ProFootballTalk: After the departure of Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears are very thin at linebacker. Mike Florio expects them to take a linebacker early on in this year’s draft, even though the offensive line needs some help.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
ProFootballTalk: What position should the Bears target?
The first time that tight end Jerome Cunningham was waived this offseason, he didn’t have to move far to join his new team.
He’ll get a few frequent flier miles the second time around, though. The Titans announced on Wednesday that they used their top spot on the league’s waiver list to add Cunningham to their 90-man roster. Tennessee only had 89 players under contract so they didn’t need to make a corresponding roster move.
Cunningham was waived by the Jets on Tuesday when they signed running back Romar Morris. He joined the team earlier this month after being dropped by the Giants, who he played nine games for during the 2015 season.
Fourth-round defensive tackle Andrew Billings has signed his rookie contract with the Bengals.
A first-team AP All-American last season at Baylor, the 311-pound Billings was also named the Big 12’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. He should immediately see some snaps in the Bengals’ talented defensive line rotation.
The signing of Billings leaves only first-round cornerback William Jackson III unsigned among the team’s seven draft choices.
The Bengals also announced the signing of undrafted rookie fullback Andrew Bonnet, who signed with the Panthers after the draft and was released last week. To make room on the roster for Bonnet, kicker Jonathan Brown was waived-injured.
Jets quarterback Geno Smith has heard teammates like Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall talk about their desire to see Ryan Fitzpatrick back with the team for the 2016 season, but says that he doesn’t “really pay much attention to it” because he doesn’t think they’ve said anything negative about him.
In fact, Marshall said recently that the Jets will “be OK” if Fitzpatrick doesn’t return and Smith heads into the regular season as the starter. On Wednesday, Smith made it clear that his focus is on preparing himself for that possibility and not on watching to see if Fitzpatrick and the Jets bridge their gap and agree on a deal for this year.
“I believe that I do have an opportunity here, and I’ve just got to take advantage of it,” Smith said, via NJ.com. “If anyone has watched football over the years, it’s always been a process with quarterbacks. Every single quarterback has a different learning curve. Some come right in and blow it away. Some come in and struggle a little bit, and then they get it. For me, my confidence has always been there. I think the knowledge of the game, execution, having the game slow down for me, is something that will continue to grow.”
With no other teams sniffing around Fitzpatrick and the quarterback saying this week that he’ll be playing this season, it continues to look like he and the Jets will find their way back to one another. That will mean either a trip to the bench or the waiver wire for Smith, although there’s not much reason for him to worry about crossing that bridge until the Jets put him at the edge of it.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady continues to fight the NFL’s effort to suspend him four games. The Patriots finally have gotten directly involved in the matter and, in so doing, have taken aim at the manner in which the Commissioner and the rest of the league office handled the case.
On Wednesday, the Patriots submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in connection with Brady’s petition for a rehearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, calling the suspension of Brady a “highly manipulated and fundamentally unfair process designed and used by the Commissioner to reach and justify a predetermined outcome in violation of the” labor agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
Yes, the Patriots, one of the 32 members of the NFL, has argued in an eight-page court document that the NFL violated its duties and obligations under the CBA. While the team’s position isn’t surprising, it’s nevertheless jarring to see such an open and official challenge to the league by one of its teams.
From the first sentence, the brief submitted by the Patriots cuts sharply against the league’s interests, arguing that the controversy “presents an issue of exceptional importance [relating to] the extent to which settled precedent and fundamental fairness operate as a check on the broad authority of arbitrators,” and that the existing ruling “threatens to undermine vital principles governing arbitration of collective bargaining agreements throughout the national economy.” The NFLPA surely is thrilled by that observation, especially with a fresh round of full-scale labor talks less than five years away.
The brief points out that the Patriots “stand to lose their All-Pro quarterback for 25 % of the upcoming regular season based on a severely flawed process,” and that “[u]nfairness has permeated the entire handling of this matter by the League.” Again, it’s not a shock that the Patriots believe this, but it’s a big deal to see it reduced to writing and submitted to a federal appeals court.
