How NFL offensive linemen escape the 5,000-calorie lunch and transform in retirement

How NFL offensive linemen escape the 5,000-calorie lunch and transform in retirement

It’s 3 p.m., and Joe Thomas needs to eat. He’s driving with his family but is getting hungry. Is it really hunger? He doesn’t know. Throughout his entire NFL career as an offensive tackle with the Cleveland Browns, Thomas was conditioned to eat every two hours, because his job literally depended on it.

Thomas finds a McDonald’s on the GPS. It will be quick — just a bit of fuel between lunch and dinner. He orders two double cheeseburgers, two McChickens, a double quarter-pounder with cheese, one large order of fries and a large Dr. Pepper.

“Or another sugary drink,” he said recently. “Just to add 500 calories, the easy way.”

It wasn’t easy playing 10,000 consecutive snaps or fending off football’s most explosive pass-rushers. But it was just as hard for Thomas to maintain a 300-plus-pound frame. He had to consume an insatiable amount of food. Here’s a potential day in the life:

  • Think breakfast: four pieces of bacon, four sausage links, eight eggs, three pancakes and oatmeal with peanut butter, followed by a midmorning protein shake.

  • Lunch? Perhaps pasta, meatballs, cookies “and maybe a salad, great, whatever” from the team cafeteria.

  • For dinner, Thomas could devour an entire Detroit-style pizza himself, and then follow it with a sleeve of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies and a bowl of ice cream. And finally, he would slurp down another protein shake before getting into bed.

“If I went two hours without eating, I literally would have cut your arm off and started eating it,” the former offensive lineman said. “I felt if I missed a meal after two hours, I was going to lose weight, and I was going to get in trouble. That was the mindset I had. We got weighed in on Mondays, and if I lost 5 pounds, my coach was going to give me hell.”

Eating in excess isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. In fact, laborious might be the better word. Throughout his career, Thomas woke up in the middle of the night and “crushed Tums.” He relied on pain medications and anti-inflammatories, and he had constant heartburn.

Then Thomas retired in 2018. “When you start eating and exercising like a normal human being,” Thomas said, “the health benefits are amazing.” He not only threw away the over-the-counter meds, but his skin cleared up, his yoga practice improved and he felt less bloated. Within six months, 60 pounds melted off from his 325-pound playing weight. By September 2019, TMZ picked up Thomas’ transformation, headlining an article: “Ex-NFL Fat Guy … LOOKS LIKE A CHISELED GREEK GOD.”

“I just had a great laugh,” Thomas said. “Isn’t that the typical lineman life? Eleven years in the NFL, and all I’m known as now is ex-NFL fat guy.”

Thomas is the latest example of an offensive lineman who, after retiring, recommitted to a normalized, healthy lifestyle after overeating and over-medicating during his NFL career. His journey might seem dramatic, but it’s not uncommon.

Longtime San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who played in the most recent Super Bowl, has already donated five garbage bags of clothing and bought all new belts since his waist slimmed from 40 to 36 inches and he lost 50 pounds. Former Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda dropped 60 pounds in three months by going from 6,000 calories per day to 2,000. Nick Hardwick, Jeff Saturday, Alan Faneca and Matt Birk are all former big guys who now look like shells of themselves, which generated tabloid-like attention. The list continues on and on.

So how’d they pull it off? We interviewed nine retired offensive linemen about the lengths they went to in bulking up and their secrets to slimming down after hanging up their cleats. The players were candid about body image insecurities, outrageous diets, struggles with eating disorders and the short- and long-term health ramifications of maintaining their playing weights for so many years.

‘Training yourself to have an eating disorder’

Former offensive tackle Jordan Gross started 167 games over 11 seasons for the Carolina Panthers. He was a Pro Bowler three times, made the All-Rookie team in 2003 and started at right tackle for the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Then he retired in 2014 and lost 70 pounds within six months.

“Fans know me more for losing weight than they do for anything I did in my entire career,” Gross said.

Although that kind of weight loss can be inspiring, it also points to the unhealthy relationship with food many offensive linemen develop, usually dating back to college. Faneca, a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998 who went on to 201 career starts with three teams, recalls his position coach at LSU chastising the entire offensive line once for “looking like a bunch of stuffed sausages,” challenging them to lose a pound a day. Later, he was told he had to gain more.

Thomas puts it bluntly: “You’re training yourself to have an eating disorder the way you view food when you’re in the NFL, and to try to deprogram that is a real challenge.” Body image and self-esteem issues can fester, as these athletes are told their worth can essentially be measured in calories and pounds.

“I always had this insecurity of being big when it came to dating life, talking to women and going out being a 300-pound man,” said former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons center/guard Joe Hawley. “I didn’t want to be that big, but I had to because I loved football and that was my job.”

A lot of the weight is artificial to begin with. As Gross points out, “not many people are naturally that big,” but bulking up was essential to playing at the highest level and making millions of dollars. Gross, for example, ingested an enormous amount of protein each day while playing, including six pieces of bacon, six scrambled eggs, two 50-gram protein shakes, four hard-boiled eggs and two chicken breasts — all before 2 p.m. in the afternoon.

It’s a somewhat new phenomenon, according to Dr. Archie Roberts, a 1965 draft pick of the Jets who went on to become a cardiac surgeon. In 2001, Roberts co-founded the Living Heart Foundation, which annually conducts health screenings for retired football players. “In the 1990s, there was a push that suggested to some people that putting on more weight might make it a more effective and exciting game,” Roberts said. “Because the bigger offensive linemen could hold off the defensive rush for a longer time so that the quarterback could throw the ball down the field, leading to more spectacular passing plays.”

Playing weights began ballooning across the league, especially on the line. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the average weight of starting offensive linemen was 254.3 pounds in 1970. It jumped to 276.9 by 1990, but the largest increase in poundage would come in the following 10 years. A decade later, the average O-line starter checked in at 309.4 pounds. Today the number stands at 315, more than 60 pounds heavier than 50 years ago.

Hawley typically played between 295 and 300 pounds, but during his fifth year in the league, he adopted the paleo diet and ate clean. He lost 10 to 15 pounds and played the following season at 285. “It was hard to keep weight on eating clean like that, but I felt so much better,” Hawley said. “I had so much energy; I wasn’t as lethargic.”

Then, he re-signed in Tampa Bay.

“Because I was getting pushed around a little bit playing on the offensive line that way, they told me I needed to gain weight,” Hawley said. “So I went to a more unhealthy diet, which made me feel, well, not as good. But it’s what I had to do to play.”

“Being skinny as a lineman wouldn’t be helpful, because you would have to create more force to stop those big guys,” Thomas said. “Inertia becomes an issue. I’m a big, fat guy, you’re running at me, you don’t have to create as much force because I’m just heavier, fatter and have more mass.”

The benefits of slimming down

Although that mass helps on the field, health complications can follow. In May, USA Today ran an entire column wondering if offensive linemen were more susceptible to severe complications from COVID-19 because of their size. Roberts warns that massive weight gain can also lead to obesity. “Which then affects their heart, lungs, kidney and their minds,” Roberts said. “It’s not proven, but it also may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease and possibly traumatic brain injury.”

Once playing careers wind down, many players must assess whether it’s worth it to carry the extra pounds. Many have decided to downsize.

Faneca, the longtime Steelers guard, remembers the day he hit a milestone of losing 30 pounds. He was playing on the floor with his daughter and he got up without having to “do the old-man grunt.” “I just stood up, no problem,” Faneca said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, this is nice.'”

Thomas said when he was 300 pounds, his body would ache if he had to stand for a few minutes. Gross said he hated the sweating. “I would just sweat profusely all the time,” he lamented. “My wife would have hypothermia from me having the room so cold all the time.”

Hardwick, a center with the then-San Diego Chargers who maxed out at 308, said his initial motivation to lose weight was to relieve pressure from his body. (According to the April issue of the Harvard Medical School newsletter, each additional pound you carry places about 4 pounds of stress on the knee joints.)

“But then there’s this material aspect to it,” Hardwick said. “You want to be able to wear cooler clothes, and go into stores and start shopping off the rack. And that’s alluring for a while. Then that wears off, and you settle in, and people stop freaking out every time they see you. And you just become comfortable once again in your own skin.”

Staley, albeit sheepishly, admits he likes the fact that his muscles are getting defined.

“As an offensive lineman, you’re always known as this big, humongous, unathletic blob,” Staley said. “Offensive linemen get casted in a movie, and they’re always 500 pounds. Then you get the opportunity to be healthy again, and all of the effort you used to put into football, you put into that. It gives you a focus once you retire. It’s a little bit vain, but I’m starting to see abs that I’ve always wanted. And it’s kind of exciting.”

Oh, the things we eat …

There are two types of offensive linemen: those who must artificially add the pounds on, and those who are naturally big.

“I’m the latter,” said Damien Woody, a longtime NFL lineman and current ESPN analyst. “I could literally breathe and inhale and gain 5 pounds.” During a summer growth spurt after his sophomore year of high school, Woody grew 6 inches and gained 70 pounds. By the time he got to Boston College, he already weighed 300. “It was never a problem for me to put weight on,” he said.

The other group? Gaining weight can become an all-consuming sport, which often begins in the collegiate years. Consider Hardwick, who wrestled in the 171-pound weight class in high school. He enrolled at Purdue on a ROTC scholarship, got a tryout for the football team and ballooned to 295 by slathering 2 pounds of ground beef on multiple tortillas at dinner. Hardwick also downed a 600- or 700-calorie protein shake before bed and set his alarm to drink a similar one at 3 a.m.

At this year’s NFL combine, Ben Bartch was a topic of conversation after talking about his go-to smoothie: seven scrambled eggs, “a big tub” of cottage cheese, grits, peanut butter, a banana and Gatorade. A daily dose of that concoction added 59 pounds to Bartch’s 6-foot-6 frame, helping him morph from a third-string Division III tight end at St. John’s (Minnesota) to a fourth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars as an offensive lineman.

“I would just throw it all in and then plug my nose,” Bartch said. “In the dark. I would gag sometimes. That’s what you have to do sometimes.”

Chris Bober, a former New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs lineman, showed up at the University of Nebraska-Omaha at 225 pounds, which was too small. He ate everything he could get his hands on, which was difficult as a college student “who was pretty broke.” It was especially challenging over the summers, when he inherently burned calories at his construction job. If Bober went to Subway, he wouldn’t just buy one foot-long sub — he’d get two. At Taco John’s, his order was a 12-pack of tacos and a pound of potato oles, which adds up to a nearly 5,000-calorie lunch.

When Thomas was at Wisconsin, any player trying to gain weight could grab a 10-ounce to-go carton of heavy whipping cream with added sugars and whey protein after a workout. He surmises the dairy-forward drink went for about 1,000 calories a pop — and he chased it with a 50-gram protein shake on his way to class.

Like Hardwick, Staley — who went from 215 pounds to 295 at Central Michigan, as he transitioned from tight end to the offensive line — used to set an alarm for himself every day at 2 a.m. “I had these premade weight-gainer shakes; they were probably 2,000 calories each,” Staley said. “I’d wake myself up in the middle of the night, down that, go back to bed.”

Although Staley worked with his college strength coach to make sure he was putting on “good weight” — gaining muscle without unnecessary body fat — the unnatural eating habits took a toll. “I was bloated for four years straight,” Staley said. “You know when you overeat after a really nice dinner at an Italian restaurant, you just eat all these courses and leave feeling gross? That’s how I felt the entire time in college.”

Staley no longer fit into the clothes he arrived at Central Michigan with but couldn’t afford to buy new ones, so he was constantly borrowing from teammates. Most offensive linemen admit they pretty much lived in team-issued sweats. “I’m lucky, in the late 1990s, early 2000s, everything baggy was in style,” Gross said. “So from 250 to 300, it wasn’t a massive wardrobe change. The waist got big, but elastic drawstrings were my best friend.”

The habits continue in the NFL. Many older players credit the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, which banned training camp two-a-days, as a turning point. Before then, it felt like their college days. “If I was doing two-a-days, in the summer in South Carolina, going up against Julius Peppers, I was for sure burning 10,000 calories,” Gross said.

So at the end of each day in training camp at Wofford College, Gross counted to 15 one-thousands on the soft-serve machine, then blended that with four cups of whole milk, plus three homemade chocolate cookies (which Gross believes were about 850 calories each) and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. “That’s all inflammatory foods, like sugar and dairy,” he said, “I’m not going to say it’s horrible; it was pretty awesome to eat that stuff. But you’re putting so much demand on your digestive system. I always had gas. I always had to use the bathroom. I was bloated because I was so full all the time.”

Striving to be the biggest loser

There’s a common refrain among offensive linemen: If you don’t lose weight in your first year out of the league, you’re probably not going to lose it.

