Feb 7, 2020; Tampa, FL, USA;  General view of the NFL Shield logo on the field before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

NFL pushing for mandatory vaccinations for players

The NFL on Thursday said it has been pushing for a vaccination mandate for players amid dueling proposals with the NFLPA about a new cadence for testing the vaccinated.

The comments by NFL general counsel Larry Ferazini came during a media teleconference regarding the state of the league’s COVID preparedness ahead of the 2021 season. The first regular season game is two weeks from Thursday.

“We would still love to see that mandate go into effect tomorrow,” Ferazani said.

However, union president and Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter said Wednesday that the league never asked for a mandate.

“It’s the NFL’s choice on the mandate,” Tretter told ESPN Radio. “They didn’t enforce one. There was never really any talk about having a mandate.”

The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills said Thursday that nearly 93 percent of all NFL players have been vaccinated, leaving roughly 200 players leaguewide who remain unvaccinated.

With that as a backdrop, the NFL is proposing to test vaccinated players weekly vs. bi-weekly while the NFLPA wants daily testing for vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. (Unvaccinated players already get tested daily.)

“The COVID environment is constantly changing and our success last year was built not only on a foundation of cooperation, but more importantly, on listening to our experts,” the NFLPA said in a statement to ESPN on Thursday. “It is clear with what we know about the Delta variant and with what we have seen already with clubs, testing needs to be a greater focal point.”

That testing cadence would seem to be the battlefield as Tretter said Wednesday that the ship has sailed on a vax mandate.

“I think that time has already passed,” Tretter said on ESPN Radio. “The NFL is not mandating the vaccine for players so I don’t think there’s any going back on that at this point. I think we move forward how that is.

“We know the protocols we used last year worked, got us through a season. So we’ll continue to refine those protocols, continue to enforce those protocols. That’s our goal again, to get through a season, avoid transmission within the building; that’s what caused us problems last year.”

–Field Level Media

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell watches the Lions during a team practice at Ford Field on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021.

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NFL restricts media locker room access in 2021

The NFL has circulated a directive to all 32 teams to restrict locker room access for a second straight season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The policy requires that a maximum of only 50 vaccinated personnel will have access to locker rooms while players are present.

Non-team media will not be allowed.

Those restrictions represent a second straight season in which outside media will not be allowed inside of locker rooms. Instead, teams are allowed to designate three internal communications staffers to handle media duties inside of locker rooms.

The NFL is still relaxing some restrictions on in-person interviews, allowing socially distanced news conferences, postgame news conferences and small group availabilities. In accordance with those moves, Zoom media call requirements have been removed.

The NFL regular season kicks off Thursday, Sept. 9 when the Dallas Cowboys visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

–Field Level Media

May 25, 2021; Ashburn, Virginia, USA; A general view of an NFL ball on the field during a Washington Football Team OTA at Inova Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Football to generate more than $20B in legal sports bets

The NFL and college football could generate more than $20 billion in legal sports betting during the upcoming season, according to projections released Tuesday by PlayUSA.

It would result in as much as $1.5 billion in revenue for sportsbooks, per PlayUSA.

“The U.S. sports betting market looks entirely different than it did just one year ago. There is no question that it will be a historic football season unlike any we’ve seen before,” said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for the PlayUSA.com network.

The projections are at least $12 billion wagered on NFL games and roughly $8 billion on college football, per the report.

The total football-related handle was about $7.5 billion for the 2020 season.

Since the end of the 2020 football seasons, Michigan and Virginia have launched sports betting to emerge as the fifth- and seventh-largest markets in the U.S., respectively, per PlayUSA.

Another 11 states could launch or expand betting initiatives during this upcoming football season.

–Field Level Media

Jun 10, 2021; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Football Team running back Lamar Miller (35) carries the ball between Washington Football Team running back Payton Barber (25) and Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (24) during drills as part of minicamp at Inova Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

NFL cuts: Tim Tebow, Lamar Miller let go

Tim Tebow’s comeback bid with the Jacksonville Jaguars ended when NFL teams trimmed their rosters from 90 to 85 on Tuesday.

Tebow was released along with four others in Jacksonville — wide receivers Josh Imatorbhebhe and Tim Jones, defensive tackle Daniel Ross and cornerback DJ Daniel — after attempting to return from a brief minor-league baseball career with the New York Mets.

First-year Jaguars coach Urban Meyer was allowing Tebow, a Heisman and national title winner at Florida under Meyer’s watch, to attempt a move to tight end.

