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Full text of Roger Goodell’s presentation at the Harvard School of Public Health

[Editor’s note:  On Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke at the Harvard School of Public Health. The full text of his prepared remarks, as distributed by the NFL, appears below.]

Let me begin by thanking Dean Julio Frenk for inviting me to speak here today.  It is truly an honor to discuss two topics that I am passionate about: the game of football and its future.

The history of football is closely connected with the history of Harvard. Football has been played here with distinction since 1873. Professor Paul Weiler of Harvard Law School persuasively argues that the first college football game took place in Cambridge between Harvard and McGill University.

President Faust paid eloquent tribute to Harvard’s football legacy in a speech the night before last year’s Harvard-Yale game. She mentioned the university’s landmark innovations in the game – uniforms, a team doctor, a trainer, a kicking specialist. Harvard’s legacy includes eight national championships and 20 College Football Hall of Famers. Also the current starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills – Ryan Fitzpatrick – and Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk – who last year won the Walter Payton Award as the NFL Man of the Year for his service on, and especially, off the field.

Football is embedded in your traditions, and your contributions have defined and changed how we play the game. We are proud of the connection. And we know that Harvard is proud of your team and players for their extraordinary accomplishments on the football field, in the classroom, and in life. From Harvard’s first African-American football captain, William Lewis in 1893, to Coach Murphy’s fine team this year, you have given so much to the sport we love. And good luck to the Crimson this Saturday in “The Game” against Yale, one of football’s grandest traditions.

Harvard and the NFL both stand for something else – leadership. Others in education, sports, and countless places beyond the playing fields look to us to influence their own decisions. We embrace our leadership position. And leadership means certain things, whether in sports, academia, or public health. It means thinking about the long term. It means listening and learning from people, including your critics or those who may be telling you what you don’t want to hear. It means facing up to your challenges and working tirelessly to make sure you make the right choices, for the right reasons, based on science and facts, not speculation.

So today, in this place of leadership, I want to speak about our role in protecting the health and safety of athletes – not just in the NFL and football, but in all sports and all levels of play. Our nation is experiencing a public health crisis fueled by growing levels of obesity, particularly in children. You understand the consequences and what needs to be done to reverse the trend. We know kids need to exercise – put simply, to play. And we know that whatever they play, they need to do it safely – with respect for the rules and other competitors, and in support of teamwork and sportsmanship.

Other than my family, my passion in life is football, and always has been. As a kid, it seemed like I was always either playing or thinking about football. The values I learned from the game are central to who I am. I learned about commitment, communication, sacrifice and determination. It was fun, exciting, and the ultimate team sport.

Thirty years ago, I joined the NFL as an intern in Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s office. I was Pete Rozelle’s driver at Super Bowl XX in New Orleans in 1986. I couldn’t believe my luck and couldn’t imagine a better job. It was the beginning of a dream I am still living. It has been, at times, a humbling journey.

I have been fortunate to preside over the National Football League for seven seasons now. As a league, we continue to achieve great success. A growing number of fans – more than one million a week – attend games at our stadiums. The 16 most-watched TV shows this fall are NFL games – that is, aside from the presidential debates. And they were almost a contact sport, too.

A recent Harris Poll indicated that the NFL’s popularity is rising, at an all-time high, and up 12 percent from just 10 years ago. The second most popular sport is college football. The interest is simply amazing – driven by the character of the game, the talent and hard work of our athletes, the dedication of coaches, and the passion of our fans.

I don’t need to tell you that our nation is sharply divided on many issues. But, as President Obama said just last week, “One of the big unifiers in this country is sports, and football in particular. You don’t go anyplace where folks don’t talk about football.”

Football connects generations. Many of us remember watching games with parents and grandparents. We’ve experienced the joy of introducing the game to our own children. It inspires us to rally around our players, teams, and cities. It brings together families, friends, and communities. And on a few occasions every year, it brings together the entire country.

Football has earned a vital place in the rhythm of American life. Nearly 6 million kids play flag or tackle football; another 1.1 million play in high school; and 75,000 play in college. For many reasons, I have never been more optimistic about football’s future or more confident about its place in our society. Optimistic, but not complacent.

The game of football is thriving. It is more compelling than ever. But it is also seen by some as a game at a crossroads. And not for the first time. We are well aware of social commentators who now question our future. And I am here to tell you: If we are at another crossroads, we have already taken the right path. We took it a long time ago, and our commitment to stay on it will not waver.

The risk of injury in football is well known. Throughout history, football has evolved; it has become safer and safer again. President Faust talked last year about eliminating the dangerous “flying wedge” in the college game more than a century ago. In recent years, there has been a much sharper focus on concussions in football and other sports. There are still unanswered questions, but scientists and doctors know more about concussions and their long-term potential effects than they did even a few years ago. The key issue for us is how we use this new understanding to make the game even safer and more exciting in the future.

