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Terri Valenti breaks ground in becoming first female instant replay official

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Terri Valenti has five sons, so dealing with football players is a walk in the park.

“At first, [coaches and players] give me a little bit more space, which I use to my advantage,” Valenti said Friday during the NFL’s annual officiating clinic, “but I also have five sons, so I understand boys a lot. It’s just natural for me.”

This season, Valenti becomes the NFL’s first female instant replay official in the booth, two years after Sarah Thomas became the league’s first full-time official on the field.

“It’s a positive benchmark in society that we’re not sort of in an old-school, old-boys mentality,” referee Brad Allen said.

Valenti began officiating games in 1999 and has experience as an on-field official at the high school, college, minor league and international league levels as well as spending the 2009 season in the United Football League. She spent four seasons as an instant replay communicator for the league from 2012-15 and then as a replay assistant last season.

Valenti earned a promotion this season as the NFL named her one of the 17 instant replay officials. She will act as the go-between for the on-field referee and the NFL’s centralized operations in New York, where Alberto Riveron, the league’s director of officiating, will make decisions on reviews.

“It hasn’t been done before, but I’m not the one and only trailblazer,” Valenti said. “There have been many women ahead of me in the officiating world who have broken ground, and I’m just really honored and pleased to be here, and I’m thankful that the NFL and the league office now gave me this opportunity.”

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NFL’s head of officiating will make all replay decisions

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The NFL has its message down pat: The instant replay “process” isn’t changing. That’s what league officials and the NFL’s head of officiating repeated Friday during the first day of their annual officiating clinic.

But what has changed is who makes replay decisions under the NFL’s new centralized system.

“The process hasn’t changed,” Alberto Riveron, the league’s senior vice president of officiating, said. “We’ve had the same process in place now for three years, so the only thing that’s changed about the process that instead of the final decision being with the referee on the field, it’s now with New York.

“Again, we go back to the process. The referee goes and speaks with the coach, stops the game, makes an announcement, consults with us in New York. In the meantime, while he’s had that conversation with the coach, we are gearing up in New York and showing up the best possible angles, and then the final decisions will be made in New York. But the consultation process, the way we look at the film, the plays we show him, the angles, that hasn’t changed one bit.”

Riveron said plans are for him to make every decision. However, Wayne Mackie, the league’s vice president of officiating evaluation and development, and Russell Yurk, the league’s vice president of instant replay and administration, will provide assistance, especially if multiple replays happen simultaneously.

“Ultimately, I’m making the decisions,” said Riveron, who was a veteran game official for nine seasons. “But that’s why, like before when it was Dean [Blandino] and myself in that room, now we’re going to have Wayne Mackie, Russell Yurk, and myself in the room, so if I’m tied up in a replay, somebody else will be looking at that, but ultimately I will be involved in every decision-making process.”

Riveron will communicate with the referee, who now will use a tablet on the sideline to view the play in question, before Riveron makes his decision. Previously, referees made replay decisions after consulting a monitor under a hood on the sideline. The new system mirrors that of the NHL and MLB.

“Obviously, I’ll have the same input that I’ve had in the past, but then the final decision will be made in New York,” referee Walt Coleman said. “That’s obviously to be consistent, so instead of 17 referees deciding stuff, the people in New York will be deciding. I think that it will help with consistency on the calls, because what I think is an incomplete pass might not necessarily be what another referee thinks. I think it’s good, and I think it helps for consistency and so forth. The process is pretty much the same other than where the final decision comes from.”

The move to centralized replay intends to streamline the process and quicken the pace of reaching a decision. Referees insist they have no problem with having the final decision taken out of their hands.

“I have never had a situation where New York and I differed on what we were going to do, so it will still be seamless,” referee Brad Allen said. “The fact that in most circumstances, we’re not physically going to be under a hood, we are going to be looking at a tablet, it’s a little different.

“We just don’t see it as an issue; we really don’t.”

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Relaxed celebration rules clear about what’s legal, NFL head of officiating says

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Ezekiel Elliott still will get penalized for leaping into the Salvation Army kettle, but the Packers can feel free to have the entire offense do the Lambeau Leap. The celebration rules are clear, the league’s head of officiating said Friday, regarding what actions will result in a 15-yard penalty.

“Extremely clear, yes,” Alberto Riveron, the league’s senior vice president of officiating, said during the annual NFL Officiating Clinic in Irving, Texas. “We have plenty of film to show them; we have plenty of training videos that they will see that they have already seen. There is no gray area when it comes to that.”

