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Todd Gurley heads back to Georgia, agrees to join Atlanta Falcons

The former star running back for the Georgia Bulldogs strikes a deal less than 24 hours after being released by the Los Angeles Rams.
In this Dec. 29, 2019, file photo, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley looks on during a game against the Arizona Cardinals in Los Angeles. The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to a one-year deal with the three-time Pro Bowl player, one day after he was cut by the Rams.
In this Dec. 29, 2019, file photo, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley looks on during a game against the Arizona Cardinals in Los Angeles. The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to a one-year deal with the three-time Pro Bowl player, one day after he was cut by the Rams. [ MARK J. TERRILL | AP ]
Published Mar. 20, 2020
Updated Mar. 21, 2020

ATLANTA — Todd Gurley didn’t wait long to find his new NFL home.

The Atlanta Falcons didn’t wait long to celebrate the deal.

“WE GOT HIM,” the Falcons exclaimed on their Twitter account early Friday, soon after news emerged of Gurley’s $6 million, one-year deal with the Falcons.

The agreement was confirmed to the Associated Press by a person familiar with the deal. The person confirmed the agreement on condition of anonymity because the deal will not be official until Gurley passes a physical. The league isn’t allowing players to report to new teams immediately for those physicals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The agreement was reached less than 24 hours after Gurley was released by the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday. The three-time Pro Bowl running back was released minutes before $10.5 million in his contract with the Rams became fully guaranteed.

The Falcons had good reason to celebrate the news. They needed a replacement for former Florida State standout Devonta Freeman as the leader of their ground game, and Gurley’s arrival should be good news for ticket sales.

Gurley will be making a return to the state. He was a standout at the University of Georgia, rushing for more than 3,000 yards in three seasons with the Bulldogs.

The agreement with the 25-year-old Gurley comes less than a week after the Falcons released Freeman. Atlanta ranked only 30th in the NFL in rushing in 2019 and is hoping for a significant boost from Gurley.

Gurley has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three of his five seasons with the Rams. He ran for a career-low 857 yards on 223 carries last season, though that still led the Rams in rushing and was ninth in the NFC. He also led the team in touchdowns with 14, including 12 rushing, which was tied for fourth in the NFC.His average of 3.8 yards per carry was the second-lowest of his career.

Gurley’s physical will be especially important. He had a persistent left knee injury that limited his effectiveness late in 2018. The issue remained last season, even though he played in 15 games.

When healthy, Gurley has been one of the league’s most productive backs as a runner and receiver. He leads the NFL with 58 rushing touchdowns since he joined the league in 2015. His 5,404 yards rushing in that span rank second in the league, behind Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott (5,405).

Through five seasons, Gurley has averaged 43.6 catches, including a career-high 64 for 788 yards and six touchdowns in 2017.

Gurley, a 2015 first-round pick, signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Rams in June 2018, making him the league’s highest-paid running back at the time. The deal included $45 million in guaranteed earnings. Gurley was cut before even playing the first year of that extension.

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The agreement with Gurley is the second significant move of free agency for the Falcons. The team addressed another pressing need by agreeing to a $48 million, three-year deal with outside linebacker Dante Fowler on Wednesday. Fowler is expected to boost the team’s pass rush, a chronic weak spot.

Gurley joins an Atlanta offense that also includes quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.

The Falcons offense suffered a hit when tight end Austin Hooper, a two-time Pro Bowler, agreed to a deal with the Cleveland Browns. Atlanta acquired tight end Hayden Hurst from the Baltimore Ravens on Monday. The Falcons added Hurst and a 2020 fourth-round pick from the Ravens in exchange for second- and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft.

Atlanta also cut cornerback Desmond Trufant, offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo and former Bucs tight end Luke Stocker this week, clearing salary cap space for other moves.

Here is a time-marked rundown by the Associated Press of Friday’s NFL moves. All times Eastern:

9:30 p.m.

The Carolina Panthers signed free agent wide receiver Pharoh Cooper to a one-year contract Friday and safety Juston Burris to a two-year deal.

Cooper was an All-Pro returner for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 with 932 yards and a touchdown on 34 kickoff returns to lead the NFL with an average of 27.4 yards per return. He also racked up 399 yards on 32 punt returns.

The 25-year-old is still developing as a wideout, though. He had a career-high 25 receptions for 243 yards and a touchdown in 12 games last season with Arizona. He also returned 25 kickoffs for 561 yards (22.4 yards per return) and 17 punts for 129 yards.

