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Pat Shurmur of New York Giants — No regrets for 2-point attempt in loss


ATLANTA — New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur had no regrets about his decision to go for a two-point conversion down eight points late in Monday night’s 23-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons or two straight failed quarterback sneak calls that cost them valuable seconds in the final minute.

The decision to go for two was a situation Shurmur said they discussed internally prior to the game. He went with the same approach used by Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings.

“I just felt like, we’d discussed internally the math on that,” Shurmur said. “I felt like we had a good play, and I liked our two-point play selections, and we just didn’t quite get it done.”

Shurmur came into his postgame news conference ready to defend his decision. Pederson was also criticized after the Eagles lost to the Vikings but said the decision was backed by analytics.

The math backs up Pat Shurmur’s decision to go for two down eight points with less than five minutes to go. Going for it then gives Shurmur an informational advantage. If the Giants convert, then on their next touchdown they know they only need to kick a PAT to take the lead (assuming no other scores). If they fail, which they did, they have an opportunity to go for it again to tie. The long and short of it: converting once is much more likely than failing twice.

Seth Walder, ESPN Analytics5h ago

The Giants ended up failing on the first two-point conversation attempt and converting the second. It proved irrelevant because the Falcons kicked a field goal in between.

“I think it’s an aggressive approach,” Shurmur said. “I’m going to take myself back to the one game where we didn’t use timeouts before the halftime. I told you I’d never do that again and I think from a head coaching perspective I want to be aggressive for our guys.”

That’s what the players seemed to like. They had no problem with the decision.

Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dropped the difficult two-point conversion catch with 4:52 remaining.

“I like the call. I love being aggressive,” Beckham said. “I don’t know if I can be a coach because I’m going for it on fourth. We’re going for two. That’s why I’m not a coach. I like the call. I’m always going to ride with him. Wish I could’ve came up with it.”

There are analytics that backed up Shurmur’s decision.

“You increase your chances by 50 percent if you go for it and make it there, so that’s what you do,” Shurmur said. “Because then if you score a touchdown, we just kick the extra point and win. I felt good about the two-point play. You guys saw that, I think we got the ball in there, right? And we just didn’t connect on it.”

Maybe the more costly late-game decisions came with less than a minute left to play. Down 23-12, they had the ball at the Atlanta 1-yard line with 45 seconds remaining. That’s when Eli Manning ran a quarterback sneak and was stuffed on first down. Second down was a repeat as valuable time ticked off the clock.

The Giants were finally forced to throw on third down, when Manning connected with Odell Beckham for a touchdown with five seconds remaining. They converted the two-point conversion to make it 23-20, but without much time left.

“We got to get them in, right? We got to sneak it from the 1,” Shurmur said. “I don’t … again I just saw a mush pile there, so I don’t know why it didn’t work. But from the 1-yard line there, we got to get it in.”

Shurmur wouldn’t have preferred a pass in that situation to protect from getting stuffed and the clock ticking.

“No, that’s a defeatist deal,” he said. “You should be able to convert on a sneak. We’ve all seen him do that, and for whatever reasons we didn’t get it done.”

After years of not being asked to do quarterback sneaks under Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo, that has been a staple of the Giants’ offense this season. And they have been generally successful.

Manning was on board with the calls.

“We’ve been pretty good with the sneaks all year and, in that scenario just try to surprise them and just get that one yard with the sneak,” he said. “Obviously we just didn’t have success with it.”

The Giants (1-6) lost their fourth straight game and remain tied with the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals for the worst record in the NFL.



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DeVante Parker refutes agent’s incompetence claims about Adam Gase — ‘That’s his own opinion’


DAVIE, Fla. — Miami Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker distanced himself from comments made by his agent Sunday that labeled coach Adam Gase “incompetent.”

Parker stressed multiple times that his agent, Jimmy Gould, does not speak for him when he said, among other things, that his client is healthy and should have been playing after Parker was a surprise inactive for Sunday’s 32-21 loss to the Detroit Lions. Parker also said he didn’t know that Gould would make those comments.

“I can’t control what people are saying. He’s a grown man. He says what he said,” Parker said. “I can’t control what he says. I didn’t feel that way about coach. That’s his own opinion.”

Gase said earlier Monday that Gould’s comments didn’t bother him and wouldn’t affect Parker’s playing status with the Dolphins.

“We don’t have any more receivers so I’m sure he’s going to play,” Gase said.

Gase and Parker spoke about the matter Monday morning.

