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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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Patriots sign Vinnie Sunseri, Kyler Kerbyson

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 15:  Vinnie Sunseri #43 of the New Orleans Saints runs the ball during a preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 15, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

The New England Patriots announced the signings of safety Vinnie Sunseri and offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson on Sunday.

Sunseri was a fifth-round selection by the New Orleans Saints in 2014. He appeared in nine games for New Orleans before being released by the Saints in April. He recorded five tackles – four on special teams, one on defense – before an arm injury landed him on injured reserve.

A knee injury last year led the Saints to waive Sunseri and he spent all of last season on injured reserve after clearing waivers.

Kerbyson went undrafted after starting two seasons at the University of Tennessee. He’s played both tackle positions and left guard during his tenure with Tennessee.

After the signings, the Patriots still have one open spot on their 90-man roster.

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IK Enemkpali could become a starter on the Buffalo defense

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 23:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the Buffalo Bills reacts with IK Enemkpali #75 before a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on November 23, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

A year after IK Enemkpali broke Geno Smith’s jaw while they were teammates, Enemkpali may be taking aim at him in a more traditional sense.

With Smith possibly slated to start for the Jets, who stubbornly refuse to sweeten the pot for Ryan Fitzpatrick, Enemkpali eventually could become a regular — if not a starter — for the Buffalo defense.

As explained by Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News, the departure of Mario Williams coupled with the shoulder injury to first-round rookie Shaq Lawson has created an opening for Enemkpali, who needs only to outshine Manny Lawson to earn a starting role.

“IK’s done really well,” coach Rex Ryan said during the offseason program. “We’re bumping guys around and stuff but, yeah, he’ll have a chance. IK is a physical player. He’s doing a much better job in his pass-coverage responsibility. So I could definitely see him pushing for playing time, without question.”

Enemkpali may not even need to beat out Manny Lawson, if Ryan decides Manny Lawson is needed elsewhere. Wherever and how much they play, guys like Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes and other pre-2015 defenders have learned Ryan’s defense far better than they knew it a year ago.

“Last year, there’d be silence and a lot of questions asked in the locker room,” Manny Lawson said, via Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. “This year, there’s not silence in the meeting room and no questions being asked in the locker room.”

But that doesn’t mean questions are discouraged.

If you don’t know something, ask,” Lawson said. “Because it’s only going to help us to know. If one person is out there clueless and doesn’t know what to do, that can be a touchdown for us on the defensive side and that can cost us the game.”

A game blown here or there could be the difference between a postseason berth and yet another failure to make the playoffs. With a failure to make the playoffs this year quite possibly the catalyst for a house cleaning, the players have every reason to do everything they can to know the defense and to execute it as it’s designed.

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Darnell Dockett expected to announce his retirement on Monday

Darnell Dockett AP

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett has not played in a regular season game since the 2013 season and the longtime Cardinal is reportedly set to draw a permanent end to his playing career.

Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com reports that Dockett is expected to announce his retirement on Monday. Dockett tore his ACL before the 2014 season and was released by the 49ers after signing with Arizona’s NFC West as a free agent last offseason.

If Dockett is indeed done, he’ll end his career having played only for the Cardinals in the regular season. The 2004 third-round pick played 158 games and made 156 starts over the course of his 10-year career in Arizona and ranks seventh in franchise history with 40.5 sacks. He added three more sacks during the team’s loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, tying a record set by Reggie White that was equaled this February by Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy.

Dockett was selected to three Pro Bowls and was named to the Associated Press‘ All-Pro second-team after the 2009 season.

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Lions place Brandon Pettigrew, two others on PUP list

Cleveland Browns v Detroit Lions 8-9-2014 Getty Images

With training camp about to start, the Lions are taking stock of which players on their roster aren’t quite ready to start practicing.

Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is on that list and the Lions announced Sunday that he has been placed on the physically unable to perform list. Pettigrew tore his ACL in December and General Manager Bob Quinn said last month that the veteran wouldn’t be ready for the start of camp.

Pettigrew won’t be able to practice with the team until he’s activated from the list. Given the timing of the injury, he could be a candidate for the regular season version of the PUP list and would miss at least six weeks of the year if that’s the case.

