Wed Mar 3 11:27am ET
By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Sports Writer
Then-Washington Redskins cheerleaders perform during an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Landover, Md., in this Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, file photo. The Washington Football Team will not have cheerleaders for the 2021 season as part of an organizational rebranding. Washington hired Petra Pope, who managed the "Laker Girls" and brings three decades of NBA experience as an adviser to take on the task of reinventing the group.(AP Photo/Mark Tenally, File)
Washington Football Team cheerleaders perform before an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Landover, Md., in this Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, file photo. The Washington Football Team will not have cheerleaders for the 2021 season as part of an organizational rebranding. Washington hired Petra Pope, who managed the "Laker Girls" and brings three decades of NBA experience as an adviser to take on the task of reinventing the group.(AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr., File)
Washington will not have cheerleaders for the first time since the NFL's longest-running cheerleading team was founded in 1962, with a coed dance team taking its place.
The move is part of the organization's rebranding effort and not related to a confidential settlement reached with members of the 2008 and 2010 cheerleading teams. Lawyers for the team and those cheerleaders told The Associated Press last month that ''the matter has been resolved'' but would not say when the settlement was reached.
Former Laker Girl manager Petra Pope was hired Wednesday as an adviser to use her three-plus decades of NBA experience to revamp the group.
''I've been asked to create a more modern entertainment team that is inclusive and diverse,'' Pope said in a phone interview. ''We just want to follow that mode of being more modern and a more modern franchise. Change is difficult, but I do feel that the fans will love what we bring to the table.''
The ''First Ladies of Football'' program was put on pause after last season unrelated to allegations of team employees making inappropriate videos from calendar photo shoots of previous members in prior years. Washington on Monday made Joey Colby-Begovich vice president of gameday experience, and Pope will be in charge of forming and naming the new dance team.
The contracts of previous members of the cheerleading team expired, Pope confirmed, though she said they're able to try out for the 2021 group ''as long as they have that athletic skillset. I have no idea who the former dancers were, so I don't know them, so everyone's welcome to audition.''
Pope said she's convinced owner Dan Snyder and wife Tanya ''are committed to bringing this team to a more modern level.'' Snyder vowed last summer to change the culture of the team in light of allegations of workplace sexual harassment made by former employees, which prompted an independent investigation that the NFL took over.
In his comments at the Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, ''The Washington football club has made a lot of changes already.'' That included the hiring of Jason Wright as team president.
This is another change, which Pope said is expected to be in place for next season. Wright has said he expects ''Washington Football Team'' to continue for 2021 with a new, permanent name to be ready in 2022.
Pope, who worked 14 years for the NBA's New York Knicks in addition to her Los Angeles Lakers experience, said she's the ''new kid on the block'' in the big picture of the name change and will concentrate on the dancer element of the rebrand.
''My focus is really just reinventing this team,'' she said. ''My goal is to create this team, reinvent this team and make it more modern.''
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas said he's had "productive" talks with agent Erik Burkhardt on impending free-agent safety Marcus Maye, who is a franchise-tag candidate. The soon-to-be 28-year-old had two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles while racking up a career-high 88 tackles (52 solo) for the Jets in 2020. Since being selected by the Jets in the second round out of the University of Florida in 2017, Maye has 266 tackles (189 solo), six interceptions, 22 passes defensed, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 2.5 sacks in 54 games, all of which he has started. New defensive-minded head coach Robert Saleh obviously wants to keep Maye in the fold at free safety for New York's secondary.
Former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is projected as the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, said his rehab from left non-throwing shoulder surgery last month is going better than expected. He underwent surgery on Feb. 16 to fix damage to the labrum of his left shoulder. Lawrence remains in California, rehabbing his shoulder at MOTUS Specialists Physical Therapy in Orange County. The focus of his rehab right now is working within pain-free ranges of motion and strengthening the scapular (shoulder blade) muscles along with the core. Lawrence is expected to remain in a brace for around two more weeks, and he could begin throwing in six to eight weeks if the rehab goes as planned. Expected to land with Jacksonville at No. 1 overall, Lawrence could be fantasy relevant in single-year leagues right away as a QB2 with upside.
The New Orleans Saints agreed to a two-year deal worth $4 million with safety and special-teamer J.T. Gray on Wednesday, according to sources. The deal includes $2 million guaranteed. The Saints also did a simple restructure on defensive tackle David Onyemata's contract, creating $4.34 million in salary cap space heading into the 2021 season. With plenty of work to get under the salary cap this season, New Orleans has also considered trading defensive tackle Malcom Brown. Brown is in the final year of a three-year deal and his departure, combined with Onyemata's restructure, would clear nearly $10 million in salary cap space. The Saints are likely to continue with smaller re-signings and restructures in the coming days and weeks.
