Thu May 28 5:01pm ET
By JOE REEDY
AP Sports Writer
The Madden franchise will continue to be a part of the gaming universe for at least the next six years.
NFL owners on Thursday approved an extension of their deal with Electronic Arts, continuing a relationship that has existed for 30 years. It was also recently approved by the NFL Players Association.
The current contract was set to expire after the 2021 season. The extension means that EA Sports will continue to be the league's exclusive publisher of football simulation games through 2026.
EA Sports Executive Vice President Cam Weber said both sides had been talking for months. Many wondered what the future of the relationship might be after 2K Sports signed an agreement with the NFL in March to produce non-simulation games.
The current edition of Madden has seen a 30% increase in unique players. According to Electronic Arts, more than 330 million hours of the game have been played since it was released last August. The company has also seen large increases in game play during the past couple of months as people have been confined to their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, with many tournaments taking place among friends and on television.
Rachel Hoagland, the league's vice president and head of gaming and esports, said keeping the Madden franchise at the core of their video gaming strategy was important, especially with the emergence of new platforms and gaming systems. Sony and Microsoft have announced new generations of gaming consoles that are expected to debut by the end of the year.
''EA has done a nice job of ensuring the game matches the experience during a game week. The new technology will allow richer content and add more realism,'' she said.
Madden NFL 21 will come out in early August with the first looks at the game coming next week.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was last year's cover athlete. Baltimore quarterback and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson said in April that he would be on the cover this year, but EA Sports has not made an announcement.
June 28th: Champions Draft
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (foot) is dealing with a classic Jones fracture and could be ready to return in 10 to 12 weeks rather than the 12 to 16 weeks that was originally reported. Samuel could still be pushing it to be ready for the start of the regular season, and the risk of him starting the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list has caused him to fall down draft boards. The 24-year-old was one of the team's best pass-catchers as a rookie, hauling in 57 receptions for 802 yards and three touchdowns. With his injury, rookie Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor become more attractive, at least early in the year. Samuel can be targeted as a WR4 with upside in fantasy drafts.
The New York Jets are still talking to free-agent wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The 32-year-old former Denver Bronco doesn't have much left in the tank at this point in his career, catching only 36 passes (58 targets) for 433 yards and one touchdown in his 11 games for the Jets last year. It's a far cry from when he compiled five straight 1,000-yard campaigns from 2012 to 2016 with the Broncos. New York's receiving corps isn't all that strong with Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder and rookie Denzel Mims as the top three wideouts, but DT would likely battle for the fourth-receiver gig with the likes of Josh Doctson and Vyncint Smith. Thomas won't be relevant in New York unless injuries open up a more prominent role for him.
Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown posted a picture on his Instagram account on Wednesday showing him working out with Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Russell Wilson. Brown is trying to work his way back into the league after countless off-field incidents. While he's likely to receive at least an eight-game suspension in 2020, it's looking more and more likely that another team will give him another shot based purely on his talent on a football field. The Seahawks were already one of the teams considering adding Brown or Josh Gordon, and Wilson working out with AB only furthers that narrative. Adding Brown to Seattle's mix would certainly be intriguing, but the controversial wideout won't have much redraft value with a lengthy suspension coming his way if he's reinstated.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook recently made NFL Network Analytics Expert Cynthia Frelund's list of 10 players who deserve a new deal. The 24-year-old is currently searching for a new contract and stated that he plans to hold out if he doesn't get paid heading into the 2020 campaign. Cook ran for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on 250 attempts in 2019. He also added 53 catches for 519 yards and was one of the most prolific runners inside the red zone. While there are a few months to go before the start of the regular season, fantasy managers should be prepared in the event Cook doesn't report to training camp at the end of July, while also targeting Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone as adequate handcuff options.
The San Francisco 49ers have discussed a long-term contract extension with wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. The 24-year-old caught 30 passes for 358 yards and five touchdowns last year and has 88 career receptions for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns (all in the last two years) in his three seasons in the league. Bourne isn't a household name, but he has two things going for him heading into the 2020 season: a potentially bigger role with Deebo Samuel (foot) a candidate to miss the start of the season, and a valuable red-zone connection with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Others in the Niners passing game could step up -- Jalen Hurd, Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor, Richie James -- but Bourne now has some late-round flier appeal in deeper leagues in an offense that values yards after the catch.
New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell has been "training like a mad man" this offseason. After holding out for all of 2018, Bell signed with the Jets and had the worst full season of his career, rushing for 789 yards and three touchdowns on 245 carries (career-low 3.2 yards per carry). He also added 66 receptions for 461 yards and another touchdown. Gang Green's putrid offensive line didn't do him any favors, but is the 28-year-old no longer an RB1? It doesn't help that head coach Adam Gase isn't a big fan of Bell, and veteran Frank Gore and rookie Lamical Perine could take away some touches. His production in the passing game helps his cause and the offensive line is upgraded, but Bell should be considered a low-end RB2 in this offense.
Buffalo Bills WR John Brown's production will be helped and not hurt by the addition of WR Stefon Diggs, according to QB Josh Allen. 'I think this is going to give him an opportunity to have more chances to catch the ball,' Allen said. 'Man-to-man, he's extremely tough to cover.'
Fantasy Spin: While the addition of Diggs is going to cut into his targets, less attention from opposing defenses could mean more big-play opportunities for Brown. Still, he will likely drop from the WR2 ranks to more of a boom-or-bust WR3.
