NFL holding inaugural General Manager Forum this week

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The NFL is hosting an inaugural General Manager Forum this week in an attempt to improve the number of minorities in front office positions, Rob Maaddi of The Associated Press reports.

The league named the virtual forum after Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens’ former General Manager.

“I think it’s critical, and I’m glad that the league is being intentional about doing it, because all of this work needs to be intentional,” longtime NFL executive Scott Pioli told Maaddi. “In the history of our country, what we’ve done is we have . . . groups of people that have intentionally marginalized folks. So now what we need to do is intentionally create programs and opportunities for people from marginalized groups to advance. So the fact that they’re doing this now or we’re doing this now as part of the NFL to help people advance and get exposure and get educated and become better and be mentored is a fantastic initiative by the league.”

Despite 70 percent of players being minority, the NFL has only four Black General Managers and three Black head coaches.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, Giants owner John Mara, Bills owner Kim Pegula and Black College Football Hall of Fame co-founder James “Shack” Harris also will speak Monday.

A two-day coaching summit follows Tuesday and Wednesday. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Steelers President Art Rooney II are among the scheduled speakers for that, per Maaddi.

NASCAR hires Alvin Kamara as growth and engagement advisor

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NASCAR is partnering with Alvin Kamara, having hired the Saints running back as its first growth and engagement advisor.

The announcement comes a year after Kamara attended his first NASCAR race to support Bubba Wallace Jr., the only Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. After NASCAR announced its decision to ban the Confederate flag, Kamara tweeted his approval and attended the Xfinity Series in Homestead.

In February, Kamara provided sponsorship for the No. 6 car driven by Ryan Vargas in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for a road race at Daytona International Speedway. The car carried the branding of The Big Squeezy, Kamara’s juice bar chain in Louisiana.

Kamara’s duties in his new role include working “directly with NASCAR leadership on strategic planning and creative opportunities that support its fan development efforts,” according to NASCAR’s official website.

“It’s an honor to be able to team up with NASCAR and be their first-ever growth and engagement advisor,” Kamara said in the press release. “I’m excited to use my passion as a fan to help shape their long-term efforts to grow the sport.”

Kamara also will work with the Charlotte-based NASCAR marketing team under the leadership of Chief Marketing Officer Pete Jung and “contribute to planning, ideation and activation around fan development and engagement.”

“Alvin’s journey to NASCAR happened very organically from that initial curiosity to experiencing our events to developing a real and sincere passion for the sport,” Jung said. “That’s what we’re looking to tap into … his insights, perspective and ideas … and learning more about his experience so that we can enhance what we’re doing to engage and develop new fans.”

Marco Rubio asks President Biden to let Cameron Kinley join the Buccaneers

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Navy cornerback Cameon Kinley had planned to try his hand in the NFL, until the Navy told him to cool his jets. Now, a U.S. Senator from the state where Kinley wants to play wants the Commander-in-Chief to override the order.

Via TheHill.com, Marco Rubio has sent a letter to President Biden requesting a waiver that would allow Kinley to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“In years past, the U.S. Department of Defense has issued many waivers to allow athletes to temporarily delay their service to our nation to pursue their professional sports dreams,” Rubio wrote, via TheHill.com. “Unfortunately, Mr. Kinley seems to be the exception, and without reason.”

Rubio has a good point. As a matter of basic fairness, the rules should be consistent. Whatever the rule may be, the player needs to know when he accepts an appointment to a service academy that the opportunity will, or won’t, be afforded to play professionally.

“Mr. Kinley is not seeking to terminate his commitment to the Navy,” Rubio wrote. “Far from it. He wishes to promote service to our great nation from one of the country’s largest stages. I implore you to right this wrong.”

Rubio is right. Kinley should be allowed to defer his commitment. Otherwise, no one with any realistic chance of playing professional sports should ever choose one of the service academies.

Trent Brown working out in New England during time off, hoping for repeat of 2018

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Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown has always had the physical tools to be an elite NFL lineman, but he hasn’t always put it all together. His best season, however, came in 2018 when he was with the Patriots for a year, and now he’s back with the Patriots and planning to run it back.

