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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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Pitt’s James Conner declares for the draft

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 25: James Conner #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the game at Heinz Field on October 25, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Panthers lost 56-28. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images) Getty Images

A year after disclosing a cancer diagnosis, Pitt running back James Conner has declared for the draft.

The redshirt junior, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns, announced his intentions on Twitter.

Conner became the ACC player of the year as a redshirt freshman in 2014. His 2015 season was derailed by a knee injury. Then came the news that Conner has Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

He’ll finish as No. 2 on the all-time rushing list at Pitt with 3,701 yards, behind only Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. (Making the accomplishment even more impressive is the fact that Pitt has enjoyed the likes of Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, and Craig Hayward over the years.) Also, Conner’s 56 touchdowns are an ACC record.

“When they talk about someone who made a positive impact on the program,” Conner said on Twitter, “I hope they mention my name.”

Conner’s college career will conclude later this month in the Pinstripe Bowl, when Pitt faces Northwestern at Yankee Stadium.

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Danny Amendola out, Martellus Bennett questionable for Pats

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  Danny Amendola #80 of the New England Patriots is tackled by T.J. McDonald #25 of the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of their game at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Ravens prepare to face the Patriots on Monday night. They won’t have to worry about Danny Amendola. (Or, for that matter, Danny Woodhead.)

Amendola will miss his first game of the season, due to an ankle injury suffered last Sunday in a win over his former team, the Rams.

Questionable for the Patriots is tight end Martellus Bennett, with ankle and shoulder injuries. He became the team’s top option at the position after a season-ending back injury suffered by Rob Gronkowski.

Also questionable for the 10-2 Patriots are safety Jordan Richards (knee), linebacker Elandon Roberts (hamstring), cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring), and receiver Matt Slater (foot).

The best news for the Patriots is that quarterback Tom Brady has been removed completely from the injury report. He practiced all week without being mentioned in any way on the report. Brady had missed practice time in recent weeks with a knee injury.

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Browns sign Jamar Taylor to three-year, $15 million extension

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 20:  Jamar Taylor #21 of the Cleveland Browns can't make a catch in front of Ladarius Green #89 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor will be sticking around for the rebuilding project in Cleveland.

The Browns and Taylor have agreed to a three-year, $15 million contract, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reports.

Taylor arrived in Cleveland in April in a draft-day trade that was for basically nothing: The Browns sent the 223rd pick in the draft to the Dolphins for the 250th pick. For the Dolphins to give up Taylor for that little compensation suggests that they were planning to cut him and were happy to get anything for him.

But in Cleveland this season, Taylor has started 10 games and started to show the promise that the Dolphins thought he had when they drafted him in the second round in 2013. Now Taylor will get paid like a starter and try to help the Browns turn things around, not just this year, but for the coming years as well.

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Cowboys leave Lucky Whitehead home for violating team rules

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 30:  Lucky Whitehead #13 of the Dallas Cowboys runs during a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys return man Lucky Whitehead won’t play tomorrow against the Giants, as the team has announced that he isn’t making the trip to New Jersey because of a violation of team rules.

It’s unknown what rule Whitehead violated and unclear whether the Cowboys are suspending him — which would mean he loses his weekly paycheck — or simply deactivating him.

Whitehead is the Cowboys’ primary kickoff returner, with 10 returns for 238 yards this season, and he’s the only player on the team who has returned a punt at all this season. It’s not immediately clear who will take his place on returns.

Whitehead also occasionally contributes as a runner and receiver and will be missed by the Cowboys in a big game in the NFC East race.

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Belichick can still diagram his dad’s Navy plays from the 1950s

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts on the sideline during the first half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bill Belichick became a football savant long before he was head coach of the Patriots. His education in football dates back to the 1950s, when Bill was just a tyke and his father, Steve Belichick, was an assistant coach at Navy.

For this year’s Army-Navy game, CBS brought together Bill Belichick and perhaps the best player his late father coached at Navy, Heisman Trophy-winning halfback Joe Bellino, and asked Belichick to diagram one of Bellino’s plays.

Although Belichick was 7 years old in 1959, he had no trouble diagramming a play from that season, 27 F Trap.

“I remember my dad sitting there going through the film, talking about if the tackle is split a little wider, if the back is in T formation, halfback-fullback-halfback, a lot of teams run it straight, if the back is tilted up run to that side, if the back is tilted back, run away. Teams ran the Power-I formation. He would show it on the film: On this play the back is split it’s going to be here. On this play he’s not split it’s going to be there. The same thing defensively: When the defensive lineman would stunt down he’d go outside, when he’d not stunt he’d play it straight. That’s where I started to learn to identify line splits, backfield alignments, wide receiver splits to run crossing routes from tight splits and things like that.”