Based on feedback from players, the NFL announced in May it was relaxing rules on celebrations. Players now can use the football as a prop after a touchdown; they can go to the ground; and they are allowed to have group celebrations.

“We have a lot fewer actions that are going to be penalties, and we’ll be able to focus on those and not have to worry about all the other ones,” NFL referee Carl Cheffers said.

But it isn’t anything goes. Prolonged celebrations, taunting and dunking over the goal post are among actions still banned and subject to a 15-yard penalty.

“There are some boundary lines that have been put in as far things they can’t do,” referee Walt Coleman said. “Things that are sexual suggestive. Things like a throat slash, shooting a bow and arrow. Things along that line that are violent and so forth. Those have been illegal. They are still illegal. . . . They can’t use other things as a prop. Those are still illegal like picking up the pylon and using it for a putter. They still can’t dunk the ball over the goal post. [The Salvation Army kettle] is a prop, so you won’t be able to jump in the kettle. Basically we’re going to watch what they do and let them celebrate, and if it gets excessive in length of time, then we’ll have to decide, but I’m not sure we know exactly what that length of time is.

“We know players are out there thinking up what they’re going to do, so it should be interesting and entertaining.”

Coleman is curious to see the reaction from defensive players, remembering George Teague’s response to Terrell Owens’ celebration on the star in Texas Stadium in 2000 when Owens scored for the 49ers against the Cowboys.

“Here in Dallas, obviously they know all about how they break up celebrations when they run to the middle of the field,” Coleman said with a chuckle. “So we’ve kind of come full circle as far as we stopped them from doing all that because people were breaking up the celebrations, and we were creating fights and things that weren’t very good presentation-wise for the National Football League. So now we’ve kind of come back around with the cooperation with the players and so forth, and they have asked to put some of the fun back in the league. So I think that’s what we’re going to try to do. So It’ll be interesting to see how it happens, because we have come full circle as far as where they could do it, then we got more and more they couldn’t do it, and now we’re back to allowing them to do some of the celebrations. The defensive players they don’t think it’s entertaining, so it’ll be interesting.”

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 23: Buffalo Bills

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With Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley out as coach and General Manager, respectively, there’s no question that this is a transitional year in Buffalo.

What is a question is how big that transition will wind up being. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor got a new contract this offseason, but the Bills can back out of it after this season if coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane decide he’s not the right guy for the job over the long haul.

Taylor’s two years as a starter have featured many positives, but he’ll likely need to be even better and more consistent this year to secure his place in Buffalo. The same is true of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who didn’t have his 2018 option exercised and could head elsewhere if things don’t break the right way in the coming months.

Those decisions will provide a big sign about the direction the Bills will take under McDermott and Beane and let us know if this year is a building block or a prelude to a bigger rebuilding effort.

Biggest positive change: There was a lot of excitement when Ryan got to Buffalo, but it didn’t take long for trouble signs to emerge. The biggest were on defense where Ryan scrapped a successful 4-3 scheme in favor of the 3-4 base defense he’s run all over the league. Players found it too complex and weren’t shy about sharing those feelings as the team struggled on the field, leaving a dark cloud over the team that appears to be clearing now that McDermott has moved things back in the other direction.

Biggest negative change: The Bills would miss cornerback Stephon Gilmore and running back Mike Gillislee regardless of where they wound up signing as free agents. The fact that both players moved to the Patriots makes things even worse because their success will make it even harder for the team to make headway in the AFC East.

Coaching thermometer: Any feeling that McDermott might be in for a tenure as short as Ryan’s dropped considerably when the Bills fired Whaley and hired Beane, who worked with McDermott in Carolina. The hunger for a playoff return isn’t going to go away, but McDermott should have ample time to try to put it together.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Jerry Hughes. Hughes has gone from a first-round disappointment with the Colts to getting 20 sacks in his first two years in Buffalo to a less successful stint in Ryan’s defense. That’s given him a lot of experiences to draw on as he embarks on his eighth NFL season and, we imagine, a lot of insight into how talent, scheme fit and coaching styles combine to shape a career.

How they can prove us wrong: Having running back LeSean McCoy and Watkins healthy for an entire season is a must because they are lacking other proven talent at skill positions without them. If they get that, a step forward from Taylor and a resurgent performance on defense, the Bills could find themselves in the playoff hunt in the AFC.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 24: Los Angeles Chargers

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The Chargers won nine games the past two seasons combined. Now, they start over with a new home and a new coach.

