The New England Patriots are hoping their first-round pick from this year's draft, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, can help return them to glories of the Tom Brady era, but they appear set to move on from another recent top selection.

Wide receiver N'Keal Harry, the first-round pick of the Patriots in 2019, seemingly has no desire to catch passes from Jones should he win the starting quarterback job in 2021, his agent this week announcing Harry had requested a trade from New England.

Given the Patriots invested heavily in the wide receiver position in free agency this offseason, Harry may well have found himself on the outside looking in come roster cutdown day.

Therefore, New England will likely be only too willing to oblige his request, but they might find a lack of suitors following an extremely disappointing first two seasons in the league from the former Arizona State star.

Harry has 45 catches for 414 yards and four touchdowns so far in his NFL career, disappointing numbers that reflect his inability to separate from coverage at the highest level.

Indeed, even in college Harry was known more for his ability to make contested catches than for his prowess as a separator, and his struggles in getting free from defenders have been exacerbated in the pros.

Thrown at only 24 times as a rookie by Tom Brady, he was open on just 43.5 per cent of those targets in 2019, the lowest percentage among NFL wide receivers to be targeted at least 20 times in that campaign.

He improved his open percentage markedly to 63.2 in 2020 but that was still 17th-lowest for all wide receivers last season, with opposing cornerbacks experiencing little difficulty in keeping him under wraps over the past two years.

In 2019, Harry registered a burn – when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the pass is catchable – on only 47.8 per cent of targets, well below the average of 60.5 per cent for wideouts with a minimum of 20 targets.

His big-play percentage, which measures burns for 20 yards or more and burns for touchdowns, was 24.5, while Harry was tied for fourth-bottom in burn yards per target (6.82) and his burn yards per route average of 1.3 was a yard below the mean.

The 2020 season saw Harry's big-play percentage decline to 20.6 and decent improvements in burn percentage (52.6), burn yards per target (8.27) and burn yards per route (1.7) were not enough to get him even close to average in those categories.

Harry's failure to hit the ground running helped push Brady out the door after the 2019 season and he again failed to stand out in an offense that struggled mightily following the now seven-time Super Bowl champion's departure.

He is the epitome of a draft bust and a cautionary tale to teams thinking of investing in players who struggle to separate at the college level. Harry might want out of New England, but he may have significant trouble finding a new home.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he has taken time to work on his mental health amid questions about his long-term future with the NFL franchise.

Rodgers – who skipped Green Bay's organised team activities (OTA) – is officially a holdout following his absence as the Packers reported for their mandatory minicamp last week.

The three-time MVP and 37-year-old is pushing to leave the Packers – a team he has represented since 2005, winning a Super Bowl.

Reports of Rodgers' unhappiness first emerged on draft day this year, though Green Bay are unwilling to trade the veteran.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Rodgers told reporters: "I'm very thankful for the opportunity to work on my mental health.

"I haven't dealt with bouts of depression or anything, that I think for whatever reason, are OK to talk about if you're talking about mental health.

"I've just really been trying to think about what puts me in the best frame of mind. What habits can I form that allow me to feel most in my body, most present, happiest? And that's what I've been doing."

Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers – who lost to eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rodgers' quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers is level with Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

Rodgers added: "Sometimes the loudest person in the room is not the smartest person. Sometimes the loudest person in the room is not the person who has all the facts on their side or the truth on their side.

"Sometimes there's a lot of wisdom in silence. Sometimes there's a lot of wisdom in being selective on what you say."

The Packers will open their 2021 season against the New Orleans Saints on September 12.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have signed first overall pick Trevor Lawrence to a four-year rookie contract.

Jacksonville completed what had long been seen as a formality when they made Lawrence the first pick in April following his stellar collegiate career at Clemson.

He is now a fully contracted member of the Jaguars having signed a deal worth $36.8million with $24.1m in guarantees and a standard fifth-year option included.

Since the introduction of fixed contract lengths and slotted salaries for first-round picks in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, signing highly drafted rookies is not the challenge it once was.

But Lawrence agreeing to terms on his rookie deal is another hurdle cleared as the Jaguars look to get the player they hope will turn their franchise around on the field.

Provided that he stays healthy through training camp, Lawrence – who underwent surgery on a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder prior to the draft – will make his preseason debut for the Jaguars against the Cleveland Browns in August.

His regular-season debut is set to come a month later when the Jaguars visit the Houston Texans on September 12.

 

The Jaguars finished the 2020 season with a 1-15 record, losing 15 straight games having won their opener, but gaining the right to select a quarterback most deemed as a generational prospect in the process.

Lawrence led Clemson to a National Championship in his first season in 2018 and racked up 10,098 passing yards and 90 touchdowns – the first of those tallies putting him third in school history behind Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson, the second joint-second – while throwing just 17 interceptions in his three seasons with the Tigers.

Though he did not lead Clemson to glory last season, Lawrence was first among quarterbacks with at least 100 snaps and 20 pass attempts in well-thrown percentage. He delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 84.3 per cent of his passes, per Stats Perform data.

If he maintains that remarkable level of accuracy at the NFL level, the Jaguars may turn things around much quicker than anticipated.

The NFL has fined the Washington Football Team $10million after the completion of an independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct within the workplace.