“It did not make anything awkward,” Parker said of Gase. “My relationship is good with him. We talked about it. No bad feelings from one another or anything.”

The crux of the dispute between Gould and Gase related to differing interpretations of Parker’s health.

Gase said after Sunday’s game that Parker is “not completely healthy,” while Gould believes Parker has been healthy for weeks. Parker practiced fully last week despite a quadriceps injury.

“It’s something that doesn’t really bother me or really concern me,” Gase said about the agent’s comments.

Parker confirmed that he planned to continue to be represented by Gould.

Parker said he felt he could have played through the quad injury. He said he believes he’s 100 percent right now.

Trade talks have centered around Parker since training camp, but those chances diminished this week with injuries to Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills that will keep them out Thursday versus Houston and beyond.

Gould did not request a trade or his client’s release, but said he did want Parker to be treated better.

“He wants me here. He wants me out there playing with my teammates helping them out,” Parker said. “Of course I want to be here. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Parker has missed five of the Dolphins’ seven games this season, primarily due to a broken middle finger and the most recent quad injury.

He admitted that the injuries have been “very frustrating.” The 2015 first-round pick wants to live up to fans’ expectations and his potential.

“They’ve seen flashes of it when I was healthy,” Parker said. “And I try to stay that way but they know what I can do.”

As for his agent, Parker wishes he would have remained quiet.

“That probably would have been best or texted him or something,” Parker said.



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Frank Clark of Seattle Seahawks in no hurry for deal, agent says


With a growing résumé and an insurance policy in his back pocket, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark is willing to wait as he tries to secure a deal that makes him one of the NFL’s highest-paid pass-rushers — even if it means playing on the franchise tag first.

Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, made that clear in an interview with ESPN on Monday. While Burkhardt declined to get into specifics of what Clark is looking for, he shed plenty of light on how their side is approaching what has become the Seahawks’ most pressing contract question, saying Clark isn’t interested in settling for a deal right now.

“I have had several very productive and positive talks with the Seahawks,” Burkhardt said. “Frank loves it there and believes they’ll continue to produce as one of the NFL’s dominant defenses even with the departure of many great players. … Seattle has been very good to him. They’ve believed in him from the beginning and they’ve continued to help develop him.

“But the financial goal for players in every major sport now is to get to free agency. It often baffles me how some of these agents do early deals just for the sake of doing a deal. I know that it’s football and injury risks are very real, but there’s insurance policies to protect players’ downsides and risks, along with other measures that we put in place to protect our guys. Just to do an early deal for the sake of doing an early deal doesn’t excite us, especially for a guy like Frank who’s already a dominant pass-rusher in this league and is just scratching the surface of what he will be.”

Clark, 25, is in the final year of the rookie contract he signed as a second-round pick in 2015. He had the most productive game of his career in Seattle’s victory over the Raiders in Week 6, with a pair of strip sacks – both fumbles were recovered by the Seahawks — and another half-sack while playing only 29 of the team’s 60 defensive snaps because of what the team called an illness.

Clark’s team-high total of 5.5 sacks through six games doesn’t include a strip of Jared Goff in Week 5. That didn’t count as an official sack because the Rams quarterback picked up the loose ball and threw it incomplete.

Since the start of the 2016 season, Clark’s 24.5 sacks are tied with Terrell Suggs for 10th in the NFL, according to ESPN charting. Ahead of them are Chandler Jones (34.5), Von Miller (31), Ryan Kerrigan (27), Aaron Donald (27), Danielle Hunter (27), Calais Campbell (26.5), Khalil Mack (26.5), Cameron Jordan (25.5) and Mario Addison (25).

Among that group, Clark’s 1,601 defensive snaps during that span are the second-fewest. He played behind Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril during his first two-plus seasons before becoming a starter last season after Avril injured his neck.

“I do think Frank Clark is every bit as good of a pass-rusher as Mack, Jadeveon Clowney, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Ansah or anybody else at the top, and that’s not taking anything away from those guys,” Burkhardt said. “The metrics and analytics bear that out on a per-snap basis. I’ve spoken to many offensive lineman around the league who will tell you the same thing.”

Mack sits atop the pass-rusher market after signing a deal with the Bears that averages $23.5 million. Lawrence and Ansah are playing on the $17.134 million franchise tag. Clowney, the first overall pick in 2014, is in line for a big payday this offseason while playing on a fifth-year option.

