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NEW YORK (AP) — Four NFL teams will carry an additional overseas player on their practice squads during the 2017 season. Three players are from Britain and one from Germany.

The announcement by the NFL on Thursday is part of a new International Player Pathway program.

The international players are: tight end Alex Gray with Atlanta, defensive end Efe Obada with Carolina, defensive end Alex Jenkins with New Orleans and linebacker Eric Nzeocha with Tampa Bay.

The players have been training alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in Florida the past three months.

Gray is a former rugby player; Jenkins and Nzeocha were recent college players. Obada was originally signed by Dallas in 2015. Each team will get an exemption for an 11th practice player, who is ineligible to be activated during the season.

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The NFL’s decision to again let players celebrate touchdowns, both roundly, and deservedly, praised, was also akin to a layup for the league. We’re hearing the interpretation of the new rule may not be as easy—at least not initially.

“When you read the language, you’ll understand,” Falcons president and competition committee chairman Rich McKay said Tuesday at the spring league meeting of the NFL’s revised TD celebration allowances. “And when you see the video, which we’ll share with all the players in the preseason, you’ll have a clear explanation.

"Doesn’t mean that it covers everything, because you’ll still have players that are creative. We’ve seen guys go get popcorn; they’ve done a lot. Good for them, but in our case we just want to try and make sure we bring as much clarity as we can.”

Clarity is obviously a good thing, but the Way We Hear It, there’s gray area yet to come into focus. Is it as ambiguous as the catch rule? Thankfully for all of us, it isn’t, but new senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron acknowledged while the rule generally should make his official’s lives easier, certain acts will be subject to interpretation.

“No doubt about it,” said Riveron.

Since sexually suggestive acts aren’t allowed, interpreting one thrust vs. two, as one veteran scribe joked Tuesday, won’t be of concern to officials. Moreover, with choreographed celebration no longer subject to penalty, officials won’t spend time trying to decipher whether the imaginary photo shoot last year involving Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham, for instance, happened organically, or whether it was premeditated.

After listening to McKay, Riveron, commissioner Roger Goodell and executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent discuss the intended changes Tuesday, it’s clear maintaining sportsmanship within celebration is of the utmost importance. And with a clear prioritization on eliminating taunting, despite the language remaining unchanged, we expect this to be one potential area of potential subjectivity.

“If we feel that you are performing an act at an opponent, directly at their bench, there will be a foul,” Riveron explained. “There’s no change in that language. Players also talked about standing over their opponent.”

Vincent thinks the preseason will be a critical time for continuing to develop a consensus on what forms of celebration will and won’t be considered acceptable.

“I think we’ll have a better idea [in the] preseason,” he said. “We’re constantly engaging with the player and with the fan. Preseason will give us some indication. Players have said they want to stay involved with this process.”

Indeed, Goodell shares Vincent's sentiment regarding this process being a fluid one.

"There’s a lot more work to be done and a lot more discussion to have with all entities to make sure we implement it correctly," said Goodell. "Also understanding that, whenever we establish a policy, people are going to push the limit. That’s going to be more of a job that we’re going to have to do moving forward to make sure we keep it within the structure of the standards that I think all of us collectively have a strong consensus around, which is what you see today."

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Cortez Kennedy was a hulking force at defensive tackle, the cornerstone of a franchise that had little to cheer about for most of his playing career.

And yet what Kennedy accomplished as a player with the Seattle Seahawks — which was good enough for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — was secondary to the affable personality that made him a revered figure long after his career ended.

Police in Orlando, Florida, said the 48-year-old Kennedy was found dead Tuesday morning. Orlando Police Department public information officer Wanda Miglio said the circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown but that there is nothing suspicious about it. An investigation is being conducted.

"The full story lies in his loving, fun, positive and giving heart," said New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who worked for the Seahawks during Kennedy's playing career. "In my many years working in the NFL, no one better exemplified what it meant to be a great player on the field, and yet that paled in comparison to what Cortez meant to the people who knew him off the field."

A star who spent his entire 11-year NFL career in relative obscurity playing in Seattle, Kennedy became the second Seahawks player inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. He was an unmovable wall as a dominant defensive tackle, and a quiet, gentle soul away from the field never interested in finding himself in the spotlight.

