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Who’s left? Exploring the remaining free agents

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field following the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeatred the Packers 38-30.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing golf. Without a contract, he’s not going to training camp this week.

Fitzpatrick hasn’t said much about his situation, and the Jets basically issued a gag order six weeks ago. So, we’ll see what happens with camp starting and teams across the league getting back to work.

PFT has put together a list of other players who are still unsigned as camps open. Most of them are older players who might wait until the regular season begins or end up atop the emergency call list various player personnel departments keep as they shuffle their 90-man camp rosters and deal with various injuries and situations. Past Fitzpatrick, who’s clearly the most intriguing unsigned player, the players are listed in no particular order…

Fitzpatrick – His staredown with the Jets continues. It could get really interesting if Geno Smith has a great start to camp or if some other team that believes it’s a contender loses its quarterback to injury in August.

Dwight Freeney – He’s made a few visits and figures to eventually have some real suitors given how well (eight sacks in 11 games) he played last season for the Cardinals. Waiting last year seemed to work, so Freeney, 36, probably will have no problem being patient as he awaits a call and a chance to play a 15th season.

Greg Hardy – Hardy brings baggage, but lots of teams are looking for pass rushers. He recently visited the Jaguars, but reports say no signing is imminent. A team would have to be convinced that Hardy can still be an impact player before taking him on.

Anquan Boldin – Boldin is 35, but it’s not like he was ever a speed burner. He knows how to get open and how to catch passes in traffic, and he’ll eventually land with a team that wants him to play in the slot and help keep the chains moving.

Omar Bolden – While most players on this list are on the wrong side of 30, Bolden is 27. He signed with the Bears in March but was cut last week. Bolden can help in the return game as well as playing as a backup defensive back, and he probably won’t be unemployed for long.

Brian Hartline – Released by the Browns in the spring, Hartline had a productive 2015 before an injury ended his season. He’s not going to be a starter, but like Boldin he’s probably near the top of the call list for teams who either lose a receiver in camp or are looking to upgrade the slot position.

Antonio Cromartie – He’s 32, but he’s missed very few starts over his 10-year career and has generally been around the ball. He went without an interception in 15 starts last season, so teams might be wondering if he can still keep up.

Michael Vick – After subbing with the Steelers last season, Vick recently has been campaigning for a job and saying he’d like to play one more season. He signed during camp last summer, and it would likely be a similar scenario this time around if he’s going to land with a team.

John Kuhn – The longtime Packers fullback has said he’s confident he’ll get a call soon, even if it’s not from the Packers.

Mike Neal – It’s surprising that Neal, who just turned 29, remains unemployed given that he had four sacks for the Packers last year, has starting experience and can play both defensive end and outside linebacker.

Leon Hall – The former first-rounder and longtime Bengals cornerback has taken some visits but has not yet found a home. If Hall, 31, doesn’t return to the Bengals, look for him to sign with another contender and play as a third or fourth cornerback.

Percy Harvin – Harvin reportedly has chosen retirement and doesn’t plan to play in 2016, but there’s never been much predictable about Harvin.

Joique Bell – If Bell is healthy, he can contribute in some team’s running back rotation. Given his injury history, it might be a while before a team gives him a call.

Donte Whitner – The Browns released Whitner after the start of free agency. He’s 31 and didn’t have a strong 2015 season, but he was good in 2014 for the Browns. He’s likely atop the emergency call list of many teams if a need at strong safety arises.

Randy Starks – Like Whitner, Starks was released by the Browns in the offseason. Starks, 32, had a quiet season on a bad team last year, but his ability to rush the passer and play multiple positions across the defensive line make him an attractive target for a team that decides it wants to boost its depth.

Stephen Tulloch – Finally released by the Lions earlier this month, Tulloch, 31, figures to be on the call list of a few teams if a need at inside linebacker arises — and if Tulloch is healthy.

Roddy White – His breakup with the Falcons came as no surprise. White will turn 35 in November, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team give him a look in late August or early September.

James Jones – Jones ended up playing a pretty important role for the Packers last season. It’s no surprise that the team is going young at wide receiver, but Jones, 32, will eventually get a call from some team.

Andre Johnson – He’s 35, but remains hopeful some team will give him a shot.

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Market for game-worn memorabilia could grow dramatically

508993122 Getty Images

The long-pending lawsuit against the Giants over allegedly fraudulent game-worn memorabilia exposes a pair of truths about this industry: (1) it could be extremely lucrative; and (2) items must be harvested and sold in a way that ensures authenticity.

Agent Neil Schwartz is spreading the word about the potential benefits of selling game-worn jerseys, helmets, cleats, and other equipment, both at the NFL and college level. He estimates that, currently, the market for game-work memorabilia accounts for $100 million of a broader memorabilia industry (trading cards, autographs, etc.) that generates $1.5 billion per year. Schwartz believes that the market for game-worn memorabilia eventually could be worth $1 billion per year on its own.

The key, according to Schwartz, is the authenticity of the items.

“If people are truly buying a piece of history so that they can feel connected to that moment in time, the NFL and its players need to make sure that memorabilia is genuine,” Schwartz said.

The best way to ensure authentication is to identify reputable companies that specialize in ensuring that, for example, a jersey worn by Von Miller in Super Bowl 50 really was worn by Von Miller in Super Bowl 50. Apart from the money that players could make by selling game-worn memorabilia in the immediate aftermath of a memorable game or performance, fans will know with full confidence that they are purchasing an item that legitimately and actually was used during a specific game by a specific player.

The NFL and NFL Players Association likely would have to work out some of the details, given that the teams technically own the jerseys. Still, game-worn jerseys have no additional value unless they are (duh) worn by a specific player during a game.

As applied to college football, retaining and later selling game-worn memorabilia could help ensure that players who aren’t being paid find a way to obtain compensation for their services, albeit on a belated basis. Put simply, college players can take steps to properly preserve game-worn gear and then sell it after their eligibility has concluded.

Schwartz believes that agents could become involved in facilitating game-worn memorabilia sales, with a cut of the proceeds potentially replacing the agent’s fee on, for example, the player’s first NFL contract. Or (more likely) the schools and the NCAA could create a system that gathers, retains, and markets the game-worn gear after the player’s eligibility expires.

Consider the potential value of, for example, jerseys and other gear worn each and every week by the player who eventually wins the Heisman Trophy, or by the player who becomes the No. 1 pick in the draft. If there were a way for fans to bid on those items close in time to, for example, a dominant performance in a major bowl game, the value of the item could skyrocket.

Last year, one jersey worn by LSU running back Leonard Fournette drew a high bid of $101,000 at an auction benefiting South Carolina hurricane victims. How much would each of Fournette’s 2016 jerseys and other equipment be worth if he sold at auction if promptly after his eligibility expires?

