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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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Detroit Lions to roll with veteran Adrian Peterson as lead running back

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Adrian Peterson had more snaps, rushes and yards than the rest of the Detroit Lions running backs combined Sunday. And based on what his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Tuesday, it looks like the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer might end up being the lead back for the club for the immediate future as well.

Peterson played 40 snaps in the Lions’ 26-23 victory against Arizona on Sunday, getting 22 carries for 75 yards along with one catch for 10 yards. That followed two weeks of a committee approach between Peterson, Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift.

“It’s not anything that those guys are or aren’t doing,” Bevell said. “We’re just trying to, again, accentuate their positives and put them in positions to be successful. You saw Swift. His plays were a little bit down. We want to keep those up and get him more involved. The one play he catches, he has a nice catch-and-run, looks fast, looks explosive.

“It’s just continuing to manage those guys and putting them in the best situations.”

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Eagles’ Doug Pederson must ‘unclutter’ Carson Wentz’s mind, and his own – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

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Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson thinks he has found a way to get quarterback Carson Wentz out of his funk, one that has the team sitting at 0-2-1.

To “unclutter” his QB’s mind, Pederson signaled he will simplify the game plan so Wentz, who has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL statistically through three games, has less to wade through pre-snap. The Eagles will also run more up-tempo offense as part of a greater effort to get Wentz to play quicker and more freely by leaning on methods that “have been successful in the past.”

But, Pederson needs to apply that same back-to-basics logic when it comes to his own performance, too.

He has strayed off course and away from some of his guiding tenets early in the season. That fact was crystallized late in overtime against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday when he elected to punt on fourth-and-12 from the opponent’s 46-yard line with 19 seconds remaining, settling for a 23-23 tie rather than giving his offense a chance to go for the win.

There was confusion between plays, as the Eagles’ punt team ran on the field, then started running off before a delay of game was called. If that wasn’t proof enough Pederson wasn’t sold on the decision, his postgame comments hinted at immediate regret, which he confirmed Monday morning.

“Looking back, you probably put it in your quarterback’s hands to win the game,” he said.

How did we get here? How does the same coach who dialed up the Philly Special in Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots — a coach who has finished either first or second in fourth-down attempts every season since becoming Philadelphia’s leader — wave a white flag in a regular-season game against the stinkin’ Bengals (0-2-1)?

One could point to the situation or a lack of confidence in Wentz and the Eagles’ offense to get the job done, but however it is framed, the move by Pederson remains out of character. And Pederson, more generally, just hasn’t seemed himself.

It’s likely one of the coach’s greatest strengths — the ability to put ego aside in the name of collaboration — is working against him. There were a lot of cooks added to the kitchen this offseason as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie looked to spice up an offense that had become too plodding and predictable. The front office influenced Pederson to part with offensive coordinator Mike Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch. A number of newcomers were added, including senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello, pass game analyst Andrew Breiner and senior offensive consultant Marty Mornhinweg. Quarterbacks coach Press Taylor got a title bump to pass game coordinator and took over many of Groh’s responsibilities.

Pederson was at his best when he had former offensive coordinator Frank Reich as the primary voice in his ear. The coaches who have come on board in Philly all have solid reputations, but when you have that many people speaking, it’s a lot of opinions to sift through and fuse together, with an increased chance of being pulled in multiple directions.

Not to mention the opinions of Wentz, who has had a growing influence over how this offense is shaped. A lot of that is for good reason: Wentz has a bright football mind by all accounts, he has gained experience, and you naturally want your quarterback to be comfortable with the plays he is running.

But it feels like Pederson has let things float a little too far away from him. The offense needs to be tailored to the QB and built out to fend off predictability, yes, but it also needs a core identity, and the Eagles’ identity is very hard to detect at the moment.

Pederson is the only coach in the history of this franchise to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. And yet there has been no whiff of a power grab. He continues to foster collaboration and allow others to put their fingerprints on things, even when those hands are arguably overreaching. That tactic has generally served this franchise well.

There is also a point where some pushback is needed to preserve what has been built and to get all boats pointed in the same direction. That time has arrived for Pederson. If that means reducing Wentz’s creative control and coaching him tougher, so be it. If that means identifying the voices he trusts and tuning out the ones that don’t sync up, fine.

The time is now to reestablish his reputation as a “freakin’ phenomenal playcaller” and reassert himself as the league’s gutsiest coach — the guy who would scoff at the notion of punting for a tie.

All of that is going to happen only if he reclaims the space he has rightfully earned.

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Hot start for Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins coincides with decline for Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals Blog

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TEMPE, Ariz. — DeAndre Hopkins seems to be settling in quite well with his new team, while teammate and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald had his lowest receiving output since 2004 on Sunday.

By halftime of the Arizona Cardinals‘ 26-23 loss to the Detroit Lions, Hopkins had set a personal record for the most receiving yards in his first three games of a season.

And then he continued to build on it in the second half.

When the final horn sounded at State Farm Stadium, Hopkins had 137 yards, giving him 358 through three games, trampling his previous best start of 274 set in 2018 — when he reached 1,500 yards for the second time in his career. The first time Hopkins hit 1,500 yards was in 2015, when he had 252 yards through three games, his second highest mark before this season.

And now there’s 2020. Hopkins is averaging 119 yards per game thus far, which puts him on pace for 1,909 yards this season. Only one receiver has surpassed the 1,900 yards mark, and that was former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in 2012.

“He’s doing a great job,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Hopkins. “I thought he played within the offense this week, and the ball came his way. He’s just a guy who finds a way to get open. When he has the ball in his hands, he really makes plays with it. You can see him in the open field making people miss, doing things to get the YAC (yards after catch) and that’s kind of his specialty.”

In his seven seasons since getting drafted in the first round out of Clemson in 2013, Hopkins has five 1,000-yard seasons. Heading into this season, Hopkins had the third-most receiving yards and catches, second-most touchdowns and most targets of any NFL receiver since 2013.

Arguably the league’s best receiver, Hopkins has wasted no time in getting acclimated with quarterback Kyler Murray and his first year with the Cardinals.

Through three games, he has caught a career-high 32 passes, which is tied for the third-most in NFL history through games. His 37 targets in three games are the second most of his career.

“Everybody knows his name, who he is on the field,” Murray said. “He’s one of the best players in the NFL. Obviously having him is a huge deal.

“He’s been playing great and hopefully we can keep that going.”

A byproduct of Hopkins’ emergence has been a reduction of Fitzgerald’s role.

The future first ballot Hall of Famer has 84 yards on 12 catches through three games, the fewest of his 17-year career. Before this season, Fitzgerald never had less than 107 yards in the first three games of a season.

A large part of this season’s decline was due to Sunday, when he had no yards on one catch, the second time in his career he didn’t have a receiving yard in a game. The last time was Oct. 31, 2004 — a stretch of 245 games.

Kingsbury took the blame for Fitzgerald not having any yards, saying he should’ve done a better job of getting him the ball.

“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” Kingsbury said. “And when he’s getting the football, good things happen. So, that’s completely on me.”

However, Kingsbury disputed the idea Fitzgerald’s decreasing stats are a product of his age — 37 — or Murray having other options.

“No, I don’t think it’s anything like that, honestly,” Kingsbury said. “He had one of the best camps of anybody on the team, and he played great in the first two games. He was getting open. I just did a poor job of getting him the ball.”

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