NFLPA will “challenge any aspect” of anthem policy inconsistent with CBA

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The NFL released a statement outlining a new anthem policy agreed to in a unanimous vote of league owners at this week’s meetings in Atlanta.

The policy calls for everyone on the field for the song to “stand and show respect,” but allows for players and other personnel to remain off the field if they choose. It also calls for the league to fine teams whose personnel do not “stand and show respect” and allows teams to set their own “work rules” for players who do not stand for the song.

After the NFL released its statement, the NFLPA responded with one of its own.

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy.’ NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.

“The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.

“Our union will review the new “policy” and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

At a brief press conference after the release of the statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said there was “incredible engagement” with players about the anthem issue and said any response to the union would come in direct conversation with them. He was also asked who would be the arbiter of what it means to “show respect” and said the “general public has a very good feel” for what that is without delving into a detailed discussion of what that might mean beyond kneeling.

NFL releases statement on new anthem policy

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The National Football League adopted a new policy regarding the national anthem at this week’s league meetings in Atlanta and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement outlining that policy on Wednesday afternoon.

As reported, the policy calls for all league and team personnel on the field to stand during the playing of the anthem while eliminating the requirement that all league and team personnel be on the field for the playing of the song. It also calls for the league to discipline teams whose personnel do not comply with the policy and allows teams to set their own “work rules” regarding players who do not stand during the playing of the song.

The complete text of that statement appears below:

The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country — one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players. We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.

The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed. The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business. We are honored to work with our players to drive progress.

It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.

This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.

We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it — and on our fans who enjoy it.

POLICY STATEMENT

The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice. The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.

The membership also strongly believes that:

1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

2.The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.

3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.

4. A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

How would the Malcolm Butler benching have been viewed in a world of legalized gambling?

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Membership in the group that calls itself the @PFTPMPosse carries with it an important obligation. Via the questions posed for every episode of the #PFTPM podcast, the ever-growing group of loyal supporters introduces concepts and ideas that probably wouldn’t have otherwise entered my relaxed brain.

Here’s a great question that emerged in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision to allow legalized sports wagering in the 49 states that don’t have it: If Patriots coach Bill Belichick had planned to bench starting cornerback Malcolm Butler for the entirety of a Super Bowl (with the exception of one special-teams play) in an environment with widespread legal gambling, would Belichick have been able to keep that to himself?

The people who legally (in Nevada) and illegally (everywhere else) bet on the Patriots to cover in Super Bowl LII surely were miffed and perplexed that Butler didn’t play. If hundreds of millions of dollars legally had been bet on the Patriots and Belichick had made such an unexpected move for reasons that he chose (as he always does) to keep to himself, the reaction may have been far different.

This is just one of the many issues that NFL will have to consider as it braces for the unintended consequences of something that, on the surface, will result in much greater revenue for the sport. And it will be important for the league to anticipate the many unintended consequences and plan for them.

Given the Butler case, the NFL may need to demand a greater degree of transparency not just as to injuries (where there’s currently a very limited degree of transparency, thanks to the bare-bones injury reports) but also as to strategic departures from the reasonably expected status quo. Teams eventually may have to publish binding depth charts within, say, 48 hours before kickoff. Other than players listed as questionable or worse on the injury report, the starters as listed on the official depth chart would then be starting the next game.

But that would have unintended consequences, too, with coaches easily avoiding the spirit of the rule by listing a player as a starter — and then benching him after as little as only one play. So then the question would become whether the players listed as starters would be required to participate in a certain number of snaps barring injury or gross ineffectiveness. Which then would open the door for teams to claim a player was injured and/or grossly ineffective when perhaps he actually wasn’t.

It could quickly become an effort to juggle Jello for the league, with coaches who strive for maximum secrecy (and who already resent having to make basic disclosures about injuries) doing anything they can to find a way to comply with efforts to prevent another Butler debacle while keeping the flexibility to do whatever they want to do without explaining themselves to anyone. But the NFL will have a good reason to come up with something that works, and to compel the coaches to go along with it.

The unspoken nightmare scenario for the league office continues to be the creation of an independent agency charged with overseeing professional football. If enough gambling controversies emerge, whether due to corruption, incompetence, or an awkward intersection between coaches who want to win football games and gamblers who want to win money, the NFL may lose its stubborn insistence to handle its own business.

And if it seems far fetched to think that government would get involved in something like this, consider the overall purpose and mission of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Only 76 draft picks remain unsigned three weeks after draft

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The days of lengthy training camp holdouts for draft picks has long since passed (unless you’re Joey Bosa) given the current rookie contract slotting system in place with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Just three weeks since the NFL Draft came to an end, the vast majority of draft picks have already signed their rookie contract.

