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Ben Roethlisberger felt taking pay cut was ‘necessary’ in order to help Pittsburgh Steelers sign top talent



PITTSBURGH — With the disappointment of a first-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns still fresh, Ben Roethlisberger made the immediate decision to return as the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback for at least another season.

To do that, though, he recognized that his $41.25 million cap hit was untenable, and he asked the front office for a pay cut in order to fill the roster holes around him.

“It was my idea,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday, speaking publicly for the first time since that postseason loss. “I told them I want to help the team out however we can, and so I went to them and told them that I would do whatever I could to help the team sign the guys that are going to help us win football games. … In order to do that, to get guys here, I felt that it was necessary to do that.”

Roethlisberger reduced his salary by $5 million, signing a new contract that’s set to void after the 2021 season. But even though the terms of the deal seemingly set an expiration date on his tenure as quarterback, Roethlisberger wasn’t willing to speculate on his future.

“I’m going to approach this like I do every season — like it’s my last,” the 39-year-old said. “I think that’s the approach you have to take. And you don’t approach it that way because it could be your last, but you approach it because every single play in the game of football could be your last. Every game could be your last game. That just means I’m going out to give it everything I have.

“I have never looked towards the future. I’ve always looked at the right here and now, and that’s what’s important for me for this season is giving it everything I have right here and right now for this group of guys.”

Though the Steelers started out on an 11-0 hot streak, their season fell apart in the final six games of the 2020 season as Roethlisberger became more inconsistent in his throws and decision-making.

“I didn’t play well enough at the end of the season,” he said. “It’s not a secret, and I’ll be the first to point the thumb at myself. When the ball is in your hand every play, you have to make plays and play better football. If the quarterback, myself, isn’t playing good football that — especially late in the season — is related to winning and losing.

“I will take that playoff and those games on me. Just feeling worn down and not playing good enough football at the end of the season.”

The deep balls often missed the mark, and he completed only 29% of passes throw 20 yards downfield, 30th among qualified quarterbacks.

Part of that, Roethlisberger said, can be attributed to the elbow surgery he had the year before.

“I had total reconstruction on my elbow, that might have something to do with it,” he said. “But no excuses. … My arm was healed, obviously, I played. It was healthy. But I think anybody that has a big surgery, it almost takes — like that first year back, you are back but are you really back and feeling great?”

Roethlisberger, though, isn’t measuring how much better the elbow feels until later in the season.

“My arm feels great though,” he said. “I would like to wait to answer that question until we get into more of this season and see how it feels right now. It feels really good.”

A year ago, Roethlisberger increased his normal offseason throwing volume as part of his rehabilitation, but this year, things are back to normal.

“Last year I threw thousands of balls in the offseason because we were rehabbing,” Roethlisberger said. “This year, it has gone back to the normal routine of throwing here, doing a little bit at home with the trainer. But mostly taking time off. I took a lot of time off from throwing so I hope and think and really believe it will pay dividends this year.”

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Robert Nkemdiche happy to have opportunity to play football again with Seattle Seahawks



RENTON, Wash. — Robert Nkemdiche let out a howl and pumped his arm in celebration after one of his turns in a drill Wednesday. After another, he did a running hurdle, then shouted something inaudible back at his fellow defensive linemen.

The 2016 first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals is getting a chance to resurrect his career with the Seattle Seahawks after a year away from football, and he’s enjoying it. That much has been clear from the first two practices of Seattle’s mandatory minicamp.

“Being out here with these guys and competing and playing football, smelling the grass, all this, it’s what I missed,” he said. “This is the fun stuff.”

In June 2019, Nkemdiche was arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant after he was pulled over for speeding on his way to a Cardinals practice. He arrived to training camp later that summer out of shape, according to coach Kliff Kingsbury, and was waived with a failed-physical designation before the season.

Nkemdiche then signed with the Miami Dolphins but was waived after playing in two games. While a free agent, he served a two-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.

“It wasn’t fun,” the 26-year-old Nkemdiche said of his year away from football. “It wasn’t a good time. But like I said, being back here, this is exciting for me. This is what I love to do. I’m just happy to have the opportunity to be back here and to be able to play football again.”

The Seahawks signed Nkemdiche in April to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $990,000, none of which is guaranteed. It’s a low-risk flier that reflects how Nkemdiche isn’t assured of sticking with the Seahawks, but he has made a positive impression so far.