I can say in no uncertain terms that this is our biggest challenge: Changing the culture in a way that reduces the injury risk to the maximum possible extent – especially the risk of head injury. We want players to enjoy long and prosperous careers and healthy lives off the field. So we focus relentlessly on player health and safety, while also keeping the game fun and unpredictable.

My most important job is to protect the integrity of the game – but it goes beyond that. It is also to protect the 1,800 professionals who choose to play and who make our game so great.

The responsibility to our players does not end when they hang up their uniform for the last time. The health and safety of former, current, and future players involves many facets, not just head injuries. It includes the quality of playing fields, the equipment players wear, rules to protect them from unnecessary risk, programs to support their lives off the field, and post-career benefits.

At one time spinal cord injuries were considered a greater risk than they are today. But after changes in rules and techniques, those injuries have been dramatically reduced. We also have addressed the impact of heat and hydration, better educating our medical staffs and players and supporting the outstanding work of the Korey Stringer Institute. Now we are devoting more resources to the well-being of players as they transition away from the game, including their mental health.

We more than accept this responsibility on total health and safety. We seek it; we pursue it; we honor it. We do it to make a difference in football, in all sports and, we hope, beyond.

I’m sure some of you have asked yourselves the same tough questions others ask: When there is risk associated with playing tackle football, why do people continue to play? And for parents, should I let my kids play tackle football?

These are valid, important questions. Answers can differ from person to person – and especially from parent to parent.

In trying to respond to these concerns, we have looked to the realities of football. We have established an open dialogue – speaking frankly and engaging our critics directly – so that we can improve the safety of football. Whether to play football or any contact sport is a highly personal choice for kids and parents. It must be a thoughtful, informed decision.

The simple truth is that any physical activity comes with risk and reward. Head injuries occur in sports. Earlier this month, many of the world’s top sports concussion experts convened in Zurich, Switzerland. It is the leading conference on concussion in sport. In attendance were experts from the International Olympic Committee, international soccer (or as they say “football”), rugby, equestrian competition, Australian Rules Football and many other sports, including the NFL. The chief medical officer of the international soccer federation noted that 300 million people around the world play soccer. Concussions are hardly an issue limited to football or the NFL.

The conference reached a thoughtful consensus on how to advance safety – teach proper techniques and fundamentals; educate coaches, parents and players about concussion recognition and management; eliminate unnecessary contact; and continue to research the unanswered questions surrounding concussions.  At the same time, these international experts recommended that sports be played actively, but safely, without regard to age. These few steps will make sports safer for all.

There is no question that there are tremendous benefits to playing team sports like football, whether it’s tackle, flag or touch football in the backyard – benefits such as physical fitness, self-discipline, friendships, leadership opportunities, self-esteem, college scholarships, and, most importantly, just plain fun.

Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to John Kennedy to Gerald Ford played and loved football. Business leaders like Jeff Immelt and military leaders like General Ray Odierno learned important lessons from playing football. At West Point, the cadets are required to play a team sport because the experience is fundamental to leadership development.

Is playing tackle football worth the risk? For some, the answer may be no. But millions say yes. We emphatically say yes. And I pledge that the NFL will do everything in its power to minimize the risks and maximize the rewards of this great and increasingly global game.

The way I look at it: Football is always at a crossroads, facing challenges that require leaders to act with courage and purpose to secure and advance its future.

Let’s look back at one issue that involved Harvard more than a century ago, in 1905, before the NFL even existed. This was a time when football was extremely dangerous and violent. More than 150 college players suffered serious injuries and 18 players died in 1904 alone – – at a time when far fewer athletes played football.

Just think about that for a moment … 18 student-athletes died … in one season, primarily from skull fractures.

The nature of the game at that time led to widespread criticism. In 1903, The New York Times stated that football was trending toward “mayhem and homicide.” Some called for ending the sport, including Harvard President Charles Eliot.

The future of football was very much in doubt.

But a Harvard graduate, who happened to be the President of the United States, loved football. And Teddy Roosevelt came to football’s rescue.

He had not played football at Harvard, but he loved the game. He saw the merit in the lessons and principles that make football compelling. And in December of 1905, he brought the Big Three – Harvard, Yale and Princeton – to the White House. He convinced them that something had to change. President Roosevelt recognized that the game did not need to end. It needed to evolve.

As a result of President Roosevelt’s initiative, and the leadership of Harvard, key rules and the equipment of the game were changed and what became the NCAA was created. This led to modern football, one that included the forward pass, 10 yards for a first down, and the elimination of the flying wedge. These changes led to a more wide open, safer game.
Teddy Roosevelt helped transform a sport in trouble into something better – a game that has helped shape the lives and careers of generations of young men in so many positive ways.

In 1910, President Woodrow Wilson observed that the changes were working. “The new game of football seems far more enjoyable than the old one,” he said. “The new rules are doing much to bring football to a high level as a sport, for its brutal features are being done away with and better elements retained.”

