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Posted at 07:01 AM ET, 07/23/2014

What you need to know about the NFC South

Can Cam Newton and the Panthers win the division? (Mike McCarn / AP)

The arrival of Lovie Smith in the NFC South is intriguing, but it probably isn’t going to do anything to upset the balance of power in the division this season.

The New Orleans Saints, a wild card team in the postseason, gave the Seattle Seahawks a fight in the playoffs in January before falling short in Seattle. They addressed some of their needs in the offseason, but the biggest perhaps is avoiding having to go on the road. The Atlanta Falcons are better — they’d almost have to be — but the division’s biggest question mark surrounds the Carolina Panthers, who won the NFC South last season. Ted Ginn and Steve Smith are gone and the Panthers will go as far as Cam Newton takes them.


Top story line — There’s no Tony Gonzalez and even with him last season the Falcons couldn’t avert disaster, falling to a last-place tie in the division with Tampa Bay.

Key acquisition — Jake Matthews, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft out of Texas A&M, is expected to start at right tackle.

Biggest loss — Technically, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is still on the team, but he was lost for the season when he tore his Achilles’ in June.


Top story line — Can a team that went to the playoffs replace all the talent that it couldn’t re-sign?

Key acquisition — Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who caught 56 passes for 602 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh last year, steps in to replace Steve Smith.

Biggest loss — Steve Smith wasn’t just a loss, he’s promised to wreak “Taken”-like vengeance on the Panthers when his new team, the Baltimore Ravens, faces Carolina. Get yer popcorn.

New Orleans Top story line — After winning 11 games but falling short against the Seahawks, the Saints were prepared to improve their offensive line (giving Drew Brees more time is always a good idea) and their defense. Now if they can figure out how to win on the road …

Key acquisition — Safety Jairus Byrd signed on to replace Malcolm Jenkins. Now all the Saints have to do is continue to manage his recovery from back surgery so that he’ll be on the field for the season opener.

Biggest loss — Darren Sproles heads to a team he has intimidated in the past, the Eagles.

Tampa Bay Top story line — Hello, Lovie. Stress was the name of the game under former coach Greg Schiano, who was replaced by Lovie Smith. Already, the stability is evident.

Key acquisition — Defensive end (this IS Lovie Smith) Michael Johnson left Cincinnati for Tampa Bay and a five-year, $43.5 million deal.

Biggest loss — Darrelle Revis. If he’s healthy, Revis Island is a lockdown defender … for New England.

By  |  07:01 AM ET, 07/23/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 01:31 AM ET, 07/23/2014

Michael Sam offers the perfect response to Tony Dungy

Michael Sam practices during the first day of Rams’ training camp, a position he presumably wouldn’t be in if Tony Dungy were running St. Louis. (Huy Mach/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via Associated Press)

Former NFL coach (or should that say “formerly widely respected NFL coach”?) Tony Dungy is backtracking furiously from comments that he “wouldn’t have taken” Michael Sam in the NFL draft. It remains to be seen how the court of public opinion rules on Dungy’s attempt at spin control, but no take is likely to improve on that of the player in question.

Sam’s thoughts on the matter come to us via the Twitter account of Nick Wagoner, who covers the Rams for ESPN:

Perfect! A little touch of humor, and a lot of taking the high road. Just another example of how Sam continues to comport himself in a winning way.

It seems more than likely that Sam said “Thank God” in the colloquial sense people use all the time, one that could just as easily be replaced by “Thank goodness.” However, it only adds to score-this-one-for-Sam factor that, intentionally or not, he brought up the issue of Dungy’s religiosity.

The former coach, now an analyst for NBC Sports, is well-known for having a strong Christian viewpoint. In  2007, Dungy accepted a “Friend of the Family” award from the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative group opposed to same-sex marriage. Dungy told the audience at that ceremony, “We’re not trying to downgrade anyone else. But we’re trying to promote the family — family values the Lord’s way.”

Sam’s comment is a reminder that the Tony Dungys of the world don’t have a monopoly on interpreting God’s wishes.

By Des Bieler  |  01:31 AM ET, 07/23/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Michael Sam, Tony Dungy

Posted at 12:39 AM ET, 07/23/2014

Group of ex-players challenge NFL concussion settlement in court

Alan Faneca, who was voted first-team All-Pro six times in a 13-year NFL career, is part of a group appealing a federal judge’s preliminary approval of the NFL head-injury settlement. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

The NFL’s attempt to come to a settlement with thousands of former players who have neurological issues has been proceeding in fits and starts. Two weeks ago, a federal judge, Anita B. Brody, granted preliminary approval to an agreement that would lift a $675 million cap on damages. Now a group of seven ex-players is appealing that decision, claiming that the deal is inadequate.

A lawyer for the group wrote in the appeal, “Conflicts within the class leave many class members without adequate representation. This class, as certified, is doomed.”

