The Daily Briefing Tuesday, June 20, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

Per the CBA, the deadline for signing franchise players to long term contracts this year is Monday, July 17, not Saturday, July 15, as has been reported.  Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com looks at the three unsigned franchise players and their prospects for a contract:

 

The NFL is finally on vacation. Offseason programs are complete. Coaches, execs and players, by and large, have left the building (save for teams like the Ravens who are keeping their rookies around for a few extra weeks), and the business of football is generally on hold.

 

In many years there would still be a handful of players on the franchise tag racing to beat the mid-July deadline for contract extensions, but even that is a tepid proposition this time around. The tag was only applied in seven instances in 2017 — some years the figure is double that — and it was used primarily on players who have the ability to get to the quarterback (Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, Melvin Ingram, Kawann Short) and those players have already signed their lucrative, multi-year deals. In many cases, long ago.

 

That leaves us with just three players still sitting on the tag: Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson. Those three players now have less than a month to attempt to negotiate long-term deals to their liking in an attempt to gain more security and earning potential beyond just this season. And for Cousins and Johnson, this is the second straight year they are sitting on the tag at the start of summer, which in the case of the quarterback only makes it more likely he gets that new payday, while in the case of the corner it all but assures he won’t.

 

In most of these cases, the real work won’t get done right before the July 17 deadline – deadlines, as all who follow the NFL know well by now – truly do spur actions. We won’t know what these teams are ultimately willing to put on the table until we get closer to the date where those offers expire, but we are far enough along in the process where it makes sense to size up the odds on the likelihood that these three prominent players are signed beyond just the upcoming season.

 

So, what are the odds that these three players are sitting on gobs of more cash and a long-term deal by mid July? Here’s what I know:

 

Kirk Cousins QB / Washington

Odds: 80 percent

The sides have come too far and been through too much not to see this through. For as much was made about faux trade demands and how Cousins allegedly only wanted to play for the 49ers or whatever, the odds have always been strongest that he re-signed with the Redskins. Cousins was certainly not thrilled about being tagged again, but that’s the business, and he’s nothing if not pragmatic.

 

A year ago these sides were playing footsie, with no chance of a deal really getting done and owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen wanting to see Cousins prove it on the field for another season. He’s done that now, and they aren’t going to be picking high enough to land a top QB next year and they can’t try to make another RG3-type trade to get one and franchising Cousins for a third straight year is silly and shortsighted as well.

 

This is the time to make something happen and Allen knows that and he is motivated to make the quarterback a known and fixed cost for the owner. Letting Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson walk was a nod to that, and the Redskins believe Cousins can help further develop young receivers. He’s become a leader and a fixture at a position of perpetual angst for Snyder, and this team knows what it’s like not to have a function, winning passer. 

 

And they can’t go back to the abyss. For as much as Cousins can reasonably talk about $25M a year, he and his representatives are smart, savvy people, and if it ends up being $23M a year and four seasons are in essence guaranteed by the salary structure, that’s a major win for the former fourth round pick. I don’t see this falling apart. There’s just too much at stake for both sides.

 

Le’Veon Bell RB / Pittsburgh

Odds: 50 percent

It’s certainly less than ideal for the Steelers to be carrying a running back counting over $12M against the cap. Given all of their talent, the Steelers are always doing an adroit juggling act working the cap in the first place, and for as great as Bell is, he is often injured and he has been suspended and that’s a lot of assets in a position that has been diminished in the modern game.

 

But, given the fact he has been hurt a fair amount — especially late in seasons when games matter the most — and that he has missed time due to suspensions, and with Ben Roethlisberger still floating a possible retirement as soon as 2018, this might not be the worst time in the world to go year-to-year with Bell, either. The RB market has recalibrated significantly since the salad days when Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch were getting record deals and teams are loathe to reset that market now. Negotiating off the tag would be a tricky predicament for Pittsburgh, given how much money is already tied into offensive skill guys.

 

I don’t blame Bell for not signing the tag, and his absence from minicamp was no big deal. You don’t have a signed contract, you don’t practice if you are a veteran. That won’t complicate anything here. What does make it tricky is the fact that no other running back in the NFL is making over $8M a year, and Bell is guaranteed $12.1 million for 2017 alone, on the tag.

 

I believe he is the most complete back in football, but that’s a steep premium and the timing works against a deal here. But I also know the Steelers don’t let premium talent leave, especially when the player is in his prime, and I suspect these sides each have at least something to consider by the eve of the deadline. Given the acute risk associated with the position he plays, might Bell blink in a month?

 

Trumaine Johnson CB / L.A. Rams

Odds: 0 percent

 

In most cases I’d never say never, but this is the exception. The sides spoke just once, a ways back, and weren’t close enough to even merit a follow-up phone call. Which actually isn’t surprising, given the particulars at play. Johnson is a very good corner, but not a Pro Bowler, much less an All Pro. But the Rams opted to keep him on the tag in 2016 when they knew they would lose their best corner at the time, Janoris Jenkins, who became a vital signing for the Giants.

 

Johnson’s camp has played this situation perfectly, willing to gamble on the player and knowing that the Rams’ only chance to trying to be competitive would come with keeping its defense together (with the offense non-existent in 2016). So a year later, the Rams tagged Johnson again, and now Johnson will make $31M over two years.

 

He is the highest paid corner in the NFL in 2017. His pockets are straight. No reason not to play out that tag and keep this process going, knowing he’s likely to be a well sought-out free agent next March.

