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The Sports Xchange
    Saints adding OL Murphy, DL Neal and LB Poling

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints have agreed to contract terms with offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, rookie defensive lineman Lorenzo Neal and linebacker Quentin Poling, general manager Mickey Loomis announced Sunday.

    The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Murphy is a three-year NFL veteran out of Stanford who was a 2016 sixth-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers.

    He played in six games with three starts in his first two seasons in Green Bay before spending 2018 on injured reserve. Murphy has since spent stints on the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans practice squads.

    The 6-3, 325-pound Neal played defensive tackle at Purdue from 2016-20, appearing in 38 games and recording 73 tackles, including 13 stops for losses and four sacks to go with five passes defensed, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick. He is the son of former fullback Lorenzo Neal Sr., who was drafted by New Orleans in 1993 out of Fresno State and played 16 NFL seasons with the Saints, Jets, Buccaneers, Bengals, Chargers, Ravens and Raiders.

    Poling was taken by Miami in seventh round of the 2018 draft and spent most of his first two seasons on practice squads with the Dolphins, Falcons and Raiders before making his NFL debut with the Raiders in 2019 on special teams. In college at Ohio, he set school records with 221 career solo tackles and 44 career tackles for loss.


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    Ryan Kerrigan, Washington star defensive end, joins Eagles

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles and four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Ryan Kerrigan have agreed on a one-year contract.

    The 32-year-old Kerrigan played 10 seasons in Washington and is the franchise's all-time leader with 95 1/2 sacks.

    “I know I probably wasn’t your favorite player over the past decade, but Philadelphia Eagles fans I’m fired up to be playing for you guys now!” Kerrigan wrote on Instagram on Monday.

    Kerrigan had 5 1/2 sacks last season for the NFC East champions but played a career-low 38% of the snaps. He joins veteran Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat on Philadelphia's defensive end rotation.

    The Eagles had 49 sacks last season. Graham led the team with eight.


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    Chiefs' Niang finally gets rookie minicamp after opting out
    By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer | 

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lucas Niang doesn't regret his decision to opt out of his rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even if it means the offensive lineman now faces an uphill fight for playing time this season.

    “I was thinking long-term,” he explained, “and that's what I decided.”

    Now, more than a year after Niang was drafted in the third round out of TCU, the Chiefs are getting a chance to see him on the field. Niang took part in their three-day rookie minicamp over the weekend, giving him a chance to shake off any of the rust accumulated during his time away while giving the Chiefs an idea of how he might fit into the lineup.

    “He actually came in better shape than he came in last year,” coach Andy Reid said, “so that's a plus. He's been doing stuff, so he came in and looked like he got right back into it. For what we asked him to do, he was fine.”

    He might need to be a lot better than fine to see the field this season.

    The way things worked out last season, Niang would have played some crucial snaps for the AFC champions — and even may have started in the Super Bowl. Injuries and the decision of fellow offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to opt out left them perilously thin on depth, and the only starter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl that handled his job during the regular season was center Austin Reiter.

    The makeshift offensive line was predictably dominated by Tampa Bay in a humiliating defeat.

    Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, perhaps scarred by the sight that February night, wasted little time scrapping their entire offensive line and rebuilding it from the ground up. They signed Patriots stalwart Joe Thuney to play left guard, lured former All-Pro lineman Kyle Long out of retirement to play guard or tackle, signed Rams center Austin Blythe and then made a draft-week splash by sending their first-round choice in a package of picks to land Baltimore tackle Orlando Brown Jr.

    The Chiefs weren't done, either. They landed one of the draft's top centers in the second round in Oklahoma's Creed Humphry, then took advantage of some medical concerns that allowed Tennessee lineman Trey Smith to slide all the way to the sixth round — a potential steal if his heart condition has truly been solved.

    Throw in the return of Duvernay-Tardif, who spent last season helping COVID-19 patients in his native Canada, and the offensive line room that Niang walked into this weekend looked a whole lot different from last season.

