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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — When the NFL draft begins April 29, it’s expected to be a quiet evening around the Los Angeles Rams‘ draft headquarters.

For a fifth consecutive year, the Rams are not scheduled to make a first-round selection and barring another blockbuster move, they won’t make a first-round pick until 2024.

The Rams sent their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks (No. 25 overall), along with a fourth-round selection (No. 130) to the Jacksonville Jaguars ahead of the 2019 trade deadline in exchange for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

And their 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, along with a third-round selection (No. 101) were shipped to Detroit along with quarterback Jared Goff — the last player the Rams picked in the first round (No. 1 overall in 2016) and who also cost a 2017 first-round pick to trade up for — in exchange for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Unless a future trade is made to return to the first round it could be a historic drought, as the Rams are set to become only the third team since the 1970 merger to go seven years without a first-round selection, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Their 2018 first-round pick (No. 23 overall) was sent to the New England Patriots in exchange for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who was traded in 2019 to the Houston Texans. The following year, the Rams traded out of the first round (No. 31) to stockpile more picks.

During their four-year first-round drought, the Rams have won two division titles, an NFC championship and have appeared in the playoffs three times.

This year, the Rams own six draft picks, including a second-round pick (No. 57), two third-round selections (Nos. 88 & 103), a fourth-round pick (No. 141), sixth-round pick (No. 209) and a seventh-round selection (No. 252).

Here’s a look at how the Rams first overall picks the past four years — since not owning a first-round selection — have panned out:

2017

TE Gerald Everett, Round 2, No. 44 overall

Everett contributed throughout his four seasons but never materialized into a full-time starter playing behind Tyler Higbee. Last month, Everett signed a one-year deal worth up to $7 million with the Seattle Seahawks in free agency. It became apparent during the 2019 draft, when the Rams used a fourth-round pick to select Brycen Hopkins, that Everett’s time in L.A. was limited. In four seasons, Everett caught 127 passes for 1,389 yards and eight touchdowns.

2018

OL Joe Noteboom, Round 3, No. 89 overall

The Rams selected Noteboom to learn from and eventually take over for left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was 35 years old at the time of Noteboom’s selection and seemingly had only one or two seasons remaining as a starter. However, fast forward four seasons and Whitworth is anticipated to start again in 2021 and has two additional seasons remaining on a deal that he signed before 2020.

So where does that leave Noteboom? Entering the final season of his rookie contract, that’s a great mystery. Noteboom filled in last season at left tackle when Whitworth was sidelined because of a knee injury and the fourth-year pro also has experience starting at left guard.

2019

S Taylor Rapp, Round 2, No. 61 overall

Rapp was thrust into a starting role seven games into his rookie season when former Rams safety John Johnson III suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. As a rookie, Rapp earned the trust of veteran teammates and intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, in 10 starts. Rapp was expected to maintain a starting role in 2020 but was sidelined and slowed during training camp because of a knee issue and lost his starting job to rookie safety Jordan Fuller. After Johnson signed with the Cleveland Browns in free agency last month, expect Rapp to return to a starting role.

2020

RB Cam Akers, Round 2, No. 52 overall

In a three-man running back committee, Akers earned the starting role out of training camp but was sidelined after two games because of a rib injury. In 13 games, including five starts, Akers rushed for 625 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown and has earned the feature back role moving forward after outstanding performances in the latter half of the season.

Other notable mid-to-late-round selections by the Rams in the past four drafts:

2017

WR Cooper Kupp, Round 3, No. 69 overall; S John Johnson III, Round 3, No. 91 overall

The Rams selected eight players in the 2017 draft but Kupp is the only one remaining on the team. He is entering the first season of a three-year, $47.25 million contract extension and will be a go-to target for Stafford. After four seasons and eight interceptions, Johnson entered free agency and signed a three-year, $33.75 million contract with the Browns.

2018

DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, Round 6, No. 195 overall

Joseph-Day was inactive every game his rookie season but spent the year quietly developing and has been a mainstay on the defensive line since. Joseph-Day has started 31 games the past two seasons, the most of any of the 11 players the Rams selected in 2018.

