The Daily Briefing Thursday, May 3, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com with an update on the fate of the kickoff.

 

The NFL is finalizing a proposal to make significant changes to the kickoff, intensifying the tweaks of recent years in what might be a final attempt to salvage the most dangerous play in football.

 

The adjustments — prompted largely by a group of special teams coaches who traveled to a Wednesday meeting at league headquarters — are designed to make the kickoff “much more of a punt play,” according to competition committee chairman Rich McKay. The kickoff will remain on a “short leash,” according to committee member and Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy, but it appears to have survived for at least another year.

 

The proposed changes will be written into a formal document by next week and presented to owners for approval during their May 21-23 meetings in Atlanta. They include:

 

* Coverage teams would lose the 5-yard head start they previously had;

 

* Five players would need to be aligned on each side of the kicker;

 

* All wedge blocks, including two-man double teams, would be eliminated;

 

* Eight of the 11 return team members would be lined up within 15 yards of the restraining line, and blocking would be prohibited within those 15 yards;

 

* There would be no pre-kick motion;

 

* Onside kick rules would remain largely unchanged.

 

The governing idea was to reduce the space and speed of collisions that have historically occurred on kickoffs.

 

“With the old rule, you had guys running at each other,” said Kansas City Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub, one of nine current special teams coaches in the room for the discussion. “Now, you’ll have guys running with each other down the field. That makes a big difference … because the distance between the two of them are closer. The distance between the front line and the kickoff return team is so tight that when they run down the field, it’s a lot like a punt. They’re running together. You’re pushing people on the side and you don’t have those big collisions. That was the main thing in our proposal.”

 

The competition committee discarded some of the coaches’ more radical proposals, including a rule that would place all fair-caught kickoffs at the 25-yard line. But league executives in attendance were generally encouraged by the depth of the proposed changes. Murphy, who announced in March that the kickoff would be eliminated if it could not be made safer, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the new direction.

 

“I give these coaches credit,” Murphy said. “To me this was a breakthrough, that they’re really looking at it to make it safer.”

– – –

Adam Schefter looks high and wide – and can’t find anyone interested in WR DEZ BRYANT at any price:

 

Bryant has indicated that he cares more about playing for the right team than making the right money, even suggesting that he cares more about staying in the NFC East so he can play the Cowboys twice than anything else. But there may not be many teams willing to sign Bryant for any amount of money.

 

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that there are “far more” teams unwilling to pay Bryant the league minimum salary than there are teams that would consider signing Bryant for any contract.

 

That makes it all the more surprising that Bryant turned down an offer from the Ravens, which was reportedly in the neighborhood of the three-year, $21 million contract Baltimore previously gave to receiver Michael Crabtree. If most teams aren’t even willing to pay Bryant $1 million, why turn down an offer of $7 million?

 

If Bryant is truly willing to play for anything to stay in the NFC East, and Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Giants are all unwilling to offer him even the league minimum, that says a lot about what teams think the 29-year-old Bryant has left at this point in his career.

 

As for the new helmet ejection rule, the NFL believes players will adapt. More from Seifert.

 

The NFL is anticipating only a handful of ejections this season as part of a new rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact — one of the primary takeaways Tuesday from the first day of a football-related summit at league headquarters.

 

A review of 40,000 plays from recent seasons revealed less than five instances of what would be considered a flagrant, and thus ejection-worthy, violation, according to NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent. One was a hit by Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan on Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams last season in Week 4, for which Trevathan was later suspended.

 

Penalty flags for the expanded rule — which replaced a previous prohibition on using the crown of the helmet to initiate contact — are expected to increase in 2018. But during the meeting, as well as in side conversations, Vincent and other league officials sought to downplay the possibility of the kind of mass ejections that characterize the NCAA targeting rule.

 

“We want officials to enforce the rule,” Vincent said. “I don’t want to say it’s going to be two, three, five [penalties per game] or whatever. If they see it, call it. …But there were four plays that we saw today that would rise to the level of ejection based on the new rule. That’s it.”

 

League owners hastily approved the rule in March before it was fully fleshed out. As written, it calls for a 15-yard penalty and a potential ejection on any player who “lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” It will apply whether the player hits an opponent’s helmet or any other part of his body, but it is “not to include bracing for contact,” according to the verbiage.

 

That caveat generated animated debate among the more than 50 owners, coaches, executives, officials and former players in the room. A handful of reporters sat in on portions of the meeting, as the group watched video of various plays to learn what the league considers legal and illegal plays.

 

Representatives of the competition committee pointed out that officials will draw a distinction between simply lowering helmets — which happens on every play — and the intentional act of lowering it to initiate contact with the opponent.

 

“I’m here because I wanted to get clarity on this,” Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said afterward. “I can watch this stuff on video, and I asked six times: Can you rewind that? I don’t have that option on the field. I just want to see how they’re going to officiate it when its full speed on the field.”

 

Lynn said he finished the day “clearer” than when he began. But group consensus on some plays was difficult to reach. Most notable was a run last season by New England Patriots tailback Dion Lewis. On the play, both Lewis and Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen lowered their heads into each other. Should Lewis have been penalized? Allen? Neither? Members of the competition committee and officiating department disagreed during the discussion.

