NFL getting leaner and greener


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FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018, file photo, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan holds a Le'Veon Bell jersey during the second half of an NFL football game between the Steelers and the Carolina Panthers in Pittsburgh. The steady exodus of mid-level veterans from the NFL is one element of a long-standing tension between players and the league over the structuring of contracts. The contract holdouts by Bell and Earl Thomas this season put the issue into vivid focus. (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018, file photo, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan holds a Le'Veon Bell jersey during the second half of an NFL football game between the Steelers and the Carolina Panthers in Pittsburgh. The steady exodus of mid-level veterans from the NFL is one element of a long-standing tension between players and the league over the structuring of contracts. The contract holdouts by Bell and Earl Thomas this season put the issue into vivid focus. (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)


FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Seattle Seahawks defensive back Earl Thomas (29) is greeted by Arizona Cardinals players as he leaves the field after breaking his leg during the second half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Ariz. Thomas held out through the preseason for a new, cash-up-front, long-term contract in case of a serious injury. Thomas failed to get what he wanted and played instead under his soon-to-expire contract this year until he broke his leg in the fourth game of the season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)


FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2012, file photo, Cleveland Browns linebacker James-Michael Johnson (50) leaves a preseason NFL football game against the Chicago Bears with an injury in Cleveland. Johnson, a linebacker, retired at age 27 after getting cut seven times by six teams over four seasons. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)


AP analysis: The NFL keeps going younger and cheaper

By EDDIE PELLS and LARRY FENN

Associated Press

Monday, January 28

By the time NFL players reach their third and fourth years in the league, the vast majority are struggling just to hang on because of injuries or younger, faster and often cheaper rookies out for their jobs.

In 2006 and 2011, the players union and the NFL tried to do something about that, adopting salary and bookkeeping rules with the potential to extend the careers of these veterans.

It hasn’t worked.

In a first-of-its-kind analysis, The Associated Press found that since 2005, the average amount of playing experience for athletes on the NFL’s opening-day rosters has shrunk from 4.6 years to 4.3.

In 2005, there were 784 players with three years’ experience or less and 714 with five or more years. In 2018, the gap widened to 852 and 644.

Teams are increasingly made up of a few star millionaires and an army of young players earning close to the minimum salary, with a dwindling number of older, journeyman athletes in the middle.

“You don’t really have a lot of middle-class older guys. It’s actually kind of sad,” Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin said.

For most guys in the NFL, there is more at stake than salary. Those who make it three years plus three games become vested in the league’s pension plan. Many players argue, too, that they deserve better from the NFL than to be treated as disposable, given the heavy toll the game takes on their bodies.

The exodus of the mid-level veteran is a longstanding source of tension between the union and the NFL, made more acute because of the increasing speed and violence of the game and advancing knowledge about the long-term effects of concussions. The issue could become a sticking point in the next collective bargaining negotiations; the current deal expires at the end of the 2020 season.

Union leaders argue that they have fought successfully to increase the amount of money going to all players, in part by raising the NFL cap on team payrolls. As the union sees it, where front offices spend that money is their decision.

“Just as long as they spend it,” said union president Eric Winston, who played for 12 seasons. “But how do you address something like that? Do you say, ‘Well, let’s mandate there are five to 10 guys on every roster who have four to seven years’ experience?’ OK, then which guys aren’t going to make the roster because of that?”

The NFL declined comment on the findings.

Every September, third- and fourth-year players get cut to make room for younger and less-expensive athletes, who themselves will become expendable as soon as they are eligible for higher salaries.

Unlike the NBA and Major League Baseball, neither of which is as dangerous as football, the NFL has very few players with guaranteed contracts — meaning, if they get injured or cut, they don’t get their full salary. Some might even get nothing.

The story of ninth-year Seahawks safety Earl Thomas stands as a cautionary tale. Thomas held out through the preseason for a new, cash-up-front, long-term contract in case of serious injury.

He failed to get what he wanted and played instead under his soon-to-expire contract this year. In the fourth game of the season, he broke his leg.

The final image of Thomas on the field was of him giving the finger to his own bench as he was carted off, knowing he almost certainly won’t get as big a contract now that he’s damaged goods.

In a different contract squabble, sixth-year Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, seeking a long-term deal that would protect him in case of injury, took the virtually unprecedented step of holding out the entire season.

