9 NFL free agents who still need teams for the 2018 season

When the NFL’s 2017 business year ended in March, 27 players with Alabama football roots who played in the regular season last year became free agents. Since then, every NFL team has held its offseason program, but the football practices came and went without nine of the free agents.

The number would have been 10, but the New York Jets announced on Thursday they’d signed defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw . The former Eufaula High School and Alabama standout had been a free agent after six NFL seasons. The Jets gave Upshaw a tryout at their mandatory minicamp last week, and he made good on his opportunity, earning a contract and a spot on the roster for training camp next month.

The nine former Alabama high school and college standouts who played in 2017 but don’t have a team yet for 2018 include:

Linebacker Karlos Dansby , Woodlawn, Auburn : The Arizona Cardinals, Dansby’s team for eight of his 14 NFL seasons, have turned his spot at middle linebacker over to another former Auburn standout, Josh Bynes, for 2018. Dansby hasn’t found a landing spot even though he played 87 percent of the Cardinals’ defensive snaps and led the team in tackles with his 11 th consecutive season of at least 90. Dansby ended the 2017 season seven short of Takeo Spikes’ record for NFL tackles by an Auburn alumnus, according to stats on profootballreference.com.

Defensive tackle Quinton Dial , Clay-Chalkville, Alabama: Injuries kept Dial out of three games last season, but he played regularly as a run-stopper and started twice when healthy in his fifth NFL season and first with the Green Bay Packers in 2017.

Outside linebacker Junior Galette , Stillman: Galette needs a new team to keep his comeback going. He played in every game for the Washington Redskins in 2017 after missing the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons because of Achilles tendon injuries. Galette made three sacks and played 37 percent of the defensive snaps last season.

Running back Eddie Lacy , Alabama: A 1,000-yard rusher in each of his first two NFL seasons and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, Lacy had a drop-off in production in 2015, played only five games because of an ankle injury in 2016 and had a disastrous season in 2017 with the Seattle Seahawks, who couldn’t generate much of a ground game regardless of which running back got the football. Lacy played in nine games, with three starts, and gained 179 yards on 69 carries and caught six passes for 47 yards.

Offensive tackle Greg Robinson , Auburn: The second player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, Robinson didn’t reach the level of play the Rams envisioned for him. He lost his spot with Los Angeles when it signed Andrew Whitworth as a free agent before the 2017 season. The Rams unloaded the remaining $3.3 million on Robinson’s contract to the Detroit Lions in a trade. Robinson started six games for Detroit before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

Defensive tackle Pat Sims , Auburn: In his 10 th NFL season, Sims started eight games for the Cincinnati Bengals – his high since starting all 16 for the Oakland Raiders in 2013 – and played 304 defensive snaps (26.5 percent) as a run-stopper in 2017. But he’s found no takers for an 11 th season.

Offensive lineman Anthony Steen , Alabama: Steen started the first six games of the 2017 season at left guard for the Miami Dolphins after starting seven games at center in the 2016 campaign. But six games were all Steen played in 2017 because of a foot injury that required season-ending surgery. He was a restricted free agent, but the Dolphins decided not to re-sign him.

Defensive lineman Ed Stinson , Alabama: Three of Stinson’s four NFL seasons were significantly affected by injuries. Last year, he was on the Arizona Cardinals’ injured reserve with a hamstring problem when he was released on Sept. 12. The New York Jets picked up Stinson on Oct. 4, and he played in four games before another injury ended his season.

Defensive back Lardarius Webb , Beauregard: The Baltimore Ravens released Webb in March in 2017 and 2018. Last year, the Ravens re-signed Webb in April, and he made 37 tackles and intercepted two passes while playing 34 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps in 2017. This year, he didn’t get re-signed. Webb has spent his entire nine-year career with the Ravens.


Andrew Luck throws in front of media for first time since last October!

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts quarterback Andrew Luck not only threw a football in front of the media Tuesday for the first time since he was shut down last October, he also said he will “absolutely” be playing the team’s Week 1 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“No knock on wood,” Luck said. “I’ll be playing. I believe it in my bones.”

Luck, who had surgery on his right shoulder in January 2017, jogged from the team’s indoor practice facility out to the practice field about 10 minutes after the start of practice. He threw a Wilson TDS 1205 football, which is a college-size ball, during individual position drills under the watchful eye of head coach Frank Reich before eventually heading back into the Colts’ indoor facility about 30 minutes later. Luck made 20-25 throws.

