NFL makes an important call about refs

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NFL makes an important call about refs

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL will open the regular season next week with replacement officials and said it was prepared to use them "as much ... as necessary" afterward.Replacements will be on the field beginning Wednesday night when the Dallas Cowboys visit the New York Giants in the season opener, league executive Ray Anderson told the 32 teams in a memo. Negotiations are at a standstill between the NFL and the officials' union.The NFL Referees Association was locked out in early June and talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have gone nowhere. Replacements have been used throughout the preseason, with mixed results.In 2001, the NFL used replacements for the first week of the regular season before a contract was finalized. The speed of the game and the amount of time starters are on the field increase exponentially for real games, making the replacements' task more challenging.Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told the clubs in a memo Wednesday that the replacements will work "as much of the regular season as necessary," adding that training with each crew will continue.The NFL noted it has expanded the use of instant replay as an officiating tool this year to include all scoring plays and turnovers. Officiating supervisors will be on hand to assist the crews on game administration issues."We are not surprised, based on Ray Anderson's statements ... that the NFL was not going to reach out to us," NFLRA spokesman Michael Arnold said. "However, this is consistent with the NFL's negotiating strategy which has been take it or leave it and lock them out.' It now appears the NFL is willing to forego any attempt to reach a deal in the last seven days before opening night."The NFL Players Association, which went through a 4 - month lockout last year before settling on a new contract, expressed disappointment about the decision to use replacements.Colts safety Antoine Bethea said there is a feeling of solidarity with the officials."They've got to do what they've got to do, and we were in a similar situation a little while ago," Bethea said. "So you can't fault those guys for doing what they have to do."Anderson said the sides remain considerably apart on economic issues, including salary and retirement benefits. He also told the teams there is a substantial difference on operational issues."One of our key goals in this negotiation is to enhance our ability to recruit, train, and replace officials who are not performing adequately," Anderson said. "We believe that officials should be evaluated and performance issues addressed in the same way as players, coaches, club management and league staff. We have proposed several steps to accomplish this, including having a number of full-time officials and expanding the overall number of officials."Giants receiver Victor Cruz said the players have other things as their prime concern as the season approaches."You can't worry about that. You have to go out there and worry about what we do as individuals and players. Take care of our own deal," Cruz said Wednesday might after New York's 6-3 victory over New England. "They've gotten better as the games went on, but we just have to make sure we're doing the right things out there on the field and not give them much to throw flags on."The NFL is offering to add three full officiating crews, increasing the total number of officials to 140. The NFLRA insists the compensation being offered with such an increase would reduce the officials' pay.The league is proposing having seven officials -- one per position of referee, umpire, line judge, side judge, back judge, field judge, head linesman -- who would train, scout, handle communications, safety issues and rules interpretations year-round. Now, all NFL game officials are part-time employees, with outside jobs ranging from lawyers to teachers to business owners.In response, the NFLRA has said it is not opposed to full-time officials "if they are fairly compensated."The union also disputes the value of the league's current salary offer, which it says would not be the 5 percent to 11 percent increase the NFL claims.And the union questions the league's adherence to player safety initiatives by using replacement officials, none of whom has recently worked Division I college games. Many of the officials who were replacements in 2001 came from the Division I level."The league has placed a lot of emphasis on player health and safety in the last few years and we do feel we are an integral part of that," Arnold said. "We think it is unfortunate and we really don't understand why the league is willing to risk playing safety and the integrity of the game by utilizing amateur officials."Anderson told the teams that the replacements have "undergone extensive training and evaluation, and have shown steady improvement during the preseason."Arnold disagreed."The referees want to get back on the field," Arnold said. "Our members have been engaged in extensive preparations and are ready to go."Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the coaches and players have no control over the situation."For me to say there is or isn't concern, you do the very best you can with them," Coughlin said Wednesday night. "You just hope these officials know the rules and can keep the game under control and keep order. Hopefully they'll be able to do that."

Colin Kaepernick tops list of 49ers' offseason decisions

Colin Kaepernick tops list of 49ers' offseason decisions

When the 49ers’ next general manager and coach settle into their offices in Santa Clara, among their first decisions will be to determine which of the team’s pending free agents are worth keeping around.

Team’s executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe have a window to speak with Super Bowl-bound Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan beginning Friday evening and concluding Saturday night.

During that time frame, the 49ers hope to determine which of the team’s general manager candidates is the best fit with Shanahan to collaborate all of the organization’s football decisions. Shanahan is not allowed to be hired officially until after Super Bowl 51 on Feb. 5.

The 49ers have exclusive negotiating rights with all of their scheduled free agents through March 6. The window for open negotiating for all teams with all free agents runs from March 7 at 9 a.m. until March 9 at 1 p.m. The free-agent signing period begins after that.

Here is a look at the 49ers’ scheduled free agents:

QB Colin Kaepernick: He is in a different situation. Kaepernick is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract. If he does not, it would seem likely the 49ers would release him to avoid being on the hook for his scheduled $14.9 million pay. Statistically, Kaepernick had his best season since his first full season as a starter. The question is whether a new coach and a new GM, who are given the power to tear down the roster, would want to stick with the same quarterback?

QB Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert got his opportunity to start the season, but his subpar play prompted Chip Kelly to bench him after five games. Toward the end of the season, Gabbert had sunk to No. 3 on the depth chart behind Kaepernick and Christian Ponder.

QB Christian Ponder: He turns 29 next month and has not played in an NFL regular-season game since 2014, when he attempted 44 passes for the Minnesota Vikings. There is not much evidence to support the argument for a contract offer.

QB Thad Lewis: He’s already 29. And he has not attempted a pass in an NFL regular-season game since 2013, when he appeared in six games with the Buffalo Bills. His season ended after the first exhibition game with a torn ACL.

