ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Like any other NFL player, Zaire Anderson knew the game's risks but was skeptical he'd ever be the one not getting up off the field someday.

That changed on New Year's Day when the Denver Broncos linebacker dived while covering a punt against the Oakland Raiders and smacked his helmet into a teammate's hip, jamming his neck and getting knocked unconscious .

When he came to, he couldn't get up.

"It felt like gravity was just holding me down," Anderson said.

Fear swept over him. His heart raced and tears streamed.

As teammates and opponents knelt in prayer in the hushed stadium, Anderson was strapped to a backboard and gingerly loaded onto a cart.

As he approached the tunnel, the players, the coaches, the crowd watched for the telltale thumbs-up that would assuage everyone's fears.

He couldn't give anyone that assurance.

Anderson was loaded into an ambulance while the game resumed behind him.

The first sign he'd be OK came in the form of tingling in his hands, "but my legs were still numb," he recounted.

On the way to the hospital, his legs, too, began tingling. He could move. And walk.

At the emergency room, doctors told him his spinal cord has been compressed but that he'd escaped permanent damage. He didn't even have to spend the night in the hospital and the next day he joined his teammates for end-of-season meetings.

As he sat at his locker, teammate Corey Nelson leaned in and told him, "I was scared for you. I was so scared, bro."


Anderson said he was fortunate that the injury happened in the final game of the season. This allowed him to get his head right before having to lace up his pads and hit somebody again.

"It probably is good that it was the offseason because if it was during the season I don't know how I would be thinking or acting," Anderson said.

For a while the tingling in his shoulders and the soreness in his neck were constant reminders of how close he'd come to seeing his life changed.

"Everything else was normal," said Anderson, who was soon lifting again to gain weight and strength.

Instead of making him consider another line of work, however, Anderson said his temporary paralysis that afternoon only reinforced his love for the game.

"I feel like after it happened, it made me realize I just want to play football," said Anderson, a third-year pro from Nebraska. "It's something I've been doing my whole life and I just know stuff like that happens to players but I just never thought it would happen to me. It happened and I'm just trying to move forward."

49ers: 1st-round pick Foster signs rookie deal
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers have signed first-round pick Reuben Foster to a four-year deal.

The deal announced Friday gives San Francisco eight of its 10 draft picks under contract. No. 3 overall pick Solomon Thomas and quarterback C.J. Beathard, their third-round selection, remain unsigned.

San Francisco traded back into the first round to select Foster 31st overall to upgrade their linebackers. He was named first-team All-America by The Associated Press, SEC Championship Game MVP and won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker last season for Alabama.

The Niners also signed offensive lineman Andrew Lauderdale to a two-year deal and waived safety Malik Golden to make room on the roster.

Giants: Team wraps up OTAs without Beckham, Vernon
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants wrapped up organized team activities the way they started -- with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon missing the voluntary workouts.

Coach Ben McAdoo declined Friday to discuss attendance. He has not talked about it since the first media availability, when he said he would coach those there.

McAdoo said he expects everyone to attend mandatory three-day minicamp, which starts Tuesday.

He refused to talk about the status of defensive end Owa Odighizuwa. The third-year player hinted that he wants some time away from football. He also has missed the OTAs.

One other issue that McAdoo sidestepped was the arrest last weekend of second-year receiver Roger Lewis Jr. on suspicion of driving while impaired in Ohio. The coach plans to let the legal process run its course.

"We are looking forward to minicamp next week, but we got a lot of teaching and learning done," said McAdoo, who led the Giants to an 11-6 record last season and their first playoff berth since 2011. "That is the goal and it looks like we have some chemistry going" (see full story).


Seahawks: Healthy Rawls ready for RB competition
RENTON, Wash. -- Thomas Rawls believes he's finally healthy enough to rediscover the form that made him a breakout star as a rookie two seasons ago for the Seattle Seahawks before injuries derailed his success.

It's a good thing Rawls is feeling that well, considering he will be in a full competition for the starting running back spot when training camp begins next month.

"I've always been in competition with myself," Rawls said Friday as the Seahawks wrapped up OTAs. "I just believe that this program, this whole organization has a mindset of competition. We believe that as long as people compete they will earn whatever they deserve. In the end, it'll work itself out."

Rawls and free agent signing Eddie Lacy are expected to compete for the bulk of the carries as Seattle intends to be a run-first team again. That will lead to opportunities for Lacy and Rawls to get their share of carries, but both want the chance to be the primary ball carrier.

Aside from the competition with Rawls, Lacy has a competition with himself because of incentives in his contract tied to his weight.

"As a competitor you want to be challenged," Lacy said last week. "It's a positive challenge. At the end of the day it helps me personally, too. So why not?"

Falcons: Team to honor Vick, White
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons are planning a retirement ceremony for two of the team's most prominent players -- Michael Vick and Roddy White.

The Falcons say Monday's ceremony at team owner Arthur Blank's offices will recognize the "contributions and impact" both made to the organization and city.

Last season, Vick back and other former players were invited to the final regular-season game at the Georgia Dome.

In six years as Atlanta's quarterback, Vick led the Falcons to two playoff appearances and one appearance in the NFC title game. He was sent to prison in 2007 for running a dogfighting operation. He returned to play five years for the Eagles and had backup stints with the Jets and Steelers. He did not play last season.

White played for the Falcons from 2005 to 2015, holding most of the team's receiving records. He had more than 1,000 yards receiving for six straight seasons.