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Cleveland Browns activating RB Kareem Hunt, RT Jack Conklin off injured reserve

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BEREA, Ohio — Two key offensive players are coming back for the Cleveland Browns, as coach Kevin Stefanski said following Friday’s practice that running back Kareem Hunt and right tackle Jack Conklin will be activated off injured reserve.

The moves will clear the way for Hunt and Conklin to play Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

Hunt has been out with a calf injury since Week 6. He has rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also has 20 receptions for 161 yards.

Conklin, who was an All-Pro selection in his first season with Cleveland in 2020, suffered a dislocated elbow in Week 8.

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Kwesi Adofo-Mensah favored to be hired as new GM of Minnesota Vikings, sources say

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Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is the favorite to become the new general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Courtney Cronin on Tuesday.

Adofo-Mensah, the Cleveland Browns‘ vice president of football operations, was expected to have his second interview with the Vikings on Tuesday.

He would succeed Rick Spielman, who was fired along with head coach Mike Zimmer after the regular season.

The Vikings’ new GM hire would be tasked with hiring the new head coach.

Minnesota conducted eight initial interviews with head-coaching candidates over the past nine days, including San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who was a quality control and inside linebackers coach for the 49ers during the final three seasons that Adofo-Mensah spent with the franchise from 2017 to 2019.

Chiefs executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles also was expected to meet again with the Vikings this week, but he is finalizing a deal Tuesday to be the new GM of the Chicago Bears, league sources told ESPN’s Schefter on Tuesday.

Browns general manager Andrew Berry hired Adofo-Mensah from San Francisco in 2020 after he spent seven seasons as the 49ers’ manager — then director — of football research and development. The 40-year-old holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics from Princeton and Stanford, respectively, and had several Wall Street ventures as a portfolio manager and commodities trader before he entered the NFL.

Adofo-Mensah interviewed for Carolina’s general manager opening in 2021. In addition to Minnesota, he also interviewed with the Bears for their GM vacancy.

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Sources — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton stepping away after 16 years with franchise

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METAIRIE, La. — Sean Payton has decided to step away as the New Orleans Saints‘ coach after 16 years, a source confirmed to ESPN.

Payton is not necessarily retiring permanently but has decided to take a break after 15 seasons as the Saints’ coach, the source said. He totaled 15 seasons as Saints’ coach because he was suspended in 2012 as a result of the bounty investigation.

It’s not immediately clear what Payton plans to do next. Sources have told ESPN that television networks have shown considerable interest in hiring him.

The news of Payton’s decision was first reported by NFL Network.

Payton, 58, has three years remaining on his deal with the Saints after signing his latest extension in 2019. So, the Saints would maintain his rights if he decides to return to coaching — and could require compensation if he wants to coach for another team.

In the meantime, the Saints will enter a new era after quarterback Drew Brees also retired before the 2021 season. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. could be considered among potential replacements for Payton, though New Orleans will certainly explore options outside of the building as well.

Payton made his mark as the winningest coach in Saints history and one of the NFL’s all-time great offensive minds. He and Brees arrived together in 2006 and led New Orleans to the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history in 2009.

Payton is tied for 21st in NFL history with 152 career victories, according to Pro Football Reference. His career record is 152-89 (.631 winning percentage), not including his season-long suspension in 2012. Payton is 9-8 in the postseason.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Payton and the Saints rank first in NFL history in both points scored (27.6 per game) and yards gained (391.2 per game) among all coach-team combos with at least five seasons together.

The Saints missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons with a 9-8 record in 2021. But in many ways it ranked among Payton’s most impressive coaching jobs considering Brees’ retirement, a roster that was depleted by major injuries, salary-cap cuts, COVID-19 issues, and a hurricane evacuation to Dallas for the first month of the season.

Payton acknowledged how draining the season was in Week 18.

“This stretch has been, I don’t want to say exhausting, but it’s been one of those where you just get on to the [next task]. Nothing surprises you,” Payton said. “When you go all the way back to the start of the season, it feels like 2½ years ago we were evacuating to Dallas during the hurricane. I mean, it doesn’t feel like that’s part of this season.

“I’m trying to think of a good way to describe it. Like, there’s a certain bar or temperament for news that you normally have. And then when it keeps coming and coming and coming via text or in meetings, then pretty soon that bar gets raised because you just keep getting hitting in the side of the head. And at some point you’ve gotta smile and then bow up a little bit and get ready for the challenge still.”

Payton began his NFL career as a quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1997-98 before becoming a QB coach and offensive coordinator with the New York Giants from 1999-2002 and an assistant head coach/passing game coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-2005.

Payton’s longevity in New Orleans was a rarity in today’s NFL. Only the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick has been with his team longer. Also, Payton had four seasons of 11-plus wins in his second decade with the Saints. Only three other coaches have done that in the Super Bowl era: Belichick (nine), Tom Landry (eight), Don Shula (six).

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Ronald Torbert to serve as lead referee for Super Bowl LVI

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Ronald Torbert will serve as the lead referee for Super Bowl LVI, the NFL announced Tuesday.

Torbert joined the NFL in 2010 as a side judge and was promoted to referee in 2014. He has been the referee for six playoff games since then, including twice in the wild-card round and four times in the divisional, most recently the San Francisco 49ers‘ 13-10 victory Sunday over the Green Bay Packers.

The NFL’s Super Bowl officiating assignments are merit-based.

Torbert’s regular-season crew averaged 12.3 flags per game — the fourth-lowest among the league’s 17 crews — but he will work with a different group of officials in the Super Bowl, all of whom met the NFL’s evaluation and experience criteria for the game.

The group, listed below, has a total of seven previous Super Bowls between them.

• Umpire: Bryan Neale

• Down judge: Derick Bowers

• Line judge: Carl Johnson

• Field judge: Rick Patterson

• Side judge: Keith Washington

• Back judge: Scott Helverson

• Replay official: Roddy Ames

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