Although NFL players are free to do whatever they want during the six weeks between mandatory minicamp and training camp, Brown said that he is staying in New England so that he can continue doing the team’s prescribed strength and conditioning program at the team facility. He said that’s exactly what he did in 2018.

“I’m just following that same blueprint,” Brown said, via Mike Reiss of ESPN.

Brown played so well for the Patriots in 2018 that the Raiders signed him to a four-year, $66 million contract in 2019. He didn’t play at the same level during his two years with the Raiders, but now he’s back in New England, and the Patriots would love to see him back at his 2018 form.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejects first application for Washington Football Team trademark

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Last year, Washington dumped its controversial nickname, adopting Washington Football Team instead. At a time when consideration has been given to making that non-name the permanent name of the team, a decision from the federal agency with jurisdiction over these matters dealt the franchise a setback.

Via Sam Fortier of the Washington Post, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has refused the franchise’s request for trademark protection of the Washington Football Team name. The agency concluded that the name refers to a geographic area that is too generic, and that the notorious trademark squatter Martin McCaulay already has submitted an application for the name. (The first conclusion seemingly would invalidate McCaulay’s claim, too.)

It’s only the beginning not the end, and the process will continue. And the outcome of the process has no relevance to whether the team can use the name. The only question is whether the name can be protected for marketing purposes.

That’s more than enough to push the team toward a different name. Indeed, the team faced an extended attack on the trademark rights of its prior name, under the notion that, if the trademark rights were scrapped and anyone/everyone could sell merchandise bearing the name, the team would abandon it.

Thus, if WFT ultimately can’t be legally protected, the team will find a name that can be protected. Other than the one they abandoned last year, presumably.

Brandon Bolden changes to No. 25, to honor his grandfather, Frank Pitts

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Patriots running back Brandon Bolden, who has racked up two Super Bowl rings during his time in New England, has a family member who previously won one of them. When Bolden returns to the NFL in 2021 after opting out in 2020, he’ll be honoring that family member.

Bolden’s grandfather, Frank Pitts, spent 11 years in the NFL, winning Super Bowl IV with the Chiefs. Pitts wore No. 25. Bolden, who had worn No. 38 his entire NFL career, will now wear No. 25, too. Bolden recently announced the decision on social media.

Pitts played for the Chiefs, Browns, and Raiders. He appeared in two Super Bowls, the first and the fourth. Bolden has played for the Patriots for his full career, with the exception of 2018 (he spent that year in Miami). Bolden has played in three Super Bowls.

Pitts gained 70 yards on six touches in Kansas City’s upset win over the Vikings — more than 25 percent of the team’s total net yards of 273 for the game.

Rusty Hardin: NFL has yet to interview Deshaun Watson

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More than three months ago, the off-field controversy involving Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson first emerged. In less than half that time, the Texans will report for training camp. Before then, the NFL will have to decide whether to place Watson on paid leave, given the 22 lawsuits pending against him, alleging misconduct during massage sessions.

Attorney Rusty Hardin tells KPRC-TV in Houston that the NFL has not yet interviewed Watson regarding the allegations.

Typically, the accused in a situation like this is interviewed last. Given that the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy contemplates a preliminary process aimed at determining whether the player will land on the Commissioner Exempt list, it seems prudent to hear from Watson before deciding whether to do that.

It’s a delicate situation for the league, to be sure. After the Ray Rice debacle (along with the Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson situations), the league introduced the concept of paid leave as a way to remove from the public eye players against whom serious accusations have been made. The fact that the player is still paid makes the league believe it’s not punishment — a horribly misguided and unrealistic take. Of course it’s punishment; football players want to play football, and paid leave prevents them from playing football. And of course it’s driven by P.R. concerns, not by considerations of justice or fairness or due process.

As previously explained, the league has broad discretion to decide whether to place a player on paid leave. In other words, the league can do whatever it wants. Whatever it does, the league needs to make a decision and let everyone involved in the situation know about it before camp opens, so that everyone involved can make informed decisions about Watson’s future.

