NFL Owners’ Meetings 2016 Coverage

Charlie Campbell and Pat Yasinskas are live from the 2016 NFL Owners’ Meetings. Below are their reports from their sources.

Grading the NFL Rule Changes

Updated March 23, 2016
By Walt – @walterfootball

Feasterville, Pa. – I’m not at the NFL Owners’ Meetings, but that won’t stop me from grading all nine NFL rule changes. I’ve never done this before, but I’ve received multiple requests for it. Plus, I love grading things, so let’s give it a try.

1. Delay-of-game penalties now issued for teams calling timeout when they are not allowed to do so.

Umm… how was this not a rule already? So, if a team tried to signal its fourth timeout, it wasn’t penalized? What did the refs do in this case, explain the rules to the befuddled coach? I don’t understand why there wasn’t a delay-of-game penalty for this to begin with. This is a slam dunk A+, but don’t worry, I have many worse grades to give out.

NFL Rule Change Grade: A+

2. Permanently move extra points to the 15-yard line.

Apparently, last year was just an experiment, and the NFL liked this change enough to make it permanent. I’ve criticized this many times, and I’ll do so again. Longer extra points are dumb. Sure, the one-point try is no longer a guarantee, but I’d rather have touchdowns automatically be worth seven points (unless the team wants to go for two) than see 33-yard extra points all the time. These longer tries make kickers more important, which is a huge mistake. They’re already impactful enough where they can cost a team a victory by shanking a 42-yarder at the very end, so why place even greater emphasis on them? I think this is horrible, and anyone who voted for this rule to become permanent should be ashamed of themselves.

NFL Rule Change Grade: YORK

3. All chop blocks are now illegal.

Somewhere, Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan and Gary Kubiak are sitting in a dark room and crying. I don’t understand why any chop blocks were legal to begin with. Keeping the NFL players healthy is a great thing. This is another outstanding rule change.

NFL Rule Change Grade: A+

4. Horse-collar rule expanded to defender grabbing the jersey at or above the name plate.

So, the horse-collar rule now refers to tackles that aren’t made by the horse collar. That makes sense. Not.

Look, player safety is important, but over-complicating the rules just makes things more confusing for the officials, who are incompetent enough to begin with. Judging where a tackle occurred might be pretty difficult, so I don’t like this very much, though I understand the thought process behind it.

NFL Rule Change Grade: D

5. Offensive and defensive coordinators can use the coach-to-player communication system regardless of whether they’re on the field or in the coaches’ booth.

Hey, guess what? Now, radio equipment malfunctions will hinder a team even more so than before! So, the next time Bill Belichick jams the Pittsburgh radio equipment, the Steelers will be extra screwed. Sounds like fun.

In all seriousness, I don’t know why coordinators were prohibted from using the radio equipment depending on where they were working. That seems kind of stupid, so it’s a nice change. Not a great one though, as malfunctions will take a greater toll.

NFL Rule Change Grade: B

6. The 5-yard penalty for an eligible receiver touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and then re-establishing himself inbounds has been eliminated, making it a loss of down.

Reception rules are complicated enough as it is. Why was this an infraction of any sort to begin with? Just ruling it incomplete makes life easier for everyone.

NFL Rule Change Grade: A

7. Multiple spot of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession is eliminated.

I have no idea who suggested this, but they must be super anal with OCD issues. Changing this rule was a waste of time.

NFL Rule Change Grade: YORK

8. NFL players are now ejected for two personal fouls.

OK, now we’re getting to the important stuff. This is an obvious response to the Odell Beckham Jr. versus Josh Norman battle we had late in 2015. Beckham was a raging lunatic during the game, though it was later revealed that some members of the Panthers threatened him with baseball bats prior to the game. I don’t know whether that meant they were going to hit him with those bats, or if they were going to make him watch a boring baseball game. Both seem like miserable punishments.

