The NFL released its schedule today, with only two games set for Christmas Day even though it falls on a Sunday. Instead, the NFL will have a nearly full slate of Saturday-afternoon games for Dec. 24.
The league scheduled 13 afternoon games for Dec. 24, but there are no night games on Christmas Eve. There are two evening games on Christmas Day, with Chicago playing at Green Bay at 5 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) and Minnesota playing at Baltimore at 8:30. The season's final Monday night game is scheduled for Dec. 26, with the Jets hosting the Patriots.
New Year's Day also falls on a Sunday, but the league scheduled a full slate of 14 games for Jan. 1. The final game of the regular season comes at 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 1, with St. Louis at Dallas. There are two games scheduled for New Year's Eve, with Denver at San Diego at 4:30 and the New York Giants at Oakland at 8.
The league previously had announced that the Patriots would host the Raiders in the Thursday night season opener on Sept. 8. The Colts are to play at Baltimore in the season's first Sunday night game on Sept. 11, with Dallas playing at San Diego earlier that day. The Philadelphia Eagles are to play at Atlanta on Sept. 12 in the season's first Monday night game, a rematch of last season's NFC championship game. The Arizona Cardinals face the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 2 in Mexico City in the first NFL regular season game to be played outside the United States.
Upshaw: TV Deal Not Likely Next Week
NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said Tuesday he doubts that the league will be able to complete new television contracts with ABC and ESPN, both owned by the Walt Disney Co., before next Tuesday's scheduled owners' meeting in Atlanta.
"The hope is that things will move forward now," Upshaw said. "But that's pretty quick. That's only a week away."
League sources said last week that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue hoped to make a push to complete the deals before the Atlanta meeting. The NFL previously completed extensions of its contracts with Fox and CBS, totaling about $8 billion, for its Sunday afternoon packages, and is negotiating with Disney for its Sunday night and Monday night packages. Monday night games perhaps will move from ABC to ESPN if new deals are completed, and ABC could end up with the Sunday night package now possessed by ESPN. A league official said Tuesday that deals with ABC and ESPN did not appear imminent.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, the chairman of the NFL's broadcasting committee, offered a slightly more conservative timetable during an interview last week, saying he hoped to complete negotiations with Disney within a month or so. Bowlen and other NFL officials are hopeful that Disney is ready to reach agreements now that it has named Robert Iger to succeed Michael Eisner as its chief executive officer, effective Sept. 30.
No Decision Yet for Bruschi
It appears that linebacker Tedy Bruschi won't make a decision about whether he'll play next season for at least a few more weeks, and New England Patriots officials are doing their best to support him without pressuring him. They continue to refuse to discuss the matter publicly.
"Tedy has requested that any information about his situation come from him personally or through his family, and we respect that," Patriots front-office chief Scott Pioli said during an interview late last week. "Tedy's situation is for him to handle, really, just out of respect to him."
Bruschi reportedly is considering sitting out the season as he recovers from what the team called a mild stroke that he suffered in February, just after helping the Patriots to their third Super Bowl title in four seasons and participating in his first career Pro Bowl in Hawaii. He reportedly underwent surgery for a hole in his heart that might have caused his stroke. It's unclear if Bruschi would attempt to play in 2006 if he sits out next season.
He threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches for the Boston Red Sox' home opener on Monday, and received a warm ovation from the crowd at Fenway Park. He thanked fans for their support in a written statement released that day, but did not discuss his football future with reporters.
The Patriots signed a linebacker, Monty Beisel, as a free agent last week, bolstering the position in case Bruschi decides not to play next season. But Pioli declined to call linebacker a position of need for the club.
"Last year, with our linebackers, we had a very good group of guys, particularly on the outside," Pioli said. "We have some young guys, too."
It has been an offseason of significant roster retooling for the Patriots. They released cornerback Ty Law and linebacker Roman Phifer, and declined to exercise an option in the contract of wide receiver Troy Brown, making him a free agent. But Pioli said the team is taking the same offseason approach that it always takes.