The situation would be much easier for the league if the 22 cases were settled. Although settlement talks happened at one point, Hardin confirmed to KPRC that they’re not happening now. Recently, attorney Tony Buzbee said that a settlement won’t be happening, at least not any time soon.

Settlement talks could resume at any time. Again, the fact that they previously broke down over the issue of confidentiality strongly suggests that the two sides made significant progress if not reached an agreement regarding the amount of the settlement. If so, it’s just a matter of one side or the other bending on the issue of confidentiality.

Justin Jefferson pushes himself to improve

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Patrick Peterson has been one of the best cornerbacks in football for the past decade. As a rookie in 2020, Justin Jefferson emerged as one of the best receivers in the league. They’re now teammates in Minnesota, and they’re pushing each other.

Already bonded by their common college football connection at LSU, they’re facing each other in practice.

On his All Things Covered podcast, Peterson explained that Jefferson did something that had never before happened to Peterson. The youngster called out Peterson.

“Justin didn’t wanna go at no other corner but me,” Peterson said. “That’s my first time I ever got called out.”

Via Heavy.com, Jefferson separately explained his approach.

“I’ve been trying to apply some of the pressure to Pat Pete,” Jefferson said. “Him being one of the top corners in the league and going up against him at practice that only makes us better as receivers. You don’t get to see a guy like Pat Pete every single game. He’s a great corner. He’s so smart. He’s so patient. Definitely trying to work some new moves on him and seeing what works and what don’t work.”

Peterson praised Jefferson’s attitude and work ethic.

“[Jefferson’s] one of those guys who comes into work he’s a pro every efficient in practice just a guy who seems like he’s been in the league for four or five years that’s very rare you can look at a second-year player like he’s been here before, ” Peterson said his podcast, via Heavy.com. “That’s a credit to his family, the way he goes about his business and what he wants his career to be. You can tell he wants to be special and he loves coming to work every day.”

Jefferson blossomed into a first-round pick. He’s now blossoming into one of the best and most important players on the Vikings, already on track to becoming their best receiver since Randy Moss. And the difference comes from the attitude. Moss was naturally special, and he often turned it on and off at a whim. Jefferson has had to work for his success, and it seems like he has no desire to ever flip the switch off. Whereas Moss said, “I play when I want to play,” Jefferson would say, “I want to play all the time.”

“When you’re a rookie first coming in, you’re kinda shy to things you don’t really know exactly what to say — you’re just getting used to everybody,” Jefferson said. “Now, going on my second year, I just feel so comfortable with these guys. . . .  I’m just trying to take on that role and to be a leader.”

He has the skill and the accomplishments to do it, after catching 88 passes for 1,400 yards, an all-time rookie record for receiving yards. If Peterson’s presence pushes Jefferson to the next level (and thanks to a 17th game), Calvin Johnson’s single-season mark of 1,942 yards could be the next record to fall.

For the Vikings, there’s a much different objective to having a talent like Jefferson on the team, one that dates back to 1969, 1973, 1974, and 1976.

Chargers want Justin Herbert to be a coach on the field

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Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had a fantastic rookie season and Drew Brees made it clear recently that he has all the physical tools necessary to be a star in the NFL for a long time.

As Brees knows, however, physical tools are not the entire story. Quarterbacks have to master the mental game as well and that’s something that head coach Brandon Staley is focused on heading into this season.

Staley noted that quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have seen every kind of defense, played in every kind of situation and mastered finding weak spots in a defense. He said “they can operate much more effectively, because they don’t need that extra someone telling them what to do” and the team wants Herbert to get to that place.

“What makes those two guys specifically unique is that you’re eliminating one of the variables in the equation,” Staley said, via Albert Breer of SI.com. “When they don’t need the coach, when they are the coach, that’s a much more dangerous person to have to defend, because you’re not waiting for the coach to help them. They know how to help themselves. And that’s what I think we’re trying to achieve.”

Brady and Rodgers have a lot more experience than Herbert and it would be unreasonable to expect him to be in the same place at his point in his career, but making strides toward that kind of command of an offense would be reason for even greater optimism about what the future holds for the Chargers.

