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Franchise-tagging Ezekiel Ansah was only move Detroit Lions had. – Detroit Lions Blog

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INDIANAPOLIS — It was the move the Detroit Lions had to make. With a suspect defensive line devoid of pass-rushers and the team’s top option, Ezekiel Ansah, a couple weeks away from becoming a free agent, the Lions needed to find a way to keep him around.

When he’s healthy, Ansah is worth all of the $17 million-plus he’ll earn with the franchise tag this year, as evidenced by his 12 sacks for the 2017 season, including six in the last two games. When he’s not healthy — and that has been the issue since his breakout 2015 season — he’s still a good player, but not a defense-transforming one.

And the Lions, with a defensive line that needs remaking, need to have at least one dominant player in the defensive front.

Keeping Ansah for at least 2018 — and there’s always a chance a long-term deal gets worked out — gives first-year coach Matt Patricia some cover on his defensive front.

Patricia did well without a star in his defensive front in New England, but with Detroit’s unit learning a new system and a potential star player still on the roster, the Lions would have made a mistake by letting Ansah go.

Using the franchise tag is the right move because of Ansah’s injury issues. While he has played in 13 or more games every season of his career, he hasn’t appeared in all 16 since the 2015 season, when he had 14.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl. The 28-year-old has also played hurt many, many times in his career, and a long-term deal would be a concern because it’s tough to predict what his health will be two or three years from now.

Ansah acknowledged last season he had played through a lot in 2017. He also felt like he could return to his old form. When pressed, he wouldn’t give specifics why he felt that way, but that’s what the Lions are hoping for in 2018.

Locking up Ansah shouldn’t change Detroit’s plan, either. The Lions still need help on the defensive line, specifically their pass rush. If a player such as Marcus Davenport or Harold Landry is available at No. 20 in April’s draft, Detroit should strongly consider taking one of those players.

Those players, like Ansah, have a chance to be stars. And right now, the Lions have Ansah and a couple of decent complementary pieces rushing the passer in Anthony Zettel and Kerry Hyder, who is coming off an Achilles injury.

Franchising Ansah became even more vital when evaluating other pass-rushers available. There were not many, if any, pass-rushers available on the free-agent market who have the talent level of Ansah.

Demarcus Lawrence was the most comparable player who could hit free agency, but Dallas is expected to find a way to keep its top pass-rusher. The market after Lawrence and Ansah dipped dramatically with no obvious replacements available.

So Detroit couldn’t do what it did last year, when offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Larry Warford left in free agency. The Lions had plans to replace both of them, giving big money to Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang to try to shore up the offensive line.

While those moves didn’t entirely pan out — Lang dealt with injuries most of the year and Wagner got hurt, too — they were comparable replacements, if not upgrades, to the players the Lions let go.

With Ansah, those options just weren’t there, which is why Detroit’s decision to place the franchise tag on the defensive end was the right move — and really the only sensible move — the Lions could have made.

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Dallas Cowboys release Dontari Poe, Daryl Worley

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FRISCO, Texas — A day after trading defensive end Everson Griffen to the Detroit Lions, the Dallas Cowboys have cut veteran defensive tackle Dontari Poe and cornerback Daryl Worley as they look for ways to jump-start a defense that has been woeful.

The Cowboys had hoped to make a trade involving Poe or Worley, but opted to move on when they were unable to do so.

Poe and Worley were not on the practice field during the portion open to the media, and coach Mike McCarthy would not get into the players’ status at his daily news conference.

Poe had just nine tackles in seven starts. He signed a two-year deal worth up to $10.5 million as a free agent that included $3.5 million guaranteed. He was limited in training camp after coming back from quadriceps surgery, but he did not help stop the run.

The Cowboys are last in the league in run defense, allowing 178.3 yards a game on the ground. They have given up more than 200 rushing yards in three of the last four games.

Poe became the first Cowboy to kneel during the national anthem, but the decision to let him go was strictly about his play and not his protest, according to a source.

Worley, who signed a one-year deal worth $3 million, started four games after injuries to Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie. He had 13 tackles and just one pass deflection and was beaten numerous times. With Brown back from injury and Awuzie expected to return against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Worley became expendable.

Because Poe and Worley are vested veterans, their base salaries are fully guaranteed and the Cowboys do not gain any immediate salary-cap space. They will save $4 million in cap space in 2021 for Poe.

Griffen was dealt to the Lions for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2021. Depending on how much he plays and how many times he is on the Lions’ game-day roster, the Cowboys could receive a fifth-round pick.

With these moves, the Cowboys open up chances for younger players such as Randy Gregory, Bradlee Anae, Justin Hamilton and Reggie Robinson to see more action as they look to the future.

“I don’t really rely on actions or transactions to really send messages,” McCarthy said. “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to the football team every day. They know clearly how I feel as far as the process of where the team needs to get to and how we’re going to do it. This business is about opportunity and making the best of your opportunity. That’s really what all of the personnel decisions will come down to.”

