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Stephon Gilmore’s contract status in spotlight at New England Patriots camp – New England Patriots Blog



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

1. Gilmore’s mindset: Linebacker Dont’a Hightower‘s return to the practice field Thursday after opting out of the 2020 season represented a key piece falling into place for the Patriots, and this week could provide clarity on another big one — cornerback Stephon Gilmore‘s mindset on playing for the team at his current salary.

Gilmore is required to report for the start of the three-day mandatory minicamp Monday or will be subject to fines that could total $93,085 — which breaks down to $15,515 for the first missed day, $31,030 for the second missed day and $46,540 for the third missed day.

For players seeking a sweetened contract, or who might be displeased with the pace of negotiations or with their situation with a team, staying away from mandatory minicamp is often a first leverage point of sorts — a way to let the team know there is an intention to dig in with negotiations.

Gilmore is entering the final year of his five-year, $65 million pact and is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million — well below market value for a player of his caliber.

But part of the reason for the low figure is the club previously moved $4.5 million of his 2021 base salary into 2020. That was an acknowledgment from the Patriots that Gilmore’s original 2020 salary ($10.5 million) was worthy of an adjustment after he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Gilmore hasn’t been attending voluntary organized team activities this year (he has in the past), although it’s unclear how much of that is tied to the contract.

Now, will Gilmore show up to mandatory minicamp? And if he doesn’t, could an excused absence be a consideration from the team?

Answers should help fill in the all-important context of how both sides view the situation.

2. Cam’s return: When the Patriots return to the field Monday, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cam Newton is back under center, which reflects that his right hand injury isn’t serious. Teammates welcomed Newton at Friday’s voluntary OTA, and word is the QB1 threw the ball around a bit.

3. No ‘Love’ for ‘Mac’: In the Green Bay Packers‘ final practice of their mandatory minicamp last week, quarterback Jordan Love took 26 of the 31 total repetitions in 11-on-11 drills, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. Contrast that to the Patriots’ practice Thursday and Mac Jones getting 8 of 34 repetitions in what might be viewed as “competitive” 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills.

It highlights differing philosophies of the coaching staffs, with Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur saying he wants to get Love as many reps as possible in case he is needed in place of Aaron Rodgers. In New England, coach Bill Belichick has stressed the spring is a time for teaching all players, which sets them up best to compete for jobs in July’s training camp.

4. Uche in the nickel: Linebacker Josh Uche seemed to be practicing at an elevated tempo from the linemen across from him in practice the past two weeks, which might be a reflection of his excitement to be on the field after a rookie season in which he usually wasn’t.

The 2020 second-round draft pick from Michigan doesn’t necessarily fit in the traditional box for a Patriots inside linebacker in the base 3-4 defense, nor does he carry the weight (255 to 260 pounds) that former Patriots outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich says is critical to setting the edge at that position. But after watching three spring practices, the best way to view the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Uche might be more through the lens of the nickel defense, which the Patriots play 85% (or more) of the time anyway.

Uche’s knack for bending the edge as a rusher, and his athleticism to play more in space are assets to tap in a six-man box. Seems as if it has been a solid spring for Uche.

5. Where’s Wino? While Uche rises, 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich seems to be falling into a different category. Not seeing as much of him. The free-agent signings of linebackers Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy, paired with Uche coming on and Hightower returning Thursday, have Winovich looking at a different picture than this time last year.

6. Mills’ versatility: The past two practices provided a nice snapshot of why assistant coach Brian Belichick said of free-agent signee Jalen Mills: “If anyone is a pure DB, it’s him, because he’s played everywhere.” Mills had been working at safety alongside 2020 top pick Kyle Dugger early in spring practices, but with veteran safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips returning last week, he moved to cornerback. Mills did get twisted around on one long sideline catch by wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson on Thursday.

7. Asiasi’s growth: Second-year tight end Devin Asiasi looks like a different player, and he is one of several Patriots who stand out when considering the benefits of spring practices for younger players. Wide receiver Isaiah Zuber and Uche are among the others who fall into that category.