    “You can tell he's worked,” Reid said. “The thing with this is there was no offense vs. defense with the lines. We didn't have the one-on-ones or anything like that. So like all players, it's going to be a challenge down the road to get back into that, but for right now, he looked tremendous for what we were doing.”

    The year off allowed Niang to further recover from a hip injury that he suffered at TCU in 2019, though he probably would have been healthy enough to play last season. It also allowed him to work out with BX Movement’s Brett Yarris in his hometown of New Canaan, Connecticut, where the longtime guard spent time working at tackle.

    Given so many candidates for so few jobs, that flexibility could help Niang stand out from the offensive line crowd.

    “He’s a very intelligent kid,” said Reid, a longtime offensive line coach. “I think you guys know that, but he’s very intelligent. Just getting him back into the swing of things, it looked like he did that well.”

    It's not as though the Chiefs hadn't been keeping tabs on Niang, either. Their coaching staff reached out on a weekly basis to make sure he was staying in shape, and even his teammates kept in touch by text message and social media.

    “We were literally in the training room the other day and out of nowhere ... (Patrick Mahomes) bumps me and says, ‘Hey, how’s Niang doing?’" Veach said earlier this offseason. “We’re anxious to get him back."

    Well, he's finally back. And the Chiefs are counting on Niang to be better than ever.


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    Colts reschedule Mathis' Ring of Honor ceremony for November

    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Robert Mathis, the Indianapolis Colts' career sacks leader, will finally be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor on Nov. 28.

    He was supposed to become the 17th honoree last fall but the ceremony was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rescheduled ceremony will take place at halftime of Indy's game against Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay.

    The Colts drafted Mathis in the fifth round of the 2003 draft. Over the next 14 seasons, all in Indy, Mathis had a franchise-record 123 sacks, 52 forced fumbles 18 passes defensed and 17 fumble recoveries, three of which he returned for touchdowns.

    He was an All-Pro in 2013 when he won the league's sacks title, won one Super Bowl ring and was selected to six Pro Bowls. Mathis finished No. 17 on the league's career sacks list, had an NFL record 47 strip-sacks and later served as an assistant coach with the Colts.

    For more than a decade, Mathis teamed with Dwight Freeney to form one of the NFL's fiercest pass-rushing tandems. Freeney became a Ring of Honor member in 2019.

    “He was undersized and underrated, but he made up for it with a motor that wouldn’t quit and a flawless technique that outmatched the most talented lineman in the league," Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. “To watch him strip-sack the quarterback — which he did better and more than anyone in NFL history — was a thing of beauty. What’s more, Robert has stayed connected to the horseshoe and has helped guide and teach our next generation of players."


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    Packers sign former Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert

    GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers signed Kurt Benkert on Monday in their latest attempt to add quarterback depth while MVP Aaron Rodgers’ future with the team remains unclear.

    Green Bay has signed both Benkert and Blake Bortles — the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft and former Jacksonville Jaguars starter — over the past week.

    Rodgers, who reportedly wants out of Green Bay, and 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love had been the only quarterbacks on the Packers’ roster.

    The Packers had brought Benkert and Chad Kelly in for tryouts during the team’s rookie minicamp last week.

    Benkert, who is 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2018 as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia. He spent the 2018 and 2020 seasons on Atlanta’s practice squad and was on injured reserve in 2019.

    The 25-year-old Benkert has never appeared in an NFL regular-season game.

    Green Bay is facing an uncertain quarterback situation after ESPN reported hours before the draft that Rodgers doesn’t want to return to the team.

    Packers CEO Mark Murphy posted a column on the team’s website later that week in which he said “this is an issue that we’ve been working on for several months.”

    Murphy acknowledged that he, general manager Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur had met with Rodgers “on a number of occasions” during the offseason.

    Gutekunst has said he doesn't plan to trade Rodgers, who has three years remaining on his contract.

    “We want him back in the worst way,” LaFleur said Friday. “I know he knows that and, you know, we’ll continue to work at it each and every day.”


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    Broncos' Kleine highest-ranking female scouting exec in NFL
    By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Wirter | 

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos have hired former Vikings scouting executive Kelly Kleine as executive director of football operations and special adviser to the general manager.

