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Roger Goodell State of the League press conference transcript

[Editor’s note: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had his annual State of the League press conference on Friday. This is the transcript of that press conference, distributed by the NFL.]

Opening Statement:

“Good morning. This Sunday will be the conclusion of an incredible season of NFL football. Our teams this season gave fans dramatic games and amazing performances. Think about it, the inspiring comebacks of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson; the extraordinary rookie quarterbacks; Calvin Johnson, Tony Gonzalez catching; Aldon Smith, Von Miller and J.J. Watt sacking; the fantastic final Sunday of the regular season. Everyone is buzzing about how exciting the playoffs have been. So wouldn’t it be fitting if we have that one final struggle on Sunday night? This Super Bowl matchup has it all: the Harbaughs, Ray Lewis, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco, the Pistol offense, and the list goes on. Congratulations to Steve Bisciotti, to John, Denise and Jed York. We really can’t wait to see your teams in the Super Bowl on Sunday night.

“There are two important people who are not here, but very much on our minds. Art Modell, the legendary former owner of the Ravens, who passed away in September. Art’s spirit is certainly here this week. And his name will be on the Ravens jersey on Sunday, as it has all season. And this is the first Super Bowl without Steve Sabol, the creative genius behind NFL Films. His imprint is all over our game and the Super Bowl. Steve and Art were innovators. They inspire us to exceed our expectations. As a league, we have challenges. We always do, and we embrace them for the opportunity to do better.

“On and off the field in the last couple of years, we have accomplished some remarkable things that have really strengthened the very foundation of our game. We have the most talented athletes on earth, in a game that those players and fans love. Our mission is to make it even better and we are doing the work. The changes we are making are having a positive impact. The game is exciting, competitive, tough and safer. We are making the game better while also evolving into a health and safety culture. That is a big priority. We are also improving officiating, investing in upgrading the stadium experience and engaging more people in more ways than ever. Our numbers are up in overall fan engagement, in most cases, dramatically. So a big thank you to NFL fans, the best in sports.

“Interest in the NFL is expanding as we grow internationally. In fact, today we are announcing that our two games in London next season – the 49ers and Jaguars and the Steelers and Vikings – are already sold out. It is a sign that the game is growing globally. But there is more work to do and more ways to improve. The Competition Committee’s agenda will include looking at eliminating certain dangerous low blocks; further taking the head out of the game and expanding the standards for the quality of our playing fields. We will take steps to ensure more diversity in our hiring practices. The results this year were simply not acceptable.

“On the health side, we will update our injury protocols and add neurosurgeons to our game day medical resources. We are going to implement expanded physicals at the end of each season. Three days to review players from a physical, mental and life-skills standpoint, so that we can support them in a more comprehensive fashion. We want to pioneer new approaches to player health and safety that emphasize prevention as well as treatment. This will include our commitment to supporting our retired players. Those are some of the priorities. From the quality of our game, to growing fan interest and engagement, to our commitment to evolve and innovate, we have many reasons to be optimistic about the future. I could not be more optimistic or ready to go.

“It’s also terrific for us to be back here in New Orleans. Our 10th Super Bowl here, the first since (Hurricane) Katrina. And it’s clear this city is back bigger and better than ever. Our very heartfelt thanks to Mayor Mitch Landrieu; James Carville and Mary Matalin; the Host Committee; the 7,000 local volunteers for being truly, truly great hosts this week. Also, to Tom and Gayle Benson and Rita LeBlanc, for all you have done for this community. Everybody here has done an outstanding job. You should be very proud and we are very grateful.

“Now we will get to your questions.”

The President recently said he would think twice about having a son play football, if he had a son. He also said that fans need to examine their conscience about football. Is there a deeper-rooted problem with the game and its safety than the NFL might have realized? How can the NFL deal effectively with such problems?

“Well, the issue of player health and safety has always been a priority in the NFL. We will continue to make it a priority. You have our commitment. The players have our commitment that we will do that. I started playing the game when I was in fourth grade, tackle football in Washington D.C. and I love the game of football. I started as a fan, but I wouldn’t give back one day of playing tackle football. The benefits of playing football, teaching you the values, teaching you character, teaching you how to get up when you’re knocked down, how to work with others, teamwork. They are extraordinary lessons in life that I use to this day. I welcome the President’s comments because it has been a priority and we want to make sure that people understand what we’re doing to make our game safer, not just in the NFL, but throughout sports. The changes we’re making in the NFL, I think, are changing all of sports. There is better recognition of head injuries, of treating them conservatively, and that affects every sport, beyond sports, to your children playing in the playground, to our troops overseas. What we’re doing is leading the way to try and make sure people understand that you need to treat these injuries seriously. We can make our games safer, as we have done. I believe that the changes that we’re making to our game will make football better. It will make it safer. It will make other sports safer. We’re proud of our accomplishments and we have more to do, but we will not relent on this.”

More on the same issue – Joe Flacco on Media Day said the current fine system isn’t working. It’s not changing the way that defensive players are playing. He’s going to get hit no matter what, and all that you’re doing is taking money out of their pockets. Steve Bisciotti said that he thinks maybe intent needs to be taken into consideration. Flacco also said maybe suspensions, but with pay, might get through to some of these guys. I wonder what you think about their comments and about maybe whether suspensions is where you need to go? I know that the league did try to suspend Ed Reed.

“I’m glad that you reminded yourself of that. This is something that we have seen, an escalation in the discipline, because we are trying to take these techniques out of the game. I think it was about four years ago at this very press conference, I said, ‘We have to take these hits out of the game that we think have a higher risk of causing injuries.’ The focus was on defenseless players, and I stand by our record because I think we have made those changes and made the game safer. I think we’re going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders. It’s not just the player, the defenseless player, that’s being protected; it’s the person doing the striking. We see in the injury rates that the defenseless player and the defensive back are having a higher injury rate. Taking these hits out of the game can be positive. The most effective way of doing that, and I’m not for it because we want to see all of our players on the field, is when they are repeat offenders and they are involved with these dangerous techniques, that we’re going to have to take them off the field. Suspension gets through to them. It’s gets through on the basis that they don’t want to let their teammates down, and they want to be on the field. We want to see them on the field. We’re going to continue to emphasize the importance of following those rules. When there are violations, we will escalate the discipline.”

