Saquon Barkley sees “fresh start” for the Giants

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The Giants made a big change last season when they replaced Eli Manning as the team’s starting quarterback and they made another after the season when they fired Pat Shurmur as their head coach.

Shurmur had two years on the job after taking over for Ben McAdoo, who didn’t even make it that long, and the Giants have gone to the playoffs just once in the last eight seasons. Both of those hires came with the kind of high hopes about the future that have accompanied Joe Judge’s hiring this offseason, but why will this time be different?

Running back Saquon Barkley answered that question during a session with reporters last week. He pointed to the presence of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett as part of that response.

“What tells me this could be different, one, it’s a brand-new year. It’s a fresh start,” Barkley said. “From what I have seen in these first couple of days is we are steps ahead, in my opinion. We are coming in, we’re locked in. Are mistakes being made, yes, that’s part of the nature of learning a system and learning a new offense. We have what I believe is really great coaching staff starting with Coach Judge to Coach Garrett and so on down the line. They are doing a tremendous job of having us focusing on the little things and focused on situational football, which I think is a part of our game we can improve on from this year to last year.”

Barkley missed three games last year, but still topped the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in as many seasons. That’s put him alongside quarterback Daniel Jones as the lead on-field reasons to think better days could be coming for the Giants.

If college football season doesn’t happen, NFL likely will play on Saturdays

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Bad news: There may be no college football on Saturdays this year.

Good news: There may be NFL football on Saturdays this year.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL likely will move games from Sundays to Saturday, if college football doesn’t proceed this season. It’s unclear whether the games would be broadcast, streamed, or distributed on a pay-per-view basis, but the league likely would backfill the vacant Saturday windows with NFL content.

The easiest approach would be to treat each Saturday like the late-season tripleheader the league staged in 2019, with a game at 1:00 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 8:15 p.m. ET. That would trim the Sunday slate by three games each week.

There’s another wrinkle that would have to be addressed, quickly. The league would need a one-year dispensation from the broadcast antitrust exemption, which allows the NFL to sell TV rights in a league-wide bundle but prevents the NFL from televising games on Friday or Saturday from Labor Day through early December.

Regardless, with college football teetering on the brink and the NFL confident that its games will be played, 2020 could result in four days of pro football every week: Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

College football season moves closer to postponement, at best

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The MAC was the first domino. And it may end up being big enough to knock the other ones over.

Multiple reports indicate that college football season will be scrapped within the week. The focus then would turn to playing games in the spring.

If that happens, plenty of draft-eligible players will tap out, unless the NFL changes its mind about delaying the annual selection process from late April.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren prefers playing in the spring. That’s what the MAC wants to do, too. The other major conferences could end up doing the same thing. Or at least trying to do it.

Of course, then the question becomes whether the pandemic will improve to the point where college football can safely be played in the spring. Inevitably, questions will arise regarding whether it’s safe for college athletes to play 20 or more games in one calendar year, if 2020 moves to the spring and 2021 remains in place.

Regardless, it has seemed inevitable for weeks that college football has too many programs, too many players, too many complications, too many hurdles, and ultimately too much risk to players, coaches, students, and the communities in which universities are located. Everyone involved has kicked the can for as long as they could, and it’s not getting to the point where the can has to be kicked all the way out of 2020.

Big Ten could be the next conference to cancel football

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The Mid-American Conference may not be the biggest domino to fall today. Not even close to it.

Pete Thamel of Yahoo.com reports that Big Ten school presidents are meeting on Saturday, and that “all options are on the table.” Including cancellation of the fall season.

Thamel reports that it isn’t known whether enough support exists to make that decision today. Still, it feels like that decision inevitably will be made.

The Big Ten recently decided to launch a 10-game, conference-only schedule on September 3. That’s fewer than four weeks from now.

Thamel also notes that the conference has announced that it will not progress to padded practices for now, and that the conference wants “further evaluation” before allowing players to engage in full-contact football.

Wisconsin has canceled practice until Monday, and former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez recently provided a sobering assessment of the situation to Thamel.

I’m afraid,” Alvarez said. “There’s so many questions that are unanswered. I see things change every day. We have so much invested. I have a grandson playing. I’m invested in every student-athlete on our campus. I want them to be safe. . . . I owe everything I have to college football. I’m the most positive person in the world. My wife said to me today, ‘All of a sudden you are a glass half empty.’ I don’t like to be like that.”

The Big Ten seems to be, by far, the most careful and conscientious of the Power Five conferences when it comes to navigating the pandemic. Recently on PFT Live, Peter King credited that attitude to new Commissioner Kevin Warren, former COO of the Vikings.