Burkhardt said there would be no point in taking a deal now given that Clark has an insurance policy and that the market for pass-rushers is continuing to rise.

“I don’t care if those guys were high first-round picks,” he said. “I don’t mind being quoted saying I absolutely put Frank in that echelon with those guys, so I’m not going to sit here and do a deal early and then watch in March when those guys get $X million a year and Frank not be in that range. Why would we do that? I feel like I have just as good of a player, and I want to be very clear, that is not a knock on anybody. Frank is on that level and I believe everybody around the league will tell you that as well.”

Burkhardt said he thinks it would be “fair” of the Seahawks to want to see how Clark handles his increased workload and the absences of Bennett and Avril before being willing to make him one of the league’s highest-paid pass-rushers.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this month that the Seahawks aren’t expected to use the franchise tag this offseason on free safety Earl Thomas, who will also be an unrestricted free agent. That would allow Seattle to use the tag on Clark if the two sides don’t reach a deal before then. Assuming another increase in the NFL’s salary cap for 2019, the cost to use the tag on Clark would be slightly above the 2018 figure for defensive ends of $17.14 million.

“Obviously players want a long-term deal because this game is dangerous and violent and everything else, but I’m going to continue to bet on my guy.” Burkhardt said. “You look at a guy like Kirk Cousins who played out the franchise tag, that’s not all bad either. He did that because he believed in himself and also knows teams can’t usually find top quarterbacks in free agency. The pass-rush market is much the same in that aspect. It’s supply and demand.

“Frank and I are not scared of the franchise tag. That’s going to come in at about $18 million next year for a D-end on a one-year, fully guaranteed deal. It’s what Ansah and Lawrence have done. They get that top-of-the-market value for one year, and 12 months later will get their long-term deal as well. That’s winning.”

In the meantime, Burkhardt said Clark has taken out a loss-of-value insurance policy to protect himself from any injury or illness that would affect his earning power. Burkhardt wouldn’t divulge specifics of the policy other than to say it’s tax-free and based on what Clark’s estimated value would be on the open market.

“So we don’t have to take a [bad] deal just to take the risk off the table,” he said.

After the Raiders game, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll praised the way Clark has been playing as well as the leader he has become now that he’s the longest-tenured of any Seattle defensive lineman. According to Burkhardt, teammates have voted Clark this year’s recipient of the annual Ed Block Courage Award.

Burkhardt said he and Clark have an “incredibly good” working relationship with Carroll and general manager John Schneider, adding that the Seahawks have made it clear to them that they want to keep Clark long term.

“I’m not saying a deal won’t get done. I’m just saying Frank and I don’t feel any panic or urgency to do an early deal just for the sake of doing an early deal,” he said. “Athletes today prepare their whole lives to potentially get one big contract, and Frank has put himself in position to do that. He’s got a young daughter now. It’s not just about Frank. It’s about doing what you have to do to protect yourself and really just get what you’re worth and what you’ve earned.”



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Brandon Fusco of Atlanta Falcons exits MNF with ankle injury


ATLANTA — Atlanta Falcons right guard Brandon Fusco was knocked out of Monday night’s 23-20 win over the New York Giants with an ankle injury.

Fusco appeared to injure his right ankle in the first half and was carted off the field. Early in the second half, the team announced that the eighth-year veteran wouldn’t return.

Ben Garland replaced Fusco in the lineup at right guard. The Falcons previously lost their starting left guard when veteran Andy Levitre suffered a season-ending triceps injury. Wes Schweitzer took over for Levitre.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn did not immediately provide an update on Fusco’s status after the game. Fusco’s teammates remained optimistic.

“You definitely don’t want to see that, and it’s a rough, but I really wish Brandon heals up quickly,” center Alex Mack said. “He’s a great teammate and great player. I really like him, and I want him next to me. But that’s not how it always goes. And Ben is more than capable of stepping up.”

Said right tackle Ryan Schraeder, “I don’t know how bad it is, if it’s just a sprain or what. Ben stepped in really nice. It was good to see. I figured he would come in and fit in like Fusco. I give props to Ben for that.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan said, “That part is difficult, when you see guys going down. Personally, they put so much into it. You feel terrible for them. But this is a good chance for us to get a little bit of rest this week and kind of evaluate where we’re at. I thought Ben did a nice job coming in for us. He’s a guy that has played a lot for us through the years and another guy that we trust to go out there and execute at a high level, and I thought he did.”

