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NFL morning after: Jerry Rice or Calvin Johnson?

Calvin Johnson AP

Ask me who the best receiver in NFL history is, and my answer is Jerry Rice, and no active receiver is close. So please understand that I’m not suggesting that Calvin Johnson has had a better career than Jerry Rice.

But I want to ask a different question: Has anyone — even the immortal Jerry Rice– ever played the wide receiver position better than Calvin Johnson is playing it right now?

With all due respect to Rice, I believe the answer to that question is no. The level of play Megatron has achieved over the last few years exceeds that of any wide receiver in the history of the game, even including Jerry Rice at his best.

From the start of the 2011 season through yesterday’s insane 14-catch, 329-yard game against the Cowboys, Johnson has 4,466 receiving yards. Over the best 2.5-season stretch of Rice’s career (the second half of 1993 and all of 1994 and 1995), he had 4,102 receiving yards. Johnson had 1,964 receiving yards last year, breaking Rice’s NFL single-season record. Johnson now has topped 200 yards six times in his last 27 games, counting the playoffs. Rice topped 200 yards five times in 332 career games, counting the playoffs.

But I don’t want to go too far down the statistical comparisons because there are a lot of respects in which the stats don’t tell the story. Johnson’s numbers are inflated by the fact that he’s playing in a better passing era than Rice was, and also by the fact that the Lions are a worse team than Rice’s 49ers were, which means they’re throwing late in games a lot more than Rice’s 49ers were. The flip side of that is, Rice was catching passes from Hall of Famers (Joe Montana early in his career, Steve Young starting in 1991) and had excellent teammates like John Taylor, Ricky Watters and Brent Jones preventing the defense from putting everything into stopping him. Johnson is catching passes from Matthew Stafford, who’s a promising young quarterback but nowhere near the type of passer that Montana and Young were, and this year’s arrival of Reggie Bush marks the first time Johnson has ever had a top-flight talent playing with him on the Lions’ offense.

So aside from stats, what makes me say Johnson is playing better football now than Rice ever did? It mostly comes down to their physical differences. The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson makes plays that the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Rice did not. Rice was a genius for running perfect routes and getting open, but Johnson is so physically imposing that he makes plays even when he’s not open. The catches like Johnson’s 50-yard touchdown last week against the Bengals, when Stafford launched the ball deep into the end zone and Johnson went up and grabbed it despite being surrounded by three Bengals, are the plays that no one else at the wide receiver position has made.

And games like Johnson’s performance on Sunday are the games that no one else at the wide receiver position has had. How can Johnson, the guy every defensive coordinator in the NFL knows he has to stop, catch 87.5 percent of the passes thrown to him for 20.6 yards per attempt, as he did on Sunday? The answer is that he’s playing the wide receiver position right now better than anyone has ever played it.

Johnson was my favorite player in any of Sunday’s games. Here are some other thoughts:

Hard-luck player of the week: Reed Doughty. Doughty, a Washington safety, grew up in the Denver suburbs, and so he bought 40 tickets for friends and family to Sunday’s game against the Broncos. It should have been a great “local boy makes good” moment for him, except that he suffered a concussion last week and ended up not playing against the Broncos and not even making the trip to Denver. I hope his friends and family enjoyed the game anyway.

The Jaguars aren’t just bad, they’re historically bad. After Sunday’s 42-10 loss to the 49ers, the Jaguars are 0-8, and they’re getting blown out, week in and week out, like no team since the 1944 franchise that merged the Cardinals and Steelers because players were scarce during World War II. I thought before the season that the Jaguars were the worst team in the league, but they’re even worse than I thought they’d be. I figured they’d be your run-of-the-mill lousy 3-13 team. In reality, your run-of-the-mill lousy 3-13 team would be a double-digit favorite over these Jaguars.

Best block of the day belonged to Larry Warford. A rookie guard for the Lions, Warford got out in front of running back Joique Bell on a screen pass and planted Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee into the turf. It was a textbook example of the right way for an offensive lineman to play a screen pass.

