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    Jim Fassel Bridged Giants Eras With a Smile. And, Once, a Rant.

    The Giants coach called Gentleman Jim was best known for smoothly transitioning the team out of the Bill Parcells era, but one uncharacteristic tirade stood out.It was the day before Thanksgiving in 2000, and Giants Coach Jim Fassel, who looked like a librarian and generally behaved like the winsome air-conditioning salesman he once was, had a wild, restless look in his eye.His Giants, two weeks earlier a shoo-in for the N.F.L. playoffs, had been booed off the field after two consecutive ugly home losses. Their postseason prospects were now dim, a mutiny was brewing in the locker room and management was agitated.Fassel, who died of a heart attack on Monday at age 71, stepped to the rostrum for what was normally a pro forma news conference, and in a fiery tone barked: “I’m raising the stakes right now. This is a poker game, and I’m shoving my chips to the middle of the table. I’m raising the ante, and anybody who wants in, get in. Anybody who wants out can get out.”Fassel then guaranteed the Giants were going to the playoffs.“No worries,” he said. “I’ve got no fear. None. Zero.”Or, as I wrote that day: Jim Fassel, the Mister Rogers of football coaches, tore off his cardigan today, tied it around his head and joined the Hell’s Angels.Two days later, standing with Fassel in the bowels of the old Giants Stadium, I wondered what had gotten into the guy nicknamed Gentleman Jim.“If this doesn’t work out, you’re going to get fired,” I said.“I was going to get fired before I did this,” he answered. “Now we’ll see what happens.”The Giants won their next seven games, including a 41-0 rout of the Minnesota Vikings in the N.F.C. championship game — a contest that almost no one thought the Giants could win.They did lose big to the Baltimore Ravens in the ensuing Super Bowl when they couldn’t handle Ray Lewis, which was hardly uncommon back then.Most remembrances of Fassel are short on details after the Super Bowl defeat, and it’s easy to underrate Fassel’s role in bridging the gap from the Giants’ successes between 1986 and 1990 to the Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning championships roughly 20 years later. But Fassel should not be overlooked for leading a pivotal franchise renaissance out of the Giants’ dark period. In the two seasons before he arrived as head coach in 1997, the team was 11-21 and the heyday of Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor seemed as distant as the days of Frank Gifford and Y.A. Tittle.The year Fassel took over the Giants, the Jets hired Bill Parcells. A national magazine put pictures of both coaches on the cover of its preseason issue, except Parcells took up 90 percent of the page with Fassel appearing in a one-inch head shot positioned over Parcells’s shoulder. He was labeled, “the other guy.”Fassel, pictured at his Nevada home in 2011, is remembered for his active, energetic appearances at ground zero in Lower Manhattan a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks.Isaac Brekken for The New York TimesThe other guy took the Giants to the playoffs and won the 1997 Associated Press Coach of the Year Award. He instilled some accountability, screaming at his team after their first preseason defeat that year.“Nobody could have missed that message,” cornerback Jason Sehorn said. “One preseason loss and he was ballistic.”Fassel’s tactics, however, were usually strategic and thoughtful. Although he was an offensive guru, he let defensive leaders like Jessie Armstead and Michael Strahan take the helm of the team on the sideline because they were outspoken and commanded more respect from their teammates than a coach ever could.At the same time, while Fassel was raised in Southern California and had a laid-back vibe, he understood the territory and landscape of his workplace. Especially in his first few years with the Giants, he grasped that the team was at its best when it reflected the gritty, blue collar ethos promoted by Parcells, the northern New Jersey native. As an assistant for two years to the erudite but miscast Ray Handley, who replaced Parcells as Giants coach in 1991, Fassel had witnessed a failure of style in the Meadowlands.So Fassel went the other way in 1997.“The man has a mean streak,” Armstead, who was no softy, said of Fassel in 1997. “You really don’t want to mess with him. He goes after people. You should see him.”Fassel will also be remembered for his active, energetic appearances at ground zero in Lower Manhattan a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks.“I just walked around talking and shaking hands with the people working down there,” he said at the time. “They looked like they hadn’t slept in days, they were dirty and drained. I stayed as long as I could just saying, ‘Thanks for what you’re doing here.’”In Fassel’s tenure, a wealth of top Giants talent was developed: Amani Toomer, the franchise leader in receptions; Tiki Barber, the team’s career rushing leader; and Kerry Collins, the only quarterback in 96 years of Giants history to throw five touchdowns in a postseason game.An argument could be made that the high-powered 2002 Giants offense that vaulted to a 38-14 third-quarter lead in a wild-card playoff game in San Francisco might have been Fassel’s best team. When they blew the lead and lost by a point, it was as if those Giants, and Fassel, never recovered. The next year’s team won only four games.He resigned with a 58-53-1 record and days later was on the verge of being named the head coach at Washington when Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls there, stunned the team owner Dan Snyder by expressing his desire to come out of retirement at 63.There was never another N.F.L. head coaching job offered to Fassel.He was not cut from classic football coach cloth. He smiled too easily, told corny stories, tried to get away from football when he could and wanted people to like him. But he won a lot of games, made an important contribution to a storied N.F.L. franchise, earned the devotion of scores of players and, in fact, succeeded in winning over most everyone who met him.About 10 years ago, I had breakfast with Fassel and asked him if he saved his notes from his now-famous Thanksgiving eve speech from 2000. You know, the stuff about the poker chips, raising the stakes and having no fear.“I never wrote anything down,” he said, laughing. “I just knew I had to put myself in the cross hairs — and nobody else. I had to kind of cause a distraction. So I just winged it.” More

