Oct 23, 2021; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; A general view of the Big 12 Conference logo on the field after the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Oklahoma Sooners at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Big 12 schools to hold conference-wide pro day in 2024

The Big 12 and the NFL will debut the Big 12 Pro Day in 2024, which will assemble the pro hopefuls in one spot for “state of the art medical and player skill assessments.”

The conference and NFL announced the event in a news release issued Wednesday.

The inaugural event will be held next spring at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. It will replace the individual on-campus pro days and will include a job fair and “non-football career networking opportunities for Big 12 student-athletes,” per the release.

It will be closed to the public, though the public may attend the adjacent Big 12 Fan Fest and watch NFL Network’s coverage from outside the facility.

“The first-of-its-kind Big 12 Pro Day will provide our student-athletes an opportunity to showcase their talent and skill as they turn their NFL dreams into reality,” Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said. “Through this partnership with the NFL, Big 12 student-athletes will receive national media exposure across NFL Network and NFL Media platforms. We are thrilled to partner with the NFL to host this Pro Day, and we look forward to creating a special experience for our student-athletes.”

The Big 12 will expand from 10 to 14 teams for the 2023 season as BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF join the league.

Texas and Oklahoma will depart the conference before the start of the 2024-25 academic year and join the Southeastern Conference.

–Field Level Media

Aug 19, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay (left) is interviewed by Ryan Fitzpatrick (center) and Richard Sherman on the Amazon Prime Thursday Night Football set before the game against the Houston Texans at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Amazon Prime to air NFL Black Friday game for free

Amazon is synonymous with Black Friday shopping deals. And this November, Amazon unwraps a bargain for NFL fans.

Further deepening its relationship with the league, Amazon announced Tuesday that fans will be able to watch the first-ever NFL Black Friday game for free on Prime Video on Nov. 24. A paid Amazon Prime membership will not be required to watch the game, as it was on Thursday nights in 2022 as Amazon took over the Thursday night NFL package.

Teams have not yet been announced for the day-after-Thanksgiving game, which is expected to kick off at 3 p.m. ET.

“We’re excited to expand our relationship with the NFL and build a new holiday tradition for our customers with the first Black Friday NFL game,” said Jay Marine, vice president of Prime Video and global head of sports for Amazon. “We’re so very proud of our Thursday Night Football production and all the teams in front of and behind the camera.”

The Black Friday coverage will include a full pregame show hosted by Charissa Thompson, with Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit calling the game and Kaylee Hartung reporting from the sideline.

–Field Level Media

Jan 10, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) against the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2022 CFP college football national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Top QB prospects Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud measure up at combine

Bryce Young was the first quarterback to the lectern on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine, an appropriate anecdote that included hundreds of reporters gathered to hear from the prized Alabama passer and purported No. 1 overall pick in April.

While Young and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud are expected to entice another team to trade for the top pick and move the Chicago Bears down a peg, Young said he isn’t trying to read the tea leaves.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Young said of being drafted. “I obviously don’t get to choose. I’d be surprised either way. I’m just happy to be here.”

Young has been popular with teams at the top of the draft, meeting with the Bears, Houston Texans (who pick second and have the No. 12 pick), Indianapolis Colts (fourth) and Seattle Seahawks (fifth) and Las Vegas Raiders (seventh).

“Bryce is an outstanding leader, and an outstanding quarterback,” Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans said. “It’s no surprise the success that he’s had, just because of the makeup and the type of guy that he is.”

Young said he had a “great” meeting with the Texans, which might not be a surprise given Ryans also attended Alabama. Crimson Tide products John Metchie III and Christian Harris, former Young teammates, are also in Houston.

“It was a great environment, just being in that room, I got a lot of wisdom. I’m super-grateful for it,” Young said.

Stroud said his first meeting in Indianapolis was with the Raiders. He also met with the Texans and Colts and looks to get a leg up on Young by throwing and performing in on-field events during the combine. Young is holding out for Alabama’s pro day March 23.

“I want to be myself no matter what room I step in, let them know I control the room no matter what room I step in, that I’m a leader,” Stroud said Friday. “And show them the IQ I have, that I’m a student of the game. … I’m willing to go back to square one and learn it all over again.”

