The Best and Worst of Green-Sports, 2018

Eco-athletes became more of a thing in 2018 — and that’s a very good thing.

This statement is not data-based. I haven’t seen data on the number of athletes who engage on environmental issues.

Yet anecdotally, I can say that I spoke to more eco-athletes in 2018 than in any other year since starting GreenSportsBlog in 2013.

Given the dire climate news coming out of recent UN and U.S. government reports, the world needs this year’s eco-athlete “thing” to become a wave in 2019. But that is for another day.

Today, we bring you an eco-athlete-infused BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2018.

 

BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018

Leilani Münter, The “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car”

There are three great reasons why Leilani Münter, the “vegan, hippy chick with a race car,” is GreenSportsBlog’s Best Green-Sports Story of 2018. Münter…

  1. Signed A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com to sponsor her ARCA series car for an eight race campaign
  2. Earned two top ten finishes
  3. Sampled vegan Impossible Burgers to 30,000 racing fans (they loved ’em!)

 

Leilani Munter Scott LePage

Leilani Münter, GreenSportsBlog’s “Best Green-Sports Story of 2018” (Photo credit: Scott LePage)

 

Thing is, no one would have blamed Münter if she had decided to give up her career as a driver in NASCAR’s ARCA Presented by Menard developmental series before this year.

Her strong commitment to only work with brands that align with her lifestyle and the issues that animate her — most notably veganism, animal rights and the climate change fight — has limited her ability to secure the sponsors and thus the funding necessary to enter races. In some years, Münter has competed in only one race; in others none at all.

But Münter did not quit, although she came close several times. The Minnesota native kept selling the idea that auto racing fans would react positively to vegan messaging — and food. “Some of the vegan brands I called on said ‘the NASCAR fan is not the right audience for us.’ I said ‘you don’t need to talk to vegans; they’re already converted. You need to talk to people who are not already in your world.’ Auto racing fans fit that definition.”

Her logic and persistence — she pitched sponsorship of a vegan-branded car for six years — paid off in 2018 when two non-profit organizations, A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com, signed on as her lead sponsors to carry the Vegan Strong message. The deal allowed Münter to run an eight race campaign, which included an eighth place finish at the ARCA race during Daytona 500 week and a ninth place result at Michigan International Speedway.

More importantly, Münter and Vegan Strong teamed up at five of her eight races to fund the sampling of vegan Impossible Burgers in the Fan Zones to 30,000 fans. The fans ate ’em up, literally and figuratively.

“Many fans were skeptical at first and didn’t want to try the Impossible Burgers,” recalled Münter. “But once they did, they loved the taste and texture! And when you tell them it’s better for their health and for the planet, they got more excited.”

 

Leilani at Tent

Leilani Münter takes a photo of skeptical racing fans trying Impossible Burgers at the Daytona International Speedway Fan Zone in February (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

I am excited to see what Münter will do for encore to spread her vegan, along with her animal rights and climate change-fighting messages. On the latter, she is a big advocate of electric vehicles — her personal car is a Tesla, powered by solar panels on the roof of her house.

Münter says to expect an announcement about her 2019 plans in early January.

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: The Athletes of Protect Our Winters (POW)

2016: The Rio “Climate Change” Olympics Opening Ceremony vignette

2015: Pac-12 Conference

2014: Forest Green Rovers

 

MORE ECO-ATHLETES WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE IN 2018

I’m happy to say that Leilani Münter is not a lone wolf eco-athlete. She is joined by a veritable All-Star squad of sailors, skiers and more who spoke out and/or took action on the environment this year.

Team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright led the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Crew to a fifth place finish in the ’round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race. Sustainability is a core element of the team’s DNA. They communicated their ethos of a cleaner, healthier environment to thousands of fans at race stops via an interactive Exploration Zone.

Jessie Diggins, who along with teammate Kikkan Randall, won the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Diggins also found the time to engage on the climate change fight. She supports a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program (CF&D), similar to the bill that was recently introduced with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. Diggins told the New York Times, “Saving winter is something I believe in…and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it.” 

 

Jessie Diggins NYDN

U.S. Olympic cross country gold medal winner and carbon pricing advocate Jessie Diggins (Photo credit: New York Daily News)

 

Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen talked climate change in a March interview in ESPN The Magazine: “One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.”

