Film Study: How the Patriots finished the Rams

Film Study: How the Patriots finished the Rams

The New England Patriots cracked the Los Angeles Rams’ defense in Super Bowl LIII by running the exact same play three times in a row.

New England ran the play out of its heaviest, non-goal line package. Strange as it sounds, the simple formula proved to be the antidote against an otherwise ferocious defense.

Wade Phillips’ unit hounded Tom Brady and the passing game almost all night. The Rams pestered the 41-year-old with myriad looks, timely coverage rotations and sporadic spurts of pressure, forcing poor reads, bad decisions, errant throws and even an ugly sack-fumble.

Almost all of Brady’s success came through Julian Edelman, who was named MVP, and occasionally Rob Gronkowski. Elsewhere, the Rams rendered the Patriots’ auxiliary passing-game weapons nearly useless.

To all other targets, Brady went 5 of 16 for 34 yards and an interception. Chris Hogan failed to catch any of his six targets, with one intercepted and another nearly picked. Phillip Dorsett — who caught a 29-yard TD two weeks ago — played sparingly and wasn’t targeted. Even James White was shut down, catching just one of his four targets for 5 yards.

With no supplementary weapons helping in the passing game, the Patriots essentially took them off the field for the biggest drive of the game, instead favoring run-heavy personnel in order to throw the ball. That sounds counterintuitive, but it worked perfectly because it reduced Phillips’ defensive options and gave Brady the clearest possible picture of the defense.

In today’s pass-happy NFL, defenses use base personnel so little that most install only a few coverages out of it, sticking to basic man and zone calls with little disguise. This has been one of Phillips’ few problem areas in recent seasons — teams have forced his defenses into base personnel, spread it out and thrown the ball. The Falcons and Patriots both did this with great success against Phillips’ Broncos in 2016.

With the Lombardi Trophy on the line Sunday, New England did the same on the game-winning touchdown drive, picking the Rams apart for 67 yards on four straight passes.

The Patriots opened the series with a crafty design.

With 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end, one wideout) in an I-formation, Edelman motioned left to leave Gronkowski as the only receiver to the right side. Edelman’s motion confirmed man coverage, and L.A.’s alignment meant only safety John Johnson or edge rusher Samson Ebukam could cover Gronkowski. At the snap, Gronkowski blocked Ebukam, who naturally assumed — as did Johnson — it was a run. Johnson flew downhill and Ebukam fought upfield, only to find Gronkowski leaking out for an easy 18-yard catch.

Then New England went empty with 22 personnel (two backs, two tight ends, one wideout) and ran “Hoss Y Juke” back-to-back-to-back, flipping the formation on the second play and changing the motion on the third. The play calls for two curls on the outside (run by Rex Burkhead and James Develin), two seams up the slot — by Gronkowski (inside Burkhead) and Allen (inside Develin — and an option route by Edelman from the slot inside of Allen.

On the first, Burkhead’s motion from the backfield showed Brady the Rams were playing Cover-4 zone (also called quarters), with four deep and three underneath. The seams and curls completely cleared out the middle of the field and isolated Edelman on linebacker Cory Littleton, who had no chance amid so much space. Edelman picked up an easy 13 yards.

The Rams adapted on the next snap, playing a matchup Cover-3 zone but sending two underneath defenders to jam Edelman and having another jam Gronkowski as Mark Barron carried his seam vertically. His preferred options taken away, Brady still got 7 easy yards by checking down to Burkhead under Marcus Peters’ cushion.

Phillips ran matchup zone on the next snap, too, but motion — this time Edelman instead of Burkhead — created confusion, as Littleton and safety Lamarcus Joyner both moved to align over Edelman. Joyner quickly corrected Littleton, but the linebacker was late returning to where he should be — over Gronkowski — giving the tight end a headstart up the seam. Brady held the centerfield safety with his eyes, then dropped it over Littleton for 29 yards, setting up the game-winning 2-yard TD.

Perhaps most striking about this sequence was how easy it was. Gronkowski’s first catch was a one-read throw that was all but guaranteed to be open. All three plays out of empty defined Brady’s read either before the snap or immediately after it and produced wide-open targets.

And it was all facilitated by run-heavy personnel, even though no runs were called.

-McCourty’s miracle

Of course, the Rams’ defensive efforts still should have been enough for a victory, if the offense could have just found the end zone twice.

But L.A.’s best chance at paydirt was thwarted by the lesser heralded McCourty twin, cornerback Jason McCourty, who spent 2017 on the winless Browns and was playing in his first postseason.

With 3:42 left in the third quarter, the Patriots called Cover-4, against a Rams formation featuring three receivers bunched right of the line and Brandin Cooks alone on the left. Off play-action, Cooks’ seam route perfectly bisected the deep zones of cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (outside) and Jonathan Jones (inside), and Gilmore tried to pass Cooks off to Jones.

However, Jones was trained on a deep crosser from Robert Woods, who had come from the bunch formation. In Cover-4 against trips, the backside “safety” (played by a cornerback in Jones, in this case) is responsible for vertical routes from the trips side of the formation, which is why Woods drew his attention. As a result, Cooks came absolutely wide open in the end zone.

Then McCourty came to the rescue.

The other two Rams in the bunch formation stayed in to block, leaving McCourty no receiver near his deep zone (outside to the offense’s right). But rather than sitting around, he went looking for work, reading Jared Goff’s eyes and spying Cooks open in the end zone. As Goff released the ball, McCourty was still outside the numbers at the 7-yard line, with Cooks on the far hash at the 3. Somewhat miraculously, the cornerback closed the gap just in time, arriving to jar Cooks’ arms in the back of the end zone.

