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MLB

Former NFL star Arian Foster dunks on Florida’s pandemic response

Former Texans and Dolphins running back Arian Foster sharply criticised Florida’s pandemic response on Wednesday as the state’s COVID-19 tally continued to rise at a staggering rate.

Foster used Twitter to call out Gov. Ron DeSantis for implementing a stay-at-home order after more than 6,000 people have become infected. Through a video highlight, Foster compared shutting things down now — after DeSantis refused to do so for weeks — to dunking in the final seconds of a basketball game while already down 50 points.

DeSantis has faced extreme pressure to limit movement in his state due to the pandemic, and his slow approach to the issue compared to other large states has prompted backlash .

The video Foster shared comes from the Nov. 15 meeting between Kansas and Monmouth. In the clip, Hawks player George Papas steals the ball and dunks on Kansas while trailing 110-55. He talked trash to the Jayhawks afterward, despite the lopsided score.

Foster — now a musical artist under the name “Bobby Feeno” — has always been outspoken about his beliefs, dating back to when he played in the NFL. He has publicly taken up causes relating to social justice and NFL head injuries .

He rushed for 6,527 yards and 54 touchdowns before retiring at the age of 30.

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NFL planning to begin 2020 NFL season as scheduled

With five months until the season is scheduled to begin, the NFL is planning to start the regular season on time in September and play a full 16-game schedule — including international games — in front of fans in 2020, league officials said in a conference call Tuesday.

The new coronavirus pandemic has shut down the NBA and NHL, delayed Opening Day for Major League Baseball and forced the NFL to plan on virtual workouts for their offseason program and a drastically reconfigured draft that will have teams, players and Commissioner Roger Goodell connected virtually.

But Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president, general counsel, said the league’s medical executives, who are consulting with the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network, have been shown models of the course of the pandemic in other countries and how different interventions have been effective. The NFL has the luxury of time to alter the season if projections change. But the message from the NFL was clear Tuesday: The information the league has right now has led it to focus on planning to start the season as scheduled. The schedule of games will likely be released on or around May 9.

In an hour-long conference call with team owners earlier on Tuesday, there was no discussion about shortening the season or changing the structure of the season, Pash said, although Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, told reporters the league is also "looking at all options" and "constantly contingency planning."

"All of our discussion, all of our focus, has been on a normal traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs," Pash said. "That’s our focus."

Earlier, Pash said: "That’s our expectation. Am I certain of that? I’m not certain I’ll be here tomorrow. But I’m planning on it, and in the same way, we’re planning on having a full season."

Almost everything else about the league has changed dramatically, though. Team facilities are closed. Free-agent and draft visits are taking place virtually. And while the offseason program has not officially been canceled, it has been suspended indefinitely and the league is considering options for how teams can have virtual workouts and classrooms. Offseason programs conclude with June minicamps and the league would have to take instruction from medical people about the safety of having players to report. The availability of widespread testing capabilities would be a factor before teams can reconvene. One top team executive said last week he does not believe players will be able to report to team facilities before training camps open late in the summer.

Also on Tuesday, Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president, club business and league events, indicated that the draft, which will take place April 23-25, will be held virtually. Team executives would make their selections from remote locations — not team facilities — and would be required to abide by social distancing guidelines and allow no more than 10 people in a room, all separated by at least six feet each. Players, former players and even possibly fans would also be involved virtually. The draft will also be used, O’Reilly said, as a vehicle to raise money for those most affected by the pandemic.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter at @judybattista

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How will expanded NFL playoffs work? Here’s what you need to know

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

It’s official. NFL owners have expanded their playoff field to 14 teams, formalizing a long-held aspiration nearly a decade in the making. The decision will change the complexion of the postseason, boost league revenues by nine figures annually and perhaps provide a new level of job security for coaches.

Why make this change now? Who will benefit, and who will be disadvantaged? Can an 8-8 team win the Super Bowl? Let’s take a closer look at the key questions.

Isn’t this a weird time to be fiddling with the postseason? Do we even know whether there will be a full regular season in 2020?

We don’t. But Tuesday’s vote was connected to the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which owners and players approved earlier this month.