I know that the system for discipline for on-field violations, the way the system exists now, you have neutral arbitrators in Art Shell and Ted Cottrell. Also, my understanding is that in a new drug policy, the league would be willing to have neutral arbitration in that, too. If you can confirm that, fine, but also, the NFLPA said yesterday that it is seeking to have neutral arbitration for off-the-field discipline issues. I’m wondering if you see a connection with that demand as another component to the standstill in negotiations for HGH testing?

“Well interesting, Jarrett, to that point, you are correct. In our Collective Bargaining Agreement that we signed two years ago, we did agree to HGH testing. As part of that, we agreed to neutral arbitration for drug cases. We will do that as soon as we reach agreement on the HGH, which I expect and hope will be very soon. We have moved down that path in an effective way. On the field, we have a system that I think has worked quite effectively. I don’t agree with all of the decisions, but I don’t expect to. Off the field, beyond the drug issue, it is very important for us to maintain our integrity and our brand. We expect that the people that are involved with our game from the commissioner to the players to the coaches will uphold those standards. We have three great young men here today that are finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. I’m proud of our players. I’m proud of what they do, but we always have to make sure that we’re reflecting positively on the shield. When there are violations along those lines, they impact on the integrity of the game. That is something that the commissioner has had the authority on for several decades, several versions of the CBA, and that is not something that we’re going to relent on. We’re going to always uphold the standards of the NFL because the fans deserve that, and I believe the players deserve that. That is the commissioner’s role, and you can hold me accountable for it, and I will stand by my decisions.”

I wanted to ask you about your comment about minority hiring in coaching, and you saying that you weren’t satisfied with it. What do you think are some of the issues that continue to make this a problem and what’s going to bring about real change?

“First, the Rooney Rule has been very effective over the last decade, but we have to look to see what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is. What’s going to take us to another level? We’re committed to finding that answer. That’s going to have to come from conversations with a lot of people in this league to find out exactly what can be most effective in allowing our talent to excel. And that’s what it is – we want to make sure we have the best people in the best possible positions, and give everybody the opportunity to do that. We want to focus on how do we get to a Rooney Rule, or an extension of the Rooney Rule, or a new generation of the Rooney Rule, that will allow us to do that? There was full compliance with the Rooney Rule. There were, in fact, I believe, a record number of interviews. But we didn’t have the outcomes that we wanted, and the outcomes are to make sure that we have full diversity throughout our coaching ranks, throughout our executive ranks, and throughout the league office. It’s very important to the success of the league to do that, and we’re committed to finding those solutions.”

I know you highlighted player safety in your opening statement. What was your reaction to the NFLPA’s study yesterday that said 78 percent of players do not trust their team’s medical staffs?

“I did hear that yesterday. Last week, we met for four hours with union officials. Several players were there. Several owners were there. They did raise the issue of making sure we have proper medical attention, but they didn’t raise those statistics. That was news to me as of yesterday. I’m disappointed, because I think we have tremendous medical care for our players. These are not just team doctors. These doctors are affiliated with the best medical institutions in the world – the Cleveland Clinic, Stanford, Hospital for Special Surgery. The medical care that is provided to our players is extraordinary. Now, we will always seek to improve it. We will always seek to figure out how we can do things better, provide better medical care, but I think it’s extraordinary. And as I talk to players – including one yesterday – they feel the same way, but we’ll have to address that and we’ll have to figure out what we can do to try to improve it. One of those I also mentioned in the opening. We’ll add a neurosurgeon on the field that can be there for consultation, that can be there for another set of eyes on the field, and to support the doctors in making the best possible decisions on the field, and off the field. And I believe our doctors do that.”

You went to owners meetings in Dallas last year and met with MADD. How disappointing is it that so soon after Jerry Brown’s death that his teammate is arrested for DWI, and is there something else that the league can do to tell the players that this is unacceptable?

“Well, Charean, I think we have to go beyond telling players or telling executives. The reality is we have to do a better job of educating people in the NFL that this is a priority. This is for your safety, for the safety of the people in your car, and for innocent people that are out there. There are services designed to help them make better decisions before they leave their homes. We have to make sure that they understand those services, and most importantly, take advantage of them, use them. We did meet with MADD, and I met with MADD last week. We’re going to engage in a number of programs to help educate all of our clubs – players, coaches (and) executives – on what we can do. Victim impact programs have been very effectively used with several clubs over the past several months. We’re going to do that because this is a high priority, not only for the sake of safety, but it’s part of our responsibility in the communities that we live.”

Yesterday, the NFLPA was very vocal about singling out dissatisfaction with Dr. David Chao, the Chargers’ team doctor, and said it requested the league find a ‘suitable replacement’ for him. What is your response to that request and also comments that NFL players deserve better than Dr. Chao?

“In the CBA, at the union’s request, we entered an agreement that is called Article 50. Article 50 states that if there is an issue with any medical decision, or the medical professionals of the club, there can be a solution by engaging with independent doctors, I believe three neutral doctors, including an NFL attorney, and they will review the matter. As I understand it, that is exactly what is going on in San Diego. We’ll allow the process to unfold. I’m confident our doctors make the best possible decisions for the players, and we’re going to stand behind that. We’ll engage in the process and let it unfold.”

The Rams and local stadium authority are waiting for an arbitrator’s decision on stadium improvement proposals there. Are you confident that the parties can resolve their differences and that the Rams will stay in St. Louis?

“I haven’t gotten an update on the arbitration process. I expect the possibility of a decision in the next couple of weeks. It is, as you know, a clause and a part of a contract that they initially agreed to when the Rams came to St. Louis 12-15 years ago. That is something we are engaging in. We want to make sure that the team gets the stadium issues resolved because they need to have the type of stadium that will help support them for the long term in St. Louis. I believe that the business community and the officials in St. Louis want that outcome. I believe Stan Kroenke wants that outcome. They’re all working together to try and get there. Again, the process is unfolding and I hope they’ll be able to reach that agreement. I’m optimistic they will.”

