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The clock has been ticking on Rob Gronkowski’s career before the New England Patriots star, who announced his retirement on Sunday afternoon, ever entered the league. Back surgery cost him his junior year at Arizona and led the 21-year-old to declare for the 2010 draft, where the missing year pushed him into the second round. Bill Belichick might be a legend for trading down, but in a rare trade up, he sent a sixth-rounder to the Oakland Raiders to move up two spots to grab Gronk.

Presumably out of concerns over the long-term viability of that back, Gronkowski locked in financial security after two seasons by signing a six-year, $54 million extension with New England. (Players who were drafted after the new collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2011 aren’t even allowed to sign extensions two years into their rookie deals anymore.) Gronkowski was often brilliant on the field over the ensuing seven seasons, but he never played a 16-game season again and missed 29 contests with a variety of injuries, including a torn ACL, fractured forearm and bad hamstring. A high ankle sprain slowed him in the Super Bowl XLVI loss to the New York Giants.

Rob Gronkowski announces retirement

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• The majesty of the Gronk Spike | Video

More than any of the other injuries, though, the bad back hung over Gronkowski. Another surgery cost him a chunk of the 2013 season. A huge hit from Earl Thomas led to another back surgery in 2016. An unspecified back problem then flared up twice in practice during the 2018 season and cost him three games. The physical burden of playing professional football the way he played was going to catch up to him sooner rather than later, and it’s why we’re seeing one of the greatest players of this generation retire before he turns 30.

If you’re thinking about that laterals play against the Dolphins in which Kenyan Drake put Gronk — miscast for a brief moment as a safety — on skates as proof that he wasn’t the same threat to opposing teams by the time he retired, think again. This is an enormous loss for the Patriots, who will fundamentally have to rethink how they approach their offense without their star tight end. I have no doubt that the Belichick and Tom Brady brain trust will figure things out, but if you want to see just how uniquely important Gronkowski was to the Patriots, you only have to go back to February and what now looks to be his final NFL game.

The last glimpse of Gronk
In a Super Bowl in which the Patriots saw drive after drive stall out in no man’s land and scored just three points across their first 10 offensive possessions, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had to change something to try to spring his offense. In a three-play sequence that swung the game toward the Patriots and set up the only touchdown of the game, McDaniels called the same play out of the personnel grouping three times in a row.

The play was Hoss Y-Juke, a familiar staple for the Pats throughout the Brady-Belichick era. What made it so vexing for the Rams to stop is that the Patriots came out in 22 personnel (2 TEs, 2 RBs) with fullback James Develin, a running back, Julian Edelman, and two tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Gronk. The natural reaction to 22 personnel is to come out with a base defense and four defensive backs to try to stop the run, and indeed, that’s how L.A. defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tried to defend it each time.
Rob Gronkowski had six catches for 87 yards in his final game, a 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Photo by Paul Kuroda/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire
I wrote at length about this series in my Super Bowl recap, but what made this entire concept work was Gronkowski. Because he is one of the best blocking tight ends in football, Phillips had to honor the threat of the run by leaving the base defense on the field.

In doing that, the Rams were doomed. The Patriots split out Gronkowski in the slot three consecutive times and had him run seam routes (the ‘ss’ in “Hoss”) against overmatched Rams defenders. He didn’t get the ball on either of the first two plays, but on the third, the Rams tried to disguise their pressure and Cory Littleton spun toward him in the slot at the last moment. Brady wasn’t fooled and lobbed a pass to Gronkowski, who ran past Littleton and brought in a 29-yard catch to set up first-and-goal. Sony Michel punched in the ball one play later.

From one to [email protected] | #EverythingWeGot pic.twitter.com/9lCLlfxxBO

— New England Patriots (@Patriots) February 4, 2019
All of this works because Gronk allows the Patriots to beat opposing defenses regardless of how they line up. Other tight ends can’t do that. Throw in a great receiving tight end like Travis Kelce or Jared Cook as part of that 22 package instead of him, and the Rams might as well have brought in their nickel defense, because those tight ends are far more threatening as pass-catchers than they are as blockers. If the Patriots had an excellent blocking tight end like Lee Smith or Nick Boyle replacing Gronk, the Rams wouldn’t have been stressed about the Patriots splitting them out, because Littleton and Mark Barron could have covered those guys on seam routes.

