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Latest brain study shows 110 of 111 donations from NFL players had CTE

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While researchers admit their methodology isn’t exact and they’re not predicting rates for the future, the latest study regarding the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy shows a strong correlation.

Via Rick Maese of the Washington Post, researchers at Boston University who are studying brains donated by families of former NFL players said that 110 of the 111 donations showed signs of CTE.

While that’s not a random sample reflecting the entire sport (the donations come largely from players who were struggling with some issue or had committed suicide), the big numbers do alarm those studying the issue.

“Obviously, this doesn’t represent the prevalence in the general population, but the fact that we’ve been able to gather this high a number of cases in such a short period of time says that this disease is not uncommon,” neuropathologist Ann McKee said. “In fact, I think it’s much more common than we currently realize. And more importantly, this is a problem in football that we need to address and we need to address now in order to bring some hope and optimism to football players.”

All told, the Boston University study covered 202 brains donated by families of men who had played some level of football. CTE was discovered in 177 of them (87 percent). The 99 percent of former NFL players was the highest level. The study also showed CTE in 3-of-14 who played at the high school level (21.4 percent), 48-of-53 who played in college (90.6 percent), 9-of-14 who competed semiprofessionally (64.3 percent) and 7-of-8 who played in the CFL (87.5).

McKee said the study provides: “overwhelming circumstantial evidence that CTE is linked to football.”

The league has pledged to devote $100 million and resources toward the effort, and spoke at the league meetings this spring about specific research into helmet safety.

“We appreciate the work done by Dr. McKee and her colleagues for the value it adds in the ongoing quest for a better understanding of CTE,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement provided to PFT. “Case studies such as those compiled in this updated paper are important to further advancing the science and progress related to head trauma. The medical and scientific communities will benefit from this publication and the NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes. As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE.  The NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.

“In 2016, the NFL pledged $100 million in support for independent medical research and engineering advancements in neuroscience related topics. This is in addition to the $100  million that the NFL and its partners are already spending on medical and neuroscience research.”

The authors of the studies have admitted some limitations, pointing out that the game has changed in recent years from equipment changes to rules. But the sheer size of the numbers still stand as worthy of further study.

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Jaguars lock up Brandon Linder with five-year extension

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The Jaguars may not be sure if Blake Bortles is their quarterback for the long term, but they seem to be pretty certain that Brandon Linder is the guy they want snapping the ball.

Jacksonville announced that they have signed starting center Brandon Linder to a five-year extension.

“It was something we wanted to get done so now we can just ball,” Linder said, via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. “We knew after OTAs we wanted to talk. In the past two weeks [we] got some traction.”

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Jaguars have signed their starting center to the deal is worth up to $51.7 million. The deal also reportedly includes $24 million in guaranteed money.

Linder’s deal puts him at the very top of the salary scale for centers with his average salary per year coming in above what Travis Frederick got in his 2016 extension from the Cowboys.

Linder, who was selected in the third round of the 2014 draft, opened his career at guard in Jacksonville before moving over to center last season. He made 14 starts and it would appear he made a strong impression on Doug Marrone, who was his position coach before moving up to head coach after Gus Bradley was fired last season.

 

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NFLPA gathering info about Lucky Whitehead’s release

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The Cowboys used a fire-ready-aim approach to the termination of Lucky Whitehead. The NFL Players Association will use a more deliberate approach in responding to the situation.

Then again, anything would be more deliberate than what the Cowboys did.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA have begun the process of exploring the situation, reaching out to Whitehead and his agent, David Rich, for more information.

That doesn’t mean anything will happen. Indeed, there may be nothing that can be done when a team exercises its prerogative to waive a player for off-field reasons that may be factually inaccurate.

The best argument possibly comes from paragraph 11 of the Standard Player Contract, which authorizes termination “if Player has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club.” If Whitehead actually didn’t engage in the conduct that the team deemed him guilty of engaging in, the termination could be challenged.