Injuries have been a major issue for the Falcons so far in 2018. Starting safeties Keanu Neal (ACL) and Ricardo Allen (Achilles) both suffered season-ending injuries, and linebacker Deion Jones (foot surgery) and running back Devonta Freeman (groin surgery) are on injured reserve but could return this season.



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San Francisco 49ers place safety Adrian Colbert on injured reserve with high ankle sprain


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After a flurry of injuries in the San Francisco 49ers‘ secondary late in the 2017 season, Adrian Colbert stepped into the starting free-safety job and played well enough to claim it on a permanent basis.

Now, just seven weeks into Colbert’s first year as the full-time starter, Colbert’s season is almost certainly over. On Monday, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said the team is placing Colbert on injured reserve with a high right-ankle sprain, an injury he suffered in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Shanahan said Colbert is expected to miss six to eight weeks, and though that time frame would allow the possibility for Colbert to be one of the team’s short-term injured reserve candidates, Shanahan said the 25-year-old would “probably not” come back this season.

The Niners re-signed quarterback Tom Savage to take Colbert’s spot on the roster. Savage signed with San Francisco last week but was released to make room for defensive back Tyvis Powell because of multiple injuries in the secondary.

With 11 minutes left in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Rams quarterback Jared Goff fired a pass deep down the left sideline for receiver Brandin Cooks. Colbert sprinted to the sideline, where he converged on the ball simultaneously with Niners cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

As Colbert attempted to brace for landing, his right leg bent awkwardly underneath him. He was taken to the locker room on a cart but returned to the Niners’ sideline soon after. After the game, Colbert indicated he’d be OK but was unsure of the official diagnosis.

Colbert’s is the latest and longest-term ailment for the Niners defensive backs and comes on the heels of what Shanahan believed was one of Colbert’s better performances this season.

“We had a challenge for him the last few weeks and I thought in this game he had covered sideline to sideline very well, just running and hitting,” Shanahan said. “And [he] made a real good play on the play he got hurt on also. They tried to challenge us, go over the top, which you want the corner there on, but usually the middle-third player will show up with the speed Colbert has, and he did and he made a good play and unfortunately he got hurt.”

In parts of seven games this season, Colbert posted 20 tackles and a pass defended. Now that he’s out, Shanahan said the Niners will look at all options, including the potential return to free safety of cornerback Jimmie Ward once he recovers from a hamstring injury.

For now, rookie D.J. Reed will get the first opportunity to replace Colbert. A fifth-round pick out of Kansas State, Reed has appeared in all seven games with one start and has 13 tackles on the season.

“Colbert is one of those guys last year who got his opportunity because a lot of guys went down,” Shanahan said. “And he was one of the guys that the second half of the year we got to watch grow and go through some trial and error but ended up playing at a very high level last year and made us very excited about going into this year with him.

“Now, Colbert going out is going to give more opportunities to D.J. Reed or other players, so you hope some other guys step it up like he did last year.”



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Dallas Cowboys trade first-round pick to Oakland Raiders for Amari Cooper


FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys made a move to benefit quarterback Dak Prescott by acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders for a 2019 first-round pick.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie confirmed the trade Monday. Oakland will now have three first-round picks in 2019 after also getting the Chicago Bears‘ selection in last month’s Khalil Mack trade.

“I got a call from [Cowboys vice president] Stephen Jones this morning, he put it on the table, what he wanted to do, and he wanted the player, and he gave me the pick, and that’s what it came down to,” McKenzie said.

Cooper, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, has 22 catches for 280 yards and a touchdown in six games this season. He opened his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and made the Pro Bowl twice, but his numbers have fallen the past two seasons.

“I hate to see good players go, but I was on the practice field when Reggie came to me and said the Cowboys would do this for a No. 1 and I said, ‘Let’s do it,'” Raiders coach Jon Gruden told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. “We’re going to try to build this thing the right way. We now have five No. 1 picks in the next two years, so I’m excited about that.”

McKenzie said there had been interest in the 24-year-old Cooper from multiple teams this season, but he was holding out for an offer of a first-round pick, which the Cowboys delivered.

“I think he’s a first-round player, that’s why I had to get that first-round pick,” McKenzie said. “Now, has he been inconsistent? Absolutely. But, has he shown greatness? Absolutely. The consistency is something that I’m sure he’s worked on, and this guy’s still a young player. I think he’s going to do well down in Dallas.”