The magic of Gronk is that he gave the Patriots a way to make defenses wrong before the ball was even snapped. Le’Veon Bell marketed himself (unrealistically) as a legitimate No. 1 running back and No. 2 wideout, but Gronkowski was the guy who was really the biggest mismatch in football. A healthy Gronkowski gave the Patriots the option of employing a starting-caliber wide receiver or a sixth offensive lineman on every single snap, and they used that flexibility to whip opposing defenses.

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Gronk right at top of list for first-ballot HOF caseField Yates and Sal Paolantonio analyze Rob Gronkowski’s relationship with Tom Brady and the star TE’s case to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Of course, what happened after the snap was pretty special, too. Gronkowski’s legacy will stand as one of the most devastating touchdown producers in league history. In an offense in which Brady famously loves to spread the ball around and other teams routinely committed double-teams toward Gronk in the red zone, there still wasn’t any stopping the tight end. He caught a touchdown once every 6.6 receptions, and, as ESPN’s Matthew Berry pointed out, averaged 0.69 touchdowns per regular-season game. Both figures rank third all time among receivers with 500 catches or more, with Gronk trailing former teammate Randy Moss in both categories.

Throw out his limited 2018 season (and reduce the threshold to 470 catches) and Gronk would hold the record in both categories. And in what amounted to a full 16-game season of playoff games over his nine-year career, Gronkowski posted an 81-1,163-12 line, good for virtually identical touchdown rates to his regular-season marks. That’s without even considering his blocking, which played a huge role in New England running for 485 yards across their three playoff wins last season. Gronk was a stunningly consistent, often transcendent weapon.

How Gronk’s retirement impacts the 2019 Patriots
That’s why he’ll be so difficult to replace. There is no easy like-for-like swap for Gronkowski. Recent reports suggested that the Patriots were pursuing Jared Cook, who is finalizing a deal with the Saints and could still make a move to New England, but Cook solves only half the puzzle of replacing Gronk, because he doesn’t create the same sort of pre-snap conflicts as a possible blocker. Replacing Gronk with Cook is like replacing your smartphone with a landline. The Patriots could pursue possible trade targets such as Evan Engram, Jordan Reed and Cameron Brate, but none of those guys are Gronk.

The closest thing might be former Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, who came off the board at No. 8 in Mel Kiper’s most recent Mock Draft. Hockenson doesn’t have the same sort of medical concerns Gronkowski had coming out of college, so there’s little reason to think he’ll fall to the Patriots at No. 32, let alone to the second round. The Pats do have two second-rounders and three third-rounders, so Belichick has some ammunition to move up if so inclined, but his track record suggests he isn’t likely to jump from the bottom of the draft into the top 10 to take a tight end. It certainly seems more likely that the Pats would stay put and end up with Alabama product Irv Smith Jr. than move up for Hockenson if they were to draft a tight end.

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It’s virtually unthinkable to think the Patriots won’t add at least one expected starter at the position, given that their tight end depth chart includes Stephen Anderson, Jacob Hollister, Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. (The Pats cut Allen, who signed with the Dolphins.) Unless they add someone with Gronk’s versatility, though, the Patriots can’t run their offense the same way. They might be better off going with a different style and adding a player at a different position than merely trying to reheat the same looks with a lesser version of their missing tight end.

What could that offense be? The Patriots reportedly made a run at free-agent receiver Adam Humphries earlier this offseason, which would have been interesting given the presence of Julian Edelman on the roster. The Super Bowl MVP is entering the final year of his deal, and while the Patriots might not want to extend a 32-year-old wideout with a torn ACL and a PED suspension in his recent past, they also could have planned on transitioning to more spread looks with both Edelman and Humphries in the lineup at the same time. Even if they weren’t willing to match Tennessee’s offer to Humphries, the Pats could draft another slot receiver or promote 2018 draftee Braxton Berrios into a meaningful role.
Rob Gronkowski caught 78 of his 79 career touchdown receptions from Tom Brady. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Given how often Belichick seems to zig when the rest of the league is zagging, though, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Patriots continue to move toward a run-heavy approach as the rest of the NFL goes crazy with passes. The Patriots used their first-round picks in the 2018 draft on Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel. Wynn was thought of by some teams as a guard by virtue of his power as a run-blocker and relatively short arms, and while Michel is at least functionally capable of catching the football, he was drafted for his abilities as a runner. It’s also easier (and cheaper) to find a tight end who can block like Gronk as opposed to one who can stretch defenses as a receiver like he did for the past decade. The Pats might have already been preparing for the post-Gronk era before he even retired.

