Shutdown Corner - NFL

  • Sidney Rice weighed his options, including a visit with the New York Jets, and decided it was best to come back to Seattle.

    Rice, who missed out on the Seahawks' Super Bowl run because he tore his ACL during the season, announced after his visit with the Jets was done that he was going back to Seattle.

    Multiple media reports said Rice and the Seahawks agreed to a one-year deal.

    The reunion makes sense. Rice is comfortable in the offense after three seasons. He had seven touchdowns for the Seahawks in 2012. And Seattle still needs difference makers at receiver. Most of their receivers are young, they lost Golden Tate during the offseason, and top option Percy Harvin can't be trusted to stay healthy for a full season.

    Rice isn't a big star anymore, surely not like he was when he had his career year with 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009 for the Vikings. But if he can return from ACL surgery and stay healthy, he'll give the Seahawks another option in the passing game as they try to defend their Super Bowl title.

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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!

  • Future NFL wide receiver Brandin Cooks is known for his speed. He recently made a name for himself with his mouth for comparing his skills to DeSean Jackson's. Now Cooks is showing he has an incredible heart.

    Cooks, a former Oregon State standout, will likely make a lot of money in the NFL. He is expected to be selected in the early rounds of this year’s draft. After running the fastest time at the NFL scouting combine (4.33 seconds), Cooks received a check for $100,000 from Adidas for clocking the quickest 40-yard dash time.

    Instead of making a lavish purchase for himself, Cooks decided to reward his mom, Andrea Cooks, with a new Mercedes-Benz GLK 350.

    Brandin was 6 years old when his father died of a heart attack. Andrea Cooks held the family, including two other sons, together after her husband’s death, and Brandin took care of his mom when he had the chance.

    Here is the emotional video Cooks posted on YouTube:

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    Anwar S Richardson is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at NFLAnwar@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • In a free-agent move that was entirely predictable from the moment Chris Johnson was cut, the former Tennessee Titans star running back agreed to a deal with the New York Jets.

    The Jets were one of the few teams in the NFL that was still pretty unsettled at running back, aside from Chris Ivory, at least until Johnson was cut. Then it became clear who the Jets' main tailback in 2014 would be. Johnson visited the Jets this week, and the two sides came to an agreement on a two-year deal according to ESPN. Again, this should have surprised nobody.

    Now Johnson gets to be the focal point of an offense that is still breaking in quarterback Geno Smith, who had his ups and downs last year. The Johnson that gained 2,006 yards in 2009 during one of the great single-season performances in NFL history isn't what the Jets are getting. That player isn't around anymore. But what Johnson can bring to the Jets is a good running back who still has big-play potential. Johnson gained at least 1,000 yards in each of his six NFL seasons and hasn't missed a game since his rookie year of 2008. He averaged at least 4 yards per carry each season until last year, when he just missed at 3.9.

    Johnson complained about his role off and on with the Titans, but he shouldn't have many concerns with the Jets, although Ivory should get some touches too after a very promising 2013 season. Still, given Rex Ryan's style and Smith's inexperience at quarterback, Johnson should have all the carries he can handle. Another 1,000-yard season shouldn't be too tough for Johnson to get, although it's probably not wise to bet on him reaching 2,000 again.

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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!

  • Pursuing a professional basketball career overseas no longer seemed appealing to Erik Swoope after the University of Miami forward had an end-of-the-year meeting with his head coach last month.

    Almost unfathomably, he suddenly had a more enticing opportunity.

    Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga informed Swoope that someone from the Denver Broncos had left a voicemail asking whether the senior had interest in scheduling a workout before the NFL draft. Swoope had never played organized football at any level before, but the Broncos believed his 6-foot-5 frame, explosive athleticism and aptitude for learning gave him a chance to make the same transition from undersized power forward to NFL tight end that stars Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham once did.

    "I was completely shocked," Swoope said. "That was about the last thing I expected Coach L to tell me. Once I figured out this was real and that he wasn't kidding, I was really excited. I took a week to think about it but then I decided I wanted to see what they had in mind."

