Panthers acquire Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee in trade with Browns

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers filled arguably the biggest hole on their roster Monday by acquiring three-time Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee in a trade with the Cleveland Browns.

The Panthers gave up a 2018 fourth-round pick and punter Kasey Redfern in exchange for Lee and a 2017 seventh-round pick.

“There is some depth and some truth into what he was doing,” Sherman said. “I think he could have picked a better platform and a better way to do it, but every day they say athletes are so robotic and do everything by the book. And then when somebody takes a stand like that, he gets his head chopped off.”

Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece thought Kaepernick was “misunderstood” and brought up the late Muhammad Ali as an example of why critics should not be too harsh on Kaepernick’s message, even if they disagree with how he presented it.

“Muhammad Ali, who stood for so many things and was criticized for not wanting to go to [the Vietnam] war, turned into this legend and this civil rights activist and this immense figure, not only in black America but America, period,” Reece told ESPN.com on Monday. “[Kaepernick] is trying to use his platform to stand up for people who can’t necessarily stand up for themselves.

“But, at the same time, I think personally you have to have a little balance in your take on everything.”

Some Rams players made their own social statement in 2014, when the team played in St. Louis, in recognition of protests in nearby Ferguson, Missouri. Five players — Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens and Jared Cook — came out of the tunnel with the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose prior to a home game against the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 30.

Discipline was not handed out, but the St. Louis Police Officers Association called for the players to be punished and for the NFL to apologize.

Fisher felt his players were “misunderstood.”

“They wanted to direct attention to the community of Ferguson because they felt the community needed help and they were helping them,” Fisher said Sunday. “… Obviously, you have compassion for the things that are happening in society, and players have the opportunity because they have a platform. There’s a place for it, and there’s not a place for it. … To a man, if you asked each one of them if they’d do it all over again, they probably would. I thought, from an organization standpoint, we dealt with it appropriately and with compassion and concern for what was taking place in Ferguson.”

The defending NFC champions had hoped veteran Mike Scifres would fill the void left by Brad Nortman, who signed with Jacksonville in free agency. However, Scifres, the former Chargers punter, injured his kicking (right) knee in Friday’s preseason game when a New England player ran into him on his first punt of the preseason.

Lee’s current contract runs through 2018. He has a salary cap figure of $2,833,000 in 2016, $3,433,000 in 2017 and $4,134,000 in 2018.

One of the reasons the Panthers didn’t keep Nortman was they didn’t want to compete with the four-year, $8.8 million deal he received from Jacksonville. That deal has a cap number of $2.15 million in 2016.

Carolina also wanted to become more efficient at directional punting. Nortman sometimes outkicked the coverage.

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Victor Cruz practices Tuesday, leaves teammates impressed

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz returned Tuesday from a groin injury with his heaviest workload and most productive practice of the summer. For the first time in weeks, there was reason for optimism.

The centerpiece of that defense: star pass rusher Von Miller, who piled up five sacks in three games and was named Super Bowl MVP. If Miller was the best defender in the postseason, the best defensive player of the 2015 regular season was otherworldly Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who led the league in sacks (17.5) and quarterback hurries (50). In addition to serving as helpful ambulatory examples of the word “disruptive,” Watt and Miller have something else in common: They were both taken in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.

We have a ways to go, but we may very well be watching the prime years of the best defensive draft class to ever play the game.

The 2011 class did deliver a certain MVP named Cam Newton, but the vast majority of the draft’s output has been from the other side of the line of scrimmage. In fact, forming a starting lineup from that 2011 class produces a terrifying defense. If you line them up in a 4-3, you can go with Watt at one defensive end spot across from the Rams’ Robert Quinn, who had a 19-sack season as recently as 2013. Jets end Muhammad Wilkerson would kick inside to play tackle alongside massive Bills nose tackle Marcell Dareus, forming a devastating two-way front four.

Now consider the back end. The AFC West came away from the 2011 draft with a pair of terrors at outside linebacker. We can slot Miller alongside Chiefs star Justin Houston, who has averaged more than one sack per game over the past three seasons. The interior isn’t quite as laden with talent, but we can move Seahawks cover linebacker K.J. Wright into the middle.

