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EAGAN, Minn. — Around the time of the Minnesota Vikings’ spring offseason workouts, Kirk Cousins discovered something about his new team that he wasn’t expecting. Despite his veteran quarterback status, the seven-year NFL veteran Cousins figured it would take time before he’d be accepted as a leader. After all, he was joining a team that was coming off a 13-3 season. There were already plenty of leaders in this locker room.

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“I was surprised by how much my teammates gave me that license to lead quickly,” Cousins said at the start of training camp. “I thought they were going to want to have me prove myself a little bit longer than maybe I had to. They were very supportive and said, ‘No, man. It’s your show. Let’s go.’”

Cousins’ personality doesn’t always lend itself to him being the most vocal person on the team. At times, he says he’ll speak up and share his opinion if he feels compelled to, but Cousins considers himself more of a “reluctant” leader.

Two weeks ago in Philadelphia, Cousins was given a chance to step outside of his comfort zone. Prior to the Vikings’ rematch of the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, a locker room leader and captain, asked Cousins to break down the pregame huddle.

It was a responsibility the Vikings had rotated among several players over the first four games but had often been the job bestowed upon Everson Griffen. The Pro Bowl defensive end excelled in playing off raw emotion and expletive-laden passion to get his guys ready to run through a wall, a la the speech he delivered ahead of the Vikings’ win in Washington last season, a game he missed because of a foot injury.

With Griffen away from the team dealing with issues related to his mental health, the opportunity became Joseph’s. And he passed the baton to Cousins.

“It was important because Linval asked me to, and you don’t say no to Linval,” Cousins said.

Cousins, whose fiery personality is seen often by his teammates but seldom in public, dove into an impassioned pregame speech, emphasizing finishing every block, every tackle, every play, and above all else, the need to “finish the damn game.”

Kirk Cousins “is a guy who is going to go lay it out there,” says teammate Harrison Smith. Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports
The Vikings beat the defending Super Bowl champions 23-21. The following week against Arizona, all it took was a point from Joseph during warm-ups for Cousins to know his teammates wanted a repeat performance.

This time, the huddle was so fired up from Cousins’ message that they almost didn’t let him finish his final thought.

“Like Dan Gable said,” Cousins yelled, quoting the longtime Iowa wrestling coach, “when I shoot, I score. When you shoot, I score.”

The Vikings brought Cousins to Minnesota to carry this team to new heights as the face of the franchise. Cousins is the focal point of this team, its aspirations and how it will overcome the challenges in its path.

“I think people always look to the quarterback to be the offensive leader and he’s stepped in,” right guard Mike Remmers said. “He’s the kind of guy that you know you can count on to get the job done.”

Cousins is working to become the undeniable leader for a team that hasn’t had a consistent veteran presence at quarterback since the days of Daunte Culpepper, who was drafted by Minnesota 11th overall in 1999 and was with the franchise through the 2005 season.

Since then, the position has lacked stability with eight different starting QBs. The short and uncertain nature of Brett Favre’s time with the Vikings didn’t allow him to fully assume that veteran leadership role. Had he stayed healthy, Teddy Bridgewater, who was universally loved by the coaching staff and locker room, was on his way to assuming that responsibility for the long haul.

“There was a while I thought Teddy was going to be my guy for the rest of my coaching career and he would still be here and I’d be fired,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Then I thought Sam (Bradford) was going to be the guy. Then I thought Case (Keenum) was going to be the guy. In the offseason we did a study on really those four guys. I knew Kirk from playing against him. The thing that I love about this guy is his passion for the game, his intensity that he has. He’s come in here and taken charge as a leader.”

The ability to deliver a great message is just the beginning. Over the course of three seasons (and likely beyond), Cousins’ leadership will be judged by how he handles his team when situations don’t go as planned and the accountability he shoulders, whether the blame is on him or not.

On the field, quarterback leadership is defined in areas like the two-minute drill, where 10 other players know the person under center has the wherewithal to come through in pressure situations. It’s seen in the trust the quarterback has to develop with his playmakers, much like he’s done with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. They have to know he’ll go back to them even if they’ve made a mistake (like the confidence Cousins instilled in Laquon Treadwell after multiple drops in Green Bay).

Cousins is growing comfortable as a leader in Minnesota because he’s doing it the way that fits his style. So far, it’s living up to expectations.

“He walks the talk,” safety Harrison Smith said. “He is a guy who is going to go lay it out there, run the ball for a touchdown, dive on third down, stand in the pocket and get hit by 300-pounders. No matter what, the guy gives everything he has. He is the real deal.”