In 2006, the “minimum salary benefit” was added to the collective bargaining agreement to help lower-paid veterans keep playing. It allows teams to sign players in their fifth year and beyond to one-year contracts at the league-mandated minimum for their experience level, while charging less than the full amount against the club’s salary cap.

For example, a fifth-year player this year would get the league minimum of $790,000, but only $630,000 of that would be counted against the $177 million cap on the team’s payroll. (The league minimum for a rookie is $480,000.)

In 2011, the NFL and the union went further and slapped salary limits on first-round draft picks, in part to free up money to sign other players.

“The union got a lot of pushback from older players saying, ‘I can’t compete,’” said agent Joe Linta. The new rules “gave the teams the ability to judge them on equal footing.”

But according to the AP data, since the introduction of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, the average amount of playing experience among the 1,700 or so athletes on opening-day rosters has shrunk 3.3 percent. And the new contract terms did nothing to halt the exodus of players with five or more years under their belts.

“They’re always going to go with the younger player,” lamented James-Michael Johnson, a linebacker who retired at age 27 after getting cut seven times by six teams over four seasons.

Most teams use around 50 percent of the cap on their 10 highest-paid players, one of whom is almost always the quarterback. Rookie draft picks eat up between $5 million and $15 million. The 35 or so other players scrap for the rest — and that amount is drawn down by money paid to injured athletes and those no longer on the roster.

As a result, teams hesitate to spend an additional six figures on players of questionable value.

“Bottom line, they’ve got four years of tape on me. Whoever I was going to be, I would’ve been by that fourth year,” Johnson said. “A first-year guy, they think, ‘We cut him, he goes to the Patriots and becomes one of their best dime-cover linebackers ever, and we’re going to look stupid.’ That’s why they let the older guy go.”

Though there has been ample anecdotal and some statistical evidence about the NFL’s relentless youth movement, the AP analysis offers new details, including the exact percentage of the decline in veterans. It also breaks down the numbers by team and position.

The only position outside of kicker and punter that is trending older is, not surprisingly, quarterback, where average experience has risen since 2005 from nearly 4.8 years to 5.8. (New England’s Tom Brady, 41, is in his 19th season.)

Experience at other positions is declining. Positions widely seen as most replaceable — running back, linebacker, wide receiver and interior lineman — have seen some of the sharpest drops.

It’s what makes a player such as Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Darrius Hayward-Bey something of a unicorn in today’s NFL.

The first-round draft pick just finished his 10th year — playing out a three-year contract worth barely over the league minimum — in large part because he has found a niche: He is low-priced, is good on special teams and provides leadership in the locker room for Pittsburgh, which, along with New Orleans, was the only team to stay above the league average in experience through all years of the AP survey.

“The only time I ever think about it is when guys walk around like, ‘Man, 10 years,’” Heyward-Bey said. “So I think I am doing something special that’s different. Usually, you’re in the league 10 years, you’re a superstar. I’m just a guy.”

Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Frostee Rucker, a 13th-year veteran who played for the minimum of $1.015 million in 2018, said the benefits he stands to collect when his career is over serve as an incentive to keep going. But he knows he is part of a vanishing breed.

The money “usually goes to the quarterbacks now,” he said. “They essentially took the middle class out of football.”

Contributing to this report: AP pro football writers Josh Dubow in Oakland, California; Teresa M. Walker in Nashville; Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia; Arnie Stapleton in Denver; and Dennis Waszak Jr., in New York, and sports writers Tim Booth in Seattle; Will Graves in Pittsburgh; Noah Trister and Larry Lage in Detroit; Michael Marot in Indianapolis; creative lead Philip Holm in New York.

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

With voodoo dolls, cookies Saints fans protest missed call

By STACEY PLAISANCE

Associated Press

Friday, January 25

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A New Orleans bakery is turning out thousands of cookies with a picture of a referee with a circle and slash mark across it in red icing.

The owner of a locksmith shop has hung posters and signs taking aim at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and some residents have hung posters of a referee wearing a blindfold.

New Orleans Saints fans have found some pretty creative ways to express their displeasure over the infamous “no call” during last weekend’s Saints-Rams championship game. But their newest tactic may make the loudest statement – a Super Bowl boycott.

“We’re angry,” said Lauren Haydel, a Saints fan and business owner who has started printing and selling T-shirts featuring a referee voodoo doll with pins sticking out of it from her Fleurty Girl retail stores.

Haydel says she’ll be joining the boycott and not watching the big game on Super Bowl Sunday.