So it was that a Harvard graduate and the university itself played a pivotal role in transforming football and paving the way to its future success.

The game has continued to evolve. Not long ago, the game allowed the head slap, tackling by the face mask, horse collar tackles, dangerous blocks, and hits to the head of defenseless receivers and quarterbacks. All of that has changed.

“The war against roughness in pro football is a continuing one,” said the NFL commissioner. That was Pete Rozelle in 1963.

“An Unfolding Tragedy.” That was a headline. The story said, “As football injuries mount, lawsuits increase and insurance rates soar, the game is headed toward a crisis, one that is epitomized by the helmet, which is both a barbarous weapon and inadequate protection.” It was a Sports Illustrated cover story in 1978.

Protecting the health and safety of players has included taking drug abuse and steroids out of the game. We have randomly tested year-round for steroids since 1990, the first league to do so, with immediate suspensions for any violations. Next we need to implement testing to make sure human growth hormone is out of the game. Performance enhancing drugs are dangerous. They also present unknown risk that may be seriously impacting an athlete’s health in ways he or she never considered. Some have suggested that there may be a link between performance enhancing drugs and concussions and brain disease.

Football has always evolved, and it always will. Make no mistake: change does not inhibit the game; it improves it.

It’s with Teddy Roosevelt in mind that we embrace today’s challenges. I learned a long time ago that you don’t do things because they are popular in the short term. You do them because they are right for the long term. And this is the right conversation to be having.

My commitment has been and will continue to be to change the culture of football to better protect players without changing the essence of what makes the game so popular.

It has been done. And it will be done.

As stewards of the game, it is our responsibility to promote a culture of safety. To be leaders. So let me share with you some specifics on how we are leading.

(Leadership)

Leaders do not sit and wait for others to provide answers. We will continue to make rule changes, invest in innovative protective equipment, and provide our medical staffs the tools and authority to protect players on the field.

The rule in our league is simple and straightforward: Medical decisions override everything else. There has been attention this week on the fact that three NFL quarterbacks sustained concussions last Sunday. The positive development was that all three were taken out of the game as soon as they showed symptoms. The team medical staff then diagnosed a concussion, and each player was out of the game. That is progress. That is the way it should be in all sports at every level.

We know that our actions set an example. The concussion awareness material and training videos we developed with the Centers for Disease Control were used by the U.S. Olympic team this past summer. The United States military, NASCAR and college conferences have adopted our concussion protocols.

The Ivy League this year adopted rules similar to the ones in the new agreement with our NFL players, limiting contact in practices and emphasizing taking the head out of the game – as we have been doing.

High schools and colleges must take leadership roles as well with their coaches and athletes. An aggressive dialogue and educational efforts at all levels will raise awareness and change the culture to more strongly emphasize safety. We challenge everyone in sports to be agents of culture change. And we will learn from each other.

There is more to be done. And we will continue to lead by example.

(Research)

Second, leaders base decisions on facts. We actively support independent and transparent medical research. Much of this focuses on the brain, sometimes called the last frontier of medicine and a public health issue that affects millions. Most of them do not even play sports.

We hope our focus on brain injury and the discoveries ahead will benefit the broader population. We recently committed $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for research on the brain. The agreement with our players sets aside an additional $100 million for similar medical research over the next decade. We have invested millions more in medical research through our charitable foundations, including at the Boston University Center for the Study of CTE. The center’s co-director, Dr. Robert Stern, is here today.

We may learn through breakthroughs in science that there are genetic or other factors that make certain individuals predisposed to concussions or brain disease. If an athlete has repeated concussions or takes longer to recover, it may signal a problem unique to that individual. Such individuals will benefit from advances in the science of concussion. They will be able to make more informed decisions about whether to accept the risk of playing a contact sport.

We support research into new helmet designs and have sponsored independent helmet testing to provide better information to players on helmet performance. One of the helmets our players wear was designed by a former Harvard quarterback, Vin Ferrara.

We may see a day when there are different helmets for different positions, based on which helmet can best protect players at their position.

As a sport that is on the national stage and under the spotlight, we are working to make a difference. Innovations in research today will improve safety in the sport tomorrow and for future generations in all sports.

(Rules)

Third, we are committed to strengthening our playing rules – and insisting on strict enforcement. Preserving the essence of the game, while reducing unnecessary risk, means we have to constantly reevaluate and refresh our rules reasonably and responsibly.

Strategy, strength and speed are what make the game great. We don’t want to take physical contact out of the game. But we must ensure that players follow rules designed to reduce the risk of injury. Enforcing rules on illegal hits to the head with fines and suspensions has changed tackling for the better. Players and coaches have adjusted. They always do. We now see fewer dangerous hits to the head and noticeable changes in the way the game is being played.

