Trial run of possible onside kick replacement ends in Kirk Cousins interception

AP

With the success rates of onside kicks plummeting, the NFL debuted a trial run of a possible alternative in the Pro Bowl on Sunday afternoon.

Instead of an onside kick, an offense would have the chance to convert a fourth-and-15 from their own 25-yard line in an attempt to keep possession.

With the NFC trailing 38-33 following a Davante Adams touchdown, Pete Carroll kept the offense on the field to test the rule out in an effort to maintain possession. Kirk Cousins took a shot up the right sideline trying to find Kenny Golladay as he was double covered. Earl Thomas picked off the pass with laterals to Marlon Humphrey and Matthew Judon ensuing on the run back before Judon was ruled stopped.

The AFC took over possession from the spot Judon was ruled down at the NFC 35-yard line. The play was not treated like a two-point conversion with the clock stopped. The clock continued to run and the AFC took over possession at the end of the return.

Any changes to the rule would require an affirmative vote by three-fourths of the league’s owners.

Russell Okung declares his candidacy for NFLPA president

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As expected, Chargers left tackle Russell Okung has become the first player to throw his hat into the ring for the position of NFL Players Association president.

Okung officially disclosed his candidacy to Ken Belson of the New York Times.

An opponent of a 17-game season, Okung’s election — if it happens before the finalization of a new labor deal — could set the process back to square one or close to it. Currently, the NFL and NFLPA are negotiating a contract based on a 17-game regular season. As one source explained it earlier this month to PFT, if the 16-game season were continuing, an agreement already would be completed.

Okung not only wants to push hard against 17 games but also desires to take a more combative approach to the relationship with league owners.

“Are we in an equitable agreement with management?” Okung told Belson. “Right now, the answer is no. This will take as long as it needs to.”

It’s unclear whether Okung’s candidacy will gain traction. The clock is ticking, and he’ll need to, at a minimum, get players who may soon be voting on a new CBA to press pause until after the election.

“I expect more, and I’m not willing to be bashful about saying that,” Okung said. “I’ve made it really clear we need to exhaust every single opportunity we have in order to put our players in a better situation to take care of themselves, their families and to protect the future of this game.”

The article announcing Okung’s candidacy makes no mention of the ugliness that has emerged between Okung and the NFLPA, with the union finding based on an independing investigation that Okung, a member of the NFLPA Executive Committee, had gathered and disseminated confidential information in violation of union rules. The union proposed no specific action against Okung as punishment for the infraction. Okung denies any wrongdoing.

Whether it’s Okung or someone else, a new president will be elected in March. Current president Eric Winston is not eligible to run again, because he has not played in the last two seasons.

Russell Wilson asks Drew Brees to start in his place in the Pro Bowl

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Russell Wilson was chosen as the NFC’s Pro Bowl starting quarterback, but he’s stepping aside today.

Wilson has asked Drew Brees to start in his place in today’s Pro Bowl.

It was a classy move from the 31-year-old Wilson toward the 41-year-old Brees. Perhaps Wilson has some inside information about Brees’s retirement plans, but more likely Wilson just wanted to make a gesture for a player he’s long admired.

“Drew means the world to me,” Wilson said on the ESPN broadcast of the game. “I respect the game, and he does it better than anybody else.”

This is the sixth time Wilson has been selected to the Pro Bowl and the 13th time for Brees.

C.J. Mosley on pace to be ready for offseason work

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The Jets only had linebacker C.J. Mosley in the lineup for two games in his first season with the team, but Mosley said he’s on track to start his second year on better footing.

Mosley suffered a groin injury in the season opener, returned for Week Seven and then went right back onto the shelf. He was placed on injured reserve in December and had surgery to repair the injury.

“It was pretty difficult, especially when I hit that target point where I thought I was going to be ready to play,” Mosley said.

Mosley told Jeanne Coakley of SNY that he’s “feeling well” and has started jogging “a little bit” six weeks after having surgery. He also said that he’s on pace to be an active participant in the team’s offseason work and keeping Mosley on the field would be a good step toward improving on 2019’s results for the Jets.

Richard Sherman on Jimmy Garoppolo critics: “Idiots sound like idiots at this point”

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Most players get criticized for things they do. 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been criticized lately over something he didn’t do. As in he hasn’t thrown the ball very much during the past six quarters of football.

The circumstances that led to the run-heavy offense — several near misses against the Vikings in the divisional round — have fed the perception that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan became freaked out by the potential for turnovers and opted to run the ball until the running game is stopped. Against the Vikings in the third and fourth quarter and against the Packers in the entire game, the running couldn’t be stopped.

