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After peaking in 2007, NFL attendance steadily has declined

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The recent focus on reducing blackouts has obscured a more important stat when it comes to keep NFL balance sheets deep in the black.

Despite unprecedented growth of TV audiences, attendance at NFL games reached an all-time high in 2007.  It has consistently dropped ever since.

In 2011, the NFL posted the lowest total attendance since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002 with the addition of the Houston Texans.  That year, 16,883,310 paying customers attended the 256 regular-season games.  The number climbed over the next five years, maxing out at 17,345,205 in 2007.

Since then, the numbers has dropped each year.  In 2011, the total paid attendance of 16,562,706 was lower than the prior year’s 16,569,514, even though the 2010 figure excluded the Giants-Vikings game that was moved to Ford Field after the roof of the Metrodome collapsed.

It translates to an average paid crowd of 64,698.  That’s the lowest per-game number since 1998, when 64,020 tickets were bought per game for 240 total regular-season contests.

Repeated shrinkage over the last half decade underscores the challenge the NFL is facing.  At a time when everything else regarding the sport is growing, the league has seen its paying customers steadily drop by more than 4.5 percent since 2007.

And so, on the subject of the various changes being made to make the in-stadium experience as good or better than staying home, the NFL isn’t being proactive.  The NFL instead is reacting to a troubling downward trend.

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Lawyer seeks order prohibiting NFL from communicating with Hall of Fame Game customers

Fans leave Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium after it was announced that the preseason NFL football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts was cancelled due to unsafe field conditions, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) AP

As the Hall of Fame Game class action gets started, the lawyer representing the persons suing the Hall of Fame and the NFL for compensation arising from the cancellation of the game hopes to prevent the process from becoming short-circuited.

Lawyer Michael Avenatti seeks an order limiting the communications of the Hall of Fame and the NFL directly with customers. Avenatti points to the enhanced refund policy, which offers more than the face value of the tickets purchased and extra benefits in exchange for a full waiver of legal claims.

The motion seeks the nullification of any releases already obtained and other relief, including a requirement that no settlement communications be made directly to class members without first obtaining permission from the court.

Avenatti contends that he has attempted to resolve this issue directly with the Hall of Fame and the NFL, but that his requests have been ignored.

The case remains in its infancy; Avenatti initially filed the case in an Ohio federal court but then dismissed it and re-filed the lawsuit in a California federal court. The NFL failed to respond to an offer from Avenatti to settle the case in exchange for the payment of $450 to each of the persons who purchased tickets to the game between the Packers and Colts.

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Seahawks release 2015 sixth-round pick Kristjan Sokoli

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 14:  Defensive end Kristjan Sokoli #67 of the Seattle Seahawks warms up prior to the game against the Denver Broncos at CenturyLink Field on August 14, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

After announcing a handful of cuts on Monday afternoon as the team begins to trim its roster to the league maximum of 75 players by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline, the Seattle Seahawks released a member of their 2015 draft class on Monday evening.

Per his agent Brett Tessler, the Seahawks are releasing offensive lineman Kristjan Sokoli, a sixth-round pick last year.

Sokoli was a defensive lineman at the University of Buffalo that Seattle believed could develop into a strong offensive line prospect due to his athletic ability. The Seahawks made a similar conversion with J.R. Sweezy after selecting him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft and tried the same with 2013 seventh-round pick Jared Smith.

Seattle believed Sokoli could develop into an intriguing center prospect, but he never managed to work ahead of the third-team offensive line in training camp this year.

Tessler contends that Sokoli would be better off being moved back to the defensive side of the ball. He appeared in just one game for Seattle last year and played just eight snaps on special teams.

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Bucs-Redskins preseason finale moved to Wednesday due to weather

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 9:  Storm clouds over the stadium as the  Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium September 9, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.  Tampa won 16 - 10. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers have announced that their preseason finale vs. the Redskins has been moved up a day due to the threat of severe weather.