 

Coaches in the room included Lynn, Dan Quinn (Falcons), Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Todd Bowles (New York Jets), Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans) and Matt Patricia (Detroit Lions). Several of them voiced concern about whether running backs will be held to the same standard, and whether they would need to be taught new techniques on the fly. The same is true for, say, pulling guards and running backs who are blocking blitzers.

 

Quinn made a suggestion that was quickly adopted: Head coaches throughout the league will collaborate on a position-specific teaching video for teams to study during training camp. The coaches would provide the voice-overs to distinguish from standard NFL videos.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

LB JERRELL FREEMAN is done after six NFL seasons.  Colleen Kane in the Chicago Tribune:

 

Former Bears inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman announced his retirement on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.

 

Freeman, 32, cited his health and his family as his top priorities in the announcement, which included thanks to his teammates, coaches and fans over his six-year NFL career.

 

“It’s been a long and rewarding journey,” he wrote. “Thank you to all that came along for the ride!!”

 

Freeman played his first four NFL seasons with the Colts and played in 13 games over the last two years with the Bears. He had 110 tackles and four passes defended in 2016.

 

Freeman suffered a torn pectoral muscle and a concussion in the season opener against the Falcons in 2017 and didn’t play in another game for the Bears.

 

In October, he was suspended 10 games for violating the NFL policy against performance-enhancing drugs. It was his second violation in two seasons. He served a four-game suspension for his first violation in 2016.

 

He spoke of the concussion, resulting memory loss and taking pills to cope with his condition in a Twitter post last fall.

 

Freeman had signed a three-year, $12 million deal in 2016, but the Bears informed him his contract would be terminated in February.

 

Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski and 2018 first-round draft pick Roquan Smith will compete for starting spots at inside linebacker this season, with competition from fourth-round pick Joel Iyiegbuniwe.

– – –

The Bears have declined to pick up the fifth year option for WR KEVIN WHITE, the injury-prone first pick ever made by still-GM Ryan Pace.  Rich Campbell in the Chicago Tribune:

 

The Bears have declined the fifth-year option on wide receiver Kevin White’s contract, as expected, a person with knowledge of the situation said Wednesday. The decision sends Ryan Pace’s first draft pick as Bears general manager into a make-or-break season with the team that selected him seventh overall in 2015.

 

The Bears decided not to include White in their 2019 plans at this time because injuries have prevented his career from getting started. Exercising his fifth-year option would have guaranteed for injury his 2019 base salary of $13.9 million.

 

He is one of three top-10 draft picks from 2015 whose team did not exercise the fifth-year option, joining Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler (third overall) and Giants offensive lineman Ereck Flowers (ninth).

 

 

GREEN BAY

GM Brian Gutenkist signals that the Packers are ready to show QB AARON RODGERS the money.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst believes a new contract with quarterback Aaron Rodgers will get done.

 

Gutekunst said this morning on PFT Live that he sees no reason that the Packers and Rodgers won’t come to terms.

 

“Both sides are working towards it and we’re confident we’ll come to an agreement soon,” he said.

 

Although some are wondering why, if both sides are working on it, a deal isn’t done yet, Gutekunst said that both sides might wait to see if other quarterbacks get new deals, and if so how those deals are structured. The Falcons have acknowledged they’re working on a new contract for Matt Ryan, and the Patriots may give Tom Brady a new contract as well. But Gutekunst didn’t seem to think anything elsewhere would prevent a deal from getting done in Green Bay.

 

“We’re pretty confident that this is something that’s taking its normal course, its normal time,” he said.

 

Rodgers has two years left on his current deal at about $21 million a year, which is a bargain rate for a player of Rodgers’ caliber, given what lesser quarterbacks are making. If the Packers wanted to play hardball with him, they could force him to play out those two years, then franchise him once his contract expires. The only way for Rodgers to play hardball in return would be to threaten not to play at all.

 

Gutekunst, however, doesn’t see that happening. He expects a deal to get done.

 

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Good to know that Todd Archer of ESPN.com broke the news on Thursday morning that TE JASON WITTEN is indeed retiring and joining ESPN:

 

Jason Witten is retiring from the Dallas Cowboys and joining ESPN as an analyst for Monday Night Football, multiple sources told ESPN on Thursday.

 

Witten wrestled with the decision for the last week, alternating almost hourly between taking the job and playing a record 16th season for the Cowboys. He has told owner and general manager Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett of his decision.

 

Sources said he leaned heavily on Jones in coming to a conclusion.

 

Witten could not be reached for comment. On Wednesday, executive vice president Stephen Jones said there was no timeline on when Witten would make a decision.

 

Another network made what was termed an “interesting” offer that would allow him to keep playing and potentially walk away in 2019, according to a source.

 

Ultimately, he opted to retire to start a new chapter in his life after one of the most successful runs in Cowboys’ history.

 

Witten leaves as the Cowboys’ all-time leader in games played, consecutive games played, starts, catches and receiving yards. When he played in his 11th Pro Bowl last January, he tied Bob Lilly for the most in team history. He is fourth in NFL history in catches behind only Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez and Larry Fitzgerald. Only Gonzalez has more receiving yards among tight ends in NFL history.