Which is good for the 49ers, but not great for Garoppolo. Especially if, in the Super Bowl, there’s yet another Bob Griese game plan.

In an interview with Tyler Dunne of BleacherReport.com, 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman was asked about the criticism of Garoppolo, not for doing something wrong but for doing nothing.

Idiots sound like idiots at this point,” Sherman said.

So is it good if the quarterback doesn’t have to throw the ball?

“Once again, it’s people telling you how to win,” Sherman said. “Like, ‘Hey, we don’t care that you’re winning by double digits every game. You’re not winning the way we want you to. So let’s criticize him.'”

That’s fine. But if the running game isn’t there, Garoppolo will need to win with his arm. Is Sherman confident that Garoppolo can do it?

“We’re the No. 1 seed going into the Super Bowl,” Sherman said. “We’re as confident as we’re going to be.”

The not-so-subtle dodge isn’t surprising. At this point, it’s not known how Garoppolo will handle the kind of pressure that comes from a season riding on a drive or a decision or a throw because he hasn’t had to face that kind of heat. And he may not have to next Sunday.

If he does, it will make for a more interesting Super Bowl. Whatever the outcome.

49ers’ Mike Person was cut by three Super Bowl teams before finally making it

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San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Person will arrive in Miami today to play in his first Super Bowl, after three near misses.

Person, who has been on the rosters of six different franchises in his NFL career, was previously cut by the 49ers in 2012, the Seahawks in 2013 and the Falcons in 2016. All three teams went on to go to the Super Bowl.

This year, Person is a starter for the 49ers, so he can feel confident he’s not going to be a surprise Super Bowl week release. He’ll play in Super Bowl LIV.

“Yeah,” Person told the San Francisco Chronicle, “this feels pretty good.”

Person has felt the sting of watching his former teams on Super Bowl Sunday, and although he roots for the friends he made, it doesn’t feel good to miss out on it.

“With Atlanta, I had a lot of really good buddies,” Person said. “And I was cheering for them, obviously. But it was just kind of bittersweet. On one hand, you want to see your buddies be really successful. On the other hand, it’s ‘I could be part of that.’ And you feel like you should be a part of that.”

Now former teammates in several cities will be cheering for Person in the Super Bowl.

On Patrick Mahomes’ running, more words and context

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On Friday morning, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about last week’s comments arising from the failure of the Titans to tackle Patrick Mahomes on his 27-yard, gamebreaking touchdown run and projecting how the 49ers may handle a similar situation with a Super Bowl championship on the line. On Friday afternoon, three former NFL players — in a TV segment that seemed to be designed to get them to say that my comments were inappropriate — actually agreed with what I said. And then some.

On FS1’s Speak for Yourself, co-host Marcellus Wiley and analysts LaVar Arrington and Rich Ohrnberger reacted to a limited snippet of my original remarks, which omitted the clear and obvious “I’m not suggesting that they try to knock him out of the game” caveat. Even without the caveat being included in the clip, the former players had no problem with the remarks.

“I wholeheartedly agree with him and love what he’s saying,” said Wiley, a defensive end who spent 10 years in the league. “He’s highlighting the errors of those defenders. And in real time, I was saying the same thing. Because they have player safety and protecting the quarterback in their head, they’re not actually going out there and defending up to their capabilities. So, what does that suggest to the next defense? Maybe you’re going to have to go out there and overcorrect. Maybe you’re gonna go out there, maybe you have to toe that line. And that could be perceived as reckless, so that’s my only issue with it. He’s stating the obvious, so why do you really need to state it if you understand what the defense’s intentions are in the first place?”

Arrington, a three-time Pro Bowler and the second overall pick in the 2000 draft, had an even stronger viewpoint.

“I take issue with the backlash,” Arrington said. “I take issue with the interpretation of it. In terms of why should it be stated or the safety of our game and different things. He didn’t say to go out there and hurt Patrick Mahomes. There’s a difference between saying going out there and taking a chance where there could be a risk of you getting a penalty infraction versus going out there and hurting him. If Mike Florio said, ‘This is what San Francisco needs to do. When Mahomes takes off, you need to jump on him, you need to slam his head down, you need to try to hit his legs, you need to do something to debilitate him so that it can impact the game.’ That isn’t what he said.

“There is a thing called a ‘woo lick,’ a tone setter. We all know about that. Linemen know about it. I got the worst ‘woo lick’ ever from Larry Allen. . . . That is why football is so special. That’s why it’s America’s sport. Because you test your mettle, you test your preparation and your abilities, and I think the softer this game gets, when we have to talk about what Florio says and try to decipher what that is, I think we’re going down a bad road.”