If they cannot pass the renovations, is the NFL willing to provide any stadium funding for those improvements?

“We’re willing to do that in any market where there is a public/private partnership, to allow the other 31 clubs to help contribute to financing the stadium that will help solve the problem for the long term. If we can get to the point where we have the structure of a deal, I’m very confident that the league will support that and participate.”

The 18-game schedule is still on the table. Is that a reality? And, HGH testing. is that going to happen or not?

“Let me start with the second portion of your question. I believe that HGH testing is going to happen prior to the 2013 NFL season. It’s the right thing to do for the players, for their health and well-being long-term. It’s the right thing to do for the integrity of the game. It’s also the right thing to do to send the right message to everybody else in sports. You don’t have to play the game by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The science is there. There is no question about that. Baseball, Olympics, everyone believes that the science is there and are utilizing the tests, so we need to get to that agreement. On the first part of your question, we’re always going to reevaluate our season structure. We’ve been very open about the fact that we want to address our preseason. Do we need four preseason games? Do we only need two or three? How do we continue to develop talent? How do we continue to evaluate players? The fans’ reaction to the quality of preseason is a big concern. So, we have to do that collectively. That’s what our CBA does. If we wanted to implement an 18-game schedule, we could have done that in the prior CBA. The ownership and management agreed that we would do that collectively and we would consider and balance the player health and safety issues with that. So, we’ll continue to evaluate that. I think the changes we made in the CBA, particularly in offseason training, the training camp period and even during the regular season – eliminating contact, allowing players to get away from the game – that’s been great for the players. They deserve that. Every player I talk to tells me they feel better at this time of the year than they’ve ever felt in the past. I think that’s a direct result of some of the changes in the CBA. We will continue to figure out how we can improve with our season structure, but we will not make changes if we can’t do it in a safe and effective way.”

The union yesterday advocated the appointment of a chief safety officer to overview all player safety, and that would be mutually agreed upon, whoever that person is. Also, advocated credentialing for all team doctors and trainers. Do you see anything that could stand in the way of those kinds of advancements with player health and safety?

“Well again, Albert, let me start with the fact that we spent four hours last Friday meeting with union officials, including many players and owners, and that issue did not come up. It was not raised during that entire four hours. That being said, I would tell you that I believe safety is all of our responsibilities. I can’t appoint somebody who’s going to make the game safer as an individual. That’s all of our responsibilities. I’ll stand up, I’ll be accountable. It’s part of my responsibility, I’ll do everything. But the players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it. All of us are going to have to do that. All that being said, since I just heard this in the last 12 hours, I’ll do anything that’s going to help us make the game safer and better. They have my commitment on that, so I’ll be happy to engage in the dialogue in a meeting where we can talk about the plusses and the minuses and how we make the game safer.”

First of all, I have been to 41 Super Bowls. I don’t want to brag on that, but here is what I want to ask you for all of these people. The first ticket to the Super Bowl only costs $12 and that was in Los Angeles. Now, the tickets cost $850, $950 and $1250.

“It sounds like the prices went down.” (Laughter)

Well yeah, they are down in a certain manner.

“I hear you. I understand your point.”

The thing I wanted to know, and I have asked you before, is there some way to put a cap on this thing so the ticket only sells for a certain price? The other thing I was going to say is about the Pro Bowl and that you will still leave it in Hawaii except come after the Super Bowl. A man makes the Pro Bowl, and he might make the Super Bowl, but the way it is with this arrangement is I still think it would be better after the Super Bowl the way it was before.

“OK, well let me start with your question because the second was a comment. The first part of your point was, ‘Could there be a cap on the Super Bowl ticket prices?’ I would tell you that we have worked very hard to try to keep them reasonable and to try to give access to people so they can attend the Super Bowl. It is very difficult because, as you know, they are being sold on the secondary market at multiples of the face value. So, a couple of years ago, it may have been five years ago because it was the first year I was the commissioner, we put a cap on a certain number of tickets so that they could go to the fans. I think we capped it at $500. We found that a lot of times, most of the time, those tickets ended up on the secondary market at multiples. I want our fans to be able to attend NFL games. I want them to be able to come because they want to enjoy the experience and enjoy the event and it’s affordable and that it’s safe. But the realities are that there is a market demand, and there is a limited number of tickets. Only 70,000 people are going to get into that Superdome, but there are hundreds of thousands of people here in New Orleans that are celebrating and part of the event. We work hard to try to engage fans, create the NFL Experience and allow people to be able to come and be part of the event, but there is only a limited number of seats.”

Looking back, do you have any regrets on how the Saints bounty investigation was handled? Even though the player penalties were overturned ultimately, do you feel like the message was still sent to the teams and to the players to avoid this type of behavior in the future?

“Let me just take a moment and get back and make sure everyone is clear on the record. There is no question there was a bounty program in place for three years. I think that that is bad for the players, for the game, and I think the message is incredibly clear, and I don’t believe that bounties will be part of football going forward. That’s good for everybody. I do think that message has come through clear. As it relates to the regrets, I think my biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game to make the game safer. Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That’s what I regret, that I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough with the union, and with others. That is something we are going to be incredibly relentless on.”

How do you define innovation to improve the NFL? Whether it’s consumer marketing, digital media, player safety, game operations, or the fan experience, is it solving a problem or satisfying a need in a glamorous way that increases value? Within the NFL, is innovation primarily viewed as an ideology or viewed as a process that is less glamorous but more productive?