 

As for the Rams, they are on the cusp of paying defensive lineman Aaron Donald like a quarterback and have bigger fish to fry right now as they fight for relevance in the Southern California marketplace and try to get their stadium built. They’ve been over-paying players for years, so carrying Johnson at this exuberant rate isn’t out of the norm and if I’m repping Johnson I’m not doing much talking ahead of July 15. Play it out. Cash those checks.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

The Bears seem to think they have so many loyal fans they can afford to keep a paying Packers backer from the Soldier Field turf.  Kevin Kayduk at YahooSports.com:

 

Should the Chicago Bears have the right to deny field access from fans wearing opposing colors?

 

Green Bay Packers fan Russell Beckman doesn’t think so — and he’s taking the Bears to court over his right to wear green and gold at Soldier Field.

 

At issue is an incident from this past season. Though he’s an unabashed Packers fan, Beckman has owned a personal seat license at Soldier Field and season tickets for Bears games since 2003. He has also taken part of the “STH Experiences” program the team offers to fans who rack up “rewards points” for different purchases.

 

For the past three seasons, Beckman said he’s spent his “rewards points” on a chance to stand at the edge of the field during pregame warmups. He wore Packers gear during the 2014 and 2015 trips but said he was denied field access when he wore Green Bay colors for last December’s game between the oldest rivals in the NFL.

 

Beckman appealed to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but didn’t hear back, presumably because the commissioner has more important things to do.

 

Beckman then decided to take legal action against the team. In a lawsuit detailed by Crain’s Chicago Business,  Beckman says the Bears have “deprived me of my ability to fully enjoy this specific on-field experience and the general experience of the Bears-Packers game at Soldier field.”

 

Good thing Beckman’s a Packers fan. He’ll need plenty of cheese to go with that whine.

 

Beckman is representing himself and “seeking that the Bears and the NFL be ordered by the court to not enforce this rule for the 2017 season and beyond.”  Beckman tells Crain’s that he believes the restriction is illegal because Soldier Field is a publicly-owned stadium.

 

Now, we presume that judges in the U.S. District Court also have more important things to do than deal with the hurt feelings from a geographically-challenged Packers fan.  So we’ll see if this lawsuit even makes it to a ruling.

 

Then again, we shouldn’t count out Beckman so easily. It’s been awhile since anyone wearing Packers colors has been successfully kept from doing whatever they want on Soldier Field.

 

It should be noted that Mr. Beckman’s “Packers gear” includes a green beard.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Jimmie Johnson is already on the presenter’s list for this August in Canton (see MIAMI) and Mike Florio is wondering who his one-time running mate might be picking to make the introductions:

 

What follows is a joke. Sort of. Maybe. Possibly not.

 

With Cowboys owner Jerry Jones turning the announcement of the person who will present him for enshrinement to the Hall of Fame into a reality show of sorts by expressing his intention to reveal the choice at a press conference, a thought occurred to me. Why shouldn’t Jerry Jones the G.M. introduce Jerry Jones the owner?

 

It may seem a little over the top (and both Charean Williams of PFT and Pat McAfee of Barstool Sports received it that way on PFT Live), but wouldn’t that be the ultimate Jerry Jones move?

 

Criticized over the years for making himself the G.M. of the team upon buying it in 1989, Jones the G.M. could sing the praises of the man who never fired him in the pre-produced video aimed at keeping those presenting Hall of Famers from hogging the microphone. Most couldn’t pull it off. Most aren’t Jerry Jones.

 

Charean Williams suggested that Jones ultimately will tab either Stephen Jones or Charlotte Jones Anderson, two of his three children and the most visible family members involved with the franchise. In theory, both could do it.

 

Whoever it is that helps Jerry unveil his bronze bust will be unveiled at a press event held at some point between now and August. Whatever Jerry chooses to do, it will have some of the same flair and panache that has made him one of the most successful owners in sports, sufficiently boosting both the team and the league to earn a spot in Canton.

 

Jenna Thomas at SBNation.com on the return of America’s team:

 

The Dallas Cowboys were once America’s Team. In their 1990s heyday, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin won three Super Bowls, and no matter where you’re from, you knew at least one diehard Cowboys fan.

 

But 20 years of futility slowly changed that — until last season. With rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in the fold, Dallas started to look like a team that fans across the nation can embrace once again.

 

The duo of Prescott and Elliott, plus one of the most consistent offensive lines in the league, paved the way for the team’s 13-3 finish in 2016. The Cowboys were the top seed in the NFC but fell short in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Packers.

 

But with these two young, exciting players anchoring the offense, along with star receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys are set to compete for years to come.

 

Prescott and Elliott eclipsed expectations as rookies

A 4-12 season in 2015 landed the Cowboys the fourth-overall pick, which they used on Elliott. It’s a risk taking a running back that high nowadays, but Elliott is a special player.

 

He accounted for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage, leading the league with 1,631 rushing yards. Elliott was also was third in the NFL last season for scoring behind only LeGarrette Blount and Jordan Howard. His 2016 performance even earned him six votes for the NFL’s MVP award.

 

It was Prescott, not Elliott, who won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after an injury to Romo during the preseason forced the young quarterback into action earlier than the team expected. Prescott was so good in Romo’s stead that the team had no choice but to move forward with him even when Romo returned.

 

Prescott threw for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns against just four interceptions. His first pick of the season didn’t even happen until Week 6 against the Green Bay Packers, and that put Prescott ahead of Tom Brady in the record books for the most passing attempts without a pick.

