NFL Owners Pass New Anthem Policy

NFL owners have voted to pass a new policy regarding demonstrations during the national anthem. On Wednesday, commissioner Roger Goodell announced that teams – not players – will be fined for signs of “disrespect” during the anthem. Meanwhile, players will be permitted to stay in the locker room during the anthem if they choose to do so. 

Here, in full, is the league’s breakdown of its new rules, which were passed via unanimous vote:

1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.

3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.

4. A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.​

Goodell, for his part, is hopeful that the new policy will help to fix things from a public relations perspective.

It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” Goodell said in his statement. “This is not and was never the case.”

The new policy will shift the onus of anthem rule enforcement and player discipline from the league office to individual teams. However, the new policy is unlikely to satisfy the players, who were not involved in the crafting of the new policy.

Maybe this new rule proposal that is being voted on is a “compromise” between the NFL office and club CEOs on various sides of the issue,” NFLPA executive George Atallah wrote on Twitter, “But certainly not with player leadership; we weren’t there or part of the discussions.”

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Pats Owner: Brady, Gronkowski Will Show

The absence of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski at Patriots OTAs caused a stir this week, but owner Robert Kraft does not seem concerned. Kraft says Brady is excited about being at minicamp, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, which is an apparent confirmation that he will be in attendance at some point. Kraft says Gronkowski will also show for minicamp, despite rumblings of the tight end angling for a new contract (Twitter link). 

It’s not exactly clear why Brady opted to stay home on Tuesday, but speculation has been rampant regarding his relationship with coach Bill Belichick. Some believe that Brady is looking to send a message to the head coach, but Kraft says “nothing’s changed” with regards to their relationship and “everything is good.”

Kraft’s assertion that Gronk will show up for practice jibes with a recent report on the tight end’s plans. It stands to reason that the dynamic pass-catcher could arrive as early as Thursday, which is the one-year anniversary of his last contract restructuring. Per NFL rules, a deal involving incentives cannot be reworked until one year after the last round of adjustments.

Brady’s decision to skip OTAs is unprecedented, but it may not be a hinderance to his performance after yet another brilliant season. Even at age 40, Brady was terrific, leading the league in passing yards on the way to his third MVP trophy. Gronk, meanwhile, had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

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Vikings’ Brian Robison Accepts Pay Cut

Vikings defensive end Brian Robison accepted a pay cut in order to return for another season, according to Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune (on Twitter). Robison was initially scheduled to make $3.5MM this season, but he’ll now make a base salary of just $1.015MM, plus a $90K workout bonus. 

[RELATED: Dalvin Cook Ahead Of Schedule]

Robison’s pay cut opens up $2.38MM in new cap space for Minnesota. Somehow, after an offseason which saw the additions of quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, the Vikings have $17.1MM in cap room. The Vikings will try to use that flexibility to extend standouts like linebacker Anthony Barr, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and defensive end Danielle Hunter.

After the season, Robison wouldn’t guarantee that he would return for another year. Last week, he affirmed that he would come back for his 12th campaign. Although he started in six straight seasons for the Vikings, he’ll come off of the bench for a second consecutive year in 2018 as he supports Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter.

Despite playing in a reserve role, Robison still logged 642 snaps in 2017.

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East Rumors: Kendricks, Jets, Patriots

The long-rumored Mychal Kendricks/Eagles divorce will officially be classified as a post-June 1 cut, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. The defending Super Bowl champions will see a $6MM cap spike on June 2 instead of seeing $4.4MM in savings by eschewing the post-June 1 cut category. That will help a franchise that, as of Tuesday night, holds barely $300K in cap space. As for why Kendricks was finally axed after years of being the subject of trade rumors, the defender’s standing as the No. 3 linebacker on a team that spends most of its time in sub-packages was not a status he preferred, per Zach Berman of Philly.com (on Twitter). Former Eagles teammate Emmanuel Acho, indicating he spoke with Kendricks on Tuesday, confirmed as much (via Twitter).

During Chip Kelly‘s year running football operations, the Eagles signed Kendricks to a four-year, $29MM extension that ran through the 2019 season. But Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham, the latter being recently re-signed for $40MM over five years, reside as Philly’s top-two linebackers under optimal circumstances. Kendricks played a key role in the Eagles’ first Super Bowl title, stepping in alongside Bradham after Hicks went down, but the previous status quo is now back in place. And Kendricks should be a coveted commodity on the market.

