Shutdown Corner - NFL

  • The saga has gone on so long, with no real development for months, that it's easy to forget running back Ray Rice is still trying to get an NFL job.

    Don Banks at Sports Illustrated had an interesting piece last week, polling an array of NFL sources to see if they thought Rice would play again. The answers were roughly split. The most interesting answer from an NFL source to Banks singled out the Buffalo Bills as a potential spot, saying their new coach Rex Ryan "thinks the world of him from their time together in Baltimore [in 2008]. He loves him. He doesn’t like him. He loves him."

    A couple days later, ESPN.com's Mike Rodak shot down that theory. He said there's no interest by the Bills in Rice, who infamously struck his then-fiancee in an elevator last year. Rice was suspended, cut by the Baltimore Ravens and hasn't even been close to signing with another team since.

    So then the question starts anew. If the Bills and a coach who "loves" Rice won't entertain signing him, will anyone?

    The SI piece pointed out that Ray McDonald's situation, in which he was cut by the Chicago Bears after another domestic violence arrest, doesn't help Rice. Neither does the criticism of the Seattle Seahawks for drafting Michigan defensive end Frank Clark, who was accused of suspicion of domestic violence. It doesn't seem possible, but Rice's path back to the NFL likely got even tougher recently. 

    It's just hard to figure out a situation that would lead a team to sign Rice. Injuries will happen in training camp, but there are other lower-profile backs to fill roster spots. Veterans like Steven Jackson, who wouldn't bring a ton of media attention, are looking for work too. Other NFL teams who fit the profile of needing a back and not caring about public perception in grabbing players with off-field concerns — fine, we're talking about the Dallas Cowboys — could have signed Rice at any point this year and haven't. What is going to change their minds in June or July? It's not like Rice has any more apologies to give or any new football film to show teams.

    Even in a league that hands out second, third and fourth chances to talented players and will invent any ridiculous excuse to try and appease the public, Rice seems like he'll forever be on the outside looking in. That led NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith to wonder to ESPN if there was a concerted effort by the owners to keep Rice out of the league (via Pro Football Talk):

    “This, unfortunately, is a league that has a history of blackballing players. I find it hard to believe that a player of Mr. Rice’s caliber hasn’t at least gotten one offer from a team to come work out,” Smith said.

    That's a strong claim, but it's easy to believe. Rice has been free to sign with anyone for some time now. His down 2013 season, with just 3.1 yards per carry, doesn't help. But before that he had four straight 1,000-yard seasons and averaged at least 4 yards per carry in every one. Dozens of running backs who aren't as good as Rice have signed since Rice was cut. This is about more than football, of course.

    Maybe Rice will get another NFL shot. But with each week that passes, that possibility seems more and more unlikely.

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    Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • The New Orleans Saints added a much-needed banner to their indoor practice facility on Saturday.  

    The banner is a photo of team owner Tom Benson hoisting the Lombardi Trophy from the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV victory in 2009. There already were several banners commemorating that Super Bowl in the facility, but head coach Sean Payton decided that a tribute to Benson was needed.

    “It was the one thing when you look around that was missing,” Payton said, per the Saints website. “I mentioned it to (general manager) Mickey (Loomis) and he thought it was a great idea. You try to think of things that will send a message or make an impact on our staff, our players seeing something every day, while we practice. We have photos up on the walls of our indoor facility of our Super Bowl game, Steve Gleason’s blocked punt – great team images that have captured what we have built here and what we continue to build. The guy that has meant the most to our organization and our success is Mr. Benson. No one deserves that more. It is a simple but important gesture. We could not have had the success that we have enjoyed without Mr. Benson. He has one goal every year: to win a championship for our fans. I think putting that image of him up there reminds us daily of what we are working for.”

    Benson, 87, has owned the Saints since 1985. Longtime Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Benson has had a huge role in the team’s success.

    “This is a great gesture by Coach Payton to honor a man that has played such a big part in not only my success individually but also the success achieved by the organization as whole," Brees said. "Mr. Benson played an important role in my decision to come to New Orleans and join the Saints and I treasure the relationship I have had with him over the past nine years and look forward to tightening that bond in the years to come.

    “(Benson) embodies everything that you could hope and want from an owner. I know how much he cares for the players and coaches, as well as the city of New Orleans, and how important it is to him to be a champion on the field and in the community. I see it constantly on a daily basis in everything he does. To have a man as passionate as Mr. Benson who is extremely supportive and continuously puts our football team in a position to succeed, there is really nothing more you can ask of an owner.”

