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NFL: Players are encouraged but not required to stand for national anthem

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 22:  An American flag covers the field during the National Anthem before the NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Twenty years ago, the NBA suspended a player who refused to stand for the national anthem. The NFL will not be doing the same thing.

“Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem,” the NFL said in a statement issued Saturday, in response to the controversy that emerged when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted not to stand during the playing of the national anthem on Friday night in Santa Clara, prior to a game against the Packers.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick has since said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The NBA based its suspension of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf on a rule that requires players to stand during the playing of the national anthem. The NFL has no such rule, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement is silent on the subject.

And so Kaepernick and any other player has the right to not stand during the national anthem. Whether other players will follow Kaepernick’s lead remains to be seen.

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Kaepernick refuses “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people”

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers watches Blaine Gabbert #2 play quarterback during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

So why didn’t Colin Kaepernick stand during Friday night’s playing of the national anthem? If there was any ambiguity following his Thursday retweet linking the American and Confederate flags, there should be none now.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

As others have noted (and as PFT was informed when first becoming aware of the issue of Friday), Kaepernick hasn’t stood for the playing of the national anthem at any of his team’s three preseason games. Last night the gesture was noticed because, for the first time this year, he was wearing a uniform bearing his name and number.

“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” Kaepernick said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. . . . If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Because Kaepernick currently seems to be in the process of having his football taken away for football-related reasons, his decision will create less drama than if he had made it, say, three years ago, when people like Ron Jaworski were providing the ESPN washing machine days of content by declaring that Kaepernick could be one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Currently, he’s a starter who already was in an awkward posture as a member of an organization that seemed to be looking for a way to unload him via trade without hurting its leverage by sharing its true feelings about him.

The broader question becomes whether other players will become inspired by Kaepernick’s gesture and follow suit. It’s one thing for Kaepernick not to stand. It’s quite another if other players who actually will be, you know, playing this year do it.

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Cam Newton after rough night for offense: “It’s preseason”

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) tries to escape the grasp of New England Patriots' Markus Kuhn (94) during the second half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) AP

Cam Newton took to the podium for his postgame press conference wearing a Sergio Leone-inspired hat, which was good.

It was his play, however, that covered the bad and the ugly.

After a pretty nightmarish night against the Patriots, the reigning MVP summed it up in the two most appropriate words: “It’s preseason.”

Newton was 13-of-29 passing for 100 yards and two interceptions, missing high when he missed (as he does when he hurries) but it was hardly all on him. The Panthers receivers took their turns dropping catchable balls, tipped balls became interceptions, and there were numerous mistakes that stood out because they had been so polished previously.

“Well, we took our turns making mistakes and any time that happens, you know you’re going to get those kind of results,” Newton said in comments distributed by the team. “There’s no need to panic. It just comes down to having a good week of practice and the truth of the matter is that we played a great team. You know, great players who are coached extremely well and they are very stingy. That’s all it comes down to.

“We will be better from this. I’m glad it happened. I’m not glad we lost but I’m just glad that we had an understanding that we’re not that good yet. We will be better.”

It was bad enough Ron Rivera alluded to the possibility of having starters play in Thursday’s preseason finale, though that might be an extreme reaction to what was simply an off night for the league’s highest-scoring offense. But even when asked about the absence of veteran tight end Greg Olsen Friday night, Newton said the responsibility fell to him.

“We know we’re going to have a great week of practice and it’s just eye-opening,” Newton said. “Like I said, there is no need to panic or press the panic button. But for us, we do need better production from everybody including myself. There were times in the game where I forced certain things where I shouldn’t have and I just have to be more mature and have more understanding of the offensive just to check it down, and let guys do what they do.”

Whether they play in the meaningless fourth preseason game or not, the Panthers have another significant test in two weeks at Denver. And if they want to avoid a repeat of their last meeting with the Broncos, they have a lot of issues to fix.

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Kaepernick sits during national anthem

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws the ball during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

On a night that was supposed to be significant for what 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did on the field, what he didn’t do while off the field will create even bigger headlines.

During the playing of the national anthem, Kaepernick sat.

The 49ers have confirmed that Kaepernick did not stand for the anthem, and they have issued the following statement.