The league was on the verge of implementing a 14-team playoff in 2014 but shelved the plan, presumably to use as a bargaining chip in negotiating for the next CBA. The CBA includes language for salary-cap calculation of revenue from extra playoff games and paved the way for owners to make Tuesday’s decision.

How is this going to work?

The NFL has added two wild-card spots. There will now be three wild-card teams in the NFC, and another three in the AFC, for a total of seven playoff teams per conference.

The resulting six wild-card games will be played in back-to-back tripleheaders during wild-card weekend, this year on Jan. 9 and 10. The No. 7 seeds will play the No. 2 seeds in that round, meaning that only the No. 1 seed will get a first-round bye.

That seems like a big deal for the No. 1 seed.

Yup, and a pretty bad deal for the No. 2 seed.

There is annual debate about the value of a bye, but the truth is, every Super Bowl participant for the past seven seasons has received one. The last team to make it that far without a bye is the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. For that reason, the No. 2 seed has probably been devalued to a greater degree than the value of the No. 1 seed has been magnified.

No. 2 seeds have won the past two Super Bowls, and a total of five times since the postseason format last changed with divisional realignment in 2002. Any fair analysis must acknowledge that the best teams are most likely to have the best regular-season records, and thus receive either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed most of the time. Objectively, though, the No. 2 seed will face a more difficult path to reach the Super Bowl — three wins instead of two — under this format.

Won’t this just water down the playoffs?

In some cases, yes. But over time, that could be balanced out by the inclusion of conventionally qualified teams that otherwise would have missed the cut.

If you apply the new format to the fields since the start of the 2002 season, which would cover 36 additional playoff teams, you find that nine 8-8 teams — and none with losing records — would have been No. 7 seeds. Over that same period, however, eight of the nine 10-6 teams that missed the postseason would have made it under the new format. (The 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers still wouldn’t have made it.)

Had this format existed last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) and Los Angeles Rams (9-7) would have been the No. 7 seeds.

Wouldn’t it be better for those teams to miss the playoffs than have an 8-8 team win the Super Bowl?

An 8-8 Super Bowl champion is always a possibility, as remote as it might be. But given the parity level of the NFL, there isn’t as much drop-off to the No. 7 seed as you might think.

When this proposal initially emerged in 2014, Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight rated the presumptive No. 7 seeds and compared them to the rest of the field. Those No. 7 seeds generally were on par with the No. 4 seed, the lowest-ranked division winner.

The chances of an “accidental champion” would increase, Paine found, if the NFL ever expanded to a 16-team field. But at the moment, that shift seems highly unlikely.

I still don’t get why this had to happen. What was wrong with the 12-team format?

It comes down to one word. It starts with an “m” and ends in a “y.”

Microelectrophoretically?

Close, but no.

Money?

Bingo. The NFL has been operating a 12-team playoff field since 1990, when it added two wild-card teams to what had been a 10-team field from 1978 to 1989. It had previously used an eight-team field from 1970 to 1977.

Interest in the wild-card round has grown over the past 30 years, and in 2019 it averaged 30.5 million television viewers per game. Broadcasters and streaming services are lining up to bid for that type of audience.

During CBA negotiations, the NFL and NFLPA projected a total of $150 million in new annual revenues from broadcast rights and stadium revenue.

Will players also get more money?

Yes, in two ways. First, that $150 million will apply to the revenue calculation that determines the salary cap. In 2020, according to the CBA, players get 47% of such revenues.

Second, two more rosters of players will receive playoff shares. In 2020, the wild-card winning share equates to $33,000 per player. The losing share is $30,000.

What’s in it for coaches?

Simply put, NFL coaches are less likely to be fired when they make the playoffs.

During the previous playoff format, from 2002 to 2019, only four coaches were forced out of their jobs following a season when their team played at least one postseason game, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. They include:

  • Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey (2017)

  • Denver Broncos coach John Fox (2014)

  • San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer (2006)

  • San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci (2002)

Owners could recalibrate their thinking over time, of course. An 8-8 regular-season record, combined with a loss in the wild-card round, might not be enough to save an otherwise doomed coach. But for now, coaches should view this expansion as a positive development.

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NFL schedule release date 2020: When to expect an announcement, strength of schedule & more

In a typical year, the NFL likes to set its schedule release date for roughly a week before the NFL Draft. For obvious reasons, though, 2020 is not a typical year.

