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Steelers Mason Rudolph calls Browns Myles Garretts’ claim a ‘bold-face lie’



PITTSBURGH – Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph is calling Myles Garrett‘s assertion that he used a racial slur a “bold-faced lie,” and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is supporting his quarterback.

“1000% False,” Rudolph tweeted after Outside the Lines aired a new interview with Myles Garrett after the Browns‘ defensive end’s re-instatement. “Bold-Faced Lie. I did not, have not, and would not utter a racial-slur. This is a disgusting and reckless attempt to assassinate my character.”

In the interview with Mina Kimes, Garrett said Rudolph used the slur as he was being sacked with eight seconds left in the Thursday night game on Nov. 14.

Tomlin, though, strongly supported his quarterback in a statement issued Saturday morning – an unusual move for a coach that rarely speaks in the offseason.

“I support Mason Rudolph not only because I know him, but also because I was on that field immediately following the altercation with Myles Garrett, and subsequently after the game. I interacted with a lot of people in the Cleveland Browns organization – players and coaches,” Tomlin said in the statement.

“If Mason said what Myles claimed, it would have come out during the many interactions I had with those in the Browns’ organization. In my conversations, I had a lot of expressions of sorrow for what transpired. I received no indication of anything racial or anything of that nature in those interactions.”

Rudolph’s agent and attorney, Tim Younger, also said the “defamatory” statements by Garrett exposed him to “legal liability.”

“We waited to hear the entire interview,” Younger said. “Garrett, after originally apologizing to Mason Rudolph, has made the ill advised choice of publishing the belated and false accusation that Mr. Rudolph uttered a racial slur on the night in question.”

Garrett, who was re-instated by the league Wednesday after a six-game suspension, accused Rudolph of using a slur in the interview with Kimes that aired Thursday night during SportsCenter.

“He called me the N-word,” Garrett told Kimes. “He called me a ‘stupid N-word.'”

In the interview, Garrett blamed Rudolph for starting the fight that led to $732,422 in fines and the discipline of 33 players and said Rudolph used the slur as he was being sacked by Garrett with eight seconds left in the Thursday night game.

Rudolph initially engaged with Garrett on the ground, and then charged at him after Garrett forcibly removed Rudolph’s helmet. Then, Garrett hit Rudolph over the head with it.

“I don’t say the N-word, whether it’s with ‘a’ [or] ‘er.’ To me, personally, [it] just shouldn’t be said, whether it’s by family, friends, anyone,” Garrett told Kimes. “I don’t want to use it because I don’t want [people to] find that appropriate around me for anyone to use.

“When he said it, it kind of sparked something, but I still tried to let it go and still walk away. But once he came back, it kind of reignited the situation. And not only have you escalated things past what they needed to be with such little time in the game left, now you’re trying to reengage and start a fight again. It’s definitely not entirely his fault; it’s definitely both parties doing something that we shouldn’t have been doing.”

Rudolph was fined $50,000 for his role in the incident. He appealed the fine, but it was recently upheld, a source told ESPN.

The Steelers and the Browns were also each fined $250,000. Garrett first alleged Rudolph used the slur in an appeals hearing with the NFL in an effort to get his suspension reduced, ESPN previously reported. Garrett later said he never intended for the accusation to become public, but said, “I know what I heard.” At the time, an NFL spokesman said the league “found no such evidence” that Rudolph used the slur.

Rudolph strongly denied the allegation in November and called it, “totally untrue.” “I couldn’t believe it,” the quarterback said Nov. 24. “I couldn’t believe he would go that route after the fact.”

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Can a motivated Nick Foles make the Bears a contender? – Chicago Bears Blog



Mitchell Trubisky isn’t the only Chicago Bears quarterback with something to prove.

When Chicago traded a fourth-round compensatory draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Nick Foles, the Bears inherited the final three years of Foles’ contract, including $21 million in guarantees — roughly five times the amount of guaranteed money left on Trubisky’s original rookie contract ($4.423 million). The Bears even let Foles restructure his contract to where he can void either of the final two years based on performance. Chicago has yet to announce whether it intends to exercise Trubisky’s fifth-year option, which is guaranteed only in the case of injury.

Considering Foles’ salary and deep connections to Chicago’s coaching staff –- particularly coach Matt Nagy — it’s just a matter of time until Foles supplants Trubisky as the Bears’ starting quarterback, right?

Yet, some argue Foles, 31, isn’t much of an upgrade over Trubisky, 25, who flashed promise in 2018 and led Chicago to the playoffs before regressing last season.

