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Biggest looming 2020 free-agent decisions for all 32 NFL teams



Tom Brady will be available on the 2020 NFL free-agent market. So will Drew Brees. Same with Dak Prescott, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston. And those are just the quarterbacks who could change teams for free this offseason.

As we get closer to an offseason in which all 32 teams have big needs — even the four still alive in the playoffs — we asked NFL Nation reporters to identify the top looming free-agent decision each organization has to make, how likely each is to part ways with the player and which could instead look to the 2020 NFL draft to find a replacement.

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Cornerback Byron Jones

Yes, quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper are set to be free agents, but Prescott isn’t going anywhere, and it is unlikely Cooper will test the market either, so let’s skip those two. Jones has not had an interception in two seasons, but he does not give up much, either. Trying to put a value on that is difficult. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he was the nearest defender on 30 catches for 356 yards during the season and was targeted 60 times. That 50% completion percentage was ninth best among players with 50 targets as the nearest defender.

The Cowboys would have cap space to sign Jones if they can get Prescott and Cooper signed to multiyear deals. Without the multiyear deals, it might be a little more difficult but not impossible. Jones is the Cowboys’ best corner and they also could lose Anthony Brown to free agency this offseason and Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis next year. — Todd Archer

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams

The Giants traded draft picks at midseason (a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder that could become a fourth-rounder) for the former Jets defensive lineman. Now they’re pot committed to Williams. They have to re-sign him (and want to) in order to salvage that trade. But what’s the price, and is he worth it? Williams had half a sack and two tackles for loss in eight games with the Giants. — Jordan Raanan

Offensive tackle Jason Peters

The Eagles invested a first-round pick in the 2019 draft on tackle Andre Dillard to be Peters’ successor. But is he ready to take over? The coaching staff will have to give an honest assessment of that before the front office decides to move on from Peters, 37, who is not as dominant as he once was but remains better than most. — Tim McManus

Guard Brandon Scherff

Scherff has missed 13 games the past two seasons because of injuries, which might hurt negotiations. But when healthy, he’s still an excellent guard, capable of playing with power or on the move. With the previous regime, it appeared the only way it would keep him was to use the franchise tag on him — the sides appeared apart and Scherff might have been turned off by the state of the franchise. With a new coaching staff and a remade front office, it’s uncertain in which direction it will go and how much the team wants to invest in a guard.

Keep in mind the Panthers — coached by Ron Rivera and with the same line coach he’ll have in Washington — let free-agent guard Andrew Norwell walk in 2018. — John Keim


Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan

Trevathan just finished up a solid four-year stint in Chicago, but the soon-to-be-30-year-old has a history of injuries. He missed 16 games since signing with the Bears prior to the 2015 season, including the final seven weeks of 2019. When healthy, Trevathan is an effective leader on defense. But the Bears have the option of attempting to re-sign younger linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (another free agent), who played very well in place of Trevathan. That could be the direction Chicago heads. — Jeff Dickerson

Offensive lineman Graham Glasgow

This might not be much of a decision since the Lions chose to rotate Glasgow throughout the 2019 season and Glasgow has said he’d be silly not to take things to free agency. But the decision to rotate Glasgow was short-sighted — he’s a reliable guard who can play center and should get paid by some team this offseason. Detroit, in theory, should be that team but thus far the front office and coaching staff have not shown they are willing to value what he brings to the position and an improving run game. — Michael Rothstein

Linebacker Blake Martinez

The former fourth-round pick has been a year-in, year-out tackle machine, finishing second in the NFL this season with 155. But what does that mean, exactly? It hasn’t meant a ton of big plays, although Martinez did record a sack and an interception in the regular-season finale. If the Packers don’t pay him, they’re essentially starting over at this position, because there’s no heir apparent. In fact, the Packers would probably need to find two new starting inside backers because they’ve had trouble filling the spot next to Martinez all season. — Rob Demovsky

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander

The Vikings’ biggest free agents in 2020 are in the secondary between Alexander and fellow corner Trae Waynes, but the fourth-year nickel corner is arguably more significant in this context given how well he played this season and what happened down the stretch. Alexander was injured in a meaningless Week 17 loss to the Bears — he was already on the injury report the week leading up to the game — and had surgery to repair a tear to his lateral meniscus.