Currently, items often are sold under the table by still-eligible players, who end up getting far less than the items would be worth through a process of competitive bidding. An organized system for gathering and selling game-worn gear at the appropriate time would maximize the return, and minimize the chances of a player’s eligibility being undermined by trading gear for something of value, like tattoos.

If done properly, players will be able to buy their own tattoos along with plenty of other stuff, fans will have access to one-of-a-kind items, and a largely-untapped market could mushroom.

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NFL posts the 2016 rule book online

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 24:  Referees huddle in conference during the NFL preseason game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on August 24, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before you complain about the officials this season, you’ll want to make sure you actually know the rules. Fortunately, the NFL has published the entire 217-page rule book online.

The whole rule book is available as a PDF here.

The most noteworthy part of the rule book, which is on Page 2, where it identifies the changes to the rules this year. Those include:

1. It is now a delay of game penalty if a team is erroneously granted a timeout.

2. The offensive and defensive play callers can use the coach-to-helmet communications system regardless of whether the coach is in the booth or on the sideline.

3. There is no longer a five-yard penalty for illegally touching a pass after being out of bounds and then re-establishing inbounds, but it is a loss of down.

4. The line of scrimmage for extra point kicks is permanently the 15-yard line.

5. Touchbacks on kickoffs are now moved to the 25-yard line.

6. All chop blocks are illegal.

7. The horse-collar tackle rule now includes a defender grabbing the jersey at the name plate or above.

8. A player who gets two fouls for certain kinds of unsportsmanlike conduct is automatically ejected.

9. Multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession have been eliminated.

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Training camps: When, where and key dates for all 32 teams

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Will Allen

In a little more than four weeks, the first NFL training camps open.

Only 11 teams are going away for camp, both because many teams just find it easier to stay in their multi-million dollar facilities and because the new CBA cut down on camp time and on-field hours.

Though all teams can report for camp 15 days before their preseason opener, each team manages open practices and some early workouts differently. Below is a list of every team’s first full practice; teams that leave their home sites/facilities for camp are noted, as are key training camp dates.

AFC

Baltimore Ravens

First practice: July 29

Key dates: Open practices at M&T Bank Stadium Aug. 1 and Aug. 6

Buffalo Bills – at St. John Fisher College, Rochester

First practice: July 30

Cincinnati Bengals

First practice: July 29

Key dates: The Bengals host the Vikings for joint practices Aug. 10-11

Cleveland Browns

First practice: July 29

Key dates: Aug. 6, intrasquad scrimmage at Ohio Stadium in Columbus; Aug. 23-24 practices with the Buccaneers in Tampa

Denver Broncos

First practice: July 28

Key dates: The Broncos host the 49ers for joint practices Aug. 17-18.

Houston Texans

First practice: July 31

Key dates: Joint practices at 49ers Aug. 12 and vs. the Saints Aug. 18-19

Indianapolis Colts – at Anderson University, Anderson, Ind.

First practice: July 27

Jacksonville Jaguars

First practice: July 28

Key dates: Intrasquad stadium scrimmage Aug. 5. The Jaguars will host the Buccaneers for joint practices Aug. 17-18.

Kansas City Chiefs – at Missouri Western State University, St. Joseph, Mo.

First practice: July 30

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins haven’t yet released official camp dates.

New England Patriots

First practice: July 28

Key dates: Joint practices with the Saints (Aug. 9-10) and Bears (Aug. 15-16).

New York Jets

First practice: July 28. Only six practices will be open to the public.

Oakland Raiders – at Napa Valley, Ca.

The Raiders haven’t yet released official camp dates.

Pittsburgh Steelers – at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa.

First practice: July 29

Key dates: Aug. 9-10 joint practices with the Lions

San Diego Chargers

First practice: July 30

Key dates: Joint practice with Cardinals Aug. 16 in Qualcomm Stadium

Tennessee Titans

First practice: July 30

Key dates: Aug. 6 stadium practice open to fans

NFC

Arizona Cardinals

First practice: July 29

Key dates: Joint practice at Chargers Aug. 16

Atlanta Falcons

First practice: July 28

Key dates: Aug. 5 “Friday Night Lights” practice at Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga.

Carolina Panthers – at Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C.

First practice: July 28

Chicago Bears – at Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Ill.

First practice: July 28

Key dates: Aug. 6 practice at Soldier Field; Aug. 15-16 joint practices at the Patriots

Dallas Cowboys – at Oxnard, Ca.

First practice: July 30

Detroit Lions

First practice: July 29, though the Lions have not yet released a full camp schedule.

Key dates: Aug. 9-10 joint practices at the Steelers

Green Bay Packers – at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis.

First practice: July 26

Key dates: July 31, Family Night at Lambeau Field

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams haven’t yet released a full camp schedule.

Minnesota Vikings – at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Min.

Key dates: Joint practices vs. Bengals in Cincinnati Aug. 10-11

New York Giants

First practice: July 29

New Orleans Saints – at The Greenbrier, White Sulfur Springs, W.V.

First practice: July 28

Key dates: Joint practices at the Patriots Aug. 9-10 and at the Texans Aug. 18-19

Philadelphia Eagles

First practice: July 28

Key dates: Open practices at Lincoln Financial Field on July 31 and Aug. 14

San Francisco 49ers

First practice: July 31

Key dates: The 49ers will host the Texans for a joint practice Aug. 12, then visit Denver for joint practices Aug. 17-18.

Seattle Seahawks

First practice: July 30

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

First practice: July 30

Key dates: Joint practices at the Jaguars (Aug. 17-18) and vs. the Browns (Aug. 23-24)

Washington Redskins – at Bon Secours Training Center, Richmond, Va.

First practice: July 28

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10 takeaways from the O.J. Simpson documentary

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 8:  O.J. Simpson (L), Johnnie Cochran Jr. (C) and Robert Shapiro (R) watch the jury come into the courtroom 08 May during the O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles.  The trial is in the DNA testimony phase by expert Dr. Robin Cotton.             AFP PHOTO  (Photo credit should read RICK MEYER/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

Last weekend, I watched all five parts of ESPN’s O.J. Simpson documentary. Even with high expectations arising from the widespread praise the documentary received, it was riveting.

In 1994 and 1995, after the murders occurred and the trial unfolded, I didn’t understand why things happened they way they did, either because I wasn’t able or inclined to pay extremely close attention to the case or because I hadn’t been practicing law long enough to understand how everything pieced together. Now, seven years after wrapping up an 18-year law practice (yeah, I’m old), I’ve got a much better understanding of how it all fits together, and why the Pro Football Hall of Famer walked away from life behind bars.

