Film Study: Belichick’s plan mostly tamed Mahomes

Film Study: Belichick’s plan mostly tamed Mahomes

Bill Belichick will be enshrined in Canton one day, but one of his defensive game plans — for the New York Giants against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV — is famously already there.

Eleven years after containing the Bills’ K-Gun attack, Belichick crafted another game plan that became part of Super Bowl lore, mashing Marshall Faulk at every available chance as the New England Patriots kick-started a dynasty by beating the then-St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Sunday’s plan against Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs might not earn that legacy — and with a different bounce or two, it wouldn’t have been enough — but it managed to flummox the best offense in football for three quarters, a tremendous feat.

Belichick’s intentions were clearly defined from the outset.

The Patriots planned a ball-control offensive approach to bleed time and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands. That couldn’t have gone better, as Mahomes didn’t touch the ball until the 6:50 mark of the first quarter and had just three possessions before halftime (besides one snap 21 seconds before the break). The Chiefs finished with just 47 plays, exactly half of the Pats’ total.

Next, Belichick sought to stop Tyreek Hill at all costs, even at the expense of doubling Travis Kelce.

New England played almost all man coverage — emphasizing physicality without worrying about drawing a flag or two — mostly out of dime personnel, with four cornerbacks and two safeties instead of their usual three of each. Top corner Stephon Gilmore took Sammy Watkins, while impressive rookie corner J.C. Jackson matched Kelce (until Gilmore and Jackson swapped assignments late), with Jason McCourty on the Chiefs’ third receiver. The fourth corner — Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen alternated, perhaps to stay fresh against the speedster — tracked Hill underneath while free safety Devin McCourty bracketed him over the top, essentially leaving Cover-0 everywhere else.

With more two-high safety looks, the Patriots could have doubled Kelce and/or Watkins selectively, but that didn’t fit Belichick’s plan up front. He found it more important to use four- and (mostly) five-man rushes with a slew of blitzers, stunts and twists to flush Mahomes with one rusher into the arms of another.

New England incorporated edge rushers, inside linebackers and safety Patrick Chung (while one such player covered the running back), stunting them relentlessly to break down the Chiefs’ normally trustworthy protection. When only four rushed, the fifth was a lurker/spy, taking away inside routes and chasing down Mahomes if he fled the pocket. These designs shined early, producing four sacks for 46 yards lost.

Altogether, the plan was starkly different from the teams’ Week 6 meeting. Belichick used plenty of stunts and twists in that game, but not to the degree he did Sunday. Meanwhile, the coverage plan was completely overhauled. After keying heavily on Kelce — often doubling after a third defender jammed him at the line — in Foxborough, Belichick sold out to stop Hill at Arrowhead, ditching zone coverage almost entirely to do so. Hill managed one 42-yard catch, a far cry from his Week 6 output (seven catches, 142 yards, three scores). Kelce beat Jackson for a 12-yard touchdown and a 13-yard pass-interference call but finished with just three catches for 23 yards.

One of the few common threads between the plans was the use of Cover-0 double lurk — which we detailed in Thursday’s preview — though the Patriots called it only twice all game. The first was undermined by Mahomes’ sidearm throw (while getting crushed by Adrian Clayborn), converting a third-and-3 late in the third. The second forced a deep incompletion to Hill as Devin McCourty hit Mahomes on third-and-8 midway through the fourth.

As effective as Belichick’s strategy was, it couldn’t pin Mahomes down forever. The gunslinger escaped and hit Watkins for 54 yards off-schedule to set up the first touchdown. Starting late in the third, Mahomes was finally able to beat man coverage, with the help of a few pick plays from Reid.

Reid actually had several terrific designs, but many fell by the wayside amid the offense’s struggles. Hill’s 42-yarder was catered perfectly to beating double coverage, as the slow-developing post-corner forced McCourty to turn his hips the wrong way before Hill broke out. On the next snap, Reid called one of the Patriots’ favorite plays, a wheel route with legal offensive pass interference (within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage) by the tight end. Williams came wide open, only for Mahomes to air-mail a would-be 23-yard touchdown.

Reid featured Williams in several other ways. Late in the third, he used star motion to send Williams on a wheel up the sideline as Hill picked man-coverage mark Kyle Van Noy, creating a 33-yard gain. One play later, Williams zipped by Dont’a Hightower on a corner route from the backfield — a very uncommon route — but Mahomes overthrew him again. (The Chiefs scored two plays later.)

Williams’ 23-yard TD was also genius from Reid, a screen off outside-zone play-action that perfectly complemented a first-quarter design. In the first, Mahomes hit Kelce as he leaked out opposite the zone run fake; the second time around, Reid used Kelce’s route as misdirection to free Williams on the screen.

As we wondered in Thursday’s preview, Reid even broke out the halfback seam, a concept he used in Foxborough in the 2017 season opener (for Kareem Hunt’s 78-yard TD) and in Week 6 (Mahomes missed Hunt for a wide-open 26-yard TD). Late in the third, Reid sent Williams from the backfield up the left seam, where he ran away from John Simon as McCourty shaded heavily to Hill’s route out wide. But pressure intervened, as Van Noy blitzed around the edge (helped by a crafty hold from Malcom Brown) and forced Mahomes to move and run for 9 yards. Reid called another variant of the concept midway through the fourth, but the Patriots happened to be in a rare Cover-2 zone, and Elandon Roberts read the play and broke it up.

