Team chairman Steve Tisch: Eli Manning “will always be a giant among Giants”

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An earlier report beat the team to their own news, but the Giants confirmed Eli Manning has decided to retire.

Manning will hold a news conference Friday, but the Giants showered the quarterback with praise Wednesday.

“For 16 seasons, Eli Manning defined what it is to be a New York Giant both on and off the field,” John Mara, the Giants’ president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Eli is our only two-time Super Bowl MVP and one of the very best players in our franchise’s history. He represented our franchise as a consummate professional with dignity and accountability. It meant something to Eli to be the Giants quarterback, and it meant even more to us. We are beyond grateful for his contributions to our organization and look forward to celebrating his induction into the Giants Ring of Honor in the near future.”

Manning walks away as one of the most popular players in team history, having delivered the Giants two Super Bowl titles. His 234 starts stands as the fourth-most by a quarterback for a single franchise, and he is one of only 12 starting quarterbacks with two Super Bowl wins.

“We are proud to have called Eli Manning our quarterback for so many years,” Steve Tisch, the Giants’ chairman and executive vice president, said. “Eli was driven to always do what was best for the team. Eli leaves a timeless legacy with two Super Bowl titles on the field and his philanthropic work off the field, which has inspired and impacted so many people. We are sincerely thankful for everything Eli has given our team and community. He will always be a giant among Giants.”

The Giants acquired Manning in a draft-day trade with the Chargers in 2004. He played 16 seasons and earned two Super Bowl MVP awards.

Manning never missed a game because of injury, and he once had a streak of 210 consecutive regular-season starts.

“I learned very early that you evaluate quarterbacks on their ability to win championships, and to do it late in a game when the game is on the line, that they’re able to take a team down the field and into the end zone to win a title,” former General Manager Ernie Accorsi said. “The second thing is to know that over a period of years, he’s always going to be there. Those kinds of quarterbacks always give you a chance to win, and for 16 years, he did that for this franchise. He won championships and he was always there giving us a chance to win. I don’t know how you can ask more from a quarterback.”

Time for onside kick alternative has come

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The NFL systematically has marginalized the kickoff over the past decade. And for good reason. It was, as league officials admitted, the most dangerous play in the game, with high-speed collisions leading to concussions and other injuries, sometimes serious.

Recent changes to the kickoff procedures have reduced the magnitude of the hits by limiting the ability of two players running in opposite directions to gain a full head of steam. Those changes also have made it much harder for an onside kick to succeed. Which makes it much harder for a team that is trailing by more than one score late in a game to mount a comeback.

So what can the NFL do to help the losing team? It can try a different strategy for retaining possession after a score, and in the otherwise meaningless and irrelevant Pro Bowl, the league will experiment with a new procedure.

The fourth-and-15 concept first appeared in the Time “Enforcer” profile of Roger Goodell from 2012, as an idea shared with Goodell by then-Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. (While Schiano was at Rutgers, Eric LeGrand suffered permanent paralysis during a kickoff.) Getting rid of the kickoff and replacing it with that fourth-and-15 play gives the team that otherwise would have been kicking off the option to punt, to run a play (simulating the obvious onside kick), to fake a punt (simulating the surprise onside kick), or to pooch punt from a normal scrimmage formation.

For the Pro Bowl, fourth-and-15 will be used only when a team chooses to attempt an onside kick. Otherwise, the team that would be receiving the kickoff will get the ball on its own 25.

As the kickoff fades from relevance and, quite possibly, closes in on extinction, the question becomes whether to use the fourth-and-15 play as the replacement for every kickoff (including the occasions when a team would punt from that spot) or only when the team that would be kicking off wants to try to retain possession. The latter option limits the number of punt plays in a game (which raise separate concerns about high-impact collisions), but it also eliminates completely and entirely from NFL football the surprise onside kick.

Of course, the surprise onside kick already has gone the way of the dodo bird, given the difficulty in recovering them under the current kickoff configuration. The intended onside kick, while routinely attempted, is rarely recovered. So why not give a team the option to retain possession by converting fourth and long?

Six years ago, in the days preceding Super Bowl XLVIII in New York, Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked who he roots for. He said the team that’s losing. Under current rules, if the team that is losing is losing by two or more scores late, that team has little or no chance to close the gap. The only way to change that at this point is to embrace the fourth-and-15 play as an alternative.

Lamar Jackson starstruck meeting Drew Brees, Brees’s son starstruck meeting Jackson

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NFL players increasingly choose to sit out the Pro Bowl, but one of the reasons some players still participate is the opportunity to spend time with the colleagues they respect the most. For Drew Brees and Lamar Jackson, the mutual respect has been evident this Pro Bowl week.

Brees posted a picture on social media of his son wearing Ravens colors, with a message for Jackson.