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    Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

  • Rob Gronkowski is going to drive the pace car at a NASCAR race later this month. What could possibly go wrong?

    Our closet living equivalent to DuffMan will serve as Grand Marshal for the Chicago Xfinity Series race scheduled for Saturday, June 20. (For those not in the know, the Xfinity Series is a developmental race series just below the top level, NASCAR's equivalent of Triple-A baseball ... or, in NFL terms, the NFC South.) Gronk and his brothers Gordie Jr., Chris, Dan and Glenn -- why why WHY is there not a reality show with these dudes -- will all be co-marshals, and Gronk's pops will be honorary starter.

    "I'm stoked to spend Father's Day weekend with my family at Chicagoland Speedway," are words attributed to Gronkowski in a track release but which he almost certainly did not ever say. "Not only are we coming from all over the country to celebrate the best dad in the world, but I get the ultimate adrenaline rush of getting behind the wheel and driving the pace car to kick-off the NASCAR race. My brothers and I get to say the most famous words in racing, and my dad gets to wave the green flag to start the race. It's going to be an awesome weekend."

    The city of Joliet, Illinois, where the Chicago Speedway is located, may wish to begin emergency preparedness training right now. The Summer of Gronk rolls on.

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    Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

    And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

  • It’s been nearly a year since Leah Still, the daughter of Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, was diagnosed with cancer on June 2, 2014.

    To commemorate Leah’s strength over the past year, Devon got an awesome tattoo of Leah on his back.

    Though she has been in remission since March, Leah, just five years old, had a setback in her recovery from neuroblastoma, Devon announced Friday.

    “I need some prayers sent up for Leah tonight! We hit a pretty serious complication from the stem cell transplant called VOD,” Devon wrote on his Instagram account. “They caught it early so hopefully it gives the doctors a better chance of stopping it from getting aggressive. As you can imagine our minds are all over the place but we're going to try and remain positive!”

    VOD, or Hepatic veno-occlusive disease, is somewhat common among children who have undergone stem cell transplantation as part of the recovery process.

    From ESPN:

    According to the American Cancer Society, VOD, or Hepatic veno-occlusive disease, occurs when tiny veins and other blood vessels inside the liver become blocked. It happens only in people with allogeneic transplants, and primarily in those who received two types of drugs, busulfan or melphalan, as part of their post-cancer recovery.

    VOD can be more common in older people who had liver problems before the transplant, according to the ACS. It can result in liver failure and death. The disease's reported incidence in children who have undergone stem cell transplantation is between five and more than 60 percent, according to Medscape.

    Still's mind was understandably away from football when the diagnosis came, but the team allowed him to stay on the practice squad to ensure that he'd have health insurance to provide care for Leah. Leah’s subsequent fight against cancer became a huge story last season when the Bengals donated more than $1 million to pediatric cancer research based on sales of Still’s No. 75 jersey. 

    Devon, who is entering his fourth season with the Bengals, has stayed by his daughter's side at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia throughout the team's organized team activities. 

    To honor Leah's strength and Devon's devotion to his daughter, the two will be honored with the Jimmy V Perserverance Award at the ESPY Awards in July, ESPN announced Monday

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    Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

  • Cam Newton is a polarizing figure among NFL quarterbacks, but it's not like the Carolina Panthers had any choice but to pay him.

    Newton was very close on Monday morning to an agreement on a five-year contract extension that was reportedly worth more than $100 million, according to multiple reports including the Charlotte Observer. Newton was slated to make $14.67 million in the last year of his rookie deal this year. His new contract will run through 2020.

    [Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football is back: Sign up for a league today!]

    Newton has been fantastic at times in his four NFL seasons, since the former Heisman Trophy winner was the No. 1 overall pick out of Auburn. He had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, throwing for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns and running for 706 yards with 14 scores on the ground. He shed the ridiculous "can't win" label in 2013 when he took the Panthers to a 12-4 record and an NFC South title. The Panthers repeated as division champs last year, although the division was historically bad and Newton's play backslid a little bit. He was hampered by injuries, most notably after he was involved in a scary car accident just outside the team's facility last December.

