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NFL

League-Wide Case Numbers Drop Slightly, but Latest Testing Figures Still Cause for Concern

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The NFL and NFLPA have released their latest COVID-19 testing data, and while numbers have dropped slightly league-wide from last week, the count of new cases is still high.

The league had 45 new positive tests for coronavirus from the most recent testing period spanning from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5. Of those new positives, 18 were among players and the remaining 27 from staff.

While slight decline from the 156 new confirmed cases from the two weeks prior, this week’s results still illustrate a concerning trend across the league and mimic the rising digits around the country.

In total, 41,669 tests were administered to 7,012 players and staff members during the last testing period.

Since Aug. 1, the NFL has given approximately 757,100 tests in totality, and has identified 470 positive cases.

The Pittsburgh Steelers still have two players currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list in running back James Conner and center Maurkice Pouncey. Neither played in the team’s loss to Washington on Monday night.

NFL

Report: NFL Salary Cap Expected around $180 Million; Would Put Steelers $35 Million in Red

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The 2021 NFL salary cap is expected to be around $180 million, according to a report by Mike Florio of NBC Sports.

The salary cap is supposed to be fixed at 48% of the league’s revenue, according to the CBA signed between the league and the NFLPA that went into effect in March, with a possible increase if the NFL makes the expected decision to go to a 17-game schedule this fall.

But after the COVID-19 pandemic cost teams the vast majority of ticket sales in 2020, the league’s revenue has cratered heading into this offseason. The NFL and NFLPA agreed in their return-to-play negotiations that the 2021 salary cap will not fall below $175 million.

But that figure would represent a $23.2 million salary cap decrease instead of the typically expected $10 million or so increase, putting many teams, and the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular, in a salary cap crunch.

Florio said that some owners would like to see the impacts of the pandemic spread out over several years of cap impacts to reduce the immediate decrease, but that other owners see that as an interest-free loan to the players and balked.

While the most desirable of free agents will likely not be impacted, the number of teams in a cap crunch would likely cause middle-tier free agents to be unable to cash in on their expected paydays and low-tier free agents could be forced to re-sign for minimal, if any, raises.

The Steelers would need to trim approximately $35 million from their current salary obligations to be compliant with a $180 million cap, according to salary cap analysis from F.S. Fisher of Steelers Now.

While the $5 million in extra room would be helpful, it would not change the fundamental approach the Steelers will have to take this offseason of restructuring, negotiating pay cuts or releasing players already under contract for 2021.

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2021 NFL Draft

NFL Cancels In-Person 2021 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis; Pro Days On

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After weeks of rumors and speculation, the NFL has made it official, announcing in a memo to clubs Monday they are significant alterations to the 2021 Scouting Combine.

Annually held in Indianapolis, the league is scrapping in-person workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, instead opting for pro days on college campuses. The NFL will coordinate with schools to ensure “consistency in testing and drills,” providing video of said workouts to all clubs.

Interviews and psychological testing of prospects normally executed at the physical combine will instead be conducted in an entirely virtual format.

As for medical evaluations, limited in-person exams will most likely be conducted over a three-day span in early April. While some evaluations will also be held virtually, an undetermined number of prospects will be invited to designated satellite locations for in-person exams. Each franchise will be permitted to dispatch a physician and athletic trainer to conduct the in-person portion.

Leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft in April, the league will work directly with clubs, schools and affiliated broadcast partners to ensure media availability with Combine invitees. The NFL intends to keep with tradition and make head coaches and general managers available to the media as well.

The altered Combine format was devised and overseen by a special committee of league and club officials, including NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills, Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill and Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.

Further details regarding protocols and finalized dates will be released as the committee continues to meet and plan over the coming weeks.

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NFL

Around the NFL: Chiefs Reach Third-Straight AFC Championship, Lose Patrick Mahomes to Concussion

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The Kansas City Chiefs will host their third-straight AFC Championship game next week, defeating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Kansas City’s victory did not come without sacrifice, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes exited the game in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.

Still, backup Chad Henne stepped in beautifully, and made a pair of crucial plays in the final moments to ice the win. After nearly scrambling for a game-sealing first down, Henne found wide receiver Tyreek Hill on fourth and inches.

Mahomes was his usual self prior to the injury, carving the Browns defense up for 255 passing yards and touchdown each on through the air and on the ground.

Cleveland was impressive in defeat, but an ill-advised challenge and decision to punt late by head coach Kevin Stefanski thwarted their upset chances.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passed for 204 yards and a touchdowns, but was baited by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu and picked off early in the third quarter.

Cleveland also deviated from the run early, a ground game that had made their offense so potent and dangerous all season.

When they did run, the Browns found success. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 101 yards and a score, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

The Chiefs now turn their attention to the red hot Buffalo Bills, who they defeated back in Week 6. The Bills are 11-1 since that loss, led by an excellent defense and MVP candidate at quarterback in Josh Allen.

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