Following Thursday's announcement of the punishment, which does not strip the team of any draft picks, owner Dan Snyder decided to hand over his day-to-day responsibilities to his wife Tanya, who was named co-CEO on Tuesday.

The investigation, which began last year and consisted of independent counsel Beth Wilkinson interviewing more than 150 people, found that for years women within the organisation were bullied and several females experienced sexual harassment and experienced "a general lack of respect in the workplace".

"Ownership and senior management paid little or no attention to these issues," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "In some instances, senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct themselves, including use of demeaning language and public embarrassment. This set the tone for the organisation and led to key executives believing that disrespectful behaviour and more serious misconduct was acceptable in the workplace."

Snyder blamed himself for the workplace environment and apologised to those affected.

"I have learned a lot in the past few months about how my club operated, and the kind of workplace that we had," Snyder said in a statement. "It is now clear that the culture was not what it should be, but I did not realise the extent of the problems, or my role in allowing that culture to develop and continue. I know that as the owner, I am ultimately responsible for the workplace."

He went on to say that, for the next several months, "Tanya will assume the responsibilities of CEO and will oversee all day-to-day team operations and represent the club on all league activities".

As part of the report, Wilkinson made 10 recommendations on improving workplace culture, including developing formal protocols for reporting harassment, developing a formal disciplinary action plan and providing training to all employees on bullying, harassment and inclusion.

The Snyders agreed to implement all 10 of the recommendations.

"I agree with the Commissioner's decisions in this matter," Snyder said, "and am committed to implementing his investigation's important recommendations.

"Going forward, my focus will be on making the Washington Football Team a source of pride to all of its employees, fans and partners, including my partners in the NFL."

As the passing offense has developed to become the dominant and most critical aspect of NFL attacks, the need for a secondary with the talent to regularly withstand aerial assaults led by a deep crop of quarterbacks has become an increasingly pressing one.

In a league where the deck is stacked heavily in favour of offenses, there is only so much even the best cornerbacks and safeties can do to keep the burgeoning ranks of exceptional athletes at quarterback in check.

Going into the 2021 season, several teams stand out as being best prepared to do that with the talent they possess in the defensive backfield.

Using advanced data, Stats Perform has ranked every secondary in the NFL by their performance in pass coverage. The rankings were produced by multiplying each player's coverage baseline by a projected target share for 2021, which is dependent on their position on the depth chart, with the results then aggregated at team level to produce that defense's coverage grade.

To look exclusively at the secondary, the results for defenders who spend their playing time almost exclusively in the box have been filtered out.

The results are very favourable for one NFC West team, though two franchises from that division are at the wrong end of the rankings, while a couple of surprise names feature among those secondaries who look ready to take a leap in 2021.

THE ELITE

1. Los Angeles Rams

Graded DBs: Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, David Long Jr, Taylor Rapp, Jordan Fuller

The Rams may have lost key pieces in the secondary in the form of safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill but, even with the departure of defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, moving the ball on Los Angeles through the air will be an imposing challenge in 2021.

Their defensive backs' aggregate coverage grade tops the league and is 17 percentage points above average, with two-time first-team All-Pro Jalen Ramsey (20.45 per cent) and the underrated Darious Williams (21.60 per cent) each in the top 15 among cornerbacks in adjusted open percentage allowed, which looks at how often a defender allows an opponent to get open when in coverage against them, adjusted for the position they play.

Jordan Fuller – 22nd among safeties in adjusted open percentage – provided cause for optimism as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2020 while Taylor Rapp conceded a big play on only two of his 15 targets.

More progress from that duo could lessen the impact of Johnson's exit but, following highly rated defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant's switch to Detroit, maintaining their status as the gold standard is far from a given for Ramsey and Co. in 2021.

2. Buffalo Bills

Graded DBs: Tre'Davious White, Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer

Buffalo's offense carried the load last season as the Bills progressed to the AFC Championship Game, though the talent in the secondary is such that they can afford to have confidence in putting more of the burden on their pass coverage in 2021.

The Bills' defensive backs rank 15 per cent above the average in aggregate coverage grading. Tre'Davious White's continuing success is a reason for that, the two-time Pro Bowler first among all cornerbacks in adjusted open percentage allowed (16.20 per cent) in 2020.

A cause for concern may come across from White after a mediocre year for Levi Wallace, whose adjusted open percentage (30.85) was close to double that of White, but the Bills have to be impressed by the progress of nickel Taron Johnson, who allowed a big play on only 14 of his 74 targets at inside corner last year.

The safety pairing of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer may also be hoping for a bounce-back year, the latter having allowed a burn on 13 of his 28 targets at free safety in 2020. However, in White, the Bills have a shutdown corner who can lift the play of those around him. As long as that remains the case, Buffalo's secondary should stay among the best in the league even with only marginal improvements made by his team-mates.

3. Denver Broncos

Graded DBs: Kyle Fuller, Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson

The Broncos head into 2021 with questions still abounding over their quarterbacks, but there is no doubt they have a championship-caliber defense, of which the secondary looks to be the strength, their defensive backs possessing an aggregate coverage grade 14 percentage points above average.

Justin Simmons was the best defender in the NFL in terms of adjusted open percentage in 2020, leading the way by allowing pass-catchers to get open against his coverage just 14.99 per cent of the time.