“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony,” the team said in a statement issued to PFT. “It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

It’s unclear why Kaepernick sat. However, Kaepernick retweeted the following message on Thursday, which accompanied images of the American and Confederate flags: “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”

At a time when NFL players are criticized for not speaking out on social issues, Kaepernick has provided a very significant and conspicuous gesture. As the team noted, it’s his right to do so. But given that Kaepernick opted to make a stand by sitting during the traditional pregame honoring of the country and its flag — which is so tightly woven into the DNA of the NFL — there surely will be a reaction.

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Kaepernick thinks he can still win the starting job

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left, greets Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the end of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Green Bay won 21-10. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

After a lackluster performance on Friday night in his return to the field for the first time since being benched for Blaine Gabbert last year, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed optimism regarding the possibility of reclaiming his job.

“Yeah, I think so,” Kaepernick told reporters regarding whether he thinks he can still be named the Week One starter. “I mean, that’s really up to [coach] Chip [Kelly] and the coaching staff. But in my mind I think I can go out and win it.”

Kaepernick, who completed two of six passes for 14 yards on Friday night, specifically believes he can win it by being “more productive” in the fourth preseason game. Typically, however, the starters don’t play in the fourth preseason game. So if he’s playing on Thursday night, chances are he won’t be the starter — unless Kelly decides to let Gabbert and Kaepernick continue their competition in the final preseason game.

Kaepernick added that he would have liked to have played more on Friday night, even if that meant playing behind the second-string offensive line.

“I just wanna play,” Kaepernick said.

Kelly told reporters that he has not yet set a timetable for picking a starting quarterback. The candidates are Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, and (theoretically) newcomer Christian Ponder or rookie Jeff Driskel.

Kaepernick is due to earn $11.9 million this year, fully guaranteed. He’ll also earn an extra $125,000 for each game in which he’s on the active, 46-man roster. Which gives the 49ers 125,000 to deactivate him in each and every week that he isn’t the starter.

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Chip Kelly: “There’s never been a conversation about cutting Colin Kaepernick”

San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick, left, and Blaine Gabbert stand on the sideline during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Green Bay won 21-10. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

So what will the 49ers do with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, if he doesn’t win the starting job? They can pay him not to play, they can try to trade him, or they can cut him.

As to the last option, coach Chip Kelly told reporters after Friday night’s preseason game against the Packers: “There’s never been a conversation about cutting Colin Kaepernick.”

Technically, the fact that there hasn’t been a conversation doesn’t mean that a conversation isn’t coming. It also doesn’t mean that the move won’t happen without a conversation. Ownership may simply decide to move on, regardless of what Kelly or anyone else thinks.

Regardless, it’s looking unlikely that Kaepernick will start Week One against the Rams or that, if he does, he’ll hold the job for very long.

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Kaepernick doesn’t do much to stake claim to starting job

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left, runs with the ball as Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones pursues during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

On multiple occasions in the past, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has bedeviled the Packers. In his first game action of 2016, however, Kaepernick didn’t do much against Green Bay to gain ground on current starter Blaine Gabbert.

Kaepernick completed two of six passes for 14 yards and rushed four times for 18. The only good news for Kaepernick is that Gabbert didn’t look much better. Still, Kaepernick hardly did enough to supplant Gabbert as the starter.

At a time when a strange vibe continues to emanate from the organization and Kaepernick regarding their relationship, some (me) have speculated that Friday night was aimed in part at showcasing Kaepernick in a last-ditch effort to trade him. If, as expected, no one is interested in adding him at this stage of the calendar, the team will have to decide whether to cut him or carry him on the 53-man roster.

If he’s cut, the 49ers could save a portion of his $11.9 million guaranteed salary, since an offset would apply to whatever he makes elsewhere. If they keep him, he’ll get it all.

If he gets it all, at some point they should play him, right? The problem with playing Kaepernick is that, if he emerges from 2016 with an injury, the 49ers may not be able to cut him before next year’s base salary of $14.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on April 1.

There’s a chance, then, that they’ll put him in bubble wrap, RGIII-style, waiting for a starter elsewhere to suffer a season-ending injury but otherwise not letting Kaepernick get on the field for fear of chasing this year’s $11.9 million with another $14.5 million next year.

Regardless of how it all shakes out, the strange vibe lingers, making it hard to imagine Kaepernick ever playing another regular-season game for the team he nearly led to a Super Bowl win four years ago.

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Jay Gruden says Bryan Stork still has a decision to make

Super Bowl XLIX Media Day Fueled by Gatorade Getty Images

First Bryan Stork was supposed to be cut. Then Stork was supposed to be retiring. Then it was announced that Stork had been traded from New England to Washington.