For all Foles achieved over two stints in Philadelphia — and being named MVP of Super Bowl LII MVP is hardly insignificant — he had brief, and often forgettable, stints in St. Louis and Jacksonville.

Could a third team in three years restart Foles’ career?

“Nick Foles is motivated, man,” ESPN NFL Front Office Insider Louis Riddick said last week. “He hears what people say. He hears people say that he’s just a great sixth-man that can do it in spurts and that he can’t really do it over the long haul. He hears people say, ‘look how bad he was when he went to the Rams and look how bad he was when he came back from injury in Jacksonville and he only got hot with the best offensive weapons in the NFL when he went to the Super Bowl [with Philadelphia].’ He hears that stuff.”

Once Jacksonville agreed to trade Foles, who received a $25 million signing bonus from the Jaguars, the Bears aggressively pursued the eight-year veteran. Chicago went after Foles, largely, because of the quarterback’s familiarity with Nagy and the Andy Reid scheme.

“I said for quite some time that the Bears going out and getting Foles would be the perfect move, for everybody involved,” ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky said last week.



Stephen A. Smith makes a case for why Nick Foles has a better chance to win this year with the Bears than Carson Wentz does with the Eagles.

“… It frees up Matt Nagy. Nagy now has a safety net where if things turn bad he has someone there to catch him in Nick Foles. It’s a win-win situation.”

Reid, then the Eagles coach, drafted Foles in 2012 when Nagy was on the coaching staff. Foles was the Chiefs backup when Nagy was the team’s offensive coordinator and then found his most success playing for Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who also coached with Reid and Nagy in Philadelphia and Kansas City. With that, Foles has more seasons running some version of the Reid offense than Trubisky does.

There is a scenario were Foles’ presence lights a fire in Trubisky, who staves off the competition and responds with a monster year. That sequence of events would certainly make the Bears’ front office happy. But that seems unlikely. Foles is a Bear because the team’s quarterback play was unacceptable for much of last year.

The organization publicly supported Trubisky — the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft — at every turn the past three years, but circumstances have changed and the job security he enjoyed in is gone.

“There’s a reason why Matt targeted a guy like Foles … why he targeted Foles in particular,” Riddick said. “There’s a reason why Doug Pederson loved Foles. There’s a reason why when Andy Reid drafted Foles he loved him. He’s the ultimate point guard. He doesn’t think he’s something that he’s not. He doesn’t try to make things happen that aren’t there. He’s a distributor. And he’s smart.

“… I know what [Reid, Nagy and Pederson] like, they like guys that can make quick decisions and deliver the ball with accuracy. They like guys who can understand that it’s not all just about them.”

To make whomever plays quarterback successful, the Bears need to address several areas. The glaring weakness at tight end was hardly solved when they signed veteran Jimmy Graham to a two-year deal that contained $9 million in guarantees and a no-trade clause. Couple Graham’s new contract with oft-injured Trey Burton’s fully guaranteed 2020 salary of $6.7 million and the Bears are paying a lot of money for very little projected production at tight end.

The offensive line struggled last year and will need at least one new starter after right guard Kyle Long retired. The club released veteran wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and fellow wideout Anthony Miller is rehabbing from another shoulder surgery. With a deep NFL draft class of receivers, the Bears could find a pass-catcher there.

And Chicago must establish a consistent running attack behind former third-round pick David Montgomery, and find a way for Tarik Cohen to achieve better results as a runner and pass-catcher.

All that being said, the Bears will not qualify for the postseason — no matter how ferocious the defense plays — without better play at quarterback.

Chicago enters the 2020 season with a true sense of urgency. The Bears began Nagy’s second year as one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl. Instead, Chicago finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years.

“All they care about in 2020 is winning,” Riddick said. “That’s what Ryan Pace needs to do. That’s what Matt Nagy needs to do. They need to win. They don’t need people to exercise agendas and have their guy be the one who’s pulling the trigger. They need to win, period. Because if they don’t win, then everybody is going to be held accountable and everybody could get blown out of there.

“Winning has a way of making bad decisions not look so bad, especially if you correct them. … And they went out and got a guy who is going to come in there in an uncertain environment when you might not be able to even see your players until training camp and he’s going to be able to pick up the system immediately and see whatever tweaks Matt has made to the system since he was last with him and hit the ground running. It’s the perfect signing.”