The 3-4 Cowboys had been doing their due diligence on receivers leading into the trade deadline and had zeroed in on Cooper, who became available in recent weeks with the Raiders’ 1-5 start in the first season of Gruden’s second stint as head coach.

The Cowboys entered the season hoping a committee of receivers could make up the production lost when Dez Bryant was released in the offseason. They attempted to sign Sammy Watkins in free agency, but he opted to join the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cowboys drafted Michael Gallup in the third round and added veterans Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson to a group that included Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams.

The Cowboys placed Williams on injured reserve with a foot injury Oct. 6. Last week, Williams was suspended for three games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Veteran Brice Butler, who was signed Sept. 18, was released Monday to make room for Cooper on the roster.

The passing game has struggled for most of the season, ranking 29th in the NFL. Beasley leads the Cowboys with 33 catches for 350 yards and two touchdowns; no other wide receiver has more than 13 catches.

Gallup caught a 49-yard touchdown pass in Sunday’s loss to Washington and has 10 catches for 190 yards. Hurns has 13 catches for 158 yards and had his most productive game of the season against the Redskins with five catches for 74 yards.

Austin has been the big-play threat, with seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, but he is expected to miss multiple weeks with a groin injury.

The last time the Cowboys made a major in-season trade for a wide receiver was in 2008, when they acquired Roy Williams and a seventh-round pick from the Detroit Lions for their first-, third- and sixth-round picks.

Williams did not live up to the expectations after the trade, topping out at 38 catches for 596 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009. The Cowboys released Williams after the 2010 season.

Cooper is set to play 2019 under a fifth-year option worth roughly $13.9 million.

Salary-cap space will not be an issue for the Cowboys, although they want to re-sign leading pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, cornerback Byron Jones and can look at long-term deals for Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott as early as this offseason.

If Cooper provides Prescott, who is signed through 2019, with the outside threat the Cowboys have lacked this season, the quarterback’s chances of landing a big deal would increase.

Cooper is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after suffering the injury Oct. 14 in Oakland’s loss to Seattle in London.



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Making sense of Dallas Cowboys trade for Amari Cooper of Oakland Raiders


Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders signaled their plans to rebuild by trading away Khalil Mack before the season. On Monday, they took another step toward breaking up the young core that was supposed to carry the organization to Vegas by sending Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick in the 2019 draft.

The initial reaction to this move has been diametrically opposed to the chatter we saw the last time Gruden traded away one of general manager Reggie McKenzie’s star selections. When the Raiders traded Mack to the Bears for a package built around two first-rounders, the NFL world seemed shocked that the Raiders would settle for such a pittance. This time, Gruden and the organization have been lauded for nabbing a premium asset while getting rid of a player they clearly didn’t intend to re-sign.

When I wrote about the Mack trade, I tried to understand why the Raiders could justify getting rid of him. This time around, let’s look at things from the Cowboys’ perspective. What’s their logic in going after Cooper? Can we piece together a scenario in which they’re better off in the short term or long term by swapping their first-rounder for Cooper?


The trade

This trade isn’t really about Cooper. It’s about Dak Prescott and whether the Cowboys want to commit to Prescott at the going rate for a franchise quarterback once his contract is up after 2019. After a stunning 2016 season, Prescott took a step backward in 2017 and hasn’t been much better so far in 2018. The Cowboys have essentially wasted Prescott’s rookie contract with salary-cap missteps and injuries to would-be offensive contributors.

The biggest problem for Prescott, at least in 2018, has been the issue many expected before the season: He’s saddled with an absolutely abysmal group of receivers. Prescott does get to play with Ezekiel Elliott, but I ranked Dallas’ weapons 30th heading into the season, even with Zeke. Prescott’s best wideout this season has been slot receiver Cole Beasley, with the likes of Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup and Allen Hurns failing to consistently make plays. Top tight end Geoff Swaim, who had nine catches in his first three seasons, was on pace for 55 targets before he went down with a knee injury on Sunday.

No receiving corps in the league looked less imposing on paper heading into the season, and the Cowboys have lived down to expectations. The NFL’s Next Gen Stats reveal what Dak is dealing with, as the league tracks the yards of separation between a receiver and the closest defender when a pass arrives. Just 36.4 percent of Prescott’s passes have gone to open receivers (3-plus yards away from a defender) this season, the lowest rate in the league among quarterbacks with 200 or more attempts. The league average is 45 percent. Prescott’s average pass goes to a receiver with 2.9 yards of separation. Again, that’s last among the 22 qualifying passers. Just 43.9 percent of Prescott’s pass yards have been generated by receivers after the catch, which ranks 21st out of 22 passers.