    In the four weeks since his unexpected discovery that he was on the NFL's radar, Swoope has taken a crash course to familiarize himself with a sport he'd only watched on TV before. He has lifted weights to add muscle to his already chiseled frame, done basic drills to improve his pass catching and route running skills and sought out advice from athletes who have made a similar jump from basketball to football.

    Swoope's commitment has impressed NFL scouts enough that they've told him he has a good chance to make an NFL team's practice squad next season even if he is not selected in the later rounds of the draft next month. His workout with the Broncos last Thursday went well enough that officials from the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs have since called to express interest.

    "I think he has a great chance of playing in the NFL," Larranaga said. "He's a phenomenal athlete, he's a hard worker and he'll pick up new concepts quickly because he's just very bright. One of the easiest ways for me to judge is that I was able to play Eric four positions. Most guys can only learn their position, but there were games I had Eric guard the point guard and games I had him guard the center. His athletic ability allowed him to be very versatile in basketball and his intelligence allowed him to learn every position."

    The notion of an NFL career is sometimes still difficult for Swoope to fathom because of his lack of football experience. Whereas others who attempted the same transition at least dabbled in football in high school, the only football Swoope played prior to the last month were games of two-hand touch in the cul-de-sac outside his childhood home in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

    In fifth and sixth grade, Swoope was already too heavy to meet the weight restrictions to play Pop Warner football with his friends. And throughout his four years at prestigious Harvard Westlake High School in North Hollywood, he resisted frequent recruiting pitches from football coaches because basketball was his top priority.

    "Every week they'd tell me, 'Anytime you want to play, the field's right here,'" Swoope said chuckling. "It was difficult to resist because I had friends on the team and some of my friends on the basketball team were like, 'Man, we should just all go out for football and have a great senior year.' I thought about it every year, but I'd been playing basketball for so long and the scholarship opportunities I had were there for basketball."

    Basketball certainly wasn't a bad alternative.

    Swoope helped lead Harvard-Westlake to a section championship as a junior and averaged 21.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for a Warriors team that went 25-5 as a senior. His playing time was sometimes sporadic at Miami, but he finished with a flourish as a senior, starting his last 10 games this past season and scoring in double figures in six of his last seven.

    It's unclear exactly how Swoope got on the NFL's radar since a Denver Broncos spokesman declined comment until after the draft. The idea Denver might scout college basketball in search of draft prospects is conceivable, however, considering its tight ends coach worked with Gates with the Chargers and has since molded ex-Portland State basketball player Julius Thomas into a Pro Bowler with the Broncos. 

    If the Broncos indeed stumbled across Swoope watching ACC basketball, Larranaga has a good idea what intrigued them. From his penchant for catching alley-oop passes seemingly headed out of bounds, to his knack for out-muscling or out-leaping taller players for rebounds, to his love of contact and physicality, Swoope's style of play in basketball translates well to football.

    "In Erik's case, he's best when there's contact," Larranaga said. "I don't think that's going to discourage him at all. I even told my coaches, I could see him being on special teams tracking guys down and throwing people away to get to the ball carrier."

    Something that should inspire Swoope is that his transition isn't the most difficult one attempted by a member of his family. Older brother Devin competed in track and field, and basketball in high school before a junior college football coach spotted him during a basketball game and persuaded him to give a new sport a try. Devin began as a 315-pound nose tackle at Glendale College, moved to outside linebacker when he first arrived at Division II Northwood University and eventually shed enough weight to finish his career as a 215-pound wide receiver.

    "All they're asking my brother to do is gain 10 pounds rather than lose 100," Devin joked. "His transition is easy compared to mine."   

    Jokes aside, Devin is the ideal mentor for his younger brother since he has experience catching passes, running routes and learning a brand new position and sport. They've done many of the same drills the past few weeks at Miami that Devin did at Northwood as he was first learning the receiver position.

