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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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What needs to happen for Chiefs star to play against Bills



Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is in the NFL’s concussion protocol, and that’s really all we can say about his status six days before the AFC Championship Game.

We don’t know how long he will be sidelined. We don’t know if he will be able to play Sunday. We don’t even know for sure if he suffered a concussion.

What we do know is that brain health was one of the major storylines of the NFL’s divisional playoff round. Mahomes was removed from the Chiefs’ victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday after a hit at the end of a run left him staggering. A day earlier, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was ruled out of a loss to the Buffalo Bills after his head slammed to the ground.

What’s in store for Mahomes this week? Let’s take a closer look.

How could Mahomes be in the concussion protocol if he didn’t suffer a concussion?

First off, we don’t know one way or the other what Mahomes was diagnosed with. And importantly, it’s not required for a player to have been immediately diagnosed with a concussion in order to be put in the protocol. All the Chiefs have confirmed is that he’s in the protocol. On Monday, coach Andy Reid stopped short of saying that Mahomes had suffered a concussion.

Why would the NFL do this?

In 2018, the NFL adjusted its protocol to require in-game evaluations for “all players demonstrating gross motor instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand) to determine the cause of the instability.” That roughly fits what happened Sunday to Mahomes. The protocol goes on to say that if a doctor “determines the instability to be neurologically caused, the player is designated a ‘No-Go’ and may not return to play.”

This change was in response to the scary injury suffered in Dec. 2017 by Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage, who could be seen shaking on the ground after a hit but was allowed to remain in the game. He was later ruled out and diagnosed with a concussion. That adjustment allowed doctors to rule players out of games after examining them for these symptoms.

Mahomes, in fact, was ruled out even though he was running in the stadium tunnel after the injury, Reid said.

Does it matter if Mahomes actually suffered a concussion?

Of course. But whether he did or didn’t, he must pass through the same five-step process to be cleared for a return.

What are those steps?

The first thing you should know is that prior to the season, every NFL player takes neurological and balancing tests when in a noninjured state to provide a “normal” score. Those results can later be used to help diagnose a concussion, and to determine when a player’s neurological activity and balance has returned to its previous state following a brain injury. The five steps are:

  • Step 1: Based on symptoms, the player can engage in light stretching, balance training and eventually progress to light aerobic exercise.

  • Step 2: The player can graduate toward cardiovascular exercise and dynamic stretching, and then take neurological and balance tests. He can pass through this step once those test results match his baseline scores.

  • Step 3: The player can move toward a limited amount of football-specific exercise. That includes up to 30 minutes of practice time, under the supervision of an athletic trainer.

  • Step 4: Football activities can increase to noncontact drills such as throwing and running. Another set of tests must again show baseline results.

  • Step 5: This requires the team doctor to clear the player for contact. Once that happens, the player must be examined by an independent neurological consultant (INC). If the “INC” affirms the team doctor’s decision, the player is cleared to practice full and play in the team’s next game.

How long will all of that take?

The protocols intentionally carry no time requirements. They do not require a player to sit out a game, largely because the science of concussions show that brain injuries heal at unpredictable rates. Players could conceivably return to baseline quickly, without missing a game, or they could miss multiple games or even the remainder of a season.



Patrick Mahomes is ruled out for the rest of the game after taking a big hit and having to be helped off the field.

So there is no data at all on that?

That’s not entirely true. According to the NFL, using data from the 2015-19 seasons, the median length of time for quarterbacks to emerge from the concussion protocol is seven days.

The AFC Championship is a really important game. Don’t players push through injuries all the time?

It is and they do, but the NFL built this protocol to ensure that doesn’t happen with brain and neurological injuries. By requiring a return to baseline test results, the NFL’s implicit policy is that a player with a brain or neurological injury can’t return until he is fully healed. Football contact after only a partial recovery can exacerbate the injury.

Mahomes isn’t supposed to be able to “will” himself back on the field or “suck it up.” And the Chiefs aren’t supposed to even have the opportunity to take the kind of calculated risk they do when they allow a player back on the field when he has, say, a mildly sprained knee.

How does the NFL prevent that?

The biggest distinction of the concussion protocol is that it requires an independent doctor to confirm the return. That doctor is not affiliated with the team or player but has been approved jointly by the league and the NFL Players Association. The final step of getting clearance from the independent doctor is intended as a failsafe for either the player or the team acting too aggressively.

On Monday, Reid told reporters: “There was a chance back in the day that Patrick comes back in [the game]. You saw him run up the tunnel. By the time he got to that point he was feeling pretty good. But there’s a certain protocol you have to follow and that takes it out of the trainer’s hand and the player’s hand and the doctor’s hand.”

So when will we know more?

This will be a story for the entire week. It’s possible we’ll find out when (and if) Mahomes has moved on to Step 3, based on the Chiefs’ injury participation report for practice. Otherwise, it’s possible we won’t know if Mahomes will be able to play until the weekend. The Bills-Chiefs game will kick off at 6:40 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Mahomes himself has suffered one reported concussion in his career, during the 2014 college season at Texas Tech. He returned to play in the team’s next game, which was two weeks later because of a scheduled bye.