Once Cooper clears the league’s concussion protocol, he should be a receiver capable of creating one-on-one separation for Prescott. Cooper has been targeted only 32 times this season, but he has averaged 3.4 yards of separation on throws 6 or more yards downfield, which is the best rate in the league. Over the past three seasons, Cooper ranks 16th in average separation at target among receivers with 200 or more targets, alongside wideouts such as Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Odell Beckham Jr., Adam Thielen and Antonio Brown.

Beasley also ranks highly in the separation stat, in part because he’s running routes out of the slot and rarely being thrown contested passes. The division of labor in the slot might become a problem for these Cowboys. When Cooper struggled to start the 2017 season, the Raiders helped spark their star wideout back to life by moving him into the slot, where he posted most of a 210-yard, two-touchdown game against the Chiefs. The Cowboys would likely be smart to give Cooper plenty of reps in the slot, but they would be doing so at the expense of Beasley.

Dallas can’t realistically evaluate whether Prescott is its quarterback of the future with the Cowboys’ pre-trade wideout corps. Trading for Cooper gives them a credible wideout with which to analyze Prescott. Cooper’s numbers have slipped over the past two seasons, but the former Alabama star hasn’t suffered the sort of lower-leg or foot injury that would sap his athleticism, and he doesn’t turn 25 until next June.

Unless there’s some missing piece of evidence, it’s difficult to figure out why Cooper has declined the past two seasons. Some of the blame has to go to the Raiders’ coaching staff. They let offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave leave after the 2016 season to promote quarterbacks coach Todd Downing, in part to prevent Downing from leaving for a coordinator’s job elsewhere. Downing was an absolute disaster in his season at the helm. Gruden is now the de facto offensive boss, and while Cooper hasn’t been 100 percent for much of the season, he racked up two 100-yard games in his first four starts before the trade was made.

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Adam Schefter breaks down the Raiders’ trade of Amari Cooper to the Cowboys for a first-round pick.

The money

The clock on a Prescott extension is ticking. If the Cowboys were absolutely sure they wanted to stay in the Dak business for the next several seasons, they would sign Prescott to an extension this offseason in advance of the final year of his rookie deal. It’s the same fourth-year timeframe the Raiders had with Derek Carr and the Seahawks used with Russell Wilson, each of whom were also mid-round picks without fifth-year options attached to their rookie contracts.

On current production, I’d lean toward the Cowboys giving Prescott an extension without the Cooper trade, but Dallas has reasonable concerns about whether Prescott can elevate his game with better wideout play. There isn’t really a recent precedent for a team moving on from a passer as effective as Prescott has been after his rookie deal without a serious injury involved, although in a league in which rookie contract quarterbacks are essentially keys to unlocking Super Bowl rosters, we’ll see a team go for it in the next few seasons.

Trading for Cooper now gives the Cowboys a season and a half to figure out whether Prescott is their guy. If Prescott works out, the Cowboys can use the threat of the franchise tag in 2020 to keep Prescott around in advance of a long-term deal, though that runs the risk of creating a Kirk Cousins-in-Washington problem. If not, the Cowboys can go after a new quarterback without having committed to Prescott in the long term, though they’ll be down a first-round pick in the process.

The problem with that math, of course, is that the Cowboys also have to figure out what to do with Cooper. They’re on the hook for only $411,765 this season, but Cooper’s fifth-year option comes in at $13.9 million in 2019. Even that represents a discount in a market in which Sammy Watkins is getting $16 million per year in free agency, but do the Cowboys really want to pay Cooper something north of $20 million per season to keep him from hitting free agency in 2020?

Making these time frames work is tough because the Cowboys can’t franchise — or threaten to franchise — both Cooper and Prescott in 2020. They can sign one of them this offseason to free up the franchise tag in 2020, but they would either be locking up Cooper to an extension after half of a season in Dallas or signing Prescott before they’re sure he’s their guy.

Given that the Cowboys already committed a first-round pick to acquire Cooper and are set to pay him nearly $14 million next year, my suspicion is that they’ll lock him up to an extension this offseason. They already have more than $111 million in projected cap space for 2019, and while Cooper isn’t a sure thing, the free-agent market isn’t likely to deliver a better option.

