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Jadeveon Clowney re-signed with Cleveland Browns so he could play again with Deshaun Watson

Jadeveon Clowney admitted Thursday that he ultimately decided he would be re-signing with the Cleveland Browns once he knew quarterback Deshaun Watson was headed to Cleveland, too.

“I thought I played well here last year, and I feel like I can get better and pick off from what I did last year,” the defensive end said when listing the reasons he returned to the Browns.

“Then my boy came here, Deshaun.”

Clowney is coming off a breakout season with the Browns after signing a one-year deal last year. Playing opposite All-Pro pass rusher Myles Garrett, Clowney concluded with nine sacks; both Garrett and Clowney ranked in the top four in the NFL in pass rush win rate.

“Me and [Garrett] did some good things together,” Clowney said as the Browns completed their final minicamp practice at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“We got along well. We played well together. We fed off each other. We’re going to do the same thing this year, even better. … We got a good thing going from last year. We want to keep it going this year.”

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What tipped the scales for Clowney, though, was the chance to play again with Watson, his former teammate with the Houston Texans.

“I was all about where my boy Deshaun was going,” Clowney said. “I just wanted to go play with him and see what I can do with him again.”

The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending three first-round picks to the Texans.

A source told ESPN that Clowney spoke to Watson the week of the trade while Watson was still considering joining the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers or Atlanta Falcons and that, in their conversation, Clowney gave Cleveland and the Browns a strong endorsement.

“I told him if he goes [to Cleveland], then I will follow him over here,” Clowney said. “That’s what it came down to.”

It is still unclear when Clowney will actually get to play with Watson, though. Watson is facing 24 active civil lawsuits from women who have accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct during massage sessions.

Although two grand juries in Texas declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson earlier this year, the NFL is investigating whether he violated its code of conduct and the league interviewed the quarterback in person last month as part of its investigation.

At the league’s spring meeting, commissioner Roger Goodell said that he thought the NFL was nearing the end of its investigation but that he couldn’t give a timeline for when a ruling might be made. Watson has maintained his innocence, reiterating Tuesday that he never “harassed” or “disrespected” or “forced” any woman.

Clowney said he isn’t worried that a potential Watson suspension could derail Cleveland’s season.

“We’ve got a good defense, we can hold it together,” he said. “We did good last year, and we were banged up on offense all over the place and our defense played well for what we had going on. … We’re going to be all right.”

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Green Bay Packers, Jaire Alexander finalizing four-year, $84M extension

It was never a question of if the Green Bay Packers were going to sign All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander to a contract extension. It was only a matter of when and for how much.

It happened on Monday, and it included a defensive-back-record signing bonus of $30 million as part of a four-year, $84 million contract, Alexander’s agent, John Thornton, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Alexander’s new deal averages $21 million per year, also a new mark for defensive backs.

Alexander had previously been tied to the Packers for only this season on the fifth-year option to his rookie contract. That would have paid him $13.294 million for 2022, and the whole total would have counted on this year’s salary cap. With the signing bonus prorated and a lower base salary of $1.076 million, the Packers will create significant additional salary-cap space.

Before this deal, they had about $11 million in cap space. Exactly how much cap space was created won’t be known until the full details of the contract become available.

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Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst had hinted that an extension for Alexander wouldn’t be far off.

When asked before the draft last month whether they could get a long-term deal done with him, Gutekunst said: “I think we’ll get [through] this draft weekend and we’ll go down that road with some of those players.”

“He’s such a big part of what we’re doing; he’s been such a good player for us since the day he kind of arrived,” Gutekunst said of Alexander earlier this offseason. “We’d love for [an extension] to happen. Certainly we’ve been in communication with his representation and we will continue to be as we go through the year.”

The Packers’ first-round pick (No. 18) in 2018 quickly became a star. He was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team in 2018, was picked as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2019 and made his first Pro Bowl in 2020 — when he also earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Although he played in only four matches last regular season because of a shoulder injury, he returned after a three-month absence to play in the NFC divisional playoff game versus the 49ers.

He led the Packers in pass breakups in each of his first three seasons and had the fourth-most pass breakups in the NFL from 2018 to 2020 with 42, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. Only James Bradberry (with 45), Stephon Gilmore (43) and Janoris Jenkins (43) had more.

The Packers have made a significant commitment to the cornerback position in the past year. They drafted Eric Stokes in the first round of the 2021 draft and then this March re-signed Rasul Douglas to a three-year, $21 million deal.

