NEW YORK (AP) - A federal judge made clear Wednesday that the NFL's four-game suspension of Tom Brady over "Deflategate" is in jeopardy as the star New England quarterback returned to practice.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, who's been asked by the NFL Players Association to void the suspension, warned a league lawyer during oral arguments in the scandal over underinflated footballs that there was precedent for judges to toss out penalties issued by arbitrators.
Berman continued to push for a settlement in the dispute - a potential result he called "rational and logical." But throughout the hearing, he also cited several weaknesses in the way the NFL handled the controversy that could become the basis for handing a victory to Brady and his union.
After the hearing, Berman met behind closed doors with both sides for more than an hour before the lawyers left court, saying the judge asked them not to discuss the negotiations publicly. If there is no deal, the Manhattan judge has said he hopes to rule by Sept. 4, six days before the Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL's season-opening game.
Neither Brady nor NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in court Wednesday. Brady returned to his team after participating in negotiations along with Goodell and lawyers on both sides a day earlier.
Berman ordered Brady and Goodell to return to court if they can't settle, scheduling a tentative Aug. 31 hearing.
The league announced in May that it was suspending Brady over allegations he conspired with two Patriots equipment employees to deflate footballs below what league rules allow, to give him a competitive edge in New England's victory over the Indianapolis Colts in January's AFC championship game. Goodell, who by contract with the players' union can act as an arbitrator for labor disputes, upheld the suspension, touching off the legal battle.
During more than two hours of arguments by attorneys, the judge noted other arbitration decisions have been rejected when a key witness was not allowed to testify as he asked why NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash - who worked on the NFL investigation - could not be questioned by union lawyers during the suspension's appeal.
Arbitration proceedings, while more relaxed than court proceedings, are still required to follow due process rules to ensure fairness, Berman said.
"You have to allow someone to make their case by calling witnesses," he said.
Berman also suggested that the league's finding that Brady was generally aware that game balls were being deflated was too vague, noting that any reference to the Jan. 18 game against the Colts was "conspicuously absent" in a report on an NFL investigation that the league used as a basis for the suspension.
Finally, Berman said he could not understand how the commissioner opted to keep a four-game suspension over a fine or a lesser penalty seen in other cases of equipment tampering. In one exchange, he questioned Goodell's defense of the Brady punishment on the grounds that it was comparable to penalties on players caught using performance enhancing drugs.
"How is that equal to steroid use?" he asked of the deflation allegations.
"They both go to the integrity of the game," responded NFL lawyer Daniel Nash.
"Well, everything goes to the integrity of the game," the judge shot back.
It was the second week in a row the judge seemed to lean harder on the NFL in open court, though he again cautioned that he had not yet made up his mind which side would win.
Associated Press writer Jake Pearson contributed to this report.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin suffered a torn ACL in his left knee Wednesday, an injury that the team announced will sideline him for the season.
"Obviously, we feel awful for Kelvin," general manager Dave Gettleman said in a press release. "He's worked tremendously hard to put himself in a positon to have a strong year. We're confident he will attack his surgery and rehab with the same determination he has met all challenges before."
It's a major blow to the Panthers in their quest to win a third straight NFC South championship. Benjamin had developed into Carolina's No. 1 receiver after setting franchise rookie records in 2014 with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters earlier in the day Benjamin had a sprained knee and remained hopeful everything would be fine. However, Benjamin was taken back to Charlotte, North Carolina where an MRI revealed the tear.
The injury occurred during a joint practice with the Miami Dolphins.
Benjamin was running a one-on-one route against Dolphins safety Reshad Jones when he made a cut toward the sideline and his knee buckled. He crashed to the ground and screamed in pain as he grabbed for the knee.
"He went to plant and make a swim move and without any contact just kind of went down," Rivera said. "It was unfortunate and it's one of those things that could have happened in any drill."
As Benjamin lay on the ground, players from both teams gathered around him and took a knee.
Trainers attended to Benjamin and quickly called for the cart to take him into the locker room. Quarterback and close friend Cam Newton helped Benjamin into the cart. Newton appeared disturbed by the events as trainers carted his top target off the field.
While wide receiver is considered one of Carolina's deeper positions, it will be difficult to replace Benjamin.
To make matters worse, rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess also tweaked a hamstring and is expected to miss practice Thursday against the Dolphins. Earlier in training camp wide receiver Stephen Hill suffered a torn ACL at training camp and was later waived-injured.