Added Ohrnberger, who played for the Patriots, Cardinals, and Chargers: “We were all coached that way. To play up to the echo of the whistle. . . . A questionable call is only questionable because it’s close. So I mean if Patrick Mahomes — if the motto in the defensive meeting room for the 49ers is, ‘Look, we’re not gonna have many chances because he’s a magician. But when you have a clean shot at him, take it and let him remember.’ . . . Even if this is like near the sideline, nothing [Florio] said was necessarily illegal, but could be conceived as illegal or perceived as illegal by an official on the field.”

As the segment continued to unfold, something subtle but undeniable occurred. The more they discussed the issue, the more candid the former players became. Eventually, Wiley dropped the facade entirely.

“He’s taking advantage of the rules that are trying to protect him,” Wiley said regarding Mahomes’ decisions to run the football. “Last three games, he’s run 22 times, leaning into his inner Lamar Jackson. Because he knows that, out there, it’s not hell to pay like it was yesterday. But these coaches are now saying, ‘Look, there still is a risk-reward relationship.’ And let’s be real, as much as I was a part of the fraternity and brotherhood, if I could knock Tom Brady out and see him next time, that’s what I wanted to do.”

Arrington tried to dial it back to the original point, saying, “It’s not even about knocking him out.”

“But I want to,” Wiley insisted. “Oh, I want to. . . . You don’t want to knock Patrick Mahomes out?”

“It’s about getting the hit and sending the message,” Arrington said.

“No, no, no,” Wiley said. “I want to knock him out.”

Added Ohrnberger, “If you’re playing against him you do.”

Exclaimed Wiley, “If you’re playing against him, yes. In the Super Bowl, yes you do!”

My point was and is that it’s not, and shouldn’t be, about knocking Mahomes out. It was, and is, about treating a quarterback like a running back when he becomes a running back, without freaking out in fringes of the gray areas and pulling up and pulling back and watching the quarterback who is now a running back run right by the defender who is afraid to hit the quarterback near the sideline or is afraid to commence a move toward a running target who possibly begins to slide just before an impact that quickly becomes unavoidable. And that if/when a quarterback who becomes a running back gets hit like a running back, maybe the quarterback won’t run it the next time he’s tempted to do so.

My original goal was to provide real, authentic, and candid analysis of how the game is played, based on everything I’ve seen and heard in 20 years of studying the game and talking to those who play and coach it. What may have been conceived as an effort by someone at FS1 to take issue with my take ended, thanks to the fundamental honesty and fair-mindedness of the three former players at the table, in a way that was far more real, authentic, and candid about how the game is played.

Drew Brees will “give it a month or so” before making his decision

AP

For Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the decision is simple: Play for the Saints in 2020, or retire.

On Saturday, the timetable for making the decision became a bit more clear.

“I’m really waiting until football is totally done,” Brees said Saturday from the Pro Bowl, via Amie Just of NOLA.com. “Obviously being here, I’m just very much focused on my family and this opportunity to be around the guys, playing the game.

“Then, I’ll kind of lay low for a little bit, get away and then assess. I kind of have a process in mind. And I’ll give it a month or so.”

Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis has said that the team wants him to continue. The presence of restricted free agent Taysom Hill complicates things, however. Hill, who turns 30 this year, has become a potent weapon on offense, arguably the best player on the field when the Saints lost to the Vikings three weeks ago. The Saints, on one hand, would surely like to keep Brees for as long as they can. On the other hand, they surely don’t want to risk losing Hill to a team that isn’t already paying $20 million or more for a starter.

Would Brees accept a role that is a click or two closer to part time, accepting more and more reps and opportunities for Hill in what would become a sort-of transition year? It’s possible that the Saints both want Brees and want to keep Hill, not simply for cameo appearances and special teams.

The role envisioned for Brees and Hill necessarily will impact the offer the Saints will make for Brees. And with Brees on the record about not playing for another team, the Saints (unlike the Packers in 2008 with Brett Favre or the Colts in 2012 with Peyton Manning or possibly the Patriots in 2020 with Tom Brady) don’t have to worry about Brees balking at a proposed role or compensation package and emerging with a competitor.

So while the decision is simple, the dance could get complicated. Unless the Saints and Brees have the same idea in mind as to how much he’ll make and how much he’ll play, Brees could decide that the time has indeed come to walk away.

The Bill Belichick trade turns 20 on Monday

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When Tom Brady met Robert Kraft in 2000, the sixth-round rookie said to the billionaire owner of the Patriots, “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.” That’s debatable, and the debate could be settled, starting this year.

