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Monday’s roundup: NFL threatens four with suspension

Dave Campbell
Associated Press

The NFL is still seeking an audience with the four linebackers it’s investigating for an alleged link to performance-enhancing drugs.

The league’s latest message to James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal and Julius Peppers came with an ominous and onerous threat: Answer our questions in the next 10 days, or start your suspension.

NFL senior vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch sent a letter Monday to the NFL Players Association detailing a plan to suspend Harrison, Matthews, Peppers and Neal if they don’t speak with the league by Aug. 25.

Their punishment would then start the following day on an indefinite basis, to be ended at the discretion of commissioner Roger Goodell once an interview has been completed.

Birch’s memo to the union was obtained by The AP, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation who’s not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Harrison, a 14-year veteran, is a longtime leader for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Matthews and Peppers are key cogs in Green Bay’s defense, and Neal is currently a free agent who spent the past six seasons with the Packers. Harrison, Matthews and Peppers have been picked for the Pro Bowl a combined 20 times.

The NFL first notified the quartet on Jan. 11 about the investigation into a television report by Al-Jazeera featuring allegations made by Charlie Sly, who worked as an intern at an anti-aging clinic, about the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by several athletes including the four linebackers. Sly later recanted his claims.

Birch, in his letter, said the league has made “at least seven attempts” to arrange the interviews.

Goodell’s power to punish has been a prickly issue between the NFL and the union in recent years, so the elevation of this dispute was not surprising since it revolves around the potential of player discipline and how it fits within the collective bargaining agreement.

The stance of the players has been steadfast in this case, refusing to be interviewed without being presented with what they’ve called credible evidence. Affidavits were sent by the NFLPA on behalf of the players to substitute for the interviews. Birch dismissed each as simply half-page statements, which were “wholly devoid of any detail.”

Birch also said the league determined that an assertion made in Neal’s affidavit was “demonstrably false.”

Harrison said in his statement, sent to Birch July 25 by the NFLPA, he never met nor communicated with the source of the report and has never violated the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The NFL announced last month that it had closed its probe on retired quarterback Peyton Manning, who also was cited in Al-Jazeera’s doping report in December.

Personnel dept.

Former Seahawks safety Kenny Easley has been selected as the senior finalist for the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

The Cowboys signed center Travis Frederick, a two-time Pro Bowl player, to a six-year, $56 million extension that runs through 2023. The average of $9.33 million per season makes him the NFL’s highest-paid center.

Frederick was drafted 31st overall in 2013.

... The Colts claimed guard Donovan Williams off waivers from the Bears and placed punter Michael Palardy on waivers.

Injury report

A person familiar with the situation says Saints defensive tackle and first-round draft choice Sheldon Rankins has been diagnosed with a broken fibula, an injury that occurred during training camp practice Monday.

The person said Rankins is seeking a second opinion but appears to need surgery. Typically, fractured fibulas are not season-ending but sideline players for more than a month.

... The Bills will release defensive end IK Enemkpali after he sustained a season-ending injury to his right knee and are expected to sign free-agent linebacker Kroy Biermann.

... Quarterback Thad Lewis, who served as the 49ers’ No. 2 passer Sunday, tore his ACL on a third-quarter run and is out for the season.

... Broncos defensive end Vance Walker is expected to miss the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee Monday.

... The Chargers placed wide receiver Stevie Johnson and nose tackle Sean Lissemore on injured reserve.

... Oft-injured Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz missed practice because of a groin injury.