Wed Mar 3 2:42am ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
When Sam Rapoport envisioned conducting virtually the NFL's fifth annual Women's Career in Football Forum, she shuddered.
How could the networking, hands-on communications and camaraderie the event has encompassed occur during the COVID-19 pandemic?
''It seemed almost like an insurmountable challenge to accomplish what we normally do in previous years,'' says Rapoport, the league's senior director of diversity and inclusion. ''But interestingly, we feel like we accomplished more, engaged more executives, had a larger number of clubs and people involved. We set up a lot of sessions for the women to get to know each other, with a prep session we never have had before.
''I was blown away how remarkable the women were on Zooms. Questions were well researched, and they were able to impress our executives. I think that helped to create an atmosphere of just a group of people talking football. You could put any group in this program.''
The 2021 group of 40 women aspiring to NFL jobs as coaches, scouts and front office personnel spent two days last week remotely commingling with Commissioner Roger Goodell and his wife Jane; team owners Sheila Ford Hamp of the Lions and Dee Haslam of the Browns; a variety of general managers and coaches; and several women currently employed by teams.
More than 100 opportunities, ranging from internships to full-time positions, have developed out of the forums.
''I came into the forum with coaching experiences,'' says Lori Locus t, who soon will be wearing a Super Bowl ring after helping Tampa Bay to the championship as the assistant defensive line coach. ''Those internships are so valuable; you don't know what you don't know. The women sitting in the room (this year) at the forum are sitting with their future colleagues. They are collectively the next waves of what is coming into the league.
''It was invaluable to know I was not doing it alone. We were all there to gather as much information and absorb it and put it to practice. That is the thing with internships, you make it what you get out of it.''
The Goodells have been champions of the forum since it launched and are thrilled with the results so far. The commissioner, addressing the contributions women are making on the sidelines and in the front office and across the scouting spectrum, told the 2021 group at the outset of last week's event: ''The work they have put in and what they are giving to this game is truly remarkable. I hope you get to see all these people who have been in your seats before and you will be part of this panel in a different form soon.''
Attending for the second straight year was Sophia Lewin, a quality control coach for Princeton. Lewin earned an internship with the Bills in 2020, but it never happened because of the pandemic. She is hopeful to begin her NFL journey this year in Buffalo.
Her duties at Princeton, which didn't play last season with the Ivy League shut down, have mostly been with the offense: meeting with quarterbacks; assisting in drills; working on the playbook; providing one-on-one time with the players.
Basically, she says, ''the utility piece.''
From here, she hopes to move into the pros.
''My career goal has been to be a head coach in the NFL,'' Lewin notes, ''but I also understand the need for flexibility in that. I want to work with the best possible people I can work with. I want to win Super Bowls - I would rather win 10 Super Bowls as a coordinator than be unsuccessful as a head coach.
''The title does not matter to me, the impact is most important to me. Be successful on and off the field as a group.''
Lewin witnessed real and potential success for everyone during each forum, last year's in person and the recent one virtually. From the advice of Hamp and Haslam to encouragement from coaches Bruce Arians - yeah, the Super Bowl winner - and Washington's Ron Rivera, to the words of Locust, Rivera assistant Jennifer King, Browns chief of staff Callie Brownson and many others working in the league.
She also felt a swell of pride being among the 40 women invited to this year's forum.
''Last year, I learned that the women who are participants are extremely important to connect to,'' Lewis says. ''It turned out some of my best friends were actually participants from last year and I learned who you connect with is not just people in the NFL.
''It really is two days of empowerment and excitement. It is phenomenal. What Sam and Venessa (Hutchinson, NFL senior manager of football development) have built is really a bridge for us. Most of us are in the college ranks and trying to make it to the NFL in some way. The tone is set by them and they inspired me to keep working and represent them better. They are putting their trust in us to represent ourselves well.''
The New York Jets released defensive lineman Henry Anderson on Tuesday. Anderson was due $8.2 million in 2021, and the Jets saved nearly that same amount by cutting him. Anderson, 29, started 24 games for Gang Green in the last three seasons. He carried a $9.5 million salary cap charge, with the remaining $1.3 million as a "dead" charge. New York now has more than $75 million in salary cap space as they head into free agency. Anderson played more snaps (942) than every Jets lineman except Quinnen Williams in 2019 and 2020. Traded over from the Colts during the 2018 draft, Anderson had a career-high seven sacks in the final year of his rookie contract. Since a three-year, $25.2 million deal, he produced just 1.5 sacks in the last 29 games. Anderson played in all 16 games last year, finishing with 42 total tackles.