Well, innovation is something that we are proud of. I made that point in my opening remarks. It’s a philosophy. It’s about you can always get better and it’s your responsibility to seek solutions. I like solutions. I believe in solutions. You have to identify problems and find those solutions. But you also have to have a commitment to finding a better way, and that is part of innovation. What is tricky in an organization like the National Football League is we rely a lot on our tradition. That is important to us. We believe in it. It’s what we are all about. I said this when I became commissioner, I said it to the owners when they fortunately selected me for this job. I said, ‘Our biggest risk is being complacent. We cannot assume that our success is going to continue just because we have been successful.’ I think the last six years, we have continued to find ways to improve. Whether it’s player health and safety, whether it’s making the game better or more exciting, whether it’s giving the fans more opportunity to engage with the game of football closer. The NFL Network is now fully distributed. People are engaging with the NFL on their cell phones. We have more ways for fans to engage, and that’s why I like to say that there has never been a better time to be a fan. Innovation is not just some theme. ,It is something that we feel in our core and something where we are always going to live, to try to make things better.”

You’ve mentioned on previous occasions that the Competition Committee will revisit blocks toward the knee so we don’t have situations like Brian Cushing with the Houston Texans losing a season on a block like that. Is the long-term goal of player safety to create a baseball-type of strike zone, which is mid-chest to just above the knee? Have your studies shown that this is the safest way to avoid the head injuries and maybe some of the lower-limb extremity issues?

“There are several things. First, we’re going to review all low blocks. In working with our Player Advisory Committee that Ronnie Lott and John Madden chair we talked about that earlier this year shortly after the Brian Cushing injury. We need to review all of those low blocks. It’s important for us to try to find ‘Is there a better way of doing what we’re doing?’ We are focused on that with the Competition Committee. As it relates to what you call the ‘strike zone’, there is no question that there is a focus to try to get back to the fundamentals of tackling. The number one issue is: take the head out of the game. I think we’ve seen in the last several decades that the players are using their head more than they have, when you go back several decades. There are several theories on that. The helmets are better; they feel safer using their head. The facemask. You can come up with a lot of theories that we’ve discussed. But the reality is we have to get back to tackling, using the shoulders, using your arms properly to tackle. And there is a strike zone, and that’s where we are encouraging our players to focus and our coaches to coach that way, and it’s made a difference. We have seen a dramatic change in the way that’s happening over the years, so we’ll continue that.”

Vincent Gray, the Mayor of Washington D.C., recently said if the Redskins were ever going to entertain the idea of coming back to the District, there would have to be discussion about the name issue. Recently, the most recent “Indian Country Today” polls, the largest Native American magazine, they dispute and contradict everything Sports Illustrated or the NFL did about 10 years ago. They say that the overwhelming number of Indians, American Indians, do not like the name, they feel it’s offensive: Does the league try to absorb the legal costs for the team when they are sued over trademark infringement by American Indians? And, as a progressive commissioner, how do you feel about the name, and do you have any problem with it going forward?

“Well, the first part of your question, I couldn’t answer. I have no idea who pays the legal costs. I do know that, growing up in Washington, I do understand the affinity for that name with the fans. I also understand the other side of that, and I don’t think anybody wants to offend anybody, but this has been discussed several times over a long period of time. I think Dan Snyder and the organization have made it very clear that they’re proud of that heritage and that name, and I believe the fans are, too.”

The various committees that are down here for next year’s Super Bowl have talked a lot about feeling a little bit of pressure carrying the banner for cold-weather cities. Is what they do next year, and the success or problems of the logistical challenge they have, will that affect your future decisions or consideration of other cold-weather sites?

“The answer is undoubtedly the game next year is going to have an impact on future decisions for open-air, cold-weather sites. We believe, though, in the New York/New Jersey market. We think it’s going to be a fantastic event. I have said many times before, and I believe that the membership has supported this through their vote of awarding the Super Bowl there, that not only is the community prepared for this – they have a great stadium with two teams. The plans that have been developed for the Super Bowl, I think, are extraordinary, and they’re just beginning to be released, and we will be prepared for the weather factors, and this community can do that, but the game of football is made to be played in the elements. Now, we hope they’re not extreme on one hand, but we’ll be prepared for that if that’s the case. Some of our most classic games in our history were played in extreme weather conditions. We know them all, the ‘Ice Bowl,’ some of the games that I look back as a fan and say, ‘That was fun.’ So I’m confident the people of New York and New Jersey, the two teams, the host committee are going to do an extraordinary job next year, and we’re looking forward to it.”

The largest attendance in the history of the league is in Mexico. The first game outside the U.S. was in Mexico. I wanted to ask you why hasn’t the NFL gone back since 2005. Why?

“I’m proud to say I was at that game, and it was a great event. And you could see the passion of the fans in Mexico for that game, and we would like to be back there. Our focus in the last couple of years has obviously been on trying to prove the model works in the UK. We have to make sure that whenever we do come back to Mexico, and I expect we will, that we do it successfully, with the right kind of television support, fan support and sponsor involvement. The stadium will be the kind of stage that we want for that game. So I would expect if we are successful in the UK, where we thankfully are continuing to grow, that we’ll have the opportunity to get back there. And the sooner, the better for me.”

Any time frame?

“No.”

Yesterday the union talked about filing multiple grievances against the NFL, and it recently appealed its collusion loss in the Minnesota federal court to the eighth circuit. Are you disappointed the relationship with the union has remained so litigious?

“Well, Dan, let me start with, the point is I don’t really control that. What I think disappoints me is that we reached a very comprehensive agreement a couple of years ago for 10 years to take the game to another level, and unfortunately we’re spending most of our time focusing on issues that we had agreed to. As you point out, collusion charges, which were very clearly dealt with in the agreement. HGH was agreed to and we should have gotten to the point where we solved our differences and gotten that resolved. Commissioner discipline – I can go on. These are things that were resolved and are clear in the document and in our partnership. What we need to do is get back to focusing on how do we all work together to make the NFL better? I understand we’re going to have differences, I understand why there are grievances, I understand why there are lawyers, but we have to find solutions for the best interests of the game, and that’s my commitment and that’s what we have to work towards.”

Addressing the player safety issue, you said it’s a shared responsibility. Well, earlier this year Alex Smith sustained a concussion, was forthcoming about his condition and while he was out, he lost his starting job. My question for you is, how concerned are you that going forward players are going to be less honest about their condition after seeing a situation like that?

