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NFL Insiders predict 2018 free-agency impact

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With the first wave of 2018 NFL free agency in the books, our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders will break down all the action in the coming days.

First up: Which team improved the most after Week 1 of free agency, and which has the most glaring need left heading into the draft?

Which team is the most improved after the first wave of free agency?

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: New York Jets. They landed the biggest prize on the free-agent cornerback market in Trumaine Johnson. They added Avery Williamson as a leader for the linebacker corps. They added Isaiah Crowell to their running back group. All upgrades. Now, to the matter of quarterback: Josh McCown isn’t an improvement because he was already there. But the Jets’ overall plan at the position is improved, as Teddy Bridgewater has more upside than anyone else the Jets had on last year’s roster, and trading up to the No. 3 pick in the draft means they’re likely to add someone else who does, as well.

KC Joyner, NFL writer: Houston Texans. The Texans ranked 29th in my blocking grades last season. They aimed to help solve this by signing three offensive linemen, the most valuable of which could be the highly versatile Senio Kelemete. They also added Tyrann Mathieu, who can play slot, outside cornerback or either safety position or even fill in as a speedy box linebacker.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Cleveland Browns. They had lots of room for improvement and should realize upgrades from multiple newcomers, especially at QB, which offsets Joe Thomas’ retirement. However, NFL rosters are a little worse on the whole because so many depth players remain unsigned (free agents who have been added were signed at premium prices).

Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: San Francisco 49ers. Richard Sherman should still be one of the top cornerbacks in the league if he’s fully healed from his Achilles injury, and is a big improvement for a pass defense that was 28th in DVOA last season. Weston Richburg is a nice improvement in the middle of the offensive line, although I might have kept Daniel Kilgore around at guard instead of dealing him away afterward. Jerick McKinnon‘s flexibility and ability to catch passes will help him play a role similar to the running backs Kyle Shanahan had when he was in Atlanta.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: Chicago Bears. It was sometimes painful to watch the Bears’ offense last season without any weapons and perpetually struggling. Adding Allen Robinson on a three-year contract along with the signing of versatile and talented tight end Trey Burton should bring a smile to the faces of new coach Matt Nagy and second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Whether it comes to fruition on the field or not, expect an offseason worth of parallels drawn between Nagy’s relationship with Trubisky and Rams coach Sean McVay’s relationship with quarterback Jared Goff.

Which team has the most glaring need now?

Graziano: Patriots at left tackle. Look, you trust New England figures these things out, and we’re not about to pick any of the other three teams to win the AFC East. But honestly, who’s playing left tackle in New England with Nate Solder off to the Giants? Tom Brady will turn 41 before the season starts, and as brilliantly age-defying as he is, they still need to make sure he’s protected.

Joyner: Bills at quarterback. The only QBs on the roster are AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman, both of whom have third-string quarterback written all over them. Without a huge upgrade here, Buffalo’s playoff streak will end at one season.

Sando: Bills at quarterback. Moving up in the draft for a QB seems like a near necessity.

Schatz: Bills at quarterback. Whomever Buffalo chooses in the first round of the draft instantly becomes the best quarterback on the roster. Honestly, if the Bills take a player at a different position, that player might still be the best quarterback on the roster.

Yates: Colts at cornerback. This wasn’t an area of major strength for Indianapolis in 2017, as veteran Vontae Davis was cut late in the year after a season-ending injury, and the team relied mostly on a youth movement. Rashaan Melvin parlayed his surprising season into a $6.5 million deal from Oakland, leaving Indy with even more question marks at the position. After the Colts traded back to pick sixth overall in the upcoming draft, I’d expect many forecasters to peg Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward as their top selection (if he’s still available).

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin likely out vs. Chargers; Week 6 return possible

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin is expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers because of a hamstring injury, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Godwin also could miss the Buccaneers’ game against the Chicago Bears in Week 5, which is scheduled for a Thursday night and would be a quick turnaround from Week 4, a source said.

The Buccaneers hope Godwin can return no later than their Week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers, the source said.

NFL Network first reported that Godwin, who suffered the injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Denver Broncos, was expected to be out against the Chargers.

A source said the Buccaneers are monitoring the status of starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who suffered a hamstring/groin injury against Denver and did not return. Coach Bruce Arians said Monday that Godwin and Murphy-Bunting were both undergoing MRIs.

It has been an injury-plagued start to the season for Godwin, who emerged as one of the NFL’s top receivers in 2019 when he hauled in 86 catches for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. He also missed Tampa Bay’s Week 2 game against the Carolina Panthers because of a concussion and has 11 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown this season.

Godwin was among a number of Buccaneers players to suffer hamstring injuries last season, prompting the team’s sports science staff to reexamine how those injuries were handled.

ESPN’s Jenna Laine and Dan Graziano contributed to this report.

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Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, fiancée Brittany Matthews expecting first child

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The year 2020 keeps getting better for Patrick Mahomes.

The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and Brittany Matthews, his fiancée, announced on social media Tuesday that they will soon be having a baby. The couple has been together for years and recently became engaged.

Mahomes’ year got off to a great start in January, when he led the Chiefs to their first appearance in the Super Bowl in 50 years. Mahomes then was the MVP of Super Bowl LIV as the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 on Feb. 2.

Mahomes, 25, received the richest contract in U.S. team sports history over the summer when he signed a 10-year extension that could pay him almost $500 million. Mahomes, who grew up in baseball clubhouses going to games with his dad, Pat Mahomes — a major league pitcher for 11 seasons — bought into the ownership group of the Kansas City Royals in July.

