Players who don’t like anthem rule can take immediate action

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In the aftermath of Wednesday’s decision by the NFL to alter the anthem policy in a way that managed to do more harm than good, the NFL Players Association wasn’t happy. The NFL’s players can do something about that in a way that is far more immediate and tangible than pursuing legal remedies over the next several months.

The NFL’s players can make their displeasure known by boycotting OTAs.

Technically (but not actually), these ongoing offseason workouts are voluntary. There’s no requirement to be there. So if the players aren’t happy with ownership right now, all they have to do is nothing.

Yes, some players would jeopardize offseason workout bonuses if they miss more than 10 or 20 percent of the total offseason program. But if players aren’t willing to go without a six-figure payment in order to prove a point now, how will they ever go without seven-figure salaries when the time comes to consider striking, or not caving in the face of a lockout?

Besides, it’s not as if all players need to not show up. If the NFL’s starting quarterbacks come together and agree to make it known to all other quarterbacks on the roster that none of them will be working, well, good luck having football practice with no quarterbacks.

And if any of the young quarterbacks decide to cross the de facto picket line, consider this cautionary tale from Paul Zimmerman’s memoir.

In 1974, Chiefs quarterback David Jaynes, a third-round rookie, crossed the picket line. Center Jack Rudnay, who was the leader of Kansas City’s strike effort, had a message for Jaynes when the strike ended.

“Before practice Rudnay had taken a pair of scissors and cut out the crotch of his football pants,” Zimmerman writes. “When he got down to snap the ball, everything was hanging out. Jaynes began his call . . . he reached down . . . and the ball went flying out of his hands.”

Coach Hank Stram, monitoring practice from a tower, yelled, “What’s the hell’s going on down there?”

“He won’t take the snap, Coach,” Rudnay replied.

“Well, get another quarterback in there,” Stram said.

And that, according to Zimmerman, was the beginning of the end for David Jaynes.

At best, it’s the end of the beginning of the NFL’s anthem controversy. If the players are genuinely upset about what has happened, it also could be the beginning of perhaps the most significant thing they can do.

Come Tuesday morning, they can not show up.

Amid comeback attempt in CFL, Josh Freeman retires

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Former first-round Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, who at only 30 is still younger than many of the NFL’s current starters, has retired amid a comeback attempt in Canada.

“We would like to thank Josh for his work and dedication. He was a consummate professional throughout camp,” Montreal Alouettes General Manager Kavis Reed said. “We respect his decision and we wish him the best in the future.”

Less than three weeks ago, Freeman’s return to football provided an unexpected offseason feel-good story. The guy who once had a 4,000-yard season was giving it another go, more than two years after his last NFL action.

Someone asked me the other day, ‘Dude, are you out of money? Why are you playing in the CFL?’ ” Freeman told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times in early May. “I said, ‘Because I like playing football.’”

Freeman’s quick exit from Canada is a reminder that the CFL features great athletes and significant competition. Former CFL and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, who arguably was the greatest CFL player of all time, recently explained during a visit to PFT Live the challenges presented by playing in Canada.

It’s important to keep this in mind at a time when many are assuming that Johnny Manziel’s ascension to the starting quarterback job with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be simple or automatic.

Fired Giants equipment staffers “did not see this coming”

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Less than two weeks after settling a four-year-old lawsuit arising from allegations of fraudulent memorabilia, the Giants fired three members of their equipment staff. Two of them were surprised.

Via Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com, equipment director Joe Skiba and assistant equipment director Ed Skiba did not expect to be fired.

Joe and Ed did not see this coming,” attorney Gerald Krovatin told Dunleavy. “They are two stand-up guys, and they stood tall throughout the four difficult years of this lawsuit. They remain very grateful for the 20-plus years they were able to work with the players, coaches and everyone else in the Giants organization.”

Though not said expressly by Krovatin, the Skibas also may be surprised because they cooperated with the lawsuit, saying what needed to be said to push back against the allegations. But it’s hardly uncommon for a company to rally around the employees whose conduct gave rise to a lawsuit, ensuring their cooperation with the reality of ongoing employment and the vague promise that the relationship will continue until the case goes away. And then the employees whose behavior fell at the heart of the lawsuit go away, too.

