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Goodell fears an NFL without a draft, free agency rules

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We’ve mentioned a time or two (or more) the potential end result of the current antitrust Tom Brady litigation filed by the players against the NFL.

Under lawyer Jeffrey Kessler’s view of reality, a non-union NFL should have no rules of any kind among the 32 teams.  That means no salary cap, no restrictions on free agency, no franchise tags, and no draft.

Kessler shrugs at the potential consequences, believing that a truly open market for player services would be good for everyone.

Commissioner Roger Goodell disagrees.  In a Wednesday conference call with Giants season-ticket holders, Goodell addressed the issue directly.

“That’s something that’s troubling to me a little bit because in the [April 6] hearing, some of the lawyers for the players association talk about their vision of what would happen with the NFL and the types of things they would be challenging in court – everything from the draft to free agency rules,” Goodell said.  “I think it would have a tremendously negative impact on the game of football and what everybody loves the game of football for and what has made us successful.

“I get concerned when I hear how the lawyers want to approach this and how they want to change the game for the players association,” Goodell added.  “I think we have a great game that’s competitive.  I think that the balance we have amongst teams is all part of our system. Aspects of those systems are always modified and changed and I’m willing to engage in that.  But I think eliminating some of those aspects that I think have made our game — and frankly other sports, they are all part of other sports. The NFL has got an incredibly competitive and attractive game.  We’ve got to make sure that we continue to make modifications.  We’ve got to make it stronger, not weaken it.”

He’s right.  The presence of a salary cap and the placement of restrictions on free agency and the use of a draft not only help ensure competitive balance among the teams, but they ensure that money will be available for the kind of “mid tier” players who reportedly are hoping to intervene in the Tom Brady antitrust litigation.

Without a franchise tag, Peyton Manning could squeeze the Colts into paying him $40 million or more per year.  With or without a salary cap, that’s less money that would be available for the other guys on the team not named Peyton Manning.

With no union to negotiate minimum salaries or a mandatory per-team spending floor, non-superstars could end up making much less than they do now.  The market for long snappers, for example, would be a lot lower than the mandatory minimums that the union had negotiated for all players based on years of experience.

With no draft, young superstars would bypass college (or leave after one or two years) and flock to the league, chewing up even more of the money — and nudging mid-level veterans out of jobs.

In the end, and as we’ve previously said, five percent of the players would be making 95 percent of the money.  And the other 95 percent of the league’s players would have to choose between fighting for the scraps in order to play the game they love or finding real jobs.

That’s why it makes sense for other players, and perhaps other lawyers, to get involved.  If Kessler gets his way, the NFL could be changed dramatically and permanently for the worse.

Of course, there’s a chance that no rules would have no ultimate impact on competitiveness, given that the concept of “team” takes on significant importance when there are 11 moving parts on the field per side (or more, if Brad Childress gets another head-coaching job).  But it will affect the manner in which players are paid, and the majority of the 1,900 men who play in the NFL need protection against being paid less, not the unlimited ability to be paid more.

Given some of the names attached to the Tom Brady antitrust lawsuit, it’s safe to say that the interests of the majority of the 1,900 men who play in the NFL aren’t truly being protected and/or advanced.

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Bears have three players in mind for No. 3

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The Bears may not have to make much of a choice at all on Thursday night.

During a pre-draft press conference on Wednesday, Bears General Manager Ryan Pace said that the team has identified three players worthy of being picked with the third overall pick in this year’s draft. That means that they will have one of those players available when they are on the board regardless of what happens with the top two selections, assuming, of course, that the Bears don’t trade down.

If they do, Pace says they have “a cloud of names” that would fit for a lower spot in the first round but said that the team’s general approach to making the pick will remain the same at any spot.

“You get yourself into trouble if you’re not sticking with our philosophy of best player available,” Pace said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “When you start trying to manufacture things or create things, that’s when teams get into dangerous water. I think, if we just stay with the guys we have a consensus on and best player available, we’ll be in good shape.”

Pace didn’t offer any hints about which players would qualify for that description or about what positions they might play, but the wait to find out won’t extend too much longer.