Sam Martin, punter for the Detroit Lions and an advocate for renewable energy, helped broker a deal that resulted in new solar installations at Ford Field and the club’s nearby Allen Park training facility. North Carolina-based Power Home Solar approached the team through a preexisting partnership with Martin and his Sam Martin Foundation,

Milwaukee Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon and four other NBA players announced the launch of Hoops₂Ojoining the fight for access to clean water in East Africa. Staying in the Beer Capital of the U.S., Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter penned an OpEd urging action on climate in Fast Company. 

 

GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2018

Audi Field, D.C. United

It took D.C. United a quarter century to build its own, soccer-specific stadium. Audi Field sure looks like it was worth the wait as the 20,000 seat, $500 million stadium earned LEED Gold certification when it opened in July. Five months later, it added another honor by being named GSB’s Greenest New Stadium/Arena of 2018.

Audi Field drew our attention for a number of reasons, including:

  • The rooftop solar panel installation that provides roughly one million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to offset nearly one third of the stadium’s electricity usage
  • Nearby access to D.C. Metro system’s green line train
  • An advanced, energy-efficient building envelope/skin
  • A storage vessel that collects rain water underneath the building. When it rains, water drains under the pitch into the vessel where it is slowly released so it doesn’t go into the nearby Anacostia River.

 

Audi Field

A packed Audi Field during the national anthem on opening night (Photo credit: WTOP/Noah Frank)

 

Fiserv Forum, the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, deserves honorable mention. On track to receive LEED Silver certification, the downtown arena is the world’s first bird-friendly sports and entertainment venue, thanks in part to a collaboration with the American Bird Conservancy.

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United

2016: Golden1 Center, Sacramento Kings

2015: CHS Field, St. Paul (MN) Saints

2014: Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers

 

BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD OF 2018

TIE: Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl LII Champions and Atlanta United F.C., Major League Soccer’s 2018 Title Winners 

The Eagles checked the on-field box for their Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field Court of 2018 award when they captured the franchise’s first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion, as backup QB Nick Foles outdueled Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, 41-33. Off the field, the Eagles became the first pro sports team to earn ISO 20121 certification for integrating sustainability practices into their management model. Among other things, the team:

  • Deployed edgy, humorous billboards that encouraged support for GO GREEN, the Eagles’ long-running fan-facing environmental program on Lincoln Financial Field’s concourses, ramps, and yes, even the restrooms.
  • Installed an interactive LED screen at the NovaCare Complex, the team’s practice facility down the street from “The Linc”. “It shows our employees how much energy our solar panels and wind turbines are producing every day, how much we recycle, and more,” said Norman Vossschulte, the Eagles director of fan experience.

And, just before we went to press, the Eagles announced that Lincoln Financial Field earned an upgrade from the US Green Building Council to LEED Gold status — it had qualified for LEED Silver in 2013.

 

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

Sustainability-themed signage on display at Lincoln Financial Field (Photo credits: Philadelphia Eagles)

 

 

Atlanta United secured its spot on GSB’s Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field podium by winning the MLS Cup trophy in only its second season of play. The “Five Stripes” knocked off the Portland Timbers 2-0 on Saturday night.

The team’s green cred is also championship caliber. After all, they play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the world’s first LEED Platinum pro sports stadium, sharing it with the NFL’s Falcons. Stadium management uses its massive, wrap-around scoreboard to share the green story with fans, 73,019 of whom showed for MLS Cup, the largest crowd in league history.

 

M-B Stadium

Green messaging greets fans of Atlanta United, the newly-minted MLS Cup champion, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: Golden State Warriors

2016: Cleveland Indians

2015: New England Patriots

2014: Ohio State University

 

GREEN-SPORTS GREENWASH OF 2018

Eco-Sailor Sir Ben Ainslie Signs Title Sponsor Deal with Fracking and Chemical Company Ineos

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympics history. As skipper of Land Rover BAR, the British entrant in the 2017 America’s Cup, he also won deserved plaudits for making environmental sustainability, in particular ocean health, a core value of his team.

One thing Sir Ben did not win was the 2017 America’s Cup, despite spending in the neighborhood $135 million over the four-year cycle. By some estimates, it will cost as much as $175 million to mount a legitimate campaign for the 2021 Cup.

So when British fracking^ and chemical company, Ineos, and its founder Jim Ratcliffe, offered Ainslie $153 million to fund the lion’s share of his 2021 Cup quest, Sir Ben had a choice: Take the money and risk being labeled a greenwasher, or keep his good name and his well-earned global reputation as an eco-athlete among fans, competitors, sponsors and more.

He chose Ratcliffe’s fracking money.