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    Aaron Rodgers Skips a Packers Camp. Now What?

    The N.F.L.’s most valuable player did not attend the first day of Green Bay’s mandatory minicamp, raising the stakes in his dispute with the team.Aaron Rodgers has been the starting quarterback and the primary face of the Green Bay Packers for 13 years. But over the past year or so, his cozy link to the team and its city has looked threatened.On Tuesday, Rodgers, 37, failed to appear for a mandatory minicamp, upping the ante on his dispute with the team about his future in Green Bay. He faces a fine in the $100,000 range for his decision.It’s the latest in the ongoing fracas between Rodgers, the N.F.L.’s reigning most valuable player, and the Packers, one of the league’s most storied franchises and his N.F.L. home since the team drafted him in 2005.Here’s what has happened to produce the stalemate and how it could end.Matt LaFleur and his team are looking at another off-season camp without their star quarterback.Mark Hoffman/USA Today Sports, via ReutersJan. 7, 2019: A change at the topThe Packers hire Matt LaFleur as head coach. The consensus is that this will provide a fresh start for Rodgers in Green Bay, since he reportedly clashed often with the former coach, Mike McCarthy. Rodgers had been seen mouthing criticism of McCarthy’s sometimes timid calls on the sideline.April 23, 2020: An un-elated RodgersHeading into the 2020 draft, Rodgers — in charge of directing and executing Green Bay’s passing game — decides that the Packers are in need of receivers. On draft day, when the team traded up to the 26th pick in the first round, he later tells a reporter, he “perked up” only to see his team select … a quarterback, Jordan Love of Utah State.By all accounts, Rodgers is not happy.“I was definitely surprised,” he told NFL Media last July. Noting that he had recently become a tequila aficionado, Rodgers adds, “I went to the pantry, I poured myself about four fingers and I knew it was going to be one of those nights where people start calling.”“I wasn’t elated by the pick,” he says, leaving no doubt.Rodgers has been known to quietly dispute team decisions over the years, including the choice of wide receivers and the coaching staff’s play-calling. There is a sense that he feels that the team should have won more than just one Super Bowl during his tenure.(A warning: Much of Rodgers’s discontent has been reported through unnamed sources. He has seldom spoken publicly of any dissatisfaction on the record.)Jan. 24, 2021: Another great year, individuallyAfter a 13-3 season, hopes are high that Green Bay would make the Super Bowl, or win it. But playing at home, the Packers lose the N.F.C. Championship game, 31-26, to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With two minutes left in the game, and the Packers at the Bucs 8-yard line and trailing by 8 points, LaFleur chooses to kick a field goal. The decision is much criticized because the Packers never get the ball back. After the game, Rodgers repeats, “It wasn’t my decision.”After a stellar 2020 season where Aaron Rodgers won his third M.V.P. Award and led the N.F.L. in passing touchdowns and passer rating, the quarterback’s relationship with the Packers has continued to fray.Morry Gash/Associated PressThe Buccaneers go on to win the Super Bowl as Rodgers looks back on yet another stellar season in which he won his third M.V.P. Award and led the league in passing touchdowns and passer rating. As the third-stringer, Love is never active on a game day.April 16: A second career?Rodgers completes a two-week stint as guest host of “Jeopardy!”“It would be a dream job for sure, and I’m not shy at all about saying I want the job,” he tells The Ringer. He adds that because of the show’s shooting schedule, he could do the job even while he continues playing in the N.F.L.But he still can’t escape the Packers, or second-guessing. In one memorable moment, a contestant who didn’t know the answer to a final Jeopardy question writes, “Who wanted to kick that field goal?”Rodgers responds with a wry grin.“That is a great question,” he jokes.April 29: Rumbles get louderThe news from the first round of the N.F.L. draft is almost overshadowed by another Rodgers update: ESPN reports that he now wants out of Green Bay.“We are committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond,” General Manager Brian Gutekunst responds.Meanwhile, the Packers draft a cornerback in the first round and don’t take a receiver until Round 3. But at least they don’t draft another quarterback.A Packers camp in May. Rodgers skipped that one, too.Mark Hoffman/USA Today Sports, via ReutersMay 24: M.I.A. at O.T.A.sRodgers skips the Packers’ organized team activities (O.T.A.s). While the workouts are technically voluntary, Rodgers was scheduled to receive a half-million-dollar bonus for attending, which he forfeits.So what’s next?Quite a few teams would welcome an M.V.P.-winning quarterback, even one in his late 30s. The Broncos (Drew Lock) and the Raiders (Derek Carr) are two of the teams that would see Rodgers as an upgrade. And though it seems unlikely that the Packers would trade Rodgers, moving him became a more affordable option after June 1. Before that date, the team would have faced $38.356 million in dead money on its salary cap for the 2021 season if Rodgers departed. If he goes now, that money can be spread between the 2021 and 2022 salary caps.Rodgers also could retire. Or all the sound and fury could signify nothing, and he could be back under center in Green Bay by Sept. 12, when the Packers will be in New Orleans to play the Saints in Week 1.At least one date is booked: On July 6, he will team with the golfer Bryson DeChambeau to take on Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a made-for-TV match.Beyond that, who knows? The next date to watch after that will be July 27, when the Packers officially begin training camp. More

