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Minnesota Vikings helmets and equipment at the Super Bowl LII Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center.(Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)
The Minnesota Vikings will become the first NFL franchise to host a large-scale summit focused on the inclusion of LGBTQ athletes in sports.
The event, scheduled for June 21 at the Vikings’ new practice facility, will include panels featuring gay, lesbian and transgender athletes and coaches, including Olympic diver Greg Louganis, triathlete Chris Mosier and former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo. The audience is expected to include 200 athletes, high school and college coaches and members of LGBTQ organizations from the Twin Cities.
“I think it sends a message that we at the Vikings, and others, believe in being inclusive,” Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren told USA TODAY Sports. “My hope and desire is that this inspires individuals, this inspires businesses and corporate entities, and inspires sports teams, in all sports, to really sit back and say, this is a fact of life. This is reality. We have individuals who may be in pain on our teams. They may not feel they have an opportunity to talk about these issues, and hopefully this is the spark to get some of these issues out on the table and allow people to become more comfortable in addressing these issues.”
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who has been a longtime advocate of LGBTQ rights, has advised the team during the planning of the summit and will also participate in the event. Kluwe in 2014 threatened to sue the Vikings after he said an assistant coach made homophobic remarks. He also alleged that his activism led to his release in 2013. Kluwe settled with the organization in 2014, and the two sides have worked in the years since to mend their relationship.
“Ideally, it’s not just one team doing it — it’s something that a lot of teams are looking at it and saying, ‘Hey, we can do something like this,’” Kluwe told USA TODAY Sports. “Hopefully it goes off really well for the Vikings. Regardless of my situation with them and how that ended, the big goal is to make sure that other athletes don’t have to go through that situation and that LGBTQ athletes are able to be who they are.”
The NFL has not had an openly gay player on a roster since former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014. Sam did not make the Rams’ regular-season roster, but briefly spent time on the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys and in the Canadian Football League.
“Hopefully the big take away is that having LGBTQ individuals in your locker room isn’t the end of the world, right? This is something that lots of teams are dealing with, especially at the high school and college level, and it’s hopefully something we see teams starting to address more at the professional level,” Kluwe said. “For me, that’s particularly the NFL, but the other major organizations as well, it’s that we want openly out gay players to be able to play. It shouldn’t be that you’re frightened to be who you are while you’re trying to pursue this immensely difficult athletic career.”
Samantha Rapoport, the NFL’s director of football development, said the summit is the first of its kind for any team, though other franchises have worked with LGBTQ organizations like You Can Play in the past. She said the Vikings’ event, which also includes a fundraiser for local and national LGBTQ charities, is the latest step in the league’s effort to be more inclusive of LGBTQ athletes and employees. The league will also have a float in the New York City Pride parade this year for the first time, and it recently established an NFL Pride Affinity group.
“I think the unknown is what hinders progress in general as it pertains to including any minority group, so I think that what this event is going to do is it will normalize the discussion around LGBTQ inclusion,” Rapoport said. “I think the power that football has in this county to do that, the fact that the Minnesota Vikings are leading this, I think will hold a lot of weight and certainly advance that in people’s minds.”
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones.
The sale of the Carolina Panthers to hedge fund manager David Tepper is expected to be executed soon.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the sale of the Panthers from Jerry Richardson to Tepper is moving along and a deal could get done Tuesday, per sources informed of the process.
According to Rapoport, an agreement is expected to happen which would allow for a vote on the sale by NFL owners at the Spring League Meeting in Atlanta, May 21-23.
Tepper has long been the favorite to buy the Panthers. The sale is expected to come in just above $2 billion. As a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2009, league owners are familiar with Tepper. Also key to the purchase is the hedge fund manager’s plan to keep the Panthers in Charlotte.
The next step for the billionaire investor is to sell his minority stake in the Steelers and get approved by NFL owners. After being vetted, however, the sale is assumed to proceed without hitches.
In order for the sale to become official, three-fourths of NFL team owners (24) must approve the team’s purchase.
The 60-year-old Tepper was born in Pittsburgh, attended the University of Pittsburgh and earned an MBA from Carnegie Mellon in 1982 — the business school now dons his name. Tepper founded Appaloosa Management, a hedge fund company based in Miami Beach, Florida, and is worth an estimated $11 billion.
Richardson, 81, announced he was selling the team in December after the league took over an investigation looking into allegations of workplace misconduct. The NFL investigation remains ongoing. The Panthers officially went up for sale following the team’s wild-card loss in January. Richardson, the franchise founder, ceded day-to-day control of the team in December to Tina Becker, a 20-year employee of the team who was promoted to chief operating officer.