Four years after retiring, Woody weighed 388 pounds and agreed to appear on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Instead of heavy lifting and concentrating on explosive bursts, Woody was asked to do longer cardio and train for endurance. “It was totally different from what I had learned to do and had trained to do my entire life,” Woody said. “And it was hard. Like, man, it was really tough.”

Woody lost 100 pounds on the show — then gained it all back.

So he just accepted his weight, until this past year, when the 42-year-old renovated his basement into an exercise room. “I wanted to lose weight the right way,” Woody said. “In a sustainable way.”

Woody lured in his wife and kids to join his mission. On Sunday nights, they meal prep. And every day Woody goes down to the basement to stay active. His prefers the Peloton bike — “I hit that hard,” he said — but also uses the row machine, and does “all different types of exercises so I don’t get bored.” While he still lifts weights, he focuses on lighter options and higher reps. “I’m not putting any weight on my back anymore; I’m not lifting excessive weight to potentially hurt myself,” Woody said. “Because that’s not the point anymore.”

On June 14, Woody tweeted that he was down 50 pounds since March 23 “and my joints are already jumping for joy.”

It isn’t easy. And for many years, players have felt like they’re on their own in their weight-loss journey.

“The NFL doesn’t give you any guidance on how to do it,” Bober said. “They’re just like, ‘OK, see ya!’ You need to take it upon yourself to figure it out. And as I’ve gotten older and older, I’ve noticed it does become more and more difficult to manage if you haven’t lost it right away.”

Shortly after the last CBA in 2011, the NFL Players Association launched “The Trust,” which interim executive director Kelly Mehrtens describes as a VIP concierge service of benefits players can take advantage of as they transition outside of the league. As part of a holistic approach, the Trust invites players to Exos (where they can train, get physical therapy and undergo a nutrition consultation), offers them YMCA memberships and arranges physicals and consultations with specialists at hospitals across the country.

The Trust, Mehrtens explains, is all about figuring out why certain guys transition to their post-playing lives more successfully than others, and how they could help bridge the gap. “These are earned benefits,” Mehrtens said. “So we want to make sure guys take advantage of something they’ve already earned.”

Dr. Roberts’ Living Heart Foundation, a partner of the NFLPA, does health screenings for former players three times per year. Anyone with a BMI of 35 or over is invited to join a six-month program called The Biggest Loser (although this one isn’t televised). So far, roughly 50 players have gone through it. Most are in their 40s, with the oldest participant 80 years old. “It just shows it’s never too late to find motivation to reach your goals,” lead trainer Erik Beshore said.

Beshore said most who enrolled in The Biggest Loser program are diabetic or pre-diabetic. However, after six months, as they commit to sustainable lifestyle changes, many have gone off their insulin, eliminated their blood pressure medication, gotten better sleep and reported overall better moods.

“It’s amazing how many of them can lose the weight all these years later,” Roberts said. “But in terms of if they can reverse the damage that may have occurred in the interim period form when they played football at large size to years later, it’s hard to quantitate because we don’t have long-term data yet.”

Living the healthy lifestyle

To slim down, Staley cut out most carbs, besides vegetables. He purged his house of his favorite vice, chips and salsa, and now snacks on raw broccoli and Bitchin’ Sauce — an almond-based vegan dip. Staley said he now eats with purpose and moderation. “In the NFL, I always ate when I was hungry and whatever was available,” he said. “If it was salmon, great. If it was frozen pizza, I’d eat that too.”

Hawley, who retired in 2018, donated most of his material possessions to charity and has been living out of a van and Airbnb’s across the country. He said it was all about reconditioning his brain to eat only until he feels full, and not eating until he can’t eat anymore. Intermittent fasting has been a huge tool for the 6-foot-3 Hawley, who is down 60 pounds to 240. He rarely eats breakfast and tries to do one 24-hour fast per week — eating dinner at 6 or 7 p.m., and then not eating at all until 6 or 7 p.m. the following night. Sometimes he even challenges himself to a 36-hour fast.

Hawley has connected with other ex-big guys, such as Hardwick, whom he met at “Bridge to Success,” a NFL-run transition program for retired players.

“But it’s not as big of a community as I would like,” Hawley said. “I’m actually working on creating an online community for guys. That’s one thing I’ve been missing. I went through my whole life being part of a locker room with a team, and then you get into the real world at 30, and nobody really knows what that experience is like.”

Hardwick said he’s working on an e-book with a blueprint of his diet plan for people who want to lose weight quickly and keep it off.

Many players interviewed for this story said while they do feel better and like the way they look, rapid weight loss has led to unsightly stretch marks and excess, saggy skin (which one player, wishing to stay anonymous, said he had cosmetically removed). Hardwick and Gross also warn of something that happened to them: They got so obsessed with losing the weight that it went too far.

Hardwick remembers weighing himself after a hot yoga class in January 2015. The scale read 202 pounds. “Great,” he thought to himself. “Another 3 pounds, and it will be 199.” But then he got a glance of his profile in the mirror, and he didn’t recognize himself.

“If the apocalypse came, there was no way I could defend me or my family,” he said. Hardwick went home and started binge eating to overcorrect. He has hovered between 220 and 230 since, which he thinks is a healthy weight for him.

Gross experimented for a while. He was vegetarian for a year and then tried the paleo diet. “You don’t have any wiggle room when you’re playing — you just have to eat to keep the weight on,” he said. “So I thought it was exciting to try different things.” Once Gross got down to 250, he noticed an immense pain relief in his feet and ankles, which were swollen his last few years in the league — but due to weight, not injury.

When Gross began his transformation, he went to Old Navy and bought three pairs of shorts and two polo shirts. He didn’t know where his weight loss would lead him, and he didn’t want to waste money. Gross got all the way down to 225, but restricting himself to under 2,500 calories a day didn’t feel like a sustainable lifestyle. “That was too much,” he said. As he gets ready to turn 40 this summer, Gross eats about 3,200 calories a day and is back to lifting weights. He now happily hovers around 240 pounds.

As for Thomas? As his career wound down, he began consulting with Katy Meassick, the Browns’ nutritionist, who began educating him on healthier habits. They came up with a post-retirement plan, which Thomas describes as “low-carb or keto diet, with intermittent fasting.” He added swimming and biking as cardio, along with yoga.

Thomas, too, had to recondition his brain to stop eating when he was full. Throughout his football career, he had taught his subconscious to go beyond that point and keep stuffing his face with family-size McDonald’s orders and sugary drinks. It’s a new kind of discipline. Now every Monday, Thomas and his wife, Annie, will try to fast for 24 hours. Because of his previous line of work, it’s not such a hard transition.

“As an offensive lineman, you just do the grunt work forever and you do the crap nobody wants to do — our position is the Mushroom Club. We’re used to being s— on a truck in a dark room, and everyone expects us to go out and perform for no glory whatsoever,” Thomas said.

“And you almost miss that misery. It’s almost a weird thing to say, but getting into the fasting world and trying to discipline yourself and do something that is hard, in a weird, sick way, [that’s something] I think a lot of offensive linemen get.”

Published at Mon, 06 Jul 2020 13:43:11 +0000

Washington Redskins’ nickname has been under fire for decades

Washington Redskins’ nickname has been under fire for decades

The Washington Redskins‘ nickname has been mired in controversy for decades.

Former team owner Jack Kent Cooke said in 1988: “There is not a single, solitary jot, tittle, whit chance in the world” that the Redskins change their nickname. “I like the name, and it’s not a derogatory name.”

A few years later, protesters picketed against the nickname at the Super Bowl following the 1991 season.

The issue faded in both instances, but every so often, it comes up again. The arc is similar each time: an initial wave of support for a name change, the Redskins holding firm and, finally, waning attention to the issue.

Then came George Floyd’s death on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police. The protests that followed led to monuments being felled, the Mississippi state flag’s retirement and countless other changes throughout the nation.

Washington’s NFL team might become part of that change. The team put out a statement Friday saying it is going to “undergo a thorough review of the team name.” That marks the first time under Dan Snyder, who has owned the team since 1999, that the franchise has gone to this extent.

Here’s a look at some of the challenges to the Redskins’ nickname during Snyder’s tenure:

Aug. 11, 2006: Suit challenges Redskins’ trademark

Amanda Blackhorse became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged the trademark of Washington’s nickname, saying it disparaged Native Americans. It was the second time that Blackhorse was part of a suit challenging a trademark that protected the Redskins’ name. The first one, decided in 2005, was unsuccessful.

May 9, 2013: ‘You can use caps’

Snyder’s strongest comment on the name happened during the 2013 offseason, as focus returned to the topic, perhaps spurred by more winning. Washington was coming off a 10-6 season under rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

During an interview with USA Today, Snyder said, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Sept. 15, 2013: Protests last the season

The Oneida Indian Nation kicked off a season-long protest campaign when Washington played at the Green Bay Packers. The group protested at every road game that season. Perhaps the biggest protest occurred in Minnesota before a game vs. the Vikings, when hundreds of protesters marched the streets to the stadium.

Several days before the Packers game, Brandon Stevens, an Oneida Nation official, told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel: “The warrior image is not the image we want to be portrayed.”

Oct. 5, 2013: President Obama weighs in

President Barack Obama stopped short of saying that the name should be changed. But he became the latest politician to discuss the matter.

He told The Associated Press: “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

Obama also said: “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things. I don’t want to detract from the wonderful Redskins fans that are here. They love their team and rightly so.”

Oct. 10, 2013: Snyder’s letter to fans

Five days later, as pressure mounted and more protests took place, Snyder wrote to the fan base.

In the letter, which represented his most extensive comments on the controversy, Snyder defended the name by saying: “Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide. We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans. Our fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love.”

Snyder also expanded on what the term “Redskins” means to him: “When I consider the Washington Redskins name, I think of what it stands for. I think of the Washington Redskins traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me — and just as you have shared with your family and friends.”

May 22, 2014: 50 Senators sign a letter protesting the name

Fifty senators, all Democrats, signed a letter to the NFL saying that Washington should change its nickname.

The letter stated: “The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur. We urge the NFL to formally support a name change for the Washington football team. … We urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports.”

The NFL issued a release to the New York Times defending the name.

“The intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image,” the statement read. “The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.”

June 8, 2014: Court rules against Redskins

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six trademarks held by the Redskins, calling the nickname “disparaging to Native Americans.” It cited a federal law that prevents trademark protection in cases in which language is offensive or disparaging.

The Redskins appealed the decision.

May 19, 2016: Washington Post poll says 90% of Native Americans not offended

In 2004, the Annenberg Public Policy Center released a poll that said nine out of 10 Native Americans were not bothered by the Redskins’ name.

A Washington Post poll 12 years later found similar results. The Post found that 90% of 504 respondents who identify as Native American were not offended by the name. Seven of 10 did not think it was disrespectful, and eight of 10 said they would not be offended if a non-Native American called them by that name.

June 19, 2017: Supreme Court rules in favor of Washington

The Redskins won a victory when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office used to prevent the team from registering trademarks using the word “Redskins” was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court said it was “far-fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech, especially given the fact that if trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.”

The court cited a case involving an Asian band named The Slants and the ruling that the name did not violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause because “Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”

May 25, 2020: George Floyd dies

George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minnesota set off a chain of events that impacted Washington and beyond. Thousands of people flocked to the streets in cities across the country, protesting police brutality and racism. The country’s focus shifted from the coronavirus pandemic to race relations.

Over the next month, statues were toppled in many cities and towns, including that of Washington’s first owner, George Preston Marshall, outside RFK Stadium. The Redskins also removed Marshall’s name from their Ring of Fame. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from racetracks.

The protests led to another opening for those who opposed the team name, and they mobilized.

July 1, 2020: Letter to sponsors

On Wednesday, Adweek reported that 87 investors and shareholders, worth a combined $620 billion, sent a letter the previous week to three sponsors — FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo — urging them to support a name change for the team. In the past, groups had protested outside stadiums and tried to change the name through the courts. This represented a targeted push at sponsors.

On the day Adweek’s story appeared, the Washington Post quoted multiple officials in Washington, D.C., saying the team would not be able to move back to the city unless it changed its name. The Redskins want to build a new stadium after their lease on the land in Landover, Maryland, expires after the 2027 season. They have considered the site where RFK Stadium, their former home, still stands, but because it’s on federal land, the opinions of politicians matter.

“I call on Dan Snyder once again to face that reality since he does still desperately want to be in the nation’s capital,” Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, told the Post. “He has got a problem he can’t get around — and he particularly can’t get around it today after the George Floyd killing.”

July 2, 2020: FedEx statement

One person who knows Snyder well called FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, who owns 10% of the team. The person said Snyder idolizes Smith. That’s why it mattered when FedEx released a statement Thursday that read, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.” Another person who knows Snyder well said he had to have felt “betrayed” by such a statement.

