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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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Dolphins add tackle Avery Young

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The Miami Dolphins signed tackle Avery Young and waived cornerback Daniel Davie on Thursday with a non-football injury designation.

Young himself spent all of the 2016 season on the non-football injury list with the New Orleans Saints with an undisclosed issue after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent from Auburn.

He returned to practice with the Saints at midseason but was never activated from the NFI list.

Young played both guard positions and right tackle at Auburn.

Davie was signed by the Dolphins in January to a futures contract. Davie spent brief periods with the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season after going undrafted from Nebraska.

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Vikings running back Latavius Murray has ankle surgery

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The Minnesota Vikings announced Wednesday that newly signed running back Latavius Murray had ankle surgery in North Carolina.

The surgery, performed by Dr. Bob Anderson in Charlotte, was said to be successful in a team statement.

“We were aware of the required surgery prior to signing Latavius on March 16,” the team said in a statement. “Latavius is expected to fully recover and be available for training camp.”

Murray has over four months to recover before training camp opens for the Vikings in late July.

The need for ankle surgery was likely apparent to each of the teams Murray met with in free agency. He had visited the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars as well before reaching a deal with the Vikings. Ultimately, the issue didn’t concern the Vikings enough to dissuade them from signing him last week.

Murray scored a career-high 12 touchdowns last year with the Oakland Raiders and rushed for 788 yards in 14 games.

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Goodell suggests enhanced use of play clocks

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The NFL often routinely uses a play clock throughout each game. However, it’s not as universal as it soon could be.

In a Wednesday letter to fans, Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested expanded use of a play clock in order to keep games moving along.

“Regarding game timing, we’re going to institute a play clock following the extra point when television does not take a break, and we’re considering instituting a play clock after a touchdown,” Goodell wrote. “We’re also going to standardize the starting of the clock after a runner goes out-of-bounds, and standardize halftime lengths in all games, so we return to the action as quickly as possible. Those are just a few of the elements we are working on to improve the pace of our game.”

Goodell also emphasized a point that is coming up too often to not happen — an effort to eliminate the kind of lulls that can get folks in this short-attention span society to change the channel or to otherwise find some other shiny object on their phones, tablets, or wherver else distractions currently come from.

“Together with our broadcast partners, we will be working to meaningfully reduce down time and the frequency of commercial breaks in our game,” Goodell wrote. “We will also be giving our broadcast partners increased flexibility to avoid untimely breaks in the action. For example, we know how annoying it is when we come back from a commercial break, kick off, and then cut to a commercial again. I hate that too. Our goal is to eliminate it.”

It’s smart, and to the extent that it came from last year’s ratings panic (which seemed to have subsided by the end of the year), the short-term dip in viewership could help make the game much more watchable in the future.

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Packers re-sign Christine Michael

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After arriving in Green Bay midway through the 2016 season, running back Christine Michael will stick around for 2017.

Michael has re-signed with the Packers, Field Yates of ESPN reports.

The Packers, who said goodbye to Eddie Lacy this offseason, expect to start Ty Montgomery at running back, and Michael can back him up.

Last season Michael played six games for the Packers, carrying 31 times for 114 yards and a touchdown. He had previously played for the Seahawks, who cut him in November even though he was their leading rusher. Michael originally entered the NFL as a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2013 and has had two stints in Seattle as well as time in Dallas and Washington.

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Goodell hints at substantive changes to game broadcasts

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Apart from an effort to speed up the pace of the game, the NFL apparently plans to explore strategies for altering the manner in which the game is presented to its fans.

“We . . . know that you feel there are too many elements in the broadcast that aren’t relevant to the play on the field,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in his Wednesday letter to fans. “With our partners, we will be looking to instead focus on content that is most complementary and compelling to you — whether that is analysis, highlights or stories about our players. All of these changes are meant to give you more of what you want: a competitive game with fewer interruptions and distractions from the action.”

That’s a broad statement, and it suggests that the league will be mandating changes to the manner in which games are televised. It’s unclear where or how an enhanced focus on “analysis, highlights or stories about our players” will fit into the presentation of a football game, since there currently aren’t many spots for doing anything other than reacting one play at a time to the things happening on the field.

It’s also unclear what Goodell means when he says there are “too many elements in the broadcast that aren’t relevant to the play on the field.”

A cynic could view that statement as part of a broader effort to ensure that the broadcasts will focus only on positive storylines, with negative aspects that may nevertheless be newsworthy or compelling receiving less emphasis in the name of taking even greater advantage of the three-hour infomercial for which the league gets paid billions every year. This particular cynic will withhold judgment on that point until more details emerge regarding the changes that will be made.

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Former Patriots center Bryan Stork calls it a career

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Once a very promising young offensive lineman, former Patriots center Bryan Stork has decided to call it a career.

“I can’t say I’m retiring because I’m only 26 but I have decided to officially step away from playing the game of football which I will always love dearly,” Stork wrote on Twitter. “While chasing a childhood dream I was very blessed I had family, friends, and coaches on my side to help me get to where I wanted to go.”