Eric Reid’s collusion grievance has been in the news, but Reid’s specific situation has overshadowed a rather curious offseason phenomenon involving him and his entire position group: NFL teams aren’t keen on signing free-agent safeties.
Six of the first 60 names on NFL.com’s list of the top 101 free agents remain unsigned. One is cornerback Bashaud Breeland (No. 15), who failed a physical after coming to terms with the Panthers at the start of free agency. Another is wideout Dez Bryant (No. 16), whose production slipped last year before he became a cap casualty with the Cowboys. A third is defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (No. 35), a run-stuffer who no longer fit the Colts’ new defensive scheme and was cut after free agency’s musical chairs began. The other three are safeties: Kenny Vaccaro (No. 25), Reid (No. 26), and Tre Boston (No. 60). There hasn’t been much of a market for any of them, though Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported this morning that Boston is scheduled to visit the Colts. What gives? Jeremy Fowler of ESPN took a stab at explaining this on Thursday, but allow me to dig into it, too.
The circumstances in Reid’s case are obvious. Teams don’t want much to do with Reid because of his outspokenness on behalf of his friend and former 49ers teammate, Colin Kaepernick, in addition to his consistent willingness last season to follow Kaepernick’s lead by protesting during the national anthem. That the Bengals reportedly told Reid last month during a free-agent visit that they would prohibit any protests certainly gives some juice to Reid’s grievance case, even if his collusion allegation might ultimately make for a harder sell.
Also, as For The Win noted last week, Vaccaro demonstrated during the anthem at least once last season, and Boston had once tried to organize some kind of team protest after the 2016 shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by Charlotte police, when Boston was still with the Panthers. But the NFL isn’t blackballing every player who took a knee during the anthem at one point or another, and there are additional complicating factors here for all three players, too.
Vaccaro and Reid, in particular, thrive better as box safeties who do best playing closer to the line of scrimmage to contain the run, or to slide into a weakside inside linebacker (WILL) spot in nickel and dime packages. Strong safeties are typically less valuable to teams because they’re not as versatile in coverage downfield—an important distinction in a league where teams typically use three-or-more receiver sets and increasingly line up running backs as receivers.
A number of NFL teams also like their safeties to be interchangeable to help disguise coverages. This is where things get tricky for Boston. He’s coming off a season with the Chargers in which he had eight pass break-ups and five interceptions, both career highs. But, as Boston told Sporting News’ Alex Marvez back in March, talks between his camp and the Chargers hit a wall because “they think I’m more of a strong safety-type of player.” And Pro Football Focus ranked Boston 42nd among safeties in tackle efficiency. The general feeling—Reid’s prominent status as a protestor notwithstanding—is that this isn’t an elite-level group.
“I think it may have something to do with the caliber of players available,” Joel Corry, a former agent who now analyzes contracts and the salary cap for CBSSports.com, told me. “I suspect free safeties would have fared better because of the coverage ability.”
It’s not known exactly what Vaccaro, Reid, and Boston have demanded from teams, but Boston gave some indication of what he might be seeking in his interview with Marvez: “We’re closer to veteran minimum than we are to the $7-, $8-, $9 million players we wanted to be two months ago or even eight months ago,” Boston said. Depending on each player’s specific asking price, they could be overinflating their value.
Consider: Kurt Coleman, who turns 30 in July, signed with the Saints before the start of free agency for a max of three years, with an average annual value of $5.45 million, and $6.2 million in guarantees. Soon after free agency began, Tyrann Mathieu, age 26, signed with the Texans for just one year and $7 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed. Then, one week into free agency, 29-year-old Morgan Burnett inked a deal with the Steelers—who will likely drop him down to play WILL on passing downs, to replace Ryan Shazier—with a three-year max, $4.8 million in AAV, and $4.25 million guaranteed. Now look at the deals some of the league’s premiere hybrid safety-linebackers have gotten: The Rams’ Mark Barron, age 29, is due to earn $10 million this season, on a deal he signed in 2016; and the Cardinals’ Deone Bucannon, age 25, had his fifth-year option picked up for 2018, at a price of $8.718 million.
Like Bucannon, Reid (27 years old) and Vaccaro (26) are former first-round picks. They both played last season on their fifth-year options, which earned them $5.676 million. Boston, 25, was a fourth-round pick who was cut after 2016 and made $900,000 last year on a one-year prove-it deal. But this year’s market set the bar for all three of them much lower.
The Giants weren’t going to pursue ex-Dolphins safety Michael Thomas in free agency, even after they hired ex-Dolphins defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo. Then the market came in soft, and they got Thomas at two years max with $1.5 million in guarantees.