The Minnesota Vikings released tight end Kyle Rudolph on Tuesday, according to sources. Rudolph becomes a free agent after 10 seasons and two trips to the Pro Bowl with Minnesota. He was set to make a base salary of $7.65 million in 2021 in the second season of a four-year, $36 million contract. Releasing Rudolph will save the team a little more than $5 million in salary cap space and $8 million in cash in 2021. A second-round pick in 2011, the 31-year-old is a free agent for the first time in his career and should draw real interest on the open market. In the right situation, he could return to TE1 status as a solid red-zone target. Back in Minnesota, Irv Smith Jr. had already started to take over as the team's top pass-catching tight end in 2020. Smith had 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games (seven starts) last year, while Rudolph had 28 receptions for 334 yards and one TD in 12 starts.
Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen visited with the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday, according to a source. It's Allen's first known visit since he was released by the Falcons last month. All seven of his NFL seasons came with the Falcons, and he was a starter for the last six seasons in Atlanta. Allen recorded 25 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games for the team in 2020. Defensive backs Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell played nearly every defensive snap for Cincy last season and remain under contract in 2021, but backups Shawn Williams and Brandon Wilson are set for free agency in a few weeks. Allen would provide the Bengals with veteran leadership and depth in their secondary if he were to sign with them.
The New Orleans Saints have had trade conversations about potentially dealing defensive tackle Malcom Brown, according to sources. In the third year of a three-year, $15 million contract, a trade or release would save the Saints around $5 million against the 2021 salary cap. Brown has appeared in 29 games with the Saints in his first two seasons, recording 61 tackles (nine for loss), three sacks and one fumble recovery. New Orleans currently has the worst salary cap situation in the league, with Over The Cap pegging the Saints at $69.5 million over a projected cap of $180.5 million. Trading Brown would free up a small portion of the total but would create a hole at a position that will likely be without Sheldon Rankins, who is set to enter free agency, in 2021.
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said that impending free-agent running back Aaron Jones is a candidate for the franchise tag, but also said there are "usually better ways to avoid it." Gutekunst said he would use the tag on Jones if it is what's best for the team. Jones would make around $8 million if he was slapped with the franchise tag in 2021. The 26-year-old running back finished as the No. 5 fantasy running back in Yahoo leagues in 2020, carrying the ball 201 times for 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games. He also had 47 receptions on 63 targets for an additional 355 yards through the air and two scores. Jones will remain an RB1 target in fantasy in 2021 if he remains with Green Bay, but he'd be plenty valuable elsewhere in a lead-back role.
The Houston Texans released cornerbacks Mark Fields and Brandon Williams on Tuesday, per the league's transaction wire. Fields started the 2020 season with the Minnesota Vikings and played in two games before joining the Texans. He played in just two more games in Houston and had two total tackles. Williams appeared in six games and had just one tackle for the Giants in 2020 before signing with Houston in January. He appeared in 45 games for the Cardinals between 2016 and 2018. The moves will free up around $1.5 million in salary cap space for the Texans entering the 2021 season.
The Houston Texans and running back David Johnson agreed to a restructured deal on Tuesday, according to a source. Johnson's one-year deal will be worth up to $6 million with $4.25 million fully guaranteed at signing. His total cash is lower than his previous contract, but his full guarantee for the 2021 season more than doubles from $2.1 million. Johnson came to Houston as part of the blockbuster deal that sent All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals before last season. He had a career-high yards-per-carry average of 4.7 on 147 rushing attempts, scoring six touchdowns in 2020. The 29-year-old wasn't a game-changer for the Texans, though, and his injury history may give some fantasy managers pause. However, he could be a decent draft pick in 2021 with Duke Johnson now out of the picture.
The Miami Dolphins informed linebacker Kyle Van Noy that he will be released, according to a source. The move comes just one year into a four-year, $51 million contract. The 29-year-old had just 69 tackles and six sacks in his lone season with the Dolphins. His release will save the Dolphins $9.75 million against the 2021 salary cap, while he'll incur a $4.125 dead-cap hit. With the release of Van Noy, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel should move into a much larger role next season. While it is a somewhat surprising move, Van Noy's release just one year into a four-year deal won't hamstring the club much at all heading into the 2021 season with a lowered overall salary cap.
Tennessee Titans impending free-agent pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney (knee) is expected to be fully cleared from surgery to fix a torn meniscus in April, according to a source. Clowney is close to being ready now, but it could delay his signing with a new team for a few weeks. The three-time Pro Bowler can wreak havoc in opposing backfields when he's healthy, but the problem is he's rarely healthy. Clowney has played in just one full season in seven years in the NFL, and he managed just eight games for the Titans in 2020. In those eight games, he had 19 tackles (four for loss), six QB hits, four passes defensed, one forced fumble and no sacks. The 28-year-old former first overall pick in 2014 could once again encounter a cold market coming off yet another surgery.
