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Cowboys player death raises question of safety net

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Cowboys player death raises question of safety net

IRVING, Texas (AP) San Francisco 49ers defensive end Demarcus Dobbs walked away from a one-vehicle accident on his 25th birthday last month and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Less than two weeks later, with the NFL rocked by the car crash that killed Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown and left his teammate, Josh Brent, facing a manslaughter charge, Dobbs swears he'll find another way home whenever he does too much partying.

``I'm never going to put myself in that situation ever again,'' he said.

This is, of course, exactly what the NFL, its teams and the players' union wants to hear amid fresh questions about whether all the warnings and safety nets - because players in most of the major sports leagues arguably have more than the general public - will ever be enough to prevent accidents and deaths.

``There's a lot of pressure being in the NFL ... but it's no excuse for bad decisions,'' Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. ``Players have a lot of options, tools at their disposal, that they need to take advantage of, but it comes down to individuals making good decisions.''

Brown's death on Saturday and the arrest of defensive tackle Josh Brent after police say he caused the fatal wreck by speeding and driving drunk put the NFL Players Association's safe ride program back in the spotlight. It was revamped three years ago after concerns that enough players weren't using it.

Union spokesman Carl Francis said the program is a strong point of emphasis, and every player's membership card includes the contact information. And CEO John Glavin of Florida-based Corporate Security Solutions Inc., which runs the program, said he is happy with how the union gets the word out on the program.

He also stressed the confidentiality of the program, saying the company doesn't even tell the union when players call for rides.

Jacksonville cornerback CB Rashean Mathis, the team's union representative, said players rarely, if ever, use the program.

``Confidentiality is the problem,'' Mathis said. ``Guys are going to go out and have fun. We're just like the regular guy that works a 9-to-5 job. On a Friday night, he goes out and has some beer. It's not the best-case scenario, but it happens in life.''

To use the program, players can either work in advance to set up a full night with a driver or make a call for a ride home. The brochure says most response times are less than an hour. The program is available all year, and Glavin said his company also serves the NBA and NHL.

In Major League Baseball, designated drivers are available to players and fans through the teams, and the players have access to a confidential program that will take them wherever they need to go.

In the NFL, some teams rely solely on the NFLPA's program, while others have an additional system. In Cincinnati, the Bengals pay a company to make two drivers available when an employee calls. One drives the caller home, and the other follows in the employee's vehicle.

Glavin said some players hesitate to use that kind of program because they don't want others driving their expensive vehicles. Either way, the program hinges on a player making the first move.

``We can't make them make the phone call,'' Glavin said.

Last summer, the NFL held its 15th annual rookie orientation, which includes a number of life skills sessions. For the first time, separate sessions were held for the AFC and NFC to make the groups smaller, and current and former players were brought in as speakers, including Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick and Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones. Both have had high-profile legal problems, with Vick spending time in prison in a dogfighting case.

The NFL has sessions on issues ranging from guns to alcohol and drug use at other times of the years, and all teams have counselors who work with players, league spokesman Dan Masonson said.

League owners are gathering in the Dallas area Wednesday. The agenda was set to focus in part on player safety through the addition of leg padding, but it's likely to change. A week before Brown's death, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend before driving to the team's stadium and shooting himself in front of his coach and general manager.

``I am sure the events of the past two weeks will be discussed at the league meeting,'' league spokesman Greg Aiello said. ``We are always looking to do more.''

Several coaches said Monday they were talking again about issues of safety and good decisions after Brown's death. They also acknowledged there was only so much they could do, as did Mathis.

``We're not immune from life because we're athletes,'' Mathis said. ``We're not, but there are smarter choices.''

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AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley, Larry Lage, Mark Long and Joe Kay contributed to this report.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler