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Week 17 Monday 10-pack

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It’s the first Monday of the year, and it’s the last Monday 10-pack of the year.

I miss the days when football season ended before December 31.

As a setup goes, that’s all I got.  Let’s get on to the 10 takes from a 32-team season-ending Sunday.

1.  Packers should strongly consider franchising Flynn.

In 2008, after the first annual Brett Favre retirement, the Packers drafted two quarterbacks.  The gesture was interpreted by some (i.e., by us) as a bolting of the door behind Favre and the blocking of it with large pieces of furniture.

Brian Brohm, who entered the 2007 college football season as one of the top prospects, slid to the Packers in round two, pick 56.  LSU’s Matt Flynn was an afterthought, with pick number 209 in round seven.  Four seasons later, Brohm is long gone — and Flynn showed on Sunday that he’ll be the hottest commodity in the 2012 free-agent market.

If he gets there.

Like Matt Cassel of the Patriots in 2009, the Packers should think about slapping the franchise tag on Flynn, in order to trade him to a quarterback-needy team.  With Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III the best options in the draft, teams like the Redskins and Dolphins and Browns and maybe the Seahawks will be clamoring for a proven commodity like Flynn.

The risk, of course, is that Flynn would sign the franchise tag but no serious offers would come for his services, given that the starting point for a long-term deal would be the one-year guaranteed salary of $14.5 million or so in 2012.  If that would happen, the Packers would be stuck with a backup earning roughly $6.5 million more next year than starter Aaron Rodgers, who is due to earn a base salary of $8 million next season.

The other side of the coin is that Flynn will walk away with plenty of coins in his pockets — and zero compensation to the team that transformed him from a seventh-round pick into a guy who’ll be the most coveted quarterback not named Luck or Griffin.

2.  Rex should be on the hot seat.

Though it’s too early to fire Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has two appearances in the AFC title game in three seasons as a head coach, he deserves the pressure that goes along with the accountability for guaranteeing a Super Bowl win (and, even more importantly in New York, a win over the Giants) and failing to deliver.  Only so many times can a head coach protect his players and assistants by saying “put the blame on me” until someone decides to put the blame on him.

Yes, his players seem to still believe.  More importantly, the owner seems to still believe.  But the players and the owner may believe a little less in 2012 — especially if Rex emerges from a disappointing 2011 season (in light of the expectations fueled by Ryan) as brash and bold as ever.

Beyond the boundaries of his team, Rex has become a caricature.  (Some would say he already was one.)  If that sense ever makes its way into the locker room, and eventually it should, it’ll be time to move on.

Apart from all the words, it’s one specific action that could, as a practical matter, put Rex in a position to be coaching for his job in 2012.  The misguided decision to make receiver Santonio Holmes a captain, given that Holmes spent much of the year not acting like a captain, could come back to haunt Ryan.

Arguably, it already is.  And now Rex has a mess on his hands, especially since a guy who spent much of Sunday acting like he didn’t want to be with the Jets signed a long-term, big-money deal before the season.

3.  Steelers fleeced Jets on Holmes.

Speaking of Santonio, Steelers fans didn’t care much for the abrupt decision to trade Holmes to New York for a fifth-round pick in 2010.  With a four-game suspension for violation of the substance-abuse policy coming on the heels of Ben Roethlisberger’s misadventures in Milledgeville, it was perceived that the Steelers’ decision was driven less by football strategy and more by public relations sensitivities.

But the Steelers were looking ahead.  With Holmes due to miss the first four games of the 2010 season and one wake-n-bake away from a one-year suspension, the Steelers opted to unload a potential headache — especially since the Steelers knew they’d never tie their hands by giving Holmes a huge contract.

And so the Steelers didn’t simply get a fifth-round pick.  The Steelers also received the peace of mind that comes from dumping a wideout who would have been a major pain in the butt for the balance of 2010, and who simply no longer factored into their plans.

Meanwhile, the Steelers traded that fifth-round pick to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick.  And with that sixth-round pick the Steelers found their 2011 MVP in round six of the same draft.  Receiver Antonio Brown has become almost everything Holmes was as a player, without creating any of the headaches or other issues that go hand in hand with having Holmes on the team.