As of Thursday night, 180 of the 256 players drafted had signed their rookie contracts, according to the league transaction reports.

There are a few notable quirks to the players that remain unsigned.

There are currently more third-round picks without contracts (24) than first-round picks (22).

The Los Angeles Rams and Miami Dolphins account for 19 of the remaining unsigned players as neither team has inked a single draft pick to a rookie contract at this point.

Three teams – the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles – have signed their entire draft classes. Another 11 teams (Atlanta, Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, LA Chargers, Minnesota, New Orleans, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington) have just one pick yet to be signed.

Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson (6th overall) and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen (10th overall) are the highest picks to have signed their rookie contracts.

Below is the list of players still unsigned, first listed by draft position, then by team.

By draft order:

Round Pick Team Player
1 1 Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield
1 2 New York Giants Saquon Barkley
1 3 New York Jets Sam Darnold
1 4 Cleveland Browns Denzel Ward
1 5 Denver Broncos Bradley Chubb
1 7 Buffalo Bills Josh Allen
1 8 Chicago Bears Roquan Smith
1 9 San Francisco 49ers Mike McGlinchey
1 11 Miami Dolphins Minkah Fitzpatrick
1 12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vita Vea
1 15 Oakland Raiders Kolton Miller
1 17 Los Angeles Chargers Derwin James
1 21 Cincinnati Bengals Billy Price
1 23 New England Patriots Isaiah Wynn
1 24 Carolina Panthers D.J. Moore
1 25 Baltimore Ravens Hayden Hurst
1 26 Atlanta Falcons Calvin Ridley
1 28 Pittsburgh Steelers Terrell Edmunds
1 29 Jacksonville Jaguars Taven Bryan
1 30 Minnesota Vikings Mike Hughes
1 31 New England Patriots Sony Michel
1 32 Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson
2 35 Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb
2 36 Indianapolis Colts Darius Leonard
2 37 Indianapolis Colts Braden Smith
2 38 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ronald Jones II
2 41 Tennessee Titans Harold Landry
2 42 Miami Dolphins Mike Gesicki
2 44 San Francisco 49ers Dante Pettis
2 46 Kansas City Chiefs Breeland Speaks
2 47 Arizona Cardinals Christian Kirk
2 61 Jacksonville Jaguars D.J. Chark
2 63 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carlton Davis
3 65 Oakland Raiders Brandon Parker
3 67 Cleveland Browns Chad Thomas
3 69 New York Giants B.J. Hill
3 70 San Francisco 49ers Fred Warner
3 71 Denver Broncos Royce Freeman
3 72 New York Jets Nathan Shepherd
3 73 Miami Dolphins Jerome Baker
3 74 Washington Redskins Geron Christian
3 75 Kansas City Chiefs Derrick Nnadi
3 76 Pittsburgh Steelers Mason Rudolph
3 77 Cincinnati Bengals Sam Hubbard
3 78 Cincinnati Bengals Malik Jefferson
3 79 Seattle Seahawks Rasheem Green
3 80 Houston Texans Martinas Rankin
3 81 Dallas Cowboys Michael Gallup
3 87 Oakland Raiders Arden Key
3 89 Los Angeles Rams Joseph Noteboom
3 91 New Orleans Saints Tre'Quan Smith
3 92 Pittsburgh Steelers Chukwuma Okorafor
3 93 Jacksonville Jaguars Ronnie Harrison
3 96 Buffalo Bills Harrison Phillips
3 97 Arizona Cardinals Mason Cole
3 99 Denver Broncos Isaac Yiadom
3 100 Kansas City Chiefs Dorian O'Daniel
4 105 Cleveland Browns Antonio Callaway
4 107 New York Jets Christopher Herndon
4 110 Oakland Raiders Nick Nelson
4 111 Los Angeles Rams Brian Allen
4 123 Miami Dolphins Durham Smythe
4 131 Miami Dolphins Kalen Ballage
4 135 Los Angeles Rams John Franklin-Myer
5 139 New York Giants R.J. McIntosh
5 147 Los Angeles Rams Micah Kiser
5 160 Los Angeles Rams Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
6 176 Los Angeles Rams John Kelly
6 192 Los Angeles Rams Jamil Demby
6 195 Los Angeles Rams Sebastian Joseph
6 205 Los Angeles Rams Trevon Young
6 209 Miami Dolphins Cornell Armstrong
7 227 Miami Dolphins Quentin Poling
7 229 Miami Dolphins Jason Sanders
7 231 Los Angeles Rams Travin Howard
7 244 Los Angeles Rams Justin Lawler