The coronavirus pandemic has either outright canceled or postponed almost all sporting events around the globe for the coming months. In that sense, the NFL was fortunate to be in its offseason when the outbreak reached the United States, but now the NFL schedule release — and what that schedule might look like when it is released — is a big question mark for America’s most popular sports league.

Below is what we know about the NFL’s plans for its 2020 schedule release. Though we don’t yet know the date on which the schedules will be announced, we do know the opponents for all 32 teams and, based on winning percentage from last season, the strength of schedule rankings.

NFL schedule release date 2020

When asked in late March whether it plans to release 2020 schedules on time (usually the week before the draft, which this year is April 23-25), the NFL told Sporting News it was not commenting on the record at that point, and “no specific date had been set yet.”

The league likes to release its complete schedule roughly a week before the draft in part because it’s an open window for media coverage. Yet in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic having cleared the sports calendar through the spring and into the summer, the NFL forcing its schedule release before the draft might not be necessary if media coverage and fan attention is what the league craves. May and June are wide open.

Another reason the NFL could consider pushing back its 2020 schedule release date is the doubt surrounding how that schedule will play out — and if it will play out at all. While there has been no official word on the status of the 2020 college and pro football seasons, late-summer sports like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been impacted by the virus, and some like ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit have speculated publicly that there will be no NFL season.

“The easy answer and the hard answer are the same answer — which is it’s too soon to tell,” NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer said on Adam Schefter’s podcast on March 30 when asked whether there will be a 2020 NFL season. “I think we’re going to know a lot more in late May, early June.”

All NFL team facilities are currently shut down due to the pandemic, and offseason programs likely will be canceled. According to the New York Times, though, the league is still planning to schedule a 16-game season even if it’s delayed.

On a less important level, the NFL pushing back its schedule release date in 2020 would be welcomed by those who are tasked with creating the schedule. The difficult process takes months, and any extra time could help ensure fairness for all 32 teams as well as optimal prime-time lineups for the NFL’s broadcast partners.

Whether the NFL will provide that extra time is to be determined.



(Getty Images)

Bill Belichick
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Who has the toughest NFL schedule in 2020?

New England Patriots (.537 opponents win percentage)

Thanks to the lowly Dolphins and the average-at-best Jets, the Patriots are dragged down by the 2019 records of their divisional opponents (44-52). But their rotational opponents in 2020 are tough.

New England draws Super Bowl-champion Kansas City in addition to first-place opponents Baltimore and Houston. And like everybody else in the AFC East, the Patriots have to play against the NFC West, one of if not the best division in football.

New England will have seven matchups with teams that won 10 or more regular-season games last year.



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Lamar Jackson
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Who has the easiest NFL schedule in 2020?

Baltimore Ravens (.438 opponents win percentage)

Though the Ravens technically have the easiest schedule for 2020 in terms of opponents’ 2019 win percentage, chances are they won’t actually have the easiest schedule in 2020.

For one, we expect their division opponents in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati to improve upon the 32-64 mark they posted last season. Likewise, other teams on their schedule like the Giants, Eagles and Colts could end up with more wins this year. And yes, as a first-place team, Baltimore still has to play Kansas City.

With all that said, only three teams on the Ravens’ schedule won more than 10 regular-season games last year.

2020 NFL strength of schedule rankings

Even though we don’t know the specifics of the 2020 NFL schedule like dates and kickoff times, we do know all the matchups. So based on 2019 win percentages, we can determine the NFL strength of schedule rankings for 2020.

Below are those rankings, from the toughest schedule in New England to the easiest schedule in Baltimore.

2020 NFL schedule for all 32 teams

The opponents for each NFL team in 2020 were determined upon the conclusion of the 2019 regular season. The league’s scheduling formula guarantees all teams play each other on a rotating basis.

Every team plays …

Below are the opponents for each team in 2020.



