Thu Apr 2 7:44pm ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) If NFL teams are unable to hold offseason workouts amid the coronavirus pandemic, Andrew Whitworth and Austin Blythe believe continuity will be a valuable commodity this fall.
That's an area where the Los Angeles Rams' offensive line should be much stronger this season.
Whitworth and Blythe are both returning to their starting jobs on the line after re-signing with the Rams as free agents. Whitworth has been Los Angeles' starting left tackle for each of coach Sean McVay's three seasons, while Blythe has started at all three interior spots on the line over the past two years.
Injuries and turnover were key factors in the offensive line's less-than-stellar performance last season, but all five starters are returning this year. They expect to be tougher and more dependable and after spending much of last season frantically filling injury holes.
“I look forward to us having a fantastic rebound,” Whitworth said Thursday.
After the Rams' offensive line had remarkable durability and consistency during McVay's first two seasons, it went through upheaval last year. Second-year pros Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom took over starting roles with little NFL experience, and both incurred season-ending injuries that forced more shuffles.
“Other guys had to step up and play, so having that experience is going to help us a lot coming into training camp,” Blythe said. “I think it will let us hit the ground running, even at the end of OTAs if we’re getting to go out there and do some football stuff. But if it happens to be training camp before we get on the field, that’s going to serve us really well.”
When the Rams hosted the Bears last November, they had four starters playing new positions on the offensive line, including Blythe moving to center from right guard. Aside from Whitworth and Blythe, the Rams' other three starters against Chicago - Bobby Evans, David Edwards and Austin Corbett - had barely played in the NFL.
“A lot of these guys unfortunately didn’t to play a lot of football before they got thrust in there to play a lot of football,” Whitworth said. “Considering at one point we had three guys who had never played in an NFL football game starting, that’s a heck of a challenge. I don’t care where you are. I think there’s a lot to build off of. I think we have a lot of young guys that will step up and play well, and they’re going to grow up and mature."
The backups are mostly all back with a year of experience. Allen, Noteboom and right tackle Rob Havenstein also are returning to the Rams' offensive line, which will be blocking for a new running back.
Los Angeles released Todd Gurley last month to get out from under his onerous contract extension before it had even kicked in, leaving career backup Malcolm Brown and second-year pro Darrell Henderson as the Rams' top running backs.
Whitworth didn't sugarcoat the setback for the Rams' offense, saying Gurley will be missed in the locker room and on the field.
“He’s just somebody who’s infectious with his attitude, and really just his toughness and how much he loves football,” Whitworth said. “Guys just gravitate to him because of that."
Whitworth officially agreed to a three-year deal this week to return for his 15th NFL season, but he isn't thinking about his future beyond the current season. To that end, he built a weight room in his garage in California over the past month to make sure his training doesn't slip while he's unable to go to the Rams' training complex.
Whitworth knows he'll need every advantage to stay on top at 38 years old, and he started planning for this possibility well before North American sports had come to a standstill. Whitworth and his wife parked their cars in the driveway, and their four children helped with the cleanup and sterilization of the garage before he trucked in plenty of weights with help from the Rams.
“I was paying attention enough to realize things would be changing and be different,” Whitworth said. “I really started almost a month ago ordering equipment and stuff that I thought I might need, and now I’ve got a full-fledged weight room at the house. The only problem is she wants to know what in the world we’re going to do with all of it when things go back to normal. So I’ve got to figure that one out, but other than that, we’re good."
According to a source, there's "not a chance in hell" that the New England Patriots trade wide receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman does carry a salary cap hit of $9.6 million in 2020, but he's too important to the team's passing game, especially given their lack of depth and with quarterback Tom Brady no longer in town. The veteran receiver was targeted 153 times in 2019 and caught 100 passes for the second time in his career. With Brady gone -- he'll likely have Jarrett Stidham under center this season -- Edelman's fantasy appeal certainly won't be as strong, and he'll also be 34 next month. But he'll still be useful in PPR leagues and could even come at a nice value. However, he won't be as much of a PPR lock as he's been in the past as Brady's favorite aerial weapon.
