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Ten ways to improve the Hall of Fame selection process

Every year, on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, 44 men and women gather in the host city and determine the members of the next class of Hall of Famers.

Typically, the panel considers 15 modern-era candidates, which systemically is whittled down to five finalists for an up-or-down vote.  The voters also consider two previously-determined finalists determined by the Seniors Committee, which comes up with two players who, for whatever reason, were passed over during past sessions.

In the end, as few as four and as many as seven secure admission to Canton.

Every year, complaints inevitably arise regarding the persons who make it and those who don’t.  At times, those complaints are aimed at the process.  Usually, the debate fizzles by the next day, when the Super Bowl starts.

This year, largely through the efforts of Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com, the criticism has lingered.  The fact that Whitlock’s opinions have sparked a pointed response from two of the voters has served only to give the discussion ongoing life.

Though some of the voters who perhaps feel a threat to their fiefdom may not like it, any effort to consider whether the process can be improved represents a valuable expenditure of time and effort.  In this vein, we now offer 10 specific ideas for improving the procedure for determining who gets in, and who’s left out of, the Hall of Fame.

1.  Expand the panel.

The panel currently consists only of media members, some of whom are unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.  One voter is assigned for each team, even if the voter has no specific jurisdiction over that team.  For example, Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange holds the vote that corresponds to the Falcons, even though he hasn’t focused his efforts on that team for years.  Ditto for David Elfin, the Redskins’ representative who no longer works for a Washington-focused publication.  Others, like Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, had limited experience covering the NFL but was the only guy at the only paper in the town in which the team is headquartered.

That’s not a knock on Joe, whom we know and like.  But, surely, he’ll acknowledge that he had limited experience covering the NFL when he got the assignment.  Before inheriting the Bengals beat from Mark Curnutte in 2009, Reedy previously covered the Jets for two years (1997 and 1998) at the Post-Star in Glen Falls, New York and the Jaguars for one year (1999) at the Gainesville Sun.  Many would contend that three relatively distant years at non-first-tier publications shouldn’t be enough to secure 2.27 percent of the say as to who makes it to Canton.

The panel also includes one representative of the Professional Football Writers Association and 11 at-large media members.  That’s 44 total voters.

The panel, put simply, is too small.  (And, trust me, I’m not saying that because I’m angling for a seat at the table.  I don’t want one, I don’t expect to ever be offered one — especially after writing this article — and I wouldn’t have the time to do the assignment justice unless and until I become unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.)  Because the human beings who comprise the panel are subject to the same human factors that influence us consciously or otherwise, one way to neutralize those realities is to involve more voters.

As explained below, that doesn’t mean more media members.  To enjoy the full faith and confidence of football fans, the process needs more voices, more perspectives, and less power in the hands of any one voter.

Many of the persons who hold these votes take great pride in the assignment.  As a result, they naturally will be inclined to resist any changes that will make the achievement less significant, such as adding significantly more people to the process.

Regardless, significantly more people need to be added to the process.

2.  Overhaul the Board of Trustees.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is governed by a Board of Trustees.  Some of the names are instantly recognizable, like Commissioner Roger Goodell, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  (One name is recognizable but curiously out of place. ESPN’s Todd Blackledge, whose bailiwick is college football, has a seat on the Board of Trustees.)

There is also a cluster of persons with no connection to the NFL, but who hold positions of prominence in and around Canton, Ohio, the geographic location of the Hall of Fame.

With all due respect to those Canton-area businesspeople, it makes no sense for the policies and procedures of the Hall of Fame to be set by folks whose biggest contribution to the process is the ability to show up for meetings without incurring travel expenses.  Though it makes sense for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to seek the support and involvement of the Canton business community, the Board of Trustees should be composed of folks who have a direct role in the game and who have the best interests of the game at all times in mind.

To the extent that there are some Canton-area businesspeople who have a direct role in the game, such as Packers great and successful Akron businessman Dave Robinson, they should have a seat at the table.  We also realize that some members of the Board of Trustees are instrumental in organizing the events that surround each year’s enshrinement ceremony.  But most of the persons who are setting policy for the Hall of Fame should have names that ardent fans and followers of the sport instantly recognize.

Currently, it’s roughly a 50-50 split.  That needs to change.

3.  Change the bylaws.

The Board of Trustees ultimately determine the contents of the Hall of Fame’s bylaws.  All too often, members of the panel who are faced with criticism of the selection process instantly explain that their hands are tied by the bylaws.