“Lamar, my son Baylen is looking for you at Pro Bowl this week. You are his guy! He’s pumped to meet you,” Brees wrote.

Jackson threw some passes to Brees’s son when they got together, and Jackson said it was his honor to spend some time with Brees.

“To be honest, I was kind of startled,” Jackson said. “I was choking on my words, like, Drew Brees is talking to me? This man’s the GOAT. But I was enjoying it. I’ve learned a lot watching him play.”

Jackson was born in 1997, Brees’s first year at Purdue. Jackson is closer in age to Baylen Brees than to Drew Brees. But at the Pro Bowl, where old stars meet young stars, they’re finding some common ground.

Kyle Shanahan alerted official to pass interference before it happened

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The 49ers held a 34-20 lead over the Packers and faced a third-and-three with 5:56 remaining in Sunday’s game. Kyle Shanahan called a play for George Kittle on a short out route.

Before the play was run, Shanahan told side judge Eugene Hall that Packers cornerback Will Redmond was going to impede his Pro Bowl tight end.

NFL Films caught Shanahan calling his shot.

Flag on an out route, 85 versus their guy,” Shanahan told Hall. “He’s gonna go inside and break out and [Redmond] won’t let him out. Watch.”

Redmond, who weighs 65 pounds less than Kittle, grabbed onto the tight end.

Two officials, including Hall, threw flags for the obvious penalty.

Redmond was cited for a 5-yard defensive pass interference, giving the 49ers an automatic first down. The 49ers burned another 2:25 off the clock and kicked a 42-yard field goal.

Dalvin Cook isn’t clamoring for a second contract, yet

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For the Vikings, several key figures enter the final year of their contracts, from coach Mike Zimmer to G.M. Rick Spielman to quarterback Kirk Cousins to running back Dalvin Cook. Some Wednesday comments from Cook are being characterized as a reflection that he wants his second contract now. It’s possible, however, that’s definitely not what he was saying.

I love the organization,” Cook told NFL.com in connection with Pro Bowl preparations in Orlando. “They took a chance on me in bringing me in. If a person believes in me, I’ll give them my all. I try to do everything, give them my all and I’m just happy that I’m at the Vikings. It’s a great organization. I think everything we’ve got going on is for the future.”

The headlines generated by that comment include (as in the NFL.com article), “Dalvin Cook on potential deal: ‘I’ll give Vikings my all.'” But he wasn’t talking about the future under a second contract. He was addressing the decision of the Vikings to end his 2017 draft slide in round two. “If a person believes in me, I’ll give them my all.”

The Vikings believed in Cook three years ago. They believe in him now. If they choose not to extend his contract in 2020, that won’t be a reflection that they don’t believe in him — especially since they have the ability to let him play out the fourth year of his rookie deal and tag him in 2021.

That said, Cook should want a new contract. But it seems like a stretch to regarding anything he said on Wednesday, as reflected in the NFL.com story, as an indication that he was referring to his desire to get paid sooner than later.

He wants to stay. And he can stay without a new contract now. At some point, the Vikings will have to decide whether to make a major financial investment now, later, or (in theory) not at all. Cook likewise will have to decide whether he’s going to show up for anything in 2020 unless and until he gets a new deal.

Broncos will take their time deciding on Garett Bolles’ fifth-year option

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The Broncos will make plenty of decisions in the coming months, but the one involving their 2021 option on left tackle Garett Bolles‘ contract is going to be at the back of the line.

Broncos General Manager John Elway shared the team’s thought process on Wednesday and said that they’ll take their time before choosing whether to exercise the option.

“We’ll wait. There’s no sense doing it early. We’re not going to do it until May. We’ll see when we get there where we are,” Elway said, via Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post.

The option is guaranteed in the case of injury, but the team could otherwise rescind it.

Bolles has started every game over his first three years with the Broncos, but his durability has been undermined by his penchant for holding penalties. He’s been flagged for that infraction 32 times — 21 penalties were accepted, 10 were declined and one was offset by an opposing penalty — and that has caused frustration in Denver.

Matthew Slater not retiring, wants to stay in New England

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Like a few of their other free agents, Patriots special teams captan Matthew Slater has made it clear he wants to keep playing.

But he’s adding the notice that he wants it to be in New England.

Via Jeff Howe of TheAthletic.com, Slater said he wasn’t thinking about retiring.

“I definitely feel like my family and I thought about it a lot,” Slater said. “I still love to play and want to continue to play. I guess as of now, I want to keep playing. We just have to see how things go from here. There are a lot of things up in the air that I don’t know, but I’m going to approach it as though I’m preparing to play next year. We’ll kind of go from there. That’s where we’re at.”

The 34-year-old special teamer is making his eighth Pro Bowl appearance, and still playing at a high level. He was also healthy this year, which matters in making such decisions. Now there’s just the matter of working out a contract.

