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Report: NFL retirement board paid disability for concussions

AP

For years, the NFL’s stance was that there was no substantive link between concussions suffered playing football and long-term brain damage.

But documents uncovered by ESPN investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada in conjunction with PBS’s Frontline show that the league’s retirement board paid at least $2 million in disability benefits to players including former Steelers center Mike Webster upon the conclusion that football was the cause of their injuries.

The West Virginia lawyer who represented Webster called the decision “the proverbial smoking gun,” which could be used against the league by the nearly 4,000 players who have filed concussion lawsuits.

“It’s pretty devastating evidence,” said Bob Fitzsimmons, the co-director of the Brain Injury Research Institute. “If the NFL takes the position that they didn’t know or weren’t armed with evidence that concussions can cause total disability — permanent disability, permanent brain injury — in 1999, that evidence trumps anything they say.”

The league declined comment for the story, but league spokesman Greg Aiello made clear the retirement board is independent, and that its rulings “are not made by the NFL or by the NFL Players Association.”

A decade ago, the league’s stance was firm, as from 2003 to 2009, the league’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee wrote that “no NFL player” experienced chronic brain damage from concussions.

“Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis,” members of the league’s committee wrote in a December 2005 paper in the medical journal Neurosurgery.

But the documents uncovered by Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada showed that in 1999, the retirement board ruled that repeated shots to the head left Webster “totally and permanently” disabled, showing signs of dementia then.

“The Retirement Board determined that Mr. Webster’s disability arose while he was an Active Player,” wrote Sarah E. Gaunt, director of the NFL’s retirement plan, in a May 8, 2000 letter to Fitzsimmons. The medical reports, she wrote, “indicate that his disability is the result of head injuries he suffered as a football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.”

Two other players, whose names were redacted from the record, were also paid benefits based on “repetitive trauma to the head or brain from League football activities.”

This report will certainly be seized by the concussion plaintiffs, and more will likely line up behind them.

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Ex-Bengal Rey Maualuga set to visit Chiefs

AP

Rey Maualuga just hit the market this past weekend.

He didn’t have to wait long to receive some interest.

The former Bengals linebacker is scheduled to visit the Chiefs on Thursday, according to the Kansas City Star’s Terez Paylor. Cincinnati released the 30-year-old on Saturday, one week after it agreed to terms with ex-Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter.

Maualuga made a career-low six starts in 2016.

He played in 14 games but saw 326 defensive snaps, finishing with 27 tackles and an interception. The former USC standout has spent all eight seasons of his NFL career with the Bengals.

It was time to move on.

Kansas City is an option.

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Hue Jackson rules out trading No. 1 pick for QB

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Strategically, it makes little sense for a team with the No. 1 overall draft pick — or any pick, for that matter — to eliminate the possibility of a trade. A club never knows what offer sheets may become available before the draft or even while on the clock, so it is best to stay open to all outcomes.

On Tuesday, Browns coach Hue Jackson didn’t eliminate every trade option with his top pick.

He did, however, rule out one.

Cleveland will not be swapping out its No. 1 choice to address its infamous quarterback situation, Jackson told reporters in Phoenix. He also spoke glowingly about the prospect expected to go first overall, reportedly calling former Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett a “tremendous player” who will “definitely be in the discussion.”

The Browns won’t pass up on Garrett, or theoretically a different prospect at No. 1, in a trade that nets them a quarterback.

“No,” Jackson said, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “I can tell you no on that one.”

Cleveland also owns the No. 12 overall draft pick on April 27.

Moving that selection for a quarterback remains on the table.

 

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Jack Del Rio doesn’t want to spend time talking about Las Vegas

AP

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio doesn’t want to spend too much time talking to his team about the franchise’s pending move to Las Vegas.

Primarily, that’s because many of the people he’d be telling it to might never get that far.

“The reality is, I’m going to go talk to guys that may never make it, that won’t make it to Las Vegas, about Las Vegas,” Del Rio said, via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com.

Of course, that’s not going to keep players from wondering what’s next, but since the team’s going to play in Oakland for at least the next two years, it’s probably best to not invest too much time with the current roster. Only three players on the current roster are under contract through 2020, which is the year they’ll move into the new stadium there. They have options for two more years in Oakland, and owner Mark Davis said playing in their current home in 2019 remains a possibility.

“Everyone needs to understand what the landscape is,” Del Rio said. “To me, once you get that part settled, then you can settle back into you job, and what you need to do. There are wives at home right now that are asking their husbands and their husbands don’t have those answers. The first thing I want them all to know is that just remember, the 30 percent rule; 30 percent of the team changes so don’t worry about what we’re going to be doing two or three years from now. Worry about taking care of your jobs now so you can be a part of that in two or three years.

“So it’s about the here and now for the actual coach, for the actual player, for the actual product we’re putting out this year. But you can’t be blind to the fact that there are families involved, there are people involved, and they need some information. And part of that will be, not yet. Not yet.”

It’s natural that players are going to wonder about their future homes, but Del Rio’s point is a valid one — if they don’t play well in Oakland the next year or two, it may not matter.