Moving toward the run will take some of the pressure off the 41-year-old Brady, whose passer rating fell below 100 last season for the first time since 2014. (Please note for posterity’s sake: This does not mean everyone thinks Brady sucks.) From the moment Gronkowski joined the Patriots in 2010, Brady was a different quarterback with his star tight end on the field. Over that nine-season stretch, Brady was Aaron Rodgers (104.7 passer rating, 70.0 QBR) with Gronk on the field and Kirk Cousins (95.0 passer rating, 61.7 QBR) with him sidelined or taking a breather:

Tom Brady’s Stats With And Without Gronk
SPLIT CMP ATT CMP% YDS Y/ATT TD INT RATING TOTAL
QBR
w/
Gronk 2669 4072 65.5% 32123 7.9 258 60 104.6 77.3
w/o
Gronk 974 1566 62.2% 11071 7.1 63 23 90.7 61.3
Brady is still playing at a high level, and there’s a difference between a missing Gronk (where the Patriots would expect him to be in the lineup and have a hole on their roster) and a retired version (where the Patriots can at least prepare in advance to play without him around), but it’s hard to imagine that his life will get easier without having him around.

Gronk’s place in the Patriots dynasty
It goes without saying that Gronkowski will be a local legend in New England for as long as he wants. There’s no rule saying you have to stop promoting Dunkin’ Donuts after you retire. He’s free to do cruises as often he wants. There’s a chance he could make a run to WWE and headline a pay-per-view at Fenway Park. I don’t think he is going to fade into the sunset and disappear.

Where does Gronk stand, though, in relation to the Patriots of this dynasty? When we think about this incredible run of success, the first two guys who will come up — in some order — are Belichick and Brady. That’s settled. Is Gronkowski the third most important or memorable piece of the puzzle when we look back 20 years from now?
Rob Gronkowski finishes his NFL career with 521 catches for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns. Elsa/Getty Images
That will always be in the eye of the beholder, but let’s give it some critical thought. By Pro Football Reference’s approximate value stat, Gronk ranks seventh among Patriots since 2001. Brady is obviously first. Second and third are a pair of offensive linemen in Logan Mankins and Matt Light. While I’m forever complaining that offensive linemen don’t get enough respect after their careers are over, I think people will think of Gronkowski before either Mankins or Light. Mankins notably struggled in each of the Super Bowl losses to the Giants and somehow played nine years with the Pats without winning a Super Bowl. I might put legendary Pats offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia ahead of any individual offensive lineman.

The only other offensive player ahead of Gronkowski is Wes Welker in fifth. Again, though, Welker never won a Super Bowl during his time in New England, and while he was an incredible weapon, his most famous playoff moment might be failing to come down with a would-be big play against the Giants in Indy. I can’t put him ahead of Gronk.

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Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour are the two remaining players ahead, and while they were both excellent defensive linemen, neither put up the sort of visible production Gronk did by virtue of their roles in the defense. Seymour and Wilfork are borderline Hall of Famers, while Gronkowski should already have a gold jacket by the time Brady gets in. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to prefer either of those guys to Gronk, but I also wouldn’t blame you for pegging him ahead of them, either.

Are there other players behind Gronkowski who deserve a higher profile? Perhaps. Adam Vinatieri’s name is deservedly etched into lore, although he was only a part of the Patriots dynasty for its first five seasons before spending the past 13 seasons in Indy. Ty Law, too, was out after four seasons. The duo of Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi helped power those early Pats defenses, but as twin linebackers, they might also steal from each other’s votes. Kevin Faulk might be in the discussion for lifetime achievement.

The recent teams also have candidates. Devin McCourty, drafted in the first round just before Gronkowski, has been the defensive anchor on three Super Bowl-winning teams. Dont’a Hightower has made some of the biggest plays in franchise playoff history, including the touchdown-saving tackle on Marshawn Lynch just before the Malcolm Butler pick and the strip sack of Matt Ryan that helped fuel the legendary comeback against the Falcons. Edelman just won Super Bowl MVP and had that unfathomable catch against Atlanta.