“I think I’ve expressed several times my desire to play the entirety of my career here,” Slater said. “When you play 12 years in one location, it’s hard for you to imagine playing anywhere else. I’ve certainly expressed that publicly. I’ve expressed that privately. But again, ultimately, sometimes that decision isn’t always in your hands. We’ll see how things go moving forward.”

Some of his fellow free agents — notably quarterback Tom Brady — have held open the possibility of extending their careers elsewhere. Slater doesn’t represent that level of potential disruption for the league’s most successful franchise, but at a time when they’ve lost special teams coach Joe Judge to the Giants, keeping him would represent a significant step toward stability.

Cowboys’ Will McClay says “it’s going to be a tough deal” to pay everyone

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Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Tuesday the team’s “No. 1 priority” is to sign quarterback Dak Prescott to a long-term deal, and owner Jerry Jones added he’s ready to sign the check.

The Cowboys’ No. 2 priority is receiver Amari Cooper, Stephen Jones said.

So where does that leave other key free agents such as cornerback Byron Jones?

“I think it’s going to be a tough deal,” Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay said Wednesday, via Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. “It’s the NFL. You’ve got your quarterback you’ve got to pay. You have a receiver. You have good players. When you have good players, you have to figure out how to pay them or how to survive. So, that’s what we do in the front office is try to figure how to work those contracts and get the best possible team with those guys. We’ve got to go through that whole process.”

The reality is: The Cowboys will let several good players walk. They have no choice with the big deals for Prescott and Cooper looming.

The team will be hard pressed to re-sign Jones.

Jones, a first-round pick in 2015, made Pro Bowl honors for the first time in 2018. He did not play as well in 2019, has made only two career interceptions and has only five career takeaways.

Jones’ last interception came in 2017 when he still played safety.

“He’s a starting-caliber NFL corner. A really good player,” McClay said. “We have to figure out his financial value and if it fits for us.”

Tight end Jason Witten, defensive end Robert Quinn, defensive lineman Michael Bennett, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, receiver Randall Cobb, linebacker Sean Lee and safety Jeff Heath are other free agents.

“Every year is a challenge,” McClay said, via Jon Machota of TheAthletic.com. “That’s the way the NFL is made with the salary cap. . . .We go through and find out what’s valuable for us, who will fit within our parameters. We want to try to fill the holes in free agency and draft free.”

Tom Brady to Titans talk doesn’t make a whole lot of sense

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As the dots get connected between Tom Brady and a potential new team, the most obvious football destinations include the outposts of the Patriot Way. And with former Brady teammate and former/current friend Mike Vrabel doing incredibly well as head coach of the Titans, there’s plenty of superficial appeal to the idea of Brady to Tennessee.

On closer inspection, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Although Ryan Tannehill is far less accomplished than #Tommy, Tannehill was phenomenal in 2019. And he’s more than a decade younger. And he quite possibly could be gotten cheaper.

The Titans would have to be prepared to let Tannehill and Marcus Mariota walk away as free agents, in exchange for a short-term deal with Brady. Three years from now, after Brady has retired, where will they be?

As good as Tannehill was in 2019, Brady wasn’t. Whether it’s on him or his weapons or the offense or something else, there’s a least a chance that Father Time has begun to make his final kick to the finish line.

Then there’s the Mrs. Brady factor. As in Gisele Bundchen. Although they operate in a much different stratosphere of cash and society than the rest of us, they likely have a give-and-take relationship like nearly every other married couple. As Brady continues to play well beyond the normal expiration date of a football career, the compromises regarding the continuation of the career could be getting more complex.

So would she want to move to Nashville for a year, or two, or three? Would she be fine with her husband breaking away from the family and living alone in Nashville during one, or two, or three football seasons?

This is a practical consideration that can’t be ignored when throwing darts as to Tom’s next team. The team has to want him, and he (and to some extent his spouse) has to want the team.

Matt LaFleur concerned with lack of “fire” from Packers

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There were plenty of things Packers rookie coach Matt LaFleur liked about the season as a whole, but he remains disturbed about the way their season ended.

Specifically, he doesn’t understand how flat his team was in its final game, as they fell behind 27-0 at halftime to a 49ers team that thrashed them 37-8 in the regular season.

“That’s something that I’m still trying to figure out right now as we speak,” LaFleur said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “I mean, I don’t understand that because you’re there. You have an opportunity to go to play in a Super Bowl. And for that to happen, it’s extremely . . . it’s bothersome.

“We have to look at ourselves, everybody. I’m going to look inside of myself and see why weren’t our players playing with their hair on fire. I think everybody in our organization has to do that.”

He also said it was clear there was a sizeable gap between his team and the one that will be playing the Chiefs next week.

