NFL slashes preseason schedule in half amid coronavirus case uptick

The NFL will chop its preseason slate in half this year in response to the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already kept training programs remote this summer.

Pro Football Talk was the first outlet to report the news. The league is expected to make the official announcement Thursday.

By limiting preseason action — a step players have advocated for beyond the COVID-19 outbreak in order to prevent injury — the NFL hopes to prevent travel-related virus spread and allow players to get in shape at a more natural pace. COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have shot up over the past two weeks, rising to a recent daily average of more than 40,000 new diagnoses nationwide.

It’s been a strange couple of months for NFL franchises following the draft in April. Usually able to ease rookies and newcomers into their cultures during training camp, they’ve instead relied on technology to provide virtual team-building neccesities.

The first preseason game of 2020 is scheduled for Aug. 20.

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Kansas City Chiefs’ Chris Jones says he ‘won’t play’ without new long-term contract

Chris Jones is sending a message to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ahead of the July 15 deadline for players to agree to multi-year contracts, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle stated he won't settle for playing on the franchise tag this season, saying Tuesday he "won't play" if not given a long-term deal of his liking.

NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported earlier in the day that Jones, who has not signed his tender, has "always viewed himself as a $20 million-plus-per-year guy." The Chiefs, however, do not share that valuation, Garafolo reported, leaving "a lot of work to be done" if the two sides are to reach a multi-year contract. 

Jones responded on Twitter to a video of Garafolo's report, saying, "Or I won't play. Le'Veon Bell told me about this."

Or I won’t play. @LeVeonBell told me about this

Bell sat out the entire 2018 NFL season amid a dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who placed the franchise tag on him for the second consecutive year. The three-time Pro Bowl running back signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the New York Jets last March.

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Jones, 25, has established himself as one of the leading forces of the Chiefs defense, recording 31 sacks in the last three years. He notched nine sacks last year and deflected three passes in Super Bowl LIV to help Kansas City win its first title in 50 years.

Jones would make $16.1 million in 2020 if he opts to play on the franchise tender.

Kansas City has already committed a sizable sum to its core players, including defensive end Frank Clark, who agreed to a five-year, $104 million deal with the team last April after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. Clark agreed in March to restructure part of his contract to help the Chiefs get under the salary cap. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes is also expected to receive a potentially record-breaking extension.

General manager Brett Veach said in February at the NFL scouting combine that retaining Jones was a "priority' for the team.

“I think the tandem of Chris Jones and Frank Clark is something any team would want," Veach said. "We’re going to work hard to see if we can get that done.”

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Ron Rivera: Don’t bet against Cam with Patriots

Ron Rivera has a message for those ready to doubt that Cam Newton can rebound with the New England Patriots: Don’t bet against him.

Rivera, who coached the Carolina Panthers for nine seasons with Newton as his starting quarterback, was asked Monday on 670 The Score in Chicago about whether he thought Newton has recovered from the injuries that have marred his past two seasons. Rivera said he had watched the workout videos that Newton posted on social media.

“He’s headed in the right direction,” Rivera said on the McNeil & Parkins Show. “I mean, he’s probably about as healthy as it gets from what I’ve seen on video. I think he’s ready to bust out.

“I would never bet against the young man, that’s for sure.”

Newton, who holds most of Carolina’s career passing records, missed 14 games last season with a Lisfranc injury and the final two games of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury that also required surgery.

He reached an agreement on a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Patriots on Sunday, league sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. ‬The Patriots were the only team to make him an offer after he was released by the Panthers in March, according to Schefter.

Rivera said on 670 The Score that he believes the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented teams from conducting in-person workouts, was the main reason more teams didn’t try to sign him. As for why Rivera didn’t try to bring Newton to the Washington Redskins, he pointed to the presence of quarterback Dwayne Haskins, drafted by the Redskins in the first round last year.

“Honestly, if the circumstances would have allowed us, I would have had no issues with that. I would have been very confident and comfortable in going after him and bringing him to be part of what we’re doing here. To me those circumstances would have been going through an opportunity to see what we have in Dwayne,” he said.

