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Clemson WR Justyn Ross Out For Season

Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross, one of the top prospects who will be eligible for the 2021 draft, will not play this season. A diagnosis of congenital fusion will prompt Ross to undergo surgery Friday, The Athletic’s Grace Raynor tweets.

Ross suffered an injury during spring workouts in March. The subsequent X-ray revealed he was born with this condition, which occurs when two of the seven bones in the neck are abnormally fused. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney confirmed the surgery. While Ross’ doctor said there is a good chance the talented wideout can play football again, he did not guarantee it (Twitter link via Raynor).

After showing immense potential at Clemson the past two years, Ross resides on first-round radars for next year. He sits 12th on Todd McShay’s ESPN.com big board for the ’21 draft. This diagnosis could obviously change everything for the 6-foot-4 talent.

Ross totaled 112 receptions for 1,865 yards and 17 touchdown receptions during his freshman and sophomore seasons. He was expected to be Clemson’s top receiver this season, following Tee Higgins‘ early draft declaration, and is viewed as a higher-ceiling prospect than his former Tigers teammate.

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Jets, Joe Flacco Agree To Deal

Although Joe Flacco is recovering from a neck surgery that is expected to keep him out of action for months, he agreed to terms with the Jets on Friday. The former Ravens and Broncos quarterback will sign a one-year deal, according to his agency (Twitter link).

This will add an experienced arm for a Jets team that previously featured a thin depth chart behind Sam Darnold. The Jets did re-sign David Fales and drafted James Morgan in Round 4 this offseason, but Flacco (if healthy) obviously offers a higher floor. After expressing interest in Andy Dalton, the Jets landed his longtime AFC North rival.

Flacco’s deal will be worth $1.5MM with incentives that could bring the price up to $4.5MM, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The 12th-year veteran is also expected to be ready to participate in training camp, though Schefter tweets the former Super Bowl MVP likely will not be medically cleared until September.

Talks between Flacco and the Jets transpired for weeks, according to Sirius XM Radio’s Adam Caplan (on Twitter). The Eagles also showed interest earlier this offseason but backed off after the draft, Caplan adds. Philadelphia drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round.

A Flacco deal during the COVID-19 pandemic — when teams cannot have their medical staffs examine players — certainly proves interesting. Cam Newton remains in free agency. But the former certainly represents a cheaper option. Jets GM Joe Douglas has extensive familiarity with Flacco. Douglas was with the Ravens as their northeast area scout when they drafted Flacco out of Delaware in 2008. Douglas was still with Baltimore when Flacco turned in his career-defining playoff run that secured the franchise’s second Super Bowl title four years later.

The former Division I-FCS standout is now 35 and will arrive in the Big Apple after some injury-marred seasons. After a torn ACL ended his seven-plus-year start streak in 2015, Flacco battled back trouble in 2017. Though he played 16 games that year, the Delaware alum missed time with a hip malady in 2018 and saw Lamar Jackson take his job. Flacco’s Broncos season stalled after eight starts, and Denver subsequently pivoted to Drew Lock.

Gang Green has struggled at backup quarterback for years. They went 0-6 in games Darnold did not start over the past two years, and the previous regime’s investments in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg — who backed up Ryan Fitzpatrick and then Josh McCown — did not work out.

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Cowboys’ Aldon Smith Reinstated By NFL 

The NFL has granted reinstatement to Aldon Smith, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). Smith will be allowed to join the Cowboys virtual offseason program next week, as NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo tweets, and he’ll be on course to join his new team in Week 1. 

The Cowboys surprised everyone when they agreed to sign Smith in April. The edge rusher hasn’t played in an NFL game since the 2015 campaign, but the Cowboys were encouraged by his sobriety and excited about his potential. Smith is a former All-Pro and when he was on top of his game, he was among the league’s very best defenders.

“I would say first-hand that I know that [Smith] is very diligent in his work to do the things the NFL looks at to reinstate,” Jones said in April. “I wouldn’t dare get into where the league is and how they will go about this process … [but] as a league, we really are bent toward the medical aspect of many of these problems or many of these things that have been in consideration when a player has to have some type of suspension. We’ve made it more medically oriented to where you can have good grades from doctors, and that weighs into being a player in the NFL.”

In his first two pro seasons with the Niners, Smith registered 33.5 sacks, including a league-leading 19.5 sacks in 2012. And, even when he was limited to just eleven contests in 2013, he still managed 8.5 sacks.

