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NFL owners approve 17-game season for 2021

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NFL owners approved the expansion of the regular season to 17 games Tuesday, a long-expected decision that will generate additional revenue for the country’s richest sports league.

Players agreed to the additional game as part of their 2020 collective bargaining agreement, which gave the league an option to expand as soon as the 2021 season. The preseason will be reduced from four games to three to maintain compliance with the collective bargaining agreement, which limits the total number of preseason and regular-season games played to 20.

There will remain one bye week per team. The season will begin on Thursday night, Sept. 9 and will end on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and the Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles has been pushed back one week, from Feb. 6 to 13, 2022.

“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”

The formula for scheduling a season with an odd number of games will consist of two parts. First, AFC and NFC teams will alternate annually between eight and nine home games. The AFC will have nine in 2021. The extra game will be a cross-conference matchup based on the previous year’s divisional standings and the division schedule rotation from two seasons prior.

The full 2021 schedule will be released later this spring.

The NFL said that the enhanced season will guaranteed that, starting in 2022, each team will play an international game at least once every eight seasons. Up to four neutral-site games will be scheduled with the initial focus on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom. The league said interested teams can also volunteer to play home games internationally as they currently can do.

Although the NFL Players Association agreed to the change last year, some players have spoken out on social media in recent weeks to express their displeasure with their additional game. New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara tweeted it was “dumb … as hell” and Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos tweeted: “We really let this happen.” Player salaries won’t change, but they will be paid over 18 weeks rather than 17. Some player benefits will be altered, however.

The owners’ decision to activate the 17-game option will trigger changes to offseason and in-season workouts, according to NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah. Among them is a reduction in the maximum amount of time players can be required to spend at a team facility during the season. The NFLPA has been advocating since December to make last year’s virtual offseason permanent as a way to reduce wear and tear on their bodies.

Tuesday’s approval came one year after owners expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 games, a decision that created two additional playoff games and was estimated to generate $150 million in additional annual revenue. Most NFL revenues are split with players according to the terms of the CBA; the addition of the 17th game pushes the players’ distribution to 48.5% of shareable revenues.

Assurances of this expansion were baked into new media distribution rights the league announced earlier this month with Amazon, CBS, ESPN/ABC, FOX, and NBC. According to multiple reports, those deals will bring the NFL and its players more than $100 billion in revenue between the 2023 and 2033 seasons.

The NFL has played 16-game seasons since 1978, but some owners have been pushing to expand for more than a decade. The league came close to imposing it in 2014, without an agreement from players, but ultimately tabled the plan to save as a bargaining chip for next CBA.

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Linebacker Vince Williams, 31, informs Pittsburgh Steelers of his retirement after eight seasons

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PITTSBURGH — On the eve of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ first training camp practice, veteran inside linebacker Vince Williams informed the team of his retirement Wednesday.

Williams, 31, played eight seasons with the organization after being selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft.

Williams was initially released by the team in March because of cap constraints, but he was re-signed in April on a one-year veteran minimum deal.

Some of Williams’ teammates on defense, including T.J. Watt and Joe Haden, posted their reactions on social media later Wednesday.

The former Florida State player emerged as a team leader in Pittsburgh and started 69 of 121 career games, racking up 20.5 sacks, 479 combined tackles and 50 tackles for loss.

His role in 2021 was likely to be reduced with the emergence of Robert Spillane, who stepped up last season when former top-10 pick Devin Bush tore his ACL.

Beyond Spillane and Bush, the Steelers will likely look to rookie Buddy Johnson and safety-turned-inside linebacker Marcus Allen for depth at the position — but with a strong camp, a fully healthy Ulysees Gilbert III could also land a roster spot to round out the group.



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Jerry Jones confident Dallas Cowboys’ vaccination percentage ‘will not limit us in any way’

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OXNARD, California — The Dallas Cowboys will open training camp under stricter COVID-19 protocols because they did not reach the 85% vaccination threshold, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he does not believe it will impact the players’ preparedness for the regular season.

“My opinion is it will absolutely will not limit us in any way, the issue of vaccination, will [not] limit us in any way as to being competitive as early as when we play Pittsburgh in the first preseason game,” Jones said Wednesday at the opening news conference of training camp. “When people say, ‘Where do you think you stand right now with vaccine relative to your team and as it pertains — this comes to my mind — the competition,’ and I think we’re one of the leaders.”

Jones indicated as few as five players have not made a pledge to get vaccinated at present, and a portion of players are “in the pipeline” toward becoming fully vaccinated, a number that would help the Cowboys reach the mark.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones noted the four weeks between the first shot and full vaccination for not being able to pinpoint an exact date. With 90 players on the roster, 77 need to be vaccinated to reach the current threshold that would ease COVID-19 restrictions at training camp.

