Future of kickoff to be discussed at NFL summit

Future of kickoff to be discussed at NFL summit

The NFL is finalizing plans for a summit to continue an unprecedented offseason discussion about player safety, a league spokesman confirmed. The meeting, planned for May 1-2 at NFL headquarters in New York, will include a focus on the future of the kickoff.

There is no indication that the kickoff could be eliminated for this season. But the league has moved with uncommon speed in recent months to address a league-record 291 diagnosed concussions in 2017, as well as the serious spine injury suffered by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Owners have approved a rule that would penalize and potentially eject players for lowering their heads to initiate contact. For the first time, the league joined the NFL Players Association to ban the use of 10 helmet models. The NFL office is also preparing a team-by-team memorandum to address a spike in training camp concussions.

The kickoff has long been a source of concern for NFL medical staffs. The league’s competition committee sounded new alarms in March after receiving data that showed concussions were five times more likely to occur on kickoffs than other plays, even after a series of minor rule changes designed to reduce returns.

Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy, a member of the committee, said the league was planning a special-teams summit — the one now confirmed for May 1-2 — to issue a clear warning.

“If you don’t make changes to make it safer,” Murphy said, “we’re going to do away with it. It’s that serious. It’s by far the most dangerous play in the game.”

An attendance list for the summit, which will also include discussion on the safety of interior line play, has not yet been finalized. Longtime NFL special-teams ace Steve Tasker, now a CBS broadcaster, recently told the Buffalo News that he had been invited. In addition to former players, the meeting is expected to include team executives, along with current and former coaches.

Commissioner Roger Goodell frequently convenes similar cross-discipline summits. They have not concluded with a rule or policy change. Instead, they are designed to provide background for future competition committee discussions. Goodell hosted two such meetings in recent years before the league rewrote its catch rule this spring. A similar gathering early in the 2017 offseason eventually led to a relaxation of post-touchdown celebration rules.

At issue with the kickoff is whether any realistic ideas remain for making the play safer beyond the steps the league already has taken. The league has spent much of this decade tweaking rules to reduce returns, and thus minimize the chances of injury, while also eliminating violent wedge-blocking schemes. In 2017, only 40 percent of kickoffs were returned. The rest were either touchbacks, went out of bounds or were impacted by another penalty.

“We’ve reduced the number of returns,” Murphy said in March, “but we haven’t really done anything to make the play safer.”

As Murphy’s words reverberated around the league, several prominent special-teams players have spoken out against a future elimination. The New England PatriotsMatthew Slater told reporters last week that it would be “tragic” to take it away because it is part of “the fabric of the game.”

Slater wondered about the slippery slope of eliminating fundamental parts of the game.

“It really makes me ask the question, ‘Where do you go from here?'” he said. “What would happen next? I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know. But I look at a number of plays. I look at a goal-line stand. I look at a third-and-1. Think about the collisions that are happening there.

“Those may be deemed unsafe by some people, so if you make a drastic change such as this, what’s next? What happens? The reality is football. This is a contact sport. This is a violent sport. All of us that are playing the game understand that there are inherent risks that come along with playing the game. If you’re not OK with those risks, I respect that, and maybe you should think about doing something else.”

The New York GiantsMichael Thomas called the danger of kickoffs “a false narrative.” In a video posted to Twitter, Thomas added that players on kickoffs have time to protect themselves and avoid big collisions.

“If you’re trying to do this because you’re thinking about player safety,” Thomas said, “or trying to protect guys, or even thinking about future lawsuits or whatnot, then there are so many other things and ways you can protect this game, and getting rid of the kickoff is not one of them.”

The NFL’s next inflection point for possible rule changes will come at its spring meeting, scheduled for May 21-23 in Atlanta. One of the items already on that agenda is finalizing the process by which players will be considered for ejection when penalized for lowering their helmets to initiate contact.

Giants' Belt sets record with 21-pitch at-bat

Brandon Belt set the record for longest MLB at-bat. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Since he took over as commissioner, Rob Manfred has made pace of play his biggest focus. He’s tried to implement new rules with the intention of speeding up every game.

[Still not too late to join a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league]

On Sunday, San Fransisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt threw a pretty large wrench into those plans. He set the record for the longest at-bat in Major League Baseball’s modern era.

That’s right. Belt dragged out a 21-pitch at-bat against Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jaime Barria. That broke the previous record, which was set by Ricky Gutierrez, who turned in a 20-pitch at-bat against Bartolo Colón in 1998.

As you might expect, a 21-pitch at-bat takes a fair amount of time.

Roughly 13 minutes elapsed during Belt’s at-bat. The end of the battle wound up being a little anti-climatic. Belt flew out on pitch No. 21.