 

Prescott and Elliott are just fun to watch

Prescott and Elliott enjoy themselves on the field, and it shows. Elliott gave us some of the most entertaining celebration dances last season, including a memorable jump into a giant Salvation Army bucket:

 

Their rapport is obvious off the field, too. Last year, they entertained us with an epic prank war that started with Elliott shooting straw wrappers at Prescott during an interview. But then Prescott got his revenge by filling Elliott’s locker with M&M’s. Zeke also roasted his quarterback about his shoe choices, though Dak finally won Elliott’s respect for wearing a pair of Yeezy’s.

 

The horseplay hasn’t stopped this offseason as Elliott rocked a cowboy hat during an interview session.

 

Elliott and Prescott clearly have a good relationship, and it makes them seem more accessible to fans. That showed during Cowboys minicamp, when Prescott brought Raymond “Ray Ray” Melgarejo out onto the field to run some drills with the offense. Melgarejo, who came all the way from California as part of the Make-a-Wish program, got to hand the ball off to Elliott during drills, too.

 

The boost Prescott and Elliott have given to the team is measurable. The top-selling NFL jersey from July to October of 2016 wasn’t Tom Brady’s or Aaron Rodgers’. It was Elliott’s. Prescott’s no slouch. His jersey sales ranked fifth in the NFL over that timeframe.

– – –

Getting back to America’s Team status

The name first started circulating back in 1978, thanks to Bob Ryan, now the vice president of NFL Films. He coined the term for the Cowboys when writing the script for voiceover for the team’s 1978 highlight film.

 

“I noticed then, and had noticed earlier, that wherever the Cowboys played, you saw people in the stands with Cowboys jerseys and hats and pennants,” Ryan said. “Plus, they were always the national game on television.”

 

Under legendary coach Tom Landry, the Cowboys had 20 consecutive winning seasons, from 1966 through 1985. Over that span, Dallas went to five Super Bowls, winning two.

 

But Dallas hasn’t gotten past the divisional round since 1995, the last year the Cowboys won a Super Bowl. As Dallas descended into mediocrity, it’s only natural that casual fans’ feelings toward the team became lukewarm.

 

The Cowboys still get plenty of national exposure. They ended up with six primetime games during the 2016 season, and they’ve got four on the schedule for 2017. There’s a good chance some of their other games could get flexed to Sunday Night Football later in the season, too.

 

So when you get stuck with the Cowboys as the national game on any given Sunday, settle in and enjoy watching Prescott and Elliott. They’ve made Dallas a fun team to watch, and because of them, the Cowboys are on their way to becoming America’s Team again.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Kyle Brandt thinks the Giants have the best trio of receivers in the NFL.

 

Which NFL team has the best trio of pass catchers on their roster? Well, if you were to ask NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt that question, he’d tell you it was the New York Giants.

 

During an episode of “Good Morning Football,” Brandt not only named Big Blue’s trio of pass catchers the best in the league, he likened Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall to a legendary triple threat rock band.

 

“I look at [Shepard] as the drummer,” Brandt said. “He keeps the rhythm, but he’s in the back. . . He said his concentration in the offseason is Yards-After-Catch, which he was not great at [last season]. He wants to get the ball and make plays like Odell does.

 

“My bassist in this power trio is Brandon Marshall. He’s been around. He’s been in different bands. He’s played with different front men. . . Of course the front man, blonde hair, crazy cleats, Odell, the ultimate rock star. He can do it all.

 

“So this is my trio. We’ve got the young drummer, the classic rock god, and the veteran bassist. I think that’s tough to beat.”

 

Not everyone agreed with Brandt, however. Nate Burleson went with the Atlanta Falcons (Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel), while Kay Adams went with the Pittsburgh Steelers (Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell).

 

 

WASHINGTON

A Slant pattern of judicial thought gives the Redskins every anticipation that they will be able to beat back the forces of Political Correctness that remain in the U.S. government wishing to deny them their name.

 

A unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (and there aren’t many of those) was announced on Monday that many think is on point to the Redskins’ case that is pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Legal eagle Michael McCann at SI.com:

 

Monday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving trademark law and the band The Slants has absolutely nothing to do with the football. And yet it has everything to do with the Washington Redskins. As explained below, the team and owner Daniel Snyder will celebrate the decision as a key victory in their quest to preserve the Redskins’ name and ensure that it receives full legal protection under federal trademark law.

 

In Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, a section better known as the “disparagement clause.” Until Monday, the clause had authorized the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) to cancel a trademark—which is a word, symbol or other mark that distinguishes a source of goods from others and can be registered with the federal government—if it disparages a substantial percentage of a distinct group of people, be it a racial, ethnic, religious or political group.

 

In a unanimous 8–0 decision (the recently appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch was not on the bench when the case was argued and thus played no role in the decision), the Supreme Court held that the disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. While the eight justices offered somewhat different styles of logic for their decision, they collectively valued the Free Speech Clause’s instruction that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech of private citizens and businesses. Put simply: Under the Free Speech Clause, the government cannot decide which viewpoints it likes and doesn’t like. Stressing that trademark law is primarily designed to assist consumers in distinguishing between products and to safeguard companies’ investments in their name and brand, the Court regards governmental regulation of free speech as outside the scope of trademark law.