The late intervention wound up saving four points, as L.A. settled for a field goal and a tie instead of taking a 7-3 lead.

-Goff the goat

As great a play as it was though, McCourty never should have had the chance.

Goff had just two routes to read, and he was looking right at Cooks when the wideout — who put his arm up to call for the ball while crossing the 13-yard line — sprung completely free. Despite his target coming wide open and on-time by design, Goff inexplicably took three hitches from the top of his drop before throwing.

Even then, it still should have been a touchdown. The throw was wobbly and too high, hanging in the air, and thrown unnecessarily out in front of Cooks instead of right on him or to his back shoulder. McCourty needed every bit of Goff’s help to make the play.

Unfortunately for the Rams, it was far from the only play Goff would want back.

The third-year signal-caller struggled to see things clearly throughout the evening. He threw two would-be interceptions that were dropped — the first could have been picked by Devin McCourty OR Jonathan Jones if John Simon had not batted it at the line — then botched the aforementioned play to Cooks, and finally made three critical errors in the fourth quarter.

On second-and-22 with 10:36 remaining, Goff failed to spot a likely 40-plus-yard gain. The Rams ran a “dagger” concept with Woods’ vertical route clearing out space for Josh Reynolds’ dig (the primary option on the play), which came wide open against the Patriots’ Cover-3 zone, with nobody within 10 yards of Reynolds. For whatever reason — perhaps a predetermined decision — Goff instead opted for Cooks’ out-and-up on the far side, which was blanketed by Gilmore.

On the next series, Goff went for the tying touchdown on a fade to Cooks and actually threw a terrific pass, dropping it in the bucket. But he failed to hold the single-high safety (Duron Harmon) long enough with his eyes, and Harmon was able to break to Cooks’ route (which came from a tight split) and help dislodge the ball.

Cooks still could have caught the pass — and Gilmore sneakily hooked one of the wideout’s arms before it arrived — but he very well might have hung on if not for a crushing hit from Harmon, whom Goff could have removed from the play with his eyes.

One play later, Goff all but sealed the defeat with a poor decision against 0-blitz, the Patriots’ first time all game sending six or more rushers. After showing a few 0 looks on earlier third downs but having Harmon bail to play free safety, New England brought them all this time, and Harmon came unblocked up the middle. With no short hot route available, Goff looked to Cooks’ vertical pattern but threw early and without definition, well before the receiver had the chance to turn and find the ball. With eyes on Goff the whole way, the 6-foot Gilmore easily elevated over the 5-foot-10 Cooks for the pick.

It wasn’t all bad from Goff, who made a few outstanding throws in the game. None was better than the 18-yarder to Woods on third-and-6 — one play before McCourty’s miracle break-up — as Goff fired a bullet past Jones’ tight man coverage despite Trey Flowers barreling into his face.

But the missed opportunities were crushing, especially in a low-scoring game that was there for the taking.

-Brilliant Belichick does it again

Naturally, Belichick deserves plenty of credit for Goff’s struggles.

His game plan was geared toward exposing the quarterback’s weaknesses by shutting down the run game and taking away easy play-action completions.

Up front, the Patriots used primarily five- and six-man fronts — with only one linebacker off the ball — and played aggressively uphill against the run. Extra men on the line created more single blocks, and penetration forced cutbacks into the waiting arms of other defenders. Belichick also employed various run blitzes and gap exchanges to distort the Rams’ zone-blocking assignments. Neither Todd Gurley nor C.J. Anderson found much daylight, with 57 yards on 17 carries between them (16 of which came on one play).

As we suspected in our preview, Belichick followed the lead of Matt Patricia’s Lions (and other teams that gave the Rams fits late in the regular season) by playing plenty of Cover-4 on early downs. The deep zones combined to double-team many of the Rams’ deep route combinations off play-action, limiting explosive plays. Goff wound up holding the ball, checking down, throwing it away or forcing it into coverage, as he did on Dont’a Hightower’s dropped interception to open the second half.

A better showing from New England’s offense would have forced Los Angeles to throw even more, but the Rams still wound up in plenty of obvious passing situations, putting all of the burden on Goff.

That’s exactly what Belichick wanted, and he made the 24-year-old miserable with an endless array of stunts, twists and blitzes, exactly like he did against Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship Game. None used more than five rushers — until the 0-blitz call on Gilmore’s interception — and many required only four. Hightower and Kyle Van Noy alternated between leading stunts and looping around the slants of defensive linemen, leaving the Rams’ highly touted offensive line helpless as it tried to pick up the weaving rushers.

The Patriots ultimately racked up four sacks and 12 QB hits, giving them eight and 21, respectively in the the final two playoff games. This from a defense that had only 30 sacks (tied second fewest in the NFL) and 100 QB hits in the entire regular season.

The suddenly terrifying pass rush was just another example of Belichick’s uncanny chameleon-like qualities, shaping his defenses to fit the opponent and deliver in critical moments.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

Reports: Dolphins make Howard highest-paid CB

Reports: Dolphins make Howard highest-paid CB

The Miami Dolphins will make

Reports: Dolphins make Howard highest-paid CB

The Miami Dolphins will make Xavien Howard the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history, agreeing to a five-year, $76.5 million extension, multiple outlets reported Thursday.

The deal reportedly includes $46 million in guarantees and $51 million over the first three seasons. Howard, 25, was set to earn $1.3 million in 2019, the final year of a four-year, $6.12 million rookie contract.

Washington’s Josh Norman was previously the NFL’s highest-paid corner at $15 million annually, signing a five-year, $75 million deal in April 2016 after the Carolina Panthers rescinded his franchise tag. Norman’s deal included $36.5 million in guarantees.