It’s possible that he will want to test the waters of free agency and see where his market value falls instead of accepting an offer outright to remain with the team that drafted him. It seems unlikely that Minnesota will be able to re-sign both of their pending free-agent corners, and the chance Alexander could have to move away from the slot and play outside on another team makes it possible that the two part ways. — Courtney Cronin


Tight end Austin Hooper

Hooper’s agent, Steve Caric, told ESPN he expects an “aggressive” market for the ascending tight end if the Falcons slow-play it and allow Hooper to reach free agency. The franchise tag — which is expected to be around $10.7 million — isn’t likely to be an option for the Falcons, who are trying to be creative with salary-cap space. Paying Hooper an average of $10 million per year might be too much of a burden for the Falcons, but some team could make that commitment. — Vaughn McClure

Cornerback James Bradberry

The Panthers signed linebacker Shaq Thompson to an extension late in the season and have several defensive starters set to become free agents. None are more critical to re-sign than Bradberry. He has been solid-to-outstanding defending some of the best receivers in the NFL, from Michael Thomas to Julio Jones. Retaining his shutdown ability will make the rebuilding effort of new coach Matt Rhule that much smoother, and general manager Marty Hurney already has told Bradberry he wants to keep him. The issue might be fending off former Panthers coach Ron Rivera in Washington. “That’s my man,” Bradberry told after the final regular-season game. — David Newton

All three quarterbacks

Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater are both unrestricted free agents, and Taysom Hill is a restricted free agent. It’s possible the Saints could keep all three, but it won’t come cheap. As long as Brees wants to keep playing, it shouldn’t be hard for the Saints to work out a short-term extension with a slight hometown discount like they did in 2018. Bridgewater should draw more interest on the open market than he did last year. But he has proven that he’s willing to stay and wait his turn if the right opportunity isn’t available. — Mike Triplett



Sean Payton shuts down all possibilities of Drew Brees accepting a job to become a football analyst, saying he expects Brees to return to the Saints in 2020.

Quarterback Jameis Winston

Winston threw for 5,109 yards with 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions this season, becoming the seventh quarterback in NFL history to lead the league in both passing yards and interceptions. Now the Bucs need to decide whether his interceptions — which he has struggled with since college — are fixable. A short-term deal or franchise tag might might be the most viable option. — Jenna Laine


Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries

The Cardinals left tackle ended the season — his option year — without a contract extension. For a franchise that hadn’t had much luck at left tackle and had its quarterback of the future on the roster, that’s quite telling. Humphries, who has dealt with injuries throughout his career, comes with concerns about his oft-injured right knee. There are concerns in private that Humphries’ knee is more damaged than the public has been led to believe, which will make the decision to re-sign him more difficult. — Josh Weinfuss

Outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr.

Fowler played last season on a one-year prove-it deal worth up to $12 million and left no doubt about his ability. He had a career-high 11.5 sacks, second on the Rams to only Aaron Donald‘s 12.5, and among the top 10 in the league. Now the Rams must decide if they have it in their budget to re-sign the edge-rushing playmaker. He also could be a candidate for the franchise tag. — Lindsey Thiry

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead

Finally healthy and surrounded by talent on the defensive line, Armstead has enjoyed a breakthrough season, dominating inside and out on his way to becoming a Pro Bowl alternate. Armstead is a key cog in the Niners’ dominant defensive front, not only for his pass-rush ability but also as one of the best run defenders on the edge in the league. The 49ers can find a way to keep him but it won’t be easy with limited cap space and lucrative extensions coming for tackle DeForest Buckner and tight end George Kittle. Armstead told ESPN in December that he wants to stay, but it could be difficult to keep him if he hits the open market. — Nick Wagoner

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney has been the Seahawks’ most impactful defensive lineman, much more productive than his three sacks suggest, but re-signing him will be tricky. When the Seahawks traded for him before the season, they agreed not to franchise-tag him, meaning they won’t have the tag as a last resort nor can they use it as leverage to get him to take a deal. Even if they tried to get something done before March, Clowney probably will want to at least test the market given that he has played six NFL seasons and has yet to become an unrestricted free agent. His price tag could skyrocket once he gets there. Will the Seahawks be willing to pay Clowney more than the $20.8 million per year they weren’t willing to pay Frank Clark? — Brady Henderson


Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips

The former second-round pick has long expressed his desire to remain in Buffalo, but his career-high 9.5 sacks this season might open a sizable market for him. General manager Brandon Beane said Phillips earned the right to test his market — and it sounds like that is exactly what the Bills are prepared for him to do. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Special-teams ace Walt Aikens

The Dolphins don’t have many significant pending free agents, so Aikens, who has been the team’s top special-teams player for much of his tenure, is the choice here. He won’t be a huge cost for a team with plenty of cap space. But there have been signs that the two sides could part ways after six seasons, including coach Brian Flores delivering a late-season one-game suspension to Aikens for rule violations and the fact Flores will want some of his own guys to play key roles. — Cameron Wolfe

Quarterback Tom Brady

Free-agent decisions don’t get much bigger than this. Brady said he has more to prove, and as long as he isn’t referencing the idea of winning a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick, the question the Patriots have to answer is if it is in the best interest of the team to transition away from Brady, who turns 43 on Aug. 3. Based on instinct, the thought is that Brady, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft will come to the conclusion that they are all better when they are together, and thus they will find a way to lock in a 21st year (and maybe even a 22nd and/or 23rd). — Mike Reiss

Wide receiver Robby Anderson

The Jets would like to re-sign Anderson, their most explosive outside threat, but the cost could be too rich for them. Based on market and performance, he could command north of $13 million per year and the Jets probably won’t go that high because they don’t consider him a true WR1. If they lose him, they will have to tap into a receiver-rich draft. — Rich Cimini


Outside linebacker Matthew Judon

Judon is the clear-cut top free agent for the Ravens after they reached extensions with seven players over the past few months, including cornerback Marcus Peters toward the end of the regular season. Judon led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks (4.5 more than anyone else on the team), and his 49 quarterback pressures over the past three seasons rank No. 12 in the NFL. Baltimore lost pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith in free agency last year and could use the franchise tag on Judon in order to keep him. But the team has tagged only one player (kicker Justin Tucker) since 2013. — Jamison Hensley

Wide receiver A.J. Green

The Bengals’ star wideout didn’t play all 2019 while he dealt with an ankle injury. Green, 31, is looking for long-term stability in what could be his last big-money deal as a player. Expect to see Green given a franchise tag, however, as the Bengals hang on to a receiver who has caught 602 passes and scored 63 touchdowns since being drafted in the first round in 2011. — Ben Baby

Linebacker Joe Schobert

Schobert had a tremendous season for a defense that has endured plenty of turmoil and turnover. But while he’s a valuable piece, the Browns have several big paydays looming to their former first-round draft picks, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward. Cleveland also has a pair of promising rookie linebackers in Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki, suggesting the front office will probably be willing to move on from Schobert, instead of paying him the money he will command coming off a banner season — Jake Trotter

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree

Mike Tomlin was unequivocal in his end-of-year news conference: Dupree is a priority. And he should be. With 11.5 sacks, Dupree had a breakout season in the last year of his contract and formed a formidable edge-rushing duo with T.J. Watt. Dupree could fetch significant money on the open market, and the Steelers don’t have much cap space to match those numbers. Using the franchise tag on him gives the Steelers the best option to retain him in a year where they carry Ben Roethlisberger‘s $33.5 million cap hit. Keeping Dupree will mean letting go of some expensive veterans to clear space, but he proved this season that he’s worth it. — Brooke Pryor


Cornerback Bradley Roby

Despite missing time with a hamstring injury, Roby was the Texans’ best cornerback in 2019. But after the team traded for cornerback Gareon Conley and signed cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III during the season, it’s unlikely Roby comes back in 2020. His price is going to be high, and the coaching staff also likes rookie cornerback Lonnie Johnson. — Sarah Barshop

Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo

The Colts are in a holding pattern waiting to see if they’ll have a chance to re-sign Castonzo, the starting left tackle, or if the 31-year-old will retire. Castonzo said late in the season that he’d like to re-sign with the Colts but also isn’t shutting the door on retiring. If he does retire, that will move left tackle to the top of the Colts’ needs during free agency or the draft. He has started all 132 games he has played during his nine-year career.

“I hold Anthony Castonzo in high, high regard,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. “Anthony and I will be in touch … and he’ll make a decision. I know this, Anthony loves the Indianapolis Colts, he loves being here, so we’ll see what decision he makes, and look, if he decides to retire, then it’s our job to find an answer.” — Mike Wells

Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue

Ngakoue wants a new contract that pays him around $22 million annually. The Jaguars weren’t amenable to that last offseason, so he played out the final year of his rookie deal. The Jaguars are almost certainly going to franchise Ngakoue and hope to work out a deal before camp. He has improved as a run defender but still needs work. He does have 14 forced fumbles and 37.5 sacks (second in franchise history) since being drafted in the third round in 2016.

