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Dan Rooney defends the rule that bears his name, hints at expansion

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The NFL’s high-level hiring practices have come under fire in recent days, once the current cycle ended with no minority candidates hired for eight head-coaching jobs and seven G.M.-level positions.  And so it’s understandable that the man after whom the Rooney Rule is named would believe that the rule that bears his name isn’t the problem.

And, frankly, it isn’t.

“You can’t saddle these [coaches or owners] and say ‘You have to do this,’ ” Rooney tells the league in-house media company.  “We want minorities to get the job, and we’re willing to say that’s our goal.  But when it gets down to a team, you can’t say to them, ‘This is what you have to do.’  You can say to the owners that the Rooney Rule, you have to follow it.”

Still, it’s up to the league at large to set the terms of the Rooney Rule.  As currently constituted, the rule requires only that one minority candidate be interviewed for every head-coaching and G.M. job.  There’s a growing sense that the rule must expand.

While the letter of the rule routinely is followed, its spirit often is violated.  In 2003, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knew he was going to hire Bill Parcells.  But Jones had to comply with the Rooney Rule, so he interviewed Dennis Green by phone, prompting the league to tweak the Rooney Rule to require the interviews to be conducted in person.

In late 2009, the Redskins interviewed assistant coach Jerry Gray for the job held by Jim Zorn while Jim Zorn still had the job, at a time when everyone who was paying any attention knew that Mike Shanahan would be the team’s next coach.

This year, the Chiefs provided a perfunctory interview to Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong just before locking on to Andy Reid.  There has been little buzz in the league or the media that Armstrong is a viable head-coaching candidate — primarily because very few special-team coaches ever vault directly to the top job on the sidelines.

Though the NFL has yet to require that teams interview a minority candidate not currently employed by the team (which would be an easy and proper fix, given as Tony Dungy recently pointed out no African-American coach has been hired via an external search since Rooney hired Mike Tomlin in 2007), Rooney seems to be willing to expand the rule to include key assistant coaches, like offensive and defensive coordinators.

“With these eight [new] coaches, now they have to build a staff,” Rooney said. “A lot of people think it’s really difficult and things like that.  They do it quickly.  Where in times, they should look at the whole thing.  Is it necessary to do it as quickly as they’ve done?”

They do it quickly because they line up the staffs before they even get the jobs.  It’s one of the aspects of the interview — if we give you this job, who are you bringing with you?  And when it comes to hiring assistant coaches, diversity routinely takes a backseat to friendships and, frankly, nepotism.

While the guys who get the head-coaching jobs will grumble, that’s the easiest way to start filling the pipeline with diverse candidates, even though in the end the head coach will be free to hire friends and relatives (or relatives of friends) for the jobs on the coaching staff.  So there wouldn’t be, and couldn’t be, a hiring mandate, at any level of the coaching structure.

And that brings us back to the point most commonly raised by those who want to see any talk of minority coaches disappear.  As the argument goes, the teams are hoping to hire the best candidates for these jobs.  So if they believe that a white candidate is the best candidate, so be it.

That argument typically includes reference to the absence of white running backs and white cornerbacks from NFL teams.  But here’s the biggest difference.  NFL coaches and General Managers sift through hundred of players every year, looking for the best 90 to bring to training camp.  Then they carefully study those 90, looking for the best 53.  Then they constantly scrutinize those 53, ensuring that only the best 53 remain on the team and that the top 22 are at all times on the field.

Coaches and General Managers, in comparison to player acquisitions, rarely are fired and hired.  Teams don’t have a razor-sharp structure in place to find candidates and to vet candidates and to scrutinize candidates.  There are no drills or exercises that can be conducted to demonstrate tangible skills.  Even then, there’s no way to see what these candidates can do if they had the job.  Instead, a leap of faith is made based largely on conversations and communications and the “gut feeling” that arises during that process.

The Rooney Rule was promulgated because minority candidates weren’t getting sufficient chances to participate in that process, which prevented them from establishing the kind of rapport with a white owner and/or G.M. that would give the white owner and/or G.M. the “gut feeling” that this candidate is the best candidate for the job.  Since 2007, owners and General Managers ultimately have acquired the appropriate comfort level only with African-American candidates who have worked for the team in a capacity other than head coach (including interim head coach), giving the owner and other key decision-makers an extended opportunity to observe the candidate and to get to know him.