Pittsburgh Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster may be lined up in the slot more often this upcoming season because of the addition of WR Chase Claypool, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor.
Fantasy Spin: Smith-Schuster had a disappointing 2019 season because of injuries and playing with backup quarterbacks. He should have more success with Ben Roethlisberger healthy and would have better matchups if he lines up as a slot receiver. He has a chance to be a No. 2 receiver in fantasy leagues.
The Green Bay Packers signed first-round quarterback Jordan Love on Wednesday to a fully guaranteed four-year, $12.383 million deal, according to sources. Love will receive a $6.566 million signing bonus. It's the first time that the No. 26 pick in the draft has received a fully guaranteed deal under the current rookie contract system. The Packers shocked everyone and took Love, the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers, in the first round in April. While the Utah State alum has some promising physical traits as a dual-threat QB, he was very inconsistent in college and isn't a sure thing at the next level. Rodgers is under contract through the 2023 season as well, so Love is strictly a dynasty/keeper stash and hold.
Detroit Lions WR Kenny Golladay posted five touchdowns of at least 25 yards last season, which was tied for most in the NFL.
Fantasy Spin: Golladay has taken over the No. 1 receiver job for the Lions and will be the focal point in the passing game. He should be a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver in fantasy leagues and will be a weekly starting option.
Detroit Lions DTs Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Da'Shawn Hand, John Atkins, Kevin Strong and Olive Sagapolu are joined by rookies John Penisini and Jashon Cornell at the interior of the Lions' defensive line in 2020. Defensive coordinator Cory Undlin likes the overall talent of the group. 'We have a really nice depth chart there at that position and we'll just kind of mix and match,' Undlin said. 'We'll watch (Shelton and Williams) work and find out where they're most comfortable, what the best combination is and then we'll settle on that once we get closer to the start of the season.'
Buffalo Bills wide receivers Duke Williams and Robert Foster could be facing an uphill battle to make the team out of training camp, in the opinion of The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia. Williams, 27, saw more opportunities late last season, but he played in just four regular season games and had 12 receptions for 166 yards and a score. Foster, 26, had only three receptions for 64 yards in 13 games (two starts). The Bills traded for Stefon Diggs in the offseason and also drafted wideouts Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins, so Williams and Foster have been pushed further down the depth chart. Williams might have a leg up on Foster because of his physical presence at the position, but neither will be fantasy options leading up to the season.
It's possible that the Buffalo Bills want to get running back Devin Singletary more involved in the passing game this year, in the opinion of The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia. If it actually transpires, this will obviously be good news for the second-year back, but the presence of rookie Zack Moss in Buffalo's backfield will likely limit Singletary to low-end RB2/high-end RB3 status regardless. The 22-year-old saw only 41 targets in the passing game in 2019 and caught 29 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Josh Allen isn't really the checkdown type either, so it remains to be seen how much more Singletary will be involved in the aerial attack.
New England Patriots QB Cam Newton could be hit with the franchise tag following the 2020 season, as there's no provision in his one-year contract preventing the Patriots from doing so, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports was told.
Nothing has changed with Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue as we approach the July 15 deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign long-term contract extensions, according to a source. Ngakoue still desires a trade and doesn't have any immediate plans to sign the franchise tag. This is a situation that could bleed into training camp. The star pass-rusher could hold out for a deal, which would obviously be bad news for those targeting him as a low-end starting defensive lineman in IDP leagues. The Jaguars didn't receive any trade offers for him during the draft. The 25-year-old has become one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL in just four seasons, racking up 37.5 sacks and 122 combined tackles in 63 games for Jacksonville.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was the most-sacked signal-caller in his rookie season in 2019, getting taken down 48 times. Last year, a lot of those sacks I feel were on me, Murray said. The young QB held onto the ball way too long early in the season, but he was sacked just twice in the final three games. Arizona's offensive line is by no means outstanding, but they will remain largely unchanged from last season, which could be good news from a continuity standpoint. Murray plans to do his part to avoid taking so many sacks in his second season in the NFL. With a new No. 1 receiver in DeAndre Hopkins in a pass-happy offense, Murray has high-end QB1 upside for fantasy owners.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has his mind set on winning a playoff game in an effort to silence remaining critics following his MVP 2019 campaign. 'I need to win a playoff game before anything because I'm tired of that already,' Jackson said. 'Once I get tired of something, I have to make it happen. So, that's my goal right now; focus on being a better player all around. Not just a (better) player, but teammate as well.'
New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is wasting no time getting to know his new teammates. Newton is reportedly already working out with his new wide receiver Mohamed Sanu Sr. this offseason. Both players missed time last season due to injuries, but are ready to bounce back in 2020. Newton offers MVP-caliber upside while Sanu will be key to the Pats receiving corps. Staying on the field and remaining healthy is going to be the key for both players this upcoming season. It's nice to them getting reps together before training camp so they can develop some chemistry. Sanu should be the No. 2 receiver behind Julian Edelman, which means there should be plenty of upside for him next season.
An unnamed AFC East head coach told Dianna Russini of ESPN he expects the New England Patriots to keep three quarterbacks for the 2020 season and 'use Cam Newton perhaps as the wild card.' The coach said he doesn't expect Newton to start Week 1 in the offense and knows 'for a fact the Patriots love Jarrett Stidham.'