So in this sort-of-off-topic post, I’ll share 10 things that became clear to me after reliving in two days a case that was a major part of American life for the better part of two years.

1. He did it.

Part Four of the documentary includes a pair of crime-scene photos that on one hand I wish I’d never seen but on the other hand I’m glad I did.

The image of the damage the killer did to the throat and neck of Nicole Brown Simpson tells me everything I need to know about this case: Simpson did it, clearly, unequivocally, and beyond any plausible or implausible doubt.

The deep, gaping wound that nearly decapitated Nicole Brown Simpson reveals a level of raw passion and emotion that rarely if ever is mustered against a stranger. It was extreme overkill, committed either by someone with mental faculties sufficiently warped that it should have been easy to catch the killer or by someone who personally knew Nicole Brown Simpson and harbored a torrent of emotions that, in the wrong place at the wrong time, manifested themselves in the worst way possible.

In this case, it was both. Simpson had the requisite passion for the victim and, in that moment, the necessary lack of sanity to do what he clearly, undoubtedly did.

2. The Rodney King case contributed directly to the outcome.

The brutal beating of Rodney King, an African-American man, by L.A. police officers in 1991, and their subsequent acquittal by an all-white jury in California state court, influenced the Simpson case in a significant way. District Attorney Gil Garcetti opted to try the Simpson case in a portion of the county that would ensure a more diverse jury. Without the King case, a decision to nudge the case toward a much whiter jury pool may have been made.

The King case also ensured that the predominantly African-American jury in Simpson’s case would be receptive to evidence of potential police misconduct. There indeed was plenty of evidence of potential police misconduct — including the one piece of evidence that, as explained below, ensured an acquittal.

3. The prosecution was outworked.

Great lawyers excel before a judge and a jury. Most cases are won (or lost), however, by the effort expended (or not) away from the courtroom.

Trial work is exhilarating. When court is in session, the trial lawyer serves as the producer, director, writer, and lead actor in a play that unfolds simultaneously with another play aimed at sending a directly conflicting message to the same audience. Throughout the process, the scripts are being constantly rewritten on the fly, with much of the dialogue becoming improvisation.

For most lawyers, the ability to thrive in those moments comes from a willingness to put in hours and hours and hours (and hours) of preparation. Lawyers must have a full mastery of the entire universe of evidence that could be introduced, along with a specific plan for dealing with any evidence that cuts against their preferred message to the jury. Before trial begins, lawyers must think creatively about every possible avenue that the opponent may explore when searching for facts that would support its own message. At trial, lawyers must be ready to act immediately if the case heads down any of the various possible paths that could emerge.

In the Simpson case, the best example of this dynamic came from Barry Scheck’s extensive cross-examination of LAPD criminologist Dennis Fung. Simpson’s lawyers studied hours of tedious, boring video of Fung and his colleagues collecting evidence. Someone eventually spotted an image of Fung picking up a bloody envelope from the crime scene with his bare hands.

The prosecution clearly hadn’t seen it before trial, because Scheck was able not only to point out the flaw in Fung’s procedures but also to set Fung up for the dramatic moment when the video was played, getting him to testify in advance that he didn’t touch the envelope without a glove on his hand.

How about that, Mr. Fung?” Scheck said when the image of Fung grabbing the envelope without a glove on his hand was displayed, before being nudged by Judge Lance Ito into expanding the statement into an actual question. It was the kind of moment that gets tattooed onto the brains of jurors.

Likewise, Simpson’s lawyers compared the photo of a drop of blood collected from a gate at the crime scene three weeks after the murders to a photo of the same gate taken closer in time to the murders. In the earlier photo, there was no blood on the gate, creating suspicion that blood had been added to the gate later, to enhance the case.

Simpson’s lawyers could have found those two photos only be scouring hundreds of images, reviewing each of them carefully and meticulously.

These are just two examples of specific wrinkles in the evidence that Simpson’s lawyers discovered and then devised a way to use. The prosecution either didn’t know about these nuances or wasn’t sufficiently worried about them to have a convincing rebuttal ready to unleash, if needed.

It’s no surprise. For starters, prosecutors don’t get paid by the hour. They’re on salary, so there’s zero financial incentive to grind and grind and grind some more. Likewise, prosecutors are accustomed to running roughshod over court-appointed defense lawyers lacking the ability or the work ethic to do what Simpson’s lawyers did.

Perhaps most importantly, the prosecutors were so confident in the strength of the overall evidence that they believed they didn’t need to spend the time necessary to ensure that Simpson’s team of brilliant, high-priced defense lawyers wouldn’t piece together, methodically but inevitably, enough moments of doubt to create the kind of “reasonable doubt” that circumvents a conviction.

4. Mark Fuhrman wasn’t properly grilled during pre-trial meetings.

Trial preparation consists of more than methodically searching for needles in the opponent’s haystacks. It also requires taking the time to search for potential land mines in your own backyard.

Mark Fuhrman had plenty of them. And the prosecution had reason to know about all of them. However, the prosecution failed to find the worst of them.

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, acting on a tip from his former law professor and Simpson defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, found the first one. Fuhrman had filed a claim for an early pension from the LAPD based on the notion that the impact of the job had caused him to harbor horribly racist thoughts and attitudes. Toobin’s work culminated in a July 1994 article in The New Yorker outlining the defense team’s plans to paint Fuhrman as sufficiently motivated by race to plant one of two bloody gloves from the crime scene at Simpson’s house.

Amazingly, one of Simpson’s attorneys admitted that the defense team was developing this theory, barely a month after Simpson was arrested and six months before the trial began.

“Suppose he’s actually found two gloves at the murder scene,” the attorney told Toobin. “He transports one of them over to the house and then ‘finds’ it back in that little alleyway where no one can see him.”

It was a Babe Ruth gesture to the centerfield wall by Simpson’s lawyers. In response, the prosecution grooved a fastball through the middle of the strike zone and stood back to watch what would happen.

Here’s what should have happened. As soon as Toobin’s article was published, Garcetti, Marcia Clark, and the rest of the prosecution’s team of lawyers should have summoned Fuhrman for an extended meeting during which Fuhrman would have been pressed aggressively to disclose anything and everything that he has said and/or done that ever could have been characterized as reflecting a racial bias. If done properly, this effort would have resulted in the prosecution knowing about the horribly over-the-top racial remarks made on tape recordings created during Fuhrman’s meetings with a screenwriter.

Instead, the prosecution simply didn’t know about the tapes. Garcetti said so when asked at a press conference about evidence that turned the trial upside down.

“We were not aware of the tapes,” Garcetti said. Asked if Fuhrman should have told prosecutors about the tapes, Garcetti replied, “We were not aware of the tapes.”