(Getty Images)

Josh Allen
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AFC East

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins



(Getty Images)

Baker Mayfield
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AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Pittsburgh Steelers

Cleveland Browns

Cincinnati Bengals



(Getty Images)

Deshaun Watson
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AFC South

Houston Texans

Tennessee Titans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars



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Patrick Mahomes
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AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Denver Broncos

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers



(Getty Images)

Dak Prescott
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NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Washington Redskins



(Getty Images)

Aaron Rodgers
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NFC North

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings

Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions



(Getty Images)

Drew Brees
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NFC South

New Orleans Saints

Atlanta Falcons

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Carolina Panthers



(Getty Images)

Russell Wilson
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NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Los Angeles Rams

Arizona Cardinals

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Father of ex-NFL QB Hebert dies from COVID-19

  • Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
  • Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
  • Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate

Bobby Hebert Sr. — the father of former New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Bobby Hebert — died Saturday at the age of 81 after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Hebert Jr., a Southern Louisiana native, works as an analyst for WWL Radio in New Orleans. He and his wife, Jojo, said in a statement that “our hearts are broken” and that Hebert Sr. was “the reason I made it” to the NFL.

Hebert Jr.’s son T-Bob, who played center at LSU, described his grandfather on Twitter as “the wisest, kindest, and most tactful person I have ever known.”

Hebert Jr. broke down crying in a recent appearance on WWL while describing his father’s battle with the virus. He described his father as a “fighter” who survived colon cancer, multiple strokes and a birth defect that required open heart surgery.

But, Hebert Jr. said, “You can be tough and the virus can still overwhelm you,” before insisting that people heed the advice of health officials because “it’s an unseen enemy.”

Hebert Jr. also wrote in his statement about the “magic twinkle” in his father’s eye and his lifelong passion for the LSU Tigers.

“I’m kinda numb and shocked,” Hebert Jr. said in the WWL interview. “You get numb and then sometimes you don’t want to accept reality and what you’re dealing with.”

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Source: Ravens add Wolfe after losing Brockers

‪Former Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe has reached agreement on a one-year deal worth up to $6 million with the Baltimore Ravens, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The addition of Wolfe comes one day after the Ravens were unable to finalize a deal with Michael Brockers. There was an issue with Brockers’ injured ankle, and the sides couldn’t agree on a revised deal, a source said.

Baltimore has made it a priority to reshape its defensive front. The Ravens acquired defensive end Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars, traded defensive end Chris Wormley to the Pittsburgh Steelers and watched defensive tackle Michael Pierce sign with the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.

Wolfe should help improve the pass rush for the Ravens. Baltimore’s defensive linemen totaled four sacks in 2019, the fewest by any team.

Wolfe finished his eighth season with the Broncos in 2019 and was one of the longest-tenured players on the team’s defense; only cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller have played on the defense longer.

Coach Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme turned out to be perfect for Wolfe as he had one of his best all-around years in 2019 with 34 tackles and a career-best seven sacks. Wolfe has 33 sacks in his career.

Wolfe’s high-motor play has been a key part of the defensive front, and Miller credits Wolfe for many of his sacks “because of what Wolfe does next to me. He’s a beast.”

That intensity has come at a physical price at times, as Wolfe has battled through some injuries throughout his career, including neck surgery. He has played 16 games three times and went to injured reserve this past season after 12 games with a dislocated left elbow.

Wolfe, who turned 30 in February, was a second-round pick by the Broncos in 2012 — the team had traded out of the first round that year — and he immediately started 16 games as a rookie for a team that won the AFC West. He has started every game he played in for the Broncos — 108 in all — and while he hoped to re-sign with the Broncos at season’s end, he added “it’s a business.”

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley and Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.

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NFL draft QB projections: Why Jordan Love is risky

  • Founder and Editor-in-chief of Footballoutsiders.com
  • NFL analyst for ESPN Insider

There’s no risk in the NFL quite like the risk of drafting a quarterback. No defense revolves around a single player the way every offense revolves around the quarterback. Trust your offense to the wrong young quarterback, and your team isn’t going to climb back into playoff contention. Quarterbacks get drafted earlier than players who rank similarly at their respective positions. And while quarterbacks have more statistics measuring them than other players do, teams haven’t been more accurate in drafting them. Just ask the Chicago Bears, who selected Mitchell Trubisky before Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes three years ago.