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Titans G.M.: Chances of a trade are “50-50,” with QB market driving it

The reports that the Titans are willing if not eager to make a trade appear to be true. Unless they’re not.

Because even Titans General Manager Jon Robinson said the odds are even that they will make a move, saying there was a “50-50” chance.

“We’ve had a few calls,” Robinson said, via Jason Wolf of the Tennesseean. “I think there’s some that are just investigative, just trying to see if anything is going on around us. And we’ve had a couple a little more serious in nature about potentially moving.”

The Titans pick fifth and 18th in the first round, but lack a second rounder following last year’s flurry of deals.

And betting on the Titans to make a move seems safe, since Robinson has made three trades involving draft position in his one year in charge. That included trading out of the top spot last year to earn a bounty from the Rams, and trading back up to take tackle Jack Conklin.

If they make a move this year, it will likely be driven again by someone wanting a quarterback, and wanting to be one spot ahead of the Jets.

“Over the last week or so the quarterback market has maybe heated up a little bit,” Robinson said, “at least from what I can see on the internet. I don’t know how legit it is. But again I think we’re in a good position at five and 18 to get two good football players if we stay there.”

Jon, if it’s on the internet, it has to be true. Happy hunting.

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Broncos feel renewed energy this offseason

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There is sometimes talk of a “Super Bowl hangover” in the aftermath of a title win as teams find it harder to summon the same energy level in a shortened offseason that finds more demands on a player’s time because of their success in the previous season.

The Broncos aren’t using that exact phrase, but it sounds like they feel things weren’t as dialed in as they could have been in the wake of Super Bowl 50 last season. Chris Harris said Wednesday that the team was “a little bit lax” coming off the win, which is an observation that his fellow cornerback Aqib Talib agrees with while also agreeing that the team has found better footing this year.

“I feel our urgency is there,” Talib said, via ESPN.com. “I don’t think our urgency was there last year. We were kind of in recovering mode the whole offseason. Our urgency is there. That’s where it starts.”

Falling from the top of the mountain to out of the playoffs is humbling enough to create a sharper edge, but may not be the only reason for a new attitude in Denver. The change in head coaches from Gary Kubiak to Vance Joseph likely has some impact on the changed atmosphere as the unfamiliar leads players to react differently than they would under the same tutelage.

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NFL creating another officiating job, replacing Dean Blandino with two

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Almost-former NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino is leaving just as the league was about to give final say on real-time replay from every game.

And after a moment of surprise, perhaps they’ve realized it might take more than one man to do the job.

According to Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com, the NFL has posted a new job which sounds like the guy who will be the eyes and face of replay, in addition to the vacancy Blandino’s creating by going to FOX.

The posting for the newly created vice president of replay and administration says that person will be responsible for “accuracy and consistency in all areas concerning in-game reviews and communication with [the] on-field officiating crew,” and said the job would require the “ability to make decisions in situations that are time sensitive and potentially public facing.”

That new title will report to the senior vice president of officiating, meaning they’re effectively splitting Blandino’s job in half.

Creating a new position does nothing to change the perception that centralizing replay was done with Blandino in particular in mind, and that his leaving left them in a state of pants somewhere other than up. And it also suggests that the lure of more money for less work was something Blandino was interested in, unless the league was offering to double his salary and we just haven’t heard about it.

It also sounds vaguely familiar, like a suggestion some wise person made recently. Who could that have been?

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How many quarterbacks will be drafted in round one?

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The first round of the 2017 draft has arrived, and one of the biggest questions is what it always is during the first round of the draft: How many quarterbacks will be drafted?

It’s the PFT Live question of the day, with the choices listed below.

The show starts at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, with the simulcast on NBCSN beginning at 7:00 a.m. ET. Guests include two of the quarterbacks at the top of the draft: Mitchell Trubisky and DeShone Kizer. Also joining the show will be safety Jamal Adams and tight end O.J. Howard.