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NFL owners extend trial period for touchbacks to 25

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NFL kickoffs never will be the same.

If that wasn’t clear before Tuesday, it certainly appears so now.

Owners approved a one-year extension to a rule that temporarily was enacted in 2016, the league announced. The rule change follows what the NCAA introduced in 2012: Following a touchback, the line of scrimmage is the 25-yard line instead of the 20. Last season saw the touchback frequency spike from the 5-yard incentive, an effect the league sought in the name of player safety.

This temporary rule soon may become permanent.

Another year of similar data could do the trick.

NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino said last week that 39.3 percent of kickoffs were returned last season, the “lowest rate of return in NFL history.”

 

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Owners approve 8 new rules, 4 new bylaws, 1 new resolution

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The below playing rules, bylaws and resolution proposals were adopted by NFL clubs today at the annual meeting:

Approved 2017 Playing Rules Proposals

— Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays.

— Makes permanent the rule that disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

— Keeps in place the change of the spot of a touchback after a kickoff to the 25-yard line for the 2017 season.

— Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.

— Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.

— Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a hand-held device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews.

— Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock.

— Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half.

Approved 2017 Bylaw Proposals

— Liberalizes rules for timing, testing, and administering physical examinations to draft-eligible players at a club’s facility for one year only.

— Changes the procedures for returning a player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness to the Active List to be similar to those for returning a player that was Designated for Return.

— The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason.

Approved 2017 Resolution Proposal

— Permits a contract or non-contract non-football employee to interview with and be hired by another club during the playing season, provided the employer club has consented.

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Centralized replay review proposal approved

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The days of going under the hood are over.

According to Kimberly Jones of the NFL Network, owners unanimously approved the centralized replay review proposal.

The rule will put the replay process in the hands of NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and his crew in New York, taking the referee on the field out of the business of reviews.

If nothing else, it could help with the league’s attempt to streamline portions of the game for broadcast purposes, but it also gives them a shot at a greater degree of consistency, which no one’s going to complain about.

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NFL owners vote down five-yard bonus for kickoff through uprights

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The NFL wants more touchbacks, but has voted down a rule that would incentivize them.

The league today voted against a proposal that would give the kickoff team a five-yard bonus on touchbacks that go through the uprights, putting those touchbacks at the receiving team’s 20-yard line instead of the 25.

According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, the proposal got 11 votes. It needed 24 votes, or support from three-fourths of the teams, to pass.

The NFL has made clear that it’s concerned about injuries on kickoff returns and wants to cut down on them. The five-yard bonus rule would do just that, as it would incentivize teams to kick deep into the end zone for a touchback, rather than kick short and try to pin opponents inside the 20. So it’s logically inconsistent for the owners to vote the rule down.

But logical inconsistencies haven’t stopped the NFL before, and it hasn’t this time, either. There will be no benefits to touchbacks through the uprights, much to the disappointment of teams that have kickers with a big leg.

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NFL tables proposed shrinkage of overtime

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The Competition Committee recommended to ownership a reduction of preseason and regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. The ownership has not yet embraced the recommendation.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the proposal was tabled during Tuesday’s meetings in Arizona. The source added that nine teams were opposed to the change.

By rule, 24 votes are needed to implement a rule change. Which means that nine “no” votes can block and proposed change.

It’s unclear when the matter will be revisited. Or whether another possibility (cough . . . two-point conversion shootout . . . cough) will emerge in its place.

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Leaping on field goals and extra points banned

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Field goals and extra points may have gotten a little easier today, or at least less contested.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the rule banning leaping over the line of scrimmage to block kicks has passed.

Viewed as a player-safety measure by the NFLPA, the decision cuts down on the possibility of offensive linemen being landed on, or the leapers themselves being cut for a flip when trying to hurdle the line.

A number of players voiced their displeasure with the rule when it was proposed, notably Seahawks Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor. But that wasn’t enough to compel owners.

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Todd Bowles declares “heavy competition” for Jets quarterback job

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Even though the Jets brought in veteran Josh McCown, they’re not counting anyone out of their quarterback derby yet.

Coach Todd Bowles told reporters this morning that both Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty would get a chance at the starting job as well.

There will be heavy competition for the job,” Bowles said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. “Nobody has been promised the starting quarterback job. They’ll all get a chance to play and we’ll make that decision, going forward, when training camp starts as we see production from certain people.”

Of course, Hackenberg didn’t take a snap as a rookie last year, and Petty is coming off surgery to his non-throwing shoulder. But Bowles wasn’t ruling anything out, including the possibility of using the sixth overall pick on a quarterback.

“We’ll see how it falls and we’ll look at the pros and cons of it and we’ll make that decision, but there is a scenario, yes,” Bowles said.

Bowles has been quick to declare a starter in the past, in order to give that guy more time to prepare with the other starters. But at the moment, there’s no reason to push it, as McCown has enough experience to be able to come in on the fly.

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Source: “Completely false” to say Kaepernick has asked for $9-10 million per year

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To claim that quarterback Colin Kaepernick wants a chance to compete for a starting job and a salary of $9 million or $10 million per year would be to assume that conversations with one or more teams have progressed to that point. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, they haven’t.