The teams will now play Wed. Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. ET.

The Buccaneers announcement on the change from the originally scheduled date of Thu. Sept. 1 said the team has been in contact with local officials and the National Weather Service and is making an effort to avoid anticipated severe weather from Tropical Depression Nine.

“This decision was made by both teams in conjunction with the National Football League and local authorities in an effort to ensure the safety of our fans, players and stadium staff,” the team’s statement said.

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Chargers cut James Jones

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Chargers released veteran wide receiver James Jones on Monday.

Jones had signed earlier this month following a tryout with other veteran wide receivers. The Chargers were looking for more experience in their receiving corps after losing Stevie Johnson for the season.

Jones, 32, caught eight touchdown passes for the Packers last season after spending 2014 with the Raiders.

Jones has 433 career receptions over his nine NFL seasons, 51 for touchdowns.

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Former Army Ranger turned Steelers LT says Kaepernick should be “careful”

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 3:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a first quarter interception in front of Alejandro Villanueva #78 and Desmond Bryant #92 of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who graduated from West Point and did three tours of duty as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan before starting his NFL career, told reporters Monday that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being “unfair” to veterans by refusing to stand for the national anthem.

Villanueva said Kaepernick should be “a little more careful” because of the platform he has and make sure he doesn’t “mislead people who truly wake up every morning trying to give everything — including their lives — to protect this country.”

Though Villanueva said he agrees with Kaepernick that something needs to be done to change the way minorities are treated in America, his comments about Kaepernick’s method of protest were similar to those made Monday by Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

“I will be the first one to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States — the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, the inequalities in pay and education,” Villanueva said. “I will be the first, but you can’t do it by looking away from the people who are trying to protect our freedom in our country.”

Per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Villanueva initially didn’t want to talk about Kaepernick but opened up when he was asked about standing for the national anthem and the responsibilities athletes have related to that.

Kaepernick has said he’s refusing to stand for the national anthem because he’s going “to stand with the people that are being oppressed.” Villanueva said he will continue to “stand proudly and sing every line” of the national anthem, which he’s been doing since he first enrolled at West Point.

“There are people fighting, so you can say and do whatever you please,” Villanueva said. “I agree that America isn’t perfect and there are a lot of issues with minorities in this country, and I agree that we should do something about it. I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem of a country that’s providing you freedom, and is providing you $16 million a year when there are black minorities who are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and protecting our freedom for less than $20,000 a year.”

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Brees says American flag is “sacred,” speaks out against Kapernick’s method of protest

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 17:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers talks after the game to Dree Brews #9 of the New Orleans Saints at  Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 17, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Saints defeated the 49ers 23-20.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

Saints quarterback Drew Brees told ESPN he “wholeheartedly disagrees” with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to remain seated during the national anthem, in part because Brees believes the American flag is “sacred.”

“He can speak out about a very important issue, but there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag,” Brees said.

Players and coaches across the league have been weighing in Kaepernick’s protest. At least thus far, Brees has made some of the strongest on-record comments against Kapernick’s choice.

“The great thing about this country is that we have the freedoms that allow you to speak out openly about any issue, so I’m not commenting on the issue itself because any person has the right to speak out on any issue they want,” Brees said. “That’s the great thing about being an American. But the American flag is what represents those freedoms. It represents the very freedom that Colin Kaepernick gets the opportunity to exercise by speaking out his opinion in a peaceful manner about that issue.

“Like, it’s an oxymoron that you’re sitting down, disrespecting that flag that has given you the freedom to speak out.”

Brees reinforced his opinion when he tweeted Monday night that he agrees “with his protest” but not Kaepernick’s method.

Brees has family members who served in the military and has long been involved with groups and events that support the military.

“When I look at that flag, I think about [my family members] too,” Brees said. “I think about a lot of things. Like when I stand and listen to the national anthem with my hand over my heart, there [are] emotions that well up inside of me.

