Nashville SC have confirmed three new investors have joined their ownership group, including NFL star Derrick Henry and actor Reese Witherspoon.

Tennessee Titans running back Henry is a two-time All-Pro and has featured in two Pro Bowls, while he was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and led the league for rushing yards and touchdowns in 2019 and 2020. 

The 28-year-old has now, alongside actor and producer Witherspoon and her husband, the technology investor Jim Toth, joined the ownership group of Nashville SC, who had their inaugural season in MLS in 2020 and sit eighth in the Western Conference with three wins so far this season.

All eight of Nashville's games so far in 2022 have been played on the road, but that will change on Sunday when they welcome the Philadelphia Union to their new stadium, GEODIS Park.

With a capacity of 30,000, it is the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States or Canada.

"As a kid growing up in Florida, I imagined being a professional sports owner and the opportunity to do that with an MLS club is truly a dream come true," said Henry, who was drafted by the Titans in 2016 and becomes the fourth player in NFL history to own an MLS team.

"My investment in Nashville SC is way more than financial, it's truly an investment in the city of Nashville.

"The chance to be part of a club like Nashville SC, especially after seeing what they are accomplishing in the community, was an opportunity I did not want to miss."

Witherspoon added: "As a Tennessee native, it is thrilling to see how much growth and development has come to our home state.

"One of the things that my whole family is most excited about is Nashville Soccer Club! The opportunity to go as a family and watch a world-class team compete has been such an incredible experience."

Witherspoon is not the first A-list film star to have invested in soccer in the United States, with Natalie Portman having founded Angel City FC, who debuted in the National Women's Soccer League this year. 

Tennis greats Billie Jean King and Serena Williams, along with a host of huge stars across sports and entertainment, have a stake in Angel City.

San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch said he "can't ever imagine wanting to move on from" Deebo Samuel after the star wide receiver requested a trade.

Samuel was used by the 49ers in a unique hybrid role for the 2021-22 season, increasing his productivity, but also increasing his wear-and-tear as he handled more physically demanding running back carries as well as his primary receiver duties.

The 2019 second-round pick amassed a career-high 1,405 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns from 77 catches, and added career-highs in rushing yards (365), rushing touchdowns (eight) and carries (59).

Speaking to the media at a pre-draft press conference, Lynch said even after considering what the 49ers could gain through a trade, he views Samuel in the class of player in which a team should never part ways with by choice.

"I can't ever imagine wanting to move on from Deebo," he said.

"You put yourself through the exercises of, even though we don't have a first-round pick, you have to be thorough in this process and prepare for everything, and as you go through and do that [you realise] he's just too good of a player. You don't let guys like that walk."

The praise for Samuel did not end there, with Lynch calling him a "game-changing player for the franchise."

"I told Deebo this," he said. "I think he's the perfect illustration of what Herm Edwards used to talk about, 'When will meets skill you got the opportunity to be special' – and I think Deebo embodies that as much as anybody.

"He's got tremendous will. He's a very talented player. By virtue of the way he plays, it's inspiring. 

"So, to me, that entails leadership. Do you make people around you better? He checks that box. 

"He's a great teammate, and I think of things like prior to games, he gets out there and is throwing the ball to fans.

"He's a great member of our community. We got nothing but love for him."

Despite the public nature of Samuel's request to leave San Francisco, Lynch insists the bridge is not burnt, and he believes he can salvage the relationship.

"We pride ourselves on our communication with our players," he said. "This is no different. I'm confident we can find the solutions for whatever is going on.

"That's life, you've gotta work through things. That's what we plan on doing.”

In 2022, safeties are not players who can get NFL fans out of their seats.

Gone are the days of the ultra-physical safeties whose careers are defined by compiling highlight reel hits.

The NFL's continued development as a passing league built on the foundation of a seemingly ever-expanding number of athletic dual-threat quarterbacks has facilitated the implementation of more malleable defenses with a variety of pitches in their arsenal to help them rise to the increasingly difficult challenges they face.

This is not an era where defenses can have one safety to play the role of enforcer and one with the range to play the deep middle. Teams ideally need both safeties to have the skill set to play the deep middle and down in the box while also possessing the ability to match up with wide receivers and tight ends in the slot.

In essence, teams must have safeties to enable them to effectively play the two-high zone coverages that were, last season at least, the most widely used solution to the explosive passing games proliferating around the NFL but also provide them with the personnel to stop the run while operating from those shells.

The 2022 NFL Draft may not have the same star quality as previous rookie classes. However, what it does boast is several of those multi-faceted safety prospects, with the headliner among that group Notre Dame's Kyle Hamilton.

Were the league still dominated by single-high safety defenses, Hamilton would not have found himself in the discussion to be the first overall pick in the draft. 

