NFL is wrapping up the Ezekiel Elliott investigation

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Nearly a year after Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott allegedly engaged in domestic violence, the NFL is closing in on ending its investigation.

According to NFL Media (i.e., the NFL), the investigatory phase of the process is nearing completion, and the NFL has shared its findings with the NFL Players Association. Also, the NFLPA has provided to the league a “final response” aimed at answering “any lingering question” about the probe into whether Elliott violated the personal conduct policy.

It’s unknown whether Elliott will be disciplined or suspended. Although he was never arrested or charged, the league applies a lower standard of proof in these matters, with the question of whether Elliott violated the policy essentially coming down to whether the league believes Elliott or his accuser.

Broader business considerations necessarily will influence that assessment, including pressure from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (who is believed to have made it clear that he won’t be as compliant as the Patriots were about the Tom Brady suspension), pressure from other owners who want Elliott to be punished, and the ever-critical P.R. component, which is the primary reason for the league’s decision to conduct its own investigations and impose its own discipline.

If the league doesn’t find a violation, the alleged victim can file a lawsuit or otherwise tell her story. And, necessarily, there will be people who automatically believe it and people who automatically reject it. Those who believe it will criticize the league for not taking action against Elliott, creating a potential Ray Rice-style embarrassment for the league.

Last week, ESPN reported that Elliott is bracing for a short suspension, which possibly would be the result of a compromise aimed at placating all of the various constituencies, and minimizing the potential P.R. fallout.

Wes Welker praises Deshaun Watson’s work ethic, demeanor

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New Texans assistant Wes Welker had the unique experience of catching passes from both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. During a recent visit to PFT Live, I asked Welker for one thing he’s noticed about Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson that reminds him of either guy.

“I think he has a great work ethic,” Welker said. “I think that’s one of the key things that I’ve noticed from him is just the way that he handles his business. Kind of the demeanor that he has. He has a winning attitude which was showed on the field there at Clemson. I think the work that he’s going to put in that you have to have and the repetitions that you gotta go through. Not only physically on the field but mentally in your head of studying and being on top of everything day in and day out. I’ve been impressed with how he’s kinda handled himself and the way he’s gone about his business.”

Welker’s assessment meshes with plenty of other opinions and observations regarding the rookie, who currently isn’t the starter but inevitably will be. The only question is when.

For more from Welker, including a story about Welker pulling a great prank on Brady and some details about the challenges of playing slot receiver, check out the full interview.

16 different players have the best-selling jersey in at least one state


You know Aaron Rodgers has the best-selling NFL jersey in Wisconsin and Marcus Mariota has it in Tennessee. But can you guess the best-selling jersey in all 50 states?

NFL Shop has released the best selling jerseys by state, and they provide an interesting glimpse into which players’ names fans are putting on their backs right now.

Tom Brady leads the way with 17 different states favoring his jersey. That includes every state in New England as well as some surprises, like Louisiana and Florida. That doesn’t mean Brady is the most popular player in all those states, just that he’s the player whose jerseys have sold the most so far this year. Drew Brees is surely more popular in Louisiana, but the fans who want his jersey already have it, while more fans are buying Brady jerseys after his latest Super Bowl MVP performance.

Up next is Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, who has the best-selling jersey in 14 states. The whole West Coast is going for Lynch, as are some surprising states like Indiana and Iowa. Lynch’s return to the NFL has made his jersey a must-have for many fans.

Dak Prescott has the best-selling jersey in Texas and Oklahoma, with plenty of Cowboys fans, as well as Mississippi, where he played his college football. College football also led Clemson-turned-Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to take the jersey lead in South Carolina and North Carolina. Also owning the jersey sales lead in two states are Von Miller and Odell Beckham.

Players whose jersey sales lead in one state are Rodgers, Mariota, Adrian Peterson, Matthew Stafford, Greg Olsen, James Conner, Carson Wentz, Julio Jones and Ezekiel Elliott.

And in the biggest surprise on the map, Vikings receiver Adam Thielen has the best-selling jersey in North Dakota.

Aaron Rodgers on criticism of Mike McCarthy: We’ve got his back

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Without naming Greg Jennings, Aaron Rodgers fired back at his former receiver.

Jennings criticized Mike McCarthy on Fox Sports 1 last week, saying the coach’s conservatism has held back the Packers.

I don’t know what he said,” Rodgers told Lance Allen of Milwaukee’s TMJ4, “but again I think it’s important that when you’re thinking about comments coming from outside the facility especially by people who haven’t been around the facility in a number of years you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt. We’re concerned with the opinions of our players and our coaching staff and our organization.”

