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Steelers target Big Ben deal before draft



The Pittsburgh Steelers are working to complete a contract extension for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before the NFL draft begins Thursday night, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday.

Roethlisberger, who was drafted by the Steelers in 2004, is heading into the final season of the four-year, $87.6 million extension he signed in 2015.

The two sides have been talking since the end of the 2018 season and are getting closer to having a new deal in place, a source told ESPN.

Roethlisberger, who turned 37 on March 2, has two Super Bowl victories and ranks sixth in career passing yards (56,194) and seventh in touchdowns (363). He led the NFL in passing yards in 2018 with 5,129. The Steelers never have had a losing season with him at quarterback, and he is among the franchise leaders in career games played with 216.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson became the highest-paid player in the NFL when he signed a four-year, $140 million contract extension last week.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler contributed to this report.

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Sources — McCown unretiring to sign with Eagles



Josh McCown, who announced his retirement this summer to spend more time with his family, is returning to play his 17th NFL season with the Philadelphia Eagles, sources told ESPN.

A source said McCown is signing a one-year deal with the Eagles.

McCown, 40, was planning to be an ESPN analyst this season but had wanted to play and told the network that if the right opportunity came along, he strongly would consider it. Now it has.

He plans to resume his broadcasting career with ESPN after the season, a source said.

The Eagles have lost two quarterbacks this preseason — Cody Kessler to a concussion this week and Nate Sudfeld to a broken bone on his left wrist last week — but Philadelphia was interested in McCown even before then.

Philadelphia will be McCown’s 11th NFL team and first NFC East team. He spent the past two seasons with the New York Jets, going 5-11 as a starter while throwing 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions overall.

The Eagles expect Sudfeld, who received a second-round tender during the offseason, to return this season.

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Behind the scenes of J.J. Watt’s Wisconsin homecoming



GREEN BAY, Wis. — It’s less than two hours before the Houston Texans‘ preseason opener, and J.J. Watt is continuing his tradition of walking around the stadium and playing catch with kids in the stands.

But this time he’s doing it at Lambeau Field with his parents, Connie and John Watt, standing on the sideline. Watt makes it more than halfway around the stadium when his dad yells: “Hey, J.J., over here.” After faking a hard throw to his dad, Watt smiles and starts to play catch with him.

“We used to play catch in the backyard, pretending I was Brett Favre,” J.J. said. “So to be able to play catch at Lambeau with my dad on the field, it was pretty cool.”

When John thinks back to he and his three sons — J.J., T.J. and Derek — watching the Green Bay Packers together, he smiles. “Back then, I never thought I was going to get a chance like [this],” said John before the Texans-Packers game.

“It’s surreal.”

The Texans played at Lambeau Field in 2016, but three months before the game J.J. had season-ending back surgery. He said it hurt to miss that game, especially because it snowed — exactly the scenario he had dreamt of as a kid.

J.J. made up for it this preseason by spending almost a week in Wisconsin, the place where he not only grew up, but found himself returning to at the highest and lowest points in his life. Watt called his return to Green Bay “a dream come true.”

“I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my head around what it means and how special it really is to be playing on a practice field where guys like Brett Favre and Reggie White have played,” J.J. said. “There’s not going to be too many days like this in my career. I’m very thankful and grateful that I got to have it.”

For J.J., coming home with the Texans, even though he did not get to play after tweaking his groin during Monday’s practice, was the latest of a series of homecomings that began after he left for Central Michigan in 2007.

First return

Connie Watt remembers sending her oldest son on the ferry across Lake Michigan to start college. She didn’t think he would be homesick, but when J.J. returned to Pewaukee for winter break, she could tell something was weighing on him. Several days before J.J. was supposed to go back for the spring semester, he sat down with his mother.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to go back,'” Connie said. “And I just said, ‘I know, I don’t want you to go back, either.’ I didn’t realize he was meaning, ‘I don’t want to go back and stay back.’ So then I was like, ‘Oh, this is a different conversation.'”

J.J. told his parents he wanted to leave Central Michigan and walk on at the University of Wisconsin.

“It was really hard for me, because I’d always told him, ‘Make your decision and stay there and work hard and do the best you can there,'” John said. “But when he came to us with that proposal, you could see it in his eyes that … his mind was made up.”

