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Ex-Browns DE Chris Smith eyes NFL comeback after girlfriend’s death

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Former Cleveland Browns defensive end Chris Smith, whose girlfriend was killed in a traffic accident last September, is making a comeback and is looking to sign with an NFL team, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Smith is feeling better and ready to resume his career, the source said.

Smith’s girlfriend, Petara Cordero, was struck and killed by a driver on Interstate 90 in Cleveland. She had been a passenger in Smith’s 2019 Lamborghini and exited the vehicle when it had a tire malfunction and hit the median.

The couple had just had a daughter together the month before.

Smith started two games for the Browns in 2018, but compiled only one tackle in eight games following Cordero’s death.

The Browns released Smith on Dec. 3.

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How one hit cost an NFL player $1 million

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It was a routine play for the Baltimore Ravens and center Matt Skura. On a fourth down, quarterback Lamar Jackson ran against the Los Angeles Rams, and Skura locked up nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day. Then, Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers accidentally crashed into Skura’s left knee.

It’s a hit that would cost Skura $1.1 million.

Four months ago, when all of Brockers’ 305 pounds rolled into the side of Skura’s leg, Skura’s ACL, MCL and PCL were severed. His kneecap dislocated. Skura was the starting center for the NFL’s highest-scoring offense and was nearing his biggest payday. In one collision, his season was abruptly over in Week 12 and the course of a promising football career was altered.

Skura felt the pain of the NFL’s brutal unpredictability on that one play in Los Angeles. Then last week, the financial reality of that injury came. Skura received the low tender as a restricted free agent at $2.1 million, which is much less than the $3.2 million second-round tender he almost assuredly would’ve gotten if he had avoided injury.

“It’s crazy because we’ve ran those plays hundreds of times in the last three years and nothing happens. Then one play can change it,” Skura said. “And that’s the tough part, too. You think you can go back and rewind that play over and over again, and you try to change time. You think you can do that, and that’s the difficult part of mentally overcoming an injury. It happened and now you just got to move forward and you gotta focus on making your knee better or injury better rather than trying to dwell on the ‘what ifs.'”

There were plenty of shocked faces when Skura was carted off the field at the Coliseum. If anyone was going to be impervious to injury along the offensive line, it was going to be Baltimore’s iron man in the trenches. Skura had started 36 straight games. His 1,814 snaps, from the time he took over as starting center in the 2017 opener to when he blew out his knee, led the NFL.

It’s only natural for Skura to think back to the moment when Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley blocked Brockers so hard that the Rams defender fell backward into his leg. Would Skura have escaped injury if his left foot hadn’t been planted? What would’ve been the damage if his heel was simply off the ground?

This seven-figure difference in salary represents a big hit to the wallet for Skura, who went undrafted and earned $1.8 million in three years. His $645,000 salary last season ranked 43rd among centers.

This is purely a business move by Baltimore, which is pressed against the salary cap. The Ravens are looking for any wiggle room and are taking the calculated risk that no other team signs Skura to an offer sheet, given his health status.

“I definitely felt like, ‘This kind of sucks, possibly losing out on an extra million in salary,'” Skura said. “But I mean, right now, I’ve just got to deal with it and say, ‘It is what it is,’ and go out and show that I’m still the same great player that they loved before, and hopefully that pays off and instead of just a million dollar difference. You know it will be much more and so now we’re talking about tens of millions of dollars.”

Skura is aiming to return sometime in training camp, where he can look to regain his starting job from Patrick Mekari. Skura has been off his crutches for over two months, and he’s hoping to get back to running in a couple of weeks.

At home in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his gym closed due to coronavirus precautions, Skura has even taken to pulling his pickup truck with a bungee cord wrapped around his waist. Anything he can do to test the surgically repaired knee.

Even though it sounds strange to say it, Skura feels lucky in some ways. He didn’t tear his meniscus or suffer more nerve or artery damage. It was a significant injury, yet he knows it could’ve been worse.

