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Winners, losers from the NFL lockout

Fans wait outside the NFL Players Association headquarters in Washington AP

We have broken down the deal.  Now let’s look at who escaped this lockout slog looking good, and who didn’t.

The Winners

Veteran NFL players: They missed an offseason of minicamps and practices, which should make it easier to fend off young players in camp this year.  More importantly, they will get a bigger slice of the salary cap pie.

Top rookies will make far less in this new CBA, and that money will go to veterans.  Getting NFL teams to agree to a very aggressive “salary cap floor” also guarantees NFL revenue will be spent back on the players.

For example, teams have to spend to 99% of the salary cap as a league this year.  The lowest any team can spend is 89% of the cap.  These are huge increases from previous floors that will guarantee small market teams spend aggressively.

Players you’ve never heard of: Minimum salaries of players will go up $50,000, which is a substantial increase.  Almost half the league has minimum salary contracts.  The players did right by their right by the rank and file.

Bank accounts of NFL owners: The NFLPA* was playing defense all along.  We essentially knew ahead of time the owners would leave this lockout with a larger share of total revenue, and that is the case.

The players made advances in other issues like safety and a salary cap floor, but ultimately the owners will now get a greater share of a rapidly growing revenue pool.  This can be a “win-win” deal, but there’s no debate the owners will get more money in this CBA than the one that came before it.

That was the entire idea behind the lockout.

Small market teams: Yes, they have to spend more to get to the salary cap floor.  They also will get more revenue sharing help from the top-earning teams in the league.

Jeff Saturday and Domonique Foxworth: These two leaders from the NFLPA* earned a lot of respect.

Mediator Arthur Boylan: Sure, the biggest breakthrough happened when he was on vacation.  Boylan still kept the union and NFL moving forward during choppy waters.  He helped to finish the job mediator George Cohen could not.

A special thanks to …

Patriots owner Robert Kraft: No owner did more to bring the two sides together and compromise than Patriots owner Robert Kraft. That he did it against the backdrop of his wife’s battle with cancer makes his contributions all the more remarkable.

Colts center Jeff Saturday’s remarks after the agreement said it all.

Gets his own category

DeMaurice Smith: Fans may disagree, but we suspect history will show Smith did well by his players.  Let’s face it: The NFLPA* is always going to be an underdog in labor talks.  They have fewer resources and they were playing defense.

Smith took over a difficult situation and slowly earned the respect of his players and adversaries in ownership.  He didn’t give up that much and got plenty in return for financial concessions.  Most importantly, he helped get to the finish line without missing significant time in training camp or the preseason.

The lockout was caused by owner unhappiness at a time of unprecedented prosperity in the league. They locked the players out, which has to count for something.  Both sides were at fault for taking fans for granted throughout the process, and dragging this out longer than necessary.  That’s why Smith isn’t a “winner” but someone that earned respect.

Losers

The 18-game concept: It will eventually be a matter of debate again, but not for at least two years.  This was a big issue for the players, and they didn’t budge.

Roger Goodell: We think Goodell is a very good commissioner with the best interests of the game at heart. But there’s no denying he’s been beaten up over the last few months.  Player anger towards him became significant.  A perception grew that he couldn’t control his owners. (We’re not sure anyone could.)

Goodell’s efforts to end the lockout cannot be underestimated.  But this is a results business: Goodell presided over the longest work stoppage in league history.  In the long run, people will view the 2011 lockout as a speed bump for a wildly successful league.  In the short run, the NFL can’t have it both ways.

They have sold the concept to fans on NFL Network that the “season never ends.” It ended for five months this year, running the league’s biggest fans through an emotional ringer.

This lockout came primarily as a money grab at a time of unprecedented success for the league. Considering the economic climate the lockout took place in, Goodell takes a short-term hit.

Hardcore coaches: Practice contact will be reduced dramatically in the regular season. Offseason practices will also be cut down, with big fines for coaches who break the rules.

“The only thing the players didn’t get is someone else to play for them,” one source told PFT.

Highly-drafted rookies: This especially applies to top ten picks.  No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton is slated to get roughly $22 million over the next four years.  For comparison’s sake, last year’s top pick Sam Bradford got $50 million guaranteed and $72 million over his first six years.

First-round picks outside the top-16 picks will take a hit, but it’s not as dramatic.  Players taken in rounds two-through-seven may actually benefit because of the minimum salary increase.

