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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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Bob McNair thinks Vince Wilfork won’t be another Ed Reed

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Two years ago, the Texans gave $5 million in guaranteed money to an 11-year veteran defender who had just won a Super Bowl.  It didn’t work out.

This year, the Texans once again gave $5 million in guaranteed money to an 11-year veteran defender who had just won a Super Bowl.  Some wonder whether it will work out.

Obviously, owner Bob McNair believes Vince Wilfork won’t be another Ed Reed.  Otherwise, the Texans wouldn’t have taken a chance on a player that Patriots coach Bill Belichick opted to not keep around.  So what’s the difference between Reed and Wilfork?

“I think the difference is when you have someone at a position where they have to be able to run, then age is more of a consideration,” McNair said at the league meetings, via Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com.  “We thought Ed was in good shape and was going to be able to come down and play and he was a big disappointment.  At nose tackle, you don’t have to run that much.  He’s got to be strong.  So there’s some positions you can play for more years and you aren’t taking as much risk.”

The notion that old guys are more likely to lose speed than strength seems a little simplistic.  Plenty of fast guys retain their speed well into their 30s.  Plenty of strong guys lose their strength well before turning 40.

The biggest difference between Reed and Wilfork is that Reed was damaged goods when he signed with the Texans.  The Texans didn’t notice that Reed needed hip surgery when giving him a passing grade on his physical.

So it’s less embarrassing for the Texans to distinguish Reed and Wilfork based on the speed vs. strength of older players, and not to remind everyone that whoever gave Reed a clean bill of health in 2013 made a major mistake.  Ultimately, Reed’s short stay in Houston had a lot more to do with the hip problem the team didn’t spot than an age-related reduction in his speed.

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Donald Stephenson gets a clean slate in Kansas City

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Last year, Donald Stephenson was expected to start at right tackle for the Chiefs.  A four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy derailed that plan.

Entering 2015, G.M. John Dorsey says Stephenson gets a fresh shot at becoming the starting right tackle.

“There’s some things that occurred last year, but it’s a clean slate,” Dorsey said at the league meetings, via Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star.  “So what he has to do is set the little things into motion that professionals do in terms of obtaining that starting position.

“So what you do is take little steps, ultimately building toward bigger goals that you set for yourself. And I think you go in and challenge yourself on a daily basis.  You go in and do the little things it takes to be truly professional — do not take this game for granted.”

The Chiefs have overhauled their line this offseason, adding guards Ben Grubbs and Paul Fanaika and letting center Rodney Hudson leave via free agency.  Stephenson ultimately started no games in 2014, but he appeared in each of the 12 that followed his suspension.

Stephenson and Jeff Allen most likely will be the primary competitors for the starting job at right tackle.

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Pete Carroll says Chip Kelly knows what he’s doing

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A rash of unpredictable offseason moves has caused many Eagles fans to question the acumen and/or sanity of coach Chip Kelly.  Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believes they shouldn’t worry.  Instead, Carroll thinks they should be the opposite of worried.

“I think the people in Philadelphia should be very excited about the changes that are coming,” Carroll said at the league meetings in Arizona, via CSNPhilly.com.  “Maybe they can’t see it — the vision is not clear to them.  Chip knows what he’s doing.  It’s going to be interesting to see.”

It’s definitely going to be interesting.  It could be interesting, however, and disastrous.  Carroll is far more optimistic.

“His record and his history has proven that he knows what he’s doing and that he has his act together,” Carroll said of Kelly.  “I know he’s really excited to have the opportunity to be in the position to mold the team.  I wouldn’t doubt for a second that he’s not on it.  He knows what he wants and what he needs.  He’s proven that.”

Kelly took the Eagles to the playoffs in his first season with the team, but failed to return in 2014 — despite finishing with a 10-6 record.  Another failure to qualify for the postseason will place even more pressure on Kelly for what could be a make-or-break season in 2016.

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Desmond Bishop to visit 49ers on Monday

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The 49ers need linebackers.  The next one they add may be one that was on the team at the end of the 2014 season.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reports that Desmond Bishop will visit the 49ers on Monday.  He appeared the final two games of the season.

Bishop spent time with the Cardinals in 2014 after one season with the Vikings and five with the Packers.

A member of Green Bay’s Super Bowl XLV championship team, the 29-year-old Bishop has 27 career regular-season starts.