What will haunt K.C. most — besides Dee Ford lining up offsides on the would-be game-clinching interception — are the designs that worked but weren’t executed. The missed throw on Williams’ wheel route cost the Chiefs seven points (not just four) after a sack put them out of field-goal range. If Mahomes had time, the first HB seam might have been a 75-yard TD.

But Belichick’s plan was critical in shrinking the Chiefs’ margin for error.

Pressure from stunts and twists were responsible for K.C.’s biggest missed opportunities. Two men on Hill and a cornerback on Kelce limited the Chiefs’ best weapons to four total touches for 65 yards. And of course, the offense’s control of possession (43:59 of the game’s 64:52) limited Mahomes & Co. just 47 plays.

The Patriots needed every bit of those edges to survive, a credit to the coach who finds his team more tiny advantages than perhaps any coach in NFL history.

-Resourceful Rams’ offense found a way

Sean McVay’s staple offensive concepts weren’t working.

The New Orleans Saints’ defense gobbled up the Rams’ bread and butter for most of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, forcing L.A. to find success in less familiar ways. Had a certain flag been thrown on the other side of the ball, it wouldn’t have been enough, but given a break, the Rams’ offense took advantage by doing just enough to reach Super Bowl LIII.

For all of its brilliance, McVay’s scheme isn’t especially complicated. It’s built on a zone running game — which operates almost entirely from under center — and heavy downfield play-action off of those runs, all while using the same personnel on almost every snap.

For whatever reason, McVay changed up personnel Sunday more than he has almost all year, using two tight ends (instead of three wide receivers) on 17 snaps and favoring C.J. Anderson over Todd Gurley.

Gurley’s shrunken role was particularly shocking, as he received just four carries despite two of them going for 6 yards (and one for a touchdown). McVay suggested afterward he preferred Anderson’s grinding style, but Gurley is certainly capable of getting tough yards. Some have theorized McVay used Anderson to run inside instead Gurley’s preferred perimeter runs, but the Rams still ran plenty of outside zone with Anderson.

dRegardless, neither back was particularly successful. The Saints’ front seven squashed the run game by ignoring the bells and whistles (i.e. jet-sweep action), olding the pair to 54 yards on 20 carries (2.7 average).

Meanwhile, trusting that the run could be stopped without safety help, New Orleans employed a steady diet of zones — mostly Cover-2, sometimes with late rotations to get there — that diligently keyed on downfield routes. The deeper play-action concepts that the Rams feasted on in the teams’ Week 9 meeting simply weren’t there. Jared Goff routinely turned around from his play-fake and scanned the field to find no open targets, forcing him to hold the ball, check it down or throw it away.

Many of these plays were hopeless — one turned into the Saints’ only sack — but Goff scratched out a profit. Early on, he took what was available in the flat, throwing for pickups of 7, 6 and 4 yards and scrambling for 7 — modest but useful gains, considering L.A. had done little besides Johnny Hekker’s fake punt.

After halftime, the Rams adapted and attacked the flat off play-action by design, knowing they had to eat around the edges as the Saints’ zones keyed on deeper routes. Late in the third quarter, McVay sprung Brandin Cooks for 25 yards by having him cross the formation behind the line after the snap (called a “hide boot”), creating an easy dump-off and room to run after Robert Woods cleared out coverage. L.A. capped that drive with a play-action flat route to Tyler Higbee for a 1-yard touchdown. Then, twice in a three-play span in overtime, the Rams ran bootlegs with Higbee releasing into the flat. Goff found him despite getting clobbered on both, producing gains of 12 and 6 yards to get Greg Zuerlein in range for the game-winner.

Perhaps more impressive was how resourceful Goff was on straight dropbacks, an area in which he struggled mightily late in the year. After missing (with vision or accuracy) a few open targets on early third downs, Goff began attacking voids in zones with precision, moving the ball despite a few drops

During a two-minute touchdown drive to cap the first half, he delivered back-to-back dimes to Cooks for 17 yards (on a deep curl in a zone void) and 36 yards (on a slot fade against man coverage).

With everyone blanketed initially on third-and-3 early in the fourth, Goff bought time to his right and roped a throw to Gerald Everett, who came open late and collected 21 yards after the catch to gain 39. That kick-started a game-tying 85-yard drive.

Goff was sharp again when forced to throw in the final two minutes of regulation with the Rams down three. On eight straight dropbacks without play-action, he connected on five passes for 45 yards (despite a drop), including a laser 19-yarder to Josh Reynolds. Despite the deafening crowd, Goff orchestrated protections effectively during both two-minute drills, as the Rams were sharp picking up several Saints blitzes.

Of course, McVay did his part, too. With the run game struggling, he called a rare reverse — playing off jet-sweep tendencies by sending jet motion one way and the reverse the other — in the third quarter. The design, which kept offensive linemen blocking play-side and got Higbee out front as a lead blocker, was terrific, and Reynolds picked up 16.

McVay also sprung Reynolds on the only play-action deep shot that worked all game, a design that was simply too tricky for the Saints to cover. After New Orleans blanketed a throwback concept midway through the second, McVay called a similar play midway through the fourth. This time, McVay had Woods run a jet sweep to the left, flaring out to occupy the flat defender (safety Vonn Bell), while Cooks released vertically and broke inside on a dig to remove Marshon Lattimore’s coverage. Reynolds ran and out-and-up into Lattimore’s Cover-3 void, and with Bell eyeing Woods, only linebacker Demario Davis could cover Reynolds. The result was a 33-yard gain, which would have been a 40-yard TD with a better throw.