“Like, I could shed a tear every time the national anthem plays if I would allow myself because it’s that powerful.”

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San Francisco Police Officers Association seeks apology from 49ers, NFL

<> on May 5, 2010 in San Francisco, California. Getty Images

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has explained his decision to not stand for the national anthem by pointing to the actions of certain police officers toward African-Americans and other persons of color. On Monday, the San Francisco Police Officers Association responded with a letter that criticizes Kaepernick for his views and asks his team and the league to apologize.

The letter, sent to 49ers owner Jed York and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calls Kaepernick’s comments “ill-advised” and explains that the police officers “will not stand by while he attacks police officers in this country with statements such as, ‘People are on paid leave while people of color are killed.'”

The letter, signed by SFPOA president Martin Halloran, accuses Kaepernick of “an incredible lack of knowledge regarding our profession” and a “total lack of sensitivity towards police officer.”

“Ironically it is those officers who on numerous occasions have protected Mr. Kaepernick and have ensured that the venue where the NFL holds its events are fully protected,” Halloran writes.

“I only wish Mr. Kaepernick could see the emotional and psychological challenges that our officers face following a fatal encounter. Some are so affected they never return to the streets. In short, Mr. Kaepernick has embarrassed himself, the 49ers organization, and the NFL based on a false narrative and misinformation that lacks any factual basis.”

Halloran then points out that 40 police officers have been murdered in recent months, and that more than 100,000 law-enforcement officers have been assaulted in the past year. Halloran also cites “over 8,000 murders that African Americans have inflicted on one another in 2015.”

“The law enforcement community cannot be continuously blamed for all of society’s problems, including racial divide, in our country,” Halloran writes. “It isn’t fair and it isn’t true.”

Halloran specifically asks York and Goodell to “denounce [Kaepernick’s] foolish statements and separate yourself” from Kaepernick’s words and actions. Halloran also invites Kaepernick to visit the San Francisco Police Department Academy “and partake in any of the simulations that recruits participate in during their training.”

Ultimately, Halloran asks the 49ers and the NFL “to do the right thing and at least apologize to the many police officers Mr. Kaepernick has disrespected for no apparent reason.”

Halloran’s letter doesn’t address the various, well-publicized incidents from recent months and years involving apparently unnecessary violence against minority citizens; that’s the gist of Kaepernick’s criticism. Halloran also doesn’t specifically address Kaepernick’s claim that people holding a “curling iron” have more training than those on the front lines of American law enforcement, charged with making life-and-death decisions in the heat of the moment.

While Halloran and any other police officer have the right to disagree with Kaepernick, he didn’t seem to be targeting the entire profession. His concern is that the system, as designed, creates situations in which some people with minimal training and experience enter challenging situations with a badge and a gun but perhaps an insufficient plan for how to most responsibly use either one.

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Dolphins trade defensive end Chris McCain to Saints

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 15: Chris McCain #58 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates after a play in which quarterback Sam Bradford #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles was injured (not pictured) in the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on November 15, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

Needing a better pass rush, the Saints are adding depth on the defensive line.

Chris McCain, a defensive end who has spent his first two NFL seasons with the Dolphins, has been traded to New Orleans.

The teams announced that the trade is for an undisclosed draft pick. It is likely a conditional seventh-round pick.

An undrafted free agent who signed with the Dolphins in 2014, McCain has just two sacks in his 18 career games, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll make any difference to the Saints’ defense. But he probably wasn’t even going to make the roster in Miami, and in New Orleans he has a chance.

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Trump weighs in on Kaepernick situation

FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Des Moines, Iowa. Trump promises on Twitter that he'll make a major speech on illegal immigration on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, carrying his self-declared "immigration week" into a second. Trump appears unable to make a decision on what his policy on his signature issue ought to be, an odd place for a candidate 10 weeks before Election Day and a dark harbinger of indecision for a potential president. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) AP

It was only a matter of time until presidential candidate Donald Trump weighed in on the Colin Kaepernick situation. And it was only a matter of time until Trump said exactly what you would expect him to say about Kaepernick.