In 1998 — the year before Snyder bought the Redskins — FedEx struck a $205 million, 27-year deal for naming rights to the stadium. In 2014, the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin asked FedEx shareholders to reconsider the naming rights agreement. But shareholders voted to continue the relationship, which ends in 2025. FedEx has not said if it would sever ties now, but no sponsor has a stronger tie to the organization. The statement, multiple people said, was a game-changer.

Nike also released a statement, saying: “We have been talking to the NFL and sharing our concerns regarding the name of the Washington team. We are pleased to see the team taking a first step towards change.”

When searching for Redskins gear on Nike’s website, this is what comes up: “We could not find anything for ‘Redskins.’”

PepsiCo has not released a statement.

July 3, 2020: Redskins share statement

The Redskins released a statement Friday morning. The first two paragraphs packed power:

“In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team’s name. This review formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks.

“Dan Snyder, Owner of the Washington Redskins, stated, ‘This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field.'”

One person who knows Snyder well predicted that this is the final step toward eventual change, with the owner trying to see what traditions can be preserved. This is the most serious the organization has been about a name change.

The team’s statement closed: “We believe this review can and will be conducted with the best interest of all in mind.”

Published at Sat, 04 Jul 2020 00:12:41 +0000

Against NFLPA advice, Lions’ Matthew Stafford holds group workouts

Against NFLPA advice, Lions’ Matthew Stafford holds group workouts

Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions‘ front office have said for months that the quarterback is healthy and ready for the 2020 season. On Thursday, videos posted on Instagram by his wife, Kelly, showed it.

Stafford worked out at a school with receiver Jamal Agnew, tight end Jesse James and fullback Nick Bawden, including working on routes. The Lions’ official Twitter account took one of the clips — a rollout and throw to Bawden — and posted it.

Stafford and Lions players are the latest in the league to ignore the advice of NFLPA medical director Dr. Thom Mayer, who said that in light of rising coronavirus cases, players should not work out together privately.

This isn’t the first time Stafford has worked out with teammates this offseason. Receiver Danny Amendola said he flew to Georgia in the spring to get workouts in with his quarterback. Stafford also got work in with running back D’Andre Swift, receiver Quintez Cephus and tight end Isaac Nauta in Georgia when he was in Atlanta.

As Stafford has practiced, he has made adjustments due to COVID-19.

“Conscious efforts trying not to lick my fingers before I get the ball or throw it,” Stafford said in May. “All those kind of things are things that I would have never thought I would have had to think about, but at the moment, I am.”

Prior to the pandemic, Stafford spent time in California with Amendola and receiver Kenny Golladay.

Published at Sat, 27 Jun 2020 00:58:56 +0000

After ’19 clunker, Adam Gase tasked with fixing Jets’ broken offense

After ’19 clunker, Adam Gase tasked with fixing Jets’ broken offense

The 2019 New York Jets were historically bad on offense. They finished last in total yards for only the third time in the past 49 years, and that’s kind of wild when you think about how many bad offenses they have fielded over the past half-century. Google “the 1970s Jets” and you’ll understand.

Not surprisingly, Jets general manager Joe Douglas used his first offseason to rebuild that side of the ball, including an eye-opening overhaul on the offensive line. The revamped offense probably isn’t good enough to sniff the top 10, but the unit, which could have six new starters, should hover close to average if it can navigate a tough early schedule and the inevitable growing pains of transition.

Coach Adam Gase’s job security could depend on it.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the position groups and whether they’re better, worse or the same since 2019:

Quarterback

Additions: Joe Flacco, James Morgan

Losses: Trevor Siemian

Returners: Sam Darnold, David Fales, Mike White

Better, worse or the same? Better

Darnold should be better than last season, based on natural growth and an improved (on paper) offensive line. His mission is to build on the progress he showed late in 2019, when he ranked 10th in passer rating over the final eight weeks. The talent is there; he just needs to make better decisions, especially on third down (75.9 passer rating) and against the blitz (65.5). It’s melodramatic to say this is a make-or-break season, but it’s important for him to validate his potential.

Flacco provides much-needed veteran insurance, although his surgically repaired neck creates a variable. He might not be cleared by Week 1, meaning the Jets might have to carry four quarterbacks into the regular season (Fales as the insurance, the rookie Morgan as clipboard holder). Flacco isn’t the same quarterback who won a Super Bowl for the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, but he’s an upgrade over their recent backups. The Jets have dropped 11 straight with their backup QB in a starting role. No team can afford to give away games like that.

Running back

Additions: Frank Gore, La’Mical Perine

Losses: Bilal Powell, Ty Montgomery, Jalin Moore

Returners: Le’Veon Bell, Trenton Cannon, Josh Adams, Kenneth Dixon

Better, worse or the same? Better

After last season, it couldn’t get worse.

Bell, trapped behind a terrible offensive line, averaged 3.2 yards per rush — the worst in franchise history (minimum 150 carries). He might not be the Bell of 2017 — running backs rarely get better with age — but he should be more productive than he was in 2019. It will be interesting to see how the coronavirus pandemic affected his offseason conditioning. A year ago, Bell reported to training camp in outstanding shape. By the end of the season, he had lost some of his burst. If the Jets are out of contention by midseason, they probably will look to shop him at the trading deadline.

Even at 37, Gore is a slight upgrade over Powell (free agent) as the RB2. Gore is a longtime Gase favorite, so his presence creates a fascinating dynamic with Bell, whose relationship with the coach has been scrutinized since day one. Gase is on record as saying he wants to “lessen the load” for Bell. How much remains to be seen. Best bet: Look for Gore to average six to eight carries per game, with Bell still getting the bulk of the work.

The wild card is Perine, a fourth-round pick from Florida. Because of his pass-catching ability, he has the potential to be a three-down back. Scouts say he’s faster than his 40-yard time (4.6 seconds), and speed is a big question in this backfield. The fastest back is Cannon, but his foot injury from last season remains a big concern.

Wide receiver

Additions: Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims, Josh Doctson, Jehu Chesson, Lawrence Cager, George Campbell

Losses: Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa (PUP), Demaryius Thomas, Josh Bellamy (PUP)

Returners: Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Vyncint Smith, Jeff Smith, Josh Malone,

Better, worse or the same? Same

The sobering reality for Darnold is that for the third straight season, he won’t have a true WR1 — and that won’t help his development. The Jets are counting on Perriman, who went on a hot streak at the end of last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to continue that momentum in his new city. That’s asking a lot, considering the first 46 games of his career were nondescript. At his best, Perriman can fill the Anderson role, that of a vertical threat who can take the top off a defense.

There will be a lot of pressure on Mims, their second-round pick, to fill an immediate role. Once again, that’s a big ask. The former Baylor star has a high ceiling, but his chances of making an immediate impact were reduced by the cancellation of offseason practices due to the pandemic. Gase’s offense is complex, and Mims will need time.

The good news is that Perriman and Mims are big-time burners. Gase is hoping that forces defenses into playing a split-safety look, which would open up the running game for Bell & Co.

Chances are Darnold will lean on his trusty slot receiver again. Don’t be surprised if Crowder, who caught a career-high 78 passes last season, goes north of that total. Fantasy owners, take note.

Tight end

Additions: None

Losses: None

Returners: Ryan Griffin, Chris Herndon, Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown, Ross Travis

Better, worse or the same? Better

How can the same cast be better than it was last season? Easy. Herndon is healthy, and that should make a big difference because in Herndon, the Jets have a versatile pass receiver who can threaten the deep seams. They missed that dynamic in 2019, as he was limited to one game.

The enthusiasm should be tempered by Gase’s recent history with tight ends. As coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2016 to ’18, his tight ends caught a league-low 150 passes. A year ago, the Jets managed 44 (tied for 28th).

Gase used “12” personnel (one RB/two TEs/two WRs) on 10% of their plays, their second-most popular grouping, but that included one third-down play, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The coach needs to change the way he uses tight ends or else Herndon’s talent will go to waste.

Offensive line

Additions: LT Mekhi Becton, C Connor McGovern, LT/RT George Fant, G Greg Van Roten, C/G Josh Andrews, LT Cameron Clark, LT Jared Hilbers

Losses: LT Kelvin Beachum, RT Brandon Shell, RG Tom Compton, RG Brent Qvale

Returners: LG Alex Lewis, RG Brian Winters, RT Chuma Edoga, C Jonotthan Harrison, LG/LT Conor McDermott, G Ben Braden, OT Corbin Kaufusi, C Leo Koloamatangi, C James Murray

Better, worse or the same? Better

After finishing 32nd in total offense and 31st in rushing, the Jets had to make big changes, especially with five players heading to free agency. Douglas did just that, using 75% of his free-agent funds on linemen and spending his first-round pick on Becton. While this won’t be the second coming of The Hogs, the revamped line will be better in the pivot (McGovern) and more athletic in the tackle spots than last season.

The depth also will be improved, as they have eight players with legitimate NFL experience. Better depth means better competition in training camp. Two position battles to watch: Van Roten versus Winters (incumbent) at right guard. Becton, Fant and Edoga will compete for the two tackle positions. Becton is a virtual lock to start at left tackle, leaving right tackle for Fant or Edoga.

Published at Tue, 23 Jun 2020 18:31:20 +0000

12 ways the NFL evolved in the past decade

12 ways the NFL evolved in the past decade

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Dec. 27, 2019 and has been updated.

Pro football began and ended the 2010-19 decade as the country’s most popular sport. A few things happened in between, of course, and what follows is our attempt to pick out the most significant ways pro football and the NFL have changed in the past 10 years. Let’s dive in.

Note: All statistics are courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information research unless otherwise noted.

1. More aggressive playcalling

The mainstreaming of analytics demonstrated — for all who cared to listen — that NFL game strategy is far too conservative. On-field buy-in remains limited, but there has been an indisputable rise in aggressiveness from some coaches and franchises.

During the first three quarters of games, when game situations remain fluid, fourth-down attempts have risen 55% since the start of the decade, and 2-point conversion attempts have spiked 569%. Some coaches are going for two when down eight points in the fourth quarter, rather than waiting until later when there would be less time to compensate for a miss. Analytics covers more than fourth downs and 2-point conversions, but its most visible impact has been to deliver games that are more interesting and dramatic.


2. An end to stadium games

Five teams moved into new stadiums during the decade. Three more will do so in 2020. And that will largely end an era of high-stakes negotiations across the country, one that delivered billions of dollars in public money and helped double annual league revenues from about $8.5 billion to nearly $17 billion. The frenzy climaxed with the abandonment of three longtime NFL cities — St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland, California — and forced the league to cash in its most lucrative leverage chip: Los Angeles.

With the Rams and Chargers moving into Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, and the Raiders headed to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, there are no obvious relocation threats outside of logistically challenged London. There will always be teams mulling their stadium futures — as former NFL executive Eric Grubman said in 2017, “If you build a house, it’s not like you never ever do anything to the house for the next 30 years” — but the frenzy is over. For a while, at least.


3. Overhauling special teams

Two rule changes transformed the kicking game:

  • The 2011 shift of the kickoff line from the 30-yard line to the 35 nearly flipped the ratio of touchbacks to returns. The touchback rate shot from 16.4% in 2010 to 60.9% in 2019, minimizing an exciting but highly dangerous play. Adjustments to coverage rules in 2018 probably made the kickoff safer, and prevented the total elimination of the play, but didn’t do enough to incentivize more returns.

  • The decision to move extra points back to the 15-yard line 2015, meanwhile, made the point-after less automatic and helped spur the increase in 2-point attempts. PAT conversion rates fell from 99.3% in 2014 to 93.9% in 2019.


4. A late-decade changing of the guard at QB

In 2010, the NFL’s top 15 quarterbacks, as ranked by Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), included Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. Peyton Manning retired in 2015. The rest remain active but have mostly been eclipsed by a new wave. Brees and Ryan are the only members of that 2010 group to rank among the top 15 in QBR this season.

In their place is the 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson, along with Super Bowl LIV MVP/2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes and a host of other dynamic players. And it should be lost on no one that five of the top seven in QBR this season — Jackson, Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson — are black. That’s more than twice the number in 2010 (Michael Vick and Josh Freeman) and a strong sign that the NFL has overcome one of most shameful stains in its history.


5. More football!

Alternative football leagues are swinging harder than ever to capitalize on the NFL’s popularity, despite the pileup of failed predecessors over the past 50 years. In the 2010s alone, the United Football League (UFL) succumbed, the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) couldn’t make it and the Alliance of American Football (AAF) shuttered before the end of its first season.

As the decade closed, however, the FXFL has rebranded as The Spring League, and WWE owner Vince McMahon has spent $200 million to resurrect the XFL, which kicked off in February 2020. The XFL shut down midway through its first season amid the coronavirus pandemic, declared bankruptcy on April 13 and is now for sale. There is no doubt that football is the country’s most popular game, but there is considerable uncertainty if any organization other than the NFL (and the NCAA) can monetize it.

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0:42

Kevin Seifert explains why the XFL’s once-certain demise now seems a little less definitive.