I don’t know how to feel about this, honestly. On one hand, it kind of makes sense. If a player is behaving like an a**hole, he should probably be ejected. On the other hand, giving officials more power is not something I’m happy about. NFL officials are already incompetent/crooked enough, so having them swing the game by ejecting a prominent player just seems like a terrible idea. Besides, wasn’t that Panthers-Giants game one of the most-entertaining battles of the 2015 season? Why change a rule because of a great game?

NFL Rule Change Grade: C-

9. Kickoff touchbacks are moved to the 25-yard line.

Lots of people are mad about this – and confused as well, since punt touchbacks will still be moved to the 20-yard line – but I like this for purely selfish reasons. No one has been screwed more, gambling-wise, by fluky kickoff returns than me. It seems like I’m on the wrong end of this nine out of 10 times. I know that’s a statistical improbability, but believe me, it’s true.

In terms of the pure rule change, I think it’s fine, and people are just overreacting. Player safety is something the NFL has to take seriously nowadays, and spinal injuries and concussions occur on a higher frequency during kickoffs, at least according to Roger Goodell. Sure, there will be fewer kickoff returns now that teams are guaranteed to start at the 25-yard line, but I’m OK with that because I’d rather watch offense than special teams. Besides, we’ll still be able to watch punt returns, which can be fun – unless I’m getting screwed over by them.

NFL Rule Change Grade: B-

Mike McCoy Keeps Chargers OL, DB Options Open

Updated March 23, 2016
By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Boca Raton, Fla. – The Chargers had high hopes entering the 2015 season. With some free-agent additions on the offensive line and the selection of running back Melvin Gordon in the first round, San Diego was optimistic it could make it into the postseason after falling narrowly short in 2014. Unfortunately for the Chargers, injuries ravaged their offensive line, and that played a big part in ruining their season. As a result, many have projected the Chargers to take Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

At the NFL’s Annual Meeting, Chargers head coach Mike McCoy didn’t rule out taking a left tackle. The Chargers re-signed right tackle Joe Barksdale, but did not add a veteran free agent left tackle like Donald Penn, Kelvin Beachum or Russell Okung to compete with King Dunlap. When asked about Dunlap, McCoy praised Barksdale.

“We have a lot of confidence in all the players,” McCoy said. “That’s the reason why we brought someone like Joe Barksdale back. He did an outstanding job for us last year and what he did for our football team. The way he came in, in our offseason program, and the way he stepped in. We’re always looking for who is going to be the best five up front. In the offseason program and training camp it was obvious he was going to help us.

“We signed Orlando Franklin last year from Denver, unfortunately he was dinged up at different times of the year for us,” McCoy continued. “The key for the guys up front is to get five guys that really play together. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do that, but the guys that stepped in like Kenny Wiggins, Trevor Robinson did an outstanding job for us too. We have some depth up there too. With a lot of guys who have played a lot football in the last year, so we’re really excited about what they can do.”

Along with Tunsil, a common projection for the Chargers is Florida State safety/cornerback Jalen Ramsey. San Diego lost veteran Eric Weddle in free agency to Baltimore, and that created a big hole in the Chargers secondary.

“Eric did an outstanding job for our organization for a number of years,” said McCoy. “He was really the quarterback on the back end of our defense in doing a lot of things directing traffic back there. It will be a great opportunity for some guys to step up and take on a leadership role. Guys like Jason Verrett, and Jahleel Addae. [Weddle] was really the voice of our defense, but we wish him well.”

With the Browns likely to take a quarterback, the Chargers look to be at the mercy of Tennessee. The Titans could go with Tunsil or Ramsey, and San Diego could grab the other. However as McCoy pointed out, both Tunsil and Ramsey are needed for the Chargers.

Broncos, 49ers Two Rounds Apart in Colin Kaepernick Trade

Updated March 23, 2016
By Pat Yasinskas – @patyaz33

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Let’s start with the obvious.

Colin Kaepernick is the best quarterback on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster. He’s fast and athletic, can throw the ball and is the perfect quarterback to run new coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense.