My argument would be that Gronk is the best player — the most surefire Hall of Famer — the Patriots have drafted and developed during Belichick’s reign. (Vinatieri will make the Hall of Fame, but he was also inherited from the Bill Parcells era.) He plays a visible position and was dominant in all facets of the game. He was probably the most charismatic and entertaining player within the dynasty, the class clown who Belichick tolerated because he was simultaneously the most devastating tight end of the modern era.

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Gronk’s retirement ‘a shock’ to PatriotsSal Paolantonio and Mike Reiss react to Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, with Reiss saying it’s a shock to the Patriots.
Every Patriots fan also knows just how critical a healthy Gronk was to their chances. From his breakout 2011 season on, the Patriots made it to the playoffs eight times. He was injured during four of those seasons, missing three playoff runs and hobbling through a Super Bowl in the fourth with a high ankle sprain. The Patriots lost twice in the AFC playoffs, lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl, and then launched that miraculous comeback against the Falcons.

On the other hand, he was healthy (or close to healthy) in the four remaining seasons. Those four runs resulted in two Super Bowl wins and one loss to the Eagles, in a game where Gronk racked up 116 yards and two touchdowns and the Patriots became the first team in NFL history to rack up 600 yards in a game and lose.

The other loss — the only time the Patriots had a healthy Gronkowski in his pomp and failed to make it to the Super Bowl — is the game I’ll remember most when I think back on Gronkowski’s career. It was the 2015 AFC Championship Game against the Broncos. Phillips’ defense, which led the league in DVOA, shut down a moribund Patriots running game to the extent that Brady led the Pats with 13 yards. Brady was forced to throw 56 times while being mauled, as Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware led a pass rush that knocked down the superstar quarterback a staggering 17 times.

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Somehow, the Patriots took over at midfield with 1:52 left to go down 20-12. After three incompletions, the Pats faced fourth-and-10 for their season. Just as they did to spring the offense in Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots motioned Gronkowski into the slot. Phillips, being a smart defensive coordinator, moved star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. into the slot and doubled Gronk with Harris and backup safety Josh Bush splitting inside and outside leverage. Gronk, a cyborg, simply ran past them both. Brady lofted a 40-yard bomb and the Patriots staved off elimination for another series.

After the ensuing three plays gained six yards, the Patriots faced another fourth down for their season, this time from the 4-yard line. No excuses here. Everyone just saw Gronkowski get open to save the Patriots’ season. You have to let someone else besides Gronk beat you. Phillips agreed and doubled Gronk again with Harris and a safety, this time Shiloh Keo. (Denver’s starting safeties, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, were both injured.) Again, Gronkowski beat them anyway. A pressured Brady tossed up a prayer in his direction, and the boxed-out tight end just bumped an off-balance Keo aside without stepping out of bounds and hauled in Brady’s pass. 20-18.
Would you believe me if I told you that Gronkowski got open on the failed two-point play, too? The Patriots ran a high-low route combination and rolled Brady out toward that side, with James White running out into the flat and Gronk careening toward the pylon in the back of the end zone. Edelman ran a hitch route to the middle of the field that was designed to take advantage of overaggressive pursuit, but a pressured Brady didn’t see that Edelman was covered and launched the throw in his direction. The pass was tipped and picked. Gronkowski beat Keo at the snap and was open; Brady would have needed to find a narrow window to fit his pass between the trio of Keo, Bush and Harris, all of whom might have had a play on the ball, but Gronk was probably Brady’s best chance at a completion. Check out the play below, courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats:
That’s what I’ll remember about Rob Gronkowski. At his best, with his team’s on the season on the line, when the entire stadium knew he was getting the ball, he embarrassed a double-team from the best defense in football twice in the same possession. He was so good that we question whether Tom Brady — Tom Brady — made the right decision to not throw the ball to him on the next play. Gronk was the ultimate mismatch.

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Antonio Brown finally has a new home.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have agreed to trade their prolific but disgruntled wide receiver to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for a third- and fifth-round pick, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Brown will receive a new three-year deal worth up to $54.125 million from the Raiders, with $30.125 million guaranteed, the source said. He previously had three years and $38.9 million left on his contract with the Steelers, with none of the money guaranteed.

