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INDIANAPOLIS — A surge in NFL concussion numbers has sparked “a call to action” among league officials responsible for brain health, the NFL’s chief medical officer said Tuesday.

Speaking at the start of a Head, Neck and Spine committee meeting, Dr. Allen Sills made clear that the league will react aggressively to data that showed a 16 percent rise in concussions in 2017. There were a total of 291 diagnosed concussions in 2017 — including preseason, regular season and postseason games — compared to 250 in 2016.

Some of that total can be attributed to higher levels of self-reporting by players. In 2017, 47 percent of concussions involved a player addressing symptoms with a medical official, the highest percentage on record. But Sills told committee members that self-reporting data shouldn’t be used as a shield. One of his first PowerPoint slides asked how concussion numbers can be reduced “IMMEDIATELY.”

“It’s not OK,” Sills said, “to simply stand behind that and say, ‘Well, the numbers are going up because we’re doing a better job.’ I think to me this is really a call to action to see what we can do to drive it down.”

Tuesday’s meeting, which the NFL allowed a handful of reporters to view for about 30 minutes, was the start of a process that will follow three specific paths to reduce concussions:

• Increasing the use of what the NFL considers safer helmets;

• Decreasing preseason concussions by pointing out warning signs to individual teams;

• Work with football operations on style of play.

Overall, 9 percent of NFL players suffered diagnosed concussions in 2017. That averaged out to about 0.7 concussions per game and about nine per team. The numbers were exceptionally high during training camp practices, both before and after the start of preseason games, and overall rose 73 percent during that time period compared to 2016. Most occurred during what the NFL identified as “scrimmages” during practice.

Dr. Thom Mayer, the NFL Players Association’s medical director, proposed each team’s coaching staffs receive concussion education and training, in part to help them understand the impact of specific drills and practice schedules.

“With 291 concussions,” Mayer said, “if we’re going to take a progressive strategy toward reducing or eliminating the maximum number of concussions we have, I think it’s imperative, and I think we’re long past having coaches educated as to how these concussions occur. Not only the head coaches but also the position coaches. I think we have to get down to that level for them to understand precisely how these concussions occur.

“I get that there are 80 guys flying around trying to make the 53[-man roster], but I think we also owe to ourselves and to our players to take an aggressive education program to those coaches and assistant coaches.”

Also Tuesday, the NFLPA distributed a 107-page medical playbook to players. The document provides details on concussion prevention, detection and recovery, among other health topics. It also includes information about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), suggesting players be vigilant but rational about it.

“The most important advice is not to assume you have a chronic, irreversible disease simply because you have symptoms,” the playbook tells players. “Consult an expert in this field who can do the comprehensive neurologic evaluation and studies necessary to determine your status and the best treatment for it.”

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Lions releasing running back Kerryon Johnson, per reports

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The Detroit Lions are releasing running back Kerryon Johnson, according to multiple reports.

Detroit drafted the former Auburn standout in the second round in 2018. Johnson became expendable after the team drafted D’Andre Swift No. 35 overall in 2020, signed free agent running back Jamaal Williams in March and drafted Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson last week.

Johnson ran for 1,225 yards and eight touchdowns over three seasons. He also has 61 career receptions for 527 yards and three scores.

Last year, he had 181 yards rushing and two scores on 52 carries. and had 19 receptions for 187 yards receiving and a touchdown.

NFL Network first reported that Johnson would be waived.

The Lions also added a player in free agency, signing tight end Darren Fells on Wednesday. The move gives the team a veteran at the position it can put on the field with Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson.

The 35-year-old Fells has 123 career catches with 1,483 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns. The previous two years in Houston, he had a combined 55 catches for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Fells has started 76 games — including 13 with the Lions in 2017 — and played in 102 games with Arizona, Detroit, Cleveland and the Texans. He was a rebounding standout at UC Irvine and played basketball in Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Finland and France before playing in the NFL.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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QB Blaine Gabbert re-signing with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on 1-year, $2.5 million deal, source says

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TAMPA, Fla. — Once again, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians has kept his word.

Days after saying the Bucs would work to re-sign Tom Brady’s top backup, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the team is indeed re-signing Gabbert to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Gabbert, who has played in 60 career games with 48 starts, previously earned $1.187 million in 2020 and $1.6 million in 2019.

Last season, Gabbert, 31, completed 9 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, with all but one of those pass attempts coming in the second half against the Detroit Lions in Week 16, when Arians opted to rest Brady.

The Bucs selected quarterback Kyle Trask in the second round of the NFL draft last week, but Arians said that would not preclude them from re-signing Gabbert. The team also re-signed Ryan Griffin, who was last year’s third-string backup, earlier this offseason.

Gabbert enters his third season with the Bucs, after spending 2018 with the Tennessee Titans, 2017 with Arians and the Arizona Cardinals, 2014-16 with the San Francisco 49ers and 2011-13 with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Gabbert has had an eventful offseason. In addition to attending the Kentucky Derby with Brady and Griffin on Saturday, he married longtime sweetheart Bekah Mills in Paradise Valley, Arizona, in March.

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NFL sends memo reminding clubs the league will not pay players who suffer injuries away from facilities

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The NFL reminded teams Wednesday that they are not obligated to pay players who suffer an injury away from the team facility, an issue that moved this week to the center of an ongoing dispute between the NFL and NFL Players Association over in-person participation in offseason workouts.

The memo, obtained by ESPN, was prompted by several prominent players who were surprised by media reports about Denver Broncos offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James, who tore an Achilles tendon this week while working out on his own and could miss the 2021 season. NFL contracts have long classified such injuries as “non-football,” because they happen away from the team environment, and they are not covered by typical injury guarantees. As a result, the Broncos could withhold James’ salary for as long as he is sidelined. More than $10 million would have been guaranteed if the injury had occurred at the Broncos’ facility.

The NFL has noted this contractual leverage multiple times during negotiations with the NFLPA, which has advised players to skip the voluntary portion of in-person offseason training unless they stand to lose workout bonuses.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was among those who seemed unaware of the full implications of “non-football’ injuries in comments this week on social media.

“According to the media coverage,” the NFL wrote in its memo, “several players have expressed surprise that Mr. James’ injury was not covered by his Injury Guarantee, although this point has been made frequently in our discussions with the NFLPA about the offseason program. Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train in non-NFL locations.”



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