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Rams RB Todd Gurley returns to his safe haven with everything to prove – Los Angeles Rams Blog

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Jeff Craddock’s cellphone rang, and on the other end of the Tarboro High School football coach’s line was Todd Gurley.

“I’m ready to come home,” Gurley told his former coach.

It was last November and Thanksgiving was days away. The Tarboro Vikings were preparing for a third-round playoff game. The Los Angeles Rams were coming off a thrilling victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, another check mark on their Super Bowl run.

“You don’t want to hang out in L.A.?” Craddock asked his former star running back. “You’re coming back home?”

“Coach, let me tell you something,” Gurley told Craddock. “I’m so ready to come back home right now I can’t stand it.”

On Sunday, as Gurley enters his fifth NFL season, he once again will return to North Carolina, only this time it will be to play his first professional football game there. It will be a welcome place for him to kick off the 2019 season, after the 25-year-old arguably endured the most trying offseason of his professional career.

It’s the place where he feels at home.

Even so, Gurley’s desire to return to Tarboro during the Rams’ bye week last season came as something of a surprise to his high school coach, not because Gurley doesn’t often return to the small Edgecombe County town.

He does.

But before the season, Gurley signed a record-breaking, four-year, $60 million extension, with $45 million guaranteed. The Rams were on a 10-1 stretch run and the bye week potentially offered Gurley an opportunity to kick back and continue to live his real-life rags-to-riches dream in Hollywood, far from where he grew up in the Lone Pine Mobile Home Park.

After Gurley told Craddock the reason he wanted to visit, Craddock understood why.

“I think sometimes the bright lights and him being known wherever he goes and he looks forward to just coming back to Tarboro, where you don’t got to fight cameras, you don’t got to answer questions. He can just come to where he practiced and just watch the guys practice and just be himself,” Craddock said. “Not be portrayed as some big superstar, just Todd hanging out.”

Since he was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Gurley has continued to return to Tarboro to check in on those closest to him, deliver free turkey dinners, host free football camps for kids and even grab a cheese biscuit at Abrams, a local favorite.

Many of the people who have continued to welcome Gurley home will be in attendance Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte — or at least will be watching from 240 miles away in Tarboro — when the Rams play the Carolina Panthers.

“I’m excited,” Gurley said. “Never really went to Charlotte growing up, but it will be cool just to be able to go back to North Carolina to be able to play in front of family and friends.”

For nine months, Gurley — and his teammates — have been bombarded with endless questions about the health of his left knee after an inauspicious ending last season.

Sunday will be Gurley’s first chance to prove he still is the same back who was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year for 2017 and who last season rushed for 1,251 yards and scored a league-best 21 touchdowns.

There have been reports that he is suffering from arthritis or has a degenerative condition. None of those reports has been confirmed by Gurley or the Rams.

“It’s fine,” Gurley said Thursday when asked about his knee. “Just Week 1 now — I’m here.”

Gurley sat out the final two regular-season games last season because of soreness and inflammation in the knee, which was surgically reconstructed after he tore the ACL as a junior at the University of Georgia. He returned during a 30-22 divisional-round win against the Dallas Cowboys, rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown.

But in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII, the three-time Pro Bowl player vanished. Gurley had five touches for 13 yards against the New Orleans Saints and spent much of the game watching from the sideline. In the Super Bowl, he rushed for 35 yards on 10 carries in a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots.

Rams coach Sean McVay repeatedly has shouldered the blame for failing to get his star back into a rhythm in both instances. The Rams and Gurley have maintained that his health is fine.

But the offseason continued to raise flags about Gurley’s health.

The Rams matched the Detroit Lions‘ two-year, $3.3 million offer sheet to keep trusted backup running back Malcolm Brown. They selected running back Darrell Henderson from Memphis in the third round with their second overall draft pick.

Gurley did not participate in the offseason program, but he worked out with his personal trainer. He was an every-other-day participant during training camp. Along with the rest of the starters and several key reserves, including Brown, Gurley did not play in any preseason games.

McVay said Thursday that Gurley will not be on a limited snap count in his season debut.

“I’m excited to see Todd Gurley continue to do his thing,” McVay said. “He looks good, he’s feeling good and we’re looking forward to Sunday.”

Gurley said he was not eager to show everyone that his knee is fine.

“It’s football, bro,” Gurley said. “Been playing it my whole life. It’s just another season.”