None of this means that the ACC or the SEC will abandon their cash cows in the name of the safety, but if the Big Ten shuts down and if the NCAA cancels fall championships, it will be harder and harder for the conferences that try to play to continue to perpetrate the ruse that big-time college football is about anything other than chasing big-time dollars.

Deion Sanders calls out those who opt out

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Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio recently decided not to share his views about players opting out. Former Washington (and Atlanta and Dallas and San Francisco and Baltimore) cornerback Deion Sanders has decided to go the other way.

“All Players OPTING out in all sports PLEASE BELIEVE the game will go on without u,” Sanders said on Twitter. “This is a business & don’t u EVER forget that. There’s NO ONE that’s bigger than the game itself. Only the ref, umps & officials are that important that u can’t play without them. NOT YOU! #Truth.”

With the opt-out window closed for the NFL and with Deion probably not particularly concerned about opt outs in other sports, his message unmistakably is intended for college football players. Perhaps specifically those at Florida State, the college he attended and openly aspires to return to as head coach. Given his desire to be a college football head coach (he has guaranteed he’ll have a head coaching job in 2021), it’s no surprise that he shares the viewpoints and attitudes of the men who are bracing to see how many of their players say sayonara to college football for 2020.

It’s already started, and it surely will continue. Even with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence staying put (for now), other top-end prospects have decided — for business reasons — to not assume the extra risks inherent to spending another season at a level of the sport at which they aren’t paid in order to better secure their futures at a level of the sport at which they will be.

That said, Deion is technically right. The game will go on without the players who are opting out. The game goes on without every player. No one is so great — including Deion — that they disband the sport once the player leaves. But if a player chooses to play in a season of college football that could be destined to implode, that could contribute to the rampant spread of COVID-19 in his team and community, and/or that could result in injuries that compromise his future prospects (especially if enough starters are positive for the virus and second-, third-, and/or fourth-stringers who can’t hold their own are lined up next to him), his ability to best position himself for a career in the NFL could be significantly undermined.

“This is a business and don’t u EVER forget that,” Deion crows. Yes, Deion. College football is a business. It’s a business that wants to make as much money as possible. And it makes as much money as possible by attracting and holding the best possible talent in place, paying them nothing, and sitting back and letting the cash register ring. Deion is now serving those who get rich from the skills, abilities, and sacrifices of those players, by providing a surrogate voice to persuade them to stick around, despite the enhanced risks to their futures.

Isn’t it strange Deion didn’t say what he said before Thursday’s NFL opt-out deadline? That probably would have created an issue between him and his employer, the NFL, which tried to balance supporting player opt-out rights with staring at the clock at it ticked toward Thursday at four and hoping/praying that the best players (like quarterbacks) would make their decisions to play without full information that could sway them not to play.

Then there’s the last message from Deion, a point so idiotic that the entirety of his tweet should be ignored: “Only the ref, umps & officials are that important that u can’t play without them. NOT YOU!”

Um, Deion? The ref, the umps, and the officials leave the sport all the time. And they get replaced all the time. For the NFL, 2020 opt-out procedures for the officials have yet to be finalized. When they are, the officials will have a chance to opt out. If/when (when) some do, they’ll be replaced, just like the players.

The sad part of this is that so many young players treat Deion Sanders like some sort of Pied Piper. Given his admitted personal objectives and the present national circumstances, that’s precisely the role he’s playing.

Trevor Lawrence thought about opting out but will play for Clemson this year

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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is widely regarded as the likely first overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, considered opting out of the upcoming college football season before deciding to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Yeah, I think everyone’s thought about it just with everything going on,” Lawrence said, via the Greenville News. “But since I made the decision to play, I haven’t thought about it again. That’s my decision. I’m committed.”

Lawrence said that before deciding to play, he wanted to hear the NCAA’s plans for keeping players healthy during the season, and whether Clemson would be able to play a full season. When he was satisfied with that, he decided to play.

“It really depended on the guidelines that the NCAA and teams put in place,” Lawrence said, “and also how the schedule was going to look, whether or not we were going to be able to play a full season. All those things kind of factored in.”

Lawrence said he respects the decisions of potential first-round picks like linebacker Micah Parsons of Penn State, defensive end Greg Rousseau of Miami, cornerback Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech and wide receiver Rashod Batemen of Minnesota, who have decided not to play.

“I totally get it,” Lawrence said. “There’s a lot on the line for them. If they feel like the risk is too much, I understand that something they’ve worked for their whole lives to get a chance to play in the NFL, they don’t want to risk it.”

Lawrence, however, thinks one more season at Clemson is worth the risk.

NFL introduces point of care testing

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The memo generated by the league on Friday to all teams regarding changes to the coronavirus testing protocol contains a new development that could eventually go a long way toward enhancing the testing process: The NFL is now using “point of care” testing along with off-site testing for COVID-19.