A second-round pick (38th overall) by the Dolphins out of Baylor in 2016, Howard tied for the league lead with seven interceptions last season despite missing the final four games to injury, earning the first Pro Bowl nod of his career. He had four interceptions in 2017 and has 31 career pass breakups in 35 games (34 starts).

Various reports earlier this offseason suggested Howard could be traded for the right price, as the Dolphins entered a rebuild under new head coach Brian Flores. Instead, the new deal puts him under contract through 2024.

–Field Level Media

Read More 123 Words

Rookie signings: Cardinals’ Murray inks $35.1M deal

Rookie signings: Cardinals' Murray inks $35.1M deal

Rookie signings: Cardinals’ Murray inks $35.1M deal

Arizona Cardinals quarterback and No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray signed his rookie contract on Thursday, a four-year deal worth $35.1 million fully guaranteed. Like all first-round pacts, it includes a fifth-year team option.

Murray repaid a $4.66 million signing bonus to the Oakland A’s and, according to The MMQB, turned down more than $18 million in guarantees from the A’s when he announced his full commitment to football instead of baseball. His deal with the Cardinals includes a $23.59 million signing bonus and will count $6.39 million against the cap in 2019.

“This is just the beginning,” Murray told the team’s website. “I plan to work as hard as I can, lead this team to a lot of wins and, hopefully, a lot of rings.”

The Cardinals also signed five other rookie draft picks to four-year deals: CB Byron Murphy (second round), DE Zach Allen (third), WR KeeSean Johnson (seventh), OL Joshua Miles (seventh) and TE Caleb Wilson (seventh).

–The Washington Redskins signed 15th overall pick Dwayne Haskins to his rookie contract, worth $14.4 million over four years with a fifth-year team option.

Haskins was the first quarterback to sign in the first round, hours before the Cardinals announced Murray.

Washington also signed seven other picks to four-year deals: RB Bryce Love (fourth round), OLs Wes Martin (fourth) and Ross Pierschbacher (fourth), LB Cole Holcomb (fifth), WR Kelvin Harmon (sixth), CB Jimmy Moreland (seventh) and OLB Jordan Brailford (seventh).

–The Detroit Lions signed first-round tight end T.J. Hockenson to his rookie contract, which is worth $19.8 million over four years with a fifth-year team option.

Detroit took Hockenson eighth overall last month, making him the first tight end drafted in the top 10 since the Lions took Eric Ebron 10th overall in 2014.

The Lions also signed second-round LB Jahlani Tavai and fifth-round cornerback Amani Oruwariye to four-year deals.

–The Buffalo Bills signed first-round defensive tackle Ed Oliver to his rookie contract, which is worth $19.6 million over four years with a fifth-year team option.

Buffalo took Oliver ninth overall last month.

The team also signed six other draft picks — OT Cody Ford (second round), RB Devin Singletary (third), LB Vosean Joseph (fifth), S Jaquan Johnson (sixth), DE Darryl Johnson (seventh) and TE Tommy Sweeney (seventh) — to four-year deals, leaving TE Dawson Knox (third) as the only unsigned pick in the class.

–The Miami Dolphins signed five draft picks, including first-round defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.

Taken 13th overall, Wilkins’ deal is worth $15.4 million over four years, with a fifth-year team option.

Signed to four-year deals were: LB Andrew Van Ginkel (fifth round), OT Isaiah Prince (sixth) and RBs Chandler Cox (seventh) and Myles Gaskin (seventh).

–The Philadelphia Eagles signed their full five-man draft class, led by first-round offensive tackle Andre Dillard.

Dillard, the 22nd overall pick, will make $12.33 million over four years, with a fifth-year team option.

Signed to four-year deals were: RB Miles Sanders (second round), WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (second), DE Shareef Miller (fourth) and QB Clayton Thorson (fifth).

–The Houston Texans signed first-round offensive tackle Tytus Howard to a four-year deal worth $12.3 million, according to the Houston Chronicle, plus a fifth-year team option.

Howard was drafted 23rd overall.

According to the report, Houston also signed fifth-round DE Charles Omenihu and sixth-round CB Xavier Crawford.

–The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed five of their eight draft picks to four-year deals, including second-round cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting.

Also signing were fourth-round DE Anthony Nelson, K Matt Gay (fifth), WR Scotty Miller (sixth) and DE Terry Beckner (seventh).

–The Carolina Panthers signed five of their seven draft picks, including third-round quarterback Will Grier, to four-year deals.

Also signing were fourth-round OLB Christian Miller, RB Jordan Scarlett (fifth), OT Dennis Daley (sixth) and WR Terry Godwin (seventh).

–Field Level Media

Read More 567 Words

Bills backup QB Anderson retires

Bills backup QB Anderson retires

Backup quarterback Derek Anderson,

Bills backup QB Anderson retires

Backup quarterback Derek Anderson, who signed with the Buffalo Bills last October, has decided to retire from the NFL, the team announced Thursday.

“Derek let me know a few weeks back that he wasn’t sure if he could be committed (for the season) and wanted to still think about it,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said in a statement. “So I knew going into the draft that this was something that could potentially happen. But it wasn’t definite. We talked this week and he let me know today that he is going to retire.”

Anderson, 36, a sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2005 who began his NFL career with the Cleveland Browns in 2006, appeared in 78 career games, completing 909 of 1,674 passes for 10,878 yards with 60 touchdowns and 64 interceptions.

He led the Browns to a 10-5 record in 2007 — making the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career — then after two more seasons with the Browns, played for the Arizona Cardinals (2010) and Carolina Panthers (2011-17) before joining the Bills.