His social media posts have shown him hitting the exercise bike and lifting weights. His agent, David Canter, tweeted last week: “[Skura] is WAYY ahead of schedule in his recovery.”

Ravens officials have expressed optimism in Skura’s return. Recently retired guard Marshal Yanda reminded coach John Harbaugh that he suffered nearly the same injury in his second season and he went on to play in eight Pro Bowls.

“He established himself as a one of the better centers, at least, in the National Football League, without trying even to overstate it,” Harbaugh said after Skura’s injury. “He was playing at a really, really high level and running the show up front. You just feel bad about it for him, but he’ll come back from it stronger than before.”

This was the first major injury of Skura’s football career, but he’s familiar in dealing with adversity.

A four-year starter at Duke, Skura thought he had a shot at getting selected as high as the fourth round but ended up signing with Baltimore as a free agent (after six other centers were drafted). He spent his rookie season on the Ravens’ practice squad before getting a tough first starting assignment in 2017. Skura was asked to fill in for a perennial Pro Bowl player, Yanda, in London. Skura had to line up at guard, a position he hadn’t played in five years.

After holding his own at guard, Skura took over at center in 2018 for Ryan Jensen, who left to become the NFL’s highest-paid center with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Skura developed into a steady presence inside, ranking as the league’s 16th-best center at the time of his injury last season.

“He’s a coach’s voice. He’s a coach’s eyes,” Ravens offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said. “He does what he’s supposed to do, and he plays hard.”

If Skura can establish himself again this season, he can cash in as a free agent next offseason. The top seven centers in the league are averaging $10 million per season.

Right now, Skura has to deal with a smaller-than-expected salary and a head-shaking coincidence. On the same day Skura’s tender was announced, the Ravens signed Brockers, the same player who inadvertently injured Skura, to a three-year, $30 million contract.

Will Skura ask Brockers to keep his distance out on the practice field?

“Maybe he can sit out some plays when I’m in there,” Skura jokingly said.

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Patriots captain Devin McCourty has confidence in QB Jarrett Stidham

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Jarrett Stidham elevated to the top of the New England Patriots‘ quarterback depth chart with Tom Brady signing a free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and team captain Devin McCourty shared confidence in his abilities.

“To me, the best thing for Stiddy was that he had to go against our defense every week. He didn’t have it easy,” McCourty said Sunday night on his “Double Coverage” podcast with twin brother and teammate Jason McCourty. “I love his poise. I would be faking a blitz sometimes and we’d make eye contact and he’d just start smiling and laughing.

“To me, there were weeks where he was just on-point. And those were some of our best weeks as a defense, mainly because Stiddy ate us up in practice leading up to the game, and I think put more pressure on us. So I really admire just how hard he works, and then I’ve got to know him off the field as well. He’s a really good guy. Young guy, but very mature. He’s married. I think the Stidhams are going to be in New England for a long time.”

The 23-year-old Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round draft choice out of Auburn, spent his rookie year as Brady’s top backup after beating out veteran Brian Hoyer last preseason.

The Patriots re-signed Hoyer, 34, to a one-year contract on Sunday after Hoyer was released by the Indianapolis Colts the day before. Fifth-year veteran Cody Kessler is the third quarterback on the current Patriots’ roster.

On his podcast, McCourty described how Stidham performed in practices last year, with coach Bill Belichick testing him regularly. One example was how Stidham would run the scout-team offense, with a goal of replicating what the opposition does, only to have Belichick change things up on him. At the same time, McCourty said, defensive players would be trash-talking to Stidham.

As for Brady departing, McCourty joked on the podcast that he was enjoying a glass of wine to celebrate his 10 years as teammates with him. He later acknowledged, when discussing how he looks forward to the challenge of winning games in 2020, “You see a guy like Tom leave, I think it really puts things in perspective, so we’ll really have to zero in and have to find ways to win as a team.”

McCourty was pleased to see Hoyer return for his third stint as a Patriot.

