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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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“Wearing out welcome” isn’t new for Jim Harbaugh

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Tuesday’s new episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel includes a look not only at Seattle’s quarterback but also at the former San Francisco head coach who no longer has to deal with Russell Wilson.  Andrea Kremer profiles new Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who has returned to Ann Arbor decades after he once patrolled the sidelines as a boy — and actually once ran into the end zone to celebrate a touchdown.

Kremer looks at Jim Harbaugh’s legendary intensity and competitiveness, which he admits has undermined plenty of relationships.

“You didn’t always play well with others, necessarily,” Kremer says to Harbaugh.

“Yeah, people say that,” Harbaugh responds.

“Well, what do you say?” Kremer asks.

“It must be true, yeah,” Harbaugh replies.  “Sometimes I’d wear out my welcome.”

“What does that mean you wear out your welcome?”

“They just don’t want to be around you after a while,” Harbaugh admits.

It happened not only when Jim Harbaugh was a youth, but also as an adult.  And that may have contributed to his departure from the 49ers.

“He does a great job of giving you that spark, that initial boom,” 49ers guard Alex Boone tells Kremer.  “But after a while, you just want to kick his ass. . . .  He just keeps pushing you, and you’re like, ‘Dude, we got over the mountain.  Stop.  Let go.’  He kind of wore out his welcome.”

“What does that mean?” Kremer asks.

“I think he just pushed guys too far.  He wanted too much, demanded too much, expected too much.  You know, ‘We gotta go out and do this.  We gotta go out and do this.  We gotta go out and do this.’  And you’d be like, ‘This guy might be clinically insane.  He’s crazy.’ . . .  I think that if you’re stuck in your ways enough, eventually people are just going to say, ‘Listen, we just can’t work with this.'”

Boone also said something that shed’s light on the perspective of the locker room.  “The players had nothing to do with him getting fired,” Boone says, which suggests that the players aren’t buying the whole “mutual parting” thing.

Brother John Harbaugh, the Ravens head coach who beat Jim’s 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, recalls a strong obsession with winning when they were youths.

“He always wanted to win everything, and if he wasn’t winning — and the few times in our history growing up when I was bigger or better — it really ticked him off,” John Harbaugh said.  “We have some pictures where you can see the look on his face in the picture. . . .  He’s just mad that he’s shorter or he’s smaller or that he lost a basketball game or he lost a card game.  He would carry it around with him for a while.”

Jim Harbaugh even competed with genetics.  Obsessed with getting to six-feet, two inches, Harbaugh found a magic elixir for growth.

“I heard that if you drink milk that builds strong bones, and convinced myself that I’ll drink as much milk as I possibly can drink,” him Harbaugh said.

So as a third grader, Jim Harbaugh said he got a job at his elementary school distributing milk to the students.  The pay was a free milk every day, plus the ability to drink the milk of the kids who weren’t there or who didn’t want their milk.

“I drank a lot of milk, Andrea,” he says.  “A lot of milk.  Whole milk, though.  Not the candy ass two-percent or skim milk.”

It worked.  He made it not to six-two, but to six-feet, three inches.

The competition with anyone and with anything continues.  The press copy of the HBO profile has video and audio of Harbaugh shouting generally at Michigan players in spring practice to “huddle the f–k up” and telling one specific player, “I’m just telling you the right way to do it.  If you want to look at me with that look, go f–king someplace else.”

“Go f–king someplace else” is what the 49ers essentially told Harbaugh in December.  Moving forward, the question becomes whether he’ll hear that phrase or something similar to it from the folks running the show in Ann Arbor.

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Peterson isn’t expected to show up for start of offseason workouts

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Recently asked if he’ll be present for voluntary offseason workouts in Minnesota, running back Adrian Peterson said, “We’ll see.  I haven’t even been reinstated yet.”

He has since been reinstated, but Peterson isn’t expected to show.  That’s the word from Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Peterson’s $13 million compensation package for 2015 includes a $250,000 workout bonus.  Most workout bonuses contain a fairly high threshold for participation, often 80 or 90 percent.

For Peterson, the money is a drop in the bucket, if he’s looking for a new deal and/or a new team.

Notwithstanding recent interest (or whatever it can be called) from the Cowboys and a report that the Raiders have interest, the top candidates for a trade continue to be the Cardinals, Jaguars, and Buccaneers.  While some have construed a report that the Vikings want a first-round pick and a starting corner for Peterson as proof that the Vikings are willing to trade Peterson, the truth could be that the Vikings have applied a high price tag to scare off anyone who thinks they can steal Peterson for peanuts.