All 2011 rookies: It will be harder for quarterbacks like Newton or Minnesota’s Christian Ponder to win starting gigs and succeed in camp after missing the entire offseason.  This will especially hurt late-round picks and undrafted players that now seem more likely to be cut.

Undrafted players:  With the per-team signing bonus expenditure limited to $75,000 per team for undrafted players, these rookies will no longer be able to tell prospective teams to put their money where their mouths are.

Agents: They are taking a hair cut on fees for rookie contracts, which are already headed South.  Anti-holdout measures for rookies will also be taken, which takes away a leverage point for agents.

Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb: Perhaps the Bengals could have traded Palmer before the 2011 draft. Now it appears he may spend the 2011 season at home because he refuses to play for Cincinnati.  The Bengals probably won’t entertain trading him until 2012.

McNabb would not still be a member of the Redskins if not for the lockout. With five highly drafted rookies getting taken, the market for him has been significantly diminished. His exorbitant bonus isn’t due until September, which means the Redskins may fruitlessly try to trade him for a while.  More jobs will be filled in the meantime.

Vincent Jackson: Fans won’t forget that Jackson was the last Brady antitrust plaintiff to give up on squeezing the NFL for more cash in exchange for his signature.  We don’t think it’s fair to call the players “greedy” throughout much of the process, but Jackson, Logan Mankins, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning took a P.R. hit by seeking extra benefits for attaching their name to the antitrust case.

NFL fans: The players and owners take us for granted because they can.  We just want football, and we support the league completely. It was an insane act of hubris for the NFL to threaten to take the game away when it was at its very peak. The league isn’t likely to pay for it.

Rich Eisen from NFL Network put it well: “Love all these fans saying now we missed nothing when my twitter feed has been filled for 4 months MFing everyone involved in this process.”

The more you love the game, the more these last five months have been difficult to swallow.

The lucky part: We won’t have to go through this again for at least another decade.

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Congratulations, your team is going to the Super Bowl

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OK, so you’ve had a night to sleep on your favorite team’s NFL schedule.

And no matter how you feel about it, you probably don’t feel as good as the fine folks who cover your team for ESPN.

The worldwide leader asked its fleet of beat writers to count up wins and losses for each team after last night’s schedule release.

And they came up with a record of 290-222. Which is neat, except mathematically impossible by 34 games, unless they’ve figured out how to let both teams win on Monday Night Football.

No division was more optimistic than the NFC West, which will apparently feature three 12-4 teams (the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals).

Granted, the writers operated independently of one another, and it’s an assignment which was given to them by someone else.

But it just goes to show how pointless it is to try to predict wins and losses in April, before the NFL Draft, before injuries hit, before rosters are picked.

Besides, when I picked them, the league went 222-290.

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Stevie Johnson: The goal is the playoffs, and that’s it

Stevie_Johnson_Bills_Contract_No_More_Celebrations Getty Images

The Bills still haven’t made the postseason in the 21st Century, having last reached the playoffs at the end of the 1999 season, when they lost in the Music City Miracle. But Bills receiver Stevie Johnson thinks this is the season it can happen.

Johnson told the Buffalo News that he doesn’t have any personal goals for 2014, but he does want to do everything he can to help his team play into January of 2015.

“Playoffs,” Johnson said. “Playoffs and that’s it. All those personal goals, they don’t really mean nothing. Last year was kind of frustrating, but when I look back on it, it was a good thing. The whole individual stats and stuff is out the window. It’s just playoffs now. It’s winning.”

Winning has been an elusive goal for the Bills, who have finished 6-10 three years in a row. Johnson bouncing back from his disappointing 2013 season would go a long way toward getting the Bills where they want to go.

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NFL wary of putting Seahawks home games in prime-time due to recent blowouts

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks will host the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, Sept. 4 for the kickoff of the 2014 NFL season. However, it’s the only time this year the defending Super Bowl champions will be at home for a nationally televised prime-time game.

The Seahawks have four prime-time games on their schedule this season. But after the season opener against the Packers, Seattle has to play on the road for their remaining three nationally televised games. The Washington Redskins host the Seahawks on Monday Night Football in Week 5. The Seahawks play in San Francisco against the 49ers on Thanksgiving night in Week 13, and will travel to face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football in Week 16. The latter two games will be televised on NBC.