Here’s the latest on Tuesday’s other big transaction, as well as more from some eastern-based franchises.

  • The Jets tried to trade Christian Hackenberg during the draft, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reports. This began after Sam Darnold went to the Jets at No. 3, per Cimini, but judging by the terms of Tuesday’s trade, no strong interest came New York’s way for its 2016 second-round pick. “We had one too many (quarterbacks) to get all of them reps,” Todd Bowles said Tuesday. “We just want to go with the three quarterbacks we have and let these guys battle it out. … I like the talent (Hackenberg) had. Obviously, it didn’t cultivate here. Sometimes it takes a team or two or three to find your spot.” After cutting Bryce Petty and trading Hackenberg, Gang Green’s quarterback setup is clear now. Darnold, Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater will likely be the team’s three passers heading into training camp. However, as Calvin Watkins of Newsday notes (on Twitter), Bowles aid the Jets are open to adding another quarterback. This could be contingent on Bridgewater’s health.
  • Despite these circumstances centering around one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Bill Belichick still opted for a time-honored cliche. Asked if he’s spoken to Tom Brady, the 19th-year Patriots coach said via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter), “I’m not going to talk about the people that aren’t hereThe guys who are here are improving, they’re working hard. Those are the guys we’re going to focus on.” Brady remains absent from OTAs, and the 19th-year quarterback is rumored to want a revised contract. With Josh McDaniels spurning the Colts and remaining in place as OC, New England’s system likely will not change much, lessening the impact of Brady missing these voluntary workouts.
  • Recent Hall of Fame inductee Brian Dawkins will step down from his role in the Eagles front office, James Palmer of NFL.com tweets. The former Eagles safety will stay on as a part-time consultant.

Chargers’ Hunter Henry Tears ACL

The Chargers’ offense received a brutal blow on Tuesday, and barring an impending second opinion revealing a different diagnosis, Hunter Henry will be lost for the season.

Henry suffered a torn ACL during a drill Tuesday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The third-year tight end will seek a second opinion on Wednesday, per Schefter, who adds this injury came during a non-contact sequence.

The Bolts have now confirmed the initial diagnosis for their top tight end.

Expected to make a big leap after the Chargers announced they would not bring back Antonio Gates, Henry will now be out until his contract year of 2019. The former second-round pick amassed 579 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season, emerging as the Bolts’ go-to tight end. He has 12 career TDs.

Gates remains a free agent, and with the calculus changing considerably for the Chargers this week, it can’t be ruled out the 37-year-old could be back for one last run with the team. The Bolts signed longtime Broncos tight end Virgil Green in free agency, but the eighth-year player rarely provided much in the way of receiving production. Instead, Green’s more known for his blocking skills. Gates caught 30 passes for a career-low 316 yards last season, but in the two games Henry missed in December, the future Hall of Famer totaled 127 yards and a touchdown.

This marks the latest setback for the Chargers, who have dealt with a string of injuries to skill-position players in recent years. Danny Woodhead, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have seen seasons nullified or disrupted by maladies in recent years. Now, Henry — who has played 29 of a possible 32 regular-season games as a pro — joins the list. Only the stakes are higher now than they were when those previous injuries occurred. The Chargers have drawn buzz as the AFC West favorite after re-routing their season from 0-4 to the playoff bubble last fall. And the events of Tuesday strip Philip Rivers of one of his top weapons.

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Draft Pick Signings: 5/22/18

Here are Tuesday’s draft pick signings:

  • Third-round tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (pick No. 92) signed his four-year Steelers contract. Out of Western Michigan, Okorafor could be in line for a swing role this season. And Chris Hubbard showed how valuable that could be, with Marcus Gilbert having struggled with injuries and a suspension in recent years.
  • The Browns followed suit by inking third-round defensive lineman Chad Thomas (pick No. 67 out of Miami) and fourth-round wideout Antonio Callaway (No. 105), Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal tweets. A Florida product, Calloway has already been mentioned as a player who could put pressure on 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman.

Latest On Anthem Debate

While only a handful of players were engaged in the racial inequality-based protests at the end of last season, owners are discussing this issue extensively at the latest set of meetings this week. As of Tuesday night, no agreement is imminent, Judy Battista of NFL.com reports (on Twitter), but more discussion is on tap for Wednesday. And some potential resolutions have surfaced.