It’s amazing that the Patriots keep winning. There comes a point when no team can withstand the loss of too many good players, and the Patriots seem like they should have reached that point. They lost Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez before the season. They’ve lost Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork to season-ending injuries. Aqib Talib was out Sunday. Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola have missed most of the year. You just can’t lose that many good players. And yet New England is 6-2 after Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. Bill Belichick is a coaching genius.

What happened to Chip Kelly, offensive genius? I know the Eagles have had injuries to both first-string quarterback Michael Vick and second-string quarterback Nick Foles, but shouldn’t an offensive innovator like Kelly be able to manufacture some points anyway? Here’s how every single Eagles offensive drive has ended in the last two weeks: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, field goal, interception, interception, interception, interception, interception, punt, punt, punt, fumble, downs, punt, punt, punt, downs, interception. Yes, in the last two weeks the Eagles have had 15 punts, five interceptions (on five consecutive drives), one lost fumble, one missed field goal and one made field goal. And the one made field goal came on a drive that started in field goal range. If you were flipping back and forth between the Lions and the Eagles on Sunday, you got to see Megatron playing the receiver position at its best, and the Eagles playing offense at its worst.

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Pouncey subpoena comes from state court, not federal court

Pouncey AP

On Sunday, authorities served Dolphins center Mike Pouncey with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury investigating potential weapons offenses involving former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Per a league source, the subpoena was issued by a state court, not a federal court.

The possibility that the subpoena came from federal court arose from the SI.com report that authorities are investigating Hernandez’s potential involvement in interstate gun trafficking.  The word “interstate” implies the application of federal laws.

The distinction is important, for Hernandez.  If the subpoena had come from a federal court, it would have meant that a federal grand jury had been convened.  Which would have meant that the federal grand jury could have been investigating an array of potential offenses, including the possible allegation that Hernandez murdered Odin Lloyd in June 2013 because he had knowledge regarding the possible allegation that Hernandez killed Safiro Furtado and Daniel Abreu in July 2012.

Which could have exposed Hernandez to a penalty not currently available under state law:  the death penalty.

It doesn’t mean that the feds aren’t investigating the case.  And it doesn’t mean that Hernandez won’t be prosecuted for federal offenses.  It only means that Pouncey has been ordered to appear, for now, before a Massachusetts grand jury exploring possible violations of Massachusetts law.

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Tom Brady is feeling the pressure

Tom Brady, Wallace Gilberry AP

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is struggling with the blitz this season.

Brady is usually among the best in football at getting the ball away quickly and accurately when opposing teams blitz him, but as former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski demonstrated this week on ESPN’s NFL Matchup, that hasn’t been the case this season. Jaworski showed game film of a badly underthrown pass by Brady against the Bengals and showed how Brady could have hit either Julian Edelman or Aaron Dobson but instead completely missed as he felt the Bengals’ pass rush.

“With time in the pocket, Brady would either lead Edelman across the field, or hit Dobson coming underneath in the middle. Neither happened, the result of pressure,” Jaworski said. “The pocket closed down on Brady, he lacked time to wait for the routes to develop and the functional space to deliver the football.”

As Jaworski noted, Brady has usually picked apart opposing defenses when they came after him. According to ESPN, when opposing defenses blitzed Brady in 2012, he completed 64.2 percent of his passes, had a passer rating of 117.6 and was sacked only seven times. But this year, Brady blitzed has completed just 53.8 percent of his passes when blitzed, his passer rating against the blitz has plummeted to 81.9, and he’s already been sacked nine times when blitzed.

Just about any way you slice it, Brady is having his worst season. In his previous 11 seasons as the Patriots’ starter, Brady never had a completion rate lower than 60 percent and never had a passer rating lower than 85. This year Brady’s completion rate is 55.4 percent and his passer rating is 75.3. He’s also on pace to be sacked 46 times this season, which would top his previous high of 41 in his first year as the Patriots’ starter.