The Las Vegas Raiders and cornerback Eli Apple were unable to finalize a contract, according to sources. Apple will remain a free agent and will go back on the open market. The former 10th overall pick by the Giants in the 2016 draft hasn't lived up to his draft pedigree in his four years in the league with New York and New Orleans, but another team will likely be willing to take a chance on him at a low cost. The 24-year-old has just three interceptions in his career and totaled 58 tackles (53 solo), four passes defensed and one forced fumble in 15 games for the Saints in 2019.
The New York Jets are interested in free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney now that his asking price has dropped a bit on the open market. Clowney has found a cold market for his services, likely because of the lack of physicals due to the coronavirus and his extensive injury history, but at this point he's in no rush to pick a team. He's willing to wait until he gets the deal that he's seeking as the best pass-rusher available in free agency this late in the game. The Seahawks are interested in bringing him back at the right price, and the Titans have also shown interest. Clowney has never had a double-digit sack season in his career and is an injury risk, but there's no denying that he still has an impact in defending both the run and the pass when he's healthy. This one could drag on.
Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil said on NFL Live that he wants to become the league's highest-paid offensive lineman. "Im not going to talk numbers, as Im going to keep that between me and the club. I am looking to be the highest-paid lineman, of course. I worked my butt off to be in that position and hopefully we can make that happen," Tunsil said. The 25-year-old first-round pick of the Dolphins in 2016 was acquired from Miami along with receiver Kenny Stills last year for two first-round picks and a second-rounder. He's an elite left tackle that should easily wind up making around $20 million per season on a long-term deal with the Texans. His presence on the blind side for years to come will be excellent news for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (ankle) said he's still not fully recovered from an ankle injury that held him to just 11 games in 2019. Ebron had to have his ankle examined and "cleaned out" by an independent doctor near his home in Houston because of league restrictions keeping players from visiting other organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. The 26-year-old has yet to be examined by the Steelers medical personnel. "If the season started today, I dont think Id be able to 100% perform. But we dont play today," Ebron said. He was a disappointment last year as a TE1 after setting career highs in catches (66), yards (750) and touchdowns (13) in 2018. The 10th overall pick by the Lions in 2014 must get healthy first, but he'll also be competing for targets with Vance McDonald, which will hurt his overall fantasy ceiling in his new home.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed quarterback Blaine Gabbert to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. Gabbert will serve as the backup to Tom Brady in 2020. The 30-year-old former 10th overall pick of the Jaguars in 2011 will help Brady learn head coach Bruce Arians' system. He didn't see the field at all in 2019, but Gabbert has played in 56 games (48 starts) in his eight years in the NFL with stops in Jacksonville, San Francisco, Arizona and Tennessee. You can obviously ignore Gabbert in all fantasy leagues, and he'd merely be a low-end QB2 option in Tampa if Brady were to get hurt and miss any time.
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said that offensive tackle Jack Conklin will stay at right tackle in Cleveland. The Browns added Conklin in free agency as they look to improve a dreadful offensive line from a season ago. The eighth overall pick by the Titans in the 2016 draft was a first-team All-Pro in his rookie season and has been one of the better right tackles in the league in his four seasons. The 25-year-old has started all 57 games he's played in and has played in a full 16-game season in three of his four years in the league. Conklin will help bring stability to the right side of the Browns line, but they'll need help elsewhere.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry signed his $10.2 million franchise tender on Thursday, but the two sides are still committed to working on a long-term contract extension before the deadline on July 15. Henry led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards on 303 carries last season, and he was tied for the league lead with Aaron Jones with 16 rushing scores. His 25 receptions left a lot to be desired in PPR leagues, but there's no denying that Henry is the bell-cow running back in one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league. It makes the 26-year-old one of the most desirable RB1 picks for fantasy owners early in drafts.