 

Had Witten returned for a 16th season, he would have been the longest tenured player in franchise history. Instead he leaves tied with Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei.

 

After ESPN’s Chris Mortensen had reported during the draft about Witten’s intentions to retire and join Monday Night Football, Garrett and other coaches actively attempted to persuade him to keep playing, according to a team source.

 

Witten was a regular in the captains’ workouts in February and March at The Star and had not missed a workout since the official offseason program began until Monday.

 

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones was aware of the possibility Witten could be done playing before last Friday’s report. On Saturday, the Cowboys drafted Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz in the fourth round.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Mike Renner of ProFootballFocus.com looks at the revamped Giants offense:

 

On the eve of the 2018 NFL Draft, the New York Giants offensive needs were obvious. Get offensive line help, secure a quarterback for the future and add a playmaker to the backfield. When the weekend concluded, New York had done all three, albeit in a curious order.

 

Saquon Barkley, Will Hernandez and Kyle Lauletta were added over the weekend to the league’s worst offense from a season ago, but will they be enough to save a Giants offense that has been in free fall over the past two seasons?

 

Let’s take a look at exactly what we can expect from them in 2018.

 

Pat Shurmur’s Offense

Head coach Pat Shurmur said in a press conference after the draft that Barkley will be on the field for the Giants “as long as he can handle it.” It has been a few years since he had a true dual-threat running back in his offense, but Shurmur’s time in Philadelphia shows he meant what he said. LeSean McCoy was second among running backs in total snaps in 2013 with 890 and fourth in 2014 with 790 before being shipped off to Buffalo. One can certainly expect similar snap counts from Barkley as a rookie.

 

In that same press conference, Shurmur talked about how receiving ability was the first thing he looked for in a running back prospect. As much as that may be true, featuring running backs in the passing game has been a rarity for recent Shurmur coached offense. The Vikings quarterbacks threw to backs on only 18.9 percent of their targets a season ago, with the total running back targets in Shurmur’s offenses by year shown below (the league average last year was 103).

 

Year     Team    RB Targets

2017     Vikings 93

2016     Vikings 98

2015     Eagles  165

2014     Eagles  97

2013     Eagles  76

 

That’s only one season of the last five where Shurmur took full advantage of his backs in the passing game. As was said before, 2013 and 2014 would be the most corollary examples, as that’s when Shurmur’s offense featured McCoy. The outlier in 2015 is more the result of Darren Sproles‘ ability than anything else. Sproles was pumped for 73 targets that year on 256 routes for a ridiculous 28.5 target percent of his routes – with many of those coming as a receiver split wide.

 

The good news for new quarterback Kyle Lauletta, and possibly bad news for Eli Manning, is that Shurmur’s offense has been for the most part a short, timing-based passing attack. The type of offense that prioritizes accuracy over special throws down the field. Case Keenum had the seventh-shortest average depth of target in the NFL this past season while Sam Bradford had the shortest in 2016. Of all the top quarterbacks in this draft class, Lauletta had the second-best rate of perfectly placed passes (accuracy-plus) and the second-lowest percentage of uncatchable passes. It will obviously be a big leap in competition and he’ll have a while to learn on the bench, but Lauletta’s strengths look like a perfect fit for what Shurmur wants to do.

 

Running Game Value

It’s no secret that the Giants running game has been an unattractive mess over the past couple seasons. They averaged 3.9 yards per carry a season ago and 3.5 yards per carry in 2016. While it would be great to fix those issues, it’s worth asking the question of whether or not that’s going to fix the issues of the offense as a whole?

 

How quickly we forget the Giants won the Super Bowl back in 2011 with a similar rushing attack that averaged 3.5 yards per carry and was dead last in the NFL in expected points added. Even if you buy into the old adage that a strong running game makes the passing game better – a claim we’ve found nothing in our data to back up and obviously didn’t hold true for the Giants in 2011 when Eli Manning had the highest-graded season of his career – the analytics say that run-blocking performance is far more strongly correlated to success in the run game than individual running back performance. Ergo, a generational running back isn’t as valuable to a rushing attack as a solid offensive line. The solid offensive line also has the added benefit of solid pass protection (usually) as well. If you are so inclined to ‘establish the run’ it would behoove you to do so with the big fellas up front first.

 

And while they did just that at the top of the second round with UTEP guard Will Hernandez – who we pegged as a top-20 talent in this draft – they still have gaping holes at center, right guard and right tackle. With the quality of run-blocking in front of him, it’s going to be nearly impossible for Barkley to have consistent success in the running game as a rookie.

 

The simple fact of the matter, unless you have a truly dominant offensive line, you don’t want to be run heavy in today’s NFL. Taking garbage time out of the equation, the expected points added on the average run play is -.05 while the expected points added for the average pass play is +.05. Only four teams had a positive EPA on running plays a season ago (21 had positive EPA on passes) and unsurprisingly, all the successful rushing teams had quality offensive lines (Cowboys, Packers, Saints, Browns). Team passing and coverage grades correlate strongly to winning while team running and run-defense grades have no correlation. The last four Super Bowl champions have been led in rushing by former undrafted free agents. Six of the last nine Super Bowl champs haven’t even featured a 1,000-yard rusher. I could go on all day with examples.