Absent a settlement agreement of their own that gives the Skibas severance pay in exchange for silence, the Giants may have to worry about what Joe and Ed Skiba may say.

Consider this exchange of text messages from May 2016 between the Skibas, as reported last year by the Washington Post.

“I hate it here,” Joe Skiba said to Ed Skiba. “Guys who mow the lawn make more.”

“[Our] raises are because they are paying our legal fees,” Ed Skiba replied.

Joe Skiba suggested that he was considering requesting overtime, “Cause my insights on the case cost money now.”

Ed Skiba said at one point that it’s “[n]ot even worth it.”

“For me it is,” Joe Skiba replied. “I’ll tell the whole f–king world the truth.”

Maybe now Joe Skiba will. Or at least his version of it.

Le’Veon Bell has another rap song with not-so-hidden messages

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In connection with the Fourth of July holiday nearly two years ago, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell unveiled his contractual demands with a rap song.

“I’m at the top and if not I’m the closest, I’m a need 15 a year and they know this,” Bell said in the tune called Focus.

As he closes in on that target (a freestyle rap posted last year updated 15 to 17), he has a new song. Called Target, which has debuted just in time for the Memorial Day holiday.

Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has transcribed some of the lyrics, which seem to contain a message for the Steelers: “So they put me on the tag, alright. Definitely not going to trip like I that bad guy. Wonder why they treat me like the bad guyYou say I ain’t the best, but that’s a bad lie. I’m a do what I want just leave me alone. If I don’t do what you want then you want me gone. I’m a say you being real aggressive, the way you switch up on me real impressive.

The Steelers have opted twice to keep Bell from becoming an unrestricted free agent by applying the franchise tag. Bell responded last year by exercising his right to remain away from the team until Labor Day, at which time he showed up and got his full $12.1 million salary. But he has been criticized for not being in football shape, and pressure continues to be applied to get him to show up for offseason and preseason work.

“You think if I sit out, I’ll be sluggish,” Bell says in the new song. “You think they won’t pay me because of drug tests. For a fact, I ain’t never failed one, that’s on me. You so worried about the weed, what about them PEDs?”

The Steelers and Bell have been unable to come to terms on a long-term deal, in part because a contract based on the franchise tag dramatically exceeds the market at the position. If no deal is done by July 16, Bell will be on track to make $14.52 million this season and to hit the market next March, since the Steelers would have to offer him the quarterback franchise tag to keep him around for 2019.

And he’d be hitting the market with $26.7 million in pre-tax salary for 8-9 months of work over a 17-month period.

So even though Bell may feel like a target, his decision to stick to his principles and wait for more has put him ahead of the game, giving him a chance to become the running back equivalent of Kirk Cousins next March.

New York Congressman blasts the Jets over anthem stance

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It’s official: The NFL’s new national anthem policy did not make things better. It made things worse.

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league’s new anthem policy, he hoped to placate those on the right, who have insisted that players should stand, while not alienating those on the left by allowing players to remain in the locker room if they didn’t want to stand on the field while the anthem played. But Goodell took immediate criticism from the left for seeming to turn his back on players who wanted to make a political statement.

And as for placating those on the right, any illusions about that were destroyed this morning by Representative Pete King, a Republican from New York, who took to Twitter to blast Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, who said that he wouldn’t support any discipline for any Jets players who chose not to stand for the anthem.

“Disgraceful that Jets owner will pay fines for players who kneel for National Anthem,” King wrote. “Encouraging a movement premised on lies vs. police. Would he support all player protests? Would he pay fines of players giving Nazi salutes or spew racism? It’s time to say goodbye to Jets!”

By invoking “Nazi salutes,” King is using incendiary language that is sure to enflame the situation just as the NFL was hoping to find a way to prevent it from dominating the headlines. King is also showing that some on the right will put other alliances aside to focus on this issue: After all, Johnson is only running the Jets right now because his brother, Jets owner Woody Johnson, is serving as President Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Woody Johnson is a Republican who has given millions of dollars to Republican campaigns, and he would obviously prefer not to see his football team associated with “Nazi salutes” in a tweet from a Republican Congressman. But King went there.

King’s tweet may be the strongest sign yet that the NFL’s anthem problem isn’t going anywhere. Partisan fighting over the issue will continue all summer, and the media will monitor which players stay in the locker room for the anthem when the season starts. Any players who choose to stay in the locker room will be labeled “sons of bitches” by President Trump. That will surely result in a backlash that sees other players stay in the locker room to show solidarity with their teammates. Which will create a greater backlash among those who criticize the players who don’t stand.

As the November elections approach, every candidate in America will be asked to take a side in the great National Football League anthem debate. Candidates who side with the players who remain in the locker room will be blasted as unpatriotic. Candidates who support requiring all players to stand will be blasted for failing to respect our country’s reverence for freedom of speech.

If you thought the NFL’s national anthem stance was a mess before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s going to be an even bigger mess this year.

Landon Collins pushing to participate in Giants’ June minicamp

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When Giants safety Landon Collins had to undergo a second surgery on his broken arm in April, there were concerns it could be a significant problem: Collins had already had surgery at the end of the 2017 season, and it’s never a good thing when one injury requires two surgeries.

But Collins says he’s doing so well that he hopes to be cleared for the Giants’ minicamp next month. Collins told Newsday that he’s pushing to participate in the mid-June minicamp, although he added that he’ll accept it if the coaches and medical staff prefer that he take it easy to be sure he’s fully healed before training camp.

Collins can still run while his arm heals, so he says he’s fine as far as conditioning is concerned, and he said that while working with the new coaching staff at Organized Team Activities, he’s been pleased to feel more on the same page with this staff than he felt with the staff last year — even as he’s been admonished by new coach Pat Shurmur for weighing in on the situation surrounding Ereck Flowers, which Shurmur felt should have been handled in-house and not through the media.

Collins had started every game of his three-year career until missing the final game of last year with that broken arm. Now he’s heading into the final season of his four-year, $6.1 million rookie contract, and he’s eager to make his fourth year his best year.

Jets rookie Nathan Shepherd thanks Nate Burleson for believing in him

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Jets rookie Nathan Shepherd took a long and winding road to the NFL. He grew up in Canada, played college football at Simon Fraser University, and had to quit school and do odd jobs when he couldn’t afford the tuition. Eventually he found his way to Fort Hays State in Kansas, where he played so well that he got an invitation to the Senior Bowl. He impressed scouts so much at the Senior Bowl that the Jets took him in the third round of the draft.

One NFL player helped Shepherd along the way: Nate Burleson, the former Vikings, Seahawks and Lions receiver who happened to meet Shepherd while Shepherd was working as a doorman at a club. Burleson now works at NFL Network, and the two met again on set, where Shepherd thanked Burleson for his guidance.

“Nate, you were actually the first NFL player I ever met,” Shepherd said.

Burleson said he remembered meeting Shepherd, who approached him to ask for advice. Shepherd told Burleson that he wasn’t sure if he’d continue playing football, but Burleson said he could see Shepherd had a passion for the game and urged him not to give up. Burleson also gave Shepherd a big tip and told him a day would come when he was making big money playing football.

“Before the night was over you said I was gonna make it to the league. You gave me a $100 bill and said, ‘Here’s a little advance on your signing bonus.’ I’ve never forgotten that,” Shepherd told Burleson.

Shepherd then tried to give Burleson a $100 bill, but Burleson told him to keep it.

Cliff Avril: Seahawks started questioning Pete Carroll after Super Bowl interception

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Did one play call derail a potential Seahawks dynasty?

It may have, according to former Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril, who says that the team began to doubt coach Pete Carroll and his staff after losing Super Bowl XLIX.