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Adjusting to Brandon Staley not new for Chargers’ Justin Herbert – Los Angeles Chargers Blog



COSTA MESA, Calif. — It’s not as if Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert hasn’t been through this before — new head coach, likely new offensive coordinator (or not) and likely new offensive system to wade through (or not).

He had three different head coaches (Mark Helfrich, Willie Taggart and Mario Cristobal) at Oregon before adjusting to a new staff as a rookie in the NFL last year. Herbert did alright, finishing his junior season in 2018 with 3,151 passing yards, then threw three touchdowns in winning the Rose Bowl to cap off a senior year in which he threw for 3,471 yards.

He then was the No. 6 pick in the 2020 draft, set an NFL rookie record with 31 touchdown passes and is a favorite to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

But Herbert says, that while change is part of the game, he’s hoping whomever becomes offensive coordinator under Brandon Staley, the Chargers’ new head coach, doesn’t change things up too much. Herbert is smart and says he “learned so much” from quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton and last year’s OC, Shane Steichen, that he figures he can get through another change. But who’s to say there will be one?

One source close to the team said he believes Staley will keep “most of the offensive staff intact,” to work with Herbert while he concentrates on defense. When Staley took the Rams job, Staley kept the majority of the defensive assistants, which is unusual for a new coordinator.

“It’s a great story,” the source said. “And he had a ton of success with that defense this year.”

And there’s no doubt Staley went into his meetings with the Chargers with a solid plan for Herbert and the offense. Staley isn’t foreign to offense (he is a former University of Dayton quarterback, after all) and otherwise, why would you hire him if he didn’t have an offensive vision? Chargers GM Tom Telesco said that any defensive coach the Chargers hired would have to have some strong ideas on the offense, as well.

Staley is the first defensive-minded coach the Chargers have hired since Marty Schottenheimer was selected in 2002. Schottenheimer went 47-33 in five seasons with the Chargers, including a franchise-best 14-2 in 2006.

Like Herbert, Staley also has been through some, albeit more serious, changes. His father was diagnosed with cancer when he was in grade school, his mother died from a 9-year-battle with breast cancer when he was in college. Following his first year as a graduate assistant coaching at Northern Illinois, at age 24, Staley himself was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy at the Cleveland Clinic.

He said it made him and his twin brother, Jason, grow up faster.

“You’re just exposed to things most 12- and 13-year-olds aren’t,” he told the Willoughby (Ohio) News-Herald in 2016.

Staley’s winding path went from Northern Illinois — where he spent two years — to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, Tennessee, James Madison and finally as defensive coordinator at John Carroll, a D-3 school in University Heights, Ohio, where he was OAC Co-Assistant Coach of the year. From there he coached linebackers for the Chicago Bears and then spent a season with the linebackers at the Denver Broncos before getting the defensive coordinator’s job with the Rams in 2020.

Staley helped turn the Rams into the league’s best defense, giving up only 281.9 yards and 18.5 points per game, redeeming the praise Sean McVay had for his fellow Dayton native. There is some talk that Staley could go after Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, but McVay would have to sign off on that deal and again, why would he?

“It’s not just that Brandon possesses a tremendous football mine that make him the ideal head coach to lead our team forward,” said Telesco, a John Carroll graduate, in a statement. “It’s that he excels in the ability to effectively tailor, apply and communicate his concepts to players. It’s clear Brandon will not be outworked, he’s the football equivalent of a gym rat and that has earned him the universal respect of the players he has coached throughout his journey.”

Telesco said the Chargers were looking for a leader of men, and a leader of coaches. They believe they have found him.

“I can’t thank the Spanos family and Tom Telesco enough for putting their faith in us and by the time everyone is reading this quote in a press release we’ll already be hard at work developing a program Chargers fans everywhere can be proud of,” Staley said.

And he has a budding star quarterback to help him on that journey.

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Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid says before the concussion protocol, Patrick Mahomes might have returned



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday he didn’t know whether Patrick Mahomes would clear the NFL’s concussion protocol in time to play in next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. But Reid indicated Mahomes may have felt well enough to have returned to Sunday’s divisional round game.

After taking a hit and being knocked to the ground, Mahomes got up and momentarily staggered. He then headed for a brief exam in the sideline medical tent before bounding quickly down a set of steps and then running up the Arrowhead Stadium to the Chiefs’ locker room.

“There was a chance back in the day that Patrick comes back in (the game),” Reid said. “You saw him run up the tunnel. By the time he got to that point he was feeling pretty good. But there’s a certain protocol you have to follow and that takes it out of the trainer’s hand and the player’s hand and the doctor’s hand.”

Mahomes was replaced in the third quarter by Chad Henne, who finished the Chiefs’ 22-17 win over the Cleveland Browns.

The Chiefs face the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Arrowhead in the AFC title game. Reid said they would have a plan whether Mahomes or Henne starts at quarterback.

“Because of the protocol, it’s a no-brainer from a coaching standpoint,” Reid said. “You don’t have to think about it. You just have to go forward and make sure you have an answer if he’s there and an answer if he’s not there. I can’t tell you from a medical standpoint. I don’t know that. That’s their decision and I just follow it.”

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