 

The Slants are an Asian-American dance rock band from Portland, Ore. The PTO rejected their trademark registration on grounds that the phrase “the slants” is a slur and offensive to Asian-Americans. The band, led by Simon Tam, challenged the rejection in court. Among other points, Tam argued that the government should not play any role in regulating free speech and that band who only sought to “reclaim” the word “slants” in a manner similar to the bands NWA and Dykes on Bikes.

 

Writing for the Court, Justice Samuel Alito ruled that trademarks constitute private speech—not government speech—and federal registration of trademarks does not convert such marks into government speech. Consider the alternative, writes Alito, in which the government would be advocating strange and inappropriate viewpoints:

 

[I]f trademarks represent government speech, what does the Government have in mind when it advises Americans to “make.believe” (Sony), “Think different” (Apple), “Just do it” (Nike), or “Have it your way” (Burger King)? Was the Government warning about a coming disaster when it registered the mark “End Time Ministries”?

 

To bolster this point, Alito cites the Redskins’ Supreme Court amicus brief, which attempted to portray the PTO as illogically hypocritical in deciding which trademarks are offensive and which aren’t:

 

The PTO thus refused to register THE SLANTS because it disparages people of Asian descent, but repeatedly “registered marks that refer positively to people of Asian descent,” including CELEBRASIAN and ASIAN EFFICIENCY. The PTO similarly registered THINK ISLAM, but refused to register STOP THE ISLAMISATION OF AMERICA under §2(a). …

 

… the PTO refused to register THE SLANTS because the PTO found the term disparaging to Asian Americans in the context of an all-Asian American rock band. But the PTO has already registered WHITE TRASH COWBOYS and OFF-WHITE TRASH for two all-white rock bands, and registered N.W.A.—an acronym that includes a racial slur against African Americans—for an all-African American rap group. …

 

The examples do not end with musical groups. The PTO has registered DANGEROUS NEGRO, BAKED BY A NEGRO, CELEBRETARDS, RETARDIPEDIA, YELLOWMAN, RED MAN, STINKY GRINGO, GRINGO STYLE SALSA, GRINGO BBQ, YID DISH, LITTLE INDIAN GIVER, MIDGET-MAN, CRIPPLED OLD BIKER BASTARDS, OL GEEZER, WHITE GIRL WITH A BOOTY, OH!MY NAPPY HAIR, NAPPY ROOTS, BOYS ARE STUPID THROW ROCKS AT THEM, WHITE TRASH REBEL, DAGO SWAGG, REDNECK ARMY, CRACKA AZZ SKATEBOARDS, and DUMB BLONDE (twice), with no apparent regard to whether such marks may disparage women, men, racial groups, religious groups, elderly people, and disabled people.

 

Once the Supreme Court established that trademarks are private speech, it was logical for Alito and the other justices to reason that the government cannot remain compliant with the First Amendment when picking which speech it finds offensive and which it does not.

 

The Redskins benefit considerably from the Supreme Court’s ruling

 

The Slants ruling is very significant for the Redskins, whose federal trademark the PTO has scheduled for cancellation. To date, the Redskins have unsuccessfully challenged the scheduled cancellation in court. In 2015, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee affirmed the PTO’s scheduled cancellation of the Redskins’ trademark on grounds it disparages Native Americans because of the historical meaning of “Redskins” as a derogatory term. The Redskins have appealed Judge Lee’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

 

To be clear, the cancellation of the Redskins trademark has never gone into effect. Under federal law, that only happens after the Redskins unsuccessfully exhaust all of their appeals.

 

As a consequence, the Redskins have maintained all of the benefits of federal trademark registration during the controversy. Those benefits include the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with specific goods and services, and a legal presumption of ownership. Further, trademark registration empowers the Redskins to work closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection on preventing counterfeit Redskins goods from entering the United States. In the sports world, protection against counterfeit apparel and imitation merchandise is of enormous value. Trademark protection also authorizes courts to impose treble damages—which means damages automatically multiplied by three—on defendants who violate a trademark holder’s rights. The possibility of treble damages is often a powerful deterrent from a company committing an unlawful practice under trademark law.

 

It is worth noting that the Redskins are not completely dependent on federal trademark law to repel counterfeits and to protect their brand name. The team enjoys other, albeit weaker, legal protections to accomplish those same goals. Those other protections can found in states’ laws and in licensing contracts between the Redskins and businesses that produce merchandise and apparel with “Redskins” on them. Still, losing federal trademark registration would be economically damaging to the Redskins. The registration supplies the strongest source of trademark protection for the team.

 

Going forward, the Redskins will likely file a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that attempts to seal the team’s victory. More specifically, the team is poised to file a Rule 28(j) letter, which informs a court of new legal developments since briefs were filed. The letter would formally notify the Fourth Circuit of the Slants decision and request that the Fourth Circuit issue an order that reverses and vacates Judge Lee’s decision. The Fourth Circuit will likely grant that order, which in turn would require the PTO to revoke the scheduled cancellation of the Redskins’ trademark registrations.

 

Alexandra Roberts, a trademarks law professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law who has written extensively on the Slants and Redskins litigation, tells SI.com that the Redskins have indeed won. “The federal trademark debate is effectively over,” Roberts says. “The Redskins cancellations must be reversed, the teams’ registrations will stand, they can continue to use and register new marks regardless of whom they offend, and no further challenges of those marks or any others can go forward on the basis that they disparage people, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.”

