Baseball may try to play in empty spring training locations

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Major League Baseball longs for the days (as do the rest of us) when its biggest problem was a cheating scandal that just wouldn’t go away. Baseball was caught flat-footed with the coronavirus pandemic during spring training, with its Opening Day just a couple of weeks away.

Baseball has a new plan for proceeding with Opening Day and all days after that. According to Ken Rosenthal of TheAthletic.com, MLB is considering starting the season at spring training locations in Florida or Arizona. Those locations have multiple parks in close proximity, and games would be played there without fans.

But, as Rosenthal notes, the powers-that-be realize that the notion of putting 30 baseball teams in one of those places and essentially quarantining them “would be extremely complex and potentially controversial.” But at least baseball is thinking and talking and working through the scenarios.

The NBA and the Premier League are considering similar approaches to finishing seasons that were interrupted by the pandemic. And, as we’ve explained, the NFL should at least consider this kind of approach as the worst-case plan for salvaging the 2020 season. Even if it ultimately wouldn’t work, the NFL needs to explore the possibility and all others thoroughly, the same way other leagues are doing.

And the NFL has something that baseball, basketball, and soccer don’t: The benefit of time. As other sports try to change a tire on a moving car, the NFL has weeks at its disposal to think creatively, to brainstorm, to ponder, to discuss, and to explore.

Here’s hoping that someone is doing that. Not after the draft has concluded, but right now.

Could Bill Belichick and Cam Newton coexist?

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Cam Newton has faced Bill Belichick twice. Cam Newton has beaten Bill Belichick twice. Cam Newton is a free agent. But Bill Belichick has shown no inclination to adopt the manta, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Scott Pioli, who won three Super Bowl rings setting the personnel table for Belichick in New England, believes Belichick and Newton would have a hard time coexisting.

“The Patriots thing is interesting because I’ve heard a lot of people talk about that,” Pioli said in an appearance with Zach Gelb of CBS Sports Radio. “And in my mind, having spent as much time with Bill as I did, I don’t see those two coexisting together. . . . The personalities and the beliefs of how the game should be played and is played . . .  it seems like oil and water. Now as soon as I say that, what’s gonna happen next week is they’ll probably sign him.

“But I just see them as being very different personalities and having very different approaches to the game. Bill understands — he believes in football more than entertainment. Cam believes that football and entertainment are almost equal partners. In which this day it is, but Bill has the soul of a football man and I couldn’t see that one working out too well. And if it did it would have to be for probably one season.”

It also would have to be a creative contract, given that the Patriots are currently strapped for cap space.

Through nearly two weeks of free agency, no team has been linked to Newton. The Chargers continue to be the no-brainer option. Other teams, like the Dolphins and Raiders, are intriguing. But given what mobile quarterbacks like Newton have done to Belichick over the years, it’s hard not to think that Belichick at least has pondered what his team’s offense would look like with Newton under center.

Trump to speak with sports commissioners today

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When will it be safe for sports to start back up again? That’s something many millions of fans want to know, and it will be addressed as part of President Trump’s agenda today.

A call with the commissioners of the professional sports leagues has been scheduled for today. The noon entry on Saturday’s official White House schedule says, “The President participates in a phone call with Major League Commissioners.”

The entry does not say which commissioners will be on the call, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would presumably take part.

So far the NFL has been the least-affected of America’s pro sports by the coronavirus pandemic, simply because the nationwide shutdown is taking place during the NFL’s offseason. But NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills acknowledged this week that the NFL regular season may not be able to go on as planned.

Realistically, America probably still has a significant wait before team sports can be played, for the simple reason that Dr. Sills noted this week: The current protocols say that if one person tests positive, everyone who has been in contact with that one person should self-isolate. And that means it would only take one player, coach or other team personnel to test positive for an entire team — and any teams that have recently played against that team — to have to go into isolation. It’s just not feasible for a sports league to re-start its schedule right now, knowing that at any moment one person’s positive test would require whole teams to stop playing and practicing.

And however long it takes until the sports leagues can start playing again, it’s going to take even longer before they can play in a stadium full of fans. It would be reckless and irresponsible for any organization to even consider cramming tens of thousands of people into a stadium right now.

So it’s hard to imagine that there’s going to be much upbeat news coming out of the president’s discussion with commissioners today. The sports leagues may be able to discuss the best public safety protocols for when games are played again, but no one should expect that to happen soon.

Clyde Christensen feels he failed Jameis Winston

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Heading into the 2019 season, the hope in Tampa was that head coach Bruce Arians and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen would be able to help Jameis Winston take a step forward as a quarterback.