Shortly before the start of the season, the quarterback received his Super Bowl championship ring and became engaged on the same day.

The Chiefs are 3-0 after Monday night’s 34-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Mahomes has nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions and leads the NFL in QBR at 91.8.



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How an Australian girl with autism forged a bond with Philadelphia Eagles

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Peter Dinoris and his family live in Brisbane, Australia, some 9,500 miles — or close to a half-world away — from Philadelphia. Yet they are massive Philadelphia Eagles fans. How could they not be? The Eagles play in the city where the breakthrough happened, and champion a cause that couldn’t hit closer to home.

Like many tourists, Dinoris wanted to run the “Rocky” steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with his daughter, Leah, and son, William, when they first came to town eight years ago. William is a big fan of boxing as well as the iconic “Rocky” movies, so the touristy trip to Philly made sense while mom, Brenda, was in Ohio attending a conference centered on autism.

So Peter booked a private tour that wound through the streets where fictional character Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) roamed in the movie. The tour culminated at the art museum. Peter warned the tour guide the outing might be short-lived. Leah, 8 years old at the time, has severe autism. Previous stops on their trip to the United States did not go well without Brenda.

Leah was in the midst of a three-year period where looking into her father’s eyes or simply hearing his voice sent her into extreme meltdowns. She would hit her head against walls or onto floors. That meant when Peter got home from work, he couldn’t talk until Leah was in bed.

“William, my younger son, that poor kid, didn’t hear me speak for three years unless we were out without her,” Peter said. “It was a very difficult time.”

But Leah loved the tour and instantly took to Philadelphia. With the day going so well, Peter decided to run up the steps while carrying her — Leah facing outward, of course, so there would be no eye contact — and she laughed and joyfully kicked her legs the whole way. When they got to the top, Peter took a chance and turned Leah around.

She kissed him.

“And she doesn’t give kisses,” Peter said. “I was crying, staring at the city.

“I thought: ‘We’re going to have a relationship. Things will change.’ I actually felt like a dad at that moment, which was a really deep, deep feeling.”

A big NFL fan, it was only natural to adopt the Eagles as his own. As fate would have it, his new favorite team created the Eagles Autism Challenge in 2018 — a biking/5K/sensory walk fundraising event — and the Eagles Autism Foundation in 2019, which has helped raise more than $9 million for autism research and care.

The Dinoris family has become one of its top donors through grassroots efforts in Australia, where they have called on local celebrities, sent hundreds of emails and have even purchased billboards to help spread the word. The family raised about $24,000 for this year’s Autism Challenge, which originally was scheduled for May before being moved to Sept. 26. They had planned to visit from Australia to participate in the festivities, but like many things, it was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Eagles still managed to raise more than $3 million for autism research and care through this year’s event, thanks to donors from 14 countries, nearly 3,000 virtual participants and 284 fundraising teams.

“So the Eagles, what they’re doing is raising substantial funds to get the research out there. When Leah was diagnosed back in those days, there was very little information around for autism, but now there’s substantial amounts. And the research is getting quite technical now and it’s improving the understanding of the children with autism. People’s acceptance of them as well is very important — understanding and just loving them rather than being scared of them. So it’s helped a long way not only for our family, but just for the community in general.”

For Eagles chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie, the cause is personal. His younger brother, Peter, is autistic. Growing up, Peter was non-verbal so he and Jeffrey bonded through music, spending hours in the pool listening to Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Things changed when Peter suddenly began communicating his emotions through typing when he was in his 30s, revealing an ocean of thoughts and feelings that until then had been below the surface.

Stories like Lurie’s and the ones shared by the Dinoris family are not unusual; in fact, they are becoming increasingly more common. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 54 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, up from 1 in 150 in 2000.

“There are so many individuals around the world who share the same experiences as Peter and his family. I am one, as it has been part of my family’s journey for over 60 years,” Lurie said. “Being so close to it personally, you empathize with the Dinorises and with so many others who cope with the unique challenges that autism presents on a day-to-day basis. Leah is a wonderful daughter, sister and friend who brings great joy to everyone around her. As a community of supporters, we need to continue our mission of turning autism awareness into action for individuals like Leah and families everywhere.”

Peter’s relationship with Leah, now 16, has shifted dramatically since that initial trip to Philadelphia. Leah has only a handful of words, but two of them are “dad’s girl.” Peter called her “my best friend.” She is a music fanatic, so Peter wrote a song about her titled “The Dizer,” which is Leah’s nickname. He convinced local artist Nik Phillips to compose and record the song, which actually made it onto Australia’s Top 100 list, Peter said.

“We’re very close now. She won’t leave the house without me,” he said. “She won’t leave me alone now, which is the opposite, but I prefer this much better.”

The research into non-verbal communication has helped remove barriers. Leah has learned to use cards and an iPad to express her wants and needs. Instead of trying to guess what she is thinking, the Dinoris family now knows.

One thing that comes across clearly: Leah loves football. Peter’s son is a Dallas Cowboys fan, creating a division rivalry under their own roof, but Leah roots for the Eagles alongside her dad.

“She gets excited. We watched the Super Bowl [in 2018] together. She was very happy with that,” Peter said with a laugh.

The family has returned to Philadelphia twice since the breakthrough on the “Rocky” steps in 2012 and on each occasion, the city has had a relaxing effect on her.

Leah has gotten to the point developmentally where the family feels she would be able to handle a walk with other people around, so they’re very much looking forward to a return trip to participate in the Eagles Autism Challenge when circumstances allow.

“We still kept pushing to raise funds because that’s the most important bit,” he said, “and hopefully we’ll make it one year.”

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