Rivera instead brought another former Panthers quarterback to the Redskins, trading for Kyle Allen earlier this offseason. He said the benefit of being in his first year as the Redskins’ coach is that he can be patient with Haskins, who threw for 1,365 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions after being selected with the No. 15 pick in 2019.

“We’ve been in this tough situation because there was a number of veteran guys that we liked but we have to find out what we have in the young guy, and that’s the benefit of being a new head coach is that we can go ahead and we can be patient. We can put these guys through workouts and get to know what we have and feel good about it or don’t feel good about it and then we’ve got to go out and make some changes,” he said.

“But until we get that opportunity to know what we have, it would have been very hard to bring in a guy who’s had such a solid career, who was league MVP at one time (in 2015), and expect the young guy to get chances to grow, so I just felt that because of our circumstances we could play this slow — and good for [Newton], he went to New England, which I think is going to be a great spot for him and I think he’s going to have a lot of success.”

With the Patriots, Newton will be in the mix to help replace Tom Brady, who left to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. The Patriots did not select a quarterback in April’s draft, with 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham and 11-year veteran Brian Hoyer atop the depth chart.

On Tuesday, wide receiver Julian Edelman welcomed Newton to New England via Twitter:

Rivera was asked what he’d say to those who believe Newton’s best days are behind him.

“Don’t bet against him,” Rivera said. “I really wouldn’t. First of all, you got to know who he is and understand what all he’s gone through. He’s a guy that’s always tried to do things, I think, because he’s felt the pressure. He felt the pressure of being the No. 1 pick. He felt the pressure of having won the Heisman Trophy and being the No. 1 pick. He felt the pressure of being a Black quarterback, with all this stuff that’s been heaped on him.

“He’s really had to find his way through it, and he’s done a great job with it.”

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Odell Beckham Jr. shoots down Patriots trade speculation, reiterates he has ‘unfinished business’ with Browns

Odell Beckham Jr. and Cam Newton have trained together this offseason, so Newton agreeing to a one-year contract with New England on Sunday naturally sparked speculation Beckham will want the Browns to trade him to the Patriots.

Beckham, however, addressed the notion Monday night on Twitter by shooting it down twice.

Comedian Bob Menery tweeted one of those OBJ-Newton workout videos and wrote, ”@obj to New England? Hmmmm. Welcome to New England Cam! #doyourjob.”

Beckham responded by tweeting, “Lol no sir boss! But y’all got my brother, wishin nothin but the best and LUV.”

Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Alex Wood tweeted, ”@obj to the Patriots before the season is done. BANK IT!”

Beckham replied, “U can find me in The LAND homie! We got unfinished business.”

Lol no sir boss! But y’all got my brother , wishin nothin but the best and LUV

U can find me in The LAND homie! We got unfinished business

Whether it’s playful or serious, trade speculation always seems to follow Beckham, who arrived in Cleveland last year in a blockbuster deal with the New York Giants.

The idea Beckham could be one-and-done with the Browns ramped up late last season until the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver declared on Dec. 18, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here. We’re going to figure this thing out. It’s just too special to leave.”

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Beckham didn’t achieve the individual or team success he had hoped for in his first season with the Browns, who went 6-10 in 2019 and made another regime change in the offseason.

He appeared in all 16 games while playing through a core muscle injury and caught 74 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns on 133 targets.

Beckham, who’s under contract through the 2023 season, had surgery on Jan. 21. New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said last week OBJ is “free and clear” and “100%” ready for training camp. Veterans are scheduled to report to camp on July 28, barring a delay related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This much is certain: Beckham looked sharp as he ran routes and caught passes from Newton in a video the quarterback posted on Instagram on June 13. And Beckham renewed his commitment to the Browns on Monday instead of flirting with speculation about him uniting with the former NFL MVP under the guidance of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

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Answering 10 big questions about Cam Newton’s move: Our predictions

Three months after being released by the rebuilding Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton is headed to the New England Patriots. The 31-year-old quarterback and 2015 MVP reached agreement on a one-year deal with the Patriots, who moved on from Tom Brady this offseason.

Newton, who continues to rehab from a December foot surgery, had a physical in Atlanta on March 23, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He passed the physical and is healthy, with both his right shoulder — which he injured in 2018 — and left foot “checking out well,” a source told Schefter. Newton will compete with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer for the starting job in New England.