Three months before using a sixth-round pick to get Brady, they used a first-round pick to get coach Bill Belichick, who had become via contractual ascension the coach of the Jets when Bill Parcells decided to step down. Belichick resigned, and Kraft wanted to hire Belichick. Kraft did.

Here’s some of the press conference from following the trade, which was made 20 years ago tomorrow.

As noted by Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald, the Patriots included a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick in 2001, getting back from the Jets a 2001 fifth-round pick and a 2002 seventh-round selection. The fact that Belichick remains employed as the team’s head coach — the longest current tenure of any coach with the same team other than Sean Payton, who was hired by the Saints six years later — underscores the value of the transaction. Especially with the six Super Bowl wins and the nine Super Bowl appearances in 20 seasons.

But the 20th anniversary of Belichick’s arrival and the 20th anniversary of Brady’s arrival could be the two slices of Wonder bread on a something-on-a-shingle-without-the-shingle sandwich. Brady’s contract expires in March, and if he wants to leave he can. If he does, and for every year that he plays with another team, data points will emerge on the question of whether Brady or Belichick was the best decision the organization has ever made.

Martin Mayhew: I wish I took Aaron Donald when I was Lions G.M.

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Martin Mayhew is headed to Miami for Super Bowl LIV with the rest of the 49ers organization and it marks the vice president of player personnel’s first trip to the game since he went to Super Bowl XXVI as a Washington defensive back.

Many in Detroit hoped that Mayhew would have found a way to get the Lions to their first Super Bowl during his seven-plus years as the team’s General Manager. The Lions made it to the playoffs a couple of times between Mayhew’s hiring in 2008 and his dismissal in 2015, but they never won a game in the postseason.

One of the choices Mayhew made in that failed effort to build a winner came in 2014 when he selected tight end Eric Ebron with the 10th overall pick. Taylor Lewan and Odell Beckham were the next two picks, but it was the 13th overall selection who Mayhew wishes he took instead of Ebron.

“I wish I would have taken Aaron Donald,” Mayhew said, via the Detroit Free Press. “That’s no knock on Ebron. I wish I would have taken him. It’s not a decision that’s made in a vacuum. We talked about a lot of different scenarios, different situations. Man, I wish I had taken him.”

Plenty of Lions fans wish Mayhew did the same thing as they go on waiting for their team’s first chance to play in the NFL’s biggest game.

Justin Herbert helps draft cause with Senior Bowl MVP

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Several quarterbacks have gone from having strong performances at the Senior Bowl to being drafted early in the first round and Justin Herbert might be the player following that path this season.

Herbert went into the week saying he hoped to show NFL teams leadership ability that he might not have shown during his time at Oregon. Teams will have to decide for themselves how well he did on that front, but his on-field work didn’t hurt his cause.

Herbert was given an award for his work in practice during the week and was named the game’s MVP on Saturday. He was 9-of-12 for 83 yards and a touchdown and also broke off a 19-yard run during the game.

“He’ll be a really good player in this league,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said after coaching Herbert, via the team’s website. “He’s calm, he’s poised. He managed the offense and ran what we wanted him to do. It was a nice showing. He can run it. He can do that, he’s a really good athlete.”

Some thought Herbert would have been a high pick last year, but he opted to return to school. While it remains to be seen where he’ll land this time, Herbert’s off to a good start in the predraft evaluation process.

George Kittle, USAA, TAPs have given the family of a fallen soldier a Super Bowl trip

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49ers tight end George Kittle is doing what he can to acknowledge and support a family that suffered the loss of a man who was serving his country.

Kittle, working with USAA and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, has given the family of Martin “Mick” LaMar a trip to Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

Via Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com, Mick LaMar died in Mosul, Iraq on January 15, 2011 — the anniversary of his wedding. He left behind a wife and five children. A veteran of Desert Storm, Martin re-enlisted in 2007 and did two tours in Iraq.

“It’s just the work I do with the USAA and the Taps organization, which is something I’ve really kind of fallen in love with,” Kittle told reporters on Friday. “I have a lot of family in the military, so it’s something that I just respect and the sacrifice that they give is the ultimate sacrifice. So, if I can ever give back and make a family’s day or just make them smile a little bit, then I feel like I’ve done a little part in their lives.”

Kittle was scheduled to meet LaMar’s widow, Josie, and their 16-year-old son, Nicholas, on Friday. Both became 49ers fans because LaMar was. Nicholas was only seven when his father died.

Russell Wilson is looking for a few more “superstars” to help the Seahawks take the next step

AP

As the Seahawks pieced together an unexpectedly solid season in 2018, after performing fairly major surgery to the coaching staff and roster, quarterback Russell Wilson said that it felt like 2012 all over again. Which was an important observation, because the Seahawks won the Super Bowl to cap the 2013 season.

