Tagged in: New Orleans

Foot injury to keep New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson sidelined for start of season

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson will miss the beginning of the regular season because of a right foot injury that required offseason surgery, Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said on Thursday.

Williamson received scans on Wednesday, and after reviewing the scans with Dr. Richard Ferkel and Pelicans team doctor Dr. Scott Montgomery, Griffin stated the doctors were “very encouraged” by the healing of the bone.

However, there was no “fixed timeline” given on Williamson’s return-to-play status. Griffin said Williamson will get more scans in two to 2½ weeks and the team will go from there.

“It’s everyone’s goal that Zion return to play as soon as safely possible,” Griffin said. “Obviously, two to 2½ weeks from now means he will not be on the floor for the first week of games. When he is able to return safely, we will do that.”

At media day on Sept. 27, Griffin said Williamson injured the foot prior to summer league in the early part of the offseason but added at the time that “his timeline should get him back on the court in time for the regular season.”

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Williamson followed that up by saying, “I expect to be back for the first game. First official game, I would say.” Griffin said there have been no setbacks in Williamson’s recovery and that nothing has gone wrong, either.

“It just takes a certain amount of time for guys to lay the bone that the doctors want to see,” Griffin said. “This is where our timeline is.”

Williamson was cleared to start running and to do individual on-court work, Griffin said. But it was unclear when he would be specifically cleared for more activities.

“Throughout the process, we’ll be heading toward that,” Griffin said of Williamson getting to the point where he could play 5-on-5. “It may be well before the 2½ weeks that he does that. It’s really just a function of how things progress.”

For first-year Pelicans coach Willie Green, he now has to start year at the helm without Williamson.

“It’s a part of [the game]. We miss him,” Green said. “He’s here and he’s progressing, as Griff spoke about. But we gotta get other guys ready — there’s a game coming up Wednesday against Philly. We just need to be prepared.”

How the Pelicans line up on opening night versus the Sixers remains up for debate. For the first preseason game when Brandon Ingram played, Green went with Ingram and Naji Marshall as the starting forwards. When asked about playing Ingram up at the power forward position, Green mentioned the fluidness of NBA lineups today.

“I think 3, 4, 2 are interchangeable in the NBA right now,” Green said. “Unless you play certain teams, you play the Lakers, they could be a little bit bigger. You play Milwaukee, they could put a big lineup out there. That’s when you really gotta think about your starting 4, 3. But against a lot of teams, 3 and 4 guys are interchangeable and BI can play either of those positions.”

Williamson and Ingram, two All-Stars, were supposed to anchor a Pelicans lineup that featured more shooting this season — something that was going to ease the burden and number of bodies each player saw on the defensive end of the floor. Now, as the team had to do in Williamson’s rookie season, they’ll have to get off on the right foot without their big man.

In 2019, Williamson also suffered an injury in the preseason that delayed the start of his season. A torn meniscus in his right knee pushed Williamson’s NBA debut to Jan. 22, 2020.

“It’s not ideal, obviously,” Griffin said. “It’s also not terribly debilitating either. The idea again is to return as soon and safely as possible. I think the way the doctors are handling this gives a great deal of confidence that that’s going to be the case. We would love to not have to deal with it. But we’re really happy with the way it’s gone so far.”

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New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz will miss start of season due to injury

New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz is estimated to miss time at the start of the season because of injury, according to a source, adding to the Saints’ growing roster upheaval.

Lutz’s specific timetable is unknown, but there is optimism that he won’t miss too many matches. He missed time at the beginning of training camp with a groin injury, and the source indicated that Lutz aggravated a previous injury.

The kicker took to Instagram to acknowledge that he had an injury that had worsened and decided to get it “fixed now in order to miss the least amount of time as possible.”

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Lutz did not say when he hoped to return.

The Saints are signing veteran kicker Brett Maher after Monday’s auditions to fill in for Lutz, a source told ESPN. Maher, 31, spent two seasons as the Dallas Cowboys’ kicker 2018-19 and has been on practice squads/offseason rosters since then with the Jets, Washington, Texans and Cardinals.