The lessons of history can at least help us figure out how much of a risk each quarterback prospect will be. That’s the point of Football Outsiders’ quarterback-adjusted stats and experience (QBASE) projection system. It looks at college performance, experience, and expected draft position (to incorporate scouting information that college stats will miss). To allow some time for development, QBASE projects a quarterback’s efficiency (passing only) in Years 3-5 of his career according to Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) metric. A total of 50,000 simulations produces a range of potential outcomes for each prospect, with players drafted later generally having a larger range of possibilities.

You’ll notice that every listed quarterback prospect has a chance to be elite, and every quarterback has a chance to be a bust. That reflects just how much we don’t know about drafting quarterbacks, and the wide range of possible outcomes for each player.

QBASE favors quarterbacks expected to go high in the draft who also have a relatively long résumé of college success, according to the stats. Those stats include completion percentage, adjusted yards per attempt (adjusted for touchdowns and interceptions), and team passing efficiency (measured with Bill Connelly’s passing SP+ stats). These numbers are adjusted both for the quality of the defenses that a prospect had to face as well as the quality of his offensive teammates. QBASE is meant to be used only on players chosen in the top 100 picks; after that, the judgment of scouts becomes even more important, and statistics become even less predictive.

Overall, QBASE thinks this is a good year for moderately promising quarterback prospects. None of this year’s quarterbacks comes close to the top projections in QBASE history, in part because no top quarterback prospect this year has four full seasons as a college starter.

However, this is the first year with three prospects with mean projections over 600 DYAR since 2012 (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson) and the first year with five prospects with mean projections over 400 DYAR since 2006. Then again, those five quarterbacks in 2006 were Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, Kellen Clemens, Vince Young and Tarvaris Jackson — once again demonstrating that projecting quarterbacks is very difficult.

Here are projections for eight quarterbacks who might go in the top 100 picks of the 2020 NFL draft.

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With coronavirus pandemic forcing changes, NFL Network is adapting on the fly to new TV landscape

These are unprecedented times at NFL Network.

As it has with so many aspects of domestic and global life, the coronavirus pandemic has been a major disruption to the league's broadcast arm, which hasn't provided live television programming for the past week.

It's been quite an adjustment considering the network typically airs at least six hours' worth of live shows daily in the offseason, a figure that balloons in the throes of free agency, which began in earnest March 16. 

But NFL Network, which launched in 2003 and is based in suburban Los Angeles, decided to cancel its flagship nightly news program, "NFL Total Access," last Friday for the first time in its history.

"Last week was odd, it was different," network anchor Andrew Siciliano told USA TODAY Sports. "Obviously, none of us had ever gone through anything like that, hopefully none of us have to go through something like that again – where the world is grinding to a halt, but our football world was moving forward."

NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano (Photo: Courtesy Mackenzie Possie, NFL)

The network has been slowly advancing the ball again this week. 

With the help of in-home cameras, smartphones and earbuds, Siciliano has been hosting an abbreviated version of "Total Access" in conjunction with remote analysts like Tom Pelissero, Mike Garafolo and even former league MVP Kurt Warner.

The shows haven't been live, requiring some post-production in the current format, or even announced as bona fide programming in cable schedules or on NFL.com. Nevertheless, a 6-minute version of "Total Access" aired Monday, followed by a 27-minute episode Tuesday, when Tom Brady had his introductory conference call with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cam Newton was released by the Carolina Panthers.

"We're gonna get better at it every day," said Siciliano. "The network is still very much up and running.

"Look, everyone's got to adapt, and it doesn't just go for us – it goes for anyone else working at home in whatever business they're in on their laptop."

"Total Access" continued with 10-minute shows Wednesday and Thursday and will return in half-hour installments next week in its usual 7 p.m. ET time slot.

"I'm grateful that we can stay at home and put some kind of product on the television," added Siciliano. "The people that have to go out there and stock our grocery shelves, and the doctors, and everyone in the medical field who are doing their best on the front lines – those are the people who can't stay at home.

"I'm the last one who's going to try to tell you about how hard it is to work at home."

It's been a constantly evolving process, one that's necessitated constant adaptation even as the news surrounding coronavirus has brought a cascading series of events.

NFLN has been dealing with the moving target since its "Free Agency Frenzy" coverage commenced Sunday, March 15, one day before available players could begin talking to new teams and negotiating contracts.

