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Saints’ Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill supporting each other but focused on winning job as QB competition looms

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METAIRIE, La. — Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill both spoke highly of one another Tuesday, insisting that they are supporting each other as they battle to become Drew Brees’ successor with the New Orleans Saints.

But both quarterbacks are fully intent on making the most of this opportunity.

“One year not playing has just made me even hungrier to get back at the (helm) and lead a team,” said the 27-year-old Winston, who backed up both Brees and Hill last year after spending his first five years as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “My about-to-be seven years in this league has been a blessing, because I worked my whole life to have the opportunity to be a starting quarterback in this league.”

Hill, meanwhile, said he has focused fully this offseason on playing quarterback after the 30-year-old played multiple roles on both offense and special teams over the past four years.

“I’ve really been able to tailor all my workouts and everything to just being a quarterback … just knowing and feeling like I won’t have to take on as much as I did last year. So that’s been the emphasis. But the mindset of getting better every day and improving on what you’ve done in the past, that hasn’t changed,” said Hill, who said he has focused heavily on his footwork and decision-making process after the experience he gained from his four starts while Brees was injured in 2020.

Hill said Winston was “super supportive” during that time when he filled in for Brees, and said the two of them “had a lot of conversations through that process.”

“I think there’s obviously a lot of conversation here about this competition and everything else — but I’m super supportive of him, and I’ve felt nothing but support from him as well,” Hill said.

Winston, for his part, said he and Hill “have the same mentality” — that being to win and “be our best selves.”

“That is what I respect about Taysom, because he’s a man who can do so many great things for this team, and he has done so many great things for this organization since he’s been here,” Winston continued. “So just trying to find ways to serve him and work with him is going to make both of us better in terms of leading our teammates and working with them as well.”

The QB competition is not yet fully underway in New Orleans, since the Saints haven’t been conducting traditional practice sessions during OTAs or minicamp this spring.

But coach Sean Payton said he is prepared to adapt his offense around either quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses.

“We’ll build it a little bit around that player accordingly. That’s something that we did when Drew first arrived here and that we would do with either of these two players,” Payton said Tuesday after the first day of the Saints’ mandatory minicamp, which he said included 100% attendance from players.

Obviously an offense centered around Hill would feature his rushing ability, since he ran for 457 yards last year while starting four games at QB and appearing in most others in read-option packages. An offense centered around Winston would certainly feature his downfield arm strength. And a big priority for both would include cutting down on turnovers.

When asked how their unique styles will affect their competition in training camp — whether each QB will run different plays during their reps, etc. — Payton suggested that the differences won’t be substantial.

“There’s certain things that you might do just specific to one or the other. And yet there’s still an overall philosophical approach that these guys will have learned to play offense,” Payton said. “It’s not a whole different game plan for each one of them.”

Both Winston and Hill are scheduled to be free agents after this season, which further raises the stakes in their competition.

Winston is trying to revive his reputation as a former No. 1 overall draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner. The Buccaneers let him go in 2020 and moved on to Tom Brady after Winston infamously became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season, while also leading the league with 5,109 passing yards.

Winston signed a one-year deal with the Saints in 2020 worth $1.1 million plus incentives to learn under Payton and Brees. He then re-upped with the Saints as a free agent this offseason, signing another one-year deal worth between $5.5 million and $12.5 million, based on incentives.

Hill began his career as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 2017 before being claimed by the Saints off waivers that year and ultimately developed into a versatile QB/TE/WR/RB/special teams ace. He signed a two-year, $21 million contract as a restricted free agent in 2020.

Also Tuesday, the Saints announced the signing of their entire 2021 rookie class after they created some much-needed salary-cap space by restructuring the contract of cornerback Marshon Lattimore, as first reported by NFL Network.

Lattimore is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and declined to comment Tuesday on the state of any possible long-term extension talks. But a source confirmed that Lattimore agreed to convert most of his scheduled $10.2 million salary into a bonus this year and add automatically-voiding years to the end of his deal — which should give the Saints a few million dollars’ worth of breathing room.