The Cowboys (2-5) are in third place in the NFC East, but still have hopes of winning the division. The Eagles are in first place with a 2-4-1 record.

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New York Jets shutting down trade rumblings on DT Quinnen Williams — ‘He’s going to be here’

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets say they have no plans to trade defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, the third overall pick in 2019 whose name has been circulated in media speculation.

“He’s going to be here. Those [stories] are false,” coach Adam Gase said Wednesday. “I talked to Quinnen. I have not heard one thing from anybody in the front office about him being traded. … There’s nothing to that. It’s false.”

General manager Joe Douglas also spoke to Williams and his agent to put to rest the rumors. The NFL trade deadline is 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Williams has attracted interest, as he did at last year’s trade deadline, but the Jets (0-7) — the NFL’s only winless team — view him as a piece to their foundation.

The Jets have made two recent trades, dealing nose tackle Steve McLendon and linebacker Jordan Willis, fueling the perception they are in fire-sale mode. Douglas isn’t averse to trading big names, as he dealt star safety Jamal Adams before training camp, but that involved a contract dispute.

Williams’ contract isn’t an issue. He has two years remaining on his rookie contract, plus a fifth-year option, and isn’t eligible for a new deal until after the 2021 season.

The 22-year-old Williams hasn’t lived up to draft expectations but has elevated his play this season. He leads the team with three sacks and is coming off a strong performance against the Buffalo Bills.

The Jets like his upside, although they want to see more consistency.

“There have been some times where I really see him show up,” Gase said. “It’s the consistency of down in and down out, max effort, playmaking ability, finishing the plays and doing the right thing, not having roughing-the-passer penalties. That’s the maturation of a young player.”

Williams has been flagged three times for roughing the passer and once for a face mask, which proved costly in a loss to the Denver Broncos.

“Honestly I just don’t read it, man,” Williams told SiriusXM radio of the trade rumors. “Just don’t look at it, just don’t read it. You just don’t really listen to it, just don’t really pay it any attention, man.”

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Bucs’ Rob Gronkowski explains how he ‘drizzles’ like syrup when making plays – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Blog

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski has a unique (and rather hilarious) analogy for the touchdown catch he made Sunday on the back-shoulder fade that has become the signature play between him and quarterback Tom Brady in their 11 seasons together — one that they’ve connected on in each of the past two games.

“It’s like a saying my mom used to say: ‘It must be maple syrup because butter don’t drizzle like that,’” Gronkowski said Wednesday when asked about the throw.

What on earth does his mother mean, you ask?

“You don’t got much time to react and syrup drizzles … you’ve gotta make that play,” Gronkowski said. “And a stick of butter — it’s a block, you’ve gotta put it in the microwave, melt it — that just takes too long. You’ve gotta make that play right away, baby, and that’s why I’m like the maple syrup. That’s why she used to always say that, ’cause I’m quick with it. I just drizzle all over the place!”

Gronkowski has drizzled all over the place the past two weeks as he has gotten more comfortable in Bruce Arians’ offense and gotten his legs under him without the preseason. His two touchdowns over the past two weeks are tied for second most in the league among tight ends. His 10 catches in that span are tied with Jimmy Graham for second most in the league among tight ends. His 140 receiving yards over the past two weeks are also second most in the league, behind only George Kittle.

Meanwhile Brady is 19-of-27 for 384 yards and five touchdowns targeting Gronkowski on fade routes in the past four seasons, including playoffs, according to ESPN metrics/NFL Next Gen Stats (data prior to 2017 is not available). The only duo to hook up on more fades is Matt Ryan and Julio Jones (20 completions) and no duo has connected for a higher completion rate (minimum of 10 attempts).

“That back-shoulder fade, we haven’t really practiced that much of it this year, just because there’s a lot of other things that we’ve been trying to do,” Gronkowski said. “But that connection just came throughout all the years of us working together. I just ran my route, he put a perfect ball out there for only myself to go up and make a play, and that’s what happened. It felt good to get back to those terms and split out wide and catch a touchdown like that.”

Brady’s 15 red zone touchdown passes are tied with Russell Wilson for the most of any QB in the league. Behind Brady, the Bucs’ red zone touchdown percentage is 78.6%, fourth best in the league. His off-target throwing percentage in the red zone is 15.8% — eighth best in the league — compared with 25% last year for the Bucs, which was 20th.

When asked what it’s like playing with a quarterback known for fitting the ball into such tight spaces in the red zone, Gronkowski said, “It’s great. It’s a lot of trust. You just go out there and you can just play football. You don’t have to think about anything, and wherever the ball’s thrown, you just trust in Tom that that’s where the ball needs to be and you just go up and make the play. That’s just how it’s been my whole career with him. The guy just works hard, puts the ball where it needs to be, no matter what season it is for him. It’s just great to have a quarterback like that.”



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