Asiasi (6-foot-3, 257 pounds) had one of the best plays of practice Thursday, hauling in a deep pass from Brian Hoyer, with Dugger in coverage. The play sparked a thought: For all the possibilities a two-tight-end set of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry presents, there’s also intriguing potential with a three-tight-end package that includes Asiasi, the 2020 third-round pick.

8. Adams a sleeper? At one point in Thursday’s practice, fifth-year defensive tackle Montravius Adams was on the field with Judon, Hightower, Van Noy and Uche, which could be an early sign he is a player to watch in the competition for a roster spot. The 6-foot-4, 304-pound player was a 2017 third-round draft pick by the Packers out of Auburn, and he has made an early impression on D-line coach DeMarcus Covington with his work ethic and by buying into the team’s culture. Adams dealt with a painful toe injury last season and recently said: “Since I’ve been here, they’ve helped me with the injury. My toe is starting to get a lot better.”

9. Weather helps: Bill Belichick pointed out how some “good Boston weather” helped the team in spring practices from a conditioning standpoint. He might have had practices on Monday and Tuesday of last week in mind, as they were held in uncharacteristically humid 90-degree conditions for this time of year. Over 10 sessions, the average temperature was right around 80 degrees, and practices would sometimes end with players running the hill.

10. Did You Know? In overall circumference, footballs used in college can be up to 1 1/4 inches smaller than in the NFL, which was a point highlighted by undrafted rookie Patriots kicker Quinn Nordin of Michigan when he said: “You’re hitting a different ball now. I’m still learning, trying to figure out the new balls. The college balls are skinnier.”

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Linebacker Vince Williams, 31, informs Pittsburgh Steelers of his retirement after eight seasons



PITTSBURGH — On the eve of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ first training camp practice, veteran inside linebacker Vince Williams informed the team of his retirement Wednesday.

Williams, 31, played eight seasons with the organization after being selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft.

Williams was initially released by the team in March because of cap constraints, but he was re-signed in April on a one-year veteran minimum deal.

Some of Williams’ teammates on defense, including T.J. Watt and Joe Haden, posted their reactions on social media later Wednesday.

The former Florida State player emerged as a team leader in Pittsburgh and started 69 of 121 career games, racking up 20.5 sacks, 479 combined tackles and 50 tackles for loss.

His role in 2021 was likely to be reduced with the emergence of Robert Spillane, who stepped up last season when former top-10 pick Devin Bush tore his ACL.

Beyond Spillane and Bush, the Steelers will likely look to rookie Buddy Johnson and safety-turned-inside linebacker Marcus Allen for depth at the position — but with a strong camp, a fully healthy Ulysees Gilbert III could also land a roster spot to round out the group.

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Jerry Jones confident Dallas Cowboys’ vaccination percentage ‘will not limit us in any way’



OXNARD, California — The Dallas Cowboys will open training camp under stricter COVID-19 protocols because they did not reach the 85% vaccination threshold, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he does not believe it will impact the players’ preparedness for the regular season.

“My opinion is it will absolutely will not limit us in any way, the issue of vaccination, will [not] limit us in any way as to being competitive as early as when we play Pittsburgh in the first preseason game,” Jones said Wednesday at the opening news conference of training camp. “When people say, ‘Where do you think you stand right now with vaccine relative to your team and as it pertains — this comes to my mind — the competition,’ and I think we’re one of the leaders.”

Jones indicated as few as five players have not made a pledge to get vaccinated at present, and a portion of players are “in the pipeline” toward becoming fully vaccinated, a number that would help the Cowboys reach the mark.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones noted the four weeks between the first shot and full vaccination for not being able to pinpoint an exact date. With 90 players on the roster, 77 need to be vaccinated to reach the current threshold that would ease COVID-19 restrictions at training camp.

“I don’t know that the 85% has been totally negotiated yet,” Stephen Jones said. “I think it’s a work in progress, but, yes, I do think we’ll hit that threshold and more.”

Stephen Jones credited the players for listening to the information the team made available regarding the vaccine.

“They understand that everybody was recommending the vaccine, in and around the country, but they really did their homework,” he said. “They had a lot of great questions. We provided them with lot of education, a lot about the science, and I think they were able to get their hands around it.”