The Cowboys believe that Smith’s off-the-field trouble is behind him. That’s a good thing, because his rap sheet won’t give him much wiggle room if he runs into any issues. Smith has been arrested for DUI and suspended for substance abuse policy violations on multiple occasions. The Cowboys, of course, have been willing to dole out second and third chances to talented players like Smith, and they’ve gotten mixed results. The hope is that Smith will follow through on his vow to stay clean, and that he’ll be joined by Randy Gregory, who is also making his case to Roger Goodell.

NFL To Change Policy On Coordinator, Front Office Interviews

While the NFL tabled the proposed Rooney Rule changes that would connect the hiring of minority HC candidates to certain draft-slot improvements, the league approved another key rule tweak Tuesday.

Teams can no longer block position coaches from coordinator interviews, Jim Trotter of NFL.com tweets. Previously, teams could nix assistants’ opportunities to become coordinators. The NFL confirmed the new rule applies only to interviews for “bona fide” OC/DC positions, meaning the opportunity must include play-calling responsibilities.

Tuesday’s changes will affect the front office level as well. Teams can no longer block scouts or executives from interviewing for promotions elsewhere, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Executives can no longer be blocked from interviewing for a job that would include assistant GM responsibilities, per the league.

While potential diversity hirings drove the league to propose these changes, the new rules will be popular with assistant coaches and executives of all colors.

Clubs annually block position coaches under contract from meeting with teams about coordinator jobs. This has led to countless coaches forced to continue in mid-level roles, thus missing out on key promotions that can lead to future HC interviews. Tuesday’s change figures to make staff continuity more difficult and could well lead to younger coaches rising to coordinator posts and, perhaps, HC positions in the near future.

This proposal surfaced on the same day as the draft-based concept, but this initiative received more support. The NFL made significant changes to its Rooney Rule on Monday, which will mandate meetings with multiple minority candidates for HC jobs and expand the 17-year-old rule to coordinator positions as well. Coupled with Tuesday’s change, the NFL’s coordinator landscape will be altered.

Lastly, the league will prevent teams from including language in execs’ contracts that prevents them from interviewing for jobs elsewhere, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. The Patriots including such a clause in player personnel director Nick Caserio‘s contract spurred this change. Were it not for such language, Caserio may well be the Texans’ GM now. The Texans had intentions of poaching Caserio from New England last year, firing Brian Gaine. But the Pats exec’s contract prevented it, leading to Houston naming Bill O’Brien as its GM.

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NFL Tables Rooney Rule Draft Proposal

On Tuesday, the NFL proposed incentives to further the mission of the Rooney Rule and increase the league’s number of minority coaches and lead executives. That resolution has been tabled for the time being, according to NFL.com’s Jim Trotter (on Twitter).

Under the proposed plan, teams would receive improved draft slots in exchange for hiring head coaches or “primary football executives” (read: GMs) of color. A team hiring a minority HC would move up six spots in the third round; a team hiring a minority GM would move up 10. Those incentives would also be combined – hiring both would mean a 16-spot leap in Round 3.

Reaction to the draft-related proposal was mostly negative, so it is not exactly surprising to see it stalled. But the league did make some key changes this week, implementations that add to teams’ hiring processes — which have received criticism in recent years. Of the past 20 head coaching vacancies, minorities filled only three. The changes will force teams to meet with more people of color.

Teams must interview multiple external minority HC candidates and expanding the Rooney Rule to the coordinator level. Clubs must also interview at least one minority candidate for all coordinator positions. These changes did not require a vote and will take effect immediately. But the more controversial changes involving draft positions, which first surfaced last week, will be pushed back.

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Bills’ Ed Oliver Arrested On Gun, DWI Charges

Bills defensive lineman Ed Oliver was arrested in Houston on Saturday night, as Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. Police say Oliver had an open beer and a pistol when they pulled him over. Then, he failed a field sobriety test (via Montgomery County Police Reporter). Oliver also underwent a mandatory blood test to determine exactly what was in his system, but there were no drugs found in his car.

Oliver, 22, was the Bills’ No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 draft. As a rookie, he notched 43 tackles, five sacks, two passes defended, and a forced fumble. Before all of this, Oliver was on course for a potential breakout year, especially with last year’s sack leader Jordan Phillips in Arizona. He’s currently set to enter the second year of his four-year, $19.675MM deal, though this weekend’s incident could impact his availability. If Oliver is suspended under the personal conduct policy, he’ll forfeit his remaining $6.8MM in guarantees, as Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac tweets.