Regardless, many wonder whether the Vikings eventually will blink, given that they insisted in 2013 that the Vikings have “no intent” to trade Percy Harvin — and then traded him.  So no one believes that the Vikings will insist on keeping Peterson, even though the continue to say they do.

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Todd Gurley scheduled for visit with Patriots

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The Patriots didn’t shy away from taking a player coming off a knee injury in the first round of the draft last year and they’re reportedly set to visit with another player in the same situation for this year’s draft.

Mike Giardi of CSNNewEngland.com reports that Georgia running back Todd Gurley is scheduled for a visit with the Patriots this week. Gurley tore his ACL last November and the Pats took defensive tackle Dominique Easley after he suffer the same injury in his final college season.

Gurley got good news during his medical review at the NFL’s combine re-check in Indianapolis this weekend, though, and there’s optimism about his chances of being ready for training camp. That makes it less likely that he’ll still be on the board when the Patriots and the 32nd pick come up on April 30.

New England saw two running backs — Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley — sign elsewhere as free agents, leaving LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet and James White in the mix for backfield roles. The Patriots will likely add to that group before camp, but the need doesn’t feel big enough for them to make the move up it appears it will take to secure Gurley’s services.

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Danny Woodhead: Injury made me even hungrier

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As an undrafted player out of Chadron State, running back Danny Woodhead had to beat long odds to have an NFL career.

Woodhead beat those odds, carving out a role with the Patriots after the Jets released him and then moving on to help the Chargers to the playoffs in 2013 in his first season in San Diego. Woodhead’s second season ended with a broken leg in the third game of the season, leaving Woodhead with an extended rehab period that he says left him even hungrier to succeed on the field than he was when he was trying to get his foot in the door.

“It’s been a long process,” Woodhead said, via the team’s website. “But definitely it makes you hungrier when the game is taken away. It makes you realize how blessed you are to play it. Not that I didn’t understand that before, but when it is taken away for such a long amount of time, it makes you even hungrier. You miss being out there with your brothers. I’m excited for this season. I’m always excited, but my mentality might even be younger and hungrier than ever before.”

With Ryan Mathews now in Philly, the depth chart at running back in San Diego features Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Donald Brown. An addition in the draft seems likely, but Woodhead’s pass catching ability should lead to regular feedings on offense whether Philip Rivers or someone else is the quarterback come September.

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La’el Collins scheduled for visit with Dolphins

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The Dolphins have visited with some of the top cornerback, running back and wide receiver prospects during the pre-draft process, but they haven’t been ignoring their need for offensive line help.

Several of the top blockers in this year’s draft class have spent time with the Dolphins and another one is slated to meet with the team next week. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, LSU tackle La’El Collins will visit with the team in the coming days.

Collins started at left tackle in Baton Rouge the last two years, but that’s not a spot where the Dolphins are in need of immediate help with Branden Albert back from last year’s knee injury. They’re also in good hands on the right side with 2014 first-rounder Ja’Wuan James, but they need help at guard and Collins opened his college career playing on the interior.

If the Dolphins do take an offensive lineman in the first round, it would be the fourth time in the last eight drafts that they’ve taken a blocker to open their draft.

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Sunday morning one-liners

Baltimore Ravens v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

How have the Bills fared in past drafts without a first round pick?

The Dolphins have dates and times for their preseason schedule.

An argument in favor of the Patriots extending LB Dont’a Hightower now.

Will the Jets face the Bills and former coach Rex Ryan in Week One?

South Florida CB/KR Chris Dunkley will visit the Ravens.

Said Bengals CB Leon Hall of the start of offseason work, ““I think that will be good for everybody. It will be nice to see guys at some of the other positions. You can go for a while without seeing an offensive or defensive lineman.”

Akron WR Zach D’Orazio will work out for the Browns.

Assessing the likelihood that the Steelers pick a cornerback in the first round.

Texans TE Garrett Graham caught the team’s website up on his offseason activities.

Saturday was the anniversary of the Colts picking QB Peyton Manning first overall.

The Jaguars are in the market for a safety.

Would a trade for QB Philip Rivers cost the Titans too much?

WR Cody Latimer likes what the Broncos have in mind for him this season.

Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star has the Chiefs taking Texas DT Malcom Brown in the first round.

Raiders strength and conditioning coach Joe Gomes has done work with the United States military.

Todd McShay of ESPN believes Oregon QB Marcus Mariota would be a good fit with the Chargers.

Cowboys WR Cole Beasley didn’t know what to do with his signing bonus.

A look at how the Giants’ equipment staff prepares for the offseason program.

The Eagles could take an offensive lineman with the 20th pick.

Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker and Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday have visited the Redskins recently.

S Antrel Rolle likes the Bears’ chemistry.

Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s first year in Detroit got a good review from his former boss/Saints coach Sean Payton.

DE Mike Daniels has been working out hard in advance of the Packers’ offseason workouts.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman shared his belief that long-term success comes through good drafting.

Alabama QB Blake Sims says that he’s met with the Falcons.

Should the Panthers take Georgia RB Todd Gurley or address the offensive line?

The Saints’ roster stands at 70 players.

Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy has stepped up his offseason workouts.

Cardinals WR Jaron Brown has healed from his late-season shoulder injury.

Will the Rams pull the trigger on adding a quarterback in the draft?

A few dispatches from the 49ers’ pro day for local draft prospects.

The Seahawks players who went to Hawaii together last week seemed to be having fun while working out.

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Anonymous ESPN employees reportedly want McHenry out

ESPN Getty Images

The notorious tow-lot video featuring ESPN reporter Britt McHenry has sparked plenty of strong reactions among media and fans.  According to TMZ (via TheBigLead.com), strong reactions have occurred within ESPN, too.

Multiple employees of the four-letter network reportedly think McHenry should be and/or will be fired in the aftermath of her four-letter, mean-spirited, I’m-better-than-you rant caught on video — and on audio — at an undisclosed location at an unknown date and time.

Suspended for a week by ESPN, some unnamed co-workers think McHenry eventually will be suspended for good.  Regardless of how this plays out, let’s take an opportunity on a somewhat slow Sunday to take a closer look at some of the risks raised by taking employment action against someone for an incident occurring beyond the boundaries of his or her employment.

There’s a saying in the legal profession that bad facts make bad law.  In other words, when something happens that cries out for a specific outcome, the rules can get twisted to lead to that outcome without regard to the precedent it sets.  In this specific case, the precedent possibly becomes that anything an on-air employee at ESPN says or does while off the clock can be the basis for discipline or discharge, even without behavior that would result in an arrest.

Should that be the standard for any employee?  I’ve argued for years that the NFL shouldn’t reach into the urine of a player to determine whether he is or isn’t smoking marijuana or using other recreational drugs that don’t enhance performance.  Why should ESPN be able to impose discipline based whether an on-air employee treats another person rudely while not at work?

And what amounts to rude behavior?  Refusing to sign an autograph?  Not leaving enough of a tip at a restaurant?  Bumping into someone without saying, “Excuse me”?

Yes, McHenry played the “I’m in the news” card, but she never said she works for ESPN and there’s no reason to believe she was working for ESPN at the time she made those remarks.  Does every ESPN on-air employee now have to worry about anything and everything they say in any setting, even when they’re not working?

On one hand, if ESPN employees don’t treat other people the way McHenry treated the person behind the counter at the tow lot, it won’t be a problem.  On the other hand, why does any employer have the right to take action against someone for something they did on their own time when that behavior has no relevance to the person’s job performance?

There’s also the question of whether McHenry knew her words were being recorded.  While it doesn’t excuse the behavior, surveillance cameras typically capture only video and not audio because the recording of audio amounts to a potential wiretapping violation.  Even in a jurisdiction where only one party must consent to the conversation being record (in this case, the tow-lot employee), a private conversation between two people at the counter while the tow-lot employee was away from the window would potentially violate the law.  In McHenry’s case, the original video was presented in a way that suggests she saw the camera before saying some of the worst things she said; if she had no reason to believe the camera also had a microphone, her decision to continue with the tirade after spotting the camera becomes a bit less confusing.

Again, none of this makes her conduct acceptable.  The real question becomes whether the disclosure of the audio and the ensuing embarrassment is punishment enough, or whether ESPN has the ability to take action against her for something that happened away from work.  The audience can choose not to like or respect her; is that sufficient (absent evidence of widespread channel-changing when she appears on screen) to justify taking her off the air?