The Patriots specifically argue that the Commissioner “treated Mr. Brady’s appeal not as an appeal but as a continuation of the investigation,” which resulted in “new findings” that “shifted the basis for his discipline of Mr. Brady in a decision from which Mr. Brady then had no appeal rights.” At footnote 2 to the brief, the Patriots allege that “the League’s conduct reflects less a search for the truth than pursuit of a pre-determined result,” and points out that the NFL “leaked materially incorrect PSI information and refused to correct it for months, allowing public misperceptions to fester.”
That’s a direct reference to the ESPN report that 11 of 12 footballs were measured at 2.0 pounds under the minimum PSI level of 12.5, which the Patriots (and anyone else paying attention) came directly from league employees. The Ted Wells report, issued roughly three months later, demonstrated the gross inaccuracy of the ESPN report.
The Patriots also focus on the Commissioner’s refusal to give Brady access to notes of interviews with league officials who observed the testing of the footballs during halftime of the January 2015 AFC title game and the flawed science of the Wells Report. The Patriots explain that, without the interview notes, it was impossible for Brady to test the assumptions that were made regarding the critical issue of the timing of the PSI measurements during halftime.
“That left Mr. Brady unable to challenge the fundamental premise of the Wells Report,” the Patriots contend, “that science alone does not explain the PSI of the Patriots footballs.”
Elsewhere in the brief, the Patriots claim that the Commissioner “misstated” evidence regarding Brady’s explanation of his interactions with team employee John Jastremski on the key question of Brady’s credibility as a witness. The Commissioner had said that Brady claimed he spoke to Jastremski only about preparation of footballs for Super Bowl XLIX, which in the Commissioner’s view made Brady’s testimony not believable. However, the transcript shows that Brady testified he spoke to Jastremski about both the preparation of footballs and the then-new allegations of potential tampering with footballs. The not-so-subtle point is that the Patriots are directly attacking the credibility of the Commissioner’s attack on Brady’s credibility.
Finally, the Patriots challenge the Commissioner’s decision that Brady’s “non-retention of his cell phone was evidence of guilt without acknowledging that” investigators already had said they didn’t want to take possession of the phone or remove information from it, that Brady supplied the NFL with a full list of persons with whom calls and texts were exchanged, and that the league already had the phones of the two alleged culprits in the tampering scheme, Jastremski and Jim McNally.
The Patriots conclude by arguing that the pending decision of the Second Circuit “endorsed the outcome of a highly manipulated and fundamentally unfair process designed and used by the Commissioner to reach and justify a predetermined outcome in violation of the CBA and this Court’s precedents,” that the ruling “renders meaningless the vital protections afforded by a bargained-for right to appeal and to obtain and present pertinent evidence,” and that “[i]ts impacts will be felt far beyond the NFL.”
Whether the impact of the Patriots’ aggressive maneuver will be felt beyond the confines of this specific case remains to be seen. Regardless, the Patriots — who opted not to pursue an appeal of their own penalties arising from the deflation allegations in the hopes that Brady would be shown lenience — have finally done what their fans have wanted them to do for months.
In an official legal document, the Patriots have pointed a finger directly at the behavior and agenda of the Commissioner and his inner circle.
Few college football players have suffered an injury as devastating to their NFL prospects as former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was viewed as a first-round prospect before blowing out his knee in December of 2014 and ultimately fell all the way to the seventh round. Ekpre-Olomu hasn’t played in an NFL game yet, but he says he’s now been given a clean bill of health.
Ekpre-Olomu told the Miami Herald that his doctor “said I’m perfectly fine.”
The Browns waived Ekpre-Olomu this offseason, suggesting that the new regime in Cleveland doesn’t believe his knee is ever going to be perfectly fine. But he was claimed by the Dolphins on waivers and says he’s happy where he is.