By team:

Round Pick Team Player
2 47 Arizona Cardinals Christian Kirk
3 97 Arizona Cardinals Mason Cole
1 26 Atlanta Falcons Calvin Ridley
1 25 Baltimore Ravens Hayden Hurst
1 32 Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson
1 7 Buffalo Bills Josh Allen
3 96 Buffalo Bills Harrison Phillips
1 24 Carolina Panthers D.J. Moore
1 8 Chicago Bears Roquan Smith
1 21 Cincinnati Bengals Billy Price
3 77 Cincinnati Bengals Sam Hubbard
3 78 Cincinnati Bengals Malik Jefferson
1 1 Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield
1 4 Cleveland Browns Denzel Ward
2 35 Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb
3 67 Cleveland Browns Chad Thomas
4 105 Cleveland Browns Antonio Callaway
3 81 Dallas Cowboys Michael Gallup
1 5 Denver Broncos Bradley Chubb
3 71 Denver Broncos Royce Freeman
3 99 Denver Broncos Isaac Yiadom
3 80 Houston Texans Martinas Rankin
2 36 Indianapolis Colts Darius Leonard
2 37 Indianapolis Colts Braden Smith
1 29 Jacksonville Jaguars Taven Bryan
2 61 Jacksonville Jaguars D.J. Chark
3 93 Jacksonville Jaguars Ronnie Harrison
2 46 Kansas City Chiefs Breeland Speaks
3 75 Kansas City Chiefs Derrick Nnadi
3 100 Kansas City Chiefs Dorian O’Daniel
1 17 Los Angeles Chargers Derwin James
3 89 Los Angeles Rams Joseph Noteboom
4 111 Los Angeles Rams Brian Allen
4 135 Los Angeles Rams John Franklin-Myer
5 147 Los Angeles Rams Micah Kiser
5 160 Los Angeles Rams Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
6 176 Los Angeles Rams John Kelly
6 192 Los Angeles Rams Jamil Demby
6 195 Los Angeles Rams Sebastian Joseph
6 205 Los Angeles Rams Trevon Young
7 231 Los Angeles Rams Travin Howard
7 244 Los Angeles Rams Justin Lawler
1 11 Miami Dolphins Minkah Fitzpatrick
2 42 Miami Dolphins Mike Gesicki
3 73 Miami Dolphins Jerome Baker
4 123 Miami Dolphins Durham Smythe
4 131 Miami Dolphins Kalen Ballage
6 209 Miami Dolphins Cornell Armstrong
7 227 Miami Dolphins Quentin Poling
7 229 Miami Dolphins Jason Sanders
1 30 Minnesota Vikings Mike Hughes
1 23 New England Patriots Isaiah Wynn
1 31 New England Patriots Sony Michel
3 91 New Orleans Saints Tre’Quan Smith
1 2 New York Giants Saquon Barkley
3 69 New York Giants B.J. Hill
5 139 New York Giants R.J. McIntosh
1 3 New York Jets Sam Darnold
3 72 New York Jets Nathan Shepherd
4 107 New York Jets Christopher Herndon
1 15 Oakland Raiders Kolton Miller
3 65 Oakland Raiders Brandon Parker
3 87 Oakland Raiders Arden Key
4 110 Oakland Raiders Nick Nelson
1 28 Pittsburgh Steelers Terrell Edmunds
3 76 Pittsburgh Steelers Mason Rudolph
3 92 Pittsburgh Steelers Chukwuma Okorafor
1 9 San Francisco 49ers Mike McGlinchey
2 44 San Francisco 49ers Dante Pettis
3 70 San Francisco 49ers Fred Warner
3 79 Seattle Seahawks Rasheem Green
1 12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vita Vea
2 38 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ronald Jones II
2 63 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carlton Davis
2 41 Tennessee Titans Harold Landry
3 74 Washington Redskins Geron Christian

Under any analysis, Matt Ryan’s contract sets a new bar

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The numbers on the new Matt Ryan contract have made their way to PFT headquarters. And, well, wow.

The full breakdown appears below, followed by some analysis. All numbers come from a source with knowledge of the deal.

1. Signing bonus: $46.5 million.

2. 2018 salary: $6 million, fully guaranteed.

3. 2019 option bonus: $10 million, fully guaranteed.

4. 2019 salary: $11.5 million, fully guaranteed.