We continue to look for other ways to take the head out of the game. Two years ago we moved the kickoff line five yards forward to the 35. That reform yielded real benefits – a 40 percent reduction in concussions last year on kickoffs. College football then adopted our rule. Some think that the kickoff – the play with the highest injury rate – should be eliminated from the game or modified even further.

Here’s an idea I’ve heard from an NFL head coach: put a weight limit on players for kickoffs. Smaller players against smaller players would mean less severe collisions.

We will monitor the data on kickoffs, and all plays, with an open mind toward change.

Our Player Safety Panel, co-chaired by Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and John Madden, has recommended that our Competition Committee carefully review the rules on all blocks below the waist. Protecting “defenseless” players started decades ago by banning the hitting of kickers. We now have nine separate categories of defenseless players in our rule book. All players can be defenseless in certain situations and we must address it comprehensively.

The right safety equipment is also crucial. Next year NFL players will be required to wear knee and thigh pads, as players are required to do at every other level of football. Many NFL players haven’t been wearing them. Getting them into the right equipment is part of changing the culture.

Technology is also helping us. Recent developments include new protocols, certified athletic trainers in press boxes to serve as spotters for team medical staffs, and the use of iPads and cell phones by medical staffs on the sidelines. We allow this technology for medical reasons, but not for competitive purposes.

We are testing accelerometers in helmets. They are sensors that determine the impact of a hit. We are also testing sensors in shoulder pads which could provide important information.

The most significant innovation may be the use of video by medical staffs on the sidelines to evaluate the mechanism of injury. We started it late last season and now use it for every game. It allows team doctors and trainers to more quickly understand and better treat an injury. Our team medical staffs are raving about it.

(Advocacy)

Fourth, we use our leadership position to advocate for safety in sports. We took a lead role in supporting the Zackery Lystedt Youth Concussion Law. It applies to all sports. It requires education for coaches, players, and parents, removal from games or practice for any school athlete who suffers a concussion, and clearance by a medical professional before the athlete can return to play. This law has now been passed by 40 states and the District of Columbia. Our goal is to secure approval in all 50 states. And I am confident that we will get there.

We are committed to the safety of young athletes, starting as soon as they step on the field. My twin daughters in middle school play lacrosse and soccer. Girls’ soccer has the second highest rate of concussions in youth sports. I am concerned for their safety. I want them to play, but I want them to play for coaches who know how to teach proper techniques and who are trained in the safety of their sport.

Ten years ago, we helped endow a non-profit organization called USA Football. With the CDC and other medical and football experts, USA Football created the only nationally accredited coaching course in the history of football. Tens of thousands of coaches have completed the course. Better certification and background checks of all coaches must be among the highest priorities for all youth sports.

USA Football has commissioned an injury study – research that the youth game has never seen. It also established a pilot program this year called “Heads Up Football.” This program invites parents to participate and delivers training and education for safer tackling, practice regimens modeled on the NFL, and a safety coach whose sole task is to monitor and ensure player safety in practices and games.

In fact, there is a critical need for more certified athletic trainers for youth and high school sports. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, in 2010 only 42 percent of high schools had access to certified trainers who were trained in concussion care.

There is more we can do to make youth sports safer. And again, we stand ready to lead.

(Partnerships)

And finally, we know we can’t do it alone. To learn what needs to be learned and do what needs to be done, we need partners with expertise to make things happen.

We will continue to work with leading organizations to support independent research. One day we hope that will include the Harvard School of Public Health.

We have assembled an all-volunteer advisory panel of doctors, scientists, and thought leaders in brain injury from academia, sports medicine, engineering, the NIH, CDC, and Department of Defense. It includes some of our earlier critics. This group has four subcommittees and is directing discussion and research – ranging from long-term outcomes to education to making safer equipment. It includes another Harvard graduate and former Crimson football player, Dr. Mitch Berger. Dr. Robert Cantu, long respected in this area, is here today and he is an advisor to our committee.

We have eight other medical advisory committees within our league, comprised mostly of doctors plus other experts from inside and outside the league. These committees are overseen by a committee of owners chaired by an NFL owner who is also a physician, Dr. John York of the San Francisco 49ers.

Earlier this year, with the help of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, we launched a pilot program to replace helmets in underserved schools.

We need to be driven by facts and data, not perceptions and suppositions. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has done studies on NFL players. This summer NIOSH exploded a myth that has been circulating for years that the life expectancy of NFL players was 55 years of age. That caused many NFL players to make a bad decision to take their pension early at a much lower rate. NIOSH found that the true life expectancy of an NFL player is actually longer than the general population. There are real-life consequences when working off bad facts.

One of our most exciting and innovative new partnerships is with the Army, helping to change the culture in both organizations. Too often, bravery and commitment to the unit or team stand in the way of safety. In this new partnership, NFL players and service members are working together to put in place a culture of safety. It is helping players and soldiers identify the signs and symptoms of brain injuries, and empowering them to make better decisions. We are working cooperatively to make soldiers and athletes safer.

