TIME NFL

What the NFL’s First Female Coach Thinks About Tom Brady and Life in the Locker Room

Jen Welter talks to TIME about her coaching philosophy, the challenges ahead, and the league's latest controversy

The Arizona Cardinals introduced Jen Welter this week as a preseason and training camp coaching intern for the team’s inside linebackers, making her what is believed to be the first woman to hold any kind of coaching position in the NFL. Welter is used to breaking barriers: In 2014, she became the first woman to play a contact position in a professional men’s game, when she suited up at running back for the Texas Revolution, a team that plays in the Champions Indoor Football League.

Welter, 37, played 14 seasons in the Women’s Football Alliance, won two gold medals with the American team at the International Federation of American Football’s Women’s World Championship. She was linebackers and special teams coach for the Revolution last season.

TIME spoke to Welter on Tuesday from the Cardinals practice facility.

It’s 2015. The NFL has been around for a long, long time. What took so long for there to be a female coach?
How many times have we heard that the final frontier of women in sports is football? It really has been that gladiator sport, that last bastion of women don’t go there. It is a game where people believe that you have to be big and tough and strong and to have played the game and been in the trenches. And the truth is that women haven’t been playing football nearly as long as men. And the history of women in football is relatively short. So it’s understandable that it would take time.

But now we’re getting into the days when I had the longevity, because the sport was around enough, to have played for 14 years. You start to say, “Hey, wait a minute. These girls aren’t going anywhere.” And it took that credibility of guys seeing you be in the game for that long, and being dedicated and realizing that you do know it, you do love it, and you’re not just around it for the wrong reason. To start to put women in positions where they could contribute to football. And I think that that’s the blessing. It’s not going to change overnight. But it takes a history.

Given that football, as you say, has that gladiator, macho culture, and is the ‘last bastion of women don’t go there,’ why do you think NFL players will listen to you?
It’s not about what I think. It’s that I’ve been in this situation before. I have coached guys before. It wasn’t that I went in day one and tried to change them in football. I was there, I was consistent, I added to their game when I could. I took a lot of time to get to know what the needs of the players were. And once I saw the needs of the players, I would step in and help them. Some of the moments were more on the sports psychology side to be honest. Telling him how to be that ‘it’ player, or if you did this after the play, you know that message it would send. It’s just getting one or two of those guys to listen and buy in. Then when somebody sees that happening and they get better, oh my goodness it gets to be really competitive. Everybody wants that.

We had a joke—it wasn’t a joke, it was a very known secret I guess, on the defense that caught on was ‘Coach Jen’s Notes.’ I started with the linebackers but as the season went on I ended up working with the d-line and linebackers. And the guys were like, ‘hey, don’t you have notes for us?’ And I said, ‘you want my notes?’ They said, ‘yeah coach’. And I feel like, and I say this very jokingly, but it was serious cause at first it was almost like they didn’t want anybody to know they were getting notes from me.

And yet by the end of the season I had players who were leaders on my team, when a new guy came in, they’d be like, ‘listen, you need to give your email to coach Jen. She does the game breakdowns, her notes are the best, and you need to look at them.’ And it became an expectation. But it takes those leaders to really buy in.

I’m patient. I’m not going to jump up in anybody’s face and make them try and listen to me. As a player I would have respected that. So I think having that background as a player and knowing what I would look for and how to be respected, I think that that’s what these guys will respond to. At least I hope so.

Is your goal to be NFL head coach?
If that is the direction is where God puts me on this path, that’s what I will do. I lovingly say that I believe God put blinders on my life in terms of what I could accomplish and be capable of, because if I would have looked up and said to somebody, “I was going to do this,” they would have told me I was crazy. As soon as I started playing football, I knew it was my destiny. I couldn’t ever picture it.

As somebody who has a doctorate in psychology, people hire me all the time to talk about goal setting and breaking things down step by step. I couldn’t see this goal to have it. I just had to literally put my head down and trust the path, and do the right things everyday to be successful. And trust that process. And so if in doing this, that’s the path I’m meant to be on, then that’s exactly where I’ll go. But I can’t see that yet.

What do you anticipate being the toughest part of the job?

The toughest part, I think, is really guys knowing how they can act around me. Yesterday somebody said, “Come on gentlemen, let’s go.” And they were like, “Oh my gosh Jen, we’re so sorry.” And I said, “Just say guys it works for everybody.”