Avril said on Dave Dameshek’s podcast that “a lot of guys got turned off” to Carroll when the Super Bowl ended with Russell Wilson throwing a game-losing interception to New England’s Malcolm Butler, rather than the Seahawks calling a handoff to Marshawn Lynch, which Seattle players thought would have given them a game-winning touchdown. Avril said that if the Seahawks had won that Super Bowl, which would have been their second in a row, they probably would have won another one after that, too, because the team would have been more united.

“If we win that Super Bowl I think we would have won another one,” Avril said. “I do think the team would have bought in more to what Coach Carroll was saying, instead of going the opposite way.”

As it turned out, the Seahawks began to decline amid reports that key players were increasingly not on the same page. After losing that Super Bowl after the 2014 season, the Seahawks lost in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, then failed to make the playoffs in 2017. Avril attributes that decline directly to seeing players start to wonder whether Carroll’s coaching was still effective.

“Guys started kind of questioning him more instead of following his lead if we had won the Super Bowl,” Avril said.

This offseason the Seahawks have parted ways with several older veterans, perhaps in the hopes that they can move on from the players who were no longer buying in to Carroll’s way of doing things.

Adrian Peterson posting his workout videos, hoping teams notice

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Free agent running back Adrian Peterson is in shape, and he wants NFL teams to know it.

Peterson has been posting videos of himself doing grueling cardio workouts on the treadmill, jumping onto boxes with a barbell on his back, and so on. Peterson said this week on ESPN that he’s hoping teams will notice those workouts and give him a call.

There’s no question that Peterson is in the kind of shape most people could never fathom, and he says the neck injury that ended his 2017 season is totally healed. But whether any team thinks he can still contribute remains to be seen.

Peterson had a strange 2017 season. He signed with the Saints but was largely unused, and with good reason: He wasn’t nearly as effective as the Saints’ other running backs, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. But when Peterson was traded to the Cardinals, he had a couple of huge games, gaining 134 yards on 26 carries in one win and 159 yards on 37 carries in another win. Of course, Peterson also had some terrible games, being held under 2.0 yards a carry on three separate occasions.

Now 33 years old, Peterson doesn’t have much time left in him. But he wants teams to know that he’s ready to go.

Dennis Green finally gets justice from the UFL

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Nearly two years after his death, Dennis Green is getting paid for services rendered to a long-defunct football league.

Via Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee, Green’s widow has settled a claim for unpaid wages from the UFL’s Sacramento Mountain Lions.

Green received $1 million for the 2010 season, and the team increased his pay to $1.5 million for 2011. But he received only $510,000.

Late in the 2011 season, Green sued the team for unpaid wages. He coached the final two games of the campaign despite not being paid.

So why keep coaching for free?

“Athletes and coaches don’t quit,” Green said in 2016.

Green and, subsequently, his estate didn’t quit pursuing justice. It took time and a variety of proceedings, but Green’s widow eventually forced team owner William Hambrecht to pay up.

The amount of the settlement was confidential. Here’s hoping that Green’s estate will receive as close to 100 cents on the dollar as possible for what he was owed.

Green, who died in July 2016, coached the Vikings and Cardinals. He took the Vikings to a pair of NFC championship games.

Two Steelers are happy with the new helmet rule

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Over the past several years, Steelers players have developed a habit of complaining about the league’s efforts to make the game safer. When it comes to the new rule that prohibits lowering the helmet to initiate contact, a pair of Steelers players welcome the change.

Offensive lineman Ramon Foster (pictured) likes the new rule, in part because each of his four concussions occurred when a defender used his helmet to hit Foster in the helmet.

Every time has been a D-lineman or a linebacker head first,” Foster said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Last year when we played the Patriots, 52 [linebacker Elandon Roberts], the same thing, head first. He’s a heady guy. I hate heady guys.”

So Foster welcomes the new rule with open arms, and non-lowered helmet.

“I’m not opposed, not even a little bit,” Foster said. “It’s because I know what the safety of the game is, and if I can pull my head out of the situation — meaning my helmet — then I will do that. If they’re trying to protect it, I’m not going to fight that.”

Safety Morgan Burnett also likes the rule change, even though past Steelers safeties like Ryan Clark and Mike Mitchell were at the forefront of complaining about safety rules.