6. … but less practice

The 2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) put game-changing limitations on the intensity and amount of offseason workouts and in-season practice. Teams are limited to a nine-week offseason program and can require players to attend only one three-day minicamp. There is a cap of 10 on-field offseason workouts, and traditional two-a-day training camp practices are banned.

During the season, teams can have only 14 full-pads practices. Players love the freedom and gladly take on the responsibility for their own conditioning. But coaches say they don’t have enough time to teach fundamentals, or to train offensive linemen and quarterbacks, in particular. That sentiment has not curbed an accelerating trend of keeping veteran players out of preseason games, a practice that will likely lead to a reduction in preseason games when owners enact their option to expand to a 17-game regular season, if not before.

The 2020 CBA added additional parameters to summer training camp. Teams are limited to 16 padded practices. They are also required to hold a five-day acclimation period at the start of camp. No practice can last more than 2.5 hours, and players can’t spend more than a total of four hours per day on the field.


7. Offenses mimicking college

NFL coaches are embracing the spread concepts that have consumed high school and college football, in part by necessity given the limited practice time they would have to retrofit young players to traditional pro schemes.

That has meant a rise in shotgun snaps from 56% of total plays at the beginning of the decade to 79% at the end. It has led to a 36% rise in rushing yards by quarterbacks and a 13% drop in rushing yards by running backs. The average pass is traveling 6% fewer yards downfield. Completion percentage has risen from 60.5% to 64%, in part because there has been a 17% rise in receptions by running backs. Teams still throw more than they run, a longstanding response to league rules that continue to incentivize it, but the path to get there is much different.


8. Ubiquitous player tracking

Like other pro sports teams around the world, NFL franchises began using GPS technology early in the decade to provide health data and injury prevention during practice. The NFL Players Association offers its own version of biometric monitors to players. In 2014, the NFL inserted radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips into each player’s shoulder pads during games. In 2016, chips were inserted into the game balls. The entire process measures speed, distance and other data points.

Teams are still trying to figure out how to use what is now called NFL Next Gen stats, but the figures help demystify the game and give analysts new ways to tell stories, illustrate plays and analyze games.


9. The onset of the streaming era

The NFL has grown to dominance as a television product, but a late-decade ratings slide coincided with an initial look into internet game distribution. The league has simulcast games on Yahoo, Twitter and, most recently, Amazon Prime with a separate crew of announcers. Television ratings have largely rebounded, while streaming numbers are small but growing.

The real question is whether the NFL will decide anytime soon to grant exclusive rights to a company that will distribute games via internet only. The league’s television contracts expire after the 2022 season, a likely flashpoint for any decision on exclusive streaming.


10. More productive concussion conversation

If nothing else, public discussion about football and concussions has turned more productive by the end of the decade. “Concussion” debuted in theaters in 2015, displaying on the big screen just how aggressively the NFL attempted to silence concerns about brain injuries in football during the 1990s and 2000s. The messy and still-unresolved 2013 concussion settlement further demonstrated the depth of negativity.

Since then, there has been a notable shift in tenor. The NFL began releasing annual concussion data in 2012, and by 2017, the number of documented concussions had reached 291. The league hired a full-time chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, and declared a “call to action.” It worked with the NFLPA to elevate qualifications for approved helmets, used bioengineering to inform rule changes and strengthened in-game protocols to include injury timeouts and independent neurotrauma consultants at every game. No one knows if science, let alone the NFL, can protect brains from football. But the league’s efforts are more visible, and the climate is more conducive to solutions.


11. Redistributing salaries

Attempts to reorganize player salaries by experience via the 2011 CBA produced two major consequences.

  • First, the NFL’s youngest and healthiest players became an increasingly utilized pool of cheap labor, especially at the running back position. Overall, an Associated Press study in 2019 showed that the age and experience level of the average player has dropped. Instead of creating a bigger middle class, rookie money largely went to a handful of megadeals for superstars.

  • Second, a starting quarterback on his first contract is now one of the most effective team-building tools. For instance, Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys‘ quarterback, was drafted in 2016 and his cap number was never higher than $2.1 million during his first four seasons as the team’s starter. The going rate for a veteran starter over that period was closer to $20 million annually. (As the Cowboys’ franchise player in 2020, Prescott’s current cap number is $31.4 million.)

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0:44

Kevin Seifert reflects on the NFL’s decision to nix pass interference review after one season and what it means for the league going forward.

12. More influence for replay

Although they have dismissed proposals to make most calls reviewable, NFL owners allowed a steady increase in both the use of replay and the power of the league office to control it. By the end of the decade, all replay decisions had shifted from referees on the field to the officiating office in New York.

In 2019, the list of reviewable plays crossed over into the highly subjective area of pass interference. Senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron gained the authority to eject players for egregious hits or unsportsmanlike conduct, and he also has limited power to intervene in matters of game administration. Not everyone likes replay, and there is no way to avoid some bad calls. But the NFL’s obligation to ensure credible outcomes demands the use of available replay technology. Recent efforts — including an experiment in taking replays directly from the broadcast truck, rather than the broadcast itself — suggest the league is preparing for more, not less, replay in the future.

Published at Thu, 18 Jun 2020 19:31:22 +0000

NFC North all-decade honors: Packers dominate offense

NFC North all-decade honors: Packers dominate offense

The start of a new decade is upon us with the 2020 NFL season. But before we get rolling with the ’20s, ESPN is taking a look back at the best — and worst — of the 2010s and naming the top players of the decade for all 32 teams.

From the social media star of the decade to the worst call by a referee, ESPN’s NFL team remembers the people and moments of impact — good and bad — from the past 10 years. And NFL Nation reporters select the two best players of the decade from their teams, the top coach and assemble all-division teams of the 2010s.

It all kicked off Monday with the best and worst of the NFL from the past decade.

Division all-decade player, teams
Tuesday: AFC East and NFC East
Today: AFC North and NFC North
Thursday: AFC West and NFC West
Friday: AFC South and NFC South

NFC North players of the decade

Matt Forte, RB

Years with team: 2008-15

Forte entered the league in 2008 (second-round pick out of Tulane) but became arguably the NFL’s best all-purpose back during the first half of the next decade. Forte spent eight seasons with the Bears, rushing for 8,602 yards and scoring 64 touchdowns. Forte ranks second, behind only Hall of Famer Walter Payton, on Chicago’s all-time lists for rushing yards, yards from scrimmage (12,718), receptions (487) and 100-yard games (24). He’s third in total touchdowns and sixth in receiving yards (4,116). Forte joined the New York Jets after the Bears decided against re-signing him following the 2015 season, but without question, Forte’s most productive years were in Chicago.

Honorable mention: Take your pick: Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Brandon Marshall or Julius Peppers. Heck, Jay Cutler even deserves some recognition for being the starting quarterback for so long (2009-16). Forte earned the nod over Urlacher, Briggs and Tillman because they did the majority of their damage the previous decade. Marshall and Peppers didn’t play in Chicago long enough to unseat Forte. And Cutler is Cutler. You know what I mean. — Jeff Dickerson


Calvin Johnson, WR

Years with team: 2007-15

Johnson is the easy selection for the Lions. He’s the only surefire Hall of Famer to play a significant portion of the 2010s with Detroit and he was for a time the best receiver in the NFL. He set the all-time single-season receiving yards mark with 1,964 yards in 2012, and was a Pro Bowler every year he played in the 2010s — from 2010 to ’15. He was also a three-time first-team All-Pro selection in the 2010s and went over 1,000 yards receiving every season of the decade in which he played. Johnson was simply dominant and often faced double and triple coverage. “It should be illegal for a guy to be that tall and that big and that fast. They should have banned him from the NFL,” Hall of Fame cornerback Charles Woodson told ESPN in 2014. “But he’s one of those guys, man — he’s a freak of nature.”

Honorable mention: There are three players worthy of mention here — quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerback Darius Slay. And it’s a tough call, but Suh gets the slight nod over Stafford and Slay. Suh made four Pro Bowls in his five seasons in Detroit and was first-team All-Pro three times. The AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, Suh was a dominant force on one of the best run-stopping defenses in NFL history in 2014 and set the tone for the Lions’ defense for the first half of the decade. Stafford is the best quarterback in franchise history and Slay was a perennial Pro Bowler at corner. But Suh was the best at his position for a large portion of his time in Detroit. — Mike Rothstein


Years with team: 2005-present

Only Rodgers and Tom Brady were two-time MVP winners during the 2010s. Rodgers won it for the 2011 and 2014 seasons and also was the Super Bowl XLV MVP. The start of the decade marked Rodgers’ third season as the Packers’ starter, and he helped the Packers to seven straight playoff appearances to start the decade and eight overall in the 10 years. Rodgers had the third-most touchdown passes in the decade (305) in 11 fewer games than leader Drew Brees (345) and 14 fewer games than second-place Tom Brady (316).

Honorable mention: Jordy Nelson, WR, 2008-17 and Davante Adams, WR, 2014-present. Both were dominant receivers in the decade. Clay Matthews was dominant on his side of the ball too. And how about the combination of tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari? Had the Packers not dumped Charles Woodson after the 2012 season he’d be worthy of consideration too. — Rob Demovsky


Years with team: 2007-16

This was about as unanimous a decision as there is. Peterson was the only non-quarterback to win the NFL MVP award during the past decade and holds countless titles and awards from his time with the Vikings. He was the league’s offensive player of the year (2012), a two-time first-team All-Pro selection (2012, 2015), went to the Pro Bowl four times and led the NFL in rushing in 2012 with 2,097 yards and again in 2015. Peterson ended his time in Minnesota as the franchise’s all-time rushing leader and will go down as one of the best running backs in NFL history.

Honorable mention: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR, 2013-16 and Harrison Smith, S, 2012-present. Drafted by the Vikings in 2013, Patterson reached a career-high 1,393 yards and two touchdowns on 43 kickoff returns on his way to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and was one of the most dangerous returners of the past decade. Smith was another easy choice. His 13 career sacks are the most by any defensive back since 2013. The five-time Pro Bowler and 2017 All-Pro notched 23 interceptions and set a franchise record with four of those being returned for touchdowns. — Courtney Cronin


NFC North coach of the decade

Mike McCarthy, Packers

Years with team: 2010-18

Two words: Super Bowl. McCarthy is the only Super Bowl-winning coach from the NFC North in the decade. And he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. McCarthy led the Packers to the playoffs every year from 2010 to 2016 and had a run of eight straight playoff seasons starting in 2009. Yes, McCarthy was fired in the decade, but after a year off in 2019, he landed another of the NFL’s prime coaching gigs with the Dallas Cowboys. — Rob Demovsky

Honorable mention: Mike Zimmer, Vikings, 2014-present. Zimmer led the Vikings to the playoffs in three out of his six seasons and got Minnesota as far as the NFC Championship Game after the 2017 season. The Vikings have been consistently good under Zimmer, who has battled just about every abnormal circumstance you could imagine, from losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a freak knee injury days before the start of the 2016 season to having eight eye surgeries and working with four different offensive coordinators in five years. — Courtney Cronin


ESPN’s NFC North All-Decade Team

Voted on by ESPN’s NFC North reporters.

OFFENSE

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Packers, 2005-present
RB: Adrian Peterson, Vikings, 2007-16
WR: Jordy Nelson, Packers, 2008-17
WR: Calvin Johnson, Lions, 2007-15
WR: Davante Adams, Packers, 2015-present
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings, 2011-present
LT: David Bakhtiari, Packers, 2013-present
LG: Kyle Long, Bears, 2013-19
C: John Sullivan, Vikings, 2008-14
RG: Josh Sitton, Packers, 2008-15; Bears, 2016-17
RT: Bryan Bulaga, Packers, 2010-19

DEFENSE

DE: Julius Peppers, Bears, 2010-13; Packers, 2014-16
DT: Linval Joseph, Vikings, 2014-19
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Lions, 2010-14
DE: Jared Allen, Vikings, 2008-13; Bears, 2014-15
LB: Clay Matthews, Packers, 2009-18
LB: Lance Briggs, Bears, 2003-14
LB: Chad Greenway, Vikings, 2007-16
CB: Charles Tillman, Bears, 2003-14
CB: Darius Slay, Lions, 2013-19
S: Harrison Smith, Vikings, 2012-present
S: Glover Quin, Lions, 2013-18

SPECIAL TEAMS

KR/PR: Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings 2013-16; Bears 2019-present
K: Mason Crosby, Packers, 2007-present
P: Sam Martin, Lions, 2013-19

Published at Thu, 18 Jun 2020 03:17:06 +0000

The inside story of the XFL’s sudden collapse, and what comes next for spring football

The inside story of the XFL’s sudden collapse, and what comes next for spring football

April 10 was payday at the XFL. Kurt Hunzeker hadn’t slept. As the St. Louis BattleHawks’ president, his job was to shepherd the team into a presumptive 2021 season. Kickoff to that second season was at least 10 months away — and because of the deepening coronavirus pandemic, maybe longer. COVID-19 deaths in America would top 2,000 for the first time that day. The sports world was frozen, and many among the league’s 400 staffers wondered if owner Vince McMahon would continue funding the operation.

