Marshawn Lynch says he has won appeal of $50,000 fine

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Over the weekend, word emerged that the NFL had fined Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch $50,000 for a season of not talking to the media.

Lynch has now spoken to everyone, via social media.

On his Facebook page, Lynch has explained that he won the appeal.  He offered no further specifics as to how he prevailed on the appeal, or regarding who decided the appeal.

As to the money that fans had been raising to help Lynch, who has a $7 million base salary this year, pay the fine, Lynch said he’ll match the full amount raised with a donation, and that all of the money will go to charity.

Which presumably isn’t slang for Skittles.

UPDATE 7:49 p.m. ET:  The NFL says Lynch didn’t win the appeal.  Instead, the league agreed to not collect the money in exchange for his promise to comply with the media policies going forward.  Failure will result in a fine of $100,000.

Dolphins to start G.M. interviews Friday

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The Dolphins are looking for a new G.M.  And the team has announced that the process will begin on Friday.

Via the team’s official website, team CEO Tom Garfinkel said Wednesday at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon that interviews will commence in two days.

“In my conversations with [owner] Steve [Ross], I think first and foremost [what he’ll be looking for] is someone with a lot of experience evaluating talent, a proven track record of evaluating talent and a football person,” Garfinkel said.  “That’s going to be the first criteria.  Someone with a lot of intellect, a collaborative team player and someone who’s creative and open-minded.”

Via Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins intend to release publicly the names of the candidates who interview for the job.  Per Armando Salguero of the Herald, Eagles V.P. of player personnel Tom Gamble had not heard from the team earlier in the day regarding a possible interview.  Some have mentioned Gamble as the possible frontrunner for the job.

It’s still unclear whether the new G.M. will have the powers held by former G.M. Jeff Ireland, or whether Ross will hire someone to oversee all football operations and wield final say.  During a Wednesday appearance on PFT Live, Salguero identified former Jets and Browns coach (and current 49ers offensive consultant) Eric Mangini as a candidate for the so-called “football czar” position.

Looming over the search process is the ongoing presence of coach Joe Philbin and V.P. of football administration Dawn Aponte.  Salguero previously reported that Aponte shared Ireland’s criticism of the coaching staff with Philbin, poisoning the relationship between coach and G.M.  In a follow-up article, Salguero takes a closer look at Aponte’s role — and rise — in the organization, from:  (1) former V.P. of football operations Bill Parcells bringing Aponte to the team; to (2) Aponte opting to develop an alliance with coach Joe Philbin because of her discomfort being supervised by Ireland after Parcells left; to (3) Aponte making a power play with Ross in order to shift away from Ireland’s supervision; to (4) Ireland wanting to fire Aponte because of it; to (5) Ross promoting Aponte and doubling her salary; to (6) Aponte targeting Ireland — and winning.

Whoever gets the job will have to find a way to co-exist with Aponte and Philbin, which may not be easy to do unless the new G.M. has authority over both of them.  And that may necessitate a someone above all three of them, who’d be responsible for clunking heads together if necessary in order to ensure everyone plays nice.

Or Ross could simply press the reset button and start over, which could be the only way to remove the dysfunction from the team’s front office.

Belichick, Branch downplay idea of passing along Patriots’ secrets

AP

When the Colts signed former Patriots receiver Deion Branch this week, just days before a playoff game against the Patriots, it raised some questions about whether the plan in Indianapolis was to get some intel about the goings-on in New England.

But Branch doesn’t think he has any particularly useful information to hand over to the Colts’ coaching staff.

Branch told reporters today that if the Colts know what the Patriots are doing, it’s from scouting the Patriots’ game tape, not from any special insight that Branch can provide.

This is the NFL. I’m sure the scouts . . . they knew all the ins-and-outs about the Patriots before they thought of bringing me [here],” Branch said.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he doesn’t lose any sleep when preparing to face a former Patriot.

I think that’s way overrated,” Belichick said. “And a lot of times the information in those situations is sometimes misinformation because things have changed from whenever that person was [there]. I’m not saying that in any particular circumstance, I’m just saying in general. A lot of times you, a player has been with another team, saying that this is what they do, this is their call and this is this, this is that. That’s not really what it is.”

So if Branch is going to help the Colts beat the Patriots, it’s going to be on the field on Saturday, not in the meeting rooms during the week.

No practice for Carlos Rogers on Wednesday

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One of the storylines we were following with the 49ers last week was the status of cornerback Carlos Rogers’ hamstring.