The sledding was tough, and the Saints made the Rams earn every inch. But L.A. ultimately managed just enough to earn a Super Bowl trip, despite a horrid start (including an interception deep in its own end), a career-worst outing for Gurley and the core of McVay’s offense getting stymied.

Perhaps it was good practice, considering Belichick is known for taking away what his opponent does best.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

Reports: Cardinals to sign OL Garcia, WR White

Reports: Cardinals to sign OL Garcia, WR White

The

Reports: Cardinals to sign OL Garcia, WR White

The Arizona Cardinals continue to revamp their offensive line, coming to terms with free agent offensive lineman Max Garcia, according to multiple media reports.

Arizona is also expected to sign former Chicago Bears first-round wideout Kevin White, according to NFL Network.

Garcia was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2015 draft and played in 57 games for the team, starting 41. Garcia is primarily a left guard but has played some on the right side. He is coming off an ACL tear suffered in mid-November.

The Cardinals, beset with injuries and poor play in the trenches last year, have already traded for former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and come to terms with former Seattle Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy.

White, 26, was drafted seventh overall in 2015 but has played in just 14 games (five starts) through four seasons due to a variety of injuries. After surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg wiped out his rookie season, he broke the fibula in the same leg in 2016 and then fractured his left shoulder blade in 2017, finishing all three years on injured reserve.

Last year, White had four catches for 92 yards in nine games (no starts), including a 54-yarder on a Hail Mary attempt that came up just short of the goal line. He was a healthy scratch in several games during the final few weeks of the season.

–Field Level Media

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Saints re-sign Bridgewater, add DT Brown

Saints re-sign Bridgewater, add DT Brown

Quarterback

Saints re-sign Bridgewater, add DT Brown

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has agreed to re-sign with the New Orleans Saints rather than join the Miami Dolphins, according to multiple reports on Thursday.

Bridgewater acknowledged the decision on Twitter, posting a photo of himself in his Saints uniform with the caption, “Run it back Turbo.”

According to multiple reports, Bridgewater will sign a one-year deal worth $7.25 million, with incentives that can push the value as high as $12.5 million.

Bridgewater, 26, visited with the Dolphins on Wednesday evening but did not come away with a contract.

NFL Network reported after Monday’s free agent negotiating window opened that Bridgewater would return to New Orleans, but multiple reports on Wednesday said the decision was not final, and that the Miami native could opt for his hometown Dolphins if they offered more money. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Wednesday that speculation linking Saints head coach Sean Payton to the Dallas Cowboys’ job in 2020 was factoring into Bridgewater’s decision.

After flirting with Miami, Bridgewater will remain the Saints’ backup and potential heir apparent to 40-year-old Drew Brees, whose contract was restructured Thursday to create more cap room. Brees is under contract through 2019, though he has said he would like to play further into his 40s.

Bridgewater went 14 for 23 for 118 yards, a touchdown and an interception in limited action last season, but he impressed in the preseason for the New York Jets, prompting the Saints to trade a third-round pick for him in August. The former first-round pick has started just one game since suffering a devastating knee injury just before the 2016 season opener.

The Saints also signed former New England Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown to a three-year contract on Thursday.

According to multiple reports, the deal is worth $5 million annually.

Brown, 25, was the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2015 and started 51 of 60 games over four seasons while shining in run defense, but his fifth-year option was declined. He had no sacks and just one QB hit last year while making a career-low 39 tackles, but he has 8.5 sacks, 16 QB hits and 186 tackles in his career.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs agree to deal with DE Okafor

Chiefs agree to deal with DE Okafor

Chiefs agree to deal with DE Okafor

The Kansas City Chiefs continued to rework their defense as they signed defensive end Alex Okafor, the team announced on Thursday.

Contract terms were not disclosed, but multiple reports said the deal was for three years and $24 million.

A six-year veteran who played the last two seasons in New Orleans, Okafor arrives on the heels of the Chiefs also adding safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose deal was officially signed Thursday.

Kansas City opened up cap space recently with the release of linebacker Justin Houston and defensive back Eric Berry. The Chiefs also traded franchise-tagged pass rusher Dee Ford to the San Francisco 49ers, citing a poor fit in new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense.

Okafor, 28, had four sacks, nine QB hits and 36 tackles last season for the Saints, who advanced to the NFC championship game. He started all 16 games in 2018, the first time in his career he has played a full season.

In 68 career NFL games with the Arizona Cardinals and Saints, the former 2013 fourth-round pick out of Texas has 22 sacks, 48 QB hits, 156 tackles and nine passes defensed. He had career highs of eight sacks and 13 QB hits in 2014 with the Arizona Cardinals.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Giants add WR Tate, DE Golden

Reports: Giants add WR Tate, DE Golden

Reports: Giants add WR Tate, DE Golden

The New York Giants found some wide receiver help Thursday when they agreed to a four-year, $37.5 million deal with Golden Tate, $23 million of which is fully guaranteed, according to multiple reports.

Tate acknowledged the signing on Twitter, tweeting an image of the “I love New York” logo and making it his new profile picture.

Tate will pick up at least some of the slack after wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to the Cleveland Browns this week. A nine-year veteran, Tate, 30, caught 74 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns for the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles last season.

Tate was traded from Detroit to Philadelphia before the trade deadline in October for a third-round pick in the upcoming draft.