RB Shaun Draughn: He is a good special-teams player and a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield, but Draughn averaged just 2.6 yards on 74 rushing attempts as Carlos Hyde’s primary backup. The 49ers will look to upgrade this position.

WR Quinton Patton: The 49ers need more playmakers on the outside. It’s doubtful a fresh set of eyes will come to the 49ers and place a high priority on retaining Patton, who caught 37 passes for 408 yards with no touchdowns while making 14 starts.

WR Jeremy Kerley: When slot receiver Bruce Ellington sustained a season-ending hamstring injury in the exhibition season, the 49ers responded with a trade to acquire Kerley. He turned out to be the team’s only consistent pass-catching threat with 64 receptions for 667 yards and three TDs. He was also a safe option on punt returns. Kerley is definitely worth considering for the next regime.

WR Rod Streater: The veteran receiver, who the 49ers acquired in a trade just before the start of the regular season, was underutilized. The 49ers will unquestionably consider all upgrade opportunities via free agency and the draft.

TE Jim Dray: A late-season pickup due to injuries, Dray does not figure to be a priority to re-sign.

G Andrew Gardner: Gardner came to the 49ers late in the season due to injuries because he was already familiar with Kelly’s system. When he saw significant playing time in the season finale, it was his first action since appearing in three games with the Eagles in 2015.

K Phil Dawson: He turned 42 on Monday, but he can still kick. With extra points moving back to 33 yards, accuracy is more important than ever. There should be a spot for Dawson in the NFL – if he chooses to continue his career.

NT Glenn Dorsey: He will turn 32 in August, and his body appears to be breaking down. He battled injuries throughout the season after returning from a severe knee injury in 2015. When healthy, he’s still a good player. But can he remain healthy for an extended period of time?

DL Tony Jerod-Eddie: He was near the bottom of the depth chart throughout the season, as the 49ers deactivated him for seven games. He does not figure to be a priority for a new personnel department.

DL Chris Jones: Claimed off waivers from Miami for the final six games of the season, Jones played very well in his brief stint with the team. He deserves a chance to show what he can do in training camp – with some team.

LB Michael Wilhoite: Through all the problems the 49ers had at inside linebacker, Wilhoite was unable to hold onto a starting job. This position will be one of the areas the organization must address with the uncertainty of NaVorro Bowman’s attempted return from a torn Achilles.

LB Gerald Hodges: The organization is trying to build a new culture. Hodges left the team short-handed for the game at Atlanta due to his violation of team rules.

LB Nick Bellore: He came to the 49ers because of his special-teams play. He ended up starting 10 games in place of Bowman, and things did not go well for the 49ers’ defense during that time.

* * *

In addition, guard Andrew Tiller, running back DuJuan Harris, and defensive backs Marcus Cromartie and Chris Davis are scheduled to be restricted free agents. The 49ers can retain contract rights to those players with minimum tenders.

Cauley-Stein gets rare opportunity, delivers in Kings' win

Cauley-Stein gets rare opportunity, delivers in Kings' win

There was a Willie Cauley-Stein sighting Monday in Detroit. It’s become a rarity this season to see the Sacramento Kings’ 2015 first-round draft pick play substantial minutes in coach Dave Joerger’s rotation. But the bench is getting lean and Cauley-Stein answered the bell.

“He’s putting in his work and had an opportunity,” Joerger told media members following the Kings’ 109-104 win over the Pistons. “He went and got balls out of his area, which is important for a guy that athletic.”

The former 6th overall selection has played in just 37 games this season, sitting out seven contests as a healthy scratch. He’s posting 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in 11 minutes a night, but with both Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi sidelined, Cauley-Stein is getting a look.

It’s been difficult for the former Kentucky star. He knows he’s on a short a leash. He doesn’t have time to settle into the game, it’s zero-60 in five seconds or the bench is calling.

“I just try to maintain a mentality of just going in, going really hard, making sure I’m talking to the guards on different plays,” Cauley-Stein told reporters in Detroit. “Just trying to stay mentally right on it.”

After playing in multiple variations of the “dribble-drive motion offense,” both in college and in his rookie season in Sacramento under George Karl, the 7-footer has had to relearn the game of basketball under Joerger. It’s a difficult path to minutes, but Cauley-Stein can be seen working overtime almost everyday.

“The amount of work I’ve been putting in, it’s starting to show, it’s starting to pay off,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m starting to get the trust of my teammates and my coaches behind me and that’s everything in this game.”

Following practice, Cauley-Stein can be seen working with big man coach Bob Thornton. When he is done there, he goes to assistant Larry Lewis for more skill work and then there are the 3-on-3 games with Ben McLemore and the rookies.

He can be seen in pregame working on his handles alongside McLemore and the coaching staff and he spent plenty of time over the summer working on his shooting stroke with Peja Stojakovic.

“It’s a great feeling to know when you put it down, you’ve got complete control where it’s going,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s the same thing with your shot. The more and more you work on it, the more and more it just comes second hand. Right now it all feels good for me.”

Cauley-Stein had a breakout 12 points and five rebounds against the Pistons on Monday. He was active and even took All-Star center Andre Drummond off the dribble for a huge two-handed dunk.

A defensive specialist by nature, Cauley-Stein still has a long way to go before he is ready to be a major cog in Joerger’s high-post offense. But at 23 years old and under team control for at least another two seasons, there is still time to salvage the quirky big man.

The Kings need Cauley-Stein to develop into a tireless worker on the glass and a player that does the little things. He still has plenty of upside and tremendous length and athleticism. He’s doing the work and earned another shot at playing minutes on the frontline next to DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos.

More nights like the one in Detroit would go a long way towards earning the trust of Joerger and his staff.