 

Ainslie Ratcliffe

Jim Ratcliffe (l), CEO of Ineos, with Sir Ben Ainslie (Photo credit: Toby Melville/Reuters)

 

Not surprisingly, GreenSportsBlog chose Sir Ben for Green-Sports Greenwash of 2018.  

And it wasn’t close for second place.

 

PAST “WINNERS”

2017: Super Bowl LI, Houston*

2016: Super Bowl L, Santa Clara, Super Green But (Virtually) No One (Outside of the Green-Sports Ecosystem) Knew About It*

2015: College Athletics Departments That Talk a Good Green Game But Took Koch Brothers Sponsorship Dollars

2014: Sochi Winter Olympics

 

Fracking (also known by its more technical name, hydraulic fracturing) is a process by which large amounts of water and sand, combined with often hazardous chemicals, are injected, at high rates of pressure, into rock formations to fracture surrounding material for the purpose of extracting oil and gas. Its negative environmental and health impacts are legion, many of which would’ve concerned pre-Ineos Sir Ben. These include contamination of groundwater, large volume water use in water-challenged regions, methane pollution which exacerbates climate change, exposure to toxic chemicals, and fracking-induced earthquakes.
* 2017 and 2016 designation was titled “GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF THE YEAR”

 

 


 

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Tuesday at the (Very) Interactive 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit: Climate Change Takes a Starring Role; ESPN Wins Environmental Leadership Award, But Are They Really Leading?

Executive Director Justin Zeulner promised that the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta would be “much more interactive than in past years — more workshops than panel discussions.” The Alliance made good on that promise at Tuesday’s full day session, with workshops that were more substantive and less jargon-y than in the past. Here are some of the highlights from Day 1 of the Summit.

 

THOUGHT LEADER WORKSHOP TAKES ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SPORTS

Climate change, politics, and sports — not often mixed together at the four Alliance Summits I had attended previously — were featured items on the menu at the somewhat wonkish lunch time Thought Leader workshop. Co-led with verve by Colin Tetreault, Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University and Anne Kelly, Senior Director, Policy at Ceres, the session also featured Matt Ellis, CEO and Founder of Measurabl, Ben Jarrett, North American Sustainability Leader at Kimberly-Clark, Scott Mercer, CEO of Volta Charging, and Kat West of JLL.

 

Colin Tetreault

Colin Tetreault (Photo credit: Arizona State University)

 

Audience members, yours truly included, probed the panel (and the panel probed back) about, among other things, how athletes, teams and leagues can and should talk about climate change. The issue of politics hung over that question.

Mr. Mercer questioned the premise, saying in effect that climate change is not political. There was some pushback, both from Mr. Jarrett and some audience members. Ms. West suggested that emphasizing positive environmental actions and staying out of the politics of climate change is probably the best approach. I volleyed, saying “like it or not, climate change is a political issue and we can’t be afraid of that. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball was a controversial issue and now he’s a hero. Muhammad Ali’s criticism of the Vietnam War was a controversial issue and now he’s a hero. We don’t have the time to wait for our sports-climate heroes.” That led to more respectful dialogue from a variety of perspectives.

Which was great.

Too often I’ve seen panels — at the Summit and elsewhere — where everyone agrees in a Kumbaya-ish sort of way. I think workshops like this, which featured a healthy and respectful debate, are much more valuable and informative.

On the way to the next workshop, I heard several people saying, “I could’ve stayed for another hour.” I silently seconded that emotion.

 

DOES ESPN DESERVE ITS “ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP AWARD”

ESPN won the Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award for 2018 .

In accepting the award, Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of Corporate Citizenship, showed a video that highlighted impressive environmental achievements at the ESPY Awards, the Winter X Games and the College GameDay studio shows for both football and basketball. And ESPN’s sprawling Bristol, CT headquarters campus has been greening for the better part of a decade, including on-site solar and a strong waste diversion program (62 percent in 2017).

 

Kevin Martinez - March 5, 2013

Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of corporate citizenship, accepted the Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Rich Arden/ESPN)

 

These accomplishments deserve to be commended.

Just not, it says here, with the Environmental Leadership Award.

I just don’t see leadership from from the Worldwide Leader in Sports in the environmental arena.

That’s because ESPN has not told Green-Sports stories to its massive audiences — 86 million cable subscribers, 115 million monthly espn.com visitors, 2.1 million ESPN The Magazine subscribers, etc.

There have been occasional exceptions: Outside The Linesthe 60 Minutes of ESPN, covered the effect of the polluted waters of Rio on the sailors and rowers at the 2016 Summer Olympics as well as the impact of wildfires in California and of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The producers are planning to mark the one year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey in August.

