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Changes to the Seattle Seahawks coaching staff continue, with the team expected to hire Ken Norton Jr. as defensive coordinator and Mike Solari as offensive line coach, sources told ESPN on Monday.

Norton would replace Kris Richard, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Richard has served on the team’s coaching staff for the past eight seasons, including the past three as defensive coordinator. Earlier reports indicated Richard wasn’t expected to return.

The San Francisco 49ers hired Norton as their assistant head coach/defense and inside linebackers coach last week, but the team released a statement on Monday, saying it was allowing him to leave for an unspecified coordinator job elsewhere.
“Last week, Ken was presented with an opportunity to once again coordinate a defense,” the statement read. “Because of how we feel about Ken as a coach, we understand and respect his desire to pursue the position.”

Norton, 51, is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton Sr. The younger Norton was a linebacker for 13 seasons in the NFL and remains the only player in the Super Bowl era to play on three consecutive Super Bowl champions, winning two titles with the Dallas Cowboys and then one with the 49ers.

Richard’s expected departure comes after Seattle’s defense regressed statistically in 2017, a season in which they lost three Pro Bowl starters on that side of the ball — Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril — to season-ending injuries. The Seahawks finished 11th in total defense and tied for 13th in points allowed. They were second and fifth in total defense in Richard’s first two seasons as coordinator. They were first and third in points allowed, leading the league in scoring defense for the fourth straight season in 2015.

The 38-year-old Richard played cornerback for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC for one season and played in the NFL for four seasons, including his first three with Seattle. He got his start in coaching on Carroll’s USC staff as a graduate assistant in 2008.

KING TV in Seattle first reported that Norton is joining the Seahawks. NFL Network was the first to report Solari’s hiring, which was later confirmed by ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.

Those moves come amid expectations that Seattle is hiring Brian Schottenheimer to be its offensive coordinator, a source told Schefter. Schottenheimer would replace Darrell Bevell, with Solari replacing Tom Cable. Bevell and Cable were fired last week after seven seasons apiece with the Seahawks.

With the hiring of Norton and Solari, the Seahawks are reaching into their past to remake their coaching staff. Norton was the team’s linebackers coach from 2010-14, having followed Carroll to Seattle from USC. He left to become the Oakland Raiders’ defensive coordinator in 2015 when he was essentially passed up for the same job in Seattle in favor of Richard, who took over the role when Dan Quinn became head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

Norton was fired in November with the Raiders defense ranked 26th in the NFL. At the time, they were also tied for 21st in points allow.

Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright posted a photo on Instagram of him and Norton from his first Seattle stint, saying: “Time to finish what we started! Welcome back coach.”
Solari was Seattle’s offensive line coach in 2008 under Mike Holmgren, and in 2009 under Jim Mora. Solari left the team in 2010 when Carroll replaced Mora, and coached the 49ers’ offensive line from 2010-14. He served in that role for the past two seasons with the New York Giants after a stint as the Green Bay Packers’ assistant offensive line coach in 2015.

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Let there be no confusion. The San Francisco 49ers want Jimmy Garoppolo to be their franchise quarterback now and well into the future.

That’s a point that San Francisco general manager John Lynch drove home in Tuesday’s season-ending news conference, after Garoppolo’s five starts helped the Niners finish with a flourish.

“Look, we want Jimmy to be a Niner for a long, long time, and that process is going to take place here and we’re eager to get that done, to have the opportunity,” Lynch said.

Garoppolo is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. But Lynch made it clear that the 49ers have no intention of letting Garoppolo test what would surely be a feeding frenzy were the quarterback to hit the open market.
While Lynch indicated that the 49ers don’t intend to negotiate with Garoppolo publicly, he did give his word to the Niners’ fan base that the goal is to keep Garoppolo for the long haul.

“I think one thing that we really believe is that those things should take place between us and his representatives, not occur and transpire in the public,” Lynch said. “That’s the way we’re going to treat that. But you have our assurances and the fans do that we’d like nothing more than to make him a Niner for a long, long time.”

While the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan have talked openly in the past about potentially using the franchise tag to keep Garoppolo, his strong finish to the season, during which he led San Francisco to a 5-0 record, has bolstered the team’s already strong belief that Garoppolo has what they want in a franchise signal-caller.