It’s fair to wonder how much of Brady’s susceptibility to pressure is a sign of his own decline, how much is the result of the offensive line’s ineffectiveness and how much is the fact that in the past, Brady knew he could count on Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez to be open for a short pass on a blitz, while this year Weler is in Denver, Hernandez is in jail and Gronkowski has played only one game.

But whatever the reason, pressure on Brady is a real problem for the Patriots.

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Judge rejects recusal request in Hernandez case

Judge Garsh issues her ruling denying a prosecutor's motion to recuse herself as judge in the murder trial of former New England Patriots NFL football player Hernandez in Bristol Superior Court in Fall River Reuters

As expected, Judge Susan Garsh has refused to step aside from the murder case against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. As not expected, prosecutors won’t appeal the ruling to a higher court.

Via FOX Sports, Judge Garsh rejected arguments that she has shown bias against lead prosecutor William McAuley in a prior case he handled before her.

“Considerations other than the law have not and will not color any of my rulings,” she concluded.

“I have examined my emotions and consulted my conscience, and I am satisfied that I harbor no bias as a result of anything that happened in the 2010 case or . . . McCauley’s statements outside of court following that case.”

The surprise came when District Attorney Sam Sutter announced that the decision would not be appealed. Typically, efforts to remove a judge inevitably go to the next level, since judges usually aren’t inclined to admit that they have some bias or prejudice or interest that would affect their ability to be fair and impartial.

So why make the effort to have Judge Garsh step down?  Given the high-profile nature of the case, it may have been aimed at ensuring the media will pay close attention to her handling of the case, pointing out possible instances of bias in her rulings.  Which in turn may force her to be go so far out of her way to be perceived as fair that it actually helps the prosecution.

The risk, of course, comes from the possibility of alienating the judge at an early stage of the case. That risk may have been balanced out by the decision not to push the issue beyond her courtroom.

While the case ultimately will be decided by a jury, the judge always is in position to make a huge impact on the outcome.  From pre-trial rulings regarding evidence that will and won’t be allowed to be given to the jury and witnesses that will and won’t be testifying to efforts made to strike potential jurors “for cause” based on their beliefs and/or relationships to the many instances during a trial of questions that draw objections, the judge has enormous influence over the final verdict, and in many cases a wide range of discretion in making decisions.

The reality for the prosecutors is that, by firing a shot across the judge’s bow, the result could be that she’ll still make rulings they don’t like — but that she’ll be more careful about making them in a way that can be defended against outside scrutiny.

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Hernandez files grievance for his guaranteed pay, signing bonus

Hernandez AP

In the aftermath of Aaron Hernandez’s arrest for murder and release from the Patriots, the NFLPA believed that Hernandez would be unable to recover his otherwise guaranteed base salaries for 2013 and 2014.

The NFLPA now believes otherwise.

The NFLPA has filed on Hernandez’s behalf a grievance seeking payment of $1.323 million in guaranteed 2013 base salary, along with $1.137 million in guaranteed 2014 base salary.  The union also seeks payment of $500,000 for a guaranteed 2014 workout bonus.

The argument is simple; the amounts were fully guaranteed, Hernandez was cut, and Hernandez should still get the money.

The Patriots will argue, we believe, that the guarantees applied only to terminations made due to injury, skill (i.e., perceived lack of it), and the salary cap.  Because the Patriots cut Hernandez pursuant to paragraph 11 of the standard player contract, which permits termination of employment when the player “has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club,” the guarantees evaporate.

Again, the NFLPA agreed with that interpretation in June.

The grievance was filed on the same day that Hernandez filed, also through the NFLPA, a grievance seeking recovery of the final installment of his $12.5 million signing bonus.  The $3.25 million isn’t due until March 14.  Citing the refusal to pay the guaranteed base salary for 2013, the NFLPA has opted to seek a ruling on the $3.25 million right now.