So why is there so much doubt that Kaepernick will stay on San Francisco’s roster? Why has Kaepernick been granted permission to explore trade options?

The guy who once led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and looked like a franchise quarterback has seen his stock drop after a rocky 2015 season that included his benching in favor of Blaine Gabbert. There have been reports that Kaepernick wants out of San Francisco and the 49ers might be willing to make that happen.

There are rumblings about a potential trade with the Denver Broncos, although the two sides are reportedly far apart. The 49ers reportedly want a second-round draft pick for Kaepernick and the Broncos only want to give up a fourth-round choice. But the trade talks reportedly have slowed in recent weeks.

Maybe that’s because the 49ers are coming to their senses. Maybe they’re realizing Kaepernick can be a franchise quarterback again. Maybe they’re realizing Kaepernick’s a perfect fit for Kelly’s offense.

“Everybody knows that,” Kelly said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting. “I think Colin’s a mobile quarterback. You could use him in a lot of different ways if you don’t use a traditional quarterback. You’re not going to use Colin the same way you use Tom Brady. He’s got a lot of skills. That’s why if he’s there on (April 4) we’d be excited and I’ve expressed that to him.”

That’s about as close to an endorsement for Kaepernick as anyone with the 49ers has come in a long time. The 49ers start their offseason program April 4. If Kaepernick is on the roster April 1, his $12 million base salary becomes guaranteed.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement allows teams to have only limited contact with players until offseason programs start. Kelly said he has talked to Kaepernick several times but the conversations have been in general terms.

“The rules are the rules,” Kelly said. “Instead of complaining about them just understand them. If he’s there on April 4, we’re going to sit down and spend a lot of time with him. I’ve talked to him a couple of times but you can’t get in depth or really talk about anything from a football standpoint. Instead of complaining about it, that’s what they are. When we can finally see them in person, we’ll get rolling from there.”

But Kelly sang Gabbert’s praises when he had the chance.

“You watch him those last couple of games that he started, he’s another guy that when you look at his skill set, he took off against the Bears and ran 50 for a touchdown,” Kelly said. “He ran 4.61 at the combine when he was coming out. He’s big. I never really dealt with Blaine because he came into the league before I did. Just how big, physical and impressive he is. He’s a 6-4, 245-pound guy that can really run. I thought the last part of the season he played really well. It will be intriguing to work with him too.”

Yeah, that’s all nice. But the fact is Gabbert is nothing but a backup. Kaepernick can be a star again in Kelly’s offense.

Payton, Brees Deals Give Saints Stability

Updated March 23, 2016
By Pat Yasinskas – @patyaz33

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Every year, it seems like there are rumblings about Sean Payton’s future with the New Orleans Saints.

We won’t have to worry about that again for a while. At the NFL owners’ meeting Wednesday morning, Payton said he has agreed to terms on a 5-year contract. A few details still have to be worked out and the contract needs to be signed but those are mere formalities. Actually, the deal has been a formality since the end of the season when Payton announced he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Honestly, we’re in the middle of free agency and working on some of these defensive players,” Payton said. “At some point, (general manager) Mickey (Loomis) said “Hey, I’ve got to get this to you”. I wasn’t like waiting every day like “where’s the paper work?” because there’s a protocol with the attorneys. I think for us it was a formality after that point at the end of the season.”

It’s only natural that Payton is staying with the Saints for the long haul. He’s the perfect coach for New Orleans. Payton has been the most successful coach in franchise history and he helped rebuild a city and a team following Hurricane Katrina. He has won the only Super Bowl in franchise history and has made the Saints a regular contender for the playoffs.

“Another five years means a lot for our program right now through 2020,” Payton said. “It’s that stability to find success and getting back into the postseason.”

The Saints have missed the playoffs the last two years. Payton, an offensive wizard, knows what the problem has been. The defense hasn’t been very good and that has to change. Payton said it’s possible to fix the defense this offseason.

