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.

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. FootballOutsiders.com 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.

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 NFL.com. “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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Should NFL hold its draft before free agency?

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The question was posed during Thursday night’s NBA draft in the form of a Twitter poll, and NFL fans who are typically reluctant to change embraced the idea by a 12-point margin: Hold the NFL draft before NFL free agency.

Basketball and hockey both do it. Perhaps the NFL should, too.

For veteran players, the knee-jerk reaction would be that they don’t want their looming paydays to be usurped by younger and cheaper draft picks, as teams fill needs by adding rookies in lieu of paying veterans. But what about the teams that don’t get what they want or need in the draft? At that point, a premium could be paid to add a talented veteran free agent because there’s no “screw it we’ll just draft someone” fallback.

One practical impediment to what would be a dramatic change to the offseason calendar comes from the intense time and effort devoted to the draft from the moment football season ends. With the Scouting Combine and Pro Days and team visits and private workouts, the draft couldn’t be moved up by very much if at all, thereby delaying free agency into April, and perhaps May. With offseason programs opening in April, that’s hardly ideal.

So while it’s fun to think about teams first drafting players and then signing veterans, the NFL isn’t likely to change its approach any time soon. Unless the NFL decides that there’s plenty of money to be made by turning the offseason on its head.

Looking at the coming waves of quarterback deals

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When it comes to quarterback contracts, the player’s circumstances tend to have much more relevance to the final numbers than the broader market at the position. On Thursday, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr combined his status as a second-round pick entering the fourth and final year of his contract along with a clear message that he’s willing to do the franchise-tag dance into a long-term contract that nudges the bar a little higher than Colts quarterback Andrew Luck did a year ago.

As each franchise quarterback signs, attention turns to the next wave. Or two. Or three. Here’s a look at each of the foreseeable waves of major quarterback deals.

1. The Next Wave.

Kirk Cousins.

The twice-tagged Washington quarterback will either sign a long-term deal by July 17 or posture himself for one of several options in 2018: (1) a long-term contract with Washington signed after the season ends; (2) the transition tag of $28.7 million; (3) the franchise tag of $34.47 million; or (4) a shot at the open market, either with an offer sheet under the transition tag or as an unrestricted free agent.

His risks of letting it ride for a third straight year are simple and clear — serious injury or complete and total ineffectiveness. Either way, he will have made $44 million over two years, and at a minimum someone will pay him $5 million or so to serve as a backup in 2018, if for some reason he badly regresses this season.

What he’d make on the open market remains to be seen. The 49ers are believed to be interested, given the presence of former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. But the Rams have hired the coordinator who helped Cousins throw for more than 4,900 yards in 2016. If head coach Sean McVay decides that he both wants Cousins and hopes to keep him from Shanahan, Cousins could be in position to sit back and allow the NFC West rivals to bid the package higher and higher.

Matthew Stafford.

Stafford has a $16.5 million salary in 2017, the last year of the extension he signed with two years left on his rookie deal. With a 2017 cap number of $22 million, his franchise tender for 2018 would be $26.4 million. For 2019, it would move to $31.68 million. That’s a bare minimum of $74.58 million to be paid out over the next three years, and thus the starting point for another extension.

Bottom line? He could (should) soon eclipse Carr as the highest paid player in NFL history.

Jimmy Garoppolo.

A second-round pick from 2014 (like Carr), Garoppolo has been the subject of plenty of speculation regarding trades, franchise tags, and bridge deals aimed at paying him a lot of money to wait behind Tom Brady. For now, coach Bill Belichick merely wants to keep Garoppolo in place as insurance against a Brady injury. Come 2018, a decision will need to be made.

Some believe that Brady could retire after winning a sixth Super Bowl, especially since his wife seems to be steadily nudging him to walk off into the sunset. If that happens, the Patriots would then have a limited window for negotiating a long-term Garoppolo deal, with the franchise tag as the fallback against Garoppolo hitting the market.

The real question is whether the tag also would be the starting point on a long-term quarterback. For most quarterbacks, it is. But Garoppolo: (1) plays for the Patriots; and (2) is represented by Don Yee, the agent who has signed off on multiple below-market Tom Brady deals. Some think the Patriots will be able to get Garoppolo to take less than top dollar, like Brady has done. Others think Yee is determined to do with Garoppolo that which Brady refused to ever do.

