Category Archives: Sports

Ajax ‘slapped’ Real Madrid at Bernabeu

Holders Real Madrid crashed out of the Champions League as Ajax produced a stunning 4-1 victory in the Santiago Bernabeu to reach the quarter-finals.

Los Blancos, with captain Sergio Ramos suspended after deliberately collecting a yellow card in the first leg, had been looking to build on a slender 2-1 lead from that game in Amsterdam and stay on course for a potential fourth straight European triumph.

However, after Raphael Varane’s header rattled the crossbar, Ajax raced into an early lead through Hakim Ziyech before Dusan Tadic set up David Neres for a second in the 18th minute.

Real Madrid were forced into two changes when Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior went off injured, with substitute Gareth Bale hitting the post just before half-time. Ajax looked to have put the tie to bed when Tadic swept in a brilliant third goal just after the hour – which was eventually given following an extensive Video Assistant Referee review to check if the ball had gone out of play in the build-up.

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Substitute Marco Asensio briefly gave Real hope when he put the ball in off the post with 20 minutes left.

Lasse Schone, though, capped a brilliant night for Erik Ten Hag’s side when he curled in an angled free-kick over Thibaut Courtois on 72 minutes.

Real finished with 10 men after Nacho picked up two needless late cautions.

The defeat was a fourth successive home loss for Los Blancos following on from being beaten by arch-rivals Barcelona in LaLiga on Saturday – and will see pressure mount on manager Santiago Solari. “The season is difficult, but we are here to show our heart and character in difficult moments. Easy moments are easy for everyone, you can climb up and surf them, but difficult moments you have to show bravery.”

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Weddle released by Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are moving on from a key leader of their top-ranked defense.

Safety Eric Weddle was released by the team on Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the move confirmed to USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the release had yet to be made official.

Weddle, 34, earned Pro Bowl berths in all three of his seasons in Baltimore after signing a deal with the team in 2016. He had 10 interceptions during that span but did not record one last year for only the second season in his 12-year career.

Weddle played for the Chargers for the previous nine seasons before joining the Ravens. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl six times overall, as well as two all-pro teams. The team already released wide receiver Michael Crabtree in February, while outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, along with leading wide receiver John “Smokey” Brown, are set to become free agents.

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Weddle, who turned 34 in January, was set to enter the final year of his contact, which paid a base salary of $6.5 million. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero pointed out Weddle could have earned an additional $1 million in incentives and the release will save the Ravens $7.5 million against the salary cap.

The Ravens are interested in re-signing linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13, so the extra money could help the effort. Still, the Ravens’ decision to part ways with Weddle comes as a surprise given what he meant to one of the NFL’s top defensive units. The savvy Weddle provided leadership and he remained productive since joining Baltimore in 2016 on a four-year deal.

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Seahawks franckise tag defensive end Clark

As the two sides search for some common ground on a potential contract extension, the Seahawks have chosen to franchise tag ​defensive end Frank Clark before the March 5 deadline.

Clark is the centerpiece of ​Seattle’s defensive line, and with a secondary that’s suddenly lacking a single member of the vaunted Legion of Boom now that Earl Thomas is expected to take his talents elsewhere, having a capable pass rush is paramount for the Hawks.

That’s why they’re willing to take the financial risk that comes with the franchise tag. Life without Clark is not pretty for this Seahawks defense.

Clark had 13 sacks in 2018, yet somehow didn’t make the NFC Pro Bowl roster. Nonetheless, he’s received plenty of recognition in Seattle, thus signaling the immediate need for the Hawks to maintain control of one of their most important assets on defense. As recently as last week, it had been reported the two sides were progressing toward a contract extension. Placing the tag on Clark does not table those talks. If anything, it heightens the urgency for both sides.

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Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, told ESPN in October that Clark is willing to wait for the right deal, even if it means playing on the franchise tag. Both Burkhardt and Carroll said the two sides had been negotiating in earnest for a while.

Seattle would surely rather avoid that cap hit, while Clark doesn’t want to play on a series of one-year deals despite being in his prime. A long-term agreement would benefit Clark. At just 25, Seattle could ensure Clark spends his best years in a Seahawks uniform, chasing down opposing NFC West quarterbacks. Clark, who turns 26 in June, led the Seahawks with 13 sacks and also had four forced fumbles and an interception last season. He added another sack in a wild-card loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

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Eagles let DT Jernigan hit free agency

The Philadelphia Eagles will not be picking up Timmy Jernigan’s option for the 2019 season, and he will become a free agent, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Of course, this was an obvious decision for the Eagles to make, as the only conceivable way Jernigan was going to stick with the team was if he took a drastic pay cut. That apparently will not be happening.

Jernigan only played 100 snaps (including the playoffs) in 2018 after suffering a mysterious offseason back injury. As a result of the injury, which was non-football related, the team renegotiated Jernigan’s deal, and the guarantees were removed from his contract. His 2019 salary was originally guaranteed as part of the four-year, $48 million extension he signed in 2017, but the two sides reworked his deal following his injury last offseason, making the final years in his contract option years.