So change the bylaws.

Every year, the NFL changes multiple rules in the hopes of making the game better.  In the past half-decade, the only meaningful change to the bylaws occurred when the modern-era finalists were increased from 13 to 15.

The bylaws shouldn’t be used as a shield for avoiding change, but as a sword for implementing it.  All too often, the bylaws become an excuse for the status quo, not the impetus for improvement.  For that reason alone, the powers-that-be need to be willing and able on an annual basis (or more often) to look for ways to improve the rules that govern the selection process.

4.  Include Hall of Famers.

Every year, the winner of the Heisman Trophy acquires the ability to vote on all future winners of the award.  The logic is simple, and undeniable.  Winning the Heisman represents membership in an exclusive club, and the men who have won it should have a say in who gets it.

The argument applies even more strongly to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame coach John Madden believes that the busts talk to each other at night.  If they do, the first comment when a new crop joins them shouldn’t be, “Who in the hell let that guy in?”

They say it takes one to know one, and a Hall of Famer is in the best position to know another Hall of Famer.  Though giving Hall of Famers votes would introduce the possibility of biases and prejudices, those factors surely apply from time to time (or, as the case may be, every year) to the 44 men and women who currently have the keys to Canton, especially when players who earn a reputation for being hard on the media seem to have a hard time getting into the Hall of Fame.

The only requirement?  To vote, the Hall of Famer must attend the meeting.  No proxies or absentee ballots.  If they show up, they get a say in the process.

5.  Include coaches and other established football minds.

In responding to Jason Whitlock’s column calling for change, Bob Gretz argued that “Rick Gosselin has forgotten more football in a week than Whitlock has known in his life.”  That same observation likely applies to many of the folks currently on the selection committee.

And that observation probably would apply to all of them if, say, guys like Joe Gibbs or Ron Wolf or Bill Parcells or Chuck Noll were in the room.

So why not give people who have devoted their careers to coaching football and/or running football teams a direct say in who should and shouldn’t land in the Hall of Fame?  For those not already in the Hall of Fame, they’d have to forfeit their own eligibility for the Hall until two years after leaving the committee.

Frankly, those folks are far better suited to picking the new members of the Hall of Fame than pretty much everyone on the selection committee as its currently constituted.

6.  Categorize the candidates.

Every year, the finalists are thrown into a vat regardless of the position they played, with the new members of the Hall emerging from a stew that can’t distinguish between pancake blocks and pick-sixes.  It would make more sense to allow one new member per year from each of the various positions on the field:  quarterback, running back, receiver/tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, defensive back, and coach/G.M./contributor.

The finalists would be determined by position, with the list of candidates trimmed to three-to-five before the selection meeting, and with no requirement that a person be admitted from each position group.

This would expand the potential maximum size of the class from seven to eight, but the high-water mark of seven per year has been in place since 1964, the year after the charter class was inducted.  At the time, the NFL and AFL had only 22 teams.

Today, the NFL has 32 franchises, as a result of the addition of two in 1966, one in 1967, one in 1968, two in 1976, two in 1995, one in 1999, and one in 2002.  Moving the maximum annual class from seven to eight in light of the growth of the league isn’t simply justified, it’s overdue.

7.  Scuttle the Senior Committee.

The Senior Committee serves the purpose of allowing the selection committee to revisit two players from past seasons who fell through the cracks.  In other words, it gives the selection committee to right past wrongs.  By improving the selection process, there would be no reason to clean up past messes by devoting two of seven annual spots to guys who failed to get in when competing directly with their peers.

In his response to Jason Whitlock’s criticisms, Bob Gretz unwittingly proved our point.

Gretz explained that, ever year, a pair of Hall of Famers join the Seniors Committee to assist in the process of whittling down the previously overlooked players to two finalists, who seem to almost always get in.  For the 2011 class, Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham and Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders worked with the Seniors Committee.

Ham, per Gretz, made a strong case for linebacker Chris Hanburger.

“Ham told the group that when he went to the Steelers in the 1971 NFL Draft out of Penn State, the Pittsburgh coaches gave him film of Hanburger to study,” Gretz writes.  “There was no doubt in Ham’s mind that Hanburger was a legitimate candidate.  Whose word are your going to take on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or Jason Whitlock?”