–Running back Lamar Miller was released by the Washington Football Team.

Miller has played in only one regular-season game since 2018 due to injuries and was one of six running backs in training camp with Washington.

Another longtime NFL back, Alfred Morris, was released by the New York Giants.

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Richard Rodgers (85) is carted off the field after suffering an injury against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Looser IR rules to return for 2021

Keeping a rule change first installed during the pandemic-ravaged 2020 season, NFL teams will be allowed to place an unlimited number of players on injured reserve during 2021 and those players will be eligible to return after a minimum of three games rather than eight.

NFL Network reported the update Tuesday, citing a league memo sent to the 32 clubs.

It is not clear if the NFL intends to keep the change long-term, but with the pandemic still active around the U.S., it chose to allow teams to have that flexibility for at least another season.

Normally, players placed on injured reserve cannot return from IR until they’ve missed at least six weeks’ worth of practice and eight weeks’ worth of games. Further, teams are usually allowed to activate only two players from IR during the course of a season, while any others must remain on IR for the rest of the season.

The league’s reserve/COVID-19 list remains separate from the standard injured reserve.

–Field Level Media

Jun 15, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham (4) participates in a drill during the New England Patriots mini camp at the New England Patriots practice complex. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham has successful back surgery

New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham had successful back surgery earlier this week, according to a report from NFL Network. The veteran is expected to be out of commission for approximately 12 weeks.

The nature or severity of the back injury has yet to be reported or disclosed by the team. At the start of camp, he was placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list for “pain in his right shoulder and back while throwing the football,” per an earlier report from The Athletic.

If his recovery proceeds as scheduled, he should be available to return to provide quarterback depth in mid to late October.

Stidham, 24, was expected to be the No. 3 quarterback behind Cam Newton and rookie Mac Jones this season.

He has appeared in eight games in his career for the Patriots after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, throwing for 270 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions.

On Wednesday, the Patriots claimed Jake Dolegala off waivers from Green Bay. Dolegala should compete with veteran Brian Hoyer for a roster spot this preseason.

–Field Level Media

Lions defensive tackle John Penisini warms up before the game against the Houston Texans at Ford Field on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020.

Lions

Dan Campbell: John Penisini had ‘softballs’ removed from shoulders

New Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell addressed the media Thursday and revealed a chunk of info about one of his players — a softball-sized chunk.

Campbell noted the improved play of second-year defensive lineman John Penisini, whom he said has elevated his performance this summer, might be partly due to Penisini’s health.

“John Penisini had what looked like softballs in his shoulder that he had repaired after the season, after the fact,” Campbell said. “It just looked like a bunch of calcium deposits that had been in there. You wonder why, when you watch the film last year, why he’s not using his arm. It’s because he had issues.”

Penisini, selected by the Lions in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, still put together a solid rookie campaign in spite of his “softballs.” The 24-year-old defensive tackle started 12 games (playing in all 16 overall) and totaled 35 tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.

“It’s a credit to him playing through it and all of those things,” Campbell said. “He’s better and you could see it yesterday. It was impressive.”

–Field Level Media

May 27, 2021; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws a pass during an OTA at Jets Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Jets reach deal with top pick Zach Wilson

Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and the New York Jets reached an agreement on a contract, ending the No. 2 overall draft pick’s brief training camp holdout.

The deal is for four years and $35.15 million, with a $22.92 million signing bonus. The base salary grows in subsequent seasons, from $660,000 this year to $5.45 million in Year 4, per Spotrac. The Jets hold the fifth-year option.

Jets training camp opened Tuesday.

Per reporting from NFL Network, the holdout stemmed from offset language and signing bonus timing. The Jets were able to retain the offset language in exchange for a reworked signing bonus schedule. Wilson, who turns 22 next week, will receive the money within 15 days, ESPN reported.

The 6-foot-3 Wilson was the second quarterback selected in the 2021 NFL Draft behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who went No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A BYU product, Wilson threw for 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns in leading the Cougars to an 11-1 record in 2020. For his collegiate career, he threw for 7,652 yards with 56 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

The Jets are scheduled to open the season Sept. 12 against their former starting quarterback, Sam Darnold, and the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.

–Field Level Media

Jan 16, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and wide receiver Davante Adams (17) against the Los Angeles Rams during the NFC Divisional Round at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Training camp storylines to watch

Days after Aaron Rodgers was joined on the disgruntled list by star wide receiver and close friend Davante Adams, there’s suddenly hope for a reconciliation for the Green Bay Packers quarterback following a simmering dispute that has dominated offseason headlines.

