team and was selected to three Pro Bowls while helping to spearhead the Cardinals Defense during his decade in the desert.

Dockett turns 34 in May, but the inability to work out a new deal suggests Dockett likes his chances of landing a better contract than the Cards were offering once on the open market. If he can’t, Darren Urban of the team’s website reports that the Cardinals remain interested in a Dockett return at a lower price tag.

Should Dockett not land a job at all for some reason, he can occupy his time advising the youth of America about the dangers of hanging out in strip clubs.

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NFL considering changes to combine drills

Trae Waynes AP

The NFL scouting combine just wrapped up its frenzy of 40-yard dashes, shuttle runs and other drills, but it may be the last time that the event goes according to that familiar schedule.

While speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston on Friday, NFL director of player development Matt Birk and Saints coach Sean Payton said the league would look at the traditional drills this offseason to see if they can be made more useful to teams. For example, Birk said that the only reason anyone ever gives for running the 40 is that it is the way it’s always been done.

“That’s a project we’ll be working on this offseason,” Birk said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. “Once we look at the data that was gathered in-game this year, it may be important to know how fast a wide receiver or defensive back can go 60 yards. Maybe for an offensive lineman it’s only 20 yards. We can actually see that in-game: how far are these guys running? What are the real or improved measures of importance and value as it relates to evaluating players and whether or not they should be drafted in the first round or the sixth round?”

Payton also talked about position-specific changes to the drills in order to get the best gauge on how players will transition to the NFL as well as using data about body types to improve scouting for particular needs. Whatever changes the league undertakes as a whole when it comes to the scouting combine, it’s a good bet that teams will also be using their own proprietary methods — as mentioned in Friday’s one-liners, Jaguars vice president Tony Khan recently bought a sports analytics company — to get an edge on the competition.

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Michael Sam invited to the first veteran combine

Michael Sam AP

Not only will Michael Sam be needing his dancing shoes next month, but he’ll also need his overnight bag.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Sam has been invited to the league’s inaugural veteran combine on March 22.

That’s within six days of the start of filming for Dancing With The Stars, in which he’s participating this season.

Sam said this week his first priority was football, and the show was flexible enough to accommodate him if he need to attend the event in Arizona or other workouts for NFL teams.

It’s a big step for him in his goal to get back to the NFL, as he takes steps on the dance floor at the same time.

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Mike Wallace not willing to take a pay cut

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Dolphins have paid receiver Mike Wallace $27 million since signing him nearly two years ago.  Due to make $9.85 million in 2015, Wallace reportedly isn’t willing to take a penny less.

Via Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Wallace won’t restructure the contract.

It’s unclear whether that means he won’t take less money or whether it means he won’t take a large chunk of his salary now as a signing bonus, allowing the cap dollars to be spread over future years of the deal.  His cap number currently is scheduled to be north of $12 million.

For the Dolphins, there’s no specific deadline for action before Week One of the regular season.  Of the $9.85 million salary, $3 million is fully guaranteed.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, there’s no roster bonus or other trigger in March that would entitle Wallace to cash in hand or to more guaranteed money.

If Wallace won’t reduce his salary, and if the Dolphins aren’t willing to spend $9.85 million in 2015 in the hopes of justifying $27 million spent in 2013 and 2014, a trade makes sense — if the Dolphins can find a suitor.  At $9.85 million in base salary with plenty of options on the free-agent market and a trend toward rookie receivers making an impact right away, that’s unlikely.

If a trade isn’t possible, the Dolphins would be wise to cut Wallace sooner rather than later.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the $3 million guarantee has offset language, meaning that the Dolphins will avoid the obligation if he gets at least $3 million from someone else.  The sooner he’s on the market, the more likely he’ll exceed that number.

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Dolphins to release Brian Hartline

Brian+Hartline+joSHV28qxugm Getty Images

At a time when it’s still unclear what the Dolphins will do with receiver Mike Wallace, it’s very clear what they’ll do with receiver Brian Hartline.

They’ll cut him.

According to agent Drew Rosenhaus, the Dolphins have said Hartline will be released on Friday.

Hartline was due to earn a base salary of $5.9 million this year, the third of a five-year, $30 million contract.  He received $7 million to sign; $4.2 million must still be accounted for on the salary cap.

In his first season under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Hartline had the lowest yardage output of his career with 474, despite starting all 16 regular-season games in 2014.  He surpassed 1,000 yards in 2013 and 2012.

The move gives the 28-year-old a 10-day head start on the open market.  It’ll be interesting to see how much teams are willing to pay for veteran receivers, given that rookies seem to be making a bigger impact right out of the gates.

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Simeon Rice: There’s no Hall of Fame without me in it

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

There were 113 nominees as Modern-Era candidates for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year and none of them were named Simeon Rice.

Rice recorded 122 sacks in 12 NFL seasons, which wasn’t enough for him to be deemed worthy of consideration alongside defensive linemen like Jevon Kearse, Steve McMichael and Ted Washington. Whether you feel Rice should be in the Hall of Fame or not, it’s hard to believe he’s not worth the same thought that voters gave those three men. Rice feels his career was worth a lot more.

“You can’t have a Hall of Fame without me being in it. It’s just not legitimate,” Rice said in an interview with SBNation.com. “There is no Hall of Fame without me in it. It’s just one of those things.”

It’s not the first time that Rice’s Hall of Fame credentials have come up for discussion. His Buccaneers teammate Derrick Brooks called him one of the best, if not the best, pass rushers of his generation. Warren Sapp also banged the drum for Rice a couple of years ago, mostly by comparing Rice’s work against left tackles favorably against that of the since-enshrined Michael Strahan against right tackles.

Rice, who said he “set the standard” for defensive ends in his era, didn’t resist taking a swipe at Strahan.

“I didn’t have nobody falling down to help me get sacks,” Rice said in obvious reference to Brett Favre settling to the turf like an old man easing into a bath as Strahan set the single-season sack record. “I didn’t have that. I had to earn everything I got.”

A head-to-head comparison would go beyond simply pass rushing numbers, but the fact that Strahan’s in the Hall helps make the case that Rice should at least have his name in the mix when voters consider the best players not currently in the Hall.

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