From a Reuters report:

The filing is unusual, partly because retired players who have joined the lawsuit were scheduled to vote on the settlement in November. The seven players — Roderick Cartwright, Sean Considine, Alan Faneca, Ben Hamilton, Sean Morey, Jeff Rohrer, and Robert Royal — say that appealing the settlement after final approval would be a costly waste of time.

One of the players’ main concerns is the disparity with which the settlement treats players who developed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy at different times. From a report in the Los Angeles Times:

As an example, the petition notes that a retired player diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, after death could receive up to $4 million from the settlement if they died before the date of preliminary approval. Players diagnosed with death from CTE after that date aren’t eligible for such an award, per the settlement.

The appeal is the latest manifestation of a sentiment that the NFL has taken advantage of ex-players’ desperation for treatment and negotiated a deal that was far too favorable for the league. Brody is scheduled to preside over a fairness hearing on Nov. 19. The roughly 20,000 players covered by the settlement have until Oct. 14 to opt out of it and pursue individual claims.

By Des Bieler  |  12:39 AM ET, 07/23/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  NFL concussions

Posted at 11:10 PM ET, 07/22/2014

Clippers CEO testifies that if Donald Sterling stays, Doc Rivers may go

When the Sterling scandal first broke, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was instrumental in keeping the entire operations of the franchise from going to pieces. (Associated Press)

Donald Sterling has already made it clear that he won’t give up the Clippers without a fight (and some ugly behavior). Not content to be currently squaring off with his wife in one Los Angeles courtroom, Sterling filed suit against her and the NBA today, charging that Shelly Sterling’s pending sale of the team to billionaire Steve Ballmer amounts to fraud.

Meanwhile, in the Sterling-vs.-Sterling court case currently going on, interim Clippers CEO Richard Parsons testified that if Donald Sterling remains as owner, Coach Doc Rivers would likely quit the team. When the Sterling scandal first plunged the Clippers into chaos, even as they were competing in the playoffs, Rivers was widely hailed for essentially leading the entire company, not just the players, through the crisis.

An ESPN story quotes Parsons’ testimony as follows:

“If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster,” Parsons said. “Doc is the father figure of the team. Chris [Paul] is the on-court captain of the team. But Doc is really the guy who leads the effort. He’s the coach, the grown-up, he’s a man of character and ability — not just in a basketball sense, but in the ability to connect with people and gain their trust.

Now, “death spiral” sounds a little strong, considering that Steve Ballmer, for one, thinks the Clippers are a prize worth spending $2 billion to acquire. But the reality is that the battle to get the team out of Sterling’s clutches appears to have no end in sight, and that is troubling for not just Rivers, but for players, fans, the league and its corporate sponsors.

If you’re counting at home, we are at three Clippers-related court proceedings so far. The first was a lawsuit filed by Sterling in May against the NBA, alleging antitrust violations. Then came a probate hearing to determine whether Shelly Sterling was within her rights to take control of the family trust in which the team was held. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on the latest lawsuit:

The action claims that Donald Sterling’s dismantling of the Sterling Family Trust on June 9 precluded his wife, Shelly Sterling, from taking any action to sell the team. Her moves to have him declared mentally incapacitated and to sell to Ballmer before that relied on fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and inflicted emotional distress on the longtime Clippers owner, his lawsuit contends.

There is a lot contending of going on right now, and much of that has been highly contentious. Little wonder that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has already begun preparing for the possibility that he won’t be rid of Sterling before the next season begins. And if that’s the case, the Clippers need to be worried about losing the de facto leader of the franchise, Doc Rivers.

By Des Bieler  |  11:10 PM ET, 07/22/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Doc Rivers, Donald Sterling

Posted at 09:11 PM ET, 07/22/2014

Marshawn Lynch put velvet ropes around his parked Lamborghini

Marshawn Lynch poses in his 2013 Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, sans velvet ropes. (Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images for Monster Products)

Oakland native Marshawn Lynch has been working on a movie about — and starring — himself, a biopic that will tell the story of his rise to NFL stardom. He may or may not have been working on that film when he parked his car on on Oakland street. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is that the car he parked was a Lamborghini, and he, or somebody, decided it would be a good idea to out velvet ropes on either side of it.

Bear in mind, this is a Lamborghini Aventador, a car that, according to edmunds.com, is worth close to $450,000. So it makes plenty of sense that Lynch doesn’t want some knucklehead backing into it. Although the way the ropes are set up makes it appear that Lynch’s main concern is to discourage people who might be crossing the street from passing in front of or behind the car. Or does he expect a line to form of folks who just want to hop into the Lamborghini for a little while, and at some point a bouncer will show up to decide who gets in?

Does he always cordon off his car like this? And does he keep the ropes and stanchions in the Lamborghini? I’m going to guess there’s not a ton of trunk space in that thing.

We can only hope that Lynch’s movie will answer all these pressing questions.

By Des Bieler  |  09:11 PM ET, 07/22/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)


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