Rogers injured the hamstring in Week 17, missed all week of practice and wound up on the sideline for last Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Packers in Green Bay. Things haven’t changed much on Wednesday.

Multiple reporters who watched the portion of 49ers practice open to the media report that Rogers was not taking part in the session with his teammates. Rogers was working out on an elliptical machine while the rest of the team did drills on the field, which means that there’s still plenty of doubt about his ability to play against Carolina. Cornerback Eric Wright, who played only on special teams last Sunday after being listed as questionable with his own hamstring injury, was on the field.

Defensive tackle Justin Smith, center Jonathan Goodwin and defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs also missed practice. Smith and Goodwin typically rest on Wednesdays while Dobbs is nursing a knee injury suffered against the Packers.

PFT on NBCSN: Melvin Ingram, Divisional Round storylines

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The Chargers beat the Broncos in their second meeting during the regular season and one of their players will join Pro Football Talk on NBCSN on Wednesday to talk about what they have to do to do it again.

Linebacker Melvin Ingram will talk to Erik Kuselias about the need to put pressure on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in the pocket and get hits on him in hopes of making him jittery as the game unfolds. Ingram will also share his thoughts on his team’s quarterback when it comes to both Philip Rivers’ play and his sartorial choices.

Our crew will share their opinions on the Chargers’ chances of creating that kind of pressure this weekend as we take a tour of all four Divisional Round matchups on Wednesday. They’ll break down the latest news and injury updates from the eight teams that will be playing this weekend and they’ll also wrap up the newest developments in the head coaching searches around the league.

It all gets started at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Another assistant coach leaves 49ers for college job

AP

The 49ers are slowly losing pieces from what had been a stable coaching staff to the college game.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, reports say senior offensive assistant Paul Wulff has taken a job as the offensive coordinator at South Florida.

Wulff would be joining coach Willie Taggart there. Taggart coached running backs at Stanford under Harbaugh from 2007-2009.

This follows the defection of assistant offensive line coach Tim Drevno, who took a job as line coach and run game coordinator at Southern Cal.

Those are the first two assistants Harbaugh has lost in his time with the 49ers. The more serious losses could be yet to come.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman interviewed with Penn State this week, and remains on the lists for some NFL openings. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was reportedly sought by the Redskins for an interview.

“I know our people and their focus is right here, on this game,” Harbaugh said Wednesday, heading into Sunday’s Divisional Round playoff game against the Panthers.

Rooney hints that Steelers won’t try to extend Roethlisberger

AP

With cap numbers of $18.895 and $18.395 million, respectively, over the final two years of his current contract, most assume that the Steelers’ annual effort to create cap room via renegotiating quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s deal will entail a contract extension.

Owner Art Rooney II told a trio of reporters on Wednesday that there won’t necessarily be an extension.

Via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rooney said that Roethlisberger knows “our intention is we want him here beyond this contact.”  But Rooney added that the team possibly won’t extend the current contract in 2014 or 2015.

The Steelers have at times extended the contracts of starting quarterbacks with two years remaining.  But Rooney said that’s “not set in stone . . . it’s not something that’s automatic.”

The shrewd message from Rooney is that the Steelers will find a way to carry Roethlisberger’s cap number if necessary, which means that he’d make only $12.1 million in base salary for 2014.  And that undercuts Roethlisberger’s primary leverage for a contract that would pay him, if he had his way, at or close to market value of $18 million to $20 million per year.

If the Steelers keep Roethlisberger at $12.1 million in 2014 and $11.6 million in 2015, he’d be two years older — with two more years of wear and tear — when finally eligible to test the market.  The downside would be that, if the Steelers wanted to use the franchise tag in 2016, he’d be entitled to a 20-percent raise of his $18.395 million cap number, which equates to $22.074 million.

Regardless, the message (for now) from the Steelers is that they don’t need to extend the deal (even if their cap situation otherwise says they do).  Which would keep Roethlisberger’s pay for the coming year at only (only?) $12.1 million.

It’s also possible that the Steelers would ask him to do one more so-called “simple” restructuring, which would result in the conversion of a portion of his $12.1 million salary to an offseason signing bonus.  Because only one year remains on the current deal, half the amount would count against this year’s salary cap, and the other half would hit the cap next year.

Of course, Roethlisberger could choose to decline to take a lump sum in the offseason, arguing instead that it’s time for an extension.  If that would happen, things could quickly get interesting.

Jay Gruden finishes Washington interview, James Franklin reportedly up next

AP

If there’s going to be a tug-of-war for Jay Gruden’s services, the Redskins got an idea of how hard they’ll be tugging on Wednesday.

