Patriots sign draft picks William Sherman, Tre Nixon

Central Florida v South Florida
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The Patriots’ final two draft choices are the first two to sign.

Offensive lineman William Sherman, a sixth-round choice, and receiver Tre Nixon, a seventh-round choice, are under contract, Mike Reiss of ESPN reports.

Sherman, who played at Colorado, will have a chance to compete for the swing tackle spot behind Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown. Sherman played 1,239 snaps at left tackle in college and 879 at right tackle.

Nixon, who played two seasons at Ole Miss before transferring to Central Florida, made 89 catches for 1,392 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018-19. He caught 19 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns in four games last season before dislocating his collarbone.

Nixon was handpicked by Patriots research director Ernie Adams, who has announced his retirement.

Azeez Ojulari on criticism of his pass rush moves: Don’t break what’s not broken

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Edge rusher Azeez Ojulari went to the Giants with the 50th pick in the draft and that was a bit lower than he was projected to go by many draft pundits.

Questions about lingering knee issues after a torn ACL in high school could have been a factor, but Ojulari said on Valentine’s Views podcast that the questions “came up outta nowhere” and that he never missed time at Georgia because of his knee. Ojulari also responded to critics of his pass rush moves.

Ojulari favors a dip and rip move to get past blockers and said it’s not the only move he has, but that it is the one that has proven to be the most effective on the field.

“At the end of the day it’s about getting to the quarterback,” Ojulari said. “Whatever you use to get to the quarterback efficiently. If you can do it with that one move, you don’t have to have like a thousand moves, you can do it with the one and if it works keep going to it until you’ve gotta switch it up. Don’t break what’s not broken.”

The step up in competition at the professional level makes it all but certain that Ojulari’s bag of tricks is going to have to expand for him to match his collegiate production. The sooner that happens the better for the Giants pass rush.

Patriots fifth-rounder Cameron McGrone could miss season due to 2020 torn ACL

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The Patriots signed free agent Harvey Langi on Monday to add to a fairly crowded linebacker room, but a 2020 injury to one of the team’s other offseason additions could keep him from vying for playing time.

Fifth-round pick Cameron McGrone tore his ACL during Michigan’s November 21 win over Rutgers. The timing of the injury makes it hard to project when McGrone might be able to resume football work and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said that it’s possible he’ll have to wait until 2022 to make his NFL debut.

“We’re not really sure what the expectation of availability is for him, but we’re prepared certainly to not have him available this year,” Belichick said, via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. “There are no false expectations here. He should have a good recovery and be a good player; we’ll just have to see what the timing is on that.”

McGrone had 91 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, and a forced fumble in 16 total games for Michigan.

Cardinals rookie Tay Gowan: I’ll live up to legacy of wearing No. 32

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 04 UCF at Cincinnati
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There’s been a lot of attention paid to players choosing single-digit jerseys in the wake of the league’s rule change allowing for wider use of those numbers, but that’s not the only news on the uniform front.

In Arizona, for example, sixth-round cornerback Tay Gowan has been given No. 32. The number has a lot of history in the Arizona secondary as it was worn by Tyrann Mathieu during his run with the Cardinals and then by Budda Baker before he switched to No. 3 this offseason.

Gowan said Monday that he thinks the Cardinals “did that on purpose so now I gotta live up to it.”

“Actually 32 chose me. . . . I’m thankful for the number,” Gowan said, via ArizonaSports.com. “I’m gonna live up to the legacy. I know a lot of good players have put that number on, so it’s my turn. I think Arizona did that on purpose so now I gotta live up to it.”

Gowan opted out of playing at UCF last season after he contracted COVID-19 and then saw it spread to his daughter, girlfriend, mother, and other family members. That likely contributed to him being around in the sixth round, but the jersey choice suggests the Cardinals see him as being capable of outperforming that spot on the draft board.

Tom Brady reached out to Kyle Trask, inviting the rookie to throw with him

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Florida v Oklahoma
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Tom Brady will remain the Bucs’ starting quarterback as long as he wants to remain the Bucs’ starting quarterback. The team has made it clear it was not placing an expiration date on Brady when it drafted Kyle Trask in the second round last weekend.