He doesn't have the range of a baseball center fielder that is required to be an elite single-high safety, but his combination of versatility and college production had many asking whether he could be the first name off the board in Las Vegas despite playing a position that has typically not seen its importance reflected by high draft selections. 

Hamilton has the athleticism and awareness to make game-changing plays when lined up deep in two-high looks, while he also possesses the downhill speed and physicality to be an asset against the run and the coverage ability and build to excel matched up against tight ends and receivers.

As a modern-day NFL safety, Hamilton ticks all the boxes, and every team in the league could use him. There is not one defense he would not fit. 

Still, he is unlikely to go number one to the Jacksonville Jaguars but, during a time in league history where safeties do not command the exposure they certainly deserve, Hamilton is a candidate to revitalise the fortunes of the two teams from the NFL's biggest market who each have a pair of top-10 picks.

A flexible turnover machine

Hamilton was deployed all over the field during his time with the Fighting Irish. In 2021, he played 222 snaps as a deep safety, 137 as a slot cornerback and 53 as a box safety.

And, as his numbers illustrate, Hamilton was extremely effective at influencing the game regardless of where he lined up.

Hamilton registered eight interceptions between 2019 and 2021, the fifth-most among FBS safeties during that period.

He also added 16 pass breakups, Hamilton's on-ball production a testament to his blend of instincts and athletic ability.

Hamilton excels at reading the eyes of the quarterback to drop into throwing lanes and make plays on the ball, with his eye discipline and efficiency in changing direction enabling him to pick up new assignments in coverage on the fly.

Using his 33-inch arms to stay in tight man coverage and disrupt passes at the catch point, Hamilton has additionally demonstrated prowess for recovering separation and jumping the routes of receivers, showcasing another gear to help him get to the ball when he has a chance to take it away.

While the downhill thump he offers and his long speed in pursuit are significant parts of Hamilton's skill set, it is the fact his versatility is supplemented by turnover production that makes him so appealing, particularly to teams like the New York Jets who have found takeaways extremely hard to come by.

The final piece of Saleh's secondary puzzle?

The Jets, who own selections four and 10, managed just 14 takeaways last season, putting them 31st in the NFL, with the Jaguars (nine) the only team to record fewer.

Pass rush plays a substantial role in a defense's ability to force turnovers, but the Jets – even with Carl Lawson missing the entire season through injury – ranked third in pass rush win rate last season, perhaps indicating that their struggles taking the ball away were a result of the performance of the secondary and a lack of luck.

Hamilton has the talent to significantly influence the former, and he would join a secondary that is in better shape than it is perhaps given credit for.

Starting cornerback Bryce Hall had the lowest combined open percentage (14.61) allowed across man and zone coverage of all corners in the NFL with at least 100 coverage matchups in 2021.

The Jets also added strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who during his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed his prowess for making plays in coverage and down near the line of scrimmage.

Whitehead registered eight pass breakups and two interceptions in 2021 while his tally of 14 tackles for loss over the last two seasons is bettered only by Jamal Adams among safeties (15).

Not short of talent up front, infusing Hamilton into the secondary could give Jets coach Robert Saleh the back seven he needs for his defense to take a leap to help them compete in the AFC East, and the team with whom they share a stadium may also have designs on him elevating their defense to the NFL's elite.

Safety could be Giant strength for Martindale

There wasn't much good about the New York Giants in 2021, yet their defense did rank 11th in yards per play allowed (5.31).

That defense will be run by Don "Wink" Martindale in 2022, and there is no doubt a respected defensive mind of his calibre would relish the chance to get to work with a chess piece like Hamilton. The Giants are in a great spot to give him that opportunity, picking fifth and seventh.

At the safety position, the Giants already possess one versatile and seemingly quickly improving player in Xavier McKinney. 

McKinney spent 838 snaps lined up as a deep safety last season but did play 96 in the slot, with his combined open percentage allowed of 17.07 the third-best among safeties with a minimum of 100 matchups.

The Giants' secondary will likely lose a veteran player with cornerback James Bradberry expected to be traded, yet by pairing McKinney with Hamilton, they would immediately boast one of the most multi-faceted defensive backfields in the NFL, one which would offer Martindale the opportunity to decrease his dependency on single-high looks, having predominantly leaned on Cover 3 shells in his final year as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

As is the case with the Jets, the Giants still have a lot of questions to answer, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where there are doubts over two first-round selections at quarterback at different points of their career and a clear need for a further infusion of talent among both groups of wide receivers.

In an offense-driven league, it is the answers to those questions that may determine how quickly two teams that have spent far too long in the mire can ascend back to contention.