The Lions also placed wide receiver Corey Fuller, who had foot surgery, and tackle Corey Robinson on the PUP list as well. Running back Ameer Abdullah is not on the list after having shoulder surgery early in the offseason.

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Rick Spielman calls out those who bash Teddy Bridgewater

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 29: Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Minnesota Vikings runs out on the field pror to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on November 29, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Friday’s PFT Live from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis included a visit from the guy who built not the team’s new house but the team that will play there. And G.M. Rick Spielman talked at some length about the first-round quarterback who enters his third NFL season.

At a time when teammates rave about Teddy Bridgewater (“growth” was the most common word used by players we interviewed), some believe Bridgewater won’t become a franchise quarterback, pointing to the fact that he threw only 14 touchdowns passes in 2014 and only 14 again in 2015.

Spielman called criticism of Bridgewater “unfair,” explaining that “he is doing what our coaches are asking him to do.”

“One thing Coach Zimmer does preach to all our players is team first and however we’re going to have to win this game this week,” Spielman said. “If we’re going to have to run the ball 30 times, that’s what we’re going to do. If we have to throw the ball, that’s what we’re going to do. If we’re going to have to play good defense and ball control, whatever we have to do to win this week, that’s the most important thing. Teddy going into his second year last year, to go 11-5 and win the division, to go up there and beat Green Bay in Green Bay [for the NFC North title] and then play well in that playoff game against Seattle. I think people undervalue what Teddy brings to this football team, and the most important thing is when you look at the end of the day is wins and losses and Teddy is definitely a winner.”

When called upon to move the offense late in games, Bridgewater has done that on several occasions. And if Blair Walsh hadn’t missed a chip-shot field goal at the end of the wild-card game against the Seahawks, Bridgewater would have been heralded for setting up the victory by slicing through one of the best defenses in the league.

“There are games if you go through his first two years that he has shown he does have the ability in pressure situations to come through when we need him to make some plays,” Spielman said. “I think he had the least amount of pass attempts last year in the NFL as well, so a lot of that has to do with the game planning and how we’re going to win football games. But I don’t think anyone in our building has any doubt that if we have Teddy throw the ball 40 or 50 times, if that’s the way we have to win or if he has to go out there and throw the ball at the end of the game for us to win that he has that ability to do that.”

He may end up with plenty of chances to do that in 2016, on a national stage. With four prime-time games, a Thanksgiving game, and several other high-profile Sunday afternoon matchups (Panthers, Texans, Cardinals, Packers), whatever Bridgewater does this year will be noticed a lot more than it was in past years.

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Who’s left? Exploring the remaining free agents

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field following the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeatred the Packers 38-30.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing golf. Without a contract, he’s not going to training camp this week.

Fitzpatrick hasn’t said much about his situation, and the Jets basically issued a gag order six weeks ago. So, we’ll see what happens with camp starting and teams across the league getting back to work.

PFT has put together a list of other players who are still unsigned as camps open. Most of them are older players who might wait until the regular season begins or end up atop the emergency call list various player personnel departments keep as they shuffle their 90-man camp rosters and deal with various injuries and situations. Past Fitzpatrick, who’s clearly the most intriguing unsigned player, the players are listed in no particular order…

Fitzpatrick – His staredown with the Jets continues. It could get really interesting if Geno Smith has a great start to camp or if some other team that believes it’s a contender loses its quarterback to injury in August.

Dwight Freeney – He’s made a few visits and figures to eventually have some real suitors given how well (eight sacks in 11 games) he played last season for the Cardinals. Waiting last year seemed to work, so Freeney, 36, probably will have no problem being patient as he awaits a call and a chance to play a 15th season.

Greg Hardy – Hardy brings baggage, but lots of teams are looking for pass rushers. He recently visited the Jaguars, but reports say no signing is imminent. A team would have to be convinced that Hardy can still be an impact player before taking him on.

Anquan Boldin – Boldin is 35, but it’s not like he was ever a speed burner. He knows how to get open and how to catch passes in traffic, and he’ll eventually land with a team that wants him to play in the slot and help keep the chains moving.