Brady already has welcomed the rookie to town

“Yeah, he actually did,” Trask said on NFL Network, via pewterreport.com. “He reached out to me a couple days after the draft and you know, he was just making sure, or checking in on when I get into town so we can get together and maybe do some throwing and things like that. It meant a lot to me.”

Trask will begin his career learning from Brady, Blaine Gabbert and perhaps Ryan Griffin.

“Yeah, I mean first and foremost, I just want to do anything I can to help the team and obviously the goal is going to be to win another Super Bowl,’’ Trask said. “And that’s going to be my main focus and whatever I can do at the end of the day to kind of lead the team in the right direction, I’ll be willing to do that.”

Robert Saleh: The QB has the most eyes on him, but there’s pressure on everybody

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Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson is the likely Week 1 starter for the Jets in the upcoming season. The only other two players at his position currently on New York’s roster are James Morgan and Mike White.

There’s an inherent pressure that comes with being the No. 2 overall pick. Wilson has that plus the added elevated status of being a QB in New York.

Wilson said after his selection that head coach Robert Saleh helped to take some of that pressure off him with his draft call, during which the head coach said the team will lift Wilson — not the other way around.

On the first day of rookie minicamp, Saleh reiterated that point when asked about his general philosophy on bringing rookie QBs along to be prepared to start.

“The one thing about this league is there’s pressure on everybody. Everyone’s under the gun. And I get the quarterback has the most eyes on him, but we’re all under pressure to make sure we’re all helping each other have success,” Saleh said Friday. “To hide him — you can’t, that’s impossible. If you do that, you’re wasting time.

“The biggest thing we’re going to try to accomplish is to make sure that we’re growing as a football team first, and obviously the questions about the quarterback, how he plays, the scrutiny and the critique that he gets — I get it, that comes with the position. But it’s our job as an entire organization to make sure everybody, all 53, are lifting one another and the entire organization is lifting all 53 in order to get us to where we want to go in the future.”

Wilson has his first chance to make an on-field impression this weekend with the Jets’ rookie minicamp. But he’ll have to work quickly to be ready for when the lights come on in September.

Jets sign Jason Pinnock, Brandin Echols, Jonathan Marshall

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The Jets opened their rookie minicamp on Friday and three of the rookies in attendance used the occasion as a chance to sign their contracts.

Fifth-round cornerback Jason Pinnock, sixth-round cornerback Brandin Echols, and sixth-round defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall all agreed to deals. They signed fifth-round linebacker Jamien Sherwood earlier this week and have six picks, including quarterback Zach Wilson, left to sign.

Pinnock had three interceptions during his final season at Pittsburgh while Echols started 22 games over his final two seasons at Kentucky. Both players could get early playing time in a Jets cornerback group featuring Bless Austin, Bryce Hall, Javelin Guidry, Justin Hardee, and Corey Ballentine.

Marshall had 35 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a sack in 10 starts for Arkansas last year.

 

Kwity Paye is first 2021 first-round pick to sign

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Colts defensive end Kwity Paye is the first 2021 first-round pick to sign his rookie deal.

The Colts announced the news on Thursday afternoon. Paye has a four-year deal worth over $13.6 million with a team option for a fifth season. The price tag of that option will be affected by Paye’s playing time and any Pro Bowl selections during his first three seasons.

Paye was the 21st overall pick a week ago after recording 97 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks during his time at the University of Michigan.

The Colts were busy signing picks on Thursday. They also announced the signing of four other picks. Second-round defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo, fifth-round safety Shawn Davis, seventh-round wideout Mike Strachan, and seventh-round offensive lineman Will Fries. Word of the two seventh-rounders got out before the team’s announcement and the Colts have two more picks to sign to get the entire class under contract.

Colts sign seventh-rounder Will Fries

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Penn State at Rutgers
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Offensive lineman Will Fries was the last player selected by the Colts in the 2021 draft, but he is the first one with a contract.

Fries’ agents announced on Thursday that he has signed his contract with the team. Like all players drafted after the first round, Fries will have a four-year deal without a fifth-year option.

Fries started 42 games over his four seasons at Penn State and he spread those starts out over a variety of positions. Fries started games at every position other than center for the Nittany Lions and that versatility should help his bid for a backup role in Indianapolis.