The former second-round pick in 2010 by the Seattle Seahawks has caught 611 passes for 7,214 yards and 38 touchdowns for the Seahawks, Lions and Eagles. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2014 season, his first with the Lions, when he caught a career-best 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four TDs.

Tate told reporters after the season that if he didn’t stay with Philadelphia, he hoped to latch on with a contender.

“My years are limited,” Tate said at the time. “I don’t have time to go someone who’s trying to rebuild. I need to go somewhere where they believe they can win now.”

Meanwhile, the Giants also added outside linebacker Markus Golden on a one-year deal, according to multiple reports.

Golden’s agent, Joseph Clayborne, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson his client wanted a one-year deal in a good situation to prove his value.

“We are going to reunite with his former D Coordinator and get back to where we should be as one of the top pass rushers in the league,” Clayborne told Anderson.

Golden, who turned 28 on Wednesday, played three seasons under Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who held the same position with the Arizona Cardinals from 2015-17.

A second-round pick in 2015, Golden had just 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits last season in 11 games while returning from a torn ACL, but he racked up 12.5 sacks and 22 QB hits in 16 games in 2016.

The Giants are also expected to re-sign defensive backs Tony Lippett and Antonio Hamilton, according to multiple reports on Thursday.

Both players were primarily special team performers in 2018.

-Field Level Media

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Cowboys bring back WR Austin, sign DL Covington

Cowboys bring back WR Austin, sign DL Covington

The Cowboys and

Cowboys bring back WR Austin, sign DL Covington

The Cowboys and Tavon Austin agreed on a one-year deal to keep the speedy wide receiver in Dallas, the team announced Thursday.

Austin played in just seven games due to injury last season, catching eight passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He could be in line for more targets now that Cole Beasley left the Cowboys for Buffalo.

Austin also ran the ball six times for 55 yards.

Austin has 14 career touchdowns in six NFL seasons, the first five of which came with the Rams.

The Cowboys also signed free agent defensive lineman Christian Covington to a one-year deal to bolster a line that will be without Randy Gregory and David Irving next season. Covington posted 7.5 sacks in 50 games with the Houston Texans over the past four seasons.

–Field Level Media

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Fleetwood, Bradley grab early lead at Players Championship

Fleetwood, Bradley grab early lead at Players Championship

Fleetwood, Bradley grab early lead at Players Championship

Keegan Bradley and England’s Tommy Fleetwood shot 7-under-par 65s on Thursday to share the lead after the first round of The Players Championship in Ponte Verde Beach, Fla.

While the scores were uncommonly low at TPC Sawgrass as the winds stayed fairly calm, Fleetwood turned in one of only six bogey-free rounds on the day. The majority of the low scores came during the morning wave.

“Very happy, I’ll take that and move on and go have my lunch,” Fleetwood said after the round. “I played really, really well. It was nice to just hit a lot of good golf shots. I was really good off the tee, and I put myself in good positions all throughout the day.”

Brian Harman and South Korea’s Byeong Hun An are tied for second at 6 under with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy another shot back at 5 under along with Vaughn Taylor and Ryan Moore.

There are 10 players within three shots of the lead, with Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini part of a group at 4 under that also includes Brendan Steele, J.T. Poston, Kyle Stanley and Kevin Kisner.

Fleetwood and Bradley both began their rounds on the back nine.

While Fleetwood did most of his damage with a 6-under 30 over his final nine holes on the front nine, Bradley shot out of the gates with birdies on two of his first three holes. He traded a bogey and a birdie before knocking his second shot on the par-5 16th hole to within 10 feet and converting the eagle putt.

Bradley birdied the 18th hole and then added two more birdies over his final nine holes. Perhaps the biggest shot of the day was his third on the par-5 second after shanking his approach into the trees. Bradley overcame a gnarly lie to punch his ball onto the green and went on to save par.

“It’s one of those rounds that just felt easy,” Bradley told the Golf Channel. “I rarely ever have rounds like that. It was just a fun day that everything went right.”

Fleetwood reeled off three consecutive birdies to close out his opening round, and said the putts simply started to fall in on his back nine.

“If you would have asked me this morning a 65, I would have quite happily sat in the locker room and not moved,” said Fleetwood.

Tiger Woods is five shots off the lead after battling his way to a 2-under 70. Woods struggled with misses both left and right off the tee throughout the round, but also rolled in six birdies against four bogeys.

Woods birdied the 16th and 17th holes to put himself in position for just his second opening round in the 60s at TPC Sawgrass, but pulled his 4-foot par put on the 18th hole left of the cup.

Woods played in the afternoon round, when players had to deal with bumpier greens and stronger winds.

“It was tricky out there today,” he told the Golf Channel. “I was hoping that we would get the brunt of the wind early and then it would die down. It died down a little bit, it wasn’t so bad, but the greens got a little bit on the bumpier side towards the end. Became a little more challenging to make the putts.”

Other notable names include top-ranked Dustin Johnson (3 under), No. 2 in the world Justin Rose (2 over), Nos. 3 and 4 Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas (1 under) and Phil Mickelson (2 over.)

Woods said he came out of the round feeling good after skipping last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational due to a neck injury.

“Neck’s fine … yeah, neck’s good,” he said. “Just wish that putt would have gone in on the last hole.”