Jennings has become a frequent critic of the Packers and Rodgers since the receiver’s contentious split with the team in 2013. Jennings last played in the NFL in 2015 and now serves as an analyst for Fox.

Jennings’ latest criticism was directed at McCarthy: “I’m just going to flat-out say it: If we had a lead, our issue wasn’t the defense — our issue was Mike McCarthy. [McCarthy] would cuff us. . . . When you watch New England play, when they have a lead, they go for your throat; they don’t relax. . . . They have a great quarterback [in Tom Brady]; they have arguably the best quarterback in football, but they have — no doubt about it — the best head coach in football.”

Rodgers defended McCarthy to Allen.

“I’ve made it pretty well known how I feel about Mike,” Rodgers said. “He’s our leader and . . . we follow his lead, and we love Mike. We believe in him, and he believes in us, and so we’ve got his back.”

James Conner has the NFL’s best-selling rookie jersey

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Steelers running back James Conner was the 105th player chosen in this year’s NFL draft. But he’s first in jersey sales.

According to data released by Dick’s Sporting Goods, Conner’s jersey is the No. 1 best seller among NFL rookies this year. Among all NFL players, only Dak Prescott and Tom Brady have sold more jerseys this year.

Conner’s No. 30 jersey was expected to sell well this year. He’s well-liked among Pittsburgh fans because he was a college star at Pitt, and he has an inspirational back story as a cancer survivor.

The other rookies in the Top 5 in jersey sales are Houston’s Deshaun Watson, Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt.

Tuesday morning one-liners

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Previewing the competition between Bills linebackers Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland.

Jimmy Johnson is excited to present former Dolphins DE Jason Taylor at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Patriots QB Tom Brady will be depicted in a corn maze.

The Jets are hoping for a step forward from LB Darron Lee this season.

Checking in to see how Ravens players have spent their time away from the team.

Former Bengals LB Reggie Williams had an impact in a variety of ways.

A look at rookie David Njoku and the rest of the Browns tight ends.

A few thoughts about Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell not getting a long-term deal.

Talking cabins with Texans DE J.J. Watt.

The Colts put single-game tickets on sale this week.

Old faces are in new roles at linebacker for the Jaguars.

Taking stock of the Titans running backs.

Broncos LB Von Miller has been elected to the Texas A&M athletic hall of fame.

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes’ college coach shares his thoughts on how things will go in the NFL.

The right tackle spot is one to watch at Raiders camp.

The Chargers hope Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram form a potent pass rushing duo.

Breaking down the Cowboys special teams units.

Will RB Orleans Darkwa get a look in the Giants backfield?

Five surprises that could change the Eagles season.

A negative response to the way the Redskins handled QB Kirk Cousins’ contract situation.

Getting G Kyle Long back is significant for the Bears offensive line.

The Lions are looking for better success from their nickel package this season.

Packers WR Randall Cobb will join NBA star John Wall in this year’s University of Kentucky hall of fame class.

LB Anthony Barr checks in at No. 5 on this list of the most important Vikings.

A right guard competition looms for the Falcons.

How will G.M. Dave Gettleman’s departure impact the Panthers’ contract talks with LB Thomas Davis and TE Greg Olsen?

The Saints believe they have strong replacements for injured T Terron Armstead.

Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander has a tribute to his late brother tattooed on his back.

The consensus opinion of the Cardinals is that they have some work to do.

Rams RB Todd Gurley wants to make more of an impact on and off the field.

Three quarterback scenarios the 49ers could find themselves navigating in 2018.

Catching up with Seahawks DE Michael Bennett in Hawaii.

Julian Edelman says talk about going 19-0 is stupid

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The Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls to push their total to five during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era and leave them with few boxes unchecked on the list of team accomplishments.

The most obvious of those boxes would be an undefeated season, something the patriots almost pulled off in 2007 by winning 18 straight games before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. After an offseason spent adding veteran pieces to the mix, the Patriots are favored in Vegas to win the Super Bowl again this year and are early favorites in every regular season game, leading some to wonder if this is the year the team will go 19-0.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman has no interest in such discussions.

“You can’t worry about what other people say, honestly,” Edelman said, via Adam Kurkjian of the Boston Herald. “I mean, there’s no script to this thing. There’s no camera. This isn’t Hollywood. This is real life. When you go out and play in the National Football League, it’s one of those things where it’s even stupid to think about that. It’s never been done. You don’t really want to talk about it. My focus is more on trying to get ready for the season, trying to learn your teammates, form your identity. [The 19-0 talk is] stupid. That’s it.”