Winston threw for more than 5,000 yards and posted 33 touchdown passes, but whatever improvement that might have suggested was mitigated by 30 interceptions. It was the same inconsistency that has been an issue throughout Winston’s professional career and the results leave Christensen feeling like he didn’t do his job well enough last year.

“In some ways, I feel like I failed him,” Christensen said on The Pat McAfee Show, via the Tampa Bay Times. “As a coach, you take that personal. Whatever, I didn’t get it done. I didn’t help this kid. This kid is better than 30 interceptions and we didn’t get it done and that I have to live with. But I do think he’s a great kid and he’s going to some great things.”

Winston has not found a new place to attempt to prove Christensen right about what the future will bring. At this point, it seems highly unlikely that he’ll go anywhere as a starter, which is why Christensen believes the quarterback’s “rise to the top” may resemble Ryan Tannehill‘s move to Tennessee last year.

Shaq Lawson: I’m bringing a lot of juice to Miami

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The Dolphins moved quickly in free agency to secure players who can boost their defense and defensive end Shaq Lawson was one of the first ones to agree to a deal.

Lawson was a 2016 first-round pick in Buffalo, but the Bills opted not to pick up their option on his contract for the 2020 season after he produced 10 sacks in his first three seasons. Lawson set a new career high with 6.5 sacks before jumping to his new AFC East squad.

Lawson believes the uptick in 2019 is a sign of things to come in Miami.

“I’m at a point of my career where I’m just only getting better — making strides each year,” Lawson said, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. “Each year I’ve gotten better, improved. Getting more comfortable in the game. I feel like these next coming years, I’ve got a lot of juice. I’ve got a lot to bring to the table, and I showed glimpses of it last year with only just playing on the amount of snaps I was playing. I’m just ready to go get it and just [try] to be a double-digit sack guy.”

Emmanuel Ogbah and Kyle Van Noy are also Dolphins newcomers who are expected to add to a pass rush that Lawson thinks can be “special” once they’re all on the field together. Lawson’s ability to keep growing will be vital to that effort.

Derek Wolfe: Ravens will “for sure” have best DL in league

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Derek Wolfe wasn’t the Ravens’ first choice as a free agent addition to their defensive line, but they turned his way after a deal with Michael Brockers fell through.

Wolfe doesn’t think that change is going to have a negative impact on the performance of the unit. They’ve also added Calais Campbell in a trade to go with holdovers Brandon Williams and Jihad Ward in a group that Wolfe believes is going to be better than any other in the NFL.

“I think we can have the best defensive line in the league, for sure, and we could break records. We could break the rushing record — yards per rush, stuff like that,” Wolfe said, via NBCSportsWashington.com.

The 2000 Ravens set that record for the Super Bowl era by allowing 2.69 yards per rush. The 2019 Ravens gave up 4.4 yards per carry, so the addition of Wolfe and Campbell would have to have a major impact in order for the team to make that kind of improvement.

If they do or even if they come close, the team’s chances of repeating the 2000 squad’s postseason success will look pretty good.

Rams raise $2.3 million for charity through fans’ hatred of their logo

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There’s a silver lining to the widely panned new Rams logo: It helped raise money for some good causes.

After fans almost universally ripped the Rams’ new logo as ugly and amateurish, the Rams decided to have some fun with it, with Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff promising to read the meanest tweets about the logo if Rams fans would donate at least $2 million to United Way of L.A. and the L.A. Regional Food Bank.

By Friday, fans had donated $2.3 million, so Demoff posted a video of himself reading the tweets.

“If you’re low on toilet paper, don’t worry. You can now get it on NFL Shop,” one tweet said.

“The new LA Rams logo is the major way of social distancing,” said another.

Demoff also acknowledged that the backlash against the Rams had caused some reflection within the organization.

“While it isn’t always the easiest to hear, we value the commentary you have provided on the logo & colors,” Demoff tweeted. “We are excited about the future of our team, our brand & our stadium, but recognize we can always get better through feedback and engagement and appreciate your passion.”

The Rams took the ‘L’ on this one, and turned it into a win for their community.

Antonio Brown faces three formal charges for January incident

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Free-agent receiver Antonio Brown’s path back to the NFL continues to be more and more complicated.

Brown, already facing an NFL investigation arising from a September 2019 lawsuit for sexual assault and rape, has been charged in connection with a January 2020 incident arising from an altercation with the driver of a moving truck.

Via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, authorities in Broward County, Florida officially have charged Brown with felony burglary conveyance, misdemeanor battery, and misdemeanor criminal mischief.