2019

RB Darrell Henderson Jr., Round 3, No. 70 overall

The Rams selected Henderson to be a change-of-pace back behind Todd Gurley II in 2019 but Henderson saw little action as a rookie, rushing for 147 yards on 39 carries. Last season, following Akers’ injury, Henderson moved into the starting role. In 11 starts, he rushed for 624 yards and five touchdowns on 138 carries, but did not solidify himself as a feature back and is expected to play a complementary role in 2021.

2020

S Jordan Fuller, Round 6, No. 199 overall

With Rapp’s injury, Fuller capitalized on repetitions with the starters and earned a starting role out of training camp as a rookie. Despite being placed on short-term injured reserve early in the season because of a shoulder injury, Fuller started 12 games and intercepted three passes and had five pass deflections.

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Ready or not: Bears’ next QB dilemma is when to play Justin Fields – Chicago Bears Blog

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It’s not an overstatement to call quarterback Justin Fields’ arrival in Chicago the city’s most celebrated sports moment since the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.

The Bears — almost universally panned for their spotty Day 1 draft record over the past decade — administered a shot of adrenaline to the fan base when they pulled off a draft-night blockbuster trade with the New York Giants in order to move up nine spots and select Fields 11th overall.

Fields is no Mitchell Trubisky, who sat on the bench at North Carolina for years until a very good junior season (the 8-5 Tar Heels lost the Sun Bowl to Stanford in Trubisky’s final collegiate game) convinced the Bears to take him with the second pick in 2017.

Rather, Fields played at Ohio State — one of the nation’s preeminent college football powerhouses.

In two seasons as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, Fields passed for 63 touchdowns with nine interceptions as Ohio State went 20-2, won two Big Ten Championships and made two College Football Playoff appearances. Fields, a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns in a brilliant semifinal performance against Clemson.

The resume checked every box, at least for the Bears.

“It’s the arm talent, it’s the accuracy, it’s the athleticism,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said of Fields. “When you see a guy with that kind of arm talent, with that kind of quarterback makeup that he has, with that kind of work ethic that he has, that’s played in really big games and really big moments and performed in big moments, that’s extremely tough.

“You know, I was at the Michigan game a couple years ago when he came back in from a knee, and we know about the ribs and the hip, and this guy’s toughness on a scale of 1-10 is an 11. And you just love that about him. Oh, and then, by the way, he runs a 4.44. You throw all that in together and it just feels good.”

The wisdom behind the Fields pick is undeniable — the Bears have been without a true franchise quarterback for 70-plus years — but what happens next is up for debate.

Fields is Chicago’s quarterback of the future. No controversy there. The same held true for Trubisky when the Bears drafted him four years ago.

The sticky part is when to play a quarterback, if at all, during their rookie season.

Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton‘s time in Chicago is likely to be brief — he signed for one-year, $10 million — but Dalton can still provide the Bears with a valuable service.

The Bears and coach Matt Nagy want to follow the blueprint from Kansas City, where former league MVP and Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes sat almost his entire first season behind veteran Alex Smith. The belief is Dalton can be Smith, but with red hair.

“You look at a guy like Andy Dalton and his experience and the time he’s seen, that part is extremely similar to Alex at the same point in their career, where Andy has seen every defense made to man, he’s watched a lot of tape,” said Nagy, who served as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Mahomes’ rookie season. “He’s seen a lot of different schemes that people throw at him. He’s been in playoff games. He’s done a lot of things the right way. So how great is that for a young rookie to come on in and learn from a guy like him and Nick Foles.

“And so the timing element of Justin, you know, we will know and there’s some observations from all of us as coaches every single day, and just like we would tell any quarterback, when you come in here, you do everything you can to be the best quarterback that you could be, whether it’s in the meeting room or whether it’s in practice, and everything else will take care of itself. … I promise you every single person will know including Justin when it’s the right time and that’s naturally how it happens.”

You understand the Bears cautious tone when it pertains to Fields’ readiness.

“Andy is our starter, and we’re going to have a really good plan in place to develop Justin and do what’s best for our organization and win games,” Pace said.

Pace and the Bears were badly burned in Trubisky’s first year by Mike Glennon, the veteran quarterback the team added (and guaranteed $18.5 million) before the draft to be their 2017 starter. Even after taking Trubisky as high as they did, the Bears’ plan was for Glennon to be the starting quarterback for most of, if not all of, Trubisky’s rookie year. The plan changed when Glennon bombed and Chicago installed Trubisky in Week 5.