Gretz essentially is admitting that the selection committee screwed up by not putting Hanburger in the Hall years earlier.  With the involvement on the selection committee of guys like Hall of Famer Jack Ham convinced that Hanburger should get in, that wouldn’t have happened.

In other words, if Ham and the other Hall of Famers had a seat at the table, perhaps Hanburger wouldn’t have been erroneously passed over.

After all, whose word should the Hall of Fame been taking on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or any member of the media?

8.  Embrace transparency.

Though many voters seek refuge in the bylaws and regard them as if they’d been etched onto stone tablets by the hand of God, many also will acknowledge the validity of Whitlock’s complaint that the process unfolds in secrecy.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC, who has nothing but the best interests of the process in mind (and I say that not because he’s a friend and a colleague but because I’ve spent enough time around him to know that’s who he is and how he operates), would welcome transparency.

I’d be fine with our votes being made public, which the Hall currently doesn’t want us to do,” King wrote in his February 7 Monday Morning Quarterback column.  “The feeling from Hall officials is if our votes are published, then some voters might vote differently; if a voter from Buffalo, for instance, didn’t vote for Andre Reed (and this is only an example, not the truth), he might face a backlash when he goes back to cover his team. Or in some small way it might affect his vote if he or she knew everyone would know exactly how the vote went. I believe it’s incumbent on us to not hide behind the privacy of the room. The Hall is a huge deal, obviously, with burgeoning interest every year. If we’re going to sit on the committee and sit in judgment of these men for enshrinement, I think you ought to know how we vote.”

If one of the most respected members of the NFL media believes that the process should be more transparent, then it’s fair to say that the process should be more transparent.  With an expanded panel of voters, anyone who covers the team on which a player played most or all of his career could abstain from voting, thereby addressing the biggest concern that King raised.

9.  Involve the NFL.

As mentioned above, the Commissioner and various owners occupy seats on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees.  But the NFL should be even more involved than that.

Though it’s called the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s essentially the NFL Hall of Fame, and the NFL should be in position to propose changes to bylaws and initiate procedural enhancements aimed at improving the process of determining each class of enshrinees.

One change the NFL would likely make relates to the consideration of off-field conduct.  Currently forbidden by the bylaws, the reality is that plenty of voters consider the things a candidate did when not playing football, especially in close cases.  The bylaws, then, should change to reflect the reality of the process.

If the NFL is the perpetual custodian of the highest levels of the sport, the NFL should have much greater involvement in and dominion over the museum that celebrates those who made the biggest impact on the game.

10.  Commit to continuous improvement and change.

Most of the criticisms of the current selection process arise from a perception that the system is stale and stagnant, in large part because change doesn’t happen often and doesn’t seem welcome.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell repeatedly explains that the league constantly must look for ways to enhance and improve the game.  That same attitude must infect, and overtake, the Hall of Fame.

So many things about the selection process need to be changed because so little change has happened in the 48 years since the Hall of Fame opened.  Egos and agendas and pride and any other factor that stands in the way of change needs to be set aside, and folks need to look for ways to make the process better, and ultimately more fair.

We’re not advocating change for the sake of change.  But in this case there has been little or no change.  Changes need to be made, and then the Hall of Fame needs to be willing to consider future change without external calls for it.

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Tavon Wilson seeks to throw out suits against him

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Detroit Lions safety Tavon Wilson denies he punched a former girlfriend during an altercation last year, according to TMZ.

Per TMZ, Alanda Jackson, the mother of Wilson’s 3-year-old, has filed suit against Wilson, alleging that he broke her nose during the melee. Jackson got into a verbal altercation with Wilson’s current girlfriend at a nightclub in Washington, D.C., on May 14, 2016. Jackson accuses Wilson of grabbing her, throwing her to the ground and punching her in the face. Jackson said a female friend was stabbed by someone in Wilson’s entourage, and both women were hospitalized.

Jackson was arrested, TMZ reports, with Wilson’s current girlfriend, Simone Leach, claiming she was the victim. Jackson seeks more than $2.5 million, and Wilson also faces a suit from the other alleged victim. Wilson has asked a judge to dismiss both suits.

The Lions released a statement: “We are aware of the report regarding Tavon Wilson. We have spoken to Tavon, and we have also notified the league office of this matter. Due to the personal nature of this situation, we will have no additional comment at this time.”