In the end, Brown converted the Steelers’ four-year extension at $17 million per year into what amounts to $19.8 million per year in new money.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus said in an appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Sunday morning that the Raiders were “a great fit” for his client.

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“Jon Gruden, I believe, is a future Hall of Fame coach and one of the great offensive minds in football, and the Raiders have a fantastic franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, they have a great tradition, great fan base, moving to Las Vegas,” he said.

“This is just a great fit for Antonio. He wanted a fresh start and certainly got an opportunity to go to a renowned franchise, one of the marquee franchises in the NFL, a historical team. I’m sure Al Davis would be very proud of this transaction.”

Rosenhaus was asked what went wrong in Pittsburgh to sever the nine-season relationship between Brown and the Steelers.

“Well, obviously things fell apart at the end of the season,” he said. “Antonio wanted to play in the last game against the Bengals, it didn’t work out that way, there were a lot of things said that, really it was just a divorce. Antonio had nine great years. Sometimes in life, whether it’s sports or business, you have a great relationship, but things happen, and you have to move on.”

Rosenhaus added that “there’s absolutely no hard feelings [with the Steelers], and we spoke with the team last night once the trade was agreed to and wished them the best.”

Brown first indicated on his Instagram account late Saturday night that he was heading to Oakland:

View this post on Instagram
☠️☠️☠️ #raidernation

A post shared by Antonio Brown (@ab) on Mar 9, 2019 at 9:24pm PST

Trades are not official until the new league year begins Wednesday.

This will be the first NFL trade for new Raiders general manager Mike Mayock.

The addition of Brown provides an explosive deep threat for Carr that Gruden and the rebuilding Raiders desperately need.

In 2018, Brown had eight touchdown receptions on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, most in the NFL. The Raiders as a team had four such touchdowns last season.

In 2018, Brown dropped only one pass in 170 targets. The Raiders as a team had 22 drops, tied for ninth most in the league.

In 2018, Brown’s average target was thrown 11.2 yards downfield. The Raiders averaged 6.87 air yards per target, the second-lowest mark in the league behind the Detroit Lions (6.85).

The Raiders, who have had one winning season and one playoff appearance since the 2002 campaign, had the 18th-ranked passing game in the NFL last season, averaging 234.4 yards, and their 19 receiving touchdowns were tied for 24th. Jordy Nelson led Oakland receivers with 63 receptions for 739 yards and three TDs.

Gruden raved about Brown before the Steelers visited Oakland in December. Brown was limited to a season-low 35 receiving yards on five catches by cornerback Gareon Conley in the Raiders’ 24-21 victory.

“He can run every route you dream up,” Gruden said of Brown at the time. “I say that about other receivers, but he can run double moves, he can run by you, he can run crossing routes, he’s very good after the catch. What’s the greatest thing about this man? I’ve told all our receivers, if you get a chance to watch him practice, you’ll see what unlocks the greatness in him.

“He’s the hardest-working man, I think, in football. Hardest-working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice, I’ve seen a lot of good ones, but I put Antonio Brown at the top. If there are any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice. You figure out yourself why he’s such a good player.”

Carr and Brown have previously spoken highly of each other.

Brown lauded Carr at the Pro Bowl in January 2018, when both players represented the AFC.

Open Season in Oakland

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Antonio Brown had 52 receptions when open last season (3-plus yards of separation), tied for fourth most among wideouts. No Raiders WR had more than 27 such receptions last season:

RAIDERS WR OPEN CATCHES IN ’18
Jordy Nelson 27
Seth Roberts 23
Amari Cooper 15
– NFL Next Gen Stats
“He’s special, man,” Brown said of Carr at the time. “It’s been an honor catching the ball from him. He’s a great young quarterback, young champion, and [has] all the fundamentals to be one of the greatest.”

On Saturday night, Brown tweeted a video of the two from last year’s Pro Bowl, along with the caption, “Love at first sight.”

Carr responded to Brown’s tweet, “Brother let’s get to work!”

One year ago, the Steelers were built around the Killer B’s. Now Brown is going to be a Raider and running back Le’Veon Bell is going to be a free agent, leaving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the last Killer B standing in Pittsburgh.

