Category Archives: NFL

Miami Dolphins OL Austin Jackson, TE Adam Shaheen hit reserve/COVID-19 list

The Miami Dolphins placed offensive lineman Austin Jackson and tight end Adam Shaheen on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday, sources told ESPN’s Field Yates, potentially leaving them short-handed as the team prepares for its Week 1 match versus the New England Patriots.

The Dolphins confirmed the moves Monday and also elevated cornerback Jamal Perry as a COVID-19 replacement.

“We think he can help us,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “At the end of the day we’re going to do what we feel is best for the team and bring guys up who can help us. We felt that way about him so we brought him up.”

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The NFL Network reported that Shaheen tested positive for COVID-19, which means he’ll miss Sunday’s game as he is unvaccinated and must quarantine for 10 days, according to NFL policy. It is not yet clear whether Jackson is on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a result of contact tracing or a positive test.

Jackson started 12 games as a rookie in 2020 after being selected 18th overall by the Dolphins.

He was slated to once again start at left tackle for Miami this season.

For Shaheen, who came to Miami via trade last offseason, this marks a second stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list in as many months after he was deemed a close contact in August.

Shaheen has also vocally opposed getting the vaccine, calling his decision “bigger than just COVID.”

“For me, it’s a personal choice, and it’s bigger than just COVID,” he said. “The NFL is trying to push it. … I’m going to continue to go through the protocols of the unvaccinated that they make me do. I’m not going to get fined.

“But they’re not going to strong-arm me into doing something for more freedom when this is such a changing atmosphere, and they’re already taking away freedoms of the unvaccinated guys.”

“I would never question Adam’s commitment to the team,” Flores stated. As for Jackson, if he is unable to meet the requirements to move off the reserve/COVID list, Flores said, “We’ve got a few different options.”

The Dolphins plan to work different combinations of linemen in practice this week and Flores called potential replacement Greg Little a “hard-working kid” who has “had some bright moments in the couple weeks that he’s been here.”

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Pittsburgh Steelers acquire CB Ahkello Witherspoon from Seattle Seahawks

After an initial 53-man roster that was short on cornerbacks, the Steelers have fortified the position by obtaining Ahkello Witherspoon in a trade with the Seahawks for a 2023 fifth-round pick, the teams revealed.

Witherspoon, 26, signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Seahawks in March and was expected to compete for the starting job at left cornerback, but Seattle moved D.J. Reed over to the left side and Tre Flowers into the starting role at right cornerback, making Witherspoon a trade candidate. A day earlier, Seattle traded a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Sidney Jones.

Witherspoon was unsatisfied by being relegated to a backup role, a source told ESPN’s Brady Henderson. The Steelers will take on $1.5 million of Witherspoon’s salary, while the Seahawks save that amount against their cap. However, Seattle is still on the hook for $1.25 million in dead money in 2021 and 2022 from his signing bonus.

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Witherspoon was taken in the third round by San Francisco in 2017 and started 33 of 47 career games with the 49ers in four seasons. He recorded 116 tackles and four interceptions and had 24 passes defended.

The Steelers initially had just four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster following cuts: Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne and Joe Haden. They added one more a day later, signing Arthur Maulet after moving three other players to injured reserve.

Before adding Maulet, defensive coordinator Keith Butler expressed apprehension about entering the season with so few cornerbacks.

“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with four cornerbacks,” Butler said. “We’ve got guys who can play different positions. Cam can play different positions. He can play the nickel. Forty-two [Pierre] has shown that he can play in preseason.

“We think we’re OK right now to play them in different positions. If somebody becomes available out there in never-never land, we’ll see what happens.”

Witherspoon gives the Steelers depth at cornerback behind veterans Haden and Sutton, who emerged late in training camp as the likely slot cornerback after Mike Hilton’s departure. With Sutton in the slot, undrafted free agent Pierre was slated to be the outside cornerback opposite Haden.

The outside cornerback depth is young and relatively unproven, and Witherspoon’s experience elevates the position group.

The Steelers released defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux to make room on the roster for Witherspoon.

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New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley takes next step in recovery, completes first contact practice

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Kenny Golladay participated in a padded practice Thursday, and Barkley took some contact seemingly without incident for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee 11 months ago.

It was the latest step in Barkley’s progression and a mandatory one before he gets into a match, according to coach Joe Judge. The Giants open the campaign Sept. 12 versus the Denver Broncos.

