The NFL has issued a warning to teams that they could lose a draft pick and face significant fines if club representatives conduct themselves unprofessionally in interviews with draft prospects.

In a memo obtained by the AP that was sent to clubs on Wednesday, the league said a team would forfeit a draft pick between the first and fourth round and be fined a minimum of $150,000 if it’s determined a club representative displayed conduct that is “disrespectful, inappropriate, or unprofessional” during an interview. Fines and/or suspensions of individual club employees also could be imposed, according to the memo.

“We aim for dignity, respect and professionalism,” league executive Troy Vincent told the AP. “It’s that simple.”

The league also plans to eliminate the Wonderlic test for prospective players, and it is revising some of its scouting combine drills to better simulate game-related movement. Wide receivers and tight ends will run crossing routes instead of wheel routes, and running backs will run option routes instead of corner and post-corner routes. Some drills for offensive linemen and defensive players also were revised to better assess in-game player movements.

The league reminds teams annually ahead of the combine that federal and state laws as well as the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association prohibits discrimination based on various factors, including race, color, disabilities, religion, sexual orientation, national origin and marital status, and questions on these subjects are off limits. This is the first time the NFL has threatened specific accountability measures if draft prospects are asked about any of these subjects.

The NFL has been seeking ways to improve the professional and medical experience for draft prospects at the combine.

Prospects are encouraged to report offensive conduct without retaliation.

Over the past several years, there have been occasional reports of inappropriate questions being asked of draft prospects.

In 2010, then-Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland apologized to Dallas Cowboys first-round draft pick Dez Bryant for asking during a pre-draft visit whether his mother was a prostitute.

In 2016, then-Atlanta Falcons Coach Dan Quinn apologized to Eli Apple because one of his coaches asked the cornerback his sexual preference.

In 2018, former LSU running back Derrius Guice said one team at the combine asked about his sexuality and another inquired if his mother was a prostitute.

SUPER BOWL: The NFL, not surprisingly in the midst of a rise in COVID-19 cases, has looked into other potential sites for next month’s Super Bowl.

That’s not unusual because the league does so every year. But with Los Angeles the site for this year’s title game, and restrictions increasing for attendance at indoor events, it has become more noteworthy.

“We plan on playing Super Bowl 56 as scheduled at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “As part of our standard contingency planning process that we conduct for all regular and postseason games, we have contacted several clubs to inquire about stadium availability in the event we cannot play the Super Bowl as scheduled due to weather-related issues or unforeseen circumstances.

“Our planning process for the Super Bowl in Los Angeles is ahead of schedule and we look forward to hosting the Super Bowl there to culminate another fantastic NFL season for our fans and clubs.”

AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, reportedly is one of the facilities contacted. The stadium hosted the Rose Bowl in 2021 when it was switched from Pasadena because of COVID-19 restrictions in California.

The Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium is scheduled for Feb. 13.

TITANS: Tennessee moved a step closer to having the 2020 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year back, opening the 21-day window Wednesday for Derrick Henry to start practicing. Coach Mike Vrabel said Monday a decision was expected by mid-week on Henry’s status, and the team announced Wednesday morning before practice that Henry had been activated. The next decision will be when – and if – to put Henry on the active roster.

Henry, who turned 28 on Tuesday, broke his right foot Oct. 31 and had surgery Nov. 2 to repair his fifth metatarsal. Henry was the NFL’s leading rusher with 937 yards when he was put on injured reserve, and he still ranks sixth in the league despite missing eight games. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry has been out nine weeks with the Titans having their bye Dec. 5. He is averaging 117.1 yards a game and 4.3 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns rushing.

BENGALS: The AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals won’t play quarterback Joe Burrow in the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday to make sure he is healthy for the first round of the playoffs. Burrow is nursing aches and pains, including his right knee and pinky finger on his throwing hand, but said he could have played this week had it been necessary. Coach Zac Taylor told the quarterback earlier in the week that he would sit Sunday.

