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Winners, losers from the NFL lockout

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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Derek Carr: I’ll give it to Marshawn on the 1-yard line, not throw it

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Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has brought up a painful memory for Seahawks fans.

After signing his new contract on Friday, Carr said that he doesn’t think his status as the NFL’s highest-paid player forces him to try to win games himself. Instead, Carr said, he’ll be happy to hand off to Marshawn Lynch for a game-winning touchdown if the Raiders are in that position.

“My No. 1 goal is to make sure that I give everything I have to this organization,” Carr said. “So there’s no pressure, there’s no, ‘We’ll be on the 1-yard line and I won’t give it to Marshawn, I’ll throw it.’ None of that stuff. I don’t care about the stats. That’s not my No. 1 objective. I don’t care if I throw 10 touchdowns next year. If we win every game, that’s all I care about.”

Carr was referencing the Seahawks’ infamous decision to have Russell Wilson throw a pass, which was intercepted, rather than handing off to Lynch at the 1-yard line at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. Now that Lynch is a Raider, they plan to give him the ball at the goal line.

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Tavon Wilson seeks to throw out suits against him

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Detroit Lions safety Tavon Wilson denies he punched a former girlfriend during an altercation last year, according to TMZ.

Per TMZ, Alanda Jackson, the mother of Wilson’s 3-year-old, has filed suit against Wilson, alleging that he broke her nose during the melee. Jackson got into a verbal altercation with Wilson’s current girlfriend at a nightclub in Washington, D.C., on May 14, 2016. Jackson accuses Wilson of grabbing her, throwing her to the ground and punching her in the face. Jackson said a female friend was stabbed by someone in Wilson’s entourage, and both women were hospitalized.

Jackson was arrested, TMZ reports, with Wilson’s current girlfriend, Simone Leach, claiming she was the victim. Jackson seeks more than $2.5 million, and Wilson also faces a suit from the other alleged victim. Wilson has asked a judge to dismiss both suits.

The Lions released a statement: “We are aware of the report regarding Tavon Wilson. We have spoken to Tavon, and we have also notified the league office of this matter. Due to the personal nature of this situation, we will have no additional comment at this time.”

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Archie Manning: Adam Gase reached out to Peyton after Ryan Tannehill was injured

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At a time when many are wondering whether recently-retired quarterbacks Tony Romo and Jay Cutler would return to the NFL if a starter gets injured during the upcoming season, it turns out that last year’s high-profile retiree had an opportunity to return, sort of.

Via Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Archie Manning said Friday that he saw last December a text-message exchange between his son, Peyton, and Dolphins coach Adam Gase.

“He said, ‘Hey 18, [Ryan] Tannehill went down,'” Archie said. “[Gase] said, ‘I think he’s going to miss some time. The first question I’m going to get at the press conference in the morning is if I’m going to try to bring you to Miami. What do you want me to tell them?'”

It’s a creative way for Gase, Peyton’s offensive coordinator in Denver, to ask Peyton whether he was interested without officially asking him whether he was interested. Regardless, Peyton wasn’t interested.

Said Archie: “The text message came back from Peyton, ‘You tell them I could probably come play, but there’s no way I can miss carpool the next two weeks.’ So, he was done.”

Peyton was done, and he still is done. But it’s fascinating to think what could have happened late last season, if Peyton Manning had swooped in to help a Dolphins team that lost to Pittsburgh in the wild-card round — and that with an upset there would have been destined for a trip to New England to face the Patriots.

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Lakers G.M. compares Lonzo Ball to NFL’s best quarterbacks

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Typically, new players who arrive in a given sport are compared to other great players from that same sport. For reasons neither obvious nor apparent, the General Manager of the L.A. Lakers has compared the team’s latest first-round draft pick to the two best quarterbacks in the NFL.

“In press conferences, I don’t like a lot of hyperbole and a whole bunch of words,” Rob Pelinka said regarding Lonzo Ball, via Rob Baxter of ESPN.com. “I like to tell stories. I think when this really into focus for us was, we knew the talent was transcendent. The way he passes the ball, you look at quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, that just have a gift. There’s clearly a gift, with what he’s been blessed with.”

Apart from the comparison being odd, Pelinka’s comments amount to a potential curse for a player who already will be counted on to return to relevance one of the proudest franchises in the NBA, and who enters pro sports with one of the most high-profile and universally disliked fathers in all of sport.

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Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott not resting on their laurels

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Dak Prescott won 13 games and offensive rookie of the year honors. Ezekiel Elliott won the rushing title and earned six MVP votes as a rookie. Both were ranked among the top-14 players in the NFL Network’s poll of players.