I’m used to rolling with the punches. I’ve been around guys in professional football for two years now. I’ve had friends in it forever. But it takes times for guys to see that and know it. And I laugh a lot. I smile a lot. I love those moments. I know they’re challenges to most people and they’re scary, but to me those are the priceless moments. I think it was a big turning point for the guys when I played. We were with the running backs and the coach was like, “Hey running backs, do you have your balls?” And one of the linebackers said, “Yeah, all but Jen.” And I looked at him and I said, “That’s okay, baby, when I need ’em I’ll get yours from your wife’s purse.” And just that moment of not being offended, of rolling with the punches and laughing, it opened up so many. Because they realized that they didn’t have to not be guys around me.

I don’t want to change who they are. I don’t want them to be like, “Oh my gosh coach, blah blah blah.” My guys would get protective at times. If I walked into a conversation they’d say, “Earmuffs, coach.’ I’d be like, “Okay.” And we would joke about it. On the outside, dealing with those issues is a horrible challenge and we don’t know how people are going to do it. Or deal with it. But when you do it, and you get through those moments and you share that laughter, those are the things that truly bond your team and are priceless. Those are the moments you love and you cherish and you laugh about years and years later.

Now that you’re in the NFL, I have to ask: what do you think about this Tom Brady ruling?
You can’t ask me about Tom Brady and want me to say anything about him other than I think he’s an absolute phenomenal player. … And he’s such a humble, good guy that loves the game of football. I hate to see anything tarnish that reputation. I can’t speak to a ruling like that. And I think that there are so many things in football that need to be fixed, that we’re spending, and pardon the pun, but I really am tired of hearing about Tom Brady’s balls. I’d rather move on.

It is kind of serendipitous though or funny or God’s irony that the same day we announce a woman coach in the NFL, we can’t get off Tom Brady’s balls.

Do you think it’s unfortunate that it kind of overshadowed you?
It’s those things that happen years later. Hopefully people will forget about Tom Brady’s balls long before they’ll forget that a girl is coaching in the NFL.

What got you into coaching football in first place?
It was actually former Dallas Cowboy (and first-year Texas Revolution head coach) Wendell Davis who approached me initially about coaching. We met and sat down and had a conversation. He knew I had played for the team the year before. He was just trying to get an understanding of the team, asking me a lot of questions about how things were and what was good, what was bad. As we started talking he started grilling me about football ins and outs, Xs and Os. Like, “What, am I being tested right now? All right. If you’re going to put me on the spot right now, I’ll step up.” And we really got into some great football talk.

Two days later he said, “You know Jen, in the car ride when we left”—and he was with his defensive coordinator at the time—he said, “all we could talk about was how we needed you to coach our football team. How she’d be fantastic.” And I told him, “No. Oh no.” And he was like, “Well, why?” And I said, “I still might play and I might do this.” He said, “Jen, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. You’re not going to get this opportunity from another guy. So you need to just step up and take it. There’s never been a girl who’s coached before and you’re the right one so do it.” And Wendell just has this way about him. I did turn him down on that phone call but on the next one, he broke me down and I said yes. He really twisted my arm, but he was right. And I’m very thankful for that.

What do apply from your psychology doctorate into coaching?
Everything. My masters is in sports psychology. My doctorate, though it’s in general psychology, we focused entirely in sports. I took everything I learned, cause I was playing, I took everything I learned in psychology and looked for an application to sports and to athletes in general. And I think the biggest thing that most people don’t realize is that athletes are humans too. We see them as players, but we tend to be very bad at looking past the helmet and seeing the people. And a lot of the challenges I saw with my players last season were less about the Xs and Os, and more about life. And I hope, as a coach, that I can help these guys be better men, not just better football players. That’s the goal.

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon just won a summer league championship. You’re the NFL’s first female coach. The U.S. women’s soccer team captivated the nation, Serena Williams is going for a Grand Slam. Do you think women and sports are having a huge moment, and if so, what long-term can come out of it?
I think the difference with women’s sports now is that people are finally paying attention. Women have been talented athletes and very powerful in sports for a very long time. But they haven’t had the support around them. You know, my first Super Bowl check [Welter refers to the titles she won in the Women’s Football Alliance as Super Bowls] was for 12 dollars. I had to fundraise $3,000 to represent my country as a pioneer as a woman in football. And we thought when we won gold medals we were changing the world for women’s football. We got back and no one even knew what we did.