And the day culminates with everyone learning whether one, two, three, four, or five quarterbacks find out their first NFL destinations. With every team that doesn’t have a franchise quarterback looking for a franchise quarterback — and with several teams who have franchise quarterbacks looking to replace them — the quarterbacks could be overdrafted in 2017, just like they often are.

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Doubts about Ladarius Green may lead Steelers to draft a tight end

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A year ago, the Steelers signed Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract, thinking that meant they had found Heath Miller’s replacement at tight end. It hasn’t worked out that way.

Green missed 10 games in the regular season and all three games in the postseason, and now the Steelers aren’t sure he’ll ever be ready to go. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the Steelers’ coaches may not have any hopes for Green, and the Steelers are likely to draft a tight end.

There were reports shortly after Green arrived in Pittsburgh that the Steelers found out only after he signed that a lingering ankle issue and a history of concussions were worse than the team thought. The Steelers, however, said that wasn’t the case.

If the Steelers spend their first-round pick on a tight end tonight, that’s a strong sign that they’re not as confident in Green now as they were a year ago.

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Cowboys add punter Sam Irwin-Hill

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The Dallas Cowboys have added some competition to their special teams unit.

The team signed former Arkansas punter Sam Irwin-Hill to battle Chris Jones during the offseason.

Irwin-Hill played two seasons for Arkansas after transferring from the City College of San Francisco junior college. Irwin-Hill averaged 44.3 yards per punt during his senior season in 2014. Irwin-Hill previously had a brief stint with the Indianapolis Colts as well after going undrafted.

Irwin-Hill will have a difficult time earning the job. Jones averaged a career-high 45.9 yards per punt average last season for Dallas. However, he is entering the final year of his contract with the Cowboys and is set to earn $1.5 million in base salary. Irwin-Hill would make $465,000 as a rookie, which could save Dallas close to $1 million if they end up needing to create cap space somewhere.

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Geronimo Allison settles marijuana possession charge

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Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison settled a marijuana charge stemming from an arrest last September.

According to the Associated Press, Allison reached a deal with prosecutors in Manitowoc County to a lesser ordinance violation charge which will require Allison to pay a $330.50 fine and complete community service.

Allison was stopped for speeding in September and was arrested after a search of his vehicle turned up cigars with marijuana.

The matter could still subject Allison to league discipline.

Allison caught 12 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns last year in his rookie season with the Packers.

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Joe Thomas sees the draft as a soap opera with unpaid actors

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Ten years ago, tackle Joe Thomas opted not to attend the draft. He recently explained that he didn’t want to be an unpaid actor in the NFL’s top offseason drama.

“The idea of going to New York for five days and kinda being paraded around by the NFL as they make money off your every step, and the whole purpose is just for publicity for me to stand there in a suit and go, ‘Look at me everybody!’… That sounds horrible,” Thomas tells Graham Bentsinger in a new interview that debuts this weekend.

It also sounded horrible to the NFL that Thomas didn’t want to go along with the thing that is constantly sold to players as some sort of an honor.

“It started turning into, ‘The teams are gonna think you’re a prima donna and they’re not gonna wanna draft you anymore because you’re shunning the draft’ . . . to try to coerce me into showing up to the draft,” Thomas said. “And I really thank my agent, Peter Schaffer, for just being real upfront about it and saying, ‘Look, these guys are just BS-ing you. They’re just doing what they can to try to get you there, because they need the actors for their TV show.’ . . . And they get all these players to show up for free and they become part of the soap opera of the NFL, which is great for some guys. . . . But then there’s the guy that just plummets in the draft and he’s there sweating it out. He’s got five cameras in his face.”

Joe gets it, as he usually does. The whole process is packaged and sold to the players as a privilege, with no one from the league’s perspective ever admitting that having the players participate makes a show about nothing possibly about something. The draft doesn’t need to have a stage; it doesn’t even need to have a gathering. Everything can happen electronically, with no boos or no bear hugs and no parade of young men in fancy suits who are providing free content for the Ultimate Reality Show’s ultimate reality show and ultimately getting no compensation for it.