Former NFL personnel evaluators appear to be split on whether Young or Stroud is the right quarterback to build around. Louis Riddick said in an ESPN appearance that “sky is the absolute freaking limit” if Stroud gets in the right offense.

“This kid right here, look I love Bryce Young too, it’s like a video game watching the young man play. This guy right here, I think is the gem,” said Riddick, who previously worked in the Eagles’ scouting department.

Height and weight are questions for Young, who is nothing close to the physical prototype at the position. But his instincts, awareness and ability to execute at a high level when plays break down give him one of the highest “off script” grades from general managers since Kyler Murray was selected No. 1 overall.

“I’ve been this size, respectfully, my whole life,” Young said Friday. “I know who I am. I know what I can do. For me, it’s fair, everyone can speculate and ask whatever questions are necessary. I’m going to continue to control what I’m going to control.”

Stroud will be measured with the other quarterbacks in the class on Saturday, when throwing sessions and other on-field workouts take place at Lucas Oil Stadium. Like Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson plan to participate in all QB events.

The average height and weight of quarterbacks on NFL rosters in 2022 was 6-2 1/2, 219.8. Of course, there are notable exceptions.

Based on the tape at the combine, Murray was 5-10 1/8, Russell Wilson measured 5-10 5/8, Drew Brees was 6-0.

“You do want to pay attention to body type,” former Patriots GM Scott Pioli said on NFL Network. “But go back and watch the tape. Spend time with Bryce Young. I’ve spent time with Bryce Young, I’ve spent time with his parents. This guy is the real deal as a quarterback and human being. This is the guy you want leading your offense and leading your huddle.”

–Field Level Media

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross talks with Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, October 18, 2020.

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Judge clears portion of Flores v. NFL discrimination suit to proceed

Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ discrimination lawsuit was cleared to move forward by a federal judge in New York on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan said Flores could advance systemic discrimination claims against the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and New York Giants.

However, the claim against his former employer, the Miami Dolphins, and co-plaintiff claims from Ray Horton and Steve Wilks, are being funneled to arbitration. The ruling puts the matter directly into the hands of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who can elect to serve as arbitrator in the case or opt to appoint one.

Douglas Wigdor, Flores’ attorney, summarized the district court ruling as a win and a loss.

“We are pleased that Coach Flores’ class claims of systematic discrimination against the NFL and several teams will proceed in court and ultimately before a jury of his peers,” Wigdor said in a statement. “We are disappointed the court compelled arbitration of any claims before Mr. Goodell as he is obviously biased and unqualified to rule on these matters. We expect him to delegate those matters to a truly neutral arbitrator as a matter of fundamental fairness.”

Flores was 24-25 as head coach of the Dolphins, who fired him in what was later revealed as part of a plan by ownership to lure Sean Payton, then under contract with the New Orleans Saints, to Miami. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was fined, suspended and the Dolphins lost their first-round pick in the 2023 draft as a result.

Flores’ lawsuit claims that from owners to general managers and beyond, “systemic racial discrimination in the hiring, retention and termination of NFL coaches and executives” is pervasive in the league.

The NFL said on Wednesday they look forward to moving ahead with arbitration as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.

“We intend to move forward promptly with arbitrations as directed by the Court and to seek to dismiss the remaining claims,” the league said in a statement provided by spokesperson Brian McCarthy.

Historically, the NFL goes to great lengths to avoid the discovery phase permitted in a public court system jury trial.

The NFL argued in court that all of the matters should be limited to resolution by arbitration as part of a confidential review and hearings. The matters related to Wilks, and the Arizona Cardinals, and Horton’s claim against the Tennessee Titans, along with Flores’ dispute with the Dolphins all are covered by the terms of their employment contracts with those teams, Caproni ruled Wednesday.

But Flores can forge ahead seeking a jury trial against the other three teams.

“This case shines an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League teams,” Caproni wrote in the ruling. “Although the clear majority of professional football players are Black, only a tiny percentage of coaches are Black.”

Flores spent last season as senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He interviewed with the Cardinals for their head-coaching vacancy but withdrew to become defensive coordinator of the Vikings in February.

