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NFL says fans can attend training camps this season, 30 teams given OK to have full stadium capacity



The NFL informed clubs Tuesday of two important developments for the normalization of the league calendar.

First, teams will be permitted to host fans at training camp this summer, subject to state and local guidelines, after keeping their doors closed during the pandemic-influenced camps of 2020. Second, all but two teams have now received approval from state and local governments to open their stadiums at full capacity when games resume.

Beyond those 28 stadiums that already have approval, the league also “feels good about the path” for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, who are still working with their local contacts to receive final authorization, according to Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of club business and league events.

The looming return of a relatively normal year made for a rousing business presentation to club presidents during the first of a two-day virtual spring league meeting. The NFL-wide season-ticket renewal rate has been about 90%, according to Reilly, fueled by a surge in the 10 days since the league announced its 2021 schedule. Over that period, ticket sales have run at an 83% higher rate than they did in the same timeframe after the 2019 schedule release.

Meanwhile, training camps will open July 27 for 29 of the 32 teams. The Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be permitted to open earlier because they are participating in the Hall of Fame preseason game or the Sept. 9 regular-season kickoff game (or both, in Dallas’ case). Negotiations are continuing with the NFL Players Association on a precise training camp protocol, but O’Reilly said he expected a few tweaks for fans compared with pre-pandemic years.

“It won’t likely look exactly the same as a normal training camp as far as proximity to players and autographs and some of the other things,” O’Reilly said. “But we’re excited to be able to communicate that fans will be able to enjoy an accessible part of the calendar.”

The NFL will not overlay a fan vaccination policy on top of any state and local regulation that might exist, O’Reilly said. Tentative plans are underway for a July 31 tentpole day for teams to officially welcome fans back to camp.

League executives will address owners Wednesday. Agenda items include a possible vote on a rule that would expand the area where low blocks are prohibited, as well as an update on vaccination rates among players and staff.

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Aldon Smith wants to ‘make the best’ of his chance with Seattle Seahawks



RENTON, Wash. — Aldon Smith declined to answer questions Saturday about his pending legal case in Louisiana or how it might impact his availability this season with the Seattle Seahawks.

“I can’t comment on that right now,” he said.

In his first interview since signing with the Seahawks in April, the 31-year-old pass-rusher had much more to say about his four seasons away from the NFL and his latest opportunity following last year’s comeback with the Dallas Cowboys.

“Every day I just try to get better, and as long as I keep that mentality and keep learning and keep developing, the sky is still the limit for me,” he said. “I feel like I still have a lot left in the tank and a lot to offer this game.”

Smith is getting his first chance to prove that to the Seahawks. He didn’t take part in the their voluntary offseason program — several of the team’s veteran players skipped the majority of it as well — and received an excused absence from their mandatory minicamp. Coach Pete Carroll said that was so Smith could get in shape, which he has since done.

Wearing the No. 99 he wore when he began his career with the divisional rival San Francisco 49ers, Smith has been on the field for all three of Seattle’s practices since the start of training camp and hasn’t appeared limited. Early in Thursday’s practice, he engaged a tackling sled, lifted it up and nearly flipped it over.

“He’s made a good first impression about learning stuff,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a very bright kid. … He knows what’s going on in the game, brings us experience and background and all of that. He’s having no trouble picking things up. He’s got a real style. He’s always had this marvelous length and reach and hands and hand play, and you can just tell, he’s got a strength and power to him that’s really unusual.”

Smith set an NFL record with 33.5 sacks over his first two seasons and has 52.5 sacks in five seasons.

None of that means he is a lock to stick with the Seahawks. He was guaranteed only $137,500 on his one-year, minimum-salary deal. And he’s more of a potential luxury than a necessity, given how loaded the Seahawks are with edge rushers, including veterans Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa and Kerry Hyder as well as promising young players such as Darrell Taylor, Alton Robinson and L.J. Collier.