Throwing on this team? Good luck. Our cornerbacks are an NFC West tandem; Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and Seattle’s Richard Sherman are both capable of shutting down top talent. The lone weak spot comes at safety, where the likes of Da’Norris Searcy and Chris Conte would be competing for starting reps. But that’s not much of a complaint.

“It’s an old-time man-coverage beater where that guy’s going to snag right at the outside shoulder of the guy covering the slot,” Flinn said. “Number one [the outside receiver] has got to get himself turned, facing the line of scrimmage so he doesn’t get called for offensive pass interference. But that’s a classic pick route right there, try to get the defensive back to run over the top.”

Baldwin doesn’t run straight to the flat. He wants the defender to back off a little bit to give him room to operate.

“If [Baldwin] goes right to the flat, his guy can undercut the pick,” Flinn said. “Or it’s going to be a 1-yard out. If he goes up the field, freezes him, makes him run around the pick, now you have space to get the first down.

“Basically set your guy up and run him into the pick. Make him run over it. If he runs under it, you’re not deep enough. The quarterback’s got nowhere to throw the ball. The pick guy, you’re driving his near shoulder low to high and making him come around you. Ideally he runs into you, that’s great, then the guy’s wide open. But if he runs over the top, at least here you’ve got some separation and now you can catch that ball. Catch, tuck and turn, get up the field and get the first down.”

No wonder Nelson called it “hardly even a practice.”

By unofficial count, earlier in Monday’s practice Nelson caught 15 passes from Aaron Rodgers and the other quarterbacks at the far end of the field while the rest of the team went through a special-teams period.

Nelson appeared to run closer to full speed in that drill, although never against a defender.

Nelson said he was more concerned about his conditioning than either of his knees — the reconstruction of his right knee after his ACL tear last year on Aug. 23 and his left knee that was injured earlier this summer during his rehab.

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Sammy Watkins expected to make preseason debut Friday

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots released veteran running back Donald Brown on Tuesday. An early-camp injury ultimately doomed his chance of sticking on the roster at a position where the club is thin.

Brown, who signed a one-year, $965,000 contract with the Patriots in March, was competing for a backup spot behind LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, the latter of whom will open the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list as he will undergo a second surgery on his left knee.

Buffalo has also held rookie quarterback Cardale Jones out of practice this week with shoulder soreness. Ryan did not know Tuesday whether Jones would play in Friday’s game.

It’s not often a college football team has to stare down a five-time Pro Bowl running back in practice.

But that’s exactly what happened when former California Golden Bears star Marshawn Lynch practiced with his alma mater Tuesday in Sydney. Cal opens the season against Hawaii on Saturday in Australia — or Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

“He came out to practice [Tuesday], watched practice, actually suited out and took a couple reps as the scout team running back,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said by phone from Sydney.

Unfortunately for the Bears, Lynch no longer has any NCAA eligibility.

“I wish he did,” Dykes said. “I told him, ‘If you had one game left, we’d give it to you 50 times.'”

The 30-year-old Lynch, who announced that he was retiring from the NFL in February, played at Cal from 2004 to ’06, rushing for 3,230 yards and 29 touchdowns and making 68 receptions for 600 yards and six TDs. He was a freshman on the 2004 Cal team that went 10-2 and finished No. 9 in the nation with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.

Lynch spent the last five-plus years of his pro career with the Seattle Seahawks. He was drafted No. 12 overall in 2007 by the Bills, and spent his first four-plus NFL seasons with Buffalo.

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Steelers get ‘natural bone,’ practice in the Saint Vincent basketball gym

Players did not wear pads and the practice focused mostly on installation. This was the 12th practice, and the Steelers have avoided heavy rains for much of the first 11.

Several Steelers who were battling soft-tissue injuries participated, including cornerback Artie Burns, outside linebacker Bud Dupree and wide receiver Markus Wheaton. Tomlin is hoping to increase their work in the coming days.

The Steelers host the Eagles on Thursday night.