“We did a normal practice safely, and just talked to the guys and [they] gave me some good shots,” Barkley said afterward. “But it’s [about] route running and running routes just to get me back in the flow of things, so I guess you could say yes [I took my first hit].

“But [Thursday] felt good at practice and practicing with everyone on the team. Think that was definitely needed. Just grateful to be out there and just getting ready for the season.”

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Barkley will have to get through another fully padded practice next week before likely getting cleared by doctors.

The Giants don’t practice again until Monday.

Barkley is trending in the right direction and has a strong chance to play Week 1 versus Denver, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. There is optimism, but the Giants have been cautious and still could hold him back. It will ultimately be a team-driven decision.

“This whole process I’ve been a team player listening to the doctors, listening to the coaches, listening to the trainers, knowing that they have my best interest at heart,” Barkley said. “Whatever they feel that is best for me and best for the team, I’m willing to do.”

Barkley was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 9. He worked his way into live drills for the first time last week during joint practices with the New England Patriots while wearing a red no-contact jersey.

On Thursday, he shed the red jersey for the first time in live drills. Did he feel like his old self out on the field?

“I guess. I feel good. Taking it one day at a time,” Barkley said. “I’m just not even trying to think about do I look like my old self. I’m a very confident player. I know whenever I’m able to get back out there — maybe it might be one quarter, maybe it might be one play — whatever the opportunity is, when I’m back out there, I know I’m going to be able to go out there and be who I am and play how I am.

“Right now, I’m not focusing on if I’m making cuts, saying, ‘Is that how it was before?’ I’m focusing on getting in football shape, just living in the moment, enjoying the moment and playing football again.”

There isn’t much time left. The Giants have 10 days and just four practices before their season opener. Only one is expected to be with full pads. Getting through that would help Barkley inch nearer to being ready for Week 1.

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Minnesota Vikings TE Irv Smith Jr. likely to miss season after undergoing surgery on meniscus

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a meniscus injury, according to coach Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer did not give a timeline for Smith’s return but acknowledged that the Vikings are preparing for the third-year tight end to miss the whole season.

“We knew it was probably going to be a little while anyway,” Zimmer said. “Those are all part of things you have to plan for.”

Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Smith is facing a recovery timetable of 4-5 months. The Vikings placed Smith on the reserve/injured list later Wednesday.

Zimmer stated Monday that Smith was injured during Minnesota’s preseason finale at Kansas City, although it’s difficult to discern how and when he suffered the injury. The tight end was on the field for only 11 plays, and there was no noticeable moment where he appeared to get hurt.

“Sometimes injuries are like that,” Zimmer said. “You [don’t know] until you get in there. Honestly, with Danielle [Hunter] last year, that was about as insignificant as you can imagine. Then you get in and X-ray and MRI and do all those things and find out it’s more significant than you think.”

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Smith was primed for a breakout season at the time of his injury, having risen to the top of the Vikings’ depth chart at tight end after the departure of Kyle Rudolph during free agency. With Rudolph injured during the final four matches of the 2020 season, Smith stepped in and recorded three touchdowns on 20 targets, finishing the year with 30 catches for 365 yards and five scores.

“He’s just a great football player, and there’s no reason to think he wasn’t going to have a great year, but he’s got a lot of good football ahead of him,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “I would expect, whenever he’s back, the same great player that he was last year and that he was this August.”

According to Zimmer, team doctor Dr. Christopher Larsen repaired Smith’s injured meniscus instead of removing it, which could have led the tight end to develop an arthritic knee condition. Meniscus repair involves a longer recovery than a clean-up type procedure but will benefit the long-term health of Smith’s knee.

On Tuesday, the Vikings made a move to mitigate the loss of Smith, signing veteran tight end Chris Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick from the New York Jets for a 2022 fourth-round selection.

Minnesota also claimed former Jacksonville tight end Ben Ellefson on Wednesday.

After critiquing his team’s tight end depth as “not very good,” Zimmer said the Vikings would be looking to add additional players as they constructed the initial 53-man roster. Herndon spent three seasons with the Jets and found himself on the trading block after falling down the depth chart during training camp.

Last season, Herndon struggled with drops and fumbles and transitioned into more of a blocking tight end. He bounced back toward the end of 2020, recording 31 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns.