Burris has played in 52 career games with 11 starts, totaling 58 tackles, 14 passes defensed, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one sack in four NFL seasons with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. Last season he had a career-high 30 tackles for Cleveland and two interceptions.

The 26-year-old Burris was a fourth-round pick by the Jets in 2016 out of N.C. State.

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8:10 p.m.

Saints vice president Mickey Loomis says free agent fullback Michael Burton has agreed to a one-year contract with New Orleans.

The 6-foot, 240-pound Burton is a five-year veteran who played with Washington last season after spending two seasons each with Detroit and Chicago.

The New Jersey native and former Rutgers player has eight career NFL carries for 11 yards and nine catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. He also plays special teams.

The Saints are familiar with Burton, who spent the 2019 preseason with New Orleans before being released and later was picked up by the Redskins.

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7:40 p.m.

The Detroit Lions have agreed to terms with cornerback Tony McRae.

McRae is entering his fourth NFL season after spending the past two with Cincinnati and splitting 2017 between Cincinnati and Baltimore. He originally signed with Oakland as an undrafted rookie.

McRae has played in 37 games, including three starts.

Detroit also announced previously reported agreements with several other free agents: linebacker Jamie Collins, quarterback Chase Daniel, safety Jayron Kearse, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, cornerback Desmond Trufant, offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai and defensive tackle Nick Williams.

The Lions announced that they’ve agreed to terms with safety Miles Killebrew, who has been with Detroit for four seasons since being drafted in 2016.

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7:30 p.m.

The Baltimore Ravens and the foundation run by owner Steve Bisciotti and his wife have teamed to donate $1 million to support four non-profit organizations in their efforts to combat the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The team and the Stephen and Renee Bisciotti Foundation will contribute $250,000 each to the Fund for Educational Excellence, the United Way of Central Maryland, the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Maryland Food Bank.

“We want to help those in our community who are most affected by the COVID-19 crisis,” Ravens president Dick Cass said. “We chose to donate through these four organizations because we are confident they will apply our funds quickly and directly to people in need.”

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6:45 p.m.

Free agent tackle Joe Haeg has agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The fifth-year pro spent the first four seasons of his career with the Indianapolis Colts. He entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick in 2016 and started 35 of 55 games he played for the Colts.

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6:40 p.m.

The Indianapolis Colts have re-signed backup offensive lineman Le’Raven Clark. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.

Clark has made 12 starts in 35 games, all with the Colts since being selected in the third round of the 2016 draft.

He did not play last season despite being on the active roster for all 16 games, in part because Indy’s five regular linemen started every game.

Clark did start six times in 2018 when the Colts allowed a league-low 18 sacks.

The move comes less than a week after longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo agreed to a two-year contract and became more urgent after versatile backup Joe Haeg signed with Tampa Bay.

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6:10 p.m.

The Chiefs agreed to a one-year contract with former New York Giants cornerback Antonio Hamilton, the first significant deal that the Super Bowl champions have made since the start of free agency earlier in the week.

Kansas City entered the market desperate for help in the defensive backfield after losing Kendall Fuller, Morris Claiborne and Bashaud Breeland to free agency. Fuller and Breeland in particular were crucial to a defensive turnaround under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo that helped deliver the Chiefs their first Super Bowl title since 1970.

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5:40 p.m.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with defensive end and special teams ace Lerentee McCray.

The deal is worth $1.047 million, which includes a $910,000 base salary and a $137,500 signing bonus.

McCray spent the past three years in Jacksonville, totaling 26 tackles and 2½ sacks while serving as a core special teams player. He missed seven games in 2019, including the final six because of a hamstring injury. He has appeared in 72 games during seven NFL seasons with Denver, Buffalo and Jacksonville.

The 29-year-old McCray is currently the second-oldest player on Jacksonville’s retooled roster, a few months younger than cornerback D.J. Hayden.

“We look forward to bringing him back as a veteran presence in our locker room in 2020,” coach Doug Marrone said.

4:45 p.m.

The Minnesota Vikings have another starter on defense to replace. Defensive end Everson Griffen will not re-sign with the team.

Griffen and his agent announced Friday they were unable to come to terms with the Vikings due to the team’s salary-cap constraints. Griffen is the longest-tenured player on the team, having played 10 seasons in purple. He had eight sacks in 2019.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander have already chosen

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4:40 p.m.

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis says free-agent defensive back and special teams regular Justin Hardee has agreed to a one-year contract.

Hardee has played in 46 regular-season games and five playoff contests during his first three NFL seasons, all with the Saints.