That’s an argument Hernandez is more likely to win.  The money was earned when he signed the contract in August 2012.  The only potential argument against paying him hinges on whether he is charged with — and convicted of — the July 2012 murders of Safiro Furtado and Daniel Abreu.  If he signed the contract knowing that he had murdered two people, there’s likely a potential legal argument that, if successful, would void the deal.

As to Furtado, Abreu, and Odin Lloyd, their families should promptly hire counsel and file suit demanding that any proceeds from these grievances (up to $6.21 million) be held in escrow pending the outcome of the wrongful death lawsuits against Hernandez.  If they don’t, any money recovered by Hernandez could be long gone by the time the civil litigation ends.

He has a good chance the get the $3.25 million.  The other $2.96 million arising from guaranteed salaries and workout bonuses will be much harder to recover.

Our guess is that the NFLPA opted to pursue both prongs in the hopes of making it more likely that Hernandez will at least get the $3.25 million.

Regardless, the families of the men he allegedly killed should be the ones who get that money.  If/when “allegedly” is replaced with “actually.”

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Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee pleads not guilty to perjury

131015-hernandez-jsw.380;380;7;70;0 AP

As expected, Shayanna Jenkins has pleaded not guilty to charges of perjury.

As also expected, she’s specifically accused of lying to a grand jury investigating the murder of Odin Lloyd.

Prosecutors contend, via NBCNews.com, that Jenkins lied to the grand jury about conversations with her fiancee, former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.  Prosecutors also believe she lied when she claimed she didn’t recall what she did with the gun safe or lock box that she removed from the home she shares with Hernandez, allegedly at his request, after Lloyd was killed.

She admitted, with a grant of immunity, putting the box in a dumpster.  But she said she doesn’t recall which one, which prosecutors contend is a lie.

Doing what defense lawyers do, Jenkins’ lawyer has defended her client.

“Their relationship in many ways had elements of what I would call ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,'” lawyer Janice Bassil regarding the relationship between Jenkins and Hernandez.

Bassil also claimed that Jenkins was questioned in an “extremely aggressive” fashion before the grand jury.

Jenkins remains free without bail.  No trial date has been set.

It’s difficult to prove perjury beyond a reasonable doubt, because the jury has to essentially get inside the defendant’s mind.  It’s easy to charge someone with perjury and hope the extra pressure will make her tell the whole truth to authorities.

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Eyewitness emerges in Hernandez double murder investigation

Hernandez AP

The case against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez for the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd may be getting a little wobbly, but the potential case against him for the July 2012 murders of Safiro Furtado and Daniel Abreu may be getting stronger.

An alleged eyewitness to the double murder recently told FOX 25 in Boston that the witness, whose identity has not been disclosed, was in the car with Furtado and Abreu at the time of the shooting.

They just came up and started firing for no reason at all,” the witness, who was shot in the arm, told FOX 25.  “We never had any trouble.  We were not those kind of people.  We were just having fun.”

The witness said he recognized Hernandez after he was arrested for the murder of Lloyd.

“When I see his face, I just recognize his face,” the witness explained.  “Compare his face that night to his face now.  It’s that face that I remember. . . .  I just want to know, what’s the reason?  What’s the point?  Why us?”

A grand jury has been investigating the murders, with Hernandez reportedly the target of the probe.

“We’ve got the best homicide team in the city working on that,” Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis recently told FOX 25.  “They are putting pieces of information together and presenting it to the grand jury, working very closely with the District Attorney’s Office on that case.  I’m satisfied with the direction it’s going in, and I think that we’ll come to the right conclusions on that.”

The right conclusions for the authorities could be the wrong conclusions for Hernandez, ultimately requiring him to face a jury not once but twice with a life sentence hanging in the balance.