Minnesota will also lean on its No. 2 tight end, Tyler Conklin, in Smith’s absence. Conklin returned to practice this week after dealing with a hamstring injury he classified as “minor.”

Like Smith, the 2018 fifth-round pick had a strong showing at the end of the 2020 season. Conklin finished his third year with 19 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown and developed into a consistent blocker.

Even if Smith had been able to play this season, the Vikings didn’t see specific responsibilities he would handle versus Conklin, which could bode well for this offense as it tries to compensate for the loss of its potential breakout star tight end.

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Philadelphia Eagles name Jalen Hurts starter

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni named Jalen Hurts the starting quarterback Tuesday after weeks of declining to do so, citing the importance of creating competition at every position.

“Jalen’s our starter. He’s done a great job,” Sirianni stated shortly after the roster was trimmed to 53 players.

“We wanted him to … take the reins and take advantage of the opportunity that he got, and we feel like the preseason he had, he did that. I consistently saw a player that got better every single day. I consistently saw a player getting better with his reads and his accuracy and his ability to run, and when not to run. He did exactly what we wanted him to do.”

This was the expected outcome, as Hurts took all of the first-team reps during training camp.

But multiple reports of the Eagles’ interest in Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and the recent purchase of Gardner Minshew helped fuel the idea that the organization isn’t sold on the 23-year-old Hurts.

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Addressing the Minshew trade, general manager Howie Roseman stressed the team’s history of prioritizing the quarterback position, noting that depth is especially important amid a pandemic and heading into a 17-game regular season.

Roseman stated he spoke with both Hurts and Joe Flacco about acquiring Minshew, telling them “we thought it was an opportunity to get a good player and a good person at an important position.”

“[Hurts] was great,” Roseman said. “Jalen is all about the team and he’s very confident in his ability and very secure in where he stands with all of us.”

Minshew will start off as the third-string quarterback behind Hurts and Flacco, according to Sirianni.

As for his level of interest in Watson, Roseman said: “I think we’re very confident and comfortable with the quarterbacks we have on our roster. Any player that is on another team is property of that team, and we’re going forward with who we’ve got here.

“We’ll see what happens over the next 24 hours with the rest of our roster, but when we talk about that quarterback room, we think we’ve got a good blend of youth, of experience, of talented guys, and we’re excited to start this season and to see the players we have on this football team.”

Hurts, the team’s second-round pick in 2020, started four matches as a rookie in place of Carson Wentz. He completed 52% of his throws for 1,061 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for 354 yards and three scores.

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Pittsburgh Steelers undergo special teams makeover, release punter Jordan Berry, long snapper Kameron Canaday

The Pittsburgh Steelers are ushering in a new era in the team’s kicking unit. While kicker Chris Boswell’s job is safe, he’ll have a new supporting cast for the 2021 season.

The Steelers released punter Jordan Berry and long snapper Kameron Canaday, league sources confirmed to ESPN. With their departures, rookie seventh-round pick Pressley Harvin III is the presumed punter and Christian Kuntz, who played FCS football at nearby Duquesne University, is the team’s long snapper.

Berry first joined the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and has been the team’s primary punter for the better part of six seasons.

He was briefly released last year when the team brought on former Kansas City punter Dustin Colquitt for a month, but Berry re-signed with the team in October and reclaimed punting duties.

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He averaged 44.4 yards per punt in his career, including a career best 45.8 last season. He went toe-to-toe with Harvin, a Georgia Tech product and 2020 Ray Guy winner, throughout training camp and the preseason.

“It really has been competitive,” special teams coordinator Danny Smith said during training camp. “It really has. It’s good to see two pros put their best foot forward. No pun intended. But Jordan’s punting the ball better than he ever has and Pressley is very talented, so it’s been quite a competition.”

Harvin impressed from the jump, averaging 46 yards per punt over his three preseason appearances.

Berry rose to the occasion and averaged 43.9 yards per punt in two preseason matches, but the team opted to go with their draft pick.

At long snapper, Kuntz, a Pittsburgh area native, won the job over four-year long snapper Canaday after spending part of the 2020 season on the Steelers’ practice squad.

He also spent the 2019 training camp with the Steelers before being waived during final cuts. He’s been on rosters and in camps with teams since 2017 and had a stint in the XFL with the Dallas Renegades, earning praise for his versatility of being a linebacker and long snapper.