Notes: Moore hit only the ninth hole-in-one on the famed par-3 17th hole in the history of The Players. It came just minutes after Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo hit the flagstick with his tee shot and nearly rolled back into the water before going on to make par. Moore’s ace came from 121 yards. None of the previous players to hit a hole-in-one on the 17th hole have gone on to win The Players. … Harris English made just the second albatross in the history of the event on the par-5 11th when he holed out from 236 yards. … Wyndham Clark was the last player in the field after Pat Perez withdrew due to an Achilles injury.

–Field Level Media

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Patriots sign five players, including WR Ellington

Patriots sign five players, including WR Ellington

Patriots sign five players, including WR Ellington

The New England Patriots added pieces to their roster on Thursday, signing five players.

Defensive tackle Mike Pennel signed a two-year deal, his agent confirmed. Tight end Matt LaCosse, who visited the Patriots on Thursday, also signed a two-year contract, this one worth as much as $4.8 million, ESPN’s Mike Reiss said.

Wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris also are joining the team, according to multiple outlets. Ellington’s deal is for one year, and no terms were reported or announced for either receiver.

Safety Terrence Brooks, also a special teams standout, is moving to New England from the New York Jets on a two-year deal, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

Pennel, 27, is a five-year NFL veteran who spent the past two seasons with the Jets, before they declined his 2019 option in February. In 32 games (10 starts) in that span, he made 62 tackles and had three quarterback hits. He can help to fill the vacancy created when Malcom Brown departed for New Orleans.

The 26-year-old LaCosse is entering his fourth season. With Denver last year, he played in 15 games, making 24 catches for 250 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos declined to tender LaCosse, who was a restricted free agent, earlier this week.

Ellington split time last season between the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions. In seven games (three starts), the 27-year-old had 31 receptions for 224 yards and a touchdown.

Harris, 26, played for the Washington Redskins for three seasons before they declined his restricted free agent tender this week. In that time, he appeared in 28 games (seven starts), catching 40 passes for 432 yards and a touchdown. He also filled in as a punt returner in 2018.

Brooks, 27, has played for the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and the Jets during his five-year career. In 65 total games, he has 43 tackles, three interceptions, eight pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

–Field Level Media

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NFL transactions: Bridgewater re-signs with Saints

NFL transactions: Bridgewater re-signs with Saints

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater

NFL transactions: Bridgewater re-signs with Saints

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater agreed to re-sign with the New Orleans Saints rather than join the Miami Dolphins, according to multiple reports on Thursday.

Bridgewater, who acknowledged the decision on Twitter, reportedly will receive a one-year deal worth $7.25 million, with incentives that can push the value as high as $12.5 million. He visited the Dolphins on Wednesday.

The Saints also restructured Drew Brees’ contract to free up $10.8 million in cap space and signed former New England Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown. According to multiple reports, Brown’s deal is worth $5 million annually.

–The New York Giants agreed to a four-year, $37.5 million deal, $23 million of which is fully guaranteed, with wideout Golden Tate, according to multiple reports.

Tate, who acknowledged the signing on Twitter, will pick up at least some of the slack after wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to the Cleveland Browns this week. Tate, 30, caught 74 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns for the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles last season.

The Giants also added outside linebacker Markus Golden on a one-year deal, according to multiple reports, reuniting him with former coordinator James Bettcher. Golden had 12.5 sacks under Bettcher with the Arizona Cardinals in 2016.

–Trey Flowers put pen to paper to join the Detroit Lions on a $90 million contract, officially becoming the fifth-highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.

The former Patriots defensive end, who aligned at six different positions for at least 15 snaps last season in New England, was a coveted chess piece for Matt Patricia’s defense in Detroit. Patricia used to coach Flowers in New England. Flowers racked up 21 sacks and 59 QB hits over the past three seasons. He received a $28 million signing bonus.

The Lions also signed safety Andrew Adams to a one-year deal after the Bucs declined to tender a contract to the restricted free agent.

–The Seattle Seahawks re-signed linebacker K.J. Wright and guard D.J. Fluker while adding guard Mike Iupati.

Wright’s deal is for two years and $15.5 million, according to NFL Network. Fluker’s deal is for two years and $9 million per NFL.com, while Iupati’s deal is for one year.

–The Oakland Raiders released wide receiver Jordy Nelson and quarterback AJ McCarron.

The Raiders gave Nelson a $3.6 million bonus on Dec. 28, which was earlier than required, for cap purposes. Head coach Jon Gruden said at the time regarding Nelson, “Yeah, he’ll be back.”

Nelson earned just under $11 million for one year, with the team saving $3.5 million with his release. The Raiders will save $5 million by releasing McCarron, who was acquired for a fifth-round pick from Buffalo in September.

–The Minnesota Vikings agreed to a restructured contract with defensive end Everson Griffen, general manager Rick Spielman confirmed, hours before his $10.9 million salary for 2019 would have become guaranteed.

According to NFL Network, Griffen instead will make $8 million in 2019, with the potential to opt out of his deal if he hits certain performance marks.

–The Kansas City Chiefs signed former Saints defensive end Alex Okafor.

Contract terms were not disclosed, but multiple reports said the deal was for three years and $24 million.

–Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix signed a one-year deal worth a reported $3.5 million with the Chicago Bears.

NFL Network reported Clinton-Dix turned down more money to play in Chicago with fellow Alabama safety Eddie Jackson.

–The Carolina Panthers released left tackle Matt Kalil with a post-June 1 designation.

The Charlotte Observer first reported the move. Using the delayed designation saves the Panthers more than $7 million under the salary cap this year.

–The San Francisco 49ers signed former Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett to a one-year contract. Multiple outlets report the deal is worth $3.6 million.