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Archie Manning: Adam Gase reached out to Peyton after Ryan Tannehill was injured

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At a time when many are wondering whether recently-retired quarterbacks Tony Romo and Jay Cutler would return to the NFL if a starter gets injured during the upcoming season, it turns out that last year’s high-profile retiree had an opportunity to return, sort of.

Via Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Archie Manning said Friday that he saw last December a text-message exchange between his son, Peyton, and Dolphins coach Adam Gase.

“He said, ‘Hey 18, [Ryan] Tannehill went down,'” Archie said. “[Gase] said, ‘I think he’s going to miss some time. The first question I’m going to get at the press conference in the morning is if I’m going to try to bring you to Miami. What do you want me to tell them?'”

It’s a creative way for Gase, Peyton’s offensive coordinator in Denver, to ask Peyton whether he was interested without officially asking him whether he was interested. Regardless, Peyton wasn’t interested.

Said Archie: “The text message came back from Peyton, ‘You tell them I could probably come play, but there’s no way I can miss carpool the next two weeks.’ So, he was done.”

Peyton was done, and he still is done. But it’s fascinating to think what could have happened late last season, if Peyton Manning had swooped in to help a Dolphins team that lost to Pittsburgh in the wild-card round — and that with an upset there would have been destined for a trip to New England to face the Patriots.

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Lakers G.M. compares Lonzo Ball to NFL’s best quarterbacks

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Typically, new players who arrive in a given sport are compared to other great players from that same sport. For reasons neither obvious nor apparent, the General Manager of the L.A. Lakers has compared the team’s latest first-round draft pick to the two best quarterbacks in the NFL.

“In press conferences, I don’t like a lot of hyperbole and a whole bunch of words,” Rob Pelinka said regarding Lonzo Ball, via Rob Baxter of ESPN.com. “I like to tell stories. I think when this really into focus for us was, we knew the talent was transcendent. The way he passes the ball, you look at quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, that just have a gift. There’s clearly a gift, with what he’s been blessed with.”

Apart from the comparison being odd, Pelinka’s comments amount to a potential curse for a player who already will be counted on to return to relevance one of the proudest franchises in the NBA, and who enters pro sports with one of the most high-profile and universally disliked fathers in all of sport.

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Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott not resting on their laurels

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Dak Prescott won 13 games and offensive rookie of the year honors. Ezekiel Elliott won the rushing title and earned six MVP votes as a rookie. Both were ranked among the top-14 players in the NFL Network’s poll of players.

But don’t think for a second that Prescott and Elliott have spent the offseason resting on their laurels. Instead, according to teammate Cole Beasley, Prescott and Elliott have worked harder than ever since the Cowboys fell short of their goals last season.

“Dak’s the type of guy, he could be the best in the world at his position, he’ll still come in here and not be satisfied or complacent,” Beasley said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. “He’ll come in here and grind like he’s a rookie. He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever seen.

“Zeke’s approach is just like it was last year. Both of those guys have a chip on their shoulders. They’re not satisfied until we get to where we want to be. All the guys in here are the same way. Until we get a Super Bowl, we haven’t done our jobs.”

The Cowboys haven’t been to a Super Bowl since the 1995 season when they won the franchise’s fifth. They have not produced back-to-back winning seasons since 2008-09. Both are goals this season after a 13-3 regular season in 2016 ended in disappointment in the playoffs with a loss in the divisional round to Green Bay.

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Derek Carr wanted to leave money for teammates

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Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie now wants to sign some of quarterback Derek Carr’s teammates, and Carr wants to be sure McKenzie can.

“The main thing that I could just remember was all along the way, I was like, ‘How do we keep my teammates?’” Carr said at Friday’s press conference regarding his new deal, via Raiders.com. “That’s, I don’t know if it’s weird how it sounds, but that was just what I kept telling him. I was like, ‘OK. that’s cool. Yeah, that’s awesome, wow, cool. Is this good for Gabe [Jackson]? Is this good for Khalil [Mack]? Is this good for Amari [Cooper]?’ [Reggie] can tell you himself, these are things that I said to him numerous amounts of times. I didn’t want to hurt our team; that’s the last thing I would ever want to do. So, hopefully we didn’t That’s the last thing that I intended to do and that’s kind of why I was so involved.”

Few would call a deal that sets a record for new-money average team friendly, but if Carr had wanted to maximize his earnings he could have followed the Kirk Cousins path to a year-to-year haul that would have resulted in ridiculously high cap numbers, and that ultimately would have forced the Raiders to pay more than $25 million annually.