The top available wideouts in the 2019 free-agent class are likely to be veterans such as John Brown, Chris Hogan and Golden Tate. The guys from the 2014-15 drafts who aren’t yet re-signed and are likely to hit free agency this offseason aren’t inspiring. Would you rather pay Cooper $18 million per year on a new deal or spend $14 million per season to sign Devin Funchess? Players with questions, such as Kelvin Benjamin, Quincy Enunwa, and Robby Anderson, could go for $10 million or more per season. You can understand why the Cowboys looked at their options and preferred the idea of paying a premium to sign Cooper, who is younger and has a more inspiring track record than just about anyone they could’ve gone after in free agency.

The division

There’s also a benefit for the Cowboys in terms of competing for the NFC East, which looks up for grabs after the Eagles got off to a slow start. With the Giants quickly fading out of the race and turning it into a three-team battle, the 3-4 Cowboys have seen their odds of winning the division jump from 22.2 percent before the season to 30.7 percent after seven weeks, per ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Cooper isn’t going to swing the division on his own, but the trade addresses the weakest point of Dallas’ roster with enough time for the Cowboys to seriously shift things over the final nine games of the season. Does Cooper win them the game over the Texans, in which the Cowboys could barely move the ball in the second half? Is he enough of a weapon for Jason Garrett to trust Prescott with 52 seconds left in Sunday’s loss to Washington? I’m not sure, but it’s hard to argue that the Cowboys aren’t in better shape than they were yesterday.

Of course, it’s easy to improve when a team gives up a first-round pick, and the Cowboys incur an opportunity cost by not being able to get a player at relatively low cost over the next four seasons. Just as the Mack trade left the Bears implicitly pricing their star edge rusher at something north of $30 million per season, the Cowboys are likely going to be paying Cooper something close to $23-24 million per year when factoring in a new deal and the value they forfeited with a first-round pick. Cooper can make that work if he turns back into a superstar, but the Cowboys aren’t likely to realize much (if any) surplus value on this contract. They’ll also miss out on adding a first-rounder to help in the secondary or along the offensive line, where their once-vaunted unit has been ripped apart by injuries the past two seasons.

The very long term

As for Oakland’s side of things, it’s easier to understand. When you’re having a fire sale, you sell things. The Raiders quite clearly didn’t intend to give Cooper an extension after the 2019 season, and they’re better off trading a guy sooner rather than later if they don’t want to pay a premium. Getting rid of Cooper limits the extent to which the Raiders can evaluate Derek Carr, but the trade seems to confirm that Gruden might have already made up his mind about Carr.

Gruden painted the trade as an opportunity, noting that Cooper was a good player and the deal would give the Raiders five first-round picks in the next two drafts. As tempting as it is to compare Gruden to Sashi Brown or Jimmy Johnson in Dallas, though, is Gruden really stockpiling draft picks when he dealt a third-round pick for Martavis Bryant and a fifth-rounder for AJ McCarron? The first-rounders are worth more, of course, but Gruden doesn’t exactly have a great track record in drafting and developing young talent.

If he doesn’t think his team can win and wants to rebuild the team in his image, going after draft picks makes sense. My concern would be less about the picks and more about the veterans. In the early days of the McKenzie era, Oakland struggled to attract veteran free agents because nobody wanted to come play on a miserable team in an antiquated stadium. The Raiders had to target veterans who were past their primes or massively overpay midtier starters until they showed signs of life with Carr, Cooper and Mack in 2015. One year later, with the help of additions such as Bruce Irvin and Kelechi Osemele, the Raiders went 12-4 and won the division.

Now, though, the Raiders are back to square one. Why would any veteran player want to come play for the Raiders under Gruden when they’re clearly not committed to winning in the near future? The Raiders don’t really have any promising, young players left on the roster who aren’t on veteran contracts, but if Cooper had stuck around, why would he want to play for a coach who doesn’t seem to want to pay young players who break out on their rookie deals? Who would play for the Raiders right now if given a choice to play anywhere else in the league? It’s fair to wonder whether Gruden, who has publicly thrown players such as Carr and Rashaan Melvin under the bus in recent weeks, has poisoned the well.

If you go to Las Vegas, you’ll see a billboard towering above the future site of the Raiders’ stadium, advertising the arrival of its future tenants. Most team billboards have a shot of the star quarterback or a dynamic skill-position player. The only person depicted on the Raiders’ billboard is the coach. Given what we’ve seen from Gruden so far, it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll be the only current member of this organization actually making his way to the desert for the team’s projected debut in 2020.