“It’s going to be very competitive,” Carroll said. “I hope you can see it already. It already shows. But once we get into pads, I’m anxious to see where he stands with that.”

Smith’s pending legal case adds to the uncertainty. He faces potential legal and NFL discipline over an alleged second-degree battery in the New Orleans area in April. Smith was arrested after he was accused of choking a man unconscious during an altercation that began inside a coffee shop. According to the police report obtained by WWL-TV, Smith had confronted the man about marital issues the man was having with one of Smith’s relatives.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider said later in April that the team would “let the legal process take its course.” Smith is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 24, though that date could be pushed back.

The Louisiana incident was the latest of Smith’s several brushes with the law, which have included multiple DUI arrests and a domestic-violence charge. Those incidents and others led the NFL to suspend Smith from 2015-19 for violations of its policies on personal conduct and substances of abuse.

Smith was asked what he learned during his time away.

“That football is an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get, and when you get opportunities in life, you should make the best of them,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who wish that they could play this game and I’m glad that I just got a chance to be able to do the things that I needed to do to get mentally right, that I could be in a position that when I came back, I could be focused and give it what I need to give it to play.”

Smith had five sacks in 16 games for Dallas, with three coming in one game against Seattle and all of them coming in the first half of the season. He felt he got too heavy and has since worked to get back to his preferred weight, which is around 270 pounds.

“I was kind of fat last year,” he said.

Smith stayed in a sober living home last season in Dallas and is doing so now in Seattle. He said his “tremendous support staff” helps him with his ongoing battle to remain sober.

“For me it was just making myself vulnerable and being willing to trust and lean on [those] people,” he said. “I’ve always had people that were there, but I would always try to carry everything on my shoulders. So letting people help me and accepting that help was a major game-changer.”

Carroll said Seattle felt comfortable signing Smith after “a lot of homework” and several conversations with him. Smith made a positive impression on Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. when both were with the Raiders in 2015, which factored heavily into the decision.

Carroll said Smith has demonstrated the vulnerability he talked about “in that he was very open and very upfront and he said, ‘I need some work right now, I need some help right now and it’s going to take me a while to get this done and that done.’ He was not trying to cover for himself. He didn’t pull any punches on it at all and was very up front, and it was most refreshing.”

Carroll said that while it’s ultimately on Smith to remain sober, the Seahawks will support him “every step of the way.”

“I want him to succeed at this in the worst way and I want him to come through and do what he needs to do, so we’re going to give him every opportunity,” Carroll said. “The level of communication is very clear and he’s been very open with us, and he’s told us when things were harder than others and he’s been upfront in that regard and that’s helped us understand and believe and trust that he’s working at it, and that it isn’t easy and it’s a lifelong commitment that he has to make.

“We really sense that the more we can support him, the more obviously we can be there for him, the stronger it makes him. So that’s really what our intent is here.”

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Veteran QB Sean Mannion signing with Seattle Seahawks, source says



RENTON, Wash. — The Seattle Seahawks are signing free-agent quarterback Sean Mannion, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday.

The signing adds apparent competition for one of the backup jobs behind Russell Wilson and reunites the 29-year-old Mannion with new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. Waldron was an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams for two of the quarterback’s four seasons with the team.

The Seahawks have had Danny Etling and Alex McGough as their third and fourth quarterbacks behind Wilson and Geno Smith, who has served as Wilson’s backup the past two seasons. The Seahawks typically keep two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster and another on their practice squad, though they began carrying another backup on their practice squad late last season as COVID-19-related insurance.

The Seahawks re-signed Smith this offseason to a one-year, minimum-salary deal worth $1,212,500, with $137,500 guaranteed.

Mannion entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the Rams out of Oregon State in 2015. He spent his first four seasons with the Rams and the past two with the Minnesota Vikings. He has appeared in 13 games (none last season) with two starts and has completed 45 of 74 passes for 384 yards and zero touchdowns with three interceptions.