5. 2020 salary: $20.5 million, fully guaranteed.

6. 2021 salary: $23 million, $5.5 million of which is guaranteed for injury only at signing. The $5.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2019 league year.

7. 2022 roster bonus: $7.5 million, due third day of 2022 league year.

8. 2022 salary: $16.25 million.

9. 2023 roster bonus: $7.5 million, due third day of 2023 league year.

10. 2023 salary: $20.5 million.

11. All guarantees have no offset language.

Here’s what it all means.

First, Ryan has a whopping $94.5 million fully guaranteed at signing. The remaining $5.5 million in guarantees for injury only at signing are, as a practical matter, fully guaranteed. Indeed, the only way to avoid the $5.5 million would be to cut Ryan after one year — and to owe him $94.5 million without the opportunity to offset any of the cash to be paid later.

Second, there is no fluff in the deal. No per-game roster bonuses, no workout bonuses, no incentives. It’s “all clean cash,” as the source explained it.

Third, if Ryan had opted to go year to year, he would have made $19.25 million this year, $25.98 million under the franchise tag in 2019, and $31.176 million in 2020. That’s a three-year haul of $76.406 million. Under the new contract, Ryan will make $94.5 million.

Fourth, in the non-guaranteed years, the Falcons will have to decide early whether to move on from Ryan, given the $7.5 million due on the third day of the 2022 and 2023 league years.

Fifth, the new-money value is $30 million per year, which is a record. The full value at signing — six years, $169.25 million — is $28.2 million. (That’s not quite as good as $28.3 million, but in one specific way it’s a lot better.)

So Ryan has set a new bar. And it won’t be easy for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers to overcome it. We’ll explain that in further detail in a separate post.

For now, the point is this: Ryan has gotten a record-setting deal, and he’ll likely be a Falcons for the next six years, and probably beyond.

Seahawks, Russell Wilson could be on a Kirk Cousins-style collision course

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With all the talk about Aaron Rodgers‘ looming mega-deal, there’s another quarterback who, like Rodgers, has two years left on his current contract. Unlike Rodgers, there’s no momentum toward adjusting the other quarterback’s deal.

The other quarterback is Russell Wilson, and his contract situation eventually could get messy.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the current expectation from Wilson’s perspective is that he’ll finish his current deal and receive the franchise tag in 2020. Based on his 2019 cap number of $25.286 million, it will cost the Seahawks $30.34 million to keep him for another season after the expiration of his current deal.

The next question becomes whether Wilson will go year to year at that point, like Kirk Cousins did in Washington. Under that scenario, Wilson would make $36.41 million (a 20-percent raise) in 2021. Come 2022, the Seahawks would have to decide whether to tag him again, at a 44-percent raise, or let him enter free agency.

The tag in 2022 would equate to $52.43 million for one year.

It’s unclear whether Wilson would opt for one-year deals once his contract expires. He’s currently 29, with a 30th birthday looming in November. But 30 is spry when it comes to quarterbacks, and Wilson told PFT Live during the season that he hopes to play until he’s 45. (He also said he hopes to stay with one team for his entire career.)

The last time around, Wilson did a four-year extension after three NFL seasons, at a new-money average of $21.9 million. With Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan now at $30 million per year (presumably in new money) and with Rodgers surely hoping to push the bar higher (presumably in new money), what will Wilson want?

Perhaps more importantly, what does he deserve?

Regardless of what he wants or what he deserves, the franchise-tag dance puts him at $119.18 million over three years — an average of nearly $40 million per year. If the Seahawks don’t tag him for a third time, Wilson would hit the open market (a la Cousins) in 2022, at the age of 33.

As long as Wilson stays healthy and effective, a willingness to wait gives him more leverage than any quarterback will have ever had. Which means that he’ll either get a record-setting deal at some point to stay in Seattle. Or he’ll get that record-setting deal as an unrestricted free agent.

Pre-draft process fueled Baker Mayfield’s rise to No. 1

AP

A week ago, it was becoming more and more clear that the Browns were serious about taking quarterback Baker Mayfield at No. 1. It’s now becoming more and more clear that plenty of teams had Mayfield as the top quarterback in the draft.

So how does that happen? Specifically, how does a six-foot quarterback who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds become not only the first pick in the draft but also a guy who was coveted by more than a few of the teams that needed quarterbacks?

As one executive whose team was actively evaluating the quarterbacks in the 2018 draft explained it to PFT, if the draft had been held immediately after the college football season ended, Mayfield likely would have been a high second-round pick. It was the work that was done from the middle of January until the end of April that pushed Mayfield to the point where he became the must-have guy.