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Jernigan was scheduled to be on the Eagles’ cap in 2019 at $13 million. That would be $11 million in salary, plus a $2 million signing bonus proration. 

The Eagles will on the hook for the aforementioned $2 million signing bonus proration in 2019, plus $2 million each in 2020 and 2021, which will both accelerate into 2019. That would mean a dead money charge of $6 million.

Jernigan would count toward the compensatory pick formula, because the guarantees were removed, and the option was added. (In other words, they would be choosing not to exercise an option, as opposed to releasing him, the latter of which would negate his inclusion in the comp pick formula.)

Jernigan, 26, was drafted out of Florida State by the Ravens in the second round in 2014. He had 13 sacks over three seasons in Baltimore before being traded to Philly in April 2017.

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Federer wins 100th ATP title

Roger Federer has won his 100th ATP Tour title at the Dubai Tennis Championships – 6,600 days after winning his first in Milan.

The 37-year-old Swiss – a 20-time Grand Slam champion – beat Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4 6-4.

Federer’s first ATP title came at the Milan Indoors on 4 February, 2001, when he beat Frenchman Julien Boutter.

“It is an absolute dream come true right now,” said Federer, who will become world number four on Monday.

He is just the second man, after American Jimmy Connors in 1983, to reach the landmark.

“I’m delighted. It’s great to win my eighth here in Dubai and in combination with my 100th singles title,” he added.

“To win in Marseille and then come here was difficult for Stefanos. “I don’t know if Stefanos was born when I won my first title (he was, in August 1998). It’s a privilege [to play against possible future champions] because I’ll be watching them on the TV. It was a treat to play Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. I’m sure Stefanos will have a wonderful career.

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“Tennis is in good hands regardless if I’m there or not.”

Federer broke Tsitsipas, 20, in the first game of the match before saving two break points at 5-4 to see out the first set.

The Greek – who will break into the world top 10 for the first time on Monday – held his nerve in the second set until 4-4, before Federer broke his serve once again to wrap up the final in 69 minutes.

World number 11 Tsitsipas was Federer’s 50th different final opponent and the 25th different nationality.

It was only the second time the pair had met, with Tsitsipas beating Federer in four sets in the Australian Open last 16 in January.

Federer will have to win 10 more titles to beat Connors’ men’s record of 109, while Martina Navratilova holds the all-time record having won 167 women’s singles crowns during her career.

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Jags expected to sign Foles next week

Nick Foles brought a Super Bowl title to Philadelphia. It appears his next test will be returning the Jacksonville Jaguars to the postseason.

According to a report from Les Bowen of Philly.com, “A market for Nick Foles outside of Jacksonville has not developed, and though nothing is certain until it is official, the Jaguars absolutely expect to sign Foles.”

ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano reported the Jaguars “are expected to” part ways with Blake Bortles.

Bortles is guaranteed $6.5 million of $14 million base salary for 2019. According to Over the Cap, Jacksonville would save $4.5 million but have $16.5 million count against the cap in dead money if it releases Bortles before June 1.

Foles, 30, wasn’t quite as dynamic in the 2018 season as his legendary Super Bowl run the season prior, finishing the regular season with 1,413 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions in five games in relief of the injured Carson Wentz. He did lead the Eagles back to the postseason, however, going 3-0 down the stretch. The Eagles then pulled off the upset of the Chicago Bears in the NFC Wild Card Round, though they couldn’t get past the New Orleans Saints a week later.

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The Jaguars, meanwhile, were one of the biggest disappointments in football during the 2018 campaign. A season after reaching the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars limped to a 5-11 record, and the play of Bortles was a major factor.

Foles would unquestionably be an upgrade over Bortles, and would reunite with his former quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, now Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator. In Foles, the Jags would be getting a player who gets rid of the ball quickly, avoids sacks and throws a pretty deep ball. Foles can be inconsistent, and if you can make him move his feet or take away his hot reads, he can struggle. But Foles has won on the biggest stage and would change Jacksonville’s passing game for the better. It makes him a natural target for a team that still has much of the talent from its excellent 2017 season and could be a major bounce-back candidate with a solid quarterback.

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Frye to retire at end of Cavaliers’ season

The Cleveland Cavaliers are set to miss the playoffs at 15-47, and center Channing Frye sees no reason to delay addressing what his plans are once the Cavs’ season ends.

Frye, in his 13th NBA season, confirmed on Friday afternoon that he will retire. “Yes, I am really retiring,” the 35-year-old tweeted. “It’s been an amazing ride. I’ve had the chance to have some amazing teammates and play for some great coaches. I’m gonna miss it but I’m super excited to see the other side of the fence!”

The official announcement comes hours after Frye hinted at retirement in an Instagram post reminiscing on his time in the league—specifically playing at Madison Square Garden “for the last time” Thursday night against the Knicks, the team that drafted him No. 8 overall in 2005 out of Arizona. Frye stayed in New York until the Knicks traded him in June 2007 along with Steve Francis to the Portland Trail Blazers, where Frye played through 2009. From 2009 to 2014, Frye played 304 games for the Phoenix Suns and saw career-highs in points per game since he averaged 12.3 points per game as a rookie.