That doesn’t mean I’m not excited for the draft. But it does mean that every player who will be marching out to greet the Commissioner should be getting paid to be there. The Commissioner, and everyone else attending the draft on behalf of the league or one of its teams, definitely is.

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Will Trubisky be the No. 1 overall pick?

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The Browns claim that they have known who they’ll be taking with the first overall pick for two weeks. But it may not be the guy most think it will be.

Adam Schefter of ESPN is pushing the prospect of the Browns shaking up the top of the draft by tapping a quarterback with the first overall pick.

“I continue to hear that Mitchell Trubisky is square in consideration and may turn out to be the No. 1 pick,” Schefter said, via Rotoworld.com. “Now I know everyone thinks Myles Garrett’s going to be the pick, and I will not be surprised if that’s the case. . . . But I have got very smart, very well-connected people telling me over the last 24 hours that they think Trubisky’s going to be the No. 1 pick.”

That’s some next-level hedging, and it cuts against the idea that the Browns know what they’ll be doing — unless the Browns simply aren’t saying what they’re doing in the event they find a way to trade down with someone who wants Garrett, which allows them to take Trubisky in a lower spot and to claim Trubisky is the guy they wanted all along.

Several days ago, Schefter authored a curious article that showcased strong opinions from Warren Sapp against Garrett being the top pick. It felt like a favor to someone with the Browns. And maybe the goal wasn’t to break the tie within the organization but to lay the foundation for emerging from the first round without the supposed consensus No. 1 pick.

Maybe the Browns will emerge from round one with Trubisky. The former North Carolina quarterback joins Thursday’s PFT Live. For those of you who are up late and checking out the latest pre-draft news and information at PFT, you get to see it now.

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Buzz builds for Gareon Conley being picked in round three

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No one currently expects Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley to be selected in round one, given a rape allegation that likely won’t be resolved in his favor by Thursday night. Currently, the thinking is that someone will take a flier on him before the conclusion of Friday night’s proceedings.

Per a league source, the current buzz has Conley going at some point before the end of the third round.

The risk is obvious; Conley could be charged, prosecuted, and ultimately convicted of a first-degree felony. But he also could be exonerated, either by the alleged victim not pursuing the case or prosecutors deciding based on the witness testimony from the hotel room where the rape allegedly occurred that Conley would be able to establish sufficient reasonable doubt to make a trial a losing proposition.

At some point as the seven rounds unfold, the potential reward will outweigh the risk. The current thinking is that this will happen at some point before the end of round three.

If he’s guilty, he shouldn’t be drafted at all. If he’s innocent, his draft stock shouldn’t be affected at all. His current draft stock reflects the reality that few know exactly what happened in that Cleveland hotel room and, for now, no one knows what will happen moving forward.

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Tebow is hitting .246 for the Fireflies

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Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow continues to draw customers to the Columbia Fireflies ballpark. Despite not hitting a home run since cranking two in his first three Single A games, Tebow continues to play well enough to pass the eyeball test.

He’s batting .246 through 18 games, with 16 hits and 16 strikeouts in 65 at-bats. On Wednesday, Tebow had three hits in four at-bats, including a triple.

Attendance on Wednesday for the Fireflies was below 3,200, down sharply from the average of 5,704 through the team’s first 11 home games.

Tebow turns 30 on August 14, so the clock on his development continues to tick and tick and tick. Still, in less than a year he’s gotten to the point where he is getting a hit roughly once in every four tries. While that won’t propel him to the Mets any time soon, it’s progress.

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Emmanuel Sanders: Paxton Lynch has shed “deer in headlights” look

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When last we heard from Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders about the quarterback competition in Denver, he was saying all the right things about both of the candidates. He still is, but with more detail.

“I was just watching Trevor [Siemian] walk around and he’s walking around with that same confidence,” Sanders told reporters on Wednesday after a minicamp practice. “You put him in the shotgun, and he can sling it around. You see Paxton [Lynch] and you see an opportunity at hand being a young guy last year.