If Brady refuses to retire after 2017 (and if the Patriots choose to keep him in place as a 41-year-old starter in 2018), they could tag and trade Garoppolo (see Matt Cassel), keep him under the tag for a year, sign Garoppolo to a short-term deal aimed at keeping him in place to take over for Brady, or let Garoppolo hit the open market and enhance their haul of compensatory draft picks in 2019.

Drew Brees.

Brees has one year left under contract, and a clause prohibiting the team from using the franchise tag to keep him in place the following year. Whether he stays or goes, Brees will count for a minimum of $18 million under the New Orleans salary cap next year.

He has said he won’t extend the deal, which means he’ll either sign with the Saints  after the 2017 season ends and before the launch of free agency or he’ll become an unrestricted free agent, like he did more than 11 years ago.

So what is a 39-year-old franchise quarterback worth on the open market? We could find out within nine months.

Sam Bradford.

Yes, Sam Bradford. The last No. 1 overall pick of the pre-rookie wage scale era, who made $78 million on his first six-year deal and enters the final season of the two-year, $36 million contract signed in Philadelphia last year. Now the starter in Minnesota, the Vikings can pay him a lot of money now or even more later, if forced to use the franchise tag to keep him in place.

The wildcard as to Bradford is Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings could end up choosing to keep him instead, if he recovers sufficiently from the devastating knee injury that compelled the Vikings to trade for Bradford last September.

A.J. McCarron.

Yes, A.J. McCarron. Other teams have been interested in trading for him, but the Bengals have wanted too much for the man who nearly helped Cincinnati nail down the No. 2 seed — and who did everything in his power to win a 2015 wild-card game against the Steelers — after Andy Dalton broke his thumb. Will someone break the bank for McCarron? He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

2. The Second Wave.

Matt Ryan.

The Falcons quarterback has two years remaining on his current deal, with a 2018 cap number of $21.65 million. This means that he’d make $25.98 million, at a minimum, under the franchise tag in 2019. With $35 million in cash due to be paid out over the next two seasons, the Falcons could approach Ryan about trading it in for a long-term deal that puts north of Carr in annual average, or Ryan could wait for the market to keep going up — and in turn for his leverage to increase.

However it plays out, another major payday is coming for Ryan. There’s currently no reason to think Ryan will push it to the brink and force the Falcons to play the franchise-tag dance.

Jameis Winston.

Winston won’t approach free agency or the franchise tag until after the 2019 season, but he’ll be eligible for a second contract after 2017 . Given that the Buccaneers have never (never) given a second contract to any quarterback the franchise drafted, they may want to make a statement by committing to Winston as early as possible — and possibly at a number far lower than it would be if he’s closer to the franchise tag.

Marcus Mariota.

Mariota, the second pick in the same year Winston was drafted No. 1 overall, also becomes eligible for a new deal after the 2017 season. The Titans will need to decide whether to move quickly or let it play out a bit, with Mariota under contract through 2019, once they pick up the fifth-year option. The decision could, in theory, hinge on how quickly the Buccaneers extend Winston, and vice-versa.

3. The Third Wave.

Aaron Rodgers.

Some would say Rodgers should be in the first wave. But here’s the rub: He doesn’t seem to be inclined to complain about his current contract, even though he’s woefully underpaid. It’s the Jo(h)n Voight Phenomenon; Rodgers did a bad deal, committing himself for seven full seasons in 2013 without accounting for potential spikes in the salary cap. As a result, his aging $22 million-per-year contract doesn’t compare well to new Derek Carr’s $25 million annual deal.

In March, as rumors and reports grew that the Bears would be giving Mike Glennon $15 million or more per year in free agency, Rodgers said as to whether this would compel contract talks for him, “I think it has to.” In response to the PFT item on the issue, Rodgers downplayed the obvious implications of his words and brushed our interpretation off as “#fakenews.”

Interpretation of the reaction to the interpretation? He plans to keep driving the LeBaron once owned by Jon Voight the actor, resisting any and all suggestions that it was actually owned by John Voight the periodontist.

Russell Wilson.