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Oakland Raiders put RB Marshawn Lynch on injured reserve


The Oakland Raiders announced Monday that they have placed running back Marshawn Lynch on injured reserve with a groin injury.

He would be eligible to return for the Christmas Eve game against Denver in Week 16.

Lynch suffered the injury during the Raiders’ Week 6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in London. He was trying to pull his right leg out of the grasp of Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin when linebacker Austin Calitro leveled Lynch, who landed awkwardly and stayed on the Wembley Stadium pitch for a moment before gingerly jogging off the field.

Lynch, 32, has rushed for a team-high 376 yards on 90 carries (4.2-yard average) and three touchdowns in 2018. He also has 15 receptions for 84 yards.

The five-time Pro Bowler’s two-year contract is up after this season; it pays him a fully guaranteed $2.5 million in base salary after he restructured it this offseason, though it carries a salary-cap number of more than $4.45 million for 2018, per ESPN Stats & Information data. Lynch received a $1 million roster bonus on the 11th day of the league year, and he already has accrued $281,250 in roster bonuses ($46,875 per game on the Raiders’ 46-man roster, with a max of $750,000). He would miss out on $468,750 in bonuses if he did not play another game this season; he stood to earn up to $3.75 million in yards and touchdown incentives.

With Lynch out, veteran Doug Martin figures to become the No. 1 back for Oakland (1-5), which returns from its Week 7 bye to host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez contributed to this report.



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Dolphins to start Brock Osweiler third straight game


DAVIE, Fla. — Brocktober will continue for the third consecutive game.

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Monday that Brock Osweiler will start at quarterback Thursday at Houston, and Ryan Tannehill will miss his third game. Tannehill is dealing with a shoulder injury that has prevented him from throwing.

Gase said Tannehill is in a “good spot” and the Dolphins (4-3) plan for him to throw this week; he added that there’s no guarantee it would be a real football, and it could be a Nerf football.

Miami still expects that Tannehill won’t need surgery, that he will return this season and he will be the starter when he does.

Osweiler gets a chance to play the Texans for the first time since they traded him to the Cleveland Browns last summer. He confirmed he hasn’t talked with Texans coach Bill O’Brien since the deal, but Osweiler sidestepped questions about his relationship with O’Brien and his Texans tenure.

Miami will be without its two top receivers — Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills — Thursday, and likely longer.

Gase said there is a “high possibility” that Wilson’s season is over after he suffered a hip injury Sunday versus Detroit. Wilson traveled Monday to see a specialist, and the Dolphins expect to get confirmation by Tuesday afternoon on his injury.

On a positive note, Gase said he hadn’t heard anything to indicate that Wilson’s injury would be career-ending and that the speedy receiver was in good spirits when they talked after the game.

Stills has a groin injury and is still being evaluated. It’s possible he could be out beyond Thursday.

That means the Dolphins will have to go back to DeVante Parker, who was in the news Sunday after being a surprise inactive Sunday, with his agent Jimmy Gould calling Gase “incompetent” and accusing the coach of lying when he said Parker wasn’t “completely healthy.”

Gase confirmed again it was a coaches’ decision to keep Parker out of the lineup Sunday in favor of having players like rookie running back Kalen Ballage active, adding that he expects Parker to play Thursday.

“We don’t have any more receivers so I’m sure he’s going to play,” Gase said.

As far as Gould’s comments, Gase said they “don’t really bother me.” He said he talked with Parker briefly Monday morning.



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Sony Michel of New England Patriots has MRI, reveals no serious damage


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots running back Sony Michel underwent an MRI on his left knee Monday and it revealed no structural damage, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Michel, who had elevated to a top spot on the depth chart alongside “passing back” James White, will be considered week-to-week, the source told Schefter.

This is a best-case scenario for Michel and the Patriots after he was helped to the sideline and then carted to the locker room, early in the second quarter of the team’s 38-31 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

The Patriots, who visit the Buffalo Bills on ESPN’s Monday Night Football on Oct. 29, have just two other running backs on their 53-man roster: White and Kenjon Barner.

In his standard day-after-game conference call, head coach Bill Belichick said he didn’t have anything to add about Michel’s status, noting that the team will update its injury report the next time it is required to do so later this week.

In his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI, Belichick said that the team will explore the possibility of adding a running back.

“We’ll take a look at that over the next day or two and try to figure it out so when we start practicing for Buffalo, we’ll be ready to go. We’ll look at our options and see what we feel like the best thing is [and] see how long we think Sony might be out.”



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