J.J. had his mind set on playing for the Badgers since attending his first game at Camp Randall Stadium in 2005. When Watt gave the commencement speech this past May at the very same stadium, he recounted the game in great detail. He says he remembers everything, including when Wisconsin beat Michigan on a last-minute touchdown.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is it. This is my dream,'” Watt said in his commencement speech. “‘This is where I want to be. I’m a Wisconsin Badger.’

“Unfortunately the coaching staff didn’t quite agree. They said I was too small to play tight end here. They didn’t have a scholarship for me.”

Two years later, after J.J. had signed with Central Michigan, Pewaukee High School was playing nearby Catholic Memorial in the state basketball tournament. One of Catholic Memorial’s players, Patrick Butrym, had a scholarship to play on the Badgers’ defensive line.

The principal of Pewaukee at the time, Marty Van Hulle, calls it one of his fondest memories of Watt because that game “exemplified kind of what was in him and what we were going to see down the road.”

“The fans in the stands were chanting, ‘Badger Reject’ every time I went to the free throw line because I didn’t have an offer, and Pat did,” J.J. said. “But I ended that game with like 25 points and 17 rebounds, and we won.”

J.J. enrolled at Wisconsin in 2008 with the chance to earn his scholarship. After making an agreement with his folks, he saved to buy a scooter and pay his own tuition, by delivering pizzas that spring and working maintenance at the very stadium he hoped to play in that summer.

“I was sitting there on my break,” J.J. said, “and I was looking out at the empty field and I thought to myself: Imagine running out of that tunnel. Imagine being on that field wearing that uniform. That is my dream.”

It didn’t take J.J. long to make it happen. Charlie Partridge, then the defensive line coach for the Badgers, said J.J. was so good if it weren’t for NCAA transfer rules, he’d probably have been playing right away. But it took work.

J.J. played tight end at Central Michigan, and although he played on the defensive line in high school, he credits Partridge for teaching him how to play defensive end. J.J. was on the scout team, so every night after Partridge “was done with the starters, after he was done with his coaches’ meetings, long after everybody went home,” the pair sat in his office to go over J.J.’s scout-team tape.

When Partridge left the Badgers’ coaching staff meeting around 9:30 or 10 p.m., he’d see Watt sitting in his office. By then, Watt had already watched most of his film himself. “So then he’d watch it again with me, and we’d pause and play and pause and play and the exact details of where your hands should be,” Partridge said. “There are a few people that come through your career that make you better as a coach. That’s what he did.”

After a fall and winter of putting the work in on the scout team and with Partridge, J.J. had reached his goal.

“He called us and said, ‘Mom and Dad, guess what?'” John said. “‘What did I tell you I was going to do?’ And we said … ‘You must be doing good, you’re going to be in the two-deep or something next year.’ He said, ‘No. I’ve already got a scholarship for next year.’

“He did everything he promised us he would do when he came back.”

Second return

In the fall of 2016, J.J. returned home again, but this time it wasn’t planned. After playing with a broken hand, two torn abdominal muscles, three torn adductor muscles, a staph infection and a herniated disc during the 2015 season, J.J. needed several offseason surgeries.

He made it back on the field to start the 2016 season, but played in three games before needing to have another surgery on his back. As part of his rehab, J.J. was required to walk five miles twice a day. He knew it would be difficult in Houston, so he asked the Texans if he could go back to Wisconsin to recover.

“I remember him talking to the team and me praying, just saying, ‘Please let him come home,'” Connie said. “I knew that mentally it would also be good for him.

“It was just peaceful. … People would say, ‘I saw J.J. walking down this street.’ And they would just honk or wave to him, but nobody bothered him. It was just a respectful thing, knowing he was doing what he had to do.”

J.J. was home, but he still had to deal with missing games. That hadn’t happened during the first five years of his NFL career, when he had not only played, but started, all 16 games.

“It was the first time I’ve known the kid that I saw a little bit of fear,” longtime trainer Brad Arnett said. “A little bit of doubt. [He seemed to be thinking] ‘I don’t know if I can come back from this. I don’t know how I’m going to come back from this.'”

J.J. and his friend Taylor Jannsen went on long walks around Oconomowoc, Waukesha and Pewaukee. Jannsen says they had “real conversations that didn’t revolve around football or sports or anything like that.”

