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Cleveland Browns release DT Sheldon Richardson, save $11M vs. salary cap



BEREA, Ohio — One day after signing pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, the Cleveland Browns terminated the contract of starting defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

Friday’s move will save $11 million in cap space, but it leaves the Browns with a huge hole in the middle of their defensive line. Richardson’s contract had no guaranteed money remaining.

He signed with the Browns on a three-year deal before the 2019 season, starting 31 games and getting 7.5 sacks over two seasons.

This offseason, the Browns signed Malik Jackson to compete for a starting job at defensive tackle. They also have defensive tackle Andrew Billings joining the team after he opted out of last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cleveland signed Clowney on Thursday to a one-year deal worth up to $10 million.

Richardson was a first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2013. Cleveland’s other starting defensive tackle last year, Larry Ogunjobi, signed with Cincinnati this offseason.

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Najee Harris eager to show value as Pittsburgh Steelers’ receiving threat – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog



PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Najee Harris ran downfield Saturday afternoon, reached up and snagged a high pass in a smooth one-handed grab.

It was an impressive catch to the few onlookers at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the second day of the Steelers’ rookie minicamp, one that stood out even more with Harris surrounded by young draft picks and NFL hopefuls.

But it’s the kind of thing the 6-foot-2, 230-pound first-round pick has done for years.

An NFL player for less than a month, Harris handled the query about his one-handed catch and if he only recently acquired that skill like a pro, self-assured and confident in his abilities not only as a running back but also as a receiving weapon.

“I’ve always been catching the ball, man,” he said with a sly laugh. “I always do that, always do that. Not to brag or nothing. What the heck. It wasn’t luck, I’ll tell you that. I’ll do it again for you. It’s not something I work on. I’ve been doing it since, like, middle school. I’ve got big hands, man.”

Emphasizing his final point, Harris held up both hands to the camera to make sure everyone on the post-practice Zoom call got a good view of his 10-inch mitts.

Harris was one of college football’s best running backs during his four seasons at Alabama. And the 2020 Doak Walker winner — and his hands — figures to be used in a plethora of roles in coordinator Matt Canada’s offense as the Steelers attempt to overhaul the league’s worst rushing unit from a season ago.

That won’t be anything new to Harris, who has already found similarities in his college scheme and Canada’s plans after a short time with the playbook.

“There’s a lot of things that are similar — it’s just different terminology,” Harris said. “But it’s the same meaning at the end of the day. … A lot of things that’s similar is how they’re going to line me up out wide and stuff like that, how I did in college. Just utilize the running back in the passing game out wide — out wide in the X position.”

Of Harris’ 76 receptions in his final three seasons at Alabama, he made eight lined up out wide. He averaged 8.6 yards per catch as the X receiver and scored one touchdown, coming as he lined up wide right.

Harris was most productive as a receiver when he began in the backfield, recording 66 receptions for 666 yards and 10 touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Info research.

A running back’s versatility is highly valued in Canada’s offense, and Harris said he believes with a little film work, he’ll be more than capable of juggling the many responsibilities in the scheme.

“I’m about to be utilized everywhere, so they want me to know multiple positions,” Harris said. “It’s a lot more film work than college. But I don’t have school anymore, so I’m glad I’m off that. I have no issue with learning, spending that much time in the film room, because it’s something I like. I’m ready for the challenge.

“It’s something they picked me for, and I’m glad to be in my position and have the opportunity to block for Ben [Roethlisberger], to learn new information and help out as much as possible.”

Harris’ football acumen and quick absorption of the new material stood out to coach Mike Tomlin even after just a few days.

“He is a sharp guy,” Tomlin said. “He is a football guy. You can tell he is passionate about football. He can articulate the game very well, so it’s a lot to be excited about.

“It is more noticeable simply because there’s not a lot of people to work with. He’s getting an opportunity to work one-on-one with Coach [Eddie] Faulkner at the running back position that provides plenty of opportunity for him to verbalize his knowledge and things of that nature.”

Harris’ fellow rookies were also impressed.

“He’s a hell of a running back,” tight end Pat Freiermuth said. “Going through walk-through today, he makes very good cuts and he’s very smart with the football.”