Anthony Lynn’s hiring as head coach was overshadowed this offseason by the team’s move to Los Angeles after 56 years in San Diego. They will spend the next two seasons playing in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson before moving into the new digs they’ll share with the Rams in Inglewood.

The Chargers will compete with the Rams and every other team in Los Angeles for attention and likely won’t get much of it until they win. The Chargers, though, do have a chance to exceed expectations with a talented roster that includes several rising stars, but they enter training camp with a number of questions, including how they handle the move to L.A.

Biggest positive change: Anthony Lynn’s run-first mentality. Yes, the Chargers were behind a lot last year, which partly explains why they threw 59.6 percent of the time. But no matter the record this year, expect Lynn to call running plays more than 40.4 percent of the time. Lynn played running back in the NFL. He coached running backs nearly his entire coaching career. Lynn, who had the best rushing attack in the NFL last season in Buffalo, preaches “ground and pound.” Melvin Gordon, if he stays healthy, figures to be a big part of the offense.

Biggest negative change: Moving into a 30,000-seat soccer stadium isn’t likely to provide the Chargers with much of a home-field advantage. It’s the smallest stadium to host a full NFL season since the Packers played their home games at 25,000-seat City Stadium in 1956. The Chargers, whose slogan is “Fight for L.A.,” will find everything new and different this season. Distractions likely abound, and how the Chargers handle those distractions likely dictates how the season goes.

Coaching thermometer: It doesn’t figure to get hot in L.A. for Anthony Lynn until at least 2019 when the Chargers move into their new stadium. Lynn will get time to figure it out. He had never even served as a coordinator until Week 3 last season in Buffalo and finished out the season as the interim head coach after Rex Ryan was fired before Week 17. Players, though, love playing for Lynn, and, as a former player, he will have their respect from the start.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Philip Rivers. Rivers arguably is the best trash talker in the NFL. He loves to get under opponents’ skins. He even plays better when opponents go back at him. Rivers, though, does his trash talking in the nicest of ways without uttering an expletive.

How they can prove us wrong: The Chargers have more talent than their five victories last season suggest. Joey Bosa and Melvin Gordon are rising stars, and the addition of first-round pick Mike Williams could give Philip Rivers a feature receiver. If Keenan Allen can stay healthy – a big if based on his injuries of the past two seasons – and Antonio Gates has anything left, Rivers will have more options than he has had in a few years with tight end Hunter Henry having had a solid rookie season and receiver Tyrell Williams coming off a 1,000-yard receiving season. Rivers, 35, passed for more than 4,000 yards for the fourth consecutive season, but he will have to cut down on his 21 interceptions. The defense, which is switching to the 4-3, should improve with Gus Bradley running that side of the ball. Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who had 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons, will get after the quarterback, and cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, if he’s healthy, are playmakers on the backend. Anything better than 5-11 is a move in the right direction, though the Chargers don’t have many years left to take advantage of Rivers’ talent.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 25: Washington Redskins

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After the first 14 weeks of the 2016 season, the Redskins looked like a pretty good bet to make the playoffs for a second straight season as they were 7-5-1 with two home games and a road date with the hapless Bears to close out the schedule.

They beat the Bears, but losses to the Panthers in Week 15 and a Giants team with nothing to play for in Week 17 meant that there would be no playoff streak. The offense, which was strong all year, managed just 25 points in those losses and they’ll have to bounce back without offensive coordinator/new Rams coach Sean McVay and wide receivers Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson.

Those changes could make life more difficult for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who had another good season but remains without a long-term contract after getting a second straight franchise tag. That didn’t hurt him on the field last year and his focus should remain strong with the prospect of a big payday still on the horizon, but success will have to come with a different supporting cast this time around.

Biggest positive change: While the offense was a strength in Washington last year, the defense was less impressive. The Redskins changed defensive coordinators with Greg Manusky replacing Joe Barry and they were aggressive in the offseason by adding players to the unit. First-round defensive end Jonathan Allen, linebacker Zach Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger highlight the new additions and will be counted on to spearhead improvement on the field this season.

Biggest negative change: In many circumstances, the departures of McVay, Garçon and Jackson would take the prize in this category but the winner has to be the departure of General Manager Scot McCloughan. The drama that was synonymous with the franchise quieted during McCloughan’s time in Washington, but it came back in full force with the awkwardly handled ouster of a guy who had done a lot to get the team back on track after the ugly end to the Mike Shanahan era. Doug Williams moved to the top of the football operations department, but it feels like the shift moved power back to president Bruce Allen when all was said and done.

