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Dallas Cowboys’ defensive makeover will bring needed competition – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — Except for the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are bringing back all 22 starters from the 2020 season, change is constant in the NFL. When you have a defense that was as porous as the Dallas Cowboys‘, change was more than needed. It was craved.

When the Cowboys’ defense allows 473 points, the most in team history, and 2,541 rushing yards, the second most allowed in team history, you can’t simply run it back.

The Dallas makeover on defense started with the hiring of coordinator Dan Quinn in January, continued into NFL free agency, where the Cowboys signed five defenders and moved through the 2021 NFL draft in which eight of their 11 selections were on Quinn’s side of the ball.

“The thing about us is not only did we create competition, we created it at every level, pretty much every position,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “it’s exactly what we’re looking for. We needed it.”

Of the 13 defensive players who either started or played in more than 40% of the defensive snaps in the Cowboys’ 2020 season finale against the New York Giants, six are gone. Sean Lee and Tyrone Crawford retired. Aldon Smith signed with the Seattle Seahawks. Chidobe Awuzie signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Xavier Woods signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Eli Ankou remains unsigned.

The Cowboys have brought in free agents, including defensive ends Carlos Watkins and Brent Urban and safeties Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse. The draft brought in LB Micah Parsons (first round), CB Kelvin Joseph (second), DT Osa Odighizuwa (third), DE Chauncey Golston (third), CB Nahshon Wright (third), LB Jabril Cox (fourth) and CB Israel Mukuamu (seventh).

Whether an intended message or not, those remaining from last year’s defense would be wise to take note of the overhaul. In other words, rent, don’t buy, unless your contract is such that it would be difficult for the Cowboys to make a move.

The futures of linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have been much discussed since the addition of Parsons and Cox. The additions of Neal (who will play linebacker, too), Kazee and Kearse put safeties Darian Thompson and Steven Parker on notice.

At cornerback, Saivion Smith was the first to be released after the selections of Joseph and Wright. Maurice Canady — who opted out for the 2020 season — Rashard Robinson — who will have to serve a two-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy — and perhaps last year’s fourth-round pick, Reggie Robinson II, will have to impress early.

At defensive tackle, Antwaun Woods, who started 32 games in three seasons, was released in part because of his size (6-foot-1, 310 pounds), his pay ($2.1 million) and the addition of a true nose tackle in sixth-round pick Quinton Bohanna (6-4, 327).

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones takes a little more conciliatory tone when it comes to the changes, believing the in-house talent is better than it performed collectively in 2020, which leans more toward a sign of the organization’s displeasure with last year’s coordinator, Mike Nolan.

With DeMarcus Lawrence, Smith, Vander Esch, Trevon Diggs, Jourdan Lewis (who re-signed at the start of free agency on a three-year deal), Neville Gallimore, Anthony Brown and Donovan Wilson, as well as Trysten Hill (who is coming back from a torn ACL), the Cowboys believe they have the players to make a competent group.

“I don’t necessarily know that you’ve got to totally remake it in one offseason,” Jones said. “What we did here today, yesterday and the day before was get guys who are going to be here for four or five years. They’re going to complement what we did in free agency. I don’t think you fix it overnight, but at the same time, I don’t know if we needed to fix it overnight.”

The newcomers, however, have the traits Quinn wants in defenders, such as speed and long arms and frames. Like the trend that has become vogue in the NBA, Quinn wants almost position-less players.

“When you have length, you can match some of that,” Quinn said. “In the NFL, so many of the matchups are created on size or speed, so you want to have the roster that has versatility, and I think that’s one of the things that I admire about Mike and having the versatility of positions where you play more than one thing.”

Traits, however, will matter only if the player can play. Quinn is open to exceptions: “It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

The Cowboys’ new players will have an advantage simply because they worked with Quinn in the past (Neal, Kazee) or fit what the Cowboys now want out of their defenders.