Last season, he played in only two games with Buffalo (both starts) and completed 42 of 70 passes for 465 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions.

Among the remaining Bills quarterbacks are starter Josh Allen and backups Matt Barkley and Tyree Jackson, an undrafted free agent.

–Field Level Media

Read More 161 Words

McCarthy scorches 63 to lead Byron Nelson by one

McCarthy scorches 63 to lead Byron Nelson by one

McCarthy scorches 63 to lead Byron Nelson by one

Denny McCarthy rebounded from an early setback on Thursday to scorch the final 13 holes at Trinity Forest Golf Club and take a one-stroke lead after one round at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas.

McCarthy leads Tyler Duncan and Tom Hoge by one stroke after shooting 8-under 63.

World No. 3 Brooks Koepka, the highest-ranked player in the field, is one of nine players tied for fourth place after shooting 65. Nine more are another stroke back at 5 under.

McCarthy, a 26-year-old fifth-year pro seeking his first PGA title, opened with three pars before double-bogeying the par-4 sixth, following a penalty off his tee shot. But he responded by starting an incredible run at No. 6, birdieing five straight holes, eight of nine and 10 of 12 to go 10 under across the final 13 holes.

On greens softened by rain, McCarthy attacked pins with deadly accuracy. All 10 birdie putts came from 18 feet or closer, and six game from within nine feet. He also drained an eight-footer for par at the 18th to cap a 6-under 29 on the back nine.

“I’m not the farthest hitter, so the golf course played somewhat long for me, but I really put some work in on my mid-irons, long irons, so gave me a chance to work on those today,” McCarthy told reporters afterward. “Hit a lot of great ones today.”

McCarthy, who has one Web.com Tour victory, has missed six cuts in 12 PGA Tour tournaments since late January, including last week at the Wells Fargo Championship. His only finish better than 26th this year came when he tied for ninth at the Valspar Championship in March.

“I’ve kind of been looking for a round like this just to kind of get me going,” he said. “I know I can be out here playing with the best, and today kind of showed that. It’s a good start but still have three more days to go.”

Duncan started on the back nine and also had a hot finish, playing his final nine holes at 6 under with the help of an eagle at the par-4 fifth. Hoge had a bogey-free day with seven birdies.

Koepka also started on the back nine and was 6 under through 14 holes before finishing bogey-birdie-birdie-bogey.

“I’m pleased with the way I played,” Koepka said afterward. “What I did there on 6 … just hit a flyer from the middle of the fairway, and 9, didn’t hit a good shot. Other than that, I struck the ball beautifully.”

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo shot 5-over 76 and is tied for 148th in the 155-person field. He opened with a birdie and got as low as 2 under with an eagle at the par-5 seventh, but he double-bogeyed Nos. 9 and 13 before three bogeys in the final four holes.

Defending champion Aaron Wise is tied for 55th after shooting 69.

D.J. Trahan withdrew after eight holes.

–Field Level Media

Read More 423 Words

Seahawks release injured WR Baldwin, S Chancellor

Seahawks release injured WR Baldwin, S Chancellor

Seahawks release injured WR Baldwin, S Chancellor

The Seattle Seahawks officially severed ties with two longtime standouts who are expected to retire due to health concerns, waiving wideout Doug Baldwin and safety Kam Chancellor with failed physical designations.

“The Seahawks have made the difficult decision to terminate/failed physical Doug Baldwin and Kam Chancellor,” general manager John Schneider said in a statement. “These are two of the most iconic players in franchise history and both were instrumental in establishing our championship culture, great examples of competitiveness and leadership on the field and in the community.

“These legendary players will always be a part of our Seahawks family.”

The news was expected for the 31-year-old Chancellor, who sat out all of last season with a neck injury that was described as career ending.

Baldwin’s playing future was revealed to be in doubt during the draft in late April, when ESPN reported the 30-year-old receiver might have already played his final game, due to an accumulation of injuries.

Baldwin is recovering from three offseason surgeries — on his knee, shoulder and abdomen — after battling nagging injuries throughout the 2018 campaign. Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll appeared to be holding out hope Baldwin could keep playing, before Thursday’s news.

NFL Network reports Baldwin is “leaning toward” retirement, with his release allowing him to keep his signing bonus and possibly future injury-protection money.

An undrafted free agent out of Stanford in 2011, Baldwin had 493 catches for 6,563 yards and 49 touchdowns in eight seasons with the Seahawks, reaching the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017 and playing in 123 of a possible 128 games (90 starts). He ranks third in team history in catches and yards and second in receiving touchdowns.

Chancellor was a fifth-round pick by Seattle in 2010 and went on to make four Pro Bowls, intercepting 12 passes and breaking up 44 in 109 career games (93 starts) across eight seasons before missing 2018.

Both players were a part of the Super Bowl XLVIII winning team and the squad that lost Super Bowl XLIV to the New England Patriots a year later.

–Field Level Media

Read More 281 Words

Seahawks sign CB Taylor, FB Bellore

Seahawks sign CB Taylor, FB Bellore

Cornerback Jamar Taylor agreed to a one-year deal with the Seattle

Seahawks sign CB Taylor, FB Bellore

Cornerback Jamar Taylor agreed to a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday.

Taylor, a nickel cornerback, follows defensive end Ziggy Ansah as another potential value find deep into free agency.

Ansah, the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft, was due in Seattle on Thursday to a sign a one-year deal that could be worth $8 million. However, Ansah is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and might not be cleared until August.

Taylor, 28, is a former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins out of Boise State but has bounced around from Miami to the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos, where he ended last season.

