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NFL, EA agree to extend Madden video game through 2026

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The Madden franchise will continue to be a part of the gaming universe for at least the next six years.

NFL owners on Thursday approved an extension of their deal with Electronic Arts, continuing a relationship that has existed for 30 years. It was also recently approved by the NFL Players Association.

The current contract was set to expire after the 2021 season. The extension means that EA Sports will continue to be the league’s exclusive publisher of football simulation games through 2026.

EA Sports Executive Vice President Cam Weber said the two sides had been talking for months. Many wondered what the future of the relationship might be after 2K Sports signed an agreement with the NFL in March to produce non-simulation games.

The current edition of Madden has seen a 30% increase in unique players. According to Electronic Arts, more than 330 million hours of the game have been played since it was released last August. The company has also seen large increases in game play during the past couple of months as people have been confined to their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, with many tournaments taking place among friends and on television.

Rachel Hoagland, the league’s vice president and head of gaming and esports, said keeping the Madden franchise at the core of their video gaming strategy was important, especially with the emergence of new platforms and gaming systems. Sony and Microsoft have announced new generations of gaming consoles that are expected to debut by the end of the year.

“EA has done a nice job of ensuring the game matches the experience during a game week. The new technology will allow richer content and add more realism,” she said.

Madden NFL 21 will come out in early August with the first looks at the game coming next week.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was last year’s cover athlete. Baltimore quarterback and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson said in April that he would be on the cover this year, but EA Sports has not made an announcement.

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CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos keeping name after ‘engagement program’

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EDMONTON, Alberta — The Edmonton Eskimos are keeping their team name.

The Canadian Football League team said Friday it is keeping the Eskimos moniker following “an extensive year-long formal research and engagement program with Inuit leaders and community members across Canada.”

“The consistent feedback was a desire for more engagement with the club,” the team said in a statement. “There were a range of views regarding the club’s name but no consensus emerged to support a name change. The club has therefore decided to retain its name.”

The Eskimos said their research and engagement program “included meetings with Inuit leaders and community leaders in Iqaluit, Inuvik, Yellowknife and Ottawa; and a research phase with a combination of in-depth interviews with Inuit across the north and in Edmonton, and a telephone survey among a broad group of Inuit across Canada.”

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NFLPA board votes to recommend canceling all preseason games this year

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Earlier this week, the NFL decided to shorten its preseason from four weeks to two to account for the coronavirus pandemic and the ways in which it’s affecting the league’s ability to start the season. But the NFL’s players don’t think that move went far enough.

An NFL Players Association source said Friday that the union’s board of player representatives had voted to recommend scrapping all 2020 preseason games. The matter came to a vote during Thursday evening’s conference call with NFLPA player reps, and the source said the vote was unanimous.

It’s unclear whether the NFL will consider the players’ recommendation. The league has yet to formally announce the reduction of the preseason from four games to two, though a source told ESPN’s Kevin Seifert on Wednesday that the decision had been made.

The league does not believe it needs the union’s approval to set its preseason schedule, though the players would argue that the changes in work rules brought on by the pandemic allow them the right to be involved in the decision.

Training camps for most NFL teams are set to begin July 28, only weeks away, and the league and union are still finalizing health and safety protocols to protect players and team personnel from the virus. Many of those protocols were discussed on the Thursday night call with the player reps and union medical director Thom Mayer. They range from newly designed protective face masks to reduced sizes of training camp rosters to possible fines for players who spread the virus after circulating in public outside of the team facility.

Sources familiar with the content of Thursday’s call said players had many unanswered questions about how they can safely return to practice and play. The NFL has so far maintained that it plans to start camp and the regular season on time.

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Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku asks for trade, agent says

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Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku requested a trade from the Browns on Friday, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Browns told the 23-year-old Njoku they would like to keep him, but Rosenhaus told the team he’s intent on a trade, and they want it before training camp.‬

“It is in David’s best interest to find a new team at this time,”‬ Rosenhaus told Schefter.

The Browns announced in April that they would pick up Njoku’s fifth-year option, worth $6.4 million.

They had already signed Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper to a four-year, $44 million deal with $23 million guaranteed in March. And then they drafted tight end Harrison Bryant in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. But new coach Kevin Stefanski values tight ends and said after the draft he could see all three playing.

Njoku, a 2017 first-round pick out of Miami, broke his wrist and suffered a concussion in Week 2 of the 2019 season. He played only two more games after that and finished the season with five receptions for 41 yards and one touchdown.

In 2018, he had 56 receptions for 639 yards and four touchdowns.

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