“As far as redoing one side of the ball, acquiring talent is really the first step,” McCarthy said. “It’s the beginning. The competition and pulling it all together, that’s the fun part. That’s the development of your football team. No matter how the numbers shake out, when we get to the 53[-man roster], the most important thing is that group is playing together, and that talent comes together.

“We’ll be a better defense because of that.”



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Patriots’ precedent could be key factor in a Stephon Gilmore resolution – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Gilmore resolution?: When Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore told longtime NFL reporter Josina Anderson that he isn’t pushing for a trade, but “I just want what I’m worth, however that plays out,” it naturally sparks one of the most important questions facing the team entering training camp.

Can they, in Gilmore’s words, “find common ground and get it situated”?

Based on how the team has traditionally handled similar situations in the past, and with the Patriots’ 2022 salary-cap standing in mind, the answer might come down to Gilmore’s expectations.

In 2018, the Patriots added $4.3 million in incentives to tight end Rob Gronkowski‘s contract, the second year in a row they did so. They also added $5 million in incentives to quarterback Tom Brady‘s contract in 2018, giving him a chance to get closer to the market.

Precedent can be important for teams in negotiations, and with that in mind, adding easily-earned incentives to Gilmore’s contract would fall most closely in line with the Patriots’ approach of finding common ground.

But if Gilmore is shooting for more, he could point to what the team did with Richard Seymour in 2006. Seymour had one year remaining on his six-year rookie contract, but after holding his ground in negotiations, landed a four-year, $30 million contract that would have been similar to what he might have received on the open market.

That situation was more of an outlier in the coach Bill Belichick era, although Gilmore’s agent, Jason Chayut, is certainly familiar with it because he was the agent for wide receiver Deion Branch’s contract dispute with the team that led to a trade later that year.

Part of what the current-day Patriots would be wrestling with regarding a possible extension for Gilmore — in addition to his age (31) and the fact he’s coming off a torn quad — is their position with the 2022 salary cap. They currently have $201.7 million in total commitments, according to Patriots cap wizard Miguel Benzan, and the ceiling for next year’s cap is $208 million.

While that number factors in that everyone currently under contract for 2022 will be on the team (which is unlikely), it’s still close enough to the cap ceiling that the Patriots might want to be judicious with how much more they commit financially for next season.

2. Trade request: After the agent for 2019 Patriots first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry formally requested a trade almost two weeks ago, it highlighted how Harry’s future with the team is uncertain. The trade request also had me thinking of past “change-of-scenery” deals in the Belichick era, when the Patriots gave up a once-highly-touted player in exchange for a similar player. The 2006 deal in which wide receiver/returner Bethel Johnson (2003 second-rounder) was shipped to the Saints for defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan (2003 first-rounder) was one that came to mind, and if the Patriots ultimately trade Harry, that’s the type of deal I could envision — and it might be more likely to come later in the preseason.

3. Cam, QBs in early: While the majority of Patriots players report for training camp July 27, Cam Newton and his fellow quarterbacks are set to arrive Thursday, as Newton himself noted in his interview with ESPN Radio’s “KJZ” show. So this is their last football-free weekend, and the coaches’ last, until what they hope will be mid-February. Meanwhile, teams are also allowed to bring in their entire rookie class seven days before the veteran reporting date, so quarterback Mac Jones, defensive tackle Christian Barmore, defensive end Ronnie Perkins and Co., will also get a head start. That increases some urgency to finalize contracts for Barmore and Perkins, the team’s lone unsigned draft picks.

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Cam Newton discusses what’s motivating him heading into his second season with the Patriots, plus his relationship with rookie QB Mac Jones.

4. Judge on BB: Former Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge, who is set to enter his second season as the New York Giants‘ coach, was a guest on “The Flying Coach” podcast hosted by Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay and Peter Schrager of NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” program and Fox Sports. Judge peeled back the curtain on what it was like to work under Belichick — from feeling his job being threatened in a full-squad meeting, sharing his first meeting with him, to relaying how when he first became special teams coordinator, Belichick also assigned him to a leading role in the rookie development program. Judge said that experience helped give him a big-picture feel for team culture, setting the stage for him to elevate to his current position.