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    N.F.L. to Drop Race-Based Measures in Concussion Settlement

    Black players’ dementia claims were being measured differently from white players’. The change could prompt a reassessment of hundreds of previously denied cases.The N.F.L. said it would scrap the use of a disputed race-based method of evaluating dementia claims made by former players in the league’s concussion settlement and pledged to evaluate for evidence of bias the hundreds of claims that had already been filed.The announcement came several months after the federal judge overseeing the roughly $1 billion settlement ordered the league and lawyers representing the 20,000 former players who are covered by the agreement to review the use of separate standards for evaluating dementia in white and Black players.In August, two retired Black players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, filed a civil rights suit and a suit against the seven-year-old settlement that accused the league of “explicitly and deliberately” discriminating against Black players by using separate race-based benchmarks to determine their eligibility for dementia-based payouts, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.The judge dismissed their suits, but the cases brought light to the evaluations and prompted members of Congress to request data from the N.F.L. to determine whether Black players were being discriminated against. They also prompted an ABC News report and led more than a dozen wives of Black retired N.F.L. players to send the judge in the case a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures calling for an end to race-norming.As it has in previous responses, the N.F.L. denied that the use of the race-based norms was discriminatory. But in a statement Wednesday, the league said it was committed to eliminating the use of those norms and finding race-neutral alternatives with the help of specialists in neuropsychology. While those new measures have not been identified, the decision to review old dementia claims under new assessment tools could mean that potentially hundreds more players will receive payments from the settlement.“Everyone agrees race-based norms should be replaced, but no off-the-shelf alternative exists, and that’s why these experts are working to solve this decades-old issue,” the league said. “The replacement norms will be applied prospectively and retrospectively for those players who otherwise would have qualified for an award but for the application of race-based norms.”While some former players have blamed the N.F.L., some have also taken aim at Christopher Seeger, the lead lawyer for more than 20,000 former players, who the players say knew about the abuse of race-based benchmarks as early as 2018 and did not address the issue. Lawyers for Henry and Davenport, the two former players who accused the league of discrimination, asked the court to replace Seeger in March.The former N.F.L. players Ken Jenkins, right, and Clarence Vaughn III, center right, and their wives, Amy Lewis, center, and Brooke Vaughn, left, carried petitions demanding an end to the use of race-based benchmarks in the N.F.L. concussion settlement to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia in May.Matt Rourke/Associated PressIn a statement also released on Wednesday, Seeger apologized for not having recognized the problems caused by the use of separate benchmarks for Black and white players.“I am sorry for the pain this episode has caused Black former players and their families,” Seeger said. “Ultimately, this settlement only works if former players believe in it, and my goal is to regain their trust and ensure the N.F.L. is fully held to account.”That trust may take time to rebuild. Lacey Leonard, whose husband, Louis, 36, played for six teams over five seasons, said Seeger’s apology was not enough. Leonard received a settlement after filing a dementia claim because he has a host of cognitive issues, including memory loss, anger and depression. When the claims auditor found no problems with Leonard’s claim, the N.F.L. appealed the settlement, and his claim was reversed.“Honestly, it was a half apology,” Lacey Leonard said in a phone interview. “I think the N.F.L. owes more to disabled players. It’s disheartening that in 2021 that we are still fighting systemic racism.”The N.F.L. did not say how long it would take for the league, Seeger and the panel of experts to create a new system to evaluate dementia claims. More than $800 million in claims has already been approved by the settlement administrator for a range of neurological and cognitive diseases. That number could increase significantly if many dementia claims that were initially rejected are reversed and approved.It is unclear how many Black players may have been misdiagnosed or had diagnoses that were overturned. More than 7,000 former players took free neuropsychological and neurological exams offered in the settlement. Some of them were told they did not have dementia and might be unaware of how their exams were scored.Cyril Smith, a lawyer for Henry and Davenport, asserted that white players’ dementia claims were being approved at two to three times the rate of those of Black players. But Smith was unable to substantiate his claim because, he said, Seeger and the N.F.L. had not shared any data on the approval rates for dementia claims by white and Black players.Seeger said that data would be released when new tests for dementia claims and an investigation looking at whether players were discriminated against had been submitted to the court. More

