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More playoff teams expected under new NFL CBA, sources say

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If and when a new collective bargaining agreement is finalized — and there is now mounting optimism it could be done sometime in the next week — it is expected to change the NFL’s playoff structure as it is currently constituted for next season, league sources told ESPN.

Under the current CBA proposal that NFL owners are pushing for, the playoff field would be expanded to seven teams from each conference, while the regular season would be increased to 17 games per team and the preseason shortened to three games per team, sources said.

As part of the proposed playoff format, only one team from each conference would receive a first-round bye as opposed to the two that currently do, league sources said. That would mean a revised postseason schedule that includes six games on wild-card weekend, with three on Saturday and three on Sunday.

The changes to the NFL’s playoff format would take effect for the 2020 season, assuming the new CBA is ratified beforehand. Had the proposed format been in place this past season, the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers would have been the next teams included in the playoff field.

“That’s been agreed to for a long time,” one source familiar with the CBA talks said about the NFL’s new playoff structure. “There wasn’t a lot of disagreement to that issue.”

Additionally, the players on the teams that earn a first-round bye will receive postseason pay for that weekend. That was not the case under the current CBA, which has always rankled some players.

Now the sides are trying to work through the final issues, including getting the players to sign off on a 17-game regular season. That has yet to be agreed to, and would not take effect until 2021 at the earliest.

“The new CBA’s not done, there’s no term sheet yet, there still are issues being negotiated, but I’d be very surprised if there’s not a new CBA for the new league year,” the source said.

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Raiders’ Marcus Mariota says he’s Derek Carr’s backup

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — While Marcus Mariota has been a starting quarterback for most of his five-year NFL career, and he is getting $17.6 million for two years with $7.5 million guaranteed this year, he says he has no confusion over his place in the pecking order with the Las Vegas Raiders.

He is coming in as Derek Carr’s backup, he said, with the hope to improve not only the Raiders’ quarterback room but to better his own play.

“First and foremost, this is Derek’s team, and I understand that,” Mariota, a Honolulu native, told Hawaii-based KHON-TV on Tuesday in his first public comments since agreeing to terms with the Raiders on March 16.

“I understand that going in … my priority going into free agency was to be a part of a team that I felt could bring out the best in me. Whatever happens, whatever comes of that, I’m ready for. But I do know, to play starting quarterback in the NFL, to be at that spot, is not an easy job to do. And I think, when it comes down to it, a strong, stable supportive quarterback room makes that job a whole lot easier, and that’s what we have to do. And I’m going to do my best to support Derek in every possible way that I can, and along with that, I’m just going to try to become the best player that I can be and see where that takes me.”

Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon, was the No. 2 overall pick by the Tennessee Titans in the 2015 NFL draft. That year, he was rated as the top quarterback prospect by Mike Mayock, the current Raiders general manager who at the time was an NFL Network draft analyst.

“The biggest thing that jumps out with Marcus Mariota is his athleticism,” Mayock said at the time. “Think Colin Kaepernick. … Now, every once in a while, he misses a wide-open throw. Once or twice a game that happens. This is what he’s going to have to learn.”

Raiders coach Jon Gruden was also a big fan of Mariota’s at the time.

“He is a legitimate dual threat,” Gruden offered as an ESPN analyst then. “Adjust your offense to this kid’s skill set.”

Mariota will earn up to an additional $2.4 million if he plays 60% of the snaps this season, with another $1.5 million in per-game playing time and win incentives, per the NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Mariota also has $10 million in those incentives in 2021 with $2 million in playoff/Super Bowl incentives each year and an additional $12 million in a 2021 salary escalator.

Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Raiders in the summer of 2017.

Mariota started 55 of his first 56 games for the Titans, but after getting off to a 2-4 start in 2019 he was benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill, who led the Titans to the AFC title game.