Rodgers now intends to play for the Packers this season, according to NFL Network. And Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst also indicated optimism for a previously unanticipated thaw in this icy, up-and-down relationship.

“We have been working tirelessly with Aaron and his representatives to resolve the issues, and we are hopeful for a positive resolution,” Gutekunst told Packers shareholders during their annual meeting Monday.

Rodgers and Adams recently both posted the same photograph on social media of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen from “The Last Dance” documentary on the Chicago Bulls. It provided a cryptic reminder into their feelings.

Rodgers, despite being offered a contract adjustment that would have made him the highest paid player in the game at a rate of over $45 million average per year, has been upset with the Packers, especially Gutekunst, this offseason Rodgers has been linked to multiple trade rumors, including the Denver Broncos, despite the fact that it would take a king’s ransom to land the reigning NFL MVP.

There’s been plenty of heavy speculation that Rodgers might retire rather than play for Green Bay, prompting several sports books to close odds and associated betting lines.

Meanwhile, Adams cut off contract talks with Green Bay heading into the final year of his contract as the team is unwilling currently to pay him in the DeAndre Hopkins stratosphere: $27.25 million per year.

–Deshaun Watson’s complicated situation
The relationship between the Texans and the embattled Pro Bowl quarterback became even more awkward when he reported to training camp Sunday to avoid accruing daily $50,000 fines.

However, Watson has no intentions of playing for the Texans as a reconciliation is regarded as extremely unlikely at best. His standing trade request remains “firm and intentional,” according to multiple sources.

The Texans will try to accommodate Watson, but won’t sacrifice fair value in the process. They want at least three first-round draft picks and a few starting caliber players in exchange for one of the most dynamic players in the game, per sources.

Complicating Watson’s trade value for potential suitors, including the Eagles and Dolphins: 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct (Watson and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, have denied wrongdoing) and an active Houston Police Department investigation. This unprecedented situation continues to unfold in unpredictable fashion.

–Michael Thomas’ health
The Saints were thrown a curveball when top wide receiver Michael Thomas waited until June to undergo surgery to repair torn ligaments in his ankle. Because his time table for recovery is four months, he’s not expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.

The delay in undergoing surgery didn’t go over well with the Saints, especially with their passing game in flux after Drew Brees’ retirement with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill competing for the starting job.

The Saints will lean heavily on Alvin Kamara as a receiving option with wide receivers Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris seeing increased targets. The trio of receivers combined for 127 catches and 1,532 yards over the past three seasons. Of course, Thomas topped those numbers in 2019 by himself.

–Brady, Bucs eye repeat
Sporting perhaps the gaudiest and definitely the most intricate Super Bowl rings in NFL history, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers celebrated their victory over the Chiefs during a private ceremony following their recent White House visit.

With 319 total diamonds, representing their 31-9 Super Bowl LV win, the Buccaneers and their 43-year-old quarterback are confident in their chances of repeating as champions.

And Brady, who recently showed off his seven Super Bowl rings, six earned with the Patriots, is determined to repeat.

“My favorite ring is the next one,” Brady said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

–Vaccination controversy
Although the majority of NFL players are vaccinated with 83 percent having at least had one shot and 10 teams at 90 percent vaccination Monday, this remains a controversial issue.

Perhaps no locker room has shown more divisiveness on this hot-button topic than the Bills. Wide receiver Cole Beasley has been an outspoken opponent against vaccination, even jousting with teammates Jerry Hughes.

The league noted in a memo that if a game can’t be played due to COVID-19 outbreaks stemming from unvaccinated players that the game will be forfeited and players from both teams won’t be paid their weekly game checks.

–By Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL), Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks with cornerback Steven Nelson (22) during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles agree to terms with CB Steven Nelson

The Philadelphia Eagles agreed to terms with cornerback Steven Nelson, who was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers in March.

Nelson brings experience to a revamped Eagles secondary.

Nelson, 28, has started 68 of 82 games played in his career. He spent the past two seasons in Pittsburgh after he was drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs and played in Kansas City for four seasons.

He has seven interceptions, 291 tackles, a fumble forced and four fumble recoveries in his career. He had four interceptions in 2018 for the Chiefs.

In April’s draft, the Eagles selected Zech McPhearson out of Texas Tech in the fourth round to help shore up the cornerback position.

–Field Level Media