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    Former Penn State President Will Serve 2 Months in Jail in Child Abuse Scandal

    Graham B. Spanier, who was found guilty in 2017 of one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child, must report to prison on July 9.Graham B. Spanier, the former president of Pennsylvania State University, must serve two months in jail followed by two months of house arrest for his role in a child abuse scandal that rocked the university a decade ago, a judge reaffirmed on Wednesday, according to prosecutors.The judge, John A. Boccabella, upheld the sentence he issued four years ago after Mr. Spanier, 72, was found guilty of one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child.Prosecutors said Mr. Spanier had failed to report child abuse allegations to law enforcement officials when he learned that Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach of the vaunted Nittany Lions football team, had been seen abusing a boy in a locker room shower on campus.Mr. Spanier must report to the Centre County Correctional Facility in Bellefonte, Pa., to begin serving the sentence on July 9, prosecutors said.“He made a mistake and he’s going to pay for his mistake, but I don’t consider him to be a danger to society as I would a criminal,” Judge Boccabella said in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas, according to The Associated Press.Mr. Spanier had remained free as he sought relief after the conviction, which had been overturned by a federal judge in 2019 before it was reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in December.Mr. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 young boys and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. In 2013, Penn State agreed to pay $59.7 million to 26 sexual abuse victims in exchange for an end to their claims against the university.The abuse shocked the university and badly tarnished the reputation of its celebrated head coach, Joe Paterno, who was among those suspected of turning a blind eye to Mr. Sandusky’s conduct. Mr. Paterno was dismissed and died in 2012.Mr. Spanier had served as president of Penn State for 16 years before he was forced out in 2011. His case drew attention not only because of his stature as a university president but also because he had spoken publicly about his own history of being abused as a child by his father, who beat him severely.“The single most important thing I can say is that I’m sorry,” he told the court when he was sentenced in 2017. “I deeply regret that I did not intervene far more carefully.”On Wednesday, Judge Boccabella upheld the original sentence of four to 12 months of incarceration that he had issued in 2017, prosecutors said. In addition to the two months in jail and two months of house arrest, Mr. Spanier will also have to serve two years of probation and complete 200 hours of community service, prosecutors said.“Today marks the end of a long road towards justice for the children endangered by Mr. Spanier’s inaction — choosing to cover up the abuse at the hands of Jerry Sandusky rather than reporting it to law enforcement,” Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, said in a statement. “There are consequences for failing to protect children in Pennsylvania.”Mr. Spanier’s lawyer, Samuel W. Silver, had asked that his client be allowed to serve his sentence at home.Mr. Silver said that Mr. Spanier underwent open-heart surgery in September 2019 and had an advanced stage of prostate cancer, putting him at risk from the coronavirus, The A.P. reported. Mr. Spanier is fully vaccinated, Mr. Silver said.“Fortunately, things are not as dire as they were a year ago,” Judge Boccabella said, according to The A.P.In an email on Wednesday, Mr. Silver said that he had argued in court that “in light of the circumstances, the attorney general’s insistence that Dr. Spanier should now be confined in a correctional facility is remarkable.” More