“I believe very strongly that there’s a difference between a medical decision and a football decision. I’m glad that he came forward and identified that he had an injury. That wouldn’t be in the best interest of Alex in the short term or the long term, so players need to do that. I also believe, and he’s been healthy for several weeks, that those are football decisions that the coach has now made. He’s healthy enough to return to play, but the coaches made a decision that they’re going in another direction, and that’s something that the coaches have to do. So while I understand somewhat the dilemma, the highest priority you can have is for players to make sure that they raise their hands when there’s an injury and so that they can get the proper treatment, because they’re not going to be effective as players if they have lingering problems, if they have lingering issues with a concussion. They need to be as healthy as possible to compete in this league, and we all want to see the players on the field, but we let the coaches make the football decisions and the medical personnel make the medical decisions.”

First of all, do you feel welcome here in New Orleans given the way people feel about you in light of the bounty scandal? We have establishments that have your picture that say, ‘Do not serve this man,’ or do you feel somewhat like you’re behind enemy lines? Secondly, Saints fans want to know why you won’t return that second-round draft choice in the next draft?

“Let me take the first part of your question first. I couldn’t feel more welcome here. You know when you look back at it, my picture, as you point out, is in every restaurant. I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade. We got a voodoo doll. I’m serious, really, the people here have been incredible. The last couple of nights I’ve been out with a lot of the people that I worked very closely with following the Katrina tragedy, and we celebrated the work that we did then, but what we did is we all reflected on how great that was that we worked together, and they couldn’t be nicer. They couldn’t be more welcoming, and the same is true with fans. Now, I understand the fans’ loyalty is to the team. They had no part of this. They were completely innocent in this. So I appreciate the passion. I saw that for myself when we were down here for Katrina, and it’s clear that that’s what they’re all about. So I support the fact that they’re passionate in supporting their team. On the last point, the reason there won’t be any change in the second-round draft choice is what I said earlier. There are clear violations of the bounty rule for three consecutive years. That’s not going to be permitted in the NFL. That’s not just my judgment. Commissioner Tagliabue reviewed this, and had his own process and came to the same conclusion that there were violations. So, the reason why we’re not returning any of the draft choices or any of the discipline is because it occurred, and it should not have occurred.”

Kind of piggybacking off that question, yesterday I talked with NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth, and he said because of the bounty scandal and everything that’s happened, trust has been fractured from the players within the league. How do you fix that considering penalties were levied, and then they were vacated twice by parties other than you?

“Let’s make sure the record is clear that the first penalties were vacated only briefly to make sure that there was a distinction between what was a salary-cap violation and what was discipline on the field. That body, the panel that was established by the CBA, made it very clear that that’s the authority of the commissioner. The second issue is Commissioner Tagliabue and I agree on the facts. There was no difference in the findings of the facts with respect to the investigation done by the league overseen by Mary Jo White, verified by Commissioner Tagliabue’s process. The only difference was that he vacated the disciple from the players. We disagree with that. I disagree with that. I believe that we’re all responsible for what goes on in our locker rooms, on the field, as part of our game. That’s a collective responsibility. We’re not going to hide from that. That will be something that – and I said it to our clubs in December when we met – everyone here should understand the responsibility for our rules will be enforced as fairly and as clearly as possible. So I’m going to have to work harder to try to make sure that we can work together; we can trust one another. But we also need to make sure that we understand that we’re going to have differences from time to time, and that’s OK. But there needs to be a fair resolution and move forward in a positive way for the game of football.”

Could you tell us what the selling out of two games in London for 2013, what kind of message that says to your ownership with regard to potential UK franchises?

“I think the message is very clear. There are passionate fans that love the NFL in the UK and, I believe, globally, and that there is another step that we need to look forward to in London. We’re already beginning that process. What’s the next step, beyond the two games? Should we move to three? Should we consider other alternatives to continue to accelerate the growth of the game in the UK? But I think that’s a positive reaction from the fans and our ownership understands this is a market where we need to be more active, and that we need to continue to grow our game. Thank you.”

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Cosell would put Perriman with Cooper and White

Breshad Perriman, Jhavon Williams AP

The first round of the draft unfolds in five days.  And it has been assumed for months that two receivers stand alone at the top of the class.

NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell thinks another player deserves to be mentioned with Alabama’s Amari Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin WhiteBreshad Perriman of Central Florida.

“I think Cooper is the top receiver prospect this year,” Cosell writes in an item for Yahoo! Sports.  “But if you asked me who is No. 2 among White and Perriman, that’s a tougher question.  I really like Perriman.  I heard an interesting comparison on Perriman from a scout the other day:  Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas.  I can see that. Perriman is a big powerful, explosive, fast guy.  Although he and White are about the same size, on film Perriman looks like the bigger guy.  I could see ranking Perriman even with or ahead of White, although I’m in the minority on that.”

So Cosell actually puts Perriman ahead of White.  When it comes to the draft, all it takes is one team planning to take a receiver to agree with Cosell.

We’ll find out Thursday night whether Perriman goes before White.  Or whether White before Cooper.  The only safe bet based on Cosell’s evaluation is that Perriman won’t go before Cooper.

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Dominik chafes at Jameis-JaMarcus comparison

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

It’s spring, when a middle-aged man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of figuring out how to get a coveted prospect to slide down the board.

As the draft approaches, some teams love a player enough to spread negative information and/or opinions about him in the hopes that he’ll be on the board when they are making their pick.

The highest-profile example (so far) for 2015 comes from the recent article featuring an unnamed executive comparing quarterback Jameis Winston to quarterback JaMarcus Russell.  The former G.M. of the team that is expected to select Winston has gone on the record to strongly disagree with the comparison.

I think it’s rude,” former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik told Jorge Sedano of ESPN Radio, via JoeBucsFan.com.  “I think it’s completely off base to call him JaMarcus Russell.  I just don’t see the comparison.  Look, if you want to say one thing about Jameis [as a football player], the only thing I’d sit there and say is at the end of the season, he lost 17 pounds to go to the [Scouting] Combine.  I didn’t like that.  You now, because I’d like to think he’s playing as well as he can all the way through the bowl series and then getting himself ready for the Combine, instead of having to get himself in shape.  But from a football standpoint, from a football intelligence, from a competitor, from a leader, it ain’t close.  It’s embarrassing.  For my personal opinion, whatever G.M. said that, probably should not be a G.M., quite frankly.”