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Arizona Cardinals’ Jordan Hicks says he requested trade after learning he can’t vie for starting job



GLENDALE, Ariz. — A few days after the Arizona Cardinals drafted linebacker Zaven Collins 16th overall on April 29, general manager Steve Keim called Jordan Hicks, one of the team’s starting inside linebackers the past two seasons, and told him he couldn’t compete for a starting job this season, Hicks said Saturday.

Hicks, 29, has played in all 32 games since signing with the Cardinals in 2019 and has the sixth-most tackles and snaps over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

He said he was “pissed off” but also understood the business behind the team’s decision to name Collins the Day 1 starter at inside linebacker alongside last season’s first-round pick, Isaiah Simmons.

According to Hicks, that discussion with Keim led to Hicks requesting a trade this offseason. A deal has yet to materialize, but he has garnered interest, Hicks said.

“When everything happened, it was tough to handle,” Hicks said.

“I respected the fact that he told me straight up. I respected the fact that he told me he was going to work with me to try to honor a trade. And, so, there’s a part of you that respects that, but then there’s a part that just wishes you had had an opportunity to compete, which is all I asked for.”

Hicks, who didn’t participate in the Cardinals’ mandatory minicamp, said there was a point this offseason when he didn’t expect to be a Cardinal in 2021. He said he believes the reduced salary cap in 2021 was partially to blame for him not getting traded. Hicks’ contract was restructured in late March to make his $3 million salary this season fully guaranteed. He also has a roster bonus that’s worth up to $1 million if he’s active for all 16 games. He could earn another $2 million in bonuses, partially from playing time.

Even though Hicks said he’s “excited to be here,” he also said he would welcome an opportunity to start — anywhere.

“I think at this point, I think I’ve proven that I’m a starter in this league by the resume that I have, by the past two years of being here and showing my leadership, showing my play on the field,” Hicks said. “And, so, whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, if given the opportunity to compete, I think I can have a starting job.”

Hicks said he has thus far been impressed with Collins, who’ll be entrusted with calling the Cardinals’ defense. Hicks, who had that role the past two seasons, described the task as “tough.”

“I’m gonna be very honest with you, Zaven has done a great job. He has,” Hicks said. “He’s really impressed me in his ability to pick up the defense and be out there commanding it, as well.

“It’s a tough job and takes a lot of responsibility, especially when you’ve got guys like Chandler Jones and Budda Baker and J.J. Watt looking back at you to make sure that you’re getting the right call in. So, it’s a lot, but if you can handle it, you can handle it, and that’s part of the game I know, for me, specifically, I love it. That’s one thing I excel at.”

Hicks has been seen at training camp working with both Collins and Simmons on the sideline, showing them different moves or talking through plays. Even though he’s preparing his replacements, Hicks has accepted his role as a mentor. Hicks looked back on how DeMeco Ryans, now the San Francisco 49ers‘ defensive coordinator, answered all of his questions and helped him when he was a rookie in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he said he used that as an example of how he wanted to approach this season.

“I don’t try to waver who I am,” Hicks said. “Whether I’m out there starting or whether I’m not, I’m going to help whoever needs help, because I feel like I’ve got a lot of knowledge to share.”

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph didn’t rule out the possibility of Hicks earning playing time or spelling Collins should Collins struggle. Joseph was among the Cardinals coaches who were in touch with him throughout the offseason.

Joseph said there could be a package that includes Hicks and the two young linebackers. A glimpse of that was on display during Saturday’s practice.

Hicks said the best players should play, plain and simple.

“This year, it’s such a make-or-break year,” Hicks said. “We’ve got to win games, and this division isn’t getting any easier. “And, so, we’ve got to focus on winning. We’ve got to focus on execution.”

After Hicks finished a revealing news conference in which he didn’t shy away from any question, he tried to open the door that connected the media room and the locker room.

It was locked.

Hicks laughed.

The irony wasn’t lost on him.

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