But undoubtedly, the questions have grown tiresome to the All-Pro back, who resorts to shrugging his shoulders and keeping his responses to a minimum.

Whether Gurley will acknowledge it, at long last the opportunity to silence the questions, even if only momentarily, will come in North Carolina — the same place he visits to find familiarity, to be treated like Todd Gurley the person rather than a fantasy football linchpin or L.A. Rams star.

Typically, when Gurley returns to North Carolina, he has nothing to prove.

That isn’t the case on Sunday.

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Cowboys’ Jason Witten wants to play in ’20, open to other teams

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FRISCO, Texas — Jason Witten wants to play another season but acknowledged it might have to be with a franchise other than the Dallas Cowboys.

“I think I have to be,” Witten said when asked if he’s open to playing elsewhere. “Obviously I’d love to finish it out here, but some of those things are not in your control.”

Witten said he met with Mike McCarthy not long after McCarthy was named head coach. He has had conversations with owner and general manager Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones.

While Witten said the talks with McCarthy and Jones were great, he added, “We didn’t get into the weeds of my role and what that would look like.”

He said he will have more discussions after next week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis but before free agency begins on March 18.

Witten caught 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns in his return from a one-year hiatus as an analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. He has played 16 seasons for the Cowboys, a franchise record.

“I still feel like I have something to give,” Witten said. “I’ve obviously been on the other side of that in the decision to retire. Yeah, I think coaching is in the future, but I want to play while I can. We’ll see where that takes place. Of course I want it to be with the Dallas Cowboys and I’ll always be a Dallas Cowboy, but I also understand that with all the changes that I might have to go somewhere else.”

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Source — Ex-Panthers TE Greg Olsen joining Seahawks on 1-year deal

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Former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen has agreed to terms on a deal with the Seattle Seahawks, the team announced Tuesday.

Terms weren’t released, but a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter the deal is for one year and worth $7 million, with $5.5 million in guaranteed money.

Olsen visited with Buffalo, Seattle and Washington, and he felt most comfortable with the Seahawks, the source said.

Tight end was an area of need for the Seahawks with Will Dissly coming off a ruptured Achilles, his second major injury in as many NFL seasons. Veteran Ed Dickson is a candidate to be released after missing most of his two seasons with Seattle due to injuries. Luke Willson, whom Seattle re-signed after trading Nick Vannett last year, is an unrestricted free agent. Jacob Hollister is a restricted free agent.

Because Olsen was released by Carolina, his addition won’t cost the Seahawks a compensatory pick.

Olsen became a free agent after he and the Panthers mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons. A three-time Pro Bowl selection who has played 13 NFL seasons, he said he was still interested in playing in the NFL.

Olsen’s cap number for the 2020 season was to be $11,675,000 after he ruled out an extension to lower that number.

After dabbling in broadcasting during some time off, Olsen returned to the field in 2019 to prove that he could still be among the top tight ends in the league. From 2014 to 2016, he became the first tight end in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons.

Olsen, the 31st pick by the Bears in 2007, had 52 catches for 597 yards and two touchdowns this past season. He has 718 career catches for 8,444 yards and 59 touchdowns.

Olsen, who turns 35 on March 11, holds the Panthers’ franchise record for single-season receiving yards (1,104 in 2015) and receptions (84 in 2014) by a tight end.

ESPN’s David Newton and Brady Henderson contributed to this report.

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Ex-Panthers TE Greg Olsen going to Seahawks

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Former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter Tuesday.

The contract includes $5.5 million in guaranteed money.

Olsen visited with Buffalo, Seattle and Washington but felt most comfortable with the Seahawks, the source said.

Olsen became a free agent after he and the Panthers mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons. A three-time Pro Bowl selection who has played 13 NFL seasons, he said he was still interested in playing in the NFL.

Olsen’s cap number for the 2020 season was to be $11,675,000 after he ruled out an extension to lower that number.

After dabbling in broadcasting during time off, Olsen returned to the field in 2019 to prove he still could be among the top tight ends in the league. From 2014-16, he became the first tight end in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons.

Olsen, the 31st pick by the Bears in 2007, had 52 catches for 597 yards and two touchdowns this past season. He has 718 career catches for 8,444 yards and 59 touchdowns in his career.

Olsen, who turns 35 on March 11, holds the Panthers franchise record for most receiving yards (1,104 in ’15) and receptions (84 in 2014) in a season by a tight end.

ESPN’s David Newton contributed to this report.

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