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Frye was a member of the Cavaliers team that won the 2016 NBA Finals, the franchise’s and Frye’s only championship. His time in Cleveland since 2015 has been broken up by one-season stints with the Orlando Magic (2015-16) and the Los Angeles Lakers (2017-18).

He is clearly beloved in and around the league. Washington Wizards forward Jeff Green commented on Frye’s Instagram post, “Nooooooo don’t retire bro…” Frye replied that “it’s time,” and Green sent back three crying emojis. This season, Frye has appeared in 29 games (five starts)—averaging a career-low 3.3 points per game and 1.5 rebounds per game. 

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Jets looking to deal No. 3 pick for draft haul

The No. 3 pick in the 2019 NFL draft is available for the right offer.

“Right now, we feel good at No. 3, but I’d definitely say if there’s an opportunity to trade down, we would absolutely look at it,” New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan told reporters Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

It is not difficult to envision a scenario when a team in need of a long-term answer at quarterback such as the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars would look to trade into the No. 3 slot to draft either Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins or Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. The Jets are certainly familiar with that practice, seeing how they sent the Indianapolis Colts three second-round picks to move into the No. 3 slot last year to draft USC’s Sam Darnold. The Giants (No. 6) and Jaguars (No. 7) may not want to chance it if they strongly prefer one signal-caller over the other.

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Rich Cimini of ESPN.com noted the Jets and Giants haven’t traded with each other since 1983, but the local ties won’t deter Maccagnan from making a move if presented with the chance.

“Yeah, I think I would be open to any team that would,” he said, when asked specifically about the Giants. “As long as the trade made sense to us, there’s nothing that would stop us from doing that.”

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller projected the Jets to select Kentucky pass-rusher Josh Allen with the No. 3 pick in his mock draft to bolster a defense that was a middling 16th in the league with 39 sacks last season. However, Gang Green haven’t made the playoffs since 2010 and went 4-12 in 2018 with a number of holes in their roster. Trading the No. 3 pick for multiple selections would allow them to address several needs around Darnold and on defense.

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Witten to return to Cowboys, leaving MNF booth

Jason Witten, a Hall of Fame-bound tight end, has decided to leave the “Monday Night Football” booth after one season and return to the Dallas Cowboys for a 16th season of professional football. The Dallas Cowboys announced on its  website Thursday that it agreed to a contract with Witten.

“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said in a statement, according to the Cowboy’s website.

ESPN reports the contract is a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. Witten has played in 11 Pro Bowls during his 15 years with the Cowboys, becoming the franchise leader with 1,152 receptions, which ranks fourth in NFL history, and 12,448 receiving yards. He also holds franchise records for games played (239), consecutive games (236), starts (229) and consecutive starts (179).

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“I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt,” he said.

Last year, Witten served as color commentator in the broadcast booth for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” In his first outing as a broadcaster, Witten received mixed reviews, with Boston.com going so far as to call his rookie year on television “a big problem” and deeming Witten “the weakest link” of a broadcast trio that included Joe Tessitore and Anthony “Booger” McFarland. Sports Illustrated called last season’s “Monday Night Football” crew “close to unwatchable.”

Witten returns to a Cowboys team that went 10-6 last season, winning the NFC East Division and a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks before falling in the Divisional Round to the Los Angeles Rams.

Jones said he expects Witten to be more than a “situational player” for the Cowboys in 2019. “I think he’ll play more than that,” Jones said. “This is a big thing to him. He wants to be out there, and he will be out there this year.”

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Rockets face more injury issues ahead of Heat

Things apparently were too idyllic for the Houston Rockets, whose season has been largely hamstrung by an endless succession of injuries to key components of their primary rotation.

Armed with a full complement of bodies for the second time in as many games, the Rockets on Wednesday entered Charlotte not only fully healthy, but capable of tinkering with personnel packages with the aim of uncovering a grouping that might spark a postseason push.

But then they lost Kenneth Faried (hip) and Iman Shumpert (calf) to injuries and were left scrambling against the Hornets, pulling out a 118-113 victory riding the efforts of their usual suspects. When the Rockets host the Miami Heat on Thursday at Toyota Center, they will do so with the same lineup uncertainty that has plagued them throughout the season. Houston has survived thus far by manipulating its roster effectively enough to stay in position to claim home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

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“We know how important these last 22 games 1/8including Wednesday’s win 3/8 are,” said Rockets guard James Harden, who scored a team-high 30 points despite continuing his shooting slump from the 3-point line. “It’s for seeding, it’s for opportunities to put yourself in position to get ready for the postseason.”

Harden, who had his streak of consecutive 30-point games snapped at 32 on Monday against the Atlanta Hawks, finished 1 for 11 from behind the arc and is just 3 for 31 on 3s over his past three starts. The Rockets have relied on supporting personnel to shoulder the scoring load, with four others reaching double figures against Charlotte. Six Rockets scored in double figures against the Hawks and, in their victory over Golden State last Saturday without Harden, three Rockets posted 20-plus points. Even with their roster compromised in Charlotte, the Rockets still had enough in reserve. How much of an asset their depth will be down the stretch remains linked to player availability.

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