Flores accuses the Broncos and Giants of inviting him for what he considered “sham” interviews. Flores revealed that he received a congratulatory text intended for Brian Daboll from the Giants that was sent by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. But Flores hadn’t interviewed with the Giants yet. The team hired Daboll.

He also claims the Texans retaliated against him for filing the lawsuit.

–Field Level Media

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers runs out on to the field as he is announced against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.

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Unapologetic Aaron Rodgers promises decision ‘soon enough’

Aaron Rodgers plans to deliver a decision about his 2023 plans “soon enough” he said on a podcast with Aubrey Marcus released Wednesday.

Rodgers, 39, met with the Packers two days after the end of the regular season in January. General manager Brian Gutekunst said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine that he hasn’t had a chance to continue conversations with Rodgers.

The Packers’ quarterback recalled as a cautionary tale the premature retirement of Brett Favre, which happened on March 6 in large part because Green Bay management wanted his decision before the start of free agency. Favre didn’t have a final decision, he would later say, but retired and then decided he wanted to continue playing. The Packers traded Favre to the New York Jets.

“It’s best for anybody who has an interest in this to make a decision sooner rather than later,” Rodgers said on the podcast. “I remember before Favre retired, there were times in April and May, we weren’t sure if he was going to come back because he didn’t come to any of the offseason program. Then in 2008, he actually did retire in March and then said, ‘No, no, no,’ in June after OTAs, ‘I actually want to come back and play. That’s when he was traded to the Jets. There was obviously a lot of tension that summer.

“For everybody involved directly or indirectly, it’s best for a decision earlier. I feel really good about the conversations that are going to be had, that have been had with important people in my life. Yourself included. But I’m not looking for somebody to tell me what the answer is. All the answers are right inside me. I touched many of the feelings on both sides in the darkness. I’m thankful for that time.”

Rodgers spent four days on a “darkness retreat” in Oregon, confined to a 300-square foot dwelling that was partially underground. He said the point of the exercise was to be alone with his thoughts, to find full clarity and peace and calibrate his emotions.

“There’s a finality to the decision. I don’t make it lightly,” he said on the podcast. “I don’t want to drag anybody around. I’m answering questions about it because I got asked about it. I’m talking about it because it’s important to me. If you don’t like it and you think it’s drama, and you think I’m being a diva or whatever, then just tune it out. That’s fine. But this is my life. It’s important to me. I’ll make a decision soon enough and we’ll go down that road. I’ll be really excited about it.”

Rodgers previously stated he was aware his current contract with the Packers would need to be renegotiated because of a fully guaranteed salary of $59.465 million for 2023.

Gutekunst said Tuesday that backup Jordan Love, who is in the precise position Rodgers was in during the Favre career deliberations, is “ready to play; needs to play.”

–Field Level Media

8. Atlanta Falcons -- Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

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Florida QB Anthony Richardson is No. 1 bet in top draft pick futures

Two months before the 2023 NFL Draft, Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson has drawn more bets to go No. 1 overall than any prospect in the class.

Richardson opened at +10000 when BetMGM released top pick futures in January. By Tuesday, the polarizing prospect had jumped to +1000, and he climbed further to +700 on Thursday.

BetMGM data analyst John Ewing explained the rise of Richardson began Monday, when 13 percent of bettors had placed wagers on the quarterback going first in the draft. After multiple draft-focused sites began discussing Richardson as a serious option for the top pick — including NFL.com and Pro Football Focus — the public rode the flame to the window and Richardson currently leads all prospects at 22.6 percent of those bets.

Field Level Media rates Richardson as the No. 4 quarterback in the 2023 draft behind Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis.

Quarterbacks are the top four in the No. 1 pick futures odds at DraftKings.

Young (-160) is ahead of Stroud (+380), Levis (+650) and Richardson (+750). Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter is +850.

Richardson is drawing athletic comparisons to Cam Newton, who by way of Florida and then Auburn rose up draft boards after leading the Tigers to the national title and winning the Heisman Trophy. Newton was the No. 1 pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2011.

A word of caution when ingesting pre-draft buzz as gospel: The 2022 case of Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, the prohibitive favorite to be the first quarterback drafted who went closer to pick 100 than pick No. 1.

Willis was +4500 to be the No. 1 pick before the NFL Scouting Combine last February, then wowed in throwing sessions open to media and entered the top four in the top pick future.

