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INDIANAPOLIS — Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who hasn’t played in a game since December 2016, received a big vote of confidence Wednesday from coach Adam Gase.

“Ryan is going to be our starting quarterback, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Gase said at the scouting combine. “I think that when we get back out there in spring and get going, I just know it’s going to be really good to have him back.”

Gase’s endorsement came amid speculation the Dolphins might take a quarterback with the 11th pick in the draft. He didn’t rule out that possibility, but Gase made it clear Tannehill is his quarterback for 2018.

If they were to pick a quarterback, Tannehill would embrace the competition, according to Gase. “Ryan would never shy away from anybody coming in at that position,” the coach said.

Gase was less forthcoming on the future of wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who received the franchise tag. Gase said the tag was “the best thing for us and for him to know that’s there.”

The Dolphins reportedly are interested in trading Landry, who made more receptions in his first four seasons (400) than any player in history. Failing a trade, they could sign him to a long-term contract or let him for the franchise tender — an estimated $16 million — in 2018.

Asked if he expects Landry to be part of the team, Gase said, “Yeah, if it works out the way we kind of looked at things. … That’s why we franchised him. We’ll just see how it goes.”

Tannehill is trying to rebound from two major knee injuries. The latter occurred last August in a training-camp practice, requiring reconstructive surgery. Jay Cutler signed a one-year contract to replace him.

Gase said Tannehill is doing “extremely well” in his recovery, although he declined to provide a timetable for this return.

“He’s always going to be ahead of where he’s supposed to be; he’s a physical freak,” Gase said. “He’s a physical freak and we’ll just kind of play this one as the week goes on, throughout the offseason.

“Really, for me, I won’t personally know until we get into those stages to where we can be out at practice, throwing. All I can do is hear things are going good, he’s moving around well, he’s able to do what he needs to do to play quarterback.”

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers make Houston’s Grant Stuard draft’s Mr. Irrelevant

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TAMPA, Fla. — Unlike many other NFL prospects, former University of Houston linebacker Grant Stuard wasn’t sent a box of hats for the 2021 NFL draft. The only NFL hat he owned was a vintage Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat his father brought over from Spring, Texas, on Saturday.

“He said something just told him to grab a hat because he’s a hat guy,” said Stuard, a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection. “So he just grabbed a random hat that he had. He didn’t know what this was. I didn’t know what this was.”

It just so happened to be the hat of the team that called his name with the 259th overall and final pick of the draft, making him this year’s Mr. Irrelevant.

“When their pick was up and they were on the phone, he was pointing at the hat,” Stuard said of his dad. “I was like, ‘That’s just crazy.’ It was just by chance.”

Stuard getting to this moment wasn’t by chance, however. The leadership skills that led to him being voted a team captain at Houston? Those were cultivated at home. Though the two were together in Houston for one of the most important days of Stuard’s life, his relationship with his dad has been marked by ups and downs and absenteeism, and he fought to care for his siblings.

“My mom is a drug addict. … She used to work in the sex industry,” Stuard told ESPN on Saturday night. “My dad was in prison a good portion of our young life. Even when he wasn’t in prison, he was very absent when we were growing up. That results in both parents being absent the majority of the time.”

“It was bouncing from home to home,” Stuard said. “Sometimes we didn’t know if there was gonna be food on the table. We didn’t know if the lights were gonna be on. We didn’t know what school we were gonna go to.”

Stuard learned that in the grand scheme of things, an uncertain future in the NFL or being selected last is nothing compared with fighting to survive. He credits his faith, a village of people that helped raise him and football — the one constant he could turn to every August — for keeping him on track.

“There were a lot of people along the way — a lot of family members, a lot of teachers, a lot of coaches — that deserve worlds of credit for everything that they did,” Stuard said. “Whether it was bringing a meal, or my Nina paying a bill. There were people all over the place that just really gave back to us. So that’s why I’m really passionate about giving back with the little things I do as well.”

At his Houston pro day, Stuard raised money for Heels to Halos, a Christian organization helping women recover from sex trafficking. Stuard asked fans to pledge donations for each rep he performed on the bench press, with a goal of 25 reps. He wound up benching 28 reps, raising $5,210. He also put on back-to-school drives and toy drives.

“We love him as a person and, obviously, as a player,” general manager Jason Licht said Saturday. “He’s got a lot emotion on the field. He’s had a little bit of a tough life, he’s been taking care of his siblings. … He’s a very mature person, a very accountable person and a very accountable football player. Guys that can get through tough times and adversity — that’s a big box to check for us.”