But that’s not leadership, at least not in my eyes.

The good news is that it’s not that heavy a lift to get to leadership. Taking some or all of these steps would do the trick:

  • Tell some of the many inspirational, positive, interesting Green-Sports stories out there.
  • Air a “Climate and Sports” series on SportsCenter 
  • Produce an ESPN 30 for 30 or a Nine for IX (women’s sports focused) documentary on an Eco-Athlete
  • Add an Eco-Athlete of the Year Award to the ESPY’s roster

You get the idea.

Now, you’re probably dying to ask me, “So Lew, to whom would you have given the Environmental Leadership Award?”

My vote would’ve gone to another sports media behemoth, Sky Sports of Great Britain, for its Sky Ocean Rescue initiative. According to SkySports.com, it shines a spotlight on “the issues affecting ocean health, finds innovative solutions to the ocean plastic problems and inspires people to make small everyday changes that collectively make a huge difference.” Just last week, the network named modern pentathlete Francesca Summers and para-swimmer Ellen Keane as Sky Sports Scholars for their Sky Ocean Rescue/beach cleanup work. Sky Sports also features Sky Ocean Rescue-related content on its air. And they are partners with the environmentally forward leaning Volvo Ocean Race.

 

Francesca Summers

Francesca Summers and Ellen Keane clean trash from beaches as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue program (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

ARTHUR M. BLANK WINS COMMUNITY CHAMPION AWARD

The Alliance’s first annual Community Champion Award, given to a sustainability leader in the Summit’s host city, went to Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United and builder of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mr. Blank’s commitment to going the extra mile to make sure the stadium earned LEED Platinum certification was likely well known by many in the audience. My guess is few attendees were aware of his vision to make the stadium an economic and cultural engine for the adjacent West Side neighborhood.

In decline for more than 40 years, the West Side was once home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was a nucleus of the civil rights movement. And now, thanks in part to Mr. Blank, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium team, as well as the Atlanta and Georgia governments, that historic neighborhood is starting on the long road back.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, a deserving winner of the Green Sports Alliance’s Community Champion Award (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 


 

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UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Eco-Athlete, Hopefully Will Be Gang Green’s (aka NY Jets) Next Quarterback

This year’s NFL draft is considered by many so-called experts to be a quarterback bonanza. Many mock drafts have four QBs — in alphabetical order, they are Josh Allen of Wyoming, Sam Darnold of USC, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and Josh Rosen of UCLA — being chosen in the top 10 picks of the first round. In fact, there is a solid chance that the first three picks of the draft will be quarterbacks. It says here that, if he is available when Gang Green, aka the New York Jets, my New York Jets make the third overall pick in the first round, they should select Rosen for two good reasons: 1. He’s the best pure passer in the draft and has a high football IQ, and 2. He’s an eco-athlete! 

 

EDITORS’ WARNING: THE FIRST TEN PARAGRAPHS OF THIS GSB POST GET INTO THE MINUTIAE OF THE NFL DRAFT, THE ANNUAL SELECTION OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL STARS THAT DRAWS A TELEVISION AUDIENCE OF ALMOST 10 MILLION VIEWERS, AS WELL AS THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SCARS OF NEW YORK JETS FANS. IF THIS DOES NOT APPEAL TO YOU BUT YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE ECO-ATHLETE ASPECT OF THIS STORY, PLEASE SKIP AHEAD TO THE PROMPT BELOW. THANK YOU.

The New York Jets have been in the quarterback desert for almost 50 years, the halcyon days of Joe Willie Namath and the miracle of Super Bowl III. As a Jets fan since the then, I — and my brothers and sisters in green — have suffered, quarterback-wise, through the unspeakably awful (Browning Nagle, Geno Smith), the hopeful-but-ultimately-meh (Richard Todd, Mark Sanchez), the good-ones-derailed-by-injury (Chad Pennington) and the pretty-good-but-did-they-really-bloody-pick-him-before-Dan Marino?!?! (Ken O’Brien).

 

Browning Nagle

Browning Nagle, one of many Jets quarterback busts over the past 40 years (Photo credit: Gang Green Nation)

 

That legacy of abject failure means most Jets fans approach the first round of the 2018 draft — which takes place April 26 in Dallas — with typical sports fan hope (“we’re picking third, we need a quarterback AGAIN and there are four top QB prospects. We will get one of them!”) leavened by a heaping helping of fatalism (“not all of them will be good and these idiots will pick the wrong guy!” and/or “even if they pick the right guy, he’ll get hurt!”)