We are proud to be leaders in sports health and safety. Members of Congress, former critics, influential members of the news media, and others have praised our initiatives. But while we have worked hard throughout our history, the right road is never ending. Evolution, by nature, does not stop. Football will always continue to evolve.

The culture of the athlete is still too much of a play-through-it, rather than player safety mentality. Many players have publicly admitted to hiding concussions and other head injuries.

I was recently at dinner with family friends. Their 15-year-old daughter plays field hockey and told me how during a recent game she hit her head on the turf and blacked out for a moment. She didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t want to come out. The next day she was diagnosed with a concussion. It’s the warrior mentality – in a 15-year-old girl. This is unfortunate, but we are working with players, team doctors and coaches to change that culture. It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience, and determination.

Let me conclude with a question: What is our goal? I can answer in one simple word: Safety.

A safer game for all who play at every level of football. A safer game made even more exciting through thoughtful adjustments of the rules, next-generation equipment, pioneering research, and transparent partnerships with the best minds.

The road may be long and twisting. But I have no doubt we will reach our destination – a culture of safety for every sport so our world continues to be blessed by the vital and vibrant rewards that come uniquely from sports. For football, I can say with humility, resolve, and confidence: the best is yet to come.

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Mike McCoy walks the fine line between employee and coach

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 3:  Head coach Mike McCoy of the San Diego Chargers smiles and gives a fist bump to strong safety Jahleel Addae #37 of the San Diego Chargers during a game against the Denver Broncos  at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 3, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chargers and defensive end Joey Bosa remain at an impasse. And coach Mike McCoy is caught between a proverbial rock and a hard place.

McCoy met with the media on Thursday, a day after folks higher on the organizational chart than McCoy poured gasoline and threw a match onto the bridge over which they hope Bosa eventually will walk. Watch the press conference. McCoy is doing everything he can to be a good employee and also a good coach.

Interestingly, McCoy sidestepped questions about the team’s assertion that Bosa would not be able to help the team as of Week One, even if he shows up right now. Then again, McCoy previously has made it clear that the plan they have for every player means that if a player has a uniform issued to him, he’ll be playing.

On Thursday morning, Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy addressed the challenges that can arise for the man stuck in the middle of a contract dispute between front office and player.

“You’re walking a fine line,” Dungy said on PFT Live. “You work for your bosses. They’ve made a decision how much they’re going to pay and how they’re going to structure this contract. You can’t criticize them, you work for them, you want the player there, and you’re also going to have to work with the player for the next 10 years and you want him to know that you’re in his corner as well. You want him to get paid as much as he can make, you want him to be happy and be part of the team. So you are caught in the middle, and I had a couple of those as a coach. You don’t negotiate but you do stay in communication with the player. ‘Hey, we need you Joey. We’re on your side, we’re with you. Don’t let the business part of it enter into the football part. When you get here, here’s what we’ve got to get done.’ So you do have to keep those lines of communication open but you’re also working as part of that team representing the Chargers, so it’s a very, very fine line.”

McCoy is walking that line very well, since he’ll be expected to get the most out of Bosa — and to create an atmosphere where it will quickly seem like the holdout never happened. If the holdout ever ends.

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Julio Jones, Adrian Clayborn hurt, too

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 11:  Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons runs on the field during player introductions prior to facing the Washington Redskins at Georgia Dome on August 11, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons are dropping like flies in Orlando.

With first-round rookie safety Keanu Neal already being evaluated for a knee injury, starting receiver Julio Jones has an ankle injury. The only good news is that he hasn’t gone to the locker room, which suggests it’s not serious.

Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn has been taken to the locker room for X-rays on his shoulder. Which sounds a lot more ominous than the Jones injury.

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Ndamukong Suh injures ankle

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) and Chris Jones (52) pressure Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) AP

The Falcons aren’t the only team sweating out an injury to a starting defensive player on Thursday night in Orlando. Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh suffered an ankle injury, too.

Suh is being evaluated in the locker room. Like Neal, Suh is questionable to return. Since it’s a preseason game, “questionable” is a lot closer to “no freaking way.”

The Falcons lead the Dolphins, 7-0. I felt compelled to list the score, even though the score doesn’t matter. The injuries do.

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Falcons first-round safety Keanu Neal suffers leg injury

FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal (22) is shown during their annual Friday Night Lights NFL football practice at Grayson High School, in Loganville, Ga. Free-agent signee Dwight Freeney and rookie safety Keanu Neal are expected to make their preseason debuts for the Falcons on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016,  at Cleveland, bringing Atlanta's defense closer to its projected regular-season status. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File) AP

The top priority for every team in the preseason is to emerge from it with as many players healthy as possible. The Falcons currently are holding their breath regarding first-round safety Keanu Neal.