Omar Bolden – While most players on this list are on the wrong side of 30, Bolden is 27. He signed with the Bears in March but was cut last week. Bolden can help in the return game as well as playing as a backup defensive back, and he probably won’t be unemployed for long.

Brian Hartline – Released by the Browns in the spring, Hartline had a productive 2015 before an injury ended his season. He’s not going to be a starter, but like Boldin he’s probably near the top of the call list for teams who either lose a receiver in camp or are looking to upgrade the slot position.

Antonio Cromartie – He’s 32, but he’s missed very few starts over his 10-year career and has generally been around the ball. He went without an interception in 15 starts last season, so teams might be wondering if he can still keep up.

Michael Vick – After subbing with the Steelers last season, Vick recently has been campaigning for a job and saying he’d like to play one more season. He signed during camp last summer, and it would likely be a similar scenario this time around if he’s going to land with a team.

John Kuhn – The longtime Packers fullback has said he’s confident he’ll get a call soon, even if it’s not from the Packers.

Mike Neal – It’s surprising that Neal, who just turned 29, remains unemployed given that he had four sacks for the Packers last year, has starting experience and can play both defensive end and outside linebacker.

Leon Hall – The former first-rounder and longtime Bengals cornerback has taken some visits but has not yet found a home. If Hall, 31, doesn’t return to the Bengals, look for him to sign with another contender and play as a third or fourth cornerback.

Percy Harvin – Harvin reportedly has chosen retirement and doesn’t plan to play in 2016, but there’s never been much predictable about Harvin.

Joique Bell – If Bell is healthy, he can contribute in some team’s running back rotation. Given his injury history, it might be a while before a team gives him a call.

Donte Whitner – The Browns released Whitner after the start of free agency. He’s 31 and didn’t have a strong 2015 season, but he was good in 2014 for the Browns. He’s likely atop the emergency call list of many teams if a need at strong safety arises.

Randy Starks – Like Whitner, Starks was released by the Browns in the offseason. Starks, 32, had a quiet season on a bad team last year, but his ability to rush the passer and play multiple positions across the defensive line make him an attractive target for a team that decides it wants to boost its depth.

Stephen Tulloch – Finally released by the Lions earlier this month, Tulloch, 31, figures to be on the call list of a few teams if a need at inside linebacker arises — and if Tulloch is healthy.

Roddy White – His breakup with the Falcons came as no surprise. White will turn 35 in November, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team give him a look in late August or early September.

James Jones – Jones ended up playing a pretty important role for the Packers last season. It’s no surprise that the team is going young at wide receiver, but Jones, 32, will eventually get a call from some team.

Andre Johnson – He’s 35, but remains hopeful some team will give him a shot.

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Lack of Brees negotiations not a surprise

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 28: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints reacts on the sideline after a failed third down play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter of the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Saints quarterback Drew Brees apparently needs an explanation regarding why he hasn’t heard from the team in the last three months regarding a new contract. In the event he really doesn’t know (and chances are he does), the reason is simple: It’s a deadline-driven business, and Brees made it clear several months ago that the deadline is the start of the regular season.

With the Saints carrying the quarterback’s $30 million cap number deep into the offseason, through all acquisitions and draft picks and other moves that would have been made easier with the extra cap space that a new Brees deal would have created, there’s currently no urgency from the team’s perspective to do a new contract now. As Week One approaches, there will be.

The urgency will be there because Brees has said he won’t be talking once the season starts. It’s the same approach he applied four years ago, as Brees entered the final season of his initial six-year, $60 million deal.

But now that his five-year, $100 million deal is concluding, Brees has plenty of leverage. With a cap number of $30 million this year and in light of the grievance filed by Brees in 2012 regarding the stacking of franchise tags used by multiple teams, a tag of Brees in 2017 would be the third of his career — and it would entitle him to a 44-percent raise over his 2016 cap number.

That’s $43.2 million. For one year. For a quarterback who turns 38 in January.

If the Saints opt not to devote what would be, if the cap grows to $165 million in 2017, more than 26 percent of the total available space to one player, then the market will determine Brees’ value. The question then becomes whether another team that has all the pieces except a quarterback (e.g., the Broncos or maybe the Jets or perhaps the Cardinals, depending on how Carson Palmer performs this year) would put together an offer that the Saints can’t or won’t match.