John Harbaugh: It’s been a pleasure watching Alejandro Villanueva, Kevin Zeitler

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Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta said in February that the team wanted to improve its pass protection this offseason and the ensuing months saw the team make several moves on the offensive line.

They signed right guard Kevin Zeitler after he was released by the Giants while watching Matt Skura and D.J. Fluker leave as free agents. With Ronnie Stanley returning from injury, Orlando Brown was traded to the Chiefs in order to let him try his hand at left tackle and former Steeler Alejandro Villanueva came aboard as the new right tackle.

Head coach John Harbaugh has gotten a chance to see the two veteran additions work over the last few weeks and he sounds happy with how things look up front heading into training camp.

“Watching them play has been a pleasure,” Harbaugh said, via the team’s website. “They’re all ball, all the time — both of those guys. Whether it’s meeting room, weight room, conditioning [or] on the field work — they’re all ball, all the time. I love that about them. I think they’re going to be a formidable tandem on the right side. I’m really pleased with them so far.”

Bradley Bozeman has moved to center, which leaves left guard as the only spot up for grabs in Baltimore. Harbaugh called that competition “wide open” and they’ll get to sort that out while feeling confident that the rest of the group is well positioned for success.

Travis Kelce hesitated to get the vaccine, now encourages everyone to get it

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Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce initially wasn’t sure he would get the COVID-19 vaccine. But he decided to get fully vaccinated so that he could feel safe around his family, and the experience went so well that he’s now encouraging everyone to get on board.

“I love being around family, [so] it was just kind of a family decision that if everybody got the vaccine, we would be able to be around each other safely and comfortably,” Kelce said, via the Kansas City Star. “So that was the biggest thing — it was huge for family. I was definitely hesitant, but it’s only here to help us, and I’m here to just spread the word to try and encourage everybody to get it.”

Kelce is now helping to publicize easy ways to get vaccinated, noting that fully vaccinated players will allow a normal NFL season, and fully vaccinated fans will allow full stadiums.

“I’m just glad that everything’s going to get back to normal here,” Kelce said. “I think this year is going to be absolutely nuts. I can already feel everybody getting back out in the community and the electricity the city’s bringing. Just being able to get back around each other, and I think this vaccine is only going to help make everybody safer and more comfortable to get back to daily life.”

Kelce is speaking out for a cause that may save lives.

Diontae Johnson uses tennis ball machine to work on drops

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Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson led the league in drops last season. To kick his drops habit, Johnson worked with tennis balls.

Via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Johnson purchased a tennis ball machine and practiced catching the tiny, fuzzy spheres shot therefrom.

It’s a smaller target so you have to really focus on the ball and the object coming at you,” Johnson said this week, via Rutter. “That’s what I’ve been honing on to. Now, when I catch the football it’s easy.”

Then he corrected himself.

“It’s always been easy to me, but it’s keeping that focus and that confidence,” Johnson said.

Drops aren’t an official stat; unofficial numbers had him at anywhere from 16 to 10 last season.

“It was just focus,” Johnson said. “Just taking my eye off the ball that one split second. Drop the ball right there and it goes in the back of your mind and you constantly think about stuff like that. That’s the main thing — focus and making sure you look at the ball all the way in before you run. Focus on the catch first, run second.”

Johnson wasn’t the only Steeles players who dropped more than a few passes last year. At one point, coach Mike Tomlin vowed to replace those who can’t catch the ball with those who will. With a new season looming, Tomlin is willing to provide a clean slate to Johnson.

“Last year is last year,” Tomlin said about Johnson’s drops, according to Rutter. “Everyone starts anew as far as I’m concerned.”

If Johnson can put the drops behind him, he can thank a sport where it’s never good to catch the ball during a game.

Aaron Rodgers renews his membership at the Green Bay Country Club

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It may mean something. It may mean nothing.

Regardless, at a time when the clues are few and far between regarding whether Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will show up fo training camp, a bread crumb has fallen into the trail.

Via TheBigLead.com, Rodgers has renewed his membership at the Green Bay Country Club for the rest of the year.

The optimistic view is that it means Rodgers will be back in Green Bay this year, and not simply to golf. The pessimistic view is that Rodgers is just trolling the front office. The practical view could be that he’s just covering his bases in the event he shows up.