But neither franchise is in a spot to thumb its nose at a defensive building block who fits exactly where the game is going and has the potential to become an elite player at his position. Safety has historically not been a highly valued position in the draft, but Hamilton's ceiling is such that he could eventually be regarded as a franchise-changing selection for the team that is willing to put history to one side, and the Jets and Giants have the positional need and the potential opportunity do just that.

Tom Brady has agreed to restructure his contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brady announced his retirement earlier this year, yet performed a U-turn on that decision last month to re-sign with the Bucs, who he led to a Super Bowl success at the end of the 2020 season.

There had been rumours that the Bucs were set to hold discussions with the 44-year-old, seven-time Super Bowl champion over potentially tying him down beyond the 2022 season, though general manager Jason Licht quashed that speculation.

Tampa have, however, managed to restructure Brady's existing deal to create over $9million of salary cap space ahead of next week's NFL Draft.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the news on Friday, citing league sources.

However, Brady is still set to become a free agent at the end of the season despite the restructuring.

Brady passed for more yards (5,316) than any other quarterback in the NFL across the 2021 regular season, registering a league-high 43 touchdown passes. His completion percentage of 67.5 ranked ninth.

Tampa reached the postseason, but lost to eventual Super Bowl winners the Los Angeles Rams.

The overarching narrative surrounding the 2022 NFL Draft class is well established. It's not a star-studded class, but it's a deep class.

And nowhere is this draft deeper than at edge rusher.

NFL teams place a premium on players who can get after the quarterback, but this year they may not have to spend a premium pick to land such a prospect who can make an immediate difference at the highest level.

Like quarterbacks, top pass rushers get pushed up the board, but some teams may be content to wait until day two of this year's draft to boost their front seven, safe in the knowledge that there will still be a host of talented edge players available.

By its very nature, the draft is a subjective exercise, but a look at the pressure numbers for the top edge rushers in this class provides an idea of how they should be stacked as opening night in Las Vegas draws ever closer.

The sure thing

He may not end up as the first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson has the most compelling case as the most complete and the most 'pro-ready' edge rusher in the draft.

Hutchinson has the flexibility to bend around the edge but can also win with his bull rush and has the quickness to successfully attack the inside shoulder of opposing offensive tackles.

Boasting a well-refined repertoire off pass rush moves, including the cross-chop, two-hand swipe, rip, club and swim, Hutchinson's pressure rate of 30.8 per cent in 2021 was topped only by UAB sleeper Alex Wright (31.3 per cent). Similarly, Wright (18.7 per cent) was the sole player to top Hutchinson's run disruption rate of 17.9 per cent.

Yet while Wright recorded 11.5 sacks in three seasons at a Group of Five school, Hutchinson had 14 in the 2021 campaign alone as he helped Michigan come within touching distance of the mountaintop – the Wolverines losing in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.

He also demonstrated considerable prowess against the run, registering double-digit tackles for loss in 2019 (10) and 2021 (16.5).

Beating a man on 72 of his 85 pressures in 2021, Hutchinson has an array of tools by which to defeat pass protection and will enter the league as a high-floor, day-one contributor.

Should the Jags choose to go in a different direction, the team that land him may be sending thank you cards to Jacksonville for years to come.

Debate club

At the start of last season, it would have been tough to find much debate around Oregon star Kayvon Thibodeaux, a prospect almost universally seen as a future top-five pick.

Now there are questions over whether he will even go in the top 10.

Any potential fall down the board will not be down to his ability to generate pressure, which he did on 24.5 per cent of his pass-rush snaps in 2021, beating a pass protector on 44 of his 49 pressures.

Instead, doubts around Thibodeaux seem to be tied to a perceived lack of effort and concerns over his love of the game, a reflection of the archaic way in which the league often views prospects who have the temerity to have outside interests away from the field.

Any such worries over his other interests should certainly not overshadow Thibodeaux's consistently outstanding performances, which have seen him create pressure through his excellent first step and ability to translate speed to power.

Indeed, Thibodeaux can generate an exceptional bull rush but can also bend around the edge and has the quickness to win to create disruption up the middle, his tremendous physical traits supplemented by a well-stocked repertoire of pass-rush moves.

With 35.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in three seasons, Thibodeaux has the production, the athleticism and the tape of a sure-fire top-five prospect. More bemusing than talk of him falling down the draft is the hype around the player who could well go number one overall.

Georgia's Travon Walker has the God-given athletic gifts over which teams salivate, running the 40 at the Combine in 4.51 seconds at 272 pounds, yet he does not have the production to back it up, with his tape from an extremely successful collegiate career with the Bulldogs leaving more questions than answers.