“And it gave him a lot of time to reflect,” Arnett said. “‘Is this really what I want? Is this truly important to me?'”

J.J. later said it was during that time while he was recovering from that second back surgery that he first thought about retirement.

“Everybody had their thoughts during that time,” Jannsen said. “People were saying, ‘Is his career over?’ And I’m sure in a lot of ways, he thought that, too. Whenever you’re back home and you’re with the people that you’ve known forever, it just helps ground you.

“It humbled him to know that his football life maybe has a shorter shelf life than what he thought and this really could end at any time. He kind of remembered what was truly important to him.”

Third return

Last Monday morning, before the Texans began their first joint practice at Ray Nitschke Field, J.J. rode on a small blue bike. And although he broke the seat of the bike and had to switch to a bigger model, J.J. celebrated being able to take part in the tradition of riding a kid’s bike to practice, at the site where he had visited training camp in middle school.

“[I’m] obviously very grateful for the reception and the way that they treat me here and the amount of love and support they’ve shown for me,” J.J. said. “I stood outside of those fences and I watched practice through the fence, and I watched the bikes be ridden, and I stood over by the player’s parking lot and tried to get autographs. It’s a pretty special thing.”

Through all the success Watt has enjoyed on and off the field since being drafted by the Texans in 2011, those around him believe he has always stayed grounded. His roots have remained strong.

“He still remembers all the people that were a part of his life when he started going through this process,” Arnett said. “He’s never forgotten. He’s always included them and I think that’s what makes him so special … is that he never forgets things that happened in his life, and why he got where he’s at and what it’s done for him now.”

John smiles when asked whether he thinks J.J. will live in Wisconsin again after he retires. In 2016, J.J. told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he envisions returning to coach high school football.

“I can’t promise that’s exactly what’s going to happen because my career could go 100 different ways when I’m done playing,” Watt said at the time. “But in my ideal world, the way I see it happening, I see myself coming back to Wisconsin and settling in there.”

Connie says she hopes J.J. and his brothers will all come back to Wisconsin eventually, but points out that she doesn’t know where J.J.’s life will take him now that he’s getting married. Watt’s fiancée, Kealia Ohai, is a forward for the NWSL’s Houston Dash, and because her season overlaps with Watt’s offseason, he hasn’t spent as much time at his house in Oconomowoc as he had in past years.

It’s clear, regardless of where he ends up, coming home to Wisconsin will always be meaningful.

“The state of Wisconsin has always supported me, even since I left,” Watt said. “I always try and do my best to make everybody proud, both back here in Wisconsin and in Houston.

“Everything I’ve ever accomplished in my life has not been by myself. Everything I’ve ever accomplished has been with the help of other people, with the support of other people, with other people believing in me and propping me up.

“I’m very fortunate that I get to play this game and I get to get all these accolades and awards and do these great things, but at the end of the day, it’s so many people behind the scenes that helped make it happen.”

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NFL joint practices to replace preseason games? Not so fast – Denver Broncos Blog



ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As August grinds toward the NFL’s regular season, the annual debate about how many preseason games is enough has bubbled up again.

“It seems like we’re always talking about the preseason,” Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “Guys who know how to prepare are ready for the regular season pretty fast.”

The Broncos are holding joint practices at their suburban Denver complex with the San Francisco 49ers on Friday and Saturday, a common occurrence in training camps across the league. And as the league and the NFL Players Association attempt to negotiate a new labor deal, there are people around the league who believe joint practices could offer a substitute for some, or all, preseason games in the future.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan went as far as to say he could glean more information on his players from a joint practice than from a preseason game.

“You absolutely don’t need four preseason games,” Shanahan said earlier in training camp. “I’d rather have zero than four, preferably I’d like two. One to evaluate the people trying to make the team and then just one to knock a little rust off.”

Then asked if he would put a lot more value on a joint practice session than he would a preseason game, Shanahan said simply: “A ton more value, yeah.”

Joint practices are certainly nothing new. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher eagerly extolled the virtues of such workouts during his rookie season as a head coach in 1992, and Jeff Fisher said he hoped “to get a lot of good work, almost like a game,” before the Houston Oilers and Dallas Cowboys held a joint practice in 1996.

Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams comes from the same school of thought as Shanahan — the two coached together under Mike Shanahan with the Washington Redskins, after all — and sees greater value in joint practices than games. Since McVay took over as coach in 2017, the Rams have had regular joint practices during training camp. He uses mostly starters and key backups, not reserves and end-of-the-roster guys. On the flip side, he does not use starters in the preseason, but uses those games to evaluate young or inexperienced players.

“Definitely a little bit more competitive,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said of a recent practice with the Chargers. “… I prefer them over preseason games, honestly, because we’re able to get the work in a controlled environment.

Goff said that the offensive line had 40 or 50 reps against Chargers defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and the defensive line. Whereas, in a preseason game, the defensive line might get five or 10, he said.

For other coaches, it’s a chance to do something different.

“It gives you more reps and also gives you different kinds of reps,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Maybe you’re going against a different scheme, you’ve seen some plays or defenses that you haven’t seen before. Some stuff in the kicking game that isn’t what you do. So those are all really positive experiences.

“I do think the teams have to be like-minded in what they want to get to of it. You don’t want to make it into a fighting session. That’s not really the objective of it. You certainly want to make it competitive. You want to go to that line, but you don’t want to cross that line.”

Fighting is a concern. Things got so bad between the Cowboys and Rams in 2015 that the coaches called off the last 20 minutes because all the teams did was fight. The Cowboys haven’t held a joint practice since. For coaches like Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers, there’s a no-tolerance policy on fighting.

“If anybody fights then we’ll pull them out and throw them out of practice and they’ll have to be disciplined,” Rivera said. “We’re not here to fight. That’s bulls—.”

Teams such as the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs have opted against joint practices. While Andy Reid, who has not held a joint practice since coming to Kansas City, has had bad experiences with fighting, it’s more about keeping the team’s secrets safe.

“We try to teach on the field,” Reid said. “… We try to teach as we’re doing it. I really don’t want anybody hearing that. That’s my own personal feeling. As much as I can keep in house in today’s world I’d like to. You give up a little bit of that when you work [with another team].”

Most of the hand-wringing about playing preseason games can be traced to the threat of injury. Coaches are not nearly as concerned about injuries in joint practices because there’s no tackling, and all players are told to stay off the ground, versus in a preseason game, when there is tackling and no coaches standing on the field.

Developmentally there is a feeling that two sessions of joint practices, perhaps one or two weeks apart, would allow teams to make decisions on their younger players as well as new arrivals as rosters go from 90 to 53. There is even a better chance those decisions could be made if regular-season rosters were expanded in any new collective bargaining agreement.

“To me — I must have done more than 40 of these over the years and — it’s just great to go against somebody else,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “Offensive linemen having to block different pass-rushers and run block different D-linemen, corners covering different receivers, wide receivers going against different corners, different schemes. I think it’s great. I would do two of them a camp if I could.”

Beyond the football, any change in the structure of the preseason probably would come down to what many of the league’s issues do — money. Unlike the regular season, teams do not have to share certain revenues in the preseason that they share in the regular season.

And given that teams charge regular-season ticket prices in the preseason as well, and include the preseason games on any season-ticket package, lost games are lost revenue.

That revenue is a small slice of the financial pie for teams in comparison to network television money or corporate partnerships. As ESPN reporter Kevin Seifert noted, adding an additional playoff game could offset the revenue.

Beyond the revenue, though, some coaches feel they need preseason — all four games.

“Do I feel that way?” Saints coach Sean Payton asked. “Yes, just because of how much we’re restricted in the spring and quite honestly, what we’re restricted in training camp. I know the challenge oftentimes is that fourth preseason game, but I can’t think of a season here where that fourth preseason game didn’t mean something to a handful of players that were in it.”

Fangio, who has spent more than three decades in the NFL, isn’t quite ready to do away with preseason games, either. Asked if he could see a scenario when joint practices could replace preseason games in an NFL summer, he said: “I hope not. If you’re into developing players, preseason games are important. If you’re not into developing players, then they’re not.”

ESPN NFL reporters Nick Wagoner, Lindsey Thiry, Todd Archer, Mike Triplett, David Newton, Adam Teicher, Rich Cimini and Brady Henderson contributed to this report.

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