“We’re not even going to go to a place with TVs on,” she said. “I don’t care to watch it.”

Haydel said fans were looking forward to a Saints Super Bowl in Atlanta, and a boycott of the game is the best response the Who Dat Nation can give.

“That’s how we’ll really stick it to them where it hurts,” she said.

Several bars in the city have said they won’t be showing the game in their establishments, and residents say they’re making other plans to avoid the game.

Michelle Miller, owner of H Rault Locksmiths, says she’s attending a so-called “Boycott Bowl” party.

“It’s a devastating loss, and we won’t get over it, but … we are used to getting disrespected by the National Football League Association,” she said, making a reference to “Bounty Gate,” when the NFL suspended Saints coaches — including head coach Sean Payton for a year — after finding the Saints were rewarding players for hits on opponents with intent to injure.

Miller incorporated her locksmith business while taking digs at the NFL.

One sign reads: “We know keys, we know Brees … We know he’s the MVP,” a reference to Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Another sign reads like a want-ad for a “no call locksmith” with “For hire Roger Goodell’s blind boys locksmith.”

“We all saw it,” Miller said. “We all saw the same thing, all of us except the blind referee.”

Owners of Haydel’s Bakery took a sweeter approach, selling anti-referee cookies alongside their signature king cakes and pastries.

“I don’t think there’s anything short of replaying the game that would make New Orleans Saints fans happy,” said David Haydel, one of the bakery owners. “We know that’s probably not going to happen, but at least they can take a bite out of the injustice.”

Though lawsuits have been filed by Saints season ticket holders asking a Louisiana court to reverse the results or reschedule the game, experts give the move little chance of success.

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL: Rams-Saints rematch would mean pricey Super Bowl delay

Friday, January 25

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Redoing last weekend’s controversial NFC title game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints would mean a pricey delay of the upcoming Super Bowl, the NFL said Friday.

In a legal filing, NFL Chief Financial Officer Joseph Siclare said replaying even a few minutes of the NFC championship game because of a missed passed interference call would force a delay for an event that demands an investment of “more than $100 million,” the New Orleans Advocate reported.

Siclare’s sworn affidavit was submitted by the NFL to get one of two pending lawsuits over officiating moved from state civil court to New Orleans federal court.

The filing marks the league’s first formal response to a lawsuit by a pair of ticket-holders over the infamous “no call” that ended the Saints’ Super Bowl run last Sunday.

The league cited a federal law that allows a defendant to automatically remove a state class-action lawsuit to federal court when the parties are from different states and the amount of the damages sought by the plaintiffs exceeds $5 million.

According to Siclare, a demand by the plaintiffs for the league to issue full refunds to 72,475 ticket holders well exceeds that benchmark on its own, as the average ticket price for the game hovered around $230. That adds up to more than $16 million in ticket proceeds.

But the far bigger cost, Siclare suggested, would be if the Feb. 3 Super Bowl is delayed by a court in order to rewind the clock and replay all or a portion of the NFC title game— a result urged by the plaintiffs and much of “Who Dat Nation,” which is also listed as a plaintiff.

“The Super Bowl, the NFL’s premiere event, is a carefully planned and enormously expensive undertaking, with preparations carefully sequenced,” from logistics to producing a “full-blown music concert at halftime,” Siclare wrote.

While the NFL has remained publicly silent about the controversial no-call, the league said Friday it had fined Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman $26,739 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis — a second infraction that went unflagged on the same play.

Saints head coach Sean Payton has said a league official admitted to him immediately after the game that both penalties should have been called on the play.

Meanwhile, a hearing sought by the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Tommy Badeux and Candis Lambert, that was scheduled for Monday was declared moot by Friday’s filing.

It’s no surprise that the NFL would seek to take the case out of the hands of a local New Orleans judge in favor of a federal jurist, said local attorney Glenn McGovern.

“There’s a perception by some people that federal court is fairer than state court,” McGovern said. “All big corporations feel more comfortable in federal court than state court.”

Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com

Rams’ Robey-Coleman will pay NFL fine for infamous hit

By GREG BEACHAM

AP Sports Writer

Saturday, January 26

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman will pay his fine from the NFL for a helmet-to-helmet hit on New Orleans receiver Tommylee Lewis in the NFC championship game.

The Rams’ slot cornerback wants to move past the drama surrounding that now-infamous hit, which also appeared to happen well before Drew Brees’ pass arrived in the fourth quarter last Sunday. No flag was thrown for pass interference or for the helmet-to-helmet nature of the hit, possibly altering the outcome of Los Angeles’ 26-23 overtime victory at New Orleans.