Then there are the notorious Chris Berman on-set but off-air videos.  From a profanity-laced rant against the crew for moving around while he was on the air to an extended explanation of how to smuggle codeine from Canada to creepy flirtations with a female colleague, Berman never faced any scrutiny or discipline when comments he made appeared online.  While he never singled out any one person for demeaning comments, Berman’s behavior happened while he was on the clock for ESPN.  McHenry’s didn’t.

There’s no easy answer to this one.  Regardless of whether McHenry deserves to be heavily criticized for her comments to the tow-lot employee (and the court of public opinion has concluded that she does), the question of whether she deserves to be suspended or eventually fired by ESPN becomes far more complicated when considering how the precedent will apply going forward — and when contemplating how this standard would have or should have applied in past cases of recorded comments made by other ESPN employees under circumstances far more closely connected to the employment relationship.

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Denard Robinson: I should be the Jaguars’ No. 1 running back

Denard Robinson, Malliciah Goodman AP

After starting his first season as an “offensive weapon” and his second season as a backup, Denard Robinson has a new idea for what his role should be this year: Starting running back for the Jaguars.

Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback who has had a number of roles in Jacksonville in his first two NFL seasons, scoffs at the idea that the Jaguars should use a high draft pick on a running back.

I think I should be a No. 1 guy,” Robinson told the Florida Times-Union. “That’s how I have to look at it. But I have to show them that. Words don’t mean anything. It’s all about showing them.”

Although Toby Gerhart was signed to be the starter, Robinson was by far the Jaguars’ best running back last year: Robinson ended up leading the team in yards and touchdowns and averaged 4.3 yards a carry, while Gerhart averaged 3.2 and rookie Storm Johnson averaged 3.0.

“I want to show the team they can count on me. Last year, I showed growth so people could say, ‘That’s not the same Denard. It’s night and day.’ This year, I want them to say, ‘Man, Denard has grown even more,'” Robinson said.

Right now, it looks like Robinson will get his wish, and will grow into the role of a full-time No. 1 running back.

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Rivers, Chargers continue to do an apparent contract mating dance

Rivers AP

One month and two days ago, jarring news emerged from San Diego:  Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he has no plans to extend his contract before it expires after the current season — and that he has real concerns about moving his family to Los Angeles.  Coupled with the team’s decision to take a closer look at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the facts quickly and naturally led to speculation that the Chargers could trade Rivers to Tennessee for the second overall pick in the draft.

While the story and its potential implications failed to quickly resonate on a widespread basis, the media gradually has recognized the significance of the story.  Left unexplored, however, is the notion that the story is more about laying the foundation for a new contract than it is about Rivers ending his career with a team other than the Chargers.

As one well-connected source explained it to PFT within the past two weeks, far more likely than an imminent divorce between Rivers and the Chargers is the likelihood that player and team have launched a mating dance aimed at getting him signed beyond 2015.  Rivers knows, if the Chargers move to L.A., that he’ll instantly have more value to a team that will be trying to win hearts, minds, and wallets in the nation’s No. 2 market — possibly in direct competition with the Rams or the Raiders.  The Chargers know it, too, but they also know that they won’t be getting extra salary-cap space to accommodate a player’s belief that he has more value to a team in L.A. than he does in San Diego, no matter how accurate that belief is.

Let’s consider one of the first quotes from Rivers, assuming that he’s not thinking about leaving but about leverage.

“I guess things could change, but with all the uncertainty in many aspects, I don’t see it changing before camp gets here, and when camp gets here I’m even more certain to play it out,” Rivers told Acee only four days after the Steelers gave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a massive, market-value contract.

“Things could change,” Rivers conceded.  But if things don’t change before camp opens, he’s not negotiating a new contract.  In other words (possibly), if the Chargers give Rivers what he wants on a new deal before training camp, he’ll sign on the dotted line.

In more than a month, not much has developed in the way of potential suitors for Rivers.  Some have suggested that he’d be worth two first-round draft picks, a package that a franchise desperate for a franchise quarterback should be willing to instantly sacrifice.

Without a long-term deal, however, it would be a one-year rental with the availability of the franchise tag thereafter.  Besides, while a team like the Browns could be gung-ho about the possibility of adding Rivers to the very long list of starting quarterbacks since 1999, Rivers may have no interest in playing for the Browns or any other team that resides a long way from the land of contention.