Deployed primarily as a run defender and often asked on passing downs to either drop into coverage or open up rushing lanes for blitzing linebackers, Walker had only 9.5 sacks in college. 

That six of those came in 2021 could be seen as a sign of progress. However, with Walker posting a pressure rate of just 12 per cent and beating his man on only 16 of his 31 pressures, he clearly still has a long way to go as a pass rusher.

Between his obvious explosiveness and the power he has in his hands, Walker is, in essence, an exciting project for the right defensive line coach to mould. However, the presence of more proven higher-floor pass rushers at the top of the draft makes the prospect of the Jaguars putting the burden of rapidly developing him on their staff a needless risk for Jacksonville.

Destined for day one

If the Jags are determined to hitch their wagon to a former Georgia star with only one season of college production, they would be better served by choosing Jermaine Johnson II to be that player.

Johnson transferred from Georgia to Florida State and thrived on a poor Seminoles team in 2021, racking up 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. 

A force against the run in his lone season in Tallahassee, Johnson's pressure rate of 16.8 does not paint the picture of an elite edge prospect.

However, only Hutchinson had more adjusted sacks (18) than Johnson's 17, a two-hand swipe move and a spin move helping him beat a pass protector on 40 of his 50 pressures. If he can become more consistent in pairing his explosiveness with leverage and use his flexibility to turn the corner more regularly, Johnson has a chance to emerge as the cream of this year's edge rush crop.

Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie is another transfer who made the most of his change of scenery, excelling in his single year with the Nittany Lions after switching from Temple, using his long arms to superb effect as he posted a pressure rate of 21.1 per cent, his success in getting into the pads of opposing pass protectors allowing him to record 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.

Ebiketie is still building his pass rush weaponry but blends leverage, speed and power to win with his bull rush. Able to win to the inside and around the edge, the arrow is pointing up for Ebiketie and there will be no shortage of teams ready to try to keep him on that trajectory in the pros.

Explosiveness and power are the calling cards of Purdue's George Karlaftis, who, after playing only two games in 2020, had a pressure rate of 21.9 per cent last season.

Only Hutchinson and Wright beat a pass protector more often than Karlaftis (47), and the former Boilermaker figures to soon be testing the anchor of tackles around the league after consistently putting Big Ten competition on skates.

Each of that trio are likely to come off the board on night one. That same honour probably won't be afforded to South Carolina's Kingsley Enagbare or Drake Jackson of USC, though both had top-five pressure rates in 2021.

Enagbare (24.6) has an array of moves to rival Hutchinson and a bull rush akin to that of Karlaftis when he puts it all together, but a lack of speed and flexibility to turn the corner may force him to wait until day two. Jackson (24.2) was third in adjusted sack rate (6.7 per cent) and flashed dominance with his first step and dip to get around the edge, but a failure to truly take over games at the Pac-12 level will likely mean his celebrations will have to wait until the Friday of draft week.

The injury gamble

Hutchinson's former Michigan team-mate David Ojabo would almost certainly be in the first-round mix had he not suffered an Achilles injury during his pro day.

Due to that piece of misfortune, teams must now decide whether they are willing to take a risk on a player who may not be healthy enough to contribute significantly as a rookie.

Agreeing to that gamble will mean putting faith in Ojabo's long-term potential, which is undoubted.

Nigerian-born Ojabo moved to the United States from Scotland in 2017 and originally played basketball before turning his attention to American football.

Still relatively inexperienced, Ojabo has enticing room to grow but at the same time demonstrated impressive polish as he broke out in 2021 with 11 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

With a pressure rate of 21.3 per cent and the highest adjusted sack rate in the class at 7.6 per cent, Ojabo can get the better of pass blockers through a number of avenues.

He has the speed to get around the edge, has developed an excellent spin move and possesses a rip move with which he has also found success.

For a player who came to the sport late, Ojabo has also demonstrated impressive awareness of the importance of playing half a man when rushing the passer.

Encouragingly refined but still boasting untapped potential, there is obvious risk in taking Ojabo, but depending on the progress of his recovery, he could quickly make an impact as a designated pass rusher on third down.

Plenty of bad teams have needs at wide receiver, but that is hardly unique to this 2022 NFL Draft.

The Houston Texans and the Atlanta Falcons, for instance, just need good players at any position.

Elsewhere, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears are attempting to build around young quarterbacks, perhaps optimistically hoping to follow the example of the Cincinnati Bengals – who took Joe Burrow and the 2021 WR1 Ja'Marr Chase all the way to the Super Bowl.

The upcoming draft is a little different, though, in that at least two teams with far more realistic title ambitions will be targeting the brightest and best receivers another deep class has to offer.

Both the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs have two first-round picks; particularly in the case of the Packers, they badly need them.