After the Seahawks exited the divisional round of the playoffs in 2019, coach Pete Carroll reiterated the notion that it feels like 2012 all over again. Which means that, if 2019 wasn’t 2013, maybe 2020 will be.

And now it’s just a matter of getting there. Speaking to ESPN at the Pro Bowl, Wilson expanded on his prior thoughts regarding what the Seahawks need to do to turn back the clock seven years.

“I think we need a couple more [players],” Wilson told ESPN, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “I think we need a couple more. [Defensive end] Jadeveon [Clowney] is a big-time guy that we would love to get back on our football team. He was so good in the locker room. He brought so many just havoc plays to the field. Hopefully, we can get a few other players there on the defense. Then also on offense, we have a great offense, but I think we can always add more pieces. I think that’s going to be the part that’s going to be great with [General Manager] John Schneider and [coach] Pete [Carroll], as well, in terms of this offseason’s free agency. Free agency is very, very key to getting those superstars on your team and try to get great players that can fill the space.”

It’s a bold statement from Wilson, who rarely ventures into any territory that remotely could be regarded as controversial. For plenty of teams, the input of the quarterback regarding what the team should or shouldn’t do from a personnel standpoint isn’t welcome, since it falls beyond the boundaries of the “do your job” mantra that isn’t exclusive to New England. Of course, if teams want quarterbacks to act like members of management when it comes to putting in extra time and effort and keeping teammates accountable, maybe the job should include input on roster construction. Even then, teams that accept general or specific input from the quarterback regarding offseason roster moves likely would prefer that those views remain internal.

The fact that Wilson tiptoed toward the line reflects the urgency he’s undoubtedly feeling. As he said the day after the loss to the Packers (via Condotta), quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady had “pretty special” seasons during years “eight to 13, 15” of their careers. Wilson now has eight seasons under his belt. His ability to craft a legacy of winning at the highest level hinges in large part on the help he has around him, and he’s currently willing to say he wants more of it, in the form of the Seahawks finding a way to keep Clowney, and to add another “superstar” or two.

Tom Brady campaigns for Troy Polamalu for the Hall of Fame

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Former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is one of the finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and before the final vote is taken on Saturday, a longtime opponent is putting in a good word for him.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady released a statement explaining just how tough an opponent Polamalu was.

“One key to success for a quarterback is to study a lot of film in order to understand defensive tendencies and know how the defense will try to defend everything you are trying to do as an offense,” Brady said, in a statement released by the Steelers. “But that never worked against Troy. He was one of the most instinctive and disruptive players I have ever played against. Outside of his incredible athleticism, his greatest skill was his unpredictability. You could never quite get a bead on what he was doing, yet he was always around the ball. Troy was just a playmaker who you had to account for on every play. It was amazing to watch film on him and to try to understand how we knew where to be and when. If you wanted to find Troy, you just looked for where the ball was going and you would always find him.”

Brady and Polamalu faced each other five times in the regular season and once in the playoffs, and Brady remembers the challenge of facing Polamalu well.

Expect Kyle Shanahan to exploit Chiefs’ penchant for defensive holding

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It’s a good bet officials will call a defensive holding penalty or pass interference penalty on the Chiefs. The question is: How many?

The Chiefs led the league in penalties on passing plays during the regular season, according to Matt Maiocco of NBCSportsBayArea.com. That included a league-high 21 defensive holding penalties, with three declined.

Kansas City’s 10 defensive pass interference penalties tied for 17th, but its 227 yards on those infractions was second most in the NFL behind only the Jets (254). The Chiefs were called for two more pass interference infractions in the postseason.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan might even call for a penalty on the Chiefs before it happens as he did in the NFC Championship Game.

The 49ers held a 34-20 lead over the Packers and faced a third-and-three with 5:56 remaining when Shanahan called a play for George Kittle on a short out route. Before the snap, Shanahan told side judge Eugene Hall that Packers cornerback Will Redmond was going to impede his Pro Bowl tight end.

“That’s how he installed the play, too,” Kittle said, via Maiocco. “So, yeah, that’s what happened.”

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

Officials called defensive pass interference, giving the 49ers an automatic first down and 5 yards for the spot foul. The 49ers burned another 2:25 off the clock and kicked a 42-yard field goal.

“When it’s man-to-man coverage, you hope the play is on your sidelines so you can alert guys to stuff,” Shanahan said this week. “Sometimes it’s tough for those guys, especially when you have switch releases and receivers moving in and out.

“So you just try to give them a heads-up where we’re looking. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. Usually it has to do with whether they [call] PI or not.”