Put simply, the ridiculous views that got Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder fired by CBS are continuously undermined by a process that is put in place to find the best of the very best professional football players.  But the ridiculous views that got Al Campanis fired by the Dodgers (and I’d forgotten how great Ted Koppel was in response to Campanis) could still be lurking in the hearts and minds of some of the elderly white billionaires who own football teams, primarily because the opportunities to prove those warped attitudes incorrect are, in comparison to player turnover, few and far between.

In the end, the only solution may be the passage of time, as a new generation of men (or women) with more diverse backgrounds and experiences accumulate the wealth and the influence to purchase NFL teams.  The only way to accelerate that process could be a racial discrimination class-action lawsuit fueled not as much by a vague and convoluted sausage-making process as by the obvious output of the meat grinder.

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John Elway expects new contract to be finished before season

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John Elway has just one year remaining on his contract as General Manager and Vice Preside of Football Operations for the Denver Broncos. And despite the Broncos first expressing a desire to get Elway a new deal since the middle of the last season, Elway still is without an extension on his contract.

But Elway sees the issue as a formality.

According to Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press, Elway fully expects a new contract will come together before the start of the season this fall.

We’re continuing to work at it. I don’t see any problems with that. I look forward to being here with the Broncos for a long time,” Elway said.

He later added that he’s “not going anywhere.”

The Hall of Fame quarterback has already cultivated a successful second career with the franchise after leading the team to two Super Bowl titles in the late 1990’s. Since taking over the job as G.M. in 2011, the Broncos have made the Super Bowl twice and won a third Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers.

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Raiders are holding Marshawn Lynch out of OTAs, for now

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In some cities, there is wringing of hands and/or gnashing of teeth regarding the decision of key players to treat voluntary workouts as voluntary. In Oakland, the team is keeping recently-acquired running back Marshawn Lynch out of the OTA fray, for now.

He’s doing great, he’s doing great,” coach Jack Del Rio said, via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “He’ll continue to do the things that we’re asking him to do. He’s really soaking up the system. He’s doing a great job fitting in.”

Although the Raiders are choosing not to put Lynch in a helmet and on the practice field, Del Rio knew that Lynch would show up for the Phase Three sessions.

“He said, ‘Coach, this is home for me, so it’s not like I’m going home and I won’t be here,’” Del Rio said. “He’s committed to being here. He’s excited to be a Raider. We’re excited to have him.”

For now, the Raiders don’t want to get too excited about rushing into action a running back who hasn’t played in more than a year. In time, we’ll all see Lynch wearing a silver helmet and pounding into and through the line.

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Joe Woods doesn’t plan to make major changes to Denver defense

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The Denver Broncos have a great defense. New defensive coordinator Joe Woods knows that, and he plans to keep it that way.

“The foundation of our defense is going to stay the same,” Woods told reporters on Wednesday. “Our first two years, we played a high level defense. We did a good job. There’s a few things that we definitely need to improve on. But my big deal is, I don’t want to come in and change the fingerprints or the foundation of our defense. All I said is I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it. It’s something that will give us a little change up, make offenses work at the line of scrimmage. That’s all we’re doing.”

One area that requires improvement relates to an uptick in first-drive points allowed in 2016. In all aspects of the game, linebacker Von Miller has faith in Woods.

“We’ve always had great defensive coordinators,” Miller told reporters. “From [Dennis Allen] to Jack [Del Rio] and Coach [Wade] Phillips, all of the defensive coordinators that we’ve had, we’ve always been good and we’ve always been able to rush the passer. Joe Woods has been with us for three years now. He knows us. He has a great mind. He knows how to relate to guys, especially the secondary. That’s the strength of our defense. He brings a calm voice. . . . It’s just a special environment here, especially on defense. We’ll come out here and work hard. Whatever happens, we’ll be OK with.”

The defense needs to be better than OK (along with the offense) if the team that won Super Bowl 50 and then missed the playoffs hopes to contend again in 2017.

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Rich McKay: Falcons stadium will be ready to go for August 26

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They can probably go ahead and tear down the Georgia Dome.