The team confirmed via their website that Gruden interviewed for their head coaching vacancy on Wednesday while offering no other details about the interview. It’s the middle leg of an expected three-day tour of NFL openings for Gruden, who interviewed for the Titans on Tuesday and is set to speak with the Vikings on Thursday.

There are reports out of Washington that Gruden is the top choice for the job, but, according to multiple reports, the Redskins are expected to continue the interview process on Thursday by speaking to Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. Franklin’s name has come up in conjunction with other openings in the league as well as with the Penn State job vacated by new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien.

The Redskins have cast a wide net in their search for Mike Shanahan’s successor with Franklin the outlier among a list of NFL coordinators. It seems that search still has a little longer to go before the Redskins find their man.

Big divisional-round favorites haven’t had it easy in recent years

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If the Saints or Chargers win this weekend, they could keep a rather fascinating streak alive.

In each of the last six postseasons, an underdog of more than a touchdown has won outright in the divisional-playoff round, according to Marc Lawrence point spread data.

In fact, favorites of more than a touchdown are just 6-7 overall in this span.

To repeat, seven of these big favorites didn’t even get out of Round Two.

The streak began in 2007, when the Giants (+7.5) upset Dallas and the Chargers (+10.5) won at Indianapolis. The next year, the Cardinals (+10) stunned the Panthers. Then, in back-to-back postseasons, the Jets went on the road and won as nine-point underdogs, first stunning the Chargers in San Diego, then knocking off the Patriots in Foxborough.

In the previous two postseasons, the eventual Super Bowl winner has entered the divisional round as a sizable underdog and emerged one step closer to the Lombardi Trophy. In 2011, the Giants (+9) rolled at Green Bay. Finally, the Ravens (+9) upset the top-seeded Broncos in Denver last January.

Digging a little deeper, we find that at least one underdog has won outright in each of the last eight postseasons. In fact, we have to go back to 2004 to find a season where all four favorites survived the divisional round.

According to multiple line-tracking websites, the Chargers (+9.5) are the biggest underdogs of Round Two, per Nevada oddsmakers. The Chargers, the No. 6 seed in the AFC, visit No. 1 seed Denver on Sunday afternoon.

The Saints, who play at eight-point favorite Seattle on Saturday afternoon, are the second-biggest underdogs of Round Two, with the Colts (+7) the third-biggest underdogs. It’s quite possible Indianapolis could close as a consensus underdog of more than a touchdown, too.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are currently one-point home underdogs to San Francisco on Sunday. Since 2003, home teams are 24-16 straight-up in the divisional round, with home teams winning at least three games in the divisional round in each of the last two seasons.

The last two divisional-round teams to lose, of course, were the 2012 Broncos and 2011 Packers, who ultimately had something of an excuse.

After all, they were defeated by Super Bowl champions.

Manziel will spend next few months training with QB guru

AP

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who stated the obvious today when he announced that he is entering the 2014 NFL draft, plans to spend the next few months training with a quarterback guru who has tutored the last two passers taken with the first overall pick in the draft.

Bruce Feldman of CBS reports that Manziel plans to move to San Diego for the next few months to train with private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield, who will help Manziel prepare for the NFL Scouting Combine and private workouts with NFL teams.

Whitfield has a good track record: He worked with Andrew Luck before the 2012 draft and with Cam Newton before the 2011 draft. Luck was already so polished as a pocket passer in college that Whitfield’s influence probably didn’t do much to change perceptions of him among NFL teams, but Whitfield was credited with helping Newton show he could make all the throws that NFL teams want to see their quarterbacks make. Manziel, like Newton, is a mobile quarterback who hasn’t played in a pro-style offense (although the definition of “pro-style offense” is rapidly changing), and Whitfield may be able to help Manziel demonstrate that he can be a pocket passer if that’s what the team that drafts him wants him to be.

Manziel told Feldman, “I’m ready to become a professional and dedicate myself to making my dream a reality of becoming the best quarterback I can be.” Part of that dedication will be a few months of work with Whitfield.

Report: Dolphins interview Bill Lazor for offensive coordinator

AP

The Dolphins let General Manager Jeff Ireland go on Tuesday, but that doesn’t appear to be holding their search for a new offensive coordinator back.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor is in Miami on Wednesday to interview for the coordinator job. If so, it’s the first interview that the Dolphins have conducted since firing Mike Sherman on Monday.

Lazor’s first season with the Eagles ended with last Saturday’s 26-24 loss to the Saints. He spent the previous three years as the offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia and has previous NFL experience as an assistant in Seattle, Washington and Atlanta.

Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo has also been mentioned as a potential candidate to run the offensive show in Miami, although he’s reportedly interviewing for the Browns head coaching job. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, believed to be one of the top candidates for the Cleveland job, has reportedly taken his name out of consideration for that job.

The Dolphins haven’t said anything about a Lazor interview, but announced Wednesday that they will start interviewing candidates for general manager on Friday.

34 of America’s 35 most-watched fall TV shows were NFL games

AP

The NFL sent out a press release on Wednesday to brag about its TV ratings, and although the NFL doesn’t need any of our help in promoting the fact that its TV ratings are amazing, the numbers are worth pointing out anyway.

According to the NFL, the average game got 17.6 million viewers, and 205 million Americans watched at least one NFL game. That represents 70 percent of the potential TV viewers in America, which completely dwarfs the kind of viewership that any other type of programming gets. (Even though to me it’s actually a little surprising that 30 percent of people with a TV never watched a single game last season.)

Perhaps most impressive of all is that 34 of the 35 most-watched fall TV shows in America were NFL games. The only non-NFL show that made the Top 35 was NBC’s coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which checked in at No. 22.

America’s most-watched TV show of the fall television season was the Thanksgiving game between the Raiders and Cowboys, which drew 31.7 million viewers. That was followed by the Week One Packers-49ers game, which got 28.5 million viewers, the Packers-Lions Thanksgiving game with 28.3 million viewers, the Broncos-Cowboys shootout with 28.3 million viewers, the December 1 Broncos-Chiefs battle with 28.1 million viewers, the November 24 Cowboys-Giants game with 27.9 million viewers, the December 15 Packers-Cowboys game with 27.8 million viewers, the December 8 Seahawks-49ers game with 27.6 million viewers, the season-ending Eagles-Cowboys game with 27.4 million viewers and the September Eagles-Broncos game with 27.0 million viewers.

And that’s just for the regular season. Already we’ve seen playoff games with even higher viewership totals. And playoff viewing numbers only go up as the postseason goes on, culminating with the Super Bowl, which is America’s most-watched show every year, and this year may turn out to be the most-watched show in American television history.

Mike Munchak interviewed with the Lions on Wednesday

AP

Earlier this week, there were reports that former Titans head coach Mike Munchak would interview for the Lions’ head coaching job on Friday.

Those reports turned out to have half the story correct. The Lions were planning to interview Munchak, but it happened sooner than expected. The team confirmed that the interview with Munchak occurred on Wednesday.

It’s the third interview the Lions have conducted as they look for Jim Schwartz’s replacement. Like Jim Caldwell and Gary Kubiak, Munchak has previous head coaching experience and an offensive pedigree.

Tim Twentyman of the team’s website reports that Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who shares those traits with the other candidates, is also expected to interview with the team before the week is out. Numerous reports have pegged Whisenhunt as the favorite to get the job, although he can’t be hired until the Chargers’ season comes to an end.

Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart participate in practice

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The Panthers expected to have wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart at practice on Wednesday and those expectations were realized.

Steve Reed of the Associated Press reports that Smith and Stewart both practiced as the Panthers had everyone on the field ahead of Sunday’s game against the 49ers. Both players appear to be on track to play in that contest.

Coach Ron Rivera said after practice that Smith “wasn’t that limited” during the workout. Smith said earlier this week he would play, although he allowed for some doubt about his knee’s ability to hold up through the entire game. Stewart said after practice that his knee is feeling good and that he expects to be in the lineup for Carolina’s first playoff game since the Panthers lost to the Cardinals after the 2008 season.

Defensive end Greg Hardy, who was sick on Monday, joined Stewart and Smith on the field. Defensive tackle Colin Cole, tight end Ben Hartsock and safety Quintin Mikell also returned to work after missing Monday’s practice.

Marcus Arroyo will be the Buccaneers’ quarterbacks coach

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The Buccaneers have found the man they want guiding quarterback Mike Glennon into his second NFL season.

Shortly after Lovie Smith got the head coaching job in Tampa, reports indicated that Southern Miss offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo would be the team’s quarterbacks coach. Arroyo confirmed that he’s heading to Tampa to work under offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who was also his boss for two years at the University of California.

“It came about rather quickly after getting a call from Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford last week, inquiring about my interest in coaching in the NFL. [Smith and I] talked about football and quarterback philosophy and his plan … basics, I guess,” Arroyo said, via the Hattiesburg American.

Arroyo spent one year at Southern Miss and the job with the Buccaneers will be his first in the NFL.