In other injury news, rookie offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins re-aggravated a shoulder injury in Friday’s preseason opener against Detroit. The Steelers say they are waiting for an update. This one could be serious. Hawkins wasn’t going to start, but he’s held his own in training camp. The fourth-rounder looks the part of an NFL left tackle.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Second-year running back Karlos Williams passed his physical and practiced Monday for the first time since reporting overweight to Buffalo Bills minicamp in June.

Williams spent the first two weeks of training camp on the active/non-football illness list. He is eligible to participate in the remaining three preseason games but is suspended for the first four games of the regular season after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

“Right now we feel good about where he’s at, and he’s able to do some good things without those [soft] tissue issues,” coach Rex Ryan said Monday. “He’s worked hard and we’ll see what happens.”

A fifth-round rookie, Williams averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season and scored nine touchdowns. He did not participate in organized team activities and arrived at mandatory minicamp in less-than-ideal physical condition.

“At the end of the day, no one will ask you anything else except if you won [gold],” Krzyzewski said. “While you’re approaching that winning the whole thing, you’re asked a whole bunch of other things.

“I think we’re getting getting better offensively and we have to get better defensively. Just a succinct comment in that regard.”

Translation: Coach K essentially just confirmed that this tournament has already been too tough to worry one whit about style points.

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Controversy surrounds Mike Glennon and his newborn baby’s name

So where does this leave us? If the Glennons intended to name their child Brady after Tom Brady, then it seems logical they’d just be open about it. But then why would Winston say Glennon wanted his son born on Tom Brady’s birthday?

We’re having a hard time believing Brady’s name isn’t Brady-influenced in some way. The popularity of the name Brady has soared ever since Tom started winning Super Bowls.

Mike Glennon can deny it all he wants, but that baby was named after Tom Brady.

The artificial turf at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, will be replaced for next year’s Hall of Fame Game, according to a source with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All logos will be stitched into the surface so there will not be any issues like there were Sunday when the field was deemed unfit for the Packers-Colts preseason opener.

In addition, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported there is a thorough ongoing review regarding all aspects as to what caused the paint issue that led to the game being canceled.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders’ first unofficial depth chart of the 2016 season was released Monday with no real surprises, although it was intriguing that the defense was listed as a 4-3 base. They have flashed both 3-4 and 5-2 looks in camp. Still, fullback Jamize Olawale was listed as a starter ahead of four-time Pro Bowl selection Marcel Reece, who has three games remaining on a four-game suspension, and tight end Lee Smith was ahead of Clive Walford, who is still rounding into shape after his offseason ATV accident. Strong safety Karl Joseph and defensive tackle Jihad Ward were the only rookies listed as first-stringers. They were Oakland’s first- and second-round draft picks. — Paul Gutierrez

San Diego Chargers

Even though he turns 35 in December, Philip Rivers has thrown the ball with some zip through the first week of training camp. Rivers credits his live arm to a conversation he had with Peyton Manning about staying healthy late in his career. Rivers limited the amount he threw during the offseason, and he also will be on a pitch count during training camp. By limiting his throws, Rivers should help keep his arm fresh for the duration of the season. — Eric D. Williams

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Lance Moore signs with Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons signed former Bengals wideout Mohamed Sanu in the offseason to play opposite Julio Jones. But behind Atlanta’s two starters, receiver slots are up for the taking. Moore will be battling Justin Hardy, Aldrick Robinson, rookie Devin Fuller, Eric Weems and a cavalcade of no-names for a spot on the roster.

Atlanta’s hoping the addition of Moore will help the Falcons’ offense reach its goal of scoring 30 points per game, as asserted by team leader Matt Ryan this week. We’ll see if Moore is there in September to see Ryan’s fantasy play out.

Cleveland Browns

1 to 10 percent: Joe Haden has two Pro Bowl appearances to his name, but inconsistent play and injuries make it unlikely he’ll string together a sustained run of Pro Bowls. (It does help that most of the league’s top corners are in the NFC.)

Joe Thomas has played nine years and made nine Pro Bowls, throwing in six first-team All-Pro appearances for good measure. Every other player who started their career 9-for-9 made it to the Hall of Fame. So will Thomas. 99 percent

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Football and good hygiene rarely go hand in hand.

