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Detroit Lions have released tight end Eric Ebron, less than hour before free agency set to begin

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The Detroit Lions have released tight end Eric Ebron, the club announced Wednesday, less than an hour before free agency was set to begin.

Ebron was due $8.25 million – not guaranteed – against the cap in 2018.

Ebron, who turns 25 in April, was criticized throughout his time with the Lions, starting when he was selected with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2014 draft ahead of future Pro Bowlers Aaron Donald, Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham Jr. and C.J. Mosley.

Ebron was often compared to those players – particularly by fans – because at the time taking a tight end was viewed as more of a luxury pick by a Detroit team that had more substantial needs.

Ebron also struggled to produce early in his career with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown as a rookie, with an 8.3 percent drop rate. Drops have been an issue for him his entire career; he has a career drop rate of 7.3 percent, although he’s improved on it over the past two seasons as he’s worked into Detroit’s offense more.

In 2016, Ebron posted career highs in receptions (61) and yards (711). It was thought that 2017 would finally be a real breakout year, but that didn’t turn out to be the case in the first half.

Ebron had 18 catches for 195 yards over the first eight games, leading to him being thought of as a potential trade candidate around the deadline. The nadir for him came in Week 8 against Pittsburgh, when fans booed Ebron every time Matthew Stafford threw him the ball or his picture was shown on the Ford Field big screen during a nationally televised night game.

Ebron started to have a turnaround in that game, though, catching a 44-yard pass in the fourth quarter that gave Detroit a shot to win the game in an eventual 20-15 loss. Afterward, Ebron talked openly about not knowing what would happen with his future.

The Lions didn’t move Ebron then, and he responded with the best stretch of his career. Over the final eight games, Ebron had 35 catches for 379 yards and three touchdowns, including a 10-catch, 94-yard game in a win over Tampa Bay that Detroit needed to stay in the playoff race.

“Eric had a good year. I think Eric really, the last seven, eight weeks of the season really, kind of turned it on,” Lions general manager Bob Quinn said of Ebron in January. “When you look at his play time over the course of the season, it actually went down over the course of the season, but his production went up. So, I think he was really used effectively. He gained some confidence over the course of the season, and he performed better.”

But whenever Quinn was asked about Ebron being on the roster in 2018 during his meetings with the media, he would say variations of “he’s here” or he’s under contract without committing to him for the long term. Detroit had picked up Ebron’s nonguaranteed $8.25 million option last May but had given no indications they had been working on a long-term deal with the tight end, who is now entering the final year of his contract.

Ebron told ESPN in January that he wished he had a better feeling of what his future would be with the Lions but added: “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.” Ebron said uncertainty about his future wasn’t frustrating, but that the beginning of his 2017 season, when he had issues on the field, was the actual frustrating part of it because he believed the player he showed at the end of the season was closer to the player he believed he could be.

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Rams’ Robert Woods gets 4-year, $65 million contract extension

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The Los Angeles Rams and receiver Robert Woods have agreed to terms on a four-year, $65 million extension, including $32 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN. The contract has a $68 million maximum value.

On Thursday, a day before Woods and the Rams agreed to terms, Rams coach Sean McVay said an extension would be done “very shortly,” while Woods expressed hope it would be completed before a Week 2 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

“Just praying that it gets done on time and really just trying to go out there and execute what I do on the field and let my play do the talking for me,” Woods said. “Which it has.”

Woods outplayed the five-year, $34 million deal he originally signed with the Rams in 2017, and the deal was expanded to $39 million through performance and a conversion of his base salary.

Over the past three seasons, Woods ranks among the top 11 NFL receivers in receptions, receiving yards and yards after catch. He produced consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2018 and 2019 and last season led all NFL receivers with 577 yards after the catch. In a Week 1 20-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Woods had six receptions for 105 yards.

His deal is the latest in a flurry of extensions the Rams have completed over the past two weeks. Two days before the season opener, cornerback Jalen Ramsey signed a record-setting five-year, $105 million extension that included $71.2 million guaranteed at signing, the most lucrative contract for a defensive back in NFL history. A day later, wide receiver Cooper Kupp signed a three-year, $48 million extension.

When asked if he grew concerned that the Rams might not have the resources to extend him following Ramsey’s and Kupp’s deals, Woods smiled. “This is a billion dollar industry. I feel like there’s always money,” he said, before joking, “especially with Denver doing well — the Nuggets. There’s a little bit of money somewhere.”

Rams owner Stan Kroenke also owns the Nuggets, who are appearing in the Western Conference finals of the NBA playoffs.

McVay said he spoke with Woods following Kupp’s extension, reiterating his desire to keep Woods — whom he called a pillar of the offense — long term.

“[McVay] just kind of put his arm around me and said he’s happy to have me here, been a true competitor since I stepped on his team,” said Woods, who turned 28 in April. “He kind of just reassured me that this deal would be taken care of this week, and really have no other concerns. We take each other’s word, we believe in it, we go forward and we’re locked on to get this thing done and look forward to Philadelphia.”

Woods previously was scheduled to earn $5 million this season, and his contract was set to expire at the end of the 2021 season.

A second-round pick in 2013 by Bills, Woods played four seasons in Buffalo where he had 2,451 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Since joining the Rams, Woods has caught 238 passes for 3,239 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 298 yards and two scores.