Garcetti presumably evaded the question of whether Fuhrman should have told them about the tapes because Garcetti knew that someone would have argued that the prosecutors should have asked Fuhrman the type of questions that would have caused Fuhrman to admit to their existence.

Marcia Clark can blame Fuhrman all she wants for the existence of the tapes, but she should have been aware of them. As the lead prosecutor on the case, Clark should have done everything possible to learn about every shed of evidence that could have supported the obvious plan to create reasonable doubt by suggesting that Fuhrman’s racial biased caused him to try to frame Simpson.

Being aware of the tapes may not have changed the outcome of the case. But the prosecution definitely would have been able to avoid what ultimately became the one specific moment where the case was conclusively lost.

5. Fuhrman’s Fifth Amendment debacle sealed the case.

With F. Lee Bailey masterfully pinning Fuhrman down to a claim that he hadn’t referred to any African-American with the worst racial epithet in the English language, the door was open for Fuhrman’s denial to be contradicted by evidence that he had used the term. Originally, the plan was to have other witnesses testify that Fuhrman used the word. Then came the tapes, and Mark Fuhrman was contradicted by Mark Fuhrman himself.

The defense team then brought Fuhrman back, ready to confront him with the information contained on the tapes. Fearful of a perjury charge, Fuhrman promptly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to answer. It quickly became apparent that Fuhrman would invoke the Fifth Amendment in response to any and all questions. as a result, Fuhrman was asked the one question that, as a practical matter, ensured an acquittal.

“Did you plant or manufacture any evidence in this case?” Fuhrman was asked.

“I assert my Fifth Amendment privilege,” Fuhrman said.

With Simpson’s lawyers required only to prove reasonable doubt, Fuhrman’s refusal to answer the question of whether he planted evidence was all the jury needed to set Simpson free. While it’s possible, as suggested during the documentary, that Fuhrman framed a guilty man, that would have been a very difficult argument for the prosecution to sell.

6. The prosecution lacked anyone who could truly talk to the jury.

The argument that Fuhrman had framed a guilty man may have been easier to sell if the prosecution had at its disposal a lawyer with the ability to talk frankly and persuasively to a jury of non-lawyers. Johnnie Cochran possessed that skill. Marcia Clark, Christopher Darden, nor anyone else representing the State of California could match it.

During the trial, Clark consistently came off as strident, aloof, irritated, and lacking in self-awareness. (She had a much more pleasant demeanor when speaking on camera during the documentary, even though she was inclined to blame everyone but herself for the outcome of the case.) Darden, an African-American who curiously showed up only after a jury consisting primarily of African-Americans was selected, badly wanted, as explained during the documentary, to “out-Johnnie Johnnie.” Darden simply didn’t have the chops to do it.

The only person who may have been able to deliver a conviction would have been Cochran himself, since he probably would have been able to sell to this specific jury the very simple notion that a killer shouldn’t walk away because, as Cochran may have said, “A bad cop tried to trump up a good case.”

7. Judge Ito was trying to make the conviction “appeal proof.”

Plenty of questions have been raised about the decisions of the presiding judge to allow the Fuhrman tapes into evidence and to exclude information regarding Simpson’s clearly incriminating slow-speed getaway. Ito made those decisions, presumably, for one reason: To seal off potential avenues for reversing a conviction of O.J. Simpson on appeal.

The evidence of Simpson’s guilt seemed to be overwhelming. In cases like these, a decision by the judge to make every key evidentiary ruling in the defendant’s favor leaves the defendant with no viable basis for getting a guilty verdict thrown out later by a higher court.

The problem in this specific case is that Ito’s rulings opened the door for an acquittal, with a man who committed two brutal murders eventually set free.

8. Cochran’s closing argument was over the top — like many closing arguments are.

The documentary included some strong opinions about Johnnie Cochran’s closing argument, which contained at one point a comparison of Mark Furhman to Adolf Hitler.

It was over the top, they said. It was unethical, they suggested.

That’s fine, but the prosecution at no point objected to Cochran’s tactics. So they can’t credibly complain now if they weren’t willing to fight Cochran in the moment.

An objection wasn’t made at the time because the prosecution surely realized that attorneys are given very broad discretion when making closing arguments. A decision by Judge Ito to overrule an objection to this specific aspect Cochran’s closing would have only emphasized the point he was making — and it would have given Cochran one final victory just before the jurors retired to deliberate.

9. The system works (sort of), if you have money.

The American system of criminal justice stacks the deck in favor of the defendant, in order to ensure that innocent people don’t get wrongfully imprisoned. This makes it easier for the guilty to avoid responsibility — if, of course, they have the money to purchase the kind of legal representation that takes full advantage of the various aspects of the system that can deliver freedom to those who don’t deserve it.

Simpson had the money to afford $50,000 per week in fees. He was already loaded, and many learned for the first time through the documentary that Simpson generated roughly $3 million more while signing autographs in jail during the trial.

Most criminal defendants don’t have the resources to mount an effective defense, and few if any have the ability to make money for legal fees while being held without bail. As a result, plenty of innocent people end up being convicted because their court-appointed lawyers lack the skill or the motivation (or both) to fight for a verdict of not guilty.

10. Fred Goldman is the reason O.J. Simpson is behind bars today.

The families of the victims brought a wrongful death civil lawsuit brought against Simpson. Ron Goldman’s father, Fred, pushed it aggressively, resulting in a staggering $33 million verdict after that jury determined, under a much lower standard of proof and with Simpson unable to avoid testifying (where he was caught in numerous lies), that Simpson committed the murders. Fred Goldman then made it his mission to get every last cent out of Simpson, which prompted Simpson to do everything he could to protect his property, wherever it may have been.

This eventually included an effort to recover in Las Vegas memorabilia that had been stolen from him. With the grace of the Keystone Cops and the cognitive skills of Lou Costello, Simpson arranged an armed heist that was sufficiently clumsy to allow the powers-that-be in Nevada to put Simpson where he already should have been — behind bars, for a long time.

Absent the commitment with which Fred Goldman pursued Simpson, Simpson may never have been in the position to act so brazenly, desperately, and recklessly. Few fathers have worked more diligently to honor the memory of their sons, and anyone who believes in true justice should be grateful to Fred Goldman for applying the same kind of zeal used by Simpson’s lawyers to secure his freedom 20 years ago to push him until he squandered it.

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“Open letter” from NFL agent to NFL fans

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[Editor’s note: From time to time, agents and other NFL insiders submit columns to PFT for potential posting. Sometimes we post it, sometimes we don’t. In the case of an open letter from agent David Mulugheta of Athletes First to all NFL fans regarding the manner in which players who seek more money are viewed by the public, the ideas expressed by Mulugheta mesh with a sentiment that PFT has articulated many times in recent years. The full letter, with minor edits, appears below.]

