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After peaking in 2007, NFL attendance steadily has declined

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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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Colts cleaning house in college scouting department


With the draft over, Colts G.M. Chris Ballard is telling some of his college scouts their services will no longer be needed.

Colts director of college scouting T.J. McCreight and others in the scouting department have been fired, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

Former Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson hired McCreight shortly after Grigson took over the front office in 2012, and it’s no surprise that Ballard doesn’t want to keep Grigson’s guys around.

The Colts are the second team to make significant change in their personnel department today, with the Bills firing G.M. Doug Whaley and others in their scouting department.

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Bills owner Terry Pegula not explaining why he fired Doug Whaley

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The Bills fired General Manager Doug Whaley today. Bills owner Terry Pegula doesn’t want to explain why.

“We have certain aspects we need to get a little better in,” Pegula said, in about as generic a comment as an owner could make about the decision to fire a G.M.

Via ESPN, when Pegula was asked what those “certain aspects” are, he declined to answer.

“I need to keep that private,” he said. “I don’t want to discuss that publicly.”

It’s been clear since shortly after new head coach Sean McDermott was hired in January that McDermott was making more decisions and Whaley was seeing his authority diminished. Pegula said in January that he thought it was insulting that people were describing the Bills as a dysfunctional front office, but that didn’t stop widespread discussions in March that Whaley was on the way out.

Now Whaley is officially out, but Pegula still doesn’t want to explain what, exactly, went wrong on this franchise that has seen so much turmoil this offseason.

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Clemson wideout Artavis Scott among Chargers undrafted additions

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The Chargers started their draft by selecting Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams and they ensured he’ll have a familiar face in the position group by agreeing to terms with one of his college teammates.

Wide receiver Artavis Scott is one of the 15 players who will be joining the Chargers as undrafted free agents. Scott had 76 catches for 614 yards and five touchdowns last season, but joins a deep group with Williams, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin and Dontrelle Inman on the depth chart.

The Chargers were bandied about as a landing spot for a quarterback in the draft, but the only addition at that position came when they agreed to terms with Jacksonville State’s Eli Jenkins. Jenkins threw for 2,107 yards while completing just under half his passes and ran for 984 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

Missouri tight end Sean Culkin, Florida Atlantic center Dillon Deboer, BYU cornerback Michael Davis, Western State running back Austin Ekeler, South Florida linebacker Nigel Harris, Georgia Southern kicker Younghoe Koo, Kansas State linebacker Mike Moore, Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu, Rutgers wide receiver Andre Patton, Kansas cornerback Brandon Stewart, Wake Forest cornerback Brad Watson, Ohio State wide receiver Dontre Wilson and South Carolina tackle Mason Zandi are the other new additions.

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Rams agree to terms with 11 undrafted free agents

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The Rams drafted eight players during the 2017 draft and then agreed to terms with 11 more players who were not selected over the seven rounds in Philadelphia.

The Rams didn’t draft any offensive linemen, but two members of the undrafted group play up front. Washington guard Jake Eldrenkamp and New Mexico State center Anthony McMeans will join the competition on a line that added a pair of projected starters in free agency.

Four defensive backs were also part of the group. UCLA’s Ishmael Adams, Arkansas’ Jared Collins, Missouri’s Aarion Penton and N.C. State’s Dravious Wright will join third-round safety John Johnson as new members of the secondary.

Colorado State linebacker Kevin Davis, USC running back Justin Davis, Oregon tight end Johnny Mundt, Dartmouth linebacker Folarin Orimolade and Ohio defensive tackle Casey Sayles make up the rest of the group.

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John Lynch: “It’s looking like” we’ll pick up Jimmie Ward’s option

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When 49ers General Manager John Lynch was asked about safety Jimmie Ward’s 2018 option before the draft, he didn’t give an indication about which way the team was leaning but he had more to say about what they’ll do once the draft ended on Sunday.

The 49ers didn’t draft a safety until the seventh round and the one they did — Adrian Colbert — played corner at Miami last year. Whether that was what caused them to make a call on Ward or not, Lynch said the option will likely be exercised by Wednesday’s deadline.

“Yeah, it’s looking like that,” Lynch said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “[I] had no clue when you guys asked me that the other day. I had no idea. I had been focused on the draft. But, [the question] made me go check.”