The rest is history.

Perhaps Trubisky’s fate would have been the same even had he sat on the bench his entire rookie year. Nevertheless, there is no denying Trubisky was not ready when the Bears turned to him, and some of those early career limitations never improved over time.

Dalton is a much better quarterback than Glennon.

To compare Dalton to Alex Smith circa 2017, though, is a stretch. That’s the conundrum.

People forget the great run Smith enjoyed in Kansas City. Smith passed for 4,042 yards, 26 touchdowns, five interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 104.7 in his final season with the Chiefs. No wonder Kansas City felt good about keeping Mahomes in a backup role until the end of the season.

Before the draft, Bears fans complained about the Dalton signing, but since the Fields pick, the Dalton move has largely been forgotten.

It should not be.

The key to the Bears’ future, ironically enough, is in Dalton’s hands. The longer he keeps Fields on the sideline, the better off the Bears may be.

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Football from Tom Brady’s first NFL touchdown pass going up for auction

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The football that Tom Brady threw to complete his first touchdown pass in the NFL is going up for auction with Lelands on Sunday.

It’s a unique piece of sports history that has been with the seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, since the game on Oct. 14, 2001, when the New England Patriots played the San Diego Chargers.

The seller grew up in Rhode Island and has gone to Patriots games since the late 1970s with his family. He and three of his high school friends first bought season tickets in 1992 as college students and have kept the tickets to this day.

He’s a loyal fan of the Patriots and jokes that his wife almost divorced him 100 times because of how devoted he was to the Sunday games and tailgates with friends.

In the beginning, the tailgates were what the group of friends looked forward to as the Patriots went 2-14 in 1992 and 5-11 in 1993. The team had improved by the 2001 season, but the 25 to 30 friends still enjoyed the tailgate.

On that fall day in October, the seller made his way to Lot 11 right when the parking lot opened in the morning. Eventually, they dispersed to their respective seats and the seller made his way down near the field in the south end zone.

“Looking from the 50-yard line to the south end zone, the left field goal post, I sat to the left of that,” the seller said. “[Place-kicker] Scott Sisson, we called him Missin’ Sisson. I caught a lot of balls in that stadium because he would miss field goals.”

The game was only the third one Brady started after Drew Bledsoe was injured in the second game of the season against the New York Jets, so most Patriots fans didn’t have high expectations for Brady. From the moment Bledsoe was injured, however, the seller tried to convince his friends Brady was going to be the guy going forward, although he met with much resistance from his audience.

Brady had gone two games without throwing a touchdown as the starter, and there was now 4:01 left in the second quarter with New England and San Diego tied at 3 apiece.

The Patriots were driving at the San Diego 21-yard line when Brady took the snap, looked for Terry Glenn the whole play and threw a dart to him in the front of the end zone. Glenn threw his arms in the air and celebrated with his teammates. He then made his way near the back of the end zone and threw the ball into the crowd.

“It was a melee. I stood up on my seat, I pushed my buddy to my left,” the seller said. “The other two guys, I handed them my beer in a gentle way. I jumped up, tussled with a group of other fans around me and I came down with the ball.”

At the time, it was just another football. He was excited he had caught the ball and proud to see that, at age 29, he still had hands from his high school football days.

It wasn’t until he went to the postgame tailgate, when he opened his trunk to show the football off to his friends, that one of them reminded him it was Brady’s first touchdown.

He kept the ball in a safe place in his house and even played a very careful game of catch with the football in the backyard. It wasn’t until the end of the 2003 season, when New England beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl, that the seller knew he had something special.

Immediately after that game, he put the ball in a safety deposit box at his local bank. There it stayed, rarely brought out of its safekeeping. The ball became something of a superstition for the seller and his friends, as he would take it out the Saturday before each Super Bowl the Patriots appeared in, take a picture of it and send it to his friends.

The Patriots have lost the Super Bowl only once when the seller took a picture of the ball, and they were 0-2 in the two games when he didn’t.

“I was out of town for the Philly game [in 2017], and I just missed the bank closing for the Giants game [in 2007],” the seller said. “I had kids’ sports and just couldn’t get there before the bank closed. That’s what caused the David Tyree helmet catch, because I couldn’t take a picture of the ball.”