The Pro Bowl free safety will have an exciting mix of experience and youth alongside him. Strong safety Kareem Jackson was ninth among all players at the position in burn yards per target allowed with 7.76. Nickel Ronald Darby (37.8) and free agent signing Kyle Fuller (40.3), inexplicably released by the Chicago Bears, each ranked in the top seven in burn percentage allowed for corners with at least 200 coverage snaps.

That pairing will be joined by arguably the premier corner from this year's draft class, Patrick Surtain II, who makes the step up to the league after a stellar college career with Alabama, which he ended by helping the Crimson Tide to a National Championship and allowing 0.93 burn yards per snap. Only three Power 5 defenders gave up fewer.

Having added Fuller and the most pro-ready corner in the draft, the Broncos' secondary could soon mount a challenge to take the crown from the Rams.

THE BOTTOM

30. Seattle Seahawks

Graded DBs: Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre Flowers, Ugo Amadi, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs

NFC West teams gained even more firepower at the quarterback position in a dramatic offseason, magnifying the issues for a Seattle secondary that is a long way from the Legion of Boom.

Having let Shaquill Griffin walk in free agency, the Seahawks are somewhat short on proven players in the defensive backfield, with that scarcity reflected by an aggregate coverage grade 16 percentage points below average.

The Seahawks appear to be banking on Ahkello Witherspoon making a leap he never managed with the San Francisco 49ers. Witherspoon allowed a burn on half of his 28 targets last season.

Tre Flowers' open percentage of 85.7 was the fifth-worst of all corners in the NFL, though the play of another former Niner, D.J. Reed, provided some grounds for optimism as his burn yards per target average of 8.21 put him 15th among corners with at least 200 coverage snaps.

Only three inside corners gave up fewer burn yards per snap than Ugo Amadi (1.14) in 2020 while safety Jamal Adams was not the coverage liability many cast him as, the Seahawks sack leader last season giving up a big play on 10 of his 41 targets.

Yet with Quandre Diggs coming off a year in which he conceded a disappointing 13.82 burn yards per target, this is a group with more questions than answers.

31. Arizona Cardinals

Graded DBs: Malcolm Butler, Robert Alford, Byron Murphy, Isaiah Simmons, Budda Baker

The Cardinals are under pressure to produce a playoff campaign in the third year of Kliff Kingsbury as head coach and Kyler Murray as quarterback - a look at their depth chart in the secondary indicates the offense may have to carry this team to a first postseason appearance since the 2015 campaign.

Should Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford earn starting roles, they will provide veteran presences at outside corner, yet theirs is experience that should not inspire much confidence.

Butler allowed the 10th-most burn yards per snap among corners with at least 200 coverage snaps (2.42) while Alford has not played since the 2018 season.

The strength of this group comes from two former Washington Huskies. Nickel Byron Murphy's burn yards per target average of 7.50 was the fifth-best among inside corners in 2020 and Budda Baker has established himself as one of the premier safeties in the NFL, his adjusted open percentage of 16.38 trailing only three defenders in the previous campaign.

After an offseason in which Arizona did little to address the cornerback position, the onus may again be on that pair to elevate those around them, unless Butler and Alford unexpectedly recapture their form of old.

32. Detroit Lions

Graded DBs: Quinton Dunbar, Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Tracy Walker, Will Harris

The Lions' rebuild under Dan Campbell is likely to be slow and painful, with his first season at the helm set to be one in which Detroit give up a lot of points if the secondary cannot improve.

Detroit's defensive backs' aggregate coverage grade is 27 percentage points below average. Key to the Lions improving in that regard will be Jeff Okudah's ability to shake off a difficult rookie season and justify his status as the third overall pick in 2020.

Only two cornerbacks gave up a big play in coverage more regularly than Okudah, who did so on 43.9 per cent of his targets. Unfortunately for Detroit, one of those corners is now on their roster, Quinton Dunbar (44.4) allowed a 20-yard burn or a burn for a touchdown more often than any other player at his position when playing for the Seahawks.

Projected starter Amani Oruwariye (36.9) did not fare much better, and it would be no surprise to see rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu thrust into a prominent role early on. Melifonwu was tied-ninth for the fewest burn yards per snap (1.23) allowed among Power 5 corners in his final season with Syracuse.

Will Harris at least had an admirable 2020 at strong safety, finishing third among all safeties in burn yards per target (7.0) but free safety Tracy Walker (12.85) offered little to suggest he can help Detroit turn the ship around quickly on defense. The Lions have done a disappointing job of drafting and developing talent under previous regimes. Changing that and successfully developing Okudah and Melifonwu will be crucial to this secondary climbing out of the cellar.

ON THE RISE

Minnesota Vikings

Graded DBs: Cameron Dantzler, Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Woods, Harrison Smith

The Vikings invested heavily in the secondary in recent times and the numbers suggest that decision could pay dividends in the coming season.

Minnesota's defensive backs rank 10th in aggregate coverage rating, performing five points better than average. They will be looking for a step forward from last year's third-round pick Cameron Dantzler, who was above average in burn yards per target (9.4) and open percentage allowed (62.3) as a rookie.

