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Ten ways to improve the Hall of Fame selection process

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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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Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Robert Kraft buy a part of the UFC

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 02:  New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (L) and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Kraft Group and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sits ringside at "Mayweather VS Pacquiao" presented by SHOWTIME PPV And HBO PPV at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 2, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for SHOWTIME) Getty Images

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Patriots owner Robert Kraft are now minority owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The talent agency WME-IMG recently purchased the UFC for $4 billion, and today the UFC announced that as part of that purchase, a number of athletes, entertainers and businessmen have bought small stakes in the mixed martial arts promotion.

“Our new investors bring an incredible depth of knowledge and experience to help us continue to elevate this brand and capitalize on its entertainment and sports crossover appeal,” UFC President Dana White said in a statement.

In addition to Newton, Brady and Kraft, minority owners of the UFC include actors Sylvester Stallone, Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg, late-night hosts Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel and tennis players Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.

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Receivers get some time at safety during Giants practice

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11:  Dwayne Harris #17 of the New York Giants carries the ball during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Nat Berhe appeared on the Giants injury report with a concussion on Thursday, leaving the team with two healthy safeties for practice.

Berhe and Darian Thompson, who has a foot injury, may both be out for Monday’s game against the Vikings and the team was also working without cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, forcing them to do a little improvising. Wide receivers Dwayne Harris, Geremy Davis and Darius Powe all saw scout team time at safety and Harris said the coaches have told him that he might get time there in Monday’s game as well.

“They mentioned to me, ‘We might possibly need you on defense.’ But they haven’t really said anything to me like it’s set in stone right now,” Harris said. “So I don’t know what way they’re going, what they’re going to do about it. As far as right now, I’m just keeping an open mind with it. If they need me, they need me. If not, I’ll continue what I’ve been doing. … I’m pretty sure I could do it. I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard — tackle somebody and if the ball comes to you, intercept it. Sounds easy.”

Harris said he last played defense for four snaps in middle school, so it may be a bit more difficult than that. For now, Landon Collins and Andrew Adams are the safeties, although there might be one other offensive option.

Odell Beckham has more recent experience playing safety as he got some snaps at the position during last February’s Pro Bowl, although opinions will vary about whether or not that amounts to more than a middle school level of intensity. Coach Ben McAdoo said, via the New York Post, “never say never” when asked if Beckham could be out there again.

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Brock Osweiler: Criticism of play is “hilarious”

Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) passes against the New England Patriots during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) AP

Quarterback Brock Osweiler has started his Texans career with three touchdown passes and four interceptions in his first three games, which isn’t quite the ratio that people in Houston were hoping to see from their big-ticket free agent acquisition.

That’s led some to criticize Osweiler’s ability to read defenses and make the right choices in the face of defensive pressure, but Osweiler said he isn’t losing any sleep about those opinions.

“I think that’s hilarious, to be honest with you,” Osweiler said, via the Houston Chronicle. “The critique comes from a whole lot of people that don’t know my read on that play. They’ve probably never actually sat in an offensive meeting in their life, let alone a quarterback meeting in the National Football League. … I’m very comfortable with my reads. Certainly, I know I need to clean up my ball security issues of having four interceptions through three games, and that’s something I will clean up.”

Osweiler added that he feels he’s doing a “great job” of progressing in Bill O’Brien’s offense and it hardly seems like a controversial opinion to suggest that things will run more smoothly the longer he’s been in the system. A good start to that process would be cleaning up the mistakes from last week’s 27-0 loss to the Patriots at home against the Titans this week.

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Julio Jones insists he’s not hurt, or unhappy with one-catch game

FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs past Oakland Raiders cornerback Sean Smith (21) to score on a touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif. After the All-Pro shared the NFL lead with 136 catches in 2015, it’s notable when he had only one reception last week against the Saints. His quiet day came after he was limited all week by a calf injury. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File) AP

Julio Jones missed some practice time last week because of a calf injury, and then responded with an unusual one-catch night against the Saints.

But the Falcons wide receiver insisted those two facts weren’t related.