The source said it’s “completely false” to suggest that Kaepernick has requested $9 million to $10 million per year.

Which makes the report that Kaepernick wants a chance to start and compensation in that range rooted in supposition or speculation or assumption that has morphed, perhaps via repetition, into perceived fact. And it’s in the interests of the teams that have ignored him individually and the league collectively to embrace that narrative, in order to push back against the perception that Kaepernick has been shunned for non-football reasons.

Whether he has or hasn’t been shunned for non-football reasons, embracing the idea that he has made demands that would price him out of potential spots presumes that teams would be interested in him at a lower price. Absent evidence that teams that already have signed quarterbacks actually explored what Kaepernick wants, the report seems to be nothing more than an effort to get people to quit suggesting that Kaepernick has been blackballed.

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Report: Tony Romo “distancing himself” from Cowboys teammates

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Tony Romo gave an emotional statement to the media when he returned to the active roster last season and said that he realized it was Dak Prescott’s time in Dallas.

He reportedly has some other feelings about the way things have gone down in Big D. Jane Slater of NFL Media reports that Romo has “distanced himself” from teammates and coaches who he feels were pro-Prescott and has taken the team’s turn away from him as the quarterback of the present and future “very personally.” Per Slater, Romo feels “his team was taken from him.”

It’s understandable that Romo wouldn’t feel as rosy about the change in quarterbacks in Dallas as he suggested last season, especially if he feels he can still play well and should have had a chance to compete to get the job back this offseason. The notion that the Cowboys are “his team” is a tougher one to wrap your head around as Romo’s been around the NFL long enough to know that the team belongs to the guys writing the checks and that their decisions aren’t always going to be in line with the wishes of the guys in the uniforms.

That said, the report provides more reason to think that it would be better for everyone involved in Dallas to finally complete the drawn out breakup with Romo. Outside of Prescott suffering a catastrophic injury in the offseason, there’s no upside to the Cowboys waiting to let Romo pursue other opportunities outside of Dallas because they’ve made it clear they’ve moved on at quarterback.

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Nevada businessman plans a Raiders-themed brothel

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Just sin, baby.

The Raiders’ upcoming move to Las Vegas is being greeted with open arms — or something — by one enterprising Nevada businessman.

According to Mick Akers of the Las Vegas Sun, Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof announced plans to open a Raiders-themed establishment called “Pirate’s Booty.”

“I’ve had a license for a seventh brothel near Las Vegas for some time now, but I was waiting for the right time to launch another house of debauchery,” Hof said. “The Raiders coming to Vegas will mean big business for me, so my next sex den will honor the ‘Men in Black’ and their ‘Raider Nation.’”

(In a related note, Hall of Famer and former Raider Warren Sapp is plotting a comeback as we speak.)

The house of ill repute will be 90 miles outside of Las Vegas in Crystal.  Hof said Raiders players and staff will get 50 percent off at his establishments, and there will be a VIP section at staffed with “over 20 cheerleader-garbed working girls.”

So now, at least someone other than fans in Oakland will be getting, … oh, never mind.

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Oakland councilman wants Raiders out now

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The Raiders are headed to Las Vegas after Monday’s 31-1 vote by NFL owners to approve their relocation for the 2020 season.

That leaves three seasons for the Raiders to play elsewhere and team owner Mark Davis suggested after the vote that the Raiders could stay at the Oakland Coliseum for all of that time. The team has options on their lease for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but Oakland Councilman Larry Reid hopes to take those options away.

Reid said Monday that he’s started talking to attorneys for the city to see if there’s a way to ship the Raiders out of town ahead of schedule.

“I don’t want them here,” Reid said, via the East Bay Times. “They can go down to Santa Clara and play.”

Davis said Monday that the team would issue refunds to any fans who have put down deposits on 2017 season tickets. If Reid has his way, they’ll be issuing them to everyone.

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Hue Jackson: Browns haven’t discussed Colin Kaepernick

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The Brows are searching for their franchise quarterback, but that search has not included Colin Kaepernick.

Browns coach Hue Jackson said today that the Browns haven’t discussed signing Kaepernick, although he didn’t rule it out in the future.

“We haven’t really discussed Colin,” Jackson said. “There’s other players at this point that we’ve had a lot of conversations about to see if we can put them on our team. Not saying it won’t come up later on. You have to exhaust everything. But at this point he hasn’t come up.”

Jackson said that in 2011, when he was head coach of the Raiders, he would have liked to have drafted Kaepernick, who went to the 49ers in the second round that year.

“Yes, I did. When I was in Oakland I did, no question,” Jackson said when asked if he liked Kaepernick coming out of college. “And I’m not saying I don’t now. I just think the situation we’re in right now, the players we’ve evaluated thus far to this point, those are the guys we’re going to spend our time with first. If that doesn’t fall right, there’s still other players.”

That’s not exactly shutting the door on Kaepernick, but it sure doesn’t sound like the Browns are particularly interested, either.

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