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Prosecutors in Hernandez case ask judge to step aside

Former NFL player Hernandez, accused of killing Lloyd, appears in court for a motion hearing in Attleborough Reuters

On the surface, it appears that the prosecution has a strong case against Aaron Hernandez for the murder of Odin Lloyd.  If it were that strong, however, the prosecution perhaps wouldn’t be trying to get the judge assigned to the case to step aside.

At Wednesday’s pre-trial hearing, the prosecution acknowledged that a formal request will be made to Judge Susan Garsh that she recuse herself from the case.

The specific reasons for the request aren’t yet known, but this item from the Fall River (Mass.) Herald News points to a rocky history between Judge Garsh and the prosecutors handling the case.

In 2010, lead Hernandez prosecutor Bill McCauley “accused Garsh of being antagonistic toward prosecutors” during a different murder trial.

Per multiple Twitter reports, Judge Garsh didn’t seem to be thrilled by the prosecution’s intended course of action, which will be addressed at a future hearing.  And it likely won’t be easy to persuade her to step aside, or to force a higher court to force her out.

Even so, if the prosecutors have concerns about Judge Garsh, calling her out could force her to be careful not to do anything that could be viewed as showing antagonism to the prosecution’s case.

The fact that the prosecution even has to make the request shows that the case as currently postured is far from perfect.  With a very high standard of proof required for a conviction, it won’t take much to allow Hernandez’s lawyers to deliver an acquittal.

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Jets claim Zach Sudfeld off waivers from Patriots

Zach Sudfeld AP

From Curtis Martin and Ty Law to Danny Woodhead and Tim Tebow, there’s a long history of players making a move from one side of the Patriots-Jets rivalry to the other.

It got a little longer on Friday when the Jets claimed tight end Zach Sudfeld off of waivers from the Patriots. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Sudfeld, who was waived on Thursday when the Patriots signed wide receiver Austin Collie, is changing addresses in the AFC East.

Sudfeld made the Patriots as an undrafted free agent this summer and drew a lot of positive notices during training camp and the preseason as he got a lot of reps with an offense looking to fill the holes left by Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. He didn’t have a catch in three regular season games, though, and his playing time steadily diminished.

The Jets probably aren’t just trying to tweak the Patriots. There was enough promise in those early performances to merit a look and the Jets are definitely in need of guys with pass catching skills. Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow see the bulk of the time at the position, but Winslow’s injury history makes him a question mark in terms of making it through the entire season.

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Hernandez’s fiancee claims prosecutorial abuse

Jenkins Reuters

Last week, a grand jury investigating the murder of Odin Lloyd indicted Shayanna Jenkins, the fiancee of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, for perjury.

This week, her lawyer claimed that prosecutors are being unfairly abusive in their pursuit of Jenkins.

“The government actions in this case are abusive and overreaching,” attorney Janice Bassil said, via the Boston Globe.  “I don’t believe they have sufficient evidence.”
Bassil believes prosecutors are simply squeezing Jenkins in order to squeeze Hernandez.

“I believe they are just simply trying to add pressure,” Bassil said. “They are trying to pressure her, but perhaps they are also trying to pressure [Hernandez] through her.”

The perjury charge strongly suggested that Jenkins had testified before the grand jury, which typically operates in secrecy.  Bassil confirmed that Jenkins testified before the grand jury for two days.

“There is a famous saying, a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich,” Bassil said. “I look forward to challenging this in court. I really do.  If a grand jury is supposed to protect citizens from overreaching prosecutors, then there is a lot of work to be done here.”

Bassil may indeed be right.  With Carlos Ortiz changing his story about whether only Hernandez or both Hernandez and Ernest Wallace exited the car just before Lloyd was shot, the prosecution may fear a jury will conclude that reasonable doubt exists.  Putting pressure on Jenkins, and in turn on Hernandez, becomes an obvious strategy for shoring up a murder case that ultimately could be hard to prove, if Ortiz will be the star witness.

Besides, perjury cases are tough to prove.  At trial, the prosecution will have to show — beyond a reasonable doubt — that Jenkins knowingly made a false statement to the grand jury.