And while Carr hasn’t quite copied the Tom Brady playbook and taken considerably less than market value, Brady’s failure to push the envelope has indeed affected Carr, just as it will affect others. If Brady had decided to pursue maximum dollars, he’d be making more than $30 million per year by now, and other quarterbacks would see their own pay lifted by that dynamic. It’s a point that former NFL quarterback Brady Quinn made on Friday’s PFT Live, noting that the union likely isn’t thrilled by Tom Brady’s conscious failure to elevate the quarterback market.

For Carr, the question now becomes whether his teammates will be as charitable when it’s their turn to get paid, consciously taking less to help the team keep more players or saying, “Screw this. I only have so many years to make big money, and I’m going to.”

With limited years in a playing career, no equity, and likely orthopedic and cognitive problems later in life, players have every right to seek every last dollar, forcing teams to navigate the cap and to make good decisions through the draft, which under the current compensation rules allows teams to load up the roster with young, talented, and cheap labor, year in and year out.

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Packers spend offseason working on defending the pass

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The Packers concentrated on the passing game — and defending the pass — during 11-on-11 work during the offseason. Mike McCarthy had reasons for reducing the number of run calls.

The Packers coach insists run calls in no-pads practices create unrealistic looks, leading to linemen and running backs developing bad habits. The emphasis on the passing game served a second purpose in giving the defensive backs more work as defensive coordinator Dom Capers spent the offseason preaching improved coverage.

“We’ve really focused on the pass,” McCarthy said, via Pete Dougherty of USA Today Network.

The Packers have three new players expected to upgrade their secondary. They brought back cornerback Davon House in free agency and drafted cornerback Kevin King and safety/linebacker Josh Jones with their first two picks.

The Packers ranked 22nd in total defense last season, including 31st against the pass, so it’s obvious why Green Bay made changes in both personnel and practice plans.

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Andy Reid could move into the NFL’s Top 5 in coaching wins

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Andy Reid isn’t usually named among the great coaches in NFL history, but perhaps he will be by the time he serves out his newly extended contract.

The Chiefs and Reid have just agreed on a new five-year contract, and if the 59-year-old Reid coaches five more years at the 11-wins-a-year pace he’s been on in Kansas City, he’d move into fifth place all-time in career wins.

Reid is currently tied with Jeff Fisher for 11th on the career wins list, with 173. He needs 13 wins to tie Chuck Knox and move into 10th place. If he won 55 more games, averaging 11 a year for five years, he’d have 228 career wins, which would put him fifth all-time behind Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Bill Belichick.

That would put Reid into Hall of Fame consideration, even without a Super Bowl win. Although fans often think of the best coaches as the ones who have Super Bowl rings, the Hall of Fame selection committee doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Several coaches have made it to the Hall of Fame without winning a Super Bowl, including George Allen, Bud Grant and Marv Levy. With five more good years, Reid would have as good a resume as those three Hall of Fame coaches.

Reid, of course, is much more focused on winning a Super Bowl. If he does that in his remaining time in Kansas City, that would likely punch his ticket to Canton.

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Prosecutors appeal decision to void Aaron Hernandez murder conviction

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When Aaron Hernandez killed himself in prison earlier this year, he was still appealing his conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd and that led a Massachusetts judge to void the conviction under the legal principle known as abatement ab initio.

That principle holds that a conviction can’t be finalized until the appeals process has been exhausted and resets the case to the beginning in the event of the defendant’s death. Prosecutors argued that doing so would reward Hernandez for killing himself and they are now appealing the judge’s decision to void the conviction.

Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn III called abatement ab initio “archaic” and noted that many other states have moved away from it to allow appeals to continue even after the defendant has died.

“A defendant who commits suicide should not be able to manipulate the outcome of his post-conviction proceedings to achieve in death what he would not be able to achieve in life,” Quinn said, via the Associated Press.

Hernandez killed himself shortly after being acquitted by a jury of two other murder charges.

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Michael Bidwill has concerns about having NFL team based in UK

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Cardinals President Michael Bidwill expresses doubt the NFL will have a team based in the UK in the near future. Bidwill, in London this week assessing facilities at Wembley and Twickenham ahead of the NFL’s games there this season, told Sky Sports News HQ that the league will “continue to study it, but I don’t think there’s any timeline out there.”