So is Stuard’s special-teams ability, which was a focus for the Bucs on Day 3 of the draft. They love his speed, physicality and toughness and believe it will translate well onto their coverage units.

“He reminds me — this is going way back — I was with the Dolphins when we signed Larry Izzo out of Rice as an undersized linebacker that played with a huge heart,” Licht said. “He ended up making a great career for himself as a special teams linebacker. Not to say that we don’t think Grant has a chance to play linebacker — he’s going to be [an inside linebacker] for us on the field — but we think he’s got a chance to excel as a special-teams ace.”

Stuard said he hopes he can use his platform to help others going through similar obstacles, particularly those whose parents haven’t really been there for them in their life.

As for Stuard’s relationship with his family, both parents were with him when he got the phone call from Tampa Bay. His mother even popped in during his Buccaneers Zoom call with local media. His parents still have their struggles, but they’re improving, Stuard said.

“My mom … she pops in every now and again,” Stuard said. “My dad is doing much better. He definitely has improved. His involvement is a lot better. He’s becoming more involved and he helps my little brother with sports and stuff like that.”

Stuard said his major driving force is being a role model for his siblings. He and his wife plan to move at least one of his four siblings in with them.

“No matter what adversity comes in your life, there’s always a way out,” Stuard said. “If you just keep working hard, doing everything that you can and everything that you can control and really keep the Lord’s will first in your life, I truly believe that you will be successful. That’s pretty much the mindset that I have day by day when I wake up, is just doing everything with everything I have, because I know this is the only day that I have.”

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Seattle Seahawks talk to Richard Sherman, but no reunion imminent as DB mulls future

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SEATTLE – Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll confirmed that he’s been in communication with Richard Sherman, but said a reunion with the former All-Pro cornerback isn’t currently in the works.

“That’s not one of our thoughts right now that we’re going out and getting another guy at that spot, but we’re going to keep looking,” Carroll said Saturday, after the Seahawks took Oklahoma CB Tre Brown with one of their three draft picks. “We’re not going to stop looking and we’re going to compete. So in that sense, I leave everything open and that’s just one of them.”

The 33-year-old Sherman is a free agent after spending the past three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. In an interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Friday, he said a return to San Francisco isn’t out of the question and listed the Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Las Vegas Raiders as other teams with which he’s had communication.

“I’ve got to wait through this draft process,” he told Smith. “Obviously, the first round, a lot of teams got corners, some teams didn’t get the corners they wanted and I think once this draft process completes my phone will ring a little more with people who expected to get a guy and didn’t get the guy they wanted. I’m not as in control as I was. At 33, it’s just like, it doesn’t matter what you put on tape.”

Sherman suggested that his age is the reason he’s unsigned, saying: “It doesn’t matter accolades you have, what you put on tape, the numbers — it’s just age sometimes. So I’ve just got to continue to stay in shape, continue to stay ready … I’m being patient and doing everything I can.”

Sherman made four Pro Bowls and was named a First Team All-Pro in three of his seven seasons with Seattle, rising from a fifth-round pick in 2011 to become a key member of the defense that led the Seahawks to their lone Super Bowl championship and a near repeat the next year.

He suffered a torn Achilles in 2017 and was released that offseason with one year left on his contract. The 49ers then signed him to a three-year deal that just expired. Sherman made his fifth career Pro Bowl in 2019 but missed 11 games last year with a calf injury.

“I’ve talked to Sherm quite a few times here over the offseason,” Carroll said. “So we have stayed in contact and he’s out there. I know he’s thinking about it. He’s looking for an opportunity. I saw where he said there’s three or four teams he’s considering or whatever. So we’ll see what happens. But he’s been a great player and he’s still got some ball left in him, I’m sure. But at this point we’re going to clear through this day, figure out what happens with the rooks coming up and we’ll see where it sits later on.”

The Seahawks took Brown in the fourth round, addressing what was widely considered one of their top needs heading into the draft and perhaps their most pressing one after taking wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge in the second round. The Seahawks signed Sherman’s former 49ers teammate Ahkello Witherspoon after losing Shaquill Griffin in free agency. Their cornerback group includes another ex-49er in D.J. Reed as well as Tre Flowers, Damarious Randall and Pierre Desir, among others.

Carroll and general manager John Schneider both characterized their relationship with Sherman as strong and his departure from Seattle as not being as acrimonious as observers believed it to be. Sherman and Carroll occasionally talk about matters related and unrelated to football, according to the coach, and exchanged good-natured ribbing when their teams met in recent seasons.

“We have stayed in touch for a long time,” Carroll said, “and I don’t think that should surprise you because just think about all of the guys that have left here that had done so much for this program and our area and all of that. Whether they’re still playing or they’re not playing, we’ve maintained I think really significant relationships and Sherm’s one of them.”

