|NFL to discuss expanded playoffs|
|Wednesday, March 19, 2014 8:11 PM|
NEW YORK — NFL owners likely will consider expanding the playoffs by two teams, beginning in 2015, when they hold their spring meetings in Orlando next week but a vote on the subject is uncertain.
A groundswell for raising the number of playoff qualifiers to seven in each conference figures to get plenty of support from the 32 owners. Most notably, Arizona’s Bill Bidwill, who saw his Cardinals go 10-6 and not get in, while Green Bay (8-7-1) qualified by winning the NFC North.
The current format of four division winners and two wild-card teams has existed since 2002, when Houston joined the league as an expansion team, bringing the membership to 32.
“There will be a report on the potential of expanded playoffs,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday. “We don’t know if there will be any vote at this meeting.”
Also on the agenda will be alterations to extra points, changing who oversees video replay reviews and further clamping down on the use of racial slurs by players during games.
A change in the playoff structure would be needed if 14 teams qualify, with the top seed in each conference still getting a first-round bye. The next six teams would play in what is now the wild-card round, with the second seed facing No. 7, the third seed taking on No. 6 and the fourth and fifth seeds playing each other.
But the NFL’s influential competition committee is not presenting a proposal to the owners.
One reason the league is looking at more playoff teams is a stalemate in talks with the players union about expanding the regular season from 16 games. Another is the added revenue stream two more postseason games would provide, with those matches up for bidding among the current network partners — Fox, NBC, ESPN and CBS, which just grabbed an 8-week Thursday night package — and potential new broadcasters such as Turner Sports.
Scheduling of the extra wild-card games also would be dicey, although Monday night would seem logical for one of them.
Of course, adding two more playoff teams enhances the chances for teams with .500 or losing records to get in.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has suggested a change to the 1-point kick on extra points might be needed because they have become so automatic. New England has proposed moving the line of scrimmage to the 25 for a 1-point try but leaving it at the 2-yard line for a 2-point conversion.
“There are a lot of different views in respect to the extra point,” said Falcons’ President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. “There were 1,267 tried and 1,262 made (in 2013) and so there is that thought with the extra point maybe we need to add little more skill, and one of the ways to do it might be the way New England proposed.”
But it’s a long shot that anything will be done next week, except perhaps experimenting with longer kicks for one week of the preseason.
The Patriots also proposed extending the height of the goal posts five feet to make it easier to determine whether a kick is good.
New England also suggested allowing coaches challenges on everything except scoring plays, which are automatically reviewed.
Replay as an officiating tool always is in the news; owners are expected to discuss having the NFL’s director of officiating, Dean Blandino and his staff at the league offices, be involved in some review decisions. The league saw several inexplicable replay decisions made by referees last season, although McKay and Rams coach Jeff Fisher, the committee’s other co-chairman, praised the overall quality of officiating.
As for the use of racial slurs and verbal abuse, there already are rules on the books to deal with the issue. But an emphasis on stronger discipline will be discussed by the owners and McKay noted that taunting fouls went up significantly from 2012 to 2013.
Veteran tackle Winston elected NFLPA president
ORLANDO, Fla. — Eric Winston was elected president of the NFL Players Association on Wednesday, three years after he was active for the union during the lockout.
The 30-year-old offensive lineman was the Arizona Cardinals’ starting right tackle last season, his eighth in the league. He is currently a free agent.
Winston succeeds Domonique Foxworth as NFLPA president. Foxworth was out of the league last season and so could not seek re-election.
The other candidates for president were New Orleans Saints tight end Ben Watson and former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who is a free agent.
Watson and Clark will both serve on the executive committee elected later Wednesday by the union’s board of representatives. Clark joined Lorenzo Alexander and Jay Feely of the Cardinals, Zak DeOssie and Mark Herzlich of the Giants, Adam Vinatieri of the Colts and Scott Wells of the Rams as new members of the executive committee. Watson, Matt Hasselbeck of the Colts and free agent Brian Waters were re-elected.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees stepped down from the executive committee.
Former Broncos DE Robert Ayers visits Bengals
CINCINNATI— Former Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers met on Wednesday with the Cincinnati Bengals, who are looking to add to their line.
Ayers was one of Denver’s first-round picks in 2009, the 18th overall and started his career as an outside linebacker. He was switched to defensive end for the 2011 season. Ayers played in 15 games, starting three of them, last season as Denver reached the Super Bowl and got routed by Seattle 43-8.
He became an unrestricted free agent as Denver overhauled its defense and signed defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
The Bengals had the No. 3 defense in the NFL last season. They lost defensive end Michael Johnson, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent.
Raiders agree to deal with OL Donald Penn
ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders filled their void at left tackle on Wednesday by signing free agent Donald Penn to a 2-year contract.
Penn fills the opening created when Jared Veldheer left as a free agent for Arizona and left unfilled when Rodger Saffold failed his physical after agreeing to a 5-year, $42.5 million deal with Oakland.
NFL Network reported that Penn’s contract is worth $9.6 million with $4.2 million guaranteed.
Penn, who turns 30 next month, was released earlier this month by Tampa Bay after the Buccaneers signed Anthony Collins to a 5-year, $30 million contract to take over at left tackle.