The Seahawks lost cornerback Justin Coleman (Detroit Lions) in free agency.

Seattle also announced the signings of fullback Nick Bellore and guard Marcus Martin.

–Field Level Media

Read More 80 Words

NFL notebook: Seahawks officially cut ties with Baldwin, Chancellor

NFL notebook: Seahawks officially cut ties with Baldwin, Chancellor

NFL notebook: Seahawks officially cut ties with Baldwin, Chancellor

The Seattle Seahawks officially severed ties with two longtime standouts who are expected to retire due to health concerns, waiving wideout Doug Baldwin and safety Kam Chancellor with failed physical designations.

“The Seahawks have made the difficult decision to terminate/failed physical Doug Baldwin and Kam Chancellor,” general manager John Schneider said in a statement. “These are two of the most iconic players in franchise history and both were instrumental in establishing our championship culture, great examples of competitiveness and leadership on the field and in the community.

“These legendary players will always be a part of our Seahawks family.”

The news was expected for the 31-year-old Chancellor, who sat out all of last season with a neck injury that was described as career ending. Baldwin’s playing future was revealed to be in doubt during the draft in late April, when ESPN reported the 30-year-old receiver might have already played his final game, due to an accumulation of injuries.

–Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said he won’t play the 2019 season for personal reasons, writing on Instagram, “I must take time away from this game & get my world in order.”

A full-time starter the past four seasons and a 2017 Pro Bowler, Smith affirmed he doesn’t plan to play for any team other than the Jaguars, despite rumors of a possible trade. The 28-year-old was set to earn a base salary of $9.75 million this season.

The Jaguars issued a statement, reading, “We will not have a comment about Telvin Smith’s statement at this time. We need to have a conversation with Telvin to understand the situation and the circumstances. If there is a way we can support him we need to understand that.”

–Tight end Benjamin Watson plans to end his short-lived retirement and sign with the team that drafted him, the New England Patriots, multiple media outlets reported.

According to ESPN, Watson will sign a one-year, $3 million deal.

Watson, 38, was drafted 32nd overall by the Patriots in 2004. He played six seasons in New England, followed by three in Cleveland, and spent four of the last five in New Orleans.

–The Carolina Panthers will receive $120 million in tax breaks if they move their facility to South Carolina, after the state’s Senate approved a bill by a 27-15 vote.

Under the bill, which Gov. Henry McMaster is expected to sign, the Panthers would be exempt from paying state income taxes for players, coaches and other employees for 15 years, assuming that money is used toward a new complex in South Carolina.

Currently based in Charlotte, N.C., the team has been planning a 200-acre development in Rock Hill, S.C., about 25 miles south of its current facilities next to Bank of America Stadium, though it will continue to play games in Charlotte.

–The Miami Dolphins signed former Buffalo Bills tackle Jordan Mills to a one-year deal, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported is worth $3 million.

Mills, 28, started all 48 games over the past three seasons and has appeared in 87 games (82 starts) for the Chicago Bears (2013-14) and Bills (2015-18).

Mills played 95.5 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps (1,011 total) at right tackle last season and was penalized five times — three for holding and two false starts.

–The Jaguars released backup quarterback Cody Kessler and linebacker Blair Brown.

Kessler, who turns 26 on Saturday, was 2-2 as a starter for Jacksonville last season. He completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 709 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2017. He has 12 career tackles in 28 games (two starts), with 495 of his 548 career snaps on special teams.

–The Seahawks signed cornerback Jamar Taylor, fullback Nick Bellore and guard Marcus Martin.

Taylor, 28, is a former second-round pick who has bounced around from Miami to the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos in recent years.

Bellore started four of 14 games for the Lions last year. Martin has not played in a regular-season game since 2016.

–Backup quarterback Derek Anderson, who signed with the Bills last season, has decided to retired from the NFL, the team announced Thursday.

“Derek let me know a few weeks back that he wasn’t sure if he could be committed [for the season] and wanted to still think about it,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said in a statement. “So I knew going into the draft that this was something that could potentially happen. But it wasn’t definite. We talked this week and he let me know today that he is going to retire.”

Anderson, who began his NFL career with the Browns in 2006, appeared in 78 games, completing 909 of 1,674 passes for 10,878 yards, with 60 touchdowns and 64 interceptions.

–Field Level Media

Read More 713 Words

Report: Dolphins make Howard highest-paid CB

Report: Dolphins make Howard highest-paid CB

The Miami Dolphins have will

Report: Dolphins make Howard highest-paid CB

The Miami Dolphins have will make cornerback Xavien Howard the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history, agreeing to a five-year, $76.5 million extension, multiple outlets reported Thursday.

The deal reportedly includes $46 million in guarantees and $51 million over the first three seasons. Howard, 25, was set to earn $1.3 million in 2019, the final year of a four-year, $6.12 million rookie contract.

Washington’s Josh Norman was previously the NFL’s highest-paid corner at $15 million annually, signing a five-year, $75 million deal in April 2016 after the Carolina Panthers rescinded his franchise tag. Norman’s deal included $36.5 million in guarantees.

A second-round pick (38th overall) by the Dolphins out of Baylor in 2016, Howard tied for the league lead with seven interceptions last season despite missing the final four games to injury, earning the first Pro Bowl nod of his career. He had four interceptions in 2017 and has 31 career pass breakups in 35 games (34 starts).

Various reports earlier this offseason suggested Howard could be traded for the right price, as the Dolphins entered a rebuild under new head coach Brian Flores. Instead, the new deal puts him under contract through 2024.

–Field Level Media

Read More 125 Words

Panthers offered $120M to move facility to S.C.