Alarm bells started ringing. Staff reductions or furloughs seemed possible. XFL president and chief operating officer Jeffrey Pollack was a no-show for a regularly scheduled conference call of team executives on April 8. Staffers began calling their bosses. Bosses called their bosses. Hunzeker even called commissioner Oliver Luck. No one had answers.

As he lay awake the night before, Hunzeker vowed to look at his bank account first thing in the morning. He knew how corporate America sometimes handles layoffs. One day, you get a check that combines your salary and accumulated vacation time. It’s your final check and your last day at work.

“And then we all woke up that day,” Hunzeker said. “And that’s exactly what happened. There was a very different entry in our bank accounts. And we’re like, ‘Oh, crap.’ Even before they told us, I knew what was going to happen.”

Hunzeker had been living apart from his wife and two children, who had remained in Tampa, Florida, to finish the school year after the XFL hired him in 2019. Once the XFL issued a work-from-home order in March, he rejoined the family in Tampa. When the end came, they had just started packing the house for the pending move to St. Louis, where Hunzeker and his wife grew up and were eager to return.

“It was just a dream job,” Hunzeker said. “And what sucks is that it was working. This league was an asset. We were on our way.”

Over in Houston, Roughnecks general manager Randy Mueller was awakened by a text message from the team’s equipment manager. “What’s this email about?” the staffer asked. Mueller had no idea what he was talking about. He checked his inbox and found an alert. An all-company conference call had been scheduled for noon ET.

“I was totally caught off guard,” Mueller said. “On the football side, we had no inkling about what was going on.”

The call was brief. As the entire XFL workforce listened in from around the country, Pollack confirmed the news: All of them had been terminated. Pollack read from a prepared statement, attributing the decision to the pandemic, and took no questions. Luck, who had been fired the day before, did not participate. The final blow arrived three days later, when the XFL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, dumping it into the trash heap of every other alternative football league during the past 50 years (including the first iteration of the XFL, played in 2001).

This one had seemed different. McMahon poured more than $200 million into its startup, a process that took two full years, and had committed repeatedly to a multiyear window for proof of concept that would have cost him at least $500 million through three seasons of play. He hired experienced executives in the league office and in each local market, giving them guaranteed multiyear contracts with mid-six-figure salaries and an extensive bonus structure.

Internal planning meetings routinely included projections not only for a 2021 season but one in 2022, as well. And even after the pandemic cut the inaugural season at its midpoint, five weeks into a 10-week campaign, McMahon authorized full-scale preparations for next year. Luck’s staff, charged with nothing less than reimagining the game of football, dove in with a fanatical belief in the product and a fierce loyalty toward the commissioner, who was known for his calm demeanor and the occasional memes he sent via text message. Luck’s stature as a former NFL quarterback, college athletic director and NCAA executive — and the guaranteed $35 million contract it took to lure him — was the most important symbol of McMahon’s commitment to building a serious, long-term enterprise.

“I’m not a gimmicky person,” Luck said last fall.

The league averaged 1.9 million television viewers per game and generated nearly $20 million in gross revenues in 2020, according to court filings. It had projected $46 million in gross revenues for the 10-game season, each data point exceeding internal expectations, according to sources.

“The end was frustrating but mostly because it was like, ‘Damn it, this was going to work,'” said Eric Galko, the XFL’s former director of player personnel. “That’s what I think most everyone felt throughout the league. If you talked to anybody in the XFL, they would be shocked to know that we weren’t going to do this for a long time. Not because we were misled by anyone, but because the evidence was there.”

The ensuing weeks have been a jumble of legal disputes and plot twists. Luck filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, claiming McMahon owes him $23.8 million. McMahon, who declined ESPN’s interview request, was accused by the bankruptcy’s unsecured creditors committee of rigging the process to retain ownership. (In a deposition, McMahon denied the accusation.) Although many staffers consider the league as they knew it to be shuttered, given the uncertainty of the short-term economy McMahon has put the brand up for sale, and there are strong indications that it will be sold and relaunched under new ownership within a year or two.

“I have no doubt that had we completed the full 2020 season, we would have proved that spring football — more professional football — can work,” Pollack said. “We were on track to be the most successful launch of a new sports league in decades, if not ever, and we are hopeful the XFL can resume that trajectory with a new owner, for the fans and players and for the love of football.”

It’s fair, though, to probe deeper into some fundamental questions. The XFL’s local attendance varied widely per team, and television ratings, despite the respectable average, dropped every week of the season. Did the XFL really prove its concept? Was its demise caused solely by the pandemic? Or was it accelerated by a significant period of unrest at World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE), McMahon’s primary venture? Could a new iteration of the XFL survive? And in a larger sense, did it demonstrate enough to disabuse the prevailing notion that alternative football leagues — under the XFL brand or any other — are doomed to fail?

Ending at a turning point

The first time he saw the XFL’s proposed kickoff alignment, with everyone but the kicker and returner required to stand still for the first three seconds of the play, Greg Gabriel shook his head.

“I was like, what the hell is this?” said Gabriel, a veteran NFL evaluator who had been hired as the DC Defenders’ personnel director.

The kickoff, like every other XFL rule tweak, was a product of two years’ worth of work among the league’s innovation committee. Director of football operations Sam Schwartzstein headed the project, utilizing focus groups to understand how much change fans would tolerate and where they most wanted to see adjustments. At one point, Luck said last year, a sampling of American fans recoiled when they were shown video of games in the CFL, where receivers are allowed to run toward the line of scrimmage before the snap. At that moment, Luck and Schwartzstein understood their limits.

But once Gabriel watched the kickoff in action, and realized it all but guaranteed a return while minimizing high-speed collisions, he was relieved and impressed. Assimilation of the XFL’s other innovations followed a similar path. After five weeks, players, coaches and fans had grown accustomed to a three-tiered option structure after touchdowns. They had come to expect in-game sideline interviews and live broadcast of replay decisions, among other attempts to add access to television production, and they appreciated a quicker pace that carved about 15 minutes off the average NFL game without sacrificing the number of plays. Locals were beginning to develop their own traditions, most notably at the Defenders’ Audi Field, where fans attached plastic cups into a “beer snake” that even drew the participation of Luck in the team’s final home game on March 8.

“We started off trying to reimagine the game of football,” Schwartzstein said. “But I think what Oliver and I and the rest of us ended up doing was to reengineer it. What we realized is that you don’t want to change too much, and then have fans look at our game and say, ‘That’s not football.'”

The midseason numbers were a mix of modest achievement and mild disappointments. Teams averaged an unexceptional 20.5 points per game, and from a gambling perspective, 12 of 20 games fell under the total. Television ratings dropped from a high of 3.3 million average viewers per game in Week 1, roughly the same average as the 2019 Liberty Bowl, to 1.2 million in Week 5, equivalent to the 2019 First Responder Bowl. Those numbers were slightly ahead of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) in 2019. Average attendance remained flat at 18,600 fans per game. The XFL’s two biggest-market teams, the Los Angeles Wildcats and New York Guardians, actually drew the lowest average attendance figures at 13,124 and 14,875, respectively.

On the other hand, there were legitimate reasons to project optimism for the second half of the season. Of the XFL’s final 16 regular-season games, 12 would have been broadcast on ABC or Fox as opposed to cable — raising the possibility of a ratings rebound. A handful of teams were catching fire in their local markets, most notably St. Louis, where the BattleHawks averaged 28,541 fans per game and had already sold 36,000 tickets for their next home date on March 21 against the Wildcats.

The actual crowd likely would have been larger, Hunzeker said. When the XFL initially suspended its season March 12, the BattleHawks were selling 6,000 tickets per day. Their ticket office was projecting attendance of at least 45,000. By that point, the BattleHawks had taken in $6 million in local revenue, well exceeding their fiscal goal for the entire season ($4.7 million).

Meanwhile, coaches were beginning to grasp the new math imposed by the XFL’s point-after options, veering away from one-point plays from the 2-yard line (37% of the time) in favor of two points from the 5 (47%) and the occasional three-point attempt from the 10.

It had taken some time after the league hired eight head coaches from traditional and conventional football backgrounds, headlined by former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops in Dallas. Three former NFL head coaches — Jim Zorn in Seattle, Kevin Gilbride in New York and Marc Trestman in Tampa Bay — acknowledged the steep learning curve during the season. Former NFL assistants Winston Moss (Los Angeles), Pep Hamilton (DC) and Jonathan Hayes (St. Louis) were adjusting to their first head-coaching jobs. Only June Jones (Houston), with experience as a head coach in both the USFL and the CFL, seemed unfazed by the transition.

And in what turned out to be the XFL’s final game, the Wildcats and Tampa Bay Vipers produced the kind of event league executives had been dreaming about. The Wildcats won 41-34 in a game that featured a combined 136 offensive plays and, despite being delayed by a serious injury that required an air cast, was completed in 3 hours, 3 minutes — shorter than the average NFL game in 2019.

“I really think that last game of the season showed what the rest of the year would have looked like,” Schwartzstein said. “Because every one of our players were essentially rookies. We were getting better every week, and it was going to get exciting, just like the NFL gets exciting, toward the end of the season. We had really just scratched the surface. We were playing at a level that was equivalent of the highest level of college football. Maybe not LSU against Clemson in the national championship-type level, but still really high-level football with some really cool innovations. I was pleased with it.”

For its debut season, the XFL mostly pursued players who had been released from NFL training camps or rosters within the past year. It signed one player, St. Louis safety Kenny Robinson, who still had college eligibility remaining and was subsequently drafted by the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. The Wildcats’ Josh Johnson and Dallas Renegades’ Landry Jones, both longtime NFL backup quarterbacks, were the most recognizable names in the league. Jones was lured in part by a contract that paid him near $500,000, a bit more than the average No. 3 quarterback in the NFL.

But the best team was the 5-0 Houston Roughnecks, led by June Jones and featuring quarterback P.J. Walker. Once a member of the Indianapolis Colts‘ practice squad, Walker received a recommendation from former Colts starter Andrew Luck, Oliver’s son.

“If you stack up Houston against any other team,” Galko said, “in any other league, I think only an NFL team would beat them. That includes the CFL.”

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2:06

The Houston Roughnecks rally from an early 14-0 deficit to defeat the Seattle Dragons 32-23, improving to 5-0 on the season.

In fact, given a few years, Mueller said, the XFL could have developed a handful of teams that would be competitive in the NFL.

“There is enough talent out there,” Mueller said, “and the XFL was providing the structure to build a USFL-, ABA-type of league. I would have liked to have had a run at that over the next two or three years. Building from scratch is an easier and quicker way to top-notch competitiveness than taking over an NFL team and being stuck with 70% of your cap and roster.”

Walker parlayed his XFL performance into a backup job with the Panthers. The BattleHawks’ Jordan Ta’amu, meanwhile, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Overall, however, the XFL recognized a need to adjust its quarterback-recruitment strategy. Veterans, such as Landry Jones and the Guardians’ Matt McGloin, who were signed in part because of their familiarity with coaches, largely flopped.

In 2021, Galko said, the league planned to pursue younger and higher-profile NFL quarterbacks who had been lost in the shuffle.

“We wanted to go to a Josh Rosen, for example,” Galko said, “and say, ‘Hey, we know you have talent. You got screwed by circumstances in two different spots. You’re going to get cut by the Dolphins. Don’t go be a backup for the Seattle Seahawks. Come show teams how many players you are better than.’

“Quarterbacks need to play or else their value is going to be greatly diminished. Who knows what would have happened, but that was our plan.”

So was it only the pandemic?

Those 2021 plans went into full development after the XFL suspended its season, along with the rest of the sports world. Its office in Stamford, Connecticut, across the street from WWE headquarters, closed two days later on March 15. Employees began working at home.

Oliver Luck, who did not respond to an interview request for this story, retreated to his family home in Indiana. The season was officially canceled March 20. According to a source, McMahon himself approved the language of the announcement, which read in part: “We look forward to playing full seasons for you — and with you — in 2021.”

As they look back on the three weeks that followed, some former staffers have found reason to question whether that claim was genuine. Luck submitted budgets for the 2021 season. He did not receive a response. Team communication staffs were instructed to cancel scheduled interviews designed to reinforce the league’s plan to resume play next year.

Between March 10 and April 10, according to bankruptcy filings, the XFL — through its parent company, Alpha Entertainment — made four substantial payments totaling about $2.05 million to the WWE for shared services, bills that would have made the WWE an unpaid creditor after the April 13 bankruptcy filing.

Parallel to those payments, which were unknown to most XFL employees at the time, 2021 planning continued. Schwartzstein submitted a proposal for the league to play as a single-site entity, much as the NBA has planned for the remainder of its 2020 season, that would shave millions of dollars from the budget and account for the possibility that fans would not be allowed into games for safety reasons.