Oakland also announced that safety Usama Young officially signed the 2-year deal he agreed to last week to return to the Raiders.
Panthers say Newton’s ankle surgery successful
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Panthers say Cam Newton had successful surgery on his left ankle and the 2-time Pro Bowl quarterback will be sidelined for four months.
Panthers team physician Robert Anderson performed the surgery on Wednesday in Charlotte.
Panthers head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion reported in a release that “Dr. Anderson did not find anything unexpected in the procedure and the surgery went well.”
Newton first tweaked the ankle in a regular season game against New Orleans late in the season and then experienced some additional problems in Carolina’s playoff loss to San Francisco on Jan. 12.
The team had hoped the ankle would heal on its own but after two months Newton was still experiencing discomfort.
Newton is expected to be ready in time for training camp.
Falcons re-sign free-agent DT Jerry
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons have taken another step to boost their defensive line depth by re-signing free-agent defensive tackle Peria Jerry.
The Falcons previously re-signed their top defensive tackles in 2013, Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters.
Perry was a first-round pick from Mississippi in 2009. He set career highs in 2013 with 35 tackles and 3½ sacks.
The Falcons also have added new names to the defensive line depth chart by signing free agent defensive end Tyson Jackson from Kansas City and defensive tackle Paul Soliai from Miami.
Terms of Jerry’s new deal were not disclosed.
Titans, WR/KR Mariani agree to 1-year deal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have agreed to a 1-year deal with wide receiver/kick returner Marc Mariani, who has spent the last two seasons on injured reserve.
Mariani hasn’t played a regular-season game since breaking the tibia and fibula in his left leg during a 2012 exhibition contest. Mariani attempted a comeback last year but hurt his shoulder in the preseason and went on injured reserve.
The 26-year-old Mariani made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist in his rookie season of 2010. He has scored on two punt returns and one kickoff return during his career.
Vikings finalize deals with Johnson, Evans
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have re-signed left guard Charlie Johnson and nose tackle Fred Evans, making it six of their own unrestricted free agents they’ve brought back.
Johnson and Evans agreed to terms last week but their contracts were finalized Wednesday. The Vikings started with 15 unrestricted free agents; running back Toby Gerhart and cornerback Chris Cook signed with other clubs.
Johnson got a 2-year deal. Evans agreed to a 1-year contract.
Jets re-sign veteran guard Willie Colon
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets say that guard Willie Colon has re-signed with them.
In a post on their website Wednesday, the team wrote the 30-year-old Colon will return after starting at right guard in all 16 games last season.
Colon helped block for Jets runners, who finished second in the AFC with 2,158 yards during the regular season. Running backs Chris Ivory (833) and Bilal Powell (697) each set career highs in rushing yards.
Joining Colon on the right side will be tackle Breno Giacomini, the Seattle Seahawks’ unrestricted free agent, who signed with the Jets.
Lions sign fullback Collins to 1-year deal
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions have added a fullback to their offense.
Detroit signed Jed Collins to a 1-year contract Wednesday. He started 26 out of 47 games the previous three seasons for the New Orleans Saints.
Collins reunites with Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who was previously an assistant coach in New Orleans. Lombardi plans to use a fullback, a position Detroit had phased out under former coach Jim Schwartz.
Titans release veteran kicker Bironas
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have released Rob Bironas, the franchise’s second-leading career scorer and one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.
Bironas had 1,032 career points in his 9-year career with Tennessee and was just 28 points behind Al Del Greco, the top scorer in the history of the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans organization. Bironas has made 85.7 percent of his career field-goal attempts (239 of 279) to rank fourth in NFL history in accuracy.
The 36-year-old Bironas went 25-of-29 on field goals last season. He also made all 41 of his extra-point attempts to improve to 315-of-317 during his career. Bironas hasn’t missed an extra-point attempt since his rookie season of 2005.
Bironas made a franchise-record 11 game-winning field goals during his career, including a 60-yarder against the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 that remains the longest field goal in Oilers’ or Titans’ history.
Bears agree to 1-year deal with McManis
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears have agreed to a 1-year contract with cornerback/special teams contributor Sherrick McManis.
He has appeared in 50 games with one start over four seasons with Houston (2010-11) and Chicago (2012-13), recording 41 special teams tackles, three defensive stops, one interception, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The Bears announced the move on Wednesday.
Titans, DT Johnson agree on multiyear deal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans and defensive tackle Antonio Johnson have agreed on a multi-year contract.
The Titans announced the deal Wednesday. Terms and length of the deal weren’t disclosed.
Johnson, 29, recorded 35 tackles and a career-high three sacks for the Titans last season while playing all 16 games and making six starts.
Redskins sign free agent linebacker Jordan
WASHINGTON — The Washington Redskins have signed free agent linebacker Akeem Jordan.
Jordan signed his contract Wednesday, making him the third inside linebacker with special teams experience that the Redskins have added in free agency. Darryl Sharpton and Adam Hayward agreed to deals last week.
The Redskins needed to restock at inside linebacker for their 3-4 defense after London Fletcher announced he planned to retire. They’ve also re-signed starter Perry Riley.