Letter to NFL Fans:

So I woke up Friday morning and began my daily routine. My workday starts with reading a few emails, sending a few dozen text messages, and accepting/making more calls than a telemarketer. After an hour or so, I’m usually settled in, which allows me time to scroll through my social media channels. On Friday morning, it seemed that a particular NFL player’s contract negotiations had taken the forefront on my Twitter feed. A

After only a few seconds of browsing, frustration began to set in. As expected and without delay, fans began to lash out against the player. And for what? Pursuing his option to enter into contract negotiations with his employer? Attempting to capitalize on years and years of hard work and after completing his contractual obligations? Utilizing the very little leverage he has against a multi-billion-dollar enterprise? Having the audacity to realize his worth and demand just compensation for his objective productivity on the field?

Do these fans demonstrate the same resentment when their favorite cashier at Walgreens decides to discuss wages with his/her supervisor? Or how about their favorite actor turning down a movie role because it doesn’t include a “pay or play” commitment? I can continue to speculate as to the root cause of fans’ frustration, but I’d rather use this moment to provide some context on NFL contract negotiations.

Far too often we hear that a given player “was offered a five-year, $100 million deal.” Now it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the player will have received $100 million at the conclusion of the five years. Well, if the player were basketball’s Kyrie Irving or baseball’s Bryce Harper, that would be correct. However, unlike the NBA and MLB, the NFL typically does not execute “fully guaranteed contracts.”

In short, fully guaranteed contracts ensure that the player would receive the full amount of his contract, regardless of whether he becomes injured or waived early by the team. However, NFL players don’t have the luxury of signing these fully guaranteed contracts (although not prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are a number of reasons for this; it happens primarily because teams and owners are against them). Rather, upon executing a five-year, $100 million contract, an NFL player can be released for any reason and barred from receiving the remainder of his contract.

That leads to the topic of “guaranteed money” (not to be confused with “fully guaranteed contracts”). Guaranteed money means just that; the dollars in the total contract that the player definitely will receive. Therefore, guaranteed money and other structural points are vitally important when negotiating an NFL contract. The goal is to negotiate as much guaranteed money as possible, while also creating a cash flow that will enable a player to collect as much of the $100 million as quickly as possible, in order to avoid the possibility of getting cut due to diminishing skills, salary cap restrictions, or injury.

In other words, don’t be fooled. One hundred million doesn’t really mean one hundred million in NFL contracts.

Keep this in mind when digesting your daily dose of sports news. For example, when a team claims that it has offered to make a player the highest paid in the league at his position, immediately ask yourself, “How much of that it truly guaranteed?” When you see your favorite player “holding out” or refusing to sign a “record breaking contract,” keep in mind that the reality may not mesh with the inflated, artificial numbers the team has leaked.

Remember, that man has become your favorite player for a reason. He’s passionate about the game and produces, week in and week out. Realize the multi-billion-dollar enterprises are attempting to influence the negotiation process by using the raw emotion of the fan base against the players. Ask yourself, could it be possible the player is asking for a fair “guaranteed” value of his skills? Could it be possible that the owners are leveraging the media in order to coerce players into signing below market contracts?

You’ve never sided with Goliath over David in the past, so why start now?

Sincerely Yours,

David Mulugheta
NFL Agent & NFL Fan

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It’s time for a coach to have some guts on going for two

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 3: Gead coach Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 3, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images) Getty Images

Over the last week in the NFL, multiple coaches and quarterbacks have talked about the possibility of going for two after almost every touchdown. But no one has come right out and said his team is going to go for two most of the time.

In fact, no team in the history of the NFL — or in major college football — has ever gone for two most of the time. Last year, the Steelers were about as close as any team has come to making two-point conversions the norm, but even the Steelers kicked more than three times as often as they went for two, finishing the season with 34 extra point attempts and 11 two-point conversion attempts.

Mike Tomlin took a step in the right direction, but it’s time for NFL coaches to stop taking baby steps on two point conversions. It’s time for some coach to go for two as the default option after scoring a touchdown.

Mathematically, there’s no question that it would be the right call for some teams. Last year across the NFL, kickers went 1,146-for-1,217 (94.2 percent) on extra points, while offenses went 45-for-94 (47.9 percent) on two-point conversions. In other words, an extra point kick produced, on average, 0.942 points, while a two-point conversion attempt produced, on average, 0.958 points. The risks already (slightly) outweigh the rewards of going for two.

But that’s just on average. Some teams — teams that have a good short-yardage offense and/or a bad kicker — were leaving significant points on the board when they decided to take the allegedly safe option of kicking the extra point. Take the Steelers, who converted on eight of their 11 two-point attempts and 32 of their 34 one-point attempts. That means the Steelers scored 1.5 points per two-point try and 0.9 points per one-point try. The Steelers were forfeiting more than half a point, on average, every time they sent their kicker onto the field after a touchdown.

Even if you think your kicker is automatic on extra points (and no kicker truly is, as the Patriots found out when Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point in a decade in the AFC Championship Game), if you have confidence in your offense you’re better off going for two. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is one of the coaches who said recently that he’d consider making two-point conversions the default option, and he’d be wise to do so. Even though the Packers went 36-for-36 on extra points last year, they were better on two-point conversions, converting on four of six attempts, or 1.3 points per two-point try. The Packers’ season ended when they lost in overtime to the Cardinals in the playoffs, an overtime they forced with an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary followed by a Mason Crosby extra point. McCarthy should have trusted Rodgers to win the game with a two-point conversion at the end of the fourth quarter, rather than trusting Crosby to tie the game and then hoping that overtime would work out in the Packers’ favor.

No team would always go for two because there are still some late-game situations in which a 90 percent chance at one point is better than a 50 percent chance at two points. If you score a touchdown in the final minute to tie a game, you’re always going to kick the extra point to win by one, rather than try for the conversion and win by two.

But those rare instances aside, there’s little doubt that many if not most teams would be better off with a strategy of going for two most of the time.

So why don’t coaches do it? Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter answered that question honestly this week.

“We’ve studied it, and mathematically, it does make sense,” Koetter acknowledged, before adding, “Say we go out there that first game, and we score three touchdowns and we don’t make any two pointers and we lose 21-18. Who’s going to get killed?”

Koetter is right — he’s going to get killed if he makes going for two the default option and he fails. But guess what? You took a job as a head coach in the NFL. Your decisions are going to be second-guessed. It comes with the territory. If you’re going to be second-guessed anyway, you might as well get second-guessed for the strategy that you admitted makes sense, mathematically. That strategy is going for two most of the time. It’s time for some coach to have the guts to follow the risky — but smart — strategy. Some coach might follow that strategy and lose 21-18, but another coach is going to follow that strategy and win 22-21, and when he does, he’ll be hailed for having both guts and brains.