Point of care is the technical term for testing that can be done without sending the sample to a lab. It’s the key to expediting the process and, eventually, knowing with sufficient certainty that anyone who enters a team facility or a stadium is negative then and there, without waiting for a result from a laboratory.

PFT has learned that point of care testing is a new addition to the broader testing protocol. The specific point of care testing that the NFL is using apparently has a much higher degree of accuracy than the league believed it had, as of just a week or so ago. Then, the league believed point of care testing had accuracy in the range of 80 to 85 percent. Now, the league believes (based on representations from the vendor) that it is 97-percent accurate.

That’s still not high enough for the league to use point of care testing on its own, but it’s a sign that point of care testing is getting closer and closer to where it can supplant the time-consuming process of collecting a sample and sending it away for so-called PCR analysis, which has an accuracy rate closer to 99 percent or higher.

Point of care testing will be the eventual game changer for the league. If the accuracy rate can approach or match the accuracy rate of off-site testing, teams can be more confident that they know, then and there, whether a player, coach, or essential staff member is positive or negative for the virus.

While that’s a separate issue from keeping players, coaches, and essential staff from catching the virus away from the facility, it’s a significant step in the direction of keeping anyone who has it from spreading it once they show up for work.

It is, ultimately, a tangible sign of the technical advances needed to enhance the chances of 256 regular-season games and 13 postseason games being played without significant interruption by an outbreak. Which means that the arrival of point of care testing is very good news for the prospects for the NFL’s 101st season.

Washington waives Derrius Guice

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Washington didn’t waste any time, moving on from running back Derrius Guice soon after his arrest on domestic violence-related charges.

The team announced it has waived Guice.

“On Thursday we learned of a potential domestic violence-related incident involving RB Derrius Guice,” the team said in a statement. “We immediately alerted the National Football League and have continued to work with them during this process. We then met with Derrius to inform him that he was excused from all team activity pending a review of this matter. This afternoon we learned that there were multiple charges filed against Derrius. Upon review of the nature of these charges and following internal discussions, we have decided to release Derrius immediately.”

Washington selected Guice in the second round in 2018. Knee injuries limited the former LSU product to five games, one start, 49 touches, 324 yards and three touchdowns.

The team has depth at the position, with Adrian Peterson, Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic, Antonio Gibson and Bryce Love.

NFL adjusts testing procedures to address false positives

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The Matthew Stafford situation forced the NFL and NFL Players Association to revisit its COVID-19 testing protocols to address the dynamic of false positives. Per multiple reports, the NFL and NFLPA have unveiled a revised protocol aimed at addressing, and rectifying, the possibility of false positives.

Although the memo doesn’t use the term “false positive,” the adjustments to the procedures are intended to give players who test positive and who have no symptoms a quicker path back to practice and/or games.

It’s smart, it’s practical, and it’s fair. If a player has a false positive, he shouldn’t be knocked out of game preparations or, even worse, a game.

But here’s the unspoken donut hole in the NFL’s adjustment to the testing policy: Both false positives and false negatives happen. But the procedures aren’t being adjusted to address false negatives. And false negatives, unlike false positives, pose a very real risk of an outbreak.

Any player or coach who slips through the cracks with a false negative can shed virus on coworkers or opponents before a true positive test identifies the person’s actual status. By then, the damage could be done.

Unless and until the rate of false outcomes reduces to zero, the testing protocol will have inherent flaws. And while steps can be taken to eradicate false positives, nothing can be done to rectify false negatives until the next test is taken.

As the NFL continues to inch toward a season that will in many ways amount to an experiment, the ongoing threat of false negatives renders the whole operation a house of cards that remains at the mercy of a gust of wind.

NFL still finalizing opt-out procedures for game officials

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The NFL announced on Friday that it will waive the guideline that prevents an official from working a game involving the same team more than twice this season, allowing officials to work games closer to home. Whether that persuades officials to working at all in 2020 remains to be seen.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL and NFL Referees Association are still finalizing opt-out protocols for officials. Once that process has concluded, officials will have an opportunity to skip the 2020 season. At that point, the league will update the roster of officials.

Officials have different considerations when opting out than players. All officials are older than players. Most if not all officials have other jobs that will provide them with income to cover a season without officiating football games, which could result in little if no stipend payments for officials who opt out.

Regardless, more players than expected opted out. Now that the player opt-out window has closed, the NFL will have to wait and see whether and to what extent officials opt out.

Hall of Fame changes selection process to enshrine more coaches

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame is changing the way it selects Hall of Famers, and coaches are likely to benefit.