But don’t think for a second that Prescott and Elliott have spent the offseason resting on their laurels. Instead, according to teammate Cole Beasley, Prescott and Elliott have worked harder than ever since the Cowboys fell short of their goals last season.

“Dak’s the type of guy, he could be the best in the world at his position, he’ll still come in here and not be satisfied or complacent,” Beasley said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. “He’ll come in here and grind like he’s a rookie. He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever seen.

“Zeke’s approach is just like it was last year. Both of those guys have a chip on their shoulders. They’re not satisfied until we get to where we want to be. All the guys in here are the same way. Until we get a Super Bowl, we haven’t done our jobs.”

The Cowboys haven’t been to a Super Bowl since the 1995 season when they won the franchise’s fifth. They have not produced back-to-back winning seasons since 2008-09. Both are goals this season after a 13-3 regular season in 2016 ended in disappointment in the playoffs with a loss in the divisional round to Green Bay.

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Derek Carr wanted to leave money for teammates

AP

Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie now wants to sign some of quarterback Derek Carr’s teammates, and Carr wants to be sure McKenzie can.

“The main thing that I could just remember was all along the way, I was like, ‘How do we keep my teammates?’” Carr said at Friday’s press conference regarding his new deal, via Raiders.com. “That’s, I don’t know if it’s weird how it sounds, but that was just what I kept telling him. I was like, ‘OK. that’s cool. Yeah, that’s awesome, wow, cool. Is this good for Gabe [Jackson]? Is this good for Khalil [Mack]? Is this good for Amari [Cooper]?’ [Reggie] can tell you himself, these are things that I said to him numerous amounts of times. I didn’t want to hurt our team; that’s the last thing I would ever want to do. So, hopefully we didn’t That’s the last thing that I intended to do and that’s kind of why I was so involved.”

Few would call a deal that sets a record for new-money average team friendly, but if Carr had wanted to maximize his earnings he could have followed the Kirk Cousins path to a year-to-year haul that would have resulted in ridiculously high cap numbers, and that ultimately would have forced the Raiders to pay more than $25 million annually.

And while Carr hasn’t quite copied the Tom Brady playbook and taken considerably less than market value, Brady’s failure to push the envelope has indeed affected Carr, just as it will affect others. If Brady had decided to pursue maximum dollars, he’d be making more than $30 million per year by now, and other quarterbacks would see their own pay lifted by that dynamic. It’s a point that former NFL quarterback Brady Quinn made on Friday’s PFT Live, noting that the union likely isn’t thrilled by Tom Brady’s conscious failure to elevate the quarterback market.

For Carr, the question now becomes whether his teammates will be as charitable when it’s their turn to get paid, consciously taking less to help the team keep more players or saying, “Screw this. I only have so many years to make big money, and I’m going to.”

With limited years in a playing career, no equity, and likely orthopedic and cognitive problems later in life, players have every right to seek every last dollar, forcing teams to navigate the cap and to make good decisions through the draft, which under the current compensation rules allows teams to load up the roster with young, talented, and cheap labor, year in and year out.

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Packers spend offseason working on defending the pass

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The Packers concentrated on the passing game — and defending the pass — during 11-on-11 work during the offseason. Mike McCarthy had reasons for reducing the number of run calls.

The Packers coach insists run calls in no-pads practices create unrealistic looks, leading to linemen and running backs developing bad habits. The emphasis on the passing game served a second purpose in giving the defensive backs more work as defensive coordinator Dom Capers spent the offseason preaching improved coverage.

“We’ve really focused on the pass,” McCarthy said, via Pete Dougherty of USA Today Network.

The Packers have three new players expected to upgrade their secondary. They brought back cornerback Davon House in free agency and drafted cornerback Kevin King and safety/linebacker Josh Jones with their first two picks.

The Packers ranked 22nd in total defense last season, including 31st against the pass, so it’s obvious why Green Bay made changes in both personnel and practice plans.

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Andy Reid could move into the NFL’s Top 5 in coaching wins

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Andy Reid isn’t usually named among the great coaches in NFL history, but perhaps he will be by the time he serves out his newly extended contract.

The Chiefs and Reid have just agreed on a new five-year contract, and if the 59-year-old Reid coaches five more years at the 11-wins-a-year pace he’s been on in Kansas City, he’d move into fifth place all-time in career wins.

Reid is currently tied with Jeff Fisher for 11th on the career wins list, with 173. He needs 13 wins to tie Chuck Knox and move into 10th place. If he won 55 more games, averaging 11 a year for five years, he’d have 228 career wins, which would put him fifth all-time behind Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Bill Belichick.