It takes the support. It’s not just the talent. The talent has been there, there have been amazing women in sports for so long. Unfortunately no one knew they existed. And what’s changing now is that people are getting excited about women in sports. And they realize that for our girls to grow up, and grow up into very strong, successful women, they need to see positive role models. Not just Instagram pictures.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

TIME Football

Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Regrets Not Appealing NFL Penalties

"This was never about doing what was fair and just"

(FOXBOROUGH, Mass.) — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft says he was wrong to trust the NFL in the deflated footballs case and that he regrets not appealing the penalties against the team.

Appearing at team headquarters Wednesday, a day after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld a four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Kraft angrily targeted the league for its handling of the case.

Kraft said that the league’s claim that Brady trashed his cellphone was just the latest in a series of statements and leaks designed to impugn the integrity of Brady and the team.

Kraft said, “I have come to the conclusion that this was never about doing what was fair and just.”

Brady was suspended four games and the team was docked $1 million and two draft picks after the league found improperly inflated footballs were used in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

TIME NFL

Tom Brady ‘Very Disappointed’ by NFL Suspension: ‘I Did Nothing Wrong’

"To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong"

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says he is “very disappointed” by the NFL’s decision to uphold his four-game suspension for his alleged involvement in his team’s use of underinflated footballs during January’s AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

“Despite submitting to hours of testimony over the past 6 months, it is disappointing that the Commissioner [Roger Goodell] upheld my suspension based upon a standard that it was ‘probable’ that I was ‘generally aware’ of misconduct,” Brady wrote in a lengthy Facebook post on Wednesday. “The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused. He dismissed my hours of testimony and it is disappointing that he found it unreliable.”

Brady also tried to set the record straight about why he had his assistant destroy his cellphone around the time investigators contacted him about the football tampering commonly referred to as “Deflategate”:

I also disagree with yesterdays narrative surrounding my cellphone. I replaced my broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER my attorneys made it clear to the NFL that my actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances. As a member of a union, I was under no obligation to set a new precedent going forward, nor was I made aware at any time during Mr. Wells investigation, that failing to subject my cell phone to investigation would result in ANY discipline.

Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January. To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong.

… We even contacted the phone company to see if there was any possible way we could retrieve any/all of the actual text messages from my old phone. In short, we exhausted every possibility to give the NFL everything we could and offered to go thru the identity for every text and phone call during the relevant time.

You can read the full post here.

TIME NFL

‘Here’s Why Deflategate Is Still Ridiculous’

Four takeaways from the latest Deflategate news

Not-so-great news, football fans: as training camps kick off this week, pressure gauges and needles are still a hot topic. Did you ever think, upon waking up the morning after the AFC championship game in January, a Patriots romp over the Colts, and hearing about New England possibly deflating footballs, that a few months later this silly-sounding scandal would result in the NFL suspending its Super Bowl MVP, best player, and biggest celebrity for a quarter of a season? That NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would hand down the original four-game suspension to Tom Brady back in May, refuse to recuse himself as appellate judge, and uphold his original ruling upon appeal? That the story of the 2015 NFL season now involves injunctions and smashed cell phones and lawsuits?

Seemed ridiculous at the time. But then again, the NFL seems to specialize in off-field rumpuses. Below are four takeaways from the NFL’s decision to uphold Brady’s suspension.

1. The NFL Created This Mess. Fundamentally, the NFL volunteered to make this a scandal. First off, if mucking with air pressure gives a player a competitive advantage—as Goodell’s decision released Tuesday afternoon contends—then why didn’t NFL rules dictate that someone keep a close eye on the game balls before kickoff? (The NFL is correcting the flaw this year, an acknowledgement that the old policy made little sense).

As Ted Wells’ Delfategate report points out, the Colts gave the NFL office a heads-up about their suspicions that the Pats were deflating footballs. So why didn’t the NFL issue the Pats a warning, or more closely watch the Pats ball attendants to prevent them from allegedly cheating in the first place? And third, why did someone, presumably from the NFL camp, leak PSI information—which turned out to be wrong—to the media in the first place, helping propel the scandal in the Super Bowl walkup?

2. Roger Goodell Says Deflation is Like Taking Steroids. To justify the length of the four-game suspension, Goodell likens deflating footballs to inflating your body via steroids, since both presumably offer a competitive advantage. Yes, he went there, comparing shooting yourself up with body-altering substances to letting some air out of a football.

Goodell also notes that, under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, “the first positive test for the use of performance enhancing drugs has resulted in a four-game suspension.” So, Brady’s alleged attempt to cheat should also warrant four games. But where’s the positive test in Brady’s case? Goodell is basing his punishment on circumstantial evidence, but no accepted smoking gun like a positive test. The NFL can punish PED users without a positive test—a so-called non-analytical positive—but this is rarely done. In 2007, New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison admitted to using a banned substance and was hit with a four-game suspension. But Brady is not admitting to anything. Is this a fair standard for the Pats QB?

