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NFL Pro Bowlers cite safety issues as deterrent to 17th regular-season game

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ORLANDO — If the players participating in the Pro Bowl are a true representation of the rest of the league, NFL owners are going to have a fight on their hands during negotiations to potentially add a 17th regular-season game to a new collective bargaining agreement.

Only a few of the players polled at Pro Bowl practices ESPN’s Wide World of Sports this week were receptive to the idea of a 17th game, with most against the idea because of safety concerns.

Defensive end Calais Campbell is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ union rep and he said he’s talked to a lot of players over the last several months and his feeling is that the 17th game could be the biggest sticking point in CBA negotiations and it’s going to take a lot of haggling to make it work.

“When I talk to the guys, I don’t think many people want to do it,” Campbell said. “Really, you talk to guys and I don’t think anybody wants to do it. It’s going to be very, very tough. I know the ownership’s really hard on it. We’re definitely talking, trying to figure out what we need to do, how we can make this thing work.

“It’s going to be a process, but 17 [games], that’s very tough.”

It would take significant concessions from owners for the players to consider a 17th game.

Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey suggested dumping all, or the majority of, training camp.

“At the end of the day, it’s more paychecks. But at the end of the day, your body gets worn down,” Casey said. “Your body goes through a whole lot through this sport. Honestly, if you add more games, you take away something else. If they take away more practices, I guess, more camp, I’d play more games.

“Get rid of those camps and we can do [more] games, baby.”

Casey was partly joking because he knows there’s no way teams will do away with training camp, but it does show that eliminating one preseason game — which is one of the things being considered — isn’t enough to get payers to agree to an additional game during the regular season.

More money, expanded game-day rosters, an additional bye week, expanded playoffs, guaranteed contracts and a higher percentage of the revenue split between owners and players are among the potential inducements that the league could offer to the players.

“Most of the starters don’t play in that last [preseason] game anyway, so if you take away that one preseason game, you’re not taking away anything for us,” Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said. “You’re just adding a game. I’m not for the extra game. I think the game’s long enough. It’s physical enough, tough enough on people’s bodies to play 16 games and also playoffs, so I’m just not for that.

“I understand that it’s going to be hard to stop it, but I’m not for increasing the games at all.”

Ravens safety Earl Thomas said he’s not sure what kind of package the owners could offer that would make players seriously consider approving a 17th game, but Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper said a second bye week would have to be included.

“I don’t have the answers, but I think if the NFL says they care about player safety and tell the parents of kids in youth football how much they care about player safety, then it doesn’t make sense to play football without more rest,” Hooper said. “So it’ll be interesting to see if their actions align with their words.

“… I mean, the NFL is coming under a lot of player scrutiny — there’s a lot of former players taking their own lives and having a lot of issues — and their answer now is to play more football and have more traumatic brain injuries. If they care as much as they say they do publicly, I feel that they should add another bye week.”

An increased risk of injuries was an overwhelming concern of nearly every player asked — especially among linemen, who are involved in contact every single play. Teams averaged 63.5 offensive plays per game in 2019, according to Pro Football Reference, which means an additional game would mean roughly 130 more snaps.

“Player safety should be at the forefront of what they’re doing,” Hooper said. “Because more and more players are put in adverse medical situations and do horrific things. It makes football look bad. And the answer isn’t running into each other for another week. So again, I don’t have all the answers. I’m just willing to give some insight on the things that I see that I think could be changed. Again, if they want more money, meaning another game, they should add more rest as a part of it.”

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter said players want a longer offseason. After the regular season ends in late December, voluntary workouts ramp up all over again in April and are followed by OTAs.

“I would say they need to give us a longer offseason, shorten down OTAs,” Hunter said. “If they’re gonna do that, make OTAs less weeks — and give us more bye weeks during the season — that would be OK with me.”

“They’ve gotta take something away, because the season just ended for me last week. I got 14 weeks until I’m back to football again. The [regular] season is like 16 weeks (plus a bye), plus the preseason — that’s 21 weeks. And then you come back in the offseason for OTAs — that’s another three months — so 14 weeks is not enough.”

Perhaps no players would be impacted more by a 17th game than rookies.

Their first NFL season begins from the moment they either finish their senior season or declare for the draft. There are all-star games such as the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game, two months of training for the NFL combine, pro days and a grueling schedule of team visits and workouts. After the draft (or signing as an undrafted free agent), there are rookie minicamps, organized team activities, mandatory minicamp, training camp, the preseason and the regular season.

Teams also require rookies to remain at the facility for several additional weeks once the veterans are dismissed after the mandatory minicamp.

Their heads are spinning as they try to learn a new offensive or defensive system, figure out the proper way to prepare for games and take care of their bodies. Some guys obviously handle things better than others, but adding another game to the rookies’ plate would be “a bloodbath,” Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said.

Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen, who led all rookies with 10.5 sacks, agreed.

“We’re the ones that are the future, and I feel like if they don’t consider us, if they don’t consider the rookies’ bodies and minds, that’s how guys get lost,” Allen said. “I guess they say they’re going to pay us more, but my body, my mind comes before money. I think about my family. I think about myself. That means a lot. Mental health is really serious thing and I feel like that can play a part into that.

“… You’ve got all those different things. It’s not just the season. You’ve got OTAs. You’ve got minicamp, training camp. You’ve got preseason. You’ve got all the things, and then rookies don’t have time [to adjust].”