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Browns banking free-agency commitment will bolster Baker Mayfield – Cleveland Browns Blog



BEREA, Ohio — On the first day of free agency, the Cleveland Browns set a franchise record for spending on only three players. The Browns, in fact, shelled out $63 million in guaranteed money to tight end Austin Hooper, right tackle Jack Conklin and backup quarterback Case Keenum.

Despite the new front office and coaching staff, the message was clear. Even after quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s disappointing second season, the Browns believe in him as their quarterback of the future. And they backed that up, immediately splurging on three players to complement him on the field or support him off it — underscoring their preeminent goal of putting Mayfield back on the track to becoming the franchise quarterback he seemed to be on during a sensational rookie season in 2018.

The Browns shored up Mayfield’s frontside protection by signing Conklin, the top free-agent right tackle on the market who was fabulous for the Tennessee Titans in pass protection last season. They landed Mayfield a reliable pass-catching target in Hooper, who was the best tight end available after totaling 75 receptions for the Atlanta Falcons last year.

And they brought in Keenum, a well-respected veteran and fellow undersized quarterback out of Texas, who operated an Air Raid offense in college. He has the wisdom and demeanor Mayfield could utilize to reach another level.

In terms of guaranteed money, Conklin ($30 million) and Hooper ($23 million) cost more than any other free agent the Browns had ever signed, save for guard Kevin Zeitler ($32 million in 2017). As a backup quarterback, Keenum wasn’t cheap either, with $10 million guaranteed.

But if those three signings can help Mayfield rediscover his rookie self, it will be money well spent.

To see that happen, the Browns first had to shore up an offensive line that struggled in 2019 to protect Mayfield, who was sacked 40 times. In the AFC, only Houston dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson was sacked more.

The Browns took a big step forward in improving their protection last week by signing Conklin. Last season in Cleveland, Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard both ranked outside the top 40 tackles in pass block win rate. That played a part in Mayfield’s accuracy and decision-making taking a precipitous turn for the worse.

Conklin, in contrast, was the NFL’s top right tackle in pass block win rate. Now, the Browns boast three offensive linemen who were top three at their positions in pass block win rate last year, as Conklin joins center JC Tretter and Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio.

The Browns stand to bolster their offensive line even more. With the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft — loaded at offensive tackle, headlined by Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas — Cleveland has a prime opportunity to select its blindside protector of the future and add to its young core.

A better offensive line should lead to a better Mayfield, for a variety of reasons. With upgrades to both bookends, Mayfield should have more time in the pocket to develop a rhythm. He should have more confidence in his pocket holding up, as well, to stand and deliver the throws to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry downfield.

A better offensive line should also do wonders for Cleveland’s play-action attack, a staple of head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense in Minnesota. Even with Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb finishing second in the league in rushing, the Browns inexplicably ranked 29th in pass block win rate in play-action last year, according to ESPN Stats & Info research. With Conklin teaming up with Bitonio and Tretter up front, the Browns should feature an even stronger running game to take more pressure off Mayfield while setting him up for success in play-action.

Which leads to Cleveland’s other marquee offensive signing.

Calling plays for Minnesota, Stefanski utilized multiple tight ends on the field 57% of the time, the highest rate in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info research. By adding Hooper, the Browns are equipped to do the same, especially if former first-round pick David Njoku has a bounce-back season after an injury-plagued and ineffective one last year.

In 2019, Mayfield had limited success in multiple tight end sets, posting a QBR of 62, compared to a 49 QBR out of all other personnel packages. Cleveland, however, targeted tight ends only 69 times, tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Info research.

That should change in a big way in 2020, as Hooper gives Mayfield the critical weapon he lacked off play-action and in red-zone situations, two areas the Browns struggled with last year. Mayfield thrived in college at Oklahoma with 2017 Mackey Award winner and current Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews at his disposal. Next season, Hooper will step into a similar role, operating over the middle of the field, down the seam, from play-action and off rollouts. That figures to be favorable matchups, especially with Beckham and Landry demanding so much defensive attention out wide and Cleveland creating mismatches for him in two tight sets.



The Browns and OT Jack Conklin agree to a three-year, $42 million deal to fortify Cleveland’s offensive line and provide Baker Mayfield with more protection.

Hooper said in weighing his free agency options, he saw potential in Cleveland. He also saw the potential in partnering with Mayfield, in light of facing him two seasons ago.