The Cowboys’ coaching staff is fully vaccinated, according to Jerry Jones, but Mike McCarthy said he told his players he needed some convincing early on before getting the shot.

“Frankly, I shared my own personal experience where the facts that I was not particularly 100 percent on board with the vaccination, but through the relationships that we’re fortunate to have in the medical community, you watch, you listen. I think that same approach was given to our players,” McCarthy said. “We just wanted to make sure they had all the facts … Really, the position of where we were numbers-wise in my opinion was more about timing.”

Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin was critical of the Cowboys for not reaching the threshold, questioning their commitment to winning.

“Yeah, and it should upset them,” Irvin said. “It should upset them. Dude, you’re not thinking right. You’re not thinking right. Whatever you got, I don’t give a damn. Nothing else can be more important. You’re not going to get this (winning a Super Bowl) easily. Nothing else could be more important. Jimmy [Johnson] made that abundantly clear (during Irvin’s playing career). Nothing else is more important. And not being one of the [teams] says there’s other things to a great number of people on this team that are more important than winning championships, and that makes me worried.”

Jerry Jones said he understood Irvin’s comments.

“Michael Irvin is the best example that I know of how much will and how much body language and how much of heart and sacrifice mean to winning championships. He is that. So when he talks, I listen. I know that,” Jerry Jones said. “And I think he has a good reputation with the current group of players because of his visibility and his activity with the network where he is as an individual. So he comes with all the credibility in the world. He’s a Hall of Famer and then not only part of — because he’s a talented football player — but a big part of why he got there was that total commitment going above and beyond.

“That’s what he was trying to say. That it isn’t normal things we want from each other as players. We want everything to go above and beyond. And so I thought it was an outstanding message.”

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Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones says he’d ‘do anything’ to make Super Bowl LVI



OXNARD, Calif. — Over the years, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has not been afraid to talk about Super Bowl dreams before the start of a season. But as the franchise’s championship drought pushes past 25 years, Jones stayed away from making headlines Wednesday.

Still, making it to Super Bowl LVI is at the top of Jones’ mind.

“I’d do anything known to man to get to a Super Bowl,” Jones said. “That’s a fact.”

Jones became emotional at several points of a nearly hour-long news conference, starting with when he was asked how he intends to get the Cowboys back to a time when they won three Super Bowls in a four-year span in the 1990s.

“I’ve always had to be pragmatic at the end of the day because if not, you’ll end up on the outside looking in. You have to be real,” Jones said. “But on the other hand, I’ve never thought that we couldn’t be better or never thought that we couldn’t make it happen, even when we were not on paper or we weren’t as technically as good or sound. But I’ve never thought that, and I’ve got too many examples of how shorthanded people have knocked them out of the park before. A lot of them. In a lot of different areas.

“I really don’t know that I have any days or have any weeks where I don’t think, ‘There’s a pony in here somewhere.’ You have a lot of days where you ask yourself, ‘What are you doing in the middle of this?’ That has served me well. This isn’t an ‘I, me,’ but I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You’re naive’ or say, ‘He’s naive.’ Well, it’s a beautiful world. … It’s a better world to be naive than to be skeptical and be negative all the time.”

Jones choked up when discussing former coach Jimmy Johnson’s tenure with the Cowboys now that Johnson is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month.

“Well, I just think of those great times, and Jimmy’s a great coach,” Jones said. “Ridiculous. My role here was, my job was to keep it together. It was my job. Should have had deference to something that was working good. Those are the things that come to my mind. We had a great run of it. He’s a great coach, and I’m proud to have him as a friend, and proud to have had the times that we had. We just had a great experience.”

The current Cowboys have missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, including a 6-10 finish in 2020 in Mike McCarthy’s first season as coach. Dak Prescott played in just five games because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, but he will be a full participant when practice opens Thursday. A number of other key players also missed significant time due to injury.

With Prescott and offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La’el Collins healthy and the addition of Dan Quinn at defensive coordinator, Jones is optimistic about 2021, if not bombastic.

“I think we got a way to make it work big for this season,” Jones said. “You put those two things together, and I think we got a chance to be a really good team.”

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