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Green Bay Packers sign veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins

The Green Bay Packers are finally adding to their receiver room by signing veteran Sammy Watkins.

The team revealed the deal on Thursday but didn’t reveal terms. A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Watkins’ contract is for one year and worth up to $4 million.

The Packers have lost three of their top receivers this offseason, headed by All-Pro Davante Adams in a trade to the Las Vegas Raiders. They also lost Marquez Valdes-Scantling (Chiefs) and Equanimeous St. Brown (Bears) in free agency.

The Packers’ top remaining receivers are Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers.

They haven’t used a first-round pick on a receiver since 2002 (Javon Walker) but have two picks in each of the first two rounds after the Adams trade, putting them in position to address that spot high in the draft.

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Packers head coach Matt LaFleur coached Watkins with the Rams in 2017, and Packers receivers coach Jason Vrable was in Buffalo when the Bills drafted him fourth overall in 2014.

Watkins, 28, has had difficulty staying healthy throughout his career.

He continued to struggle with injuries in his only season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2021, ending with career lows in receptions (27) and receiving yards (394).

He has missed 30 matches over the past seven seasons, and he hasn’t played a full season since his 2014 rookie season.

He made two of the biggest catches of the season for Baltimore, setting up winning scores versus the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, but Watkins had no catches — and just three targets — in his final four games as he fell behind Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay on the depth chart.

In his eight-year career, Watkins has totaled 348 receptions for 5,059 yards receiving and 34 touchdown catches for the Bills, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens.

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Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner hopes he plays Sunday, optimistic he stays with team next season

A week after acknowledging his unclear future with the Seahawks, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner struck a more hopeful tune Wednesday, saying he has “a lot of optimism” that he’ll be back in 2022 for an 11th season in Seattle.

Wagner stated he hasn’t given up on the chance of playing in the team’s season finale either, saying he’s going to get “as much treatment as I possibly can” on his sprained knee in the hopes of suiting up Sunday versus the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.

“I’m going to take it one day at a time,” said Wagner, who hurt his knee on the opening play of the Seahawks’ blowout win last week over the Detroit Lions and didn’t return. “I have a lot of days before Sunday and we’re going to see what happens.”

Last week, Wagner answered in the affirmative when asked if he has wondered whether he’ll be back with the Seahawks next season given his huge cap number.

The Seahawks’ defensive captain and longest-tenured player (along with quarterback Russell Wilson) said there’s “obviously” going to be some changes on the heels of Seattle suffering double-digit losses for the first time since 2009 and added, “Whether or not I’m part of those changes, I don’t know.”

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On Wednesday, Wagner was asked if that insecurity has given him any more incentive to play Sunday.

“Not really, because in my mind I don’t feel like this is my last time,” he said. “I don’t feel like this is my last time putting on a Seahawks uniform. I don’t feel like this is my last time doing that. I understand there is a business side to this, but there is a lot of optimism on my end that I’ll be back. So I’m not worried about it. Obviously, I can’t control everything. I can only control my part. And my part on this is I feel like I love this city. I love this team. I love the Seahawks. So I always wanted to be a part of a franchise’s good times and bad times and every time. So this is a team that I would love to be able to be a part of for a very, very long time.

“So on my end, that’s where I’m at, that I’m a Seahawk until they tell me I’m not. So that’s my mindset. So I don’t see it as that was my last game or this next game could be my next game.”

Wagner, 31, serves as his own agent and negotiated his three-year, $54 million extension in 2019, then a record for off-the-ball linebackers in terms of annual average.

He’s arranged to count $20.35 million against the salary cap next season — second on the team to Wilson’s $37 million cap hit for 2022 — in what’s scheduled to be the final year of that deal. None of the $16.6 million Wagner could earn next season is guaranteed.

Wagner was asked what gives him optimism that he’ll be back next year.

“I would like to say that I’m a pretty good businessman and I would like to say I have a lot of respect here,” Wagner said. “So I’m just going to go into my businessman mentality and work some stuff out.”

Asked whether that means he’d be amenable to working out a different contract with Seattle, Wagner said with a smile: “I didn’t say that. … I said I’m a businessman. That’s all I said. Put my business cap on. I did not say I’m doing all that.”

Wagner was named to the Pro Bowl for an eight consecutive season last month, and he could be a first-team All-Pro for the seventh time.