By trading Brown, the Steelers will be forced to swallow $21.12 million in dead money against their salary cap. It’s thought to be the largest dead-money charge in NFL history.

play
1:47
Rosenhaus: Raiders are a great fit for BrownAntonio Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, details how the Raiders were able to make a trade with the Steelers for the wide receiver.
Brown recorded Hall of Fame-type production in Pittsburgh with 837 receptions, 11,207 yards and 74 touchdown catches in nine years, including an NFL-record six consecutive 100-catch seasons. But a frayed relationship between the player and team overshadowed the gaudy numbers, and a divorce became inevitable.

When the Steelers began entertaining a trade in January, they believed Brown’s market would be strong, with one NFL general manager saying the Steelers would eye a first-round pick in any deal.

The market was strong enough that the team could deal Brown, who will turn 31 in July, before free agency started. The Steelers marked Friday as an artificial deadline for a trade after several teams — including the Raiders, Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans, according to Schefter’s reporting — showed interest during the NFL scouting combine.

Without Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster will be Pittsburgh’s No. 1 receiver and the focal point of the offense in 2019. He recorded a team-high 111 catches and earned his first Pro Bowl bid last season. The depth chart behind him, however, isn’t so clear-cut.

Smith-Schuster tweeted on Sunday that he’s ready to take on the role of being the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver, and he used a picture that included Brown and his soon-to-be former teammate’s new team to make his point.

Smith-Schuster tweeted, “I’m ready,” above a picture of himself scoring a touchdown against the Raiders, with Brown standing in the end zone watching him tap his toes to earn the catch.

I’m Ready… pic.twitter.com/K9EZVna0VV

— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) March 10, 2019
James Washington, a second-round pick in 2018, has obvious talent, but he struggled to find a rhythm as a rookie — although he did encourage with a pair of 60-plus-yard performances late in the year. Slot receiver Ryan Switzer, who made an impact with 36 catches for 253 yards in his first season in Pittsburgh, is the only other core veteran wideout under contract. Three reserves — Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter and Eli Rogers — are unrestricted free agents.
The Steelers are among the league’s most successful teams at identifying wide receiver talent in the draft, and they could select a Day 2 wideout for the third consecutive year to help replace Brown. They also can expand the passing game duties of tight end Vance McDonald and running backs James Conner and Jaylen Samuels.

The Raiders are coming off a 4-12 campaign, and they don’t officially have a home for next season. An Oakland Coliseum executive said last week that while a prospective agreement to keep them at the Coliseum is “95 percent” done, nothing is certain.

The Silver and Black will move to Las Vegas in 2020, provided the new stadium there is complete.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Paul Gutierrez contributed to this report.

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The Baltimore Ravens have an agreement in principle to trade quarterback Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Adam Schefter

@AdamSchefter
Breaking: Baltimore has agreement in principle to trade former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to the Broncos, league sources told ESPN.

Trade cannot be processed until new NFL league year begins Wednesday, March 13. Teams prohibited from commenting on deal or terms surrounding it.

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Flacco had spent his entire 11-year career with the Ravens, and was named Super Bowl MVP in 2013 when the Ravens won the Super Bowl, but lost his starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson last season.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Broncos will send back a mid-round pick for Flacco.
Ian Rapoport

@RapSheet
The #Broncos are sending a mid-round pick to the #Ravens for QB Joe Flacco, source said. Baltimore gets back solid return for a QB they replaced mid season.

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In nine starts with the Ravens last year, Flacco had 2,465 passing yards and 12 touchdowns to six interceptions.

The Ravens drafted the 34-year-old 18th overall in 2008.

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year contract last year.

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PITTSBURGH — Eddie Faulkner is the new running backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The team announced Faulkner’s hiring on Thursday. Faulkner replaces James Saxon, whose contract was not renewed after the Steelers finished 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs.

Faulkner comes to the Steelers from North Carolina State, where he spent the last six years as tight ends/running backs coach and special teams co-ordinator. Faulkner worked closely with Pittsburgh rookie running back Jaylen Samuels, who caught a school-record 202 passes during his career with the Wolfpack.

Samuels and James Conner played well in place of Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the season after declining to sign his $14.4 million franchise tender. Conner reached the Pro Bowl while Samuels finished with 455 combined yards and three receiving touchdowns.

Despite their success, Steelers president Art Rooney II said the team was simply ready to make a change when it declined not to retain Saxon.