 

No law can compel the Redskins to change its name, but people can still advocate for it

 

Although the debate over the Redskins’ name is often portrayed from a legal perspective, there is no law that could force the team to change its name. The Redskins are a private business and can use the name as long as they like. Perhaps the NFL could attempt to contractually compel the Redskins to change the name, but the league’s constitution doesn’t offer language expressly supportive of such a theory, and there is no reason to expect it would attempt to force a name change.

 

Instead, the legal debate has centered on whether the word “Redskins” as used in the context of a professional sports team ought to have federal trademark protection. The legal debate is thus much less sweeping than the political and social debate surrounding it.

 

This means that groups which oppose the Redskins name shouldn’t be deterred by the Slants ruling. These groups, which include numerous Native American organizations and the Anti-Defamation League, have never been in a position to force the Redskins to change the team’s name. The Slants decision doesn’t change that calculus. Indeed, advocacy groups can continue to criticize the name and continue to applaud voluntary steps by industry actors—such as consumers who refuse to buy Redskins merchandise or members of the media who decline to use the nickname when referring to the team. As Roberts says, “the political and social debate about the Redskins team name, and other offensive and disparaging names and mascots in pro sports, will wage on.”

 

While the political and social debate over the Redskins’ will wage on, the legal controversy is likely over.

 

The DB still wonders whether a distinction can be forged by creative lawyers between self-deprecating names (i.e. Asian-Americans calling themselves “The Slants”, African-Americans using NWA) and names that could be deemed cultural appropriations such as Washington’s management lacking any Native-American component, but the Supremes decision seems pretty absolute as explained above by McCann. 

 

Erik Brady of USA TODAY notes the team’s reaction:

 

Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL team, offered a succinct reaction to a Supreme Court ruling Monday — and he put it in caps.

 

“I am THRILLED!” Snyder said, according to an email from the team’s public relations department. “Hail to the Redskins.”

 

His team registered an important victory when the Supreme Court ruled, on free-speech grounds, that federal trademark registrations may be granted even in most cases where they are considered derogatory. The high court’s unanimous ruling is a blow to the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act, linchpin of the case by which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team’s federal trademark registrations for “Redskins” in 2014.

 

Amanda Blackhorse, one of five Native Americans petitioners who brought the case, said she was disappointed by the high court ruling and by Snyder’s upper-case reaction.

 

“Now they have the freedom to register a racist name,” Blackhorse told USA TODAY Sports. “I don’t see what’s thrilling about that.”

– – –

 “Our case will most likely end,” Blackhorse said. “This is just another day for Native Americans. This is nothing new for us. There is rarely ever justice for Native Americans.”

 

National Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata and Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter of Change the Mascot issued a joint statement that said in part: “This is an issue we have always believed will not be solved in a courtroom, and this ruling does not change some very clear facts. Washington’s football team promotes, markets and profits from the use of a word that is not merely offensive — it is a dictionary-defined racial slur designed from the beginning to promote hatred and bigotry against Native Americans.”

– – –

“I don’t like anything about the Washington Redskins,” First Amendment scholar Rodney Smolla told USA TODAY Sports when the professors’ brief was filed in 2015. “I don’t like their name and I don’t like their logo. But as a free-speech lawyer, you’re often in the position of defending speech that you personally find distasteful.”

 

A statement issued in the name of Blackhorse and four other Native American petitioners called the high court’s ruling narrow: “It focused solely on whether the disparagement provision of the law was constitutional. Nothing in the opinion undermines the decisions of the (trademark office’s appeals board) or the District Court that the term ‘redskin’ disparages Native Americans.”

 

Schiller, the intellectual property attorney at Boies Schiller Flexner in New York, is a lifelong fan of the team. He said the 4th Circuit could rule on whether the team name was derogatory to a substantial composite of Native Americans when the registrations were granted beginning in the 1960s — the team argues they were not — but is more likely simply to overturn the lower court decision based on this Supreme Court ruling and leave it at that.

 

“The (lower) courts found the name is offensive,” Blackhorse said. “Now the Supreme Court says you can register offensive names. The question for the team is: Why would you want to?”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com got to the root of former punter Pat McAfee’s disdain for the Colts’ ex-GM Ryan Grigson:

 

Monday’s PFT Live included a two-hour visit with former Colts punter and current Barstool Sports personality Pat McAfee. McAfee didn’t take long to continue to fire shots at the former G.M. of the team for which McAfee played.

 

As to the question of the day — Which NFL trade would you do right now? — McAfee suggested this one: Sending Ryan Grigson from the Browns to the CFL.

 

So when did McAfee first have an issue with Grigson?

 

“The first conversation we had together,” McAfee said. “He told me I was the lowest thing in the organization, and he does not want to keep me. Mr. Irsay is forcing him to do it. That’s our first conversation we had. Whenever he cut our entire team [in 2012] and only kept a couple people, the first conversation he told me I was the lowest thing in the organization and the only reason why I’m there because for some reason, Mr. Irsay won’t cut [me]. Literally. It’s not a love-hate relationship. It’s been a hate relationship since day one. Whenever he got fired, I was real excited. It was a great day in my life.

 

“The only way the Cleveland Browns could get worse, they brought him in. I’m trying to save the Cleveland Browns because the people of Cleveland deserve it. They’re beautiful, they’re amazing people. I think they should just send him to Canada. I think it would be great news for everybody, and for America, and that’s what I’m really here for. America.”

 

After the 2012 season, the Colts applied the franchise tag to McAfee. A year later, he signed a five-year, $14 million contract. Both decisions apparently were made by Irsay, not Grigson.

 

Meanwhile, we’re trying to book Grigson for Tuesday’s show, since McAfee will be back. (We’re actually not. But maybe we should.)

