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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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Bill Belichick says Patriots are “on to Cincinnati,” repeatedly

Belichick Getty Images

Bill Belichick never hides his disdain for the media, typically approaching the process of answering questions like a bad ventriloquist.  Even at times when perhaps it would be a good idea to curry the favor of the folks who are in position to heap criticism on the man who has presided over the erosion of the New England roster, Belichick continues to display condescension and irritation when dealing with reporters.

To his credit, Belichick is consistent.  He’s unwilling to cooperate when things are going well, and he’s unwilling to cooperate when they aren’t.

Case in point:  His Wednesday press conference, with memories still fresh of Monday night’s debacle at Arrowhead Stadium.  Here’s the relevant exchange, from the transcript provided by the team.

Q: Your team has been successful for so long. How difficult is it to adjust to the adversity of Monday night’s game and get back on track? This team and organization hasn’t had these sort of issues in the past.

Belichick: We’re on to Cincinnati.

Q: You mentioned Tom Brady’s age at the draft –

Belichick: We’re on to Cincinnati.

Q: Do you think having a 37-year old –

Belichick: We’re on to Cincinnati. It’s nothing about the past, nothing about the future. Right now we’re preparing for Cincinnati.

Q: Do you think the talent you have here is good?

BB: We’re getting ready for Cincinnati.

Q: Do you think you’ve done enough to help Tom Brady?

Belichick: We’re getting ready for Cincinnati. That’s what we’re doing.

It was ultimately a useless exchange. The answers suggest that the reporters were trying to get Belichick to focus on what went wrong against the Chiefs. The questions actually focused more on the future, with a 37-year-old quarterback, real concerns about the quality of the roster, and real questions about Belichick’s personnel decision.

At least he didn’t say, “I’m trying to be a good teammate.”

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Nick Novak wins AFC special teams player of week

Nick Novak AP

Few teams in the NFL have been as consistently sharp as the Chargers this year.

And few Chargers are as consistently sharp as Nick Novak.

The veteran kicker earned AFC special teams player of the week honors for his perfect day against the Jaguars last week, which included four field goals.

Novak’s a clean 89-of-101 on field goals as a Charger, the highest percentage (88.1) in franchise history.

This season, he’s tied with Adam Vinatieri for the league scoring lead (40 points), and is part of a Chargers team that plays smart, efficient football.

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Aaron Rodgers has no word of the week

Rodgers Getty Images

Last week, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers offered up a five-letter word in an effort to calm down the then-curdling Cheeseheads:  R-E-L-A-X.

So what’s the word of the week as the Packers prepare to face the Vikings?  The word is there is no word.

I don’t have one,” Rodgers said Wednesday, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  “I bring stuff like that up when necessary, but the key to those type of deals is you can’t overdo it.  So last week we needed to relax a little bit.  The fans needed to relax.  Now 2-2, we need to get to 3-2.”

Rodgers could be uttering a few four-letter words on Thursday night, given his performance in past years against defenses led by first-year Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.

“I’ve played against Coach Zimmer a couple of times,” Rodgers said, “and I have a lot of respect for him and the job he does.  He always has been well prepared, and I’m very confused at times with their schemes.  I think his defense is improving, and it’s going to be one of the top defenses when it’s said and done.”

Last year, Rodgers completed 26 of 43 passes for 244 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions in a 34-30 loss to Zimmer’s Bengals at Lambeau Field.  Four years earlier, Rodgers completed 21 of 39 for 261 yards and a touchdown in a 31-24 loss in Cincinnati.

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PFT Live: Lamar Miller, Coaching hot seat

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The Dolphins capped a somewhat tumultuous week with a victory over the Raiders last Sunday and now they’ve got a week off to savor it.

Running back Lamar Miller will spend some of his free time with Mike Florio on Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live. We will talk to Miller about last week’s quarterback hemming and hawing by coach Joe Philbin, how he thinks things will work in the backfield once Knowshon Moreno returns to action and his impressions of playing a game in front of the London crowd.

We’ll also take our weekly look at the coaching hot seat. Dennis Allen became the first coach fired this season when the Raiders relieved him of his duties on Tuesday and we’ll discuss whether he’ll have any company on the unemployment line before the year is out.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Big Monday night makes Jamaal Charles the AFC offensive player of the week

New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Chiefs were able to beat the Dolphins in Week Three despite the absence of running back Jamaal Charles.

Charles came back in a major way on Monday night. He ran for 92 yards and a touchdown and caught two other touchdown passes as the Chiefs overwhelmed the Patriots for a 41-14 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.

That was good enough to make Charles this week’s choice as the AFC offensive player of the week.

The best news for the Chiefs may not have been Charles’s robust return to the lineup. After watching Charles play an outsize role in the offense last season, the Chiefs got big games from tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and running back Knile Davis to go with Charles’s effort against New England. While Charles may remain the big dog in Kansas City for the foreseeable future, the presence of helping hands should be a big boost to the team’s quest for a second straight playoff berth.