Last year Stork became the subject of an odd story in training camp, as the Patriots were reportedly poised to cut him, then traded him to Washington, before reports surfaced that he was contemplating retirement. Stork decided not to retire at that time, but he then failed his physical in Washington, nullifying the trade, and he was released. Stork tried to sign on with a couple of other teams but that never materialized, and he didn’t play last season.

Stork has had several injuries, including concussions and a neck injury. He will be remembered for starting for Florida State’s 2013 national championship team, then starting for the Patriots when they won Super Bowl XLIX a year later. He is one of only a handful of players in the history of football to start for the college national champions and the NFL champions in back-to-back seasons.

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Jaguars sign former Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera

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The Jacksonville Jaguars announced on Wednesday they have signed former Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera.

It’s a one-year deal with a team option for a second year according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.

Rivera has played in 61 games for the Raiders over the past four seasons with 15 starts. Last year was his least productive year in Oakland, recording just 18 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown as Clive Walford assumed the primary pass receiving role from the position. Rivera’s career-highs came in 2014 with 58 catches for 534 yards and four touchdowns.

Rivera had visited the New York Jets earlier this week before agreeing to a deal with Jacksonville.

Rivera gives the Jaguars another veteran option at tight end to pair with Marcedes Lewis following the trade of Julius Thomas to Miami this offseason.

Rivera was high school (Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif.) and college teammates (Tennessee) with Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

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Jim Mora misses the relationships with other his fellow coaches

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In an extended interview with PFT Live, former Falcons and Seahawks coach (and current UCLA coach) Jim Mora addressed a wide variety of interesting topics. At one point, I asked him what he misses about coaching in the NFL.

He said he misses the relationships with his peers. While NFL coaches fiercely compete, the competition ends, for the most part, on the field. Sure, there’s often some competition when it comes to free agents. But not nearly the kind of neverending fight for talent that happens among college coaches.

Constantly, they’re trying to get players to choose their school over another one. Constantly, they’re relying upon their ability to essentially swipe a talented player from another coach. As a result, Mora said he doesn’t have the kind of relationship with his fellow coaches that he had when he coached in the NFL.

That’s just one example of the things Mora discussed. The full video is worth a listen.

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Roger Goodell explains to fans how new replay system will work

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In a move that feels a lot like a President making his case for legistlative change to the people before the House or the Senate cast a vote, Commissioner Roger Goodell has sent a letter to fans outlining various changes that will be considered by the owners next week in Arizona.

The letter from Goodell with the salutation “Dear Fans” presents the proposals in a way that suggests the changes are a done deal, even though the changes won’t be finalized until at least 24 owners vote in favor of them. This means either that Goodell has polled enough owners to conclude that at least 24 votes are coming — or that he has concluded that enough owners are on the fence to justify an effort to work the public in advance of the vote. Why else, frankly, would he feel compelled to tell the fans about the changes only one week before the changes become actual changes?

As it relates to the centralization of replay review, a topic that has been a sore point for multiple coaches and team executives who worry that this will allow the league office to make decisions aimed at reaching outcomes desired by 345 Park Avenue, Goodell outlined the new procedure that would be adopted: “Instead of a fixed sideline monitor, we will bring a tablet to the Referee who can review the play in consultation with our officiating headquarters in New York, which has the final decision. This should improve consistency and accuracy of decisions and help speed up the process.”

It also should allow Microsoft to get even more bang for its product-placement buck, with the peep-show approach replaced by an official using the official tablet of the National Football League, complete with that distinctive electric blue case.

Apart from the obvious change to the appearance of the replay review process, the new approach would result in the referee losing final say over the outcome, with the league office having the power to overrule the ruling on the field.

So why involve the referee at all? Doing so eliminates the sense that the decision is being made remotely (and possibly arbitrarily). In fairness to the league, it also allows for an extra set of eyes, which is never a bad thing. And, as mentioned above, it provides for greater integration of the Microsoft tablet into the presentation of the game. Which makes that partnership even more valuable to the league.

Especially when the time comes to put the official tablet sponsorship out for bidding.

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Titans sign offensive lineman Tim Lelito

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The Titans have made it a point to strengthen both lines, and added some depth on offense Wednesday.

According to a tweet from his agents, Saints free agent blocker Tim Lelito has signed with the Titans.

Lelito also visited with his hometown Lions, but apparently found a better deal in Nashville.

Lelito has started 24 games the last four years with the Saints, and gives them some experience in the middle after losing Brian Schwenke to the Colts.

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Bart Hubbuch withdraws lawsuit against New York Post

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In roughly 99.999999999 percent of all civil lawsuits, an effort to dismiss the case is met with a vigorous effort by the plaintiff to keep the case alive. In the wrongful discharge lawsuit filed by Bart Hubbuch against the New York Post, a motion to dismiss filed by Hubbuch’s former employer apparently has prompted Hubbuch to walk away.

The official paperwork reflects a stipulated dismissal of the case with prejudice, which means that the case can’t be re-filed at some later date. While the paperwork contains no mention of the reason for the ending of the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Post left no doubt, via statement sent by email to PFT: “In response to the . . . motion to dismiss, Mr. Hubbuch has voluntarily withdrawn his lawsuit, acknowledging his claims were frivolous.”