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Dan Radakovich, who starred at Penn State before coaching career, dies at 84

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PITTSBURGH — Dan Radakovich, who starred as a linebacker at Penn State in the 1950s before winning two Super Bowls as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, died Thursday. He was 84. Robert Morris University, where Radakovich served two stints as an assistant coach between 1994 and 2007, announced Radakovich’s death on Thursday. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Known as “Bad Rad,” Radakovich — a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Duquesne — played both center and linebacker for the Nittany Lions, moving immediately into coaching following his graduation. He stayed at his alma mater through 1969, helping the school earn its national reputation as “Linebacker U.”

He spent the majority of his career bouncing back and forth between coaching jobs in college and the NFL. He spent a season with the Steelers in 1971 as a defensive line coach, made a brief stop at the University of Colorado before returning to Pittsburgh in 1974. The Steelers won the first two of their four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s with Radakovich leading a linebacker group that included Hall of Famers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert.

Radakovich’s NFL coaching stints included time with San Francisco, Denver, Minnesota, Cleveland, the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Jets. Radakovich also coached collegiately at Cincinnati, North Carolina State and Westminster.

Radakovich reunited with former Jets coach Joe Walton at Robert Morris. He spent 13 years in all with the Colonials, taking on roles as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

Walton called Radakovich “the best on-field coach I’ve ever seen.”

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Bills rookie Cody Ford has fine reduced; fan-raised money donated to charity

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills rookie Cody Ford‘s fine for an illegal blindside hit was reduced to less than a quarter of its original amount, the offensive lineman tweeted Thursday.

Originally fined $28,075 for his hit on defender Jacob Martin during Buffalo’s AFC wild-card loss to the Houston Texans, Ford appealed the decision and won, earning a new punishment of $4,211.

Both the penalty and its ensuing fine were met with near-universal criticism last month; the penalty stalled a critical late-game drive and knocked Buffalo out of field-goal range. Once the original fine was announced, fans started a GoFundMe campaign to help Ford pay the amount, raising $3,870 — which Ford said was donated to charity.

The call was widely panned because the hit seemed tame by NFL standards; Ford did not launch into Martin, whose body appeared to be facing Ford’s direction at the time of the impact. However, Ford was coming back toward the line of scrimmage and initiated contact with his shoulder, drawing the penalty.

On third-and-9 in overtime against Houston on Jan. 4, Bills quarterback Josh Allen scrambled four yards to the Texans’ 38-yard line to bring up fourth down — which became third-and-24 after the 15-yard penalty on Ford. Buffalo failed to convert from there, punted and ultimately lost on a game-winning Texans field goal.

The Bills’ second-round pick out of Oklahoma, Ford started 15 games at right tackle in 2019. In his tweet announcing the fine reduction Thursday, he stood firm that he disagrees with the penalty.



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No decision on revealing emails between Saints officials, church after hearing

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NEW ORLEANS — No decision was made immediately Thursday after a civil court hearing to determine whether emails between officials from the New Orleans Saints and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans will be made public.

Attorneys for the Saints, the archdiocese, The Associated Press and plaintiffs suing the church over sexual abuse allegations made arguments before retired Judge Carolyn Gill-Jefferson, who was appointed as a “special master” in the case. Gill-Jefferson said she will give her recommendation on how to proceed to presiding Judge Ellen Hazeur after reviewing Thursday’s arguments and the briefs that were submitted by attorneys.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys have accused Saints officials of aiding the church in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes” by helping to shape the church’s public relations response while releasing the names of clergy members who have been credibly accused of abuse.

Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, a devout Catholic and close friend of Archbishop Gregory Aymond, has vehemently denied those claims. Benson and the team have insisted through multiple statements that senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel only offered input on how to work with the media and that his advice was to be “direct, open and fully transparent.”

Church attorney Dirk Wegmann also argued Thursday that Bensel was not working on behalf of the Saints when he offered his counsel — despite using his work email address. But he stressed that neither Benson nor Bensel should be shamed for exercising their Catholic faith and supporting their church.

Wegmann and Saints attorney James Gulotta Jr. argued that the emails should be made public if they are submitted as evidence in trial but that the discovery process is not open to the public. They stressed that they are not trying to block any of the emails from being entered into evidence, but it’s up to the court to determine that through the “normal rules of discovery.”

They claimed that releasing the emails publicly would only serve to annoy, embarrass and bring public scrutiny to high-profile officials through the release of emails that they believe are “irrelevant” to the case.

Meanwhile, attorneys for The AP and the plaintiffs suing the church argued that the Saints have not met their burden of proving that the emails should remain confidential and that the demand for public interest outweighs their right to privacy.

Plantiffs’ attorney Richard Trahant said the Saints’ claim that they had nothing to do with the composition of the list of accused clergy members released by the church was “flatly contradicted by the Saints’ emails.”

And AP attorney Mary Ellen Roy pointed out that the Saints themselves have stressed in their statements that “there is nothing to be embarrassed about” in the emails and that they are proud of their relationship with the church. “They’re trying to have it both ways, saying, ‘Everything was good, everything was fine and dandy. But let us tell you that. Don’t look for yourselves,'” Roy argued.

Trahant said there are a total of 305 documents showing correspondence involving the Saints. He presented one email exchange that has already been made public, in which Bensel asked archdiocese spokeswoman Sarah McDonald, “Is there a benefit to saying we support a victim’s right to pursue a remedy through the courts?” And McDonald replied, “I don’t think we want to say we ‘support’ victims going to the courts, but we certainly encourage them to come forward.”

Trahant also chided both the archdiocese and the Saints over their stated desires to be “transparent” while fighting to conceal the information in the emails.

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