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DeAngelo Williams has a cast on his right foot

DeAngelo Williams AP

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Monday that running back DeAngelo Williams was doubtful to play this week because of a sprained ankle.

A picture that Williams posted on Twitter on Wednesday seems to make doubtful an optimistic read on his chances of playing against the Bears this weekend. Williams sent out a picture of a little girl signing a pink cast on his lower right leg and the presence of that cast suggests that Williams is going to miss that game and possibly others as he tries to recover.

If so, the Panthers’ running back depth is going to continue to be tested for quite a while. Mike Tolbert is on injured reserve/return and Jonathan Stewart is battling a knee injury that kept him out of last week’s game.

Rivera has expressed hope that Stewart will be able to play this weekend, but his injury history makes it incumbent on the team to prepare to go with Fozzy Whittaker, Darrin Reaves and the newly signed Chris Ogbonnaya.

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Sproles gets his second player of the week award this season

sproles AP

Darren Sproles is on pace to win eight NFC player of the week awards for the 2014 season.

Sproles, who was previously named the NFC offensive player of the week after a big day as a receiver out of the backfield in a win in Indianapolis, has now been named the NFC special teams player of the week after a big day as a returner in a loss in San Francisco.

In Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, Sproles had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the Eagles a 21-10 second-quarter lead. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, that was a lead their offense and defense couldn’t hold.

Sproles is leading the league with 200 punt return yards and his 519 all-purpose yards put him on pace to top 2,000 this year for the fifth time in his career.

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AFC defensive player of the week goes to J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt AP

There are plenty of people who predicted before the season that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would take home his second Defensive Player of the Year award in the last three seasons.

That argument got more fuel last Sunday against the Bills. Watt added to his lengthy highlight reel by reading Buffalo’s intention to throw a screen pass, jumping up to intercept that pass and then returning it 80 yards for a touchdown that left the other 21 players on the field and plenty of people at home wondering how a defensive end could pull off a play like that.

It didn’t leave the NFL with much reason to wonder about who the AFC defensive player of the week would be, however. Watt took home the honor after what we imagine was a limited discussion about other possibilities.

It was Watt’s first regular season interception, he also returned one for a touchdown in the playoffs during his rookie season, and his second touchdown of the season. His other came on a reception after lining up as a tight end and a few more trips to the end zone would likely lead to serious MVP consideration for Watt when the year comes to an end.

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NFL to participate in England’s “Remembrance Sunday”

Remembrance Sunday Getty Images

In a year that will reportedly feature less pink in October and more camo in November, an NFL game played in England next month will include significant recognition of one of the most important days on the British calendar.

The NFL plans to honor the nation’s war dead on “Remembrance Sunday,” when the Jaguars face the Cowboys.

Via the Daily Mail, the teams’ helmets will include the decal of a poppy, the symbol of “Remembrance Sunday.”  The field also will include a large poppy logo, and 80,000 poppies will be dropped from the roof at Wembley Stadium when the game ends.

Also, all uniforms and equipment from the game will be auctioned, with the proceeds going to the Poppy Appeal, which supports the British Royal Legion’s work with the armed forces.

“The NFL has a tremendous respect and admiration for the service given by the military, both in the US and UK,” said NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood.

The effort is described by the Daily Mail as featuring “a lot more detail than previously shown by British sports in honouring the war dead.”

While an ulterior motive could be at work here, it’s precisely the kind of gesture that could endear the NFL to British sports fans.  Which is precisely what the NFL is trying to do.

And so what if that’s what’s happening?  The NFL wants to be part of the British culture and landscape.  The NFL is demonstrating that desire by playing three games per year in London, and now by showing a high degree of respect for those who gave their lives in defense of the nation the NFL regularly visits.  While some could call it pandering, others could call it being a good, earnest, and proper guest in a foreign land.

Maybe it’s both.  Maybe it will help the NFL move a lot closer toward gaining greater acceptance among the fans and the media in England.

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Texans release Ronnie Brown

Houston Texans v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Texans didn’t get much production from running back Arian Foster in last weekend’s victory over the Bills, but the team made a move on Wednesday that signals confidence in  Foster’s physical condition moving forward.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Texans have released veteran running back Ronnie Brown. Brown was one of four running backs on the 53-man roster and was clearly in the back of the pack, as evidenced by his six carries over the first four weeks of the season. Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes remain as the backups to Foster.

Injuries could open up another opportunity for him this year, but Brown, who turns 33 in December, is probably at or very close to the end of the line. Brown, who was the second overall pick of the 2005 draft by the Dolphins, has run for 5,332 yards and 38 touchdowns over the course of his career.

The Texans signed cornerback Jumal Rolle off of Green Bay’s practice squad to keep the roster at 53 players. Houston has six other corners on the roster, although A.J. Bouye missed last week’s game with a groin injury.