Although the game has evolved a lot since the 1950s, Belichick said 27 F Trap isn’t much different from a handoff to LeGarrette Blount the Patriots could run in their 2016 offense.

“Football is football,” Belichick said. “Off tackle power? Every team in the league runs off tackle power.”

But not every team has a coach whose education in the off tackle power dates back quite that far.

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Ankle injury lands Jaelen Strong on IR

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 16: Jaelen Strong #11 of the Houston Texans motions to his wrist after a 36 yard reception in overtime during the NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Texans prepare for a playoff push, they won’t have one of the members of their receiver rotation, for the rest of the year.

The Texans have placed receiver Jaelen Strong on injured reserve, ending his season.

Strong had been ruled out for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis with an ankle injury. To fill his spot on the roster, the Texans elevated cornerback Denzel Rice from the practice squad.

A third-round pick in 2015, Strong faced stiff competition on the depth chart, when the Texans added receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller in the 2016 draft. Strong caught 14 passes in his second season, matching his total for 2015.

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Luke Kuechly will miss his third straight game on Sunday

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:   Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is still not cleared from the league’s concussion protocol and will not play on Sunday against the Chargers.

The Panthers announced today that Kuechly, who returned to practice this week, still hasn’t been given the medical go-ahead to play.

Kuechly suffered the concussion in Week 11 against the Saints and was carted off the field. He hasn’t played since.

The 25-year-old Kuechly also missed three games with a concussion last season. Given that the 4-8 Panthers will almost certainly not make the playoffs this season, it might make sense for Carolina to shut Kuechly down for the season even if he does gain medical clearance next week. This has already been a miserable year in Carolina, and lingering concussions for Kuechly could make this year even worse.

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Bucs activate Charles Sims

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Charles Sims lll #34 sprints 60 yards ahead of Los Angeles Rams cornerback Troy Hill #32 during the second half of their NFL football game at Raymond James Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers are getting running back Charles Sims back on the field in time for a push to the playoffs.

Tampa Bay is activating Sims from the injured reserve list to the active roster, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.

Sims played in the first four games of the season and started two before suffering a knee injury that has kept him out the last eight games. He was not off to a very good start, with just 116 yards on 41 carries, but Sims has shown promise in the past and could be an important part of the Bucs’ offense down the stretch.

The Bucs are also promoting receiver Donteea Dye from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and waiving offensive lineman Josh Allen and defensive tackle John Hughes to make room for Sims and Dye on the 53-man roster.

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Saturday one-liners

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30: Brandon Marshall #15 of the New York Jets runs with the ball while playing the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets WR Brandon Marshall could return punts this weekend at San Francisco.

Is Bills coach Rex Ryan sliding back toward the hot seat?

When Dolphins DE Cameron Wake heard defensive coordinator Vance Joseph talking about the challenge of covering Arizona slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Wake said, “I can play nickel. What’s up?

The Patriots could be playing a game in London or Mexico next year.

The Ravens know that one guy grabbing RB LeGarrette Blount won’t get him down.

In 35 games played against Cleveland since the team returned to the NFL, the Bengals have had an 100-yard rusher 18 different times.

Browns players want to get a win on Sunday for coach Hue Jackson.

Rex Ryan realizes that Steelers LB James Harrison has “whipped a lot of players, but he whipped Father Time as well.”

Texans DE J.J. Watt seemed happy to be wearing Penn State colors and logos after the Nittany Lions beat his alma mater.

Get to know Colts WR Donte Moncrief.

Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith, who will be inducted to the team’s Ring of Honor on Sunday, discusses his battle with drug addiction.

The Titans will announce the replacement for now-cut starting CB Perrish Cox on Sunday.

Broncos RB Justin Forsett is ready for whatever his new team wants him to do.

The Epstein’s mother-style note from Chiefs coach Andy Reid had mixed results.

The Raiders are catching heat for their play calling on third and one from the Kansas City 14.

CB Brandon Flowers has had four concussions since joining the Chargers in 2014.

The Cowboys received a motivational speech this week from Ray Lewis.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo is hoping for snow on Sunday night against Dallas.

While playing in Buffalo, Eagles CB Leodis McKelvin once returned home to find testicles spray painted n his lawn.

Should Washington keep WR Pierre Garςon or WR DeSean Jackson?

Young Bears players remain fully engaged, despite the team’s 3-9 record.

With Quandre Diggs out for the year, Lions CB Adairius Barnes is about to go from obscure undrafted rookie to key member of the defense.