Willis was productive in college — he threw for 5,117 passing yards and 47 touchdowns, rushing for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns — and in media interviews.

Willis was -200 to be the top quarterback drafted on the eve of the NFL draft. The over-under for his draft slot at pick 9.5 was -140.

But the Auburn transfer wound up falling all the way to No. 86 and the Tennessee Titans.

–Field Level Media

Nov 17, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (right) exchanges jerseys with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (left) after the game at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Tag time: Franchise, transition window opens Tuesday

Lamar Jackson and a host of potential unrestricted free agents could be shown the trap door that is the NFL franchise tag when the window for NFL teams to apply franchise and transition markets opens Tuesday.

The tag window closes on March 7. Free agency begins March 15.

Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens had contract talks on at least three separate occasions since June 2022. Those conversations weren’t fruitful, and the two sides are reportedly far apart as the self-represented Jackson seeks fully guaranteed salaries on a long-term deal.

Baltimore’s conundrum was created in part by the fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract Deshaun Watson with the Cleveland Browns.

The Ravens and others can use the franchise tag to retain refusal rights in free agency, or a cheaper insurance policy with fewer guarantees, the transition tag.

There are two franchise tag types available to general managers: the non-exclusive franchise tag is most typical and assures a player a one-year salary tabulated by finding the average of the top five salaries at a position over the last five seasons. Because the tag is non-exclusive, other teams can negotiate with the tagged player, but his current team can choose to match any contract offer or choose to receive two first-round draft picks in return.

The exclusive franchise tag has only been applied once in the past seven seasons. The Dallas Cowboys used it in negotiations with Dak Prescott, prohibiting him from talking to other teams.

But the exclusive tag comes with a price. For example, the Ravens would be indebted to Jackson for a 2023 salary hold of $44.2 million on the exclusive tag. Baltimore is over the projected 2023 salary cap as of Monday, and clearing the cap space to use the exclusive tag could create more headaches with deferred salaries in future years.

A less-beneficial option for GMs, the transition tag gives a player’s current team refusal rights to match any contract offer. However, if the team opts not to match an offer from another team, no compensation is owed.

The 2023 franchise and transition tag values as compiled by the NFL Players Association:

Pos. Franchise tag value Transition tag value
QB $32,416,000 $29,504,000
LB $20,926,000 $17,478,000
WR $19,743,000 $17,991,000
DE $19,727,000 $17,452,000
DT $18,937,000 $16,068,000
OL $18,244,000 $16,660,000
CB $18,140,000 $15,791,000
S $14,460,000 $11,867,000
TE $11,345,000 $9,716,000
RB $10,091,000 $8,429,000
K/P $5,393,000 $4,869,000

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) hugs Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown (78) during warmups prior to the Ravens'game against the Washington Football Team at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Field Level Media’s Top 50 Free Agents

Running backs, defensive backs and defensive linemen could be popular when free agency begins in March.

The top players scheduled to become free agents are likely to be heavily considered for the franchise tag this month, including Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, before shopping can officially begin at 11:59:59 p.m. ET on March 15.

Teams face a March 7 deadline for the franchise tag.

Speculative free agents, such as players with looming contract negotiations that could lead to their release or a trade — Raiders quarterback Derek Carr or Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan — are not included.

Field Level Media’s top 50 unrestricted free agents for 2023:

1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens
Former MVP isn’t going anywhere. Self-represented and negotiating without an agent, Jackson is using the fully guaranteed $230M deal Deshaun Watson signed with the Browns last year as his guidepost. Will the Ravens blink? Jackson is 26, but the Ravens might not have the salary cap room to use the exclusive franchise tag, which blocks other teams from negotiating with him, but runs $45 million compared to $32.5 million for the non-exclusive tag.

2. Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Chiefs
Jackson’s former teammate in Baltimore and a member of the same Ravens’ 2018 draft class, Brown has outperformed his draft slot (83rd overall) and contract. Unless general managers wait for the draft, the OT market is slim pickings. Brown has plenty of leverage. Tagged last spring at a value of $16.62 million for 2022, Brown declined a six-year, $139 million deal with a $30.25 million signing bonus last July.