“Playing against Baker live, seeing his arm, seeing his competitive spirit, the way he can rally the boys around him, that’s what sold me on him, before I was even a free agent,” Hooper said Tuesday in a teleconference with reporters. “I knew what he was about for a couple of years now. So when the opportunity presented itself … I couldn’t turn it down.”

The Browns are also excited about the partnership of Mayfield and Keenum in the quarterback room. Keenum, 32, has 62 career starts and experience in the system the Browns will be running, going 11-3 as the Vikings starter in 2017. As one league source, who coached Keenum in the past, put it, “Case will be incredible for Baker” as a mentor and sounding board.

“Case is somebody that’s seen it all and been through it all in his time as an NFL quarterback. The experiences he brings can be great for our team as a whole,” Stefanski said. “He understands as a backup how it’s your job to support the starter and be ready to play in a moment’s notice. Bottom line is, we’re adding a really smart, tough football player in that room.”

The Browns are banking that will buoy Mayfield off the field, while Conklin and Hooper give him a boost on it. And all the money Cleveland just committed will pay off in the form of a franchise quarterback.

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Seahawks making effort to boost pass rush, wait for Jadeveon Clowney – Seattle Seahawks Blog



The Seattle Seahawks want to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney. But Clowney wants more money than they’ve offered and hasn’t budged even though it appears no other team has been willing to meet his price.

That’s the CliffsNotes version of a bizarre situation that has left one of the NFL’s top edge players unsigned more than a week into free agency. And it has left the Seahawks in a waiting game with by far the most impactful player along a defensive line that otherwise struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2019.

While he has been waiting on Clowney, general manager John Schneider has taken his typically active approach in free agency, with nine signings as of Tuesday plus a trade for cornerback Quinton Dunbar. The biggest item on the Seahawks’ to-do list was and still is fixing a pass rush that generated only 28 sacks in the regular season, tied for second fewest in the league. To that end, Schneider re-signed Jarran Reed (two years, $23 million) and made an addition to Seattle’s defensive line with Bruce Irvin.

The Seahawks are betting that Reed can regain his form from 2018, when he broke out with 10.5 sacks — tied for the fourth most among defensive tackles — before a down season in 2019 that began with a six-game suspension. The 32-year-old Irvin, the Seahawks’ first-round pick in 2012, is coming off a career-high 8.5 sacks in 13 games with Carolina.

The Seahawks’ returning edge rushers include Rasheem Green, Shaquem Griffin, Branden Jackson and 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier. Quinton Jefferson‘s departure should help Collier assume a larger role in 2020.

Having a complementary pass-rusher as productive as Irvin last season would have taken some heat off Clowney. According to ESPN charting, he was double-teamed on 26.3% of his edge-rush snaps, the third-highest rate among qualifying defenders. Clowney was fifth in ESPN’s pass rush win rate at 24.8%, another stat indicative of how much more impactful he was than his three sacks suggest.

But apparently he wasn’t impactful enough to command the $20 million or more per season that ESPN sources have said he’s seeking. The Seahawks never seemed inclined to go that high for Clowney, and at this point it doesn’t look like anyone is.

That could be due to a combination of factors, one being the fact that Clowney — despite all the pressure he generates — has never reached double-digit sacks in any of his six seasons. His injury history could be another, especially with the NFL prohibiting teams from bringing in free agents for visits due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Any team that would want its own doctors to give Clowney a physical before writing him a giant check is unable to do so right now.

Consider the situation from Clowney’s perspective. He was the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school, got drafted first overall, then had to wait six seasons before reaching free agency, which is two years longer than most players. If he’s having a difficult time accepting the reality that his market isn’t as strong as he expected it to be, you can understand why.

The Seahawks know how Clowney fits into their defense and locker room. They know his willingness to play through pain like he did over the second half of last season, as he dealt with a core-muscle injury that eventually required surgery. They don’t have the same familiarity with some of the pass-rushers who are still available on the free-agent market (though coach Pete Carroll does have ties to Clay Matthews and Everson Griffen from their days at USC).

The same is true for Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon, who would be doubly expensive as franchise-tagged players whom Seattle would have to trade for and pay.

As for the possibility of the Seahawks finding an immediate-impact pass-rusher in the draft, that’s way more feasible for teams picking early in the first round than late. The Seahawks, who own the 27th pick, got a reminder of that last year, when they got next to nothing out of Collier after taking him No. 29 overall.

Clowney isn’t the Seahawks’ only pass-rush option. But now that they don’t have to break the bank to keep him, he looks like their best one.

And so the wait continues.

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