And so the question becomes whether Jenkins and Hernandez will be unmoved by these developments, or whether the pressure applied to Jenkins will prompt her, or Hernandez, to crack.

If Hernandez did indeed kill Lloyd, some would say he should admit it, if that will get the charges dropped against the mother of his young child.  Then again, folks who have killed people don’t necessarily approach such dilemmas with logic, reason, and/or a concern for anyone other than themselves.

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Sean Payton believes Dolphins had interest in drafting Jimmy Graham

Arizona Cardinals v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Ninety-four picks were made in the 2010 NFL Draft before the Saints took tight end Jimmy Graham near the end of the third round. We know the rest of the story, and the opening chapters are flattering to team and player.

Graham has become one of the best receiving threats at this position. He has begun the 2013 season on a tear, catching 23 passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns. Only 26, Graham’s prime could last several more seasons. In short, a Saints offense with a franchise quarterback (Drew Brees) who’s two years younger than Tom Brady and three years younger than Peyton Manning looks well-positioned both now and in the near future.

It’s easy to say now that Graham should have never lasted that long, that his talent outweighed his lack of football experience. However, the Class of 2010 was loaded with tight end talent, and Graham had just one season of football to his credit. He wouldn’t have been the first potential-laden player not to pan out.

We’ll never know what might have happened if the Saints didn’t take Graham at No. 95. Actually, we can put some of the pieces together. Graham was the fourth-to-last pick of Round Three. The next three selections were non-tradeable compensatory picks that belonged to the Bengals, Titans and Falcons, and none of those three teams probably were inclined to take Graham. The Bengals had taken a tight end (Jermaine Gresham) in Round One of the 2010 draft. The Titans, had Bo Scaife, Jared Cook and Craig Stevens. The Falcons, who had the last pick in the round, might have been the best fit, given their need to eventually replace Tony Gonzalez, but they didn’t draft a tight end that spring, so Graham may not have been on their radar.

This set of circumstances may well have pushed Graham into Round Four. At that point, one team who might have taken a shot on Graham was Miami, as Saints head coach Sean Payton recalled Friday. Payton told reporters he received a call from then-Dolphins executive Bill Parcells about “30 seconds” after the Saints took Graham at No. 95.

“You could tell that that was someone who he had targeted, and that makes you feel good rather than him saying, ‘What did you take him for?’” Payton recalled Friday, according to a transcript of his press conference from the club.

Miami, after trading its pick to San Diego in a deal that landed the Chargers Ryan Mathews, had the No. 126 selection when Round Four began, according to this ESPN recap of draft trades. The Saints, who were defending Super Bowl champions, had pick No. 130 to kick off round four.

In the end, the Dolphins would trade up to No. 119, but not for a tight end. Instead, they took linebacker A.J. Edds.

Overall, four teams took tight ends in Round Four: Baltimore (Dennis Pitta), New England (Aaron Hernandez), Houston (Garrett Graham) and Philadelphia (Clay Harbor).

Again, we’ll never know what might have been if the Saints passed on Jimmy Graham. But their logic in taking him when they did was sound, to say nothing about how the pick turned out. Given Parcells’ interest and the other tight ends coming off the board in the fourth round, the Saints struck at the right time.

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Grand jury indicts Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee

Jenkins AP

Prosecutors have believed that Shayanna Jenkins, the fiancee of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, engaged in “overt attempts to hide evidence . . . and to hinder and mislead” their investigation into the murder of Odin Lloyd.

A grand jury now agrees.  Via the Boston Globe, Jenkins has been indicted for perjury.

The grand jury also indicted Hernandez’s cousin, Tanya Singleton, on charges of conspiracy to commit accessory after the fact.  She had been jailed on contempt of court charges after refusing to testify before the grand jury.

Carlos Ortiz, who previously faced weapons charges, has been indicted as an accessory after the fact.  The weapons charges have been dropped.

