Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE -

Jones ex­tends deal

Dal­las punter Chris Jones has signed a four-year con­tract ex­ten­sion through 2021, se­cur­ing the Cowboys’ spe­cial teams combo with kicker Dan Bai­ley for at least the next four sea­sons. Jones, who had one year re­main­ing on his deal, had a ca­reer-best av­er­age of 45.9 yards last sea­son, in­clud­ing a 66-yarder that rolled out of bounds at the 1-yard line at Phil­a­del­phia in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale. Bai­ley, who has made nearly 90 per­cent of his field goals through six sea­sons, is signed through 2020.

Rookie QB to start

Coach Mike Tom­lin said Wed­nes­day quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger and wide re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown will not play in the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers’ pre­sea­son opener Fri­day night against the New York Giants, but all other healthy play­ers will ap­pear in some ca­pac­ity. With backup quar­ter­back Landry Jones (ab­dom­i­nal) out for a week, rookie Josh Dobbs will start at quar­ter­back. A num­ber of Steel­ers starters have been nagged by in­juries and held out of prac­tice, in­clud­ing cen­ter Mau­r­kice Pouncey (leg), tackle Ale­jan­dro Vil­lanueva (con­cus­sion symp­toms), lineback­ers Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, cor­ner­back Ar­tie Burns and safety Mike Mitchell. It is un­likely any of them will play against the Giants.

Free­man’s record deal

The At­lanta Fal­cons have agreed to terms on a five-year, $41.25 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion with run­ning back Devonta Free­man. It in­cludes a $15 mil­lion sign­ing bonus and $22 mil­lion in guar­an­teed money. The deal was an­nounced Wed­nes­day, on the eve of the team’s pre­sea­son opener at Mi­ami, and makes Free­man the NFL’s high­est-paid run­ning back. Dur­ing his three sea­sons with the Fal­cons, the Mi­ami na­tive has racked up 2,383 rush­ing yards, in­clud­ing back-to­back 1,000-yard rush­ing sea­sons in 2015 and 2016. His 3,175 to­tal yards over the past two sea­sons ranks sec­ond in the NFL, be­hind team­mate Julio Jones. Free­man’s agent first raised the prospect of a lu­cra­tive ex­ten­sion be­fore the Fal­cons played in the Su­per Bowl. While

ne­go­ti­a­tions car­ried on, the run­ning back said he had no in­ten­tion of hold­ing out be­cause he didn’t want to be a dis­trac­tion.

Full-time of­fi­cials

The NFL will hire up to 24 full­time game of­fi­cials. The league will be­gin hir­ing be­tween 21 and 24 full-time of­fi­cials from among the cur­rent ros­ter of 124 of­fi­cials for this sea­son. The de­ci­sion was an­nounced Wed­nes­day. “We be­lieve this is a great de­vel­op­ment for NFL of­fi­ci­at­ing over­all and ul­ti­mately the qual­ity of our game,” said NFL ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of foot­ball op­er­a­tions Troy Vincent. “We share a com­mon goal, which is to make

our game as great as it can pos­si­bly be, and look for­ward to work­ing to­gether on this new ef­fort.” Full-time of­fi­cials will be hired at each of the seven of­fi­ci­at­ing po­si­tions and may serve on each of the 17 of­fi­ci­at­ing crews. They will work col­lab­o­ra­tively with their as­signed crews, the league of­fi­ci­at­ing staff and the NFL’s foot­ball-re­lated com­mit­tees dur­ing the off­sea­son.

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