 

If the Giants have ideas of using Saquon Barkley as a 20-carry per game bell cow, they’re simply wasting the No. 2 overall pick. Barkley is a freak of nature that no linebacker in the league can match up with athletically. To get some ROI from their top pick, they’d be smart to force feed him the ball in space and split him out wide as much as humanly possible, ala Darren Sproles’ role from 2015. Creating something out of nothing and giving Eli easy, open throws down the field is what will actually take the pressure off of him.

 

Upshot for 2018

The good news is the Giants offense will be much improved in 2018. The bad news is, after averaging only 15.4 points per game in 2017, that still might not be enough. With Odell Beckham Jr. back healthy, Evan Engram heading into Year 2, Barkley in the backfield, a new left side of the offensive line and a new offensive scheme that at least can’t be worse suited for Manning, there are no excuses for the veteran quarterback.

 

At 37 years old, Eli the exact same age as his brother Peyton was when he put up the greatest statistical season of all-time. Even though his grades have been trending steadily downwards since 2011, the Giants front office gave their two-time Super Bowl champion a huge vote of confidence this offseason. If he repays them by turning back the clock, they’ll look like geniuses. If his downward trend continues, the Giants will have their hopes pinned to a fourth-round rookie from Richmond.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Oh, boy.  This isn’t going to go over well if true.  The New York Times has declared war on the concept of NFL cheerleaders (much like it did the Duke Men’s Lacrosse team and Augusta male membership).  Juliet Macur with the latest salvo – and it hits right at Daniel Snyder’s Redskins.  The whole thing is here with the headline “Redskins Cheerleaders Describe Topless Photo Shoots and an Uneasy Night Out”, edited below. 

 

When the Washington Redskins took their cheerleading squad to Costa Rica in 2013 for a calendar photo shoot, the first cause for concern among the cheerleaders came when Redskins officials collected their passports upon arrival at the resort, depriving them of their official identification.

 

For the photo shoot, at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. Others wore nothing but body paint. Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that the Redskins had invited spectators.

 

A contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.

 

One evening, at the end of a 14-hour day that included posing and dance practices, the squad’s director told nine of the 36 cheerleaders that their work was not done. They had a special assignment for the night. Some of the male sponsors had picked them to be personal escorts at a nightclub.

 

“So get back to your room and get ready,” the director told them. Several of them began to cry.

 

“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go,” one of the cheerleaders said. “We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”

 

Their participation did not involve sex, the cheerleaders said, but they felt as if the arrangement amounted to “pimping us out.” What bothered them was their team director’s demand that they go as sex symbols to please male sponsors, which they did not believe should be a part of their job.

 

The Redskins’ weeklong trip to Costa Rica in 2013 — for which the cheerleaders were paid nothing beyond transportation costs, meals and lodging, the team said — provides a vivid illustration of how N.F.L. teams have used cheerleaders for far more than sideline dancers during games. Their treatment has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks since two former N.F.L. cheerleaders filed discrimination complaints and described a hostile work environment in which they were often dangled as sex objects for the titillation of male fans away from the games.

 

Interviews with dozens of current and former N.F.L. cheerleaders revealed a common perspective: They enjoyed performing at games, developing friendships with other cheerleaders and participating in charity work, which included visiting hospitals and going overseas to entertain military troops. But they were disturbed by some of the extracurricular requirements that put them in what they considered unsafe situations.

 

This account of the Redskins’ calendar shoot at the Occidental Grand Papagayo is based on interviews with five cheerleaders who were involved, and many details were corroborated with others who heard descriptions of the trip at the time. The cheerleaders spoke on condition of anonymity because they were required to sign confidentiality agreements when they joined the team.

 

“It’s just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don’t want to go,” one cheerleader who was there said. “But unfortunately, I feel like it won’t change until something terrible happens, like a girl is assaulted in some way, or raped. I think teams will start paying attention to this only when it’s too late.”

 

Stephanie Jojokian, the longtime director and choreographer for the Redskins’ cheerleaders, disputed much of the women’s description of the Costa Rica trip. She vehemently denied that the night at the club was mandatory and said that the cheerleaders who went were not chosen by sponsors.

 

“I was not forcing anyone to go at all,” Ms. Jojokian said. “I’m the mama bear, and I really look out for everybody, not just the cheerleaders. It’s a big family. We respect each other and our craft. It’s such a supportive environment for these ladies.”

– – –

In an interactive feature on the Redskins’ website, fans were able to play a version of the “hot or not” game, clicking on a flame to pick between images of two cheerleaders. In online video interviews in the past, the cheerleaders were asked, “Describe your perfect date” and “What’s the first thing you notice about a man?” (Since publication of this article, the “hot or not” interactive has been removed).

– – –

A half-dozen Redskins cheerleaders said Ms. Jojokian seemed especially focused on preserving relationships with businessmen who supported the team and her nonprofit dance company, Capitol Movement.

