BUFFALO, N.Y. — Prior to the 2021 NFL draft, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen filmed an open letter to then-North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. The message, in essence, was to ignore the critics and focus on himself — just as Allen did when he entered the league in 2018.
Allen followed a pair of mediocre seasons with an MVP runner-up campaign in 2020. Some see him as a shining example of quarterback development; the perfect player to speak to a high-ceiling, developmental prospect such as Lance.
But that’s not necessarily how he views himself.
“I’m not really looking to be that poster child, or whatever,” Allen said. “I’m just trying to be the best quarterback for the Bills that I can be and the best version of myself every time I step in this facility. And like I said when I got drafted, prove that this team made the right decision.”
Allen led the Bills to a 13-3 record, their first AFC East title in 25 years and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game last season, throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns — both career highs. Most notably, he improved his completion percentage from 58.8% in 2019 to 69.2% last season, working with quarterback guru Jordan Palmer to clean up his mechanics and get a better feel for the timing of certain routes.
This offseason, Allen said he wants to focus more on sharpening his decision-making and accuracy when throwing to his left, where eight of his 10 interceptions occurred last season.
“Just working on in-breaking routes. That’s something that maybe wasn’t my strongest suit last year,” Allen said. “Just making sure I’m putting it in a catchable spot for these guys to catch and run. That’s going to be a huge asset for us to be able hit those type of throws and allow our guys to stay up and stay on the move.”
This will be an important season for Allen — not just on the field, but financially, as well. The Bills exercised his fifth-year option last month and general manager Brandon Beane has publicly stated the team’s desire to sign Allen to an extension as early as this summer.
Spotrac estimates Allen’s market value at about $42 million per season, which would make him the NFL’s second highest paid player — an honor no Bills player has been in the conversation for since quarterback Jim Kelly’s playing days (1986-96).
Allen said although he wants to be in Buffalo long-term, he isn’t as focused on his next contract as he is on his job. As Bills coach Sean McDermott puts it, Allen is fulfilling his end of the bargain as the team enters its second week of Phase 2 OTA practices.
“I can tell you, on the field Josh has looked good,” McDermott said. “He’s off to a good start.”
Regardless of what compliments his coaches offer him, Allen has made it a habit to find aspects of his game that he’s unhappy with, and it can be taken as a positive sign that the Bills’ franchise player and team captain has found joy in the process of improvement.
“As many good things as we did last year,” Allen said, “there was still a lot of stuff on tape where I look back and say, ‘Why did I do this?’ That’s the common theme every year and that’s really cool that you get to look back and like I said, even though the wins and the numbers and all that stuff looked good on paper, there’s still so much room to improve and I’m excited for that process.”
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.”
Son of former Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen goes home after 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.
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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