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Troy Aikman Dallas Cowboys Jersey

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman retired in 2001 after winning three Super Bowls during his 12-year NFL tenure. File Photo by Sergio Flores/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 26 (UPI) — Dallas Cowboys legend Troy Aikman recently stood up for Andrew Luck on social media after the former Indianapolis Colts quarterback announced his decision to retire.

The three-time Super Bowl champion and Pro Football Hall of Famer did so by responding to a tweet from FS1 sports personality Doug Gottlieb. Luck announced his decision to retire Saturday. The 29-year-old quarterback cited the numerous injuries he has sustained during his NFL tenure as a major reason behind walking away from the game.

“This is not an easy decision. Honestly, it’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me,” Luck told reporters Saturday during his retirement news conference.

“For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football.”

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Luck missed the entire 2017 season due to a shoulder issue. He returned to win Comeback Player of the Year in 2018, before dealing with more injuries this off-season and in training camp.

“Retiring cause rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever,” Gottlieb tweeted Saturday.

Gottlieb’s tweet drew a lot of negative reaction and had more than 26,000 comments and 1,700 retweets. Aikman — now a commentator for Fox — was just one of the former athletes to respond to the take.

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“That’s total [expletive] Doug,” Aikman wrote. “What qualifies you to decide how someone should live their life? So you’re now the authority on what motivates Andrew Luck? And if his decisions don’t fit into what you think is best for him then you rip him? Guess that keeps you employed on FS1. Nice.”

Aikman, 52, played his entire 12-year career with the Cowboys. The six-time Pro Bowl selection sustained multiple concussions during his pro football tenure before retiring in 2001. He also sustained a concussion during the final snap of his career. Aikman spoke about his personal decision to retire during NFL Films’ Troy Aikman: A Football Life.

“All these people think I got out of the game because of head injuries,” Aikman said. “Concussions had nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing to do with my retirement. Ultimately, the reason I retired after 12 years was because I felt that I had worked hard to develop some level of credibility and respect within this game. And I felt like that was being jeopardized by decisions that were being made beyond my control within the organization. And I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.”

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Six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady also voiced his support for Luck during a radio interview Monday on WEEI’s Greg Hill Show.

“It is his life,” Brady said. “Everyone has the right to choose what they want to do. He had a great career and he was a great player. Everybody wishes they could be healthy all the time.

“It is a contact sport and he’s certainly had his fair share of injuries, so guys retire at different times. Some at the end of the season, and I have seen a lot of guys retire before the season gets going and this is just one of those examples.”

Luck retired with a 4-4 record in the postseason and a 53-33 record in the regular season. The Stanford graduate was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Custom New York Jets Jerseys

Candidates for New York Jets general manager job are very wary of taking the job without a long-term deal from the team.
Fans of the long-suffering New York Jets know they’re dealing with a team that can, at times, resemble a circus. While the circus narrative can be a little overblown at times, the team repeatedly makes it oh so easy to paint them with that brush.

While nobody can argue with the firing of Mike Maccagnan, the timing is interesting, as they allowed him to run a critical offseason before making the decision. Now the team might have trouble replacing their former general manager, according to Josina Anderson of ESPN.

Anderson was told by a source that “No one really wants [the] job without [a] long-term deal” and that people are wondering “how much control is [the] new person actually going to have.” That’s certainly not something that fans will want to hear as the team tries to build around Sam Darnold.

The Jets have struggled with their reputation ever since Woody Johnson bought the team, but things had been seemingly looking up after Christopher Johnson took over. However, his forced marriage of Maccagnan and Adam Gase blew up before a game was played. The decision to fire Maccagnan after the meat of the offseason ended has some questioning whether the same old Jets are back.

The Jets will eventually find a general manager. There are only 32 NFL GM jobs and they are all coveted by executives looking to make a name for themselves, or by former executives looking to get back into the game. However, whether the team can get their first choice or not remains to be seen. It doesn’t look hopeful in Jets land at the moment though.

Custom Arizona Cardinals Jerseys

One of the area needing help in the offseason for the Arizona Cardinals was linebacker with Jordan Hicks helping fill that need
When the news broke the Arizona Cardinals were signing linebacker Jordan Hicks, it was good news but with some hesitation in excitement. Hicks signed as a free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here’s the issue. He has had to deal with injuries. He’s played in fewer than 10 games in two of his four seasons in the NFL.

