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The NFL Today: Cowboys seeking to secure Romo long-term

The Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo have had ongoing talks aimed at getting a long-term contract done, according to a league source, though a deal is not expected to be signed imminently. The sides had preliminary discussions in the preseason and have maintained a dialogue since then, but at this point owner Jerry Jones does not anticipate negotiations heating up and told the Dallas Morning News that Romo is now focused on the season and not any deal.

“He's just concentrating on right now, this year, what he's doing on the field,” Jones said.

Romo has one year and $11.5 million remaining on his deal beyond this season. Despite the criticism that the 32-year-old has endured for failing to get the team deep into the playoffs and for making errors at times at critical times, Cowboys brass has long been behind him and is looking to secure a contract that would keep him with the team until retirement.

Romo is slow-playing things, knowing that if he has another season like he did during a strong 2011 (4,184 yards, 31 TD, 10 INT), his price stands to go up significantly, especially with young quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan perhaps driving the market higher with their anticipated new deals. At the same time, Jones usually gets his man, and should he happen to float the right number Romo's way, perhaps something still gets done in-season.

Romo, in his 10th season with the Cowboys, has never had a quarterback rating below 91 since becoming the team's starter in 2006. Romo has four touchdowns and three interceptions in three games this season, entering Monday's matchup with the Bears.

New discipline for Bountygate players could come as soon as Tuesday

Following his meeting with Browns linebacker Scott Fujita on Friday in New York, Commissioner Roger Goodell could make a re-determination of the suspensions of players in the “Bountygate” case early this week, according to league sources.

Some within the league office believe Goodell would be inclined to lessen the discipline he originally meted out for Fujita (three games), Jonathan Vilma (a full season), Anthony Hargrove (eight games) and Will Smith (two games), which was vacated by an independent appeals panel earlier this month. Sources close to the players say they do not expect the league, on its own accord, to reduce those penalties significantly.

A source close to Vilma indicated that even cutting his suspension in half would not likely be enough to satisfy the linebacker, who is currently on the physically unable to perform list, and that he would be undeterred from pursuing his defamation of character lawsuit against Goodell in that instance. Other players involved in the case are mulling their own legal options as well, sources said.

The NFLPA is awaiting Goodell's next ruling, and could re-appeal his latest decision before the same three-person panel that originally vacated these suspensions prior to the start of the regular season. The union could also go back to U.S. district court judge Helen G. Berrigan and ask her to move forward with a motion to issue an injunction against these suspensions.

So while Goodell's decision will be another critical milestone in this long saga, that ruling is unlikely to resolve it completely, with further appeals and legal actions still possible.

Replay official from Monday night game explains call to co-workers, says he's received death threats

The controversial ending of the Seattle/Green Bay game last Monday spurred the eventual deal between the NFL and its locked- out officials, and has become a national story that transcends sports. It has also cast all of those involved in the outcome of the game in a unique spotlight.

Howard Slavin, the replay official working the game Monday night and a Los Angeles trial lawyer by day, told fellow attorneys in his firm that he received death threats, but also a large measure of support, in the aftermath of the events of that evening. The NFL, in a statement released last week, defended Slavin, the replay official, though it did concede that the replacement officials on-field should have called offensive pass interference on Golden Tate on the final play that was ultimately ruled a game-winning touchdown for the Seahawks.

Slavin was moved enough by the experience and inquires that he received in the days following the game, that he emailed a lengthy letter to fellow attorneys at his firm on Thursday afternoon. A copy of the letter was obtained, in which Slavin thanks the NFL for supporting his decision, and defends his decision to make the call he made in upholding the touchdown ruling on the field.

Slavin wrote: "As to the final play ruled to be a simultaneous catch, under NFL rules that meant the offensive team (Seattle) was awarded possession of the ball in the end zone. That created a touchdown, which meant that a Seattle player had established possession of the ball and completed a catch.

Under NFL rules, I am the only one that MUST review all scoring plays. My task, then, was to determine whether indisputable visual evidence existed to either confirm or reverse the call on the field. If no indisputable evidence exists to help us decide one way or the other, then the call on the field stands.

In this play, I could NOT rule that offensive pass interference occurred even though that was the case. My ultimate conclusion, reached in the one minute allotted to review a play, cause me to conclude that no indisputable visual evidence existed to change the call on the field. Accordingly, I advised the Referee (who agreed with me), to announce that the call on the field 'stands.'"