"Cortez Kennedy has been a pillar of the Seahawks franchise since joining the team as a rookie in 1990," the Seahawks said in a statement. "Tez was the heart and soul of the Seahawks through the 1990s and endeared himself to 12s all across the Pacific Northwest as a player who played with a selfless and relentless approach to the game. ... We are proud to have been represented by such a special person."

Kennedy was the No. 3 overall pick in the 1990 draft out of Miami and Seattle smartly never let him leave. He brought notoriety to an otherwise dreadful period in Seahawks history as an eight-time Pro Bowler and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992.

For many seasons of his career, Kennedy was the reason the Seahawks were relevant.

"Really sad to lose a guy like Cortez Kennedy," Broncos' general manager John Elway tweeted . Elway was chased around by Kennedy twice a year for much of the 1990s as competitors in the AFC West. "A great personality, a great player and I enjoyed competing against him."

Even though he last played for the Seahawks in 2000, he remained a significant part of the organization. He was a mainstay around the team during training camp and would occasionally roll through the locker room during the regular season grabbing a few minutes with anyone — players, coaches, media — up for a chat.

That personality was evident nearly 30 years ago when Dennis Erickson, then the new head coach at Miami, first met Kennedy. Erickson saw it again in 1995 when he became the head coach of the Seahawks and Kennedy was his star player.

"He always had a smile on his face. There was no arrogance about him at all. Not at all," Erickson said. "He wouldn't think he was as good as he was. ... He was just a great young man. He was one of the closest guys I've been around in coaching. I was close with his family and he was close with my family and we kept in touch all these years. It's hard to describe him. They don't make them like him anymore."

After his playing career ended, Kennedy briefly worked for Loomis as an adviser with the Saints and was an ambassador for the Seahawks. He was scheduled to be in Seattle on Thursday as part of an event for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.

"Cortez will be remembered not only for all his great achievements on the football field but how he handled himself off the field," Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker said. "He epitomized the many great values this game teaches which serves as inspiration to millions of fans."

Current Seattle players including Kam Chancellor , Earl Thomas and Jimmy Graham who came to know Kennedy from his locker room chats took to social media to express their shock and sadness at the loss of a mentor.

"My heart hurts," current Seahawks offensive lineman Justin Britt tweeted. "We lost a truly great player but even better person."

Kennedy experienced only minimal team success in his career with the Seahawks. His 1992 season, when Kennedy was the league's defensive player of the year, was made even more remarkable by the fact that his 14 sacks, 27 tackles for loss and 92 tackles came for a team that went 2-14 and was among the worst ever offensively in a 16-game season.

What made Kennedy so difficult to stop was his low center of gravity, unexpected quickness and remarkable strength packaged in a 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame.

"Out of the blue I would get a call from him and he'd laugh and that's how he was. Or he'd leave me a message, 'Am I still your favorite player?'" Erickson said. "He was like that all the time."


AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Associated Press Writer Terrence Harris contributed.


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CHICAGO — NFL owners voted Tuesday at the league's spring meeting to reduce the length of overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. The change was instituted with player safety in mind.

"We had discussed this back in March and we tabled it to make sure that we had thought through all aspects of it," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We think this is an important change, particularly for teams that may get into an overtime situation, and a lengthy overtime situation, that may have to come back and play on a Thursday night."

Shortening the overtime period theoretically lessens the number of plays in which players are subjected to injury. Owners don't think the change will lead to an increase in ties. There has been an average of one tie per season over the past five years, including two during the 2016 season.

"We don't know (whether the change will result in more ties). But we don't believe so," Goodell said. "We think the strategy our coaches would take, our teams would take will solve that problem. But that is always a possibility."

After changing the overtime rules in 2010 to give each club a possession if the team that gets the ball first doesn't score a touchdown, will this latest modification offset that? It stands to reason that the team that wins the overtime coin toss will attempt to use as much of the clock as possible before potentially attempting a game-winning field goal without the opponent seeing the ball.