Thomas is more of a free safety who can be paired next to Landon Collins, an impactful strong safety. Also, Thomas demonstrated during the anthem throughout the 2017 season. Yet that didn’t keep the Giants from signing him, albeit for far less than what Vaccaro, Reid, and Boston likely want.
Last Tuesday was the deadline for any free agents who sign with other teams to count as part of next year’s formula for compensatory draft picks. That, too, could have contributed to the delay some teams may have had in signing Vaccaro, Reid, and Boston. But none have signed in the days since the deadline came and went, either.
Jason Fitzgerald, the founder of overthecap.com, told me the league may have overinvested at safety, which created fewer opportunities for Vaccaro, Reid, and Boston to sell themselves. “In looking at the market there are 25 safeties who make $5 million or more (annually), and that covers 19 teams,” Fitzgerald said. “Nineteen of those deals were signed in 2016 or 2017, so maybe the destinations just were not there.”
NFL teams notoriously want to control costs, and this year’s draft class was well-stocked at safety, with eight safeties going in the first three rounds. That’s eight young players with up to four years of cost certainty (because of the rookie wage scale), and possibly five years for the three first-rounders, who all have fifth-year team options.
The franchise tag
The player who best stood a chance at re-setting the market was Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner. But on March 6, the last day teams had a chance to do so, the Rams placed the franchise tag on Joyner. He will earn $11.287 million fully guaranteed this season. The rest of the safety market just never materialized from there.
Boston’s flirtation with the Colts could portend a thaw in what’s been a frozen market for free-agent safeties. Reid’s is a unique case, given the circumstances. But it still seems likely Vaccaro and Boston will land somewhere eventually, just for way less money than they’d probably hoped.
The Baltimore Ravens are prepping their offense so Lamar Jackson can make some noise this fall.
These preparations don’t automatically entail Joe Flacco’s demise as the team’s franchise quarterback, but the Ravens will find ways to get the rookie involved. One sentiment from minicamp should strike fear into all Baltimore’s future opponents.
When asked what stood out during the year’s first practice, one Ravens staffer told The MMQB’s Albert Breer, “Lamar’s speed. Wow.”
Quarterback succession plays are often messy. Ben Roethlisberger’s recent comments and Joe Flacco’s usual stoicism highlighted the conundrums organizations face: trying to prepare for the future without upsetting the team’s starting quarterback.
The Ravens present the most intriguing situation since Flacco has been a mediocre to below-average quarterback the past four seasons and because general manager Ozzie Newsome decided to trade up for the most exciting player in this year’s draft class.
Quarterback life drives the NFL news cycle.
The Cleveland Browns are making plans to tailor their offense around Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield’s similar skill sets. The New York Giants took the opposite approach by leaning heavily on their 37-year-old quarterback. The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, know Dak Prescott is well on his way to becoming the league’s highest-paid signal-caller.
Also, roles for Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice and three rookie offensive tackles are being decided.
Jackson’s dynamism already has those in Baltimore excited, though, and rightly so.
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Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Jackson’s mere presence in the lineup will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night, even if he’s relegated to a small package of plays.
Baltimore’s coaching staff understands the fine line it must walk regarding the quarterback’s overall development while still utilizing his extraordinary athleticism, raw speed and ample arm strength.
John Harbaugh and Co. are taking a Victor Frankenstein-like approach to building a role for the rookie.
“We do it in the laboratory,” Harbaugh said, per Ryan Mink of the team’s official site. “We do it on the practice field. We ran a lot of stuff out here…you guys probably saw. We’re going to always try to get our players making plays for us, and Lamar is a guy who can help us win games.”
Jackson ravaged the collegiate ranks with 9,043 career passing yards, 4,132 rushing yards and 119 total touchdowns. A package of plays for the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner should extend beyond the typical zone-read approach.
“They want me on the field to utilize my talent and be a quarterback,” Jackson said, per Mink. “So it’s cool with me.”
Rest easy, Ravens fans. Baltimore plans to use Jackson, and the offense should be far more potent and unpredictable after ranking 27th overall last season.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The Cleveland Browns are short on quarterbacks. No, wait, that description fits previous incarnations of the team. This Browns staff is quite excited about two short quarterbacks.
The Baker Mayfield-Tyrod Taylor combination is arguably the franchise’s most talented since Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb led the team to its last playoff appearance in 2002.
Both lack ideal height, though, and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will tailor his offense to highlight each quarterback’s strengths while downplaying their stature.