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Baltimore Ravens’ J.K. Dobbins having MRI but expectation is RB is out for season

Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins sustained a left knee injury Saturday night, but the expectation is the injury will end his season, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Dobbins was carted off the field after injuring the knee during the opening drive of the Ravens’ 37-3 rout of Washington at FedEx Field. A second-round pick from a year ago, Dobbins was entering his first season as Baltimore’s featured running back.

If Dobbins is out for the season, the Ravens’ top two backs are Gus Edwards and Ty’Son Williams. Edwards is one of the more underrated backups in the league, averaging 5.2 yards per carry over the past three campaigns (third best among running backs).

Williams, who went undrafted out of BYU last year, has impressed the Ravens this summer with his physical running style, rushing for 131 yards on 24 carries this preseason (5.5-yard average).

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The Ravens have confidence in Edwards, who signed a two-year, $10 million extension this offseason and has shown he can be a starting running back when called upon. In 2018, Edwards took over as the Ravens’ No. 1 running back midway through the season and helped lead Baltimore to the playoffs. He averaged 93.4 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns in the final six games that season.

The Ravens have had the NFL’s top-ranked running attack over the past two seasons because of the system that it has installed around quarterback Lamar Jackson, who gained a team-leading 2,211 yards rushing combined in 2019 and 2020. Over that span, three running backs have gained over 800 yards: Edwards, Dobbins and Mark Ingram.

This offseason, the Ravens explored the possibility of adding a veteran running back for depth.

Free agent Todd Gurley II visited the Ravens in June, but he left without a contract. It’s unknown whether Gurley’s knee issues would let him to hold up for a full season.

Dobbins, 22, was primed for a breakout 2021 season. Last year, he averaged 6.0 yards per carry, the second-highest average by a rookie running back over the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Only the New Orleans Saints’ Alvin Kamara (6.1) had a higher average as a rookie.

Dobbins’ injury was the latest setback in a rough summer for Baltimore. Because of injuries, Baltimore’s top three wide receivers have missed a chunk of training camp and its projected starting offensive line didn’t practice together for the first time until last week.

Wide receiver Rashod Bateman, a first-round pick, had groin surgery on Aug. 13 and could miss the beginning of the regular season.

Now, the expectation is Dobbins will miss the 2021 season, which is the outcome many of the Ravens’ players were bracing for Saturday night. “That one hurts, bro, because you know how much work he put in [and] the type of guy he is,”

Ravens wide receiver James Proche said after Saturday’s game. “He loves the game. Anytime the game is taken away from you like that, you really feel for him.”

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Cam Newton returns to New England Patriots from COVID protocol

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton returned to the team facility Thursday and practiced after missing three consecutive days due to a COVID-19 protocol “misunderstanding,” with coach Bill Belichick saying Newton “didn’t violate team rules.”

Belichick mostly referred to the team’s statement — which said that the club approved Newton leaving the New England region for a medical appointment — when asked about how the “misunderstanding” occurred.

“I don’t really have anything to add. We released a statement, and I think that covered it as thoroughly as we can without getting into a lengthy thing. So we’ll just leave it at that,” Belichick said.

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Newton’s absence opened the door for rookie quarterback Mac Jones to take No. 1 repetitions each of the past three days, and he seemed to take advantage of the opportunity Wednesday versus the New York Giants, capping off his practice by leading the offense to an 80-yard touchdown drive.

With Newton back Thursday, Belichick said, “All the quarterbacks will get work.”

Thursday marks the Patriots’ final practice of training camp, and then the team will visit the Giants in the preseason finale on Sunday (6 p.m. ET).

The quarterback competition between Newton and Jones remains a top storyline, with Belichick having consistently stated that Newton is the starter but that, like players at any position, he has to reestablish that standing throughout the preseason.

Belichick has also said there could be a change at any position if someone performs better than the starter or the starter isn’t available.

Asked at what point he needs to transition from a spirited quarterback competition to having a starter and giving that player the majority of repetitions to get him prepared for the season opener Sept. 12 against the Miami Dolphins, Belichick said: “I don’t have a timetable on that. … I’m not sure.”

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Los Angeles Rams acquire RB Sony Michel from New England Patriots

The Los Angeles Rams have acquired Sony Michel from the New England Patriots to add some much-needed depth at the running back position.

The Patriots obtained a sixth-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-rounder in 2023 in the deal.

Michel fills an immediate need for the Rams, who will play the season without rising star Cam Akers after he tore his right Achilles tendon while working out before training camp.