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Jadeveon Clowney: I’m making progress, and I’m very encouraged

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Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft whose rookie season was cut short by a serious knee injury, says he’s doing well in his recovery.

Clowney declined to say how soon he might be back to 100 percent after microfrature surgery, but he is trending in the right direction.

“I’m not going to speak on that, but I’m making progress, and I’m very encouraged,” Clowney told the Houston Chronicle. “I’m working hard, but we’re not going to rush it.”

Clowney says he’s working harder now than he did when he was practicing last season.

“Rehab is tough, tougher than playing. You have to get there earlier than everybody and leave later than everybody,” he said.

Microfracture surgery is serious business, and some athletes never come all the way back from it. The Texans have to hope all of Clowney’s hard work pays off, and that his health allows him to live up to his enormous talent.

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Russell Wilson hits HR in cameo appearance in Rangers camp

Russell Wilson AP

Russell Wilson was a mediocre pro baseball player before he became an outstanding pro quarterback.

But Saturday, he showed a flash in the batting cage similar to his early run in the NFL.

According to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Wilson sent one over the fence during his batting practice with the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Ariz., surprising even himself.

I haven’t swung a bat in about two years,” he said.

Wilson also took ground balls, during his second annual cameo in Rangers camp. Texas chose Wilson in the Rule 5 Draft giving them the right to have the Seahawks quarterback hang around.

Wilson was drafted by the Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 draft as a second baseman, when he was also playing football at N.C. State.

He hit .229 in 93 games, giving no indication there was much of a future in it. Saturday’s swing notwithstanding, it seems he made the right call.

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Jared Allen wants to prove he belongs: “I’m good still. Really”

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The Bears are still figuring out how best to use Jared Allen, since they’re kind of contractually stuck with him.

But after a disappointing first year in Chicago, Allen vows to show everyone this year that he still has plenty left in the tank, and he started that campaign when he met with General Manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox last week.

“I was less anxious and so much more eager to talk to them,” Allen said, via Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune. “Just to say, ‘Hey guys. I know the film from last year only shows 5.5 sacks. But don’t believe that’s all I have left.

I’m good still. Really.”

Of course, Allen’s going to have to prove it in a foreign defense, as the Bears are shifting to a 3-4 system that will require him to play outside linebacker if he’s going to see the field on anything other than passing downs.

But as he comes to the twilight of a brilliant career (he turns 33 next week), Allen feels compelled to go out on his terms, to prove he’s still an impact pass-rusher even if he didn’t look like one last year.

“There are three reasons guys hang on,” Allen said. “Some need the money. Some need the identity the NFL gives them. So they stick around for that. Some guys genuinely think they still have it. . . . I’m selfish enough that if I didn’t truly think I still had it, I’d walk away. I’m in the top 10 all time [in sacks]. I have a 12-sack per-year average. I don’t want to end to end my career with an eight-sack per-year average, right?

“I can’t let last season be my lasting impression, the image of a guy who was hurt and sick and pissed off,” he says. “That’s not me. … This is not about making the best of a bad situation. It’s about being the best again in an environment where I can be.”

If he can adapt late in his caerer, he’ll have that opportunity.

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Lance Briggs to visit the 49ers on Monday

New York Giants v Chicago Bears Getty Images

With a big hole to fill at inside linebacker, the 49ers identified Mason Foster and Lance Briggs as two potential targets in free agency this week. Foster signed with the Bears instead, but Briggs is heading to San Francisco for a visit.

Briggs told Vaughn McClure of ESPNChicago.com that he will visit with the 49ers on Monday. Briggs is from the area and grew up a 49ers fan.

The 34-year-old Briggs was informed by the Bears this year that he won’t be back in Chicago, but he says he can “still perform at an elite level.” That’s debatable, but if Briggs can be anything close to the player he once was, he’d represent a major upgrade for the 49ers. With the retirements of Chris Borland and Patrick Willis, San Francisco desperately needs help at the position.

If Briggs doesn’t sign with the 49ers, other options include the Buccaneers (where he’d be reunited with former Bears coach Lovie Smith) and Cowboys (where he’d be reunited with Rod Marinelli, an assistant on Smith’s staff who is now the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator). Even at his advanced age, there are probably a few defenses that Briggs can help, and he’ll likely sign with one soon.

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Chiefs see Andy Reid and Alex Smith as a Super Bowl combination

Andy Reid, Alex Smith (11) AP

The Chiefs are confident that they have the two most important pieces in place to win a Super Bowl.