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However last season was not one of them. He played in 12 games in 2018, starting them all. He started all 16 games as a middle linebacker for the Eagles in 2016.

Last season he had career-high’s in tackles, sacks, and quarterback hits. He had 91 tackles with three sacks and six quarterback hits. He also had five passes defensed and a fumble recovery.

There is definitely star potential for Hicks. The Cardinals must believe that as well judging by the four-year contract they gave him.

If you go by his career stats though, he only produces in even years. Now, just because that’s been the case over each of his four seasons, doesn’t mean that trend will repeat itself in 2019.

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Keep an eye on him though. He played in only eight games in 2015 and seven in 2017. The Cardinals clearly are counting on him now and in the near future.

If he can stay healthy, then he should produce. If Hicks played for the Cardinals last season producing those kind of numbers, the need certainly wouldn’t have been as great this offseason.

He should flourish in Vance Joseph‘s 3-4 defense. Hicks is a name we should expect to hear a lot. The former third round pick out of Texas is still young at 26, another plus for the Cardinals.

NEXT: Arizona Cardinals building an intriguing secondary
The only thing that will stop him will be injury. The talent is there but it just needs to be consistently present for it to be effective.

Custom Atlanta Falcons Jerseys

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With Phase III of Atlanta’s offseason workout program underway, this marks the first time the players and Atlanta’s coaching staff will take the fields together for 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work.

New wrinkles have been added on both sides of the ball with new coordinators in place as Dirk Koetter has now taken the reigns of the offense and coach Dan Quinn taking over the defense.

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The next few weeks of OTAs give players a chance to fine tune their skills and show the progress they’ve made this offseason. Although the offseason program is critical to the entire team as they gear up for the start of the 2019 season, here are five players who could really benefit from a strong offseason, in no particular order:

Vic Beasley
There’s no denying this is a prove-it year for Beasley, Atlanta’s former first-round draft pick heading into his fifth season with the team. The Falcons drafted Beasley to get to the quarterback and he’s been inconsistent at times in doing just that. He led the NFL in sacks with 15.5 in 2016 – when the Falcons earned a trip to Super Bowl LI – but since then, he’s totaled just 10 sacks in two seasons. He’s proven he can be an impact player and the Falcons will certainly need the best version of Beasley in 2019. Quinn believes he can get the best out of the defensive end and said that he plans to take a “hands-on” approach.
Devonta Freeman
The Falcons’ offense is at its best when Freeman is performing at a high level and there’s no doubt about it. Need proof? Go back to the 2016 season when Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 54 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns. Injuries have plagued the running back the last two seasons. Freeman will enter the season completely healthy and the Falcons are expecting a big year from the running back. The Falcons finished with the No. 27 rushing attack in 2018 and getting that part of their game back on track is an emphasis in 2019 and it starts with Freeman.

Takk McKinley
Atlanta’s defense feeds off McKinley’s energy and play. The defensive end is coming off an up-and-down 2018 season and, similar to Beasley, Quinn believes McKinley will be better in 2019. In two seasons, McKinley has 13 sacks. Atlanta finished the year with 37 sacks on the year which was 22nd in the league. Quinn will be working closer with the defensive ends this year and with two years under his belt, McKinley could be primed for his best season yet.

Isaiah Oliver
Oliver is expected to assume a starting role at cornerback this season. After a rookie year which included some of the “on-the-job” training Quinn often talks about, the belief is that Oliver is ready. He’ll start opposite of Desmond Trufant on the outside. The former second-round pick out of Colorado played in 14 games in his rookie season and started two of them. He recorded 23 tackles and made one interception. The hope for Oliver is with a year of experience under his belt, he’ll make the necessary jump from Year 1 to Year 2.

Damontae Kazee
Kazee caught the NFL by storm in 2018 when he became the Falcons’ starting free safety after Ricardo Allen went down early in the season. He finished the season tied for an NFL-best seven interceptions. Kazee proved why he needs to be on the field for the Falcons. But will he show last year wasn’t just a fluke? The Falcons will be featuring Kazee in a different role this year at the nickel cornerback spot. And if we learned one thing last year, regardless of where Kazee lines up, he has a knack for finding the football.

Custom Pittsburgh Steelers Jerseys

PITTSBURGH — James Washington’s underwhelming rookie year was exhausting, so he coped the only way he knew how.