Verrett, 27, has played in just five games over the past three seasons and just 25 through five years, but he reached the Pro Bowl in 2015 with the then-San Diego Chargers.

The 49ers also signed former Eagles wideout Jordan Matthews (one-year deal) and former Panthers linebacker David Mayo (two years) and released linebacker Brock Coyle, who announced his retirement due to a compression fracture in his back sustained last season. The team will also re-sign safety Antone Exum on a one-year deal worth $895,000, per multiple reports.

–The Jets officially signed and introduced running back Le’Veon Bell, a few hours after releasing incumbent starter Isaiah Crowell. They also re-signed nose tackle Steve McLendon and officially confirmed the re-signings of offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison and cornerback Darryl Roberts.

The New York Daily News reported McLendon’s deal is for one year and $2.5 million, with an additional $1 million in incentives.

The Jets also signed cornerback Brian Poole to a one-year, $3.5 million deal, per multiple reports. The Atlanta Falcons surprisingly did not tender the restricted free agent after he broke up 20 passes in 47 games (21 starts) over the past three seasons.

–The Patriots signed defensive tackle Mike Pennel (two-year deal), tight end Matt LaCosse (two years, $4.8 million), wide receivers Bruce Ellington (one year) and Maurice Harris (not reported) and safety Terrence Brooks (two years), according to several reports.

Pennel and Brooks are former Jets.

–The Cincinnati Bengals signed former Giants cornerback B.W. Webb to a three-year contract. The deal reportedly is worth $13 million.

–The Pittsburgh Steelers signed former Jaguars wide receiver Donte Moncrief to a two-year deal and re-signed wideout Eli Rogers and defensive tackle Dan McCullers.

–The Dallas Cowboys re-signed wideout Tavon Austin and added former Texans defensive lineman Christian Covington, both on one-year deals.

–The Falcons signed tight end Luke Stocker on a two-year contract and running back Kenjon Barner on a one-year deal.

–The Arizona Cardinals are expected to sign former Bears first-round wideout Kevin White, per NFL Network, and former Denver Broncos guard Max Garcia, per his agent.

–The Cleveland Browns signed former Bears offensive lineman Eric Kush, who started seven games last season.

–The Philadelphia Eagles signed former Steelers linebacker L.J. Fort to a three-year deal worth a reported, $5.6 million.

–Field Level Media

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Mickelson: Family not part of college admissions scheme

Mickelson: Family not part of college admissions scheme

Golfer

Mickelson: Family not part of college admissions scheme

Golfer Phil Mickelson said he paid the ringleader of a college admissions bribery scheme for college preparation for his children but nothing more.

Speaking Thursday after the opening round of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Fla., Mickelson said he and his wife, Amy, hired William Singer’s for-profit tutoring company. But, he added, he never made a financial donation to Singer’s nonprofit group, Key World Foundation, in expectation of Singer’s help of getting his children into a college they weren’t qualified to attend.

Singer admitted to using the foundation to illegally funnel bribes received from parents.

“We, along with thousands of other families, hired he and his company to help guide us through the college application process,” Mickelson told reporters. “We’re as shocked as everyone the last few days.”

The Mickelsons have three children. Their 19-year-old daughter, Amanda, attends Brown University. Their younger daughter and son are in high school.

On Tuesday, Singer pleaded guilty to numerous charges that had to do with his work in helping the children of well-to-do parents gain admission to top universities either by arranging to fix their scores on tests such as the SAT, or by building a profile of the students as recruited athletes and connecting them with coaches. Members of athletic staffs at several Division I universities, recruited by Singer, have been indicted in connection with the case.

Singer published a testimonial letter from the Mickelsons on his company’s website, which the golfer said his wife wrote as a thank you for assistance in the college-prep efforts for the children.

“We’re not a part of this,” Mickelson said of the scheme. “Most every family that hired his company was not a part of it. I think that’s why we’re all so surprised.”

He said his children have both the academic and athletic prowess to be considered by leading colleges on their own.

Amanda Mickelson was the captain of the lacrosse and tennis teams at Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, Calif. She also was on the basketball team.

“Our kids, schools are like fighting to get them,” Mickelson said. “I say that as a proud dad. Their grades and outside activities and worldly beliefs are things that have colleges recruiting them. [Singer and his company] helped us through the whole process because it can be confusing.”

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Raiders release WR Nelson

Reports: Raiders release WR Nelson

The Oakland Raiders released wide

Reports: Raiders release WR Nelson

The Oakland Raiders released wide receiver Jordy Nelson on Thursday, according to multiple reports, less than three months after paying him a $3.6 million roster bonus for 2019.

The Raiders gave Nelson — who joined the team on a two-year, $14.2 million deal last spring — his bonus on Dec. 28, which was earlier than required, for cap purposes. Head coach Jon Gruden said at the time regarding Nelson, “Yeah, he’ll be back.”

Instead, Nelson has been released, after earning just under $11 million for one year. The team will save just over $3.5 million against the cap in 2019, with $1.8 million in dead money.

Oakland traded for star wideout Antonio Brown over the weekend, then signed former Los Angeles Chargers deep threat Tyrell Williams in free agency.

Nelson, who turns 34 in May, has now been released in consecutive offseasons, after the Green Bay Packers let him go last spring. He had 63 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games (14 starts) last season.