 

“There was a lot of pressure by the director for us to be a part of that party atmosphere with sponsors because we knew she picked favorites that way,” one cheerleader said of Ms. Jojokian, who in 2011 told women auditioning for the squad, according to WJLA-TV in Washington: “Don’t cover your chest area too much. We’ll assume you are trying to hide something.”

– – –

The Redskins, who said that only six sponsors, including two couples, attended the calendar shoot trip, made available for interviews two cheerleaders who were captains of the squad in 2013. Both women, who spoke on condition of anonymity, praised Ms. Jojokian and said she never forced the cheerleaders to do anything they didn’t want to do. They said they thoroughly enjoyed their experiences as Redskins cheerleaders. Regarding the evening out with sponsors in Costa Rica, one of them said, “It was actually just a night of relaxation and to be away from it all.”

 

A recent contract for Redskins cheerleaders said off-the-field work would include “community and charitable events, youth camps, etc.” There was no mention of having to entertain men who financially support the team, and these appearances raised flags for some cheerleaders.

 

In 2012, Ms. Jojokian, a former squad director and choreographer for the N.B.A.’s Washington Wizards, announced a mandatory team-bonding boat trip. At a pier in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood where the cheerleaders were to board, they discovered that it wasn’t the commercial party boat they had expected. It was a yacht with several men aboard — including a familiar face, William R. Teel Jr.

 

Mr. Teel, 52, was a longtime Redskins suite holder and a local businessman with close ties to the team. He lent cornerback Carlos Rogers $125,000 in 2009, and later sued Mr. Rogers to get the money back.

 

He also maintained a close relationship with the cheerleading program. For about a decade, one or both of Mr. Teel’s companies, Energy Enterprise Solutions and 1 Source Consulting, sponsored the cheerleading program and, for a few years, Capitol Movement, Ms. Jojokian’s dance company. As an Army veteran, he said he was drawn to sponsor the cheerleading team because of the many trips it took to entertain United States military troops overseas.

 

As a sponsor, he helped judge cheerleader tryouts and occasionally was invited to buy package deals to attend calendar shoots. Mr. Teel also paid for Redskins cheerleaders to go to Super Bowls.

 

Ms. Jojokian said that Mr. Teel always made deals with the cheerleaders “on his own” for those Super Bowl trips and that those trips were not sanctioned by the Redskins. Mr. Teel said, however, that he always worked through Ms. Jojokian to determine which cheerleaders would participate on his trips and that he always provided security.

 

Ms. Jojokian said that she, too, was not expecting to see strangers on Mr. Teel’s boat that day. “I didn’t necessarily feel that we were bonding in a way that was helpful for the whole season,” she said.

 

Five cheerleaders characterized that 2012 team-bonding party as a wild gathering, where men shot liquor into the cheerleaders’ mouths with turkey basters. Below the deck, men handed out cash prizes in twerking contests. No cheerleaders claimed that they were touched inappropriately, and the two team captains said the trip was pleasant. One added, “They were all adults and got out of the experience what they wanted to get out of it.”

 

For the Costa Rica trip, the cheerleaders had a dress code: white tops, khaki bottoms and heels. Straw hats were permitted, while flats were definitely not.

 

Their suitcases were packed with bathing suits, which they had to purchase for the photo shoots, and food.

– – –

The nine cheerleaders picked to escort the sponsors to a nightclub boarded a hotel van without any Redskins management. When they showed up at the club, it was dark and nearly empty, several of them said. But the men who had requested them were there.

 

The cheerleaders said they were further bothered by the fact that Redskins officials were there, too. Ms. Jojokian was not, but Lon Rosenberg, the senior vice president for operations, and Dennis Greene, the president for business operations, were. A former Redskins cheerleader who volunteered as a sideline assistant during games was encouraging the women to drink and flirt, the cheerleaders said.

 

“The issue was that management seemed to condone all of this,” one cheerleader who was there said.

 

At the end of the night, at about 2 or 3 a.m., the women returned to the waiting van, only to be stopped by several police officers who asked for their passports. They did not have them because the team had taken possession of them upon arrival. (The Redskins said it was team policy to collect passports for all international travel as a security precaution.)

 

“I guess they thought you were prostitutes,” a man affiliated with the cheerleading squad told them after they were allowed to leave.

 

They returned to the resort, but several women on the team decided not to return to the squad the next season. What happened in Costa Rica, they said, made them feel worthless and unprotected.

 

Ehhh.  Kind of creepy, indeed.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

The reasons are murky for the resignation of a Panthers assistant coach.  The Charlotte Observer:

 

Carolina Panthers defensive backs coach Curtis Fuller resigned Wednesday, general manager Marty Hurney confirmed to the Observer.

 

Hurney declined to comment on the nature of the situation, including the reason for resignation.

 

Responding to a question from an Observer reporter at Quail Hollow Club, head coach Ron Rivera said “it’s a complicated situation.”

 

He referred the Observer to Fuller, who did not respond to messages left Wednesday afternoon.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Based on his time with the Buccaneers, this veteran visit has all the hallmarks of being influenced by Jon Gruden who loves to add over-the-hill vets.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Oakland Raiders are kicking the tires on a longtime great of one of their archrivals.

 

Ex-Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson is visiting Oakland today, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported, per a source informed of the trip.