5. Moton deal stings: The Panthers’ four-year, $72 million extension with right tackle Taylor Moton, which represented the only extension for a franchise-tagged player prior to last Thursday’s deadline, has a notable Patriots twist to it. The Panthers selected Moton with the second-round pick (No. 64) they received from New England in exchange for veteran Kony Ealy and a third-round pick (No. 72). Ealy never made it out of training camp that year, and the Patriots traded down from No. 72 after multiple players that might have looked good in New England colors (e.g. Moton, Alvin Kamara, Cooper Kupp, Dan Feeney) went off the board between picks 64 though 71.

6. Checking in: Three-time Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Richard Seymour was vacationing in the area earlier this week, visiting two of his aunts who live in Boston, and expanded his itinerary with a stop at Gillette Stadium to visit team owner Robert Kraft and others. It was a reminder that his connection to the organization remains strong, and the days of contractual battles and being traded to the Raiders (in 2009) are in the rear-view mirror.

7. Adams reports early: Count defensive tackle Montravius Adams in the category of checking into training camp early. The 2017 third-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers, out of Auburn, is hoping a fresh start in New England helps him meet draft-slot expectations, and he’s all-in on embracing the team’s culture.

8. Kraft’s gesture: ESPN’s documentary “Born To Play” chronicled a season with the Boston Renegades women’s tackle football team, and the Renegades have had more success since it was released in July 2020. They play for their third straight national championship July 24 in Canton, Ohio, and they’re traveling in style — on the Patriots’ team plane. It’s a nice gesture by Kraft and of one championship organization helping another.

9. They said it: “If there’s some sort of a Hall of Fame for what he’s done, he needs to be in it. Because he’s a silent hero. He really is.” — Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Patriots guard John Hannah (1973-85), speaking on recently-retired longtime Patriots assistant Ernie Adams, on the “Pats from the Past” podcast. Another nugget from Hannah in the podcast with co-hosts Matt Smith and Bryan Morry: The Raiders’ Howie Long and the Jets’ Joe Klecko (“had great leverage, never quit”) were cited as the two best all-around defensive linemen he faced.

10. Did You Know: The Patriots have finished in the top 10 for fewest points allowed in each of the past nine seasons, and if they accomplish the feat in 2021, they will match the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2005) as the last team to do so in 10 straight seasons. The Patriots ranked seventh last season.

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Better, worse or the same? Ravens defense focused on being the best – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Continuity is key for the Baltimore Ravens’ defense, and it starts at the top.

In Don “Wink” Martindale’s three seasons as defensive coordinator, Baltimore ranks first in the NFL in fewest yards given up (307.8) and fewest points allowed (18.2). This season, the Ravens return all but one starter, losing outside linebacker Matt Judon to the New England Patriots in free agency.

Baltimore has the makings of being the NFL’s No. 1 defense for the third time in franchise history. The biggest concern is generating a consistent pass run, and Baltimore could sign a veteran free agent like Justin Houston before the start of the season.

As of right now, are the Ravens better, worse or the same on defense?

After breaking down the Ravens’ offense, here is a position-by-position analysis of the defense for 2021:

Defensive line

Additions: Jovan Swann

Losses: Jihad Ward

Returners: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington Justin Ellis, Aaron Crawford

Better, worse or the same? Same, although Campbell could change that.

Baltimore brings back all three starting linemen from last season — Campbell, Williams and Wolfe — each of whom is over 30. The Ravens are hoping this group can be more disruptive this year because a calf injury and COVID-19 never allowed Campbell to play like himself. If Campbell can bounce back at this late stage of his career (he turns 35 before the start of the season), the Ravens can cause problems up front. If he doesn’t, this group regresses.

This can be a breakout season for Madubuike. Coaches and teammates raved all offseason about Madubuike’s high effort and his explosiveness in getting out of his stance. It wouldn’t be surprising if Madubuike forced his way into the starting lineup this season.