Ward is moving to safety this season and coach Kyle Shanahan liked what he’s seen in their limited time on the field during the offseason program. Ward should start alongside Eric Reid, who had his fifth-year option for 2017 exercised at this time last year.

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Steelers sign nine undrafted free agents

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There were plenty of players left undrafted when the seventh round ended on Saturday night and nine of them are now on the Steelers roster.

The team announced the signings on Sunday. The group includes Pittsburgh tight end Scott Orndoff, who will stay in town along with college teammate James Conner after the running back was selected in the third round. The Steelers did not draft a tight end during the draft.

Two other members of their undrafted group also spent time at Pitt in college. Running back Rushel Shell, who went to high school in Hopewell, Pennsylvania, played at Pitt for a year before transferring and ending his college career at West Virginia. They also signed Pitt defensive back Terrish Webb.

Mississippi State defensive tackle Nelson Adams, West Virginia defensive tackle Christian Brown, Indiana-Pennsylvania guard Ethan Cooper, Georgia Tech defensive end Francis Kallon, Louisville linebacker Keith Kelsey and Clemson quarterback Nick Schuessler, who backed up Texans first-round pick Deshaun Watson, round out the group.

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Jets on Sheldon Richardson, Calvin Pryor: We’ll see how it unfolds

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There were reports that the Jets were trying to trade defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and safety Calvin Pryor at points during the draft, but both players remain on the roster with all seven rounds in the books.

Richardson trade talks were no surprise as the Jets also discussed moving the 2013 first-round pick before the trade deadline last season. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that a deal is still possible this offseason, but that his $8.1 million salary is a “sticking point” in talks with other teams.

General Manager Mike Maccagnan didn’t rule anything out when discussing Richardson on Saturday.

“Sheldon’s under contract,” Maccagnan said. “He’s part of our organization going forward. And we’ll see how things develop over time. But again, he’s under contract. Going forward that’s where we are with Sheldon. … There’s a whole offseason ahead of us here. We’ll see how it unfolds going forward.”

Maccagnan gave a similar answer about Pryor, who saw the Jets draft safeties in each of the first two rounds. Maccagnan said the team “will let this thing play itself out,” but he doesn’t see any reason they couldn’t hold onto Pryor and coach Todd Bowles used three safeties together when he was with Arizona.

“We have a bunch of packages where we play three safeties at one time,” Bowles said, via “We like to do that. We didn’t have the luxury last year, but we have that in our packages.”

The Jets have until Wednesday to pick up the 2018 option on Pryor’s contract, but it seems likely they’ll pass given the way the draft played out.

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28 players who entered the draft early went undrafted

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For a sure thing high draft pick like Myles Garrett, the decision to turn pro after three years of college football is an easy choice. For others, there are no sure things.

Of the 103 players who decided to enter the draft even though they had some NCAA eligibility remaining, 28 of them were undrafted and will now hope to catch on somewhere as undrafted free agents.

Those include some fairly well-known names from the college football world including Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans, Florida State receiver Travis Rudolph, Ole Miss receiver Damore’ea Stringellow and Clemson receiver Artavis Scott.

Here’s the full list via the Associated Press:

KD Cannon, WR, Baylor

Devin Childress, WR, North Park

Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech

Jeremy Faulk, DT, Garden City CC

Tarean Folston, RB, Notre Dame

Isaiah Golden, DT, McNeese State

Jermaine Grace, LB, Miami

Derrick Griffin, WR, Texas Southern

Titus Howard, DB, Slippery Rock

Tim Kimbrough, LB, Georgia

Jerome Lane, WR, Akron

Keevan Lucas, WR, Tulsa

Damien Mama, OL, USC

Deon-Tay McManus, WR, Marshall

Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

Marcus Oliver, LB, Indiana

Aaron Peak, DB, Butler County CC

Devine Redding, RB, Indiana

Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State

Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson

Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

Garrett Sickels, DE, Penn State

Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss

Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma

Khari Waithe-Alexander, DE, Southern Illinois

Stanley Williams, RB, Kentucky

Joe Yearby, RB, Miami

Ishmael Zamora, WR, Baylor

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Report: Packers came close to trading Brett Hundley on Friday

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As the Packers added new players during the draft, they also looked to unload one of their current players.