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Packers’ Aaron Jones still plans to do Lambeau Leap without fans in stands

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Jones isn’t going to stop Lambeau Leaping just because the Green Bay Packers won’t have any fans in the stands, and he won’t stop listening to contract offers even though he didn’t get a deal done on the eve of the season, like fellow 2017 draft class running backs Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara did.

Jones and the Packers got their first look Friday at how Lambeau Field will be configured for Sunday’s home opener against the Detroit Lions. The team practiced in the stadium, which has the first eight rows of bleachers covered with signage and advertisements during the coronavirus pandemic.

“You’ll definitely still see a Lambeau Leap from me, probably right on one of those tarps,” Jones said after practice on Friday. “Just gotta pick which one, or wherever I score at or the location I’m at it’s gonna be that one. Definitely different seeing it, though, replacing the fans and just the tarp. Definitely not the Lambeau we’re used to.”

Jones is one of the most likely Packers to get the chance for a Lambeau Leap, considering he tied for the NFL lead with 19 touchdowns last season. He scored once last week at Minnesota in the Packers’ Week 1 win, when he rushed for 66 yards on 16 carries.

But is he one of the most likely Packers to get a contract extension?

They signed nose tackle Kenny Clark to a four-year, $70 extension in August. Clark, who suffered a groin injury against the Vikings, has been ruled out against the Lions. Jones is one of four other starters with expiring contracts, including All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Corey Linsley and cornerback Kevin King.

The Packers and Bakhtiari were about $4 million per year apart on a deal before the season, according to a source familiar the negotiations. Bakhtiari is seeking to match or exceed the $22 million per year that Houston’s Laremy Tunsil makes as the NFL’s highest-paid tackle.

The Packers also have been talking to Jones about a contract extension since last spring but have not been able to get a deal done. Jones is making $2.133 million in the final year of his rookie deal. Last weekend, both Cook and Kamara signed extensions. The Vikings gave Cook a five-year, $63 million extension, while the Saints extended Kamara for five years and $75 million.

When asked what he thought about those deals, Jones said: “Just congratulations to those guys. They’re just helping out all the running backs on the market. So big kudos and congrats to those guys. It’s very well deserved to them.”

Jones, a fifth-round pick, had a breakout season last year with 1,558 total yards from scrimmage. He tied Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey for the NFL touchdown lead.

Jones said he’s not closing the door on the possibility of still getting a deal done during the season.

“I’m definitely open to getting something done whenever,” he said. “But like I said, that’s not my main focus. Just gonna continue to focus on football and helping this team bring in the wins, as many as possible.”

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Carolina Panthers DT Kawann Short, DE Yetur Gross-Matos out Sunday

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady‘s job got a little easier Friday in terms of being pressured with the Panthers ruling out starting defensive linemen Kawann Short and Yetur Gross-Matos with injuries.

Short, a two-time Pro Bowl tackle who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, suffered a foot/ankle injury in a 34-30 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and did not practice all week beyond going through a few drills on Thursday.

Gross-Matos, a second-round pick out of Penn State who started at end opposite Brian Burns, entered the concussion protocol after being hit in the eye during Wednesday’s practice.

Coach Matt Rhule is hopeful Short will be back next week but admitted the team captain’s presence will be missed greatly. Short was one of the league’s best pass-rushing tackles from 2015 to 2019 with 27.5 sacks. He also was a top run-stopper.

“Him not being there will be an impact,” Rhule said. “He’s a premier player. Him not playing will have an impact throughout the game.”

The Panthers’ pass rush was almost nonexistent in the opener. They had an NFL-low 10% pressure rate with only five pressures and were the only team not to touch the quarterback on a pass or rush.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow blamed that in part on inefficiency on first and second down. On 12 third-down situations against the Raiders, eight were 4 yards or less.

“You’re not really in pass-rush mode because of those down and distances,” Snow said.

Snow said it will be key to put Brady in obvious pass-rush situations because of his quick release and intelligence.

Without pressure, Brady has been one of the best in the NFL. Since 2014, among 30 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 attempts while not pressured, Brady has completed 71% of his passes to rank ninth.

Brady’s touchdown-interception ratio of 5.1 (143 to 28) during that span is second only to the 5.72 of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. His total quarterback rating, according to ESPN Stats & Information, ranks fifth at 78.8.

Lack of pressure isn’t always a factor with Brady. In last week’s opener against New Orleans, Brady completed 21 of 30 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns — and both of his interceptions.

The Panthers are hoping first-round pick Derrick Brown, who showed flashes of brilliance in the opener, will be more consistent and step up his game against Tampa Bay. Veteran Zach Kerr is a candidate to replace Short as a starter if Carolina opens in a four-man front.

Woodrow Hamilton is a candidate to be called up from the practice squad to be a part of the rotation. Rhule also mentioned that end Efe Obada, who beefed up during the offseason, can play inside.

Carolina also could go with more three-man fronts, as the Panthers effectively did in the second half against the Raiders. Snow said that’s a part of the base defense and didn’t rule out using it more.

It’s effective because Burns, who also plays outside linebacker, and rookie linebacker/safety Jeremy Chinn are so versatile and able to play multiple positions.

Regardless, Snow said the Panthers have to be sharper than they were in the opener. He recalled that once, when Snow was a position coach with the Detroit Lions, Brady helped New England overcome a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes without having a play over 10 yards.

“He just has the ability to move the chains and always has,” Snow said. “He’s so intelligent out there, knows what you’re in and executes. That’s who Brady is, and I don’t think that’s changed.”

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