Undrafted out of Illinois, where he played receiver, Hardee has made 24 career special teams tackles to go with a blocked a punt and 10-yard reception from Taysom Hill on a successful fake punt.

The Cleveland native’s defensive highlights include a 77-yard interception return in 2018.

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4:30 p.m.

The Denver Broncos continued an impressive offseason haul by agreeing to a two-year deal with former Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon.

A person with knowledge of the deal told the Associated Press that it’s worth $16 million with all but $2.5 million guaranteed. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because terms of the deal weren’t revealed.

The Broncos didn’t announce the deal but did tweet a clip of King Features comic strip character Flash Gordon, which is their new running back’s nickname.

Although his new deal is less than the $10 million annually that Gordon turned down from the Chargers during an unsuccessful holdout for a long-term extension last season, it does allow him the opportunity to face his old team twice a year and to hit free agency again in 2022 at age 28.

His $8 million annual salary also ranks fourth in the NFL among running backs.

Gordon’s arrival bolsters a Denver offense that has stagnated in recent years and which produced just 17.6 points a game in 2019. New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has set out to install a stronger ground game and push the ball down the field more in the passing game with second-year QB Drew Lock.

Gordon is an ideal fit.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection has three dozen rushing touchdowns over the last four seasons and 47 touchdowns overall. That ranks third in the NFL since 2016, trailing only former Rams running back Todd Gurley (60), who agreed to a deal with Atlanta on Friday, and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott (48).

Gordon, the 15th overall draft pick in 2015 out of Wisconsin, and Phillip Lindsay figure to share the bulk of the workload for the Broncos, who traded fullback Andy Janovich to the Cleveland Browns earlier this week.

General manager John Elway has said he would like to rework Lindsay’s contract following back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons by the back who went undrafted after starring at the University of Colorado. Lindsay is due to make $750,000.

Gordon held out through the first three weeks of the regular season last year and scored nine touchdowns in his return. His former backup, Austin Ekeler, had a breakout season that resulted in a contract extension two weeks ago worth $24.5 million over four years, including $15 million guaranteed.

Gordon averaged only 3.8 yards per carry when he returned last season and totaled 908 scrimmage yards after recording over 1,200 scrimmage yards in three straight seasons from 2016 to ’18. He caught 42 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown.

In five seasons with the Chargers, Gordon rushed for 4,240 yards and caught 224 passes for 1,873 yards.

Elway has been busy this offseason, trading third-day draft picks to plug major holes at cornerback (A.J. Bouye) and defensive tackle (Jurrell Casey) and luring two ex-Lions in free agency: Graham Glasgow and Jeff Driskel. Glasgow replaced oft-injured Ronald Leary at right guard and Driskel is Lock’s new backup and replaces former starter Joe Flacco, whose release Thursday saved the team $10 million.

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4 p.m.

The New York Jets are re-signing linebacker Neville Hewitt to a one-year deal worth $2 million, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Hewitt was a valuable backup-turned-starter last year for the Jets at inside linebacker after season-ending injuries to Avery Williamson and C.J. Mosley. He finished third on the team with 78 overall tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and seven quarterback hits.

Hewitt, who turns 27 next month, could again provide depth as the Jets monitor the health statuses of Williamson and Mosley. Williamson is coming off a knee injury suffered in the preseason last summer, while Mosley missed all but two games in his first year with the Jets after injuring his groin and core muscle area in the season opener.

Hewitt signed with Miami in 2015 as an undrafted free agent out of Marshall, and joined New York as a free agent in 2018. He has 5 1/2 sacks and three interceptions in five NFL seasons.

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3:10 p.m.

The Atlanta Falcons have re-signed safety Sharrod Neasman to a one-year contract.

Neasman, who was an unrestricted free agent, played in 15 games last season and had four tackles on special teams.

Neasman signed with Atlanta as an undrafted free agent from Florida Atlantic in 2016. He spent time with the Saints before he returned to Atlanta in 2018. He has 45 tackles in 41 games.

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3 p.m.

Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and MLS Atlanta United, is donating almost $5.4 million to support recovery assistance for the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding, being distributed through his family foundation, is targeted for support in Georgia and Montana.

The foundation will grant $5 million to the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund established by United Way of Greater Atlanta and Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

The fund is focused on the immediate needs of economically vulnerable populations and will be distributed to nonprofit organizations that address food insecurity, housing stability, medical supports and childcare, among other needs.

A $100,000 grant to Hands On Atlanta will ensure 31 AmeriCorps members can continue to support public schools across metro Atlanta. A $100,000 grant to the Atlanta Police Foundation will help maintain adequate staffing and safety for officers.

