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As Stars Like Julio Jones Opt Out, Where is Value in Preseason Games?

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UNITY TWP., Pa. — The 2019 NFL preseason kicked off on Thursday night, as the Denver Broncos played the Atlanta Falcons in the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

But the national television viewers and those in attendance at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium didn’t get to see star Falcons wide receiver streaking down the sideline.

That’s because for the second straight season, Jones has decided that he’s not playing in preseason games.

Jones is coming back from a foot issue and is looking for a new contract that could top the $100 million deal that divisional rival New Orleans just gave to Michael Thomas. But Jones also didn’t participate in preseason games in 2018, and for the most part, feels that they’re unnecessary for a player of his stature.

“I’m a veteran. I’ve been doing this,” Jones said during a press conference on Tuesday. “I don’t need preseason to get ready. … I’ll get my reps in practice. I practice the way I play. When I get my reps in, I’ll be ready to play.”

Many around the NFL see preseason games as less and less useful, and some of the current four-game schedule is on the chopping block in most plans to expand the NFL regular-season or postseason schedule.

But that isn’t an opinion that’s universally held, obviously. The vast majority of NFL veterans will suit up for at least part of some of their team’s preseason games, even if most of the reps are given to younger players trying to make the team.

Steelers cornerback Joe Haden, entering his 10th season and also looking for a contract, feels that there’s something to be said for playing against a real opponent before the season starts.

“I feel like sometimes, you can’t really get game speed in practice,” Haden said to Steelers Now. “You can try, but I feel like sometimes, just the whole environment of being in a game setup, warmups, going through everything you get a little bit out of it. “But once you get past like nine, 10 [years] in, I can see it. Even coaches have been doing a lot more of keeping guys out.”

The Steelers have rested most of their veteran players at least once during the first six practices of training camp, though Haden hasn’t had his turn yet.

Haden also said he didn’t think there would be an issue if a Steelers veteran decided he didn’t want to play like Jones has.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “If it was like Ben [Roethlisberger] or a guy like [Maurkice] Pouncey, Ramon [Foster] or Cam [Heyward], guys that are vets that you know have been doing everything they need to do, try and prevent injury.”

If history can be used as a guide, most of the Steelers vets will only play a small portion of the first games, about a half of the second game, most of the third game and then minimally, if at all, in the final game.

One thing that playing in spring training games has going for it is the ability to match up with someone new and break the monotony of training camp. For a player like Haden, he’s already seen pretty much every move JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief can throw at him. It’s a useful challenge to hit a different-colored jersey.

“Just being able to to play against other guys, not against your teammates and just seeing how [your game] works when you haven’t really studied film or anything like that,” he said. As far as a contract, both Haden and Jones are playing the same waiting game, even if they’re taking different approaches. Haden’s agent Drew Rosenhaus came into Pittsburgh camp earlier this week, but left without securing a new deal for his client. The Steelers did renegotiate the contract of defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt to create cap space that could be used for Haden’s extension.

NFL

Roger Goodell Continues NFL Reopening; Expects Coaches in Facilities Next Week

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has announced the next phase of league reopenings in a memo to teams Thursday.

Starting Monday, June 1, clubs will be permitted to reopen box offices, retail shops and other “customer-facing” locations “as long as the operation of such facilities fully complies with state and local regulation.”

Employees working in these newly opened location will count towards the limit per team set by the league. Clubs are permitted 50 percent of their normal staff, and cannot exceed 75 employees in facilities.

Rehabbing players will continue to be allowed access to team facilities, but healthy players and coaches are still not in the clear to return. Goodell added that the expectation is that coaching staffs can come back to facilities next week.

“We are actively working with Governors and other state and local authorities in those states that have not yet definitive plans and will confirm the precise date on which coaches can return to the facility as soon as possible,” Goodell said.

Coaches have been barred from team facilities in an attempt to ensure competitive equity around the league, considering different states are at different stages in their respective reopening processes.

Goodell added that the league is working alongside the NFLPA to develop protocols that would allow players to return to club facilities in a limited fashion.

The first phase of reopening began on May 19, and it appears to have been successful thus far.

“Clubs that have reopened their facilities have done so in a safe and effective way,” Goodell said.

The league is utilizing three different criteria as it continues with its reopening plan: state and local regulations must be followed, reopening must be consistent with protocols created by NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills and competitive fairness must be a priority throughout the process.

The NFL has not yet made announcements regarding training camps, or if games will be played without fans during the 2020 season.

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NFL Adds to League Officiating Department; Alberto Riveron Remains Top Replay Official

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The NFL has drastically altered the structure of its officiating office, but Alberto Riveron will remain the man in charge of league replay reviews.

The league announced on Thursday that longtime referee Walt Anderson and former NFL coach Perry Fewell have joined the NFL officiating department.

Fewell, 57, will oversee the officiating department, including communications with head coaches and general mangers, and be the league’s liaison to the NFL Referee Association and the NCAA.

He joins the league office after last serving as the Carolina Panthers’ interim head coach in 2019. He was also interim head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2009. Fewell was the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills from 2006-09 and New York Giants from 2010-14 and was a defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars (1998-02 and 2017-18), the St. Louis Rams (20030-04), Chicago Bears (2005), Washington Redskins (2015-16) and Carolina Panthers (2019). Fewell also worked as a collegiate assistant at North Carolina, Army, Kent State and Vanderbilt.

Anderson, 67, spent 24 years as an NFL official and the last 17 seasons as a referee before moving into the league office as senior vice president of officiating training and development, where one will oversee game officials, their development, training, education, recruitment and more.

That will leave less on the able other than his role as the league’s lead replay official, a role he will return to for his eighth season.

Each of Anderson, Fewell and Riveron will report directly to NFL executive vice president of of football operations Troy Vincent.

“Our intentions are to implement meaningful improvements to the game and officiating,” Vincent said in a press release. “We will continue to make every effort to improve officiating and pursue officiating excellence.”

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NFL to Allow Three Players to Return from Injured Reserve

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The NFL owners have voted to expand the number of players that can return from the injured reserve list during the virtual 2020 owner’s meetings, the second session of which was held virtually on Thursday.

NFL teams will now be able to place three players on injured reserve and allow them to return to competition in the same season. Teams had been allowed to return two such players since 2017. When the rule was first installed, only one player could return and he had to be identified beforehand.

Now, players are eligible to return from injured reserve after missing eight weeks, which was clarified in the updated rule for 2020 to mean eight missed team games, and not eight calendar weeks. A regular-season bye week will not count in the eight weeks required to be served. Postseason bye weeks will continue to count toward the minimum.

Players will still be allowed to practice with their teams for two weeks preceding their eligibility to return from the reserve list, and a total of 21 days before he must be added to the roster or remain on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

The proposal, which was submitted by the league office, was the only modification to the league’s bylaws approved during Thursday’s meeting. There were several changes made to the league’s playing rules.

The Steelers placed 10 players on the injured reserve list in 2019: defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and LT Walton, fullback Roosevelt Nix, linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, safety Sean Davis, tight end Xavier Grimble and wide receiver Ryan Switzer. None returned from the designation to play in 2019.

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