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    N.F.L. Salary Cap to Rise as Much as 14 Percent in 2022 Amid Pandemic Rebound

    If fans are in stadiums and games are played as anticipated in 2021, the salary cap for 2022 could be as much as $208.2 million.The N.F.L. and the N.F.L. Players Association on Wednesday agreed to raise the salary cap by as much as 14 percent, to a maximum of $208.2 million, for the 2022 season, according to a person with direct knowledge of the agreement, a sign that the league is quickly rebounding from the financial havoc caused by the coronavirus pandemic last season.The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been announced.After losing roughly $4 billion in revenue last season because of prohibitions on fans attending games, the league and the players’ union agreed to cut the salary cap — or the maximum amount teams can spend on player payroll — by 8 percent, to $182.5 million, for the 2021 season. This was only the second time the cap had been lowered since the spending limit was introduced in 1994. For the 2020 season, the salary cap — which was based on revenue from 2019 ticket sales and from preset 2020 media-deal numbers — was $198.2 million.Once the lost revenue from 2021 was calculated, the owners and the union — which split the revenue each year, with about 53 percent going to team owners and 47 percent to players — agreed to reduce the salary cap’s growth over several years rather than take a more drastic decline for one or two seasons. But now it seems that the cap will rise roughly as was expected before the pandemic.N.F.L. revenue appears likely to rebound more quickly than anticipated, for several reasons. In the coming season, the league will add a 17th regular season game, which will generate more ticket revenue for teams. Also, nearly all of the 32 teams have announced plans to host full-capacity crowds at their games this fall. The league drew just 1.2 million fans last year, down from about 17 million before the pandemic.The league also plans to return to playing several games outside the United States in 2021, after canceling all international travel last season.“We do expect a more normal experience” this season, Commissioner Roger Goodell said on a conference call with reporters.The N.F.L. also expects more income from its new media contracts, including the sale to Amazon of the rights to show Thursday Night Football starting in 2022. Amazon agreed to pay an estimated $1.1 billion per year for 10 years to show those games, about 35 percent more than Fox, which is entering the final year of its agreement.Many of the other new media agreements that the league secured in March, with CBS, NBC and other networks, do not begin until the 2023 season, all but ensuring that the salary cap will continue to grow in the coming years.The league typically announces the salary cap for the upcoming season at its owners meeting in December. The $208.2 million cap for the 2022 season presumes all games will be played in full stadiums. If those plans change, the cap might be lowered.Separately, the N.F.L. owners, in a one-day meeting on Wednesday, approved limits on team rosters. Teams will be able to invite 90 players to training camps when they open in late July. The rosters will have to be cut to 85 on Aug. 17, 80 on Aug. 24 and 53 on Aug. 31, after the third and final preseason game.Goodell declined to say what percentage of players were currently vaccinated. The league and union agreed to loosen restrictions on players who are vaccinated, in hopes of increasing the number of people who are inoculated. The league said that more than 90 percent of essential staff members on 30 of the 32 teams had already been vaccinated.The owners also approved an expansion of the prohibition against blocking below the waist. Players will now be penalized if they block an opponent below the waist beyond 5 yards on either side of the line of scrimmage and more than 2 yards outside of either offensive tackle. The rule is designed to reduce the risk of knee and ankle injuries. More

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    After a Workout Push, the N.F.L. Players Union Falls Flat