The rookie seemed to tweak his right knee while trying to make a tackle in the first quarter of Thursday night’s preseason game against the Dolphins in Orlando. Plenty of rubber pellets went flying, which could result in criticism of the footing on an artificial turf surface in a building that hasn’t hosted NFL teams since 1997.

He walked off with mild assistance, and he has been taken to the locker room for further evaluation.

The Falcons hope Neal will become a Kam Chancellor-type presence for the Falcons. The more important question at this point is whether he’ll be ready to play in 17 days when the Falcons open the regular season at home against the Buccaneers.

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Jets waiting on right tackle to return to practice

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Jets right tackle Breno Giacomini told reporters Thursday that he will play this season, but he’s unsure when that will be as he tries to recover from a back injury.

He’s currently on the active/physically unable to perform list, which leaves PUP as an option when the season begins. But the Jets haven’t made any decisions on that front, and ideally Giacomini would like to be back before the team’s seventh game, which is the earliest he could return if he starts the regular season on PUP.

For now, though, the Jets are waiting on Giacomini to be able to return to practice.

Unless he’s practicing, he’s not better,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said.

Giacomini, who suffered a lower back injury in a spring minicamp practice, said he’s “day to day” as far as being able to suit up. He’d have to be absolutely sure he’s ready to return if he wants to get back on the field because if he returns to practice, say, next week he becomes ineligible to start the regular season on PUP.

Bowles has acknowledged that the team has been looking to add another tackle, another sign that PUP to start the season is the most likely scenario.

A seventh-year pro, Giacomini has started every game the last two seasons at right tackle for the Jets. He previously played three seasons for the Seahawks.

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Kubiak still hasn’t decided on a No. 2 quarterback for Saturday

Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch jokes with teammates as he heads to the locker room after the teams' joint NFL football training camp session against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016 in Englewood, Colo. Lynch, like the rest of the team's rookies, was sporting a new haircut as part of an end-of-camp tradition carried out by veterans. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) AP

In two days, the Broncos will host the Rams in the all-important third preseason game. Coach Gary Kubiak still hasn’t made a fairly important personnel decision regarding the game.

Trevor Siemian will start at quarterback. The next guy in at the position still isn’t known.

“I know who’s going first,” Kubiak told reporters on Thursday. “I haven’t made a decision [on who’s going second]. I’m telling the truth.”

The hard truth for veteran Mark Sanchez could be that he may have fallen to No. 3, behind Sieman and Paxton Lynch. Two guys who have never thrown a regular-season NFL pass. If so, there’s a good chance Sanchez will fall off the roster entirely.

Making matters worse for Sanchez is the praise that Kubiak has heaped on Lynch, the team’s first-round pick in 2016.

“I’m very excited about the progress he’s made,” Kubiak said of Lynch. “We knew we had ground to make up and we knew he had a ton of talent, but he’s really adapted to playing under center. He’s making the calls. What he had to do this week, run the Rams’ offense and then get in there and run ours, that’s hard to do. He really had a good week of practice. I think he’s very confident in what he’s doing and I think he has confidence in us to do what he does best. I think he’s made a lot of progress. He’s going to be a fine young player.”

The immediate question is whether he’ll be playing after Sieman on Saturday. The bigger question is when Lynch will be playing before him. There’s still a chance that, two weeks from tonight, Lynch’s career debut will come for the defending Super Bowl champions in a game against the team they beat for the 50th Lombardi Trophy.

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Which player is most likely to win his first career MVP award?

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 09:  J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans looks on before playing against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium on January 9, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

On Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, the topic of the day focuses on predicting the best player of the upcoming year, with a twist.

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, and Cam Newton have each won at least one league MVP award. Which player who has never won a league MVP is the most likely to win his first league MVP award in 2016?

We’ve come up with a list of 10 candidates — which is sure to spark some discussion about people who weren’t dubbed finalists. But lines had to be drawn somewhere, and 10 makes as much sense as any number more than nine and less than 11.

So cast a ballot and make your case for the guy you picked, or against a guy someone else picked, or in favor of someone not on the list, or just call me a stupid idiot. Again.

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Report: Panthers will take a look at Whitner

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Veteran safety Donte Whitner is flying to Charlotte Friday and will work out for the Panthers, NFL Network reported.

Whitner, 31, was cut by the Browns in April after two seasons. He’s a veteran of 10 NFL seasons and a three-time Pro Bowler.

The Panthers already have one former Ohio State safety, Kurt Coleman, under contract but have mostly young players in their backup spots.

The Panthers have been dealing with injuries at safety throughout camp and the preseason, and it’s the time of year that players in Whitner’s position who don’t necessarily need training camp start finding homes, so at least taking a look at Whitner makes sense for the Panthers.

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Tomlinson puts more pressure on Bosa

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 03:  LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers prepares to take the field prior to the game against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card Game on January 3, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) Getty Images

When last we heard from former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, he was calling out defensive end Joey Bosa for holding out while ignoring that Tomlinson himself once held out.