    That makes Kleine the highest-ranking woman in football operations at an NFL club. Additionally, she's believed to be the highest-ranking female scouting executive in league history.

    Kleine, who worked with Broncos first-year general manager George Paton for nine years in Minnesota, will have scouting duties and manage several departments, the team said.

    The Broncos said Kleine will “be involved in all aspects of the Broncos' personnel department, including player evaluation, NFL Draft/free agency preparations and day-to-day football administration.”

    Paton called Kleine “a rising star in the NFL."

    “Having worked with her for nine years in Minnesota, Kelly has a strong understanding of all aspects of football operations and player evaluation along with outstanding leadership qualities,” Paton said. "She will be a tremendous resource with her experience on the pro and college sides as well as her knowledge of our grading scale and football calendar.”

    Kleine most recently served as the Vikings' manager of player personnel/college scout from 2019-20.

    A native of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Kleine began her NFL career as a public relations intern with the Vikings in 2012 and was a scouting administration intern the following year.

    A 2013 graduate of the University of Minnesota, Kleine was promoted to scouting assistant in 2014 and served as the Vikings' college scouting coordinator from 2015-18.


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    Jaguars sign 6th-rounder Jalen Camp, waive Ryquell Armstead

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars signed sixth-round draft pick Jalen Camp on Monday and waived third-year running back Ryquell Armstead, who spent all of last season on the COVID-19 list.

    A fifth-round pick from Temple in 2019, Armstead was hospitalized twice and dealt with respiratory issues. The team said last season he was expected to make a full recovery.

    Armstead became expendable after the emergence of running back James Robinson in 2020. The Jaguars also signed veteran Carlos Hyde in free agency and selected Clemson standout Travis Etienne with the 25th overall pick in the draft.

    Under the NFL's rookie slotting system, Camp was expected to sign a four-year deal worth about $3.64 million. The contract includes a $161,000 signing bonus. He will count about $700,000 against the salary cap in 2021.

    Camp was the 209th overall choice. He played in 49 games at Georgia Tech, finishing his college career with 48 catches for 808 yards and five touchdowns.


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    Giants sign veterans Kelvin Benjamin, Corey Clement
    By The Associated Press | 

    The New York Giants signed wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and running back Corey Clement on Sunday.

    Benjamin, who was a first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2014, has not played in the NFL since 2018 when he split time between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

    Benjamin was drafted by then-Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, who is now the GM in New York.

    In four seasons with the Panthers, Bills and Chiefs, Benjamin played in 61 regular-season games. He had 209 receptions for 3,021 yards and 20 touchdowns.

    Clement, who joined the Eagles as a rookie free agent, spent the past four seasons with the Philadelphia and won the Super Bowl in his rookie season. He caught four passes for 100 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles as the Eagles beat the New England Patriots 41-33 for their first Super Bowl title.

    For his career, Clement has played in 46 regular-season games with 655 yards rushing and seven touchdowns and added 37 receptions for 340 yards.

    The Giants waived running back Jordan Chunn and tight end Nate Wieting.


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    Panthers' 1st-round pick honors Kobe Bryant by wearing No. 8
    By STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer | 

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — When Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Jaycee Horn learned the NFL would let cornerbacks wear single-digit numbers this season, his jersey choice became easy.

    He selected No. 8 to honor his childhood hero, Kobe Bryant.

    “Kobe has always been my favorite athlete,” said Horn, the eighth overall pick in last month's draft.

    Horn wore No. 1 while playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks, but had planned to switch No. 24 — the other number Bryant wore with the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers — when he got to the NFL. However, that number was already taken in Carolina.

    So he was thrilled when the league loosened restrictions on what numbers certain positions could wear this season.

    He called it the “perfect number.”

    “I was the eighth pick and Kobe wore No. 8 so it all just lined up," said Horn, who practiced for the first time with the number this weekend at the team's rookie minicamp.

    Bryant and eight others, including his daughter, died in a helicopter crash last year.

    Horn said Bryant became a role model for him because of his mindset and the way he attacked the game.