The seventh-rounder was the only offensive lineman that the Colts drafted, which was a bit of a surprise given their left tackle situation but they are bringing former Chief Eric Fisher in for a visit.

Panthers agree to terms with Chuba Hubbard

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Julie Rhule will be happy with news out of Charlotte on Thursday.

Rhule is married to Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and she texted her husband during the draft to push for the team to pick running back Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round. The Panthers did make that pick and now they’ve taken a step toward officially welcoming Hubbard to life as a professional football player.

The team announced that Hubbard has agreed to his four-year rookie deal with the team. Hubbard joins Jets fifth-round safety Jamien Sherwood as 2021 draft picks that have agreed to deals.

Hubbard ran 585 times for 3,459 yards and 33 touchdowns over three seasons at Oklahoma State, including a 2019 campaign that saw him rack up 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Brandon Staley: Rashawn Slater is an outstanding fit

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The Chargers had an obvious need at left tackle and filled it by selecting Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater in the first round.

Slater said that he couldn’t have picked a better place for himself, particularly with a good young QB like Justin Herbert and several offensive weapons. Slater’s new head coach agrees about Slater’s fit for Los Angeles, explaining why during an appearance this week on the Rich Eisen Show.

“We just felt like this guy is going to fit in with this group so well,” Staley said. “He plays left tackle. It wasn’t like, hey, you’ve got to move him to left tackle. He plays left tackle. And then just how we’re trying to play, and who we’re trying to play with, Rashawn is an outstanding fit.

Staley noted the Chargers felt there was a good chance Slater wouldn’t be around for their selection at No. 13. But as L.A. saw things unfold last Thursday, the draft room realized Slater could fall into the team’s lap.

“We anticipated Rashawn going in the top 10. We felt like he was that caliber of player,” Staley said. “And then we also knew that with the quarterbacks and kind of the skill players on offense, that possibly some of these corners, it could fit right. And I think that once he got past Carolina, we felt like hey, there’s a chance. And felt like there was an outside chance Dallas could take him. And then when they went another direction, when they went with Micah [Parsons], we knew that we had him.”

Slater fills a critical role for a team that also signed former Packers center Corey Linsley in free agency over the offseason. With those two in tow, Herbert’s protection should be better in 2021 — and that should significantly aid his progress.

Zac Taylor: Ja’Marr Chase can be one of the great receivers over the next 10-15 years

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - LSU v Oklahoma
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Not needing a quarterback after drafting Joe Burrow at No. 1 overall last year, the Bengals had every player in the draft but tight end Kyle Pitts available to them at No. 5 overall last week.

They chose LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, reuniting him with Burrow after the pair won a national championship together.

While Burrow wasn’t campaigning for his team to select Chase, the quarterback really didn’t have to. Though many thought Cincinnati would select an offensive lineman to protect Burrow — particularly after the QB tore his ACL and MCL last season — head coach Zac Taylor feels Chase can make a special impact on the offense.

“Everybody was happy with the result and understands what this guy is going to do for us,” Taylor said, via Paul Dehner Jr. of TheAthletic.com. “We take Ja’Marr Chase because you think he’s going to be one of the all-time great receivers here over the next 10-15 years. You don’t want to be influenced by, ‘Is there a lineman there in the second round?’ If you think this guy is as good as we think he is, we just need to get him on the football team.”

Still, with a deep class of offensive linemen, Cincinnati was able to land Clemson’s Jackson Carman at No. 46 overall. The opportunity to select a player like that later solidified the choice of Chase.

“This year, consequently, just happened we knew there would be a good group of linemen there in the second round we knew we could get,” Taylor said. “If you knew this player would turn out to be A.J. Green, what would make you pass on him? If you look back on his career and say he’s going to have the same impact and career that A.J. Green had, what makes you say let’s pass on him and go get this other guy because there’s not a lineman you like in the second round — knowing what you know about A.J. Green. To me, that weighs into it a little bit, this is the impact we think this guy is going to have on us.”

After 10 seasons, 649 receptions, 9,430 yards, and 65 touchdowns with the Bengals, Green signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in March. But if Chase can become as productive as Green, who began his career with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, then there will be no doubt the LSU wideout was the right choice.

