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Dallas Cowboys haven’t asked me to sit vs. New Orleans Saints



FRISCO, Texas — Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott does not want to take a game off despite a bruised right knee.

“No one’s came to me and asked me to rest,” Elliott said Sunday as the Cowboys opened up preparation for Thursday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

If they do, Elliott said he would listen.

“I’ve just got to go with what they believe is best for the team,” he said.

Elliott said he has been dealing with the injury since banging it in the Oct. 3 win against the Carolina Panthers.

A day after the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, coach Mike McCarthy expressed concern for Elliott’s health after Elliott had just 25 yards on nine carries. The running back has not topped 51 yards in his last four games, the lowest-output of his career.

“It’s that time of year,” McCarthy said. “Zeke’s running style is ferocious. He gives a pounding and he takes some hits. We need to evaluate that and this week we’ll see what the preparation looks like for him.”

A source told ESPN the Cowboys will consider providing Elliott some time off to heal, including the possibility of holding him out of Thursday’s game. The source does not believe placing Elliott on injured reserve is a consideration at this time. That would require him Elliott to miss at least three games.

The Cowboys have scaled back Elliott’s snaps in the last four games to help manage the injury. He has played 164 of 280 offensive snaps (58.5%) after playing in 379 of 451 snaps (84%) in the first seven games of the season.

Elliott has missed just one game in his career because of injury (calf strain last December vs. the San Francisco 49ers). He was held out of the season finales in 2016 and ’18 because the Cowboys’ playoff position was set, and he was suspended for six games in 2017.

“He’s the ultimate competitor,” right guard Zack Martin said. “We see it on a day in, day out basis and I think everyone is seeing it. He takes great pride in being there for his teammates and doing whatever he can in his power to help this team win. For me, he’s one of the top competitors I’ve been around, and he’s going to keep doing that.”

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Kansas City Chiefs’ Willie Gay arrested on misdemeanor criminal property damage charge



OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay was arrested Wednesday night by the Overland Park police and charged with misdemeanor criminal property damage of less than $1,000.

Gay remained Thursday morning in the detention center in Johnson County, Kansas. He was scheduled to appear before a judge Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office in Johnson County said.

The Chiefs said they were aware of Gay’s arrest.

Gay, the Chiefs’ second-round draft pick in 2020, started 11 games this season plus the Chiefs’ wild-card round playoff win last weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has two interceptions and 0.5 sacks.

Kansas City hosts the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional playoff on Sunday.

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The upside-down life of the Tennessee Titans’ All-Pro long-snapper



LONG-SNAPPING HAS been described as the most specialized, and most ignored, position in all of sports. And in the strange, upside-down world of the long-snapper, the better you are at your job, the more anonymous you become. Case in point: Although they are a critical component in punting, extra points and field goals in a league where field position and scoring is at an all-time premium (especially during the playoffs), long-snappers didn’t have their own official spot on the All-Pro team until last year. That inaugural All-Pro honor went to the Tennessee Titans’ Morgan Cox. After 11 years, four Pro Bowls and several historic field goals in Baltimore, the Tennessee native joined the Titans in 2021 as a free agent. Not that it upped his Q rating at all. “The motto with long-snapping is you want to go unnoticed, otherwise you’re not doing your job correctly,” says Cox. “I want people to forget my name because I’ve done my job so well, the ball’s just there and they just expect that it’s just going to be there all the time. So I take pride in going unnoticed. I’ve always said that I could probably walk through the stadium concourse in my helmet and jersey and pads and everybody would be like, ‘Why are you wearing number 46?'”

Still, few people in the history of the game have better insight into this weird but fascinating position and all the extreme mental and physical challenges that come with it. (For starters: they’re, um, inverted.) Which is why, leading up to the No. 1-seeded Titans divisional-round playoff game against the Bengals, ESPN Daily sat down with Cox to learn, well, everything, about the strange art and science of long-snapping.