Really, how much can it cost to renew a membership for the balance of the year at the Green Bay Country Club? Whatever the price, it’s sofa coins at best for Rodgers.

Whatever it means, it’s a puzzle piece at a time when there simply aren’t many of them.

Calvin Johnson: I wanted to play elsewhere, Lions wouldn’t let me

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The relationship between the Lions and Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson continues to be strained, at best. On Friday, Johnson disclosed another reason for his hard feelings.

Johnson claims that he wanted to finish his career with another team, but that the Lions wouldn’t let him leave.

“We asked would they release me or let me go to another team,” Johnson recently told WoodwardSports.com. “They wouldn’t.”

Asked whether he wanted to play for the Raiders, Johnson said he would have gone anywhere. He also recognizes that quarterback Matthew Stafford wanted out, and that he got his wish.

“You know what, it sucked that they didn’t let me go, but they let Matthew go, but hey, you know, it is what it is,” Johnson said.

Of course, the Lions got two first-round picks and a third-round pick plus quarterback Jared Goff (and his bloated contract) for Stafford. It’s unclear what the Lions would have gotten for Johnson, or whether they even listened to offers.

Johnson’s disclosure makes the way his career ended even more confusing. Five years ago, we raised the question of whether Johnson wanted to be cut by the Lions. That would have extinguished any obligation to repay bonus money, and it would have allowed Johnson to play for any other team at any other time.

If he hadn’t retired when he did, the Lions would have had to figure out how to deal with a $24 million cap number for Johnson in 2016. Maybe they would have cut him. At a minimum, Johnson’s cap number gave him leverage that should have been used by his agents to get the Lions to agree not to ask him to return a portion of the bonus money, or to secure an unconditional release if he did. Instead, he had to pay back some money, the Lions avoided a $24 million cap charge, and they were able to squat on his rights indefinitely.

A year later, there was speculation that Johnson could return to the NFL, with a trade of his rights to a new team. If he wanted to play for someone else in 2017, he simply needed to pull a Brett Favre and show up. Instantly, Johnson’s $16 million salary would have landed back on the books. The Lions would have had to cut him or trade him, promptly.

It’s confusing, to say the least. If Johnson had played hardball, he could have gotten to keep his money or he could have obtained the ability to sign with a team or maybe both.

Perhaps Johnson simply didn’t want a full-blown confrontation with the Lions. Instead, Johnson and the Lions are engaged in a cold war that has lasted five years and counting. Although the Lions would like to bury the hatchet, Johnson said that the relationship remains fractured.

“I’m not back in the family with Lions or anything like that,” Johnson. “It would be nice to if they try to resolve things, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Johnson has previously given the Lions the blueprint for rebuilding the bridge: Give him back the money that they made him repay.

Five years ago, Johnson received bad advice (or he got good advice and ignored it), and the Lions took full advantage of the situation. If they want to make things right with Johnson, they need to just give him a no-show job that pays out over time the amount they made him pay back.

Julian Edelman reminds Tom Brady of his humble Madden roots

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Tom Brady will appear on the cover of the Madden game fo the second time in his career. The news prompted former teammate Julian Edelman to remind TB12 of a time when he was simply QB No. 12.

Via Boston.com, Edelman tweeted an image of Brady’s initial Madden rating. Beneath Drew Bledsoe (86), John Friesz (67), and Michael Bishop (67) was an unnamed fourth-stringer. QB No. 12. With an overall rating of 57.

It’s no surprise. Brady entered the NFL as a sixth-round pick, if you haven’t heard. Pick No. 199, if you weren’t aware. It’s odd that he was nameless in that first edition of the game in which he appeared. Some players (most notably LaVar Arrington) refused to be in the game. Brady had no real reason to big-time EA Sports in 2000.

Regardless, that’s who he was in 2000 and what he was in the Madden game, initially. And Edelman had no qualms about reminding him of it.

Another number from the image stands out. Awareness: 41. While his number in that category will surely be much higher now, 41 arguably was an overstatement during a certain fourth-down play on a certain Thursday night against the Bears.