The Saints are expected to have at least 11 new starters in Week 1 due to Drew Brees’ retirement, an offseason salary-cap purge, defensive tackle David Onyemata’s suspension and now injuries to Lutz and receiver Michael Thomas.

Lutz, 27, was a Pro Bowler in 2019 and ranks as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history with a field goal rate of 86.6% during his five-year career.

The Saints will also have a new punter in 2021 after releasing longtime standout Thomas Morstead this offseason. Second-year pro Blake Gillikin is anticipated to take over the role after spending last season on injured reserve.

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LB Kwon Alexander agrees to re-sign with New Orleans Saints

Linebacker Kwon Alexander is back with the New Orleans Saints after he spent the offseason recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.

They agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

It’s a birthday present of sorts for Alexander, who turned 27 on Tuesday.

Alexander, who played college football nearby at LSU, proved to be a good fit for the Saints after they obtained him in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers last November.

The 6-foot-1, 227-pounder started seven matches for New Orleans and had 27 tackles, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. His season ended in December, however, when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in a Christmas Day triumph over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Saints released Alexander in March before he was due to make $13.4 million in salary and bonuses this year. But clearly they kept the door open, and they brought him in for a workout last month after he was healthy enough to resume football activities.

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The Saints are suddenly crowded at the linebacker position after they drafted Pete Werner in the second round this year and Zack Baun in the third round last year. And it’s a position where they typically play only two linebackers at a time, with Demario Davis locking down one of those spots.

But Alexander, who is particularly valuable on passing downs, adds to their overall depth and versatility after they lost some key pieces at cornerback and along the defensive line during a salary-cap purge this offseason.

The Saints have been filling out their depth throughout the first week of training camp after they cleared out more than $10 million in cap space late in the summer.

They have also recently signed cornerbacks Brian Poole, Prince Amukamara and KeiVarae Russell; running back Devonta Freeman; receiver Chris Hogan and guard J.R. Sweezy.

Alexander, who was initially drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth round out of LSU in 2015, made the Pro Bowl in 2017. He has started a total of 66 games in his career with 471 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 7 interceptions and 9 forced fumbles.

The 49ers signed Alexander to a four-year, $54 million contract as a free agent in 2019, but he was limited during the 2019 season by a torn pectoral muscle before returning for their playoff run. He played in five games for the 49ers in 2020 but was sidelined by a high-ankle sprain at the time he was traded.

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Chris Hogan reaches deal with New Orleans Saints

After moonlighting as a lacrosse player this summer, veteran wide receiver Chris Hogan will return to the NFL and try to help the New Orleans Saints make up for the absence of injured star Michael Thomas.

Hogan, 33, agreed to a deal with the Saints on Monday, a source told ESPN’s Mike Reiss, confirming an NFL Network report.

As expected, Thomas was formally placed on the physically unable to play list Monday to start training camp. He is expected to miss time at the beginning of the regular season after having ankle surgery in June.

Hogan (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) will compete for a roster spot along with Saints receivers Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway and others in a position group that is thin on proven talent after New Orleans released veteran Emmanuel Sanders this offseason.

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Hogan won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots during a nine-year career that also saw him play with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and New York Jets.

But after playing in just 12 total matches with the Panthers and Jets in 2019 and 2020 while battling injuries, he briefly decided to switch careers this offseason and play in the Premier Lacrosse League before the Saints lured him back.

Hogan was a standout lacrosse player at Penn State before he spent a year playing football at Monmouth and joined the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.

He was mostly inactive during his time in the PLL, starting with the Cannons before being traded to the Whipsnakes. Back in the NFL, Hogan brings versatility along with his experience.

He has lined up almost equally in the slot and out wide while catching 216 passes for 2,795 yards and 18 touchdowns in the regular season. He has another 34 catches for 542 yards and four TDs in the playoffs.

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New Orleans Saints agree to deal with free agent cornerback Brian Poole

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to a deal with free agent cornerback Brian Poole, pending a physical, a source confirmed.

Terms of the agreement were not instantly known. NFL reporter Josina Anderson first reported that Poole stated he intends to sign a one-year deal with the Saints on Monday.

Poole, 28, spent his first five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets after going undrafted out of Florida.