But then what? To have any potential recovery, he’d likely have to prove he would have made it to the team’s 53-man roster come September. And that seems speculative at best.

Either way, look for nothing to happen until the waiver period expires on Wednesday, since it’s a no-harm, no-foul situation if another team claims his contract.

Also, look for Rich to join PFT Live on Wednesday to discuss one or the more bizarre NFL sets of facts in recent history.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 1: New England Patriots

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Two weeks. 16 days. 31 individual snapshots of the various NFL franchises. One to go.

You already knew which team it would be after we unveiled No. 2 (hell, you probably knew who it was before we unveiled No. 32). The Patriots. Five-time Super Bowl winners. Two in the last three years. And, most importantly, the only defending champions to ever mash the gas in an effort to get even better.

Yes, the new G.O.A.T. has an improved roster on both sides of the ball as he tries to get his record-extending sixth Super Bowl win for a quarterback, which also would catch the Steelers for the most by any franchise. They’ll be the overwhelming pick to get there, and to win it. Which, of course, will only make it harder to do.

But do it they can. With an obsessive focus on the here and now, the Patriots never get flustered by the big picture or expectations or anything else that has caused many a contender to slip from contention. And while it would be foolish to hand the Lombardi to the Patriots without playing the 267 games that come before it officially happens, it’s hard to recall a preseason favorite who was more of a postseason favorite than the Patriots.

Biggest positive change: In an offseason with plenty of positive changes, perhaps the biggest addition for 2017 and beyond comes from Buffalo, where the Bills weren’t interested in keeping cornerback Stephon Gilmore — but the Pats were willing to pounce. And since the Patriots have seen Gilmore twice per year for five years, they’ve surely seen something they like. And now they have insurance against the eventual departure of Malcolm Butler, who is sticking around for one more year, and probably only one more year. However they use Gilmore, coach Bill Belichick knows everything Gilmore can and can’t do.

Biggest negative change: For a defending Super Bowl winner, there weren’t nearly as many as usual. The biggest name to leave was a guy no one ever expected to stay — tight end Martellus Bennett. Enter former Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, who potentially will help fill the role, if he’s not overwhelmed by the Patriot Way. The addition of other receivers and running backs will help, too, as the Patriots assemble perhaps the best array of offensive weapons they’ve ever had.

Coaching thermometer: 459 below Fahrenheit. Negative 253 Celsius. Absolute zero. Belichick has the job for as long as he wants it. Not even an 0-16 disaster would get him fired, not that an 0-16 disaster would ever happen to him. The real question is whether they go 16-0 for the second time in 10 years. And indeed they could.

We’d like to have a beer with . . . Belichick. Everyone who knows him swears that when he gets away from football he’s not the cold, flat, monotonous, day-to-day bad ventriloquist whose mouth moves just enough to confirm that he’s the one who’s talking and/or breathing. So let’s get him away from football and get him a beer and talk about boats or Bon Jovi or the history of the single wing or whatever tickles his fancy and gets him to act like something other than a cyborg whose only sign of humanity is the fact that he’s gaining wrinkles and losing hair.

How they could prove us wrong: It won’t take much to prove us wrong, because any deviation from wire-to-wire No. 1 seed would prove us wrong. The only potential vulnerability may be man-to-man coverage, which seemed to work (relatively speaking) when deployed by the Houston and Atlanta defenses in the postseason. The Steelers are hoping to use it more in an effort to match up better with the Patriots, who can’t be covered effectively in zone because Tom Brady can spot and dismantle any collection of defenders aimed at covering spots and not players.

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Picking the eventual NFL MVP pick

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You can bet on plenty of things involving the NFL, including not only things that happen during games but things that happen when a bunch of middle-aged sportswriters cast votes.

The officially NFL MVP award will be the result of a 50-person vote, and odds have been set on it. On Tuesday’s PFT Live, Barstool Big Cat and yours truly picked three potential MVP candidates each. By rule (which makes it sound official and thus legitimate), at least one of the picks had to be a non-quarterback.