Green Bay was shopping backup quarterback Brett Hundley and came close to making a deal on the second day of the draft, ESPN reports. There’s no word on which teams the Packers talked to or what kinds of offers they got, but the report says the Packers still believe they can get “much more” than a fifth-round pick for the quarterback they drafted in the fifth round in 2015.

Hundley has talent but hasn’t been able to show it off much while sitting behind Aaron Rodgers. His career stat line is 2-for-10 for 17 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. Given that he hasn’t shown much of anything, it’s unclear why the Packers think teams would be higher on him in the trade market now than they were in the draft two years ago.

Hundley has two more years remaining on his rookie contract. Joe Callahan is the only other quarterback under contract to the Packers, although they have reportedly agreed to terms with undrafted free agent Taysom Hill.

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Browns got nine players for Carson Wentz, and they’re not done yet

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The haul of players the Browns have acquired with picks they got from Philadelphia in last year’s Carson Wentz trade is extraordinary, and it hasn’t even ended yet.

Cleveland sent the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft (along with a 2017 fourth-round pick) to the Eagles in exchange for Philadelphia’s first-round, third-round, and fourth-round picks in last year’s draft, Philadelphia’s first-round pick in this year’s Draft and Philadelphia’s second-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

With Philadelphia’s 2016 first-round pick, Cleveland traded down again and got Tennessee’s first-round pick and third-round pick, as well as Tennessee’s 2017 second-round pick. With Tennessee’s first-round pick, Cleveland chose receiver Corey Coleman. With Tennessee’s third-round pick, Cleveland chose offensive tackle Shon Coleman. With Tennessee’s 2017 second-round pick, Cleveland chose quarterback DeShone Kizer.

Cleveland packaged Philadelphia’s 2016 third-round pick and a fifth-round pick and traded them to Carolina for the Panthers’ 2016 third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks. With the third-round pick, Cleveland chose quarterback Cody Kessler. With the fourth-round pick, Cleveland chose safety Derrick Kindred. With the fifth-round pick, Cleveland chose offensive tackle Spencer Drango.

Cleveland sent Philadelphia’s 2016 fourth-round pick to Oakland for the Raiders’ fourth- and fifth-round picks. With the fourth-round pick, the Browns chose receiver Ricardo Louis. With the fifth-round pick, the Browns chose receiver Jordan Payton.

Cleveland sent Philadelphia’s 2017 first-round pick to Houston for the Texans’ first-round picks this year and next year. With the Texans’ first-round pick, the Browns selected safety Jabrill Peppers.

So the Browns now have nine players — Corey Coleman, Shon Coleman, DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Derrick Kindred, Spencer Drango, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, Jabrill Peppers — as well as the Texans’ first-round pick next year and the Eagles’ second-round pick next year, all for trading the opportunity to choose Wentz.

That’s an incredible haul. Also incredible is the possibility that Wentz will turn into a franchise quarterback, the Browns won’t find one, and Cleveland fans will be left wishing the Browns hadn’t made that trade.

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Bills fire entire scouting staff along with Doug Whaley

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The Bills announced that General Manager Doug Whaley has been fired early on Sunday and they confirmed more departures later in the day.

Owner Terry Pegula said that the team has also cleared out their pro and amateur scouting departments as they shift directions on the personnel side of the organization. That housecleaning includes personnel heads Jim Monos and Kelvin Fisher, but Pegula says that a decision on vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf, who has a big role in contracts, will rest with the next General Manager.

Pegula said that the team made the decision to fire Whaley and the others after he and wife Kim “ran our process” and they made the moves now because the scouting year came to an end with the draft. He also said that Whaley ran the draft, which runs counter to the perception of many that coach Sean McDermott was pulling the strings and is a bit odd given the decision they made about Whaley’s future with the organization.

Whaley took over as Buffalo’s G.M. in 2013 before the Pegulas bought the team so this will be their first hire for the position.

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Michigan leads all schools with 11 players drafted in 2017

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Jabrill Peppers became the first Michigan player drafted this year when the Browns made him the 25th overall pick on Thursday night. He’d have plenty of company by the time the seventh round came to an end.