Brown previously had been charged with felony burglary with battery after allegedly refusing the pay the driver for moving expenses and then physically accosting the driver, before Brown removed his items from the truck. Per Fowler, that charge was not included in the official list of counts Brown faces.

The coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly will delay the processing of these charges. The NFL surely will investigate and discipline Brown, regardless of the outcome of the criminal case.

Nick Vannett sounds ready to forget last season in Seattle and Pittsburgh

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The best thing about 2020 for Nick Vannett is it’s not 2019.

The tight end began his fourth season with the Seahawks, who traded him to the Steelers. He ended up with 17 catches for 166 yards and few good memories.

Vannett signed a two-year deal with the Broncos in free agency.

“I always felt like toward the end of my tenure with the Seahawks, I felt like I was slowly getting kicked to the curb a little bit,” Vannett said, via Nicki Jhabvala of TheAthletic.com. “They had another guy, a young guy, they brought in, [Will] Dissly, they were pretty high on and they kind of saw him to be my successor. I don’t know, like slowly I feel like they kind of minimized my role, they weren’t getting me involved as much. From what I heard, the Steelers were looking for a tight end, and they had been trying to make an offer for quite some time, and I think they finally made an offer that the Seahawks couldn’t refuse.

“That’s how the trade went down, and then when I got to the Steelers, talk about just a crazy three months there. It seemed like I came into an organization where the wheels were starting to fall off a little bit. Guys were getting hurt. Ben [Roethlisberger] was down. So I feel like I never really got to experience the true benefits, the true atmosphere that the Steelers normally would have because I came in on a crazy situation. I can’t say that I have too many great things to say about that organization just from my time being there because it wasn’t the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had. I can’t really speak too much on them to be honest.”

Vannett joins a tight end group that includes Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli and Andrew Beck.

He has 61 catches for 591 yards and four touchdowns in four seasons since the Seahawks made him a third-round choice.

Josh Allen: I understand how big of a year this is

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Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie declared earlier this week that it’s Buffalo’s time “to take over” the AFC East. It’s one thing for Isaiah McKenzie to say it. It’s quite another for Josh Allen to say it.

And the Bills starting quarterback didn’t say it in a conference call with beat reporters Friday.

Allen carefully worded his answer when asked about Tom Brady leaving New England. The lack of bulletin board material would have made Crash Davis proud.

“I think Bills Mafia is happy that he’s out of there and they were tired of him winning in Buffalo and, frankly, we were tired of it, too,” Allen said, via Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. “Obviously, we understand the deal, and we know that there’s a big opportunity in front of us. But it doesn’t get there without putting the work in and going to work each and every day and trying to be the best team that we can be. I think the Jets and the Dolphins are thinking the same thing right now. It’s football; every year’s different.

“It doesn’t mean the Patriots are out of anything, as well. They’re returning a lot of guys on defense. They’ve got a great coaching staff over there, so it doesn’t mean they’re just automatically out of it just because they lost a pretty key player.”

Allen is entering his third season, and based on his talks with other first-round quarterbacks, he expects this to be the year “when things start to click and start to happen.”

“I understand how big of a year it is,” Allen said. “But I’m taking it one day at a time and I’m just trying to do my part to be the best that I can be for the Buffalo Bills.”

Allen, who turns 24 next month, took a step in his second season. He went 10-6, leading the Bills to th postseason, while passing for 3,089 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The next step is winning the division — something the Bills haven’t done since 1995.

2020 circumstances underscore value of working out at Scouting Combine

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The NFL, like the rest of the world, was thrown into a tizzy in March, after it became clear that the coronavirus would change dramatically our way of life. Some of the victims of these dramatically changed circumstances include players who chose to defer their pre-draft workouts from the Scouting Combine to their Pro Days.

Penn State’s Pro Day was scrapped by the pandemic, and coach James Franklin has suggested that the draft be delayed to give players like his own a better chance to be evaluated.

At least one high-level team executive isn’t shedding any tears.

“What [Franklin] should have said was, ‘We don’t have our Pro Day, and since we tell our guys to not work out at the Combine, because our track is faster, our guys haven’t worked out yet for NFL teams,'” the source said.

Added the source regarding Franklin: “I get his frustration, if you don’t hear [Ohio State coach] Ryan Day or [Michigan coach] Jim Harbaugh  or [Iowa coach] Kirk Ferentz saying same, because their guys work out at the Combine.  That’s what the Combine is for, actually.  It’s not to get free gear from every team.”