Aaron Rodgers is back for another year, but Davante Adams is not. Adams – who was stunningly traded to the Las Vegas Raiders, where he was given a lucrative contract – accounted for 30.6 per cent of the Packers' catches and 34.3 per cent of their receiving yards last season. He leaves a huge hole.

Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb are returning and will have big roles to play, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling – the Packers' deep-ball option, with the greatest average depth of target in the NFL in consecutive seasons – is also gone.

The Packers are only too aware of what can happen when quarterback Rodgers is not backed in the first round of the draft, so it would be no great surprise to see two leading wideouts head to Green Bay.

The Chiefs are in a similar position, having also traded their dominant receiver and allowed another team – the Miami Dolphins – to pay Tyreek Hill. Only Adams (47) has caught more touchdown passes than Hill (43) since Patrick Mahomes' debut on New Year's Eve 2017.

Although Mahomes does have a leading tight end to fall back on in Travis Kelce, the Chiefs' work so far in this offseason – including bringing in Valdes-Scantling – does not quite look to have restored their offense to its former glories. Especially in the highly competitive AFC West that Adams now occupies.

Finding a player of the ilk of Adams or Hill is a tall order, but the Chiefs, like the Packers, have to try. So, who are the pass catchers under consideration in the first round?

Jameson Williams

On pure talent, Williams – who had 79 catches for 1,572 yards and 15 TDs in 2021 – should be gone long before the Packers or the Chiefs are on the clock. But an ACL tear in January might see him fall just a little further.

There is not a statistic that reflects poorly on Williams, although he is of interest primarily due to the remarkable speed that makes him an elite separator, much like Hill. At Alabama, the transfer from Ohio State had a burn rate of 74.6 per cent, winning his matchup with a defender on almost three-quarters of his targets and recording 19.3 burn yards per target – both well clear of his fellow first-round candidates, as he was in getting open on 86.0 per cent of targets.

Hill (70.8 per cent) ranked fourth in the NFL last year for burn rate and was open on 82.7 per cent of targets.

Crucially, heading into the NFL, Williams showed himself to be capable of operating either out wide or in the slot. The 21-year-old's burn rate playing inside was 77.5 per cent, actually up on his 73.0 per cent playing as an outside receiver.

Garrett Wilson

Williams left Ohio State having found himself behind two receivers who may go in the first round this year – including Wilson, who is rivalling Williams for WR1 in a number of mock drafts.

Wilson had 70 catches for 1,058 yards and 12 TDs last year and also does not lack for speed, running a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. His calling cards, however, are the lower-body flexibility, foot quickness, and route-running savvy that propelled him to 15.1 yards per reception and allowed him to register a burn on 71.6 per cent of his targets.

Of the two Ohio State receivers on this list – we'll come on to the other – Wilson was less of a deep-ball threat, with his average depth of target 11.3 yards.

That is far from an issue for a team looking for a primary option, however, instead showing the variety that was asked of Adams (9.4 yards) and Hill (10.3 yards) in 2021.

Chris Olave

Completing the trio who were Buckeye team-mates for two seasons is Olave, who also shared touches with Wilson last year, even if they were tasked with different roles.

Olave was targeted on just 26.9 per cent of his routes, compared to 30.6 per cent for Wilson, but that was because he often provided the deep threat.

His average depth of target was 14.3 yards in 2021 and had been a huge 18.9 yards in his previous full season in 2019, third-most among Power 5 receivers. Perhaps he makes more sense for the Packers, who have just lost Valdes-Scantling, than for the Chiefs, who have just signed him.

Either way, this is a role Olave relishes, catching 13 TD passes last season to boost him to 35 across a four-year college career, the most in Ohio State history. A smooth and, like Wilson, detailed route-runner who tracks the ball extremely well, Wilson would surely thrive immediately if paired with Rodgers. 

Treylon Burks

If Olave does not fit the bill for either the Packers or the Chiefs, Burks might, for his game is completely different to the man from Ohio State.

Burks' average depth of target last year was just 9.4 yards as he was regularly deployed out of the backfield by Arkansas, who consistently got the ball in his hands through screen passes and designed hand-offs. 

Part of their reason for doing so was the threat Burks poses in the open field. He averaged 9.27 yards after the catch in 2021 – more than Williams' 9.16.

Burks far outperformed his 7.96 expected yards per target and recorded 14.08 burn yards per target, making excellent use of his combination of physicality and play speed that was not reflected by his 4.55 40-yard dash. 

Able to win downfield by relying on his frame and his route-running ability, Burks may possess the most varied skill set of any receiver in the draft, having registered 38 carries across three seasons with the Razorbacks and drawing comparisons to San Francisco 49ers 'wide back' Deebo Samuel.