While that G.M. would likely respond by saying, “Well, I’m a G.M. and Dominik isn’t,” that G.M. can’t say anything because that G.M. hasn’t gone on the record with the Jameis-JaMarcus comparison.

Yes, the anonymous sourcing of information fuels the journalism industry in many ways.  But the anonymous sourcing of opinion can be harder to handle, since the anonymous source of the opinion may be hoping to get the Buccaneers to waver on Winston, ultimately passing on him or trading the pick for less than the Bucs would otherwise want.

Without knowing who the anonymous source of the opinion is, it’s impossible to know whether that source secretly hopes the opinion will prompt the Buccaneers and other teams to get out of the way, so that the team for which the anonymous source works can draft Jameis Winston.

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NFLRA takes issue with perception (reality) that some officials were let go

Officials Getty Images

The NFL has seen 18.5-percent turnover in its game officials over the last two years.  And for good reason; as V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino said earlier this month, the league won’t keep officials who aren’t getting the job done.

“If an official isn’t performing up to the standards then they won’t be in the NFL,” Blandino said, confirming that the league “moved on from” some officials.

“Any official, in any competitive arena, could have a poor season, so one season may not necessarily cause us to terminate an official,” Blandino said.  “But if it becomes a trend, multiple seasons, we have a tier-based ranking system, the third tier being the lowest performers.  Once they enter Tier 3 we put them in an enhanced training regimen and put them in that program, and if we still don’t see improvement, that’s when we move on.”

The NFL Referees Association has taken issue with the characterization that five officials have been fired, via a Saturday morning press release.

“It is a totally inaccurate and disrespectful to these outstanding retiring game officials for anyone to give the impression or infer they were fired,” NFLRA executive director Jim Quirk said.  “After the reports surfaced, we immediately reached out to the League with our concerns.  We were pleased that during this conversation, management admitted that their public statements were misinterpreted, and they did not mean to give the impression the five retiring officials were fired.”

So who are the five officials who retired?  The NFLRA won’t say.

“Medical privacy laws do not permit me to publicly name the 20-plus-year veteran game officials who retired due to medical conditions,” Quirk said.

For 2015, the NFL has hired nine new officials, with five replacing those who aren’t returning and four new positions.

A league source confirmed that the NFLRA privately objected to the characterization the NFL has fired “some of its worst officials.”  But the source also acknowledged that some of the officials who “retired” had no intention of retiring, and thus were let go.

Which means that the league moved on from them.  Which means they were some of the league’s worst officials.

Before anyone takes up the cause of the officials who were involuntarily retired, keep in mind the broader goal of getting as many calls right as possible.  If people aren’t able to do that on a consistent basis, failure of the NFL to move on from “some of its worst officials” would justify far more criticism than whatever criticism has arisen from the league’s effort to improve the pool of game officials.

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Sanchez: We need another guy to throw, that’s why we signed Tebow

Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez AP

Mark Sanchez thinks Tim Tebow is a camp arm.

Sanchez told CSNPhilly.com that he’s been told Tebow was signed as another quarterback to give the receivers some work because Sam Bradford is still not 100 percent.

“He’s obviously a great guy, he works hard. And we needed another guy to throw while Sam’s still recovering,” Sanchez said. “So that’s the reason [for the signing], at least as explained to me. We’re excited about the upcoming year and I think we have a great group.”

But that reason makes no sense. If the Eagles just wanted another guy to throw, there are dozens of quarterbacks with better arms than Tebow who could do that job.

Where Tebow potentially has value to a team is in the things he can do beyond throwing the football: Tebow is good at escaping the pocket under pressure, good at making something happen when a play breaks down and good at managing the clock when his team is trailing in the fourth quarter. There’s value in those skills, which is why Tebow had some success as the Broncos’ starting quarterback.

But as a passer, Tebow is limited, which is why he has completed only 47.9 percent of his passes in his NFL career.

So while Sanchez may have been told that Tebow is just a camp arm, Chip Kelly must have other plans. If the Eagles wanted a camp arm, they would’ve signed someone with a better arm than Tebow.

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Dan Marino wouldn’t trade the Hall of Fame for a Super Bowl ring

Marino Getty Images

Dan Marino is on the short list of the greatest players never to win a championship, and he’s just fine with that.

Appearing at a Pro Football Hall of Fame function on Friday, Marino was asked whether he would trade the gold jacket that comes with Hall of Fame induction for a Super Bowl ring. Marino’s one-word answer: “No.”

Enshrinement in Canton represents the greatest individual achievement a pro football player can aspire to, and Marino isn’t just in Canton, but he’s even among the elite in the Hall of Fame, an easy choice as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

And yet a Super Bowl ring is what every player is playing for every year, and although this is probably unfair, virtually every story about Marino’s career mentions the absence of a ring.

Marino’s comments are reminiscent of a story from a couple years ago, when LaDainian Tomlinson said he’d take the Hall of Fame over a Super Bowl ring, while Tedy Bruschi shot back that a ring is the greater accomplishment. Tomlinson, of course, never got a ring but will likely get to the Hall of Fame, while Bruschi isn’t going to Canton but does have three Super Bowl rings.

Marino’s comments may be an accurate representation of the status of enshrinement in Canton as the greatest achievement for a football player. Or they may just be an attempt to look on the bright side on the one count where Marino’s career fell short.

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Report: LSU’s Jalen Collins has multiple failed drug tests

2015 NFL Scouting Combine Getty Images

Timing is everything in life.

And if you’re a fringe first-round prospect, having bad news emerge in the week before the 2015 NFL Draft is particularly poorly timed.

Via Albert Breer of the NFL Network, citing sources with four teams, LSU cornerback Jalen Collins had “multiple failed tests” for drugs during his college days.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily have to ruin his prospects, as a former teammate with a similar rap sheet has gone on to have a productive and positive start to his career.