“It was something with new management; they wanted to go in a different direction,” Ekpre-Olomu said of the Browns. “And I guess I wasn’t in that direction. I’m happy I’m here.”
If Ekpre-Olomu ever returns to the form that he showed at Oregon, the Dolphins will be happy to have him in Miami, too.
The Broncos are down to one unsigned draft pick.
Second-round defensive tackle Adam Gotsis agreed to a four-year deal with the team on Wednesday, leaving quarterback Paxton Lynch as the only one of the team’s eight picks without a contract. Gotsis was born in Australia and became the highest drafted Australian in league history when the Broncos tabbed him with the 63rd overall pick.
Gotsis will be in the mix of players vying for playing time up front on defense after the departure of Malik Jackson as a free agent this offseason. His attempt to nail down that playing time will be delayed until training camp as Gotsis is going to be on the sideline until training camp as a result of a torn ACL he suffered while at Georgia Tech last year.
Dwight Freeney is in Cincinnati on Wednesday to meet with the Bengals, but it doesn’t look like that will be the end of his search for a home for the 2016 season.
Jim Trotter of ESPN reports that Freeney told him that he expects to visit with the Falcons next week.
The Falcons came into the offseason with a need to boost the pass rush provided by their front seven. They signed linebacker Courtney Upshaw and defensive end Derrick Shelby, drafted a couple of linebackers and are moving Vic Beasley from defensive end to linebacker.
Freeney had eight sacks in 11 games after signing with the Cardinals during the 2015 season. That led Arizona and it would have led Atlanta by a comfortable margin — Beasley topped the team with four sacks — which makes Freeney the kind of established pass rushing threat that the Falcons still don’t have on hand for the coming season.
It didn’t take a long listen to owners leaving yesterday’s league meeting in Charlotte to realize that a major PR push was in effect, and that someone — cough, Joe Lockhart, cough — seems to have leaned on all NFL personnel to push the “Mom” button as often as possible while talking about player safety.
And we’re already seeing that message spread out from the member clubs.
The Cardinals sent out a press release today advertising a “Football Skills and Education Camp” this weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium. As part of the camp, they’re hosting a “Mom’s Football Safety Clinic” aimed at “mothers of the high school football players participating at the camp.” The Cardinals are also trotting out Dr. Javier Cardenas, a neurologist at Barrow Neurological Institute to speak to the football camp and the mom’s clinic about concussions. It’s not the first such event they’ve held, but it’s hard not to see the timing.
Of course, it’s all a good and noble effort, steps taken in good faith to make sure all those connected with this great and glorious game know how safe it is. And Bills General Manager Doug Whaley decided after a good night’s sleep that he didn’t really mean it yesterday when he said football wasn’t a game meant to be played by humans.
Again, this is the tip of the spear, the beginning of a major public relations effort on the part of the NFL, which isn’t even ashamed to admit it.
In fact, Jets owner Woody Johnson summed up their plan yesterday better than we ever could.
“Things have a way of changing when they go through other people’s mouths,” Johnson said. “We have to do a better job of explaining ourselves — this is what we’re doing, this is our intent and to convince people we’re honest in what we’re trying to do and that we have integrity. . . .
“The press try to spin one way or the other. Trying to get the real story out without spin is difficult.”
So obviously, they’re going to take up that challenge on their own. Buckle up, moms, the NFL is coming for you.
On Monday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association filed a petition for rehearing of the ruling that reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension. On Tuesday, a group of professors of physics and engineering submitted a brief in support of Brady’s position.
The eight-page document, filed by 21 professors at MIT, Cal, Michigan, USC, Stanford, Delaware, Purdue, Penn, Boston College, Minnesota, focuses on the application of the Ideal Gas Law to the footballs used by the Patriots during the AFC championship game played in January 2015. It strongly disputes the conclusions made by the NFL in the investigation that resulted in a finding that tampering with footballs had occurred.