I’m not injured or anything like that,” Jones said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He was targeted seven times against the Saints, but only had one catch for 16 yards. But he said he was fine with that, because it meant other people were open as the Falcons rolled to a 45-32 win.

“That’s my job,” Jones said. “[Defensive] coordinators are going to try to take me away or they are going to put two guys on me or three guys depending on who we are playing. So, I’m doing my job. That’s all that I can do and we are winning.

“As long as we are winning football games and they are doing that, I’m happy with it and playing my role.”

That’s all well and good, but the Falcons are going to need Jones to be more than a decoy this week, as the level of competition increases dramatically with the Panthers and bringing an actual NFL defense with them.

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Friday morning one-liners

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Head coach Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field on September 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

LB Zach Brown finds himself in the starting role he hoped to have when he signed with the Bills.

Are the Dolphins playing for now or evaluating players for future teams?

CB Logan Ryan’s importance to the Patriots has grown over time.

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is “thankful” that the Jets picked him up.

The Ravens may need a new left side of the offensive line this week.

A lack of touchdowns was the only negative for the Bengals on Thursday night.

Browns K Cody Parkey is confident he’ll rebound from last week.

Some new faces will have a chance in the Steelers defense.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien is looking for improvement on special teams.

Living in London as a kid had an impact on Colts QB Andrew Luck.

Jaguars RB Chris Ivory has played well in past games in London.

What would Kendall Wright’s return mean for the Titans wide receivers?

Michael Schofield has been a jack of all trades for the Broncos offensive line.

The Chiefs were missing a pair of cornerbacks at Thursday’s practice.

Will the Raiders defense turn in another good performance this week?

Chargers T Chris Hairston is trying not to let anger get the best of him on the field.

It’s unclear if the Cowboys will have T Tyron Smith in the lineup this week.

Is Ereck Flowers the long-term answer at left tackle for the Giants?

With the Eagles 3-0 in Doug Pederson’s first year as coach, here’s a look at other coaches who have won their first three games.

Illness kept CB Josh Norman out of Thursday’s Redskins practice.

Young members of the Bears defense know more progress is needed.

The Lions are on the other side of the field from RB Joique Bell this week.

P Jacob Schum is settling into life with the Packers.

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph has become a favorite target of QB Sam Bradford.

The Falcons have some injury issues at running back.

Panthers LB Thomas Davis won’t miss the Georgia Dome.

The Saints don’t think T Terron Armstead will be sidelined for a long time.

The Buccaneers are preparing for the Broncos pass rush.

WR Michael Floyd hasn’t picked up where he left off for the Cardinals.

Rams DE Robert Quinn looks like he’s back on form.

Carlos Hyde will be one of two Ohio State running backs on stage when the 49ers play the Cowboys.

RB C.J. Spiller went through his first practice with the Seahawks.

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Vontaze Burfict: I think I did alright in return

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 29:  Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals calls a defensive play during the first quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium on September 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said before Thursday’s win over the Dolphins that linebacker Vontze Burfict “raises the level” of the team’s defense as part of a discussion of Burfict being thrown back into the lineup at the end of his three-game suspension.

Thursday night was a very good one for the Bengals defense, which turned around from a shaky outing against the Broncos to shut down the Dolphins outside of one play on the first drive of the game. Burfict can’t take sole credit for that turnaround, but the upgrade in play speaks well of his impact even if Burfict had a modest review of his efforts.

“Football shape is different, but I think I did alright,” Burfict said, via the team’s website. “I felt I could have done more, but the coaches had a plan for me and switched me in and out with Vinny [Rey] and Karlos [Dansby] and they did a good job of that. At the end of the game, I started to feel my wind catching up, but every game I’ll feel like I’ll get better and better and get my legs up under me.”

Burfict had three tackles and knocked away a pass intended for Jarvis Landry, but the most important stat is the zero flags thrown against him during the game. Burfict is a big plus for the Bengals defense when he’s on the field and he needs to continue to avoid the personal foul penalties that kept him from being there to open the season.

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Russell Wilson: “No doubt” he plays against Jets

FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, file photo,Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson walks off the field after being brought down against the San Francisco 49ers in the second half of an NFL football game Seattle. Despite spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee last Sunday against San Francisco, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is expected to start against the New York Jets. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) AP

Some may wonder whether back to back ankle and knee injuries might be enough to keep him off the field, but Russell Wilson does not.