Even if the Saints could or would match, there’s nothing that would keep Brees from taking the same or less elsewhere, if that’s what he chooses to do.

Brees and the Saints understand these issues, and both sides know when the clock strikes 12. If nothing happens by then, nothing likely will happen until after the season. At that point, plenty of things could happen.

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Andrew Luck: It was an “awesome, gutsy move” to keep Pagano, Grigson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Chuck Pagano of the Indianapolis Colts talks to his players during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

There wasn’t much that went right for the Colts last season, but that didn’t lead to the sweeping changes that some expected during the offseason.

Coach Chuck Pagano and General Manager Ryan Grigson remain in their jobs and have contracts running for several seasons after a year that saw internal sniping while the Colts slipped down the standings. It was a decision that came as a surprise to quarterback Andrew Luck and his agreement on a big extension of his own shows that it was a pleasant one.

“I think [owner Jim] Irsay showed a lot of guts keeping coach Pagano and Ryan,” Luck said, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. “I think the easy thing is to start all over, I really do. I think that was an awesome, gutsy move. I think it surprised me, but then again, I think any decision would’ve surprised me.”

While the Colts opted for the status quo with Pagano and Grigson, they did hire a new defensive coordinator and acquire a handful of new offensive linemen in hopes of strengthening two of the weakest parts of the team. If those moves don’t have the desired effect, awesome and gutsy may not be the most frequent adjectives used to describe Irsay’s call to stick with what’s on hand.

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The Saints are still coming to West Virginia

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WV - JULY 14:  The front entrance of Greenbrier Resort is seen July 14, 2006 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The bunker, codenamed "Project Greek Island" and planned by the Eisenhower Administration, was a 112,000 square-foot shelter constructed beneath the Greenbrier Resort's West Virginia Wing, to serve as a relocation site for members of the U.S. Congress and associated staff in the event of a nuclear attack on the U.S. soil. The facility was built between 1958 and 1961 and was maintained in a state of operational readiness until the government terminated the lease with the resort in 1995. The bunker will be reopened for public tours on August 20 after a two-year-long renovation.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Getty Images

After devastating flooding struck last month in West Virginia, forcing the cancellation of a PGA tour event held annually at The Greenbrier, questions emerged regarding whether the Saints would still be able to hold training camp there. One report indicated that the Saints would stay in Louisiana. That report ended up being inaccurate.

The Saints are coming back this week, and that’s a good thing for those who need the financial and emotional lift that will come from the team not turning its back on an area that is still slowly recovering from a disaster that claimed more than 20 lives and displaced hundreds from their homes.

Much still needs to be done to get things back to normal. PFT readers can still drop a few bucks into the kettle via a Go Fund Me page established by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission. The proceeds will replace football gear and other sports equipment lost by various high schools and middle schools due to the water and the mud and the overall nasty crap that makes make the five-letter “F” word far worse than the four-letter one.

PFT has contributed $7,500 directly to the WVSSAC, which we mention not as a way to pat ourselves on the back but as the catalyst for jostling as many of you as possible into coughing up $5 here or $10 there or, for the one-percenters in the crowd maybe even a little, or a lot, more than that.

Apart from a spare-change-style donation, you soon will have a chance to bid on an NBC Sports Radio helmet signed by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (a very nice gesture by him) and others at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe. Here’s Aaron sinking a long putt from the rough and sharing a chest bump with Brian Baumgartner, better known by many as Kevin Malone from The Office.

Fortunately, Kevin Malone won’t be involved in counting the money that eventually is generated by the efforts to replenish the sports gear for kids in the areas affected by the flooding.

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Eagles re-signing QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

San Francisco 49ers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Meet the new Eagles camp arm. Same as the old Eagles camp arm.

Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who was cut by the Eagles in May, is expected to re-sign with the team, Adam Caplan of ESPN reports.