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Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is dropping the appeal of his six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, his agents said Wednesday in a statement obtained by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

Here is the statement from Elliott’s agents, Rocky Arceneaux and Frank Salzano:

“In consultation with the NFL Players Assocation and his lawyers, and after careful deliberation and review of the recent Second Circuit decisions, Mr. Elliott has decided to forego any further appeals and will serve the remaining suspension. This decision arises from a practical assessment of the current legal landscape. Mr. Elliott’s desire for closure in this matter is in his best interests, as well as the best interests of his teammates, family and friends. This decision is in no way an admission of any wrongdoing, and Mr. Elliott is pleased that the legal fight mounted by him and his team resulted in the disclosure of many hidden truths regarding this matter, as well public exposure of the NFL’s mismanagement of its disciplinary process. Mr. Elliott will maximize this time away from the game and come back even stronger both on and off the field. He intends to release a final personal statement in the upcoming weeks and until then we have no further comment.”

The decision means Elliott will serve out the remaining five games of his six-game suspension. He won’t be eligible to play again until Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 24. He did not play Sunday in the Cowboys’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Elliott was facing long odds for success at this stage in his legal fight against the NFL. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied an NFLPA request for an injunction in the case earlier this month, essentially locking in Elliott’s suspension for four games since the next court hearing wasn’t scheduled until Dec. 1. Since a decision almost certainly would not have been made immediately after the hearing, there was a good chance he would have missed all six games until another ruling, according to NFL Network legal analyst Gabe Feldman.

The Cowboys told NFL Network’s Jane Slater they have no comment on the decision.

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NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy on Ezekiel Elliott dropping his legal fight: “His decision speaks for itself.”
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The NFLPA still can pursue its lawsuit against the NFL on Elliott’s behalfeven though he’s accepted the terms of the suspension.

Elliott was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in August following a year-long investigation into domestic violence allegations made by Tiffany Thompson, his former girlfriend. The league concluded he violated its personal conduct policy, which mandates a six-game suspension for first-time domestic violence violations. Elliott, 22, was never charged and has denied wrongdoing.

The NFLPA’s lawsuit, which was filed on the same day Elliott’s appeal before a league-appointed arbitrator ended, doesn’t try to undermine the factual conclusions from the NFL’s investigation — it challenges the process the league undertook to suspend Elliott, Feldman said. The NFL wanted to enforce Elliott’s suspension this season and confirm Goodell’s authority to issue punishment based on “conduct detrimental” to the league as mandated in Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement.

It’s virtually the same argument the NFL deployed in ultimately successful appeals against Tom Brady during Deflategate and Adrian Peterson after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.

Elliott, who tallied a league-best 1,631 rushing yards en route to a First Team All-Pro selection as a rookie, rushed for 783 yards and seven touchdowns prior to his suspension coming into effect last week.

Elliott’s decision means he’ll be available to play in the playoffs if the Cowboys make the playoffs.

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CINCINNATI — Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was clearly keeping an eye on Bengals rookie Joe Mixon on Sunday.

Bell took some shots at Mixon via his Twitter account during the first half of the Bengals’ 24-23 victory over the Colts. With the Steelers playing in the late game, Bell was clearly watching the Bengals’ contest and hadn’t forgotten about some comments Mixon made about him the week before.

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Le’Veon Bell ✔ @L_Bell26
for someone who feels they can do “way more” than I can, sure seems like u wanna be me! tryin to mimic my run style, my 1st down celebration
2:41 AM – Oct 30, 2017
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Le’Veon Bell ✔ @L_Bell26
now u wear an arm sleeve on your left arm AND went to the mismatch gloves too?! lol just change your number from 28 to 26 while your at it..
2:43 AM – Oct 30, 2017
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Although Bell didn’t refer to Mixon by name, the rookie wears No. 28, and Bell wears No. 26.

Mixon expressed frustration after a loss to the Steelers last Sunday. He had no second-half carries and only seven total carries in the loss, while Bell had 35 carries.

“Me, personally, I feel like I can do way more than [Bell] did. Like I said, I only had seven carries. I can’t showcase nothing if I don’t get the ball. There’s nothing else I can say,” Mixon said.

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“It’s frustrating. I feel like I’m seeing [Bell] got the ball 35 times, and I got it seven in the first half and then don’t touch the ball again,” Mixon said. “[Jeremy] Hill only got one touch in the second half. It’s frustrating to us running backs. We feel like we’re in the room, and we feel like we’re part of the offense. If it worked in the first half, why not do it in the second?”

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Mixon needed to “show maturity” with his comments. However, his words did not affect his playing time. Mixon caught a screen pass that went for 67 yards in the first half of the game against the Colts.

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He finished with 11 rushes for 18 yards and three receptions for 91 yards.

After the game, Mixon said he had not seen Bell’s comments, but he wasn’t concerned about them.

“I’m just going to continue to keep grinding and do what I do best, and that’s playing football,” Mixon said. “I’m going to try to do the best I can each and every play and each and every drive. And … I’m just going to keep on grinding.

“It’s unfortunate he feels that way, but like I said, I’m not worried about what he’s talking about. I’m going to keep my head down.”

While Bell said that Mixon was trying to imitate him, Mixon said he has always admired and tried to emulate Adrian Peterson, with whom he worked out in the offseason.

“How he runs, the way he finishes, I try to do a little bit of what he does,” Mixon said. “I try to mix up a lot things in my running style, but for the most part, I try to do what I do.”