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It’s time to get rid of the franchise tag

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 13:  Outside linebacker Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos performs a "dab" pose as he is introduced during player introductions before a game against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 13, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) Getty Images

[Editor’s note: We never re-post old stories. I now need to change that to “rarely.” Given the suddenly boiling Von Miller situation, I thought it made sense to dust off a hot take from March regarding the thing that is fueling the fight between Miller and the Broncos — the franchise tag. Here it is, in full.]

Sure, the current labor deal has five more years remaining. But if, at some point, the NFL starts making noise about an extension, the NFL Players Association should consider putting at the top of the list one very clear and specific request.

Get rid of the franchise tag.

Concocted in 1993 to help teams adjust to true free agency (Reggie White was exempt because he was a named plaintiff in the case that resulted in true free agency), the franchise tag gives every team the ability, once per year, to hold a free agent in place. Previously, the franchise tender was determined by taking the average of the five highest paid players (based on cap number) at the same position in the prior year. Now, a much more complex five-year average that takes into account the percentage of the salary cap applies.

Whatever the formula, the franchise tag continues to be a device for keeping the best players in the league from getting to the open market. And with the rookie wage scale, launched in 2011, now taking full root, few players will be in position to do what Ndamukong Suh did a year ago: Force his way to market under the provision that determines the franchise tender by taking the cap number from the final year of his contract and increasing it by 20 percent.

While that could change in 2017, when Saints quarterback Drew Brees would have a jaw-dropping franchise tender of $43.2 million (he has a $30 million cap number this year and would get a 44-percent raise for his third career franchise tag), fewer and fewer great players will land on the open market unless and until they are willing to retain the injury risk for three years under the franchise tag, passing on a long-term offer that would give more security — but that wouldn’t come close to providing what the player would get if truly free to sign anywhere.

Consider this year. Linebacker Von Miller has a franchise tender of $14.129 million. A long-term deal based on the tag would guarantee Miller his 2016 franchise tender and his 2017 tender, which would be $17.148 million. That’s $31.277 million fully guaranteed at signing.

On the open market, defensive end Olivier Vernon got $40 million fully guaranteed at signing plus total cash flow of $41 million through two years. How much more would Von Miller have gotten on the open market, if it had been him instead of Vernon at the top of the 2016 free agency class of pass rushers?

Making Miller’s predicament even more unfair to him personally is the fact that he already has put in five years before getting a crack at the franchise tag, since he was a first-round draft pick. Vernon has hit the lottery with only four years of NFL experience.

Since the franchise tag affects only a small percentage of all players, the NFLPA could be inclined not to fight to get rid of it, because doing so could require a concession that would affect all players. But the franchise tag currently affects all players by keeping the top of the market at each position in check. Basically, it’s legalized collusion — separate and apart from the illegal collusion that plenty of agents believe is happening.

Remember when it seemed like half the league perpetually occupied salary-cap purgatory? With the cap now spiking every year but none of the best players in position either to get to the open market or to force their current teams to pay them market value, few if any teams are scratching and clawing to comply with the cap. Which means that less of the total available money under the cap is being paid to players.

For every player like Miller, who’d need to put in eight total years and remain healthy and effective in order to get a big payday, there will be a player like Vernon, who will be in the right place at the right time to get a deal that seems shocking to the average fan, in large part because the best players rarely will be in position to squeeze out a deal that would be truly shocking.

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NFL’s response to Congressional report regarding NIH study

[Editor’s note: NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy has issued a statement on behalf of the league in response to a Congressional report suggesting that the league tried to exert undue influence over the process of selecting a researcher to lead a National Institutes of Health study regarding concussions. The full text of the response appears below.]

The NFL rejects the allegations laid out in the Democratic Staff Report of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Committee.

There is no dispute that there were concerns raised about both the nature of the study in question and possible conflicts of interest. These concerns were raised for review and consideration through the appropriate channels. Ultimately the funding decision was made by the FNIH/NIH, not the NFL, as the FNIH’s public statement of December 22, 2015 confirms. The nature of those conversations and a detailed account of the concerns were communicated in full to the committee members. It is deeply disappointing the authors of the Staff Report would make allegations directed at doctors affiliated with the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee without ever speaking to them.

In 2012, the NFL committed $30 million to the NIH to advance the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of head injuries. To date, $12 million has been allocated for pathology studies through the Sports and Health Research Program (SHRP), two $6-million cooperative agreements dedicated to defining the long-term changes that occur in the brain after a head injury or multiple concussions: Boston University School of Medicine and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs received $6 million for a study on CTE and post-traumatic neurodegeneration, and Mount Sinai Hospital received $6 million for a study the neuropathology of CTE and Delayed Effects of TBI.

The NFL is deeply committed to continuing to accelerate scientific research and advancements in this critical area, and we stand ready to support additional independent research to that end.

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PFT’s one (and only) simulated draft

2129861_XS Getty Images

We’re done with mock drafts. In place of the practice of throwing a handful of darts over the course of two months, we’re taking one shot.

Blindfolded. In a room that contains a dart board. And we’re not entirely sure that we’re pointed in the general direction of the bull’s-eye.

So here’s the first and only (for this year, perhaps forever) PFT simulated draft.

How is it different than a mock draft? It isn’t. The name is different. It’s like calling mock apple pie what it really is.

So enjoy simulated draft. Like an apple pie filed with Ritz crackers and cinnamon but no actual apples, it will fill you up — with zero nutritional value.

1. Rams: Jared Goff, quarterback, Cal.

2. Eagles: Carson Wentz, quarterback, North Dakota State.

3. Chargers: Laremy Tunsil, tackle, Mississippi.

4. Cowboys: Jalen Ramsey, defensive back, Florida State.

5. Jaguars: Joey Bosa, defensive end, Ohio State.

6. Ravens: DeForest Buckner, defensive end, Oregon.

7. 49ers: Paxton Lynch, quarterback, Memphis.

8. Browns: Myles Jack, linebacker, UCLA.

9. Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback, Florida.