Having to answer questions about whether or not your team can go undefeated is a pretty nice problem to have, especially when it’s a team like the Patriots that’s proven quite adept at brushing past the kinds of things that might be called distractions for other teams.

Patriots great Babe Parilli dies at 87

Vito “Babe” Parilli, a member of the Patriots’ Hall of Fame and one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the American Football League, has died at the age of 87.

An All-American and two-time Heisman Trophy finalist while playing for Bear Bryant at Kentucky in 1950 and 1951, Parilli was one of the greatest players ever to play for the Wildcats and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

The Packers made Parilli the fourth overall pick of the 1952 NFL draft, but he lasted just two seasons in Green Bay before heading north and playing for the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. He then became a football wanderer, going from Ottawa to Cleveland, back to the Packers, then back to Ottawa and never really finding the right fit.

But when the AFL launched in 1960, he found the right fit. He joined the Raiders in the AFL’s inaugural season, then was traded to the Boston Patriots and had an outstanding career there, being chosen to three AFL All-Star games. His 31 touchdown passes in 1964 stood as the Patriots’ record until Tom Brady broke it in 2007. Parilli’s playing career ended with the Jets, where he won a ring as Joe Namath’s backup in Super Bowl III. When he finally announced his retirement as a player in 1970, he was 40 years old.

After that, Parilli got to work as a coach, spending a year as an assistant with the Steelers before becoming head coach of the New York Stars and later the Chicago Winds of the World Football League. He later coached six different Arena Football League teams.

Parilli’s love of football never waned, and after watching this year’s national championship game between Alabama and Clemson, Parilli said, “Best game I ever saw in the college playoffs. Watched it all the way to the end.”

Few people saw more in the game of football than Babe Parilli.

Eli, Ben, Rivers all poised to join the 50,000-yard club

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Only six players in NFL history have passed for 50,000 yards. By the end of the 2017 season, there are likely to be nine members of the 50,000-yard club. And all three new additions come from the same first round in the draft.

Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are all within one solid season of 50,000 yards and should become the seventh, eighth and ninth players to reach the 50,000-yard mark in 2017. The six players already ovder the 50,000-yard mark are Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dan Marino and John Elway.

Manning currently has 48,218 yards, which means he’s likely around six games away from 50,000. Roethlisberger is at 46,814, meaning he’s probably about 11 games away. And Rivers is at 45,833, which at his 2016 pace would take him 16 games to reach 50,000.

The three quarterbacks have always been linked by the 2004 NFL draft, in which Manning was selected first overall by the Chargers, then traded for Rivers, who was drafted fourth overall by the Giants. Roethlisberger was taken 11th overall by the Steelers.

For three quarterbacks in the same draft class to all play for only one team and all play so well that they reach 50,000 career yards is an extremely unusual occurrence, as the draft is usually a crap shoot. Just ask the Bills, who also spent a first-round pick on a quarterback that year but got only 6,211 yards out of J.P. Losman.

Friday morning one-liners


Will the Bills change things up in the running game?

Dolphins QB Brandon Doughty has worked to make his release quicker.

Patriots QB Tom Brady passed muster with the membership committee of a country club.

Former Jets QB Chad Pennington hopes current Jets coach Todd Bowles gets time to turn things around.

Former Ravens coach Brian Billick will help broadcast the team’s preseason games.

Rookie Jake Elliott hopes to get the nod as the Bengals kicker.

Browns rookie DL Caleb Brantley is focused on being consistent on the field.

The Steelers have found a new airline to take them to road games.

Texans DE J.J. Watt tried out soccer.

The consensus opinion of the Colts defense isn’t a positive one.

Former Jaguars Jason Babin and Kyle Bosworth have a real estate company helping new Jaguars players find homes.

DT Sylvester Williams has high hopes for his first season with the Titans.

Broncos tight ends are looking for a bigger role in the team’s new offense.

Chiefs K Cairo Santos took some practice kicks at Daytona Speedway.

Former Raiders stars are high on this year’s team.

Chargers WR Travis Benjamin likes to flex his culinary muscles.

Cowboys LB Damien Wilson was on track for a bigger role this season before this month’s arrest.

Will OL D.J. Fluker find more success with the Giants?

Said Eagles QB Carson Wentz, “We hope and we expect to be playing into January and then to see what happens. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

What new additions will Redskins find at FedEx Field this year?