Coaching thermometer: There’s no fire, but that doesn’t mean it’s chilly. Jay Gruden is 21-26-1 through three years in Washington and changes to a front office often come with coaching changes, especially if they aren’t sold on their starting quarterback. A rocky start will likely be accompanied by an uptick on Gruden’s thermostat.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Josh Norman. The cornerback isn’t shy about sharing his opinion under any circumstances, so we imagine it would make for an entertaining visit to share some cold ones while talking Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant and anything else that comes to mind.

How they can prove us wrong: They won the division in 2015 and, as mentioned, weren’t far away from the playoffs last year so it doesn’t feel far-fetched that Washington could find themselves in the mix. For starters, the new faces on defense will have take to Manusky’s vow to be more aggressive and Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor will have prove to be capable replacements for the departed wideouts if the Redskins are going to contend in a deep NFC East.

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PFT Preseason power rankings No. 26: Indianapolis Colts

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The Colts could actually be pretty good. As long as Andrew Luck’s shoulder’s fine and they can keep him upright in the future.

Of course, those are two pretty big questions, and neither of them are close to certainties at the moment.

At last news, Luck still wasn’t throwing after having surgery on his very valuable right shoulder. We’re sufficiently far away from the start of the regular season that this could easily be a lot of worry about nothing. But when an entire franchise is riding on that surgical reconstruction, it’s also not the kind of thing to minimize.

Beyond that, they pushed through years of awkwardness-if-not-dysfunction by firing General Manager Ryan Grigson and keeping coach Chuck Pagano. He and new G.M. Chris Ballard won’t be tied at the hip, which could create future tension.

Ballard realized the defense he inherited was a bad one, and bought in bulk to help shore it up. He signed a bunch of solid, competent players such as Johnathan Hankins and Jabaal Sheard and John Simon who lend ballast to a side of the ball that needed it most.

It will take some time to stabilize things completely, but as long as Luck’s able to play, they’re going to contend in the AFC South.

Biggest positive change: It’s unseemly to kick a man when he’s down, but he’s also already down there next to your foot so it seems like a waste not to sometimes.

Put simply, Grigson squandered the single-most valuable commodity a G.M. could be gifted with: A good quarterback on a cheap rookie contract.

Instead of investing the savings wisely (the way the Seahawks did and others have), Grigson bought a bunch of non-contributors and wasted the window in which Luck was good and cheap. Now that he’s good and expensive, the job is going to be harder for Ballard to put the right parts around his quarterback.

Biggest negative change: They still haven’t invested in protecting Luck the way you think they would after he took 41 sacks last year. Former G.M. Bill Polian knew he was building an unbalanced team when he had Peyton Manning, but he did it because he knew Manning was his top asset and should be protected. The Colts have brought back largely the same line as last year, and that line wasn’t good enough then.

Coaching thermometer: Pagano might have another year or two after the scapegoating of Grigson (not that he did it), but he’s on at least a steady simmer if not a low boil. He and Ballard have different agendas, and lack familiarity. While they might have similar goals, Ballard’s there for the long-term fix and will obviously have more time to do it.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . We’d say Pagano, but we’re afraid he’d want to keep chopping wood and we’d be there all night. Frank Gore’s one of the more underrated backs of recent memory, and his workmanlike approach to his craft makes him one of the most respected by his peers. He’s also had ringside seats for some real weirdness in his career in San Francisco and now Indianapolis, which would make his perspective on looking for stability an interesting one.

How they can prove us wrong: If 2016 first-rounder Ryan Kelly turns into Luck’s Jeff Saturday, it would begin to stabilize the line and maybe they all get better. Otherwise, a lot of guys upfront are going to have to play beyond their level for this thing to stay on track. Again, it’s the AFC South so the bar’s not the highest. But the Titans have made big strides of late, and the Texans are always close, and one day the Jaguars might deliver, so there’s pressure on the Colts not to fall farther behind.

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PFT Preseason power rankings No. 28: Jacksonville Jaguars

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The last several years, the Jaguars have teased with potential, while stockpiling young talent. Some of the wizards of the national media (raises hand) have thought they had the mark of an ascending playoff team.

Instead, they cratered under former coach Gus Bradley, who was always upbeat and positive but also 14-48 in four seasons. While he can’t be blamed for the tear-down that had to happen before the rebuild, at some point the record matters and you have to proceed.