If he can be that sort of player in the NFL, Burks works for the Packers, the Chiefs or just about anybody.

Jahan Dotson

While some on this list are worth considering for their physical attributes alone, it is Dotson's ball skills that make him stand out.

His catch rating – measured between 0 and 1 based on how well a receiver successfully catches throws that are considered catchable – was an outstanding 0.978 in 2021. He dropped only a single pass.

Reflecting on an incredible one-handed catch against Ohio State in 2020, the Penn State star said: "I approach that [ball] as a million dollars. It's a million dollars in the air. If you want it, you go get it." Dotson will make plenty of money in the NFL if he continues to rein in similar passes.

Dotson was not outstanding at beating defenders (63.8 per cent) or getting open (76.6 per cent) last season but still caught 12 TD passes on a Penn State team that struggled amid sub-par quarterback play in 2021.

Drake London

Now, the Packers and the Chiefs will not be looking at London as a like-for-like replacement for Adams or Hill.

Finding a comparison for London is not an easy task, as few players are blessed with his blend of size and fluidity as a route-runner. 

London is 6ft 4in but just 213lbs and initially played basketball as well as football at USC.

A broken ankle meant he did not run a 40-yard dash at either the NFL Combine or his pro day, but his speed is not considered to be anything special – not that it matters.

Despite getting open on just 67.2 per cent of his targets in 2021, he beat his defender in 71.3 per cent of matchups, speaking to the ease with which he can change direction. 

"I really don't have to blow by guys to catch the ball," he said. "I can, but I don't have to."

There were five drops, but London faced a huge number of contested catches and usually came out on top thanks to long arms and considerable wingspan.

He will need a quarterback who will trust him to come away with the ball even if he is not open, as was the case last season when he was targeted on a mammoth 42.4 per cent of his routes.

All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel has requested a trade from the San Francisco 49ers.

Samuel is entering the final year of his rookie contract and the Niners had been expected to attempt to tie him down to a long-term deal.

However, multiple reports claim Samuel is refusing to engage in discussions over a lucrative extension and is instead determined to force his way out.

According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Samuel requested a trade over a week ago, with his dissatisfaction not solely tied to financial demands - he is said to want a contract in the region of $25million a year - but also with how is used in the 49ers' offense.

In addition to making 77 catches for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns – averaging a league-leading 18.2 yards per reception – in 2021, Samuel also carried the ball 59 times for 365 yards and eight touchdowns, breaking Eric Metcalf's record (six) for most rushing touchdowns by a wide receiver in a single season, set in 1989.

Samuel labelled himself a 'wide back' when asked to define his position, and his ability to do damage out of the backfield and as a wide receiver proved critical as he played a pivotal role in the Niners' surge to the NFC Championship Game last season.

However, Samuel appears keen to be used in an offense that will lean more heavily on his skills as a traditional receiver and avoid absorbing the extra physical punishment that comes with often being used as a de facto running back.

The 2019 second-round pick will have interest from around the NFL, but it remains to be seen whether the Niners will be willing to facilitate a trade.

Should a deal with another team fail to materialise prior to next week's 2022 NFL Draft, then Samuel will likely remain a Niner, with San Francisco almost certain to want to recoup assets that would allow them to immediately fill the void he would leave.

Sam Darnold was confirmed as the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback for 2022, although offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo quickly clarified his comments.

Former third overall pick Darnold joined the Panthers from the New York Jets ahead of last season but again struggled.

In 12 games, he completed just 59.9 per cent of his passes for 2,527 passing yards, only nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Darnold did just about beat out competition from the returning Cam Newton to end the year as the starter, but the Panthers have the sixth pick in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft – and a second return for Newton has not been ruled out.

However, incoming OC McAdoo seemingly announced Darnold's role for 2022 when he answered "yes" to a query as to whether he would be the starter – the sort of question other Panthers have skirted around.

The former New York Giants head coach revealed a big part of his decision to come to Carolina was to work with Darnold, yet he then acknowledged the situation could still change.

Coach Matt Rhule still has a say, McAdoo explained, but: "The way it is in the building right now, Sam is our starting quarterback."

McAdoo added: "One of the things I've been working on is being better talking to you people [media], so announcing the starting quarterback here I just put my foot in my mouth.

"That wasn't something I should have said."

Triple Crown wide receiver Cooper Kupp insists he is looking only for a "fair" deal with the Los Angeles Rams and is not worried about "trying to beat anybody" during a stunning offseason for players at his position.

Kupp was the NFL's dominant wideout last year in a title-winning season for the Rams.

The fifth-year star led the league in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16), also setting clear career bests in each category, to be named the Offensive Player of the Year.