It's worth noting there was only one 10-minute drive in the NFL last season, a 20-play drive by the Panthers in Week 10 that actually didn't result in points. Yet, just as coaches attempted to use the revised touchback rule in their favor last season with more pop-up kicks landing just outside the end zone, they'll almost certainly emphasize working on situational ball-control offense.

"From our standpoint, we believe it is sudden death," Goodell said when asked whether the NFL would consider going back to the true sudden death format. "Because if somebody returns a kick for a touchdown, the game is over. ... So from our standpoint, it's a nice balance."

NFL research indicates the average length of overtime over the past five seasons is 7 minutes and 43 seconds. Under the new rule, there would have been 16 total ties, or 3.2 percent, which is up from the average of one since 2012.

"I think everyone feels strongly that competition is the most important thing, and we want to have competitive games," Goodell said. "Fortunately we do. We had, I think, our most competitive season since 1932 this year, and that's a good thing for the game and for the fans. But we also believe is we play to win. And that's the effort. I think fans would love to see a winner."

We'll see soon enough whether the NFL's latest change to overtime prevents fans from seeing as many winners.

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CHICAGO — The NFL, or "No Fun League" as it's been nicknamed for years, took a step Tuesday to inject some harmless entertainment back into its game as owners were informed that players can again celebrate touchdowns without being subject to penalty.

"I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two months, I’d say, talking to players, to coaches, to officials, to fans, to try and understand what’s the right balance," commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday from the league's spring meeting. "It’s always been a balance of, and the players were particularly strong on this, they want to uphold the integrity of the game; we want to make sure what we do reflects well on ourselves, our families, the game."

Thus, the NFL is encouraging "spontaneous exuberance," as USA TODAY's Tom Peliserro reports, but it still won't permit extended celebrations, taunting and sexually suggestive dances (sorry, Antonio Brown).

The NFL will use a 40-second clock after the official signals touchdown and the players can celebrate — within reason — without fear of being penalized. It's worth noting excessive celebration flags were thrown only 33 times last season, but the idea is for fewer flags and more fun.

"I think the line is simple: sportsmanship matters, it’s important," said Falcons owner and competition committee chairman Rich McKay. "Taunting is not acceptable; pointing and putting something in somebody else’s face. I’m not sure that we didn’t take the choreographed celebration too far. I think it started to feel like a bit of a sportsmanship issue and it really isn’t."

Indeed, while taunting remains an automatic 15-yard penalty, language regarding choreographed celebrations has been deleted; this was one of the celebration aspects players deemed important in their meetings with Goodell, McKay and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent.

"Players really enjoyed having a voice to express their views what they think should be done," Goodell said. "They’ve expressed ownership. It’s on them also to make sure this is done the right way."

Added Vincent: "And one thing that was clear, it was a consensus, that they want ceratin things out of the game. Allow us to choreograph; can you reintroduce or consider reintroducing the ball as a prop. It was a phenomenal exercise. All stakeholders were involved — the fan, the player, the coach, the official —and we feel like we’re coming to a good place where we should be language-wise.

Yes, Steelers All-Pro WR Antonio Brown, who was fined multiple times totaling more than $34,000 last season for his twerking touchdown celebration, will continue to be fined and penalized if this persists. But other celebrations will be allowed, and, the league thinks, it should make the job of the officials easier.

"We heard from a lot of officials and they wanted to get out of [deciding which celebrations to penalize]," said Goodell. "Frankly, we want them focusing on the game and the rules so that was our feedback. We think there is less discretion; it’s beneficial to the officials."

So while Tuesday wasn't necessarily a win for Brown, it was a triumphant day for many players whose creativity will be sparked by the NFL's less rigid disciplinary tactics on touchdown celebrations. It was also undoubtedly a win for fans who thought the league was taking the fun out of its game.

"It was time to revisit it. The pendulum had swung a long ways," McKay said.

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Matt Hoeppner saw the recent success — 56 victories in the past three seasons — an all-stater returning and an established youth program.

Pillar suspended: Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar was suspended two games Thursday for yelling an anti-gay slur at a Braves pitcher.

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The merits have been batted around like a volleyball, but only time will tell what kind of an impact a 72-hour early-signing period for colleg…

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