They’re not going to be as cheerful this year with Doug Marrone coaching and Tom Coughlin watching over the top of the whole operation. But with the long-standing NFL truth that if the last guy was fat, the next one will be skinny, Jaguars ownership clearly thought they needed to be led with a firmer hand.

But that discipline also has to come with better play, specifically from quarterback Blake Bortles, who has one last chance to prove he’s worth building around. By using the fourth overall pick in the draft on running back Leonard Fournette instead of another quarterback of the future, they have given Bortles his best chance to date to run a balanced offense.

Ultimately, Bortles will determine the fate of this season and his own future. If he plays the way he did two years ago with more help, the team could rise. If he doesn’t, the stage will be set for the next reconstruction.

Biggest positive change: The Jags have always had young talent on defense, which you need if you want to compete. But while winning the offseason again, they signed one of the league’s consummate professionals in defensive lineman Calais Campbell. Along with the additions of cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church, it’s the kind of influx of veteran talent (and maturity) that should push all the youngsters like Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack and Dante Fowler to realize the promise they’ve hinted at. The human talent is there. Now it has to become a good defense.

Biggest negative change: They were already quite bad so everything’s relative. It would have been nice to see left tackle Branden Albert all-in after they acquired him in trade. But he stayed away from the offseason program waiting for a contract extension which wasn’t coming. In his absence, it’s clear the Jaguars still have some work to do up front, and that’s going to be an issue for them. Second-round tackle Cam Robinson seems like a good pick, but we’ve heard that before from the Jaguars.

Coaching thermometer: Room temperature, which is probably a decent reflection of the state of the franchise. Marrone’s probably as safe as anyone in the short term, since he’s in his first full year and they seem to realize this might take a minute.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Tom Coughlin, and we say that with the knowledge it’s probably more of a happy hour/early bird special situation than an all-nighter. The elder statesman is back where his NFL head coaching career began, now with Super Bowls on his resume and the kind of presence the team sorely lacked. Simply making people show up on time isn’t going to be enough to turn the team around, but Coughlin’s also at a different point in life than his first time in Jacksonville. He’s not a big personality per se, but he also has the experience that means he has plenty of great stories. Even if a lot of them are about the good old days and end up with him yelling at the kids to get off his lawn.

How they can prove us wrong: Bortles can stop throwing so many interceptions. Jack grows into the role they envision in the middle (since they’ve bumped Paul Posluszny outside to make room for him). Fowler becomes the sack-producer they’ve been looking for for years. And all the other kids they’ve been pumping up finally play to their reputations.

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Tony Romo’s fantasy football convention scheduled for this weekend

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It appears Tony Romo’s fantasy football convention finally is going to happen.

The National Fantasy Football Convention twice has had to cancel after disputes with the NFL over gambling and sponsorship. In 2015, the NFL banned players from attending because it was being held at a casino property in Las Vegas. Last year, Romo and his cousin, Andy Alberth, co-owners of the event, moved the event to Pasadena, Calif. But the NFL had an issue with NFFC’s unauthorized use of the Madden NFL logo as it promoted the event’s title sponsor, EA Sports, and EA Sports canceled its participation.

This year’s three-day event is scheduled for this weekend in Dallas. Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott are among more than 50 current and former NFL players expected to attend, with many currently promoting the event on Twitter.

Never say never, because you never know what they (the NFL) are going to do, but we never got this close,” Alberth told Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today Sports. “And we have really good lawyers. We’re very confident and are super excited to see this thing come true after three years.”

Romo’s company has filed suit against the NFL over both canceled events. One case is scheduled for trial in November.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 30: Chicago Bears

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Quarterback is such an important position in the NFL that it’s almost impossible to overpay for a good one. But the biggest question facing the Bears heading into the 2017 season is whether they overpaid for two bad ones.

The twin surprising decisions to sign Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract and then to trade up to the second overall pick and draft Mitchell Trubisky have led to a great deal of scrutiny on the Bears. If Chicago had just spent the $6 million or so it would have taken to retain Brian Hoyer for another year, and the $2 million or so it would have taken to retain Matt Barkley for another year, and then drafted Trubisky with the third overall pick instead of trading up to second overall, there wouldn’t be nearly as much scrutiny.

But the Bears apparently think that by taking chances on Glennon and Trubisky, they’re likely to find that one of them is the long-term answer at quarterback. That will likely mean Glennon starting at first and Trubisky getting every opportunity to supplant him at some point during the season. If one of the quarterbacks shows promise this season, great. If not, the Bears are in big trouble.