Sean Payton: We wanted a corner, but no team wanted to trade out of the top 10

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Reports emerged last week that the Saints were trying to trade up from the draft’s 28th overall pick into the top 10.

During an interview on the Rich Eisen Show, head coach Sean Payton confirmed those reports — admitting the club was targeting its clearest position of need.

“It was pretty simple. There were a couple players that we’d move up for, but for us we have a ‘must’ at corner,” Payton said. “So we had two corners graded — both [Jaycee] Horn and [Patrick] Surtain — with real high grades. And very quickly, early in the week, it’s pretty common for teams to say, ‘Hey, we have an interest.’ Everyone’s basically open for business.

“But ultimately, there wasn’t a team wanting to move out of the first 10 picks. And so, I think that lasted all of a half an hour maybe, the morning of reaching out to these teams. And the cost would’ve been, if we found a trade partner, too high. So at that point, our feeling was, it’s going to come to us at 28 so let’s make sure we have our cloud of players ready. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Horn and Surtain ended up being selected back-to-back by the Panthers and Broncos at No. 8 and No. 9 overall, respectively. Sticking at their original draft position, the Saints chose defensive end Payton Turner at No. 28 overall.

New Orleans did pick Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo in the third round. But Horn will now be able to remind the Saints what they missed out on twice a year as rivals in the NFC South.

Jed York comfortable if Trey Lance sits two seasons behind Jimmy Garoppolo

2021 NFL Draft
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Despite speculation Jimmy Garoppolo might not remain in San Francisco after draft weekend, the quarterback still is atop the depth chart. The 49ers used the third overall choice on Trey Lance, the heir apparent.

The question now, though, is: When will the 49ers hand Lance the reins?

CEO Jed York said he’s comfortable with Lance sitting and watching awhile, perhaps two seasons.

“We’ve talked about this internally,” York told Matt Maiocco on 49ers Talk. “If we’re in a situation where Jimmy goes out and takes us to a Super Bowl again and has an MVP-caliber season, and does it again, there are worse dilemmas to be in. And Jimmy certainly has the ability to do that.

“Knowing it’s the most important position in sports, and it’s great to have a guy that you do believe in and has gotten you to a Super Bowl. So you don’t have to put the weight of the world on a rookie, whoever it was we were going to choose. And now that we know Trey is here, you don’t have to put the weight of the world on that kid’s shoulders. And he can grow into that position.”

Instead, the weight this season falls on Garoppolo. At the first misstep, the job is Lance’s.

Aaron Rodgers‘ MVP season in 2020 likely changed the Packers’ timeline for when they planned to play first-round choice Jordan Love. Garoppolo has never even made a Pro Bowl much less won an MVP award, but he has started in a Super Bowl.

“If he doesn’t play until he’s 23, but he’s got a 15-plus year career …” York said of Lance. “There were rumors about a guy, and obviously Kyle [Shanahan] talked about [the phone call made to the Packers about] trading for Aaron. How long did Aaron sit? Two or three years before he played? And, again, I want to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure that position is the best it can possibly be in the NFL.”

Lance started only 17 games at North Dakota State, so the 49ers’ best case scenario could be for Garoppolo to keep the rookie on the bench. At this point, though, Lance’s future is in Garoppolo’s right arm.

Terry Fontenot: No way we weren’t drafting Kyle Pitts

2021 NFL Draft
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Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has been adamant that Atlanta is not undergoing a rebuild, which is part of why the club selected tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 4 overall instead of quarterback.

So when Pitts was available after the first three picks, there was no question what Atlanta would do.

No way we weren’t drafting Kyle Pitts right there on the clock,” General Manager Terry Fontenot said during an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Look, I talked to a lot of former General Managers just in general and just people I respect in the business, coaches. And everyone else [would have] made that same pick.

“We did have an open line and we listened to teams, and you have to listen and see if there’s going to be compensation that knocks your socks off. So we listened and we didn’t have any offers that really moved the meter in that way. So we were really excited about selecting that player.”

Pitts should immediately upgrade a receiving corps that — at least for now — includes stars Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. But if the Falcons end up with an offer for Jones they can’t refuse, then Pitts’ presence should soften the blow of losing their top pass catcher.