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Antoine Bethea named NFC defensive player of week

Antoine Bethea, Perrish Cox AP

Antoine Bethea hasn’t needed long to get used to his new surroundings. And he’s making a quick impact for the 49ers since coming over this offseason in free agency.

The league announced that Bethea was named the NFC defensive player of the week for his role in last week’s win over the Eagles.

Bethea led a defense that kept the Eagles offense out of the end zone, and held them to 213 yards, the lowest total under coach Chip Kelly.

But most dramatic were his two takeaways, an interception and a forced fumble which helped stop any flow the Eagles ever developed.

Bethea has been a solid addition, a smart veteran who has proven durable. It was his 100th consecutive start, dating back to his days with the Colts.

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Aaron Rodgers is the NFC offensive player of the week

Aaron Rodgers AP

R-E-L-A-X was the five letter message that quarterback Aaron Rodgers had for Packers fans worried about the team’s offense last week and he provided them with reason for tranquility against the Bears last Sunday.

Rodgers completed 22-of-28 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns during the team’s 38-17 victory in Chicago. That virtually flawless performance helped Green Bay even their record at 2-2 on the season and led to Rodgers being named the NFC offensive player of the week.

It’s the ninth time in Rodgers’s career that he has been so honored and we probably should have seen it coming. Rodgers throw for less than 200 yards in the Week Three loss to Detroit, the 15th time in his career that he’s failed to cross the 200-yard mark. In the games following those outings, Rodgers has now thrown 38 touchdowns and five interceptions and the team is 10-5 in those games.

While the Packers would surely prefer that Rodgers stay above 200 passing yards for the rest of the season, they can remain relaxed if he doesn’t because the next week is likely to bring a much better result.

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Falcons bring in 10 for workouts on Tuesday

Winston Getty Images

The tradition known as Tryout Tuesday went double digits in Atlanta this week, with 10 players coming to town for a kicking of the tires.

Only one of them got hired, so far.

With multiple injuries on the offensive line, tackles Cameron Bradfield and NFLPA president Eric Winston (pictured) had workouts, along with guards Uche Nwaneri, Leroy Harris, and Adam Replogle.  Bradfield was signed.

Also getting workouts on the defensive side of the ball were linebackers Zach Diles and Moise Fokou and defensive backs Chris Clemons, M.D. Jennings, and Kimario McFadden.  None were signed.

The Falcons put a pair of starting offensive lineman on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday (center Joe Hawley and tackle Lamar Holmes); safety William Moore has been placed on IR with the one-per-club designation to return.

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Packers CEO says hope was Mueller investigation done soon

GPG Favre_Hall of Fame AP

The NFL appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to lend some credibility and provide a thorough investigation into the handling of the Ray Rice case.

They apparently wanted a quick one, too.

During a discussion at Marquette Law School yesterday, Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy said the outcome of the investigation could help the league begin to heal some of the damage sustained by Commissioner Roger Goodell over the last few months.

“We’ll see,” Murphy said, via Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I think Roger has done some good things, particularly on the domestic violence front. . . . To me a key, key, key is going to be the investigation . . . . To see what that shows. We have an owners’ meeting coming up next week in New York. The hope was the investigation would be completed by then. Whether or not it [will be] I don’t know.”

Considering Mueller was appointed on Sept. 10, that’s a quick turnaround for an investigation that needs to be especially thorough.

And Murphy made his own case for the damage done, saying the aftermath of the Rice situation is the biggest crisis the league has faced since he played in the 1970s.

“I do think the credibility of the league has been challenged,” Murphy said. “I think we have taken a real hit in terms of credibility, respect. I don’t think it is fatal. But people have lost a little respect for the league. . . .

“The league has been so successful . . . I think when you stumble a little bit, people are eager to, are quick to criticize. Quite honestly, I have great respect for Roger. I think he has done a lot of really good things for the league. But when your compensation is $44 million, some people look at that and say they are out of touch with the rest of society. And then when you do err, when you do make a mistake, I think it is very easy for people to really turn on you.”

That’s happened, as the NFL may be slow to realize. And a rushed investigation might only add to the discontent, especially if it comes back saying the league did nothing wrong.

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Report: No change in status for Josh McCown

Josh McCown AP

Earlier this week, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith declined to say whether or not Mike Glennon would start at quarterback in Week Five if Josh McCown got the green light to return to the playing field after suffering a right thumb injury in Week Three.

He may be able to keep things close to his vest for at least another week.

Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that this week’s evaluations have led to no change in McCown’s status. He’s not scheduled to have surgery and is reportedly getting better, but is still considered unlikely to play against the Saints this week.

Glennon started and beat the Steelers with a fourth quarter comeback in Week Four, giving the Bucs their first win of the season and leading some to call for a more permanent change at the top of the Tampa depth chart. Smith’s not willing to go there at this point, but a second straight victory and strong performance will make it much harder to go back to McCown and couch it as a decision made to give the team their best chance to win.

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