“You can tell that the league is taking control of player safety, and that’s really big for players,” Burnett said. “You don’t want to see any guy get hurt or have any effects from this game once they leave the game. So I think that’s real big and very important, to make player safety first.”

While it’s possible other Steelers don’t feel quite that way, the fact that any Steelers are willing to speak out so clearly and strongly in support of safety is both encouraging and surprising. And as long as the new helmet rule doesn’t fundamentally change the game, that’s a good thing for everyone.

Cassius Marsh: Garoppolo “would shred [New England’s] defense every day”

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As the Patriots continue to work their way through the offseason program without starting quarterback Tom Brady, the guy who at one point seemed destined to replace him is working toward his first season as a full-time starter. And all indications are that Jimmy Garoppolo will become a true franchise quarterback for the 49ers.

Take it from current teammate Cassius Marsh, who at one point was a teammate of Garoppolo’s in New England.

“I was with the Patriots and he would shred our defense every day,” Marsh said recently, via Eric Branch of SFGate.com. “He’d shred the first team every day, and it looked no different than when Tom was on the field. He’s a much better athlete than Tom. He’s super disciplined and works hard. I’m very happy to have him as my quarterback.”

Some Patriots fans possibly wish Garoppolo was still New England’s quarterback. Especially since their current quarterback is the only starting quarterback boycotting his team’s offseason workouts.

Aaron Rodgers encouraged Thomas Dimitroff to get Matt Ryan deal done

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ran into Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff at the Minneapolis airport during Super Bowl week. Rodgers had a request of Dimitroff.

“He just said to me, ‘We don’t know each other that well, but just get this deal done with Matt [Ryan] first so I can get on with my life,'” Dimitroff said during a guest appearance on Andrew Brandt’s The Business of Sports podcast, via Herbie Teope of NFL Media.

Ryan signed a five-year, $150 million deal with $100 million guaranteed on May 3. The Packers hope soon to sign Rodgers to a long-term deal.

Both sides hope to accomplish that before training camp begins.

Rodgers is scheduled to make base salaries of $19.8 million in 2018 and $20 million in 2020 in the final two years of his deal.

Will Lewis will serve as G.M. of Memphis AAF team

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The Tennessee franchise of the Alliance of American Football has a city, a coach, and now a G.M.

Via Meagan Nichols of the Memphis Business Journal, Will Lewis will serve as the team’s General Manager.

The former NFL and USFL defensive back has 20 years of experience as a coach, scout, and executive.

Most recently, Lewis spent five years as the director of pro scouting with the Chiefs. Before that, he was the V.P. of football operations in Seattle.

Former 49ers coach Mike Singletary will coach the Memphis team. The league, which will begin playing its games in February, has announced the locations and coaches of five of eight franchises.

Cody Kessler’s time in Cleveland prepared him for a second chance in Jacksonville

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The Jaguars’ quarterbacks room has changed since last season. Blake Bortles remains, but Chad Henne is gone.

Cody Kessler and rookie Tanner Lee now back up Bortles.

The Browns traded Kessler to the Jaguars on March 28, and while ready for the move, Kessler believes his time in Cleveland will help him in Jacksonville.

“The time in Cleveland was ups and down, frustrating, but being able to start eight or nine games my rookie year really prepared me,” Kessler said, via the team website. “Last year didn’t go the way I wanted it to or I had planned, but it’s part of it. You take it and run with it. I took that time to work on myself saying, ‘What do I want to work today?’ It really did help me.

“It’s the same thing here. Obviously, Blake is the starter and a great guy to learn from, but you always prepare as the starter and prepare as if you’re playing on Sunday. That’s helped me and made my life easier as a backup.”

Kessler started eight games as a rookie in 2016. He started none last season, watching DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan pass him on the depth chart.

Kessler, 25, is starting over in Jacksonville.

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone calls Kessler’s progress “fine.”

“He’s still trying to learn the footwork and where we want to go with the ball,” Marrone said. “You’re going to see players that right now are going to make mistakes for not being in this type of environment before — as long as you see what you see, which is players learning from those mistakes and getting better as you go.”