3. Tom Brady Needs A Better Cell Phone Plan. In his decision, Goodell said Brady destroyed his cell phone right before investigators interviewed him, so they could not look at potentially incriminating texts. This looks ridiculously suspicious, and will help plenty of fans conclude that Brady is guilty. Brady also said that he regularly smashes phones, and this particular destruction just happened to coincide with the date of the Deflategate interview. This stretches credulity. From the beginning, the NFL has said it offered Brady the chance to cherry-pick any correspondence from his phone to hand over investigators. So why destroy it in the first place?

4. Tom Brady Needs A Grip. One of the weakest parts of the Wells report was its incrimination of Brady based on his mere texts, phone conversations, and meetings with ball attendants after Deflategate broke. Brady wouldn’t communicate directly with them after any other game: suddenly, they’re in constant contact. Must be getting their stories straight, right? That conclusion, however, never felt convincing. If you’re in Brady’s shoes, and you’re a superstar whose clean-cut image is taking a beating because you allegedly cheated, you might be talking to ball attendants more than usual just to find out what the heck is going on. However, according to Goodell’s decision, Brady suggested that they were talking about the upcoming Super Bowl. “I think most of the conversations centered around breaking in the balls,” Brady testified.

Brady turned a weak portion of the Wells report into a strength for Goodell. The commissioner could now say that if breaking in the balls was so important, why didn’t Brady conduct such communication during other regular season or playoff games? Sure, the Super Bowl is important. But it seems off that Brady would suddenly be so fanatical about the grip of the football, to the point that he had to huddle with ball attendants pronto.

Neither the NFL nor Brady did themselves huge favors in this whole appeals process. And it doesn’t look like this story is going away. Where’s Week 1 when you need it?

 

TIME Football

NFL Upholds Tom Brady’s 4-Game Suspension

The NFL and the New England Patriots' quarterback will head to court over the star's 4-game suspension

(NEW YORK) — Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in using underinflated footballs during the AFC championship game has been upheld by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The league announced the decision Tuesday, with Goodell saying that the New England quarterback told an assistant to destroy Brady’s cellphone on or just before March 6. Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells on that day.

“He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone,” Goodell said in his decision.

“During the four months that the cellphone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device.”

Brady acknowledged in his testimony he was aware of investigators’ request for information from the cellphone before he had it destroyed, the appeal decision said.

Wells’ investigation had no subpoena power and Brady was under no legal obligation to cooperate.

The text messages were critical to Wells’ investigation because they could have shown details of Brady’smessages with equipment managers blamed for deflating footballs.

The four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was suspended by NFL executive Troy Vincent in May following the Wells report. The Patriots were fined $1 million and docked a pair of draft picks. The team didn’t appeal its penalty, but Brady and his lawyers made their case during a 10-hour appeal hearing on June 23.

The NFL Players Association has previously said it would challenge the decision in court if Brady’s suspension wasn’t erased. The union said Tuesday afternoon it would have a statement later in the day. The Patriots said they had no comment on the decision.

Moments after announcing Goodell’s decision, the league filed action in U.S. District Court in New York against the union, saying the NFL commissioner has the right under the labor agreement to hand out such discipline “for conduct that he determines is detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.”

Goodell mentioned exactly that in the conclusion of his appeal decision.

“Especially in light of the new evidence introduced at the hearing — evidence demonstrating that he arranged for the destruction of potentially relevant evidence that had been specifically requested by the investigators — my findings and conclusions have not changed in a manner that would benefit Mr. Brady,” Goodell said.

Brady and the Patriots have denied knowingly using deflated footballs in the AFC title game win over Indianapolis. The Patriots went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl and Brady was the MVP.

The NFL announced in late January that Wells would head an investigation into New England’s use of underinflated balls against the Colts. More than three months later, the 243-page Wells report was issued, saying it was “more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware” that footballs he used were improperly deflated by team personnel.

Brady appealed and the union asked Goodell to recuse himself from hearing the appeal because he could not be impartial and might be called as a witness. But Goodell said it was his responsibility to oversee the hearing to protect the integrity of the league.

Scientific arguments were a major part of Brady’s defense. Brady’s lawyers tried to shoot down the findings of an independent firm hired to provide scientific analysis of the air pressure inside the footballs used by the Patriots and Colts.