    “The whole Mamba mentality deal,” Horn said. “How he just looked at everybody as food really, and dominated the game for so long, game in and game out. Just the way he trained and his whole thought process really is what made me gravitate toward him.”

    Horn, viewed as a shutdown cornerback at South Carolina, said that is the way he approaches football.

    And he plans to honor Bryant by approaching things the same way with the Panthers.

    "Just having the mindset to go out there and just lock in," he said. "Even off the field, prepare the right way and then dominate when it is time.”


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    1st rule of Jaguars rookie camp: Don't touch QB Lawrence
    By MARK LONG, AP Pro Football Writer | 

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Trevor Lawrence opened Jacksonville’s rookie minicamp on a pitch count. Coaches and teammates were essentially given an even stricter rule regarding the No. 1 pick and franchise quarterback: Don’t touch him.

    Lawrence is three months removed from labrum surgery on his left, non-throwing shoulder. The cartilage has healed enough to practice, but the Jaguars are taking precautions to make sure the former Clemson star doesn’t do any damage while he fully recovers. He is expected to be full go before training camp in late July.

    “The No. 1 issue is falling,” coach Urban Meyer said Saturday. “He can’t hand off right now. He can’t take a direct snap from under center. We’re just worried about any chance of that arm getting jammed right now. … We can’t have (him) on the ground. That’s the biggest thing: We’ve got to keep people away from him. The pitch count’s not as big as the fact of keeping him upright.”

    Lawrence is being held between 30 and 40 passes, not including warmups, during each of the team’s two practices that include 18 rookies and first-year players. Most of those Saturday went to assistant coaches.

    By the end of the 90-minute session, Lawrence had reached his limit and was going through plays and faking slow-motion throws during team drills.

    “I want to get out there and just throw and go, but I think it’s better for me in the long run just to take it slow and get acclimated just because I’m still recovering,” he said. “It’s feeling great. No complaints. I’m making great progress but still just got to be smart and take it easy.”

    Lawrence added that lifting weights is the only physical limitation he’s dealing with right now.

    “Got full range of motion pretty much,” he said. “Need to work on it a little bit, but I’m feeling great so we’re taking steps in the right direction for sure, just trying to make sure I’m good come Game 1.”

    Four rookies were held out of practice. Cornerback Tyson Campbell, a second-round pick from Georgia, tweaked a hamstring during the opening day of rookie camp. Defensive tackle Jay Tufele, a fourth-round pick from USC, was held out after receiving one positive and one negative COVID-19 test result.

    Safety Andre Cisco, a third-rounder from Syracuse, and linebacker Dylan Moses, an undrafted rookie from Alabama, are both recovering from knee injuries.

    So 14 guys were on the field. But all eyes were on Lawrence and fellow first-rounder Travis Etienne, the 25th overall pick out of Clemson and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time leading rusher.

    Etienne worked exclusively at receiver, lining up in the slot, out wide and even a play or two at H-back. Lawrence’s shoulder may have played a role in having Etienne stay out of the backfield, but Meyer said coaches wanted to get a look at him in a “slash” role.

    “Worst-case scenario, you have a running back with the skillset of a wide receiver,” Meyer said. “Best-case scenario, you’ll have a hybrid player who can do both, and that’s what we’re hoping to develop out of Travis.”

    Etienne welcomed the move and believes it could be beneficial for him and the offense.

    “Football is a game of matchups, create problems,” Etienne said. “We’re just trying to get the best matchups. I think it’s going to work out well.”

    Meyer slowed practice Saturday to a “better teach tempo.” But he made it clear to his players that things would crank up when organized team activities begin May 24.

    Lawrence, Etienne and everyone else on Jacksonville’s 90-man roster could have tight end Tim Tebow on the roster by then.

    Meyer said he planned to make a decision on signing Tebow following Sunday’s rookie camp finale. Tebow last played in a regular-season game in 2012 (with the New York Jets) and was last on an NFL roster during training camp in 2015 (with the Philadelphia Eagles). He spent the last five years playing baseball in the New York Mets organization.

    “All our focus is on the guys right now and we’ll have a chat Sunday,” Meyer said.


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