Nelson had 97 grabs for 1,257 yards and a league-high 14 scores in 2016 while coming off a torn ACL, but he posted just 53 catches for 482 yards in 2017, marking a career-low 9.1 yards per catch. In 10 career seasons, he has 613 catches for 8,587 yards and 72 touchdowns.

The Raiders also officially announced the re-signing of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and the addition of former Los Angeles Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner. Both deals were reported earlier this week.

–Field Level Media

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Raiders release WR Nelson, QB McCarron

Raiders release WR Nelson, QB McCarron

The Oakland Raiders released

Raiders release WR Nelson, QB McCarron

The Oakland Raiders released wide receiver Jordy Nelson on Thursday, less than three months after paying him a $3.6 million roster bonus for 2019.

The Raiders gave Nelson — who joined the team on a two-year, $14.2 million deal last spring — his bonus on Dec. 28, which was earlier than required, for cap purposes. Head coach Jon Gruden said at the time regarding Nelson, “Yeah, he’ll be back.”

Instead, Nelson has been released, after earning just under $11 million for one year. The team will save just over $3.5 million against the cap in 2019, with $1.8 million in dead money.

Oakland traded for star wideout Antonio Brown over the weekend, then signed former Los Angeles Chargers deep threat Tyrell Williams in free agency.

Nelson, who turns 34 in May, has now been released in consecutive offseasons, after the Green Bay Packers let him go last spring. He had 63 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games (14 starts) last season.

Nelson had 97 grabs for 1,257 yards and a league-high 14 scores in 2016 while coming off a torn ACL, but he posted just 53 catches for 482 yards in 2017, marking a career-low 9.1 yards per catch. In 10 career seasons, he has 613 catches for 8,587 yards and 72 touchdowns.

The Raiders also announced the release of quarterback AJ McCarron, six months after acquiring him from the Buffalo Bills for a fifth-round pick.

McCarron, 28, was set to count $5 million against the cap in 2019, all of which Oakland will save with his release.

A former fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals who went 2-1 as a fill-in starter in 2015, McCarron attempted three passes in two games last year, completing one for 8 yards. He is 87 of 136 for 928 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in his career.

Oakland also officially announced the re-signing of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and the addition of former Los Angeles Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner. Both deals were reported earlier this week.

–Field Level Media

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Giants add Tate for reported four years, $37.5M

Giants add Tate for reported four years, $37.5M

Giants add Tate for reported four years, $37.5M

The New York Giants found some wide receiver help Thursday when they agreed to a four-year, $37.5 million deal with Golden Tate, $23 million of which is fully guaranteed, according to multiple reports.

Tate acknowledged the signing on Twitter, tweeting an image of the “I love New York” logo and making it his new profile picture.

Tate will pick up at least some of the slack after wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to the Cleveland Browns this week. A nine-year veteran, Tate, 30, caught 74 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns for the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles last season.

Tate was traded from Detroit to Philadelphia before the trade deadline in October for a third-round draft pick in the upcoming draft.

The former second-round pick in 2010 by the Seattle Seahawks has caught 611 passes for 7,214 yards and 38 touchdowns for the Seahawks, Lions and Eagles. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2014 season, his first with the Lions, when he caught a career-best 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four TDs.

Tate told reporters after the season that if he didn’t stay with Philadelphia, he hoped to latch on with a contender.

“My years are limited,” Tate said at the time. “I don’t have time to go someone who’s trying to rebuild. I need to go somewhere where they believe they can win now.”

-Field Level Media

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Panthers cut OT Kalil

Panthers cut OT Kalil

The Carolina Panthers released left tackle Matt Kalil on Thursday with

Panthers cut OT Kalil

The Carolina Panthers released left tackle Matt Kalil on Thursday with a post-June 1 designation.

The Charlotte Observer first reported the move. Using the delayed designation saves the Panthers more than $7 million under the salary cap this year.

Taylor Moton is expected to start at left tackle in 2019.

Kalil had three years remaining on his contract.

Kalil missed the entire 2018 season with a right knee injury, landing on injured reserve before the season opener.

The 29-year-old was a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings (2012) before joining the Panthers, with since-retired brother Ryan Kalil at center, in 2017.

–Field Level Media

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Bears sign SS Clinton-Dix to one-year deal

Bears sign SS Clinton-Dix to one-year deal

Strong safety Ha Ha

Bears sign SS Clinton-Dix to one-year deal

Strong safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix signed a one-year deal worth a reported $3.5 million with the Chicago Bears.

NFL Network reported Clinton-Dix turned down more money to play in Chicago with fellow Alabama safety Eddie Jackson, who made the Pro Bowl last season at free safety.

Clinton-Dix was traded to the Washington Redskins in October and spent his previous four-plus NFL seasons with the Bears’ archrival, the Green Bay Packers. Bears safety Adrian Amos signed with the Packers on Wednesday and was introduced at Lambeau Field on Thursday.

Clinton-Dix didn’t miss a game while with the Packers, posting 390 tackles, 14 interceptions and 25 passes defensed.

The Redskins signed safety Landon Collins to a six-year, $84 million deal at the outset of free agency this week.

Clinton-Dix was a first-round pick of the Packers in 2014.

–Field Level Media

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Vikings retain DE Griffen after restructure

Vikings retain DE Griffen after restructure

The Minnesota Vikings agreed to

Vikings retain DE Griffen after restructure

The Minnesota Vikings agreed to a restructured contract with defensive end Everson Griffen, general manager Rick Spielman confirmed Thursday, hours before his $10.9 million salary for 2019 would have become guaranteed

According to NFL Network, Griffen will instead make $8 million in 2019, with the potential to opt out of his deal if he hits certain performance marks.