Michigan had 11 players selected in the draft, which was more than any other school and a record for Michigan in a single draft. Alabama had 10 players taken and had four first-round picks to two (Taco Charlton went to Dallas) for Michigan. The University of Miami was third with nine players while Florida, LSU and Utah all had eight players selected.

The Wolverines have seen their fortunes on the field change for the better since Jim Harbaugh returned to his alma mater as head coach before the 2015 season, something that obviously caught the eye of NFL talent evaluators.

The Seahawks took two of the Michigan players in the third round — safety Delano Hill and wide receiver Amara Darboh — and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll praised the job Harbaugh’s done in Ann Arbor, leading to laughs from reporters and General Manager John Schneider to ask the coach “What’s your deal?” in reference to past bad blood with the former 49ers coach.

Harbaugh’s coaching certainly helped these players, but he’s not the only coach who had a hand in developing the group. They were recruited by Brady Hoke before Harbaugh arrived and their success is one of the few parts of Hoke’s tenure that will be remembered fondly.

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John Elway drafted Chad Kelly after plug from Jim Kelly

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John Elway and Jim Kelly were both first-round picks in the 1983 NFL Draft and they reconnected during this year’s draft, although it was much later in the process.

Elway called Kelly as part of his role as the Broncos General Manager in order to ask Kelly about his nephew Chad, who dealt with off-field issues and injuries during a college career that also featured some strong quarterback play at Ole Miss. The younger Kelly got a plug from his uncle that helped Elway decide to use the final pick of the 2017 draft on the quarterback.

“I called his uncle, and he said, ‘He’s a good kid,'” Elway said, via “I said, ‘OK, that’s all I need.’ I trust Jim with that. Obviously, there’s been some history there, but we felt comfortable. Chad understands what he’s been through and is ready to take this step and realizes the step that he’s taken is different than when he was in college. We’re full of confidence that Chad’s going to be able to come up here and understand the situation he’s in.”

Elway said the vetting process went beyond talking to Uncle Jim and coach Vance Joseph said he’s confident that Kelly has learned from past “childish mistakes.”

A different review may have pushed the Broncos in a different direction, which would have left Kelly to weigh offers to sign as an undrafted free agent. That could have led to better odds of making a 53-man roster, although Joseph also said Kelly was his favorite quarterback in this year’s draft so Denver might have been the best spot under any circumstances.

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Lions set at running back, with Ameer Abdullah the starter

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The Lions had one of the NFL’s worst rushing attacks last season, and it was a surprise to some that they didn’t try to upgrade by drafting a running back. But General Manager Bob Quinn says he’s confident in the top running back he has.

Quinn confirmed after the draft that Ameer Abdullah is the Lions’ starter. Abdullah was off to a promising start last season before he was lost for the year with a foot injury in Week Two, and the Lions think the key is getting Abdullah back and healthy, not getting someone else to replace him.

Between Abdullah and Theo Riddick the Lions think they have a good 1-2 punch, with Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington likely the other two running backs to make the 53-man roster and Mike Burton at fullback. Quinn doesn’t think they need much more than that.

“There were a couple running backs we looked at in the middle part of the draft but no one that we felt was really going to come in and really unseat any of the guys we have on our roster,” Quinn said. “It’s a tough balance, but I think Ameer’s injury last year was sort of a fluke thing. He’s back 100 percent. Theo’s dealing with a few things, but we think he’s ready to go, too. You can’t carry 10 running backs. You’ve got 90 guys on the roster, and you’ve got to split them up as best as you see fit.”

What Quinn sees is a roster that already has enough players at a position that has been increasingly devalued in the NFL in recent years. He’s not interested in expending any more draft capital there.

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Panthers sign Ben Boulware, Fred Ross as undrafted free agents

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Linebacker Ben Boulware played college football at Clemson, which isn’t too far from where he’ll get his chance to make it in the NFL.

The Panthers announced that they have signed Boulware, who was not selected over the three days of the draft despite being named the Jack Lambert Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker. Boulware had 113 tackles for the national champions last season.

“He’s instinctive. He’s tough. He will tag your fanny,” General Manager Dave Gettleman said. “He’s smart. He’s all the stuff we’re looking for.”

The Panthers also announced the addition of wide receiver Fred Ross. Ross caught 12 touchdowns for Mississippi State last season and finished his college career as the school’s leader in catches and receiving yards.

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