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INDIANAPOLIS — Brian Gutekunst doesn’t want to lose Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson or Clay Matthews — three high-priced Green Bay Packers veterans.

The first-year general manager sounded open to keeping all three on the roster, but it might not be under their current contracts — which combined would take up more than $36 million in salary-cap space and cost more than $31 million in actual cash.

“If you have really good players, you need to keep really good players,” Gutekunst said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. “And you don’t let them walk out the door just for that reason.”

Gutekunst said Nelson still qualified as such despite a sharp decline in production after quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ broken collarbone last season and his status as the oldest player (he will turn 33 in May) among that trio. Matthews will turn 32 in May, while Cobb will be 28 in August.

“He’s been a great player here,” Gutekunst said of Nelson. “He’s still a very strong contributor for us. You saw early in the year the impact he had in those games, yeah, he’s still a really good player in my eyes.”

Nelson has the second-highest salary-cap number ($12,518,750) and the second-highest salary ($10.25 million) among the three. Cobb ranks higher in cap number ($12,718,750) but lower in salary ($9.5 million), while Matthews ranks higher in salary ($11.4 million) but lower in cap number ($11,337,500).

The Packers expect to come in at around $16 million under the projected salary cap for 2018 as things currently stand. But with Rodgers’ contract extension expected to be completed this offseason and Gutekunst likely to pursue free agents more aggressively than predecessor Ted Thompson, the Packers could need some of the salary-cap space that cutting or restructuring those players would provide.

“It’s hard enough in this league to find them, so we certainly wouldn’t want to let them walk out the door,” Gutekunst said. “But there are restraints and there’s things that every decision kind of affects something else, so we kind of want to let all the information come in before we get to that point.”

The greatest debate could center on Nelson, who had six touchdowns in the first five games of the season but none after that. His receptions dropped to 53 from 97 and his yards to 482 from 1,257 in 2016, when he also caught 14 touchdowns and was the NFL’s comeback player of the year following his return from ACL reconstruction.

No one has better chemistry with Rodgers, although they weren’t able to rekindle it when Rodgers made a one-game return following his collarbone surgery. Nelson, however, has been in Green Bay most of the offseason and coach Mike McCarthy said he has even sat in on some meetings with the new offensive coaching staff as they have re-written the playbook.

When the Packers signed Davante Adams to a four-year, $58 million extension in December, it put them in the position to have three receivers near or over the $10 million mark in salary-cap charges for 2018 and created the possibility that either Nelson or Cobb — or perhaps even both — could be gone.

“Jordy and Randall can still play,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “But we need to improve. That’s a common conversation Brian and I have — how are we going to get better? Get better internally or externally.”

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New England Patriots decline RB Sony Michel’s fifth-year option, pick up Isaiah Wynn’s, sources say



The New England Patriots declined the fifth-year option on running back Sony Michel‘s rookie contract while exercising the option on offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn‘s deal, sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Monday was the deadline for teams to exercise the options for players selected in the first round of the 2018 draft. If exercised, those players’ 2022 base salaries become fully guaranteed.

The Patriots selected Wynn and Michel, both teammates at the University of Georgia, with the 23rd and 31st picks respectively in the 2018 draft.

Michel has rushed for 2,292 yards and 14 touchdowns in three seasons with the Patriots. He also has 26 receptions for 258 yards and a touchdown. Although he rushed for more than 900 yards in each of his first two seasons, he appeared in just nine games last season after spending time on injured reserve with a quad injury suffered in September of last season. He finished with 449 yards and a touchdown, while averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

The Patriots would have owed Michel a base salary of approximately $4.5 million per Over The Cap, fully guaranteed, in 2022 if they had exercised his option.

Wynn missed his rookie season in 2018 after tearing his ACL in the preseason. Injuries have limited him to 18 games (all starts) total at left tackle the past two seasons.

By having his option exercised, Wynn will be paid a base salary of $10.4 million, fully guaranteed, in 2022.

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Cleveland Browns sign Malik McDowell, ex-Seattle Seahawks 2nd-round pick yet to play in NFL



The Cleveland Browns have signed free agent defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who is attempting an NFL comeback following a series of injuries and off-field issues.

The 2017 second-round pick out of Michigan State was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, but never played for the team after suffering a head injury in an ATV accident and was ultimately released.

McDowell also was sentenced to 11 months in jail and three years of probation after pleading guilty in 2019 to a series of crimes in Michigan. He was charged with assault, resisting arrest and operating a vehicle while intoxicated after an incident in which he fought with two officers after a DUI stop. Then he was found in possession of a stolen truck, which led to a charge of receiving and concealing stolen property. As part of McDowell’s sentencing in Oakland County (Michigan), a judge ordered him to write four essays on finding meaning in life other than committing crimes, the importance of respecting the rule of law, the principles of the Declaration of Independence and how his behavior undermined them, and the importance of respecting property rights.

Browns general manager Andrew Berry said the team did “extensive work” on McDowell before signing him.

“We are certainly aware of Malik’s past,” Berry said in a statement. “He is accountable for his actions and has had to live with the consequences for decisions earlier in his life. We believe Malik is in a good place, personally and medically. He has taken the necessary steps to get on a healthy path, and has learned from his experiences. Malik understands the expectations we have of him as he attempts to make our football team. He is committed to taking advantage of the support network in place to become the best version of himself — both on and off the field — and we will support him as he attempts to make his return to football.”

McDowell was an All-Big Ten performer for the Spartans.

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Tennessee Titans NFL draft pick Rashad Weaver charged with assaulting woman



NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans fourth-round NFL draft pick Rashad Weaver has been charged by the Pittsburgh Police Department with one count of simple assault in connection to an incident that occurred on April 18 at 2:28 a.m.

According to the police report, officers found a woman lying on the ground surrounded by a group of people on South 17th Street between East Carson and Bingham streets.

Weaver was not on the scene when the police arrived. One witness account said Weaver punched the woman. Another witness said she saw the woman fall to the ground but did not see Weaver punch her. The woman didn’t have any injury consistent with a punch to the head, according to the criminal complaint filed by Officer Anderson O’Kelly on Friday.

O’Kelly followed up with the woman on April 25, and she told him that she went to Ohio Valley Hospital on April 22 because she was vomiting. The complaint said that the woman was diagnosed with a concussion at the hospital.

The incident stems from an argument that Weaver and the woman got into at a bar. Weaver told officers who separated the two at the bar that the woman threw her drink on him while they were arguing. The woman told the police that she spilled her drink on Weaver.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5 at Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

“We were made aware of this news this morning,” the Titans said in a statement Monday. “We obviously take this seriously and are in the process of gathering details and working with the league.”

Weaver was selected by the Titans with the 135th overall pick after a standout career at Pittsburgh. In 35 games, Weaver collected 109 tackles (34 for a loss) and 17 sacks. He was named a consensus All-America defensive end last season after 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in nine games.

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