    "I've made it as difficult as I possibly could for him just to see how he would react," Devin said. "I was rifling the football at him and he was catching everything. There's a tempo to running routes and he'll have to learn that, but even on grass he's still very fluid and very explosive. I definitely did not feel like I was working out with someone who had never played football, that's for sure."

    Between drills with his brother and friends on the Miami football team, intense weight lifting sessions with his strength coach and chats with Graham and others who have been in his position, Swoope feels he is making swift progress.

    Ideally, he'd love to wow the Broncos or another NFL team enough to be a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick in May. Realistically, he hopes to latch on as an undrafted free agent, continue to soak up as much new information as he can in training camp and earn a spot on a practice squad next season. 

    "It will come down to the conversations I have with teams and my workouts," Swoope said. "In a perfect world, maybe I'd go in the seventh round. But no matter what this has all been extremely exciting. Just the fact I'm getting calls and that I'm considered a potential NFL player is so flattering and so enjoyable."

    Highlights from Erik Swoope's final basketball game with Miami last month:

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    Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • Remember last year, when there was a bunch of mystery about why Rob Gronkowski hadn't returned to the New England Patriots lineup from injury, and the weekly questions about when the tight end would make his debut?

    Well, here we go again.

    Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, quoting a source, says that Gronkowski's rehab "take his time and then take more time" in returning from a torn ACL and MCL suffered last season.

    This makes sense. Gronkowski needs to make sure he's fully healthy, because his body hasn't always cooperated the past couple years. His concern shouldn't be getting back as soon as he can for the 2014 season, but making sure he isn't cutting his career short by rushing back. But that was the case last year, and it didn't stop a lot of grumbling about why he hadn't made it back to the lineup when it seemed like he was due to play. Let's go out on a limb and predict this won't be the last Shutdown Corner post in 2014 that has to do with Gronkowski's rehab and when he might return to the lineup.

    Hopefully one of the league's most dynamic and entertaining players feels 100 percent sooner rather than later. Early indications are his rehab is going just fine. And we know that America's favorite bro is eating well this offseason, at least.

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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!

  • Carson Palmer is 34. He hasn't had a quarterback rating over 85 since 2007. He had 22 interceptions last year, second-most in the NFL.

    He's a stopgap quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. He's not so bad he'll kill your chances of winning, considering he had 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns to go with all those interceptions last year. But if the Cardinals haven't been looking for his replacement, they've been making a mistake.

    Palmer seems to realize the inevitability of the team finding a younger quarterback, and he told Cardinals' web site writer Darren Urban that he's fine with the team drafting his eventual replacement.

    “If you are in a position to draft the best player on your board, and that’s the best position to be in as an organization, and (a quarterback) is the best player on the board, you are not only making your team better by creating competition but you are helping out the future," Palmer told AzCardinals.com.

    Not that the team would have passed on a quarterback if it would have upset Palmer, but it makes a lot of sense if they invested in a quarterback of the future in this draft. The Cardinals have often had a high pick through the years, but this isn't one of those years after they finished 10-6. But this quarterback class not only has a few quarterbacks that should go in the top 10 but more than a few that could end up being drafted ether late in the first round or after the first round who could become solid NFL starters. Given an offensive-minded head coach like Bruce Arians to work with, a second-round or mid-round quarterback could be a great value for the Cardinals.

    And the incumbent doesn't seem like he would create any waves.

    "That’s the business," Palmer told AzCardinals.com. "It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, whether it irks you or you don’t care. That’s the game.”

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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 York Giants are giving Josh Freeman another chance to salvage his NFL career.

    According to ESPN’s Adam Caplan, Freeman signed a one-year deal with the Giants on Wednesday, which was confirmed by the quarterback's agent. Freeman is expected to be Eli Manning's backup this season.

    Freeman began last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but was released after a rift with coach Greg Schiano. He eventually signed with the Minnesota Vikings, and it appeared Minnesota found a quarterback to replace Christian Ponder. However, Freeman struggled in his debut against the New York Giants in Week 7.