The prospect of the NFL leaving this issue up to individual teams was rumored earlier this month, but an odd wrinkle of protests actually affecting games came up on Tuesday. SI.com’s Albert Breer tweets owners discussed that if the home team decides this game will feature teams coming out for the anthem instead of remaining in the locker room, 15-yard penalties will ensue for a team that has players kneeling.

As could be expected, this proposition received steady criticism on social media. One owner told the Los Angeles Daily News’ Vincent Bonsignore a player’s decision to kneel during the anthem leading to a 15-yard penalty is “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard” (Twitter link).

Nevertheless, John Mara expects a resolution by Wednesday (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk does not expect this resolution to be well-received, writing that the NFL gave players the right to protest and affirmed it the past two seasons. Ending it now without a negotiation will cause problems.

One owner added, via Battista, he doesn’t believe the NFL is eager to create a uniform policy here after the controversy has diminished, to some degree, since it exploded last season after President Donald Trump’s attack on protesting players in September. This led to mass protests in Week 3. This owner told Battista he believes not much good can be accomplished by alienating players or the president by implementing an edict this week. However, Battista adds other owners are concerned about heading into the 2018 season without a policy. The next set of owners’ meetings are in October, and some among the owners fear another news development could leave the league flat-footed if more players take up protests. An owner also told Battista the “let the teams sort this out” is probably not a viable long-term policy, either, putting the owners who want the NFL to change its current policy in a tough spot.

The league’s current policy was formed in 2009. It encourages players to stand during the playing of the anthem but doesn’t require it. Roughly a third of the owners want that policy to stay in place, per Jim Trotter of NFL.com (on Twitter), and five or six of this contingent wants individual teams to set the policy. Trotter adds several owners agree change must happen, with some being uncertain of what is best here, and some said keeping players in the locker room during the anthem is best (Twitter link). Twenty-four votes are required for a new policy to pass.

Florio adds that the owners appear to be merely hoping this issue goes away and hoping Trump, whom he notes many among this group do not hold in high regard, stops bringing this issue up. Florio does not expect that to happen, regardless of what is decided this week. A persistent critic of these protests, Jerry Jones said (via Tom Pelissero of NFL.com, on Twitter) he indeed wants this issue to go away so the NFL can “move forward where we’ve got our eye on making the NFL and anybody that’s interested in it thinking about what’s going on on the field.”

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AFC West Notes: Chiefs, Ingram, Raiders

Having funneled their pass offense through Travis Kelce for several seasons and having not invested much in their No. 2 wide receiver job in many years, the Chiefs surprised most observers by authorizing a monster contract for Sammy Watkins. The fifth-year wideout’s three-year, $48MM deal — with $30MM guaranteed — is having a league-wide effect, Joel Corry of CBS Sports writes. Julio Jones, who is signed to a $14.25MM-per-year deal, is now seeking additional dollars. And Corry adds Odell Beckham Jr.‘s hopes to become the league’s first $20MM-AAV wide receiver is not a crazy demand anymore now that Watkins has signed a top-five contract without supplying production to justify it. Corry adds that Watkins’ $16MM-AAV contract will become Brandin Cooks‘ floor, assuming he fares well in Los Angeles this season.

As for the Chiefs, Watkins justifying the contract could be difficult, as Corry writes, since the newcomer may be the No. 4 option in his next offense. Kelce and Kareem Hunt are entrenched as the top components of Kansas City’s attack, and Tyreek Hill put together a strong 2017 featuring 1,183 air yards and seven touchdowns. Watkins caught 39 passes for 583 yards last season, and his career-best numbers were 1,047 and nine with the 2015 Bills. Hill becomes extension-eligible after this season and his contract expires after 2019. Those talks could be tricky if he outproduces Watkins this season. Only two teams — the Packers and Broncos — are paying two wideouts eight figures annually, and the Chiefs could be set to encounter an interesting dilemma once Hill talks begin.