Three questions about Bears safeties.

The Lions have RB Theo Riddick set for a big role in the passing game.

The Packers handed out a couple of big grants to local charities.

A look at CB Xavier Rhodes ahead of Vikings training camp.

Ranking 10 new members of the Falcons.

How much of a gamble is the Panthers’ signing of T Matt Kalil?

What’s in store for Saints DE Cameron Jordan this season?

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston shared his list of football leaders he admires.

Former Cardinals QB Kurt Warner is ready for his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Predicting big things for Rams WR Cooper Kupp’s rookie season.

The 49ers Foundation will host an event at Levi’s Stadium just before the regular season.

How good will the Seahawks pass rush be this year?

Greg Jennings said Mike McCarthy “cuffs” Packers in postseason

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Greg Jennings took another shot at his former team, blaming Mike McCarthy for Aaron Rodgers having only one Super Bowl title in Rodgers’ nine seasons as a starter.

“I’m just going to flat-out say it: If we had a lead, our issue wasn’t the defense — our issue was Mike McCarthy,” Jennings said Wednesday on Fox Sports, where he serves as an analyst. “[McCarthy] would cuff us. . . . When you watch New England play, when they have a lead, they go for your throat; they don’t relax. . . . They have a great quarterback [in Tom Brady]; they have arguably the best quarterback in football, but they have — no doubt about it — the best head coach in football.”

Jennings has ripped the Packers and Rodgers since the receiver’s contentious split with the team in 2013.

McCarthy, who has a 114-61-1 regular-season record and a 10-8 postseason record in 11 seasons with the Packers, said a year ago that he’s “not a conservative coach” after continuing to be dogged by the Packers’ blown 16-0 lead in the NFC Championship Game during the 2014 season.

Tony Romo learning “fine line” of critiquing players

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Tony Romo won’t be reporting to training camp with the Cowboys this month, but he’s still spending the summer working to get ready for the 2017 season.

The difference from past years is that his work is focused on learning how to be a game analyst after stepping away from the game in order to join Jim Nantz in a CBS broadcast booth. He has spent time calling practice games with Nantz and Cowboys radio announcer Brad Sham to correct the fact that he “really didn’t know operationally how anything worked” when he took the job.

In addition to figuring out where to look during plays, Romo is also getting a feel for the right way to offer critiques of players he was competing with and against for the last decade.

“The first two games I did, actually some of my bosses there at CBS told me, ‘You know, we don’t need to be quite that harsh,'” Romo said, via “So I think that part of it I probably have to find a fine line, because the standard for playing this game is just, it’s high. And to win and win a championship or to get there, I never got a chance to obtain that, and that’s something that I’ll always regret. But at the same time, I understand what it takes to be kind of good. Getting yourself in position to make the playoffs is hard, then to win games there. And to do it like how Tom Brady does is astronomical; [it] doesn’t compute to most of the players because you’re trying to win one … that’s the standard. It’s those players. The Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings. That’s what you’re evaluating. And now I have to understand that and come back to that and know that there’s certain things that are easier for some than others and just talk about it.”

Romo said he thinks he is in “a little bit more of a right frame of mind or mindset to be a little bit more successful earlier” than he was as a football player and striking the right balance between being too critical and too light on players will be essential to that.

Romo thinks Aaron Rodgers can play until he’s 45

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If Aaron Rodgers is on the back nine of his NFL career, there’s a chance he’s only on the 10th tee.

Retired NFL quarterback and new CBS lead NFL analyst Tony Romo believes that the Packers quarterback can do that which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says he intends to do — play five years beyond his 40th birthday.

“I think Aaron is one of those guys who is uniquely talented,” Romo said during a Wednesday appearance on NFL Network. “Special player in our league for a long time. He can go as long as he wants to. If he stays injury-free, he may be in his eyes on the back nine, but as long as he wants to continue to take hits, he’ll be able to play until he’s 45.”

But Romo also touched on the factor that contributes most directly to Rodgers and any other quarterback avoiding hits and, in turn, injury.

“One thing that goes sometimes for quarterbacks as they get up to the 40 level, their legs and their arms start to go a little bit,” Romo said. “You just don’t see the same pop in the ball. And a little bit is they just don’t want to take the same hits they’re used to taking. Their body just doesn’t want it the same way they once did.”

A great quarterback with years of experience can compensate for an arm that isn’t what it once was (see Peyton Manning in 2015). But when the legs go, a whole new set of challenges will emerge. If the player can’t get run or slide or hop or whatever it takes away from pressure like he used to, he’s got no chance to survive.