Wagner is the Seahawks’ all-time tackles leader and broke his own franchise record for tackles in a season two weeks ago. His 170 tackles were leading the league until last week, when he was overtaken by the Atlanta Falcons’ Foyesade Oluokun (179).

Wagner hadn’t missed a snap this season until he was hurt versus Detroit when his foot slipped as he tried to plant on the wet turf at Lumen Field. He tried to return for the next snap following the injury timeout but had to miss at least one play per NFL rules. That’s when the Seahawks decided to take him to the locker room for evaluation and ultimately kept him there for the remainder of the game.

Coach Pete Carroll called it a sprained knee capsule and said the injury wouldn’t require surgery. He said the team is keeping its fingers crossed that he can play Sunday.

As expected, Wagner didn’t practice Wednesday.

“I just want to thank everybody that reached out,” he said. “I’m good. Ain’t got to worry about nothing. It’s not serious. I’m grateful that I do yoga. I just learned that I can do the splits if I want to.”

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski could miss weeks with fractured ribs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski has fractured ribs that threaten to sideline him for weeks, sources told ESPN on Saturday.

Gronkowski did not travel with the Buccaneers to Foxborough, Massachusetts, for Sunday’s game versus the New England Patriots because of the effect that flying could have on his injury.

“We held out hope all week that Gronk would be ready,” a team source told ESPN. “He’s a different breed.”

Gronkowski suffered the injury during Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams but returned to finish the match. Initially, the Buccaneers and Gronkowski did not think the injury was as severe as it turned out to be, and X-rays of Gronkowski’s ribs taken after the game came back negative.

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But further MRI testing during the week revealed the fractures not found on the X-rays, which do not show hairline fractures.

Gronkowski did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and was spotted only stretching during Friday’s practice. The Buccaneers had listed him as doubtful on Friday before downgrading him to out Saturday.

“He made progress but not enough,” coach Bruce Arians told ESPN’s Jenna Laine on Saturday.

After traveling to New England this weekend, the Buccaneers host Miami, play at Philadelphia on a Thursday night and then return home for Chicago before a road game at New Orleans and their Nov. 7 bye.

However, the four-time All-Pro isn’t the only one injured in the Bucs squad.

As along with him, linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul has sustained a shoulder injury and RB Giovani Bernard and CB Jamel Dean both can be seen on the Bucs sidelines with knee injuries.

Although due to Rob’s absence, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate will have more time on the field. The duo has caught a combined seven of eight targets for 75 yards this campaign.

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Kansas City Chiefs set to sign newly reinstated WR Josh Gordon to practice squad

Former All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon, who recently was informed that he is being reinstated, is planning to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, sources told ESPN.

Gordon is flying to Kansas City on Monday, and he is likely to be signed to the Chiefs’ practice squad tonight with the expectation that a promotion to the active roster will follow shortly thereafter.

Gordon, 30, had multiple teams contact him and express interest in signing him. But one of the attractions of playing in Kansas City was making it a long-term stop and spending multiple seasons there, according to his agents, Eric Dounn and Matt Leist from LAA Sports.

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The Chiefs have been searching for a wide receiver who can play every down along with Tyreek Hill since losing Sammy Watkins as a free agent in the spring.

They’ve given significant playing time to Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle, but none of those players have consistently delivered for the Chiefs.

Hill is behind only tight end Travis Kelce in receiving yards for the Chiefs with 267.

The other three wide receivers have combined for 260 yards.

Gordon was suspended indefinitely in December 2019 for violations of the league’s policies on substance abuse and performance-enhancing substances.

It was Gordon’s sixth suspension since the 2013 season and his fifth for some form of substance abuse, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Gordon submitted his reinstatement letter fo NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in July and the NFLPA recommended that he be reinstated. His application for reinstatement was approved by Goodell on Monday, a source said.

But this time Gordon, who last played for the Zappers of the Fan Controlled Football league with former Browns teammate Johnny Manziel, stated he is ready to contribute. Gordon led the NFL in receiving in 2013, when he accumulated 1,646 receiving yards.

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New Orleans Saints signing RT Ryan Ramczyk to five-year, $96 million extension

The New Orleans Saints have not yet identified their next quarterback after Drew Brees’ retirement. But they ensured that he will be well protected on Wednesday by signing All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk to a five-year extension.

The Saints revealed Wednesday that they had signed Ramczyk to a five-year extension but did not disclose financial terms.

The deal is worth $96 million in new money ($60 million guaranteed), a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which makes Ramczyk the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL.

The $19.2 million average per year in Ramczyk’s extension sets the standard for NFL right tackles, surpassing the $18 million average per year in the deal Lane Johnson signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019.

It makes sense, because Ramczyk has been among the league’s elite linemen since being drafted with the 32nd pick out of Wisconsin in 2017. He was named first-team All-Pro in 2019 and to the second team in 2018 and 2020.

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“It’s a huge relief. I’m extremely happy with how everything played out,” said Ramczyk, who was asked what it means to him to be the highest-paid right tackle in NFL history.

Ramczyk also said that he reflects “quite often” on how far his “unique journey” has taken him.

He quit football for a year after high school and briefly considered becoming a welder before realizing how much he missed playing.

He wound up attending five different schools (Winona State, Madison Area Technical College, Mid-State Technical College, Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin) before becoming a first-round draft pick.

“There’s not a lot of guys who kind of go through what I did,” Ramczyk said. “But I think it was necessary for me, and I think everything played out obviously really well. And I wouldn’t change a thing looking back on it.”

Signing Ramczyk long term was a no-brainer for New Orleans, even at this hefty price tag. All-Pro left tackle Terron Armstead is also heading into the final year of his contract, which could lead to a tough financial decision next year.

But the Saints certainly couldn’t afford to lose both as they build for the future behind quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill and/or a candidate to be named later.

Ramczyk, 27, was due to earn $11.064 million in the final year of his contract this campaign. But the Saints could actually save some needed salary-cap space in the short term, depending on how they structure the deal.

The Saints had about $5 million to $6 million in cap space before Ramczyk’s new deal. They should now have room to add some veteran help heading into this season, with potential needs at cornerback, receiver, defensive tackle and possibly linebacker.

Ramczyk and Armstead have formed an elite duo over the past four years, while the Saints have won four consecutive NFC South titles and produced the league’s best regular-season record.

Ramczyk was part of New Orleans’ superb 2017 draft class, which also includes running back Alvin Kamara, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety Marcus Williams and defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Kamara signed an extension last year, and Williams or Lattimore could be next.

The Saints placed the franchise tag on Williams this year and have until July 15 to reach a long-term extension. Lattimore has one year left on his rookie deal. Hendrickson signed a lucrative deal with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason.

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Julio Jones, asked about future with Atlanta Falcons, says ‘I’m outta there’

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones stated Monday he is planning on leaving the franchise during an interview on FS1.

“I’m outta there,” Jones said when reached by telephone by Shannon Sharpe on the network’s “Undisputed” show.

Jones had been the subject of trade talks recently after general manager Terry Fontenot said the team would be taking calls about the former All-Pro receiver last month.

Jones, 32, demanded a trade from the Falcons at the beginning of the offseason in March, but the organization was trying to protect him and work quietly behind the scenes, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and has been talking to other teams for weeks.

The Falcons prefer not to trade him in the NFC but would do so for the right price, the source said.

Atlanta has asked teams that have inquired about Jones for a first-round draft pick in return, sources told Schefter.

When Jones was asked by Sharpe where he would like to go play, he said he would like to play for a winner.

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“Right now I wanna win,” Jones said.

Jones, whose base salary of $15.3 million is fully guaranteed for this campaign, is scheduled to cost the Falcons $23.05 million against the cap in 2021 and has cap hits of $19.263 million in 2022 and 2023.

If the Falcons move Jones after June 1, the move would offer Atlanta relief against the cap this season because the dead money owed to him would be split between this season and next.

Jones has played 10 seasons with the Falcons, who selected him sixth overall in the 2011 draft, leading the NFL in receiving twice (1,871 yards in 2015 and 1,677 yards in 2018) and three times in yards per game (2015, 2016 and 2018).

He made seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro in 2015 and 2016.

He became one of the faces of the Falcons, starting 134 of the 135 matches he played in and making 848 catches for 12,896 yards and 60 touchdowns. He’s the Falcons’ all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards and second to Roddy White in receiving touchdowns (63).

Jones, though, had one of his worst seasons in 2020, limited to nine games due to injury with 51 catches for 771 yards and three touchdowns. While his 15.1 yards per catch was his highest since 2017 and his catch percentage of 75% was the best of his career, his 85.7 yards per game was his lowest since 2012, his second year in the league.