    Freeman completed 20-of-53 passes for 190 yards and one interception during a 23-7 loss. Even though his lack of productivity could have been blamed on being thrown into the fire so quickly, Freeman was never given an opportunity to start in Minnesota again. The Vikings didn't pursue Freeman in free agency.

    Prior to visiting the Giants, Freeman worked out with the Chicago Bears, but left without a contract. Caplan said the Green Bay Packers were also interested in Freeman. 

    Freeman, who was Tampa Bay's first-round pick (17th overall) in 2009 and is just 26 years old, has thrown for 13,724 yards, 80 touchdowns and 67 interceptions in his career. He was the third quarterback selected after Detroit's Matthew Stafford (No.1 overall) and New Jets' Mark Sanchez (fifth overall) in 2009, and he had 3,451 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions with the Bucs in 2010. Freeman led Tampa Bay to a 10-6 record, but his team missed the playoffs.

    New York is not interested in Freeman competing against Manning, but he could develop into a reliable backup with an entire offseason to learn the playbook.

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    Anwar S Richardson is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at NFLAnwar@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine some of the most interesting prospects in the class, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.

    Tom Savage
    Quarterback
    Pittsburgh
    6-foot-4, 228 pounds
    2013 stats: 238-of-389 passing (61.2 percent completions) for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns, nine interceptions; 76 rushes, minus-208 yards, three touchdowns
    40-yard dash: 4.97 seconds

    The good: Who is Tom Savage and why is he perhaps the hottest mystery quarterback heading into the 2014 NFL draft? Savage stepped up with a strong final college season — his only one on the field at Pitt — and lived up to the hype he received when he was a highly rated passer in high school. Things didn't go according to plan, as he committed to Rutgers, started for parts of two years there and then transfered to Arizona but left before playing a game for the Wildcats. Savage attempted to re-enroll at Rutgers, but his hardship waiver to play immediately was denied, so he landed at Pitt and sat out the 2012 season.

    Savage's stock grew again as the 2013 season wore on, and he took care of the football well (three INTs in his final nine games) after a shaky start. His arm strength rivals that of two of the draft class' best flamethrowers — Fresno State's Derek Carr and LSU's Zach Mettenberger. As one AFC offensive coordinator told Shutdown Corner about Savage, "He can really shoot it."

    Savage also has an NFL-caliber frame, played in a pro-style offense under Paul Chryst (who tutored several future NFL quarterbacks, including Russell Wilson at Wisconsin) and had his stats skewed by some dropped passes. It also says something that his teammates named Savage a captain despite him transferring in.

    The bad: There are concerns about Savage's lack of athleticism, as the same offensive coordinator pointed out, and ability to throw on the run. For having such a strong arm, Savage was asked to throw horizontally and short quite a bit, which was odd, and his accuracy wavered at times. Also, pressure appeared to bother him; although Savage doesn't back down from the rush, standing tough against some big hits, he can deliver some wild passes in those situations.

    He turned in some real clunkers this season — there's no shame in Florida State getting the best of him, but Savage also struggled noticeably through stretches against marginal opponents such as Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion and Georgia Tech. Savage turns 24 two weeks before the draft.

    The verdict: Savage bears a striking resemblance as a prospect to the Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles, Savage's former teammate for a year in Tucson. It's all there, from Foles' size to his circuitous college route (Foles committied to Arizona State, then signed with Michigan State before transferring to Arizona) to him also toughing it out and taking a beating behind a bad offensive line. That's Savage, too, although he's not quite as big as Foles, and Foles' incredible statistical success last season under Chip Kelly might skew this comparison somewhat unfairly.

    Savage has enough tools to be attractive to NFL teams seeking a pocket passer with a big arm, and he appears to care greatly about football and getting better. He can make every NFL throw there is; turn on the Duke or North Carolina games this past season for proof of that.

    But Savage also has enough sub-par tape to question his pro potential, especially given that he's a year or two older than most of the other prospects in this class. Savage has one full season of football to his name since 2009, and he could benefit from learning in a scheme that favors his arm strength where he doesn't have to play immediately — the Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys are a few teams that come to mind here.