Drafting Josh Allen gives the Jaguars some insurance if Ngakoue isn’t on the team in 2020, but the defense would be significantly better with those two on the edge. It’s just a matter of how high they’re willing to go. — Mike DiRocco



Tim Hasselbeck, Victor Cruz and Field Yates make their picks for the top free agents this offseason, including Ryan Tannehill and Dak Prescott.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill

The Titans became a different team once Tannehill took over in Week 7. His play has earned him the opportunity to be the starter going forward for Tennessee. But at what price? Expect to see the Titans use the franchise tag on Tannehill to keep him from negotiating with other teams while they hammer out a deal that keeps him with the Titans for at least the next three years. Signing Tannehill to a deal keeps the team from being forced to take a quarterback with its first-round pick. — Turron Davenport


Safety Justin Simmons

Simmons, one of the team’s core players, has played every snap in each of the past two seasons, played at an All-Pro level this season and is also one of the team’s most active players in the community. Broncos general manager John Elway has said he has already told Simmons he wants to re-sign the safety. Simmons has said he’d like to be back as well. It will come down to money, as it will almost take elite safety money — at least a $14 million a year average — to get Simmons for a long-term deal. The two sides will work toward a deal in the coming months, but the Broncos could use the franchise tag if nothing is worked out. — Jeff Legwold



Chris Mortensen and Tim Hasselbeck reveal their under-the-radar free agents, including Teddy Bridgewater and Justin Simmons, that they’ll be keeping an eye on this offseason.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones

Jones gives the Chiefs a playmaker on the interior of their defensive line, and there’s no way the team will let him walk without compensation. So barring agreement on a long-term contract, look for the Chiefs to give Jones the franchise tag. The Chiefs traded last year’s franchise player, Dee Ford. While in a perfect world the team would prefer to keep Jones, that scenario may prove too costly. — Adam Teicher

Quarterback Philip Rivers

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Meet the Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class — Paul Tagliabue, Donnie Shell and more



Fifteen men, some who have waited decades to hear their names called, were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday as part of its Centennial Class. The group was selected to honor the NFL’s 100th anniversary.

The members, who will be enshrined in August and September, include 10 seniors, two coaches and three contributors. Hall of Fame president David Baker said Wednesday part of the Centennial Class will be enshrined with the modern-era Class of 2020 on Aug. 8, while part of the Centennial Class will be enshrined at the centennial celebration in September.

Here’s a closer look at the class:


Wide receiver Harold Carmichael (Philadelphia Eagles, 1971-1983; Dallas Cowboys, 1984)

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, the 6-foot-8 Carmichael was the league’s Man of the Year in 1980 for his work in his community. In an era when Drew Pearson once led the league in receiving yards with 877 in 1977, Carmichael was consistent in his impact, averaging over 15 yards per catch in six seasons.

Why he was elected: Carmichael was said to be one of the most difficult players to defend. Those who played against him said his numbers would be far better if he played now, when pass interference and defensive holding are called more often. He led the league in catches and receiving yards in 1973 and finished with three 1,000-yard seasons in his career. He was also among the league’s top 10 in touchdowns in eight seasons.

Tackle Jim Covert (Chicago Bears, 1983-1990)

A starter from his rookie season in 1983 to when he retired after the 1990 season. A two-time first-team All-Pro, Covert helped power a Bears offense that led the league in rushing in each of his first four seasons and finished among the top three in rushing in seven of his eight seasons. Covert played his best against the best pass-rushers of his time.

Why he was elected: A back injury ended his career in 1991. He spent that seasons on injured reserve and never returned to the field. Covert held Lawrence Taylor without a sack in his three meetings against the Hall of Famer. Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon once said Covert and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz were the best tackles he faced.

Safety Bobby Dillon (Green Bay Packers, 1952-59)

Dillon did his best work before they became Vince Lombardi’s Packers. Green Bay had losing seasons in seven of Dillon’s eight years with the team. Dillon, like many of his era, retired before his 30th birthday and before the Packers could have enjoyed his talents on a consistent winner. Dillon also played with a glass eye because of childhood accident.