“The offense is going to be very similar,” NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reported after speaking with head coach Hue Jackson. “In the passing game, they’re going to have a deeper pocket setup. Both of the quarterbacks are about 6’1”, and they said the way they can create passing lanes without a whole lot of schematic things is just have a deeper drop.
“It’s something Mayfield did well at Oklahoma, and they think should translate well to the Browns.”
Jackson, meanwhile, reaffirmed Taylor is the Browns’ starting quarterback and “that won’t change,” according to the Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Concern does arise with deeper drops. They will make protection more difficult for both offensive tackles. How quickly and efficiently the Browns’ quarterbacks release the ball will have a profound effect on any success the offense experiences.
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The New York Giants either made an inspired choice or monumental blunder by selecting running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in April’s draft.
The decision came down to how the team felt about 37-year-old quarterback Eli Manning, and new head coach Pat Shurmur is fully invested in the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller.
“No, I didn’t see the age,” Shurmur said after reviewing Manning’s 2017 performance, per Breer. “There’s no substitute for experience, and he’s got it. So no, the age doesn’t bother me.”
Manning’s numbers say otherwise. The aging quarterback hit four-year lows in completion percentage, passing yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns and quarterback rating. But Shurmur stated his signal-caller’s case:
“When you have a quarterback that’s won as much as Eli, that played through a year like last year, the way to get him back to where he needs to be, we need to block them better, and then the best friend for the quarterback is the running back, where you turn around, hand the ball off and gain yards. It all goes hand in hand. Play action’s way more believable.”
The Minnesota Vikings’ 501 carries ranked second-last season with Shurmur calling the play. Barkley can expect a heavy load to help Manning.
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Michael Perez/Associated Press
The Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan became the NFL’s highest-paid player after signing a five-year, $150 million contract extension earlier in May.
Quarterbacks are waiting in line to usurp Ryan’s title, and Dak Prescott’s time is coming.
“You know, at that position, it kind of is what it is,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Wednesday, per the Dallas Morning News‘ Kate Hairopoulos. Jones continued:
“I know Dak is going to have a great year this year. I hope it’s up there. It’s going to be as he deserves. He was a fourth-round pick. No one deserves to get paid fairly more than he does. We all see what some of the other guys who aren’t [Green Bay great] Aaron Rodgers, who aren’t Matt Ryan [are earning]. He’s going to do well.
“We certainly know that’s going to happen. We’ve got that planned in our budgeting for the salary cap. And I just want Dak to go out there and be the MVP this year of the NFL, that’s what I want. And we’ll deal with that.“
Jones clearly hedged his praise in an indirect attempt to temper expectations before the two sides reach the negotiating table next offseason.
Prescott regressed after winning the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Anything less than an MVP-caliber season, and the Cowboys can argue Prescott’s value doesn’t quite reach Ryan or Rodgers’ level.
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How could anyone forget Adrian Peterson’s time with the New Orleans Saints?
After all, the future Hall of Fame running back played four games for the Saints and averaged 3.0 yards per carry before being released.
The inevitable decline began, but Peterson hasn’t noticed.
“I’m healthy, and I’m ready to roll,” Peterson told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “If you want someone to help you win a championship and be productive—be very productive—you know how to contact me.”
The 33-year-old back didn’t fare much better once he signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Peterson managed 448 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per carry in the desert before landing on injured reserve with a neck injury.
The Saints, meanwhile, must deal with Mark Ingram’s suspension for the first four games of the 2018 campaign because of a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Peterson said he would“definitely be open” to a return.
“For whatever reason, it just didn’t work out [in New Orleans], but when I got my shot in Arizona, I showed what I was able to do,” the seven-time Pro Bowl performer said. “I know once I get back out there, I’ll be blessed with a healthy season and show people I’m still the best in the league.”
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Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press
Derrius Guice’s first-round grade didn’t survive the league’s predraft evaluation, and the talented running back tumbled to the Washington Redskins with the 59th overall pick.
Immaturity and unreported incidents supposedly caused the free fall. How much is true can be considered moot since he’s in Washington.
The first-year runner will fill an immediate hole in Jay Gruden’s offense.
“He has some improvement to do in the pass pro, without a doubt, and I think he’ll be the first one to tell you,” the head coach said, per ESPN.com’s John Keim. Gruden continued:
“That’s something that sometimes in college, with only 20 hours of practice per week, some of the fundamentals as far as pass blocking sometimes gets swept by. He’s more of a first-, second-down banger. But I’ve seen him at his pro day catch the football. He can catch the football fine, but really, our role for him is quite easy to see. It’s first, second down.“
Guice earned the designation of being the best between-the-tackles runner in this year’s class. He isn’t needed on third down, either, because Chris Thompson is special in said role. Thompson caught 39 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns last season before suffering a fractured fibula.