The 5-foot-10, 213-pounder established himself as one of the NFL’s top slot cornerbacks before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 9 last year.

Poole had two interceptions, one sack and seven pass break-ups in his abbreviated 2020 season with the Jets. He has seven interceptions and six sacks in 70 career games.

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Cornerback has been a pressing need for the Saints ever since they released veteran starter Janoris Jenkins during a salary-cap purge at the start of the offseason.

Poole is a curious fit since he primarily plays in the slot – where New Orleans has other proven options like safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and cornerback Patrick Robinson. But the increased depth and talent can’t hurt.

The Saints, who recently created more than $10 million in cap space through revised contracts, could also look to add more veteran help at wide receiver and defensive tackle as they head toward the beginning of training camp this week.

Poole is known for his physical coverage against slot receivers, yet he was called for only three penalties in 2019 and none in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

He spent his first three years with the Falcons, and quickly became an integral part of the defense. As a rookie, he saw significant playing time on their NFC championship squad. In 2018, he struggled at times in pass coverage, prompting the Falcons to set him free by declining his restricted-free agent tender.

Poole proved to be a solid, cost-effective acquisition for the Jets, first signing a one-year, $3 million deal in 2019, then a one-year $5 million deal in 2020.

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New Orleans Pelicans officially name Willie Green as next head coach

The New Orleans Pelicans officially named Willie Green as their next head coach Thursday.

Green is coming off a stint as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns, who just made a run to the NBA Finals, which delayed the timing of the Pelicans’ announcement.

“After an extensive and collaborative search, Willie stood out among an impressive group of candidates as the best person to lead our team moving forward,” Pelicans governor Gayle Benson said in a statement.

“We are very happy to welcome Willie as our new head coach and we look forward to working with him to guide our team on the court as we work towards bringing a championship to New Orleans.”

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin called Green, a 12-year NBA veteran, one of the “most respected assistant coaches in the NBA.”

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“He brings a vast amount of basketball knowledge and experience to our team as both a coach and former player, along with exceptional leadership qualities and an innate ability to connect with players, staff and fans alike,” Griffin said in a statement.

Green spent three seasons as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors before joining Phoenix.

“I want to thank Mrs. Benson, David Griffin, and the entire Pelicans organization for having faith in me to lead this talented group of players moving forward,” Green said. “It’s a blessing and an honor to get this opportunity in a special place like New Orleans. I look forward to getting to work and immersing myself and my family into the local community.”

As a player, Green made the playoffs in seven of his 12 seasons, including the lone year in New Orleans (2010-11), one of just seven playoff trips the team has made in franchise history.

That season, Green made it on a team coached by Monty Williams and led by point guard Chris Paul. Now the Pelicans are hiring Green away from a Suns team led by Williams and Paul.

Green replaces Stan Van Gundy, who mutually agreed to leave the Pelicans after just one campaign. The Pelicans went 31-41 last season, a disappointing result after the season started with playoff aspirations.

In the end, New Orleans didn’t even make the Western Conference play-in. At 39, Green becomes the third-youngest coach in the NBA behind Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault and Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins.

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Kansas City Chiefs re-sign defensive end Alex Okafor to 1-year deal

Veteran defensive end Alex Okafor has signed a one-year contract to return to the Kansas City Chiefs, just days before the first players start reporting for training camp.

The Chiefs did not disclose financial terms in announcing the deal Tuesday.

The 30-year-old Okafor has 30 sacks and 183 tackles in eight NFL seasons, including the past two with the Chiefs. He joined the club as a free agent from New Orleans in March 2019, signing a three-year, $18 million contract.

Okafor made an immediate impact in helping rebuild the Kansas City defense, recording five sacks and 21 combined tackles in 10 games. A torn pectoral muscle in Week 15 forced him to finish the season on injured reserve. He missed playing in the team’s triumph over San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV.

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The veteran signed a restructured contract in August 2020 that reduced his salary cap figure for that upcoming season by $2 million and voided the final year of his original three-year deal.

A hamstring injury limited Okafor to 11 games last season.