Still, the strike zone graphic of all 21 pitches is pretty entertaining.

We should note that even if Manfred implemented all his changes into the game, this type of thing would still be unavoidable. Though some drastic changes have been proposed, none have focused on the length of at-bats. Until Manfred says all at-bats must end after seven pitches, these types of things will happen. They are part of the game.

And while shortened at-bats sounds preposterous, we’re not putting anything past Manfred at this point.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter!

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Davis conecta vuelacerca; Atl├ęticos derrotan a Medias Rojas

Khris Davis, de los Atléticos de Oakland, batea un jonrón de tres carreras frente a los Medias Rojas de Boston, en el duelo del domingo 22 de abril de 2018 (AP Foto/Ben Margot)

OAKLAND, California, EE.UU. (AP) — Khris Davis quebró el empate mediante un vuelacerca de tres carreras ante David Price, en el octavo inning sin outs, y los Atléticos de Oakland derrotaron el domingo 4-1 a los Medias Rojas de Boston.

Un día después de que Sean Manaea lanzó un juego sin hit, Boston volvió a caer. No había hilvanado derrotas consecutivas bajo las órdenes de su nuevo manager, el boricua Alex Cora.

Los Medias Rojas habían ganado sus primeras seis series en esta campaña antes de perder dos de tres compromisos en el Coliseum. Ostentan todavía la mejor foja de las Grandes Ligas, con 17-4.

Davis conectó dos inatrapables y empujó las cuatro carreras de los Atléticos. Marcus Semien y Stephen Piscotty añadieron dos hits por cabeza y Oakland ganó por sexta vez en siete compromisos.

Semien y Piscotti batearon sencillos seguidos ante Price (2-2), cuando había uno fuera en la octava entrada. Luego de que Jed Lowrie se ponchó por tercera vez, Davis encontró el primer pitcheo que le hicieron y desapareció la pelota entre las butacas del jardín izquierdo, para llegar a seis bambinazos en la temporada.

Por los Medias Rojas, el dominicano Rafael Devers de 4-1 con una anotada. El puertorriqueño Christian Vázquez de 4-1.

Ex-kicker Feely apologizes for gun picture

Ex-kicker Feely apologizes for gun picture

Former NFL kicker Jay Feely has apologized after posting a picture on his Twitter account of himself carrying a gun next to his daughter and her prom date.

The original post went up Saturday, and he posted the apology on Sunday, saying: “The prom picture I posted was obviously intended to be a joke. My Daughter has dated her boyfriend for over a year and they knew I was joking. I take gun safety seriously (the gun was not loaded and had no clip in) and I did not intend to be insensitive to that important issue.”

Feely, 41, has been a football analyst on CBS since 2014. He played for six teams in a 14-year NFL career, most recently for four games with the Bears in 2014.

Browns' 67-year history shows challenges of drafting quarterbacks

Browns' 67-year history shows challenges of drafting quarterbacks

Legendary Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown decided he had to find Otto Graham’s successor in 1952.

With his first-round pick in the NFL draft, Brown chose quarterback Harry Agganis, the son of poor immigrants and a standout at Boston University. Agganis was a bit of a legend in Boston. A multi-sport high school star in West Lynn, Massachusetts, he was recruited by 75 colleges but chose BU so he could be near his widowed mother.

His play drew crowds where there had been none and caught the attention of the NFL’s greatest coach. While some compared Agganis to Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh, Brown merely said Agganis would succeed Graham.

Brown offered Agganis $50,000 to join the Browns, according to a bio on The Agganis Foundation website, but Agganis turned it down.

He decided instead to join the Boston Red Sox for less money, saying he had proven himself in football and he wanted to prove himself in baseball.

The tale took place in a different era in the NFL. The draft was not the colossal show it is now, and research on players was minuscule compared to today. But Agganis is a cautionary tale both about first-round picks and about quarterbacks. Even with the smartest minds at work, it sometimes does not work out, and the Browns have proven that in their 67 years in the NFL.

Through the team’s history, its success with quarterbacks has been marred by missteps and pratfalls, by bad luck and misfortune, and by lack of commitment to what is the most important position on the field.

It’s easy to look at the Browns’ history since 1999 and find failure at the position. In reality, the Browns’ entire history with the draft and quarterbacks has not been stellar — and only highlights the importance of the Browns getting it right Thursday when they will no doubt select a quarterback with the first overall pick.

This is a team that has never really found and/or committed to a player as its franchise quarterback in the regular draft. None of its best quarterbacks came via the regular draft.

Bernie Kosar is the one player the team found and committed to, but he came via machinations that put him in the supplemental draft. It cost a future first-round pick to bring him to Cleveland, but he did not come in the regular draft.