Why he was elected: Dillon retired with a staggering 52 interceptions in 94 games. In a decidedly run-first era, Dillon is tied for 26th with Hall of Famers Champ Bailey, Jack Butler, Mel Renfro and Larry Wilson on the league’s all-time list for interceptions. Dillon had three seasons with nine interceptions and five seasons with at least seven picks.

Safety Cliff Harris (Dallas Cowboys, 1970-79)

Harris made the Cowboys’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 1970, having arrived as a former college sprinter and cornerback. The Cowboys saw a future safety, and he started five games as a rookie. Harris became one of the league’s first box safeties with enough athleticism to return punts and kickoffs. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton once said the two best safeties he faced were Harris and Hall of Famer Jake Scott.

Why he was elected: A player nicknamed “Captain Crash,” Harris was selected to six Pro Bowls. He led the Cowboys in tackles in 1976 and interceptions in 1977. He played on two Super Bowl winners, and the Cowboys were in the postseason in nine of his 10 years. Dallas won 72.9 percent of its games in the 1970s.

Tackle Winston Hill (New York Jets, 1963-76; Los Angeles Rams, 1977)

Hill is part of a group vastly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame: players who excelled in the AFL. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, he played seven seasons with AFL’s Jets and eight more after the AFL-NFL merger. Many longtime league observers have said he so dominated in Super Bowl III he should have been the MVP.

Why he was elected: Hill was a player with remarkable footwork — he played tennis in his youth — who played with power, technique and quickness. He missed one game in his 14 seasons with the Jets — as a rookie. His career was overshadowed by the fact the Jets had three winning seasons in his 14 years, but Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank said Hill should have been enshrined decades ago.

Defensive tackle Alex Karras (Detroit Lions 1958-1962, 1964-1970)

Karras was an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at Iowa and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting in 1957 as a defensive lineman. He still holds the Lions’ career record for sacks with 97.5. He was a dominant player during his era, but for a team that did not win a championship. Karras played in one postseason game in 1970. Karras was also suspended for gambling, along with Hall of Famer Paul Hornung, for the 1963 season.

Why he was elected: Three defensive tackles were named to the All-Decade team of the 1960s — Karras, Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen. Lilly and Olsen were enshrined as first-ballot selections while Karras was never a finalist in his 25 years of eligibility. He was a four-time All-Pro selection. Karras’ only playoff appearance was in the last game of his career; the Lions held the Cowboys without a touchdown but still lost 5-0.

Safety Donnie Shell (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974-87)

Shell was physical enough to play the run like a linebacker with the athleticism and savvy to have 51 career interceptions. He covered tight ends like Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome in man-to-man situations and was also a feared hitter along the line of scrimmage. Shell played on four Super Bowl winners and was voted the team MVP of the 1980 Steelers, a team that included nine Hall of Famers (Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Mel Blount).

Why he was elected: He was a five-time Pro Bowl and three-time first-team All-Pro selection. Couple Shell’s 51 career interceptions with 19 career fumble recoveries and those 70 career takeaways are Canton-worthy. He had a six-year stretch — 1979-1984 — with at least five interceptions in a season, including seven in 1980 and 1984.

Tackle Duke Slater (Milwaukee Badgers, 1922; Rock Island Independents, 1922-25; Chicago Cardinals, 1926-31)

Slater is considered the first African-American player in professional football in the first half of the 20th century. At a time when most players played for one or two seasons before injuries or the need for more income pushed them out of the league, Slater was good enough to play for a decade. A two-way player, Slater had a four-year stretch in Rock Island when he played every minute of each game. He continued to play both ways through the final years of his career with the Cardinals.

Why he was elected: Slater started 96 of 99 career games and, when he retired, his 10 seasons were the third-most of any professional player. He was a six-time All-Pro, and Slater did all of it while battling racism. The only game Slater missed in his career was in 1924 due to an agreement that prevented African-American players from playing in Missouri. His teammates wanted to forfeit the game, but Slater said he would fake an injury because his teammates would not be paid if they didn’t play.

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Sources — Giants interview Jason Garrett for offensive coordinator position



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants interviewed former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett on Wednesday to be their offensive coordinator, a source told ESPN, confirming an NFL Network report.

The Giants had requested permission to speak with Garrett about their head-coaching position before hiring Joe Judge. They needed permission because Garrett was still under contract.