“I think we have a chance to,” Payton said. “We’re going to try. If you said what specific areas I would say we need to find somebody that can rush the passer. I think we can find that in this draft. We need to find help in that front seven and I think we can find that in this draft. There’s that proverbial must-need, want list on that side of the ball – three technique, pass rusher. There’s still a need for a safety. Certainly, it can’t be where it was last year.”

Prior to last season, Payton said the Saints needed to take the pressure off quarterback Drew Brees. Payton said he wanted a better defense to prevent Brees from feeling like he needed to score 35 points a week. That didn’t work out as planned.

“We didn’t do a good job of that,” Payton said. “But I like the makeup and the culture right now of our guys. The young players we have on that side of the ball and some of the veteran players, we just need to add more of them.”

That brings us to another contract. The Saints need salary-cap room to continue improving the defense. They’re going to get that with another contract. That one is for Brees. He’s scheduled to count $20 million toward the cap. Payton said the Saints are on the verge of renegotiating Brees’ contract to create more cap room.

“I know (Loomis) and (agent) Tom (Condon) have had quite a bit of discussion the last week and a half,” Payton said. “I would say ongoing now. It always takes a little longer than you want it to. They’re never the same. This one’s a different type of contract and negotiation than the last one. There’s been quite a bit of dialogue.”

With Payton and Brees sticking around for the long term, the Saints can be a dangerous team.

“That stability I don’t take for granted,” Payton said. “I very much appreciate the opportunities we have to coach and to work with players and to work within the framework of a good group and a good organization. We’re all fortunate to be doing something we love.”

Mike Mularkey Comfortable with Making History at No. 1 Overall by Drafting a Defensive Back

Updated March 22, 2016
By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

In the history of the NFL Draft, a defensive backs has never been the No. 1 overall pick. This year, that could change, as Florida State cornerback/safety Jalen Ramsey is one of the top prospects in the draft and sources with the Titans say that Ramsey is currently the favorite to be their pick at No. 1 overall. At the NFL Owners’ Meeting, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey told me that the history and perceived value of when to take a defensive back has no bearing on their choice.

“I don’t think that has any direction on the pick,” said Mularkey. “First time, whatever time. If he’s the best player that we think is going to help our football team immediately, and is best suited for what we want on and off the field, then he could be that guy. But he is one of the other players that we will be at his workout as well to evaluate him.

Sources said that after Ramsey, Tunsil and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa are in the running to be the Titans’ choice. Mularkey had some praise for Tunsil.

“He’s impressive to watch. He was impressive at the Combine,” said Mularkey of Tunsil. “We have a lot of work to do. We’re looking at all of them. His workout and pro day is coming up here next week. We’re going to go to that. We still have a lot of homework to do on a lot of guys still capable of being drafted in that position.”

However, Mularkey gushed more about Ramsey when asked what he liked about the Seminoles defensive back.

“The ability to play corner at a high level, safety [as well],” said Mularkey. “If he had to put him at the nickel and play the tight ends that are playing at a high level, he could do that. I like his size. I certainly like the way he tackles, a very aggressive player. It is rare to have a cover guy that will come up and strike you like he will. Smart, a lot of things about him that stood out on tape and in the interview. Again we’re talking about a 15-minute interview, but most of them did a very good job with the interview.”

Mularkey said the team has received some calls about the No. 1 pick, but there has not been any serious trade discussions.

“We like to think there is always interest in that spot. It really is how bad you are looking for a player, whoever that player is,” Mularkey said. “There will be some phone calls. There have been some phone calls, not serious but they’re interested. As we get closer and people do more homework, you know there is a lot of work to do still in the draft. There are still a lot of visits. A lot of school workouts, private workouts. That would be one of the options we’re looking at.”

The Titans have needs along the offensive line and in the secondary, so either Tunsil or Ramsey could fill a hole for Tennessee.