Despite the national economic unease, many XFL employees remained convinced that McMahon’s financial commitment would protect the league from making a short-term decision. Mueller, a former NFL general manager who also had worked for the bankrupt AAF in 2019, considered himself savvy in the corporate side of game. He never considered the possibility that McMahon would walk away from the $200 million he had already spent.

“We knew the AAF was smoke and mirrors,” Mueller said. “We knew there was issues there. We knew that wasn’t being portrayed upfront the way it actually was behind the scenes. But we thought the XFL was very upfront. You knew Vince McMahon had the money.”

Even so, McMahon was dealing with financial challenges on multiple fronts. In late January — before the pandemic, and a week before the XFL season began — he ousted two longtime WWE executives. The company’s stock immediately dropped 20% on Jan. 30, a consequence that Luck noted with some concern to a handful of XFL employees.

The XFL’s shared services agreement with the WWE also had raised eyebrows within the XFL offices, which were regularly interacting with WWE counterparts. In December 2019, the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System filed a shareholders lawsuit seeking information about the exact nature of the relationship between WWE and the XFL, and whether McMahon or other senior officers might have diminished the WWE by diverting some of its resources to the XFL. The suit was dropped this spring.

The WWE managed to resume content production amid the pandemic, airing a fanless but well-received WrestleMania 36 on April 4-5. McMahon was already working on plans for a series of WWE layoffs, furloughs and other cost-cutting moves designed to stabilize the company for an extended period of lower revenues. They were announced April 15. And according to Forbes magazine, McMahon’s net worth has dropped by $1 billion, from $2.9 billion to $1.9 billion, in the past year.

McMahon turned his attention to the XFL. At the time, Luck was warning people internally that the NFL and/or college football seasons could be pushed back in a way that would overlap with the XFL’s proposed February 2021 kickoff.

“We had been treating that time as an extended offseason,” Hunzeker said. “What I’m gleaning happened — and I was not part of any conversation, but as someone following along — is when you can’t guarantee when the next season is going to start or be played, that becomes a new variable in the equation that wasn’t there on the 12th of March when the season was first suspended.”

In a court filing, McMahon’s attorneys blamed the coronavirus for the decision to shutter the league. “[W]ere it not for the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote, “the XFL would not be available for sale in the first place.”

While that might be true, the state of the WWE can’t be ignored when considering McMahon’s willingness to continue subsidizing the XFL amid the pandemic.

“I consider the end of the XFL as we knew it to be tangentially pandemic,” said an XFL employee who requested anonymity in order to be candid. “It wasn’t necessarily the national economy but our owner’s economy that played into it. The WWE stock dropped, there were some executives that left and you start getting worried a little bit. And then the pandemic hit the WWE stock, as well.”

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0:49

Kevin Seifert says former XFL commissioner Oliver Luck has sued owner Vince McMahon for wrongful termination after the league filed for bankruptcy.

David Carter — a leading sports industry analyst, principal of The Sports Business Group and an associate professor of sports business at USC — agreed.

“It would be lazy to dismiss the XFL’s failure just to the pandemic,” Carter said, “because many businesses, you could argue, have used the pandemic to accelerate whatever their eventualities were going to be. It’s pretty easy to hide a failure in a pandemic. I’m not saying that’s what they’re doing. But we’ve seen businesses that have said, ‘But for the pandemic, our share price would have been fine, and we wouldn’t have gone bankrupt.'”

Is there a still future for spring football?

If a league funded by a committed and capable billionaire couldn’t make it, what could? After the successive demises of the AAF and XFL, admittedly for different reasons, industry analysts are split on the future of alternative football leagues.

“We still don’t know that spring football works in this country,” said Andrew Kline, founder of the investment bank Park Lane, which specializes in sports investments. “Football season is so intense, and it’s just associated with the fall season. You wonder if part of the cycle is that people need to come down from it for a while.”

Any future forays, Schwartzstein said, must be guided by clear guardrails.

“I don’t think it’s impossible,” he said. “But you have to be focused on what you want to be, and not be too disparate in what you’re trying to do. Are you trying to serve the average fan? The hyper-passionate fan? Are you trying to serve the local fan? Are you trying to make it a streaming product? Do you even want fans at the games?”

LISTEN: Kevin Seifert on the ESPN Daily Podcast

The most obvious model in terms of market demand is a large-scale developmental league geared toward serving the NFL, something the football ecosystem has lacked since NFL Europe was shuttered in 2007. Dramatic cuts in NFL offseason work for players and coaches, starting with the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, has slashed developmental time for quarterbacks and offensive linemen, especially. NFL Europe, many will recall, helped develop a long list of quarterbacks, including Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Jake Delhomme.

The XFL explicitly avoided that association, but it’s worth noting that nearly three dozen of its players have signed NFL contracts this spring. Nine of them went to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who noted that they preferred players with recent pro-level experience and tape over the uncertainties of undrafted rookies — especially amid the limitations of the pandemic.

Brian Woods, the CEO of The Spring League, has managed to sustain his alternative league for four years based on a tightly maintained developmental model, offering players an opportunity to draw attention from NFL and CFL scouts in exchange for a $2,000 fee.

“There is ultimately a need for that kind of platform,” Woods said. “The business model of the XFL and the AAF have showed us that their structure is very difficult to sustain. I think the way we do things, where we are in every sense of the word a true developmental league, and we have a structure that has mitigated the higher costs, is the way to self-sustain. I don’t think that the demise of both of those leagues is a mandate that there is no need for spring football. I just think those business models were not realistic.”

The AAF/XFL model almost certainly required a national television contract to reach profitability. The AAF paid for airtime on CBS. The XFL’s agreements with ABC/ESPN and Fox covered production costs but did not provide a rights fee.

“The money made from media was always going to be the game,” Hunzeker said.

Woods, however, questioned whether broadcasters would find value in a football league that marketed an impersonal on-field product rather than certifiably star players.

“I think the biggest issue with the AAF and the XFL,” Woods said, “was the idea that somehow, in some way, shape or form, they could get to a TV contract that would sustain them with what I felt was developmental or marginal talent.”

Indeed, Hunzeker’s experience in St. Louis suggested that a market model based on Triple-A baseball might work better than doubling up in NFL cities. Attendance at high school football games had increased 20% in St. Louis after the Rams’ 2016 departure to Los Angeles, he said. The BattleHawks catered to fans who had no other professional football team root for, and they were validated at the ticket office. Overall, nearly a third of the XFL’s 2020 gross revenue came from St. Louis.

Make your bids … the XFL is for sale

In the short term, of course, that analysis is irrelevant. In its sales pitch, the XFL has marketed a 12-week “made-for-TV” tournament structure for 2021, modeled after Schwartzstein’s original plan, before returning to a more traditional arrangement in 2022 and beyond. The games and teams would be held in a central location without fans, similar to the XFL’s 2020 training camp in Houston, and in essence provide a live television show with a heavy sports gambling tie-in. Sports as a broadcast/streaming product, without the pretense of local fan interest — and the overhead necessary to cultivate it — might be the most efficient way to operate in the current economy.

McMahon admitted in a deposition that he considered bidding on the company himself during the bankruptcy process. But complaints from the unsecured creditors committee, who accused him of rigging the process to encourage the acceptance of a low bid, prompted him to move on.

“I do hope that someone will pay a lot of money for it,” McMahon said in the deposition, “and I do hope that it will survive.”

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0:39

Kevin Seifert details why league owner Vince McMahon has decided not to buy back the XFL after the league filed for bankruptcy.

According to sources familiar with the process, more than 30 vetted parties have signed nondisclosure agreements with Houlihan Lokey, the brokerage firm hired to handle the sale, that allow them to examine the XFL’s internal financial reports.

Pollack remains with the league to navigate the transition — and possibly beyond. But the rest of the XFL workforce was laid off, and players are no longer under contract. New owners would be buying the brand name, intellectual property and, in theory, the benefits of risk reduction afforded by McMahon’s initial investment and product testing.

Initial proposals are due Monday. Per sources, Houlihan is marketing McMahon’s $200 million expenditure as seed capital that would minimize the risk of the next owner. McMahon is unlikely to recoup the full value of his investment, but ultimately, the market will make that determination. A bankruptcy judge has set a July 29 deadline for formal bids and an Aug. 3 court auction, meaning the XFL could have new owners before the end of summer.

Circumstances at that time will dictate whether they will try to play in 2021. Carter, the sports industry analyst, said he would be shocked if they could scale up quickly and well enough to put a good product on the field in 2021. He also said he wasn’t sure whether he would advise owners to buy the XFL or just start their own league from scratch. The XFL, after all, didn’t make it to a second season after its 2001 or 2020 incarnations.

“How many times do you have to have that happen,” Carter said, “before the marketplace says, ‘You know what, we’ll try to build a better mousetrap ourselves [rather] than rescale some of these dormant assets’?”

The bankruptcy stinger

Like millions of other Americans, Hunzeker found himself suddenly unemployed when the coronavirus hit and the XFL shuttered. He understands and accepts the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the XFL’s inability to maintain full operations through it.

But McMahon’s decision to declare bankruptcy, rather than fund the league’s prior commitments with money he had set aside for future operations, imposed an additional level of pain. Many employees, Hunzeker included, had insisted on guaranteed multiyear contracts to leave stable jobs and join what amounted to a start-up company. Hundreds of former XFL staffers, at all levels, remain unemployed. They were offered COBRA insurance benefits, but vision and dental were cut off in early June, according to sources. As a group, they are in line with hundreds of other creditors in bankruptcy court, hoping to recover some part of what remained on their contracts after April 10.

“If you can’t guarantee that next season is going to happen, anyone with a pragmatic business sense would understand that it’s tough to keep that many people employed,” Hunzeker said. “The bankruptcy filing was a stinger, for sure. That has a lot of long-term effect on a lot of people, including myself. It eliminated the parachute.

“Candidly, spring football’s batting average is still its batting average. It’s still zero. So you have to protect your family, you have to protect everything. Having a guarantee is something that quite a few people fought pretty hard for. For that to be wiped out [in bankruptcy], that was a kick.”

Hunzeker has remained in Tampa, awaiting the reopening of a job market that has been largely dormant during the pandemic. His wife and teenage children await his next job offer. He said he would consider rejoining the XFL under new ownership, but “there would have to be a conversation about structure.” He added: “There is a lot of institutional knowledge that all of us could bring under new ownership, but that means we know there are also some things that wouldn’t work.”

McMahon’s dispute with Luck also has disheartened former XFL employees. Court filings revealed that McMahon fired Luck for, among other reasons, making personal use of a company-issued iPhone, a seemingly petty point for an owner who claimed to be building a serious and long-lasting sports league. (McMahon’s other reasons for firing Luck, according to the court filings, were “gross negligence” of the job after the pandemic began, as well as the decision to sign free-agent wide receiver Antonio Callaway, whose problematic background was counter to McMahon’s intent to avoid such players.) Luck’s attorneys have disputed each accusation and called the entire episode “a weak and pretextual attempt to avoid the lawful contractual obligations.”

The late-game enmity, however, has not clouded the larger experience. Hunzeker joined every former employee interviewed for this story in using the word “fun” to describe the work of building the XFL. They departed knowing they might never find that kind of professional fun again, even if they join the new owners on XFL 3.0.

It was, the Defenders’ Gabriel said, “the right thing — just at the wrong time.”

Published at Tue, 16 Jun 2020 20:12:58 +0000

We ranked NFL teams’ continuity from 1-32: Bills and Chiefs lead the way

We ranked NFL teams’ continuity from 1-32: Bills and Chiefs lead the way

The coronavirus pandemic forced NFL teams to shut down this spring and summer, creating an offseason devoid of in-person organized team activities and minicamps.

This could be especially problematic for teams that made a lot of moves this offseason, or advantageous for clubs that maintained continuity from 2019 to 2020.

The Buffalo Bills top the league with 95.4% of their offense returning, while the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers lead the way on defense with 88.3% coming back. Meanwhile the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs return nearly their entire starting lineup and coaching staff. On the flip side, the Carolina Panthers return a league-low 58.2% of their offense and an even worse 36.2% of their defense under new coach Matt Rhule.