“There obviously is [a gap],” LaFleur said. “I mean, we played them twice and they took it to us two times. So that’s something that we’ve got to take a good, hard look at this offseason because right now they’re the class of the NFC. They’ve shown it throughout the course of the season, and that is a really good football team. It was disappointing to go out there and get beat like that.”

Most of that focus should rightly be on their defense. When a team is able to beat you while throwing only eight times, that seems apparent, and LaFleur knows it.

Dolphins fully expect Ryan Fitzpatrick back next season

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Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said at the end of the 2019 season that he didn’t expect “a difficult decision” about returning to play in 2020, but he hasn’t provided any update to his plans since the start of January.

Whenever that update does come, Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier expects it to include word that Fitzpatrick will be back with the team. According to multiple reporters, Grier said Wednesday that he “fully expects” the veteran quarterback to play out the final year of his contract.

Fitzpatrick said in December that he feels great and still loves playing, which provides plenty of support for Grier’s expectation that Fitzpatrick will be back.

If that’s the case, it will leave the makeup of the rest of the quarterback room as the biggest question for the Dolphins. Josh Rosen is under contract for 2020, but there’s no shortage of speculation about the Dolphins picking a quarterback early in the first round. Grier’s unlikely to share the team’s thoughts on that matter, but it’s probably not a bad bet.

Super Bowl ticket prices already are very expensive on the secondary market

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Mike Tice surely wishes he were still able to scalp Super Bowl tickets.

Before the stigma of gambling disappeared with the 2018 Supreme Court decision to allow any state to legalize it, the ability to buy and sell tickets through online marketplaces made it far less seedy and unseemly to turn a profit on this specific commodity.

This year, prices on the secondary market could be higher than ever. Via Sports Business Daily, prices already have shot to the range of $4,200 to $4,500, with the possibility as the game approaches that it could cost $10,000 to get in.

The fact that the Chiefs haven’t played in a Super Bowl for 50 years and a rabid 49ers fan base, which finally found a reason to overcome those Santa Clara traffic problems — a great team.

And the best news for those who plunk down huge money to travel to Miami and to attend the game is this: The placement of a carport-style roof over the seating area at Hard Rock Stadium will protect the paying customers from getting soaked like they did at Super Bowl XLI. Absent those upgrades to the venue, the Super Bowl simply wouldn’t have returned.

Chris Jones should have bigger role in Super Bowl

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Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones missed the divisional-round win over the Texans. He played only 28 defensive snaps in the victory over the Titans in the AFC Championship Game.

Jones will play more against the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

“I think he feels pretty good,’’ Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, via Adam Teicher of ESPN. “He didn’t have a setback so that was good.’’

Jones strained a calf in a Jan. 9 practice, three days before the divisional-round game. He returned to practice on a limited basis last Friday.

Jones was a game-time decision but ended up playing against the Titans and had two tackles and a hit on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Jones made 36 tackles, nine sacks and one forced fumble in 13 regular-season games.

Saints want Drew Brees back for as long as he wants to play

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Drew Brees‘ future is as uncertain as it has been since perhaps 2006 when he was a free agent coming off shoulder surgery and searching for a new home. The Saints have made it clear, though, that they want the quarterback as part of their team as long as he wants to keep playing.

“No different than it’s been the last few years,” Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.

Brees, though, becomes a free agent in March, and he turned 41 last week.

Brees showed in 2019 he still has what it takes and would have a robust market if he chose to enter free agency. He missed five games with a thumb injury but in 11 games completed 74.3 percent of his passes for 2,979 yards, 27 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“It’s easy to take him for granted. Yet, I don’t take him for granted,” Loomis said. “Look, if any of us are surprised at what he does, then we’re just not very smart.”

The Saints currently do not have a quarterback under contract for 2020 with Taysom Hill and Teddy Bridgewater also scheduled to become free agents.

There is little doubt Brees would command huge interest from the networks if he decided to become a TV analyst. Thus, Brees first has to decide what he wants to do.

The Saints know who they want for their quarterback if Brees wants to keep playing.

Ezekiel Elliott on Jason Garrett: Change is hard, but sometimes good

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Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has only played for one head coach in the NFL, but that will change when the team gets back to work later this year.

Jason Garrett is out and Mike McCarthy is in, which means Elliott is one of many Cowboys players that will have to adjust to a new voice in front of the team. Speaking from the Pro Bowl, Elliott admitted to uncertainty about how things will play out under new leadership.

“I think it will be weird, something that I’m not used to,” Elliott said, via Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News. “But change is hard, but sometimes good. Sometimes you need change. We’ll see what we have going for us.”

McCarthy said the Cowboys “clearly understand what we have here and how we could build off of” what Elliott provides the offense after getting the job. That may help explain why the running back said he had a good talk with McCarthy earlier this month, but it will be some time before coach and player will be able to really start working on making the transition to new management as smooth as possible.