Browns V.P. of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith recently gushed about Mayfield’s intangibles, and Highsmith wasn’t alone. As the source explained it to PFT, Mayfield blew people away with his demeanor, his words, and his way, once the process of talking to him and interacting with him began.

Enhancing that assessment was the information obtained as scouts learned more about Mayfield from those who had dealt with him in he past. Most prospects kiss the butts of the people they should; Mayfield is among the minority who had a reputation for treating very well the people who couldn’t help him. And that’s a very big deal when it comes to how teams separate one player from another, especially when none of the prospects stand out clearly and obviously above the rest based on physical abilities.

So, basically, Mayfield was at one point on track to be Drew Brees, the prospect — a high second-round pick. Now, many think he has a realistic shot at becoming Drew Brees, the franchise quarterback — a highly-paid, highly-successful, first-ballot-Hall-of-Famer.

Not bad for a couple of six-foot quarterbacks who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds.

Steelers trade Martavis Bryant to Raiders for third-round pick

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After a year of speculation that Martavis Bryant could be traded, he finally has been.

The Steelers have traded Bryant to the Raiders in exchange for a third-round draft pick, No. 79 overall, which the Raiders previously acquired in a trade with the Cardinals.

Bryant is an incredibly talented big-play receivers who’s one of the most dangerous downfield threats in the league when he’s all-in. But Bryant has a history of failing drug tests and angering his coaches with subpar effort, and it remains to be seen whether the Raiders can get the most out of him.

But new Raiders coach Jon Gruden will try, and if it works, Bryant is going to be a significant player in the Raiders’ offense.

This is an Al Davis type of move for the Raiders, acquiring a player with speed and a checkered history off the field. The Steelers are glad to be rid of Bryant, and the Raiders will be glad to have him.

PFT’s one and only 2018 mock draft

AP

[Editor’s note: I’ve had very little to do with this mock draft. So don’t blame me if you hate it. If you like it, I’ll take the credit. The mock draft was largely with input from people who have experience drafting players, including one person whose name would be instantly recognizable and would prompt you to say, “Maybe this isn’t a bunch of BS, after all.” Regardless, here it is.]

1. Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma.

2. Browns (from Giants): Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State.

3. Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, USC.

4. Giants (from Browns): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State.

5. Broncos: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame.

6. Bill (from Colts): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming.

7. Buccaneers: Derwin James, S, Florida State.

8. Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State.

9. 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia.

10. Raiders: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame.

11. Dolphins: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA.

12. Colts (from Bills): Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech.

13. Washington: Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive back, Alabama.

14. Packers: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland.

15. Cardinals: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville.

16. Ravens: James Daniels, C, Iowa.

17. Chargers: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville.

18. Seahawks: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama.

19. Cowboys: Vita Vea, DT, Washington.

20. Lions: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA.

21. Bengals: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA.

22. Colts (from Bills): Taven Bryan, DT, Florida.

23. Patriots: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama.

24. Panthers: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida.

25. Titans: Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama.

26. Falcons: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina.

27. Saints: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State.

28. Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State.

29. Jaguars: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama.

30. Vikings: Isiah Oliver, CB, Colorado.

31. Patriots: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State.

32. Eagles: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia.

2012 quarterback class a cautionary tale for 2018

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At least four quarterbacks will go in the first round of the NFL draft tomorrow night, making this year’s a particularly strong quarterback class. But the last draft class with four first-round quarterbacks serves as a cautionary tale.

That was in 2012, a draft class that was strong at the quarterback position — just not strong where the NFL personnel people and media “experts” thought it would be.

Three quarterbacks went in the Top 10 in 2012, with Andrew Luck going first to Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III going second to Washington, and Ryan Tannehill going eighth to Miami. Luck got off to a very good start but has been derailed recently by injuries. Griffin also got off to a good start but was derailed even more quickly by injuries and was out of the league altogether last year. And Tannehill has shown promise at times but missed all of last year with a knee injury, and the end of the previous year with a knee injury as well.

The next two quarterbacks taken were selected by two men with a great deal of quarterback expertise: Browns President Mike Holmgren, a quarterback guru credited with helping develop Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre, chose Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick. And Broncos G.M. John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback himself, chose Brock Osweiler with the 57th overall pick.

Who else was available when Holmgren chose Weeden and Elway chose Osweiler? Oh, just Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson, who went to Seattle at 75, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles, who went to Philadelphia at 88, and Kirk Cousins, who went to Washington at 102 and just got the biggest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history from the Vikings.