But Chicago Bears inside linebacker Danny Trevathan is an exception to the rule.

In just his first season in Chicago, Trevathan is already renowned among his teammates for the sweet scent he exudes inside and outside of the Bears’ locker room.

“I take pride in smelling good,” Trevathan said Thursday. “And it’s starting to spread, so hopefully it’ll start to rub off on some of these guys. I just know it’s smelling good around here. Everybody’s got a bottle [of cologne] on them.”

Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long is credited with alerting the media to Trevathan’s pleasant odor.

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No NFL rookie has sold more jerseys so far than Ezekiel Elliott

Because of that choice, Lawson (the 19th pick in last week’s NFL Draft) has himself a big fan in the Big Artistotle 22 years later.

“He was a hell of a player at Clemson,” O’Neal said, per the News. “I think he’s going to do big things in Buffalo, has the potential to come in and dominate early. The sky’s the limit for him. I can’t wait to see him play.”

How did Shaq become a Lawson fan? Simple.

“I have Google alerts any time ‘Shaq’ comes up,” O’Neal said. “The past four or five years — I think I’ve ran into about 150 athletes named Shaq — Shaq Lawson kept coming up. So I’ve known who he was and been a fan of him. I’m most proud of him.”

Shaq is not only a fan of his namesake, though. He’s also an advocate. He’s trying to get Lawson (and all the other Shaqs) an ensorsement deal.

“I told Reebok we should sign up all the Shaqs,” O’Neal said, though he may have been joking. “They said they were going to look into it.”

For what it’s worth, Nike is now the official uniform provider of the NFL. It used to be Reebok. Maybe O’Neal can work some kind of deal to get them back in the game when Nike’s contract is up.

When Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley were hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2013, they took over a team that had just finished 30th in the NFL in both yards and points allowed. After three full seasons at the helm, not much has changed for the Jacksonville defense on the stastical surface.

The 2015 Jags finished 24th in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed. In many other defensive metrics, things have largely stayed the same under the new regime as they were the year before they took over.

One thing that has changed drastically, though, is the personnel. Of the 32 players that stepped on the field for the Jaguars defense in 2012, only three remain with the team: linebacker Paul Posluszny and defensive linemen Ryan Davis and Tyson Alualu. The other 29 are all gone. Some, like Brandon Marshall, Terrance Knighton, Darryl Smith, and C.J. Mosley, are thriving to different extents elsewhere. Others are out of the league altogether.

In three offseasons prior to this one, the Jaguars devoted just north of 53 percent of their free agent spending to defensive players, but invested most of their draft capital (determined by the Jimmy Johnson draft value chart) in building out an offense. This offseason, though, the Jags ramped up the devotion to defense, using all but one of their draft picks on defensive players after spending nearly 60 percent of their free agent money on defense as well.

Six of Jacksonville’s seven 2016 draft picks were used on defensive players, the lone exception being Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen. Their first two picks – former Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey and former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack – were considered by some to be the two best defensive players in the draft. After taking those two early, Jacksonville loaded up on defensive linemen in the second half of Day 2 and Day 3. Sheldon Day, Yannick Ngakoue, Tyrone Holmes and Jonathan Woodard can provide depth behind all those expensive free agents the Jags have dropped coin on over the last few years.

But this isn’t an unheard of strategy, actually. Current Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, then with the Bengals, demanded a trade and said he would retire if Cincy didn’t acquiesce to his demands.

“I have $80 million in the bank. I don’t have to play football for money,” Palmer said in 2011. “I’ll play it for the love of the game but that would have to be elsewhere. I’m prepared to live my life.”

Bengals owner Mike Brown wouldn’t budge on Palmer’s request until the Raiders and Hue Jackson (shortly after Al Davis’ death) swooped in with a godfather offer that involved multiple first-round picks. Palmer was dealt to Oakland and eventually traded again to Arizona.

There’s also precedent for how the Eagles might handle Bradford walking away. Back in 1999, the franchise had a situation involving a not-quite-ready quarterback taken No. 2 overall. Sounds familiar!

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