Falcons CEO and president Rich McKay tells PFT Live in an interview to be aired Thursday morning that the team’s new stadium will be ready to go for the preseason home opener, on August 26.

McKay also said there’s no truth to persistent rumors that the unique retractable roof will remain closed for the entirety of the first year of the stadium’s operation. McKay said that the unprecedented multi-piece roof, with an array of 500-ton segments that slide open and closed simultaneously, will function as planned in 2017.

The extended interview will McKay will be played in two parts, beginning at 7:00 a.m. ET and ending at 7:35 a.m. ET. In addition to discussion regarding the stadium, McKay answered a variety of questions regarding the rule changes passed earlier this week in Chicago, given that he also serves as the chairman of the Competition Committee.

Also joining Thursday’s show will be Bob Glauber of Newsday, who’ll have some things to say about the Giants, the Jets, and whatever else comes up.

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In response to Sheldon Richardson, Brandon Marshall takes the high road

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Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson took a shot at former teammate Brandon Marshall on Tuesday, saying that there were “15 reasons” for the team’s failures in 2016. Marshall responded by taking the high road.

“Last year was an extremely difficult season for all of us,” Marshall told Kimberly A. Martin of Newsday. “Players and coaches fought their tails off trying to get our season turned around and it didn’t happen for us. It was disappointing, but now it’s a fresh year for Sheldon, for myself, for the Jets, and now I’m a Giant and I’m so excited for this opportunity.”

Some would say it’s easy for Marshall to be positive, given that he now plays for a playoff team, and Richardson, who also called Marshall a “drama queen” and a “locker room cancer,” is still stuck with the Jets.

“I’m working my butt off to learn the plays,” Marshall said. “It’s like I’m starting all over again from scratch. I feel like a rookie, and I kind of like that feeling. And hopefully I can do my job this year to the best of my ability to bring that Lombardi Trophy back where it belongs. That’s my only focus right now and I’m excited to be a New York Football Giant.”

Bob Glauber of Newsday wasn’t as charitable as Marshall when it comes to Richardson.

“Richardson is hardly one to throw shade at a teammate, current or former, especially given his tenuous standing with the Jets,” Glauber writes. “He already has been suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and was suspended for the first game of the 2016 season for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. Last year’s sanction was in response to a July 2015 arrest for driving his 2014 Bentley Flying Spur at speeds up to 143 miles per hour near his home in suburban St. Louis. Police found a loaded semi-automatic handgun under a floor mat.”

Glauber says Richardson “was the much bigger problem than Marshall” last year, and that the Jets viewed Marshall as part of the solution, not part of the problem. Richardson remains part of the problem, which could be why the Jets continue to try to make him not part of the Jets.

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Blake Bortles knows he has to stop the stupid turnovers

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Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw 16 interceptions and lost six fumbles last season. He knows that’s not going to cut it on a Tom Coughlin-led team.

Bortles said at Jacksonville’s Organized Team Activities that his top priority right now is being safe with the football.

“If you don’t turn the ball over, you’ll win football games,” Bortles said, via Mike Kaye of WTLV. “That’s our focus. Turnovers are going to happen. We get that. You have to make sure to minimize them as much as possible and stay away from the stupid ones.”

Bortles said Coughlin, who became the Jaguars’ front office boss this offseason, is already making his presence felt.

“To have a guy like that in the building that you can talk to – I’m sure [Head Coach Doug Marrone], having another head coach in the building, a former head coach in the building who has been successful and has done some good thing – I think it’s good for everybody,” Bortles said. “It allows everybody to have somebody to talk to, to help out. He has a ton of good information.”

And atop that list of good information is that if you don’t take care of the football, you won’t be around for long.

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Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott did not suffer a concussion

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Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott sustained a head injury in an automobile accident on Sunday. The team insists that Elliott did not suffer a concussion.

Via the Associated Press, running backs coach Gary Brown said Wednesday that Elliott bumped his head during the accident, in which he was a passenger, but that Elliott did not sustain a brain injury.

Coach Jason Garrett said Elliott will miss Thursday’s OTA session due to lingering soreness and neck stiffness. He’s expected to practice with the team next week.