But two underrated additions could see them catapult into the top five. Patrick Peterson was considered to have endured a down year last season but his open percentage of 51.9 when playing outside corner was seventh among players to have taken snaps at that spot. Meanwhile, Bashaud Breeland, another free agency signing, was tied fifth in open percentage (52.7) among corners to have played at least 200 coverage snaps.

The presence of Breeland, who is expected to compete with Dantzler for a starting job, and Peterson gives the Vikings strong depth at corner and should mitigate the potential loss of 2020 first-round pick Jeff Gladney, whose future is in doubt amid off-field troubles.

Mackenzie Alexander's return after a year with the Cincinnati Bengals may see him start at nickel, and he will need to improve after allowing 11.16 burn yards per target from the slot last season. Safeties Harrison Smith (13.13) and Xavier Woods (16.33 at free safety) also struggled in that metric in 2020, but the pressure will be taken off that pair should their top three corners live up to expectations.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Graded DBs: Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jordan Whitehead, Antoine Winfield Jr.

Tampa's secondary arguably already took a step forward as the Buccaneers claimed their second Super Bowl title last season. However, their defensive backfield is only 15th in aggregate coverage rating, Tampa coming in three per cent better than average.

Yet there were signs this group is primed to make further progress in 2021, most of which came from starting corner Jamel Dean.

Dean allowed a burn on 30 of his 64 targets, his percentage of 46.9 comfortably better than the average of 52.8 for corners with at least 200 coverage snaps, while he was 10th in the NFL at his position in adjusted open percentage (21.58).

Carlton Davis III was less impressive, giving up a burn on exactly half of his 92 targets, though the fact he conceded a big play on 25 per cent of his targets (the average was 26 among all corners) leaves room for encouragement.

Nickel corner Sean Murphy-Bunting also did a decent job at preventing big plays, conceding eight on 44 targets on the inside. Yet, despite praise for Antoine Winfield Jr's rookie year, both he and fellow starting safety Jordan Whitehead will hope to make improvements in coverage having given up 11.33 and 12.32 burn yards per target respectively.

However, with a full offseason under their belt to coalesce further, the arrow is pointing up for a young and clearly talented secondary that will again be playing behind one of the best front sevens in football after the Bucs kept the band together for another run in 2021.

Las Vegas Raiders

Graded DBs: Casey Hayward, Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, Johnathan Abram, Trevon Moehrig

The Raiders secondary has received its fair share of criticism in the Jon Gruden-Mike Mayock years, with doubts cast over the merits of selecting Trayvon Mullen in the second round in 2019 and Damon Arnette in the first last year.

But Las Vegas can afford to have confidence in the secondary going into 2021. The Raiders' defensive backs ranking seventh for aggregate coverage, rating 10 per cent better than the average.

Much of the Raiders' presence in the top 10 is tied to the astute acquisition of veteran corner Casey Hayward, whose adjusted open percentage of 17.3 was the fifth-best in the NFL among players at all defensive positions, though a less impressive burn yards per target average of 11.20 reflects how often he was left on an island for the Los Angeles Chargers last year.

Las Vegas will hope Hayward can accelerate the development of Mullen, who was an encouraging 15th in burn yards per target (8.67) among outside corners with at least 200 snaps. Arnette's average of 11.69 suggests he has further to go, and he may face a competition with Hayward for the starting role across from Mullen.

Yet between Mullen's progress, the arrival of Hayward and the selection of free safety Trevon Moehrig in the second round of this year's draft, the Raiders secondary is one that looks primed to establish itself as one of the better groups in the NFL.

Moehrig allowed a big play on 20.3 per cent of his targets in 2020, giving them up at the sixth-fewest rate of all Power 5 safeties with at least 25 targets. His burn yards per target average of 6.71 was the best among Power 5 players at his position. If he can replicate that impact as a rookie, the Raiders should be in extremely good shape in the defensive backfield.

The New Orleans Saints have made Ryan Ramczyk the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL four seasons into a career in which he has established himself as arguably the premier player at his position.

According to multiple reports, Ramczyk has agreed to a five-year, $96million extension worth $19.2m a year with $60m guaranteed.

It follows a stellar start to life in the pros for the 2017 first-round pick, who has allowed only eight sacks since entering the league, with just two of those coming in the past two seasons.

Ramczyk did not give up a sack in 2019 but was credited with conceding two in 2020, as he experienced a slight drop-off from his high level of performance.

In 2019, he was second in pressure rate allowed (4.1 per cent) among right tackles, giving up 18 pressures on 436 pass protection snaps.

That number increased in 2020 to 28 on 422 pass protection snaps, a pressure rate of 6.6 per cent, though that was still sixth-best among right tackles to have played at least 200 pass protection snaps.

Ramczyk was named a first-team All-Pro in 2019 and was a second-team All-Pro in 2018 and 2020.

The Saints have made the playoffs in each of Ramczyk's four seasons. Yet they will have a challenge to continue that streak in 2021, with either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill set to replace the retired Drew Brees at quarterback.

Davante Adams has conceded it would be "a dream" for him to reunite with Derek Carr at the NFL level.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Adams and Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Carr were college team-mates at Fresno State from 2012 to 2013.

Adams caught 233 passes for 3,031 yards and 38 touchdowns across his two seasons with Carr, who set the school record for passing yards with 5,083 in his final season in 2013.