Hue Jackson Discusses All Quarterback Possibilities for the Browns

Updated March 22, 2016
By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Boca Raton, Fla. – After moving on from troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Browns are once again in the market to find a franchise quarterback. With a new front office and coaching staff, the Browns are exhausting every possibility to try and find a solution to the most important position in football. Browns head coach Hue Jackson met with the media on Tuesday and said the Browns are looking at every possibility. Much of the focus has been on draft prospects in the form of North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Cal’s Jared Goff, but Cleveland is looking at other quarterback options as well.

Sources told back in mid-January that the Browns really liked Wentz. That was bolstered at the Combine, as Wentz had a strong workout and impressed teams in the interview room. Wentz is the favorite for the pick, while Goff is also under consideration with Cleveland. Jackson had praise for both signal-callers. He didn’t express real concern about Goff playing in a college offense or Wentz coming from a smaller level of competition.

“I’ve never had a problem that way because we’re so flexible offensively,” said Jackson. “We do so many different things. We kind of tailor what we do to the player. I’ve had Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer to whoever. I’ve never been concerned about what we do. I’m more concerned about the player can do and we’ll always make sure we fit what we do to the player, because that is what gives them success.”

Jackson said leadership was one of the prime attributes he wants in a quarterback. That brought into question Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who was not elected a captain despite being a 3-year starter. There have been a lot of rumblings about Cook’s potential lack of leadership, considering his teammates didn’t vote for him. Jackson said that was something of significance to look into.

“You like to know why. Why aren’t you?” said Jackson. “Normally a quarterback is. Sometimes you’ll find those things out and it had nothing to do with things that pertained to football. Maybe a guy had to go and take care of his baby brother or something. You just never know, but you like to know those things and why things are that way.”

In a few days, Jackson is going to attend North Dakota State’s pro day to watch Carson Wentz. The consensus third quarterback prospect is Memphis’ Paxton Lynch. Jackson wasn’t sure he would go to Lynch’s pro day. With the start of the Browns’ offseason program coming up, Jackson said he may not get to Memphis’ pro day.

“I think he’s talented. He’s a big guy,” said Jackson. “We’re going to find out more about him. I’ll spend as much time with him as I can.”

Jackson said he wasn’t able to go to Ohio State’s pro day, but he did say that Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones has some sought after traits for a quarterback.

“I don’t know him personally,” said Jackson. “I wish I could have spent a little more time with him, but he has a big arm. A huge arm and he comes from a great program. Again there are a lot of characteristics that he has that you like. You just have to continue to find out more about him and we will.”

Aside from the draft prospects, Cleveland is looking at the veteran additions to compete at quarterback as well. The Browns have met with free agent quarterback Robert Griffin III, and Jackson said that signing Griffin wouldn’t preclude them from taking a quarterback with the second-overall pick. He said that he isn’t concerned with how Griffin would handle having a quarterback being drafted highly to be the franchise quarterback.

“Well I don’t worry about that,” said Jackson. “I have told RG3 that whatever we decide to do is what we do. And it is all about competing. At the end of the day, if it works out great. If it doesn’t work out we won’t even have that conversation, but if it did then he would have to go and compete. I don’t worry about that. The cream always rises to the top, but if a guy is afraid of competition then you have the wrong guy anyway. I think we’ll be fine regardless of how it goes. If we go that way and draft a quarterback or go another way and draft two quarterbacks. You never know. It’s just part of it.”

Jackson has held assistant jobs as a wide receivers coach, running backs coach, and offensive coordinator with the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens. He also was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2011. Having coached in the NFL since 2001, Jackson has a lot of experience in the draft process. A lot has been made this offseason, as the Browns hired some non-football people to lead their front office, namely for Major League Baseball executive Paul DePodesta. Jackson gave some insight into the draft evaluation with the Browns’ new front office.