HAVING A MOMENT: Few of us had any clue about how uniquely skilled and valuable these players were until Covid-19 sidelined a handful of starting long-snappers and the Colts, Cowboys, Bucs, Bengals and others had to scramble to find qualified replacements. Heck, this season, even the uber tight-lipped Bill Belichick gave an eloquent and passionate nine-minute answer when asked during a press conference about the importance and evolution of long-snappers. (Nine minutes!) A few years ago, Belichick confessed that securing a backup long-snapper was what allowed him to sleep well at night. The love of long-snapping runs in the family, apparently. Bill’s son Steve, a defensive coach with the Patriots, was a walk-on long-snapper at Rutgers.

No one appreciates long-snappers more than backup long-snappers, though. In 2010, Cox blew out his ACL against the Browns but decided to stay in the game to snap, especially after seeing how petrified Ravens running back Willis McGahee was at the prospect of filling in for him. “After I hurt my knee, he came up to me on the sideline and he was like, ‘Hey man, are you good? Are you good? Are you going to be able to snap?'” says Cox, who tore his other ACL in 2014. “He was freaking out that he might have to go in and snap.” The premium on scoring and the shrinking margin of victory in the NFL (this season the Titans outscored opponents by an average of only 3.8 points per game) has made extra points and field goals, and thus, long-snappers, even more like lawyers and umbrellas: no one really appreciates them until they don’t have one.

IN GOOD HANDS: Cox is so obsessed with his hands and his grip that even during the off-season he doesn’t like to use hand moisturizer. Seriously. “I can’t really use a hand lotion because I hate the feeling of not being like ready to snap a ball at any given time,” he says. “Even if it’s like, you know, March or April and I know there’s no game, for whatever reason I have to get my hands back to where I could snap a ball, like right away. It’s just like a mental oddity that I have that I need to be ready to snap at all times.” Likewise, Cox is very particular about his grip on the ball and before the game will even let the referee know how he wants the ball placed so the inflation valve will be in the center of his right palm. Much like a quarterback, Cox’s ring finger always goes across the second seam. He uses his left hand mostly as a guide, but just his fingertips and with his palm well off the ball, “almost like the way you’d hold a waiter’s tray.”

Cox thinks of his snapping motion as a pendulum, because the most simplified, streamlined kinetic movements are the easiest to replicate under the most stressful situations. “At the bottom of the pendulum is the fastest, most efficient time to let go of the ball,” he says. “And I’m always trying to think of the nose of the ball, because wherever I point the nose of the ball is where the ball is going to go.” And like a great free throw shooter, for Cox the follow-through is critical to good form. When a snap goes well, his thumbs will be pointing straight up in the air and the backs of his hands will almost be touching.

THERE WILL BE MATH: After 12 years in the NFL, Cox has long-snapping down to a science. On field goals he only has 0.7 to 0.75 seconds to get the ball into the holder’s hands. (A human eye blink takes 0.4 seconds.) And when the ball arrives the laces need to be at 12 o’clock, which is long-snapper lingo for straight up in the air so that when the ball is placed on the ground the seams are directly toward the goal posts. (Laces at 6 o’clock, pointing back at the kicker, are “a disaster,” Cox says, because if they catch on a kicker’s foot it drastically changes the direction of the ball.) In all, the field goal unit has between 1.2 and 1.3 seconds to get the kick off. So, to get the ball to the holder on time and in the right position, Cox knows that he must snap it at 35 mph with exactly 3½ rotations and with no target deviation. (Even having to reach a little for the snap can push the timing well past 1.3 seconds.)

Because weather, humidity and altitude affect the spin of the ball, pre-snap Cox slightly adjusts the distance between himself and the holder to ensure 3.5 rotations. (This must be what Cox’s former coach, John Harbaugh, meant when he said the long-snapper has “relentless attention to detail.”) So it makes sense that Cox isn’t a believer in the cliché that playoff football is a game of inches. “It’s more like millimeters,” he says, “a blade of grass, that’s the difference in games a lot of times, that little amount of space.”

THE UPSIDE-DOWN WORLD: George Malcom Stratton was an American psychologist who pioneered the study of perception in the early 20th century by outfitting subjects with special glasses that turned everything they saw upside down. Stratton found that after some initial disorientation, in time the subjects’ brain and vision adjusted to everything being upside down and they were able to function normally while theoretically upside down. Essentially, that’s what happens with NFL long-snappers: like astronauts, gymnasts and Shaun White, they’ve been inverted so long it becomes normal.