“Well, I have followed it, and I think it’s personally not a good thing,” Trump told The Dori Monson Show, via “I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen.”

The argument that Kaepernick’s concerns about the only country in which he ever has lived mean he should leave it easily can be turned around, however, to Trump and anyone else who is convinced that America needs to be made “great again,” which implies a clear belief that it’s currently not. And those people surely would say they have the right to stay here and try to make things better, which is precisely what Kaepernick is trying to do.

On Sunday, Kaepernick criticized both of the major-party presidential candidates, saying that Hillary Clinton has “called black teens or black kids super-predators” and has “deleted emails and done things illegally,” and calling Trump “openly racist.”

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Patriots cut Stork, place Jackson on reserve/PUP

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Patriots officially released center Bryan Stork Monday, a few days after trading him and the same day Stork failed a physical with the Redskins that voided that trade.

Stork had contemplated retirement before deciding to report to the Redskins, who keep the seventh-round pick they’d pledged to acquire him in the trade.

The Patriots also officially released veteran defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, a move that had been previously reported, and placed guard Tre’ Jackson on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.

The reserve/PUP designation means Jackson will miss at least the first six games of the regular season.

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Seahawks announce some roster moves

Sealver Siliga, Joe Flacco AP

Every team has to have its roster down to 75 players by Tuesday, and the Seahawks made an initial wave of roster moves Monday en route to getting there.

As previously reported, cornerback Brandon Browner was released. Releasing Browner and placing defensive tackle Sealver Siliga on injured reserve were the most notable moves made by the team Monday.

Siliga had a calf injury early in camp and then aggravated it while warming up for the team’s preseason opener. Siliga started 13 games and played in 25 over the last three seasons for the Patriots.

The Seahawks also waived fullback Kyle Coleman, wide receiver Montario Hunter and defensive end DeAngelo Tyson. Wide receiver Deshon Foxx, who spent some time on the team’s practice squad last season, was waived-injured.

The Seahawks still have to make nine roster moves by Tuesday’s deadline.

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Vikings shopping center John Sullivan

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

It’s apparently time to trade a center. Or at least test the market for potential trades involving centers.

The Vikings are shopping veteran center John Sullivan, PFT has confirmed.

On the same day Bryan Stork’s failed physical restarted the Redskins’ search for help at the position and rumors surfaced that the Seahawks will listen to offers for Patrick Lewis comes news that the Vikings are willing to trade Sullivan.

While Lewis has slipped to No. 2 on the depth chart in Seattle, the Vikings still list Sullivan as their starter. Sullivan, 31, missed all of last season due to a back injury and the Vikings still have Joe Berger, who started all 16 games last year at center, on their roster.

Sullivan started the first two preseason games but was held out of the third.

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Seahawks are shopping center Patrick Lewis

cropped_GettyImages-459238210 Getty Images

With Justin Britt listed as the top center in Seattle and Patrick Lewis, who started the final 10 games of 2015 in that spot a year ago, now No. 2, it appears that Lewis is on the verge of becoming a former Seahawks.

Per a league source, the Seahawks are trying to trade Lewis.

Signed from the Browns’ practice squad in 2014, Lewis supplanted Drew Nowak during the 2015 as the starter. Britt, a second-round pick in 2014, moved to center after playing left guard last year and right tackle as a rookie. Cutting Lewis will allow the Seahawks to avoid his $1.67 million salary, which arose from application of the lowest level restricted free agency tender. Unlike franchise tenders, RFA tenders are not guaranteed when signed.

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Could a pay cut keep Mark Sanchez in Denver?