Here’s a look at what all 32 teams have coming back, ranked from most to least total snaps returning, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Offensive snaps returning: 95.4% (1st in NFL)
Defensive snaps returning: 80.4% (7th)
Starters returning: 23 (10 offense,10 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 20 of 22
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Brian Daboll, OC; Leslie Frazier, DC; Heath Farwell, ST)
Starting QB: Josh Allen, 3rd year
Head coach: Sean McDermott, 4th year (25-23)

What it means: Continuity is everything for a Bills team looking to take the next step as contenders. GM Brandon Beane has almost completely flipped this roster since he arrived in 2017 and turned Buffalo into a playoff team. The talent and depth in Buffalo in 2020 should produce its first division title since 1995. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Offensive snaps returning: 84.5% (7th)
Defensive snaps returning: 84.9% (3rd)
Starters returning: 22 (10 offense, 10 defense, 2 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 22 of 23
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Eric Bieniemy, OC; Steve Spagnuolo, DC; Dave Toub, ST)
Starting QB: Patrick Mahomes, 4th year (3rd as starter)
Head coach: Andy Reid, 8th year (77-35)

What it means: If continuity counts for anything in this most unusual of seasons, the Chiefs are in good shape. Their theme for 2020 is “Run it back,” and with just about all of their key players from 2019 still around, that’s exactly what they’re shooting for. In addition, the only departure on the coaching staff is an assistant special-teams coach. — Adam Teicher


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1:13

Mike Wells previews what a Philip Rivers and Frank Reich team will look like but admits that Rivers isn’t a long-term solution at QB.

Offensive snaps returning: 87.9% (4th)
Defensive snaps returning: 77.3% (12th)
Starters returning: 20 (8 offense, 9 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 12 of 18
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Nick Sirianni, OC; Matt Eberflus, DC; Bubba Ventrone, ST)
Starting QB: Philip Rivers, 1st year with Colts (17th overall)
Head coach: Frank Reich, 3rd year (17-15)

What it means: Coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard have consistently talked about building a roster that sticks together to help with the team’s continuity. Returning 20 starters should pay dividends. The biggest question remains at quarterback because they signed Rivers from the outside. Rivers is an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett, who started in 2019, but he’s yet to do any work with his skill position players. The Colts hope Rivers’ experience — 16 years in the NFL — and having played in Reich’s system since 2013 will help overcome those issues. — Mike Wells


Offensive snaps returning: 77.3% (17th)
Defensive snaps returning: 88.3% (1st)
Starters returning: 21 of 25 (8 offense, 10 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 16 of 18
Coordinators returning: 4 of 4 (Mike McDaniel, run game; Mike LaFleur, pass game; Robert Saleh, DC; Richard Hightower, ST)
Starting QB: Jimmy Garoppolo, 3rd year with 49ers (7th overall)
Head coach: Kyle Shanahan, 4th year (23-25)

What it means: The departures of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and receiver Emmanuel Sanders were particularly painful, but the Niners replenished both spots with first-round picks. Perhaps more importantly, the Niners kept all but two coaches from last season, including all of their coordinators, allowing the many players still on the roster to remain in systems they know well and, presumably, improve because of it. “I think us having a lot of the same people in the building this year is going to be good for us, having that chemistry and being familiar with one another,” linebacker Fred Warner said. — Nick Wagoner


Offensive snaps returning: 80.1% (12th)
Defensive snaps returning: 84.4% (4th)
Starters returning: 23 (10 offense, 10 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 11 of 13
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Randy Fichtner, OC; Keith Butler, DC; Danny Smith, ST)
Starting QB: Ben Roethlisberger, 17th year
Head coach: Mike Tomlin, 14th year (133-74-1)

What it means: Not much is changing for the Steelers entering 2020 — and that’s mostly a good thing. Returning the bulk of the defense is key for the Steelers to end their brief playoff drought, and Roethlisberger’s return should bolster an offense that was stagnant at times in his absence. The Steelers have new faces on the coaching staff in quarterbacks coach Matt Canada and wide receiver coach Ike Hilliard, but they’ll be working with mostly veteran position groups. — Brooke Pryor


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1:53

Doug Kezirian gives his prediction on if Deshaun Watson will throw for over or under 4,146.5 yards this season.

Offensive snaps returning: 83.3% (9th)
Defensive snaps returning: 75.7% (14th)
Starters returning: 20 (9 offense, 8 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 14 of 16
Coordinators returning: 2 of 3 (Tim Kelly, OC; Brad Seely, ST)
Starting QB: Deshaun Watson, 4th year
Head coach: Bill O’Brien, 7th year (52-44)

What it means: There’s been turnover on offense at the skill positions (trading DeAndre Hopkins and trading for Brandin Cooks and David Johnson). The Texans return the majority of the defense and coaching staff that won the AFC South in 2019. One challenge will be having two coordinators in new roles in an offseason that lends itself to familiarity. The Texans promoted Anthony Weaver from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly is calling plays for the first time next season. — Sarah Barshop


Offensive snaps returning: 80.6% (11th)
Defensive snaps returning: 77.5% (11th)
Starters returning: 21 (9 offense, 9 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 17 of 19
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Pete Carmichael Jr., OC; Dennis Allen, DC; Darren Rizzi, ST)
Starting QB: Drew Brees, 15th year with Saints (20th overall)
Head coach: Sean Payton, 15th year (131-77)

What it means: The Saints are better equipped than most to handle a lost offseason. They’ve had the same head coach and quarterback for 15 years and have nearly every starter returning from a team that has gone 13-3 in back-to-back seasons. Coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis have compared this offseason to the 2011 lockout — after which the Saints went 13-3. “One of the things we do well is adjust,” Payton said. — Mike Triplett


Offensive snaps returning: 88.1% (3rd)
Defensive snaps returning: 69.8% (20th)
Starters returning: 20 (10 offense, 7 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 15 of 17
Coordinators returning: 3 of 4 (Todd Wash, DC; Joe DeCamillis, ST; Mike Mallory, co-ST)
Starting QB: Gardner Minshew, 2nd year
Head coach: Doug Marrone, 4th year (22-28)

What it means: Owner Shad Khan has shown remarkable patience with his coaches despite minimal success since he took ownership of the team in 2012. The Jaguars are 38-90 in his eight seasons, with only one winning season (2017). Khan has had two head coaches during that span: Gus Bradley (14-47) and Marrone. — Michael DiRocco


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1:29

Domonique Foxworth explains why Dak Prescott is under more pressure than Tom Brady this year as Dan Orlovsky loses his patience with Max Kellerman’s Brady take.

Offensive snaps returning: 70.9% (26th)
Defensive snaps returning: 86.9% (2nd)
Starters returning: 22 (8 offense, 11 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 23 of 24
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Byron Leftwich, OC; Todd Bowles, DC; Keith Armstrong, ST)
Starting QB: Tom Brady, 1st season with Bucs (21st overall)
Head coach: Bruce Arians, 2nd year with Bucs, 8th overall (7-9 Bucs, 65-42-1 overall)

What it means: The Bucs have all 11 starters returning on defense, which should allow them to go deeper into coordinator Bowles’ 3-4 scheme now that they’ve gotten that transitional first year out of the way. The team made some key upgrades on offense by signing Brady and trading for tight end Rob Gronkowski. It’s really a matter of how quickly Brady can digest coach Arians’ playbook and if he can still make those home-run-deep throws Arians loves so much. — Jenna Laine


Offensive snaps returning: 75.6% (20th)
Defensive snaps returning: 81.6% (6th)
Starters returning: 23 (10 offense, 11 defense, 2 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 7 of 16
Coordinators returning: 1 of 3 (Danny Crossman, ST)
Starting QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, 2nd year with Dolphins (16th overall)
Head coach: Brian Flores, 2nd year (5-11)

What it means: The Dolphins bring back many of the same pieces from a bare-bones 2019 roster, and they have an enormous load of incoming talent to compete with the incumbents. It should look a lot more like Flores’ team, featuring a multiple defense in 2020, but a dramatic overhaul of the coaching staff (changes at offensive and defensive coordinator) combined with a bunch of incoming talent creates questions about how quickly everyone will be able to adjust in a largely virtual offseason. — Cameron Wolfe


Offensive snaps returning: 79.8% (13th)
Defensive snaps returning: 76.4% (13th)
Starters returning: 21 (9 offense, 9 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 16 of 18
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Nathaniel Hackett, OC; Mike Pettine, DC; Shawn Mennenga, ST)
Starting QB: Aaron Rodgers, 16th season (13th as starter)
Head coach: Matt LaFleur, 2nd year (13-3)

What it means: LaFleur has said several times during the virtual offseason he’s glad he’s not a first-year coach, but his second offseason was supposed to be one in which he and Rodgers revised the offense from their first year together. As Rodgers said after the NFC title game loss to the 49ers, there was room for the offense to evolve. “We really haven’t gotten into the tempo stuff at all,” Rodgers said at the time. “The scheme is there. The scheme and what Matt and his staff put together every week was fantastic. The execution and the moving pieces will continue to improve.” How much of that they can still implement without a full offseason may dictate how much they improve. — Rob Demovsky


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2:05

Doug Kezirian, Joe Fortenbaugh and Preston Johnson are betting under the Raiders’ win total of seven because of their new circumstances in Las Vegas.

Offensive snaps returning: 94.0% (2nd)
Defensive snaps returning: 60.4% (28th)
Starters returning: 21 (11 offense, 7 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 12 of 14
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Greg Olson, OC; Paul Guenther, DC; Rich Bisaccia, ST)
Starting QB: Derek Carr, 7th year
Head coach: Jon Gruden, 3rd year of this stint with Raiders, 14th year overall (11-21 this stint with Raiders; 106-102 overall)

What it means: Continuity is key for the Raiders, especially in the middle of their move to Las Vegas. And while they do have a lot of starters returning, the front office upgraded and diversified several spots in free agency and the draft, especially at the offensive skill positions (WRs Henry Ruggs III, Lynn Bowden Jr.) and at linebacker (Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski) and in the secondary (CBs Damon Arnette, Prince Amukamara). There are few, if any, excuses now for Carr as he prepares to play in the same system for the third straight season. — Paul Gutierrez


Offensive snaps returning: 73.2% (23rd)
Defensive snaps returning: 78.1% (8th)
Starters returning: 18 (8 offense, 9 defense, 1 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 13 of 16
Coordinators returning: 2 of 3 (Ed Donatell, DC; Tom McMahon, ST)
Starting QB: Drew Lock, 2nd year
Head coach: Vic Fangio, 2nd year (7-9)

What it means: Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello was fired a week after the season. Fangio hired Pat Shurmur to replace Scangarello and Mike Shula as quarterbacks coach. Much of the draft was used to add more help around Lock, and as a result, the Broncos have several returning players who started games at receiver, for example, who will have a far more difficult time starting games this season. So, the Broncos’ “returning starters,” especially on offense, is a deceiving number in some ways, given the influx of rookies. — Jeff Legwold


Offensive snaps returning: 81.7% (10th)
Defensive snaps returning: 68.5% (21st)
Starters returning: 21 (10 offense, 8 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 17 of 17
Coordinators returning: 4 of 4 (Greg Roman, OC; Wink Martindale, DC; Chris Horton, ST; David Culley, pass game)
Starting QB: Lamar Jackson: 3rd year
Head coach: John Harbaugh, 13th year (128-81)

What it means: The Ravens are among the Super Bowl favorites because they bring virtually everyone back from a team that had the best regular-season record last season. NFL MVP Lamar Jackson returns on a mission to win his first postseason game, along with 12 Pro Bowl players and the entire coaching staff. The biggest question is how Baltimore will replace guard Marshal Yanda, the second-best offensive lineman in team history. Continuity has long been a strength of the Ravens, who’ve had two owners, two general managers and three head coaches in their 25 years of existence. — Jamison Hensley


Offensive snaps returning: 78.6% (15th)
Defensive snaps returning: 71.7% (16th)
Starters returning: 22 (10 offense, 9 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 17 of 20
Coordinators returning: 2 of 3 (Arthur Smith, OC; Craig Aukerman, ST)
Starting QB: Ryan Tannehill, 2nd year with Titans (9th overall)
Head coach: Mike Vrabel, 3rd year (18-14)

What it means: The Titans are banking on continuity being a plus for them on the offensive side of the ball. Having Tannehill execute Smith’s offense for a full season should bode well for the Titans. But the defense was hit with turnover, and Vrabel will have to shoulder more of a role following the departure of coordinator Dean Pees. The loss of veteran leadership through trades and free agency places a burden on younger players. — Turron Davenport


Offensive snaps returning: 69.6% (27th)
Defensive snaps returning: 77.8% (T-9th)
Starters returning: 17 (6 offense, 8 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 14 of 17
Coordinators returning: 2 of 3 (Shane Steichen, 1st full season as OC after 8 games as interim in 2019; Gus Bradley, DC; George Stewart, ST)
Starting QB: Tyrod Taylor, 1st year with Chargers (9th overall)
Head coach: Anthony Lynn, 4th year (26-22)

What it means: The Chargers made aggressive moves in free agency and the NFL draft to upgrade their roster to contend in the AFC West. But two big questions remain in their effort to chase down the Chiefs: Will they be able to form an identity without Philip Rivers, and how quickly can a plethora of new starters meld with the returners with an abbreviated offseason? — Lindsey Thiry


17. Chicago Bears: 73.5% snaps returning

Offensive snaps returning: 84.1% (8th)
Defensive snaps returning: 62.8% (25th)
Starters returning: 19 (8 offense, 8 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 15 of 19
Coordinators returning: 2 of 3 (Chuck Pagano, DC; Chris Tabor, ST)
Starting QB: Nick Foles, 1st year with Bears (9th overall) or Mitchell Trubisky, 4th year
Head coach: Matt Nagy, 3rd year (20-12)

What it means: Change was inevitable after the most unfulfilling Bears season in recent memory. Chicago lost (or could lose) three starters on each side of the ball depending on what happens in the highly anticipated quarterback derby between Mitchell Trubisky (incumbent) and Nick Foles (challenger). The coaching staff also took a hit — primarily on offense — as Nagy brought in trusted confidants (Juan Castillo, John DeFilippo and Bill Lazor) with ties to Philadelphia. Until the quarterback situation is settled, it’s impossible to predict whether the changes will have any impact. — Jeff Dickerson


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1:14

Matthew Berry explains why he believes DeAndre Hopkins will have more difficulty being targeted with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk sharing the field with him.