And the legs can go very quickly and without warning. Which could be one of the main reasons why New England has kept Jimmy Garoppolo around.

Rodgers could be the exception to Mother Nature’s rules. He showed a fear years back that he can get it done even with a calf injury that significantly limited his highly-underrated mobility. As his mental collection of pre-snap looks and post-snap defensive movements continues to expand, he could be moving toward a point in his career where he can make decisions so much faster that diminished legs and a weakened arm won’t matter.

It ultimately comes down to whether he wants to play that long. Which ultimately comes down to what he wants his legacy to be. Whether it’s championships or career statistics (he’s 23rd in career passing yards, but already 11th in passing touchdowns), plenty more work needs to be done to vault him into the all-time top-five conversation. If he plays another dozen years (and if the Packers can put a team around him that can win another Super Bowl or two), Rodgers can give the recently-crowned quarterback G.O.A.T. a run for his money.

Aaron Rodgers: “I’m on the back nine of my career”

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Aaron Rodgers is far from old. But he’s also not in denial about where he is in his career.

The 33-year-old Packers quarterback told the NFL Network he’s still feeling good, but knows what’s in front of him.

I think I’m on the back nine of my career,” Rodgers said. “But I think I’m just kind of starting the back nine. This will be my 10th year starting, I got to sit for three years. So I’m not the typical 13-year pro, having the opportunity to sit for three years and not take the wear and tear to learn the game.”

Of course if you extend the golf metaphor literally and he’s halfway finished, that could mean another 10 years, putting him into Tom Brady-if-he-ever-gets-old territory.

But it’s hard to think about the eventual end, when Rodgers is playing at his best right now. He threw 40 touchdowns and just seven interceptions last year, and is about to do some unprecedented things in terms of career statistics.

And while he’s not thinking about the whens of his retirement, he has a good idea about the where.

“I think we all have numbers,” Rodgers said. “When I was a young player, I remember thinking as I looked at some of the older guys, if I got to five that’d be cool, or eight, or anything after 10 would be amazing. For me, I think the longevity is tied to being a Green Bay Packer. I’d like to finish my career in Green Bay.”

Of course, Brett Favre probably thought that once too.

Quietly, Drew Brees moves toward free agency

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Healthy franchise quarterbacks don’t hit the open market. Next year, two of them could.

In addition to Washington’s Kirk Cousins (who threw for more than 4,900 yards last season), Saints quarterback Drew Brees could be available to the highest bidder and/or the best chance to pursue another Super Bowl.

Last year, as Brees was entering the final year of his contract, he signed a one-year extension. Which now puts him in the same place he was a year ago — one season removed from free agency. This time around, however, there is no discussion about an extension.

“Listen, so I signed a one-year extension, so that was this year and then next year,” Brees said in January. “And so I plan on playing that out and just allowing things to take form and take shape here for next year and putting forth my absolute best effort to help us win a division championship and then a world championship. And then, again, just one year at a time, and that’s not a lack of commitment or anything like that. It’s just, I just want to focus on what’s right in front of me.”

Later in the month of January, G.M. Mickey Loomis said the team is fine with that approach.

Here’s where that approach is leading. Given the presence of a no-trade clause and a commitment not to tag Brees in 2018, he has one year under contract with the Saints. After that, who knows what will happen?

What if this year is the year that ultimately becomes Sean Payton’s final year with the Saints? (Surely, there will be a “Sunday splash” report at some point this year to that effect.) If Payton leaves for a team that needs a quarterback (and most teams that fire their head coaches do), could Brees follow?

Whether Brees stays in New Orleans or not, $18 million will count against the team’s salary cap in 2018 in his name. The cap charge from a new deal would only add to that. Which means that, if he has for example a cap charge of $20 million in 2018, the Saints would have $38 million assigned to Brees next year.

The broader question becomes whether Brees will still be regarded as a franchise quarterback after the 2017 season, when he’ll be closing in on his 39th birthday. But at a time when folks marvel at the ability of Tom Brady to thrive on the brink of 40, few seem to notice that Brees continues to be as good as ever.

In 2016, Brees had his latest 5,000-yard passing season. He’s done it five times; the rest of the NFL, since its inception, has produced a total of four.

Chances are that there will be plenty of interest in Brees come March, in New Orleans and elsewhere. Chances are that he’ll also end up getting paid a lot of money in his final NFL season before turning 40.