The Packers star has gone on to establish himself as arguably the top receiver in the NFL, making 115 receptions in 2020 for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns, putting him tied for the third-most receiving scores in a single season, behind Randy Moss (23 in 2007) and Jerry Rice (22 in 1987).

However, he is a free agent at the end of the 2021 season and, with no end to the stand-off between league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Adams' future cannot be considered certain.

Asked about potentially recruiting Adams to play for the Raiders earlier this week, Carr told ABC30 in Fresno: "It would unlock some things in both of us that people haven't seen yet."

In a follow-up interview with the same channel, Adams made it clear he is not focusing on free agency but left no doubt he would be open to a reunion with Carr.

Speaking about his free agency, he said: "I'll just continue to be me and just let this thing work itself out and see what happens.

"Obviously I love Derek to death, we've got a great friendship, we still communicate really, really consistently, he's one of my best friends.

"It'd be a dream to be able to play with him but I'm a Packer now, until that where we make that decision, I guess we've just got to... we'll see what happens."

The Packers are coming off a year in which they lost in the NFC Championship Game for the second straight season, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

By contrast, the Raiders have not reached the playoffs since the 2016 season.

Carr, however, had the best campaign of his career in 2020, throwing for 4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His tally of 36 passing plays of 25 yards or more was just one fewer than Rodgers.

Carl Nassib becoming the first active NFL player to come out as gay is a "historical, monumental moment ", according to Ryan Russell. 

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Nassib made the announcement via social media in an Instagram post on Monday.

Prior to Nassib making NFL history, Russell had come out as bisexual in 2019 when he was a free agent, while Michael Sam became the first gay player to be drafted in 2014, though he never went on to play a regular season game.

Russell was delighted to see the video from Nassib and has been heartened by the positive reception it has received.

"My initial reaction to Carl's video was just one of celebration and elation," he told Stats Perform.

"[Celebration] not just for him in his own journey and self-love and wellbeing but also for the NFL, and for male professional sports at large because right now actively on a team in the four major sports here in the US, there's no one like him. 

"So a very historical, monumental moment for him and for male professional sports, and also for all the young LGBTQ+ youth and athletes looking up to him now.

"They will be seeing him as representation and seeing themselves having success in the highest field of American football through Carl."
 
Asked how big a step this was, Russell added: "Huge. Like I said, it's a historical landmark, really.

"As our small little LGBTQ+, male professional athlete family grows, we've really been chipping away at this for some time. 

"Ryan O'Callaghan coming out when he was retired, Michael Sam coming out, and being the first openly gay male athlete to be drafted into the NFL, myself coming out as a free agent in the midst of an active career, now Carl coming out while on a roster.

"And I am 100 per cent confident that he will be playing in that first game this season – that will be another huge landmark for him. 

"So this is monumental really for all of us, and especially for him, and for the NFL as well to be on the right side of history, and to show that it is an encouraging and inclusive place for all athletes to succeed and be themselves."

 

Nassib joined the Raiders on a three-year, $25million free-agent deal in 2020, with the 28-year-old having 2.5 sacks and an interception in 14 games – five starts – last season.

He was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and was a popular figure on the documentary 'Hard Knocks' before moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018.

Russell, who also played for the Bucs as well as the Dallas Cowboys, believes the days where athletes opt to stay quiet about their sexuality are coming to an end.

He continued: "I think a lot of those things are being taken away in terms of worrying about job security or in terms of being viewed as a distraction in sports. 

"Also the world is changing a lot of ways, the world at large, and people at large, are becoming more accepting - our communities are becoming more diverse.

"So I think it's a mixture of kind of like debunking myths, that we really had no evidence to base it off of, as well as just changing and progressing as a society. Those two things come together to make players feel comfortable. 

"And also, I mean, a credible thing to note, as Carl seemed very relaxed, very nonchalant in his message.

"It didn't seem like it was this big, massive sort of thing that he was fearing would rock his whole world, it was him wanting to come out.

"He wanted to be just his full self, and to also be an visible representation for those who a lot of times have not seen themselves in this league at this level."

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay.

Nassib made the historic announcement via social media in an Instagram post on Monday.

While making NFL history, Nassib also donated $100,000 to the Trevor Project – a leading national organisation providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth.

"What's up people?" Nassib posted. "I'm at my house here in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I just want to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay.

"I've been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life, I've got the best family, friends and job a guy could ask for.

"I'm a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I'm really not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that like one day, videos like this and the whole coming-out process are just not necessary.

"But until then, I'm going to do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that's accepting, that's compassionate and I'm going to start by donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project."

Nassib joined the Raiders on a three-year, $25million free-agent deal in 2020.

The 28-year-old had 2.5 sacks and an interception in 14 games – five starts – with the Raiders last season.

Nassib was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in 2016 before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: "The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today. Representation matters.

"We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this coming season."

With offseason programs in the books, NFL teams will next month turn their attention to training camp as preparations for the 2021 season ramp up.

Every coaching staff in the league knows that having a reliable offensive line will be crucial to their hopes of success in the coming campaign.

Too many holes in the trenches can doom a team's chances in a hurry regardless of the talent at quarterback and the offensive skill positions.

Reflecting the importance of strong play up front, five offensive linemen were taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

And, using combined run block and pass protection data over the past three seasons, Stats Perform has produced projected offensive line rankings to see how each team stacks up in the trenches.