San Francisco 49ers center Weston Richburg (hip) recently underwent hip surgery, according to a source. There is currently no timetable for Richburg's return. After he did not play in 2020 due to other injuries and while being owed $8.35 million in 2021, it's likely that Richburg has played his final down for the Niners. His future on the field is also up in the air moving forward. The 29-year-old former second-round pick of the New York Giants in 2014 last played in 13 games for the 49ers in 2019. He spent four years with the G-Men before joining San Francisco in 2018. Coming off hip surgery and having not played since 2019, Richburg could easily struggle to find work if he hits the open market this year.
The Minnesota Vikings released long-time tight end Kyle Rudolph on Tuesday, ending a 10-year tenure with the team for the two-time Pro Bowl selection. According to Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot, Rudolph would reportedly love to join back up with former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, if the team moves on from David Njoku this offseason. Clearly on the downside of his career, Rudolph caught just 28 passes and one touchdown in 2020 while appearing in 12 games. There's no word yet as to whether the Browns would be interested in Rudolph's services, although Stefanski's familiarity with the tight end certainly could help. His days as an impact tight end are over, but the 31-year-old could emerge as a depth option, either in Cleveland or elsewhere.
Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is reportedly engaging in contract talks with the team that are 'more productive than they have been' in previous months, according to a source via Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News.
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.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley has recorded a league-high 89 catches on throws that traveled at least 10 yards in the air since the start of the 2019 season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Fantasy Spin: Ridley is an exquisite route-runner, which helps to explain how he is so proficient in the intermediate passing game. Julio Jones figures to remain the alpha receiver in the Atlanta offense for at least another year or two, but 2020 removed any doubt that Ridley is more than ready to slide into that role. Ridley averaged 88 yards receiving in the seven full games Jones missed last year, but he only scored two of his nine touchdowns in those contests. Ridley should be among the first 10 receivers off the board in fantasy drafts this spring and summer.
Arizona Cardinals DE J.J. Watt (101) and DE/LB Chandler Jones rank first and tied for second in the league in sacks since the start of the 2012 season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Free-agent TE Kyle Rudolph (Vikings) leads the NFL with a drop rate of just one percent on catchable passes since 2017, according to Pro Football Focus Tuesday, March 2.
Fantasy Spin: Rudolph is sure to have a market, especially with a jump on free agency. He could be a top red-zone option in the right offense and will be a quality low-end TE1 option in 2021 fantasy drafts.
Green Bay Packers WR Devin Funchess hasn't shared his intentions for the 2021 season with the team after opting out of the 2020 campaign, according to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett Tuesday, March 2. He remains under contract.
Fantasy Spin: The Packers may not have as much of a need for Funchess after the emergence of WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling in 2020. WR Allen Lazard projects as the starter opposite Davante Adams. Funchess can be dropped in all dynasty leagues.
Updating a previous story, releasing DL Henry Anderson Tuesday, March 2, will save the New York Jets $8.2 million in cap space for the 2021 season.
Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson is a candidate to receive the franchise tag for the 2021 season, according to general manager Ryan Pace Tuesday, March 2. 'No firm decision on that yet, but we know we have it at our disposal. ... We want to keep our good players and Allen is a good player for us,' Pace said.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson was the team leader in targets, receptions and receiving yards in 2020, and his six touchdowns ranked second among pass-catchers. WR Darnell Mooney would be the next-best in-house option if the Bears do part with Robinson. Robinson is a top WR2 regardless of where he plays in 2021, but his volume in Chicago has provided a very steady floor of fantasy production.
New York Jets DL Henry Anderson was released Tuesday, March 2.
Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones will receive the franchise tag for the 2021 season, according to general manager Brian Gutekunst, if it's what's best for the team. Gutekunst says there are 'usually better ways to avoid it.'
Fantasy Spin: It's tough to envision a better fantasy situation for Jones in 2021 or beyond. He's a clear RB1 with the Packers but could slip into the RB2 tier in a less efficient offense.
Minnesota Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph was released Tuesday, March 2.
Fantasy Spin: The clear winner here is TE Irv Smith who will step straight into the No. 1 role in 2021 with little competition at the tight end position. Smith caught 30 passes for 365 yards and five touchdowns while starting just seven games in 2020 and should grow into a mid-tier TE1 as the No. 3 or 4 option in the Vikings' passing attack.
Free-agent S Ricardo Allen (Falcons) visited with the Cincinnati Bengals Tuesday, March 2, according to a source.
Chicago Bears CB Jaylon Johnson (shoulder) and DE Khalil Mack (shoulder) won't need offseason surgery, according to general manager Ryan Pace Tuesday, March 2.
Updating a previous story, releasing TE Kyle Rudolph Tuesday, March 2, will save the Minnesota Vikings a little over $5 million in cap space for 2021.
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.