Take a look and a listen and then tell Big Cat why he’s wrong about his picks in the comments. And then make your own picks for NFL MVP in the comments.

Or don’t. I mean, it’s not mandatory. I’m just trying to give you something to do as you otherwise watch the clock and wait for the moment that you can get the hell out of the cubicle and go home.

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Lucky Whitehead: Cowboys pretty much called me a liar

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Lucky Whitehead expressed disappointment the Cowboys didn’t believe his side of the story.

Let’s not sugarcoat anything,” Whitehead told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. “I was pretty much being called a liar.”

Whitehead said he doesn’t know how someone had his social security number and driver’s license number, which is why police in Virginia accused the receiver of shoplifting in June. Charges were dropped when Whitehead proved he wasn’t in Virginia until several hours after the convenience store incident.

“As far as the whole situation went down, I was blindsided,” Whitehead said. “I didn’t know about a warrant that came about in the first place clearly because I wasn’t the person arrested. The head person [in the Cowboys organization] I told, no one backed me up. No one had my back in the whole situation. I knew about it at what? 12:45. By 2:30, I’m released.”

Jason Garrett daily preaches accountability and responsibility, and the Cowboys have signs around The Star with the same message.

“As far as the stuff that was preached [by the Cowboys], I was left out to dry,” Whitehead said. “You see the mantras that are all around The Star. I mean, by 12:45 I figured out that this is even going on. By 2:30 I was released. What’s the real reason? Let me clear my name. I didn’t have time to do that.

“I was pretty much called a liar.”

Although Whitehead understandably doesn’t like the way his parting happened, the Cowboys probably did him a favor. He was a long shot to make the roster after the Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer in the fourth round.

The Cowboys are expected to make his release official today, with Whitehead becoming a free agent if he clears waivers.

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Andrew Hawkins announces his retirement

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In a surprise move just before the start of training camp, Patriots receiver Andrew Hawkins has announced his retirement.

Hawkins never played for the Patriots, having just signed with them in free agency this offseason. In a video he posted on social media, he explained that he simply didn’t think he could handle another season at age 31.

“I just got off the phone with the New England Patriots and coach Belichick and I just had to inform them of my decision to retire,” he said. “After OTAs this summer, my body just didn’t respond and didn’t feel the way it should going into camp.”

Hawkins said he wanted to play for the Patriots and they wanted him, but it just wasn’t going to work out.

“They were disappointed,” he said. “I told them I was appreciative of the opportunity to work with an organization as storied as they are.”

Hawkins played three seasons with the Browns and three with the Bengals. He recently got a master’s degree from Columbia and said the next step in his life will be working on a Ph.D. in business and economics.

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Matthew Slater: Patriots don’t talk about a 19-0 season

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The Patriots have had such a good offseason following their Super Bowl LI victory that talk is already surfacing about New England going 19-0.

But that talk is not coming from the Patriots’ locker room.

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater says he and his teammates laugh when reporters or fans broach the idea that they could win every game from Week One through Super Bowl LII.

“When it comes to a perfect season, when you hear something like that, I guess all you can do is chuckle,” Slater told Bostonsportsjournal.com. “I mean, it’s just so hard to even go out and just being competitive in this league. It’s so difficult. Any talk of us doing something like that, it’s not something I’d align myself with or something our team would think or talk about. Right now, we’re just thinking about going out there and stringing some good practices together. It’s tough — I would say it’s something we don’t really talk about or focus any of our energy on, because we understand that at this time of the year, it’s about getting prepared to play. We’re a long way away from even competing in a game.”

Patriots receiver Julian Edelman made similar comments, calling talk of the Patriots going 19-0 “stupid.” But that talk will probably continue until the Patriots lose a game.

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Agent: All charges dropped against Lucky Whitehead

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The Cowboys finally held someone (hard gulp) accountable. Even if there was no reason to.

Agent Dave Rich tells PFT that all charges have been dropped against former Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead, and that the warrant has been rescinded.