In five seasons, Mariota has passed for 13,207 yards, 76 touchdowns and 44 interceptions while going 29-32. He has also rushed for 1,399 yards and 11 TDs on 242 carries in his career, while getting sacked 155 times.

“These last five years have been a blessing, no doubt,” Mariota said. “I think Nashville has treated us very well. But this is a great opportunity for us and it’s an opportunity to be closer to home and also to be part of a great organization.”

Las Vegas is known as the Ninth Hawaiian Island because of the city’s popularity with the locals. Mariota said that was something he liked about joining the Raiders.

“The bonus and the cherry on top of it was being closer to home and being in Vegas,” Mariota said. “And again, I really can’t stress it enough, we’re so excited.”

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NFL to implement coronavirus guidelines, including facilities closures

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The NFL will implement league-wide workplace and operational guidelines Wednesday night that largely reflect those put in place by local and state governments across the country in recent days as protections against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a memo sent to teams Tuesday night, commissioner Roger Goodell said the guidelines were meant to “ensure that all clubs operate on a level playing field, and that the NFL continues to conduct itself in a responsible way at this time.”

Among the directives to take effect Wednesday at 6 p.m. local time, according to the memo, all club facilities were to remain closed to all personnel. That was subject to the following exceptions:

• Employees such as athletic trainers or physicians who are providing ongoing medical treatment to players

• Employees such as the director of facilities, security personnel or independent contractors necessary to maintain the physical security of the facility and its contents

• Employees such as technology personnel necessary to maintain the security and operational capabilities of the club’s IT network to enable remote work by club football and business staff

Goodell said the guidelines had been reviewed and endorsed by the NFL’s competition committee and were and ‘will remain in effect until further notice.”

“During this time, clubs are free to conduct all normal business operations, including signing players, evaluating draft-eligible prospects, selling tickets, and other activities to prepare for the 2020 season,” the memo said.

The league will reassess whether to continue under the guidelines on April 8 in consultation with medical experts and public health authorities, the memo said.

“The challenges we face are not unique,” Goodell said in the letter. “Many businesses and individuals throughout the country are experiencing and addressing similar issues. Please be assured that the NFL is well-positioned to meet these operational challenges as we prepare to offer our fans and the country an outstanding 2020 NFL season.”

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Source — Jaguars sign veteran Tyler Eifert to bolster thin tight end corps

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The Jacksonville Jaguars are turning to former Cincinnati Bengals first-round draft pick Tyler Eifert in their latest effort to fix their tight end woes.

The team agreed to terms with Eifert on a two-year deal Tuesday night, a source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano. The move makes the oft-injured player the top option for second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew. It also reunites him with current Jags offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, his former OC with the Bengals.

The Jaguars have been struggling to get consistent production out of the tight end for the past decade, and Eifert is the latest free-agent signee to add hope. The team also signed Julius Thomas (2016) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2018), but neither made much of an impact.

The current tight ends on the roster have a combined 64 career catches — including 60 by James O’Shaughnessy, who is coming off a torn ACL. Second-year player Josh Oliver, a third-round pick last season, played in only four games last season because of hamstring and back injuries. He has just three catches for 18 yards.

Eifert set a notable personal feat in 2019 by avoiding injury and appearing in all 16 regular-season games for the Cincinnati Bengals for the first time in his career. He caught 43 of 63 targets for 436 yards and three touchdowns.

It was Eifert’s most productive season since 2015, when he made the Pro Bowl.

Injuries have kept Eifert off the field for the majority of his career, limiting him to one game in 2014 (dislocated elbow), eight in 2016 (ankle/back), two in 2017 (back) and four in 2018 (broken ankle).

The 21st pick out of Notre Dame in 2013, Eifert played out his rookie contract with the Bengals and signed a one-year deal worth $3.025 million against the salary cap last offseason.

He has 185 receptions for 2,152 yards and 24 touchdowns in 59 career games.

ESPN’s Ben Baby contributed to this report.

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