Panthers offered $120M to move facility to S.C.

The Carolina Panthers will receive $120 million in tax breaks if they move

Panthers offered $120M to move facility to S.C.

The Carolina Panthers will receive $120 million in tax breaks if they move their facility to South Carolina, after the state’s Senate approved a bill Thursday by a 27-15 vote.

Under the bill, which Gov. Henry McMaster is expected to sign, the Panthers would be exempt from paying state income taxes for players, coaches and other employees for 15 years, assuming that money is used toward a new complex in South Carolina.

Currently based in Charlotte, N.C., the team has been planning a 200-acre development in Rock Hill, S.C., about 25 miles south of its current facilities next to Bank of America Stadium. The development plans include expansive football facilities as part of a broader campus with hotels, shopping and restaurants.

The bill was supported by McMaster, but many senators pushed back against the idea of giving public funds to a team owned by David Tepper, whose net worth is estimated at $11.6 billion.

“We’d like to be there. Hopefully they help us out there,” Tepper told reporters Wednesday of the potential facility in Rock Hill. “But I could be with a (practice) bubble and a cafeteria in Charlotte, too. So it’s up to them.”

Now the path appears clear for the Panthers to proceed with the planned move, which is not expected until at least 2022. The team will continue to play games at Bank of America Stadium, its home since its second season in 1996.

Tepper also told reporters Wednesday he hopes to bring a Major League Soccer team to the area eventually, potentially housing it on the same campus in Rock Hill.

–Field Level Media

Read More 213 Words

Report: Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

Report: Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

The Miami Dolphins are signing former

Report: Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

The Miami Dolphins are signing former Buffalo Bills tackle Jordan Mills to a one-year, $3 million deal, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday.

Mills, 28, started all 48 games over the past three seasons and has appeared in 87 games with 82 starts for the Chicago Bears (2013-14) and Bills (2015-18).

Mills played 95.5 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps (1,011 total) at right tackle last season and was penalized five times — three for holding and two false starts.

He was a fifth-round draft pick by Chicago in 2013.

Mills offers veteran stability to a Miami offensive line that lost Ja’Wuan James to the Denver Broncos in free agency.

–Field Level Media

Read More 50 Words

Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

The Miami Dolphins signed former Buffalo Bills

Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

The Miami Dolphins signed former Buffalo Bills tackle Jordan Mills to a one-year deal Thursday, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports is worth $3 million.

Mills, 28, started all 48 games over the past three seasons and has appeared in 87 games with 82 starts for the Chicago Bears (2013-14) and Bills (2015-18).

Mills played 95.5 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps (1,011 total) at right tackle last season and was penalized five times — three for holding and two false starts.

He was a fifth-round draft pick by Chicago in 2013.

Mills offers veteran stability to a Miami offensive line that lost right tackle Ja’Wuan James to the Denver Broncos in free agency.

–Field Level Media

Read More 53 Words

Jaguars release QB Kessler

Jaguars release QB Kessler

Cody Kessler is looking

Jaguars release QB Kessler

Cody Kessler is looking for work after the Jacksonville Jaguars released the quarterback on Thursday.

Kessler, who turns 26 on Saturday, was 2-2 as a starter for Jacksonville last season. He completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 709 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

A third-round pick in 2016 by Cleveland, Kessler was 0-8 as a rookie starter for the Browns and was traded to the Jaguars during the 2018 offseason for a seventh-round pick.

Kessler and Blake Bortles were the only quarterbacks used by the Jaguars last season, and now both are gone.

Bortles was released in March after Jacksonville signed Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl hero Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract.

Foles’ remaining backups on the roster are untested 2018 draft picks Tanner Lee (sixth round by Jacksonville) and Alex McGough (seventh round by Seattle).

–Field Level Media

Read More 80 Words

Reports: TE Watson to join Patriots

Reports: TE Watson to join Patriots

Reports: TE Watson to join Patriots

Tight end Benjamin Watson plans to end his short-lived retirement and sign with the team that drafted him, the New England Patriots, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.

According to ESPN, Watson will sign a one-year, $3 million deal. ESPN previously reported the tight end was also considering the Chiefs, Bills and 49ers.

Reports earlier Thursday said Watson was meeting with the Patriots, who took him 32nd overall in 2004. He played six seasons in New England, followed by three seasons in Cleveland.

Watson, 38, played four of his previous five seasons with the New Orleans Saints, including last season’s run to the NFC Championship Game.

He announced his retirement in December.

“It’s time. It’s time to be done,” he said then. “I’m going to finish strong.”

In his career, Watson has played in 195 games, with 530 receptions for 5,885 yards and 44 touchdowns. In 12 postseason games, he has 22 catches for 234 yards and three scores.

The Patriots were looking for depth at tight end following the retirement of All-Pro Rob Gronkowski. They previously added free agents Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Matt LaCosse, and they did not draft a tight end last month.

On Wednesday, the Patriots announced the release of wide receiver Bruce Ellington. He signed with New England as a free agent on March 15.

–Field Level Media

Read More 156 Words

Jags LB Smith to skip 2019 for personal reasons

Jags LB Smith to skip 2019 for personal reasons

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said he

Jags LB Smith to skip 2019 for personal reasons

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said he won’t play the 2019 season for personal reasons.

A full-time starter the past four seasons and a 2017 Pro Bowler, Smith made the announcement Thursday on Instagram.

“At this time I must take time away from this game & get my world in order,” Smith wrote. “I must give this time back to myself, my family, & my health. I appreciate all the support I will & will not get. I just ask y’all respect my decision to not play football this season.”

He also affirmed he doesn’t plan to play for any team other than the Jaguars, despite rumors of a possible trade.