The following day, "Total Access" anchor Lindsay Rhodes told USA TODAY Sports she was having to do her own hair and make-up, getting coaching from on-site stylists, who wore masks and didn't touch any of the products. 

"It was a bizarre week, us – like the rest of the country – kind of trying to figure out what's appropriate, what's not appropriate, how to make our way through it," she said.

Hand sanitizer and Clorox disinfecting wipes were ubiquitous, stages deep cleaned after every show. 

"Plans evolved, due to COVID-19, day by day and hour by hour," senior coordinating producer Michael Konner told USA TODAY Sports, though noted it was decided early not to deploy reporters to NFL cities to cover updates on Brady and other players.

By Wednesday, March 18, Rhodes said the studios and offices were virtually empty even as live programming continued with stage crews reduced by more than 80%. She was alone on the set, working with a skeleton production crew. On-air analysts were beamed in from different locations inside and outside the NFLN complex.

NFL Network's Lindsay Rhodes (Photo: Courtesy Alix Kane, NFL)

"Free agency has a very breaking news vibe," she said, making it conducive to the bare-bones production, devoid of the usual assortment of graphics and information displayed on the studio's massive video wall.

Social distancing and a safe environment were constant priorities.

"Content was taking a backseat to keeping everybody safe," said Konner, noting staffers worked hard to triple the recommended minimum social distancing guideline of 6 feet of separation – especially difficult to achieve in the cramped quarters of the control room, where producers and directors operate.

By March 19, California Gov. Gavin Newsom had ordered the state's 40 million residents to stay home. NFL Network paused live programming the following day, opting to air the best games from 2019, classic Super Bowls and many of its Emmy-nominated documentaries.

Still, no regrets even after a week when many wondered if the league was erring by moving forward with free agency while many Americans were getting sick, losing jobs and watching their portfolios tank.

"We weren't saving the world, but I got texts from GMs and from agents and from family and from friends all saying, 'Thank you for being on, we need to watch something different,'" said Siciliano, who said finding the right tone during broadcasts focused on multi-million dollar contracts was a challenge and freely acknowledged his mind would drift while he was on air as the latest COVID-19 news hit his laptop.

"In retrospect, I'm glad we did it – certainly glad we did it," he said, lauding the behind-the-scenes crew at a time when many people just wanted to be home with their families.

"But there were some anxious moments."

Rhodes got similar feedback, calling it a "welcome diversion" personally and professionally.

"I think people want a break from the constant press conferences about the virus and the updates," she said, saying she was often looking for the latest virus information to educate herself.

"There's so much real world stuff to take in right now that's anxiety-riddled for everybody, that I think that the fact there's a little bit of news coming out of the toy department of life is welcomed."

The NFLN toy department will re-open next week, though the obstacles of working remotely will remain even as the talent and producers have to get more creative while packaging the content now that free agency has largely petered out with the draft still nearly a month away.

"We're fortunate in the sense that there is news now that we can report on that breaks away from all the true news of the day in COVID-19," said Konner.

"We can give them a half-hour of NFL content, (and) I think there's an audience that thirsts for it throughout the day."

Even if it's going to be Siciliano or Rhodes and their colleagues in a quad box talking football.

"If it's gonna look like the Brady Bunch at home, so be it," said Siciliano. "That's the safest way to do it."

***

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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2020 NFL Draft: Jeff Gladney's optimistic approach to the grind

  • Why I Play: Jeff Gladney
  • Austin Jackson
  • Ross Blacklock

NFL.com’s "Why I Play" series provides a thoughtful peek into the minds of the next generation of NFL players to better understand what drives them to make it in the league.

Jeff Gladney, cornerback, TCU

2020 NFL Draft standing: Gladney sits at No. 46 on NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s ranking of the top 50 prospects.

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Prospect bio: The New Boston, Texas, native started eight games in 2016 as a redshirt freshman, recording 46 tackles and six pass breakups. Gladney earned honorable mention All-Big 12 the following season (28 tackles and two interceptions, including a pick-six). He received second-team all-conference notice in 2018 after posting 41 tackles and tying for the team lead with 13 pass breakups. Gladney recorded 31 tackles, one INT and a Big 12-leading 14 pass breakups in his senior year, a performance that resulted in first-team all-conference honors.