“He’s got a really good spirit about him,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s upbeat, active, he’s explosive and has really good quickness, he’s over 300 pounds and he moves really well. He’s going to be a real competitive part of this group and he’s a little different than some of the other guys, so we see some flexibility in where we can play him and move him around.”

Nkemdiche recorded zero sacks and zero starts in 17 games over his first two seasons in Arizona, then had 4.5 sacks in 10 games (six starts) in 2018 before a knee injury ended his season.

The Seahawks have Poona Ford locked into one starting spot at defensive tackle. They brought back 34-year-old Al Woods as an early-down option after Jarran Reed‘s bizarre departure. Woods was also out of football last year, having taken a COVID-19 opt-out. Seattle’s defensive tackles behind Ford, Woods, Nkemdiche and Bryan Mone have played sparingly, if at all, in the NFL.

“Because he’s been out of football for a bit, I’m hoping for his sake that everything just keeps moving along because he’s applying himself, his mentality is like he has this second chance on his football life and he knows that, which is really important,” Carroll said. “He’s trying to seize every opportunity. He’s been a real — not a surprise as much as just, we’re really happy to have him as part of this and we think he’s going to be a factor.”

Nkemdiche said he feels like a rookie again and that he has a newfound respect for football, adding: “I never want the opportunity to be taken away from me again.”

He was asked whether he’s viewing this as his last chance.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s the only chance I’ll need, though.”

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Son of former Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen goes home after heart transplant



The 8-year-old son of retired Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen went home on Wednesday less than two weeks after successfully undergoing a heart transplant.

But before TJ left Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, he fulfilled a promise made to his parents to ring the bell that patients often do when they are released.

As the elder Olsen has done throughout the process, he shared the moment on social media.

“Ever since TJ was admitted into the ICU a little less than a month ago in heart failure, he would lay in bed at night and talk about ‘ringing the bell!'” Olsen wrote on Instagram. “We didn’t know what that journey would look like or how long it would take, but he promised [his mother] @karenolsen29 and I that he was going to do it.”

TJ was born in 2012 with a congenital heart defect that required four surgeries, including three open heart procedures and the installation of a pacemaker. The transplant was needed when his heart began to fail.

“TJ’s positive attitude and selflessness throughout has been an inspiration to us all,” Olsen continued in his message. “Never did he feel sorry for himself or play the victim. All he did was talk about what the future held and the things he looked forward to doing.”

As he has throughout the process that began with a May 24 post in which Olsen wrote TJ’s “heart is reaching its end,” Olsen thanked everyone for their support, prayers and words of encouragement.

“Today we ‘rang the bell,’ and for the first time our family [is] whole again,” Olsen wrote.

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Vince Wilfork’s son charged with stealing $300,000 of dad’s jewelry, including New England Patriots Super Bowl rings



The son of former NFL defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was arrested last month and charged with stealing more than $300,000 of his father’s jewelry, including two New England Patriots Super Bowl championship rings, according to a police complaint released by the Galveston (Texas) County District Attorney’s Office.

Police allege that Wilfork’s son, D’Aundre Holmes-Wilfork, 23, sold the rings and other jewelry after stealing them.

Wilfork, who played for the Patriots from 2004 to 2014 before finishing his career with the Houston Texans from 2015 to 2016, had contacted police on May 10. He said his two Super Bowl rings were missing, along with two AFC championship rings, and a 2001 Miami Hurricanes national championship ring, among other items including necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Holmes-Wilfork was arrested May 22.

According to the police complaint, Wilfork told authorities that he did not report the jewelry missing or stolen immediately because he was unsure if it was packed in storage. On May 10, he said he received an email from a lifelong Patriots fan informing him of a post in a memorabilia group saying that his Super Bowl rings were for sale, which led to the filing of a police report.

Police made contact with the individual who posted the rings on the memorabilia group. The individual told police he purchased them from Wilfork’s son for $62,000 in 2020. The rings have since been turned over to police, according to the complaint.

Police also discovered that eight other pieces of Wilfork’s jewelry were sold in March of 2020, for $4,600.

Wilfork, 39, is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen in Patriots history. He was the team’s first-round draft choice in 2004, and also was recognized for his off-field philanthropy in 2010 when he was presented the team’s prestigious community service award. Wilfork, who lost his father to diabetes, raised hundreds and thousands of dollars for diabetes-related causes, and was also a strong supporter of charities that promote education and health for children.

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