    Despite the fact that Newton's fourth season might have been his worst — injuries certainly played a role, as did a terrible offensive line and a cast of receivers that is still being rebuilt — the Panthers were not going to let him go. That would be virtually unprecedented in NFL history for a player at Newton's age, with his accomplishments. The deal was a little tricky since Newton's camp had been adamant against signing a pay-as-you-go deal like Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had. But one way or another it was going to get done, despite any noise to the contrary.

    The question now is what's next for Newton and the Panthers. He still needs to work on the finer points of his game, especially consistency with his accuracy and play from the pocket. But he has been wildly productive with a supporting cast that has been among the worst in the league. The Panthers have rarely done much to help him at offensive line or receiver, though drafting receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first round last year was a nice step. Still, lack of help or not, he set career lows in passing yards, touchdown passes, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards per passing attempt, yards per rushing attempt and quarterback rating last year. That's not what the Panthers wanted to see right before they had to invest heavily in him. But, ankle surgery last offseason and then two transverse process fractures in his back after the car accident were significant reasons. The word has been that Newton is healthy going into this season.

    Newton better be healthy and rebound to the levels of his first three seasons, because the Panthers will be investing in him for five more years. Not that they had any real choice in the matter, but now it's time for Newton to take an even bigger step forward as a quarterback.

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    Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • The Buffalo Bills won't hold practice Monday, but head coach Rex Ryan has found a worthy replacement.

    Ryan and the entire team attended Jim Kelly’s charity golf tournament in Batavia, New York, Monday morning. Kelly, the Bills’ Hall of Fame quarterback, announced that the team was coming at the event’s gala on Sunday evening.

    By the looks of it, Ryan has a pretty smooth swing.

    According to ESPN.com, the team attending Kelly's tournament counts as an organized team activity, meaning the team has completed four of 10 OTAs this spring.

    Kelly has held the event for the past 29 years but was absent last year while undergoing treatment for cancer.

    “Thank the Good Lord for allowing me to be here today,” Kelly, who has been cancer-free since August, said Sunday per ESPN.com. “It’s so good to see my friends and see people I haven’t seen in over a year, because I was not here last year at this time.”

    Kelly’s golf tournament raises money for his charity, which benefits disabled and disadvantaged youth in western New York. Kelly said it “feels good” to be back at the event.

    “I feel good,” Kelly said. “And it’s good because after last year, the money we were able to give out to all the charities, that makes you feel good because even though I couldn’t be here, it continued, it moved on and we are still making a difference.” 

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    Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

  • Giants punter Steve Weatherford welcomed his daughter into the world over the weekend in San Diego, then flew across the country to join the team at OTAs. But early Monday morning, he suffered a major wreck on the New Jersey Turnpike that had him thanking heaven on social media.

    Weatherford was flying in from San Diego, but poor weather forced him to land in Washington, D.C. He landed at 11 p.m. and rented a car to get to Monday morning's practice on time. At 3:30 a.m., he hit water on the turnpike, hydroplaned and hit the median as the airbags deployed.

    "I walked out without a scratch," Weatherford wrote on Instagram. "I am feeling so incredibly blessed. Not only has God given my family and I a beautiful, healthy 10 pound baby girl. He sent his guardian angels to keep my car from flipping and possibly dying."

    New Jersey state troopers Adam Brozek and Kim Smith helped Weatherford, driving him 45 miles to his house. "Now I'm home shaking like a leaf, trying to pack my bag to go to practice," Weatherford added. "I'm so thankful to even be walking right now."

    Eventually, Weatherford did reach the Giants' practice facility, as he noted on Twitter:

    Weatherford's quite the character; a few years back, he helped a couple Giants fans get engaged, and he's in insanely good shape. More recently, he tweaked the Patriots, saying that the Giants had New England's number. Glad he's still around to keep the NFL interesting.

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    Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

    And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

  • Mike Sherman is getting another shot at being a head coach – but this time at the high school level.

    According to the Cape Cod Times, Sherman, the former head coach of the Green Bay Packers and Texas A&M University, has accepted the head-coaching job at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, Massachusetts.

    Keith Kenyon, Nauset’s athletic director and now former football coach, said Sherman will meet his new team this week.

    “This has been in the works for a few months after I knew I would be giving up coaching,” Kenyon said. “It’s exciting. Mike is a quality person and obviously his coaching resume speaks for itself.”