Inside linebacker

Additions: Barrington Wade

Losses: None

Returners: Patrick Queen, L.J. Fort, Malik Harrison, Chris Board, Kristian Welch, Otaro Alaka

Better, worse or the same? Same

A year after infusing this position with young talented players, the Ravens retained the core middle of their defense. Queen, who finished third in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting last season, believes he will be more physically ready for this season after a full offseason. A big focus for Queen was improving in pass coverage.

At the weak side, Baltimore split playing time between Fort and Harrison last season. The Ravens brought back Fort as a safety net, but they would love to see Harrison step up and take over this spot.

Outside linebacker

Additions: Odafe Oweh, Daelin Hayes

Losses: Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue

Returners: Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Aaron Adeoye, Chauncey Rivers

Better, worse or the same? Worse

You don’t lose your best outside linebacker in Judon and say you got better. Plus, Baltimore parted ways with its second-most accomplished pass-rusher in Ngakoue, who proved to be a bad fit. No current Ravens outside linebacker has produced more than five sacks in a season since 2016, which is why many expect Baltimore to sign a more established pass-rusher like Houston or Melvin Ingram at some point.

Bowser and McPhee were re-signed to become the veteran anchors on the outside. Coaches and teammates have raved about the growth of Ferguson, a former third-round pick, who has a disappointing 4.5 sacks in his first two seasons.

The Ravens are excited about Oweh, a first-round pick who should make an instant impact because he has picked up the defense quickly. He’s not the typical rookie who hesitates because he’s thinking about his assignment. Hayes, a rookie fifth-round pick, stood out in offseason practices.

Cornerback

Additions: Brandon Stephens, Shaun Wade, Chris Westry

Losses: Tramon Williams

Returners: Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, Khalil Dorsey, Davontae Harris, Iman Marshall

Better, worse or the same? Same

It will be tough to find a deeper cornerback group than this one. Humphrey is a physical playmaker, and Peters is a top-tier ball hawk.

You could argue the Ravens’ cornerbacks will be better if Young remains healthy. A game-changer at nickelback, Young has been limited to 17 games over the last four seasons because of injuries.

It’s quite a luxury to have Smith and Averett as your fourth and fifth corners. Smith has started 88 career games, and Averett could compete for a starting job on other teams.

Safety

Additions: Ar’Darius Washington

Losses: None

Returners: Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine, Jordan Richards, Geno Stone, Nigel Warrior

Better, worse or the same? Same

Clark and Elliott are back for their second year together after a solid 2020 season. Clark has been called the quarterback of the secondary, and Elliott can be a physical enforcer with his hard hits.

The Ravens lack depth here after not addressing this position in free agency or in the draft. Smith, a long-time corner, has the skills to transition to safety if Baltimore is in a pinch. Stephens, who is listed as a corner, was projected by general manager Eric DeCosta as a possible candidate for free safety.

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Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay buys Elton John’s touring piano for $915,000

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INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Irsay continued to add to his already vast music collection when the Colts owner tweeted Saturday that he purchased the piano used on tour for decades by music legend Sir Elton John.

Irsay reportedly purchased the Steinway & Sons Model D Grand Piano for $915,000 during an auction conducted by Heritage Auctions on Saturday in Dallas.

“Just added to the collection,” Irsay tweeted.

The piano, which was used on tours during the 1970s through the 1990s, was signed by Elton, with the inscription, “Enjoy this as much as I have, Elton John” on the frame.

One of Irsay’s biggest passion — outside of owning the Colts — is collecting memorabilia.

Some of the most memorable things Irsay owns are guitars previously used by Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Prince.

Irsay also has handwritten lyrics to “With God on Our Side” from Bob Dylan, a drum head used and signed by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, the piano used by Lennon to compose songs for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band,” a drum kit from the Beatles’ Ringo Starr, a tomato soup wrapper signed by Andy Warhol and the script from the movie “Jerry McGuire.”



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