In Akers’ absence, Darrell Henderson Jr. has taken over as starter, but the Rams lack depth behind the third-year pro.

“We identified Sony for many reasons,” Rams general manager Les Snead said Wednesday. “Number one, being his experience, and experience meaning like a player who has carried the ball in big games and in those big games, where there have been big moments, big drives, big series.”

Second-year pro Xavier Jones, an undrafted free agent in 2020, and rookie seventh-round pick Jake Funk have competed throughout the preseason with the hope of proving they could fill the position.

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At the outset of training camp, coach Sean McVay stated the Rams would give their young backs ample opportunity to compete for the job but left open the possibility that the team could look for outside help when the season opener approached.

Asked this week whether Jones and Funk had proved through two preseason games that they could be ready for Week 1 versus the Chicago Bears on Sept. 12, McVay said the Rams were in the process of figuring that out.

“We got a little bit of time,” McVay said. “Darrell is a guy that’s been established and done some good things. But I was pleased with both those guys.”

Henderson suffered a mild thumb sprain in practice Monday but returned to practice Tuesday with a cast or brace protecting his left hand.

A fourth-year pro, Michel has rushed for 2,292 yards and 14 touchdowns in 28 starts for the Patriots, who drafted him in the first round with the 31st pick in 2018.

“What he does bring is this element of make a cut, get north and south and get north and south with some force,” Snead said. “The physics that he brings to the table — let’s call it a flavor or genre that we felt like complemented our group.”

In a 13-3 triumph over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, Michel rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

Michel is due to earn a base salary of $1.79 million in the final year of his contract in 2021 after the Patriots previously elected not to exercise his fifth-year option for 2022. He had drawn rave reviews from Patriots running back coach Ivan Fears this preseason, with Fears saying he had “upped his total game.”

Last season, Michel missed six games when he was placed on injured reserve after Week 3 because of a quadriceps injury. In nine games he rushed for 449 yards and a touchdown on 79 carries. In a 24-3 loss to the Rams, Michel rushed for 22 yards on seven carries.

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Carolina Panthers, Robby Anderson reach 2-year extension

Wide receiver Robby Anderson didn’t waste any time during Tuesday’s practice showing why he deserved the two-year extension the Carolina Panthers gave him earlier in the day that sources said is worth $29.5 million.

First, the 28-year-old made a one-handed snag of a scrambling Sam Darnold pass that — while just out of bounds in the end zone — was spectacular.

Later, he made an even more impressive catch of a deep pass from Darnold that went off his hand, off the back foot of cornerback Donte Jackson and back into Anderson’s hands for a touchdown.

As hot as it was outdoors with the heat index right at 100 degrees, Anderson was even hotter in the team’s indoor practice facility.

“Since I came here I felt like I was finding my dream,” stated Anderson, who signed a two-year deal with Carolina last season after spending his first four seasons with the New York Jets.

“Early on in my career, I was kind of lost in a sense and trying to find my way. “I wouldn’t call them mistakes. I would call them lessons that I learned, putting me where I need to be around people I need to be around for me to learn from those things and grow into a better man.”

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That Anderson gets the opportunity to reunite with Darnold figured into his decision to sign the extension of which $20.5 million is guaranteed, according to sources. Anderson was Darnold’s favorite target with the Jets in 2018 and 2019. He had 102 catches for 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns during that time.

“That’s a big factor, too,” Anderson said. “Being back with a quarterback that I’m confident in, that I know is going to be here as well … everything across the board it was all checkmarks.”

The Panthers traded for Darnold during the offseason, then picked up his fifth-year option that locks him down through 2022.

Keeping Darnold surrounded by skill players such as Anderson, the Panthers believe, gives him the best chance to succeed after struggling for three years in New York. They’ve already picked up the fifth-year option on wide receiver DJ Moore for next season and still could sign him to an extension.

They also have running back Christian McCaffrey locked down through 2025 after signing him to a four-year, $64 million extension last year.

“I’m excited for this season, and also excited for the future,” Anderson said.

Anderson is coming off a career-high 95 catches for 1,096 yards in an offense that was missing McCaffrey for 13 games. He believes he can be even better moving forward.

“The main goal is to win,” said Anderson, referring to the Panthers going 5-11 last season. “I’m just glad to have the opportunity for us to accomplish what we’re really working for.”

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