The 49ers acquired Garoppolo on Oct. 31 from the New England Patriots for a 2018 second-round draft pick. Garoppolo, who got his first start on Dec. 3 against the Bears, set a franchise record for passing yards in his first five starts with the team (1,542), doing so despite having minimal time to absorb Shanahan’s offense.

That performance undoubtedly raised Garoppolo’s price tag, though Lynch said that both sides agreed right after the trade to put off contract talks until after Garoppolo had a chance to settle in to his new surroundings.

Garoppolo seemed to want to bet on himself in hopes of a bigger deal after increasing his sample size. That’s a gamble that appears to have paid off.

Jimmy Garoppolo has been everything the 49ers could've hoped for when they acquired him in trade earlier this season. Is he the NFL's next great passer?

Jimmy Garoppolo has been everything the 49ers could’ve hoped for when they acquired him in trade earlier this season. Is he the NFL’s next great passer?

Asked whether he is willing to pay Garoppolo the type of money usually awarded to more established starting quarterbacks, Lynch seemed to indicate that it wouldn’t be a problem.

“We’re going to work hard to try to keep him as a 49er for a long, long time,” Lynch said. “We’re really happy with the way he played. We think he’s got some abilities that are unique, and we want him here.”

When he spoke to the media on Monday as he and his teammates cleaned out their lockers, Garoppolo played a bit coy when asked about his forthcoming contract negotiations. He also referred to next season’s Niners in an inclusive way on multiple occasions and one day earlier discussed how he felt he and the 49ers were a good match.

Garoppolo plans to spend a chunk of the next month at home with his family near Chicago before returning to the West Coast. He has traditionally trained in Los Angeles and said he plans to do so again, though he will split time between there and the Bay Area. He also intends to have a conversation with his agent, Don Yee, sometime soon about his contract.

“I like being here,” Garoppolo said. “We had a good thing going at the end of this year. You know, we’ll see what happens.”

While Garoppolo has publicly maintained a poker face on his contract status, Lynch said he feels good about the situation based on what’s taken place behind closed doors.

“I think we’ve had conversations with him and we know where he stands, and we’re comfortable with that,” Lynch said.

If the 49ers are unable to work out a long-term contract with Garoppolo soon, they can use the franchise tag to create a bigger negotiating window with him. The first day the Niners can use the tag is Feb. 20 and they have until March 6 to use it.
In the event the Niners decide to use the tag, they could declare Garoppolo their “exclusive” franchise player, thus eliminating any chance he’d have to negotiate with other teams and offering him a one-year deal worth around $25 million.

Financially, the 49ers don’t have any obstacles when it comes to signing or tagging Garoppolo as they project to have well over $100 million in salary cap space after they roll over what’s left on this year’s ledger.

Still, the Niners’ preference is to find a common ground and strike a deal with Garoppolo soon so they can begin using what’s left of their cap space on building up the roster around him.

“Obviously, Jimmy came in and he was fabulous,” Lynch said. “He was great for us and he made people around him better and I think that’s the mark of a player who has an opportunity to be special is, do you make people around you better? He did that.”

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The NFL has finalized its schedule for Week 17, eliminating the Sunday night game so as to ensure that all matchups with playoff implications that affect one another will be played at the same time.

The last time the NFL regular season didn’t end with a night game, either on Sunday or Monday, was in 1977 — the last season with a 14-game schedule. The last time the final NFL Sunday fell on New Year’s Eve was 2006.
Games on both Fox and CBS have been affected this year, with Fox flexing both NFC South games. Due in part to a back-loaded divisional schedule, the NFC South remains the only division that has not yet been clinched. The New Orleans Saints’ game at Tampa Bay has been moved from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. ET. The same goes for the Panthers-Falcons meeting in Atlanta.

Both New Orleans (11-4) and Carolina (11-4) clinched playoff berths Sunday, with the Saints needing either a win over the Bucs (4-11) or a loss by the Panthers next week to clinch the division. Carolina can claim the NFC South with a win over Atlanta and a Saints loss.

The Falcons (9-6) can’t win the division but can advance to the playoffs by beating the Panthers.

On CBS, Bengals-Ravens, Bills-Dolphins and Jaguars-Titans also have been moved to 4:25 p.m.