“I’ve been seeing every workout,” Reich said. “I spend a lot of time with all our players, but obviously during Andrew’s rehab process I try to be out there for as many workouts as I can no matter when that is. Not only the throwing portion of them, (but) when he’s throwing the weighted balls and then phasing into what you saw (Tuesday). I like to go out there and I like to watch some of the other stuff he’s doing, the lifting, plus the whole thing. It’s part of getting to know your guys and seeing the process and having confidence in it.”

Luck threw a regulation football once several weeks ago when he called Reich at his house and asked him to come to the facility to help him with a “little mental block” that he had to overcome. Luck said he made Reich “swear” not to tell anybody about throwing a regulation football because it was his “story to tell.” But the majority of his throwing currently is with the college-size ball.

“The reason I’m using a little less smaller football is it puts less stress,” Luck said. “And throwing weighted balls. And the difference between throwing a round ball and a football is how it comes off your hand and often things like that. We’re not in Indianapolis and the 500 just happened, our bodies aren’t vehicles, we aren’t robots.

“You can’t just take a piece off and put a new piece on and go around. We adapt, and if you ask the right questions and if you’re patient enough you can truly learn, and I believe in my bones if I stay patient and ask the right questions and communicate with everybody about my body that slowly but surely I can make myself do anything. That’s sort of been MO.”

Luck has been a regular at offseason workouts since the Colts started in early April, but his work had consisted of taking part in individual drills without throwing the ball and continued rehabilitation on his shoulder.

Throwing a football, albeit a smaller one, is hopefully another step in Luck’s long road to finally playing in a regular-season game for the first time since Week 17 of the 2016 season. Owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard have been steadfast in saying that they’re confident that Luck will be ready for the start of the 2018 season.

The Colts have Luck’s schedule lined up all the way up the team’s opener against the Bengals. Barring any kind of setback, Luck will enter training camp at the end of next month without any restrictions.

“My goal is to be able to throw as much as I need to in a game week,” Luck said. “Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at practice and a Sunday, let it loose, no count, nothing. You gotta go and let it go. That’s what I’m preparing for. That’s why right now I’m throwing Mondays Tuesdays Wednesdays and Fridays, to mimic a three-day practice week and a practice as Sunday game day.”

Luck originally injured his shoulder, which started a downward spiral of injuries for him, in a Week 3 game against the Tennessee Titans in the 2015 season. He re-injured the shoulder trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception against Denver in Week 2 of the 2016 season. Luck still played in 15 games that season but was limited in practice at least one day each week.

Luck finally decided to have surgery in January 2017. Irsay thought he would have his franchise quarterback for the 2017 season but instead saw him suffer a setback while trying to get back on the field. After practicing a handful of times in October, Luck was given a cortisone shot, shut down and eventually placed on injured reserve because of continued soreness in his shoulder. He spent about six weeks rehabbing in the Netherlands in late 2017 before going to Southern California to work with throwing experts to improve his throwing motion. Luck said he no longer has the same pain in his shoulder that he suffered from last season.

“I think there’s a fine line between not pressing too hard and not being too laissez faire about it,” Luck said. “There’s a line and you wanna take as much as you can each day but you don’t wanna cross that line. Enough is enough. I feel way more sort of in tune with my body. That allows the people that are helping me to help me better. And so I think that makes everything better.

The Colts have suffered for most of the past three seasons without Luck on the field. They’ve missed the playoffs in each, including going 4-12 last season. Luck missed 26 games in that three-season span after leading the Colts to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, when he took every meaningful snap.

“When you have that guy on the field, everyone knows you’ve got a chance and the sky’s the limit,” Irsay said. “… Good quarterbacks are obviously all very exciting and important to watch, but he’s got that extra flair like Brett Favre and a couple of the guys that make some even more exciting than most, because when everything breaks down, you just don’t know what he’s going to do. We’ve kind of tried to say, ‘Sometimes, Andrew, just shut down the play.’ It’s easier said than done because when you have greatness like that you think about shutting this play down (but) there’s still a chance. I can throw the ball through the eye of the needle so to speak.'”

Cannabis and sport: NFL’s Mike James asks for permission to use cannabis

Take cannabis or retire? That’s the dilemma for the NFL running back who says he needs the drug to continue playing American football.

Mike James, a 27-year-old free agent, believes he has become the first player to ask the league for permission to use cannabis, submitting a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for the drug.

It was rejected in May because he could not indisputably prove he suffered chronic pain, but conversations with the National Football League remain ongoing and James remains hopeful of a long-term solution.

“Submitting the TUE was a huge risk. I may have sacrificed my career to do it,” the running back tells BBC Sport.

“But for me there was no running from it any more. I’m in a position to be able to do something myself, to give me back my life, and help the players in the league.”

Former NBA champion Matt Barnes told BBC Sport on Thursday that cannabis use is “widespread” in the NBA.