As Wilson entered the last year of his rookie deal in 2015, the Seahawks rewarded Wilson for a pair of Super Bowl appearances (and avoided the franchise-tag dilemma) with a four-year extension worth $21.9 million per year. Wisely, Wilson ensured that he’d get back to the market sooner than later, which likely puts him in line for another extension after the 2018 season, when once again approaches the final year of his current deal in 2019.

Dak Prescott.

The fourth-round phenom becomes eligible for a new deal after the 2018 season, and 2019 will be the fourth and final year of his rookie deal. The Cowboys will need to decide whether to do a top-of-market deal before Prescott approaches the franchise tag, or risk inheriting a Kirk Cousins conundrum. How he plays, and what the team achieves, over the next two years will be critical to answering that question.

NFL releases calendar for 2017-18, with draft site still TBD

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The NFL released its 2017-18 calendar Tuesday. It still must decide where to hold the 2018 draft on April 26-28, with the site listed as TBD on its schedule. The Cowboys and 13 other teams are interested in hosting the draft. The league could announce the site of the draft later this summer.

Important dates include:

Oct. 17-18 — Fall league meeting in New York.

Oct. 31 — Trade deadline.

Dec. 13 — Winter league meeting in Irving, Texas.

Feb. 20 — First day for teams to designate franchise or transition players.

Feb. 27-March 5 — NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

March 6 — Deadline for teams to designate franchise or transition players.

March 12-14 — Two-day free agency negotiating period opens.

March 14 — The 2018 league year begins, free agency opens and the trade period begins.

March 25-28 — Spring league meetings in Orlando, Florida.

April 26-28 — NFL Draft, TBD.

True superstars are few and far between in football

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Giants receiver Brandon Marshall recently dubbed new teammate Odell Beckham Jr. the “biggest superstar our game has ever seen in the history of football.” While there’s not much agreement on who deserves that title, most believe it’s not Beckham.

Superstardom can mean various things, and longevity of that status may not necessarily be one of the key ingredients.  Former Raiders running back Bo Jackson became a two-sport superstar for a brief but brilliants stretch, before a freak hip injury derailed his career. Former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow was indeed a true superstar, albeit for a matter of weeks.

Jets quarterback Joe Namath was arguably the original superstar, a crossover celebrity who brought football into the mainstream as effectively as anyone ever has. Following him, though eventually a pariah, was Bills running back O.J. Simpson, and others who have reached that status for portions of their careers were Bears running back Walter Payton, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, 49ers receiver Jerry Rice, Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, and even Bears defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry, who became a household name for a portion of 1985 based on his household-appliance alter ego, his size, and his periodic forays into the offensive backfield.

Other superstars included players like Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, carpetbagging cornerback Deion Sanders, Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whose excellence has been on display for 17 years — and who seems to be getting better as he gets closer to 40.

We welcome your comments on the subject. As if an invitation to provide feedback is ever required.

Is progress being made toward paying players a percentage of the salary cap?

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During the 2016 offseason, we explained that nothing in the labor deal prevents players from getting paid a percentage of the salary cap. This approach would protect great players against significant jumps in the spending limit (and, in turn, the market) creating the impression that the player is being underpaid in the latter years of the contract.

Some have tried to get there, starting with former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis in 2010 and, more recently, continuing with Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins last year. To date, no player has gotten that sort of term.

Jason Cole of Bleacher Report recently noted that “[s]ome agents and people within [the] NFLPA are increasingly suggesting” that star players tie their contracts to a percentage of the cap. It’ll happen only when a great player has maximum leverage, presumably upon hitting the open market and creating a land rush for his services. It probably also needs to be a franchise quarterback.

While most big-money, long-term deals are meaningless beyond the first couple of years, a franchise quarterback tends to continue to play every year of his contract, until it’s time for another. To date, however, no true franchise quarterback has tried to get the out-year protection that comes from tying compensation to cap percentage. Not Aaron Rodgers (who refuses to admit he’s underpaid because to do so would be to admit he did a subpar deal four years ago), not Peyton Manning in 2012 (when teams were lining up to get him), not Tom Brady at any time, not Ben Roethsliberger, not Drew Brees, not Russell Wilson, not Andrew Luck (who may not be a true franchise quarterback yet, but who had plenty of leverage when he did his second deal), not anyone.