It's expected that Corey Brown and veteran Jerricho Cotchery would be the starters entering the team's preseason game against Miami on Saturday night. The Panthers will count on wide receivers like Ted Ginn Jr., Brenton Bersin and Jarrett Boykin to step up and battle for more playing time.
Ginn said he spoke with Benjamin after practice told him, "keep his head up."
"You've got to realize he's our No. 1 guy," Ginn said. "Not having your No. 1 guy on the practice field, it hurts you a little bit. I believe we have the guys behind him to step up and do whatever we need to do to fill the void right now."
BOSTON (AP) New Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski thought enough of the team to pick Boston over other suitors.
Now he's going to spend the next six weeks trying to figure out what's worth keeping - in the front office, on the field at Fenway Park and in the minor leagues.
"I'm not here to blow up the organization," Dombrowski said at a Fenway Park news conference Wednesday, a day after he was hired. "They have a lot of good people here."
Speaking to reporters a day after a mid-game shake-up that left general manager Ben Cherington on the outs, Dombrowski said he would be hiring a general manager but was in no rush. He did not discuss the future of manager John Farrell, who is on leave from the team after being diagnosed with what he said was a treatable form of cancer.
Dombrowski said he spoke to Farrell on Tuesday night - after he underwent his first chemotherapy session - but just told him they would meet after the manager was healthy again. In Farrell's absence, bench coach Torey Lovullo is managing the team, which entered Wednesday night with a 53-66 record, 14 games behind the rival New York Yankees in the AL East.
Red Sox owner John Henry began the news conference with a statement that acknowledged the team's failures in finishing last two of the last three seasons. (In 2013, the club won the World Series for the third time in a decade, but the first in Cherington's tenure.)
"As owners, we're all responsible for the poor results we've had, and for results going forward," Henry said. "Dave Dombrowski is an architect of team-building the right way. For almost three decades now, he's earned the respect of almost everyone in the game."
The general manager of the Montreal Expos at the age of 32, Dombrowski won the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins and led the Tigers to the Series twice. But he was let go on Aug. 8 with Detroit languishing below .500.
Henry said he decided to pursue Dombrowski when he "became a free agent" less than a week after the Red Sox announced that president and CEO Lucchino would be stepping down at the end of the season.
Chief Operating Officer Sam Kennedy was named Lucchino's successor on the business side; he attended Wednesday's news conference along with chairman Tom Werner, prompting Henry to explain: "This is really our lineup for 2016 and beyond."
Although Dombrowski would be installed above Cherington in the baseball decision-making, "Ben did not object" to discussing the job with him, Henry said.
Up until Dombrowski was hired, the top Red Sox brass - including the new president - hoped that Cherington would stay, they said. Cherington declined, and on Tuesday night it was announced that he would be leaving after sticking around to help with the transition.
"We think the world of Ben," Werner said. "We are disappointed but respectful of his decision."
Cherington said later that he was surprised when Henry and Werner told him on Saturday that they were pursuing Dombrowski. Although he had pledged to do what he could to make the Red Sox better, the GM thought it was time to go.
"I felt strongly that what was best for Dave, what was best for me, what was best for the Red Sox was the same thing, and that was a clean break," he said. "I have great respect for Dave Dombrowski. His resume speaks for itself. He will be an asset clearly for the Red Sox and I wish him and I wish the Red Sox nothing but the best going forward."
Cleveland manager Terry Francona, who was with Boston from 2004-11, said "this place is never boring" before the Indians faced the Red Sox.
AP freelancer Ken Powtak contributed to this report.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Eli Manning didn't ask the New York Giants to make him the NFL's highest-paid quarterback.
A perplexed and slightly miffed Manning on Wednesday shot down a report that he wants to be the league's top-paid quarterback, insisting that was not the goal in contract talks.
"Never been said, never come out of my mouth," Manning said Wednesday.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP is in the final year of a contract that will pay him a $17 million base salary. His agent, Tom Condon, has been negotiating a new deal, but the two sides are not close to an agreement, Giants co-owner John Mara said Monday.
Manning insisted neither he nor Condon told the Giants to make him the highest-paid quarterback. He said he speaks with Condon occasionally, but he isn't looking for constant updates on the talks.
"If something comes up, I ask him to call me and keep me updated or send me a text, but that's it," Manning said.
Aaron Rodgers of the Packers currently is the NFL's highest-paid quarterback, earning $22 million annually.
The 34-year-old Manning has spent all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Giants, so he knows how people in the New York-area react to headlines.
For those who know him, it's totally out of character to make such a demand.