But Stork still hasn’t reported to his new team, and we still haven’t heard from Stork directly whether he plans to play or not. And after tonight’s preseason game, Washington coach Jay Gruden indicated that he isn’t certain whether Stork will play.

Instead, Gruden said Stork will “supposedly” report for work tomorrow but has a “final decision” to make tonight.

From all indications, Washington still thinks Stork will be on its roster. But we don’t know that for sure yet.

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Roberto Aguayo makes all his kicks on Friday night

Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) reacts after kicking a field goal against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter of an NFL football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) AP

A trying week for Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo ended on a positive note.

Aguayo made all six kicks he tried on Friday night as the Buccaneers turned in a strong showing on both sides of the ball while beating the Browns 30-13 in Tampa. Aguayo made field goals from 48, 21 and 27 yards and made all three of his extra point attempts.

That’s a sharp change from the first two weeks of preseason. Aguayo missed two field goals and an extra point, leading to much scrutiny of a player who the Buccaneers traded up to select in the second round of this year’s draft. Aguayo followed that up with more misses in Tuesday’s practice, which led to hooting and heckling from a home crowd and responses from other members of the NFL’s kicking fraternity.

All that will likely return when and if Aguayo misses a few kicks during the regular season, but, for now, a player who made 88.5 percent of his field goals and all of his extra points in college has put himself back on track.

That’s a good thing for the Bucs on a night full of them. Jameis Winston threw for 259 yards in the first half, Mike Evans had 115 receiving yards on five catches and the defense recorded nine sacks to go with Aguayo’s successful evening.

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Bucs beating up Browns in all three phases

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston throws a pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter of an NFL football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) AP

The Browns’ night got off to a decent enough start when they forced a field goal on the first Buccaneers possession and then kicked one of their own after a 44-yard pass to Josh Gordon offered a reminder of what the wideout can do when he’s in the lineup.

Things have gone downhill from there. Jameis Winston has two touchdown passes, Adam Humphries returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and Robert Griffin III has been sacked four times as Tampa has built a 27-3 second quarter lead at home.

Winston has had plenty of time to throw the ball most of the night and he’s capitalized on big gains to Humphries, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, including a 34-yard touchdown to Evans in the second quarter. The run game hasn’t been quite as effective, but Winston’s 12-of-18/232-yard line makes up for any sluggishness on the ground.

The defense has kept the Browns in check and the Browns haven’t helped with errors of their own. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor has an offensive pass interference, tackle Austin Pasztor wiped out a first down with a holding penalty and center Cameron Erving hasn’t looked good in the middle of Cleveland’s line.

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Buccaneers make a field goal, lose a wideout to injury

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 26:  Kicker Roberto Aguayo #19 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up before the start of an NFL game against the Cleveland Browns on August 26, 2016 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) Getty Images

Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo’s night got off to a good start.

After their opening drive stalled inside Cleveland territory, the Buccaneers sent Aguayo into the game to try a 48-yard field goal that was watched a bit more closely than many other preseason field goal attempts. Aguayo has missed two field goals and an extra point already this offseason, but he nailed the kick to put the Bucs up 3-0 on Friday night.

Jameis Winston moved the team with nice throws to Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans before things slowed down as they neared the red zone.

The news hasn’t been all good for the Bucs thus far, however. Wide receiver/kick returner Donteea Dye is out for the rest of the game after hurting his hamstring, which will provide more opportunities for Kenny Bell and other wideouts trying for spots at the back end of the depth chart.

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Sam Bradford urges everyone not to overreact to the preseason

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford warms up prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright) AP

In last year’s third preseason game, Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford went 10-for-10 for 121 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles blew out the Packers to improve to 3-0.

“Last year after the third preseason game, everybody thought we were going to the Super Bowl,” Bradford said today.

The Eagles did not, in fact, go to the Super Bowl. Or the playoffs. Bradford said people need to understand that the preseason — even the third game of the preseason, when starters usually play the longest — doesn’t mean much.

“But there’s very little game-planning that goes into preseason — I’m sure Green Bay didn’t game plan to stop us last year; they probably hadn’t even practiced our offense,” Bradford said. “Obviously it was nice to go out there and execute the way we did in that third preseason game, but I don’t think anyone in our locker room really bought into the fact that because we looked great in a preseason game, it was going to be easy during the regular season.”

So as the Eagles prepare for tomorrow night’s third preseason game, Bradford knows that an impressive win doesn’t mean they’re heading for the Super Bowl. Everyone else should know that, too.