There’s still no guarantee that a player would get that term. It’s believed that the highly-influential Management Council has encouraged teams to resist, which makes the refusal to tie wages to cap percentage arguably collusion, if there were ever a paper trail to prove it.

Cole mentions Odell Beckham Jr. and Derek Carr as current star players who potentially could get a piece of the cap to account for future spikes, but Beckham is two years away from having his best leverage (unless he’s willing to hold out from mandatory activities and ultimately skip games) and Carr has one more year before he can put the Raiders on the verge of the Cousins-style year-to-year franchise-tag dance.

It’s really not all that controversial of a term, which makes the refusal of teams to do it even more confusing. The team and the player would set the salaries and guarantees for the first two or three years of the contract, and then starting in the third or fourth year of the deal he’ll have a set salary along with a roster bonus or some other payment aimed at bringing his total pay for the year to a certain percentage.

For example, if the Raiders were to sign Carr to a contract worth $25 million per year (which would represent 14.9 percent of the 2017 salary cap of $167 million), Carr’s contract would ensure that, come 2019 or 2020 (and beyond) he’d always be making 14.9 percent of the total cap.

If Rodgers had included such a term in his 2013 contract worth $22 million per year, which represented 17.8 percent of the $123 million salary cap in the year it was signed, he’d be making $29.72 million this year. Instead, he’s making $13.65 million.

Accounting for his signing bonus, Rodgers actually is at $20.3 million this year. Still, that’s nearly $10 million lower than where he could have been if the deal had fully accounted for what has become a 35.7-percent hike in the cap since Rodgers signed.

Of course, a term like that could make a team more likely to squeeze a player to take less or to simply cut him in latter years of the deal, given his overall cash and cap burden. But getting a crack at the open market because the team thinks the player is making too much is always better than being tied to a team by a contract that doesn’t pay nearly enough, and having no way to improve the situation without alienating fans who always applaud owners for trying to make more money and consistently chastise players for doing the same.

NFL 2017 preseason schedule

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This is the full 2017 NFL preseason schedule. All times Eastern.

Hall of Fame Game – AUGUST 3
Thursday, Aug. 3: Dallas Cowboys vs Arizona Cardinals 8:00 PM (NBC)

WEEK 1 – AUGUST 9-13
Wednesday, Aug. 9: Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers 7:30 PM
Thursday, Aug. 10: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 10: Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 10: Washington Redskins at Baltimore Ravens 7:30 PM
Thursday, Aug. 10: Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots 7:30 PM
Thursday, Aug. 10: Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears 8:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 10: New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns 8:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 10 Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers 8:00 PM

Friday, Aug. 11: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants 7:00 PM
Friday, Aug. 11: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals 7:30 PM
Friday, Aug. 11: San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs 9:00 PM

Saturday, Aug. 12: Tennessee Titans at New York Jets 7:30 PM
Saturday, Aug. 12: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams 9:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 12: Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals 10:00 PM

Sunday, Aug. 13: Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts 1:30 PM
Sunday, Aug. 13: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Chargers 8:00 PM

WEEK 2 – AUGUST 17-21

Thursday, Aug. 17: Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 17: Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 17: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars 8:00 PM ESPN

Friday, Aug. 18: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks 10:00 PM

Saturday, Aug. 19: Carolina Panthers at Tennessee Titans 3:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 19: Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals 7:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 19: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys 7:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 19: New York Jets at Detroit Lions 7:30 PM
Saturday, Aug. 19: Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins 7:30 PM
Saturday, Aug. 19: New England Patriots at Houston Texans 8:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 19: Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders 10:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 19: Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers 10:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 19: Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals 10:00 PM

Sunday, Aug. 20: Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers 4:00 PM
Sunday, Aug. 20: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers 8:00 PM

Monday, Aug. 21: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns 8:00 PM ESPN

WEEK 3 – AUGUST 24-27

Thursday, Aug. 24: Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 24: Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars 7:30 PM

Friday, Aug. 25: New England Patriots at Detroit Lions 7:00 PM
Friday, Aug. 25: Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks 8:00 PM CBS

Saturday, Aug. 26: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons 7:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 26: Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens 7:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 26: New York Jets at New York Giants 7:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 26: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers 7:30 PM
Saturday, Aug. 26 Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7:30 PM
Saturday, Aug. 26: Oakland Raiders at Dallas Cowboys 8:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 26: Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams 8:00 PM CBS
Saturday, Aug. 26: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints 8:00 PM
Saturday, Aug. 26: Green Bay Packers at Denver Broncos 9:00 PM