This interview, conducted on March 11 at NFL Network in Culver City, California, was condensed and edited for clarity.

How I started

I started playing football around second grade. I played all sports growing up, but I liked hitting people. I couldn’t do that in basketball or track, so I kinda made football my focus. I figured out that football was going to be my thing around sixth or seventh grade, but I still played a lot of sports. I have a sports family on both my mom’s and dad’s side. Everyone is a sports fanatic and football is one of the favorites. I have three older brothers who all used to play football. I remember watching my brother who’s closest to me in age take a punt return back when he was in high school, and I remember thinking, "Yeah, I’m gonna do that."

Who inspires me

My family. They’ve given me the world and I feel like it’s my time to return it. My mom and dad and uncle and aunt haven’t missed one game in college. Not one. No matter where the game is at, they’ve always been there. They will still be at every game going forward.

I want to get my family out of the [area where they live]. They don’t want to leave but I want them to leave. I’m trying to get my mama that house on the hill, so whatever I gotta do to get her out of there, that’s what I’m gonna do. My drive has always been predicated on my family, just returning the favor. Not really even a favor. Just returning the support and all they’ve done for me.

My mentor

My uncle, Wayne Jefferson. He was my coach in everything growing up for a lot of AAU sports — football, basketball, a little bit of track. He just taught me the game in every phase and in every sport and still does to this day. Even in college, when I went to the locker room, he’d be texting me from the stands, like "you could probably do this or that better." No matter what it is, he’s texting me giving me information. It’s constructive criticism most of the time. I know he’s going to tell me what I need to hear. Other people are straight up with me, too, but he’s the one who I really take what he says to heart because we’ve been rockin’ for too long.

My greatest challenge

I tore my ACL and LCL in the first round of the playoffs my senior year in high school, and TCU held my scholarship, so that helped a lot. But redshirting my first year at TCU, not playing and being out of football kind of pushed my confidence down a little bit. I had to come back from that and grow. The recovery was a long process and I wasn’t full-go until the spring of my freshman year. It felt great to be back and to show everybody that I had it in me the whole time. When I first got to TCU and was initially coming back from my injury, some people questioned why I was on scholarship. But when I took my brace off that next spring, I felt like myself again and it felt good to express myself on the field the way I wanted to.

Everything happens for a reason and the grind will always pay off. So coming out of this surgery on my meniscus [which Gladney underwent on March 12), I’ll be ready to go rehab and get back to 100 percent. That feeling that you get when you wake up on game day. Those butterflies. I live for that.

Follow Brooke Cersosimo on Twitter @BCersosimo.

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Antonio Brown to Tampa Bay Buccaneers ‘not going to happen’, says head coach Bruce Arians

Head coach Bruce Arians has ruled out the possibility of wide receiver Antonio Brown signing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brown has been linked to the Buccaneers since they signed quarterback Tom Brady to a two-year deal last week.

Brown and Brady briefly played together last season for the New England Patriots and struck up a rapport, before Brown was cut amid an NFL investigation into off-field allegations of sexual and personal misconduct against him.

Reports emerged in recent weeks that Brady was keen for Brown to also sign with whatever team he chose in free agency but Arians has poured cold water on that possibility.

“Yeah, it’s not going to happen,” Arians said to CBS Sports Network‘s “Tiki and Tierney” show. “There’s no room. And probably not enough money. But it’s not going to happen – it’s not a fit here.

“I just know him, and – it’s not a fit in our locker room.”

Arians coached Brown in the receiver’s first two professional seasons while serving as offensive co-ordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In January 2019, before the Steelers traded Brown to the then-Oakland Raiders, Arians called Brown a “diva” while talking with ESPN‘s Adam Schefter.

“I’ve heard so many stories,” Arians said at the time on Schefter’s podcast.

“I like Antonio – he plays as hard as anybody on Sunday, and he practises hard. He’s just got to make better decisions off the field, be on time, do some of those little things.”

Brown never played for the Raiders last season, instead cut by the team after an offseason filled with distractions, public spats with team management and missed workouts.

He then signed for the New England Patriots – catching a touchdown pass from Brady in Week 2 – but the team let him go after one game.

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