He got back to work on the family farm in Stamford, Texas, where Washington helped his dad change tractor tires or work on crops from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Open-field sprints commenced in the late afternoon.

Returning to normalcy helped Washington — who’s fighting for a starting receiver job with the Pittsburgh Steelers alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster — reimagine his physique, coupling the hard work with portion-control eating of farm food.

Steelers coaches were pleased by the transformation upon his return to Pittsburgh.

“I was pretty big,” said the 5-foot-11 Washington, who is down about 15 pounds from the 223 to 225 pounds he estimates he played at last season. “Just eat less, working and working out. Basically. Didn’t really do anything too crazy. It just started to fall off.”

Washington’s rookie year wasn’t a total disaster. He finished it with two performances of 60-plus yards in the final three weeks of the season. But his 42.1 percent catch rate (16 receptions on 38 targets) was easily the worst among Steelers with at least 10 catches. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called out Washington on his weekly radio show for not trusting his hands on a deep-ball drop in Week 12.

Washington’s biggest strength — the ability to make contested catches — was drowned out by the miscues and confidence issues.

Washington aimed to return faster and mentally ready.

2019 NFL OFFSEASON COVERAGE

Catch up on the draft:
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• Team-by-team analysis » | Takeaways »
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• Barnwell: Grades » | Lessons from FA »
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“I feel like I know more of the plays. … I feel I’m quicker off the ball,” Washington said. “I’m able to run with everybody.”

More preparation might result in less tough love from Roethlisberger, but Washington is prepared for that, too. In fact, he revels in it.

Washington and Roethlisberger had a one-on-one conversation in Week 13 that Washington said aided his evolution in the offense.

“It’s hard coaching,” Washington said of Big Ben’s criticisms. “I’ve been hard-coached my entire life. It wasn’t really anything new to me, and it kind of helped me get back on track a little bit. … He’s a captain. That’s what a captain is supposed to do. Encouraging words made me at ease.”

Free-agent addition Donte Moncrief might have the inside track on a starting job, but up to six receivers could hold down key roles. Eli Rogers is a slot option. Ryan Switzer can line up anywhere. Third-round pick Diontae Johnson will get a hard look.

But make no mistake, Washington has the raw ability to become a catalyst.

The Steelers hope healthy competition ignites him.

“It brings the best out of all of us,” he said.

Custom Detroit Lions Jerseys

The Lions started the third phase of the offseason training program with OTAs this week, where teams can run practices with 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and full 11-on-11 team drills. Players aren’t in pads, but the ability to conduct offense vs. defense drills for the first time this offseason is jump starting the installation of the new offense under coordinator Darrell Bevell.

“It’s huge for us,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said before Tuesday’s open OTA practice. “It’s actually just huge for us just to line up across from each other. That’s the biggest thing and just be able to see a real look, opposed to coaches that are out there trying to get cans lined up and trying to get the looks from that aspect of it and then run off the field and run back on the field.”

In phases one and two of the offseason training program, workouts were limited to strength and conditioning and then individual instruction and practice conducted on a “separates” basis with no team offense vs. defense drills allowed.
It’s difficult to get good looks and reps against stationary objects. Just the visuals of seeing a defense and having to adjust to their look allows quarterback Matthew Stafford to get into the checks and the other nitty gritty parts of Bevell’s offense that need to be learned before this offense can hit the ground running in training camp.
“The more guys you’ve got on the field, whether it’s 1-on-1 to 7-on-7 to full team periods, the more real football is. Your awareness has to be heightened and things are stressed,” Stafford said. “Communication is stressed, alignment is stressed, assignment, all of that kind of stuff.”

It’s good for the pass catchers to run routes against defenders and not on air. The running backs have to find their gaps against moving targets. The guys up front have to block the multitude of blitzes the Lions’ defense deploys and get the new protections right.

Stafford admitted it was much more fun installing against the defense than trying to run a new offense on air.

This is the part of the offseason where execution in this new offense can start to really be evaluated. It’s not full contact, that comes in training camp, but OTAs are the next best thing.

 

“Right now, there is a great opportunity for us to get ahead in the installation,” Patricia said. “And one of the things that we really have to consider with the decrease in the amount of training camp time that we have with the players from a practice standpoint, compared to what we had before, these are really critical for us from a learning, installation standpoint.