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Giants ink Devin Taylor

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Defensive end Devin Taylor started 16 games for the Lions last year, before becoming an unrestricted free agent. He lingered on the market longer than expected, but he now has landed with a new team.

Per a league source, the 27-year-old Taylor has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Giants.

Taylor had 4.5 sacks in 2016. A year earlier, with 15 games appearances and no starts, Taylor registered 7.0 sacks.

The Lions made Taylor, who played college football at South Carolina, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. He’s perhaps best known for drawing a controversial facemask penalty that gave the Packers one last heave to the end zone on a Thursday night in Detroit. Aaron Rodgers delivered a game-winning touchdown pass with a Hail Mary throw that nearly scraped the rafters at Ford Field.

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Browns hire Ryan Grigson

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Former Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson has found his new NFL home, in Cleveland.

Grigson has been hired by the Browns, joining the team he once gave a first-round draft pick for Trent Richardson.

“Ryan brings valuable experience to our personnel group,” Browns G.M. Sashi Brown said in a statement. “He was raised as a road-scout and has been evaluating talent in this league for almost 20 years. We place a premium on that experience and on his passion for football. Ryan has much to offer to any personnel department and we are pleased that he chose to join our staff.”

Grigson’s title in Cleveland will be Senior Personnel Executive. It’s his first job since being fired after five years as the G.M. in Indianapolis.

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Kenny Stills on possible 2017 anthem protest: “We’ll see when the time comes”

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stillAlthough unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick continues to be the name and face most commonly attached to last year’s National Anthem protests, plenty of other players followed his lead. Those players included Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills.

And while Kaepernick reportedly will be standing in 2017 (if/when he’s on an NFL team), Stills has made no such commitment. Asked by reporters on Wednesday whether Stills plans to engage in anthem protests in the coming season, Stills said this: “I guess we’ll see when the time comes. I’m doing my best to continue to work and make an impact in the community, and I feel like that’s the most important part about what I’m doing right now.”

It’s obvious that Stills, who signed a four-year, $32 million contract in the offseason, will do whatever he thinks he needs to do in order to make a positive impact — and that he would have done what he did last year even without the support of the organization.

“It was a relief that we knew that Mr. [Stephen] Ross was going to be standing behind us; but no, it was something that the decision that we made it was going to be something we were doing regardless,” Stills said. “And that’s no disrespect to the organization or Mr. Ross, but it’s something that we felt strongly about and so we stood by that decision.”

For Stills, it’s much more than making a visible gesture aimed at raising awareness of societal problems. It’s about actions.

“I think here locally we’ve done everything that we can and we’re going to continue to do that,” Stills said. “The ride-along that we did last year with law enforcement is something that we’re going to try to do again this year and something that we’re trying to expand on throughout the league, and so I just try to focus on the positive things that we’ve done here and try and spread the message to other guys and other teams. . . .

“I mean I try to do my best to just do the right thing in all situations and that’s how I handle it. I’ve gotten more involved this past year and that’s something that I just . . . I can’t hold back on because it’s something that is true to my heart and so that’s kind of how I handle every situation I come across.”

While many may disagree with some of the methods aimed at raising awareness, it’s hard to take issue with the idea of devoting time and effort to solving problems in communities and improving communication among groups that have a history of friction that has at times bubbled over into hostility and violence. For that, Stills should be praised. As to Kaepernick’s role in addressing similar issues, here’s hoping that those who take issue with what he did during the playing of the national anthem can at some point recognize other less controversial steps he has taken to address some of the very real challenges society is confronting.

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DeShone Kizer sees an accelerated learning curve

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Regarded as the quarterback with the highest ceiling in the 2017 draft, Browns rookie DeShone Kizer now embarks on an effort to get to his maximum abilities as quickly as he can. He believes that playing in Cleveland will get him there even faster.

“It is exactly what I expected when I got brought over to this club,” Kizer told reporters on Wednesday. “Coach Jackson, during the . . . pre-draft process, that is exactly how he goes about his quarterbacks and he has held up to it and he has gone even further. With that, it allows me to start my learning curve a little faster. When you have the guy who is calling the plays, the guy who has created this offense and he knows the language inside and out, teaching your everyday fundamentals, it definitely pushes you a little quicker than if it was someone else who has to then go through him. I’m at the top of the command in terms of the guys who are coaching me so it is going to allow me to get out there and compete little faster than otherwise.”