Biggest positive change: The Bears will be healthier this year. How do we know that? Because they had so many injuries last year that they simply have to be healthier this year. uses a statistic called Adjusted Games Lost that factors in not just how many players missed games but how important those players were (so a starter missing time hurts more than a backup missing time), and how many players were ineffective because they were playing through injuries that had them listed as questionable on the injury report. Football Outsiders injury data goes back to 2000, and in that time no team was hit worse by injuries than the 2016 Bears. Regression toward the mean suggests that the Bears will be much healthier in 2017.

Biggest negative change: The biggest negative change, really, is not much change at all: The Bears were 3-13 last year, and it’s hard to see where they’ve really improved significantly. The players they have should be healthier than last year, but is the talent any better? It doesn’t look that way, which is why it’s easy to envision another last-place finish in the NFC North.

Coaching thermometer: John Fox’s seat isn’t exactly a boiling 212 degrees, but it’s probably around 175: He was brought in to replace Marc Trestman, who was fired after going 13-19 in two seasons, and Fox himself has done even worse, going 9-23 in two seasons. If the Bears aren’t showing signs of improvement at the end of the season, Fox may be sent packing.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Jordan Howard. We’d like to get a beer or two in Howard and hear whether he’s envious at all of Ezekiel Elliott for being drafted into a much better situation than Howard was. As a rookie running back in Chicago last year, Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing yards, behind only Elliott. Yet Elliott was doing it on a good team, behind perhaps the league’s best offensive line, while Howard was doing it on a lousy team in Chicago. If Howard thinks he deserves a lot of the credit Elliott is getting (not to mention something more like Elliott’s four-year, $25 million rookie contract, as opposed to Howard’s four-year, $2.6 million contract), it would be hard to blame him.

How they can prove us wrong: If either Glennon or Trubisky emerges as a good starting quarterback, Howard has another strong season and Fox gets his defense shaped up, it’s easy to see a healthier Bears team being a lot better than our No. 30 ranking suggests. But even if the Bears improve significantly, they’re likely to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season.

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Arkansas’ Bret Bielema pushing for later date for underclassmen to declare for NFL Draft

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College football coaches continue to push for a later deadline for underclassmen to declare for early draft eligibility. The subject came up during SEC Media Days on Monday when Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said several coaches advocate moving the “declaration date.”

The NFL sets a mid-January filing date for underclassmen to declare, although they get a 72-hour window to withdraw without losing NCAA eligibility.

We had more discussions this past spring about what we can do to progressively make this a little better if they do declare themselves [draft eligible], and move back that declaration date,” Bielema said, via Chase Goodbread of “I know Nick [Saban] and several other coaches in our league have proposed moving that date back a little bit to allow our guys to have a better understanding. There are times now where we have a bowl game in January, and a kid feels pressure or is hearing from outside sources that he needs to make a decision sooner than later. Then he makes a decision before the bowl game even takes place. That tells me that A.) he’s not focused on his priorities, and B.) he’s getting information from people who really shouldn’t be gathering and giving information, and it leads to an uninformed decision.”

Saban spoke out about a later NFL declaration deadline before Alabama’s College Football Playoff title game against Clemson. Bielema said a few extra days will make a big difference for college players without impacting the NFL.

“I had a young man two years ago who left early for the draft, didn’t get drafted, and he has the ability to possibly start in the NFL in Year 2. For him to be an undrafted free agent, the money that he lost will never be regained,” Bielema said. “I knew he had the ability, but we were just all in a hurry. We’re in the microwave world where everyone wants things done in 20 seconds, but sometimes it needs to cook for two hours.”

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 31: Cleveland Browns

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The Browns have taken the bottom rung in plenty of preseason, in-season and postseason power rankings in recent years, but that’s not where they find themselves in PFT’s rankings this summer.

They are No. 31, which isn’t where you’d want to be but it’s still a nice change for the Browns to have someone to look down on. Their chances of shooting higher up in the rankings will hinge on finally answering their eternal quarterback question.

Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and second-round pick DeShone Kizer are this year’s options under center, which offers some intriguing possibilities but little certainty that the search is ending this year. The good news for the Browns is that their stockpiling of draft picks, including three first-round selections this year, has led to more talent around the quarterbacks.