But teams will also have to weigh his ability at a coveted position against the possibility that he might not be able to keep himself eligible.

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Greg Hardy has to abandon his Bentley on a flooded street

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When it rains, it pours.

Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy capped off a memorable first full week of work in Dallas by having to abandon his Bentley when flood-waters rose around it.

According to WFAA, the Bentley was ditched near the intersection of Interstate 35 and Continental Avenue. Hardy returned to take some personal items from the car, but declined comment on anything to the news crew, before leaving in a white Ferrari while the Bentley was being pulled from the water.

Of course, this was the same day he was involved in a verbal altercation with a teammate while working out, an incident that escalated when defensive tackle Davon Coleman made reference to the domestic violence which led to his 10-game suspension.

So yeah, he’s had better weeks.

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Roger Goodell says both Los Angeles stadium projects look good

Roger Goodell AP

St. Louis officials might have felt good about what they told the NFL this week.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that not one but two Los Angeles projects are also appealing to the league, based on what he’s seen of both stadium plans.

Speaking to the Associated Press Sports Editors Friday, Goodell said both the Inglewood site being planned by Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the Carson location being proposed for the Chargers and Raiders were both “viable” and have a “great deal of potential to be successful.”

We had presentations earlier this week that are very exciting,” Goodell said, via Barry Wilner of the Associated Press. “Not just for a return but to continue being successful going forward.”

He also suggested the timetable is accelerating, with the currently January 2016 window for applying for relocation could be moving up.

Goodell said he thought the St. Louis group was making progress, though it’s unclear if it’s too late to keep the Rams, as Kroenke has practically placed shovels next to the ground ready to move dirt in Inglewood.

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NFL moves on from ATC spotters with team affiliations

Spotter Getty Images

The ATC spotter charged with scanning the field for evidence of players in distress now has unprecedented power:  The ability to stop the game and direct the officials to remove a player for further evaluation.

Given the potential for that power to be abused through, for example, the erroneous perception that a quarterback needs to be removed from the game for evaluation on a key play late in the game, the NFL has decided to ensure that the ATC spotters have the appearance of independence.

According to the league office, any ATC spotter who has worked as an athletic trainer at any time for a team or who has been employed by any NFL team within the prior 20 years was relieved of their duties on Friday.

“It was done to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest with the new safety rule change regarding the medical timeout that was passed last month,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarth told PFT by email.

While that amounted to only 12 of the 64 spotters, the 12 presumably aren’t happy.  One of the 12, who requested anonymity, expressed strong disagreement with the move.

“It’s sad to me that the NFL overreacts in this way, so as to put people who are much less able to know what’s going on down on the field (since they’ve never been there, as an Athletic Training Intern, ATC, or otherwise) and are going to be calling and stopping play for things that are not necessary,” the now-former ATC spotter said.

The move underscores the unprecedented authority that the ATC spotter will have, along with the league’s ongoing responsibility to ensure that it’s exercised properly.  It also arguably underscores the need for ensuring that potential conflicts of interest be avoided for other league employees with influence on the game — an issue with which Patriots fans have become acutely familiar in the wake of the #DeflateGate scandal.

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Norv Turner tells Bridgewater doubters where to stick their brooms

New York Jets v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

A year ago, when the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of the NFL draft, there were plenty of doubts. After Bridgewater’s lousy Pro Day workout, some around the NFL believed he simply lacked the physical tools to become a franchise quarterback.

A year later, after Bridgewater showed a lot of promise as a rookie, the Vikings are feeling pretty good about their pick, and Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner is taking shots at those who doubted Bridgewater. Noting that one of the drills Bridgewater struggled with at his Pro Day involved throwing passes over upraised brooms, Turner said anyone who downgraded Bridgewater over that is a fool.

“Someone should take those brooms and shove them up someone’s backside,” Turner told ESPN.

Turner’s son Scott Turner, the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach, said Bridgewater made up for his poor Pro Day with a good private workout with the Vikings, and that alleviated any concerns.

“We didn’t think he put forth his best effort on his Pro Day, but we weren’t sounding alarms like the whole world was at the time,” Scott Turner said. “That [private] workout answered those questions for us, positively.”

A whole lot of teams are now wishing they hadn’t dropped Bridgewater on their boards just because he couldn’t throw over a broom.

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Unnamed scout on Kevin White: “He’s like Larry Fitzgerald”

TCU West Virginia Football AP

West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White is just about a lock to hear his name called in the first round of next week’s draft, with all but the matter of whether he’ll be the first player at his position to be taken to be decided.

In his latest mock draft, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris projected the Mountaineers star to come off the board at No. 7 to Chicago, calling White one of “a handful of foundation pieces in this draft.”

As a senior at West Virginia, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound White hauled in 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. He then proceeded to run an impressive 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.

White also received some high praise in Nolan Nawrocki’s 2015 NFL Draft Preview. In White’s scouting report, Nawrocki quoted an unnamed scout who called the West Virginia receiver “the top player in the East hands down.”

Said the unnamed scout: “He is the reason they are in every game. He’s like Larry Fitzgerald.”

On PFT Live in March, White said Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ star receiver, had given him good advice about competing in the NFL.

“He’s kind of like my mentor, somebody that I look up to that’s in the NFL,” White said.

The No. 3 overall pick 11 years ago, Fitzgerald has had a stellar career, one that figures to garner him serious Hall of Fame consideration. If White is in the same ballpark as Fitzgerald in terms of impact, some club is going to be very happy to have turned in a card with his name on it next Thursday in Chicago.

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Winston initially kept crab leg incident from Harbaugh, Fisch

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The primary headline this week regarding quarterback Jameis Winston arose from his about-face regarding the notion that he shoplifted crab legs from a grocery store in 2014.  Setting aside for now the question of whether Winston’s latest version of the events is accurate (Deadspin has made a persuasive case that it isn’t), there’s more to the story.

Specifically, there’s more to the story of how the story emerged.  Specifically, Winston initially omitted the story about the crab legs when generally asked about getting in trouble in the past.