 

ESPN first reported the news.

 

Johnson spent the past 13 years in K.C. after becoming a first-round pick in 2005. The Chiefs decided not to re-sign the 35-year-old linebacker earlier this offseason, making him a free agent. Johnson said he intends to continue his playing career. The Raiders are the first team to come calling.

 

Johnson’s play has fallen off with age, but he did compile 71 tackles in 15 starts in 2017. The Raiders could be looking to add a veteran voice to their second level — or, more cynically, perhaps using the visit to squeeze NaVorro Bowman to take less money to return.

 

The possibility of seeing one of their franchise greats wearing a Raiders jersey would make Chiefs’ fans stomachs curdle.

 

After Kansas City drafted Kahlil McKenzie, son of Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, Oakland signing Johnson would only add more fuel to the AFC West rivalry.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Mike Florio says that QB BAKER MAYFIELD won the war from January to April to become the top pick in the draft:

 

A week ago, it was becoming more and more clear that the Browns were serious about taking quarterback Baker Mayfield at No. 1. It’s now becoming more and more clear that plenty of teams had Mayfield as the top quarterback in the draft.

 

So how does that happen? Specifically, how does a six-foot quarterback who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds become not only the first pick in the draft but also a guy who was coveted by more than a few of the teams that needed quarterbacks?

 

As one executive whose team was actively evaluating the quarterbacks in the 2018 draft explained it to PFT, if the draft had been held immediately after the college football season ended, Mayfield likely would have been a high second-round pick. It was the work that was done from the middle of January until the end of April that pushed Mayfield to the point where he became the must-have guy.

 

Browns V.P. of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith recently gushed about Mayfield’s intangibles, and Highsmith wasn’t alone. As the source explained it to PFT, Mayfield blew people away with his demeanor, his words, and his way, once the process of talking to him and interacting with him began.

 

Enhancing that assessment was the information obtained as scouts learned more about Mayfield from those who had dealt with him in the past. Most prospects kiss the butts of the people they should; Mayfield is among the minority who had a reputation for treating very well the people who couldn’t help him. And that’s a very big deal when it comes to how teams separate one player from another, especially when none of the prospects stand out clearly and obviously above the rest based on physical abilities.

 

So, basically, Mayfield was at one point on track to be Drew Brees, the prospect — a high second-round pick. Now, many think he has a realistic shot at becoming Drew Brees, the franchise quarterback — a highly-paid, highly-successful, first-ballot-Hall-of-Famer.

 

Not bad for a couple of six-foot quarterbacks who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers are now paying LB RYAN SHAZIER his 2018 money upfront.  Field Yates of ESPN.com

 

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers have converted $8.26 million of linebacker Ryan Shazier’s $8.718 million base salary for 2018 into a signing bonus, according to a league source.

 

In doing so, Shazier will receive this money immediately, a solid gesture by the organization for a beloved player throughout Pittsburgh.

 

Shazier continues to rehab and recover from a spinal injury suffered last season in a game against the Bengals. While his football career remains in doubt at this point, he has made notable progress, including an inspiring moment in which he walked across the stage to announce a team draft choice during the 2018 NFL draft last week in Arlington, Texas.

 

Shazier, 25, was placed on the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday, signaling the end to his 2018 season.

 

While the move has no salary-cap consequences for the Steelers, it’s a move that benefits Shazier in receiving the vast majority of his salary now.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

The Jaguars are not ready to commit to LB DANTE FOWLER for a fifth year.  Ryan O’Halloran in the Florida Times-Union:

 

The Jaguars declined to exercise defensive end Dante Fowler’s 2019 contract option Wednesday, meaning he is scheduled to be a free agent next March.

 

Among the top 25 picks, only six first-rounders from 2015 did not have their options picked up: Fowler (No. 3), Chicago’s Kevin White (No. 7), the New York Giants’ Ereck Flowers (No. 9) and New England’s Danny Shelton (originally drafted No. 12 by Cleveland), Kansas City’s Cameron Erving (originally drafted No. 19 by Cleveland) and Denver’s Shane Ray (No. 23).

 

White has played only five games in three years because of injury, Flowers was replaced by free agent left tackle Nate Solder earlier this off-season and the Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb last week, which could make Ray expendable.

 

The Jaguars’ decision can be viewed as further proof they will build their pass rush around former third-round pick Yannick Ngakoue, who is eligible for a contract extension after this season. But it doesn’t mean the Jaguars are giving up on Fowler – the sides could come to terms on a new contract before he hits the open market although the choice is now in Fowler’s hands.

 

In a statement released by the team, executive vice president Tom Coughlin said: “We do like Dante and we feel that he’s on the verge of having a great season. … He is making good progress and we like how he practices and how he plays, as he did in the AFC Championship Game and we want him to have a great season and earn a new long-term contract with us this year.”

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Pete Thamel of YahooSports.com has an intensive look at the Miami Dolphins scouting department and how they prepared for the 2018 draft.  It’s eight parts long.  Here’s part 9 of 11, detailing the drafting of CB MINKAH FITZPATRICK and the surprising affability of Nick Saban:

 

A single iPhone picture perfectly captures the extreme affinity of the Miami Dolphins scouts for Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Dolphins didn’t expect Fitzpatrick to be around at No. 11 when they selected him in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night.