As time passed, and with neither of the seller’s kids expressing interest in keeping the ball in the family, they decided it was time to move on and allow someone else to enjoy this piece of sports history.

Lelands has photo-verified the football based on markings and writing on the football that was specific to the Patriots at the time. As Glenn celebrated in the end zone, a photographer captured the moment with Glenn holding the football with the laces out and the markings clearly shown. There are four main points that were identified on the ball. The Patriots wrote “PATS” in marker on one side of the ball near the laces, two dots on the end of the laces, the letters “L” and “N” on one side and a two-digit number on the other side identifying which game ball it was for that day.

“You can see the exact marks where the writing on the ball in the photo matches the ball that we are about to offer,” Lelands director of acquisitions Jordan Gilroy said. “It’s incredible that there was a photographer that close to him at that moment in time. Everything in that scenario was perfect, and we definitely did our due diligence to make sure it is the one.”

Lelands previously sold the infamous football from the Patriots’ AFC Championship Game defeat of the Colts in 2014, after which New England was accused of deflating footballs to gain an advantage. That ball sold in July 2015 for $43,740.

Gilroy and the seller don’t have a realistic gauge for the amount this ball could bring in, but he says it isn’t in the same conversation as the Deflategate ball.

The timing is right to get top dollar for this type of item as the sports card and memorabilia hobby has exploded in the past year. Lelands sold an autographed Tom Brady Panini Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket rookie card for $2.25 million in April, which broke the record for the highest-selling football card.

That card was graded as an 8.5, and the auction house now has the same card graded as a 9 up for auction on Sunday as well. There are only seven of these cards graded as a 9, so the expectation is that this card will eclipse the $2.25 million price tag from April.

As rare as that card is, this football is a true one of one and can’t be replicated or re-created.

“For Tom Brady’s football to be available and owned by an average fan is incredible,” Gilroy said. “It’s a piece of football history, and I think 10, 20, 30 years from now and Brady’s legacy is remembered even more, like Michael Jordan is now, it’s just going to increase in value. The fact that this ball is probably going into a private collection and might not see the light of day again, it might be the last time it ever sells.”

The seller hasn’t thought much about what would happen if Brady called him to try to put the ball into his personal collection, and he doesn’t have an expectation for what the ball could bring at auction when it ends on June 4.

Because he is a loyal Patriots fan and the ball means so much to him, the seller wishes only that it will go to the right fan.

“Somebody that has a place that can put it on their mantel, tell the story of how they got the ball,” the seller said. “My entire goal is to get it in the right fan’s hands that will enjoy telling their family and friends that they have the ball. It’s a piece of history you never see, but some of these great pieces of history need to be in the fans’ hands, so I want to get it to the right person that will enjoy it the way I have.”

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Where Julio Jones could land if the Falcons trade him – Atlanta Falcons Blog

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It’s a move no one would really want to make. Parting with franchise stars, players who could end up in the Hall of Fame, is never an easy thing. Teams do it every year, the multibillion-dollar business side of a game.

But every career sees changes, and in the National Football League moving on is a harsh part of life. Which is where the Falcons might sit at the moment with star receiver Julio Jones.

The draft over, the Falcons now must turn their attention to the rest of their roster — and what it might look like in the fall. The draft class still needs to be signed. Cap space remains incredibly tight, which is how Atlanta ended up in a conversation about possibly trading Jones.

“The answer to that is just pointing to the cap and pointing to the fact that we’ll answer calls on any players,” new Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said last month. “When teams ask about players, we have to answer those calls and we have to listen because we do have to, we knew when we stepped into this we were going to have to make some tough decisions because it is just the reality of it.

“That’s where we are with the salary cap, so we have to make some difficult decisions.”

Trading Jones isn’t a performance thing. It’s simply the reality of a shrunken salary cap due to COVID-19 and a cap-flow problem the previous regime left Atlanta in.

And this isn’t to say the Falcons are definitely trading Jones after June 1. If the return value isn’t there, whether that’s draft picks, good players on cheap contracts or a combination of both, it would be surprising to see Atlanta trade him.

With that in mind, here’s a few ways to look at the Falcons’ situation.