“It’s all good, and I’m moving on,” Robey-Coleman said. “That’s how the league feels. That’s their call.”

Robey-Coleman confirmed he received a fine from the NFL on Friday, essentially a tacit acknowledgement by the league that a penalty should have been called. The NFL Network reported he was fined $26,739.

Robey-Coleman wouldn’t say whether he agreed with the league’s decision to fine him for helmet-to-helmet contact, but the veteran defensive back acknowledged after the game that he could have easily been whistled for pass interference.

“It’s the league’s call, the ref’s call,” Robey-Coleman said. “I have nothing to do with that (decision). I made a football play. The ref made his call, and there’s nothing else that I could do about it. That’s their call, and that’s something that you just have to live with as a football team, and we’re going to the Super Bowl, so we just have to move on.”

They’re not done talking about it in New Orleans, however. The no-call has sparked outrage among the Saints and their fans, including calls for a Super Bowl boycott. Two lawsuits have been filed over the officiating, calling for everything from a replay of the game’s final moments to full refunds for Superdome fans.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said the referees “blew the call.”

If Robey-Coleman had been flagged, the Saints would have been able to wind down the clock to the final seconds of regulation before kicking a short field goal, putting them in a commanding position to win. Instead, the Rams are going to their first Super Bowl in 17 years after they drove for a tying field goal and an overtime winner.

The Rams have been diplomatic about their fortunate break, acknowledging the sketchy nature of Robey-Coleman’s hit while also gently pointing out that one play doesn’t decide any game.

“All we do as coaches, if a (penalty) is called, we usually get mad if it’s against us,” Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “If a (penalty) is not called, we thought they were holding Aaron Donald or something. But if they don’t call it, you go to the next play. That’s the way the game has been played for a long time.”

By paying the fine instead of appealing it, Robey-Coleman hopes to turn his focus to facing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in Atlanta next weekend. Robey-Coleman is likely to line up extensively against Julian Edelman, the Patriots’ vaunted slot receiver.

“Him and Tom (Brady) work great together,” said Robey-Coleman, who faced the Patriots repeatedly during his time in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills. “Can’t wait to get on the field and play against those guys.”

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

AFC wins 3rd straight Pro Bowl, 26-7 over NFC in Orlando

By MARK LONG

AP Sports Writer

Monday, January 28

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Pro Bowl has long been considered a laughable representation of the NFL game.

It reached a new level of comedy Sunday as several players swapped positions during the annual all-star game.

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey caught a touchdown pass in the final minute, capping a dominant performance for the AFC defense in a 26-7 victory over the NFC in steady rain. It was the third consecutive victory for the AFC, all of them at Camping World Stadium.

The last two were played in sloppy weather, with the latest one also coming amid temperatures in the mid-50s. It was far from ideal conditions, raising speculation about the game’s future in Orlando, but fairly fitting considering the effort players provided. It was two-hand touch most of the day, with officials blowing plays dead at the slightest hint of contact.

“Who cares, man?” New York Jets safety Jamal Adams said. “At the end of the day, we’re like little kids out there just playing in the mud, playing in the rain.”

Regardless of the elements, the AFC made the plays the NFC didn’t.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Indianapolis’ Eric Ebron on the opening possession, helping Mahomes earn the offensive Most Valuable Player award. Mahomes pleaded with voters to give it to Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman, who caught three passes for 92 yards and ran for a score.

“Sherman had my vote. Sherman had my vote,” said Mahomes, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 156 yards. “I thought I told everybody on the camera. He made some plays out there. For a fullback, we have one of the best in the league so I’m always happy to try to get him a little vote like that.”

Adams, who made headlines for sacking the New England Patriots mascot during a Pro Bowl skills competition, was named the defensive MVP thanks to an interception and a sack.

“It’s a great achievement, but the main thing was to come out here and get the victory,” Adams said. “That was the main thing, just to get the money, man. That’s what we wanted.”

Mahomes and Adams each got a luxury vehicle.

AFC players will get $67,000 each for the victory, $8,000 more than the guys who lose the Super Bowl next week in Atlanta. The Pro Bowl losers will get $39,000 each.

The AFC defenders earned their share of the pot. The conference allowed the NFC 148 total yards and 10 first downs while intercepting three passes and notching seven sacks.