 

They rejoiced his selection with a cacophony of celebration in the draft room – high-fives, back-slaps and hoots of joy. The root of that enthusiasm can be crystallized to 9:01 on the morning of Oct. 21. Dolphins national scout Ron Brockington arrived six hours early before kickoff of the Crimson Tide’s game with Tennessee that day.

 

He soon settled into the Alabama football facility to watch film, a rare opportunity for a scout at a blue-blood program on gameday.

 

Walking through the facility that morning, he noticed Fitzpatrick watching film by himself in the defensive backs room. It was an unusual and inspiring scene on the morning of a game. The image of Fitzpatrick struck Brockington, as the junior already put on his suit, donned headphones to cut out distractions and appeared locked in seeking one final edge.

 

Brockington took a picture on his iPhone and sent it to fellow national scout Matt Winston and general manager Chris Grier with the caption: “Gameday Minkah is here watching video.” (Two clapping hand emojis followed).

 

For the Dolphins scouts and brass, catching Fitzpatrick in that impromptu moment of dedication reinforced what they’d seen on video, heard from staff personnel and their background research.

 

“I dropped the mic,” Brockington says. “I could not believe that. Top professionalism, I could go on and on.”

 

There’s a reason behind Alabama breaking a school and SEC record with 12 players drafted last weekend. (An additional five members of the Tide agreed to free-agent deals.) While it’s obvious that Alabama coach Nick Saban recruits, trains and develops top-tier talent each year, it’s well known in NFL circles that Alabama is the most accommodating college program for NFL scouts.

 

Not only does Alabama have rare talent and play in a scheme that mirrors what players will do in the NFL. The Tide also are open virtually 24/7 for scouts, as there’s no restrictions or paranoia. To Saban, restricting access and information for scouts would be like a business school limiting recruiters from Apple, Google and Amazon.

 

“A lot of college coaches, they see things through a microscope in terms of their college and university program,” Saban told Yahoo Sports on Monday. “If you’ve been in the NFL before, it broadens your scope in understanding players want to play in the NFL someday. To me, I’ve always felt like you’re in a little bit of a partnership with the NFL.”

 

The Crimson Tide are as open and accessible the week of the Mercer game as they are the Auburn game. Practices are open to scouts during spring ball, summer camp and game weeks. All film is available, as Winston points out that Alabama practice film showing Calvin Ridley go against Anthony Averett in one-on-ones is just as valuable as scouting a game rep. If a scout wants to work ahead on their next stop, often Auburn or Mississippi State, Bama will provide the opponent’s film.

 

Scouts can park at the Alabama facility on gameday, watch film for a few hours and head over to pregame to body type the players. The massive football staff, from respected strength coach Scott Cochran to the program’s academic liaisons, are available and accessible. Alabama even serves scouts three meals a day, as Brockington jokes he practically gained 5 pounds from being there three days in October. (Saban’s openness certainly doesn’t hurt recruiting either. The more players who get to the NFL, the more attractive Alabama becomes to recruits.)

 

That “partnership” Saban mentions boils down to a healthy exchange of information. While he says some college coaches limit scout access to “protect their underclassmen,” Saban wants to know from NFL teams where his players project to be drafted to help them make good business decisions. (Having all those scouts on the sideline helps practice energy, too, as intensity can’t slip with potential employers looking on.)

 

Alabama developed a reputation for being open about juniors, in part, to help the reciprocal information exchange. If NFL teams have full information, they can give a clearer picture of that player’s NFL draft reality.

 

“You really want to help them do their job, and it benefits you in the long run, too,” Saban says, generally. “I don’t see a downside in it. I don’t see us losing players. Most of the time when our guys go out early, they make the right choices.”

 

For part of Saban’s time at Alabama, Ed Marynowitz, now an agent with CAA, oversaw the access to scouts. He’d been a Dolphins scouting assistant before coming to Alabama in 2008, sharing an office with Winston as they started climbing the ladder. Marynowitz worked as Alabama’s director of player personnel from December 2008 through May 2012 and came back the past two years as an associate athletic director for football in 2016 and 2017. (Jody Wright followed Marynowitz in player personnel and earned raves from scouts, but he’s reportedly heading to UAB as an on-field coach.)

 

Marynowitz said Saban’s understanding of the importance of information exchange revolved around the complicated timing of when underclassmen need to declare (Jan. 15) versus when NFL teams finalize their board (April). That gap necessitates good relationships to get information to help players make the best decision. And Alabama’s treatment of scouts fits a bigger Saban ethos.

 

“There’s a certain expectation, whether it’s treatment of an NFL scout or five-star recruit,” Marynowitz said, “he wants things done at the highest level.”

 

Saban values the information from the NFL so much because of the stakes behind his players’ decisions, as he points out there’s no minor league system in football. He says that New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge can work his way through the minors to develop, but if a player isn’t a first- or second-round pick in the NFL, their chances of getting to a second contract are distinctly lower. If a player isn’t projected as a first-round pick or a second-rounder with no chance to improve their status, he encourages them to come back. “You don’t have a chance to develop in the NFL,” he says.