Graham, the greatest quarterback in Browns history, joined the team as a “free agent” out of Northwestern when the Browns were in the All America Football Conference.

Brian Sipe came in the 13th round, Bill Nelsen was acquired via trade from Pittsburgh, and Frank Ryan was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. Tim Couch was a first overall pick, but he lasted five seasons of painful expansion football; it’s impossible to look at Couch now and not feel that he deserved better.

The Browns’ history of drafting quarterbacks has produced only two outstanding players, and the team’s history of “committing” to top quarterbacks shows that it hasn’t.

Since 1950, the Browns have drafted 49 quarterbacks, eight in the first round, with four of those first-rounders taken since 1999. Of the eight, only Kosar has been successful; he led the Browns to three AFC Championship Games.

Sipe, a 13th-round choice in 1972 and the team’s all-time leader in passing yards, guided the Browns in the Kardiac Kids era in the 1980s.

The Browns twice drafted quarterbacks first overall: Couch in 1999 and Bobby Garrett in 1954.

Garrett’s was an interesting choice, coming after the Browns went 11-1 and played for the NFL championship. Garrett’s selection and what happened after shows how different the draft was in the fledgling days of the Browns in the NFL.

The draft in those years was based on a lottery, which the Browns won. Garrett was the consensus best pick after an All-America career at Stanford.

The Browns took him as the heir apparent to Graham, who had played eight seasons. However, soon after the draft Paul Brown learned that Garrett was in Air Force ROTC and had a two-year military commitment. Brown traded Garrett to Green Bay before the season in a deal that brought Babe Parilli to Cleveland.

Garrett played nine games in Green Bay, but did not start. In 1957, the Browns reacquired Garrett, with Parilli going back to the Packers.

It was in the 1957 training camp that the Browns, and Brown, learned what was holding Garrett back: He stuttered, which made calling plays difficult. One of his teammates at Stanford eventually told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that they had to smack Garrett on the back to get him to make the play calls.

Coaches did not take sensitivity training in those days, and Garrett retired before preseason ended. He never played a down for the Browns.

The next quarterback taken by the Browns in the top 10 was Mike Phipps, who in 1970 was considered a future star coming out of Purdue.

Art Modell so badly wanted a quarterback that he made a trade with the Miami Dolphins to send receiver Paul Warfield to Miami for the third overall pick. Phipps was selected after quarterback Terry Bradshaw went to Pittsburgh and defensive lineman Mike McCoy to Green Bay.

Warfield was beloved in Cleveland. He had grown up in Warren, Ohio, and attended Ohio State. In his six seasons in Cleveland he had become a fan favorite. When Warfield returned to Cleveland for the first time after the deal for a Monday night game, he received an ovation that he has said was among the highlights of his career.

The Browns were coming off 10-win seasons (in 14 games) in 1968 and 1969 that saw the team make consecutive conference championship games. But Nelsen’s creaky knees (six surgeries) scarred him and scared the team. Modell made a bold move, and it didn’t work out. Phipps went 24-35-1 as a starter in Cleveland and completed just 48.1 percent while throwing 81 interceptions and 40 touchdowns. In 1977 he was traded to Chicago.

Warfield went on to the Hall of Fame and was part of the Dolphins’ perfect season.

The first team the Dolphins beat in the playoffs that season was the Browns, quarterbacked by Phipps. Warfield had 91 yards rushing and receiving, while Phipps went 9-for-23 for 131 yards with five interceptions. Those numbers don’t show how close the Browns came to the upset, though, as they led 14-13 in the fourth quarter before losing 20-14.

Modell’s next move for a quarterback went better, as the team used the supplemental draft rules to their advantage to get Kosar. The Browns made a trade with Buffalo to get the first pick in the supplemental draft, and Kosar delayed his entry to the NFL to avoid the regular draft because he wanted to play in Cleveland.

He had an outstanding career and took part in one of the more exciting eras in team history that included three appearances in the AFC Championship Game. All were against Denver, and included “The Drive” engineered by John Elway, and “The Fumble” by Earnest Byner, which pains Browns fans to this day.

In 1999, the Browns were returning as an expansion franchise and decided to build around a quarterback. They chose Couch with the first pick in the 1999 draft.

Couch had ability and to this day Bruce Arians insists he would have been a successful quarterback had he been handled better. But he was thrown into the starting spot with an expansion team then was jerked in and out of the lineup by Butch Davis.

The Browns let him go after signing Jeff Garcia, who lasted one season. Couch, who ranks fifth in Browns history with 11,131 passing yards, went 22-37 as a starter and guided the team to its only post-1999 playoff experience in 2002, only to miss the playoff game with a broken leg.

Since Couch was drafted the Browns have selected three quarterbacks in the first round, all 22nd overall: Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn. None won more than five games and combined they won 10.