Advantage Steelers.

4.  Texans-Bengals game could be the key to the AFC playoffs.

I’ve been concerned throughout much of the 2011 season that, once the Texans get to the postseason, a lack of playoff experience would keep them from being successful.  But their first opponent is the Bengals, a team with young players having no playoff experience and, by all appearances, no players having any positive playoff experiences.

So the Texans, who beat the Bengals last month after trailing 16-3 at the half and 19-10 after three quarters, will have a very good shot at holding off the No. 6 seed.  Taking a broader look at the AFC field, the outcome of that game could have a huge bearing on the determination of the eventual conference champion.

If Houston holds serve at home, it will be time for a return to Baltimore, where the Ravens’ eight regular-season wins included a trouncing of the Texans.  The Steelers, after most likely beating Denver, will head to New England.

Though Baltimore would have to face one of those two potent teams (either Pittsburgh at home, where the Ravens won 35-7 in Week One or the Patriots in New England, where the Ravens won in the playoffs two years ago, 33-14), the Ravens wouldn’t have to play both of them.  Which, for the Ravens, is nice.

If, in contrast, the Bengals upset the Texans, Cincinnati would head to Foxboro — and Pittsburgh would return to Baltimore with a burst of momentum and a shot at becoming the latest wild-card winner to catch a division rival flat-footed after a bye week and knock them out of the playoffs.  If Baltimore manages to beat the Steelers for a third time this year, the reward would be a trip to New England.

The converse is true for the Pats.  A win by the Bengals keeps New England from having to play both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  If Houston wins, the Patriots would have to face a Steelers team that gave New England one of its three 2011 losses before inviting the Ravens back to town.

One way or the other, the outcome of Saturday’s game will make the path to Indy considerably easier for New England or Baltimore, by sending the Steelers to one place or the other.

5.  Crossroads for Daniel Snyder.

The Redskins became the property of Daniel Snyder in 1999.  In the 13 seasons since then, Snyder has employed (excluding interim hires) six head coaches.  Other than Snyder’s boyhood hero, Joe Gibbs, no coach has made it more than two seasons on the job.

Mike Shanahan has just completed his second season on the job.  Recently, Shanahan has been subtly justifying his two losing seasons by explaining that much work needed to be done to improve the bad team he inherited.  And while there’s no indication that Shanahan will be fired, there likewise was no indication that the end was coming three years ago for Shanahan in Denver.

The bigger question for Snyder is whether he’s willing to stay the course not only now but after the 2012 season.  If Shanahan and G.M. Bruce Allen position themselves to land Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the draft, it would be foolish to give Shanahan only one year to work with the new quarterback.

And so Snyder needs to realize that, by deciding to keep Shanahan now, Snyder essentially is deciding to keep Shanahan for 2013 — and possibly for 2014.

6.  Another Manning/Leaf dilemma coming?

Speaking (twice now) of Luck and Griffin, what once was a one-man show at the top of the draft quickly has become another Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf conundrum.  On Sunday’s Football Night In America, former Colts coach Tony Dungy explained that Colts vice chairman Bill Polian has shown a willingness to go against conventional wisdom in the draft, taking Edgerrin James in 1999 over Ricky Williams and Dwight Freeney over Albert Haynesworth in 2002.

Dungy even said he’d personally lean toward Griffin, the Heisman winner and architect of a 67-point explosion in Baylor’s bowl win.

Luck still has one more chance to create some separation, when Stanford takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Despite the obsession over measurables and the things a guy can do when not wearing pads, scouts seem to be influenced heavily by performances on the big stage.

What Luck does with it could ultimately determine whether Luck and Griffin will become another Manning and Leaf dilemma, which despite being a no-brainer in hindsight was a much closer call in 1998.

7.  Pay the Cruz.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz has made, in two seasons, the unlikely climb from undrafted free agent to superstar.  Nearly as shrewd as the Giants’ decision to give him a chance was their decision to sign him to a three-year contract.