Running back Joe Mixon and other Cincinnati starters will be sidelined because of reserve/COVID-19 protocols, but should be back for the playoffs. They also include defensive end and sacks leader Trey Hendrickson, defensive lineman B.J. Hill, center Trey Hopkins, guard Quinton Spain and safety Vonn Bell. If the players don’t have symptoms, they are eligible to come off the list after five days.

Taylor said it’s possible that star rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase also will be rested Sunday.

49ERS: Jimmy Garoppolo has resumed throwing and took part in practice in a limited role Wednesday but that doesn’t mean his sprained right thumb is close to fully recovered.

Garoppolo tore a ligament in the thumb at Tennessee on Dec. 23 and was held out of practice last week. But he was able to throw on Tuesday and participate in practice on Wednesday as the Niners (9-7) prepare for a season-ending showdown against the Los Angeles Rams.

“It hurts,” Garoppolo said before practicing Wednesday. “I don’t know how else to describe it. It feels like the web in your hand is kind of tearing a little bit. That’s probably the best way I could describe it, but yeah it’s all good.”

San Francisco will make the playoffs either with a win at Los Angeles or if New Orleans loses at Atlanta.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said rookie Trey Lance would get the bulk of the work at Wednesday’s light practice and he will see how Garoppolo responds as the week goes on.

HELMET: Riddell has developed a football helmet that might not be just the next big step in design and player safety, but a major leap.

While there has been a focus on position-specific headgear for sometime, Axiom is a personal-fit helmet. It is designed and manufactured player by player rather than position by position.

Axiom’s features are based on data and designed to improve impact response, reduce head impact exposure (HIE), and deliver unprecedented protection.

Axiom includes a new fitting system, a redesigned helmet shell platform, reimagined face-mask system and integrated smart helmet technology called InSite – which analyzes and reports on HIE compared to Riddell’s database of 8 million on-field player impacts.

Axiom also features a removable visor.

“We don’t want to call it a crowning achievement, we get up every day and try to improve player protection,” says Thad Ide, senior vice president of research and development for Riddell. “But we do feel Axiom is a very different helmet platform than we have seen before, and potentially a great leap forward.”

There are several key elements to Axiom that could make it the safest head protection football – and pretty much any sport – has seen.

The fitting system uses technology that scans the surface of a player’s head to build a helmet that matches the fit of the head. The scans can be done on a phone app by a coach or equipment manager or a player – by anyone, really. The data are loaded into Riddell’s database and then a built-to-fit helmet for the individual athlete is made.

Shells of the Axiom are engineered to surround the head with a combination of flex panels that work in tandem with internal liners and a face protection system to improve impact response.

Versions of Axiom have been tested for use the past three seasons at select colleges and high schools. Florida State, Penn State, UCLA, Rice, Stanford, Oregon State, Bowling Green, Colorado and SMU are among the FBS schools to have players wear them.

Axiom costs around $750 for NFL and elite college players – the pricing structure has not been finalized – and includes the titanium face guard and certain other accessories. It will go to market this winter, with a limited number on the field in the spring for college practices. High schools, small colleges and other varsity-playing football institutions will have access later in the spring.

Ide also expects it will be on the NFL evaluation posters when they are published in the spring.

HOME FIELD: Home teams have posted a .510 winning percentage – excluding two games in London – for the third-worst mark since the merger in 1970, with only the .498 winning percentage last season and the .508 in 1972 faring worse.

“I think really winning on the road is not as big of a challenge in my opinion as it was probably 10, 15 years ago,” Dallas Coach Mike McCarthy said.

McCarthy pointed to quarterbacks’ comfort from college in using the no-huddle offense and calling the plays at the line of scrimmage to more visiting fans traveling to games among the factors leading to the change.

“I think that the home field is something that is definitely still a benefit but I think the statistics would support that the challenge of winning on the road, I think teams do a better job of it in today’s game,” he said.

The league was on track for a second straight losing season at home before home teams went 21-11 the past two weeks.


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