“Paxton was like that deer in the headlights, walking around big-eyed. Now, he’s more relaxed. It’s going to be interesting to see how Paxton takes his second year. Hopefully he gets that Memphis swag back. [We’ll] see those two guys compete and see who wins the job.”

Whoever wins the job will be slinging it around, and that makes Sanders very, very happy.

“Obviously, we’re going to throw the ball a lot more,” Sanders said. “There are a lot of underneath routes. Today we were able to throw the ball down the field. I think Bennie [Fowler] and Paxton connected on a deep ball. . . . I’m excited. I remember [Mike McCoy’s] offense from 2014. I labeled it, ‘Wide Receiver Avenue.’ It’s very pass happy and that’s everything as a receiver you could want. I’m excited.”

Broncos fans should be excited, too. The offense didn’t do enough to complement the team’s defense last year, and the Broncos didn’t make it to the playoffs. A passing game with punch could make all the difference that Denver needs.

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Giants lawyers release more Eli Manning emails to media

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Nearly two weeks ago, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in a memorabilia fraud lawsuit against the Giants produced an email that arguably contains smoking-gun evidence of quarterback Eli Manning’s involvement in the scheme, with Eli asking the team’s equipment manager for two helmets that can “pass as game used.” On Wednesday, the lawyers representing the Giants and Manning released emails aimed at showing Eli was not involved.

But the article from ESPN.com, which quotes an email reflecting a 2012 effort by Manning to get equipment manager Jeff Skiba to secure Manning’s primary helmet and his backup helmet, contains no emails or other specific factual information that would explain why or how the 2010 “pass as game used” email doesn’t mean what it seems to mean.

Per the ESPN.com article, the lawyers claim that the plaintiffs “have no evidence of what was even produced after those emails were sent and have no direct knowledge of Manning producing anything that turned out to be fake.”

“The Manning defendants produced all of their documents concerning Mr. Manning’s equipment that he provided to Steiner Sports for the simple reason that they have nothing to hide and vehemently deny that they ever provided Steiner Sports with equipment they did not believe was game-used,” the attorneys representing the Giants and Manning wrote in an item submitted last week to the court presiding over the case.

That’s fine and it’s fair, but it sheds no light on why or how Manning sending an email in 2010 asking for two helmets that can “pass as game used” doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. If the email was taken out of context, what was the context and what does it mean within that context?

It would be ironic, to say the least, if lawyers accusing the Giants and Manning of fraud are perpetrating a fraud with an email that doesn’t mean what they claim it means. To date, however, there has been nothing from the the Giants, Manning, or their lawyers that specifically shows why or how that email has been warped, embellished, or otherwise bastardized by the plaintiffs. Producing emails that suggest there wasn’t a scam doesn’t erase the one email that suggests there was; the one email that suggests there was needs to be shown that it’s not what it seems to be in order to change the minds of those who look at that one email as proof of shenanigans.

I like Eli. I respect him and the work he does for worthy causes like the fight against the tragedy of childhood cancer. I want to believe that there’s nothing to any of this. It would be much easier if someone would provide, once and for all, an explanation of the “pass as game used” email that meshes fully and completely with the notion that Eli is being accused of something he didn’t do.

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Over-under on first-round quarterbacks is 3.5

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For the first time this year, Nevada casinos are taking bets on the NFL draft, and perhaps the most interesting bet revolves around how many quarterbacks will be selected in the first round.

Vegas sports books have set the over-under at 3.5, with the under a -200 favorite and the over a +170 underdog. In other words, the oddsmakers think three or fewer first-round quarterbacks is more likely than four or more.

North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky appears to be a sure-thing first-round pick, and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes are likely first-round picks as well. If you think those three, and only those three, are going in the first round, then you’d bet the under.

But a surprise like Cal’s Davis Webb or Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer could end up in the first round as well, perhaps pushing the first round total to four or five. And could Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman, Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs or Miami’s Brad Kaaya go in the first round? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

The most likely outcome is that Trubisky, Watson and Mahomes hear their names called Thursday night, and the other quarterbacks do not. But the NFL draft is unpredictable enough that there are no safe bets.

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