Smith, 28, was set to earn a base salary of $9.75 million this season. He signed a four-year, $45 million extension in October 2017.

A fifth-round pick by Jacksonville in 2014, Smith posted a career-high 134 tackles in 2018. He also has 26 pass breakups and nine interceptions in his five-year career.

Smith and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey opted to sit out the Jaguars’ voluntary workouts last month, prompting public criticism from team executive vice president Tom Coughlin.

Smith made his first public comments about that controversy Monday during an Instagram live session.

“Understand this, I never left Duval. I’m never leaving Duval; it’s Duval ’til we die,” he said, referring to Jacksonville’s location in Duval County. “You understand me? Y’all seen trade rumors and stuff. Y’all seen me go anywhere? Exactly. Y’all seen the rumors go somewhere, but y’all ain’t seen me go nowhere cause I ain’t going nowhere. You understand me?”

Smith promised his followers Monday that they would learn more “this week” about what’s going on.

–Field Level Media

Read More 221 Words

Reports: TE Watson visiting Patriots

Reports: TE Watson visiting Patriots

Reports: TE Watson visiting Patriots

Tight end Benjamin Watson could end his short-lived retirement and is spending Thursday meeting with the New England Patriots, according to multiple reports.

Watson is no stranger to the organization, which made him the No. 32 overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. He played six seasons in New England, followed by three seasons in Cleveland.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday that Watson also is considering the Chiefs, Bills and 49ers.

Watson, 38, played four of his previous five seasons with the New Orleans Saints, including last season’s run to the NFC Championship Game.

He announced his retirement in December.

“It’s time. It’s time to be done,” he said then. “I’m going to finish strong.”

In his career, Watson has played in 195 games, with 530 receptions for 5,885 yards and 44 touchdowns. In 12 postseason games, he has 22 catches for 234 yards and three scores.

The Patriots are looking for depth at tight end following the retirement of All-Pro Rob Gronkowski.

On Wednesday, the Patriots announced the release of wide receiver Bruce Ellington. He signed with New England as a free agent on March 15.

–Field Level Media

Read More 124 Words

Reports: CB Taylor joins Seahawks

Reports: CB Taylor joins Seahawks

Cornerback Jamar Taylor agreed to a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks

Reports: CB Taylor joins Seahawks

Cornerback Jamar Taylor agreed to a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday, per multiple reports.

Taylor, a nickel cornerback, follows defensive end Ziggy Ansah as another potential value find deep into free agency.

Ansah, the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft, was due in Seattle on Thursday to a sign a one-year deal that could be worth $8 million. However, Ansah is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and might not be cleared until August.

Taylor, 28, is a former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins out of Boise State but has bounced around from Miami to the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos, where he ended last season.

The Seahawks lost cornerback Justin Coleman (Detroit Lions) in free agency.

–Field Level Media

Read More 69 Words

Reports: Seahawks agree with DE Ansah

Reports: Seahawks agree with DE Ansah

Reports: Seahawks agree with DE Ansah

The Seattle Seahawks agreed to a one-year deal with free agent defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, multiple media outlets reported Wednesday evening.

Ansah is expected to fly to Seattle on Thursday to sign, according to ESPN.

NFL Network reported earlier Wednesday that Seattle was the front-runner to sign Ansah, adding that no agreement had been finalized and the Buffalo Bills remained interested.

Had a team signed Ansah before Wednesday, he would have factored into the compensatory-pick formula. By waiting, Seattle remains in line to get third-, fourth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks next year as compensation for losing Earl Thomas, Justin Coleman, Shamar Stephen and Brett Hundley, per OverTheCap.com.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said earlier Wednesday on 1270 The Fan in Buffalo that the team was still in contact with Ansah, and that he wasn’t necessarily buying that the Seahawks were the favorite.

“We’re still in talks with him and his agent,” Beane said. “Everything has been very good. All I’ll say about reports is I don’t buy into that garbage, especially when I consider where some of the sourcing comes from.”

Ansah visited the Baltimore Ravens and then the Seahawks in late April, after meeting the Bills and the New Orleans Saints shortly after free agency opened in mid-March. Coming off of shoulder surgery after missing nine games in 2018, Ansah saw his market be slow to develop as teams monitored his health and recovery.

NFL Network reported last month he is expected to be cleared by mid-August.

Ansah, who will turn 30 on May 29, had four sacks and seven quarterback hits in seven games (two starts) while playing on the franchise tag for the Detroit Lions last season, after posting 12 and 17, respectively, in 2017. His best season came in 2015, when he had 14.5 sacks and 34 QB hits while earning his only Pro Bowl nod.

Drafted fifth overall by Detroit in 2013, Ansah has 48 sacks and 110 quarterback hits in six NFL seasons.

The Seahawks added defensive end L.J. Collier with the 29th overall pick in last month’s draft, but they needed help at the “leo” defensive end spot after trading Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs.

–Field Level Media

Read More 302 Words

NFL notebook: McVay opens up on Super Bowl loss

NFL notebook: McVay opens up on Super Bowl loss

NFL notebook: McVay opens up on Super Bowl loss

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay experienced paralysis by analysis in the days before his team lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.

McVay took responsibility for the 13-3 defeat in the immediate aftermath of the game, and he expounded upon his faults in an interview with Sports Illustrated published Wednesday.

“In the back of my mind, (when making the Super Bowl game plan back in L.A.), I operated knowing I had another week,” he said. “That urgency to completely finalize the game plan wasn’t quite there, and that led to me watching so much film that you can almost water down your thought process.”