What was the reaction inside the league to Newton heading to the Patriots? Is he locked in as their Week 1 starter? And are they the favorites — again — to win the AFC East? We asked 10 ESPN NFL reporters and analysts to answer 10 questions on the move:

Assuming Newton is healthy, do you expect him to be the Patriots’ 2020 starter?

Mike Reiss, Patriots reporter: He won’t be handed the job — that’s generally not the way it works in New England — but he should be the odds-on favorite based on his résumé and big-game experience.

Bill Belichick often says it’s up to players to determine their roles, and for Newton to win the job, his first step will be to immerse himself in the Patriots’ hard-driving culture that requires players to check their egos at the door and put the team first. Then there will be an acclimating to new terminology in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system. So there is no guarantee. But given how his career résumé stacks up against Stidham and Hoyer, it seems fair to say it’s now Newton’s job to lose.

Does this mean the Patriots don’t like Stidham as much as we thought, or was this deal just too good to pass up?

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Colin Kaepernick to be subject of new six-part Netflix series

Colin Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay have teamed up for a Netflix series exploring the American football star’s teenage years.

Kaepernick was the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers when he received worldwide attention in 2016 for kneeling during the US national anthem to protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

His actions sparked an intense debate, with US President Donald Trump calling for the NFL to fire any player who did not stand for the anthem.

Kaepernick left the team in 2017 and has not played in the NFL since. Colin In Black & White will focus on the athlete’s high school years, “lending meaningful insight into the acts and experiences that led him to become the activist he is today,” Netflix said.

The six-part scripted series will feature Kaepernick as narrator and executive producer.

Kaepernick, who reached a settlement with the NFL in 2019 over claims it conspired to keep him out of the league following his protest, said: “Too often we see race and black stories portrayed through a white lens. We seek to give new perspective to the differing realities that black people face.

“We explore the racial conflicts I faced as an adopted black man in a white community, during my high school years. It’s an honour to bring these stories to life in collaboration with Ava for the world to see.”

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Netflix to produce Ava DuVernay-led series on Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick's journey to activism will be the subject of a six-part series on Netflix, the streaming channel announced on Monday. 

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, creator and director of the Netflix series "Now They See Us," will collaborate with the former NFL quarterback for a scripted drama series, "Colin in Black & White." Emmy nominee Michael Starrbury wrote the script in 2019 and will serve as executive producer alongside DuVernay and Kaepernick. A release date was not announced. 

The six episodes will chronicle Kaepernick's upbringing and the experiences that propelled him to become a national icon for protesting police brutality and racial injustice. DuVernay will hire an actor to play Kaepernick in his formative years, while the 32-year-old Kaepernick will appear in present day. 

"Too often we see race and Black stories portrayed through a white lens," Kaepernick said in a press release. "We seek to give new perspective to the differing realities that Black people face. We explore the racial conflicts I faced as an adopted Black man in a white community, during my high school years. It’s an honor to bring these stories to life in collaboration with Ava for the world to see." 

Kaepernick began protesting social injustice during 2016 when he kneeled during the national anthem as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. In the wake of George Floyd's death last month, with numerous cities hosting organized protests against racism, Kaepernick has remained a major figure in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

"With his act of protest, Colin Kaepernick ignited a national conversation about race and justice with far-reaching consequences for football, culture and for him, personally," said DuVernay in a press release. "Colin’s story has much to say about identity, sports and the enduring spirit of protest and resilience. I couldn’t be happier than to tell this story with the team at Netflix." 

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Netflix to produce 6-part series on Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick will be the subject of a six-part series produced by acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, Netflix announced Monday.

The series, “Colin in Black and White,” will explore the quarterback’s high school years, attempting to show the experiences and insights that led to his activism.

Kaepernick will appear as a narrator, with an actor playing him as a youth in the scripted drama of a Black child adopted by a white family.

“Too often we see race and Black stories portrayed through a white lens,” Kaepernick said in a release. “We seek to give new perspective to the differing realities that Black people face. We explore the racial conflicts I faced as an adopted Black man in a white community, during my high school years. It’s an honor to bring these stories to life in collaboration with Ava for the world to see.”