The argument is fundamentally no different than the point PFT has made consistently since the official PSI numbers were released in May 2015: With the Ideal Gas Law necessarily causing the air pressure in the footballs to drop during the first half of the game, tampering with the footballs would have resulted in dramatically lower readings than the actual numbers measured by the NFL.
Included with the written presentation is a claim that the professors have obtained field-temperature date for more than 10,000 outdoor NFL games played since 1960, and that approximately 61 percent of all games would have included footballs that dropped in air pressure below the minimum of 12.5 PSI, if the footballs were inflated to 13.0 at kickoff. For footballs inflated (as the Patriots were) toward the low end of the range, roughly 82 percent of all games would have included footballs below the minimum.
“As professors, we cannot fathom how it is permissible to impose punishment for the possibility of a negligible increment of pressure loss, when underinflated footballs are common to NFL games, when laws of physics cause much larger pressure drops, and when the very possibility of an additional increment of pressure loss was generated from assumptions of the league’s choosing rather than data,” the brief concludes. “In the name of science, we support the petition for rehearing.”
Technically irrelevant to the issues pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the brief contains the kind of commonsensical information that could persuade a judge to take a more favorable view of the overall case. And while footnote No. 1 to the brief points out that “[n]o party’s counsel authored this brief in whole or in part” and that “[n]o party, no counsel for any party, and no person other than [the professors] or their counsel contributed money that was intended to fund preparation or submission of this brief,” it’s a development that Brady and the NFLPA surely welcome. It also wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the legal team representing Brady and the NFLPA instigated the filing.
Why shouldn’t they? The scientific principles articulated in the brief are accurate, but those same principles haven’t received nearly the attention they deserve, at any stage of the disciplinary process or the litigation.
The numbers measured by the NFL were in line with what the science would have predicted. If air deliberately had been removed from the footballs, the PSI readings necessarily would have been much, much lower.
Thus, to the extent that Brady’s suspension arises from tampering with footballs used in the January 2015 AFC title game, the evidence of tampering remains inconclusive at best. Even if that dynamic is never mentioned by any judge serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in any further documents generated by these proceedings, the 13 judges who will be determining whether to grant the request for a rehearing need to process and digest the information provided by these 21 professors.
Boykin worked out for the Falcons earlier this week. A source indicated to McClure that Boykin is healthy and that the Falcons choosing not to sign him is a football decision, not one based on any outside factors.
The Panthers released Boykin earlier this month after signing him in March. He became a free agent after playing last season with the Steelers, who acquired him in a preseason trade with the Eagles.
Boykin, 26, had six of his eight career interceptions in 2013 with the Eagles. He played in all 16 games for the Steelers last season, mostly in nickel packages.
The Falcons will likely stay active in their search for cornerback help. Second-year cornerback Jalen Collins is facing a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season, and the Falcons did not address the position in this year’s draft.
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh spoke to the media after Wednesday’s OTA session and one of the topics that came up was the team’s move indoors at their new stadium.
Walsh said it’s “always easier to kick indoors,” but added that he felt he “had one of my better years as a pro” while the Vikings were playing their home games outdoors in 2015. That was true for much of the season, although Walsh’s final kick at TCF Bank Stadium is the one that most people remember.
That was the 27-yard field goal that he hooked wide left with 22 seconds left in the team’s 10-9 playoff loss to the Seahawks. Walsh says the kick was one moment in his career that he “won’t define me” as a player.
“I’m way past the point of being upset about it or, you know, to the point where it bothers you like that,” Walsh said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It’s something I’ve already dealt with and gone through. On a day-to-day basis, no, I don’t think about it. I really don’t use it like that. That initial month or so period, I definitely looked at it as motivation for me. But, like I said before, I had a good year. That was enough motivation for me going into this year.”
Any high-pressure kicks that Walsh has to take this year will come with some added intrigue and any misses in those spots will surely lead some to conclude that he wilts in those situations. If Walsh makes them all, though, the definition of his career will include more than one bad kick on a cold January afternoon in Minneapolis.
