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Peter King’s 2018 NFL All-Pro ballot

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Here’s the ballot I filed with the Associated Press for my 2018 all-pro team, with a few comments thrown in:

Offense

Wide receiver: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston; Michael Thomas, New Orleans.
Flex: Tyreek Hill, KC
Tight end: George Kittle, San Francisco.
Tackle: David Bakhtiari, Green Bay (left); Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans (right).
Guard: Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis (left); Zack Martin, Dallas (right).
Center: Jason Kelce, Philadelphia.
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City.
Running back: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas

Defense

Edge: Jadeveon Clowney, Houston; Khalil Mack, Chicago. The AP asked that J.J. Watt be considered an edge defender, and though clearly he played mostly outside, I rationalized my choices by saying that Watt played inside 27.5 percent of the snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
Defensive Line: Aaron Donald, L.A. Rams; J.J. Watt, Houston.
Linebacker: Bobby Wagner, Seattle; Luke Kuechly, Carolina; Darius Leonard, Indianapolis. Apologies to the Dallas duo here.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, New England; Byron Jones, Dallas.
Slot corner: Desmond King, L.A. Chargers
Safety: Jamal Adams, N.Y. Jets; Derwin James, Chargers

Special Teams

Kicker: Jason Myers, Jets.
Punter: Michael Dickson, Seattle
Punt return: Tarik Cohen, Chicago
Kick return: Andre Roberts, N.Y. Jets
Special teams: Taysom Hill, New Orleans

Awards

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City.
Coach: Matt Nagy, Chicago.
Assistant coach: Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis. A hundred good choices, but he inherited the league’s 30th-ranked defense and built a competent unit where there was none.
Offensive player: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City.
Defensive player: Aaron Donald, L.A. Rams.
Offensive rookie: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland
Defensive rookie: Derwin James, Chargers. So close between he and Darius Leonard, the NFL tackles leader. Easily could have picked Leonard. Just thought James was so instinctive and so versatile, a sort of new-wave Polamalu. I didn’t want to let stats totally decide this.
Comeback player: J.J. Watt, Houston. No argument with Andrew Luck, at all. Just thought Watt went through a little more to get back to playing great football, after being hit with two different career-threatening injuries the last two years, and fighting injuries throughout 2015 to just survive that season. This was a great comeback year for Watt.
Executive: Chris Ballard, Indianapolis

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NFL fans apparently don’t want an 18-game regular season

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In the news this week, as the league gets back to business for the 100th season of American professional football:

• The owners and players meet Wednesday in another formal bargaining session for a new CBA. A three-day meeting is scheduled between the NFL’s Management Council and the NFLPA’s Executive Committee (a 10-player unit including president Eric Winston and VPs Richard ShermanBenjamin Watsonand Adam Vinatieri). This will be the fourth bargaining session between owners and players this spring/summer, with the hope being the two sides can reach an agreement on a new bargaining agreement in 2019. (The CBA has two more seasons to run, and expires in the spring of 2021.)

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently told CNBC that it is “certainly our intent” to try to get a new CBA before the start of the season. In a round of calls Saturday, I got some optimism from a team source who felt the chance of making a deal on a new CBA was 50-50 this year if the union would stick with the current economic formula of the game; currently players get about 47 percent of the game’s gross revenue.

But I talked to a source on the player side who wasn’t nearly as hopeful, in part because he felt the players need a bigger cut of the pie to agree to a new deal two seasons out from the end of the current CBA. This person called the first three meetings positive, but baby steps toward a deal. I do know that there have not been any significant discussions on a change in the revenue split yet. Those talks will have to progress for anything to get done.

• The 18-game schedule is nowhere near a reality. I heard that one or two teams are interested in what the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the NFL has proposed discussing with the players as part of the CBA talks: an 18-game regular-season schedule, with each player eligible to play a maximum of 16 games. This is not a new idea—it’s been thrown around at league meetings as one idea to expand the inventory and enrich the league’s TV deals for years.

“I can’t see it,” one plugged-in club official told me. “Imagine you pay to see Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the Patriots announce that week it’s one of the two games he’ll sitting out this year. Now you’re seeing Brian Hoyer throw to some practice-squad guy. I don’t see any way we could ever do that.”

I’ve always thought in an era when the reduction of head trauma is job one in everything the league does, the only way the NFL could even consider 18 games is with teams playing players a maximum of 16 weeks. But the details make it too hard. How would a team divvy up the starts, say, for the starting offensive line? Would they figure the starting tackles should play every week with the starting quarterback, and thus doom the backup in his two games to a run-for-your-life offensive scheme?

The continued pursuit—or the continuing broaching—of an 18-game schedule is such a short-sighted and greedy thing. The NFL paid each team $275 million out of the league share of total revenue in 2018, and teams paid about $215 million annually in player costs (cap plus benefits). After that, teams can reap major raw profits over what they did in local team revenue.

Someone in the NFL seems determined to kill the most golden of geese by pursuing, even in a passing way, this stupid idea. Greed, in this case, is not good.

• Fans don’t want 18 games either. I put out a Twitter poll Saturday and Sunday, asking if readers preferred a 16 or 18-game schedule. Of 13,533 voters, 79 percent said 16. Great comment from a Vikings fan, Jason Altland: “If I pay out the nose for decent tickets in Baltimore or New York to see my Vikings, I want to see all the healthy stars play. I don’t want to pay and end up with a [Stefon] Diggs or {Adam] Thielen bye game.”

Pro Football Talk also polled its readers over the weekend about the 16/18-game idea, with more options than I offered … and 62 percent said they favored 16 games—with 8 percent saying they favored 18 with a maximum of 16 games per player per season.

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Why Melvin Gordon’s holdout with the Chargers could get ugly

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I think this Melvin Gordon-Chargers impasse could get ugly. The Chargers running back, entering his fifth season, could hold out from training camp into the season if he doesn’t get either a new contract or a significant raise from his $5.6-million salary in 2019. There’s a few reasons the holdout could last a while, starting with the fact that Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who grew up in the Bill Polian front office of the Colts, is not afraid to take a hard line. But mostly, it’s about what happens in recent years when teams have either paid runners or drawn a hard line with them. Examples:

• Le’Veon Bell balked at the Steelers’ offer of $14.5 million on the franchise tag last year. James Conner wasn’t quite as productive as vintage Bell—270 touches, 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns—but he was close. And Conner, who made $754,572 last year, cost 1/19th of what Bell would have commended. No one in Pittsburgh is bemoaning the loss of Bell, though he’s a great player.

• Todd Gurley is a great back too, and the Rams paid a guaranteed $45 million last year. They’ll say they aren’t regretting what they paid Gurley, but an odd and persistent knee problem last year limited him to 88 carries in the Rams’ last nine games—including a 35-yard rushing performance in the Super Bowl. The Rams picked up C.J. Anderson off the street in December, and in five games, he rushed for 488 yards.

• David Johnson of the Cardinals responded to his new $13-million-a-year deal on the eve of the 2018 season by rushing for 940 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

• Devonta Freeman signed with Atlanta for $22 million guaranteed in 2017. He’s missed 16 of the Falcons’ last 32 regular-season games and averaged 58 yards per game in the 16 he’s played.

In 30 games over his two NFL seasons, Charger understudy Austin Ekeler has proven elusive and reliable, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 10.3 yards per catch, with just two lost fumbles. I don’t think Telesco will be afraid to take the slings and arrows of a holdout. So if you’re drafting your fantasy team very early, I’d give a long look at Ekeler.

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