 

Stephen Holder in the Indianapolis Star on the prospects for the 2017 Colts:

 

They have been the epitome of average the past two seasons. They have been neither very good nor embarrassingly bad.

 

When you attempt to characterize the Indianapolis Colts in 2015 and 2016, the word “blah” comes to mind.

 

After 8-8 records in consecutive seasons, it’s difficult to reach any other conclusion. As a result, a sense of ambivalence seems to have taken hold around this team.

 

Expectations are measured. Offseason hype has been muted. And that’s if the Colts are even a part of the national conversation, which they generally are not these days.

 

But here’s a different point of view: There are actually quite a few reasons to believe the Colts will be one of the NFL’s sleeper teams in 2017. Not a Super Bowl contender per se, but certainly a team that should win its division, then take its best shot at the postseason.

 

Who says this team has to be blah once more?

 

“I think we can be a good football team,” coach Chuck Pagano said after wrapping up the team’s offseason work on Thursday. “I think there’s something special going on here.”

 

He could well be right. Here are five reasons the Colts should make 2017 interesting.

 

Defensive improvement

 

Here’s something people tend to forget when discussing the Colts as some run-of-the-mill team: They have an explosive, high-scoring offense and have for most of the past five seasons.

 

Indianapolis was the eighth-highest scoring team in the NFL last season with nearly 26 points per game. The passing game produced 63 explosive plays (defined as 20 yards or longer), fifth most in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints ranked first with 71.

 

What’s the point?

 

What the Colts have lacked is a competent defense. The Colts would settle for having one that simply won’t be an obstacle for the offense. Even General Manager Chris Ballard admits the bar isn’t set very high.

 

 “The good thing is if we can get to where we are just in the middle of the pack defensively right now, we’ve got a chance to take another step,” Ballard said last month. “The last few years, they’ve been at the bottom of the league.”

 

The defense purged lots of experience from 2016. But it got necessarily younger while also adding a number of young veterans who offer immediate impact. Johnathan Hankins and Jabaal Sheard are examples of experienced players who also have the benefit of youth. The Colts have added more speed on defense, too.

 

There could be several rookies in the starting lineup, and that comes with challenges. But the Colts are simplifying some of the more challenging aspects of their defense to accommodate them.

 

AFC South still needs work

 

The fastest route to the playoffs continues to be winning your division, and the Colts are right in the mix when it comes to the AFC South.

 

No team in the division has been transformed this offseason nearly as much as Indianapolis, and the Colts did so while maintaining their decisive edge at the game’s most important position: quarterback.

 

Granted, everything in this story is written under the premise that Andrew Luck returns to form after shoulder surgery — he’s been sidelined the entire offseason‚ but nothing so far suggests that won’t happen.

 

The Colts have a ready-made offense with Luck under center. The Houston Texans, after trading Brock Osweiler in the spring, are more or less starting over at quarterback and trying to figure things out with Tom Savage and rookie Deshaun Watson. Meanwhile, the Blake Bortles experiment continues in Jacksonville. In Tennessee, Marcus Mariota is off to a great start but is still an inferior quarterback when compared with Luck. He also lacks the number of proven weapons on offense that the Colts can claim.

 

The Texans managed to win division titles the past two seasons, but Luck missed nine games in 2015 and in 2016 played 15 games with the worst defense of the Pagano era.

 

Look, the Colts have questions of their own. Lots of them. But to suggest that the uncertainties about the Colts outweigh those of the other teams in the division is just not accurate.

 

A more competitive roster

 

Competition, competition, competition. Yada, yada, yada.

 

It’s all anyone associated with the Colts has talked about this offseason, and we’ve all probably grown tired of listening to it. But it’s worth repeating here because it’s a critical point.

 

The Colts do, in fact, have a more competitive roster in 2017. And it’s about time.

 

For the purposes of this story, here’s why that matters: Competition brings out the best in players, and Colts players finally are going to have to earn their keep this season. There will be more position battles this fall than in any training camp in recent memory, and that can only lead to better performances. That’s not to say players weren’t motivated in the past. Just not as much as they’ll need to be in this training camp.

 

The remaking of the roster was done with the goal of becoming a more talented team. But a secondary objective for Ballard was addressing a locker-room culture that had become, perhaps, a little too relaxed.

 

Offense is nearing next level

 

This Colts’ offense is poised to go to another level if things fall into place. Don’t let the national narrative deceive you: The Colts’ offensive line, on paper, is the best they’ve had in Luck’s six seasons. They have experience (Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort) and raw, young talent (Ryan Kelly, Joe Haeg, Le’Raven Clark, etc.).

 

For the first time in a long time, there’s real upside on the offensive line. We saw that last season, when the young linemen helped the Colts make a significant improvement in pass protection late in the season. Additionally, the run blocking was, at times, superb, enabling running back Frank Gore to become the Colts’ first 1,000-yard rusher in 10 seasons. Most of the line’s struggles were mental ones, coming against twists and stunts from defensive linemen. Those elements will improve with experience, so the future is bright.

 

Meanwhile, Luck’s top wideouts — T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief — have had spectacular offseasons. Both seem primed for big seasons. Then, there’s Luck himself, who quietly had one of his best seasons in 2016 despite his now-repaired aching right shoulder.

 

Finally, a fast start?

 

Don’t fall into the trap of paying any heed to strength of schedule based on last season’s results. The math tells us the Colts have the NFL’s easiest schedule using the 2016 won-loss records of their opponents.