“I’ve never thought about it, to be honest with you,” says Cox. “Like, why is my holder hanging off the side of the Earth? It’s just one of those things you get used to over the years.” The only thing Cox worries about is being inverted too long, which is why he always waits to get the cue from his holder before starting his snap sequence. “You don’t want all the blood to rush to your head,” he says. “If I go down too early and grab the ball, I can literally feel my head filling with blood. I’ve been down there for 20 or 30 seconds before and I’m still able to snap it, but it’s not ideal. You’re thinking more about: ‘How long have I been upside down?’ Rather than, ‘This is where the ball needs to go.'”

K BALLS: As if long-snapping wasn’t hard enough, teams use specially prepared “K balls” that are extremely slick and typically inflated to the max (13.5 PSI) for added distance. NFL rules allow teams 45 minutes before games to prepare kicking balls in order to smooth out the tacky bumps in the leather of the regular game balls that quarterbacks and other playmakers prefer because of the added grip. It’s usually done by a member of the equipment staff using a wet towel and a brush with coarse horsehair bristles and then marking the ball with a “K.” With a smoother surface the balls are better for kickers but considerably harder for long-snappers and holders to handle, especially in bad weather. (Just ask Tony Romo.)

“Talk about getting into the weeds on stuff,” says Cox. “Quarterback balls typically have all these dimples that are much more raised and even pronounced. Kicker balls are almost the exact opposite. And there’s a certain technique on how teams prep kicker balls. They’ll basically grind down all of those dimples. You talk about an art form. There’s guys that are really well known for being able to work a kicking ball in. But what it does, it doesn’t exactly lend itself to throwing the ball.”

FOOTBALL FIDGIT SPINNERS: Even during a busy game, Cox is likely to go 20 minutes or more between snaps. In the playoffs, that’s a long time to be standing in the freezing cold thinking about how there are up to 100 million people watching as you put the team’s fate in your hands. Think of it this way: While leading the Chiefs to a win in Super Bowl LIV, Patrick Mahomes threw two interceptions and no one batted an eye. But if the Chiefs’ long-snapper had two wild snaps in the Super Bowl he’d be a meme right now.

In long-snapping, being able to handle that kind of pressure is almost as important as technique and training. That’s why so many long-snappers become great at ball tricks. Cox can spin it like a basketball on his finger, bounce it off the ground and back into his hand and he’s been working on the Aaron Rodgers’ classic arm flip and catch. “It’s just about passing the time and doing something with my hands, rather than just sitting with my thoughts,” says Cox. “The most you can stay out of your head the better. When I was in college, the snapper ahead of me told me that I could never be a long-snapper if I couldn’t learn to spin the ball on my hand.”

OH YEAH, YOU ALSO HAVE TO TACKLE: As if performing one of football’s most specialized and thankless tasks weren’t enough — again, inverted and with zero room for error — long-snappers are also expected to contribute downfield on punt coverage. The first punt Cox covered in college (at Tennessee) was a touchdown return by Cal’s DeSean Jackson. “I didn’t get within 10 yards of him,” Cox admits. Over the course of his pro career, though, Cox has averaged about one tackle a year, which is downright respectable.

Cox is something of a legend among long-snappers for his 2012 posterization of Cleveland All-Pro kick returner Josh Cribbs, a picture-perfect, open-field tackle that appeared to knock the ball and Cribbs’ helmet loose. There’s just one tiny catch. “The way everything funneled, I just happened to be in the alley where he was running through,” Cox says. “And, just like you practice in Pop Warner, I duck my shoulder and wrapped him up. I get up and I see that his helmet is knocked off, the ball’s loose and we had jumped on it. And I’m like, ‘Wow, but there’s no way I did that.'” Indeed. Cox hit Cribbs low and didn’t realize that at the exact same time his teammate, Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, delivered the hit up high that removed both the ball and the helmet from Cribbs’ possession. “But in the newspaper the next day, the front page of the sports was me tackling Josh Cribbs and his helmet starting to fly off,” says Cox. “Someday I’m going to show my grandkids that picture and be like, ‘Look what the old man used to do back in the day.'”