It’s still not clear how it all happened. Possibly, someone in Whitehead’s home county in Virginia decided to give the authorities Whitehead’s name when arrested for shoplifting. PFT has attempted to obtain more information regarding whether a mug shot or other identifying factors were obtained, but the call has not been returned by the powers-that-be in Prince William County.

However the situation happened, Whitehead has suffered the consequences. “They cost this guy his job,” Rich told PFT.

The good news is that the truth is coming out while Whitehead remains eligible to be claimed on waivers. Now that he has been cleared, maybe someone will.

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Report: Broncos hiring Gary Kubiak in scouting role

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Gary Kubiak stepped down as the head coach of the Broncos at the end of the 2016 season, but he’s reportedly back in the organization.

Mike Klis of KUSA reports that the Broncos are hiring Kubiak as a senior personnel executive. Kubiak’s role will be a scouting one.

Kubiak experienced health problems while coaching the Broncos last year and missed a game after being taken to the hospital with what was called a complex migraine. He also suffered a mini-stroke when he was the Texans coach in 2013 and avoiding further issues caused by the stress of coaching led to his decision to step down.

He’ll be based in Houston and work on evaluating college players for the draft, which likely means he’ll be interacting with his son and Broncos southwest area scout Klein. Another of his sons, Klint, is an offensive assistant on Vance Joseph’s staff.

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Duane Brown prepares to hold out

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Good news, Texans fans: Receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be showing up for training camp. Bad news, Texans fans: Tackle Duane Brown apparently won’t be.

Per a league source, Brown is planning to boycott training camp when it opens later this week in West Virginia.

Brown already has skipped the full offseason program, including a mandatory minicamp that exposed him to roughly $80,000 in fines. Ditching training camp comes with a potential cost of $40,000 per day.

The 31-year-old left tackle has two years left on his contract, at non-guaranteed salaries of $9.4 million and $9.75 million, respectively. He received a $12.5 million signing bonus in 2012, along with total salaries of more than $23 million in the five seasons since then.

So he can easily afford to pay the fines, and (if it comes to it) to skip game checks. The question is whether withholding services will result in the Texans ripping up the last two years of the deal and giving Brown a raise.

And before anyone climbs on to the “honor thy contract” soapbox, don’t forget that these contracts are one-way streets. Teams can rip up the deal at any time without consequence, but players can’t. Players can, however, choose to not perform within the confines of the rules that apply to refusing to work while under contract.

If Brown is willing to pay the fines, he has every right to dig in and hold out.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 2: Atlanta Falcons

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The thing people will remember about the 2016 Falcons is that they blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.

That’s reality, but also a shame, because there was so much positive about their season and what it portends for the future.

The Falcons have traditionally had skill-position talent, but they pushed it to another level last year, leading the league in scoring (33.8 points per game). Much of that hinged on improvements up front, as their addition of center Alex Mack was one of the hidden keys to the season. Quarterback Matt Ryan has always been good. With time to process, he was surgical, which helped him win an MVP.

They’re also young and talented on defense, and will get boosts this year. Remember, they played the latter portion of last season without their top cornerback (Desmond Trufant, who was lost to a pectoral injury midway through the year) and added another pass-rusher in Takk McKinley in the first round.

Coupled with their new state-of-the-art stadium, there’s plenty to be excited about for the long-term trajectory of the team.
But that one thing will continue to linger in the background.

Biggest positive change: The Falcons should be deeper on defense, and they could use that.

Veteran defensive tackle Dontari Poe was a good piece of business on a one-year deal, giving them a solid interior rusher.

And if McKinley emerges to help Vic Beasley (who looked like a bust after his rookie year, then looked like a star last year, perhaps the fault is with making premature judgments), they could be even better on that side of the ball.

Biggest negative change: Losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is going to take a minute to work through.

They were playing at such a high level last year that even a slight disruption is a big deal, and taking their play-caller out is definitely not just a slight disruption. We’ll see if Steve Sarkisian can keep things going, because he was given the gift of personnel to work with.