    Union leadership had led a charge for players to workout on their own. But when the Broncos cut a player after a season-ending injury, tensions over the effort were revealed.At the beginning of May, just a few days after the N.F.L. draft, the N.F.L. Players Association hosted a conference call for hundreds of rookies and their agents. The call was ostensibly to welcome the players to the league and explain their benefits as union members. But during the discussion, J.C. Tretter, the union’s president, also repeated a pitch that he has made to veterans for months: Most off-season workouts are voluntary, and no player should feel obliged to attend them.Harold Lewis, one of the agents on the call, pushed back. Telling rookies to avoid off-season workouts was “complete insanity,” he said in a phone interview, because they are critical opportunities to impress coaches. Veterans with guaranteed contracts may feel secure enough in their jobs to skip a week or two of workouts, but players who still must earn a roster spot may not.“When you’re talking about rookies, whether it’s the first pick or Mr. Irrelevant, to tell them not to show up, I don’t understand it,” Lewis said, recounting his dispute with union leadership on the call. “And for an undrafted player, it’s suicidal.”The rookies were just the latest group that the players’ union has pushed to avoid off-season workouts. At the N.F.L.P.A.’s urging, veterans from half the N.F.L.’s teams pledged not to attend voluntary camps, with Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady out in front on the issue. Tretter, an offensive lineman for Cleveland, claimed that less than half of all players showed up for the first workouts in late April.The union’s campaign to dilute off-season workouts hit an unexpected and unfortunate speed bump on May 4, a day after the pitch to rookies. Ja’Wuan James, an offensive lineman for the Denver Broncos with seven years’ experience, tore an Achilles’ tendon while working out on his own, instead of at the team’s facility. The Broncos put him on the non-football injury list, which is normally for players who get hurt doing activities other than training for football.Seeming to back the Broncos’ decision, the N.F.L. sent teams a memo on May 5 with the reminder that they are under no obligation to pay players injured away from team facilities. A week later, the Broncos then released James, with the option to void the $10 million salary he would have been paid this season.DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the players’ union, said this week that James could reach a settlement with Denver, or the union may file a grievance on his behalf. James’s agent did not return a request for comment.Still, James said on social media that he felt snookered. His salary would not have been at risk if he was injured during a voluntary workout at the team’s facility, a fine point detailed in the league’s labor agreement that applies to all players.But James followed the union’s advice and now he is suffering the unintended consequences. He added his voice to calls for the players’ union to indemnify players who were injured working out on their own. “@NFLPA if your gonna advise all of us we need you to have our backs on the other end of this,” he wrote on Twitter.After James called on the N.F.L.P.A. for support, Tretter did not say what help it would provide, only that there was no way to fully protect players. “As players competing at the sport’s highest level, the reality is that we must train year-round, meaning we assume an inherent level of risk during the majority of the off-season while preparing on our own away from the facility,” he wrote in his newsletter on Monday.James’s injury ignited an already simmering debate about off-season workouts, and the union’s one-size-fits-all advice to members who have very different priorities.At issue are “voluntary” workouts that coaches have made all but mandatory in recent years, according to the union. Tretter pointed to 2020, when all off-season workouts were scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic and players made it through training camp and the season no worse for the wear. He also claimed that there were an inordinate number of injuries during these off-season workouts that could have been avoided if coaches didn’t push players so hard.In a league as cutthroat as the N.F.L., players without assured roster spots or roles — and there are hundreds of them — have no choice but to show up to the minicamps in April, May and June if they hope to win one. Even though James had a long-term contract, he too had something to prove: He opted not to play last year during the pandemic, and a knee injury limited him to just three games in 2019, his first season in Denver after five with Miami.These competing priorities are another reminder of the vast gap between the top tier of players, including Brady, who has backed the union’s push, and the far less wealthy players who fill most roster spots and are typically out of the league after just a few years. The union’s campaign to reduce injuries during the off-season is admirable, but telling players to stay home raises questions about whose bidding the N.F.L.P.A. is doing.DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the union, said this week that James could reach a settlement with his old team, or the union may file a grievance on his behalf. Perry Knotts/NFL, via Associated Press“It might be fine for Tom Brady to avoid minicamp, but he isn’t a representative example of a football player,” said Brad Sohn, a lawyer who has represented numerous injured players. “This speaks to who the union is trying to represent, its loudest and most influential constituents or all of its members.”News reports suggest the percentage of players at the second set of workouts that began this week is higher, a sign that rank-and-file players are having second thoughts.Lewis said one of his clients, Keanu Neal, has gone to Cowboys’ minicamp this spring because he wanted to impress his new bosses (he spent his first five years with the Falcons) and start learning his new position, linebacker. “Of course he’d like to be back home in Florida with his wife and newborn baby, but he is trying to build a future for them and the sacrifice of just a few weeks is worth it,” Lewis said.Ross Tucker, a former offensive lineman, said he battled for roster spots throughout his seven-year career and always attended off-season workouts because he never wanted to give a coach a reason to cut him. “There’s no way I would have hurt my career because of a new N.F.L.P.A. initiative,” said Tucker, who has his own football podcast.But there are only nine weeks of off-season workouts, so players are left alone for 20 weeks. Tucker said that he knew that his salary was at risk if he was injured away from the facility, so he stopped playing basketball and skiing while he was in the league.Most players, though, don’t listen to the warnings, which is a problem when the union tells its members to consider skipping minicamps, he said.“You’re talking with guys in their 20s and a lot of them feel invincible and they’re not reading up on what the rules are,” he said. “It’s hard to help guys who don’t want to be helped.” More