According to a league source, the NFL was wary of putting Seahawks home games on in prime-time due to their track record of blowouts in nationally televised games played in Seattle the last several seasons.

The last three times Seattle has hosted a prime-time match-up, the games have been extremely uncompetitive. The Seahawks hammered the divisional-rival 49ers 42-13 and 29-3 in Sunday night games the last two seasons. They also beat the New Orleans Saints 34-7 on Monday night in December.

In addition, Seattle beat the Philadelphia Eagles 31-14 at home on Thursday night in 2011. The only close game played against the Seahawks in prime-time in Seattle the last three seasons was the 14-12 loss by the Packers in September 2012 that ended on a somewhat memorable play.

While Seattle fans surely enjoyed those outcomes, games that appeared to be highly competitive prior to kickoff quickly turned into duds to a national audience.

The Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles all host three prime-time games in 2014. Fifteen more teams host two prime-time games. The defending champion Seahawks only get one at home.

The Seahawks will still get plenty of national exposure, as defending champions should, with four scheduled nationally televised games. However, beyond the first game of the entire 2014 NFL schedule, they won’t get a chance to host one inside the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field.

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No grand prize winner in Rams schedule contest

Tennessee Titans v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

The St. Louis Rams were willing to pay a cold, hard $100,000 in cash if someone could correctly guess every aspect of their 2014 schedule before the lineup was officially released on Wednesday evening.

Much like Warren Buffett’s $1 billion contest to correctly predict the outcome of every NCAA Tournament game, the Rams contest also went by the wayside without a grand prize winner.

However, not everyone will walk away empty-handed.

Per a team release, two fans from Jefferson City, Mo. tied for second place and will be offered season tickets for the entirety of the 2014 season.

The contest required fans to pick all 16 games and the bye week in order. It also stipulated that entrants needed to correctly pick the day on which all games will be played.

Four entries had streaks of four consecutive weeks correctly predicted. Only one entry was able to correctly guess as many eight games correct in the week those games will actually be played.

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Seahawks executive Scot McCloughan resigning to tend to personal matters

San Francisco 49ers 2009 Headshots

The Seattle Seahawks are losing a key member of their front office staff.

A source confirmed to PFT that Seahawks’ senior personnel executive Scot McCloughan is resigning from his position in order to tend to personal matters that require his attention. The move was first reported by Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.

McCloughan joined the Seahawks in 2010 in a supporting role to general manager John Schneider. McCloughan had previously been the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers before stepping down following the 2009 season. McCloughan’s departure from San Francisco was also to tend to a “private personal matter.”

McCloughan has been a key figure in building the rosters of both of the NFC West’s powerhouse teams.

McCloughan drafted Dashon Goldson, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Joe Staley and Patrick Willis during his time with the 49ers as GM and VP of football operations. He then helped identify key players for Seattle such as Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner that allowed Seattle to win their first Super Bowl in February.

It’s a big blow to the Seahawks personnel department. McCloughan intends to build his own independent scouting service to work from home so he can be around his family.

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Nevada sports book makes Eagles biggest favorites of Week One

Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

About an hour after the regular season schedule was released Wednesday night, the LVH Las Vegas Hotel and Casino had already installed favorites and underdogs for the opening week games.

Jacksonville is the biggest Week One underdog on the LVH SuperBook board. The Eagles are 11-point favorites over the visiting Jaguars in the season opener for both clubs.

No other club is favored by more than a touchdown, and only the Broncos and Bears are favored by more than six points. Denver is a seven-point favorite vs. Indianapolis, while Chicago is a 6.5-point favorite vs. Buffalo.

All but three home teams are favored in Week One. The only home underdogs are the Cowboys (vs. the 49ers), the Buccaneers (vs. the Panthers) and the Dolphins (vs. the Patriots).

Finally, the Seahawks are five-point favorites vs. Green Bay in the opening game of the regular season.