That would put Reid into Hall of Fame consideration, even without a Super Bowl win. Although fans often think of the best coaches as the ones who have Super Bowl rings, the Hall of Fame selection committee doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Several coaches have made it to the Hall of Fame without winning a Super Bowl, including George Allen, Bud Grant and Marv Levy. With five more good years, Reid would have as good a resume as those three Hall of Fame coaches.

Reid, of course, is much more focused on winning a Super Bowl. If he does that in his remaining time in Kansas City, that would likely punch his ticket to Canton.

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Prosecutors appeal decision to void Aaron Hernandez murder conviction

AP

When Aaron Hernandez killed himself in prison earlier this year, he was still appealing his conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd and that led a Massachusetts judge to void the conviction under the legal principle known as abatement ab initio.

That principle holds that a conviction can’t be finalized until the appeals process has been exhausted and resets the case to the beginning in the event of the defendant’s death. Prosecutors argued that doing so would reward Hernandez for killing himself and they are now appealing the judge’s decision to void the conviction.

Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn III called abatement ab initio “archaic” and noted that many other states have moved away from it to allow appeals to continue even after the defendant has died.

“A defendant who commits suicide should not be able to manipulate the outcome of his post-conviction proceedings to achieve in death what he would not be able to achieve in life,” Quinn said, via the Associated Press.

Hernandez killed himself shortly after being acquitted by a jury of two other murder charges.

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Michael Bidwill has concerns about having NFL team based in UK

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Cardinals President Michael Bidwill expresses doubt the NFL will have a team based in the UK in the near future. Bidwill, in London this week assessing facilities at Wembley and Twickenham ahead of the NFL’s games there this season, told Sky Sports News HQ that the league will “continue to study it, but I don’t think there’s any timeline out there.”

For the 10th consecutive season, the NFL will play games in London. The Cardinals will play the Rams at Twickenham on Oct. 22, while the Vikings face the Browns there on Oct. 29. Wembley will host the Ravens and Jaguars on Sept. 24 and the Dolphins and Saints on Oct. 1.

But scheduling teams to play one game in the UK obviously is much different than having a team based there.

“We’re getting a lot of support for the NFL over here, but I think one of the big things is going to be the travel; the different time zones and how it might impact the athletes playing here and traveling to play here,” Bidwill said, via Sophie Morris of Sky Sports News HQ. “One of the things we really care about is our players’ health. We want to see how this is going to impact the athlete and we want to make sure that there is no competitive imbalance.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft appears more optimistic, insisting the NFL will have a team in London. It is a prediction he has made for several years now.

“Now we play four games a year in London and sell tickets to 80,000 people and we’re going to have a team in London,” Kraft said, speaking at Cannes Lions as part of an interview with WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell via the New York Post. “We’re playing the Raiders in Mexico and have plans to play in Germany, Canada and Brazil and China. I don’t know why not France?”

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Derek Carr wants to splurge at Chick-fil-A

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Derek Carr should seek a marketing deal with Chick-fil-A. He gave the fast-food restaurant a shoutout Friday during a press conference officially to announce his new deal with the Raiders, getting it plenty of free publicity.

Carr’s five-year, $125 million deal makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history, prompting a question about where the quarterback will spend his newfound riches.

“Chick-fil-A,” Carr answered to laughter. “Probably Chick-fil-A. I’ve been eating clean. I’ll probably get some Chick-fil-A.”

Carr actually has big plans to use some of the money for the greater good. He said he will continue to tithe, something he has done since college, and hopes to help the less fortunate.

“The exciting thing for me money-wise, honestly, is this money’s going to help a lot of people,” Carr said. “I’m very thankful to have it, that it’s in our hands, because it’s going to help people not only in this country but in a lot of countries around the world. That’s what’s exciting for me.”

He does have one important shopping trip ahead.

“I’ll probably give my wife something nice, even though she begs me not to,” Carr said.

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Federal appeals court seems to accept evidence of CTE in living patients

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One of the most widely-accepted realities of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy has been undermined by one of the highest courts in the United States.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, one of various appellate courts that sit one step below the Supreme Court, has ruled in a case involving former NFL linebacker Jesse Solomon that the joint NFL-NFL Players Association Disability Plan abused its discretion in denying Solomon’s claim for disability benefits. In so doing, the court seemed to accept the notion that Solomon, who was involved in 69,000 high-speed collisions while playing football, has “CTE-related disability” and “CTE injuries.”

While hardly a medical finding that CTE can indeed be diagnosed without examining the brain tissue of a deceased patient, the court’s 13-page ruling seems to accept as a given the notion that CTE can be diagnosed based on a combination of MRIs and an assessment of symptoms.