But what is the situation in the NFL? How did James get into using cannabis? And will his TUE ever be granted?

‘I smoked cannabis before games’ – Barnes

‘It was either cannabis or addiction’

James was a sixth-round pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013, but things turned sour for the then 22-year-old when he needed surgery for a broken ankle in his rookie season.

Then came the chronic pain and an addiction to painkillers.

“At first I was taking the recommended dose but then I ramped it up when I found ways to get extra pills,” he says.

“I fell into the culture of being on the field by any means necessary. But I was beginning to harm my real life outside of football.”

A 2011 study by Washington University found 52% of retired NFL players used painkillers during their careers, and more than 70% of those players abused those drugs.

“I never really understood the harmful nature of addiction,” adds James. “I saw my father deal with it my whole life and I thought it was a choice until I went through it myself.

“Addiction is hard, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but cannabis has given me an alternative.”

Two positive tests for cannabis

After being encouraged by his wife to use cannabis – which is legal for medicinal use in the state of Florida – James slowly began to use it in place of painkillers while continuing to play in the NFL.

He felt the benefits immediately “but didn’t want to believe it” and now the drug has now become part of his daily life.

“When I have to take breaks from cannabis, I can’t medicate. I struggle with weight, spasms, sciatic pain, joint pain, headaches and I’m not able to train,” James says.

He has twice tested positive for cannabis under the NFL’s policy and program on substances of abuse, in 2017 and 2018.

Cannabis is prohibited under the policy, which tests all players once during the year – in pre-season from 20 April to 9 August.

A positive result sees the player enter into the league’s prevention programme, as in the NBA, and the penalties increase with further violations from fines to a 10-game ban.

So James, who says he felt “pushed into a corner” by the league, decided it was time to be “open and honest” about his cannabis use.

Cannabis as pain relief – but what about the risks?

“Mike is clearly not someone who can use painkillers as he has a long history of personal addiction and a long history of family substance abuse,” James’ clinician Dr Sue Sisley tells BBC Sport.

“So our position was focused on Mike being able to use medical cannabis for chronic pain syndrome.”

Dr Sisley, one of the only researchers involved in clinical trials of the drug in the US, says these include a risk of dependency and instances of psychosis, paranoia and anxiety.

But one of the conclusions of a 2017 report published by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) said patients treated with cannabis were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms.

How long does cannabis stay in the body after smoking?

The NFL rejected the TUE request, which James’ lawyer Brian Muraresku believes is the first application in an American sports league, but Muraresku tells BBC Sport he is hopeful of a solution.

“There was a disagreement over whether Mike had submitted enough evidence that he was suffering from chronic pain syndrome and symptoms related to traumatic brain injury,” says Muraresku.

“But Mike and I have met with the NFL since and we’re trying to come to a long-term solution in the collective bargaining agreement. I’m very optimistic.”

The NFL did not respond to BBC requests to comment on James’ TUE application and their position on cannabis.

The league is not a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Authority (Wada) code, but Wada has confirmed to the BBC that it has granted TUEs for cannabinoids in the past “where medically justified” and “where the relevant criteria have been satisfied”.

How widespread is cannabis in the NFL?

James estimates more than half of the players in the NFL are using, or have used, cannabis and says the reaction to his case has been “very empowering”.

Some have even expressed an interest in following his lead by submitting a TUE.

“I had three or four current players reach out to me immediately,” he says. “A lot of people I played with have told me to keep doing it, please keep doing what you’re doing because we all need it.”

But would the removal of cannabis from the banned list be met with widespread approval?

James says: “It’s beneficial to us as players but the question is whether it’s beneficial to the owners. Would they lose sponsorships, what about the stigma, and how would it be controlled?”

Dr Sisley, who sits on an NFL advisory board, agrees the word cannabis is “politically radioactive”.

“I’ve heard many conversations about the brand of wholesomeness and family values on the board,” she said. “They feel cannabis is the antithesis of this.”

Cannabis and concussion – what’s next?

James, his lawyer Muraresku and Dr Sisley are hoping the NFL will “set the tone” for other professional sports leagues.

But Dr Sisley believes the NFL should go one step further. She is recommending it funds a national study into the effects of cannabis not only on chronic pain syndrome, but also traumatic brain injuries such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

In 2016, the NFL made a $100m pledge to increase research into concussion, and Dr Sisley believes this is a perfect opportunity to look at the effects of cannabis on symptoms arising from repeated head traumas.

She says there is “promising early data” from studies looking at whether cannabis can have a protective effect on the brain.

“The NFL, rather than burying their head in the sand, could instead be proactive and acknowledge the existing science and agree to sponsor a federally legal trial.”