Per the 911 caller, the University of Houston product was weaving in-and-out of lanes and “driving dangerously,” prompting police to chase him down. It’s the latest in a series of troubling events for NFL players over the last week.

On Wednesday, Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar and Giants cornerback Deandre Baker allegedly robbed fellow partygoers at gunpoint in Florida. On Saturday morning, Colorado police say that Redskins wide receiver Cody Latimer fired a gun inside of an apartment. Four NFL players, three days, and 14+ cumulative charges, including several felonies. Oliver has joined the list of players who may be in serious trouble with the law, as well as the league office.

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NFL May Revise Rooney Rule

The NFL will consider significant changes to the Rooney Rule, as Jim Trotter of NFL.com writes. On Tuesday, the league will present two resolutions in hopes of further leveling the playing field for minority coaches and GMs. 

The first proposal would nix the league’s anti-tampering measure that allows teams to prevent assistant coaches from interviewing for other coordinator positions. Between the end of the regular season and March 1, teams would not have any right to block an interview. An offensive or defensive coordinator job is a stepping stone to becoming a head coach, so the NFL’s hope is that this would lead to more minority HCs around the league.

The other proposal would give “improved draft slots” to teams that hire minority HCs or “primary football executives,” Trotter hears. This, too, would be a major revamp to the Rooney Rule. As currently constructed, the Rooney Rule penalizes teams who do not interview minority candidates for their key positions. If ratified, this would incentivize teams to hire minority head coaches with a six-spot jump from their slotted third-round pick. Meanwhile, a team hiring a minority GM would move up ten spots. A team that does both would move up 16 spots in the third, potentially allowing an early third-round pick to turn into a mid-second-rounder.

Furthermore, a team’s fourth-round pick would climb up five spots if that coach or GM reaches Year 3. As Trotter notes, Steve Wilks was fired by the Cardinals after one year and Vance Joseph was fired after two years. They represent two of the four African-American head coaches hired in the last three years. Meanwhile, the league has just two GMs of color out of a possible 32.

The proposed rule changes could be beneficial for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, and many more minority coaches across the pro and collegiate ranks. The Rooney Rule has been in place since 2003, but Steelers owner Art Rooney II has been dissatisfied with the “10 or 12 minority coaches” hired in the last ~17 years.

In addition to the aforementioned proposals, the league will also pitch the following on Tuesday, per Trotter:

  • If a minority assistant accepts an OC/DC/ST coordinator job elsewhere, his former club would receive a Round 5 compensatory pick
  • If a minority coach or exec leaves to become a HC or GM, his previous team would receive a Round 3 comp pick
  • Any team that hires a minority QB coach would receive a fourth-round comp pick, if that coach is retained for more than one year.
  • The NFL may also require at least two minority candidates to be interviewed for HC vacancies while expanding the rule to include coordinator positions.

I think where we are right now, is not where we want to be, not where we need to be,” Rooney said earlier this year. “We need to take a step back and look at what’s happening with our hiring processes.”

Currently, the league has just four minority head coaches: Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Anthony Lynn (Chargers), Brian Flores (Dolphins), and Ron Rivera (Redskins). Out of five vacancies in the last cycle, Rivera was the only minority candidate to land an HC job. The Browns also hired Andrew Berry this past offseason; Berry and Chris Grier (Dolphins) represent the league’s only two black GMs.

After Tuesday’s meeting, the hiring process could change dramatically. Teams frequently prevent their best assistants and executives from pursuing outside opportunities; presumably, coaches and front office personnel of all backgrounds would be permitted to seek outside opportunities during the January–March 1 window.

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Seahawks, Browns Discussed Russell Wilson Trade In 2018

In 2018, the Browns were armed with a very rare assortment of premium draft capital: the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks. Ultimately, of course, they used those picks on quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward, but they were reportedly involved in trade discussions that would have sent at least one of those selections to the Seahawks in exchange for superstar quarterback Russell Wilson.

In a recent appearance on the PFTOT podcast, Chris Simms says that Cleveland and Seattle discussed a trade wherein the Seahawks would have acquired the No. 1 overall pick from the Browns while sending their Super Bowl champion signal-caller to Ohio (story via Mike Florio of PFT). And according to Florio’s source, the discussion did indeed happen, though the source couched it as being more of a conceptual conversation.

These sorts of discussions certainly happen all the time, and they never really get anywhere because the teams involved have no real intention of trading their assets but simply want to exercise due diligence in case their prospective trading partner is willing to make an offer that’s impossible to turn down. But the fact that the Seahawks even considered trading Wilson is notable, especially given that he was only 29 at the time and had already established himself as one of the best QBs in the game.

As Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times writes, the ‘Hawks would not have traded Wilson for just the No. 1 pick; they would have demanded the No. 4 selection as well. Even that, however, seems like a small price to pay for a player of Wilson’s caliber, and one would think that the Browns would have pounced on the opportunity if it had truly presented itself.

At the time, Wilson and the Seahawks were in the midst of contract discussions that would culminate with Wilson becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history. And he has more than lived up to that deal thus far, posting back-to-back MVP-worthy seasons with an average QB rating of 108.6 and an average triple-slash of 3,779/33/6. He has added 718 rushing yards and three rushing scores for good measure, and he has yet to miss a game in his career.

Nonetheless, Florio’s sources do say that Wilson will be traded at some point in the relatively near future. By Wilson’s own admission, the inclusion of a no-trade clause in his current contract was instrumental in getting the deal done — perhaps because of the Cleveland discussions — but he could always waive it if he feels the time is right. Though a trade in the next several seasons would not be feasible because of the dead money charges it would leave on Seattle’s books, something could happen by 2022.

Indeed, Condotta notes that the Seahawks likely would have selected Patrick Mahomes if he had fallen to them in the 2017 draft, and GM John Schneider was also poking around Josh Allen the following offseason. In a couple of years, he may pull the trigger on a collegiate signal-caller and send Wilson elsewhere, difficult though that may be to fathom.

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Giants’ DeAndre Baker, Seahawks’ Quinton Dunbar Wanted For Armed Robbery

Arrest warrants have been issued for Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker and Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar, according to TMZ. At a get-together in Florida on Wednesday, police say Baker held partiers at gunpoint while Dunbar looted them. Both men are now wanted by authorities for armed robbery. The Miramar, Florida police department has also confirmed the warrants via press release.

According to police sources who spoke with TMZ, Baker also directed a third man to shoot someone who entered the party in the midst of the robbery. That mystery third wheel did not shoot anyone, but the group did make off with $7K in cash, plus a $25K Hublot watch, an $18K Rolex, and an Audemars Piguet.

Some witnesses claim that Dunbar was also armed; others say he was not. As it stands, both men are wanted for four counts of armed robbery with a firearm. Baker, meanwhile, also faces an additional four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

Baker, 22, was a late first-round pick of the Giants just last year. He struggled as a rookie, but he allowed just one touchdown against him at Georgia and the Giants were planning to have him compete for a first-string spot in 2020. Baker finished out his first Giants season with 61 total tackles and eight passes defensed in 16 games, including 15 starts. Per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv (via Twitter), the Giants are unlikely to cut Baker right away, but clearly this will put the club back in the market for a free agent corner.

Dunbar, 27, was traded from the Redskins to the Seahawks in March. Unhappy with his contract, Dunbar wanted out of D.C. and got his wish. For the cost of a fifth-round pick, the Seahawks took on the starting-caliber corner and the final year of his three-year, $10.5MM deal. If the warrants have merit, Dunbar won’t be getting a new contract anytime soon. A Dunbar absence would also sting for the Seahawks, who were looking forward to seeing him build on a strong year. In 2019, Dunbar played the most snaps of his NFL career and came away with four interceptions. For his work, Pro Football Focus graded Dunbar as the league’s second-best cornerback, behind only former Legion of Boom leader Richard Sherman.

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NFL Lays Out Plan For Reopening Facilities

On Wednesday night, the NFL laid out its potential plan for reopening facilities in a memo to teams, as Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. With permission from state government authorities, the league hopes to resume business as usual – or something close to it – soon. 

The memo also details protocols including: temperature screening, the establishment of an infection response team for each club, and social distancing. At the same time, Roger Goodell has discouraged team officials from discussing hypothetical timelines.

“It is impossible to project what the next few months will bring,” Goodell wrote. “Uninformed commentary that speculates on how individual clubs or the league will address a range of hypothetical contingencies serves to constructive purpose and instead confuses our fans and business partners, complicates the operations of other clubs, and distracts from the careful planning that is needed right now.”

Then, Goodell’s memo gets into greater detail for a “safe and phased reopening.” Phase 1 would allow for up to 50% of a team’s non-player employees to occupy the facility on any given day, up to a maximum of 75. No players would be permitted in the building, unless resuming a course of rehabilitation that was already underway when facilities were first closed. That phase could begin as soon as Friday, May 15th. After that, the league will weigh its options for Phase 2, though teams are encouraged to refine their own policies in accordance with local law and fluctuating conditions.

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