Bethel-Thompson is used to coming and going in his football career. He started college at UCLA and finished it at Sacramento State, and has had three different stints with the 49ers, two with the Dolphins, two with the Vikings, one with the Patriots, one with the San Jose SaberCats of Arena Football and one with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League. Overall, he’s been cut nine times. Now he’ll begin his second stint with the Eagles.

There is almost no chance of Bethel-Thompson actually making the 53-player roster, as Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel and Carson Wentz have the three quarterback spots locked up.

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Alex Boone predicts Blaine Gabbert will start over Colin Kaepernick

459137483 Getty Images

As the 2016 regular season approaches, a move that would have seemed highly irregular a year ago now seems inevitable. When the 49ers open things up in Week One against the Rams, the quarterback will be Blaine Gabbert not Colin Kaepernick.

A guy who spent six seasons with the 49ers, including a 2015 campaign that resulted in Kaepernick being benched for Gabbert, believes Gabbert will win the job in the first year with Chip Kelly as the head coach.

“To be honest I think that Blaine did a great job last year,” new Vikings guard Alex Boone told me from the field at U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday, “and from what I know of Blaine, I think he’s probably gonna take the reins. I mean I think he’s a good guy, he knows what he’s doing out there, and he just has the support of the group so I think that’s one of the things to look forward to.”

If/when (when) Gabbert starts against the Rams, he won’t have Boone around to protect the quarterback against a chippy L.A. Rams defense that last year infuriated Vikings coach Mike Zimmer with lows hits on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Although Boone declined to call the Rams defense dirty, he vowed to ensure that neither the Rams nor anyone else will be taking cheap shots at his quarterback.

That’s part of the mindset Zimmer wants in his offensive linemen, and the hope is that Boone’s attitude will spread to the rest of the offensive linemen. If it works, the Vikings’ biggest weakness in 2015 will become a strength with Boone, a giant of a guard at 6-8, imposing his will on opponents and his colorful personality on teammates.

Raw and honest but with a positive attitude and a genuine love of the game and an excited anticipation for training camp, Boone could be the difference maker the Vikings need on the field and in the locker room. The new stadium could be a difference maker, too.

“Levi’s [Stadium] was great but I think this place blows it away,” Boone said, who played for the 49ers when their new venue opened two years ago. “I just think the structure alone and the atmosphere it’s gonna bring, it’s gonna be outrageous.”

Outrageous is likely a good word to describe Boone. And if he makes his position group more outrageous and less cerebral, he’ll be worth every penny the Vikings are paying him and a lot more.

To hear everything Boone had to say, dial up the PFT Live podcast from Friday at iTunes or audioBoom.

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Todd Bowles: It’s not just about the quarterback

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27:  Head coach Todd Bowles of the New York Jets looks on before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on September 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets closed one of their long-running offseason subplots when they signed defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to a five-year contract on July 15, which left only the Ryan Fitzpatrick saga unresolved heading into training camp.

The impasse between the team and last year’s starting quarterback has been well documented to this point and coach Todd Bowles didn’t offer any updates during an interview with Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. He did say that he’s willing to move on with Geno Smith should things play out that way and offered a reminder that other positions will play a role in determining the Jets’ fate this season.

“I think Geno can be a good starter, but he’s got to prove it in training camp like everybody else,” Bowles said. “It’s not just about the quarterback position. You got to have a team around that position to play ball, but he’s been in the system a year. He has a better grasp of it going into training camp and we’ll see what he does.”

The rest of the Jets team and Fitzpatrick were able to navigate their way to 10 wins under Bowles last season, although that wasn’t enough for the team to make it to the playoffs. With players like Wilkerson, Darrelle Revis, Sheldon Richardson, Nick Mangold and Brandon Marshall on hand, the cast around the quarterback has star power again this season and Bowles knows that it is “win-now every year” for the team. Re-signing Fitzpatrick doesn’t assure the Jets will improve on last year’s finish, but it isn’t hard to see fingers pointing in that direction should the Jets stumble without him running the offense.

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John Kuhn expects to get a call during training camp

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Fullback John Kuhn #30 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates his 5-yard touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter on December 20, 2015 at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Packers won 30-20. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Will there be a need to tell a confused colleague that they’re saying “Kuuuuuuuuuhn” and not booing this season?