Since 2008, the Browns have had eight top 10 picks and not used one on a quarterback. They have not taken a quarterback in the top five since 1999.

In the team’s 67-year history in the NFL, the Browns have had 55 different starting quarterbacks (28 since 1999). Only eight have gone to the Pro Bowl, with 16 total appearances.

Eleven have started a playoff game, with Kelly Holcomb (2002) and Vinny Testaverde (1994) the only playoff starters since 1993. Of the team’s 34 playoff games, Graham or Kosar was the starting quarterback in 20.

The lesson for the Browns as this draft approaches is the lesson of all history: Those who do not learn from it are doomed to repeat it.

Broncos gave Jay Cutler silent treatment before drafting him

Broncos gave Jay Cutler silent treatment before drafting him

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Just this week, the guy who makes the football decisions for the Denver Broncos, John Elway, made it clear how important it is to get to know draft prospects.

He made it clear how much he values face-to-face conversations, the quality time, as he prepares to select fifth overall on Thursday.

“When you have them in on a visit you get to know them better,” Elway said. “You still don’t get to know them really well, but you get to know them better and you learn about the personalities. I don’t jump to conclusions that they are true. I draw my own conclusions, so no matter what’s been said out there, I try to draw my own conclusions and get as many viewpoints on a kid. The bottom line is I have to draw from my own and with the feel I get from them. … It’s hard to draw from too many different opinions until you get around them and get a feel for them yourself.”

But more than a decade ago, one of the Broncos’ quirkier draft chapters involved little power of conversation, limited quality time and absolutely no face-to-face meetings. As the Broncos look hard at another draft board with several high-profile quarterbacks under review, there is the silence-is-golden story of the Broncos and Jay Cutler.

Because when the Broncos traded up — not once, but twice — in the first round of the 2006 draft to select Cutler at No. 11, the man making the decision then — Mike Shanahan — had not spoken to Cutler face-to-face at any point leading up to the draft. The Broncos didn’t even attend Cutler’s pro day at Vanderbilt.

“Not once,” Cutler has said. “Never. The first time I talked to him was after they picked me.”

It seems so out of place now as every crumb of information, every sliver of body language, is shoved through multiple levels of review, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. So much so that earlier this year when Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was presented with the idea of a team selecting him without first talking to him, it seemed foreign.

“At all? Not at all?” asked Mayfield, one of the most highly rated quarterbacks in this year’s draft. “Wow, I don’t know, just from my own experiences, I’m not sure I can even see that happening.”

Wyoming’s Josh Allen, too, wasn’t quite sure how to consider such a thing.

“I can’t say that’s happened,” Allen said early in the draft process. “I already feel like I’ve talked to every team or at least somebody from every team with [the Senior Bowl], combine and everything.”

Shanahan has always maintained it was all part of special circumstances. Coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, the Broncos were slated to pick 29th in 2006. Shanahan liked Cutler enough as a player to want to draft him, but knew that wasn’t going to happen near the bottom of the first round.

Years later when Shanahan, as the Washington Redskins head coach with the No. 2 pick in hand, was deciding between Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, he openly discussed both, met with both and did nothing to hide the pursuit.

“We were picking 2, and if you’re there, you have to like both guys, be willing to pick either guy and we were, as an organization, willing to pick either guy then,” Shanahan said. “[The 2006 draft] was different. I was trying to get in position and it was going to be close.”

So Shanahan called on a friend. Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans had the No. 3 pick and team owner K.S. “Bud” Adams Jr. had already pointed at Texas quarterback Vince Young. Because the Titans had such a high pick, they vetted, met with and worked out the top three quarterback prospects in that draft: Young, USC’s Matt Leinart and Cutler.

“We had sat down with them all,” Fisher said this past season. “And we knew Vince was going to be the pick, so in that situation I talked to Mike about the guys as people. We knew, in our situation, Vince was the pick, we weren’t compromising that in any way.”

“I could see the rest on film,” Shanahan said. “So, we didn’t have to participate in the talk … it was a little different.”

Information in hand and with a desire to select Cutler, the Broncos made a trade with the Atlanta Falcons on the first night of the 2006 draft to move up from 29 to 15. But Shanahan didn’t believe that would be quite enough, as the top nine picks were made with Cutler and Leinart still on the board.

The Arizona Cardinals then selected Leinart at No. 10, so Shanahan made a trade with the then-St. Louis Rams to get to No. 11 — where the Broncos selected Cutler.

“I’ve said it was kind of the same way we did when we got [linebacker] John Mobley [in the 1996 draft],” Shanahan said. “We never talked to him before that draft before we took him [at No. 15]. Jimmy Johnson called me after that one. I think he wanted to take him, too.”