For the 10th consecutive season, the NFL will play games in London. The Cardinals will play the Rams at Twickenham on Oct. 22, while the Vikings face the Browns there on Oct. 29. Wembley will host the Ravens and Jaguars on Sept. 24 and the Dolphins and Saints on Oct. 1.

But scheduling teams to play one game in the UK obviously is much different than having a team based there.

“We’re getting a lot of support for the NFL over here, but I think one of the big things is going to be the travel; the different time zones and how it might impact the athletes playing here and traveling to play here,” Bidwill said, via Sophie Morris of Sky Sports News HQ. “One of the things we really care about is our players’ health. We want to see how this is going to impact the athlete and we want to make sure that there is no competitive imbalance.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft appears more optimistic, insisting the NFL will have a team in London. It is a prediction he has made for several years now.

“Now we play four games a year in London and sell tickets to 80,000 people and we’re going to have a team in London,” Kraft said, speaking at Cannes Lions as part of an interview with WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell via the New York Post. “We’re playing the Raiders in Mexico and have plans to play in Germany, Canada and Brazil and China. I don’t know why not France?”

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Derek Carr wants to splurge at Chick-fil-A

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Derek Carr should seek a marketing deal with Chick-fil-A. He gave the fast-food restaurant a shoutout Friday during a press conference officially to announce his new deal with the Raiders, getting it plenty of free publicity.

Carr’s five-year, $125 million deal makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history, prompting a question about where the quarterback will spend his newfound riches.

“Chick-fil-A,” Carr answered to laughter. “Probably Chick-fil-A. I’ve been eating clean. I’ll probably get some Chick-fil-A.”

Carr actually has big plans to use some of the money for the greater good. He said he will continue to tithe, something he has done since college, and hopes to help the less fortunate.

“The exciting thing for me money-wise, honestly, is this money’s going to help a lot of people,” Carr said. “I’m very thankful to have it, that it’s in our hands, because it’s going to help people not only in this country but in a lot of countries around the world. That’s what’s exciting for me.”

He does have one important shopping trip ahead.

“I’ll probably give my wife something nice, even though she begs me not to,” Carr said.

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Federal appeals court seems to accept evidence of CTE in living patients

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One of the most widely-accepted realities of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy has been undermined by one of the highest courts in the United States.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, one of various appellate courts that sit one step below the Supreme Court, has ruled in a case involving former NFL linebacker Jesse Solomon that the joint NFL-NFL Players Association Disability Plan abused its discretion in denying Solomon’s claim for disability benefits. In so doing, the court seemed to accept the notion that Solomon, who was involved in 69,000 high-speed collisions while playing football, has “CTE-related disability” and “CTE injuries.”

While hardly a medical finding that CTE can indeed be diagnosed without examining the brain tissue of a deceased patient, the court’s 13-page ruling seems to accept as a given the notion that CTE can be diagnosed based on a combination of MRIs and an assessment of symptoms.

It’s possible that those observations slipped in to the final written decision because the lawyers representing the Plan didn’t sufficiently focus on that point in written materials or while arguing the case in the courtroom. As to the former, it’s possible the lawyers regarded the inability to firmly diagnose CTE in living patients as a given. As to the latter, and based on a press release issued by Solomon’s lawyers, it’s possible the lawyers were too busy taking flak from judges to quibble with medical and scientific niceties.

“Why is the Plan fighting him so incredibly hard?” Judge Dennis Shedd said. “And when he makes the claim through your own doctor that he’s got a problem? . . .  Why in the world would you – I guess current players don’t want money to come out for past players, or something? . . . Why in the world would any player playing professional football . . . look at this and go, ‘This is one heck of a great deal for players.’ We play as hard as we can, give everything we got, get banged up — I saw something in the record [about] 69,000 tackles, that’s incredible.  We do all we can, and then we apply and when doctors say I have a problem based on those hits, and they say, ‘You’re not orthopedically disabled, go away.’ . . .

“[S]omebody ought to scratch their head and say, Does this really look good?  We don’t have much of a legal argument, but we’re willing to fight it to the death to deny somebody . . . Does that make sense to you? . . . Do you think that looks good to players, what’s going on in this courtroom today?  It’s not necessarily part of the determination, I’m just asking a real-world question.”