So while the 2012 quarterback class did have some big-time NFL talent, it didn’t go in the order it should have gone in — and even the talent evaluators who should have been the most equipped to recognize top quarterback talent whiffed badly.

That should serve as a warning for 2018. Whether four, five or six quarterbacks go in the first round on Thursday night, you can bet some quarterback who’s drafted on Friday or Saturday will end up having a better career than some quarterback who hears his name called on Thursday. The NFL draft is far too inexact a science for any player to be labeled a sure thing.

Monday Night Football schedule starts, ends with Raiders

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Jon Gruden spent many years in the ESPN broadcast booth for Monday Night Football games, but he’ll only be on two of the broadcasts this season.

Gruden has returned to the sidelines with the Raiders and his team has been scheduled for two games on Monday nights this season. They will host the Rams in Week One and the Broncos in Week 16 as bookends to this year’s slate of Monday night action.

That first Raiders game will kick off at 10:20 p.m. ET after the Jets and Lions play in Detroit at 7:10 p.m. ET. All of the other kickoffs will be at 8:15 p.m. ET, which is 15 minutes earlier than games kicked off during Gruden’s final year in the booth.

Week One: Jets at Lions; Rams at Raiders.

Week Two: Seahawks at Bears.

Week Three: Steelers at Buccaneers.

Week Four: Chiefs at Broncos.

Week Five: Redskins at Saints.

Week Six: 49ers at Packers.

Week Seven: Giants at Falcons.

Week Eight: Patriots at Bills.

Week Nine: Titans at Cowboys.

Week 10: Giants at 49ers.

Week 11: Chiefs at Rams (Mexico City).

Week 12: Titans at Texans.

Week 13: Redskins at Eagles.

Week 14: Vikings at Seahawks.

Week 15: Saints at Panthers.

Week 16: Broncos at Raiders.

Tom Coughlin’s return among Week One highlights

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Tom Coughlin’s new team fared a lot better than his old one in 2017 and they’ll get a chance to start plotting their course for 2018 against one another.

The NFL announced the complete regular season schedule on Thursday and it includes a matchup between the Jaguars and Giants at MetLife Stadium on the first Sunday of the year. Coughlin is in his second year as the executive vice president of football operations for the Jaguars and was let go by the Giants in January 2016 after 12 years as head coach.

That game will be one of the 1 p.m. ET kickoffs on September 9. The season will start September 6 when the Falcons visit the Eagles on Thursday night on NBC. The rest of the Week One schedule includes:

Texans at Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET) – The hope is that Deshaun Watson will be making the start for Houston while Tom Brady is leading the Patriots. Anything other than that will make for one of the biggest storylines of Week One.

Buccaneers at Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET) – An NFC South matchup that will provide our first look at whether the Buccaneers have rebounded from last season. On the other side, the Saints will be happy with the same standings as last year.

Titans at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m, ET) – Mike Vrabel‘s first game as the Titans head coach and Ryan Tannehill‘s expected return as Dolphins quarterback. New Titans Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis will also get a chance to renew acquaintances with former Patriot teammate and current Dolphins wideout Danny Amendola.

49ers at Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET) – Given how things played out contractually this offseason, Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins makes for a marquee matchup right out of the gate. It’s also a chance to see how the 49ers have grown as they meet one of 2017’s best teams.

Bills at Ravens (Sunday 1 p.m. ET) – Will this be AJ McCarron‘s coming out party or will a draft pick spoil that plan? Will the Ravens’ new look receiving corps add Dez Bryant before this game?

Steelers at Browns (Sunday 1 p.m. ET) – The quest for the second win of Hue Jackson’s tenure as Browns coach begins against Pittsburgh. Will Le'Veon Bell be celebrating a new contract?

Bengals at Colts (Sunday 1 p.m. ET) – Frank Reich is the new Colts head coach while Marvin Lewis remains the Bengals coach. All eyes will be on Andrew Luck unless the Colts quarterback isn’t back in action.

Chiefs at Chargers (Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET) – The Patrick Mahomes era begins in Los Angeles. Memories of last year’s playoff miss and 0-4 start should have the Chargers doing all they can to break out of the gate quickly.

Redskins at Cardinals (Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET) – Alex Smith and Sam Bradford start the next chapters of their careers in a late afternoon kickoff. The game should also feature Cardinals running back David Johnson‘s first action since Week One of last season.