Sunday, Aug. 27: Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans 1:00 PM FOX
Sunday, Aug. 27: Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins 4:30 PM FOX
Sunday, Aug. 27: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings 8:00 PM NBC

WEEK 4 – AUGUST 31

Thursday, Aug. 31: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets 7:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers 7:30 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: New York Giants at New England Patriots 7:30 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7:30 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears 8:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans 8:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings 8:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints 8:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs 8:30 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos 9:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Raiders 10:00 PM
Thursday, Aug. 31: Los Angeles Chargers at San Francisco 49ers 10:00 PM

Mike Mayock doesn’t hide his contempt for draft’s circus atmosphere

AP

There was a time when it went without saying that the NFL draft was only for the hardest of hard-core football fans: Who on earth would spend a spring day watching football players’ names being called except people who live and breathe football?

But that time has passed, and not everyone who lives and breathes football is happy about it.

Now the NFL has turned the draft into a massive event, one that draws tens of thousands of fans in person and several million viewers on television. Just as the Super Bowl now includes musical acts that hard-core football fans don’t care about, the NFL draft now includes picks being announced from locales around the world and even in outer space, all in an effort to make the draft a bigger event that appeals to more than just the hard-core fans who have always watched.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, about as hard-core a football fan as there is, got fed up with it today. As the Colts’ picks were announced with help from an orangutan at the Indianapolis Zoo, Mayock ripped his employer’s attempt to inject some levity into the proceedings.

“If we’re going back to the zoo, I’m walking off the desk,” Mayock said. “I’ve about had the zoo, OK? Enough. Enough. I mean, is this good TV?”

NFL Network’s Rich Eisen introduced the zoo segment with some sarcasm, saying, “If we don’t go to the zoo, the world will stop spinning.”

When the orangutan revealed the Colts’ selection of defensive tackle Grover Stewart, Mayock indicated he thought it was unfair to Stewart to turn one of the most significant moments of his life into a circus.

“I think we’ve got to be a little respectful,” Mayock said. “It’s a big day for Grover Stewart, and rather than talking about that chimp, let’s get back to some football here. It’s a big day for him.”

As NFL Network went to a commercial after that, Mayock could be heard saying, “At some point we’ve got to be able to talk about this.” It wasn’t clear if he was saying that to the audience or if he thought the commercial break had already begun and was saying it to his colleagues. Either way, he raises an important point: The NFL wants to grow the draft, but as it does so, it risks leaving its most passionate fans disillusioned.

Gareon Conley calls allegations “untrue, wrongful, and malicious”

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Former Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, who faces a rape accusation only one day before the draft, has responded with a strongly-worded statement reiterating the denial previously articulated by his lawyer.

The six-paragraph statement comes under the headline “Statement of Gareon Conley Regarding Untrue, wrongful, and Malicious Allegations.” It reads as follows, in full:

“The allegations against me concerning the night of April 8/9 that have recently been reported in multiple media outlets are completely false. I did not commit a crime and have not been charged with a crime.

“I pride myself on doing things the right way on and off the field. The things being said about me and what happened that night are not true and don’t fit my character at all. I realize that I put himself in the situation and I could have used better judgment. However, I have worked tirelessly to put myself in position to have the honor of being an NFL draft pick and these untrue allegations are putting a huge cloud over my name and the NFL Draft.

“These allegations appear to be an attempt to ruin this once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and my family. There were several witnesses including another female, who were present the entire time and have given statements that give an accurate account of what took place. I am upset but realize that I am powerless when false accusations are made and people try to convict you in the court of public opinion. It’s sad that your neighbor can get dragged through the mud based upon untrue and malicious allegations alone.

“I am completely confident that as the facts actually come out my name will be cleared.

“I was excited about participating in Thursday’s draft but I have decided it would be selfish of me to stay and be a distraction to the NFL, the other players, and their families who have worked just as hard as me to enjoy the experience so I will not be in attendance.

“I hope and look forward to the honor of being an NFL player and working to be the best representative, player, person, and teammate I can be for the team and the community I will be in.