Ramsey got in on offense late, catching a 6-yard slant pass from Houston’s Deshaun Watson with 19 seconds remaining. Los Angeles Chargers rookie safety Derwin James failed to haul in the 2-point conversion.

“Man, me and Deshaun, that’s my brother from another mother,” Ramsey said. “We’ve been plotting and scheming all week, manifesting, and it just came about.”

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara all got in on defense for the NFC. Evans notched an interception.

The AFC led 20-0 early in the fourth quarter, looking like it might record the first shutout in Pro Bowl history. But Dallas’ Dak Prescott found Atlanta’s Austin Hooper for a 20-yard score on fourth down with 9:09 remaining.

The NFC had plenty of chances before that. The conference failed to score on a fourth-and-goal run early. Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky, Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen and Prescott threw interceptions.

Trubisky was sacked by Adams on a flea flicker, and Dallas’ Amari Cooper had a wide-open touchdown pass bounce off his face mask.

Seattle’s Russell Wilson also was sacked four times.

MASCOT MADNESS

Adams’ hit on the Pats mascot went viral, leading to false reports about the guy being hospitalized.

“It’s dying down now,” Adams said. “He never went to the hospital. They blew it up. It was all for the fans. I gained some fans and I gained some enemies, put it like that.”

IN-GAME HIJINKS

Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron had his phone tucked into the pocket of his sweatshirt and used it between the third and fourth quarters. Ebron took pics with opposing players, working his way around the entire NFC defense.

ANOTHER NO-CALL

Adams hugged a line judge who didn’t throw a flag on an obvious pass interference play against Green Bay receiver Davonte Adams. Davonte Adams dropped to the ground in disbelief, and several NFC teammates protested.

Players from both conferences spent the week lamenting a now-infamous no-call in the NFC title game.

INJURIES

Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Los Angeles Chargers receiver Keenan Allen left the game with bruised knees. Neither was considered serious, although Smith-Schuster was limping on the way to the bus and declined comment. Allen caught four passes for 95 yards before sitting out.

UP NEXT

New England and the Los Angeles Rams play in the Super Bowl Sunday.

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

FILE – In this Nov. 8, 2018, file photo, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan holds a Le’Veon Bell jersey during the second half of an NFL football game between the Steelers and the Carolina Panthers in Pittsburgh. The steady exodus of mid-level veterans from the NFL is one element of a long-standing tension between players and the league over the structuring of contracts. The contract holdouts by Bell and Earl Thomas this season put the issue into vivid focus. (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122210633-29094dd0776a416db656c8ae21d7457b.jpgFILE – In this Nov. 8, 2018, file photo, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan holds a Le’Veon Bell jersey during the second half of an NFL football game between the Steelers and the Carolina Panthers in Pittsburgh. The steady exodus of mid-level veterans from the NFL is one element of a long-standing tension between players and the league over the structuring of contracts. The contract holdouts by Bell and Earl Thomas this season put the issue into vivid focus. (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)

FILE – In this Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Seattle Seahawks defensive back Earl Thomas (29) is greeted by Arizona Cardinals players as he leaves the field after breaking his leg during the second half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Ariz. Thomas held out through the preseason for a new, cash-up-front, long-term contract in case of a serious injury. Thomas failed to get what he wanted and played instead under his soon-to-expire contract this year until he broke his leg in the fourth game of the season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122210633-1e82d3fef7a4403e83adfb218742253d.jpgFILE – In this Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Seattle Seahawks defensive back Earl Thomas (29) is greeted by Arizona Cardinals players as he leaves the field after breaking his leg during the second half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Ariz. Thomas held out through the preseason for a new, cash-up-front, long-term contract in case of a serious injury. Thomas failed to get what he wanted and played instead under his soon-to-expire contract this year until he broke his leg in the fourth game of the season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 30, 2012, file photo, Cleveland Browns linebacker James-Michael Johnson (50) leaves a preseason NFL football game against the Chicago Bears with an injury in Cleveland. Johnson, a linebacker, retired at age 27 after getting cut seven times by six teams over four seasons. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122210633-2fdc361c7ea846edafc5dd8db94a6a58.jpgFILE – In this Aug. 30, 2012, file photo, Cleveland Browns linebacker James-Michael Johnson (50) leaves a preseason NFL football game against the Chicago Bears with an injury in Cleveland. Johnson, a linebacker, retired at age 27 after getting cut seven times by six teams over four seasons. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
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