Cowboys at Panthers (Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET) – Cam Newton‘s first game with Norv Turner calling the offensive plays comes against one of Turner’s former employers. The Panthers won’t have linebacker Thomas Davis for this one as he’ll be serving a four-game suspension to start the year.

Seahawks at Broncos (Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET) – Case Keenum will get first crack at the overhauled Seahawks defense in his first game as the Broncos quarterback. We’ll find out next Thursday if a rookie is looking over his shoulder.

Bears at Packers (Sunday 8:20 p.m. ET) – Bears coach Matt Nagy starts his head coaching career at Lambeau Field in Mike Pettine’s first game running the Green Bay defense. The game should also feature the first look at the Aaron RodgersJimmy Graham partnership.

Jets at Lions (Monday 7:10 p.m. ET) – Matt Patricia faced the Jets many times as the defensive coordinator in New England. He’ll get another shot at them in his first game as Detroit’s head coach.

Rams at Raiders (Monday 10:20 p.m. ET) – Instead of calling a Monday night game, Jon Gruden will be coaching the Raiders in one. Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh will debut for the Rams.

2015 NFL draft fifth-year option decision list

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The NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement gives each team the option to pick up the fifth year of each first-round draft pick’s contract, a decision that must be made in the spring before that player’s fourth year.

This is a list of each pick from the first round of the 2015 NFL draft and whether or not those players’ fifth-year options are being picked up:

1. Tampa Bay has picked up Jameis Winston‘s option.

2. Tennessee has picked up Marcus Mariota‘s option.

3. Jacksonville did not pick up Dante Fowler‘s option.

4. Oakland picked up Amari Cooper‘s option.

5. Washington has picked up Brandon Scherff‘s option.

6. The Jets have picked up Leonard Williams‘ option.

7. Chicago didn’t pick up Kevin White‘s option.

8. Atlanta picked up Vic Beasley‘s option.

9. The Giants didn’t pick up Ereck Flowers‘ option.

10. The Rams have picked up Todd Gurley‘s option.

11. The Vikings picked up Trae Waynes‘ option.

12. The Patriots didn’t pick up Danny Shelton‘s option.

13. New Orleans has picked up Andrus Peat‘s option.

14. Miami will pick up DeVante Parker‘s option.

15. The Chargers picked up Melvin Gordon‘s option.

16. Kevin Johnson‘s option was exercised by the Texans.

17. San Francisco has picked up Arik Armstead‘s option.

18. The Rams have picked up Marcus Peters‘ option.

19. Kansas City won’t pick up the option on Cameron Erving, whom they acquired in a trade with the Browns.

20. Philadelphia has picked up Nelson Agholor‘s option.

21. Cincinnati will not pick up Cedric Ogbuehi‘s option.

22. Pittsburgh has picked up Bud Dupree‘s option.

23. Denver will not pick up Shane Ray‘s option.

24. Arizona picked up D.J. Humphries‘ option.

25. Carolina has picked up Shaq Thompson‘s option.

26. Baltimore did not pick up Breshad Perriman‘s option.

27. Dallas picked up Byron Jones‘ option.

28. San Francisco did not pick Laken Tomlinson‘s option.

29. New England did not pick up Phillip Dorsett‘s option.

30. Cleveland picked up Damarious Randall‘s option after trading for him from Green Bay.

31. Miami did not pick up Stephone Anthony‘s option after he didn’t do much following his trade from New Orleans.

32. New England did not pick up Malcom Brown‘s option.

Dear NFL: Go ahead and get rid of the kickoff

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You win, NFL. You’ve been gradually chipping away at the kickoff — dubbed for years now the most dangerous play in the game — with the goal of making it easier for everyone to deal with the elimination of the kickoff when it eventually happens. Perhaps the hope was that the sense of inevitability would grow to the point that the calls for the end of the kickoff would come from the outside.

Regardless, and to quote Schwartz when Flick was hesitating to touch his tongue on the frozen flag pole, “Go on, smartass, and do it.”

Yes, NFL, go ahead and do it. When the owners get together in May, cast 32 votes to eliminate the kickoff for good.

We all know it’s coming. So we can talk about it for the next year or two, while the most dangerous play in the game remains part of the game, or we can just get rid of the damn thing now.

The plan for dealing with the most dangerous play in the game shouldn’t be using it less, it should be using it never. When there’s a dangerous table saw in a machine shop, a responsible foreman doesn’t say, “Use it less.” A responsible foreman says, “Don’t use it at all.”

So do it. Quit talking about it, and do it. Replace with with Greg Sciano’s idea, first floated by Commissioner Goodell in 2012, to give the kicking team the ball at its own 30 yard line, facing fourth and 15. Punt the ball (a far less dangerous play, since players aren’t running directly at each other at full speed before impact), go for it, or run a fake punt.