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Eagles back Jalen Hurts as their 2022 starter, but should we believe them? – Philadelphia Eagles Blog



PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and coach Nick Sirianni sent a clear message Wednesday they’re heading into the offseason with the intention of building around quarterback Jalen Hurts rather than looking for his replacement.

“Jalen knows where he stands with us,” Sirianni said. “There’s no secrets there. He knows he’s our guy.”

That’s a pretty solid endorsement of Hurts, who at age 23 became the youngest quarterback in franchise history to start a playoff game. He bumped his completion percentage up nearly 10 points from his rookie year to 61.3%, showed growth as a pocket passer and decision-maker, and led all quarterbacks with 784 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. He is a strong leader with an exceptional work ethic who is obsessed with improving at his chosen craft. This was a transition year for the Eagles, and he helped them overachieve by guiding them into the postseason with a 9-8 record.

On the flip side, Hurts ranked 26th in completion rate despite those improvements as a thrower. He was a critical component to a ground game that finished tops in the NFL (159.7 rush yards/game), but the offense often faltered when the Eagles had to rely on the pass, as seen in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ convincing 31-15 win over Philadelphia in the wild-card playoff game Sunday, in which Hurts went 23-of-43 for 258 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. The Eagles were 0-7 against playoff teams in 2021 and were outscored by a combined 96 points in those games. Hurts went 8-8 as the starter and beat one team that finished the season with a winning record — the Saints, who had third-string QB Trevor Siemian at the controls.

Quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson, who have all been to multiple Pro Bowls, could potentially be available by trade this offseason. The Eagles have three first-round picks in April’s draft (Nos. 15, 16 and 19 overall). They are as well-positioned as any team from a capital perspective to land a standout veteran, and could also use those assets to move up to select one of the top quarterbacks in this draft class.

Why did they send such strong signals that they’re rolling with Hurts? And could there be another twist ahead in this storyline? Let’s explore.

Acquiring a veteran

The Eagles have already told us through their actions that they’re intrigued by Wilson and Watson.

Wilson, 33, is the one who got away. Management has not been shy in expressing how high they were on him coming out of Wisconsin, and how much they kick themselves for not being more aggressive during the 2012 draft. They thought they would have a chance to take him with their third-round selection, 88th overall, but he was plucked by the Seattle Seahawks with the 75th pick. Philadelphia ended up taking Nick Foles, and while their relationship with Foles certainly worked out, missing out on Wilson remains a sore spot. It changed the way the Eagles think about quarterbacks: If there’s one you really believe in, it’s better to deviate from the value chart to go after him than live with regret. That’s part of the reason they took Hurts in the second round in 2020 even with Carson Wentz in place.

Philadelphia showed interest in Watson before. One league executive described the Eagles as being in “active pursuit” of Watson leading into the 2021 season, if not later, though he remained on the Texans’ roster through the Nov. 2 trade deadline. Watson faces 22 civil lawsuits by women accusing him of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior.

As for Rodgers, what team wouldn’t be interested in acquiring the three-time MVP?

Quarterbacks, though, have more sway than ever over where they end up, and to this point, there’s no evidence any of the top quarterbacks view Philadelphia as the most desirable destination. Watson was reportedly willing to waive his no-trade clause for the Miami Dolphins but not the Eagles before the deadline. Meanwhile, the only teams Wilson would have waived his no-trade clause for last year were the Cowboys, Saints, Bears and Raiders, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Even if Wilson and Watson were to expand those teams to include Philadelphia, there’s bound to be competition. If Wilson wants the Giants, say, and the Giants want Wilson, New York has two top-10 picks in April’s draft to offer Seattle.

Beyond Rodgers, Wilson and Watson, the next tier of quarterbacks who could theoretically become available include Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins. It’s debatable how much of an upgrade those signal-callers would be over Hurts, whose contract is considerably less expensive than all of them with base salaries of $1.1 million and $1.3 million over the next two seasons.

Drafting a QB

This is not considered a strong quarterback class, and there is little separation currently among the top prospects.