“That is the beautiful part. It’s no different, they’re outstanding,” said Jackson. “I don’t think people give Sashi [Brown] enough credit because he’s been in the league. I can understand people questioning Paul because he came from baseball and has the Moneyball perception that goes before him, but Paul DePodesta is as hard a worker as I’ve ever been around. His whole goal is to help make the Browns the best. And you take Andrew Berry who is a young guy who just came from Indy, so you are talking about guys who have come from some real good backgrounds. Who are very bright. Who understand that we are in this together. They work at it each and every day.

“I think all of you started some place,” Jackson continued. “Everybody here has worked to get to where they are, so I have no question and no issue whatsoever with the people that are in our building and what we’re doing. I think we’ll do it as well as anybody. That has yet to be seen, and I get that. Until we do it nobody will say that, but I’m fine with where we are.”

O’Brien Says Signing Osweiler Not an Indictment on Hackenberg

Updated March 22, 2016
By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Boca Raton, Fla. – Ever since Bill O’Brien left Penn State to be the head coach with the Houston Texans, people have been linking his college quarterback Christian Hackenberg to reuniting with O’Brien. The stars seemed to be aligning for a reunion as the Texans entered the offseason in dire need of a franchise quarterback, and Hackenberg had a couple rough seasons to put his draft stock in a position where the Texans would certainly have a shot to draft him. However, Houston signed former Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler to a massive contract in free agency, and the Texans are no longer in the market for a signal-caller early in the 2016 NFL Draft. Some around the league see O’Brien’s choice to do that as an indictment on Hackenberg, but the Texans coach strongly refuted that when I asked him about that at the NFL Annual Meeting.

“No we felt we had a process and we stuck to our guns on the process,” he said. “We targeted some guys in free agency that had nothing to do with the draft. It’s not an indictment on [Hackenberg] at all.”

Hackenberg was the star recruit from O’Brien’s two years at Penn State and immediately became the starter as a true freshman. In 2013, Hackenberg was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year playing for O’Brien. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for four touchdowns.

That success led to many anointing Hackenberg as a potential top of draft talent at quarterback. However, his sophomore and junior seasons were disappointing, as Hackenberg dealt with a loss of talent around him, including Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson. The Penn State offensive line allowed over 80 sacks the past two seasons, and there was a lack of play-makers at the skill positions. Hackenberg had issues with accuracy and decision-making as well.

“Look I studied his two years after I left. People say he played terrible, I don’t see that,” said O’Brien. “I think he played pretty decently. Sometimes he threw an incomplete pass. Sometimes he held the ball too long. Nobody is perfect. I think the guy played pretty well to be honest with you. I think he’s going to be a pretty good player in our league.”

As a sophomore, Hackenberg completed 56 percent of his passes in 2014 for 2,677 yards with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. While Hackenberg managed the game better as a junior, his play didn’t redeem the lofty draft projections following his freshman success. In 2015, Hackenberg completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,525 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions. Given all the turmoil at Penn State after the scandal that closed out the Joe Paterno era, O’Brien discussed how there was a lot of pressure on Hackenberg on and off the field.

“When he entered Penn State, he had a lot to deal with,” said O’Brien. “When he went to class with say 100 kids in the class, people would be taking his picture and asking for his autograph. He was only 17 or 18 years old and these are seniors, so he had a lot of stuff to deal with and we had a lot of seniors who were up in their eligibility during is freshman year and he became a leader pretty quickly. We had John Herschel who plays for the Ravens in that huddle, Allen Robinson in that huddle, Jesse James who plays for the Steelers. We had some good strong football players and he was able to go in there and lead that team to a winning record. At the end of the year we had only 40-45 kids on scholarship.”

While Hackenberg may not be reunited with O’Brien, his former coach still believes in his ability to be a good pro.

“He’s a very bright guy. When he got to Penn State, we threw a lot at him and he was able to learn it,” said O’Brien. “It wasn’t everything we’re doing in Houston or what we did in New England, but what we did throw at him he learned it, and he was able to execute it on the field, and he was only 17 or 18 years old, so I think he is a guy that is going to work hard at it. He watches a lot of film. He asks good questions and has an ability to learn. He’s got a good future.”

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