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    2021 N.F.L. Schedule: A 17-Game Season and Quarterback Showdowns

    Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will begin their Super Bowl defense against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys in the season opener.A 44-year-old Tom Brady will begin his quest for an eighth Super Bowl victory when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Dallas Cowboys in the N.F.L.’s first game of the 2021 regular season on Sept. 9, a Thursday. The veteran quarterback Brady will face a team led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who will be 16 years Brady’s junior when he makes his expected return from a gruesome ankle injury that caused him to appear in only five games last season.The league on Wednesday released its regular-season schedule, which incorporates the addition of a 17th game for each of the 32 teams. It is the first expansion of the N.F.L.’s regular season since 1978. The change was approved by team owners in March even as some players expressed their opposition.To make way for the added game, the league moved the Super Bowl by one week, to Feb. 13, and shrank the exhibition preseason to three games from four. In Week 18, ESPN and ABC will broadcast two games with playoff implications on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The opponents will be decided after Week 17.The N.F.L. will return to London for two games after canceling its overseas trips last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Atlanta Falcons will play the Jets there on Oct. 10 and the Jacksonville Jaguars will face the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 17, both at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.Week 1 will showcase two multibillion-dollar stadiums that opened in 2020 but will host N.F.L. fans for the first time this season. On Sept. 12, a Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams and their new quarterback, Matthew Stafford, will open the $5 billion SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., against the Chicago Bears in an evening game.The Raiders will host fans at the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium the next day, when they face the Baltimore Ravens on “Monday Night Football.” The jet-black venue, nicknamed the Death Star, opened in 2020 but did not have fans in attendance for N.F.L. games because of restrictions last year. The team will make up for it in Las Vegas fashion with a lower-level section that offers a “nightclub experience” with bottle service, DJ booths and large television screens.Fans have already shown a desire to attend. Early data compiled by SeatGeek, a ticket-purchasing company, show the Raiders as its top-selling team.Other interesting games in Week 1 include a matchup between the Green Bay Packers, possibly led by the disgruntled quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the New Orleans Saints in the first game of their post-Drew Brees era. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns will also face off, in a rematch of a division-round playoff matchup last season.Perhaps the most anticipated matchup will happen three weeks after the start of the season. On Oct. 3 at 8:20 p.m., Brady will do what he did many times over 20 seasons — play a game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. But this time, he will be an opponent as the Buccaneers (the team Brady just led to a Super Bowl title over Kansas City) face the Patriots (the team Brady led to six Super Bowl titles).If Brady wins, he will have defeated every N.F.L. team in his career. Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre are the only other quarterbacks in league history to accomplish that feat. If the Patriots win, it will be a significant victory for the team, which struggled to a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs last season.With few exceptions, the Detroit Lions and the Cowboys have hosted games on Thanksgiving annually since 1934 and 1966, respectively, and the tradition continues this season. The Lions play the Chicago Bears, their N.F.C. North division rivals, on Nov. 25 at 12:30 p.m., while the Cowboys play the Raiders afterward. That night, the Buffalo Bills, fresh off their first A.F.C. championships game appearance since the 1993 season, will face the Saints.Other notable matchups include a showdown between the first two draft picks, the Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, on Dec. 26 at 1 p.m.; an A.F.C. championship game rematch between the Bills and the Chiefs on Oct. 10 at 8:20 p.m.; and the Packers against the San Francisco 49ers, who are expected to have key defensive players back from injury and could potentially start quarterback Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick, on Sept. 26 at 8:20 p.m.Regarding the 17th game, teams will play an interconference opponent based on last season’s divisional standings. For instance, the Packers, who won the N.F.C. North, will face the Chiefs, who won the A.F.C. West, on Nov. 7 at 4:25 p.m. The additional home game will rotate on a yearly basis, starting this season, with A.F.C. teams hosting nine games. More

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    DK Metcalf Learns Football Speed Doesn't Equal Track Speed