Tomlinson is now doing it again.

“Any football player who wants to be great, it doesn’t matter about the money,” Tomlinson told the Mark and Rich Show on XTRA 1360 in San Diego, using generalized words that could be used against anyone who ever holds out, including Tomlinson when he did. “It really doesn’t. Because if you ball out, you’re going to get paid no matter what. That’s the beautiful thing about playing this game and being a player. If you ball out, then you will get paid.”

So how can the holdout affect Tomlinson? I mean, Bosa?

“You can run the risk of alienating yourself from your teammates and also from the organization,” Tomlinson said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, the player could be scarred by this from the organization and not like the organization,’ it can be vice versa. The organization can feel like, ‘This guy will be a problem his whole entire career,’ so that could jeopardize what happens in three or four years when Joey comes up for a contract.”

Tomlinson’s rookie holdout didn’t keep him from getting a getting a big-money deal. And no team in its right mind would shun a talented, valued player on a second deal because of what should be a long-forgotten contract dispute on his first deal.

“I feel like he’s trying to figure all this out,” Tomlinson said of Bosa in 2016 (or of Tomlinson himself in 2001). “But at the end of the day he has to be the professional. This is his football life and he has to be the one to make sure that this goes the way he wants it to go, meaning his rookie year. Because that’s the only thing that’s important right now is him getting on the field and proving himself his rookie year and helping this team.”

In other words, Bosa and all holdouts (including Tomlinson in 2001) should cave.

The good news is that Tomlinson made an effort to distinguish his holdout from Bosa’s.

“When the money is guaranteed and you’re arguing about when you get paid,” Tomlinson said. “To me that’s where players start to question, ‘Man, does he really want to be on this team? Does he really want to play?'”

This statement shows that Tomlinson has little or no concept of the time value of money. If a $17 million signing bonus is earned now but a large piece of it is paid later, the player loses the chance to earn interest on the money already earned by the player but withheld — which allows the team to earn interest on the player’s money.

The overriding point continues to be that Tomlinson himself held out as a rookie, missing four weeks of camp and two preseason games. Also, while Tomlinson played for the Chargers, he didn’t call out Antonio Gates during his own 2005 holdout.

“He’s someone we need on the team, but business is business,” Tomlinson said in 2005. “He was hoping things got worked out. Hopefully things still get worked out. We obviously need him, but it is a business first and if Antonio is not here we are going to have to hold the fort down until he gets back.”

Tomlinson’s decision to attack Bosa given Tomlinson’s own holdout and Tomlinson’s failure to criticize Gates makes little sense. Applying Occam’s razor, this may simply be a case of Tomlinson saying what he thinks his current employers at NFL Media (which is owned by the league and partially owned by the Chargers) want him to say.

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Pagano holding Cromartie out of this weekend’s preseason game

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 08:  T.J. Yeldon #24 of the Jacksonville Jaguars is pushed out of bounds by Antonio Cromartie #31 of the New York Jets with Darrelle Revis #24 in pursuit during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 8, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

After signing veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie this week, Colts coach Chuck Pagano called Cromartie “a perfect fit” for the team’s depleted secondary.

Pagano is also perfectly fine with Cromartie having the same view of the preseason that he does.

Cromartie, 32, joined the Colts earlier this week following the news that cornerback Vontae Davis is out until at least October. Despite the fact that the Colts will play this weekend’s preseason game without at least three other injured cornerbacks, Cromartie won’t play.

“He knows exactly what to do, but I’m not going to throw him out there,” Pagano said, per the team’s official transcript. “He’s not had an offseason. He’s in great shape, he knows the plan, he knows the terminology. He picked that up, being in a similar system helped. He could play, but I’m not going to do it.”

Darius Butler and first-year player Tay Glover-Wright will likely start at cornerback Saturday vs. the Eagles. The Colts hope to have Patrick Robinson, an offseason free agent pickup, back from a groin injury and in the starting lineup for their Sept. 11 season opener.

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Browns VP: “We would be very disappointed if we have four wins”

St. Louis Rams v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Sure, the Browns offloaded Barkevious Mingo today. But in hanging onto Josh Gordon and Josh McCown for the moment, the Browns hope to prove they’re serious about winning.

As in, this year.

Seriously.

(Cue Donald Sutherland in Animal House: “I’m not joking, . . . this is my job“.)

Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said the accumulation of future draft picks should not stand as evidence they weren’t trying to compete this year, saying it was “silly” and “laughable” to think they were tanking.

“I think if anybody has been around our facility, they’d know how silly that is,” Brown said, via Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com. “We want to win. Our expectations are, just because we have a younger roster, doesn’t mean that we’re at all trying to lose, I guess.