The charge against Jenkins means that she lied under oath.  Which likely means that prosecutors believe she lied when testifying before the grand jury.

The news charges will serve to put increased pressure on persons who have collateral roles in the case, with the hope that someone will provide clear and persuasive testimony or evidence that can be used to convict Hernandez for murder.

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Carlos Ortiz changes story regarding Odin Lloyd shooting

Ernest Wallace AP

If the prosecutors’ plan for convicting Aaron Hernandez of murder is to rely on Carlos Ortiz, they may need a better plan.

Via the Boston Herald, prosecutors disclosed during the bail hearing for Ernest Wallace (pictured) that Ortiz now claims that only Hernandez exited the car before Odin Lloyd was shot and killed in an industrial park near Hernandez’s Massachusetts home.

Previously, Ortiz supposedly said that both Hernandez and Wallace got out of the car, and that Wallace later told Ortiz that Hernandez had admitted to shooting Lloyd.  (That’s an odd admission for Hernandez to make to Wallace, since Wallace presumably was aware of the shooting.)

The summary of evidence presented without testimony from Ortiz successfully kept Wallace behind bars subject to $500,000 bail.  But the contradiction in Ortiz’s testimony could help give Hernandez’s lawyers enough ammunition to create reasonable doubt, via the Chewbacca defense or otherwise.

It’s a low bar, and it Ortiz can’t get his story straight as to the most critical moment for the case, why should a jury believe anything he says?

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More evidence could be coming today in Odin Lloyd murder case

Wallace AP

With no trial date in sight for Aaron Hernandez and the NFL season firmly up and running, it’s easy to forget about the Odin Lloyd murder investigation.

On Thursday, we’ll be reminded of it, because more evidence could be released regarding the prosecution’s theory of the events surrounding Lloyd’s death.

It’ll happen at a bail hearing for Ernest Wallace.  Charged with being an accessory after the fact, Wallace remains jailed on $500,000 bail.  Prosecutor Sam Sutter says, via the Associated Press, that more evidence aimed at justifying the high bail amount will be released when the hearing convenes.

“I think it is a very safe ­assumption that during the bail hearing you will learn about matters that you’re not aware of right now,” Sutter said. “This is a very serious ­offense. Accessory after the fact of murder [carries] a seven-year state prison sentence. We allege that he assisted, in a material way, Aaron Hernandez after the fact of the murder of Odin Lloyd.”

This strongly implies that the prosecutors believe Hernandez pulled the trigger. Proof and accusations stronger than implications apparently will be coming, as prosecutors have a legitimate vehicle for circumventing the gag order preventing the leakage of information about Hernandez’s role in the case.

On Thursday, it’s unavoidable that more proof linking Hernandez to the crime will emerge, since Hernandez’s commission of the crime is the thing to which Wallace allegedly was serving as an accessory.

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Saints, Graham talks going nowhere

Graham Getty Images

Through three games, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has 358 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

But Graham still doesn’t have a new contract.  Per multiple league sources, the Saints have made an offer.  Graham’s camp has not yet responded.

Graham has entered the final season of his slotted rookie deal.  Drafted the same year as Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both of whom received long-term extensions, Graham is still waiting.

He may have to wait a little longer.  Or a lot longer.  Last year, the Saints waited as long as possible to sign quarterback Drew Brees to a multi-year deal, after he took every snap of a six-year, $60 million contract.

Brees got his deal after the Saints applied the exclusive version of the quarterback franchise tag.  Graham undoubtedly will get the non-exclusive version of the tight end franchise tag, setting the stage for an inevitable fight regarding whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver.

Meanwhile, look for Graham to continue to take the high road.  Though he has earned the ability not to carry the risk of serious injury, the Saints have shown that they won’t pay close to market value until the player has maximum leverage.

If Graham stays healthy, he’ll have it — especially if he prevails on the question of whether he’s a receiver for franchise tag purposes.

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