The Falcons did make one receiver move Monday, signing receiver Tajae Sharpe. The 26-year-old spent four seasons in Tennessee with Arthur Smith, now the Falcons’ head coach, from 2016 to 2019, where he caught 92 passes for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns. He spent 2020 with Minnesota, where he played in four games with no catches.

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Rams return Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, but questions remain for defending No. 1 defense

With the promise of an improved offense, the Los Angeles Rams’ defense is preparing for an encore performance.

Last season, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey spurred the unit to the top of the NFL.

Both star playmakers return after a 10-6 campaign that resulted in divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. So does outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract after a career-best campaign in which he tallied 10.5 sacks.

But gone is defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who inherited a defense that ranked ninth in efficiency and improved it to first in his only season before departing to become the Los Angeles Chargers’ head coach. Enter defense coordinator Raheem Morris, who held the same post last season with the Atlanta Falcons for five games before being promoted to interim head coach.

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Morris takes over a defense that permitted a league-low 18.5 points in 2020.

He is expected to maintain what Staley installed, including the base 3-4 scheme, but will add some of his own wrinkles to shape a unit that can propel the Rams to Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium next February.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” Morris said at his introductory news conference when asked about taking over the league’s top-ranked defense. “I think it’s more of an opportunity.”

Last season, the Rams ranked No. 1 in passing yards permitted per game at 190.7. They ranked No. 3 versus the run, allowing only 91.3 rushing yards per game.

However, there’s room for improvement, especially at creating turnovers. The Rams forced 22 turnovers last season, which ranked 10th, and intercepted 14 passes, ranking 12th.

Entering the NFL draft last month, Rams coach Sean McVay said the Rams did not have any glaring holes that needed to be filled. Along with Donald, Ramsey and Floyd, the Rams also return cornerback Darious Williams, whose coming off a breakthrough season that included four interceptions, and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, a former sixth-round pick who is entering his third season as a starter.

But some of their key playmakers have departed.

Four defensive starters left this offseason, including veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers — who was traded to Detroit — outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III.

The Rams used five of their nine draft picks to select defensive players: South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones, Texas A&M defensive lineman Bobby Brown III, Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell, Northwestern defensive lineman Earnest Brown IV and Concordia-St. Paul outside linebacker Chris Garrett.

“You look at each of them and there’s a vision that we have for them and how they fit, how they provide value for a football team,” said McVay, who’s entering his fifth season as coach.

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Seattle Seahawks talk to Richard Sherman, but no reunion imminent as DB mulls future

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll confirmed that he’s been in communication with Richard Sherman, but stated a reunion with the former All-Pro cornerback isn’t currently in the works.

“That’s not one of our thoughts right now that we’re going out and getting another guy at that spot, but we’re going to keep looking,” Carroll said Saturday, after the Seahawks took Oklahoma CB Tre Brown with one of their three draft picks.

“We’re not going to stop looking and we’re going to compete. So in that sense, I leave everything open and that’s just one of them.”

The 33-year-old Sherman is a free agent after spending the past three campaigns with the San Francisco 49ers.

In an interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Friday, he said a return to San Francisco isn’t out of the question and listed the Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Las Vegas Raiders as other teams with which he’s had communication.

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“I’ve got to wait through this draft process,” he told Smith. “Obviously, the first round, a lot of teams got corners, some teams didn’t get the corners they wanted and I think once this draft process completes my phone will ring a little more with people who expected to get a guy and didn’t get the guy they wanted. I’m not as in control as I was. At 33, it’s just like, it doesn’t matter what you put on tape.”

Sherman suggested that his age is the reason he’s unsigned

“It doesn’t matter accolades you have, what you put on tape, the numbers — it’s just age sometimes. So I’ve just got to continue to stay in shape, continue to stay ready … I’m being patient and doing everything I can.”

Sherman made four Pro Bowls and was named a First Team All-Pro in three of his seven seasons with Seattle, rising from a fifth-round pick in 2011 to become a key member of the defense that led the Seahawks to their lone Super Bowl championship and a close repeat the next year.

He suffered a torn Achilles in 2017 and was released that offseason with one year left on his contract. The 49ers then signed him to a three-year deal that just expired.

Sherman made his fifth career Pro Bowl in 2019 but missed 11 matches last year with a calf injury.

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