The Saints began the week with less than $1 million in cap space. But now they can afford to add a possible veteran free agent or two, in addition to the rookie class.

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‘Ball’s in his court’: Larry Fitzgerald missed on first day of Cardinals’ camp – Arizona Cardinals Blog

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Arizona Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds walked to his room at the Renaissance Hotel in Glendale on Tuesday to prepare for the first day of training camp, he noticed he had the same accommodations as the last couple seasons.

But something was missing this year.

In the past, Larry Fitzgerald‘s room was near Edmonds’ — but not this camp. Someone else is occupying that room.

For the first time since 2004, when he was negotiating his rookie contract, Fitzgerald wasn’t at the first day of Cardinals’ training camp. The 37-year-old is a free agent and hasn’t publicly announced his plans for the near future: Come back and play an 18th season — with the Cardinals or someone else — or retire.

“Ball’s in his court,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We’ve left it in his court. He’s earned that. That’s how we felt as an organization. And so that’s where it’s at.”

His absence was felt Tuesday by those Cardinals who played alongside Fitzgerald in the past.

Fellow wide receiver Christian Kirk sat down at his locker inside State Farm Stadium on Tuesday morning to prepare for the annual conditioning test that kicks off camp, and for the first time in his young career Fitzgerald wasn’t next to him.

“It definitely feels weird without him,” said Kirk, who was Fitzgerald’s teammate from 2018 to 2020. “There’s definitely going to be a little bit of an adjustment period for me.

“He’s been around here, a part of this organization for so long, not having him here on the first day is a little weird.”

The reality of that hasn’t sunk in for Kirk.

“I’m not sure I really had time to you know really process that,” Kirk said. “The immediate reaction to it, it’s just a missing face, something that is so constant.”

Kirk has missed Fitzgerald’s attitude and personality this offseason from his humor to how he flips the proverbial switch to being serious on the field.

Edmonds was going to send a text message to the group chat he’s in with former teammate Trent Sherfield, Fitzgerald and Kirk with a simple message: “We miss you.”

Questions about Fitzgerald’s playing future have been the hot topic during the past five offseasons. Not knowing which season was going to be Fitzgerald’s last led Kirk to being more appreciative of Fitzgerald.

“Because you never knew going into a new year with him if he’s gonna retire or if he’s not — never to take any moment around him for granted,” Kirk said. “And I always made sure to cherish whether it was the last game, last practice, last time sitting down eating dinner, whatever it was, just to make sure I cherish those moments.”

However, the Cardinals aren’t closing the door just yet on the Larry Fitzgerald Era.

Kingsbury said the organization has a plan ready regardless of what Fitzgerald decides. Either way, there’ll be a few major decisions about the makeup of the Cardinals’ receiving room, one that currently includes DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella. Tuesday wasn’t the time to discuss that — and, anyway, Kirk said he doesn’t get paid to make those decision.

Both Kirk and Edmonds said Tuesday that they haven’t asked Fitzgerald what his plans are for 2021. Kirk wasn’t surprised that Fitzgerald has handled his playing future like this. Edmonds called Fitzgerald a “grown man” who’s “been around the block a few times.”

That didn’t stop the question from being asked to Kirk: Is Fitzgerald coming back or not?

“That’s the million dollar question.”

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NFL training camp – Cardinals’ J.J. Watt, Jets’ Mekhi Becton, among stars reporting for duty

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More players began arriving for 2021 NFL training camp across the league Tuesday with some new faces in new places, including defensive lineman J.J. Watt reporting for duty with the Arizona Cardinals and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 draft pick in 2021, arriving for his first media session of camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In Baltimore, quarterback Lamar Jackson said he wants a new jersey number — but not until he earns it. The New York Jets were missing the face everyone wants to see as the team tries to hammer out a contract with rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, but second-year left tackle Mekhi Becton arrived for camp at his target weight and looking ready to start the season. And the Washington Football Team rewarded journeyman tight end Logan Thomas with a new contract after he produced 72 catches last season.

Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league:

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Lamar Jackson wants a ring, then a new jersey number
The Baltimore Ravens quarterback said he has a personal reason to change his jersey number, although he has to achieve something in order to make the switch. “If we win the Super Bowl, I’m going to No. 1,” he said. “I want the No. 1. That’s my first number ever. My dad told me, ‘Get No. 1 because that’s the best. You’re the best.’ And it always stuck with me.”

Jets open camp without No. 2 pick Zach Wilson
There is more than the usual sense of urgency to resolve the contract dispute because Wilson, drafted at No. 2 in 2021, is the presumptive starting quarterback. The Jets have no veterans on the roster at the position, only James Morgan and Mike White, neither of whom has regular-season experience.

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What our NFL Nation reporters saw today

Nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who is in “very good shape” according to GM Ryan Pace, is expected to practice on Wednesday after he missed the entire offseason program — and mandatory minicamp — for undisclosed reasons. Goldman also opted out of the 2020 season for COVID 19-related reasons. His return to anchor the middle of the Bears’ defensive line would be a major boost for first-year coordinator Sean Desai, who takes over a group that finished just outside the top-10 in total yards allowed last season. — Jeff Dickerson

Quarterback Sam Darnold, who said in early June that he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19, declined to say on Tuesday as players reported to camp at Wofford College whether that had changed. Running back Christian McCaffrey took a similar stance, saying it was personal. But both were not wearing masks as they did group interviews without the required social distancing for non-vaccinated players. That’s a good indication they are among the at least 85 percent, according to a league source, on the team who have been vaccinated. — David Newton

Coach Jon Gruden addressed the media in a face-to-face conference for the first time since January of 2020 and said every Raiders player had reported to camp and hit their respective playing weights. He also reiterated that his entire staff was vaccinated, adding that every player was as well, “with the exception of about four or five guys. So, we’re proud of that.” — Paul Gutierrez



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WR Randall Cobb expects trade back to Green Bay Packers, source says

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — One day after Aaron Rodgers verbally agreed to the terms of his return to the Green Bay Packers, the team seemingly met one of his requests by bringing back receiver Randall Cobb.

The Packers were on the verge of re-acquiring Cobb late Tuesday afternoon. A source said Cobb expects to be back with his old team once the final details of a trade with the Houston Texans were completed.

Cobb, who will turn 31 on Aug. 22, played his first eight seasons in Green Bay, where he was one of Rodgers’ go-to receivers — especially in the slot.

He left in free agency following the 2018 season and spent one year with the Dallas Cowboys. He then signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Texans, where he played in 10 games last season — one more than he did in his final season in Green Bay, when he battled lingering hamstring problems. He suffered a toe injury in Week 11 last year and missed six games. He finished with 38 catches, 441 yards and three touchdowns.

Rodgers hasn’t had a true slot receiver since Cobb’s departure. To fill that void in their offense, the Packers drafted Amari Rodgers in the third round of this year’s draft.

Apparently, Rodgers-to-Cobb had a better ring to it than Rodgers-to-Rodgers, but it’s unclear if bringing back Cobb was a condition of Rodgers’ return or merely a suggestion that the Packers decided to honor. When Cobb left the Packers, he did so ranked sixth in franchise history with 470 catches and 11th in both receiving yards (5,524) and touchdown catches (41). His best season came in 2014, when he caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. That was one of two seasons in his career in which he did not miss a game.

While Cobb’s role is yet to be determined and could hinge largely on his ability to stay healthy, Cobb also could help mentor Amari Rodgers. There’s already a connection between the two; Rodgers’ father, Tee Martin, coached Cobb in college at Kentucky.

The trade no doubt will include a contract restructuring for Cobb, who was scheduled to make $8.25 million this season.

In an unrelated move, the Packers released two quarterbacks: veteran Blake Bortles and Jake Dolegala. Bortles signed a one-year, minimum-salary contract with no guarantees on May 24 in the midst of Rodgers’ absence from the offseason program. Dolegala signed with the Packers following a tryout during the June minicamp.

It leaves three quarterbacks on the roster — Rodgers, Jordan Love and Kurt Benkert — on the eve of the first training camp practice on Wednesday.

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