Here we look at which teams are in the best shape, which O-Lines could cause problems for their quarterback and which appear to ready to make the leap to the league's best in 2021.


THE ELITE

1. Dallas Cowboys

LT – Tyron Smith, LG – Connor Williams, C – Tyler Biadasz, RG – Zack Martin, RT – La'el Collins

Injuries decimated the Dallas O-Line in 2020 but, when healthy, it is tough to see another unit in the league that can match this group for overall talent.

That may be a substantial caveat but, should the Cowboys keep their starters in the line-up in 2021, Dak Prescott will have the benefit of excellent protection from several spots up front.

Tyron Smith missed all but two games last season but remains the top pass protecting left tackle in our projected ranks. Zack Martin is second in pass protection among right guards and, if he can return to his best after missing six games in 2020 and right tackle La'el Collins can stay on the field and play at a high level, a stacked Cowboys offense will be in an excellent spot to produce at an historic pace as they did last year before Prescott went down.

2. New England Patriots

LT – Isaiah Wynn, LG – Mike Onwenu, C – David Andrews, RG – Shaq Mason, RT – Trent Brown

The Patriots lost Joe Thuney in free agency but, despite the departure of one of the most dependable guards in football, New England heads into 2021 with an elite group hoping to help the offense bounce back from a dismal 2020.

Trent Brown's return should fortify the right side of the line while left tackle Isaiah Wynn shouldn't have to worry much about his inside shoulder with Mike Onwenu ranking as the second-best pass protecting left guard in the NFL after an excellent rookie season.

David Andrews grades out as the top run-blocking center in football -- he allowed a run disruption on only 5.3 per cent of his snaps in 2020, with Corey Linsley well adrift in second on 6.2 per cent -- while Shaq Mason is in the top three in that area at right guard.

Regardless of whether it's Cam Newton or Mac Jones under center in 2021, the O-Line is constructed in a way where the quarterback and a replenished set of skill-position players should have every chance to succeed.

3. Baltimore Ravens

LT – Ronnie Stanley, LG – Bradley Bozeman, C – Patrick Mekari, RG – Kevin Zeitler, RT – Alejandro Villanueva

Baltimore's presence in the top three may raise a few eyebrows given they traded right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs.

However, their lofty position is largely a testament to the play of Ronnie Stanley, the left tackle who will be looking to bounce back after seeing his 2020 season ended by an ankle injury.

Stanley ranks tied-fourth among left tackles and was stellar in pass protection prior to getting hurt, with his pressure rate allowed of 4.4 per cent bettered only by David Bakhtiari and Andrew Whitworth at his position.

Having given up a pressure rate of 11.9 per cent at left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, Alejandro Villanueva will have a challenge replacing Brown, who allowed pressures on just 5.8 per cent of his right tackle snaps in 2020.

But the interior was the main issue for the Ravens last season and, with fourth-ranked right guard Kevin Zeitler arriving from the New York Giants, Baltimore should be confident of a noticeable improvement in the middle of their line.

THE STRUGGLERS

30. Chicago Bears

LT – Teven Jenkins, LG – Cody Whitehair, C – Sam Mustipher, RG – Germain Ifedi, RT – Elijah Wilkinson

After surprisingly allowing Charles Leno to leave, the Bears are banking on Teven Jenkins successfully making the switch from college right tackle to NFL left tackle as a rookie. That he will do so successfully is a dubious presumption to make and there is little to rely on at any spot on the trenches for Chicago.

Cody Whitehair at least provided a solid presence at left guard but the interior protection for Andy Dalton, or rookie first-round pick Justin Fields, will be suspect if Sam Mustipher cannot make strides at center.

Tied as the third-worst center in the NFL in the projected rankings, only Hroniss Grasu (2.8%) fared worse than Mustipher (2.3%) in terms of adjusted sack rate allowed in 2020.

31. Carolina Panthers

LT – Greg Little, LG – Dennis Daley, C – Matt Paradis, RG – John Miller, RT – Taylor Moton

Carolina looks set at right tackle, with Taylor Moton ranking as the fifth-best player at the position, but they have little in the way of solutions elsewhere up front.

The left side looms as a massive issue for the Panthers. Greg Little grades out as the worst left tackle in football and Dennis Daley is 30th among left guards in the projected rankings.

It is far from an ideal scenario for Sam Darnold to step into as quarterback, and he will hope center Matt Paradis can do a significantly better job snapping the football. Paradis' bad snap percentage of 3.49 was fourth-worst in the NFL in 2020.

32. Minnesota Vikings

LT – Christian Darrisaw, LG – Dru Samia, C – Garrett Bradbury, RG – Ezra Cleveland, RT – Brian O'Neill

Offensive line issues have long since plagued the Vikings, who invested a premium pick in a new left tackle by using their first-round selection on Christian Darrisaw of Virginia Tech.

Darrisaw named Trent Williams and Laremy Tunsil as his favourite linemen to watch prior to the draft. If he replicates their impact, he will be a success, but there are substantial problems on the interior.

Dru Samia is the worst left guard in the NFL in the projected rankings, and center Garrett Bradbury allowed pressure on 8.1 per cent of his pass protection snaps. Only two players to take snaps center had worse pressure rates in 2020.