Kaepernick will also serve as an executive producer for the series, which was written by Michael Starrbury. No date has yet been set for its release.

Kaepernick, 32, spent six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers but has not played in the NFL since 2016, when he started kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. The actions became embroiled in a debate about the national anthem, and despite his qualifications, including a Super Bowl appearance, Kaepernick has been a free agent since 2017.

“With his act of protest, Colin Kaepernick ignited a national conversation about race and justice with far-reaching consequences for football, culture and for him, personally,” DuVernay said in a release. “Colin’s story has much to say about identity, sports and the enduring spirit of protest and resilience.”

DuVernay directed the 2014 drama “Selma,” about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, becoming the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

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Manziel describes football career as ‘in the past’

Johnny Manziel is at a point in his life where he’s ready to concede that his football career is probably “in the past.”

The former Cleveland Browns quarterback made the declaration in an interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal for a story that was published Saturday.

“In the past, probably, is the way I’d characterize it,” Manziel told the newspaper when asked about his football career. “I’ve finally got to a point where I’m trying to achieve happiness in life, not happiness on the football field.

“I know a lot of people probably want me to come back and play and give it another chance, but I don’t know, as far as being a person and figuring out life as a young adult — trying to make it and figure it out — if I’ve ever been in a better place than I’m in right now. I can honestly say I’m happy and I’m doing the right things to try and put a smile on my face every day, and that means more to me than going out and grinding on a football field.”

Manziel, 27, last played with the Memphis Express in the Alliance of American Football in 2019, before the league folded. He joined the AAF after being released by the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. That league said he couldn’t play for another CFL team.

Cleveland selected the Heisman Trophy winner with the No. 22 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. But after two tumultuous seasons, the Browns released him in March 2016; he posted a 2-6 record as their starter.

“During that time when I got drafted, I didn’t put in the time that I needed to be a great player and I don’t think my heart was in it,” Manziel told the newspaper. “And I think when I went back to Canada, it was the same way. I truly believed and truly thought it was what I wanted to do, and my heart wasn’t in it, and it worked out the way it did.”

Manziel has had several off-field issues. In 2016, a domestic assault charge against him in Dallas was dismissed after he took an anger management course and participated in the NFL’s substance abuse program. In February 2018 interview, he said he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had stopped drinking.

Now living in Scottsdale, Arizona, Manziel told the newspaper that football “humbled” him, and he’s grateful for that.

“Thank God I did get a chance to be humbled, because when you think you’re at the top of the world, it’s a dangerous place,” he said.

He told the newspaper that he was thankful for the impact of Kliff Kingsbury, his former Texas A&M offensive coordinator. He said Kingsbury, now the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach, is a “guy who’s changed my life for the better and who I’ll always be thankful for.”

Manziel had a historic 2012 season with the Aggies, culminated by becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman. He also became the first freshman in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

His college success didn’t translate to professional football and the label of being a failed NFL prospect has stuck with him, but he told the Avalanche-Journal he is content with what he was able to accomplish.

“People can call me whatever they want, but at the end of the day, I’m proud of what I did. I’m proud of what I accomplished. I bettered myself. I bettered my family’s life. I got a chance to play amazing college football, and it didn’t work out in the NFL and that’s OK,” he said.

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Cam Newton and the New England Patriots: What awaits the 2015 MVP?

If ever there was a moment to typify this shrewd, wily New England Patriots organisation, this was it.

One could be forgiven for not noticing the team had been fined $1.1m, stripped of a 2021 third-round Draft Pick and banned from having team TV crews film games during the 2020/21 season in punishment for videoing the Cincinnati Bengals sideline in 2019.

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The Patriots decide their own headlines, and on Sunday evening it was Cam Newton, not “Spygate II”. Anyone and everyone other than those connected to New England made noise about a move to New England when Newton was released by the Carolina Panthers, and yet as the league continued to ignore the 2015 MVP there was only ever one potential landing spot that stood out. New England.

“Cam Newton isn’t in the Patriots plans,” said NBC’s Patriots Insider Tom Curran in April. “Wasn’t before the draft. Isn’t going to be after the draft. Have I checked to make sure? Yes I have. Besides, they have like 14 bucks of cap space left (actually, $1,077m, which is 31st in the NFL).”