Brady, who turns 38 on Aug. 3, took nearly every snap last season. But he’ll miss the first four games this season unless the case goes to court. Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round pick in 2014, would replace Brady, the two-time NFL MVP and three-time Super Bowl MVP.

New England hosts Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 to open the regular season. It then goes to Buffalo, hosts Jacksonville, has a bye, and is at Dallas in the last game of Brady’s suspension. Brady would return against, yes, the Colts on Oct. 18 in Indianapolis.

 

TIME Football

There Is a Female Coach in the NFL for the First Time Ever

Jen Welter will be coaching inside linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals

In a historic move, the Arizona Cardinals have announced that they have hired the first-ever female NFL coach.

According to NFL.com, Jen Welter played rugby at college and then 14 years of professional football in the Women’s Football Alliance. She is currently a member of the Indoor Football League. Welter will complete an internship with the team, coaching inside linebackers during the preseason training camp.

It’s not the first time she’ll be making history in football. At the Indoor Football League, she was the first woman to play in a nonkicking position on an all-male team, NFL.com reports.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who made the decision to hire Welter, said that gender shouldn’t come into play when it comes to coaching. “If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, man, I’ll listen,” he told NFL.com.

[NFL.com]

TIME Football

NFL to Set New Ball-Inspection Rules After Deflategate

Football
Boston Globe/Getty Images After intercepting a second quarter pass by New England quarterback Tom Brady, Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson runs with the ball that sparked the controversy over the charges that the Patriots were using under inflated footballs.

The league is considering pressure readings for every ball before the game and then again at halftime

The NFL is preparing to send out instructions to game officials and teams explaining new rules for inspecting footballs.

Two people familiar with the league’s plans tell The Associated Press on Monday that proper inflation of the footballs will be documented as part of the new policy. But those people, speaking on condition of anonymity because the league has not released information on the new policy, say no instructions have been sent out yet.

The first preseason game is Aug. 9.

Among the details being considered for the new policy: having game officials appointed by the referee inspect the 48 footballs for each game more than two hours before kickoff. In the past, the referee inspected the footballs.

Also under consideration is checking pressure readings for every ball before the game and then again at halftime.

These changes stem from the use of underinflated footballs in the AFC championship game, which led to a four-game suspension for New England quarterback Tom Brady, a $1 million fine for the Patriots, and two draft picks.

TIME Florida

NFL Great Joe Namath Joining Search For 2 Missing Florida Teens

Missing Teen Fishermen
AP This combination made from photos provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows Perry Cohen, left, and Austin Stephanos, both 14 years old.

The boys headed off for a fishing trip on Friday. They have not been heard from since

Former NFL great Joe Namath is appealing to the public for help in finding two 14-year-old boys, who have been missing at sea since Friday.

“We’re all praying,” Namath, flanked by the boys’ families, said at a press conference on Sunday in Tequesta, Fla., according to Fox News. “We got a lot of people out on the water and in the air looking for them. We’ll stay out there until we find them.”

The boys, Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, embarked on a fishing trip in a 19-foot boat in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday. They were last seen buying fuel on Friday afternoon near Jupiter, Fla.

Perry is the son of Namath’s neighbor.

The boys’ families are offering a $100,000 reward for their safe return.

 

TIME Football

Dez Bryant and Cowboys Agree on a 5-year, $70 million Deal

Dez Bryant
Brandon Wade—AP Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant talks to his teammates in Arlington, Texas

"There was never a doubt in my mind that we wanted a long-term deal with Dez"

(IRVING, Texas) — Dez Bryant has the long-term contract he said he wouldn’t play without, and the Dallas Cowboys can quit worrying about whether he really would skip games.

The All-Pro receiver signed a five-year, $70 million deal Wednesday, after months of posturing from both sides and less than an hour before a deadline that would have required him to play under a one-year agreement.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that we wanted a long-term deal with Dez,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We just had to get the pot right.”

To do that, Jones flew to New York on Tuesday with son and executive vice president Stephen Jones to meet with agent Tom Condon and representatives of Jay Z’s Roc Nation talent agency. The elder Jones said they were up until 3 a.m. Wednesday discussing terms, and he went to bed confident a deal was all but done.

A person close to the negotiations provided contract terms to The Associated Press because they weren’t announced. The deal, which includes $45 million in guaranteed money, is similar to one Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas signed about the same time as Bryant.

At an average of $14 million annually, Bryant and Thomas are now the second-highest paid receivers behind Detroit’s Calvin Johnson ($16 million).