It’s going to happen sooner or later. Make it happen sooner, so we can all quit wondering when it’s finally going to happen.

NFL wants investigation of “widespread fraud” in concussion settlement

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Amid claims that the NFL unreasonably is delaying the payment of claims in the concussion settlement, the NFL is fighting back. Aggressively.

The league on Friday requested the appointment of a Special Investigator, who would explore allegedly “widespread fraud” in the effort to secure payment.

“We want to ensure that players and their families receive the benefits they deserve,” attorney Brad Karp said in a statement released by the NFL on Friday. “Fraud threatens the integrity of the settlement and the prompt payment of legitimate claims. There is significant evidence of fraudulent claims being advanced by unscrupulous doctors, lawyers and even players. The appointment of a Special Investigator was specifically contemplated in the agreement, and will provide important additional tools to assist the independent, court-appointed administrators in identifying fraudulent claims and related misconduct.”

It’s a strong allegation, suggesting not simply that former players are accidentally under the impression that they have one of the qualifying conditions but that they are deliberately trying to fall within the confines of the concussion settlement — and that others are aiding and abetting the process.

The court papers submitted in connection with the request for a Special Investigator include specific allegations of fraud. The league contends that one law firm representing over 100 former players “coached” them on the procedure for answering questions during neuropsychological evaluations and “directed at least one retired player to show up for his evaluation hungover and on Valium.” The league also claims that a firm representing more than 50 class members secured a higher fee if the former players were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (which results in a higher recovery under the concussion settlement), and that “virtually all” of those players were evaluated by a pediatric neurologist, who diagnosed 75 percent of them with Alzheimer’s.

The league also alleges that evidence exists of specific coaching of former players to help them “beat” the psychological testing in order to secure payment, that one neuropsychologist claimed to have spent, on two different occasions, 130 hours evaluating players in the same 24-hour period, and that 21 medial reports submitted by the same neuropsychologist showed identical vital signs for each of the players.

The paperwork submitted by the NFL further includes allegations of former players directly committing fraud. Consider this quote regarding an unidentified (for now) former player: “A Retired NFL Football Player diagnosed with purported Alzheimer’s Disease in June 2016 at the age of 54 claimed that he had stopped coaching football by the time of his evaluation due to his severe cognitive impairment. Yet, subsequent to his evaluation, the same retired player participated in multiple videotaped interviews in which he discussed — without any apparent difficulty — his current head  coaching duties, and as recently as October 2017, was interviewed by reporters about his ongoing role as a head football coach.” (There may be enough clues in there for a person with advanced Google skills to figure out who the former player may be.)

Here’s another: “A Retired NFL Football Player diagnosed with purported Alzheimer’s Disease in July 2015 at the age of 39 claimed to have significant cognitive impairments that made him incapable of even doing errands without assistance. Yet, information available from public sources shows that the same retired player is the head coach of a minor league football team, a developmental football coach and a motivational speaker. When that player submitted a form to the Claims Administrator asking for his employment history subsequent to his diagnosis, he concealed his coaching position.”

And another: “A Retired NFL Football Player diagnosed with purported Level 2 Neurocognitive Impairment (i.e., moderate dementia) in December 2016 at the age of 32 reported that he was unemployed, had significant issues with memory and completing tasks and frequently would go into a room and forget why he was there. That retired player concealed that he was working as a registered wealth manager for a large investment firm.”

And another: “A Retired NFL Football Player diagnosed with purported Level 2 Neurocognitive Impairment (i.e., moderate dementia) in January 2017 at the age of 32 claimed that he was unable to work in any capacity due to his cognitive impairment. Videos available online show that same player giving lengthy and fully coherent motivational speeches, often without the assistance of notes, on numerous occasions subsequent to the supposed diagnosis.”

The 20-page submission from the NFL, undoubtedly directed to the court of public opinion as much as it is to the court presiding over the settlement, paints a troubling picture of alleged fraud, countering the argument that the NFL, faced with unlimited potential liability, is dragging its feet and contesting claims under the notion that every single penny saved becomes a penny earned. Whether it’s the NFL unfairly opposing claims or specific former players (and/or those who stand to make money from them) unfairly trying to get a piece of a pie that will be as big as it needs to be, these problems needs to be fully explored and resolved. Whether it’s the NFL’s fault, specific former players’ fault, or both, this complication delays the efforts of truly eligible former players to get the money they deserve.