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said that in head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith, Kansas City has exactly what it needs to get a title.

“We’ve got a coach and a quarterback who can take us to the Super Bowl,” Hunt said, via the Kansas City Star. “And if we keep building the team the right way — and I will go back and mention again, I feel a big part of that is drafting right, [because] you have to do that every year — we’ve got a real shot of getting to the game we all want to get in.”

Hunt made clear that the expectations are high for his franchise, which hasn’t won a playoff game since Joe Montana led a victory over the Houston Oilers in 1993.

“The expectation is that we have a team that can compete for a championship every year, and to have that, you have to be building every year,” Hunt said. “I don’t want to see us get in a position where we’re mortgaging the future trying to win it all this year. We always want to be in a building mode.”

The hardest part about building a champion is finding the coach and the quarterback. Hunt thinks that job is done.

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Jay Gruden says the door is open for Santana Moss to return

Santana Moss AP

Santana Moss will turn 36 this offseason, caught just 10 passes last season and is not currently under contract to any NFL team. But that doesn’t necessarily mean his NFL career is over.

Jay Gruden, who coached Moss in Washington last year, says the team would be open to bringing Moss back for another season.

“You know what? I could always play with Santana,” Gruden said, via the Washington Post. “Santana’s a great person. He’s great in the locker room for us. He knows all the positions. I know he’s going to be in great shape, and I would not hesitate one bit to call him.”

Washington seems fairly set at receiver with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Ryan Grant and Andre Roberts, but if the team decides it needs another player at the position — and that player is not added in the draft — Moss could return.

“We’ve talked about everybody. It’s just about when, how. We don’t want — we’ll wait until the draft to see what we have as far as numbers at every position and go from there. You know, that’s something that we know where Santana is, and he knows where we are, and something may work out down the road,” Gruden said.

No one has any illusions that a 36-year-old Moss is going to be like the 26-year-old Moss who set the franchise record for receiving yards in a season and was an All-Pro. But if the team wants to add some veteran depth, Moss may be back for one more year.

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Washington plans to host Marcus Mariota

Playoff Championship Ohio St Oregon Football AP

The Jets are sending some key decision-makers to work out Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. But the team drafting ahead of them may take Mariota before the Jets, at No. 6, get the chance.

Washington, which has the fifth overall pick, plans bring Mariota to the team’s headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia, Albert Breer of NFL Network reports. Tampa Bay and Tennessee have also scheduled visits with Mariota, so four of the teams with the top six picks will work him out.

It’s anyone’s guess where Mariota might land. The interest in him is high enough that there seems to be a good chance that he’ll go in the Top 6, but there are also mock drafts that see him sliding quite a bit further than that.

If Washington drafts him, that would be a very strong sign that the team is preparing to move on from quarterback Robert Griffin III. So far, the team hasn’t decided whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Griffin’s contract, which means he could be a free agent next March.

In addition to the teams high in the draft that may take Mariota, the Chargers have shown interest and are expected to work him out on April 15. It seems unlikely that Mariota would still be available to the Chargers with the 17th overall pick, but with only one more season left on Philip Rivers’s contract, San Diego could trade Rivers to move up and get Mariota.

Almost everyone thinks Jameis Winston will go first overall to Tampa Bay. Plenty of teams are interested in Mariota as well, but it’s still anyone’s guess which of those teams will end up with him.

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Packers may use pistol formation on a regular basis

Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers AP

Last year, a late-season calf injury to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers forced coach Mike McCarthy to rely at times on the pistol formation, given the limitations on Rodgers’ mobility.  McCarthy plans to use it more in 2015.

I like the pistol,” McCarthy said in Arizona this week at the league meetings, via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  “I think there’s a lot of value regardless of the injury to Aaron.  I know he likes it.  There’s a place for it year-round in your offense.”

The Packers wouldn’t use it as a tool for allowing Rodgers to run the read-option, but as a way to introduce more variables into the defensive effort to crack the code of the team’s tendencies.

“I liked it from a self-scout standpoint,” McCarthy said.  “It gives you another self-scout variable when you’re in the gun, but you also have the tailback behind you.  [There are a] lot of benefits to it.”

With a quarterback like Rodgers, it’s hard to imagine the Green Bay offense struggling in any formation.  Still, look for the pistol to be a more prevalent formation for the Packers.