Schneider said Sherman is “always going to be a Seahawk” and that he has the organization’s support.

“It wasn’t as bad as everybody thought it was when he left,” Schneider said. “I was literally talking to him probably 10 minutes before he went in and agreed with the San Francisco 49ers and talking in a very positive manner. It’s been good.”

Sherman told ESPN’s Smith in February that he wants to play two more seasons.

“I want to get on a competitive team,” he told Smith. “I think I still have a lot to give to the game. I think I still have a lot that I want to accomplish and I think I can go out there and help a defense come together like it should and reach their potential, reach the heights that the defenses that I’ve played on have reached.”

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Packers coach Matt LaFleur says he ‘can’t fathom’ Aaron Rodgers not in Green Bay, has urged Jordan Love to block out noise

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Three days after the depths of Aaron Rodgers‘ disgruntlement with his team came to light, his coach the past two seasons still “can’t fathom” the idea that the reigning NFL MVP would consider not returning to the Green Bay Packers.

Like team president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst have said in the days since ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the news on Thursday, Matt LaFleur was emphatic in his desire for Rodgers to return.

But the issue isn’t whether the Packers want Rodgers back, but rather that Rodgers doesn’t want to return.

“Yeah, I know, and I can’t even take my brain to that spot right now,” LaFleur said Saturday following the conclusion of the NFL draft. “So I just want to do everything in my power to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Later he added: “I can’t fathom (him) not being in Green Bay. That’s where my mind’s at. I don’t only love the player, but I love the person. I love working with him on a daily basis, I think we all do — from the players in that locker room to the coaching staff. Again, I don’t even want to let my mind go there.”

LaFleur would not disclose details of his recent conversations with Rodgers.

“I’ll always remain hopeful and optimistic and certainly we’ll always welcome him back with open arms,” LaFleur said. “He knows exactly how not only myself, but our staff and our players feel about him. Like I said before, I just can’t imagine him not being in a Green Bay Packer uniform.”

At this point, Jordan Love is the only quarterback in the Packers’ virtual offseason program. It’s unknown whether Rodgers will attend the voluntary sessions when they turn to in-person work later this month, but he has typically been a regular participant in offseason programs and even has an offseason workout bonus ($500,000) tied to it.

The Packers did not draft a quarterback this weekend. Gutekunst said they discussed several veteran options before the draft and likely will sign at least one undrafted rookie quarterback, but he insisted that the Rodgers situation has not been or will not be the impetus for that.

Love was the third-string quarterback last season as a rookie, and the plan was for him to be Rodgers’ top backup this season. In the meantime, LaFleur has tried to insulate Love from the distractions.

“I’ve talked to Jordan and I told him, you know, there’s a lot of noise out there,” LaFleur said. “You can’t focus on that. You’ve got to focus on yourself and, I know you guys think it’s cliché, but he’s got to be the best version of him and he’s got to do everything in his power to make sure he knows the expectations, the standards which we’ve developed at that position. I know he’s working hard.”

Meanwhile, Gutekunst, in perhaps an attempt to smooth things over with Rodgers, said he would be open to taking his input on personnel moves. Gutekunst acknowledged on Thursday that he erred by not telling Rodgers that he was trading up to take Love in last year’s draft.

“Quite frankly, I think over the past three years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve always welcomed that input,” Gutekunst said. “I think he has such an experience in this league that that input would always be something vitally important to me, if he’s willing to give it. That’s not new. That’s not unique.”

Earlier Saturday, Yahoo Sports reported that Rodgers “remains adamant that he won’t return to the team under the current stewardship of general manager Brian Gutekunst,” according to a source in Rodgers’ camp.

“You know, Aaron hasn’t said anything like that to me, and certainly hasn’t said anything publicly,” Gutekunst said in response to that report. “So, I think it’s a little unfair to put that on him. But listen, you certainly don’t like to hear those things, but at the same time it’s kind of part of the gig in the National Football League. But no, nothing’s been communicated directly to me.”

LaFleur and Gutekunst both spoke Saturday at the conclusion of the draft. Earlier in the day, Murphy, in his monthly column on the Packers’ website, said the team is still attempting to work out the issues between Rodgers and management.

“This is an issue that we have been working on for several months,” Murphy wrote. “Brian Gutekunst, Matt LaFleur and I have flown out on a number of occasions to meet with Aaron. We are very much aware of Aaron’s concerns and have been working with him (and his agent Dave Dunn) to resolve them. We remain committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond.”

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