“Everything is just so accelerated from that aspect in training camp. So, these are great days, they’re great for us from that standpoint.”

Custom Philadelphia Eagles Jerseys

Despite being 31, Malcolm Jenkins is still among the best safeties in the NFL, and the Philadelphia Eagles would be foolish not to offer him an extension.
As the start of the 2019 NFL season inches closer and closer, one player who hasn’t been at the Philadelphia Eagles‘ organized team activities (OTAs) is starting safety, and team leader, Malcolm Jenkins.

The reason for his absence? Reportedly his contract.

That’s right, according to ESPN’s NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Jenkins has been absent from team’s off-season activities for the first time in his career; leaving a gaping hole in the Eagles’ defensive secondary.

Eagles S Malcom Jenkins, who was not present for team’s off-season workout program for the first time in his career, also is a no-show today for the start of Philadelphia’s Organized Team Activities, per source. Jenkins is one of the NFL’s most-respected players; absence notable.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 21, 2019

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Not good.

Now on the surface, it isn’t particularly unusual for an NFL player to hold out over the summer in the hopes of securing a new contract, but typically that happens in a contract year.

Jenkins is not in a contract year.

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After signing an extension in 2016 – two seasons into a three-year, $15.5 million deal – Jenkins still has the 2019 and 2020 seasons left under his current deal, with an average cap hit of $11.137 million. His 2019 number, about $11.4 million, ranks fourth on the team, trailing only Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Brooks, and Fletcher Cox.

So, what’s the deal? Why is Jenkins holding out for a new deal?

Well, a bunch of safeties around the league just got paid.

You see, before 2019’s free agent period, Jenkins was in-line to be the fourth highest paid safety in the league, trailing only Reshad Jones, Harrison Smith, and Devin McCourty, but after watching (mostly lesser) players like Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, Earl Thomas, LaMarcus Joyner, and Adrian Amos all sign deals worth $9 million a season or more, it’s understandable for the ex-Ohio State Buckeye to feel a bit underappreciated.

Based on his track record, it’s pretty clear Jenkins isn’t the ninth best safety in the league, and being paid as such may be discouraging for such a versatile, prideful dude.

So, what is there to do?

Well, based on how things are going right now, it looks like Howie Roseman is hoping Jenkins returns once things get a bit more official later this summer, avoiding any sort of Le’Veon Bell-style holdout, but that doesn’t need to be the case.

No, based on the number, Jenkins could return to his former fourth spot on the list of the league’s fourth highest-paid safety with a $4.25 million raise, a pretty fair compromise for the Eagles’ most versatile, and vital defender.

However, Roseman is typically in the market of creating more cap flexibility, not giving it away.

NEXT: Gerald McCoy is the perfect fit at the worst time
While it may be simple just to give Jenkins a pay bump, Roseman may instead opt to sign Jenkins to a contract extension; adding years, and money, to his contract while creating some flexibility moving forward. For a player like Jenkins, who should retire as a Philadelphia Eagle, this could give him the financial security he clearly craves, and for the team, it’s a chance to lock up a vital defender and look good in the eyes of players around the league. Seems like a win-win scenario for all parties involved.

Custom Denver Broncos Jerseys

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During the Broncos’ stretch of five consecutive AFC West titles from 2011-2015, Denver raced out to fast starts to seasons that forced their divisional opponents to either keep winning or fall behind.

Those quick and successful starts haven’t disappeared in the three years since the Broncos’ last playoff appearance.

In 2016, the Broncos started 4-0 and hit their bye at 7-3. In 2017, Denver started 2-0 before improving to 3-1. And last season, the Broncos again won their first two games.

The difference, though, has been the team’s inability to sustain that success. During their title defense, the Broncos lost four of six to close the season, beginning with a 30-27 overtime loss to Kansas City.
In 2017, the Broncos slipped up against the Giants in Week 6 and lost eight consecutive games. The Broncos fought back from 3-6 last year to even their record, but a slew of late-season injuries led to four consecutive losses and again kept them from the postseason.

Safety Justin Simmons and defensive end Adam Gostis — who were both drafted in 2016 and have not yet appeared in the postseason — know these midseason skids must end.

And new Head Coach Vic Fangio could play a sizeable role in making sure that happens.