Griffen had signed a four-year, $58 million extension in July of 2017 that ran through 2022. The Vikings could have released him outright before his salary became guaranteed on Thursday, which would have saved $10.5 million off the cap with just $1.2 million in dead money.

The 31-year-old finished with 5.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits last season in 11 games (10 starts), missing five games due to mental health issues. Griffen was involved in a series of incidents in September that concerned teammates, team personnel and family members, and he left the team for a month before returning in late October.

Griffen totaled 43.5 sacks and 101 QB hits from 2014-2017 while missing just two games, earning three Pro Bowl nods from 2015-17. A fourth-round pick in 2010, he has 66.5 sacks and 152 QB hits in 132 career games (73 starts) across nine seasons with the Vikings.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Chiefs agree to deal with DE Okafor

Reports: Chiefs agree to deal with DE Okafor

Reports: Chiefs agree to deal with DE Okafor

The Kansas City Chiefs continued to rework their defense as they agreed Thursday to a three-year, $24 million deal with defensive end Alex Okafor, according to multiple reports.

A six-year veteran who played the last two seasons in New Orleans, Okafor arrives on the heels of the Chiefs also adding safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose deal was officially signed Thursday.

Kansas City opened up cap space recently with the release of linebacker Justin Houston and defensive back Eric Berry. The Chiefs also traded franchise-tagged pass rusher Dee Ford to the San Francisco 49ers, citing a poor fit in new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense.

Okafor, 28, had four sacks, nine QB hits and 36 tackles last season for the Saints, who advanced to the NFC Championship Game. He started all 16 games in 2018, the first time in his career he has played a full season.

In 68 career NFL games with the Arizona Cardinals and Saints, the former 2013 fourth-round pick out of Texas has 22 sacks, 48 QB hits, 156 tackles and nine passes defensed. He had career highs of eight sacks and 13 QB hits in 2014 with the Arizona Cardinals.

–Field Level Media

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Ravens C Skura tops list of NFL’s performance bonuses

Ravens C Skura tops list of NFL's performance bonuses

Baltimore

Ravens C Skura tops list of NFL’s performance bonuses

Baltimore Ravens center Matt Skura earned the highest distribution from the NFL’s performance-based pay for the 2018 season, the league announced Thursday.

NFL players will receive $140.88 million from the performance-based pool, which is a benefit in the collective bargaining agreement that compensates players based upon playing time and salary levels.

The NFL Players Association also dedicated $48 million in benefits for a veteran performance-based compensation pool for players with one or more accrued seasons. A total of $188.88 million will be disbursed under the combined pools.

Skura, a second-year pro in 2018 after being an undrafted free agent, earned $533,558 in performance-based pay after playing in every offensive snap and 17 percent of Baltimore’s special teams plays. That bonus money nearly doubled his 2018 salary of $555,000.

The rest of the top five were: Los Angeles Rams guard Austin Blythe ($513,616), Rams linebacker Cory Littleton ($502,243), Miami Dolphins guard Jesse Davis ($495,824) and Tennessee Titans linebacker Jayon Brown ($489,664).

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Steelers re-sign DL McCullers

Reports: Steelers re-sign DL McCullers

Reports: Steelers re-sign DL McCullers

The Pittsburgh Steelers have re-signed reserve defensive tackle Daniel McCullers to a two-year deal, according to multiple reports.

The deal is worth $2.75 million, NFL Network reported Thursday.

McCullers played in 15 games last season, starting one, and registered a sack and five tackles. He has played in 57 games — starting three — in his five years in Pittsburgh.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Seahawks re-sign LB Wright, add OL Iupati

Reports: Seahawks re-sign LB Wright, add OL Iupati

The

Reports: Seahawks re-sign LB Wright, add OL Iupati

The Seattle Seahawks have re-signed linebacker K.J. Wright and added offensive lineman Mike Iupati, according to reports.

Wright’s deal is for two years and $15.5 million, according to NFL Network. The move keeps the Seahawks’ linebacking corps intact for the 2019 season.

Iupati’s deal is for one year.

Wright, 29, has spent all eight years with Seattle after the team selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He missed 11 games last season with a knee injury. Wright had four consecutive seasons with 100-plus tackles before that, and he has career totals of 11.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles.

Iupati played the past four seasons in Arizona after spending the first five seasons of his career with the San Francisco 49ers. The 31-year-old tackle is a four-time Pro Bowler and made All-Pro in 2012. He has started all 114 games in his career.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Cowboys bring back WR Austin, sign DL Covington

Reports: Cowboys bring back WR Austin, sign DL Covington

The Cowboys

Reports: Cowboys bring back WR Austin, sign DL Covington

The Cowboys and Tavon Austin have agreed on a one-year deal to keep the speedy wide receiver in Dallas, according to reports.

Austin played in just seven games due to injury last season, catching eight passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He could be in line for more targets now that Cole Beasley left the Cowboys for Buffalo.

Austin also ran the ball six times for 55 yards.

Austin has 14 career touchdowns in six NFL seasons, the first five of which came with the Rams.

The Cowboys also signed free agent defensive lineman Christian Covington to a one-year deal to bolster a line that will be without Randy Gregory and David Irving next season. Covington posted 7.5 sacks in 50 games with the Houston Texans over the past four seasons.

–Field Level Media

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