Some have suggested Rivers wants out because of the quality of the team around him.  But what other team out there is a high-end quarterback away from instantly contending for a Super Bowl?  Maybe the Texans, possibly the Bills.  Neither team’s name has come up — at all — in the past 33 days. For the most part, the teams that would be most interested in Rivers don’t have the kind of supporting cast that would help him get to where he never has been.

Which brings us back to the Titans.  Apart from Nashville’s proximity to his hometown, why would Rivers want to play for Tennessee?  Arguably, they’re improving on defense with the arrival of Dick LeBeau and several free agents, but they’ve got a long way to go on both sides of the ball to become competitive in the AFC South, and in the AFC generally.

From the Chargers’ perspective, how can they trade Rivers without getting a potential franchise quarterback in return?  That’s possibly why the Chargers have created the impression that they would be interested in trading Rivers to the Titans.  With the second overall pick, the Titans would be guaranteed to get a possible Rivers replacement.

Some wonder whether the end game for the Titans isn’t Mariota but Jameis Winston, with a Rivers deal getting them to No. 2 and then another deal getting them to No. 1.

Moving up to one of the first two picks becomes dangerous territory for the Chargers, who know a thing or two about using the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback.  In 1998, they climbed up one spot to get in striking distance for Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.  The Colts took Manning, the Chargers took Leaf, and the rest is a very ugly period in San Diego history.

Still, if the Chargers were intent on trading up to No. 2, it could have been accomplished by now. Rivers would need a new contract in Tennessee, but his agent represents Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt and Titans G.M. Ruston Webster.  Which means that getting Rivers signed over the long haul in Tennessee arguably would be the easiest part of this process.  The real question is whether the Chargers truly want to move Rivers, and whether Rivers truly wants to move to a new team.

The fact that more than a month has passed since the story first hit the NFL’s radar screen without anything tangible happening suggests that contract leverage remains the major part of the equation.  Why else would writers in San Diego now be talking about Rivers retiring in lieu of moving to Los Angeles?  With no serious trade discussions happening (yet) and the Chargers not throwing a huge pile of money at Rivers, his other potential ammunition for getting the team’s attention comes from the School of Favre.

Whether it’s Rivers, Mariota, or someone else, the Chargers can’t go to Los Angeles in 2016 without a franchise quarterback.  The team knows it, Rivers knows it.  But there’s currently no reason to credibly believe the Chargers plan to roll the dice on an unproven rookie and there’s currently no reason to credibly believe Rivers wants to roll the dice on an unproven team.

If both sides were willing to do that, the dice would have been rolling by now.

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Morris Claiborne aiming for training camp return

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptlhzmrhnjiyzte1zgeznde5mgrmm2e5zde4yzdlnznj AP

Back in January, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones shared his view that cornerback Morris Claiborne has done enough in his oft-criticized and injury-riddled career for the team to exercise their fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

The Cowboys haven’t actually followed through on picking up that option, which they can do until May 3, and they aren’t going to have a chance to see Claiborne doing much in their offseason program before making that call. That program opens on Monday, but Claiborne has only recently started running after last year’s torn patellar tendon and doesn’t expect to be cleared for a full workload until training camp.

It’s the third time in four years that Claiborne will miss the team’s other offseason work because of injuries, something he intimated hasn’t been easy while discussing this return to action.

“I was at a point where people thought I wasn’t going to walk again,” Claiborne said, via FOX Sports Southwest. “I’m in a better place now in my life and in coping with my injuries and coming back from them.”

Claiborne’s $2.6 million salary for this year is guaranteed, so the Cowboys will hope that the better place leads to better play. Claiborne’s first three seasons haven’t offered much reason to hope that it will, but being the sixth overall pick of the draft gives you more rope than a lot of players.

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Stevie Brown drawing interest, expected to sign soon

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

Safety Stevie Brown is one of the members of PFT’s All-Unemployed team, which is the rare team that players are happy to get released from in the spring.

Brown may be getting his walking papers sooner rather than later. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Brown is mulling a handful of offers and that he’s expected to select one of them in the near future.

Schefter reports the Giants are interested in re-signing Brown, who has spent the last three years with the team and would fill a need they’ve been unable to fill elsewhere in free agency. The Cowboys, Falcons, Raiders and Titans are the other teams that Schefter lists as being in the mix for Brown’s services.

Brown played in every game for the Giants last season and started eight games, but definitely looked like he was shaking off the rust that accumulated while he was missing the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL. He had eight interceptions in a more effective 2012 campaign, which is likely what any team picking him up will be looking for once he gets rolling in 2015.