And that fatalism is amped up by the fact that the Jets, originally slotted to pick sixth in the first round (the 32 NFL teams pick in inverse order of their finish the season before — the team with the worst record picks first, the team that won the Super Bowl picks 32nd), traded two their two* second round draft picks this year and their second round pick in 2019 to the Indianapolis Colts to move up to the third slot as they were fearful of missing out on the Big Four. Second round draft picks are expected to turn out to be solid-to-very good starters so that was a heavy price to pay. But if you don’t have a quarterback, you’re nowhere, so, it says here, it was a trade the Jets had to make.

And that amped up fatalism has been dialed up to DEFCON1^ status because, as good as the Class of 2018 quarterbacks appear to be — Allen has one of the most powerful arms seen in recent years, Darnold looks like the complete package, especially his ability to improvise under pressure, Mayfield is a leader and is very accurate, and Rosen is seen as the best pure passer and the most intelligent of the bunch — none are sure things. They all have flaws: Allen’s accuracy, Darnold turns the ball over too much, Mayfield is too short, and Rosen has a concussion history and is alleged to have personality issues (or, as Sam Alipour of ESPN The Magazine puts it, while “roughly half of draft-loving America feels he’s a future franchise QB, while the other half fears he’s a crap-stirring, system-disrupting locker room poison pill.”)

So, who should the Jets pick? It depends on who will be available.

With the draft two weeks away, conventional wisdom has it that the Cleveland Browns, picking first and with a three decades long need at QB, will select Darnold. As an aside, if you’re unfamiliar with the NFL draft and the first 500+ words of this post make no sense, rent the 2014 movie “Draft Day,” starring Kevin Costner. It gives you a Hollywood-i-fied version of the draft, it’s entertaining and Costner’s character runs the draft for the Cleveland Browns. Art imitating life.

The New York Giants — the “older brother” rival of the Jets — have the second pick. Eli Manning won two Super Bowls (2008, 2012) for them at QB but he’s 37. Backup Davis Webb, a third round pick last year, is untested. If these QBs are really “all that”, then the Giants will pick one. If they opt to stay with Manning and Webb, they could trade down to amass more picks, to a team more desperate for a signal-caller (Denver, Miami, Buffalo, and Arizona are all in that predicament, to one degree or another). Or, they stay put pick the best non-quarterback in the draft. I think Big Blue will pick a QB. My guess — and it’s just a guess — is that they will take Josh Allen, loving his big arm in the cold weather games of the northeast. But, for the sake of this Jets-centric post, let’s assume they take a non-QB (pass rusher Bradley Chubb would be my choice in that case), giving Gang Green the choice of the law firm of Allen, Mayfield, and Rosen.

I would pick Josh Rosen.

 

Josh Rosen Michael Owen Baker:Associated Press

Josh Rosen, working out for NFL scouts in the run up to the draft (Photo credit: Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press)

 

My biggest concern is his concussion history but I’m not worried about the personality stuff. And on the field, I like his vision, decision making and arm. He’s not as good a runner as the other three but he moves well enough to extend plays. If Darnold somehow is available when the Jets pick, I would take him. Otherwise, for me, it’s Rosen.

 

Rosen Darnold Kevin kuo USA Today

Josh Rosen (l) and Sam Darnold shake hands after Darnold’s USC Trojans defeated Rosen’s UCLA Bruins last season (Photo credit: Kevin Kuo/USA Today)

 

ECO-ATHLETE ONLY READERS, IT’S SAFE TO REJOIN US HERE.

And that was before I learned about Rosen’s eco-athleticism on Tuesday. In an in-depth interview on espn.com with Sam Alipour (it’s well worth reading), Rosen took on the personality issues that have dogged him, and showed himself to be a curious, insightful 21 year-old. And he also discussed climate change when discussing which causes he will champion as a pro:

I think it’ll evolve, but one cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.

Rosen is the first athlete I know of who made the link between climate change, the drought in Syria, and, by inference, the resulting refugee crisis. I expect this from Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman but not from a quarterback about to be a first round NFL draft pick.

It shows common sense, the ability to connect dots, and the ability to think. All important, if underrated, qualities for an NFL QB.

So, to New York Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan, the ultimate decider in the draft room, bring eco-athlete Josh Rosen to Gang Green.

Unless, of course, Sam Darnold is available. Then all bets are off.

 

* The Jets had an additional second round pick in the 2018 draft due to a prior trade with the Seattle Seahawks
^ DEFCON1 is the most severe level of readiness of the U.S. military, on a 1 to 5 scale

 


 

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