It was no secret that Miami wouldn’t get another Super Bowl without significant renovations to the football stadium in which the Dolphins play. However, the renovations hardly guaranteed a return of the NFL’s title game to South Florida.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Dolphins nearly failed to secure the right to host any of the three Super Bowls awarded by NFL owners on Tuesday.
The Super Bowl LIII vote included Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Tampa. After the first ballot, all four cities remained viable. After the second ballot, Tampa exited. Next, Miami was out — leaving Atlanta and New Orleans as the two finalists.
New Orleans nearly pulled it out, according to the source, thanks to a much more impressive than expected presentation from Gayle Benson, the wife of Saints owner Tom Benson. And if New Orleans had secured the rights to Super Bowl LIII, it’s believed Atlanta would have easily beaten Miami for Super Bowl LIV. (New Orleans did not bid on Super Bowls LIV or LV.)
Even without New Orleans or Atlanta to contend with, Miami nearly lost the Super Bowl LIV competition with Tampa. As the source said, it should have been an easy win for Miami, but it wasn’t.
While the ultimate selection of Atlanta, Miami, and L.A. surprised few, the point is that it wasn’t the slam dunk that many had envisioned. Which likely doesn’t provide much consolation for Tampa and New Orleans.
Still, the close-but-no-cigar outcome should give both cities hope for landing a Super Bowl the next time Super Bowls are awarded. Which is good for the NFL, since it could keep Tampa and New Orleans from saying, “Screw it” and opting out of the Super Bowl bidding process.
It ultimately could be bad for Miami when it comes to securing what would be the city’s 12th Super Bowl. Chances are that New Orleans will match Miami with 11 Super Bowls before Miami gets its next one after Super Bowl LIV.
Ladarius Green’s 2015 season with the Chargers was cut short by an ankle injury, and the ankle continues to hold him back now in Pittsburgh.
Green, a tight end who signed with the Steelers in March, is missing the start of Organized Team Activities because of surgery on the ankle. Green said he isn’t sure when he’ll be back, but he is expected to participate in training camp.
“I just want to see if I can prove it to myself that I can go out there and be the best,” Green told ESPN.
The Steelers presumably knew the status of Green’s injured ankle when they signed him, and so this is likely not a major concern. But it bears watching to see how long into training camp they’ll have to wait for their offense to be at full strength.
Bills General Manager Doug Whaley made some headlines on Tuesday when he said during a radio interview that football is “a violent game that I personally don’t think humans are supposed to play.”
It was an odd position for a man charged with fielding a team of humans to play football to make while answering a question about wide receiver Sammy Watkins being injury prone. Hearing that from a team executive was particularly jarring at a time when the NFL is working hard to make the case that they are making the game a safer one.
On Wednesday, Whaley hewed more closely to that party line while walking back what he said the previous day.
“Clearly I used a poor choice of words in my comment yesterday morning,” Whaley said in the statement. “As a former player who has the utmost respect and love for the game, the point that I was trying to make is that football is a physical game and injuries are a part of it. Playing football no doubt is very physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, and that is all part of what make the game so compelling to play and watch. The game has more protection for players now than ever, thanks largely to the safety advancements and numerous rule changes made by our league and promoted to all levels of football. I believe our game continues to have a bright future and I hope that this statement provides clarity as to the intent of my earlier comment.”
The brightness of Whaley’s future with the Bills will have plenty to do with how the team fares this season, making the health of the human beings he brought to Buffalo of paramount importance.
In some precincts, teams are surprised by guys who are able to practice during OTAs.
In Washington, they can’t be surprised by one of the guys who isn’t.
This one gets the trusty #asexpected hashtag, because Jackson has never been what you’d call a regular attendee during the offseason.
The 29-year-old Jackson only played nine games last year because of injuries, and is carrying a $9.25 million cap number in the final year of his deal.
But Washington seems intent on hanging onto him, to go with Pierre Garcon and first-round pick Josh Doctson this year. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was recently bragging about his many targets, but he’s short one today.