    Sherman’s most notable coaching stop was a five-year stint (2000-2005) as head coach for the Packers, where he led the team to three NFC North championships. He also had stints as an assistant with the Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins. He also was the head coach at Texas A&M from 2008-2011 and served as an assistant at Pitt, Tulane, Holy Cross and UCLA.

    Sherman, a Massachusetts native who lives in West Dennis, Mass., most recently spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Dolphins, but was fired after the 2013 season. Sherman itched to get back into coaching after taking the 2014 season off, but didn’t want to put his family through another move.

    From the Cape Cod Times:

    “I felt after Miami I couldn't put my family through another move,” Sherman said of his decision to settle full-time in Dennis. “My wife Karen has put up with a lot in regard to my career and was happy to have unpacked her last box. We’ve been coming here almost every summer over the last 30-plus years as a family so we felt this was a natural fit for us to call Cape Cod home.”

    Sherman said accepting a gig with a local high school team was a natural choice – but it didn’t come easy.

    “I guess I'd say, why not? I've been fortunate financially over the years, which is allowing me to do this,” Sherman said. “Back in January I was looking for a place to have a football camp this summer and Nauset High School came up. Then I heard they were looking for a head football coach.

    “It took me a while to pull the trigger,” said Sherman. “It hasn't been an easy decision because I wanted to make sure I was all 100 percent in. The kids deserve that from their coach. I've loved coaching in the NFL and college for the last 33 years, but I am definitely looking forward to working with the kids at Nauset.”

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    Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

  • Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel was back in Texas for the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic on Saturday, and something happened. That's about all anyone can agree on.

    First, let's go to Manziel's agent, per Cleveland.com. Erik Burkhardt said Manziel was harassed by a fellow fan in the gallery, but handled the disturbance without major problems.

    Seems harmless enough, but here's another angle. A fan, Chase Fritz of Plano, Texas, told Yahoo Sports that he spotted Manziel yelling at someone and, later, throwing a water bottle at the fan. Manziel missed, and the other fan responded, "Hey, nice throw, Johnny." Manziel, according to Fritz, became "super pissed," "took off his hat," and began walking toward the other man.

    At that point, security officials in the area rounded up everyone, including Fritz and his father. Someone in Manziel's entourage told Fritz not to take a picture, but he did so anyway. Here's Fritz's photo from another account:

    TMZ reports that Manziel told police the other man (referred to as a "friend") had been harassing him for an autograph, and that Manziel lost his temper. After some discussion with security officials, everyone dispersed with no arrests. No harm, no penalty flag.

    How you view the incident depends on how you view Manziel in general. A case of a problematic player losing control again, or a case of a fan getting rude? Either way, the Browns can't be happy Manziel continues to make news away from the field.

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    Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

    And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

  • Update: 5/29 - 5:35 p.m. ET

    Hours after news of his arrest emerged, the Falcons waived linebacker Prince Shembo. 

    “We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo," the team said in a statement. "We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo.”

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    Atlanta Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo has been charged with aggravated cruelty to animals for allegedly killing his ex-girlfriend’s dog.

    According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Shembo’s ex, Denicia Williams, called police on April 19 saying that Shembo had killed her Yorkie, named Dior. 

    From the AJC:

    Williams told police she had taken Dior to Shembo’s home at a Mall of Georgia apartment complex four days earlier, according to police.

    At some point during her stay, Williams left Shembo and her dog unattended. When she returned, Dior was unresponsive, she told police.

    Williams took the dog to Duluth Animal Hospital, where Dior died shortly after her arrival.

    Williams told police that Shembo made comments the following day about killing the dog. After a necropsy was conducted, veterinarians determined that the dog had “significant injuries and the cause of death was blunt force trauma.”

    The dog had an array of serious injuries.

    The dog had a fractured rib, fractured liver, abdominal hemorrhage, thoracic hemorrhage, extensive bruising and hemorrhage in the muscles in her front leg and shoulders, head trauma, hemorrhage and edema in lungs, hemorrhage between the esophagus and trachea, and hemorrhage in the left eye with internal injuries, police said.

    The 6-foot-2, 254-pound Shembo, who the Falcons picked out of Notre Dame in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, had 59 tackles in his rookie season. During his time at Notre Dame, Shembo was accused of sexual assault by a student at St. Mary’s College. The student, Lizzy Seeberg, committed suicide less than two weeks after the alleged incident.

    Shembo was never charged. 

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    Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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