“If that’s the perception, I would say that’s laughable and I think we’re all competitive guys. We understand that part of what we need to do is build a winning culture here, and everything that we’ve talked about and worked towards is aimed at winning and there are no seasons off or, for us even, reps off.”

“We would be very disappointed if we have four wins. That said, I think we’re not going to measure our success just in terms of wins. We’re realistic with where our roster is in terms of a proven roster that’s capable of winning.”

Of course, it’s easy to pick on Brown for saying such things, since the Browns have won more than five games in a season exactly once in the last eight years. And that’s a pretty low bar to clear.

It’s debatable that the presence of either of the Joshes will make a significant impact on breaking out of that skid. And they’re definitely not going to change things there without believing they can. But they’re just going to have to pardon the rest of us when we snicker when they say things like that.

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Ladarius Green holding out hope for Week One

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Ladarius Green (80) stands on the sideline during the first half of an NFL exhibition football game against the Detroit Lions in Pittsburgh, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) AP

Tight end Ladarius Green’s physical condition has been the subject of much discussion this summer, including a report that he’s still experiencing recurring headaches after suffering a pair of concussions last season.

That report led to talk that Green may not play for the Steelers at all after signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent this offseason. Green denied both the reports of the headaches and the possibility that he’s done as an NFL player, saying that his surgically repaired ankle is the only reason why he hasn’t been able to get on the field yet.

Green also said that he’s confident he’ll be able to play this season, but remains on Pittsburgh’s physically unable to perform list as they get ready for their third preseason game. On Thursday, Green told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com that he’s still holding out hope that he’ll be able to play in the season opener despite his “very slow” recovery.

That may be a serious stretch given his lack of time on the field, but the Steelers can keep him on the PUP list into the regular season. That would cost him at least six weeks while keeping open the possibility that the team could get something from a player who was initially expected to play a big role in 2016.

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Patriots reinstate Alan Branch, ending his suspension

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Alan Branch #97 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

New England defensive tackle Alan Branch is welcome back with the team.

The Patriots suspended Branch a week ago, but Field Yates of ESPN reports that the Patriots have reinstated him.

It remains unclear why Branch was suspended. The Patriots never announced the suspension and it only came to light because Branch told teammates he was suspended.

Branch arrived in the NFL as the 33rd overall pick in the draft with the Cardinals in 2007. He has bounced around the league and had his share of off-field issues and was cut by the Bills in 2014 a day after he was arrested for DUI. But the Patriots liked him enough that last year they signed him to a two-year, $4.3 million contract. If he makes the Patriots’ 53-man roster he’ll have a $1.2 million base salary this season.

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The Lions made a call about Barkevious Mingo, allowing them to gloat

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

The Browns weren’t just able to chisel a fifth-round pick out of someone they might have cut anyway because they’re so shrewd.

There was actually interest in Barkevious Mingo from others as well.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Lions also placed a call before the Browns sent their 2013 first-rounder to the Patriots for something other than a ham sandwich.

Of course, the obvious link is that Lions General Manager Bob Quinn used to work for the Patriots, and likely shares much of their “buy low” mentality.

But the interesting postscript is that the Lions were looking to shore up a position which Quinn’s predecessor Martin Mayhew actually got right.

The Lions used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft on defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who has turned into the Pro Bowl pass-rusher they were looking for. In fact, Mayhew hit one of the few home runs of April 25, 2013, as that year’s draft was what we in the business like to refer to as “a really bad draft.”

With the first two picks, the Chiefs and Jaguars took not-really franchise left tackles Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. Then came not-eligible-often-because-of-suspension Dion Jordan (Dolphins) and Lane Johnson (Eagles). That the Dolphins traded up to get Jordan is a whole other comedy routine.

Then Ansah — again, a really good pick by Martin Mayhew — was followed by Mingo (already traded by the Browns) and Jonathan Cooper (already traded by the Cardinals).

So the Lions at least made the effort to collect two of that year’s top 10 picks. Which is not something a lot of other teams would be interested in having.

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Adrian Peterson won’t play in preseason

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 18:  Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings warms up prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on August 18, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner doesn’t see any signs that running back Adrian Peterson is slowing down with age, but we’ll have to wait until the regular season to find out for sure.

At one point this offseason, Peterson said that he thought he might break from recent years and play in a preseason game. Coach Mike Zimmer said this month that he’d discuss it with Peterson and that the decision would ultimately be up to the running back.

Peterson didn’t play in the first two games and with the fourth game usually reserved for players further down the roster, it would likely be this Sunday or not at all. Peterson revealed his answer on Thursday.

“I just really thought about it and didn’t feel like it was the best thing in my interest, knowing that I can be ready for the first week against Tennessee, like I’ve done a thousand times in the past,” Peterson said, via the Pioneer Press. “That’s pretty much what it came down to.”

The Vikings will be in Tennessee on September 11 and they’ll play their first regular season game at the new U.S. Bank Stadium against the Packers the next week.

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