Here are the LVH’s Week One lines:

Thursday, September 4

Green Bay at Seattle (-5)

Sunday, September 7

New Orleans at Atlanta (-2)

Cincinnati at Baltimore (-2.5)

Buffalo at Chicago (-6.5)

Washington at Houston (-2.5)

Tennessee at Kansas City (-5.5)

New England (-3.5) at Miami

Oakland at N.Y. Jets (-4.5)

Jacksonville at Philadelphia (-11)

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-5)

Minnesota at St. Louis (-5)

San Francisco (-3.5) at Dallas

Carolina (-2.5) at Tampa Bay

Indianapolis at Denver (-7)

Monday, September 8

N.Y. Giants at Detroit (-4)

San Diego at Arizona (-3.5)

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Marcus Trufant set to retire after signing deal with Seahawks

St. Louis Rams v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Cornerback Marcus Trufant is set to retire as a member of the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday after spending the entirety of his 10-year career with his hometown franchise.

The team announced Wednesday that Trufant had re-signed with the team with the intention of announcing his retirement at an 11 a.m. PT press conference on Thursday.

Trufant grew up in nearby Tacoma, Wash. and attended Washington State University. He was selected by the Seahawks with the 11th overall pick of the 2003 NFL Draft and played the next 10 seasons with the Seahawks. Trufant was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2007. He racked up 85 tackles and seven interceptions that season for Seattle in his best season as a professional.

The Seahawks made the playoffs seven of Trufant’s 10 seasons on the roster and won the NFC West five times with an appearance in Super Bowl XL in 2005.

Trufant spent time in training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season before being released. He finishes his career with 644 tackles, 21 interceptions, five forced fumbles and two touchdowns.

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Packers-Saints provide this year’s World Series alternative

2011-world-series

Before 2010, the NFL avoided scheduling Sunday night games on the days reserved for the World Series.  That year, the league decided to challenge baseball directly.

In every year since then, the NFL has scheduled a Sunday night game against the World Series.  This year, the Packers visit the Saints for the Sunday night of Week Eight, against what likely will be Game Four of the World Series.

Then, the next night, the Redskins face the Cowboys in Dallas on Monday Night Football.  The game will be played against what likely will be Game Five of the Fall Classic, which has in recent years taken a back seat to the Boys of Fall.

It’s too bad Mark Cuban never bought a baseball team.

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Rams have a shot at a good start

Tavon Austin AP

In our Week 17 analysis, we mentioned the need for the Rams and Cardinals to stand up to the NFC West’s power duo of Seattle and San Francisco if they are to compete for playoff spots.

Moreover, it would behoove the Rams and Cardinals to start well, too.

For the Rams, a 3-0 record headed into their Week Four bye isn’t an impossible dream. To begin their season, the Rams have home games against Minnesota (Week One) and Dallas (Week Three) and a road trip to Tampa Bay (Week Two). These opponents aren’t pushovers, but they are teams the Rams can defeat on their best. With games at Philadelphia (Week Five) and vs. Seattle and San Francisco (Weeks Six and Seven) right after the bye, St. Louis needs to sock away some early victories.

The Cardinals, like the Rams, get their bye in Week Four. And like St. Louis, Arizona has two home games before the break. The bad news? One of those home games is against San Francisco in Week Three. The Monday-night Week One opener vs. San Diego could be tricky. So could the trip to face the Giants in New Jersey six days later. Then, after the bye, the Cardinals travel to Denver in Week Five.

Many teams’ preseason plans have been ruined by less-than-ideal starts. It’s no different than a bad break in the Kentucky Derby. Sure, talented closers can win after early stumbles, but getting good position right off the bat is preferable.

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Week 16 features Saturday doubleheader

Saturday

Officially, Week 16 launches with a Thursday night game in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars will host the Titans.  But the real action gets rolling on Saturday, when the league brings back the concept of the late-season Saturday doubleheader.

One game starts in the late afternoon, and the other kicks off on Saturday night.

The broadcast antitrust exemption prevents the NFL from broadcasting Friday and Saturday games from early September through early December.  By late December, Fridays and Saturdays are fair game.

On December 20, the 49ers host the Chargers and the Redskins host the Eagles.  Kickoff times are 4:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network and 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS, with an NFLN simulcast.

It’s a mini-flex concept; the league will select the better of the two games for the national broadcast audience.  Ultimately, the decision will hinge on how well the teams are doing after 15 regular-season weekends.

For now, the showdown between DeSean Jackson’s new team and his old team appears to be the more intriguing game.  That could change by late December.

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Week Nine brings 16th Brady-Manning matchup

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady AP

Death, taxes and Peyton Manning facing off against Tom Brady.