Keeping Jones

If Atlanta keeps Jones – which from an on-field perspective is logical – the Falcons have to find a way to free up money. That could come from releasing other players, and to speculate on names would not be prudent because there’s too many potential scenarios Fontenot could try.

There’s also the possibility of trading other players who wouldn’t get the return Jones would either in capital or cap relief.

The other option would be to restructure Jones, much like the team did with Matt Ryan, Jake Matthews and Deion Jones. There aren’t many players they could ask for pay cuts from, like the team did with Dante Fowler Jr., but that’s another option.

But restructuring Jones -– or, perhaps Grady Jarrett –- could provide the short-term relief it needs while continuing to create potential cap problems in the future. Say the Falcons restructured $7.5 million of Jones’ contract. It would give Atlanta almost $6 million in cap room for this year, according to Over The Cap, but it would give Jones a cap hit of almost $22 million in 2022 and 2023. Which is, again, pushing the potential problem down the road. It’s an option, but maybe not the best long-term one.

Fontenot also acknowledged he doesn’t want to keep restructuring deals because it doesn’t help long-term.

“This is not going to be an overnight fix with the cap. It’s going to take time,” Fontenot said. “But we want to have a healthy cap at some point so we can’t just restructure every contract because it’s just hurting us in future years.”

Jones and Jarrett, though, are the only two players on the roster where a restructure would offer the kind of 2021 fiscal relief that would truly help.

Another option could be extending Jarrett, but to speculate on what a contract like that would look like could go in too many directions for how it could free up money for Atlanta.

Trading Jones

As Fontenot takes potential calls, there are some things to consider. First is Fontenot didn’t “want to put a number on it” of what it would take to make a deal happen, so it’s not quite clear what the demarcation line is for Atlanta between keeping or trading.

Due to Jones’ age – he’s 32 – some teams may not be interested. Others have their own cap conundrums, so taking on Jones’ contract would not be a palatable plan for those teams. Others may feel good about their receiver corps.

And if you are a team interested in trading for Jones, you either would be one of two things: A team believing it’s a star receiver away from a Super Bowl, or one trying to find a top option for a young quarterback to help him build.

But there would be clubs where a move like this could make sense.

New England: With around $16.5 million in cap space, the Patriots would have the room to make a deal. Bill Belichick has shown no concerns going after top players this offseason in free agency, and he has made trades to acquire players – particularly wide receivers. Remember, this is a franchise that traded for Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007 and Brandin Cooks in 2017. Plus, Belichick made a move for Corey Dillon in 2004. So the Patriots have made moves for playmakers in the past. While New England did sign Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency, Jones is another class of receiver and would give veteran Cam Newton and rookie Mac Jones a high-level target every down.

San Francisco: Reuniting Kyle Shanahan with Jones would be intriguing and with cap room of $17.5 million, there is space to figure out a deal. Compensation would have to come in something other than a first-round pick, though, since San Francisco doesn’t have any in 2022 or 2023 because of the Trey Lance deal. But the Niners could use a receiver, especially since neither Deebo Samuel nor Brandon Aiyuk was incredibly healthy last year. There’s also the Jimmy Garoppolo contract question as well that would seemingly play into any high-money move San Francisco would make. But Jones would fit into the scheme and end up on a contender.

Indianapolis: The Colts have the cap room (just over $21.5 million) and a quarterback in Carson Wentz who could use a high-level receiver. Other than T.Y. Hilton, the Colts’ receivers are long on potential and lacking in true production. Hilton’s production has waned, too, including just 56 catches for 762 yards and five touchdowns last year. Not bad numbers, but the addition of Jones to Hilton would be a win for Wentz and a team seemingly in a win-now mode after making the playoffs in two of the last three years. Plus, general manager Chris Ballard has been bold in his trades before – between the Wentz deal this year and trading for DeForest Buckner a year ago.

Las Vegas: The Raiders don’t have the cap room some other teams do (just over $5.279 million), but Jon Gruden has never shied away from trying to land impact playmakers. And Jones is that. There’s also a lot of youth in that receiving corps, including potential standouts Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs III, and a player like Jones could add a No. 1 option, a mentor and a key piece to an offense that already has Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs. It’d be a fit for a team that has been improving under Gruden.

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