He continued that form into the playoffs, with 33 receptions for 478 yards and six TDs, including two scores in the Super Bowl win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Kupp, who is under contract through 2023, should therefore be in line for a big pay day given the deals handed out to his fellow receivers since the end of last season.

Davante Adams left the Green Bay Packers to land a five-year, $140million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders, before Tyreek Hill similarly departed the Kansas City Chiefs and signed for four years on a $120m deal with the Miami Dolphins.

Stefon Diggs stayed on the Buffalo Bills but was also rewarded and is set to earn $96m over four years.

Kupp, who outperformed all three players in 2021, will make just $14.9m next season, yet he insists he is not concerned by what others are doing.

"I don't think that's really kind of the approach that I take," he said.

"I definitely think there's a place you want to be. There's a place that you feel like is fair, a place for me and for this organisation.

"I'm not trying to beat anybody. I'm not trying to compare myself to anyone else. It's more about being in a place that's just right for both sides."

Other star wide receivers, including Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers, are skipping on-field offseason workouts as they pursue lucrative contracts.

But Kupp is not following suit, explaining: "I think it's important to be here, be around the guys and be around this team.

"The goal at the end of the day is to win a world title. Whatever is going to get us in a place where we can compete for another world title, put us in a better position where we can be a better football team, that's the goal.

"I think the best thing I can do is to be a part of that."

Tom Brady knows he cannot play forever but feels for now there is "still a place for me on the field".

Legendary NFL quarterback Brady is returning for another year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite announcing his retirement earlier in the offseason.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion has a single season remaining on his contract in Tampa.

Brady is 44 and will be 45 by the time the 2022 season starts. Only two quarterbacks have played in the NFL at a greater age, and Brady will surpass Steve DeBerg (44 years and 342 days) when he next takes to the field.

George Blanda's record (48 years and 95 days) remains some way ahead, however, especially as Brady acknowledges the end of his extraordinary 318-game career is nearing.

"I knew my body, physically, could still do what it could do and obviously I have a love for the game," Brady told ESPN, explaining his return. "I think I'll always have a love for the game.

"I do think physically I'll be able to do it. I just felt like there was still a place for me on the field.

"At the end of the day, I just love the competition on the field, and last year was a very bitter ending to a season and we've got to make a lot of corrections to try to improve and put ourselves in a better position to succeed moving forward.

"I know I don't have a lot left, I really do. I know I'm at the end of my career. I wish you could go forever, but it's just not [possible] and football comes at too high of a cost now. My kids are getting older and it's just getting harder and harder to miss these things.

"But I wanted to give myself and my team-mates and our organisation another incredible opportunity to accomplish something that we'd all be very proud of."

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was shocked when his top wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, was traded away to the Miami Dolphins.

In his six seasons in Kansas City, Hill caught 479 passes for 6,630 yards and 56 touchdowns, emerging as arguably the most dangerous receiver in the entire NFL with his unique speed and explosiveness.

Hill signed a three-year, $54million extension with the Chiefs in 2019, but after recent extensions and signings – including a 10-year, $450m contract for Mahomes, and a four-year, $80m deal for defensive lineman Chris Jones – it appeared unrealistic that Kansas City would be able to afford his demands while adhering to the salary cap.

In March, the Las Vegas Raiders made Davante Adams the highest-paid receiver in league history with a five-year, $140m deal and six days later, Hill reset the market after being traded to the Dolphins for five draft picks, including a first and second round pick this year.

Hill's four-year deal has him earning an average of $30m per year, which is a number usually reserved for quarterbacks.

Speaking to the media on Monday as the Chiefs began their offseason program, Mahomes said that while he knew it was a possibility, he was still shocked to see Hill leave.

"My initial reaction was a little bit of shock,'' he said.

"Even though you knew this was a possibility, [losing] a guy you had played with and built a friendship with over the last six years, it was definitely something [where] you didn't want him to leave more for being able to hang out in the locker room and do that stuff more than the actual on-the-field stuff.

"But you're happy for him. Obviously, he got a great contract, he's back where he has a house in the offseason around a lot of his family. I wish the best for him."

As for the problems Hill's departure creates for the Chiefs, Mahomes conceded they will have to do things a little differently.

"We've just got to keep rolling," he said. "That's just how it is in this league. 

"It's a business as much as it is about friendships. We know in order to have success in this league we have to keep evolving and keep getting better. 

"So I got with those new receivers as quickly as possible and tried to build that [chemistry] so we could have success when we get going this year.

"We'll have to find production in different ways than we did last year, because Tyreek was such a big part of our offense.

"I think you've seen in games when we haven't had Tyreek, or we haven't had certain people, other guys have stepped up and made plays happen, and I expect that to happen this year, as well.''