Whether Manning has been with the Colts or the Broncos, annual games against Patriots teams quarterbacked by Tom Brady have been all but certainties since 2001 and, assuming everyone’s healthy, 2014 won’t be any different. The Broncos will travel to New England in Week Nine for a late afternoon matchup at Gillette Stadium.

The Broncos won the last game between the two teams last January in the AFC Championship Game as Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns to send the Broncos. Denver wasn’t so lucky in the regular season meeting with New England when they blew a 24-0 halftime lead and lost 34-31 on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal in overtime.

Brady’s teams have won 10 of the 15 previous meetings with Manning’s clubs and most have been entertaining matchups. With Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware added to the rivalry and Aqib Talib switching sides, this year’s has a good chance of measuring up.

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Collin Klein heads to Canada

Klein Getty Images

Vince Young may not want to go to Canada to continue his football career.  Ditto for Tim Tebow.

Collin Klein has no such qualms.

The former Kansas State star, who was undrafted and overlooked by the NFL last season, has signed a two-year deal with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.

He joins former NFL receiver Chad Johnson, who signed with the Alouettes last week.

Klein was invited last year to the Texans’ rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, the Texans liked Klein — but not enough to sign him to the 90-man offseason roster.  He has refused to consider playing other positions.  The CFL will give him a chance to show that he can play quarterback at the professional level.

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Raiders have a tough road in 2014

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Now that the Raiders’ official schedule has been released, maybe fans and players will temper expectations that were increased by a run on veteran free agents.

Regardless of the dates and times for the games, it was known that the Raiders would play three games against the Super Bowl XLVIII teams, five games against conference finalists from 2013, nine games against 2013 playoff teams, and 12 against teams with non-losing records from a year ago.

The specific configuration of games makes it even worse.  If that’s possible.

Three of the first four games will involve 10:00 a.m. local time kickoffs, with a Week One game at the Jets, a Week Three game at the Patriots, and a Week Four “home” game against the Dolphins in London.  Week Two features a visit from the Texans, who were 2-14 last year but who are expected to be considerably better in 2014.

Then comes the bye.  And then comes the boom.

Chargers.  Cardinals.  At Browns.  At Seahawks.  Broncos.  At Chargers.  Chiefs.  At Rams.  49ers.  At Chiefs.  Bills.  At Broncos.

For a team with a coach and G.M. widely believed to be on the hot seat, maybe owner Mark Davis should consider how difficult this season will be before making a final assessment.

Given this slate of games, anything better than 5-11 should be regarded as a major accomplishment.

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Chris Johnson returns to Tennessee in Week 15

Chris Johnson AP

Wednesday night’s schedule release told us the dates and times of games during the 2014 regular season, but we already knew which games would be road contests because of the system the NFL uses to decide opponents from year to year.

Because of that, we knew that running back Chris Johnson would face his former teammates at some point this season. And now we know that the game will come in Week 15 when the Jets travel to Nashville for a 4:05 date with the Titans.

By that point in the year, we’ll have a pretty good idea if the Jets’ decision to sign Johnson paid off handsomely or not. If it did, there’s a pretty good chance that the meeting will have playoff implications for the Jets and the Titans could also find themselves in the mix for a playoff spot if things break right in Ken Whisenhunt’s first year as head coach,

The Titans beat the Jets 38-13 at LP Field in Week Four last season. It wasn’t that game that convinced the Jets to sign Johnson as he was held to 21 yards on 15 carries while Jake Locker threw three touchdown passes before leaving with an injury.

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Bears, Cowboys play on back to back Thursdays

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When the NFL decided to expand the post-Week One Thursday night package to 14 games and to play three games on Thanksgiving, a potential competitive disadvantage was created.  With 17 total short-week games, two teams potentially would be playing twice on a Sunday and then on a Thursday.

The NFL avoided that problem by scheduling two of the teams that will play on Thanksgiving to play on the following Thursday.

The Cowboys, who host the Eagles on Thanksgiving, and the Bears, who travel to Detroit on Thanksgiving, will play in Chicago on the following Thursday.

Some players complain about playing Thursday games after playing on Sunday.  Others like it, citing a less intense week of work before the Thursday game and a mini-bye on the back end.  For the Cowboys and Bears, their mini-bye will be delayed by a week, which is more fair than expecting two of the NFL teams to twice play a pair of games with only three days of rest.

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