 

In a league where parity is king, one year’s results often have no bearing on the next. That said, the Colts have a chance to – finally – get off to a better start.

 

This is a team that has started 0-2 in each of the past three seasons, putting tremendous pressure on itself in its remaining games. But the Colts have a season opener on the road against the Los Angeles Rams, followed by home games against the Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 2 and 3. A game at intimidating CenturyLink Field against the Seattle Seahawks looms in Week 4, but a home contest against the San Francisco 49ers awaits in Week 5.

 

This opening schedule pits the Colts against some of the worst teams in football, in the midst of major rebuilding jobs, in the first several weeks of the season. If the Colts can take advantage, it could change the complexion of their season.

 

Whatever happens, the Colts will take pretty much anything other than 0-2. It’s about time they break that nasty habit.

 

 

TENNESSEE

It’s Mike Fisher and Carrie Underwood redux.  WR ERIC DECKER comes to Music City, the town he already comes home and may be a key veteran ingredient for a champion while making supoort of his wife’s career easier. Kelly Brickey at SoundsLikeNashville.com:

 

It looks like Jessie James Decker and her NFL-playing husband Eric Decker will plant even deeper roots in Nashville after the wide receiver landed a signing with the Music City-based Tennessee Titans.

 

Last year, Decker was a part of the New York Jets roster and they announced they were releasing him as a free agent. Rather than having issues finding his way onto a different NFL roster, Decker landed a spot with the Titans for the 2017 year within a week of his release.

 

Decker signed a one-year contract with the Nashville team, and the wide receiver seems pretty excited to have the opportunity to stay rooted to the ever-growing sports hub and home to his little family.

 

 “Excited to be joining the @Titans and my new band of brothers! Gotta keep that energy flowing from the @PredsNHL this fall,” Decker tweeted out to his fans in excitement.

 

Jessie James was equally as excited for her husband to find a new home with the Titans, sharing a snap of him with their two children, Vivianne Rose and Eric Thomas II, on Father’s Day. “Happy Father’s Day and CONGRATS to the newest TENNESSEE @titans @edeck87 !! We love you daddy and so excited for the new chapter!! #homesweethome,” she wrote.

 

Southern Living did a feature on the couple’s Nashville home in 2015 that you can see here.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

In a story by Kevin Patra of NFL.com on the negotiations for an extension for WR JARVIS LANDRY, we meet a character who seems to spring from “The Hobbit.”

 

Jarvis Landry put a deadline on contract extension talks: The start of the 2017 season.

 

The agent for Dolphins’ star receiver, Damarius Bilbo, told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, that Landry won’t hold out over a new contract, but also doesn’t want to negotiate once the regular season begins.

 

“The ball is still in their court; we are happy to go into a fourth year healthy and eager to put another year in the books,” Bilbo told Jackson.

 

“Why get mad over something that he signed as a four-year deal? It is what it is. There will be no ill will. He has never considered a holdout. He would never consider not getting better at football.”

 

Landry, a second-round pick in 2014, is set to make less than $900,000 in the final year of his rookie contract. While the wideout wants to remain in Miami long-term, Bilbo said the regular-season deadline isn’t designed to pressure the Dolphins into doing a deal, but rather so Landry can focus on the season.

 

“We want to respect the Dolphins,” Bilbo said. “When the season kicks off, we want to continue to respect that. We don’t want every game to be about a new contract. This is not a tactic; that is not an approach. This is who Jarvis is and what he wants out of the upcoming season.”

 

The 24-year-old receiver set the NFL record for most receptions in the first three years of his career with 288. He’s gobbled up 3,051 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns in three years.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

The Commish is in Israel with his once and future good friend Robert Kraft.  And Roger Goodell claims that no matter how horrific his decisions were in Bradygate and no matter what Kraft may have said, he could not damage his relationship with the Patriots owner.  Tim Daniels at Bleacher Report:

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday his relationship with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was “never strained” despite the Deflategate controversy.

 

Goodell discussed the issue during an interview with Allon Sinai‏ of the Jerusalem Post.

 

“Robert is very important to me personally,” he said. “My friendship with Robert was never strained. We both understand that we have jobs.”

 

Kraft and Goodell are in Jerusalem for the opening of the Kraft Family Sports Complex.

 

Goodell added: “I know how important this is for him. My respect and admiration for him has never waned. We believe our best days are ahead.”

 

It’s a different tune than the one brought forward by Kraft ahead of last season’s Super Bowl. In late January, Gary Myers of the New York Daily News passed along the Pats owner’s response when asked about his relationship with the commish.

 

“I don’t know if it will ever be the same, but in order to do what is best for the Patriots franchise long term, I believe it is best to compartmentalize and move on,” he said. “Like our quarterback, I am trying to remain positive and look to the future rather than dwell on the past. As a native New Englander, that’s easier said than done, but I am doing my best to put the matter behind me.”

 

Those remarks came after Kraft reacted strongly to the NFL’s investigation and subsequent punishment for Deflategate, which dates to the 2014 AFC Championship Game. The penalty included a four-game suspension for superstar quarterback Tom Brady.

 

He released a statement last July after Brady opted to discontinue the legal process into the matter, calling the penalties “unprecedented, unjust and unreasonable.”

 

“While I was disappointed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision not to rehear Tom Brady’s case, I am most frustrated that Tom was denied his right to a fair and impartial process,” Kraft said. “The league’s investigation into a football pressure matter was flawed and biased from the start, and has been discredited nearly unanimously by accredited academics and scientists.”