“No doubt,” the Seahawks quarterback told reporters on Thursday. “No doubt.”

He’s been listed as a full participant in practice the last two days, and is wearing a brace on his left knee (in which he suffered some degree of MCL sprain last week). But Wilson said prior to yesterday’s practice he wasn’t limited in any way.

“I feel great,” he said. “I feel great, feel strong. Obviously practiced yesterday, practiced the full practice and everything like that. I’m excited about this week.”

Last week was the first time he’s missed so much as a snap because of injury, so it’s normal for him to want to push through. It will remain interesting to see how effective he can be, because when his mobility is compromised, it takes away a large chunk of the Seahawks offense (as in their touchdown-less loss to the Rams).

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Darrelle Revis “not going there” on Richard Sherman questions

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 19:  Cornerback Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets celebrates his 1st half interception against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on August 19, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Jets 22-18.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images) Getty Images

Several years ago, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman took aim at Darrelle Revis in an attempt to make the case that he was the best cornerback in the league.

Revis wasn’t a big fan of that approach, saying Sherman ran his mouth like a girl and the two continued to snipe back and forth through the Super Bowl between the Seahawks and Patriots. Sherman had a laugh at Revis’ expense in that game, but Revis got the last one and a Super Bowl ring.

Revis is back with the Jets now, which means that he and Sherman will be on the same field for a game for the first time since that Super Bowl. Revis isn’t interested in rehashing the past issues between the two players, passing on several questions about Sherman on Thursday while saying he was willing to talk about the Seahawks he’ll be facing off against on Sunday.

“No opinion,” Revis said, via ESPN.com. “We’re not going there. We’re not going there. Seahawks’ offense.”

Revis’ play has been well scrutinized already this season without any commentary from or comparison to Sherman and the reviews haven’t been good, which doesn’t make getting into a slap fight about who’s better seem like too good an idea. Perhaps the feeling will be different if Revis’ side comes away victorious in his second “must-win” game against a team with Sherman in the lineup.

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Panthers will be without running back Jonathan Stewart again this week

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, Carolina Panthers' Jonathan Stewart (28) warms up before an NFL preseason football game against the New England Patriots in Charlotte, N.C. The Vikings and Panthers will be counting on their backup running backs when they meet Sunday in Charlotte. Both teams lost their “featured backs” last week to injury, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus, while Stewart is dealing with a pulled hamstring.  (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File) AP

The Panthers are going to be without running back Jonathan Stewart for at least another week, as his hamstring injury keeps him off the field.

Via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said yesterday that it’s clear Stewart won’t play this week against the Falcons, which will mean another week of Cameron Artis-Payne starting and Fozzy Whittaker in relief.

They were able to survive that two weeks ago against the 49ers when Whittaker ran for 100 yards after Stewart was hurt (Artis-Payne was inactive that day). It was less effective last week against the Vikings.

When the Panthers offense is working correctly, they can use Stewart as someone to A) keep Cam Newton from having to run it so much himself and B) provide a rhythm to their offense which helps set up their deep passing game. Without Stewart, it’s harder for those slow-developing routes to come open, and Newton often takes more shots (as he did against the Vikings, who had eight sacks).

 

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Anthony Davis owes 49ers $1.235 million this year, $1.5 million next year

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

49ers offensive lineman Anthony Davis left the team over the weekend, without officially retiring. The designation won’t matter; he’ll owe the team the balance of the signing bonus money that he previously received in anticipation of future services.

Specifically, Davis owes $1.235 million for 2016. That figure represents 14/17ths of his allocation for the current year, since Davis was on the team for three weeks of the regular season.

The good news (is there is any) Davis earned $216,176 of his $1.225 million base salary for 2016, which originally was his base salary for 2015.

If he remains retired, he’ll owe the team another $1.5 million in 2017. That’s in addition to, per a source with knowledge of the situation, $1.667 million Davis repaid when he originally retired in 2015.