“He has a veteran presence. He’s played on multiple teams. He knows our offense very well,” he said on the podcast. “I think he’ll bring experience and knowledge, and if he has to go out there and play, he’s going to compete at a high level. Or if it’s coaching up young quarterbacks, I think he’s a guy that’s going to be very necessary to have in our locker room.”

Jason McCourty echoed similar thoughts, adding, “I think it’s huge. Us two as older guys, you appreciate having that type of experience in a locker room, and more importantly, in your position room. For Stidham and Brian and Cody, all those guys in the room, it’s a wealth of knowledge.”

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Why the Cowboys’ top-heavy roster will count on a strong draft – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — Last week, the Dallas Cowboys committed at least $70 million to quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper.

The final numbers of the exclusive franchise tag on Prescott are not in, but figure it to be about $30 million. The Cowboys signed Cooper to a five-year deal for $100 million that includes $40 million guaranteed at the time of signing. If he is on the roster the fifth day of the 2020 league year, his $20 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed, which is why you’ve seen it reported as a $60 million guarantee.

The Cowboys hope to sign Prescott to a multiyear deal that’s likely to make him the third-highest-paid quarterback in terms of average per year. Cooper is now the second-highest-paid receiver in terms of average per year behind Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, who makes $22 million a season.

If the Cowboys’ salary structure seems a little top-heavy, that’s because it is.

Ezekiel Elliott is the NFL’s highest-paid running back, averaging $15 million per season. DeMarcus Lawrence is the highest-paid defensive end at $21 million a season and Zack Martin is the fourth-highest paid guard at $14 million per season.

Jaylon Smith is the sixth-highest-paid inside linebacker ($12.75 million per year), Travis Frederick is the 10th-highest-paid center ($9.4 million), Tyron Smith is the 11th-highest-paid left tackle ($12.2 million) and La’el Collins is the sixth-highest-paid right tackle ($10 million).

Even if Prescott plays on the franchise tag this season, he will be among the top 10 in quarterback compensation. At best, he could top Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who makes $35 million a season, as the highest-paid quarterback.

Byron Jones left the Cowboys via free agency for the Miami Dolphins for a deal that averages $16.5 million and made him the top-paid cornerback until the Philadelphia Eagles traded for Darius Slay and reworked his contract to top Jones.

The Cowboys’ goal is to keep their own players. Jones became too expensive and Robert Quinn‘s $14 million-a-year deal with the Chicago Bears was about $5 million more a year than what Dallas wanted to spend on its sack leader from last season.

The Cowboys’ big free-agent prize so far has been defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has agreed to a three-year, $18 million deal that included $7 million guaranteed. That’s more of a moderately priced signing, along the lines of the Randall Cobb signing a year ago.

Over the next five seasons, the Cowboys will have to be adept with their salary-cap maneuverings. Elliott is signed through 2024, but the team can effectively get out of the deal after the 2022 season. Lawrence, Tyron Smith and Frederick are signed through 2023 and the Cowboys can get out of those deals after 2021 if they want. They can get out of the Cooper deal after two years with a $6 million dead money charge.

Theoretically, they can get out of Jaylon Smith‘s deal after this season. They would like to have Collins play at least through the 2021 season. Same with Martin.

It seems ghoulish to think about escape hatches on contracts not long after these players agree to some of the richest deals in the league, but that’s how teams have to maneuver — or at least should — because not all of these players will play up to their contracts.

And the Cowboys have to choose wisely when they restructure deals, because that chews up cap space in the future. Salary-cap hell is not a real thing, but salary-cap purgatory is.

The cap is expected to go up in a big way once new television contracts are finalized, but teams thought the 2020 cap could be as much as $204 million. Instead it came in at about $198 million.

All of this means the Cowboys must draft well in order to remain balanced. They have to hit on the low-end contracts and draft picks because of how heavy they are on high-end contracts for the next few years.

If they don’t, and most of their high-end players don’t meet expectations, the Cowboys will go from contending for the postseason to rebuilding in a hurry.

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