READY TO MAKE THE LEAP

Kansas City Chiefs

LT – Orlando Brown Jr, LG – Joe Thuney, C – Austin Blythe, RG – Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT – Mike Remmers

The Chiefs completely remodelled their offensive line in the wake of giving up 33 pressures in the Super Bowl LV, and there is little doubt they head into 2021 with a much-improved group as they attempt to win back the Lombardi Trophy.

Kansas City will need an improvement from Brown following his trade from Baltimore. In his 221 pass protection snaps at left tackle after Stanley's injury, Brown gave up a pressure rate of 10.9 per cent. Having campaigned to play on the left side, Brown's performance figures to come under significant scrutiny.

He will be helped by the presence of Thuney, second among all left guards in the projected rankings after allowing pressure on just 4.3 per cent of his snaps in his final season in New England.

With Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returning to man the right guard spot, the Chiefs' line has an air of solidity about it. Eleventh in the projected ranks, the Chiefs could jump into the top 10 if not the top five should their additions perform to their potential.

Los Angeles Chargers

LT – Rashawn Slater, LG – Matt Feiler, C – Corey Linsley, RG – Oday Aboushi, RT – Bryan Bulaga

Staying in the AFC West with a Chargers team many will be backing to surge towards postseason contention after an Offensive Rookie of the Year season from Justin Herbert, for Los Angeles much hinges on the performance of rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater in his first season in the league.

That is a lot of expectation to place on a player who did not feature in the 2020 college season, but the optimism should come from Slater's 2019 performance for Northwestern, which saw him give up just six pressures on 220 pass protection snaps.

Yet the most important addition for Herbert may be that of center Corey Linsley, who arrived from the Green Bay Packers. Just three centers graded above Linsley in the projected ranks and his ability to quickly develop a rapport with Herbert will be pivotal to the Chargers realising their potential. History suggests the 2020 first-team All-Pro should succeed in doing so.

Arizona Cardinals

LT – D.J. Humphries, LG – Justin Pugh, C – Rodney Hudson, RG – Brian Winters, RT – Kelvin Beachum

The Cardinals must be strong up front if Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are to have a chance of inspiring Arizona to a successful season in an NFC West loaded with pass-rushing talent, and they made an astute addition on the interior this offseason in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders that saw them acquire three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson.

Tied for fourth with Linsley among centers in the projected rankings, Hudson's experience will be a valuable asset to Murray as he looks to take a step forward in year three, the former Kansas City Chief recording a pressure rate allowed of 1.7 per cent that was the second-best in the league at his position.

Kelvin Beachum is a substantial asset to the ground game. His run disruption percentage of 5.9 per cent was third among right tackles in 2020 and, with D.J. Humphries allowing only 28 pressures on 450 pass protection snaps last season, Murray will have three dependable players at the most important positions on the line in a year where another underwhelming campaign will not be acceptable.

Tom Brady said Aaron Rodgers is going to make the "choices he feels are best for him" as the NFL MVP holds out from the Green Bay Packers.

Rodgers – who skipped Green Bay's organised team activities (OTA) – is officially a holdout following his absence as the Packers reported for their mandatory minicamp last week.

The three-time MVP and 37-year-old is pushing to leave the Packers – a team he has represented since 2005, winning a Super Bowl.

Reports of Rodgers' unhappiness first emerged on draft day this year, though Green Bay are unwilling to trade the veteran.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Brady, whose team topped Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game en route to Super Bowl glory last season, weighed into the drama.

"I mean, I respect Aaron a lot," Buccaneers QB Brady told USA Today Sports.

"Aaron's going to make the choices he feels are best for him. Everyone has different dynamics in their work."

With Rodgers absent, second-year QB Jordan Love has been working with the starters at Packers minicamp.

Green Bay's first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft did not play a single snap last season as Rodgers rolled to NFL MVP honours. 

Many speculated the Packers' surprise move to select the young quarterback is at the root of Rodgers' displeasure with the team, something the latter has denied.

Amid the uncertainty, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters there is only one approach, whether it is Rodgers or Love.

 "We'll have one plan," LaFleur said. "We've kind of pretty much laid that out. Just going to fine-tune some things over the next few weeks in terms of the logistics of our schedule and whatnot.

"We've got what we feel is a pretty good blueprint in terms of how to get our guys ready to play.

"Obviously, it is a little bit different this year in terms of the number of preseason games and then you compare it to last year, so you're kind of leaning back on the 2019 season.

"We feel confident with what we'll have in place with the guys. We'll look forward to getting them back July 27."

Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers – who lost to eventual Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers.

Rodgers' quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers is level with Brady, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

The Packers will open their 2021 season against the New Orleans Saints on September 12.

Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers joked about his "quiet offseason" amid continued uncertainty of the quarterback's future with the NFL franchise.

Rodgers – who skipped Green Bay's organised team activities (OTA) – is officially a holdout after the NFL MVP's absence as the Packers reported for their mandatory minicamp last week.

The three-time MVP and 37-year-old is pushing to leave the Packers – a team he has represented since 2005, winning a Super Bowl.

Reports of Rodgers' unhappiness first emerged on draft day this year, though Green Bay are unwilling to trade the veteran.