 

The Dolphins had plenty of eyes on Fitzpatrick’s development at Alabama. General manager Chris Grier, who worked with Saban when he coached the Dolphins, spent two days there this season. That’s the normal length of a visit because it takes that long to study all the prospects. Adam Engroff, their director of college scouting, goes there every year. So does Winston, who covers the state. Brockington spent three days – two to evaluate players and then the Tennessee game. West Coast scout Lenny McGill, a former NFL corner and veteran scout, is the defensive backs cross-checker, so he watched Fitzpatrick extensively on film. (McGill saw the ability to play multiple positions – safety, slot and about 13 to 15 snaps this year at outside corner – and could tell his communication skills from the use of hand motions.)

 

There’s a resounding appreciation for Saban’s openness in Miami and beyond.

 

“It’s a win-win for both of us,” Grier says. “Nick is appreciative of what the NFL can provide his players. Being around Nick and working with him [in Miami], obviously he may be the greatest coach in the history of college football. Just the way he runs it, Nick treats us incredible. He’s got no restrictions. They’re basically open 24-7.”

 

And that’s why Bama remains a picture-perfect visit, as the handclap emojis from Brockington’s iPhone came to life on Thursday night in din of the giddy Dolphins draft room. “You sleep well as a scout,” Winston says, “with a guy like that.”

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Who wears those helmets the NFL is deeming unsafe?  Why, QB TOM BRADY for one.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL has prohibited players from wearing certain helmet models that did not perform well in safety testing, and one of those models is the one Tom Brady has worn for years. But Brady isn’t giving his helmet up easily.

 

Brady says he’s going to take advantage of the NFL’s grandfather policy that will allow players who wore the Riddell VSR-4 helmet in 2017 to wear it again in 2018. He says he likes the helmet, he’s comfortable with it, and doesn’t want to give it up.

 

“It’s a good thing. They’re trying to find helmets the players will wear that will absorb force better. I think that’s a positive,” Brady said, via ESPN. “I still wear a very old helmet, probably out of habit. You talk about behavioral changes are hard; I’ve tried new helmets and I’m like, ‘Doesn’t work, get that out of here!’ You just have to get comfortable with it.”

 

Although no new players will be allowed to use the helmet model, Brady is allowed to keep wearing it this season, and he will. For a player who’s conscious of his health, it’s a curious choice.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

WR ROBBY ANDERSON is a wanted man in Broward County with Sheriff Scott Israel and his officers on the lookout.  Brian Costello in the New York Post:

 

Robby Anderson is in trouble again.

 

An arrest warrant has been issued for the Jets’ wide receiver after he and his attorney failed to appear in a Florida court on Tuesday, according to Broward County court records.

 

Anderson was scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment hearing on a reckless driving charge from January, but Anderson’s attorney said they were unaware of the hearing and never received notice.

 

“It will all be cleared up tomorrow,” Ed O’Donnell said Wednesday night. “Robby did not do one thing wrong.”

 

That charge came from a Jan. 19 arrest in Sunrise, Fla. Anderson originally faced much more serious felony charges, but those were dropped last month. He was left with a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving.

 

Anderson, who turns 25 next week, allegedly was doing 105 mph in a 45-mph zone and ran two red lights. After coming to a stop, he allegedly told the arresting officer he would find the officer’s wife and “f–k her,” adding some disgusting language. The charges of harm to a public servant, eluding police and resisting arrest were dropped because of insufficient evidence.

 

Anderson also is facing charges from an arrest last year for resisting arrest at a concert. That trial is scheduled to begin in August.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

CBS lands Bruce Arians and puts him in a three-man booth.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Bruce Arians is tailor-made for TV. That’s where he’ll be this fall during football season.

 

CBS announced Thursday that the former Arizona Cardinals coach will work in a three-man booth with Greg Gumbel and Trent Green in 2018. Jamie Erdahl handles the sideline reporting duties for the crew.

 

 “Combining his contemporary football insight, having just stepped off the sidelines, along with his personality and unique manner in which he delivers his analysis, we are confident Bruce will develop into an insightful, entertaining and informative analyst alongside Greg and Trent,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a statement.

 

The 65-year-old Arians is a football lifer, entering the coaching profession in 1975 as a Virginia Tech assistant. After working with Peyton Manning as a QB coach, and stints as the offensive coordinator for Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Arians landed his first head coaching job in Arizona in 2013. He retired after the 2017 season.

 

“I always hoped that broadcasting would be an option after I retired from coaching as a way to stay involved with this great game,” Arians said. “I am thrilled to have that opportunity with such a class organization as CBS Sports. As I begin my new career in the broadcast booth, I am excited to join Greg, Trent and Jamie and look forward to learning from them, as well as sharing my passion and knowledge for the game with the fans.”

 

Gumbel, Green and Erdahl made up CBS’ No. 3 broadcast team in 2017, behind Jim Nantz/Tony Romo/Tracy Wolfson and Ian Eagle/Dan Fouts/Evan Washburn.

 

Arians’ unvarnished honesty, drunk-uncle demeanor, and breadth of knowledge should make him a natural in the booth.