And so Cruz remains contractually obligated to show up for mandatory offseason workouts and training camp in 2012, despite being slated to earn a paltry $490,000.

But the Giants need to send a message to the locker room that stellar play will be rewarded.  While they could force Cruz to continue to prove himself — and to bear the injury risk — for the final year of his rookie deal and a season as a restricted free agent, the best move would be to find a way to pay him a fair salary that reflects not only his skills and abilities but also the contributions he made during a season that seemed destined for failure again.

In each of the last two games, a long-yardage catch-and-run from Cruz gave the Giants the upper hand.  It’s only right to put a lot more money in the guy’s pockets.

8.  Broncos should get Quinn ready to play Sunday.

Tebowmania landed with a thud 15 days ago, with the Patriots providing the rest of the league with the blueprint for turning the page on the NFL’s flavor of the month.

As a result, Tim Tebow has played worse than poorly the last two weeks, with as many turnovers against the Bills and Chiefs (six) as Tebow had in his 10 prior games combined.

Enter the Steelers, who have made crafted their legacy over the past two decades by methodically building a lead and then gradually choking off the opposing offense.

As a result, if the Broncos want to have a realistic shot at advancing, it may be prudent to be ready to pull off a Rocky-style switch to southpaw, by switching from the southpaw to Brady Quinn.

This isn’t a long-term indictment of Tebow.  It’s a recognition of the fact that, at least for now, he has bumped up against his ceiling.  The goal on Sunday is to win one game, and it could be that the only way to do that will be to know when to flip the switch from the unconventional quarterback to the guy whose abilities would defy the Steelers’ preparation.

9.  MJD deserves high praise.

Every year, there’s a sense that Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has reached the limit of his abilities, and that a regression is coming.  Every year, he simply continues to play at a high level.

This year, on a team with no passing offense to draw safeties away from the box, Jones-Drew piled up 1,606 rushing yards, more than 240 yards better than Ray Rice, who finished at No. 2.  Jones-Drew added 374 receiving yards, which gives him 1,980 yards from scrimmage.

At a time when former USC tailback Reggie Bush is still trying to become the best running back in the game, the former UCLA running back who entered the league in the same draft as an afterthought to Bush is what Bush has always wanted to be.  Unfortunately for Jones-Drew, the Jaguars may not be able to develop a decent passing game before the window closes on his prime.

10.  Packers defense is even worse than the Patriots.

All year, the media has harped on the Patriots’ porous defense, barely noticing the Swiss cheese sieve in Green Bay.

At the end of the season, the numbers don’t lie.  The Patriots gave up 411.1 yards per game, and the Packers gave up 411.6.

The Packers also finished with a worse pass defense, giving up 299.8 yards per game.  The Pats surrendered, on average, 293.9.  That’s 34.1 yards per game more than the third-worst pass defense, the Saints.

Fittingly, the three worst pass defenses are complemented by the three best pass offenses.

And so, if the top two seeds make it to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl (or if the Saints get there instead of the Packers), it could be time to reduce the field from 100 yards to 50, put up nets at either end, and just call the game what it will be — arena football.

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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

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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

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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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With Derek Carr signed, Reggie McKenzie moving on to other extensions

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At the start of a Friday press conference to discuss quarterback Derek Carr’s contract extension, General Manager Reggie McKenzie called it a “big day” for the organization.

McKenzie also said that he’s now going to turn his attention toward more big days and big extensions in the future. Carr said during his opening remarks that it was important for him to “structure [his deal] in a way to help the Raiders” hold onto other players and McKenzie said that the contract accomplished that. 

“The bottom line is we’re able to continue to move forward to be to keep all the players that we need to keep in the correct timing,” McKenzie said. “This affords us to do that. We’ll start on that ASAP.”

Defensive end Khalil Mack and right guard Gabe Jackson, both of whom joined Carr in the 2014 draft class, are expected to be the next two players up for extensions in Oakland. The team picked up Mack’s option for the 2018 season and Jackson is set for free agency if he can’t agree on a deal before the start of the next league year.

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