He finished with three sacks and 16 total tackles. He contributed in a backup role during the team’s playoff run, picking up five total tackles in three postseason contests, including one stop versus Tampa Bay in the team’s 31-9 loss in Super Bowl LV.

Okafor expects to compete for a backup role behind anticipated starters Frank Clark and Chris Jones as the team’s edge rushers. Competition at defensive end also includes veteran Taco Charlton, second-year pro Mike Danna and 2021 fourth-round draft pick Joshua Kaindoh.

Clark was charged in California with felony possession of an assault weapon stemming from a traffic stop in March. In June, he was arrested in Los Angeles after police said they saw a submachine gun in his car. Chiefs players begin reporting to training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph on Friday.

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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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San Francisco 49ers center Weston Richburg retires from NFL, cites injuries

Almost three years ago, the San Francisco 49ers made Weston Richburg the highest-paid center in NFL history. On Wednesday, Richburg’s time with the Niners came to an end, as he declared his retirement from the NFL.

Richburg had an injury-plagued stint with the 49ers that culminated in his missing the entire 2020 season because of a lingering shoulder injury and his continued efforts to recover from a torn right patellar tendon suffered in Week 14 of the 2019 season.

“I consider myself extremely blessed to have played in this league and am so grateful for the experiences over the last seven years,” Richburg said in a statement released by the 49ers.

“Injuries are an unfortunate part of this game and I’ve reached a point where my body won’t allow me to continue playing and competing at a high level. I was able to play some good football all over the country and was fortunate enough to finish my career with the greatest franchise in sports. From top to bottom, the 49ers organization is comprised of some of the best men, women and athletes I’ve ever been around. To be just a small part of an NFC Championship and Super Bowl run is something I will never forget.”

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As it turned out, that Week 14 contest versus the New Orleans Saints was the final game of Richburg’s 49ers tenure.

Richburg, who turns 30 on July 9, also recently had hip surgery. In three seasons in San Francisco, Richburg started 28 games.

After four years with the New York Giants, who selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, Richburg signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the 49ers in the opening days of 2018 free agency. The Niners reworked that deal during the 2019 season to save some cap space, leaving Richburg with a scheduled cap charge of almost $11.5 million in 2021.

Since Richburg retired after June 1, the Niners can spread out the $7 million in remaining dead money evenly over the cap in 2021 and 2022. They will save $1.075 million in cap space for 2021 upon Richburg’s retirement.

“Weston was someone who made not only our offense, but our entire team better,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in the statement. “He led by example through his detailed approach and the toughness in which he played the game. He was a tremendous player for our organization and will be missed both on the field and in the locker room.”

The 49ers signed Alex Mack in free agency to take over the starting center duties.

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New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas likely to have multiple surgeries on ankle

New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas is likely to have surgeries on the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his ankle that plagued him all campaign, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday.

The expectation is that Thomas would be recovered in time for summer OTAs under a normal offseason calendar, the source said.

Thomas first suffered the high ankle injury in the final minutes of Week 1 and missed a total of nine games in the regular season. But the source said he knew it was likely Drew Brees’ last season and didn’t want to miss out on trying to win a Super Bowl with him.

Thomas often wouldn’t practice all week, yet would still play in games, at much less than 100% and with pain medication, the source said. The coaches told him that, even as injured as he was, they were much better off with him than without him.

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Thomas went on injured reserve from Weeks 15-17 to try to get as healthy as he could for the playoffs. He returned with five catches for 73 yards and his first touchdown of the season in the wild-card playoff victory over the Chicago Bears.

However, he had zero catches on four targets in the divisional round playoff loss to Tampa Bay — including a near-touchdown in which his knee was ruled out of bounds.

Thomas also missed Weeks 2-8 after first suffering the injury, then being disciplined for one game for a practice altercation that included him punching teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and then suffering a hamstring injury during his recovery.

He concluded the regular season with 40 catches for 438 yards and zero touchdowns in seven games — just one season after setting the NFL record with 149 catches in 2019. He did, however, have two games with nine catches and more than 100 yards receiving during Taysom Hill’s four-game stint at QB while Brees was sidelined by injuries of his own.

Thomas’ 510 career receptions are the most by a player in the first five seasons of his NFL career.

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