Biggest positive change: That increase in talent should be noticeable on both the offensive and defensive lines this year. First overall pick Myles Garrett gives the Browns a major piece to build around at defensive end and the team drafted two other defensive linemen to go with four others drafted in 2015 and 2016. On the other side of the ball, adding right guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter in free agency and extending left guard Joel Bitonio gives the Browns a stronger group to go with left tackle Joe Thomas.

Biggest negative change: It’s fair to wonder how much negative change a 1-15 team can experience, but Cleveland spent a lot of time working with Terrelle Pryor as he transitioned to wide receiver over the last two years and his 77 catches for 1,007 yards were a bright spot last season. They won’t reap any other rewards, however, as Pryor jumped to Washington as a free agent and the Browns will lean on Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt at wideout instead.

Coaching thermometer: The Browns have not shown much patience with their coaches of late, but Hue Jackson starts his second year without much heat under his seat. That won’t remain the case if the team’s search for a long-term answer at quarterback continues to be a fruitless one, but the Browns have embraced a longer view than they have in some time and Jackson is central to it.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Joe Thomas. Thomas has been through 10 seasons of losing with the Browns while playing for six head coaches and blocking for myriad quarterbacks. That’s a lot of fodder for stories and Thomas has the kind of personality that suggests they’d be good ones.

How they can prove us wrong: If the offensive line gels as hoped, the Browns should be able to run the ball and take some pressure off that quarterback group. Put that with a defense that follows new coordinator Gregg Williams’ history by improving in his first season with a team and the Browns could be playing a lot of close games in 2017. Get a few to break their way and the Browns will be looking a lot better in the final set of power rankings.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 32: New York Jets

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With training camps still a couple of weeks away and (fortunately) not many arrests or other misdeeds to fill the slow time, there’s a void that needs to be filled. So we’ll fill it with a look at each of the NFL’s franchises, ranked bottom to top based on where they’re currently perceived to be in relation to their 31 competitors at this stage of the season.

Feel free to complain in the comment about whether a team is ranked too high or too low. The first team could be ranked no lower; we start with the bottom of the barrel and dig upward.

Someone has to be last at the start of the season, and the Jets seem to be determined to be last at the end of the season. So we’ll go ahead and given them the distinction right now.

Biggest positive change: In an offseason without many of them for the Jets, the acquisition of cornerback Morris Claiborne stands out. Banged up and arguably misused in the Cowboys Cover-2 base defense that came after Claiborne was drafted, the former top-10 pick could become a difference maker in the Jets defense as a free-agent arrival. Or maybe not. Either way, there isn’t much to choose from by way of potentially positive changes.

Biggest negative change: Take your pick. The mass exodus of talented veteran players, from Nick Mangold to Ryan Clady to Darrelle Revis to Erin Henderson to Brandon Marshall to David Harris to Eric Decker, will make it much harder for the team to compete in 2017. Then again, chances are the Jets wouldn’t have been very competitive with them. So why not tear it down, earn the first pick in the draft, and take solace in the notion that 2018 will bring them one year closer to not having to deal with Tom Brady?

Coaching thermometer: It’s at least 200 degrees for Todd Bowles as he enters his third year. Although owner Woody Johnson (who’ll soon be handing the day-to-day reins to his brother but who surely will be involved in the big decisions) has said he’s looking only for improvement this season, improvement will be difficult with so many key players gone and so many unproven players in their place.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Matt Forte. It may take more than a few to get him going, but it would be great to hear what he really thinks about finishing his career with a franchise that clearly is in rebuilding mode, but that hasn’t cut him. Yet.

How they can prove us wrong: Most teams have at least semi-plausible hope this time of year. But not the Jets. It’s possible that they could avoid serious injuries throughout training camp and the preseason and slowly build confidence in September and then October, winning as many games as they lose. The guy who can help make that happen the most is veteran quarterback Josh McCown, who played very well with the Bears in 2013 but who has had tough situations in Tampa three years ago (no offensive coordinator) and in Cleveland for each of the past two seasons. If he can stay healthy and get help from Forte, a young receiving corps, and an offensive line firmly in flux, maybe the Jets can surprise us. Which, based on currently expectations, would mean winning more than four games.

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NFL players will get better deals only by missing game checks

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As NBA free agency continues, NFL players continue to gripe about how much more money NBA players make. Setting aside the inherent differences between the sports, the money paid to NFL players flows directly from the deal they’ve done at the bargaining table.

So if NFL players want more money, they need to cut a better deal.