Dismissal notwithstanding, Hubbuch’s attorney, Scott Lucas, disputes a key portion of the statement from the Post.

“The claim was voluntarily withdrawn,” Lucas told PFT by phone on Wednesday afternoon. “There has been no acknowledgement that it was frivolous.”

The Post recently filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing among other things the falsity of Hubbuch’s contention that he wasn’t working when he posted a controversial tweet regarding the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Hubbuch’s lawsuit relied in large part on the contention that he was using Twitter “on his own time, from his own computer, and from his own home.”

The motion to dismiss sough sanctions against Hubbuch and Lucas, based on the contention that Hubbuch “has asserted that (1) his January 20th Tweet was sent on a day that was his ‘day off’ and (2) he was told that the Post had no written social media policy,” and that “[t]he documentary evidence submitted on this motion squarely proves those sworn assertions to be fabrications.” The stipulation dismissal of the case states that each party will be responsible for its own litigation costs; it’s possible that the Post offered to abandon any claim for sanctions in return for an agreement to end the case.

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Chiefs bring back defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins

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The Chiefs made one big change on their defensive line, but they’ve brought another key part back.

According to a tweet from his agent, Chiefs defensive end Jarvis Jenkins has re-signed for another year.

The Chiefs brought Jenkins in after he was cut by the Jets in November, and he provides a solid rotational option for them. They let nose tackle Dontari Poe walk out the door in free agency, and replaced him with former Eagles lineman Bennie Logan.

Jenkins was originally a second-round pick by Washington, and has also spent a year with the Bears.

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Is a looser bright-line rule coming for celebration penalties?

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Reports of a plan by the NFL to give officials discretion to determine whether the penalize teams for excessive celebrations suggests that the currently strict bright line (no going to the ground, no use of the ball as a prop) could be replaced with something much fuzzier and subjective. The end result still could be a looser standard that nevertheless carries with it a bright line.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league may actually be getting closer to a bright-line rule that allows for consistency in the determination as to whether a foul occurred but that is less rigid than the current standard. The specifics of any such possible rule currently aren’t known.

That’s good news, if it occurs. Based on current reporting, the rule would be looser but it also would be flexible, allowing for too much interpretation — and for too many different potential rulings based on the perceptions and attitudes of 17 different officiating crews.

The source also didn’t rule out immediately the possibility of using replay review in some form to allow for oversight of decisions made regarding conduct that doesn’t happen during a play. The challenge would be coming up with the right standard, and obviously ensuring that the process would occur expediently and reliably.

The NFL has absorbed extensive criticism for stripping individuality out of the sport by prohibiting some spontaneous displays of enthusiasm following touchdowns and other significant plays. Last year, the league began the process of giving teams a wider berth, for example by not automatically flagging players making snow angels, even though that necessarily results in players going to the ground.

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Felony charges against Adam Jones dropped

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Bengals cornerback Adam Jones isn’t out of the woods yet, but the concentration of trees in this particular forest is less dense now.

According to Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com, felony charges of harassment with a bodily substance against Jones have been dropped.

That’s a long-winded way of saying spitting on a jailhouse nurse, which Jones was arrested for in January.

He still has pending misdemeanor charges of assault, disorderly conduct and obstructing official business, and will plead not guilty to those charges according to his attorney.

The Bengals have apologized to fans on his behalf, but are taking their time making a decision on what to do about it, leaving any possible punishments in the hands of the league and the local prosecutors.

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Roger Goodell: Changes coming to reduce downtime in broadcasts

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The NFL isn’t necessarily looking for shorter games But they definitely want tighter broadcasts.

Via Tom Pelissero of USA Today, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is concentrating on reducing the number of commercial breaks during games, including the dreaded commercial-kickoff-commercial stretches.

It drives me crazy,” Goodell said. “We call those ‘double-ups.’ They actually occurred 27% of the time [on kickoffs last season]. And that’s still too high for us.”

Goodell also said the league wants to change the way commercials are delivered, creating fewer breaks which last longer. Rather than the current pattern of five, six, five and five breaks per quarter, they want a standard pattern of four commercial breaks per quarter. That would push them from a minute and 50 seconds to 2:20 each, but the league believes fans notice frequency of breaks more than their duration.

The commissioner said he thinks that change and others could shorten broadcasts by five minutes. The average last year was 3:07:08, down from 3:08:18 in 2015.

“What we’re looking to do is take that down time out, which is not entertaining,” Goodell said. “And in our research, we had biofeedback, so we could see what they were watching and you could tell when they’re not as interested in what’s happening in the broadcast.

“In today’s day and age, we have to give our fans every reason to watch what’s happening, find what they see on television and in the stadium as compelling. Don’t give them a reason to turn away.”

While many other sports struggle with maintaining interest in live broadcasts in a DVR/GIF world, the league seems cognizant of how rare a commodity (people watching things live) they have, and are working to hang onto it.

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