For Packers OT Bryan Bulaga, losing only 10 pounds has made a big difference.

Vikings WR Adam Thielen has proven he’s not a joke.

Should the Falcons give WR Julio Jones some time off due to turf toe?

Panthers QB Cam Newton knows that the search for reasons for his subpar performance in 2016 starts with him.

LB Travis Freeney, previously on the Pittsburgh practice squad, didn’t expect the phone call that made him a Saint.

WR Josh Huff could be a key figure for the Buccaneers against New Orleans.

Cardinals CB Tyrann Mathieu eventually may need shoulder surgery.

The Rams are waiting for QB Jared Goff to begin to approach his potential.

49ers RB Carlos Hyde needs 78.5 yards per game to get to 1,000.

When it comes to Seahawks C Justin Britt, Russell Wilson is figuratively kissing the area where he literally puts his hands.

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Adam Jones doesn’t think much of Terrelle Pryor

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 4:  Adam Jones #24 of the Cincinnati Bengals and Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals congratulate each other while walking off of the field after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 32-14 at Paul Brown Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Browns try to get their first win in nearly a full calendar year and the Bengals try to avoid becoming the first team to lose to the Browns in a full calendar year, one of the skirmishes that will determine the outcome involves the ability of the Cincinnati cornerbacks to slow down the Cleveland passing game.

So what does Bengals cornerback Adam Jones think of one of the best parts of the opposing passing game, Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor?

Initially, Jones declined to speak about Pryor, as explained by Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Then, Jones decided to talk a blue streak, Jack.

“He pushes off, every route. He’s an OK receiver,” Jones said. “They do feature him a little bit so he does get more looks than a guy who would be in his situation. He’s just a guy to me.”

Jones went on to explain that Pryor won’t be able to push off at the top of his route, “so you’ve just got to be in good position.” And it apparently worked the last time the Bengals played the Browns.

“We played him last game and he didn’t do sh-t,” Jones said.

Specifically, Pryor caught two passes for 18 yards.

“Yeah,” Jones said. “I don’t like him. You can put that in there.”

So, basically, there’s now a reason to watch the game beyond the question of whether the Browns can turn perhaps their last, best chance for a victory into something other than another loss.

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Raiders-Chiefs generates 17.4 million viewers

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 08:  Tight end Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after the Chiefs gained a crucial first down during the fourth quarter of the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders and the Chiefs don’t draw like the Cowboys, but it’s close.

Thursday night’s game between the AFC West arch-rivals delivered 17.4 million TV viewers, according to NBC. It’s the first time this year that an audience of more than 17 million tuned in for back-to-back Thursday night games. (Last week, more than 21 million watched the Cowboys beat the Vikings.)

Because last year’s Week 14 Thursday night game was televised only on NFL Network, there’s no apples-to-apples comparison to be made from one year to the next.

Next week, the Rams face the Seahawks on Thursday night in Seattle. The struggles of the L.A. franchise will make it hard to match the 17-million mark, but the Seahawks have developed a strong national following in recent years.

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League has no comment about Kelechi Osemele surprise scratch

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 12:  Kelechi Osemele #70 of the Oakland Raiders gets ready to pass block against Ed Stinson #91 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium on August 12, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. Raiders won 31-10. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

On Thursday morning, Raiders offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele became sufficiently ill to get treatment at a Kansas City-area hospital. But the Raiders didn’t disclose that development, as required by league rules.

Then, 90 minutes before kickoff, Osemele appeared on the inactive list, and news of the illness emerged for the first time.

The NFL tells PFT  that it has no comment on the situation. The same thing happened a year ago, when Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen became ill before a Sunday afternoon game with the Chiefs but the illness wasn’t revealed. The league reportedly planned to investigate the matter, but no resolution ever was reported or announced.

The dilemma for the league office in these situation arises from the importance of enforcing the rules on one hand and a desire on the other to not unnecessarily expose the fact that liberties were taken with rules aimed at eliminating a window of opportunity for gamblers to acquire inside information.

On Thursday, that window was wide open. Osemele was sick, and he was in jeopardy or not playing. At some point before the moment at which the Raiders were required to submit their list of inactive players, they decided he wouldn’t be able to play.

The information about Osemele, their most important offensive lineman, was there to be had. And the Chiefs, favored by three points, eventually covered the spread.

Now, fast forward by a few years and imagine the reaction if this had happened not with the Oakland Raiders but the Las Vegas Raiders.

If nothing else, it should give the owners something to chew on this week when they hear from the league office a report aimed at persuading them to give Oakland a chance to keep the team.

