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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and he’s unsure whether he will return to the team.

“I love it here,” Lewis said on The Adam Schefter Podcast. “I’ve grown great relationships in this area the past three years, and I’m close to home — Albany, New York, is 2½ hours [away], so I’m real close to my family. At the same time, it’s a business. Hopefully it will work out, but at the same time, you can’t really think that way. You have to take care of yourself and your family at the same time.”

Lewis said that he thinks it will work out for him to return to the Patriots. “At the same time, I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket,” he said. “I know how the team likes to handle their business, and as a running back, you have to make the most of your opportunity, and me being the player I am, my main thing is making sure I can go out there next year and show people what type of player I can be. I still think I can improve from what I did this past year. My main thing is just making sure I’m valued. That’s my biggest thing — to make sure I’m valued the way I value myself.”

Lewis, 27, earned a base salary of $1.2 million in the 2017 season and is likely to receive a significant increase as a free agent after leading the Patriots with 896 rushing yards on 180 carries (5.0 average) and six touchdowns in the 2017 regular season. He added 32 catches for 214 yards and three receiving touchdowns while also serving as the team’s primary kickoff returner (23 returns, 570 yards, 1 TD). He had opened the year as the No. 4 option on the depth chart behind free-agent signings Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead and third-down passing back James White before decisively taking over lead duties in the sixth week of the season.

Lewis had initially been signed by the Patriots on Feb. 6, 2015, a deal that was an afterthought to many at the time. It proved to be brilliant for the club when Lewis got off to a strong start that year before tearing his ACL in his seventh game.

Lewis then missed half of the 2016 season after a setback in his recovery, but he played in every game this past season, missing just one practice thanks to illness. He said it was the “best I’ve felt in a long time.”

“I think I have a lot to give. I think my career is just getting started,” he said on the podcast. “I don’t feel 27, I feel 22, 23.”

Agents for players scheduled for unrestricted free agency can begin negotiating with other teams on March 12 at noon ET.

Lewis’ agent, JR Rickert, is free to negotiate with the Patriots on an extension at any time before that, although if the past is any indication, the club might be more inclined to have Lewis explore the open market while maintaining an open dialogue with Rickert. That is how things unfolded with some top free agents in the past, such as safety Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower, both of whom ultimately re-signed with the Patriots.

Said Lewis on the podcast, “It’s a weird time. I don’t really know what’s going to happen. [I was] relaxing and resting my body for a few weeks, and just starting working out again. … I don’t know where I’m going to be. I don’t know if I’m going to be here or somewhere else, so just staying patient and not really thinking about [it]. Whatever happens, happens. It will all work out.”

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TE Josh Hill retires from football less than 2 months after signing with Detroit Lions

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METAIRIE, La. — Tight end Josh Hill officially announced his retirement Thursday, less than two months after joining the Detroit Lions as a free agent.

The Lions signed veteran tight end Darren Fells as a replacement.

Hill, who turns 31 later this month, spent his first eight years with the New Orleans Saints before being released in a wave of salary-cap cuts. He initially planned to follow his former position coach, Dan Campbell, to Detroit before the apparent change of heart.

Hill’s one-year deal with the Lions was scheduled to pay him $1.2 million.

“This game has blessed my family and I with more than we could have ever imagined,” Hill wrote in an Instagram post. “Everything this game has given and taught me makes this decision extremely difficult, but I am looking forward to all of the years I have with my young family, and being able to chase after different dreams.”

Hill joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie from Idaho State in 2013 and quickly earned a place as a versatile blocker, receiver, core special teams player and occasional fullback. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder finished his career with 116 catches for 1,071 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season, plus another 15 catches for 166 yards and a TD in the playoffs.

Saints coach Sean Payton once described Hill as so valuable in so many different areas of the playbook that losing him to an injury early in a game was “like losing your front door.”

“He has been a model of consistency throughout his eight seasons with us,” Payton said in a statement when Hill was released. “He has been reliable, selfless and filled numerous roles for us, oftentimes on the fly and in the middle of games, filling each role at a very high level.”



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Players Association fires back at NFL’s voluntary offseason workout policy following Ja’Wuan James’ injury

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos and tackle Ja’Wuan James have become the focal points in the growing acrimony between the NFL and the NFL Players Association over attendance of players at voluntary offseason workouts.

That relationship grew even more strained on Thursday when the players’ union fired back to its membership in response to a memo from the NFL’s management council to team executives and head coaches earlier this week.

In a wide-ranging email to players, which was read to ESPN, union officials devoted a section to the season-ending Achilles tendon injury James had suffered earlier this week while working out away from the Broncos’ complex.

In the email, union officials said:

“It was gutless to use a player’s serious injury as a scare tactic to get you to come running back to these workouts.

“This memo is another sign of what they think of you and also affirms that they simply want to control you year-round in any and every way that they can.

“We have been in touch with Ja’Wuan James. Despite an open threat of an ‘NFI’ designation, Ja’Wuan was working out to stay in shape under a program recommended to him by his coach.”

James had been specifically named in the league’s memo Tuesday. In that memo, it was outlined under the “Non-Football Injuries” designation that teams like the Broncos would have “no contractual obligation” to pay players like James their salaries if they were injured away from the team facilities.

The memo also outlined why a player’s salary would be paid if the injury had been suffered during a workout at a team’s complex. The memo also mentioned: “Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train at a non-NFL location.”

James has a $10 million salary guarantee for the 2021 season the Broncos would not have to pay, according to the collective bargaining agreement, because he suffered the injury at another site. The union also pointed out in its email Thursday while the NFI designation has been part of the CBA for some time, the league has “never, ever sent such a memo about voluntary workouts.”

The Broncos players were among the first earlier this offseason to issue a statement through the NFLPA that they would boycott the team’s voluntary offseason program. Several players, more than 20 at times, have still worked out at the team’s facility in recent weeks, including several who are returning from injuries.

Broncos coaches have routinely given players specific workout protocols to follow during the offseason, if the players wishes to, if the players are working out away from the facility. James, who opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, had also been in the team’s facility at times this offseason.

Days before the draft Broncos general manager George Paton was asked about James’ progress and said: “He’s been here, and he’s been working out. He looks great and the expectation is he starts at right tackle and he plays well.”

James has played 63 snaps over three games combined – all in 2019 – since he signed a four-year, $51 million deal with the Broncos in March of that year. During the 2019 season James suffered a torn meniscus as well as a torn MCL in separate games that season.

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Detroit Lions release former second-round running back Kerryon Johnson

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The Detroit Lions have released running back Kerryon Johnson, the team announced on Thursday.

Detroit drafted the former Auburn standout in the second round in 2018. Johnson became expendable after the team drafted D’Andre Swift No. 35 overall in 2020, signed free-agent running back Jamaal Williams in March and drafted Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson last week.

Johnson ran for 1,225 yards and eight touchdowns over three seasons. He also has 61 career receptions for 527 yards and three scores.

Last year, he had 181 yards rushing and two scores on 52 carries, and had 19 receptions for 187 yards receiving and a touchdown.

The Lions also added a player in free agency, signing tight end Darren Fells on Wednesday. The move gives the team a veteran at the position it can put on the field with Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson.

The 35-year-old Fells has 123 career catches with 1,483 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns. The previous two years in Houston, he had a combined 55 catches for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Fells has started 76 games — including 13 with the Lions in 2017 — and played in 102 games with Arizona, Detroit, Cleveland and the Texans. He was a rebounding standout at UC Irvine and played basketball in Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Finland and France before playing in the NFL.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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