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Report: Jimmy Garoppolo to start Friday night

New England Patriots quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo, left, and Tom Brady, right, walk on the field following an NFL football training camp practice with the Chicago Bears Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) AP

It will reportedly feel like 2001 all over again in Charlotte on Friday night.

Mike Reiss of ESPN.com reports that, barring a last-second change or scissor accident, Jimmy Garoppolo will get the start against the Panthers in the Patriots’ third exhibition game of the summer. Tom Brady is also expected to play, so he will be coming off the bench to get his first playing time of the preseason.

It’s been a long time since Brady has been in that role, but the circumstances for the Patriots make it a sensible way to go about their business.

Garoppolo has a chance to start a game on the road against a good defense, just as he will in Week One against the Cardinals, and he gets to prepare for the game as the starter. That’s not insignificant for a player who will be making his first NFL start in that game and coach Bill Belichick has called getting Garoppolo ready the No. 1 priority for the offense.

Brady has plenty of experience on that front and whatever time he sees on Friday will be to get him on the field before he serves his four-game suspension to start the season. One bit of worry could be Brady seeing time alongside backups, but there’s no word on when Brady will be in the game and what kind of playing time the rest of the first team is expected to see against Carolina.

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Andy Reid predicts more kickoff returns “than ever”

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library Getty Images

The “most dangerous play” in the game is about to get even more dangerous. And the NFL has 13 days to keep that from happening.

The five-yard change to the touchback rule was supposed to reduce kickoff returns, by enticing the receiving team to take a knee. The opposite outcome is expected, with the kicking team opting to try to pin the opposing team inside the 25.

“I think these special teams coaches are smart guys,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told PFT Live on Friday. “They’re popping the ball up, so we might have more returns than we’ve ever had. It’s crazy. I’m not sure it’s the same thing the league was trying to get, but that’s what we’re getting right now. These kickers are so accurate and they can put it right down there within the five yard line and the goal line and force you into a return and then your coverage teams have got to do their thing. Special teams coaches and coverage teams have the confidence that if the kicker does that then they can keep them within that 25-yard area or actually within that 20-yard area. So I think your probably gonna see more returns than ever.”

PFT previously reported that a change to the rule would happen during the season only under extraordinary circumstances. But if there’s reason to believe that something extraordinary is coming (i.e., more returns than ever), why not change the rule back before Week One of the regular season arrives?

Given the one-year nature of the rule, it will take 24 owners in the offseason to extend the rule beyond 2016. But 24 owners can decide right not to scrap the rule for 2016. Given the very real likelihood that the new rule won’t have the intended effect, why in the world wouldn’t they?

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Report: Concerns raised about Ezekiel Elliott’s pattern of behavior

FILE - This Aug. 19, 2016 file photo shows Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott laughing as he talks with teammates on the sideline in the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins in Arlington, Texas. Elliott appears set for his preseason debut at Seattle after the running back taken fourth overall by the Cowboys missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins, file) AP

Like many people on out-of-town visits to states where marijuana is legal, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott decided to check out a pot store while he was in Seattle for last night’s preseason game. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wasn’t happy about that.

But beyond that, the Cowboys organization is apparently concerned about the way Elliott handles himself off the field. Ed Werder of ESPN reported today that there are concerns about “a pattern of disturbing behavior” from Elliott.

Werder didn’t detail what behavior was involved in that pattern, but far more concerning than entering a legal marijuana store is that there’s an investigation in Columbus, Ohio, into an allegation of domestic violence. The Columbus city attorney’s office said a month ago that there’s an “open investigation” into that allegation. There has been no update to that story since.

Frankly, it feels a little ridiculous to even be talking about visiting a legal marijuana store when there’s also an investigation into a domestic violence allegation. The latter is a serious concern, while the former is something that shouldn’t even be the NFL’s business. After Werder’s report aired on ESPN, his colleague, former NFL running back Merril Hoge, said somebody should sit Elliott down and tell him, “Nobody’s ever played with drugs and won.” But that’s silly. Many people who have smoked marijuana have become Hall of Fame football players and had success in other fields, up to and including becoming president of the United States. (And it’s also worth noting that there’s not even any evidence that Elliott actually used marijuana. He may have simply been curious to see how a legal marijuana store operates.)

The domestic violence allegations against Elliott are, indeed, concerning. The marijuana issue is nothing.

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