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Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion visits the Seahawks

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Now that the criminal charges against him are gone, Letroy Guion is looking for a way to replace the change which he hasn’t recovered yet.

And that might mean a change of address.

Via Adam, Caplan of ESPN, Guion visited the Seahawks yesterday. There’s still some interest from the Packers, but it’s interesting that his first contact was from the Northwest.

The Seahawks have been active looking for depth on the defensive line this offseason, and Guion would give them an opportunity to get younger and better in the middle.

Guion was arrested in February in Florida on gun and drug charges, but those went away as a first time offender, after he agreed to pay a $5,000 fine.

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Chad Greenway takes pay cut to stay with the Vikings

Chad Greenway, Nate Triplett AP

We noted early this month that the Vikings wanted to keep Chad Greenway, but didn’t want to pay him the $7 million he was owed on his contract.

Problem solved.

Greenway has taken a pay cut that will give Minnesota more than $3.2 million in salary cap relief, Field Yates of ESPN reports. Greenway’s new base salary is $3.4 million. He has $1 million guaranteed this year and can get $600,000 in incentives.

The Vikings drafted Greenway in the first round in 2006 and he’s spent his entire career in Minnesota, and both sides want Greenway to finish his career in Minnesota. But it’s also clear that both sides realize that at age 32 and coming off an injury-plagued season, Greenway isn’t the same player he was when he signed his previous contract. Now he’s going to be making a salary more commensurate with where he is, late in his career.

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Saturday morning one-liners

rodney-harrison Getty Images

Former Patriots S Rodney Harrison thinks the team made the right move in letting CB Darrelle Revis walk away.

Jets owner Woody Johnson sold a Manhattan apartment for $77.5 million.

Bills G.M. Doug Whaley would like to re-sign LB Brandon Spikes.

A timely text message from former Dolphins G.M. Jeff Ireland to New Orleans coach Sean Payton resulted in Ireland getting a new job.

Pittsburgh is actively trying to add more hotels in the hopes of hosting a Super Bowl.

In advance of a potential full-time move to Cleveland, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has put his Knoxville home on the market.

Bengals owner Mike Brown supports ditching the extra point and making everybody go for two.

Ravens LB Courtney Upshaw could fill the pass-rush void created by the departure of Pernell McPhee.

Texans owner Bob McNair seems to think WR Andre Johnson has lost a step.

A new Jaguars hat was supposed to show the Jacksonville skyline under the bill, but it wasn’t Jacksonville.

Titans assistant head coach/defense Dick LeBeau briefly considered calling it a career after leaving the Steelers.

The Colts will work out Alabama S Nick Perry on Monday.

Chiefs G.M. John Dorsey said S Eric Berry is in good spirits as he continues his cancer fight.

Chargers physician Christopher Wahl has resigned, citing family reasons and the potential relocation of the franchise.

Broncos WR Cody Latimer will join Peyton Manning for workouts next week in the hopes of making a leap in 2015.

DL C.J. Wilson is happy to be staying with the Raiders.

Cowboys DT Amobi Okoye has listed a Katy, Texas mansion for $2.1 million.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie attended Thursday’s public viewing for Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik.

Itsaknockout, a horse owned by Giants V.P. of player personnel Chris Mara, could end up in the Kentucky Derby.

Washington’s home field will host Argentina and El Salvador on Saturday in a soccer match.

The Bears could be looking to load up on pass rushers.

A Wisconsin man faces charges that the stole $46,000 from local businesses by failing to deliver on promises of Packers tickets.

Daktronics will install 18 high-definition LED video displays in the new Vikings stadium.

Lions DE Ziggy Ansah will benefit from the presence of DT Haloti Ngata.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has opened the door on a possible return from QB Matt Schaub, who was traded from Atlanta eight years ago.

After spending 2014 on the practice squad, Panthers WR Stephen Hill could be ready to make a real contribution this year.

Could the Buccaneers be making a Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf decision which knowing whether they’ll be taking Manning or Leaf?

Saints RB Mark Ingram is feeling “extremely blessed.”

The 49ers’ new stadium will be hosting Wrestlemania on Sunday night.

Free-agent DT Letroy Guion visited the Seahawks on Friday.

The workout bonus for Cardinals NT Alameda Ta’amu is tied to making weight.

A Rams scout talks about scouting.

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