The 26-year-old Bryant, who led the NFL with 16 touchdowns receiving last season, had threatened to skip training camp and regular-season games without a contract to replace the $12.8 million offer for one year he had under the franchise tag.

Once the sides got close enough, Bryant rode to the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters. He was pictured there signing the contract with his son in his arms.

“I smiled the whole way over here. I couldn’t even say nothing but just smile and laugh, because I couldn’t believe it,” Bryant said in a story on the team’s website. “All I could just think about is that it’s a dream — a dream come true. I think the only thing that’s missing is a Super Bowl.”

Now the Cowboys can focus on defending their NFC East title and trying to make a deeper playoff run after one that essentially ended with Bryant’s much-debated catch that wasn’t in a divisional-round loss to Green Bay.

The deal also ended the contract-related drama that filled the offseason for the Cowboys.

First, they decided not to match Philadelphia’s offer on running back DeMarco Murray in free agency, and let the NFL rushing leader go to a division rival. Then the focus turned to Bryant, who has the most touchdowns receiving in the league since 2010, when Dallas drafted him late in the first round after his stock fell over concerns about off-the-field issues.

The Cowboys believed they could let Murray walk because they’ve assembled one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, bolstered by three first-round picks in the past five drafts. The last of those, Zack Martin, was the first rookie All-Pro for Dallas since Calvin Hill in 1969.

But the prospect of playing without Bryant was more daunting. He has more catches (381), yards (5,424) and touchdowns (56) through five years than any receiver in franchise history — a list that includes Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Bob Hayes.

“We know what he means to the team in many different ways and he’s evolved to his credit, he’s evolved into a player where he’s indispensable to us,” Jerry Jones said. “This is a real cornerstone as we look at the pieces that we’re putting together.”

In the months before the deal was reached, Bryant would occasionally use Twitter to express frustration over not having what he thought was a suitable offer. He also was miffed by suggestions that the Cowboys didn’t want to commit because of concern over issues from his first two years in the league, including an arrest in a domestic case involving his mother.

The most pointed message came Monday, when Bryant tweeted he would “not be there if no deal.” It was a clear a reference to training camp coming up in two weeks, if not another threat to sit out games, which would have cost him about $750,000 for each game he missed under the franchise tag.

“I’m a very passionate person,” Bryant told the team’s website. “I am that guy that, I have to stand by my word, because that’s how I want to raise my babies. It was all me. It was honest.”

Bryant never signed the franchise tender, so Dallas couldn’t fine Bryant for missing offseason workouts and camp practices. Bryant didn’t practice all spring, but did show up from time to time. That included the final mandatory minicamp workout, when he had a 15-minute conversation with Jones.

“I’m proud for him and you have to be proud for him individually when you consider the magnitude of this contract,” Jerry Jones said. “It’s a life-changer for him, but he’s worked to get it.”

And maybe a season-changer for the Cowboys.

TIME Television

Watch John Oliver Make a Sport of Taunting Taxpayer-Funded Stadiums

The Milwaukee Bucks, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Detroit Red Wings were all under fire on Last Week Tonight

John Oliver is a self-professed sports fan. “I love sports,” he said on Last Week Tonight. “In fact, the only times I’ve cried as a grown man have been while watching actors playing coaches deliver inspirational speeches set to stirring music.” Oliver’s love of the game didn’t prevent him from making an impassioned plea to stop spending taxpayer money on lavish stadiums, though.

“The vast majority of stadiums are made using public money,” said Oliver, citing a report from 2012 that revealed the staggering statistic that “$12 billion [has been] spent on the 51 new facilities opened between 2000 and 2010.” And, as Oliver noted, most of them “look like they were designed by a coked-up Willy Wonka.”

Oliver had one question for these exorbitant expenses: Why are tax dollars being used to fund stadiums? “Sports teams are wealthy businesses with wealthy owners and they still get our help,” Oliver said. “Pretending you’re poor is wrong. It wasn’t okay when Mary-Kate Olsen went through her hobo phase, and it’s not okay now!”

To prove his point about how cities like Cincinnati and Milwaukee have bent over backwards to keep sports teams happy, Oliver noted that just six days after Detroit declared bankruptcy, they got approval to spend more than $280 million in taxpayer money for a new arena for the local NHL team — even though the Red Wings owner, Mike Ilitch, is the founder of the Little Caesar’s pizza chain and worth an estimated $5.1 billion. As Oliver noted, “That’s a little hard to swallow.”

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