These complementary pieces should boost Washington’s 28th-ranked rushing attack.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
The 2018 offensive class lacked quality prospects and depth. Yet multiple rookies could be starting at left tackle this fall.
The Oakland Raiders traded down and selected Kolton Miller with the 15th overall pick. Donald Penn’s presence on the roster may push Miller to right tackle or the Raiders could favor youth and athleticism over experience.
“That’s where he has recently played,” head coach Jon Gruden said at rookie minicamp, per ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez. “We like him at left tackle. We think he’s a prototype left tackle. He can bend, he’s got the length that you’re looking for and he’s a sharp kid…that doesn’t mean that’s where they’re going to end up, though.”
Miller fits the mold of an NFL left tackle. Isaiah Wynn and Austin Corbett don’t. Although both may be protecting their respective quarterbacks’ blind sides this fall.
New England Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia didn’t mince his words regarding Wynn’s potential.
“He’s played left tackle in the best conference, [the SEC], in America,” Scarnecchia said, per ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss. “Played it pretty good. We’re going to take a look at it and see how it goes.”
The Browns plan to do the same with rookie lineman Corbett.
“You will see [Corbett] out there [at left tackle],” head coach Hue Jackson said, per Cleveland.com’s Dan Labbe. “There is no question he will be out there, but I think you will see him moved around too.”
If they falter, their teams will find another spot for them. But left tackle is too important not to start there.
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Brandon Wade/Associated Press
The Dallas Cowboys haven’t given up on defensive end Randy Gregory.
Gregory could be available for the 2018 campaign after missing all of last season because of violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the third time. The 25-year-old defender is expected to apply for reinstatement, according to theDallas Morning News‘ Kate Hairopoulos and Jori Epstein.
“He’s being very diligent in preparing his information and preparing his application,” owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday. “I have been proud of Randy during this offseason. I’m very aware of how hard he’s working to get back in the league and get back on the field.”
Dallas took a chance on Gregory in the second round of the 2015 draft because his attributes make him perfectly suited for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s scheme.
Being away from the game can be difficult, though. Relapses can easily occur when a professional athlete lives outside of team structure because of a lack of support.
“It’s best he’s back in the locker room, he’s back around us,” fellow defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. “I think it will be good for him and good for us.”
The 45-day window between application and a potential ruling places Gregory on the field for Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, California. His presence will provide depth behind Demarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton and Kony Ealy.
METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton emphasized Saturday following the team’s rookie minicamp practice that he doesn’t have current plans to bring in a veteran running back in light of Mark Ingram’s pending four-game suspension.
Payton, however, left the door open when asked if he would consider Adrian Peterson, who recently told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero that he would “definitely be open” to returning to the Saints.
“Absolutely,” Payton said emphatically. “This gets back to the notion that we had some type of any (sideline) argument at Minnesota (in Week 1 of the 2017 regular season), which I still say there was none. I think a ton of him.”
Peterson, who turned 33 in March, first joined New Orleans after signing a two-year, $7 million deal on April 25, 2017, just days ahead of the Saints’ selection of running back Alvin Kamara in the draft.
While Peterson arrived on the heels of a decorated career with the Vikings, it became clear during training camp that the Saints had something special in Kamara, who went on to win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
Peterson found himself behind Ingram and Kamara on the depth chart, but the Saints believed they could make it work with the trio to start the regular season.
Nevertheless, the Saints eventually traded Peterson to the Cardinals on Oct. 10 after four regular-season games. Peterson’s stop in New Orleans resulted in 81 yards rushing on 27 carries, averaging 3 yards per attempt, and two catches for 4 yards.
He had better success in Arizona with a featured role, totaling 448 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 129 carries before a neck injury landed him on injured reserve to close out the season.
The Cardinals released Peterson on March 13, and the 12th-year pro has since spent time training and posting workout videos on social media while waiting for his next opportunity.
For now, the Saints aren’t in the market to bring in a veteran to bolster the backfield with Ingram’s looming suspension. The team appears comfortable with Kamara, Jonathan Williams, Daniel Lasco, Trey Edmunds and rookie Boston Scott.
But circumstances in New Orleans could change ahead of training camp, and Peterson apparently won’t be far from Payton’s radar should that scenario develop.
“That would the part where if all of a sudden we decided, hey, we’re going to look at additional players that are on the street,” Payton said. “And certainly his name — there’d be a few others — we have them on the board right now. Who’s available, veteran running backs, stacked on a board and graded. But, listen, he’s a tough player, warrior, and a great worker, and we have a good relationship.”