Free-agent linebacker Markus Golden is the only player on the open market that had double-digit sacks in 2019. Golden recorded 10 sacks in 16 games last year and was sixth in the league with 27 quarterback hits while being tied for 14th with 13 tackles for a loss. He was believed to be asking for $10 million per season, according to a source, but he won't be getting that now. It's unlikely that New York will re-sign Golden after already adding Kyle Fackrell for one year and $4.6 million. The Giants are likely to add a low-priced veteran later on as they look to boost their pass rush. Golden earned $3.75 million last year and made another $1 million for reaching 10 sacks. The 29-year-old had a good season in 2019, but fantasy owners in IDP leagues shouldn't be expecting a repeat necessarily.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said that the uniqueness of quarterback Taysom Hill's role requires the team to have a third quarterback active on game days, and that won't change in 2020 with Teddy Bridgewater now in Carolina. The Saints are likely to look for the best quarterback (rookie or a veteran) that is available to be the No. 3 behind Drew Brees and Hill. New Orleans thinks highly of Hill as the heir apparent to Brees, but he's attempted just 13 passes the last two seasons, including just six attempts despite Brees missing extended time in 2019 with a finger injury. The 29-year-old gadget player won't have any lasting fantasy significance in redraft leagues unless Brees gets injured again or retires.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (hip) said on Wednesday that his surgically repaired hip is fully healed and that he could play in a game at full strength right now. I feel 100 percent, Tagovailoa said in an exclusive interview with NFL Network. I feel like if there was a game today, I'd be able to go out and perform the same way I was able to perform in previous years. I feel as mobile as possible. I feel 100 percent. His agent, Chris Cabott, said that Tagovailoa's doctors have cleared him without restrictions. Tagovailoa is expected to be one of the top picks in this year's draft and the second QB selected after LSU's Joe Burrow, who is expected to go first overall. Tua hasn't said which teams he's met with virtually. The left-handed thrower has some injury risks, but he's extremely accurate and athletic and could be starting games in 2020 for whichever team selects him.
Free-agent LB Markus Golden is unlikely to return to the New York Giants because he's asking for too much money, according to a source. Golden is believed to be asking for north of $10 million per year.
Fantasy Spin: If Golden is classified as a defensive lineman, he rates as a midrange DL1 option in IDP leagues. He had 72 total tackles and 9.5 sacks last year. He's a flex option at linebacker wherever he lands.
Updating previous reports, Dallas Cowboys LB Aldon Smith will have a $2 million base salary and can earn $2 million more in sack incentives.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz was hurried 67 times in 2019 - tied with Derek Carr for the second-highest total in the league.
Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr was hurried 67 times in 2019 - tied with Carson Wentz for the second-highest total in the league.
Free-agent DE/LB Aldon Smith (Raiders) reportedly agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday, April 1. Smith has not played in the league since 2017. Financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed.
The Dallas Cowboys signed former Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end Aldon Smith to a one-year, $4 million deal on Wednesday. He'll receive $2 million in base value and can earn an extra $2 million from sack incentives. Smith's contract with the team will officially begin when he's reinstated by the NFL. The former seventh overall pick by the 49ers in the 2011 draft, Smith last played in 2015 with the Raiders and has been out of the league since because of multiple off-the-field incidents. He was a first-team All-Pro with San Fran in his second season in the league and recorded 19.5 sacks and 29 QB hits that year. The Cowboys are taking a flier and hoping that he can get back at least some of that form to help Dallas' defensive line in 2020. All bets are off when it comes to Smith's play, but it's a nice comeback story nonetheless.
The Seattle Seahawks signed former Raiders defensive end Benson Mayowa to an undisclosed deal on Wednesday, according to his agent, David Canter. Mayowa had a career-high seven sacks in his one and only season in Oakland last season in a rotational role. The 28-year-old will likely be a rotational player again in Seattle, which limits his ceiling in IDP leagues. Should Jadeveon Clowney go elsewhere on the open market, Mayowa will look to pick up the slack in rushing the passer. In seven seasons in the NFL, Mayowa has 20 sacks and 41 QB hits in 87 games played (15 starts).
Free-agent DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks) is still an option for the Seattle Seahawks even though they signed DE Benson Mayowa.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Benson Mayowa (Raiders) signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks worth $3 million, according to a source. The deal could be worth as much as $4 million with incentives.