“We just hit that skid,” Simmons said Thursday. “It’s obviously in the back of our minds and a point of emphasis that we want to hit on to make sure that a great start is great, but [also find] how to sustain that. I think Vic and his staff — [I’ve] absolutely have loved every second of OTA offseason practices that we’ve had. I think it will make a huge difference.”

From the moment Fangio arrived in Denver, the veteran defensive coordinator and first-time head coach declared he would not let this team die a “death by inches.” That is, he wouldn’t allow small mistakes to add up and create a larger crisis. Perhaps that will help in the Broncos’ attempts to bring playoff football back to Denver.
“Yeah, I think we just need to be consistent,” Gotsis said Thursday. “I think the last couple years we’ve started the season strong. We’ve been coming out with two, three wins and we’re looking really good. Then we kind of just fall into that lull of like three or four losses. Then we’re trying to gather ourselves again. So, we’ve got to come out and be consistent across all three phases: [special] teams, defense and offense. Hopefully, we can figure that out quick in this preseason and come to season time with us ready to go. There’s no looking back.”

Gotsis said the team could solve the problem in part by having a more granular focus.

“It’s we win a game and, ‘Who’s next?’” Gotsis said. “We can’t be thinking five weeks down the schedule, ‘We’ve got this guy,’ or, ‘We’ve got this guy.’ It’s every week is a championship week for us.”

Think of it as another example of prioritizing the inches.

Of course, a dominant defense would be a major step back toward contention. Fangio’s defense seems to have the right components, Simmons said.
“I think the biggest thing is you never know what is coming,” Simmons said. “It’s always a mix and match. We’re always moving around. We try to make it as tough as possible on everybody and spreading the equal plays around. That is where it becomes so communicative based because you have to be on the same page.”

Gotsis seems to agree that deception could help the Broncos find success on defense.

“We’re going to be in a lot more coverages mixed up in there,” Gotsis said. “So, hopefully we’re not just sitting there and the team just knows what we’re lining up in every snap and expose us as easily. We’re hoping to have a big impact this year and hopefully make a few more turnovers and put our offense in better positions. That’s one way we can help this team is score on defense or put us in scoring positions.”

As the Broncos aim to find sustained success, every point could be critical.

Custom Dallas Cowboys Jerseys

Editor’s note: This story has been updated following video surfacing of Ezekiel Elliott being handcuffed, but not reportedly arrested, at a music festival in Vegas over the weekend.

FRISCO — With each NFL season, Ezekiel Elliott has taken on a larger leadership role for the Dallas Cowboys.

The two-time rushing champ, who turns 24 in July, entered the league in 2016 as someone who mostly led by example.

He enters Year 4 as more of a vocal leader and the face of a team looking to get back to the NFC championship game for the first time in 24 years.

“I’m just excited about the group of guys we have,” Elliott said Sunday during his annual youth football ProCamp inside the Ford Center. “I’m excited about the talent we have on this team. I’m excited about the leadership group we have. I think we have a lot of the right pieces. I think we have a lot of promise for this season.”

Ezekiel Elliott playing QB at his annual youth football camp pic.twitter.com/affRD3refW

— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 19, 2019
During a sit-down interview with CBS 11 (KTVT-DFW) on Sunday, the two-time Pro Bowler was asked about maturing off the field.

“Just kind of growing up,” Elliott said. “I came into this league real young and had a lot to learn. I got those boo-boos, I messed up a couple of times and I learned from my mistakes. It made me a better person.”

Editor’s note: This story with the interview listed above was published before video surfaced of Elliott being handcuffed at a music festival in Vegas over the weekend. Read more about that incident here.

In that same CBS 11 interview, Elliott made it clear that he believes he’s “the best running back in the league,” adding that his statistics “speak for themselves.”

He also explained why he thinks the Cowboys are capable of being the league’s best team this season.

“I think we have a lot of the right pieces,” Elliott said. “I think we’re loaded at every position. We have a lot of depth and we have a great group of leaders and some great team chemistry going on. We just have to lay that foundation now and carry it through camp and make it happen during the season.”

Ezekiel Elliott’s message to the kids at his youth camp: “Just to work hard. Just to compete. It doesn’t just mean on the field, but off the field. In the classroom. If you’re at home, making your bed or you’re cleaning your room, just to pursue excellence in everything you do.” pic.twitter.com/IaLR0Su1Bg

— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 19, 2019
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