It was never on. But Bill Belichick had seen the Las Vegas Raiders make Marcus Mariota the highest-paid back-up in the NFL, he had witnessed the Chicago Bears trade away a fourth-round pick for Nick Foles. When the chance to snap up Newton on an incentive-driven one-year deal worth up to $7.5m in late June, the potential reward out-weighed the risk.

The risk being a healing quarterback coming off the back of a two-game 2019 having also seen his 2018 cut short after 14 games due to a shoulder problem. Newton’s perceived decline correlates with the uncertainty surrounding a Tom Brady-less Patriots, both parties enduring challenge to their respective greatness.

Remember the video of Brady and Rob Gronkowski smugly celebrating their AFC Championship win over the Kansas City Chiefs to the song “Bad Boys for Life”, before going on to win Super Bowl 53? Newton’s face could be superimposed over Brady’s and the lyrics “We ain’t goin’ nowhere. We can’t be stopped” would still be fitting. Make no mistake, he is carrying a chip on his shoulder into Foxborough.

At his healthiest, he is among the most gifted dual-threat quarterbacks to have played in the NFL.

He proved as much in 2015 when he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl with 3,837 passing yards for 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, along with 636 rushing yards for 10 touchdowns.

The 31-year-old was awarded Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and boasts the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in history with 58. He holds the record for most combined yards for a player in his first five seasons with 21,560. He and Brady are also the only two players to have won five Player of the Week awards in a single season.

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Newton’s top weapon in 2015 was tight end Greg Olsen with 77 catches for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns, followed by Ted Ginn Jr. with 44 catches for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns. Below them sat the likes of Jerricho Cotchery, Devin Funchess and Corey Brown, while running back Jonathan Stewart carried a heavy workload out the backfield.

If a primary concern is the Patriots’ lacking receiver corps, then it’s worth remembering Newton has succeeded in the past without elite pass catchers.

He now has an ageing but still reliable veteran in Julian Edelman and a second-year wideout in N’Keal Harry who could be primed to step up after struggling to win Brady’s trust. Then there is 30-year-old Mohamed Sanu, who also fell short of Brady’s expectations, second-year Jakobi Meyers and free agency acquisitions Marqise Lee and Damiere Byrd.

The Patriots meanwhile drafted tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in April, introducing some progression from Matt LaCosse in what was an understaffed and under-performing position last year.

There could be similarities with the Brady approach in regards to how the Patriots make use of their running backs with Newton. Sony Michel will again play a prominent role after leading the team in rushing yards for the past two seasons, with veteran James White fulfilling the third-down back duty as a threat in both the run and passing game.

For offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Newton’s arrival could incite an effort to mould his scheme to a legitimate dual-threat quarterback, the read-option offense suddenly becoming an option.

Regardless of Newton’s injury problems and the receiver deficiencies, this is still the same organisation that has found a way to win with varying levels of talent for the past 20 years.

“One of the biggest parts of the Patriots program is the fact that they know how to accentuate the strengths and limit the limitations,” former New England Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli said on Inside the Huddle.

“That was one of the quotes we used early on. You know what players you have, regardless of where you have them and what position they’re at.”

When it comes to protection, franchise player Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason have been rocks at guard, while center David Andrews is returning from a year out and 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn has a job to tie down at tackle after spending much of 2019 on injured reserve.

They will, though, have to fare without offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia following his retirement after 34 years with the Patriots as the NFL’s longest-tenured coach.

Labelling it ‘Cam’s receiver corps’ and ‘Cam’s offensive line’ is of course based on the assumption he wins the starting job, which had looked set to go to 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham.

Belichick will have likely been happy to sit Jimmy Garoppolo behind Brady right up until his departure in 2020 had he not left for the San Francisco 49ers, so you can imagine he will also be happy to keep Stidham in the picture in view of him one day taking the reins.

Amid a virtual offseason in which team activities are limited and with pre-season looking under threat, it made complete sense to turn to the experience of Newton, who notably entered the league in the year of the lockout. The Newton deal creates an intriguing competition, it takes the pressure off Stidham to be ready and it arms McDaniels with another edge to torment the AFC East with.

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