Manning even received a telephone message from his father asking what was happening.
"I don't know how all negotiating goes and what is being asked," Manning said. "I don't think I want to know. That was never said by him, claiming that this is the goal of what we are trying to do."
Manning said he does not compare himself to other quarterbacks by salary, and right now he is not thinking or concerned about his contract.
"My focus is on practice and getting the best out of our practices and getting better," Manning said. "That's all I am focused on. Nothing has changed. Nothing is different. Reports are all wrong. I don't know where they are getting their information from. I just kind of laugh at it."
Manning had a bounce-back season in 2014 playing in Ben McAdoo's West Coast offense. He threw for 4,410 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while hitting 63.1 percent of his passes. The previous season he had 3,818 yards, 18 touchdowns and a career-high 27 interceptions.
The Giants' offense struggled in the preseason opener last weekend, failing to get a first down in four series.
Manning expects improvement this weekend against Jacksonville at MetLife Stadium.
"Obviously, put some points on the board and get some drives going, sustain some drives," he said about goals for Saturday. "Hopefully be able to get out there, set the tempo, play fast with the offense, get some first downs and get into a good rhythm with the offense."
Manning said the offense practiced well against the Bengals earlier in the week, then didn't make anything happen in the game.
"I don't think there's a case of us doing things incorrectly, we've just got to do them a little bit better," he said. "I think we're on the right process of getting better, and I think it'll show up this weekend."
NOTES: WR Odell Beckham Jr. and LG Justin Pugh had dental work and did not practice. WR Victor Cruz was out with a strained calf. Cruz had just recovered from knee surgery. ... DE George Selvie is only expected to miss a couple of days with a knee injury. Coughlin said there was no ligament damage. ...WR Dwayne Harris, the former Cowboys' special teams maven, had an outstanding day catching passes. ...Coughlin got in the face of CB Chandler Fenner after he tackled Harris following a reception. ...CB Trevin Wade ended the practice, intercepting a Ryan Nassib pass. ....CB Prince Amukamara (groin) returned to practice for the first time in a week.
BOSTON (AP) Fighting back tears, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday that he had a "highly curable" form of cancer and has taken a medical leave for the rest of the season to deal with lymphoma.
The 53-year-old Farrell said bench coach Torey Lovullo will run the team in his absence. Farrell said he planned on being back with the team for spring training.
Farrell said the cancer of the lymphatic system was discovered when he had hernia surgery in Detroit earlier this week.
"I know we usually start out with the injury report. I'll start out with myself on this one. Monday's surgery for the hernia revealed that I have lymphoma," he said before Friday night's game at Fenway Park against Seattle.
"Thankfully, it was detected in the hernia surgery. I can honestly tell you I'm extremely fortunate that it was found. Treatment will begin in the coming days," he said.
Farrell said a mass was completely removed during the procedure and no additional surgery was necessary. He said chemotherapy would start early next week.
Red Sox stars David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia stood along a wall to Farrell's left when he made the announcement. Vice President Sam Kennedy, general manager Ben Cherington and Lovullo also were in the room.
"A little bit of a shocker to be told later that afternoon that this was going on. Like I said, I'm fortunate," Farrell said. "Stage 1. It's localized. It's highly curable. I'm extremely fortunate to not only be with people with the Red Sox, but access to MGH (Massachusetts General Hospital) and world class talent that can handle this."
The Red Sox are in last place in the AL East with a 50-64 record. In February, Farrell's contract was extended through 2017 with a club option for 2018.
"When they mentioned the word `cancer,' it's something that it doesn't matter where it comes from, it kind of impacts you," Ortiz said.
Farrell guided Boston to the World Series championship in his first season in 2013. He previously managed the Toronto Blue Jays for two years.
"Sending you best wishes for a speedy recovery. Stay Strong and look forward to seeing you at the ballpark soon," the Blue Jays tweeted.
On Tuesday, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said he is being treated for Hodgkin lymphoma, and his doctors consider it "very treatable and curable." His plans were to remain coach and team president while being treated.
Cherington said Farrell told him the news Thursday when the GM was traveling between flights en route to Greenville, South Carolina, to visit one of the team's Single-A affiliates.
"He called me on a quick layover," Cherington said. "I was sort of in shock. A few minutes to sink in and I figured I had to get back to Boston last night. I've been talking to him yesterday and this morning."
"There's a lot of respect for him, not just in the Red Sox organization, but throughout baseball," he said. "There's a lot of people already reaching out. He's someone that spent his whole life in baseball. He's played, he's coached, worked in the front office and, obviously, he's managed now."