Here’s the latest from the AFC West:

  • Melvin Ingram may not be attending the Chargers‘ OTA sessions. The star pass rusher missed Tuesday’s session and is training in Florida, Eric Williams of ESPN.com reports, adding that Ingram cleared his absence with Anthony Lynn. Ingram skipped the start of these workouts last year, but he was not under contract because he had yet to sign his franchise tender. He’s now signed a long-term Bolts deal.
  • Bruce Irvin played as a 4-3 outside linebacker the past two seasons with the Raiders, but new DC Paul Guenther is moving him to defensive end, Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com notes (on Twitter). Irvin often played end during his first two seasons in Oakland, but did so in sub-packages while lining up as a stand-up ‘backer in most base sets, similar to the Broncos’ usage of Von Miller from 2011-14. Irvin began his career as a defensive end before the Seahawks relocated him. Now that Irvin is at end, Gutierrez notes Tahir Whitehead and Emmanuel Lamur lined up as outside linebackers with the Raiders’ first-stringers at Tuesday’s OTA session.
  • Also at Raiders OTAs, Gareon Conley participated fully, per Gutierrez. A shin injury wiped out most of the 2017 first-rounder’s rookie season, and only recently did the former Ohio State standout receive full clearance.
  • Donald Penn will be limited during these workouts, with Gutierrez noting the longtime Oakland left tackle is still recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Penn is not expected to be ready to participate fully until training camp. For now, second-year player David Sharpe took the reps in 11-on-11 work while Breno Giacomini opened with the starters at right tackle. The Raiders are planning to have Kolton Miller train as a left tackle to start his career.
  • The Chiefs will be without their backup tight end in Week 1. Demetrius Harris received a one-game suspension for a 2017 marijuana arrest that induced a multi-day jail stay, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Harris established new career-high marks last season with 18 receptions for 224 yards. The Chiefs added former Jets second-rounder Jace Amaro this offseason, but Harris has been with the team for the past four seasons. Amaro hasn’t played since 2016.
  • Clinton McDonald did not participate in Broncos OTAs on Tuesday, and Mike Klis of 9News notes the veteran defensive lineman is still recovering from a March shoulder operation. The Broncos knew of this procedure when they signed him in March, per Klis. He adds McDonald is expected to be ready for camp.

Latest On Christian Hackenberg Trade

Christian Hackenberg‘s final days as a Jet were rather interesting. After the team added Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater, essentially admitting a second-round misfire, it was revealed Hackenberg worked with an independent passing coach and changed his throwing motion. And he did so unbeknownst to Todd Bowles.

Earlier on Tuesday, when he was still a Jet, the third-year quarterback pointed to a lack of consistent instruction from the team’s coaching staff as a sign of frustration.

I don’t know,” Hackenberg said (via Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News) when asked why he overhauled his passing motion this offseason. “I think there were some times where I threw it really good throughout my first two years here, so that was the frustrating part for me, is the ups and downs and not knowing why, if that makes sense, and not really getting any information from anybody on how to fix that and how do address it.”

Hours after those comments, the Jets made the deal with the Raiders. However, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via Twitter) this move did not come as a result of those comments. The Jets held Hackenberg out of Tuesday’s seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills because they’d worked out a deal with the Raiders earlier today, Darryl Slater of NJ.com reports.

We did everything we could to try to help him as best we could,” the fourth-year HC said, via Slater. “He’s allowed to be critical. We suggested things, and we try to fix every player possible that we have. It just didn’t work out here.”

While the timing is interesting, this move also comes after Bridgewater participated fully in an OTA workout for the first time since 2016. That shouldn’t be viewed as a sign the former first-round pick has put his severe knee injury completely behind him, but it’s a positive development. And if Bridgewater is healthy during training camp, there wouldn’t be room for Hackenberg on Gang Green’s roster.

Rapoport adds the Raiders will not immediately release one of their quarterbacks to accommodate Hackenberg, who still has not thrown a pass in a regular-season game. Oakland still has Connor Cook and EJ Manuel behind Derek Carr. Manuel played ahead of Cook last season and was summoned into duty when Carr went down early in the season. Cook, however, played as a rookie when both the players ahead of him suffered injuries. There won’t be room for all three of these backups on Oakland’s 53-man roster, though. And Jon Gruden did not make the decisions to acquire Cook or Manuel, perhaps giving Hackenberg a good chance of usurping one of them this summer.

Additionally, the trade involves a conditional seventh-round pick in 2019, per Rapoport, and the compensation is tied to Hackenberg’s playing time.

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