His contract with the Cowboys expired Tuesday, and the Giants brought him in to talk about being one of Judge’s top assistants.

The Giants also interviewed Mike Shula for the job earlier this week, and Judge was expected to talk with former Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens about a spot on his offensive staff. Shula was the Giants’ offensive coordinator under Pat Shurmur and helped with the development of rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Kitchens worked with Judge earlier in their careers at Mississippi State.

Garrett, 53, spent the past nine seasons as the Cowboys’ head coach. He previously served as their offensive coordinator.

Garrett also has ties to the Giants organization, having played there from 2000 to 2003, and is well-respected inside their building.

At Judge’s introductory news conference, co-owner John Mara was asked about the possibility of hiring Garrett as the Giants’ offensive coordinator.

“I certainly wouldn’t have any objection to that,” Mara said. “I have a lot of respect for Jason. At the end of the day, that’s going to be Joe’s decision.”

Garrett’s experience as a head coach could serve as an asset to Judge, who has never been a head coach at any level. Judge spent the past eight seasons as an assistant under Bill Belichick in New England, most recently as the special-teams coordinator and wide receivers coach.

Garrett had been with the Cowboys since 2007. He led Dallas to an 85-67 record as the head coach, making it to the playoffs three times.

The Cowboys finished 8-8 this past season and allowed Garrett’s contract to lapse while hiring Mike McCarthy as his replacement.

Garrett has experience working with young quarterbacks. He was a key figure in the development of current Cowboys starter Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick in 2016. Prescott finished fourth in the NFL with a QBR of 70.1 this season.

Jones, the No. 6 draft pick out of Duke last year, had his ups and downs throughout his rookie year. He threw 24 touchdown passes with 12 interceptions but also lost 11 fumbles.

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Steve Gleason receives Congressional Gold Medal for his work as advocate for people with ALS



Steve Gleason became the first former NFL player to receive a Congressional Gold Medal — the highest honor that Congress can bestow on a civilian — during an emotional ceremony Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Gleason, who was a special teams standout for the New Orleans Saints, was recognized for his crusading work as an advocate for people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He is only the eighth individual athlete ever to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

Gleason pointed out during the ceremony that his is “not a football story or even an ALS story, but rather a human story.”

“The truth is that we all experience pain in our lives, but I believe that the problems we face are our opportunity and define our human purpose,” he said.

After concluding his speech, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included members of the Senate and House of Representatives, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, team owner Gayle Benson, and current and former NFL commissioners Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue.

Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, speaks through groundbreaking speech-generating technology that allows him to type words on a tablet through eye movements. The voice is actually his own, thanks to recordings he taped during the early stages of the disease.

Gleason and his foundation were the driving force behind The Steve Gleason Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015 to make critical technology available to patients through Medicare and Medicaid.

While ALS has taken away his muscular function, Gleason’s mind and wit remain sharp, and he drew a laugh from the crowd from one comment in particular.

“While sharing one’s weaknesses may not be common practice for people, especially for politicians in an election year — wink, wink — sharing my weaknesses was entirely critical for me to play eight years in the NFL,” he said, noting the importance of collaboration in solving problems and overcoming obstacles. “And it has been unquestionably critical to my survival and purpose for the last nine years, living with a disease as dreadfully beautiful as ALS.

“Our human potential is boundless,” Gleason said.

His emotional speech left Brees choked up as he recalled the time when he first heard about Gleason’s diagnosis.

“There is no person on earth with the strength, courage, passion and tenacity to overcome all obstacles and make the lasting impact that Steve has made,” said Brees, who pointed out that Wednesday was both his 41st birthday and the 11th birthday of his son, Baylen, also in attendance.

“Quite honestly, there was no place we would rather be than here with you right now,” Brees said. “And there is no person more deserving of this honor than you.”

Several elected officials from both houses of Congress also gave moving speeches about Gleason, who was unanimously selected for the honor by both houses of Congress before President Donald Trump signed the legislation.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced Gleason as a “true American hero.”

“You bring luster to this award and pride to our nation,” she said.

The short list of past athletes who received the Congressional Gold Medal: Roberto Clemente, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Gleason’s most spectacular moment on a football field came when he blocked a punt against the Atlanta Falcons to spark a Saints victory on the night the Superdome reopened in 2006 post-Hurricane Katrina.

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