 

Perhaps it’s an example of winning healing all wounds, though. Brady returned from his suspension to have one of the best seasons of his career, and the Patriots capped the campaign with a comeback from 28-3 down to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

 

The DB finds The Commish’s statement actually offensive to Kraft.  Goodell’s ham-handed “justice” didn’t even strain their relationship.  Kraft was just “doing his job” to appease New England fans by castigating the flawed Bradygate process and actually thought Goodell was “doing his job” in a responsible and fair way?

– – –

TMZ.com with some insights on TE ROB GRONKOWSKI and his 20-man crew:

 

How much does it cost to party with Rob Gronkowski for a night? More than most people make in a year … ’cause Gronk and Co. racked up a HUGE $100k tab at a casino nightclub over the weekend.

 

TMZ Sports obtained the itemized receipt for Gronk and his 20-man party crew at Shrine at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut this weekend.

 

We spoke with a PR rep for the Shrine bar who says the receipt is legit. It’s pretty awesome.

 

In total, Gronk’s gang tore through 160 BOTTLES OF CHAMPAGNE including:

– 18 bottles of Ace of Spades Rose: $18,000

– 15 bottles of Dom Perignon Rose: $27,000

 

There’s more … including 16 bottles of Grey Goose for $10,400, 45 orders of Maker’s Mark, 24 shots of Jim Beam Fire, 3 bottles of Don Julio 1942. These guys weren’t messin’ around.

 

It’s unclear who footed the bill (most likely the casino) … but it’s not like Gronk can’t afford it anyway — dude’s gonna make more than $4 mil next year.

 

It’s good to be Gronk.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Graham McKean of ESPN.com says the betting public thinks the Jets are going to stink:

 

New York Jets

 

Opening line: 5 wins (under -110)

Current line: 5 wins (under -150)

 

The Westgate hasn’t moved any team’s line off its designated opening number, so the shift from -110 to -150 on the under 5 wins constitutes the biggest movement.

 

An exodus of veteran starters including WRs Brandon Marshall, C Nick Mangold and CB Darrelle Revis has led to the perception that this is a team beyond the limits of what can be considered a mere transition; this is a complete dismantling with the sole purpose of preparing for well beyond 2017.

 

That was before the release of LB David Harris and WR Eric Decker this past week, too.

 

With a roster in shambles and the likes of QBs Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg competing for the starting role, the under is becoming more and more tempting.

 

If any line was going to move before training camp, this seems to be the one. Sherman explained that he “could see it continue to some form of 4.5 down the road.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

JASON TAYLOR and JIMMIE JOHNSON

Jason Taylor has picked his Hall of Fame presenter – and you can be sure his hair will be well-coiffed.  Adam Beasley in the Miami Herald:

 

Jason Taylor has tapped Jimmy Johnson as his opening act at August’s Hall of Fame enshrinement, paying the ultimate compliment to the coach who gave Taylor his big break back in 1997.

 

“He took a chance on an undersized defensive end and never looked back,” Taylor said in a video explaining why he asked Johnson to present him. “He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.”

 

Johnson was in his second year as coach of the Dolphins when he selected the lanky Taylor with the 73rd overall pick. Taylor rewarded that faith by recording five sacks as a rookie, and eight more in Year 2.

 

Taylor and Johnson spent just three years together before the latter’s retirement from football, but the Dolphins’ newest Hall of Famer never forgot the impact his first NFL coach had on his career.

 

@JasonTaylor

Excited to announce @JimmyJohnson will be my #Presenter @ProFootballHOF! See you in #Canton! #PFHOF17 #Leader #Motivator @MiamiDolphins

 

 “I really took my time with this decision, but the more I thought about it, the same name always goes to the top of the list,” Taylor said. “So I’m excited and honored to tell you that my presenter this August will be the guy that believed in me from Day 1.”

 

Taylor added: “Coach, thank you, and I look forward to seeing you in Canton.”

 

Taylor, who finished his career with 139 1/2 sacks, the seventh-most in NFL history, is a first-ballot selection to the Hall. He will be enshrined on Aug. 5, along with kicker Morten Andersen, running back Terrell Davis, safety Kenny Easley, owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Kurt Warner.

 

Johnson, who won a collegiate national championship at the University of Miami in 1987 and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the past, but has not yet been voted in.

 

“Honored to present @JasonTaylor in HOF,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “1 of the most talented players I ever recruited or coached..He made plays that WON games!”

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Wyoming QB JOSH ALLEN nearly came out this year, and he might have gone first overall.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

There was a point when Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen seemed set on entering the 2017 NFL Draft.

 

But it quickly turned, and opinions from NFL General Managers didn’t seem to affect his decision.

 

In a Denver Post video, Allen said he had gone so far to toast his impending decision to leave school at a dinner with his family, but that it just didn’t feel right to him at the time.

 

“I called [Wyoming] coach [Craig] Bohl back and he said, ‘Here, I’m going to get you another G.M.’ And I said, ‘Coach, that’s not necessary, I’m going to come back to school and play another year for you,’” Allen said. “He goes, ‘I love you Josh.’ I said ‘Let’s go win the Fiesta Bowl.’”

 

Allen was already thinking about preparing for the draft, having talked to quarterback tutor George Whitfield about training in San Diego.

 

But now he’s returning to Wyoming, and has a chance to be one of the top picks in the 2018 NFL Draft.