The Ravens (9-6), Titans (8-7) and Bills (8-7) are all fighting for a wild card, while the Jaguars already clinched the AFC South.

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“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows,” NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz said. “This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier resu
“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows,” NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz said. “This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams.”

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FRISCO, Texas — Shortly after noon CT Monday, Ezekiel Elliott appeared at The Star, with his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy concluded.

Elliott met with coach Jason Garrett for 10 or 15 minutes as well as with running backs coach Gary Brown. After Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he would meet with the running back on Monday.

Garrett said his message to Elliott was to “get back to work” and that Elliott “looked good” and his spirits “seemed good.”

On Tuesday, Elliott and the full team will be together at The Star for the first time since the Cowboys beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 5. They will have meetings and conditioning before they have their first practice Wednesday in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cowboys removed Elliott from the reserve/suspended list and cut running back Trey Williams to make room for Elliott on the active roster.

Garrett was not ready to commit Monday to how much the Cowboys will use Elliott in their final two games.

“Just have to wait and see,” Garrett said. “Got to see how he is [Tuesday], got to see how he practices as the week goes on.”

The Cowboys weren’t shy in how much they used Elliott in the first eight games of the season before the suspension. Elliott ran for 783 yards on 191 carries and seven touchdowns and had at least 93 yards rushing in each of his past four games, topping out at 150 yards on 33 carries and two touchdowns in a win at the Washington Redskins on Oct. 29.
Earlier this year, the Cowboys worked David Irving back into the lineup after a four-game suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy. Damontre Moore returned from a two-game suspension. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Cowboys know what to look for when a player comes back from a layoff.

“I just think the obvious things: what kind of condition are they in, how’s their movement, can they sustain it, do they look functional, do they look smooth, do they look natural out there,” Garrett said. “And again, we anticipate him being able to do all the things we ask him to do and hopefully get him reacclimated quickly.”

Elliott spent his suspension working out in Cabo and is said to be in better condition. Garrett did not agree with the premise that Elliott was not in top shape for the first eight games.

“Typically, when you’re away from the team, you have to find ways to stay in shape and get yourself ready to come back and play football,” Garrett said. “Obviously, he was very productive for us the first half of the season, productive as a runner, did a lot of really good things for our football team. He was away from our team, and obviously, what you want to do is stay in shape to come back and reacclimate yourself to playing pro football.”

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers’ fate — and perhaps the Packers’ playoff chances — are in the hands of the doctors.

That’s the only update coach Mike McCarthy had on his quarterback after Rodgers underwent tests Monday morning to see whether his broken right collarbone has healed to the point that he could return Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, the first game for which Rodgers is eligible to be activated off injured reserve.

Packers physician Dr. Pat McKenzie is expected to make a determination after consulting with several specialists.

“It is now in the evaluation stage,” McCarthy said late Monday afternoon. “Dr. McKenzie is reviewing it. There’s a number of medical opinions that will be involved in a decision, so at this time, I do not have a clean decision for you or an update. That’s where it stands.”
McCarthy joked that if he didn’t have a decision by Tuesday, “they’re going to be putting Pat McKenzie on IR.”

Aaron Rodgers is eligible to be activated off injured reserve for Sunday's game against the Panthers, but whether he will be back on the field depends on the health of his collarbone.

Aaron Rodgers is eligible to be activated off injured reserve for Sunday’s game against the Panthers, but whether he will be back on the field depends on the health of his collarbone.

It’s unclear why the Packers didn’t put Rodgers through tests late last week.

To this point, everything has gone according to plan in Rodgers’ recovery from surgery on Oct. 19, when he had screws and plates implanted to stabilize his right clavicle. Rodgers said he hoped to come back this season but only if the tests showed the bone had healed.

He returned to practice on Dec. 2, the day he turned 34. Even before that, however, he was throwing. The first time he did so in public was before the Nov. 26 game at Pittsburgh, where he was seen throwing passes 50-plus yards in the air. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews even joked that Rodgers looked so good during the rehab process that the Packers shouldn’t have put him on injured reserve.