3. Daron Payne, DT, Commanders
The 25-year-old might not make it out of Washington. If he does, a salary of $20 million is highly likely.

4. Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders
Not going anywhere, the Raiders plan to keep Jacobs after his bounceback 2022 season.

5. Jessie Bates, S, Bengals
All too familiar with the franchise tag ($12.9M last year), Bates held out until Aug. 23 last summer when the two sides couldn’t reach a long-term agreement.

6. Javon Hargrave, DT, Eagles
The ideal fit in Philadelphia’s front after leaving a more restrictive role with the Steelers, Hargrave can command top dollar in free agency after posting a career-best 11 sacks last season.

7. Mike McGlinchey, OT, 49ers
With big contracts clogging the 49ers path to a huge raise for the 28-year-old, McGlinchey will not offer a home-town discount to stay.

8. Daniel Jones, QB, Giants
Jones is the priority for the Giants this offseason as stated by the head coach and GM, and could be a tag candidate. Last season, 14 quarterbacks were paid at least $29.7M in total outlay, making the $32.5 million tag rate for Jones look more palatable.

9. Geno Smith, QB, Seahawks
Maybe trust Seahawks GM John Schneider to balance the books, eh? Smith made a measly $3.5 million in 2022, a career year in which he outperformed expectations and Seattle’s ex-QB, Russell Wilson. By the way, Wilson signed a new five-year deal in 2022 that averages $48,517,647 per year.

10. CJ Gardner-Johnson, S, Eagles
A trade heist in 2022 brought Gardner-Johnson to the Eagles for mid-round draft picks. Keeping him won’t be quite as simple with the Jalen Hurts contract around the bend, but Philadelphia has a pair of first-round picks in 2023.

11. Jamel Dean, CB, Buccaneers
At 26, the former third-round pick can nearly name his price in a shallow pool of young free agent corners. Cap-strapped Tampa can’t afford to keep him.

12. Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Barkley likes his fit in the Brian Daboll system and the Giants are interested in retaining the former No. 2 overall pick if the price is right. He turned 26 on Feb. 9, but other first-rounders have seen relative or dramatic letdowns on their second NFL contracts. Todd Gurley is only 28 and flat-lined two seasons ago with 6,082 career rushing yards. Ezekiel Elliott turns 28 in July and is showing severe wear and tear.

13. Lavonte David, LB, Buccaneers
Limited capital likely renders the Buccaneers as non-players in the David Sweepstakes, unless he’s willing to go with a team-friendly deal at age 33.

14. Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles
Depth in the free agency class and upcoming draft takes some of the leverage out of Sanders’ hands. He turns 26 a week after the NFL draft and has low mileage for a four-year pro. In 94 total games over the past seven pro and college seasons since enrolling at Penn State, Sanders has only 975 regular-season carries. By comparison, his predecessor at Penn State — Saquon Barkley — has 954 in 60 NFL games the past five seasons and tore his ACL in 2020.

15. Dalton Schultz, TE, Cowboys
Critical without a steady No. 2 wide receiver, the Cowboys might be willing to look toward the draft for his replacement or let understudy Jake Ferguson (fourth round, 2022) step into the lead role.

16. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Bills
Drafted at 20 years old, Edmunds might not reach the Roquan Smith stratosphere of $20M annually, but $15 million per season isn’t out of the question. That’s too rich for the Bills, who are over the cap and signed linebacker Matt Milano to a new deal.

17. Tony Pollard, RB, Cowboys
Pollard was in the lead role for the Cowboys for only part of his fourth season, which ended at San Francisco in the playoffs due to a broken leg. His calling card is speed, and even with the focus on his physical recovery, there will be teams ready to bet on Pollard being their big-play back next season.

18. Jakobi Meyers, WR, Patriots
An undrafted free agent who became a nightmare matchup in the slot, Meyers should benefit from the rising market value for good and sometimes-great wide receivers.

19. James Bradberry, CB, Eagles
Before the holding penalty in Super Bowl LVII, Bradberry had one of the best seasons in pass coverage in the NFL. He’ll be coveted, but too pricey for the Eagles to retain.

20. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
Proven starter but unproven finisher with an expanding history of injuries. Garoppolo is 44-19 as a starter and the 31-year-old fits as a short-term option for teams potentially in transition (Buccaneers, Jets, Packers).

21. Evan Engram, TE, Jaguars
22. Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Colts
23. Jason Kelce, C, Eagles
24. Ben Powers, OG, Ravens
25. Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Broncos
26. Kaleb McGary, OT, Falcons
27. Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Vikings
28. Marcus Peters, CB, Ravens
29. Kareem Hunt, RB, Browns
30. David Montgomery, RB, Bears
31. Marcus Davenport, DE, Saints
32. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Chiefs
33. Isaiah Wynn, OT, Patriots
34. Isaac Seumalo, OG, Eagles
35. Rodney Hudson, C, Cardinals
36. Jadeveon Clowney, DE-OLB, Browns
37. Brandon Graham, DE, Eagles
38. Fletcher Cox, DT, Eagles
39. Drue Tranquill, LB, Chargers
40. Allen Lazard, WR, Packers
41. Ethan Pocic, C, Browns
42. Dalton Risner, OG, Broncos
43. Cam Sutton, CB, Steelers
44. David Long, LB, Titans
45. Jordan Poyer, S, Bills
46. Mike Gesicki, TE, Dolphins
47. Devin Singletary, CB, Bills
48. Baker Mayfield, QB, Rams
49. Mecole Hardman, WR, Chiefs
50. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, N/A

–Field Level Media

Feb 8, 2023; Phoenix, AZ, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media during a press conference at Phoenix Convention Center prior to Super Bowl LVII. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ten ex-players sue NFL over disability program

Willis McGahee is one of 10 former NFL players suing the league, its board of trustees and commissioner Roger Goodell in federal court over its benefits plan, accusing them Thursday of a number of “unscrupulous tactics” to wrongfully avoid paying out disability claims.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in Baltimore in the U.S. District Court of Maryland and lays out what’s described as an “overly aggressive and disturbing pattern” of denying benefits for specious, subjective reasons, making it far more difficult for retired players to receive health care they need after playing in the NFL.

McGahee, a two-time Pro Bowl running back who played for the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns in his 10-year NFL career, is now 41 but told reporters in a virtual news conference that his physician said his arthritis comparable to an 80-year-old.

McGahee said he tried for six years to receive disability payments from the NFL and was denied last year.

“It’s time for me to step up, it’s time for other players to step up and say something,” McGahee told reporters. “We are not just going to sit back and just let it all fall down on us and take the beating.”

The other plaintiffs are Jason Alford, Daniel Loper, Michael McKenzie, Jamize Olawale, Alex Parsons, Charles Sims, Eric Smith, Joey Thomas and Lance Zeno.

Smith played seven seasons as a defensive back for the New York Jets and said in the lawsuit that he had 13 documented traumatic brain injuries in that time.

Smith shared Thursday that he has blacked out and woken up bleeding with “holes in the wall.”

“My wife and kids are crying,” he said. “I went down a dark path.”

The lawsuit is notable at the end of a season that saw Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffer multiple documented concussions — including one just days after he was cleared too soon from the league’s concussion protocol — and Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffer cardiac arrest on the field of a game that was eventually abandoned.

One of the lawyers representing the players is Christopher Seeger, who in 2012 worked on the class-action lawsuit in which ex-players accused the NFL of not sufficiently protecting them from concussions and their related dangers. That case has been settled and has paid out more than $1 billion to affected retirees.

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told Reuters in a statement that the disability plan in question has provided more than $330 million to eligible players, and that their standards were developed via consultation with experts in occupational, mental and physical health.

“The NFL-NFLPA disability plan is fair and administered by a professional staff overseen by a board comprised of an equal number of appointees of the NFL Players Association and the league, which includes retired players,” McCarthy wrote.

“This board reviews the activities of the office and operation of the benefit program, including every contested application for benefits, to ensure that retired players who are entitled to disability benefits receive them as intended.”

–Field Level Media

Feb 8, 2023; Phoenix, AZ, USA; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talks to media during a press conference at Media Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Roger Goodell says NFL officiating never better

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the officiating in the league has never been better.

Goodell made the assertion at his annual news conference in Phoenix ahead of Super Bowl LVII — his state of the NFL address.