It’s possible that those observations slipped in to the final written decision because the lawyers representing the Plan didn’t sufficiently focus on that point in written materials or while arguing the case in the courtroom. As to the former, it’s possible the lawyers regarded the inability to firmly diagnose CTE in living patients as a given. As to the latter, and based on a press release issued by Solomon’s lawyers, it’s possible the lawyers were too busy taking flak from judges to quibble with medical and scientific niceties.

“Why is the Plan fighting him so incredibly hard?” Judge Dennis Shedd said. “And when he makes the claim through your own doctor that he’s got a problem? . . .  Why in the world would you – I guess current players don’t want money to come out for past players, or something? . . . Why in the world would any player playing professional football . . . look at this and go, ‘This is one heck of a great deal for players.’ We play as hard as we can, give everything we got, get banged up — I saw something in the record [about] 69,000 tackles, that’s incredible.  We do all we can, and then we apply and when doctors say I have a problem based on those hits, and they say, ‘You’re not orthopedically disabled, go away.’ . . .

“[S]omebody ought to scratch their head and say, Does this really look good?  We don’t have much of a legal argument, but we’re willing to fight it to the death to deny somebody . . . Does that make sense to you? . . . Do you think that looks good to players, what’s going on in this courtroom today?  It’s not necessarily part of the determination, I’m just asking a real-world question.”

The real-world outcome is that Solomon will receive disability benefits, because the panel unanimously concluded that the Plan “relied on no evidence at all” in rejecting Solomon’s claim. It’s a stunning observation given the supposed sensitivity to brain injuries. Perhaps more importantly, the ease with which the judges seemed to agree that Solomon proved that he has CTE while still alive raises renewed questions about whether the massive concussion settlement should have allowed players to secure benefits if they can sufficiently prove that they suffer from CTE.

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Vikings hire new strength and conditioning coach

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The Vikings were left with an open slot on their coaching staff earlier this month when strength and conditioning coach Brent Salazar left the team in order to work for the United States Tennis Association.

They filled it on Friday. The team announced that Mark Uyeyama will be heading up the strength and conditioning department for the 2017 season.

Uyeyama spent the last nine years working for the 49ers under a succession of different head coaches before being dismissed upon Kyle Shanahan’s arrival in Santa Clara. He worked at Utah State before making the move to the 49ers in 2008.

Barring any other unexpected shifts from the gridiron to other pursuits, that should be the final change to Mike Zimmer’s staff before the 2017 season.

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Bronson Kaufusi ready to contribute after missing rookie season

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The Ravens drafted defensive end Bronson Kaufusi in the third round last season, but they have yet to see him on the field. Kaufusi broke his left ankle early in training camp and missed all of last season rehabbing.

“Injuries are always frustrating, but you also have to look for the silver lining in it,” Kaufusi said, via the team website. “So, for me, it was a chance to learn, grow and take everything in that I could so I could be ready for this upcoming year.”

Kaufusi, now fully healed, took some first-team reps during offseason practices in his bid to replace Lawrence Guy, who left in free agency. Veteran Brent Urban remains the favorite to win the starting job, but Kaufusi will compete with Urban and rookie Chris Wormley for playing time at the position.

“I want to make a difference,” Kaufusi said. “No matter where it is on the field, I want to get out there and make plays for our team, for our defense and just contribute.”

The Ravens drafted Kaufusi for his pass-rush ability. He had 11 sacks in his senior season at BYU and 26.5 for his four-year career.

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Maliek Collins wants to be next great DT in Rod Marinelli’s system

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With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in the same draft class, Maliek Collins got overshadowed and overlooked. But the defensive tackle quietly had a successful rookie season, which has defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli excited about Collins’ future.

Collins’ 656 snaps — 61.9 percent of the defensive plays — were the most of any Cowboys defensive lineman. In fact, among the team’s defenders, only linebacker Sean Lee and four defensive backs received more. Collins, a third-round pick in 2016, made 31 tackles, five sacks and 14 quarterback pressures last season.

Collins, though, expected more and wants more.

I never meet my own goals,” Collins said, via the team website. “My goal is to be the best player I can be so that I always keep improving. That’s how I set my goals. I don’t really do it statistically. Then you’re out there chasing stats. The goal is to improve every day. If I’m not improving every day, then I’m doing something wrong.”

Collins plays the three-technique, one of the most important positions in Marinelli’s scheme. Hall of Famer Warren Sapp manned that position for Marinelli in Tampa Bay. Collins has studied some the best three-techniques ever, including Sapp, in hopes of becoming the next great one.

“The standards are basically written,” Collins said. “Me being a three-technique, the standards are in the history books of what three-techniques have done in this system. I like to say that’s the standard. The people like John Randle, guys like Warren Sapp or [Keith] Millard, who started the system. [Anthony] McFarland, those types of players.”

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