Unless Davis returns to the team and properly retires, he’ll be unable to play for the 49ers or anyone else in 2016. He has been placed on the exempt/left squad list, the team has sent Davis the so-called five-day letter, and upon the expiration of the five days he’ll be placed on the reserve/left squad list, which shuts the player down for the year.

That’s apparently fine with Davis, who as one source explained it simply isn’t inclined to endure the day-to-day demands of football season. It’s actually honorable that he walked away under circumstances that will force him to pay another $2.735 million on top of the $1.667 million he returned a year ago.

In 2015, Davis could have half-assed it and gotten cut, which would have allowed him for keep more than $4.4 million. In 2016, he could have milked the concussion that kept him out of two games, possibly resulting in placement on season-ending IR. Alternatively, Davis could have embraced his role as a backup, done the bare minimum, collected his full $1.225 million salary, and not paid back another dime.

Instead, he’s gone again. Once he lands on the reserve/left squad list, Davis won’t be permitted to play for the 49ers or anyone else this year. He could be traded to another team in 2017, but if he’s not inclined to play pro football in San Francisco it’s hard to imagine him ever mustering the will to play again.

It’s clear that Davis truly has no interest in continuing to play professional football. Unlike others who have walked away, Davis willingly will give back over $4 million for his freedom from the sport.

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Odell Beckham unconcerned by suggestions to tone it down

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) talks to officials before an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

Usually, when your head coach makes a direct suggestion, it’s wise to acknowledge it respectfully, at least.

But Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said he plans to make no changes to his demeanor after his latest outburst, even though Giants coach Ben McAdoo said he should work to keep his emotions in check.

“Nah, I’m not really … I’m in a great place right now,” Beckham said, via Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com. “Mentally, physically, spiritually, there is not really much that bothers me at all, to be honest. So I’m going to go out and play football the only way I’ve ever known how to play, try my best to be the best teammate you possibly can.

“At the end of the day, you play for the guys that wear the jersey. They’re the ones who take the field with you, who you share the blood, sweat and tears with. I’m just going to go out and be who I am.”

He was then asked if he was concerned he could be a distraction, as his boss said, Beckham blew that off.

“He said, she said,” Beckham replied. “I’m not really concerned about anything but the Minnesota Vikings.”

McAdoo seemed concerned about his team and its star player, after Beckham’s sideline freakout during last week’s loss to Washington, which included losing by TKO in a fight with the kicking net. And while veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie urged Beckham to “never lose that fire,” he also suggested there was a time and place for it.

“But on the sideline there are a bunch of guys and they’re already down and, if a guy looks at you the way we look at you as a leader, keep it in control until we get to the locker room,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Throw your helmet all across the locker room so nobody can see. That’s fine. In an atmosphere like [the sideline during a game], keep your cool.”

Beckham seems unconcerned with the advice, so here’s some more for him: Don’t pick fights with equipment that might fight back.

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Marvin Lewis still sees a lot of work to do after Bengals win

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 29:  Head Coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals watches as his team takes on the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on September 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bengals turned in a dominating performance in Thursday night’s 22-7 win over the Dolphins, but coach Marvin Lewis still saw a lot that needs improvement.

Lewis wasn’t pleased that the offense scored only one touchdown, with five field goals.

“We’re moving the football, but we need to finish more drives with touchdowns,” Lewis said. ‘Occasionally you’re going to get stopped, but we have to make sure we’re not doing things to stop ourselves and that we finish more drives.”

Also needing improvement is the Bengals’ running game, as Jeremy Hill averaged just 3.4 yards a carry, while Giovani Bernard averaged 1.8 yards a carry.

‘When you aren’t very good at something, you usually concern yourself with trying to get better at it,” Lewis said.

The 2-2 Bengals got a big win against a bad opponent on Thursday night, but they know they have work to do.

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Byron Maxwell on benching by Dolphins: “It doesn’t matter.”

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 11:  Wide receiver Tyler Lockett #16 of the Seattle Seahawks can't hold on to a pass under the defense of Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell #41 at CenturyLink Field on September 11, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cornerback Byron Maxwell being benched was one of several lineup changes the Miami Dolphins elected to make prior to Thursday night’s game with the Cincinnati Bengals.