    But there's a good chance that Savage could, like Foles did in 2012, come off the board higher than many expect, perhaps even in the draft's first 64 picks.

    Previously Under the Microscope

    Buffalo LB-DE Khalil Mack
    Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio

    South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
    USC WR Marqise Lee

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    Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • Talent excuses most actions in the NFL, but at some point teams reach their tipping point.

    Judging by the Mercury News' Tim Kawakami's latest report on linebacker Aldon Smith, the 49ers have passed that line. They're fed up. And, as such, Smith is "probably" not going to play with the 49ers in 2014, Kawakami reported after speaking to team sources. Kawakami said the top of the organization, including owner Jed York and the York family, general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, are all embarrassed over Smith's arrest on Sunday for causing a scene at Los Angeles International Airport and allegedly saying he had a bomb. 

    And if Kawakami's report about Smith not being a 49er in 2014 comes to pass (and that's not discounting his report, but as far as the team goes, it's a lot easier to act tough in mid-April than it is when you're faced with the reality of losing an All-Pro pass rusher), it would be easy to understand why the team couldn't handle any more. They went out of their way to support Smith after his second DUI arrest last year, and drew criticism for it as he went off to rehab but returned late in the season. Sunday's incident included the detail that police thought he was drinking earlier in the day. That wasn't a factor in his arrest, but it could not have sat well with the 49ers.

    There have been recent instances of teams becoming frustrated with extremely talented players and moving on. Philadelphia released receiver DeSean Jackson after a great season. Two teams traded receiver Brandon Marshall early in his career despite great on-field performance, at a lesser price each time. It happens, but it's rare. However, Kawakami wrote that he noticed "a weariness and frustration over Smith’s behavior that I’ve never heard involving any recent 49ers player."

    The 49ers can take their time in deciding on Smith's 2014 status, as Kawakami notes. They have to decide to exercise Smith's $9.75 million 2015 option by May 3, and NFL Network reported that seems unlikely to happen even though that money won't be guaranteed and there's not a lot of monetary risk involved. But if the 49ers continue to be as angry about Smith as Kawakami says they are (it was telling on Sunday that the 49ers released a statement saying they were disappointed in Smith before the LAPD ever identified him as the man who was detained, basically announcing to the world that Smith was the one who did it), why even send the message that having Smith in 2015 is possible? It doesn't seem having Smith in 2014 is guaranteed.

    If the 49ers were truly through with Smith, they'd have cut him already. By waiting around to see how the legal system treats Smith, they're leaving the door open for him remaining a 49er. Maybe sending out the message through a respected and widely-read columnist that they're this close to cutting Smith is a last-ditch attempt to see if Smith can be scared straight.

    The 49ers obviously don't want to get rid of a player as good as Smith, seeing as how they're one of the favorites to win next year's Super Bowl. But no matter how it ends up playing out, it's obvious that the 49ers are at wit's end over one of the best and most high-maintenance players in the NFL.

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

  • A couple months after being part of a Seahawks team that won a Super Bowl, Christine Michael couldn't have looked any happier dancing at a high school prom.

    His date, Taylor Kirkwood, looked even happier.

    Kirkwood, from Houston, is autistic and suffered from scoliosis until surgery a couple years ago. Michael, a former running back at Texas A&M, was a friend of the family and gladly accepted an invitation to be Kirkwood's prom date, according to a story on Click2Houston.com.

    That's how the running back, a second-round pick of the Seahawks last year, ended up at Anahuac High School getting down in a pink shirt that matched Kirkwood's dress.

    "I'm just here for Taylor," Michael told Click2Houston.com. "It's a blessing. Like I said, she's a beautiful kid. I'm very proud of her."

    It isn't too unusual for a high school senior to go to prom with a football player, it's just rare that the player is already in the NFL. Good for Michael. It definitely gives Kirkwood a pretty cool story about her high school prom to tell for years to come.

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

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