Denzel Ward will become the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history after agreeing to a five-year contract extension with the Cleveland Browns.

Ward was drafted fourth overall by Cleveland in 2018 and has gone on to make the Pro Bowl on two occasions.

He has played 52 times for the Browns across four seasons with the franchise. He made 34 tackles and three interceptions in the 2021 campaign.

ESPN – citing Tory Dandy of CAA Sports, who negotiated the deal – reported on Monday that Ward had agreed fresh terms with the Browns, with the extension worth $100.5million. Of that, $71.25m is guaranteed.

The 24-year-old's average annual salary of $20.1million moves him above Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams, the previously highest-paid CB in the league.

Ward's new deal runs through the 2027 season though he remains under contract for $13.3m in 2022 after Cleveland exercised their fifth-year option on his old deal.

Ward joined the Browns in the same draft as quarterback Baker Mayfield, but the latter is expected to be traded before the start of the new season.

The Match will return in 2022 and this time it will pit two of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks of all time against two well on their way to assuming the same title.

Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady were on opposing teams in The Match IV last year, Rodgers and Bryson DeChambeau beating Brady and Phil Mickelson, but the two future Hall of Famers will team up this time around.

Indeed, Brady and Rodgers will face off against two quarterbacks who are rapidly developing a compelling rivalry of their own on the field in Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills.

Mahomes and Allen faced off in one of the best playoff games in NFL history last season as the Chiefs fought back to beat the Bills in the AFC Divisional Round 42-36 in overtime, Kansas City having led a game-tying field goal drive in just 13 seconds to force the extra period.

There is no doubt they are the future of the NFL, but the June 1 meeting in Las Vegas with Brady and Rodgers will mark the first time their golf game will be on show for a worldwide audience.

Announcing the matchup on Twitter, Brady made it clear he and Rodgers are ready to strike a blow for the NFL's old guard.

He wrote: "We tried to make this a tag team cage match but the lawyers said our contracts wouldn't allow it… #CapitalOnesTheMatch is back, June 1st. Let's kick their a**."

Marshawn Lynch feels he has achieved "something special" by becoming a minority investor in the Seattle Kraken alongside Macklemore.

Former NFL running back Lynch spent the best part of his career with the Seattle Seahawks.

He was part of the Seahawks team that won Super Bowl XLVIII, scoring a rushing touchdown in the title game as Seattle beat the Denver Broncos.

Lynch had led the NFL in rushing TDs (12) in the regular season and did so again the following year (13), again scoring in the Super Bowl but this time in a defeat to the New England Patriots.

The five-time Pro Bowler announced his retirement after the 2015 season but returned to the NFL and eventually the Seahawks, finishing his career in Seattle in 2019.

And now Lynch is again part of the sports scene in the city, with he and rapper Macklemore – a Seattle native – welcomed on board by Kraken owner Seattle Hockey Partners.

"I've been a part of a lot of things, but this is something I never would have imagined," Lynch wrote on his Twitter page.

"As a young hyena I always dreamed of playing on a professional team but owning one is something special.

"Thank you @SeattleKraken, shout out to @macklemore. Seattle, I'm here. Stand Up!!!"

The Kraken are in their inaugural season in the NHL but sit bottom of the Western Conference's Pacific Division with a 24-44-6 record.

Deebo Samuel will reportedly skip the San Francisco 49ers' on-field offseason program as he seeks a contract extension from the team.

A report from ESPN's Adam Schefter said that Samuel, A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans and the Washington Commanders' Terry McLaurin will not take part in on-field drills as teams return for voluntary workouts in the coming days.

All three wide receivers are entering the final year of their rookie contract having been selected on day two of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Samuel was named a first-team All-Pro in 2021 after racking up 1,405 receiving yards and six touchdowns while also thriving running the ball out of the backfield.

He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in finishing with 365 yards on 59 attempts, with his eight regular-season rushing touchdowns an NFL record for a wide receiver – two clear of Eric Metcalf's previous benchmark of six for the 1989 Cleveland Browns.

His unique role in the offense, with Samuel describing himself as a 'wide back', will undoubtedly have complicated negotiations, which have so far shown no sign of delivering a resolution.

Samuel is said to be looking for a contract in the region of $25million a year, having seen the wide receiver market explode this offseason amid a flurry of high-profile trades and lucrative free-agent contracts.

Injuries prevented Brown from recording a third successive 1,000-yard season in 2021, but his 24 receiving touchdowns are the eighth-most among wideouts since 2019.

McLaurin has 16 in that time, recording a second consecutive 1,000-yard campaign for Washington last season as they failed to repeat their NFC East triumph of 2020.

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