10. Giants: Darron Lee, linebacker, Ohio State.

11. Bears: Ronnie Stanley, tackle, Notre Dame.

12. Saints: Sheldon Rankins, defensive tackle, Louisville.

13. Dolphins: Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Ohio State.

14. Raiders: Leonard Floyd, linebacker, Georgia.

15. Titans: Josh Doctson, receiver, TCU.

16. Lions: Jarran Reed, defensive tackle, Alabama.

17. Falcons: Robert Nkemdiche, defensive tackle, Mississippi.

18. Colts: Kamalei Correa, linebacker, Boise State.

19. Bills: Shaq Lawson, defensive end, Clemson.

20. Jets: Jack Conklin, tackle, Michigan State.

21. Washington: Ryan Kelly, center, Alabama.

22. Texans: Taylor Decker, tackle, Ohio State.

23. Vikings: Laquon Treadwell, receiver, Mississippi.

24. Bengals: Reggie Ragland, linebacker, Alabama.

25. Steelers: Karl Joseph, safety, West Virginia.

26. Seahawks: Germain Ifedi, tackle, Texas A&M.

27. Packers: Kenny Clark, nose tackle, UCLA.

28. Chiefs: Corey Coleman, receiver, Baylor.

29. Cardinals: Christian Hackenberg, quarterback, Penn State.

30. Panthers: Eli Apple, cornerback, Ohio State.

31. Broncos: Connor Cook, quarterback, Michigan State.

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Fifth-year option tracker

Steve Johnson, Kenny Vaccaro, Corey White AP

The complete list of 2013 first-round picks and their fifth-year contract option status is below. The list will be updated as appropriate; we analyzed the easy decisions and some of the more difficult ones here.

The deadline for teams to pick up fifth-year options is May 2.

1. Eric Fisher, OT, Chiefs (the Chiefs picked up his option)

2. Luke Joeckel, OT, Jaguars (the Jagurs will not pick up his option)

3. Dion Jordan, DE, Dolphins (his suspension froze his contract and pushes the option back)

4. Lane Johnson, OT, Eagles (previously signed a new, long-term deal with the Eagles)

5. Ziggy Ansah, DE, Lions (the Lions picked up his option)

6. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Browns (the Browns did not pick up his option)

7. Jonathan Cooper, G, Cardinals (Cooper was traded to the Patriots, who did not pick up his option)

8. Tavon Austin, WR, Rams (the Rams picked up his option)

9. Dee Milliner, CB, Jets (the Jets won’t pick up his option)

10. Chance Warmack, G, Titans (the Titans won’t pick up his option)

11. D.J. Fluker, OT, Chargers (the Chargers announced they’ve picked up his option)

12. DJ Hayden, CB, Raiders (the Raiders declined to pick up his option)

13. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Jets (the Jets picked up his option)

14. Star Lotulelei, DT, Panthers (the Panthers picked up his option)

15. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Saints (was the first player to have his option picked up)

16. E.J. Manuel, QB, Bills (the Bills declined to pick up his option)

17. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Steelers (the Steelers declined to pick up his option)

18. Eric Reid, S, 49ers (the 49ers picked up his option)

19. Justin Pugh, OL, Giants (the Giants have picked up his option)

20. Kyle Long, OL, Bears (the Bears announced they have picked up the option)

21. Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals (the Bengals announced they have picked up the option)

22. Desmond Trufant, CB, Falcons (the Falcons announced they have picked up the option)

23. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Vikings (the Vikings picked up his option)

24. Bjoern Werner, DE, Colts (was cut by the Colts last month)

25. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Vikings (the Vikings picked up his option)

26. Datone Jones, DE, Packers (the Packers declined his option)

27. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans (the Texans exercised the option on Hopkins’ contract)

28. Sylvester Williams, DT, Broncos (the Broncos will not pick up Williams’ option)

29. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings (the Vikings declined to pick up his option)

30. Alec Ogletree, LB, Rams (the Rams picked up his option)

31. Travis Frederick, C, Cowboys (the Cowboys exercised the option)

32. Matt Elam, S, Ravens (the Ravens declined to pick up his option)

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The full arbitration ruling regarding the Personal Conduct Policy

152484091 Getty Images

Previously, PFT had obtained the memo from NFL general counsel Jeff Pash to all teams characterizing the 54-page arbitration ruling in the grievance triggered by the league’s implementation of a new Personal Conduct Policy in December 2014. PFT has now obtained the full 54-page arbitration ruling.

So, basically, I know what I’ll be doing for the next hour or so. If I can stay awake.

After reading all 54 pages, I’ll post another item with my own interpretation of the ruling. The NFL Players Association, per a source the knowledge of the union’s reaction to the ruling, believes that the outcome is far more complicated than the Pash memo suggests. The NFLPA also believes that the union has secured some “key victories” in the ruling.

If you want to read the ruling and look for the “key rulings,” feel free. Otherwise, I’ll be playing this specific game of “Where’s Waldo?” on my own.

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2016 NFL preseason schedule

Andrew Luck,  Nick Perry AP

The NFL announced 65 preseason matchups Thursday, including eight that will be nationally televised in August.

Exact dates and times were only announced for those national TV games, starting with the annual Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 7 between the Packers and Colts. All other games were announced for a weekend window starting with the first weekend of preseason play, Aug. 11-15. The second weekend is Aug. 18-22, and the third is Aug. 25-28. The preseason closes no later than Friday Sept. 2.

Teams generally open training camp 15 days before their first preseason game. Only the Packers and Colts play five preseason games; all other teams play four.

The entire schedule is below.

August 7

Green Bay vs. Indianapolis (ESPN – Canton, OH)

WEEK 1 – August 11-15

Dallas at Los Angeles (ESPN, 8/13)

Carolina at Baltimore

Cleveland at Green Bay

Denver at Chicago

Detroit at Pittsburgh

Houston at San Francisco

Indianapolis at Buffalo

Jacksonville at NY Jets

Miami at NY Giants

Minnesota at Cincinnati

New Orleans at New England

Oakland at Arizona

San Diego at Tennessee

Seattle at Kansas City

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia

Washington at Atlanta

WEEK 2 – August 18-22

Arizona at San Diego

Atlanta at Cleveland

Baltimore at Indianapolis

Carolina at Tennessee

Chicago at New England

Cincinnati at Detroit

Kansas City at Los Angeles

Miami at Dallas

Minnesota at Seattle

New Orleans at Houston

NY Giants at Buffalo

NY Jets at Washington

Oakland at Green Bay

Philadelphia at Pittsburgh

San Francisco at Denver

Tampa Bay at Jacksonville

WEEK 3 – August 25-28

Atlanta at Miami (NBC, 8/25)

Cleveland at Tampa Bay (CBS, 8/26)

Tennessee at Oakland (CBS, 8/27)

San Diego at Minnesota (FOX, 8/28)

Arizona at Houston (FOX, 8/28)

Cincinnati at Jacksonville (NBC, 8/28)

Buffalo at Washington

Dallas at Seattle

Detroit at Baltimore

Green Bay at San Francisco

Kansas City at Chicago

Los Angeles at Denver

New England at Carolina

NY Giants at NY Jets

Philadelphia at Indianapolis

Pittsburgh at New Orleans

WEEK 4 – September 1-2

Baltimore at New Orleans

Buffalo at Detroit

Chicago at Cleveland

Denver at Arizona

Green Bay at Kansas City

Houston at Dallas

Indianapolis at Cincinnati

Jacksonville at Atlanta

Los Angeles at Minnesota

New England at NY Giants

NY Jets at Philadelphia

Pittsburgh at Carolina

San Francisco at San Diego

Seattle at Oakland

Tennessee at Miami

Washington at Tampa Bay

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What is the NFL’s actual position on the link between football and CTE?