"The priorities haven't changed," he said. "The priorities are to find ways to make our team better and younger. Some teams are built to go for the best player available. Some teams go strictly on needs. We try to combine the two. Any way that we can find to make our team better, we'll do it. We're looking two or three years down the road. We may be fine at a position right now, but you need to take into account where you have players that are going to be free agents, if you're getting old at certain positions." . . .
Kicker Adam Vinatieri on Tuesday signed the one-year contract tender the Patriots offered him upon designating him the club's franchise player in February. He will have a salary of $2.509 million next season, unless he and the team agree to a long-term contract before then. Under NFL rules, franchise players and their clubs cannot reopen negotiations on multi-year contracts until July 15.
Vinatieri's signings means that only four of the 12 franchise players league-wide remain unsigned -- Seattle Seahawks tailback Shaun Alexander, Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Corey Simon and defensive ends John Abraham of the New York Jets and Darren Howard of the New Orleans Saints. All four are thought to be available in trades. . . . The Patriots are scheduled to visit the White House today.
Seahawks Sign Sharper
Linebacker Jamie Sharper, who was released by Houston 12 days ago, agreed Tuesday to a five-year, $17.5 million contract with Seattle that includes a $1.5 million signing bonus. Sharper chose the Seahawks over the Cincinnati Bengals and a handful of other clubs interested in him.
Most teams, though, have put practically all their free-agent activity on hold until after the draft. "I need to find a job for one more guy," said one agent who represents a fairly prominent player still on the market, "but no teams want to talk to me until they see what happens in the draft." . . .
The 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, who possess the first three picks in the draft and seem interested in trading down, might have a potential trade partner in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers, who have the fifth overall selection, could stay put and draft a tailback. But they seem interested in getting one of the draft's top quarterbacks, Cal's Aaron Rodgers or Utah's Alex Smith, and they might have to trade up to do so.
The Buccaneers signed Brian Griese to a new contract to retain him as their starting quarterback. They have a young quarterback, in Chris Simms. It's unclear if Simms would be part of any trade package offered by Tampa Bay to move up. . . .
When Rodgers worked out for the Buccaneers last weekend, the club had NFL career receiving leader Jerry Rice on hand to catch passes. Rice is a free agent after being released by the Seahawks and has said he'd like to continue playing next season if he can find a team interested in signing him. He formerly played for Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden in Oakland. . . .
Smith visited the 49ers' training facility Tuesday. Rodgers is scheduled to visit the club today. . . . Green Bay signed safety Arturo Freeman, who was released by Miami. . . . Several restricted free agents re-signed with their teams -- tailback Kenny Watson with Cincinnati, defensive end Brett Keisel with Pittsburgh, linebacker Troy Evans with Houston, tight end Terry Jones with Baltimore and tight end John Owens with Chicago. . . . The Patriots released cornerback Hank Poteat and tight end Jed Weaver. . . .
Tagliabue said during an appearance Tuesday in Dallas that he expects the city to host a Super Bowl in 2011 or 2012 in the Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, Tex., that's scheduled to open in 2009. . . .
The Steelers today re-signed tight end Walter Rasby, an unrestricted free agent, to a one-year, minimum-salary contract.
Restricted FA Market Heats Up
The restricted free agent market closes Friday, and today is bringing a flurry of late activity. Minnesota signed Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman to a one-year offer sheet, and Detroit signed San Francisco offensive lineman Kyle Kosier to a one-year offer sheet. The Packers and 49ers have a week to decide whether to match the offers and retain their players.
Green Bay would receive a fifth-round draft choice from Minnesota if it allows Kampman, who had 4-1/2 sacks last season, to go to the Vikings. San Francisco would get a seventh-round pick from Detroit if it permits Kosier, a starter at guard last season who also can play tackle, to sign with the Lions.
They are the fifth and sixth restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with other teams this offseason. Two of the previous four ended up switching clubs.