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner spoke about Farrell during the pregame TV telecast.
"We all love John," he said. "We said the most important thing is get back soon."
Farrell, a former major league pitcher, was the pitching coach for the 2007 Red Sox when they won the World Series. Ace Jon Lester returned from lymphoma that July and started the clinching game of the Series in Colorado.
"Obviously, we go pretty far back. I talked to him a little bit, already," said Lester, now pitching for the Chicago Cubs. "He seems pretty positive. Everything seems pretty positive, so that's good."
"He's in a good place for it. That's obviously one of the better places, if not the best place, in the country to be if you have cancer. He's in good hands. I know those doctors pretty well," he said.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona is one of Farrell's closest friends. Farrell was the pitching coach in Boston under Francona.
"He's such a tough guy and he has so many people that care about him that I just honestly feel like he will come through this with flying colors," he said before the Indians played at Minnesota.
"I'm glad we're going to go through there in a couple days because I'd like to see him. But he sounded really good," Francona said.
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi wished Farrell well.
"It's not what you want to see. Say some prayers for him and his family, hope everything goes well," he said before a game in Toronto. "Just get healthy, that's most important. He's a good man, a good baseball man, you want to see him get healthy."
Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia echoed that sentiment.
"It's awful. We heard the prognosis is very good, that's encouraging," he said before a game in Kansas City. "But it's scary whenever you hear of something like that happening. He's a young man."
Farrell said he never had any symptom before the notification of the cancer discovery.
Ortiz said he heard about Farrell's condition from teammate Hanley Ramirez, who was crying when he delivered the news.
"We have a big family around here and definitely when it comes down to health issues, you want to be sure that everything goes OK. The organization is taking a lot of responsibility on that to make sure that John gets through it the way it's supposed to be," Ortiz said.
Farrell was touched by his players' support.
"In a way, you live vicariously through their careers," he said. "Yours is over, you try to help when you can with them, and when they show that support, it's meaningful."
TORONTO (AP) The New York Yankees will honor Alex Rodriguez's 3,000th hit with a pregame ceremony before hosting the Blue Jays on Sept. 13.
Rodriguez homered off Detroit's Justin Verlander on June 19, becoming the 29th player to reach the 3,000-hit plateau.
Rodriguez said he was "in disbelief" upon learning of the planned celebration.
Manager Joe Girardi said he was pleased to see the Yankees pay tribute to A-Rod's achievement.
"All relationships are going to have rocky moments and you like to see things get righted and repaired," Girardi said before Friday night's game in Toronto. "I think both sides have made a lot of gestures to do that."
Rodriguez missed all of last season while serving a drug suspension. Last month, Rodriguez and the Yankees settled a dispute over a marketing payment with a deal that gave $3.5 million to charitable groups.
Rodriguez is batting .264 with 24 homers and 63 RBIs in a resurgent season. He began the day in an 0-for-11 skid.
Blake Griffin was suspended four games without pay on Tuesday for punching a team staff member, and the Los Angeles Clippers will dock the star forward's pay for an additional game because he broke his shooting hand. The spokesman said the fine was issued by the Clippers, with the NBA assisting in the investigation of the incident as well as in the disciplinary process. The Clippers end a four-game road trip Wednesday night in Boston before the All-Star break this weekend.
The league's MVP has been widely criticized for walking out of a three-minute press conference after a 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday in which he answered questions with mostly one- and two-word responses while sulking in his chair wearing a black Carolina Panthers hoodie over his head. ''Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser,'' Newton said Tuesday as players cleaned out their lockers at the team's downtown stadium. Newton said he believes the situation is being overblown by the media, and added he doesn't plan to change how he reacts to losing just to appease his critics.
The Browns are defending their handling of Johnny Manziel's late-season concussion. The team issued a statement on Tuesday saying Manziel was diagnosed with a concussion on Dec. 30 by an independent neurologist, countering an NFL Network report that they lied about the injury to cover up the troubled quarterback showing up intoxicated for practice. ''Johnny Manziel came to our facility on the morning of December 30th and complained of concussion symptoms,'' the statement read.
Landen Lucas rarely gets much credit for the work he does for Kansas, mainly because the blue-collar forward earns his minutes with rebounding and defense rather than offense. With a deft flip of his wrist, Ellis lobbed up a pass that Lucas dutifully flushed. ''I see him out there working hard,'' Ellis said.