Coaching thermometer: Cool for now, but the Super Bowl collapse will raise the heat on Dan Quinn if they can’t continue playing at a high level. The Falcons coach has been unfailingly upbeat this offseason when discussing the elephant in the room, but it will never truly go away. The challenge will be keeping it out of his guys’ minds when an individual game turns south, because wondering if they’re about to fold again.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . It almost doesn’t matter, because the beers are cheap enough at their new stadium you can have more than one without taking out a home equity line.

Owner Arthur Blank has done some interesting things within the context of the league, and his cut-rate concessions (two-dollar hot dogs and five bucks for a beer) will make him more popular with fans — if not his business partners who are still gouging for snacks and beverages at their games.

Blank’s been willing to go against the grain, and that makes him one of the more interesting members of his club of 32.

How they can prove us wrong: It’s not foolproof, and a return to the playoffs is likely but far from a guarantee.

One of the first steps is making sure Devonta Freeman stays happy. The running back’s contract talks have had some rough spots, and the Falcons have kept the petty stuff at arm’s length. But if they can’t get a deal done before the season, there will be a lingering worry that an integral part of the offense is thinking about his post-Falcons years.

And while Quinn’s attitude is key to keeping the bad thoughts at bay, a run of bad luck (injuries or otherwise) could lead to flashbacks, and denying their existence doesn’t make them go away.

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Falcons feel good about Julio Jones’ recovery from foot surgery

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Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones may face a limited rep count when he returns to the field in training camp on Thursday, but the team feels good about his progress from foot surgery.

Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said Jones is doing well, although the Falcons don’t know how much they’ll have to limit him.

“He’s healed up very, very well,” Dimitroff said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are ready for him to jump into camp. I’m don’t know the exact rep count, but as you know Julio will do what he feels he can do. . . . He’s so competitive when he gets back on the field. We’ll continue to monitor him.”

Jones had the surgery in March and was given a recovery time of 4-5 months.

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Unenforceable rule may become relevant to Gareon Conley’s contract

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With Raiders first-round cornerback Gareon Conley unsigned and still under investigation for rape, the team and the player have a problem. How do they work out a deal with a cloud still lingering that could result in Conley being prosecuted and possibly convicted?

The answer is simple. As one league source with extensive experience negotiating contracts explained it recently, teams drafting players who present unusual circumstances often will communicate with the player’s agent before the pick is made, making a verbal request for eventual contractual protections. Although any such terms would be both unenforceable and a violation of the labor deal, it happens — and both teams and agents respect these wink-nod arrangements.

If the Raiders asked Conley while on the clock (or, quite possibly, before being on the clock) whether Conley would agree to certain terms if the charges remain unresolved when camp opens and if Conley agreed, Conley’s camp should honor the commitment. If the Raiders made no such requests, then the team made Conley the 24th pick in the draft with no strings attached; he should get every penny and every term that he would have gotten regardless of the unresolved criminal case.

To date, we’ve been unable to determine whether the Raiders made any special requests, or whether Conley’s agents agreed. Side deal or not, both sides now know what the posture will be entering camp. The only thing left is to work something out in accordance with what was, or wasn’t, promised on the first night of the draft.

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Robert Griffin III gets a workout with the Chargers

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With training camps opening around the NFL, Robert Griffin III has finally drawn some interest.

Griffin will work out for the Chargers on Tuesday, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

It’s the first report of any team having any interest at all in Griffin, who was the second overall draft pick and the NFL’s rookie of the year in 2012. A knee injury in the postseason after his rookie year changed the way Griffin played, and he’s never been even close to the star quarterback he was as a rookie.

Now he’ll get a shot to show he’s at least in good enough shape to serve as a camp arm and perhaps a backup to starter Philip Rivers.

Behind Rivers the Chargers have three quarterbacks on the depth chart: Kellen Clemens, Mike Bercovici and Eli Jenkins. If Griffin is even close to the same player he once was, he’s an improvement over any of those three backups. But whether Griffin can ever return to form remains to be seen.

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