Denver Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez, back, looks as as quarterback Trevor Siemian takes part in a drill during the team's NFL football practice at the Broncos' headquarters on Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) AP

At a time when the Broncos reportedly are trying to trade quarterback Mark Sanchez in advance of possibly cutting him, Mike Klis of is floating a third option that could keep Sanchez in Denver.

If the player agrees to reduce his $4.5 million base salary, maybe he could remain with the Broncos.

It makes sense for the Broncos to explore it, and it makes sense for the Broncos to leak the possibility of it to Klis. Unless another team is willing to take Sanchez at his full salary (which is unlikely), the question becomes whether Sanchez would stay in Denver for whatever another team would pay him.

Still, keeping Sanchez means the Eagles will receive Denver’s seventh-round pick in 2017. So that will be a factor in deciding whether to keep him for less (if he’s inclined to take less) or to let him go.

If the Broncos cut him, they’ll likely need to replace him him with a veteran, ideally one who knows Gary Kubiak’s system. Former Texans quarterback T.J. Yates is available, for example; he could be signed with the express understanding that he’s there not to compete with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch but to help them.

However it goes, it’s becoming clear that Sanchez won’t be remaining in Denver at $4.5 million in salary. He’ll either be traded, cut, or signed at a reduced rate.

There’s a fourth possibility, in theory. The Broncos could cut him just before the condition triggers for the seventh-round pick, and then they could re-sign him at a reduced rate after Week One.

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Exploring the 49ers’ end game for Kaepernick

0612-colin-kaepernick-getty-4 Getty Images

Even before the football-following world realized that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had opted to not stand for the national anthem during each of the three preseason games, a weird vibe existed between player and team. Starting in February (when his agents asked for permission to seek a trade), continuing in March (when he met twice with the Broncos about a trade), and extending into August (when he didn’t practice for more than a week due to a supposedly dead arm), some developed the distinct impression that Kaepernick would never play another regular-season game for the 49ers.

Now that the situation has been complicated by Kaepernick’s refusal to participate in the anthem and his vow to keep sitting, the 49ers are in a much tougher spot. The trade market, if there was one, has likely evaporated, at least for now. Cutting him is complicated by the reality that, with a strong possibility that no one else would sign him, the 49ers would end up stuck with his full $11.9 million salary, with no offset.

Then there’s the question of whether and to what extent the 49ers would absorb a P.R. hit for cutting Kaepernick. The organization has taken great pains to support his right to sit, which easily can be interpreted as an effort to ensure that an eventual move to cut him could be sold as a football-only gesture. Still, plenty of casual fans will be inclined to not accept that explanation, since they remember Kaepernick as a guy who nearly won a Super Bowl but are oblivious to his regression over the past three years.

Letting him play entails the risk of an injury that lingers into 2017, and that keeps the 49ers from avoiding a $14.5 million base salary that becomes fully guaranteed as of April 1. At a minimum, then, there’s a belief that he’ll be kept in bubble wrap, RGIII-style, once the regular season begins.

With the team on the hook either way for the $11.9 million, and in light of the P.R. fallout that could arise from cutting him, the 49ers could choose to keep Kaepernick on the roster and wait for a possible injury to a starter elsewhere. Five years ago, Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell broke a collarbone two days before the trade deadline, opening the door for the Bengals to unload Carson Palmer, who had retired (i.e., quit). If a team that believes it can get the most out of Kaepernick (and/or that has seen first hand the havoc he can wreak) needs a starter, trading for Kaepernick could be the best way out of a bad situation.

The Sunday report from FOX’s Jay Glazer, who said he’ll be shocked if Kaepernick is on the team at the end of the season (for football reasons), is being viewed by some as a message from the team that the plan is to squat on Kaepernick for now, hold out hope (slim as it may be) for a trade, and then cut him later in the year, after the controversy dies down, as all controversies inevitably do.

Regardless, it will still be a surprise if he actually suits up and plays for the 49ers in the regular season, which means that it will be a surprise if he ever plays for the team again after Thursday’s preseason finale.

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