Harris impressed Tomlin and his teammates, but he knows there’s still a ways to go in his methodical process of acclimating to the NFL.

“I have to start at step one for all the basics,” Harris said. “I have to relearn — more explosive footwork, have better eyes, catching the ball better. Just try to be more of an explosive player, because the competition level difference between college and the NFL, it’s two different places.

“Every time you hit a new pinnacle in life, or a new step, for me, I want to start from step one and make my way up. I’m going to be playing against a lot of first-rounders, a lot of franchise players, All-Pro, HOF. It’s all about being a sponge and starting from step one.”

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New Orleans Saints sign rookie free agent defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal Jr., son of former All-Pro fullback



METAIRIE, La. — As an All-Pro fullback, Lorenzo Neal made a career out of paving the way for some of the NFL’s great runners for 16 years. Now it’s Neal’s son who is following in his footsteps.

Purdue defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal Jr. signed Sunday as an undrafted rookie free agent with the New Orleans Saints, the same team that drafted his dad in 1993.

Neal Jr. was signed after being invited to try out during the Saints’ rookie minicamp over the weekend. The team also signed linebacker Quentin Poling and offensive lineman Kyle Murphy after tryouts.

Neal Jr. (6-foot-3, 325 pounds) was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by the coaches in both 2018 and 2020. But his career was waylaid by a torn ACL that sidelined him for the entire 2019 season. He finished his career with 73 tackles, 4 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in 38 games.

Neal Sr. began his career as a tailback with the Saints but was converted to fullback after an ankle injury his rookie year. He spent four seasons in New Orleans before playing for the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens.

Neal was a member of the 2000s all-decade team, a two-time first-team All-Pro selection and a four-time Pro Bowler. He had an 11-year streak of blocking for 1,000-yard rushers, including five with future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.

Neal Sr. also had a big impact on Drew Brees as a supportive teammate early in Brees’ career with the Chargers.

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Ex-Austin Peay Governors DB Juantarius Bryant falls victim of Atlanta Falcons tryout hoax



Juantarius Bryant thought he was heading to Georgia this weekend to try out for the Atlanta Falcons during the team’s rookie minicamp. When he arrived in Flowery Branch, though, he learned he had been the victim of a hoax instead.

Bryant, a defensive back from Austin Peay, was never actually contacted by the Falcons but instead by someone texting him from an Atlanta area code pretending to be defensive coordinator Dean Pees. So when Bryant arrived at the team’s facility Wednesday to get ready for his chance to accomplish an NFL dream, he was instead turned away.

“I do not know or understand why this has happened,” Bryant wrote in a Twitter message. “But I do know that everything happens for a reason. Yes, this was heart breaking for me, but just another stepping stone that I am not afraid to admit or overcome.

“At the end of the day, this will not make or break me. I will still continue to fight for my dreams because I know it’s what I really want.”

Bryant declined an interview with ESPN when reached Sunday and said he posted something about it publicly on Twitter to let people who have supported him know what was going on because he believed he had a legitimate invite to Falcons camp over the weekend.

“I am ready to move on from the situation and respectfully I do not feel like talking about it over and over again,” Bryant said in an email to ESPN. “Yes, whoever did this to me is very wrong, but I’m moving on from the situation and I forgive them for whatever reason they chose to do it.

“I honestly would not like the person who pulled this stunt on me to be publicly humiliated. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

Bryant, who is from Nashville, Tennessee, initially began his career as a walk-on at Austin Peay and became a first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference defensive back by his senior season in 2019 after making 107 tackles (2.5 for loss). In his career, he played in 43 games for Austin Peay with 242 tackles (8.5 for loss), eight passes defended, three forced fumbles and an interception.

The Falcons declined to comment about the situation to ESPN, but Bryant’s agent, Corey Alexander, tweeted that he has been in touch with the Falcons about what happened. A message left with Alexander seeking further comment was not immediately returned.

COVID-19 protocols limited the number of tryout players a team could have at its rookie minicamps the past two weeks. Atlanta had five players try out for the team this weekend — the maximum the team could have — and signed defensive lineman Olive Sagapolu, who was in training camp with the Detroit Lions last year, on Sunday.

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