Starting next year and through the Class of 2024, the selection process will always include one coach finalist to go along with one senior and one contributor and the regular 15 finalists. Previously, coaches were lumped in with the other finalists.

That means it is almost certain that four former coaches will get into the Hall of Fame in the next four years. The coaches most likely to be considered are the five who were considered but ultimately voted down for the Class of 2020: Don Coryell, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves and Dick Vermeil.

The number of finalists being considered at the selection committee meeting the day before the Super Bowl will remain at 18, and the maximum number of new Hall of Famers selected will remain at eight.

The Hall of Fame also announced that ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters and Hall of Fame General Manager Bill Polian will be on the selection committee. They will replace two sportswriters who are leaving the committee, Ira Miller and Vito Stellino.

Report: Daniel Snyder sues over reports that surfaced last month

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The days preceding last month’s report in the Washington Post regarding 15 former Washington Football Team employees alleging sexual harassment against the team consisted of over-the-top rumormongering regarding the potential content of the anticipated story. Team owner Daniel Snyder is now taking legal action in response to the worst of the rumors.

TMZ.com reports, based on documents it claims to have obtained, that Snyder has initiated a proceeding in federal court in order to obtain information about New Content Media, which owns a website — meaww.com — that, per TMZ.com, posted an article hinting that the story in the Post would link Snyder to Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking. The meaww.com post allegedly sourced anonymous Reddit posts, including one that claimed Snyder would be arrested.

The lawsuit also claims that meaww.com asked whether Snyder will rename his team “the ‘Epsteins.'”

Snyder also, according to TMZ.com, has filed a $10 million lawsuit in India against the parent company of meaww.com. Beyond the pursuit of financial recovery for the alleged violation of his rights, Snyder wants the “identity of the third parties involved in hiring [meaww.com] to publish these false and defamatory articles.” This specific claim suggests that Snyder believes and/or has evidence to show that someone actually paid meaww.com to publish the articles, which if true would be a highly unusual development.

The decision to pursue legal action in response to allegedly false statements of fact can be delicate and complicated. The filing of the lawsuit and the media coverage of the litigation can make a story that wasn’t widely known into a much bigger deal. That said, it often may be the best (and only) way to establish that the information was and is false.

Contact tracers are posing a potential problem in locker rooms

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Playing football and social distancing don’t mix. The NFL nevertheless will try to keep players at least six feet apart when they’re not practicing or playing.

Per multiple sources, one specific issue has emerged: In locker rooms, it’s difficult to keep players more than six feet apart.

As one source explained it, the contact tracers are going off regularly in the locker room. Another source suggested that the procedures eventually may change, with players removing the devices before entering the locker room.

According to the NFL, the procedures have not yet changed. But they could. If they don’t, multiple players could end up on the COVID-19 list for simply being in the same locker room with a player who tests positive.

Of course, proximity in the locker room also could result in more players testing positive.

DeAndre Baker faces four robbery charges, Quinton Dunbar not charged

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Giants cornerback Deandre Baker is being charged with four counts of robbery with a firearm, while Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar is not facing criminal charges in connection with the same incident.

Baker and Dunbar were both accused of robbery in May in their home state of Florida. Today the Broward State Attorney’s office announced that Baker is facing charges that could result in a sentence of 10 years to life in prison. Dunbar, however, was not charged, with the prosecutor citing insufficient evidence.

Baker and Dunbar are both currently on the commissioner’s exempt list. The charges make it highly unlikely that Baker will be removed from that list any time soon, but the NFL may allow Dunbar to report to the Seahawks soon.

The 22-year-old Baker was a first-round draft pick of the Giants in 2019, but his NFL career is now in serious jeopardy. The 28-year-old Dunbar was traded to the Seahawks from Washington in March and may be a starter in Seattle if he’s allowed to play.

Cam Newton: Joining Patriots has been “breath of fresh air”

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Cam Newton met with reporters on a video conference Friday and answered a question about the end of his time with the Panthers by saying that he’s not going to “dwell on the past” now that he’s playing quarterback for the Patriots.

Newton said it has been a “breath of fresh air” and “invigorating” to work with a new team after spending the first nine years of his career in Carolina. He said he’s been “blown away by the professionalism” of the Patriots organization and said the process of working with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on learning the offense has been “amazing.”

Newton is competing with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer for the starting job in New England, but said the two quarterbacks have been helpful in his transition to the new scheme over the last month. He also said that he doesn’t feel the need to prove himself to anyone after a challenging couple of seasons.

“I don’t think anyone’s expectations will ever surpass my expectations for myself,” Newton said.

Newton said he feels great physically right now and is focused on remaining in the best shape possible as the team heads toward the on-field work that will determine who is on the field come September.