Slavin's email states that he had received death threats and “uncomplimentary” phone and email messages, but also lots of support, writing: “It appears some people take it quite personally when their favorite team loses and they feel it was because of an official's error. Fortunately, this, too, shall pass.”

Slavin will be the replay official at Sunday's Vikings/Lions game in Detroit.

Deposed ex-assistant Williams can attend Rams/Seahawks game

The NFL has told Gregg Williams, who was working as a St. Louis Rams assistant when he was suspended indefinitely for his role in the Saints Bountygate scandal, that he can attend Sunday's Rams game as a fan.

The league told Williams -- who is no longer employed by the team but whose son, Blake, is an assistant coach -- that he can attend Sunday's Rams/Seahawks game under the stipulation he is not on the field at any time and has no contact with fans or the media.

Williams will watch the game from a suite at the Edward Jones Dome, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Permission has not been granted for Williams to attend any games beyond this week.

Williams has been watching Rams games generally from a downtown hotel near the stadium.

Reduced commissioner powers could be tradeoff for 18-game season

NFL officials have begun talking publicly about the possibility of an 18-game schedule, and with the game officials labor battle behind them, expect to hear more on schedule expansion as the season progresses. The owners remain vigilant in their desire to eliminate two preseason games and replace them with two regular season games. While an 18-game slate is not part of the current 10-year collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association, the regular season could be expended within the framework of the deal, if the union approves.

To this point the players have been staunchly opposed to the idea, and fought it vigilantly during CBA talks, but sources on both sides of the issue suggest there is a potential trade-off that might get the NFLPA to move on the issue. The NFLPA was unable to limit the powers of the commissioner on matters of off-field discipline during this CBA, and, in the wake of the “Bountygate” scandal that issue has become increasingly important within the rank and file of the NFLPA, sources said. The players are unhappy with how much power Roger Goodell wields.

As we know, this CBA did not resolve all of the lingering issues between the two sides, with the schedule issue and the lack of a plan for HGH testing among the hot-button topics.

Several people involved with the CBA talks, and sources at a high level within both the league and union continue to mention the possibility of a series of trade-offs on these issues that would result in an 18-game season that would drastically improve revenues and raise the salary cap for players.

This would be a lengthy and highly complicated process, and it would take significant incentives beyond the financial ramifications for the NFLPA to entertain this option. But the 18-game issue is far from dead, and with both sides still unsatisfied with the outcome of this CBA, there remains ample potential to spur future negotiations that would change and shape that document.

The Panthers are not worried about Cam Newton's body language in the wake of Carolina's disappointing start, team officials said. (US Presswire)

Newton urged “to be himself” by Panthers officials

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has come under fire locally and nationally for his body language, including shots of him slumping on the bench with a towel on his head, but, according to team sources Newton has been given a strong vote of confidence from Panthers officials.

Newton was reprimanded by veteran receiver Steve Smith on the sideline during the lopsided Thursday night loss to the Giants in Week 3, a dispiriting defeat that angered and frustrated many in the organization from owner Jerry Richardson on down. Newton has been the target of the most intense scrutiny this season, but since the most recent loss club officials have urged Newton not to let the criticism bother him.

“We'd draft him with that pick a hundred times over,” said one source. “He isn't any different that he was in high school, or college or last season," the source said of his behavior in the wake of a loss. "He wants nothing more than to win, and that's where his leadership comes from.”

If anything, the source pointed out, the team wants to convey to Newton the importance of staying true to himself and continuing to do the things that got him here. “We just want him to be who he is,” the source said.

Newton's body language leads some to label him aloof, or perhaps not part of the team. But some close to him have pointed out that Newton -- who has long worked with Trevor Moawad, a renowned mental conditioning coach from the IMG Academy -- is a very attentive listener and takes to instruction well but sometimes does his best listening while looking down at the ground rather than by making eye contact. Newton has also organized various team activities and parties, including a bingo night, and much of the criticism labeled against him is seen as unfair by those around him.

"He's always been a target, and I have my reasons for that,” said one club official, who stressed that the message to Newton from within has been to continue to do all the things that led to his historic 2011 rookie season.

 
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