“I don’t know that the 85% has been totally negotiated yet,” Stephen Jones said. “I think it’s a work in progress, but, yes, I do think we’ll hit that threshold and more.”

Stephen Jones credited the players for listening to the information the team made available regarding the vaccine.

“They understand that everybody was recommending the vaccine, in and around the country, but they really did their homework,” he said. “They had a lot of great questions. We provided them with lot of education, a lot about the science, and I think they were able to get their hands around it.”

The Cowboys’ coaching staff is fully vaccinated, according to Jerry Jones, but Mike McCarthy said he told his players he needed some convincing early on before getting the shot.

“Frankly, I shared my own personal experience where the facts that I was not particularly 100 percent on board with the vaccination, but through the relationships that we’re fortunate to have in the medical community, you watch, you listen. I think that same approach was given to our players,” McCarthy said. “We just wanted to make sure they had all the facts … Really, the position of where we were numbers-wise in my opinion was more about timing.”

Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin was critical of the Cowboys for not reaching the threshold, questioning their commitment to winning.

“Yeah, and it should upset them,” Irvin said. “It should upset them. Dude, you’re not thinking right. You’re not thinking right. Whatever you got, I don’t give a damn. Nothing else can be more important. You’re not going to get this (winning a Super Bowl) easily. Nothing else could be more important. Jimmy [Johnson] made that abundantly clear (during Irvin’s playing career). Nothing else is more important. And not being one of the [teams] says there’s other things to a great number of people on this team that are more important than winning championships, and that makes me worried.”

Jerry Jones said he understood Irvin’s comments.

“Michael Irvin is the best example that I know of how much will and how much body language and how much of heart and sacrifice mean to winning championships. He is that. So when he talks, I listen. I know that,” Jerry Jones said. “And I think he has a good reputation with the current group of players because of his visibility and his activity with the network where he is as an individual. So he comes with all the credibility in the world. He’s a Hall of Famer and then not only part of — because he’s a talented football player — but a big part of why he got there was that total commitment going above and beyond.

“That’s what he was trying to say. That it isn’t normal things we want from each other as players. We want everything to go above and beyond. And so I thought it was an outstanding message.”

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Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones says he’d ‘do anything’ to make Super Bowl LVI

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OXNARD, Calif. — Over the years, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has not been afraid to talk about Super Bowl dreams before the start of a season. But as the franchise’s championship drought pushes past 25 years, Jones stayed away from making headlines Wednesday.

Still, making it to Super Bowl LVI is at the top of Jones’ mind.

“I’d do anything known to man to get to a Super Bowl,” Jones said. “That’s a fact.”

Jones became emotional at several points of a nearly hour-long news conference, starting with when he was asked how he intends to get the Cowboys back to a time when they won three Super Bowls in a four-year span in the 1990s.

“I’ve always had to be pragmatic at the end of the day because if not, you’ll end up on the outside looking in. You have to be real,” Jones said. “But on the other hand, I’ve never thought that we couldn’t be better or never thought that we couldn’t make it happen, even when we were not on paper or we weren’t as technically as good or sound. But I’ve never thought that, and I’ve got too many examples of how shorthanded people have knocked them out of the park before. A lot of them. In a lot of different areas.

“I really don’t know that I have any days or have any weeks where I don’t think, ‘There’s a pony in here somewhere.’ You have a lot of days where you ask yourself, ‘What are you doing in the middle of this?’ That has served me well. This isn’t an ‘I, me,’ but I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You’re naive’ or say, ‘He’s naive.’ Well, it’s a beautiful world. … It’s a better world to be naive than to be skeptical and be negative all the time.”

Jones choked up when discussing former coach Jimmy Johnson’s tenure with the Cowboys now that Johnson is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month.

“Well, I just think of those great times, and Jimmy’s a great coach,” Jones said. “Ridiculous. My role here was, my job was to keep it together. It was my job. Should have had deference to something that was working good. Those are the things that come to my mind. We had a great run of it. He’s a great coach, and I’m proud to have him as a friend, and proud to have had the times that we had. We just had a great experience.”

The current Cowboys have missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, including a 6-10 finish in 2020 in Mike McCarthy’s first season as coach. Dak Prescott played in just five games because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, but he will be a full participant when practice opens Thursday. A number of other key players also missed significant time due to injury.

With Prescott and offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La’el Collins healthy and the addition of Dan Quinn at defensive coordinator, Jones is optimistic about 2021, if not bombastic.

“I think we got a way to make it work big for this season,” Jones said. “You put those two things together, and I think we got a chance to be a really good team.”

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