Goodell touched on several other flashpoints — including minority hiring, player health and safety, the Washington Commanders investigation and potential sale, future plans to flex “Thursday Night Football” and when the site of Super Bowl LX will be announced.

On the topic of officiating, Goodell said mistakes are unavoidable but threw his full support behind the crews.

“I don’t think it’s ever been better in the league,” Goodell said. “There are over 42,000 plays in a season. Multiple infractions could occur on any play. Take that out or extrapolate that. That’s hundreds if not millions of potential fouls. And our officials do an extraordinary job of getting those. Are there mistakes in the context of that? Yes, they are not perfect and officiating never will be.”

His comments come less than two weeks since controversial calls in both championship games.

“We may not agree with every TV announcer or officiating expert, but we think our officials are doing a great job,” Goodell said.

Reacting to recent comments from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who said the officials’ inconsistency was due to several referees leaving for network TV roles, Goodell said that wasn’t a factor.

“Are we losing people from the field to the booth? There are some that never even officiated on the NFL field, and so we didn’t lose anyone,” Goodell said. “We may have lost them from our office, but we didn’t lose them from officiating on the field. Others are taking on that responsibility at the end of their careers. So, I do not think that’s a factor at all. Zero.”

Goodell touched on several other topics Wednesday:

Minority hirings: Goodell credited the recently implemented coach and front office accelerator program with helping to introduce teams to a more diverse candidate pool. The commissioner told reporters that the program introduced the Tennessee Titans to their new general manager, Ran Carthon, in December.

Carthon, who is Black, is one of two minority GM or head coach candidates hired so far during this year’s cycle, along with DeMeco Ryans, who was named head coach of the Houston Texans last month.

“We’re gonna continue (the accelerator program),” Goodell said. “Our commitment’s strong to that. But that’s just one. We had a number of other programs that we’ve put in that I think are going to produce long-term results.

“Now we all want short-term results, but it’s important to have it be sustainable for the future, and we believe diversity makes us stronger. It’s about attracting the best talent and giving them the best opportunity to be successful. To me, that’s at the core of what we do. We want the changes to be really fundamental and sound and sustainable.”

Health and safety: Goodell addressed the modified concussion protocols that the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to after an investigation determined that the previous protocols did not lead to the intended result with Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

“Any time we can change the protocols to make it safer for our players, we’re gonna do that,” Goodell said. “What we changed in October is something that we thought would give us a better opportunity to treat those conditions more conservatively. … I think that’s also why concussions went up this year because we had a broader definition, a more conservative definition. We had an increase of 17 percent of evaluations. So if you have more evaluations, you’re going to have more concussions.”

The commissioner added that the next move in concussion prevention will be improvements to the helmets.

Washington Commanders investigation/potential sale: On the topic of Mary Jo White’s investigation into misconduct by the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, Goodell said there’s no timeline in place for White to conclude her investigation and report her findings to the NFL.

“There is no timeline given to Mary Jo White,” Goodell said. “She is authorized to work independently. There is no timeline for her to come to any conclusions.”

As for the potential sale of the team, Goodell said the process of finding a buyer is underway but the league won’t be involved until the other owners vote whether to approve a deal.

“The Commanders are under a process. That’s their process. Ultimately, if they reach a conclusion and have someone joining the ownership group or buying the team, that’s something the ownership will look at.”

Site of Super Bowl LX: The Super Bowl locations for the next two seasons are set, with Las Vegas hosting Super Bowl LVII and New Orleans welcoming Super Bowl LIX to town in 2025.

As for the 60th (LX) and 61st (LXI) Super Bowls, Goodell said the selection for LX in 2026 will be made later this year. LXI’s location in 2027 could also be determined in 2023.

“Thursday Night Football” flex?: With flexible scheduling for “Monday Night Football” being implemented this year for December games, Goodell hinted that the league’s schedule could include flex games for “Thursday Night Football” in the future.

“This is the first year of our new deals which will have flexible scheduling on Monday night,” he said. “So we’ll have flexible scheduling on Sundays and Mondays, it wouldn’t at all surprise me at some point that we have it on Thursdays, at some stage. Not today, but it’ll certainly be something that’ll be on our horizon.”

–Field Level Media