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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers on Monday got younger and cleared nearly $6 million in salary-cap space by releasing starting free safety Kurt Coleman and defensive end Charles Johnson.

Coleman, who will turn 30 in July, was scheduled to count $5,150,000 against the 2018 salary cap. Releasing him cleared $2.65 million in cap space.

Releasing the 31-year-old Johnson, who signed a two-year extension last year worth $9.5 million, cleared another $3.25 million in space.

Coleman in 2016 signed a three-year extension worth $17 million with $7 million guaranteed. He originally joined the Panthers as a free agent in 2015, leading the team with seven interceptions. He had only four interceptions in 2016 and none this past season when he was named a team captain for the first time.

Johnson was suspended four games this past season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He was inactive for the playoff game against New Orleans for an unspecified reason.

Johnson’s 67.5 sacks rank second on the team’s all-time list behind defensive end Julius Peppers, 38, who has yet to announce he is coming back for another season but reportedly is leaning toward a return.

Johnson didn’t have a sack this past season, the first time that has happened since his rookie year of 2007, when he played in only two games as a third-round pick out of Georgia. He’s had five sacks the past three seasons after having 8.5 in 2014 and 11.0 in 2013.

Carolina had just shy of $20 million in salary-cap space before the releases.

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Rick Dennison out as Minnesota Vikings assistant after refusing COVID-19 vaccine, sources say

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EAGAN, Minn. — After refusing to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, Rick Dennison is out as a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach, sources told ESPN on Friday.

Dennison, who had served as the Vikings’ offensive line coach/run game coordinator the past two seasons, is believed to be the first NFL position coach to leave his team after choosing not to receive a vaccine.

The vaccine is required for all Tier 1 staff, including coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers and scouts. Players are not required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but will face strict protocols during training camp and throughout the season that vaccinated players will be able to forgo.

In a memo released by the league this summer, the NFL said any unvaccinated Tier 1 staff member must provide a valid religious or medical reason for not receiving the vaccine. Losing Tier 1 status prohibits coaches from being on the field and in meeting rooms and having direct interactions with players.

Phil Rauscher has been promoted from assistant offensive line coach to fill Dennison’s position, sources told ESPN. The Vikings also hired Ben Steele, who had recently been hired by Auburn as a special teams analyst, to fill the position Rauscher had held since 2019.

Dennison’s departure comes at a time of transition for the Vikings’ offense, which will be guided by first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak. Kubiak, 34, was promoted to fill the role his father, Gary, held in Minnesota during the 2020 season.

With 27 years of NFL coaching experience, Dennison was considered a vital piece in helping bridge the gap for the younger Kubiak, given his experience calling run plays and knowledge of the scheme the Vikings have used since the 2019 season.

The Vikings were one of the league’s prominent running teams in 2020 behind Dalvin Cook, who became the first Minnesota player to rush for at least 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns in a season. Cook was responsible for 30.5% of the Vikings’ scrimmage yards, the second-highest rate in the NFL behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (33.8), according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

Dennison, 63, worked with Gary Kubiak for more than three decades in Denver (1995-2009, 2015-16), Houston (2010-13) and Baltimore (2014). Before joining the Vikings in 2019, Dennison served as offensive line coach/run game coordinator for the New York Jets in 2018.

Rauscher is entering his seventh season as a coach in the NFL after joining the Vikings in 2020. He coached with Dennison on the Broncos staff during the 2015 and 2016 seasons and was Washington‘s offensive line coach in 2019.

Steele was on several NFL rosters as a tight end from 2001 to 2007, including in Houston under Gary Kubiak. He began working in the NFL in 2013 as an offensive quality control coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a position he held until 2016. Steele was later promoted to tight ends coach for the Buccaneers before moving to the Atlanta Falcons, where he was an offensive assistant in 2019 and tight ends coach in 2020. He was hired by Auburn earlier this year.

The Vikings will hold their first training camp practice Wednesday.

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Sources — Miami Dolphins signing ex-Seattle Seahawks LB Shaquem Griffin to one-year deal

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins are signing former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin to a one-year deal after a successful team visit, sources told ESPN.

Griffin had his left hand amputated at age 4 because of amniotic band syndrome, a congenital condition that has left him frequently in pain and with limited function. Now, he joins the Dolphins right before training camp with hopes of making the roster.

The signing doesn’t guarantee Griffin will be on the Dolphins’ final 2021 roster, but it does give him an opportunity to use his pass rush ability and special-teams acumen to compete for a depth role. Griffin wasn’t tendered by the Seahawks as a restricted free agent this past spring, so he became an unrestricted free agent. After visiting multiple teams this offseason, he has found a home in Miami.

Griffin became the first player with one hand to be drafted in the NFL’s modern era when the Seahawks chose him in the fifth round in 2018, reuniting him with his twin brother, Shaquill Griffin.

He proved to be more than just a draft-day feel-good story. He made the Seahawks’ roster out of training camp in 2018 and ’19 and was among their top special-teams contributors in each season. He also showed flashes late in 2019 as a pass-rusher when the Seahawks began using him off the edge in sub packages, reprising the role in which he excelled during his college career at UCF.

Griffin had a pressure on Jared Goff that led to an errant throw and a Quandre Diggs pick-six in a loss to the Rams in December 2019. He got his first career sack in Seattle’s playoff loss at Green Bay the next month. He began last season on Seattle’s practice squad before appearing in 14 games with 1 sack, 9 tackles and 3 QB hits.

If he makes the Dolphins’ roster, Griffin could get more of an opportunity to rush the passer in a variety of ways in coach Brian Flores’ multiple, heavy-blitz scheme rather than just off the edge as he did frequently in Seattle. He would also be much closer to his brother, who signed a three-year, $40 million deal with the Jaguars this offseason.

Over three seasons with Seattle, Griffin appeared in 46 regular-season games, recording 1 sack, 25 tackles and 6 QB hits. His lone start came in his NFL debut in 2018.

NFL Network was the first to report the signing. Dolphins players are scheduled to report to training camp Tuesday.

ESPN’s Brady Henderson contributed to this story.

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NFL to carry over flexible roster rules for 2021 season

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The NFL will carry over a series of 2020 roster rules designed to maintain adequate numbers if players are sidelined by positive COVID-19 tests.

The decision had been long anticipated but was confirmed during a media briefing Friday by Dawn Aponte, the NFL’s chief football administrative officer.

The rules include:

  • Expansion of practice squads to 16 players, including up to six who have more than two accrued seasons.

  • The ability to protect up to four practice squad players per week from being signed by other teams.

  • Elevation of up to two practice squad players to the active roster, without removing any current players, before 4 p.m. ET the day before a game.

  • Elevation of an additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff in the event of a late COVID-19 positive rest result.

  • Players placed on injured reserve can return after three weeks, rather than six as in normal seasons.

  • Removal of the limit for how many players can be activated from injured reserve.

The NFL pointed to these rules last season as its reason for refusing to postpone games when COVID-19 protocols put teams at extreme competitive disadvantages, such as when the Denver Broncos were forced to play the New Orleans Saints with all four of the quarterbacks on their roster sidelined. The same will be true in 2021, Aponte said.

“Games will not be postponed to avoid roster issues,” she said.

The majority of NFL teams will report to training camp next week. As of Friday morning, 80% of players had at least started the vaccination process, according to chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills. Nine teams have at least 90% of their players in the vaccination process, and all but five teams are at 70% or above, Sills added.

Sixteen NFL teams have hit a vaccination rate of 85% or higher, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

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