In the episode of ESPN’s Draft Academy during which Winston provided an alternative version of the crab-leg caper, Winston and quarterback Bryce Petty met with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch as part of the preparation process for interviews at the Scouting Combine.

Harbaugh at one point asked Winston, “Any discipline when you were in high school?”

“Yes sir,” Winston said.  “I was disciplined for one game against John Carroll for laughing at my coach ’cause he cried, and he felt that I disrespected him.”

“What about in college?” Harbaugh said.

“In college, I got disciplined for a game against Clemson for standing up on a table and saying something wrong,” Winston said.  “That’s the only time I got disciplined in college.”

“Any encounters with the police?” Harbaugh said.

Winston then explained the incident involving a BB gun fight while hunting squirrels.

“The police had rolled up on us and thought I had an assault rifle,” Winston said.

Winston said nothing about the crab legs, for which he was cited for shoplifting and suspended from the Florida State baseball team.  Fisch pointed out the failure to mention the crab legs, and Winston reacted as if he’d forgotten about it.

“That’s like the elephant in the room for you,” Fisch said.  “I mean, everyone’s going to want to know what happened.  So don’t like by accident only talk about the BB gun and your high school coach crying and forget about the fact that everybody on SportsCenter read about that incident.  Because then it looks like you’re covering it up or you’re hiding it.”

“I screwed up, I f–ked up,” Harbaugh suggested as a quick way to deal with the situation.  “I f–ked up, learned from it.  You know, be serious as a heart attack.”

Then the alternative story emerged.

“How am I supposed to handle like if I just got them for free?” Winston said.

And that’s when Winston offered up the same version that he undoubtedly later gave to anyone from the NFL who asked him the question at the Scouting Combine or elsewhere.

For teams that already have decided that they’re comfortable with Winston, this surely won’t change their minds.  For teams that already have decided they’re not, it definitely won’t.  But for anyone still on the fence, maybe it will have an impact.

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Ray Rice tells Rutgers football players to “not make the mistakes that I made”

Navy v Rutgers Getty Images

Before Rutgers held its spring football game Friday night, a prominent former Scarlet Knights star addressed the team:

Ray Rice.

Rice, the former Ravens running back who has been out of the NFL since being released by the Ravens in September, told Steve Politi of New Jersey Advance Media he wanted to give the current Rutgers players some life advice.

“I just shot them straight. I’m sure if you speak to them, they’ll give you a lot better explanation of what I told them, but I gave them the message to go out there and not make the mistakes that I made,” Rice told Politi. “If I can help them understand, then I’ve made an impact. It costs no money to give them a good message like that.”

Rice was released by Baltimore after video surfaced of him striking his now-wife in an Atlantic City elevator. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, who asked Rice to talk to his players, told New Jersey Advance Media the former star running back had some valuable knowledge to share.

” . . . Ray made the wrong decision, and he’s held himself accountable to it, and he’s paid the price for it, and I thought today was an opportunity for him to deliver a message to try to prevent one of our young people doing that in the future,” Flood told Politi.

Rice rushed for nearly 5,000 yards in just three seasons at Rutgers and is the school’s all-time leading rusher.

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Irsay says it’s not “Super Bowl or bust” for Pagano

Irsay Getty Images

Last month, a report emerged that the Colts and coach Chuck Pagano aren’t expected to strike a new deal before the final year of his contract expires.  Owner Jim Irsay has remained silent, fueling speculation that Pagano could be on the outs if the team doesn’t get to the Super Bowl.

Irsay has finally addressed the situation, opting to downplay the situation.

“These things are ongoing a lot of times behind the scenes,” Irsay said Friday night at a charity gala to support Pagano’s efforts to raise funds to fight cancer, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.  “We’re working on contracts, whether it’s management, coaches, players.  We had discussions and it doesn’t mean that they won’t continue.  It’s not a Super Bowl-or-bust season or anything like that.”

Irsay’s comments leave the door open for a new deal before the season begins.

“Really, it’s only been two years, kind of, that he’s been coaching,” Irsay said, referring to the fact that Pagano missed most of his first year with the team while fighting cancer.  “So, he’s done a very good job and nothing rules out that we couldn’t have an extension done before the season.  And if not, we can still, I’m sure, work things out.”

Irsay said talks already have occurred regarding a new contract.  And Irsay seemed to blame the lack of a new contract on Pagano’s agent.

“There were some efforts to talk about it,” Irsay said.  “We just didn’t get there.  Sometimes that happens.  If you go back to the old days, there were no agents involved, either.  Now General Managers and coaches sometimes have agents. In fact, oftentimes. . . .  We’re real positive about Chuck Pagano and the things that he’s done.  It’s not a sign of anything extremely negative.  We just haven’t gotten anything done in terms of a long-term contract.”

Irsay’s words suggest that the absence of a contract doesn’t result from his reluctance to commit to Pagano, but from Pagano’s reluctance to commit to the terms the team has offered.  Which could set the stage not for Irsay to fire Pagano but for Pagano to walk away.

If he does, the vacancy in Indianapolis, with the presence of quarterback Andrew Luck, would become the most attractive job in the 2016 hiring cycle.

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Jets safety Jaiquawn Jarrett signs RFA tender

Jaiquawn Jarrett AP

A former second-round pick of the Eagles who’s rebuilt his career with the Jets has officially re-signed with New York.

Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, a restricted free agent, inked his one-year tender with the Jets on Friday, the club said.

The 25-year-old Jarrett started 5-of-14 games for the Jets in 2014, recording 40 tackles and intercepting two passes. Overall, he’s played 30-of-32 games with New York over the last two seasons. Jarrett will vie for playing time in a safety corps that includes 2014 first-round pick Calvin Pryor and ex-Charger Marcus Gilchrist.

A Temple product, Jarrett was the No. 54 overall selection in 2011. However, he lasted just 13 games with Philadelphia, which waived him early in the 2012 campaign. Nevertheless, Jarrett overcame that setback and earned his way back into the NFL, and he will be able to test unrestricted free agency after this season.

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