The representatives for Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown have started to explore trade possibilities as he looks for a full-time spot at left tackle, according to a source. The Ravens value the three-year starter and Pro Bowler but are aware of his plans and are open to discussions about his future. Baltimore drafted Brown in 2018 to play right tackle opposite left tackle Ronnie Stanley, but Stanley suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle in Week 8 last year after signing a five-year extension in October. In his place, Brown had a 76.4 Pro Football Focus grade and earned his second straight Pro Bowl selection in the final 10 regular season and playoff games. Brown was a third-round pick and can become a free agent after the 2022 season.
New York Giants offensive tackle Nate Solder, who opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns for his family with COVID-19, intends to play in 2021 if the situation is right. Solder was considered a high-risk opt-out and his contract tolled. He's scheduled to make $10 million in 2021 while costing $16.5 million against the salary cap. The Giants are expected to meet with the veteran tackle once they know the official salary cap number for 2021. The 32-year-old was the team's starting left tackle in 2018 and 2019 and spent the previous seven seasons with the Patriots, where he won two Super Bowls. New York would save $6 million if they release Solder and $10 million if they made it a post-June 1 cut. Andrew Thomas, the fourth overall pick last year, progressed at left tackle as the season progressed.
The Tennessee Titans re-signed cornerback Breon Borders on Monday to an undisclosed deal. Borders was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Duke and spent much of last season on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster. He recorded 27 tackles, one interception, six passes defensed and one tackle for a loss in six games played (five starts) in 2020. The Titans waived Borders last Thursday before re-signing him. The 25-year-old earned the fifth-highest Pro Football Focus grade of any cornerback in the NFL from Weeks 8 through 12. But his promising rookie campaign ended in Week 13 due to an injury. At the very worst, Borders gives Tennessee's secondary some much-needed depth, and he could push for a starting role this summer.
Chicago Bears CB Buster Skrine was released Monday, March 1.
New England Patriots QB Cam Newton scored 12 rushing touchdowns inside the red zone in 2020 - the most in the league by a quarterback - according to Pro Football Focus.
Fantasy Spin: There was much focused based on the fact Newton threw for eight touchdowns versus 10 interceptions in 2020, but his ability to serve as his own goal-line back occasionally made him a somewhat serviceable fantasy QB2 down the stretch even after he cooled following a strong start. It seems reasonable to believe New England will draft someone within the first three rounds to compete with him this season if he returns to the Patriots, but he looks like the best bet to be their Week 1 starter again right now.
Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook ran for 13 of his 16 rushing touchdowns inside the red zone in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.
Fantasy Spin: Cook finally put together the kind of high-volume season fantasy owners have been hoping for since he arrived as a second-round pick in 2017. The Vikings are hoping a smooth transition from father (Gary Kubiak) to son (Klint) at offensive coordinator can lead to another such season, but caution is warranted. Fantasy owners can't expect Klint to be the same great play-caller Gary Kubiak was in his first shot as an NFL offensive coordinator, and Cook's durability remains a huge question mark.
New Orleans Saints RB Alvin Kamara scored a league-high 16 rushing touchdowns inside the red zone in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.
Fantasy Spin: Kamara is more than just a great receiving option out of the backfield and this is more proof of that. The 25-year-old has yet to log 200 carries in any of his four seasons but has somehow managed to post at least 14 rushing scores in two of those years. If we forgive Kamara for his injury-plagued 2019 campaign, he has produced at least 13 total TDs in every other season.
The Houston Texans released quarterback Josh McCown on Monday, according to the NFL's transaction wire. The 41-year-old played in three games for the Eagles in 2019 and became the league's oldest practice-squad player after he served as an emergency quarterback at the start of last season. McCown was signed to the active roster in November, but he never saw the field. The Texans actually interviewed him for their vacant head-coaching position in January, so McCown could get into coaching once he retires as a player. The Texans also announced on Monday that they signed running backs Buddy Howell and Dontrell Hilliard and cornerback Cornell Armstrong to contract extensions.
The Chicago Bears released cornerback Buster Skrine on Monday, according to a source. Skrine, a 10-year veteran who will turn 32 years old in April, played 68 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019, but he missed the final four games and the playoffs due to the sixth reported concussion of his career. He had 68 tackles while playing 52 percent of the snaps in 2020, and opposing quarterbacks had a 125.7 passer rating when throwing his way, according to Pro Football Reference. The Bears don't have an obvious replacement for him on their roster, but Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor could be asked to step up. By cutting Skrine, Chicago will take a $3.3 million dead salary cap hit. The veteran would've been owed $6 million in 2021.
Arizona Cardinals impending free-agent LB Haason Reddick and CB Patrick Peterson are players the Cardinals are interested in re-signing this offseason.
Baltimore Ravens impending free-agent LB Pernell McPhee said he wants to re-sign with the Ravens this offseason.