Amid the ongoing speculation, Rodgers showed his sense of humour in a promotional video ahead of the July 6 golf exhibition match, involving Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady.

"It's been one of those quiet offseasons you dream about, where you can kind of just go through your process on your own, quietly," Rodgers said.

"And that's all you can ask for as an older player in the league and someone who's been around for a long time and just enjoys that time to yourself, just relax, to not be bothered, to not have any obligations or anything going on.

"I think that's what this offseason has been about. It's been about really enjoying my time and spending it where I want to spend it, not feeling like I have to go anywhere but still be an NFL player at the same time. It's been great."

Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers – who lost to eventual Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers.

Rodgers' quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers is level with Buccaneers quarterback Brady, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

The Packers will open their 2021 season against the New Orleans Saints on September 12.

T.J. Watt refused to discuss the subject of his contract negotiations with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.

The star edge rusher is set to be a free agent in 2022 and, regardless of whether he remains in Pittsburgh beyond 2021, is primed to receive a lucrative contract following a stellar start to his career.

A first-round pick in 2017, Watt has 49.5 sacks to his name since entering the league, with that tally third behind three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (57.5) and Chandler Jones (50).

Still only 26, Watt can likely expect a deal in the region of the five-year, $135million extension signed by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa in July last year.

But, as the Steelers continued their preparations for the 2021 campaign with their mandatory minicamp, Watt decided against discussing his talks with Pittsburgh.

"With respect to the process, I'm not going to be talking about any contract stuff today, " Watt told reporters.

Watt missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year award despite a 2020 season that saw him lead the league in sacks with 15. Donald was second with 13.5, though his pressure rate (28.2%) was superior to that of Watt (25.8).

However, Watt is not thinking about being snubbed for that prize.

"I don't think it's driving me. [The] big thing for me is realizing all the plays I didn't make last year," he added. 

"Yeah, there's a lot of good from last year, but there's still a lot to improve on."

Danielle Hunter has reportedly secured favourable new terms with the Minnesota Vikings ahead of attending for mandatory minicamp this week.

NFL Network, having earlier revealed Hunter would report on Tuesday despite his desire for a better deal, outlined the agreement on Monday.

Hunter, who missed the entirety of the 2020 season following neck surgery, will receive $5.6million of the money owed to him in the coming season as a signing bonus.

Crucially, there is then an $18m roster bonus in 2022, meaning the Vikings would have a big call to make, potentially paying $20m to keep him on the team next year.

On the evidence of the past season, though, it might be a price worth paying.

Minnesota gave up 393.3 yards per game in 2020, ranking 27th in the NFL. They had been 14th with 341.6 opponent yards per game the previous year when Hunter started all 16 games.

 

That was the second consecutive season in which Hunter had 14.5 sacks – tied-fourth in the league – while he also had a career-high 22 quarterback hits.

Hunter pressured the passer 95 times, including 88 from the edge – the third-most in that position.

Ifeadi Odenigbo underwhelmed in Hunter's place in 2020, with 3.5 sacks, 15 QB hits and 40 pressures (31 from the edge).

Chris Godwin believes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' continuity in the 2021 season gives them an opportunity to be even better than in last year's Super Bowl-winning campaign.

The Buccaneers won their second Lombardi Trophy in the 2020 season, routing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV 31-9 as Tom Brady capped his first year in Tampa with his seventh title.

Brady is under contract for two more years and will be 44 by the time the new term gets under way. However, the seemingly ageless quarterback appeared reinvigorated by his switch from the New England Patriots and will again have a stacked roster around him in 2021.

Despite working under the constraints of a salary cap negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Bucs kept the core of their roster intact, with wide receiver Godwin retained on the one-year franchise tag.

The Bucs also gave head coach Bruce Arians a pay rise and extended the contract of general manager Jason Licht.

Godwin is poised be a free agent in 2022, but his focus in the more immediate future is on ensuring the Bucs compete to defend their title.

"This offseason, we became the first Super Bowl winner ever to bring back all of our starters, our key subs, our coach and coordinators and our GM," Godwin, guest-authoring Peter King's Football Morning in America column, wrote. 

"We appreciate what the GM, Jason Licht, did bringing us all back to take our best shot.

"No one knows what kind of impact that will have, when you bring all the players back. But I think it's a really good thing because we felt like we hadn't played our best ball, even in the Super Bowl.

"We scored 31 points, but it wasn't a great game for our offense for four quarters. We know we can be better. And I think we will be better.

"Our offseason gives us a really good opportunity to do that. But anybody who comes in saying we're automatically in great position to win again because we brought everyone back? You're lying to yourself. Familiarity guarantees nothing except giving us a good starting point."

Godwin has little doubt in Brady's ability to make the most of his supporting cast, and he expects the NFL's most serial winner to allow no team-mate to rest on their laurels as the season draws near.

"As for Tom, we've thrown a few times this spring. His arm is so live," Godwin added. 

"What I appreciate about him is the ball he throws is so receiver-friendly—the touch, and putting it right where you want it.

"I think, mentally, he has a good feel for the fact that he knows everyone isn't like him. Because he's like, "Okay, on to the next one".

"But he's not forcing his attitude onto anyone. Now, if we get to training camp, and guys keep saying, Remember this and that from last year? Then he'd say something. But I don't see that happening. We know what the mission is."

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