“It’s in the evaluation process,” McCarthy said. “I don’t have an answer for you. I’d like to know as soon as possible. Frankly, it’s best for Aaron to know as soon as possible. He’s the one that has to get ready, and obviously, in his mind he’s ready to go if you watch him practice and the conversations with him. But this is a medical decision, and Dr. McKenzie is obviously in touch with a number of different medical experts, and they’re evaluating the information.”
With or without Rodgers, McCarthy and his offensive staff are well into their game plan for the Panthers. They typically start on the next opponent late in the previous week, and this game was no different.

“We do preliminary game plans at the end of each week,” McCarthy said. “So, for instance, the offensive staff has a preliminary game plan for Carolina that is worked on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and then we evaluate their game that they played yesterday. So we had a chance to watch that against Minnesota. Obviously, we were here early this morning correcting our game from Cleveland. So the process is in full motion, and so, we’ll just keep going down the road.”

Brett Hundley won three of his seven starts in place of Rodgers, including consecutive overtime wins the past two weeks to get the Packers to 7-6 and keep them alive in the playoff race.

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks’ bad luck with injuries continues.

Starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin left two plays into Monday night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons to be evaluated for a possible concussion. He has yet to return, which has pressed Byron Maxwell into action at right cornerback.
Seattle’s secondary was already missing Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks lost Sherman (Achilles) and likely Chancellor (neck) to season-ending injuries in Week 10 vs. Arizona.

Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin is attended to by team staff during the first quarter.

Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin is attended to by team staff during the first quarter.

The Seahawks brought back Maxwell, a former Seattle starter, after losing Sherman. Neiko Thorpe, mainly a special-teams player for Seattle, has played in some sub-packages against Atlanta.
The Seahawks also have lost running back Mike Davis for the remainder of the game to a groin injury. He was making his Seahawks debut after being promoted from the practice squad last week and had given Seattle’s offense a spark before leaving after the first possession of the third quarter. Davis had two receptions for 41 yards and six carries for 18 yards while serving as Seattle’s lead running back before he went down at the start of the third quarter.

Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic are Seattle’s other available running backs with Thomas Rawls inactive as a healthy scratch.

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BOSTON — Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez suffered severe damage to parts of the brain that play an important role in memory, impulse control and behavior, a researcher who studied his brain said Thursday.

Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, stressed that she could not “connect the dots” between the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the behavior of the 27-year-old who hanged himself in April while serving life in prison for murder.

But McKee said CTE had significantly impacted key parts of Hernandez’s brain, including the hippocampus — which is associated with memory — and the frontal lobe, which is involved in impulse control, judgment and behavior.
“We can say collectively, in our collective experience, that individuals with CTE — and CTE of this severity — have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses or aggression, often emotional volatility and rage behaviors,” said McKee, who has studied hundreds of brains from football players, college athletes and even younger players, donated after their deaths.

Hernandez hanged himself in prison days after he was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston and just hours before his former teammates visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory.

Prosecutors contended he gunned the two men down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him in a nightclub — and then got a tattoo of a handgun and the words “God Forgives” to commemorate the crime.

He had been serving a life sentence without parole in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd when he killed himself.

Hernandez, who said he was innocent, did not raise CTE in his defense at either trial.

CTE, which can only be diagnosed in an autopsy, has been found in former members of the military, football players and boxers and others who suffered repeated head trauma.

BU researchers confirmed in September that Hernandez was diagnosed with Stage 3, out of 4, of the disease. But McKee had not publicly discussed her findings until a conference at the university on Thursday.

After Hernandez’s CTE diagnosis, his attorneys filed a lawsuit against the NFL and football helmet maker Riddell, accusing them of failing to warn Hernandez about the dangers of football. The lawsuit, which seeks damages for Hernandez’s young daughter, said he experienced a “chaotic and horrendous existence” because of his disease.
While the outside of Hernandez’s brain appeared normal, the inside was riddled with CTE, she said. There was evidence of previous small hemorrhages, which experts associate with head impacts, she said. Other parts, like the hippocampus, had begun to shrink and large holes were found in his brain’s membrane, McKee said.

The next youngest person whose brain they’ve examined that showed such serious CTE damage was 46 years old, McKee said.

“These are very unusual findings to see in an individual of this age,” McKee said. “We’ve never seen this in our 468 brains, except in individuals some 20 years older,” she said.

Hernandez inherited a genetic profile that may have made him more susceptible to the disease, McKee said.