That’s far easier said than done, for one very significant reason: NFL players don’t want to miss game checks. To get truly meaningful change, NFL players would have to miss a full season.

Ever since the failed strike of 1987, a sense has lingered that NFL players won’t sacrifice money and the ability to play football to improve the broader financial circumstances for themselves and, ultimately, for the next generation of NFL players. The 2011 lockout ended in large part because the players didn’t want to miss game checks, accepting the best financial offer that the owners had put on the table, along with plenty of favorable non-financial terms that resulted in reduced offseason programs and less intense training-camp and regular-season practices.

With four years left on the current labor deal, owners aren’t complaining about it — and all that that implies. If players want a better deal the next time around, they need to start planning for it now.

And here’s the key, which we’ve mentioned before but with players beginning to realize the connection between what they individually make and what they’ve collectively agreed to earn merits a reiteration: The players need to begin laying the foundation for an alternative way to generate revenue, if they get locked out by the owners or if the players launch a strike.

The best alternative way to generate revenue will be to create a separate league that will stage games on the same Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays that NFL games would have been played. Tentative stadium deals should be put in place, tentative broadcast deals should be negotiated, and the entire business infrastructure should be developed so that the NFLPA can simply flip the switch and stage games if/when it needs to.

None of it should happen in secret, either. To maximize the effectiveness of the strategy, the players need to make sure everyone knows what they’re planning to do, since the mere threat of an alternative league that would capture some of the billions the owners will sacrifice will motivate the NFL to avoid that outcome.

It’s a fair and proper approach for the players, especially since the biggest flaw in the players’ ability to hold firm during a work stoppage is their inability to get paid to play football. While they surely won’t get paid as much, they will earn something in the short term and, more importantly, they will position themselves to earn more in the long term by getting the best possible deal for themselves and the players who will follow them.

And then, a few years from now, maybe NBA players will be complaining during March about all the money NFL players are making in free agency.

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The full Derek Carr details

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It’s taken a little longer than usual, but finally the full and complete Derek Carr contract details have emerged. And, as usual, the details confirm some reports regarding the deal — and debunk others.

For now, the specifics:

1. Signing bonus of $12.5 million, paid within 15 days of contract signing.

2. Fully-guaranteed 2017 base salary of $5 million.

3. Fully-guaranteed roster bonus of $7.5 million, earned on June 30, 2017 and payable on or about September 21, 2017.

4. 2018 base salary of $7.4 million, guaranteed for injury only at signing and fully guaranteed as of the third day of the 2018 league year in March.

5. Fully-guaranteed roster bonus of $15 million, earned on the third day of the 2018 league year and paid within 15 days thereafter.

6. 2019 base salary of $19.9 million, guaranteed for injury only at signing and fully-guaranteed on the third day of the 2019 waiver period in February.

7. 2020 base salary of $18.9 million, $2.9 million of which is guaranteed for injury at signing. The $2.9 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2020 waiver period in February.

8. 2021 base salary of $19.525 million, not guaranteed.

9. 2022 base salary of $19.777519 million, not guaranteed.

10. Annual workout bonuses of $100,000 for 2018 through 2022, based on participation in the offseason program of at least 85 percent.

The deal pays out, as multiple others have reported, $40 million fully guaranteed at signing, along with $70.2 million for injury.

The contract isn’t as backloaded as it could have been (and as some assumed it was), given the looming move from California (with state income tax of 13 percent) to Nevada (with none). Here’s what Carr will receive, year by year:

2017: $25 million.

2018: $22.5 million.

2019: $20 million.

2020: $19 million.

2021: $19.625 million.

2022: $19.877 million.

Relative to the rest of the deal, Carr gets more per year in California than he’ll get in Nevada. The key for Carr becomes 2019; if the team remains in California that year, he’ll pay an extra $2.6 million in taxes.

The cap numbers for the deal are as follows, assuming five years of proration of the signing bonus: $15 million in 2017; $25 million in 2018; $22.5 million in 2019; $21.5 million in 2020; $22.125 million in 2021; $19.877 million in 2022.

The structure confirms that the Raiders’ reported reluctance to sign linebacker Khalil Mack this year due to cap issues is a canard. By loading up $12.5 million in roster bonus and salary and limiting the signing bonus of $12.5 million, Carr ended up with a much larger cap number this year than he otherwise could have had. With a salary of $1 million and a signing bonus of $24 million (which would have still created $25 million in cash flow), the cap number for 2017 would have been only $5.8 million.

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