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Former Browns, Patriots exec sees a Garoppolo trade to Cleveland

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the New England Patriots looks to pass the ball during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images) Getty Images

A former Browns and Patriots executive is talking up the possibility that the Browns and Patriots will make a trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason.

Mike Lombardi, a longtime friend and colleague of Patriots coach Bill Belichick who also served as G.M. of the Browns in 2013, said on FS1 that he thinks the trade would make sense for both teams.

“The next quarterback that’ll be the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback perhaps is Jimmy Garoppolo in New England,” Lombardi said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. “I think Cleveland understands, [coach] Hue Jackson specifically understands he needs a quarterback. I think they’ll be very aggressive. I think Jimmy Garoppolo’s on top of their list, and I think they’ll go hard after him.”

Lombardi didn’t work with the current brass in Cleveland, and when he was last with the Patriots Garoppolo had never started a regular-season game, so he may not have a lot of insight into the teams’ current thinking about Garoppolo’s worth. The trade could make sense, though. The Browns still need to find a franchise quarterback, and most draft analysts don’t think there’s a franchise quarterback available in the 2017 NFL draft. And the Patriots, who are set at quarterback with Tom Brady, may think that there’s no reason not to acquire something of value for Garoppolo.

Garoppolo is under contract next year at just $820,000 before hitting free agency in 2018. That means the Patriots are under no salary cap pressure to trade him and can drive a hard bargain. The Browns, with two first-round picks and two second-round picks in the 2017 NFL draft, may be the team best suited to putting together a package that would pry Garoppolo out of New England.

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Aikman again details the time he almost became an Eagle

2012 NFL Honors - Arrivals Getty Images

Hall of Fame former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman again drew the interest of NFL fans this week when he detailed the time he considered — for a day — an offer to come out of retirement and play for the Eagles.

Although Aikman has told the story before, his comments this week suggested that he was more seriously considering the offer during the 2002 season than he has previously let on.

“I retired, got into broadcasting. Then it was two years later when I got a call from Andy Reid in the middle of a game that I was broadcasting after Donovan McNabb had broken his leg,” Aikman said, via the Dallas Morning News. “He wanted me to sign with Philadelphia and come out of retirement right then and go to work for them. And I gave it some consideration – actually I told Andy I was going to sleep on it and call him in the morning. I called my producer at FOX and asked him what he thought my career was long-term in television. Then I called [former Cowboys offensive coordinator] Norv Turner and talked to him about it from the football perspective. And I woke up the next morning and I just thought, ‘Man, is this something I really want to do?’ And I decided against it. So I called Andy and said, ‘Look. I appreciate the interest, but I’m going to stay put and best of luck.’ And they ended up going on and having success with A.J. Feely. And ultimately they made it to the NFC Championship Game that year.”

The Cowboys actually released Aikman before he retired, so there was nothing contractual stopping him from signing with any team thereafter. But Aikman was 36 years old, hadn’t played in two years, and hadn’t played very well the last year he did play. It’s highly unlikely the Eagles would have been as good with a rusty, old Aikman at the helm as they were with Feely, a backup who helped the Eagles go 4-1 in the five games he started that season. Aikman did Reid a favor by turning him down.

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Chargers not saying if Mike McCoy’s job is safe

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 13:  Head Coach Mike McCoy of the San Diego Chargers runs off the field after his team's 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins in a game at Qualcomm Stadium on November 13, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chargers coach Mike McCoy has just one year left on his contract, and his team is 5-7 and in last place. That’s raising questions about McCoy’s job security, and they’re questions the Chargers don’t want to answer.

San Diego G.M. Tom Telesco was asked on 1360-AM in San Diego whether McCoy will be back in 2017, and Telesco declined to give a direct answer.

“Contrary to public opinion, we don’t sit around here daily preoccupied with job status,” Telesco said, via ESPN. “It’s just not how it works. I’m not worried about next year right now. To be honest with you, I’m not worried about next week. I’m worried about this week and playing Carolina. We’ll worry about next year, next year. We’re 100 percent committed to this season. We only have 16 games to play, and we’ve got four games to go here, and that’s what we’re worried about. We’re not even looking toward 2017 yet.”

Telesco’s contract runs through the 2019 season, so his job appears to be safe. But with McCoy now missing the playoffs three years in a row, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him given the axe.

The decision may come down to what the Chargers’ ownership thinks is the best way to get support from its fan base. With the possibility that the Chargers will move to Los Angeles this offseason and share a stadium with the Rams, the Chargers may decide they need continuity on the field while they make a big move off the field. On the other hand, they may decide that a new coach is what they need to generate excitement in Los Angeles. McCoy’s job could hinge on off-field concerns.

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