Although the 2020 circumstances were both extreme and unprecedented, the point is that players who choose not to work out at the Combine assume the risk that, for whatever reason, they may not be able to work out later. That’s precisely what happened this year, and no matter what Franklin or anyone else says the NFL won’t be delaying the draft.

New Orleans may lose Super Bowl LVIII, gain Super Bowl LIX

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The combination of the expanded regular season and the ever-shifting dates for Easter and all related dates of interest could cause New Orleans to lose Super Bowl LVIII.

Ben Fischer of Sports Business Daily reports that the confluence of a 17-game season and the dates for Easter and in turn Ash Wednesday and in turn Mardi Gras could result in the NFL shifting the Crescent City’s next Super Bowl from early 2024 to early 2025.

The problem, per the report, is that Mardi Gras currently is due to happen two days after Super Bowl LVIII, due to the extra week of the regular season and the delay in the NFL’s championship game that happens because of it. Mardi Gras has become one of the biggest annual events in New Orleans, with parades and gatherings and thousands of people who will be in town for reasons unrelated to football (if the world ever gets back to that point).

The NFL reportedly is considering solving the problem by giving New Orleans the next Super Bowl, and awarding Super Bowl LVIII to another city — possibly Las Vegas.

Chiefs agree to terms on a one-year deal with Ricky Seals-Jones

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The Chiefs have reached an agreement on a one-year deal with tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports reports.

Seals-Jones, 25, spent last season with Cleveland.

He played 14 games with three starts, catching 14 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns. Seals-Jones saw action on 243 offensive snaps and 49 on special teams.

Seals-Jones signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He played 10 games with one start as a rookie.

In 2018, Seals-Jones played 15 games with five starts.

The Cardinals cut him out of the preseason in 2019, and the Browns claimed him off waivers.

For his three-year career, Seals-Jones has 60 catches for 773 yards and eight touchdowns.

Zac Taylor: We feel very confident with whoever we decide to take No. 1

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The Bengals’ original pre-draft itinerary had coach Zac Taylor and director of player personnel Duke Tobin in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Friday. Instead, Taylor spent the day in a spare room upstairs in his Cincinnati home, making phone calls and watching film.

All indications are the Bengals will select LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall choice on April 23.

But the Bengals didn’t get to see Burrow workout as planned during LSU’s pro day. They didn’t get a private workout with him. They didn’t get to have him visit Cincinnati.

“The only thing you didn’t get a chance to see was a guy throw 40 throws in front of you,” Taylor told Geoff Hobson of the team website. “At the end of the day, what does that really give you in the grand scheme of things? Sometimes that’s a big factor if you take a guy in the fifth or sixth round. Something like that. We’ve had plenty of exposure to the guys that have put themselves in position to be the No. 1 pick. We feel very confident with whoever we decide to take.”

The Bengals, like every other team, are doing Zoom or FaceTime interviews instead of in-person visits. Teams may contact an unlimited number of incoming rookies up to three times per week, for up to one hour at a time, according to the NFL.

Phone calls, though, can’t replace the pro days for prospects who didn’t work out at the Combine or for players coming off injury. They also don’t give team doctors a chance to exam prospects.

“That’s hard to replace with a phone call,” Taylor said. “You look at our undrafted history here and our scouts have done a great job finding guys that can play for us. And the coaches started looking at players when we prepared for the Senior Bowl, so we’ve been looking at guys three weeks or a month longer than we normally would have. We really feel like we’ve got a chance to talk through those guys that didn’t have a pro day. The medical is always going to be a challenge. You’ve just got to be as thorough as you can.”

Penn State coach says prospects would benefit from NFL delaying the draft

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Count Penn State coach James Franklin among the people who think the NFL draft should not go on as scheduled.

The league is going ahead with the draft, which is now less than three weeks away, but Franklin said it’s clear to him, both from talking to people in the NFL and from talking to his own players, that the process is fundamentally flawed with players unable to visit with teams.

“I’ve had a lot of [General Managers] calling me about the draft,” Franklin said, via the Centre Daily Times. “Our guys are not able to have a pro day . . . That’s the thing that I would say has probably been challenging and concerning. I wish the NFL would push the draft back to take pressure off all these players, to take pressure off these universities and agents . . . so [the players] still have the best chance to be evaluated.”

It’s undeniable that players this year don’t have the same opportunities to pitch themselves to NFL teams that players in the past have had, and that NFL teams don’t have the same opportunities to closely scrutinize players that teams have had in the past. But the NFL’s view is that as long as all 32 teams are playing under the same restrictive rules, it’s a level playing field. And so the draft will go on.