Also, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has donated 3.5 tons of food with a $100,000 value, providing more than 2,310 meals to six nonprofit groups in Atlanta.

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2:15 p.m.

The Buffalo Bills have agreed to re-sign backup safety Dean Marlowe to a one-year contract.

He’s a fifth-year player who spent the previous two seasons on Buffalo’s active roster after being signed to the team’s practice squad in 2017. Marlowe had two starts and appeared in nine games last season.

He initially broke into the NFL with Carolina in 2015, when current Bills coach Sean McDermott served as the Panthers defensive coordinator.

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2 p.m.

The Dallas Cowboys are bringing back several of their depth players, reaching agreements with linebackers Joe Thomas and Justin March while re-signing offensive lineman Joe Looney.

Thomas was a stabilizing part of the linebacking group after emerging star Leighton Vander Esch was limited to nine games because of a neck injury that required surgery. March played some linebacker but has been an important on special teams as well.

The 28-year-old Thomas has started 10 of 67 games in six seasons, with 157 tackles and one interception. The 26-year-old March made all five of his career starts with Kansas City in 2016. Both were undrafted free agents.

Looney returned to a backup role in 2019 after starting all of the previous season at center while 2016 All-Pro Travis Frederick recovered from an autoimmune disorder. Looney started the 2019 season finale at left guard after injuries to Connor Williams and backup Xavier Su’a-Filo.

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1:25 p.m.

Linebacker Elandon Roberts has signed with the Miami Dolphins, who added yet another ex-New England Patriots player to the roster.

Roberts played with the Patriots from 2016 to 2019. Last year he was a captain, starred on special teams and occasionally played fullback, catching a 38-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady against Miami.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and center Ted Karras, both former Patriots, agreed to terms earlier this week with the Dolphins. Coach Brian Flores is a former New England assistant.

Miami also signed safety Clayton Fejedelem, who landed an $8.55 million, three-year deal that includes $3 million guaranteed. Fejedelem was a seventh-round draft pick by the Bengals in 2016 and became a special teams standout in four seasons with them.

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12:10 p.m.

The Cleveland Browns have added another veteran safety to their secondary, agreeing to terms with Andrew Sendejo on a one-year, $2.25 million contract.

The 32-year-old Sendejo played for Minnesota and Philadelphia last season. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Sendejo is the second safety locked up by the Browns in free agency this week. On Wednesday, the team worked out a deal with former Raiders safety Karl Joseph.

Sendejo started with Dallas in 2010 before playing nine seasons with Minnesota. New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski was with Vikings that entire time.

Sendejo had three interceptions last season and nine in his career.

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12:05 p.m.

The New York Jets are re-signing cornerback Arthur Maulet to a one-year deal after not tendering him as a restricted free agent.

Maulet was solid while starting six games late last season after injuries decimated the cornerback spot. He finished with 41 overall tackles, an interception and two passes defensed. Maulet also recovered a fumble for a touchdown on special teams.

The 26-year-old Maulet announced his return on his Twitter and Instagram pages, saying: “I’m Bacc Gotham City !”

The Louisiana native was signed by New Orleans as an undrafted free agent out of Memphis in 2017. He had two stints with the Saints and also spent time with Indianapolis before being signed by the Jets last winter. Maulet became a free agent earlier this week when he wasn’t given a restricted free agent tender, but was brought back by New York as an unrestricted free agent.

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12 p.m.

The Buffalo Bills are indeed, as quarterback Josh Allen put it on Twitter, digging it.

The Bills announced acquiring receiver Stefon Diggs in a multi-draft-pick trade with the Minnesota Vikings.

The trade was agreed to Monday, and announced by both teams Friday.

The Vikings acquired four draft picks, including Buffalo’s first-round choice (22nd overall), giving them five of the top 105 picks in this year’s draft. Minnesota also acquired Buffalo’s fourth- and fifth-round picks this year, and a fourth-round selection in 2021.

Buffalo also acquired the Vikings’ seventh-round pick as part of the deal to provide the Josh Allen-led offense a primary deep threat it has been previously missing. Diggs joins an established group of receivers rounded out by John Brown and Cole Beasley.

The 26-year-old Diggs has topped 1,000 yards receiving each of his past two years. Last year, he had a career-best 1,130 yards receiving and ranked fourth in the NFL in averaging 17.9 yards per catch.

Allen welcomed the trade with a tweet that read: “Ya Digg?”

Diggs responded by writing: “LETS GET IT.”