    DK Metcalf, the All-Pro Seattle receiver, finished last in his heat on Sunday in his first 100-meter race against professional sprinters.WALNUT, Calif. — DK Metcalf launched slowly from the starting blocks, faded over 100 meters and learned in 10.363 seconds on Sunday that elite football speed does not translate easily to elite track speed.An All-Pro receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, Metcalf is impressively fast for a football player. He delivered one of the most memorable plays of the last N.F.L. season, exceeding 22 miles an hour while wearing his helmet and pads to chase down an Arizona defensive back who intercepted a pass.But in what he said was his first 100-meter race, Metcalf finished last in his preliminary heat against second-tier professional sprinters and did not qualify for the final at the Golden Games, a tuneup for next month’s United States Olympic track and field trials.“These are world class athletes; they do this for a living,” Metcalf said after finishing 15th out of 17 competitors in two preliminary heats in cool, overcast conditions. “It’s very different from football speed, from what I just realized.”Still, he challenged himself against top athletes from another sport after only two or three months of sprint training and did not embarrass himself. And he did finish ahead of two competitors in the preliminary heats. Cravon Gillespie won the final in 9.96 seconds.Why do this? Metcalf was asked. “Why not?” he replied.None of the four best American 100-meter runners participated in the race in a stadium without fans because of pandemic-related restrictions. It hardly mattered. Metcalf’s time was notable for an N.F.L. receiver but not for an elite sprinter. It did not rank among the fastest 20,000 performances ever in the 100 meters, according to an all-time list compiled by World Athletics, the sport’s governing body.There remains a vast gulf between football speed and world-class sprint speed. Compared to Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58 seconds, Metcalf’s time was nearly eight-tenths of a second slower, which might as well be an hour in an event often decided by hundredths of a second.Metcalf running to score a touchdown in 2019.Scott Eklund/Associated PressNor did Metcalf challenge the national high school record of 10.00 seconds, often considered the threshold for world-class speed. Most importantly, he did not reach his goal of 10.05 seconds, the time needed to gain automatic entry into the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore.Other competitors welcomed Metcalf to the meet held at Mt. San Antonio College. For his football celebrity, which drew interest to a sport that gains little attention apart from the Olympics. For his willingness to compete against professional sprinters. And for the lesson delivered that running 100 meters is a far more technical endeavor than simply running as fast as you can from the start line to the finish line.“Fans have been egging this on for a long time, that our speeds are comparable; they’re not,” said Noah Lyles, who could potentially win the 100 meters (personal best 9.86 seconds) and 200 meters at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in July and August.Sure, there have been some extremely fast football players. Most notably, Bob Hayes, a Hall of Fame receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, won the 100 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But most football players “don’t have any clue” about elite sprinting, said Mike Rodgers, a 2016 Olympian and a gold medalist on the United States 4×100-meter relay team at the 2019 world track and field championships.Football players seldom run the length of the field in a straight line. And their 40-yard dash times — Metcalf ran that distance in 4.33 seconds at the 2019 N.F.L. combine for prospective players — are widely discounted in track circles. There is no reaction to a starting gun to precisely gauge speed. At a fan exhibit at the 2019 Super Bowl, the retired Bolt casually matched the N.F.L. combine record of 4.22 seconds while running in sweats and sneakers.Metcalf, who is 6-feet-4 inches and weighs 229 pounds, was a superb hurdler in high school, but did not run track at the University of Mississippi. His lack of formal training at 100 meters was evident on Sunday.“There is as much strategy running 100 meters as running a marathon,” Lyles said.No one can accelerate for a full 100 meters. Speed must be distributed strategically. The mechanics of the event require a low, explosive start from the blocks. Sprinters must avoid popping up too quickly and losing momentum or braking by striking the ground too far in front of their bodies.Then comes the acceleration phase. Speed is a function of the length and frequency of strides. Top speed is reached at about 60, 70 or 80 meters. The challenge becomes trying to hold as much speed as possible while decelerating to the finish line.The outcome of a 100-meter race is essentially an optical illusion. The winner is not speeding up the fastest but slowing down the slowest.“You can only for five or six seconds produce maximum contraction” of the muscles, said Olivier Girard, an exercise physiologist who studies sprinting at the University of Western Australia. “After that, the energy-producing system is not as efficient. That’s why we cannot maintain the top speed and have to slow down.”Asked if he would run another 100, Metcalf demurred. When someone else asked what was next for him, he smiled and said, “Football. It’s time for minicamp.” More