“This year’s quarterback race is a little bit different from what we have seen in years past,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid said. “There hasn’t been that top quarterback who has really grabbed your attention and [positioned] himself to be the No. 1 overall pick like we’ve seen with Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow or even Kyler Murray going back to 2019. I think this quarterback race is going to [continue] up to draft day.”

Reid currently projects Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Mississippi’s Matt Corral and North Carolina’s Sam Howell as first-round picks, with Liberty’s Malik Willis and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder as wild cards.

Pickett, 23, is considered the “safe option” in draft circles right now, Reid said, heightening the odds he is the first quarterback taken. Reid believes Pickett and Corral will be gone by the time the Eagles get on the clock with their first pick at 15, but that they’re well-positioned if one of the other quarterbacks is to their liking.

“They are probably in the wheelhouse if they want one of those guys. It will probably be between Willis or Sam Howell,” he said.

Reid called the big-armed, fleet-footed Willis “my favorite of the group right now” and thinks his skill set best matches what Sirianni wants to do on offense. But he’s raw and would probably need a year or two to develop behind a veteran.

As for QB prospects later in the draft, Reid said you could likely get Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe, who broke Burrow’s NCAA record with 62 passing touchdowns this past season, in the third or fourth round.

If it were Reid’s decision, he would roll with Hurts for another year as opposed to selecting a quarterback high in this year’s draft, especially considering the question marks surrounding each prospect.

“If I were a betting man, I don’t think the Eagles make all three of those picks in the first round,” he said. “I think they try to trade back for one more pick in next year’s draft so they can have two first-round picks in 2023 in case they want to move up and get a quarterback of their liking.”

Building around Hurts

Hurts is very young. His top receiver this year, DeVonta Smith, was a 23-year-old rookie. He didn’t have a single primary wideout over 25.

There’s a strong case to me made that the right course of action is to use the bulk of that draft capital to build the roster up around Hurts and his green supporting cast.

“We have to do whatever we can to continue to help him develop,” Roseman said. “And how do we do that? By surrounding him with really good players — players who continue to grow.”

Roseman knows it’s a lot easier to construct a championship-caliber roster with a starting quarterback on his rookie deal. Hurts carries a cap hit of $1.6 million and $1.9 million over the next two seasons. A player like Wilson, in contrast, carries cap hits of $37 million and $40 million. There are benefits to growing this thing organically, and some evidence Hurts would be an ideal tone-setter for such a venture.

“I want to follow that dude,” said 6-foot-8, 365-pound left tackle Jordan Mailata. “He wants to fix his mistakes. When I see my captain doing that, I want to do the same thing.”

Hurts was on his sixth playcaller in as many seasons in 2021, an unfortunate streak that dates all the way back to his freshman year at Alabama. And Sirianni overhauled the offense at the midway point of the season after realizing it wasn’t maximizing his personnel. Still, Hurts showed marked improvement as a pocket passer over the course of the year.

He suffered a high ankle sprain against the New York Giants on Nov. 28, missed a pair of games and wasn’t the same as a runner the rest of the way. Hurts, who appeared at the postgame news conference Sunday in a walking boot, said he “wasn’t able to get freaky like usual” down the stretch.

Sirianni remains focused on Hurts’ footwork and believes his accuracy and decision-making will continue to improve as he learns through experience and film study. If he can combine a more efficient passing game with his “freaky” ground attack, the Eagles will really have something.

Could the Eagles throw us a curveball?

Of course. It’s always best to watch what an organization does rather than listen to what it says.

Case in point: Last January, Roseman likened Wentz to a finger on his hand. “You can’t imagine that they’re not part of you, that they’re not here. That’s how we feel about Carson,” he said. A little over a month later, he traded Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts.

Even amid his backing of Hurts on Wednesday, Roseman did not entirely discount the possibility of trading for a quarterback, saying his job is to “look at everything, evaluate every position and every player.”

If Wilson became available at a reasonable price and wanted to play in Philly, would the Eagles consider it? You would think so.

Wednesday wasn’t the end to this story. There are likely to be rumors that pop up between now and the start of the league year, in part because the Eagles are famous for exploring every option, no matter how feasible.

But the most likely outcome is Hurts is the starter in 2022, as reflected in Roseman and Sirianni’s messaging Wednesday.

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