John Kuhn believes there will be. The longtime Packers fullback has not landed a job for 2016 as camps get set to open around the league, but says he’s staying in shape and ready to roll because he expects to hear a call from a team before the summer is out.

“I’ve had 11 years in the NFL so far, so that’s good, but I’m not done,” Kuhn said on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan. “I work out four or five times a week and I’m putting in what I have to on the front end for expecting somebody to make my phone ring here at some point in time. If not this week, if not next week, sometime in August, somebody’s going to have a need for somebody who’s willing to come in, work hard, do some of the dirty work that not everybody does anymore.”

Kuhn said a return to the Packers or a job with a contender would be ideal, but knows that he can’t control which team might look in his direction. He also can’t control the overall trends of the NFL, although Kuhn said he thinks the variety of sub packages used by defenses has kept “a place in this game for running a two-back offense.”

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Sunday morning one-liners

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 30: Everson Griffen #97 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates his sack of Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter on November 30, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

Who will be the No. 3 wide receiver for the Bills?

Assessing whether the Dolphins offensive line has improved.

S Patrick Chung isn’t worried about the Patriots offense with QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Jets are set to have a punting battle this summer.

Five things to know about Ravens TE Benjamin Watson.

Bengals LB Vincent Rey has been eating like a caveman.

Rookie receivers are among the things to watch at Browns camp.

Said Steelers LB Arthur Moats, “We felt like we should have won it last year. With that being the mentality, and with everyone coming back, we know for a fact what we’re capable of. If we don’t win it this year it’s because we didn’t do it. It’s on us.”

Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins looks to Cecil Shorts for advice.

DL Arthur Jones‘ suspension weakens a Colts defense that already had question marks.

Jaguars wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan has been at it a long time.

Titans TE Delanie Walker helped hand out 50 free dental exams to kids.

The Broncos need more from their young offensive linemen.

Said Chiefs QB Alex Smith, “We have a good opportunity, but camp hasn’t even started and there are so many things that are going to happen throughout training camp and over the course of the season.”

What will Raiders WR Amari Cooper do in his second season?

Remembering the day K Rolf Benirschke returned to the Chargers.

Did the Cowboys improve their backup quarterback situation.

We’re getting closer to finding out if Giants WR Victor Cruz is back to form.

A preview of the Eagles receiving corps.

Setting expectations for Redskins TE Jordan Reed.

Coach John Fox’s reputation is among the things to like most about the Bears.

The Lions have plenty of receiver jobs up for grabs.

Questions about RB Eddie Lacy and others surround the Packers with camp about to start.

Vikings DE Everson Griffen says last year’s playoff loss is motivation for this year.

Breaking down the Falcons linebackers.

The Panthers are packed and ready for training camp.

Saints CB Keenan Lewis says he’ll be ready for Week One.

The competition at cornerback will be something to watch at Buccaneers camp.

The speed of S Tyrann Mathieu’s return to form is one of the questions to answer at Cardinals camp.

Musing about when the Rams will hand the starting job to QB Jared Goff.

Jerry Rice likes 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert’s confidence.

The Seahawks would love an encore performance from WR Doug Baldwin.

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Tom Brady can’t play catch with teammates while suspended

Detroit Lions Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

We may see a rusty Tom Brady in Week Five.

Brady is suspended for the first four games of the season over Deflategate, so he’s scheduled to make his regular season debut in Week Five against the Browns. Quarterbacks regularly miss time with injuries and then return to the field without any problems, but those quarterbacks have usually been working with their teammates at practice and participating in team meetings. Brady’s case will be different.

Not only is Brady not allowed to go to practices or team meetings during the four weeks when he’s suspended, but he’s not even allowed to have contact with coaches, or have a teammate over to his house to play catch.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Boston Herald that if Brady wanted Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski or any other Patriot to come over to his house and help him stay sharp, the NFL would prohibit it. Brady can’t “engage in any team football-related activities or discussions with teammates, even if away from the club facility.”

Would the NFL really be able to enforce a prohibition of “any team football-related activities or discussion?” Maybe not, but at this point Brady would be wise not to do anything that would result in a lengthy investigation. The last one didn’t go well for Brady.

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