Zz05MzZmZjBlMWNlNmU1YjE4ZTRhMWQ2ZDEwOTQ4MjQ1NA== AP

So does the NFL concede that there’s a link between football and CTE? The answer isn’t as clear as it could be, or should be.

NFL executive V.P. of player health and safety Jeff Miller recently told a Congressional committee that a link exists. Multiple owners have since questioned Miller’s remarks. But Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that Miller’s comments properly reflect the NFL’s position.

“We think the statements that have been made through Jeff Miller and others have been consistent with our position over the years,” Goodell said at the conclusion of the NFL’s annual meetings.

So what is the league’s position? NFL general counsel Jeff Pash recently addressed it in a memo sent to all team presidents and chief executives.

The March 17 memo, a copy of which PFT has obtained, initially provides the full context of Miller’s remarks at the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s “roundtable discussion” regarding concussions: “In the course of the dialogue, and following comments of doctors from Boston University, Jeff [Miller] was asked whether he thinks ‘there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders, like CTE.’ In response, Jeff replied, ‘Well, certainly, Dr. McKee’s research shows that a number of retired NFL players were diagnosed with CTE. So, the answer to that question is certainly yes.’ Jeff went on to say that ‘the broader point . . . is what that necessarily means and where do we go from here with that information,’ noting that question of ‘incidence’ and ‘prevalence’ are best addressed by medical experts.”

Pash’s memo next says that “[n]otwithstanding how these comments have been characterized in the media, they are consistent with views that the league has previously expressed.” The memo then summarizes several points regarding the league’s position on the issue.

First, Pash’s memo explains that “the NFL has recognized for years that studies, including those done at Boston University, have identified retired players who were diagnosed with CTE following their deaths.” The memo notes that the league has helped fund Boston University’s research, and that “[t]here is nothing in Jeff [Miller’s] comment that is different from or that goes beyond those prior statements.”

Second, Pash’s memo points out that each NFL locker room has a poster regarding concussions, which explains that the failure to properly manage concussions places players at risk of long-term brain injuries.

Third, Pash’s memo points out much is still not known about CTE. Research regarding the condition is “in its infancy,” and studies identifying CTE in deceased football players “have been based on a largely self-selected population and those studies have appropriately recognized this selection bias.” This means, according to Pash’s memo, that “there is no reliable evidence on the incidence or prevalence of CTE, either in professional football players or in the general population,” adding that “[t]he current state of the science does not permit any reliable statement about what events make a person more at risk to develop CTE.” Pash’s memo also states that the “causal relationship between concussions and CTE is unknown,” and that scientists and researchers have concluded that “the speculation that repeated concussion or subconcussive impacts cause CTE remains unproven.” Also, Pash explains that current studies “do no control for genetic, environmental or other individual risk factors.”

Fourth, Pash’s memo explains that many cases of CTE “developed in the context of football as it was played decades ago,” and that the league’s knowledge regarding concussions “has grown considerably since then.”

To summarize, then, the league acknowledges that researchers have found CTE in football players, and that the league has taken steps to warn players about the potential connection between concussions and long-term brain injuty. But the league is not prepared to concede that football and CTE have a clear link without further research regarding the prevalence of CTE in the non-football-playing population and the potential impact of genetics, environment, and the risk factors.

So the league isn’t really admitting to anything concrete regarding a potential link between CTE and football, and the league doesn’t believe that Miller admitted to anything concrete regarding the link between CTE and football.  Given the timing of the memo, its equivocal contents may help explain some of the confusing comments that multiple owners made the following week at the annual meetings.

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All NFL players should be making at least $1 million per year

penny-worth-million-dollars_496d2b1c6e3928fc Getty Images

[Editor’s note: Agent Neil Schwartz recently approached me with an idea to make veteran players more attractive to teams and, more importantly, to ensure that all NFL players make a very comfortable living. The end result is a column on which Schwartz and I collaborated. Any typos are his fault.]

As the NFL and its players learn more about the realities of playing pro football, it’s more important than ever that all players receive fair compensation for the risks they assume. And by all players, that means every player. Which means that each player should have a minimum salary that reflects the maximum toll the game can take on the human body.

Currently, the league ties minimum salary to experience. For new players, it’s $450,000. For players with 10 or more years of experience, the minimum rises to $985,000. This disparity makes younger players more attractive than older ones, even with the “minimum salary benefit,” a device that provides teams with a salary-cap break on older players with minimum-salary deals, but not a cash break.

When it comes to the 29 positions on the 53-man roster that don’t go to offensive and defensive starters, cheaper is usually better. And younger is always cheaper.

The gap between young/cheap and old/costly gets partially bridged under the existing labor deal through the performance-based pool, which gives the lowest-paid players more money based on how much they play. Still, that money comes from the league at large; at the team level, going young on the back half of the roster means saving money. Which gives the teams even more leverage when squeezing veteran players to take less.

So why not guarantee every NFL player who is on an active roster more? The floor should be the same for all players, and the best place to start is the number that still exudes “rich.” One million dollars.

Yes, the minimum salary for all players should be the same, regardless of experience. And it should be $1 million dollars for now, with increases based upon the annual increases in the salary cap.

The adjustment will cost the owners nothing, since they’re already operating in a salary-capped environment. It will, as a practical matter, pick the pockets of some the NFL’s richest players, but maybe the league needs a dash of Robin Hood in order to ensure that all players are able to exit the sport with enough money to have made it worth their while.

As a practical matter, non-superstars who currently are making a significant amount of money would likely lose the most. But that group isn’t nearly big enough to dictate policy for the union at large. As a matter of basic fairness, those players still have every right to negotiate competitively the best possible deal within the confines of the salary cap — a dynamic that all players currently face.

Increasing the minimum salary regardless of experience will create an incentive both for teams to keep older players and for older players to keep playing. It also will make the sport even more attractive for the vast majority who currently won’t get truly rich but could die prematurely for the trying.

That latter angle could be the most important one. At a time when a smattering of veterans are walking away from the game due to concussion concerns, no rookies currently are opting out of the chance to get drafted. At some point, that could change. Putting more money on the table sooner than later could keep that from happening.

Although the current labor agreement has five years remaining on it, side deals can be reached at any time. This is a potential side deal that will help both sides significantly, a true win-win for management and labor that in turn can be a big win for most players.

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