“You have so much time that you can overprepare and get away from some of the things that helped you get there. I watched every game from New England’s season. You see stuff that worked in, say, Week 3, but you forget about the amount of stuff that’s taken place since Week 3. You can watch so much film that you lose perspective.”

–The Seattle Seahawks have emerged as the front-runner to sign free agent defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, NFL Network reported.

The report indicated no contract was finalized, adding that the Buffalo Bills remain interested after hosting Ansah for a visit in March.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said on 1270 The Fan in Buffalo that the team is still in contact with Ansah, and that he isn’t necessarily buying that the Seahawks are the favorite.

–Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is paying the funeral expenses for Jaylon McKenzie, the promising eighth-grade football player killed by a stray bullet last weekend in Venice, Ill.

“For him to reach out to me was unbelievable,” McKenzie’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“Jaylon loved Ezekiel Elliott. He talked about him all the time. … For him to reach out to me and help me in this difficult time leaves me speechless.”

–The Carolina Panthers hired recently retired defensive end Julius Peppers as special assistant of business operations.

Team vice president of external affairs Steven Drummond said Peppers will have an office at the team facility and will be in the building several days a week.

–Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson said he is suffering from an autonomic disorder that contributed to his decision to step down after the 2017 season.

Thompson, 66, who was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame on Saturday, revealed his diagnosis on the Packers’ official website. He added that medical specialists do not believe he is suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

–Washington Redskins right guard Brandon Scherff said he is 90 percent recovered from a torn pectoral muscle and will be “ready to go” for training camp.

Scherff, 27, sustained the season-ending injury during a 38-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 4.

–Free agent running back Bilal Powell has been cleared to play after a career-threatening neck injury and is looking for an employer.

NFL Network reports Powell sent a letter to NFL teams to say he was “really looking forward to getting back to work.” The 30-year-old sustained a season-ending neck injury with the New York Jets in October and underwent surgery soon after.

–The Indianapolis Colts will induct defensive end Dwight Freeney into their Ring of Honor during a Nov. 10 game against the Miami Dolphins.

The date was confirmed on Twitter by team owner Jim Irsay, who announced Freeney’s selection last week.

–Kansas City signed longtime linebacker Derrick Johnson to a one-day contract so he could retire as a Chief.

Johnson, 36, played his first 13 seasons with the Chiefs, earning four Pro Bowl nods, before playing six games with the Oakland Raiders in 2018.

–Joe Thomas, a former All-Pro offensive tackle with the Cleveland Browns, joined the NFL Network in various on-air roles.

Thomas will be added to the network’s on-location pregame and postgame shows for 13 Thursday night games, as well as coverage of the Super Bowl, NFL Scouting Combine and the draft.

–The Philadelphia Eagles signed safety Blake Countess to a one-year extension, after claiming him off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams last week.

Countess was a restricted free agent but is now under contract through 2020. He was primarily a special teamer for the Rams.

–The New England Patriots waived/injured former Houston and Detroit wideout Bruce Ellington, who was signed in free agency in March.

Ellington caught 31 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown across seven games with the Texans and Lions in 2018.

–The New York Giants signed former Cowboys running back Rod Smith.

Smith had 129 touches for 631 yards and six touchdowns in four years with Dallas, the past three as a backup to Elliott.

–The Chicago Bears signed free agent linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, who last played for the Jets.

–Field Level Media

Read More 738 Words

After Masters’ bet, man goes big on Tiger to win Slam

After Masters' bet, man goes big on Tiger to win Slam

James

After Masters’ bet, man goes big on Tiger to win Slam

James Adducci, who took home $1.19 million on a bet when Tiger Woods won the Masters, is again putting his faith in the 15-time major champion.

Adducci took $100,000 of his winnings and placed it on Woods to take the title at all four majors this season, according to Golf Digest, which confirmed the bet through sports book operator William Hill U.S. Adducci placed the bet at SLS Casino in Las Vegas, the same sportsbook where he gambled $85,000 on Woods to win the Masters at 14-to-1 odds.

Adducci, a 39-year-old from Wisconsin, is getting 100-to-1 odds on Woods winning the Grand Slam, which would pay out $10 million.

The second leg of the Grand Slam, the PGA Championship, will be held next week at the Bethpage Black course in Farmingdale, N.Y., with the U.S. Open in June and the British Open in July. Woods is the betting favorite for the PGA Championship at 8-1, according to Westgate Sportsbook.

No golfer has ever won all four modern majors in the same season, although Woods held all four titles at the same time over the 2000 and 2001 seasons. The term Grand Slam was coined in 1930, when Bobby Jones won the British Open, U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur.

–Field Level Media

Read More 162 Words

Cowboys’ Elliott pays funeral costs for slain eighth-grader

Cowboys' Elliott pays funeral costs for slain eighth-grader

Cowboys’ Elliott pays funeral costs for slain eighth-grader

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is paying the funeral expenses for Jaylon McKenzie, the promising eighth-grade football player killed by a stray bullet last weekend.

“For him to reach out to me was unbelievable,” McKenzie’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“Jaylon loved Ezekiel Elliott. He talked about him all the time. When Ezekiel was playing, he would sit in front of the TV. His eyes were glued to the TV, watching him. For him to reach out to me and help me in this difficult time leaves me speechless.”

McKenzie, 14, was featured in an article in Sports Illustrated last November titled: “Six Teens Who Will Rule the Future in Sports.”

He played running back, wide receiver and defensive back at Mason-Clark Middle School in East St. Louis, Ill., and already had Division I college offers from Missouri and Illinois.

Elliott has ties to the area, having played prep football at John Burroughs School in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, Mo.

–Field Level Media

Read More 116 Words