In Maxwell’s place, the Dolphins started second-year cornerback Tony Lippett instead.

According to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Maxwell said he was told early in the week that he would not be starting against the Bengals. He ultimately didn’t end up playing a snap – on defense or special teams – joining Matt Moore and Dallas Thomas as the only Dolphins not to play.

So what was his reaction to the decision?

It doesn’t matter,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said it didn’t matter if he was angry about the decision or not either.

Lippett unsurprisingly struggled against one of the premier wide receivers in the league in A.J. Green.

Green caught 10 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins as Lippett was frequently the target of Cincinnati’s attack.

Miami acquired Maxwell via a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason and he started the first three games for the team before being sat against the Bengals.

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Ryan Tannehill on Dolphins offense: “One of the worst performances I’ve seen.”

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 29:  Will Clarke #93 of the Cincinnati Bengals tackles Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins and causes a fumble during the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on September 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins gained 81 yards and scored a touchdown on their first two offensive plays of the night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Their offense then went into hibernation the remainder of the night. They gained just 141 yards the rest of the night, averaging just 3.4 yards per play on their final 41 plays of the game. Ryan Tannehill passed for 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and had a lost fumble as well as the Dolphins lost 22-7 to the Bengals.

“One of the worst performances I’ve seen from our offense in a long time,” Tannehill said.

Through four games, the Dolphins are averaging just 17.8 points per game offensively and have a minus-5 turnover ratio. They rank 27th in points per game and 23rd in total offense.

“We have to get it fixed soon and by soon, I mean Monday,” Tannehill said. “It’s gone on too long. There’s no more excuses, no more waiting, it’s got to be important to everyone who steps on that field and we have to get it fixed right now.”

Tannehill is in his fifth season with the Dolphins. And yet, the same type of mistakes and errors show up way too frequently. As Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald notes, Trevor Siemian of the Denver Broncos passed for 312 yards and four touchdowns against the Bengals just four days ago in his third career start. And Tannehill, in his fifth season, is still remarkably inconsistent.

The play of Miami’s offensive line certainly didn’t help Thursday night in Cincinnati either. Regardless, the Dolphins have to be much better offensively and have to figure out some way to improve to remain competitive this year.

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C.J. Spiller doesn’t know what his role will be in Seattle, yet

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 20:  C.J. Spiller #28 of the New Orleans Saints is brought down by George Johnson #94 and Lavonte David #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 20, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

Running back C.J. Spiller could have taken the balance of his fully-guaranteed $1.7 million salary from the Saints and waited for an inevitable injury to strike at the tailback position for a contending team in, say, late December or early January.

Spilled opted not to delay his return to the NFL, choosing to sign with the Seahawks, who have a short-term need while Thomas Rawls recovers from a leg injury.

Unless the Seahawks are paying Spiller more than $100,000 per week (and if they were, it surely would have been leaked by now), he’s essentially working for free. More importantly, he’s putting himself at risk of injury for no additional compensation.

That’s his right, but it still doesn’t mean it makes much sense. When Rawls heals, Spiller will have a hard time getting on the field — and he won’t be available if someone else with a contending team gets injured. (Unless he gets cut.) Until then, Spiller risks the kind of injury that would make him less attractive to other teams in 2017.

For now, Spiller is getting up to speed in Seattle, where everything is new. It’s so new that he doesn’t know what his role will be.

“I just got here so we haven’t really got into that I’m still swimming I guess you can say,” Spiller told reporters on Thursday. “I’m still trying to get things learned. Places learned, the meeting rooms and all that stuff. So we really haven’t gotten in depth considering I just got here on short notice.”

Seattle may indeed be the right fit for Spiller, and it could work out perfectly for him. At a time, however, when there’s a push to get players to treat football like the business that it is, it wasn’t the best business decision for Spiller to return so quickly, for no more money than he already was going to make from the Saints.

Speaking of the Saints, they’re surely happy about this development. They’ll get a dollar-for-dollar credit for Spiller’s salary in Seattle. From the Saints’ perspective, then, it was a perfect business decision.

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