It’s no accident that Jackson is spending plenty of time with Kizer.

“I will continue to do so,” Jackson told reporters on Wednesday. “I have to find out probably more about him than I do any of the guys. He is not going to get too far away from me, I know that. He has done a good job. He just has to keep getting better. He has improved from day to day. . . . There is a lot thrown at him now, but he is doing a good job. He has been better than some guys I have been around – in two days of competing against our defense and all of the different things our defense does, which is only going to make our guys better, with all of the things we get to see every day.”

It feels like only a matter of time before Kizer ends up getting a chance to show what he can do on the field, which will be the best way for him to get to his ceiling, wherever and whatever it may be.

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Odell Beckham weighs in on recent reporting

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Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has spent plenty of time in the news in recent days, between his absence from OTAs to his reported intention to show up on Thursday to his new shoe deal to his decision to work out with Johnny Football instead of Beckham’s football team.

He apparently didn’t like something about one of the things that someone has written or said, because Beckham has taken to Twitter by declaring, “‘If they don’t have a story these days they’ll make one…’ I might get that tatted.”

Images of Beckham and fellow 2014 first-rounder Johnny Manziel emerged on Wednesday, after Beckham missed two of 10 offseason OTA sessions with the Giants, with the New York Post headline explaining that “Odell Beckham chose Johnny Manziel over Giants practice.” Beckham reportedly intends to show up for voluntary drills on Thursday, at which time reporters will be present to ask him about any and all recent developments — and at which time he’ll be able vent as much as he wants about the nerve of some people to point out the comings and goings for a celebrity athlete who is, based on that Nike deal, enjoying the financial fruits of being a celebrity athlete.

Maybe he’ll also be sporting a new tattoo that could take up plenty of real estate on his torso, his limbs, or elsewhere.

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Dolphins sign Charles Harris

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The Dolphins have signed all their 2017 draft picks.

First-round defensive end Charles Harris became the final member of the draft class to agree to terms on a contract with the team on Wednesday. Like all first-round picks, Harris’ deal is for four years with a team option for a fifth season.

Harris was the 22nd overall pick last month after wrapping up a career at Missouri that saw him rack up 34.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks. That pass rushing prowess made him a popular mock draft choice for the Dolphins before they made him their actual pick in Philadelphia.

Harris will join Cameron Wake, William Hayes and Andre Branch at defensive end for the Dolphins and seems like a good bet for a role as a rotational pass rusher at the very least during his rookie season.

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Patriots release Devin Street

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With receiver Andrew Hawkins joining the Patriots, the Patriots needed to make a corresponding roster move. Receiver Devin Street was moved off the roster.

The Patriots announced on Wednesday the release of Street, who had been claimed off waivers from the Colts on May 2.

A fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2014, Steelers previously spent time on the Patriots practice squad before joining Indy’s active roster last season, appearing in five games. For his career, he has 36 regular-season appearances and two starts.

Street will be subject to waivers. If unclaimed, he’ll become a free agent.

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Michael Floyd: I couldn’t be in a better position right now

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Wide receiver Michael Floyd is back in his hometown after signing with the Vikings and having the remainder of his house arrest sentence for last year’s DUI transferred to Minnesota so he can begin working with the team, something that coach Mike Zimmer said is a good thing because of the support system the team has in place for Floyd.

Part of that support system is the presence of college teammates Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph, who is hosting Floyd at his house while he re-acclimates himself to life in the Twin Cities. While Floyd isn’t crazy about the idea of helping out with diaper changes for Rudolph’s twin daughters, he’s otherwise happy to be home after bouncing from being released by the Cardinals to a stint with the Patriots last season.

“Everything I’ve been through was eye-opening,” Floyd said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “The stuff that you go through, positive or negative, grows you as a person. I couldn’t be in a better position right now.”

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said that Floyd is behind his teammates after signing late in the offseason, but called the wideout a fast learner “that can make plays.” If that proves to be true on the field, Floyd should find plenty of playing time on an offense that’s looking to take a step forward from last year’s output.

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