Offensive snaps returning: 76.6% (19th)
Defensive snaps returning: 70.3% (18th)
Starters returning: 16 (9 offense, 7 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 15 of 19
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Jeff Rodgers, ST; Vance Joseph, DC; Tom Clements, pass game)
Starting QB: Kyler Murray, 2nd year
Head coach: Kliff Kingsbury, 2nd year (5-10-1)

What it means: With so many players returning, the Cardinals are in a prime spot to take a major step forward following a five-win season. It’ll also help that Kingsbury has had a season to make NFL adjustments to his high-octane offense. But the Cardinals do have key additions such as wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, and linebackers Devon Kennard, Isaiah Simmons and De’Vondre Campbell who will need to get up to speed fast. — Josh Weinfuss


Offensive snaps returning: 85.1% (6th)
Defensive snaps returning: 62.9% (24th)
Starters returning: 18 (9 offense, 6 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 11 of 17
Coordinators returning: 1 of 4 (Marwan Maalouf, ST)
Starting QB: Kirk Cousins, 3rd season with Vikings (9th overall)
Head coach: Mike Zimmer, 7th year (57-38-1)

What it means: Continuity is the buzzword for the Vikings’ offense. Zimmer liked what he saw from Cousins & Co. last year and said the same system, playcalls, motions and formations will remain in place to help this unit take another step forward. Defensively, it’s a different story. With two new co-defensive coordinators in Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer, who will continue to coach their respective positions, along with a host of new position coaches and starters, the Vikings’ defense is set to undergo a period of evolution. — Courtney Cronin


Offensive snaps returning: 74.3% (21st)
Defensive snaps returning: 70.1% (19th)
Starters returning: 17 (8 offense, 8 defensive, 1 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 15 of 18
Coordinators returning: 2 of 3 (Dirk Koetter, OC; Ben Kotwica, ST)
Starting QB: Matt Ryan (13th year)
Head coach: Dan Quinn, 6th year (43-37)

What it means: Ryan and Koetter working in unison for the second consecutive year will be key, especially as they work out the kinks from Koetter’s return to the Falcons last season. There is cohesion, in a sense, on defense. New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has been a member of Quinn’s staff from the beginning and was a big part of the turnaround last season after being switched from receivers coach to work with the defensive backs. Now it’s about accelerating the growth of a handful of youngsters who missed on-field instruction during the virtual offseason. — Vaughn McClure


T-20. New York Jets: 72.3% snaps returning

Offensive snaps returning: 60.2% (31st)
Defensive snaps returning: 83.5% (5th)
Starters returning: 16 (6 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 18 of 20
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Dowell Loggains, OC; Gregg Williams, DC; Brant Boyer, ST)
Starting QB: Sam Darnold, 3rd year
Head coach: Adam Gase, 2nd year with Jets, 5th overall (7-9 with Jets, 30-34 overall)

What it means: The Jets have rare continuity on the coaching staff. In fact, this marks the first time since 2011 that all three coordinators are back under the same head coach. The theme continues on defense, where they have the fifth-highest percentage of returning snaps. The concern is the offense, which ranks 31st in returning snaps. Darnold will have two new receivers and at least three new linemen, a difficult transition that will be exacerbated by the truncated offseason. — Rich Cimini


Offensive snaps returning: 64.2% (29th)
Defensive snaps returning: 77.8% (T-9th)
Starters returning: 18 (8 offense, 7 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 1 of 17
Coordinators returning: 1 of 3 (Nate Kaczor, ST)
Starting QB: Dwayne Haskins, 2nd year
Head coach: Ron Rivera, 1st year with Redskins, 10th overall (76-63-1 overall)

What it means: The Redskins needed major change, but they also needed a typical offseason. Haskins, with seven starts during his rookie season, must learn a new offense. While he’s reportedly done well in Zoom meetings and has dedicated his offseason to working out and learning Carolina’s offense (where coordinator Scott Turner was previously), he needs to be on the field. And he’s not alone. Meanwhile, the defense is changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under coordinator Jack Del Rio and a big emphasis has been on communication. The Redskins have a chance to build something better under Rivera, but the change and the offseason could lead to a bumpy start initially. — John Keim


Offensive snaps returning: 76.7% (18th)
Defensive snaps returning: 64.1% (23rd)
Starters returning: 18 (9 offense, 6 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 14 of 20
Coordinators returning: 2 of 3 (Jim Schwartz, DC; Dave Fipp, ST)
Starting QB: Carson Wentz, 5th year
Head coach: Doug Pederson, 5th year (38-26)
What it means: The Eagles are the only team in the division not changing head coaches and believe they’ll benefit from the consistency. Philly opted not to directly replace offensive coordinator Mike Groh but is hoping the promotion of up-and-comer Press Taylor to pass-game coordinator along with the additions of Rich Scangarello, Andrew Breiner and Marty Mornhinweg to the staff will help fuse fresh concepts to a proven offense. — Tim McManus


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1:26

Rob Ninkovich foresees it being very difficult for teams to adhere to the NFL’s safety procedures for the reopening of facilities.

Offensive snaps returning: 87.4% (5th)
Defensive snaps returning: 53.8% (31st)
Starters returning: 19 (9 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 14 of 17
Coordinators returning: 0 of 3
Starting QB: Jared Goff, 5th year
Head coach: Sean McVay, 4th year (33-15)

What it means: The Rams are undergoing their most significant changes since McVay’s arrival in 2017 and will face another uphill battle in a strong NFC West. Goff and the offense must find an identity without running back Todd Gurley, Brandon Staley must prove himself as an upgrade from legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and a replacement must be found for dependable kicker Greg Zuerlein. — Lindsey Thiry


Offensive snaps returning: 73.7% (22nd)
Defensive snaps returning: 64.3% (22nd)
Starters returning: 18 (8 offense, 7 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 14 of 19
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Brian Callahan, OC; Lou Anarumo, DC; Darrin Simmons, ST)
Starting QB: Joe Burrow, 1st year, or Ryan Finley, 2nd year
Head coach: Zac Taylor, 2nd year (2-14)

What it means: Cincinnati didn’t have much staff turnover after the NFL’s worst season in 2019. QB Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall draft pick, inherits a lot of continuity and a slew of capable weapons, including running back Joe Mixon and receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd. The Bengals spent the offseason overhauling the defense by adding pieces such as defensive tackle D.J. Reader, cornerback Trae Waynes and safety Vonn Bell. Cincinnati should show progress in ’20 and make strides toward ending a four-year playoff drought. — Ben Baby


Offensive snaps returning: 67.1% (28th)
Defensive snaps returning: 70.4% (17th)
Starters returning: 18 (7 offense, 8 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 18 of 20
Coordinators returning: 6 of 6 (Brian Schottenheimer, OC; Ken Norton Jr., DC; Brian Schneider, ST; Dave Canales, offensive passing game; Brennan Carroll, running game; Andre Curtis, defensive passing game).
Starting QB: Russell Wilson, 9th year
Head coach: Pete Carroll, 11th year with Seahawks, 15th overall (100-59-1 with Seahawks, 133-90-1 overall)

What it means: The biggest change with the Seahawks will come along their offensive line, where they project to have at least three new starters in front of Wilson. The Seahawks can credibly say they upgraded their offensive line even without a big-name addition, but here’s where the potential problem lies: Continuity is as important to that position group as any, and a shortened offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic means Seattle’s revamped offensive line will get fewer reps together than it normally would. — Brady Henderson


27. Detroit Lions: 68.7% snaps returning

Offensive snaps returning: 78.8% (14th)
Defensive snaps returning: 59.3% (29th)
Starters returning: 16 (9 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 11 of 17
Coordinators returning: 1 of 3 (Darrell Bevell, OC)
Starting QB: Matthew Stafford, 12th year
Head coach: Matt Patricia, 3rd year (9-22)

What it means: The Lions have one of the better offensive groups in the league as long as Stafford & Co. stay healthy. Defensively there are questions, but the lack of continuity could be misleading. Detroit brought in three potential starters (Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon) from New England, where Collins and Harmon played under Patricia and Shelton is expected to have a similar role. Their understanding of the playbook and the roles they will have in the defense should go smoother than a typical free agent. — Michael Rothstein


Offensive snaps returning: 77.7% (16th)
Defensive snaps returning: 58.5% (30th)
Starters returning: 18 (8 offense, 7 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 2 of 17
Coordinators returning: 1 of 3 (Mike Priefer, ST)
Starting QB: Baker Mayfield, 3rd year
Head coach: Kevin Stefanski, 1st year

What it means: The Browns are banking that a new coaching staff headed by Stefanski, combined with a pair of new starting tackles in Jack Conklin and 10th overall pick Jedrick Wills Jr., will revive a talented offense that struggled behind Mayfield last season. — Jake Trotter


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0:54

Dianna Russini breaks down how the NFL perceives the Patriots’ offense without Tom Brady at quarterback.

Offensive snaps returning: 63.0% (30th)
Defensive snaps returning: 71.8% (15th)
Starters returning: 18 (9 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 9 of 11
Coordinators returning: 3 of 4 (Josh McDaniels, OC; Steve Belichick/Jerod Mayo, de facto DCs)
Starting QB: Jarrett Stidham, 2nd year (1st as a starter) or Brian Hoyer, 1st year back with team (13th overall season)
Head coach: Bill Belichick, 21st with Patriots, 26th overall (237-83 with Patriots, 273-127 overall)

What it means: There is a lot of continuity, but this will be a test on how much not having it at QB will affect the team as a whole. For the first time in 19 years since Tom Brady became a starter, the Patriots are in transition at the game’s most important position. — Mike Reiss


Offensive snaps returning: 71.2% (25th)
Defensive snaps returning: 61.6% (26th)
Starters returning: 19 (8 offense, 8 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 4 of 21
Coordinators returning: 1 of 3 (Kellen Moore, OC)
Starting QB: Dak Prescott, 5th year
Head coach: Mike McCarthy, 1st year with Cowboys, 14th overall (125-77 overall)

What it means: Not having a traditional offseason program hurts the Cowboys and McCarthy, but the makeup of the team could allow them to overcome it. Five of the eight returning starters on offense have played in at least one Pro Bowl. On defense, they have a number of key players back. The secondary lost two starters in free agency, but they have three corners who all saw significant time. McCarthy will keep most of the offense the same to aid Prescott’s development, which is a big reason why Moore was retained, but McCarthy will add his flair to the offense as well. — Todd Archer


Offensive snaps returning: 71.4% (24th)
Defensive snaps returning: 61.0% (27th)
Starters returning: 18 (9 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 5 of 14
Coordinators returning: 1 of 3 (Thomas McGaughey, ST)
Starting QB: Daniel Jones, 2nd year
Head coach: Joe Judge, 1st year

What it means: The Giants are still near the beginning of their rebuild. They have a young quarterback learning a new system and a first-year head coach. This group will need time to be molded into the team Judge desires. The offense should be further along this year because of the heavy investment (three consecutive top-six picks) in recent years. The defense remains a work in progress, and could take at least another offseason to develop its new identity. — Jordan Raanan


Offensive snaps returning: 58.2% (32nd)
Defensive snaps returning: 35.2% (32nd)
Starters returning: 13 (5 offense, 5 defense, 3 special teams)

Non-coordinator assistants returning: 1 of 20
Coordinators returning: 1 of 3 (Chase Blackburn ST)
Starting QB: Teddy Bridgewater, 1st year with Panthers (7th overall)
Head coach: Matt Rhule, 1st year

What it means: This basically is a complete rebuild with a new staff led by first-year NFL coach Rhule and a roster that will be without most of the key leadership and talent on both sides of the ball. The offense has a chance to be decent with the return of running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver DJ Moore and addition of Bridgewater. The defense is a work in progress since middle linebacker Luke Kuechly surprisingly retired with all seven draft picks going to that side. — David Newton

Published at Fri, 12 Jun 2020 12:36:14 +0000