The real-world outcome is that Solomon will receive disability benefits, because the panel unanimously concluded that the Plan “relied on no evidence at all” in rejecting Solomon’s claim. It’s a stunning observation given the supposed sensitivity to brain injuries. Perhaps more importantly, the ease with which the judges seemed to agree that Solomon proved that he has CTE while still alive raises renewed questions about whether the massive concussion settlement should have allowed players to secure benefits if they can sufficiently prove that they suffer from CTE.

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Vikings hire new strength and conditioning coach

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The Vikings were left with an open slot on their coaching staff earlier this month when strength and conditioning coach Brent Salazar left the team in order to work for the United States Tennis Association.

They filled it on Friday. The team announced that Mark Uyeyama will be heading up the strength and conditioning department for the 2017 season.

Uyeyama spent the last nine years working for the 49ers under a succession of different head coaches before being dismissed upon Kyle Shanahan’s arrival in Santa Clara. He worked at Utah State before making the move to the 49ers in 2008.

Barring any other unexpected shifts from the gridiron to other pursuits, that should be the final change to Mike Zimmer’s staff before the 2017 season.

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Bronson Kaufusi ready to contribute after missing rookie season

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The Ravens drafted defensive end Bronson Kaufusi in the third round last season, but they have yet to see him on the field. Kaufusi broke his left ankle early in training camp and missed all of last season rehabbing.

“Injuries are always frustrating, but you also have to look for the silver lining in it,” Kaufusi said, via the team website. “So, for me, it was a chance to learn, grow and take everything in that I could so I could be ready for this upcoming year.”

Kaufusi, now fully healed, took some first-team reps during offseason practices in his bid to replace Lawrence Guy, who left in free agency. Veteran Brent Urban remains the favorite to win the starting job, but Kaufusi will compete with Urban and rookie Chris Wormley for playing time at the position.

“I want to make a difference,” Kaufusi said. “No matter where it is on the field, I want to get out there and make plays for our team, for our defense and just contribute.”

The Ravens drafted Kaufusi for his pass-rush ability. He had 11 sacks in his senior season at BYU and 26.5 for his four-year career.

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Maliek Collins wants to be next great DT in Rod Marinelli’s system

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With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in the same draft class, Maliek Collins got overshadowed and overlooked. But the defensive tackle quietly had a successful rookie season, which has defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli excited about Collins’ future.

Collins’ 656 snaps — 61.9 percent of the defensive plays — were the most of any Cowboys defensive lineman. In fact, among the team’s defenders, only linebacker Sean Lee and four defensive backs received more. Collins, a third-round pick in 2016, made 31 tackles, five sacks and 14 quarterback pressures last season.

Collins, though, expected more and wants more.

I never meet my own goals,” Collins said, via the team website. “My goal is to be the best player I can be so that I always keep improving. That’s how I set my goals. I don’t really do it statistically. Then you’re out there chasing stats. The goal is to improve every day. If I’m not improving every day, then I’m doing something wrong.”

Collins plays the three-technique, one of the most important positions in Marinelli’s scheme. Hall of Famer Warren Sapp manned that position for Marinelli in Tampa Bay. Collins has studied some the best three-techniques ever, including Sapp, in hopes of becoming the next great one.

“The standards are basically written,” Collins said. “Me being a three-technique, the standards are in the history books of what three-techniques have done in this system. I like to say that’s the standard. The people like John Randle, guys like Warren Sapp or [Keith] Millard, who started the system. [Anthony] McFarland, those types of players.”

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With Derek Carr signed, Reggie McKenzie moving on to other extensions

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At the start of a Friday press conference to discuss quarterback Derek Carr’s contract extension, General Manager Reggie McKenzie called it a “big day” for the organization.

McKenzie also said that he’s now going to turn his attention toward more big days and big extensions in the future. Carr said during his opening remarks that it was important for him to “structure [his deal] in a way to help the Raiders” hold onto other players and McKenzie said that the contract accomplished that. 

“The bottom line is we’re able to continue to move forward to be to keep all the players that we need to keep in the correct timing,” McKenzie said. “This affords us to do that. We’ll start on that ASAP.”

Defensive end Khalil Mack and right guard Gabe Jackson, both of whom joined Carr in the 2014 draft class, are expected to be the next two players up for extensions in Oakland. The team picked up Mack’s option for the 2018 season and Jackson is set for free agency if he can’t agree on a deal before the start of the next league year.

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