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Gary Kubiak, Broncos having no issues crossing schemes

Gary Kubiak AP

The Broncos have their first week of offseason work in the books and they spent some of their time in the classroom working on installing new coach Gary Kubiak’s offensive scheme.

There’s been much discussion since Kubiak’s hiring about how his offensive approach will mesh with quarterback Peyton Manning. Kubiak called tailoring the things he likes to do with the things that Manning does well “a big challenge to me right now” earlier in the offseason, but he sounded pleased with the early results.

“Crossing the schemes, so to speak, was very, very easy. It was really more about verbiage than anything else. What I tried to do is the things that were very close, I tried to hang on to the verbiage that they had been talking here in the past, because I think that made it easier for the players,” Kubiak said, via the team’s website.

There were examples of how the two sides would come together in one offense. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said the team would line up Manning under center more often than he has in the last couple of seasons while Kubiak offered assurances that the no-huddle would still be a frequent part of the mix next season. Another shift is expected to be a larger role for the run game, something that could help keep Manning fresher later in a season that the Broncos have defined in simple and stark terms.

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Texans RB Alfred Blue has a famous workout partner

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Texans running back Alfred Blue had a solid rookie season in 2014, racking up 528 yards as Arian Foster’s top backup.

As Blue tries to hold his spot and earn a bigger role in his second NFL campaign, he is working with a personal trainer, as the Houston Chronicle noted Saturday. That’s not uncommon, but this is: One of Blue’s workout partners happens to be Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. And as Blue sees it, Peterson is primed for a strong return to NFL play this season.

“You see it in his eyes: ‘I’m going to show the world. When I get back out there, I’m going to break it this time,’ ” Blue said, according to Brian T. Smith of the Chronicle.

For his part, Blue, who turns 24 the week of the 2015 NFL Draft, told the Chronicle he does not want the Texans to “overlook me.”

With that in mind, Blue is not taking anything for granted.

“They tell you every year that nobody’s set, nobody’s safe,” Blue told the Chronicle. “You’ve got to come in every year like you just got drafted or like you’re an undrafted free agent trying to make the team.”

That Blue knows he cannot rest on his laurels is a good sign. He flashed his readiness for a bigger workload as a rookie, when he racked up 156 yards on 36 carries in his first career start. His willingness to work on his own to stay sharp suggests he’ll be ready the next time his number is called.

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Buccaneers spoke to district attorney as part of Winston research

Meggs Getty Images

During Friday’s Outside the Lines on ESPN, Bob Ley said that William Meggs, the local district attorney in Tallahassee, claimed that he has not been contacted by the NFL or any team.  According to a Buccaneers source, however, that information isn’t accurate.

Per the source, the Buccaneers have spoken to the district attorney’s office as part of an extensive due diligence process in which the team has engaged regarding Winston.

The communication occurred well in advance of Friday’s report, the source explained.  And it makes sense; having the first overall pick imposes an obligation to spend plenty of time and resources to research the players who potentially may be selected.  With Winston, that time and resources have been devoted, both as to the allegations made by Erica Kinsman and all other incidents that relate to him in any way.

UPDATE 10:03 p.m. ET:  Per the source, the Buccaneers communicated directly with assistant district attorney Georgia Cappleman, who did the bulk of the work on Kinsman’s claims.

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Mike Williams, Brad Smith added to PFT’s All-Unemployed Team

Mike Williams AP

Since published last week, PFT’s All-Unemployed Team has undergone a little turnover, with center Stefen Wisniewski (Jacksonville) and Michael Crabtree (Oakland) among those departing for the ranks of the job-holding.

With Crabtree gone, we had one spot open at wide receiver. However, we decided to add two receivers to the squad.

And both receivers, as it turns out, were one-time Bills.

However, Mike Williams and Brad Smith are different propositions for NFL clubs. The 27-year-old Williams has three 60-catch seasons to his credit. The 31-year-old Smith, on the other hand, has never caught more than 32 passes in a season.

Williams might have more upside. However, Smith can be used multiple ways. Smith has 134 career carries; Williams has one. Moreover, Smith is a former collegiate quarterback, and he has more special teams experience than Williams.

Williams might be a player who can still be developed. Smith, though, can do several things.

Whom do you prefer?

The answer probably depends on the club.

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