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Cam Newton returns to New England Patriots from COVID protocol

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton returned to the team facility Thursday and practiced after missing three consecutive days due to a COVID-19 protocol “misunderstanding,” with coach Bill Belichick saying Newton “didn’t violate team rules.”

Belichick mostly referred to the team’s statement — which said that the club approved Newton leaving the New England region for a medical appointment — when asked about how the “misunderstanding” occurred.

“I don’t really have anything to add. We released a statement, and I think that covered it as thoroughly as we can without getting into a lengthy thing. So we’ll just leave it at that,” Belichick said.

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Newton’s absence opened the door for rookie quarterback Mac Jones to take No. 1 repetitions each of the past three days, and he seemed to take advantage of the opportunity Wednesday versus the New York Giants, capping off his practice by leading the offense to an 80-yard touchdown drive.

With Newton back Thursday, Belichick said, “All the quarterbacks will get work.”

Thursday marks the Patriots’ final practice of training camp, and then the team will visit the Giants in the preseason finale on Sunday (6 p.m. ET).

The quarterback competition between Newton and Jones remains a top storyline, with Belichick having consistently stated that Newton is the starter but that, like players at any position, he has to reestablish that standing throughout the preseason.

Belichick has also said there could be a change at any position if someone performs better than the starter or the starter isn’t available.

Asked at what point he needs to transition from a spirited quarterback competition to having a starter and giving that player the majority of repetitions to get him prepared for the season opener Sept. 12 against the Miami Dolphins, Belichick said: “I don’t have a timetable on that. … I’m not sure.”

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New York Yankees place Gleyber Torres on injured list, expect star shortstop to miss 10-20 days

New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres was placed on the injured list Monday after an MRI revealed a left thumb sprain, the team revealed.

New York manager Aaron Boone, speaking before the Yankees opened a road series vs. the Kansas City Royals, said he understood the club received some “good news” in that he only expected Torres to be out 10-20 days.

The timing is not great for Torres, who had been heating up alongside his surging teammates. He went 3-for-4 in Sunday’s series finale vs. the Seattle Mariners, and has three home runs and 13 RBIs since the club returned from the All-Star break.

The Yankees lost Sunday to Seattle, 2-0, but took three of four in that series and had won eight of the last 10 headed into Monday’s game.

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“I think we were concerned that it was going to be more serious,” Boone said. “Realistically, we’ll have a better idea in the next couple of days. I think we were kind of expecting the worst.”

Boone also told reporters that Torres, who did not make the trip with the club to Kansas City, would soon see a specialist.

In the fourth inning on Sunday, Torres slid into second back on a steal attempt, injuring the finger. Boone said after the game that Torres’ condition worsened as the day went on.

New York is already without another mainstay on the left side of the infield, in third baseman Gio Urshela. He has a strained left hamstring, but took defensive drills and ran the bases on Sunday before the road trip. He could be activated on Wednesday.

It has been a puzzling year for Torres, like many Yankees, who have scuffled through most of the campaign. The two-time All-Star, who hit 38 home runs in 2019, has only six this season and didn’t hit his first until May 9.

The Yankees also optioned right-handed pitcher Luis Gil to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre while recalling right-handed pitcher Nick Nelson. To fill Torres’ roster spot, the club selected the contract of infielder Andrew Velasquez from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

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Lionel Messi agrees Barcelona contract, accepts significant wage cut

Lionel Messi and Barcelona have reached an agreement for the forward to sign a new five-year deal with the Catalan club, sources have confirmed to ESPN. Sources added that Messi has accepted a significant wage cut to prolong his stay.

Messi was a free agent after his contract at Barca expired, and he had courted interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City since first revealing a desire to end his 20-year relationship with Barca last summer. The 34-year-old’s previous contract, which was worth over €500 million ($594m) over four years, expired at the stroke of midnight on June 30.

However, with the return of Joan Laporta as president in March, Messi grew more open to staying at Camp Nou. An official announcement is expected in the coming days. Laporta had hoped to finalize an agreement before Messi’s previous terms expired. Barca’s financial problems made that impossible, though, with their gross debt over €1 billion. Cutbacks have been essential, in terms of transferring players out, reducing the wage bill and getting Messi to accept a lower salary.

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La Liga president Javier Tebas has warned Barca they will not be permitted to register Messi’s new deal if they are unable to reduce spending to comply with the league’s Financial Fair Play rules. Barca’s spending limit has been reduced from over €600m to €347m since the coronavirus pandemic, with further reductions expected to be imposed for the upcoming season.

Therefore, to register Messi’s new deal, in addition to new signings Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal, Barca need to continue reducing the wage bill and moving players on. With that in mind, sources at the club refuse to rule out the departure of Antoine Griezmann, a €120m signing in 2019.

Messi is on holiday with his family after his Copa America triumph with Argentina last weekend, which was his first senior trophy with his national team.

He will link up with Ronald Koeman’s squad later in the summer, with Barca’s league campaign kicking off on Aug. 15 versus Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Messi had first expressed a desire to leave Barca last August after the 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. His relationship with then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu had reached a breaking point.

In a September 2020 interview with Goal, after Barca had blocked his departure, Messi called Bartomeu a “liar” and said the board had been “making things up as they go along” and “plugging holes” for years.

Bartomeu, facing a vote of no confidence, resigned last October and was ultimately replaced by Laporta in March. Laporta has a good relationship with Messi and his family. He was Barca’s president when Messi made his first-team debut and when he signed his first professional contract with the club.

Sources told ESPN in April that Laporta was working on a contract renewal for Messi that included the option of playing in Major League Soccer before returning to Barcelona.

In public and in private, Laporta had always maintained that he was “convinced” he could persuade Messi to stay. The club have already made a series of signings this summer, bringing in Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia, as well as recalling Emerson Royal.

Messi first joined Barca’s academy in 2000 and has gone on to play 778 games for the club, breaking Xavi Hernandez’s appearance record last season. He has scored 672 goals, another club record, and has helped Barca win, among other trophies, 10 La Liga titles and the Champions League on four occasions.

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Paris Saint-Germain beat Barcelona, Bayern Munich to Georginio Wijnaldum signing

Paris Saint-Germain have beaten Barcelona and Bayern Munich to the signing of Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool on a free transfer.

Wijnaldum, 30, has agreed a three-year deal with PSG after deciding to run down his contract at Anfield, which concludes at the end of June.

“Signing for Paris Saint-Germain is a new challenge for me,” Wijnaldum said. “I’m joining one of the best squads in Europe and I want to bring all my desire and commitment to this ambitious project. Paris Saint-Germain have proved how good they are in recent years and I am convinced that together, with our supporters, we can go even further and higher.”

The Netherlands international had previously reached an agreement to join Barca. His agents met with the Catalan club’s president Joan Laporta at the end of May and a medical had been penciled in.

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Barca’s interest in Wijnaldum dates back to last summer, when Ronald Koeman made him a target after being appointed as the club’s coach.

However, as first reported by ESPN on Friday, PSG made a late play to hijack Barca’s move for Wijnaldum.

Sources close to the negotiations told ESPN that the Ligue 1 side were willing to double the terms agreed with Barca, while a phone call from coach Mauricio Pochettino also helped persuade Wijnaldum to change his mind.

Bayern Munich also held talks with Wijnaldum, who informed the German club and Barca last weekend that he had decided to sign for PSG.

The midfielder becomes PSG’s first signing of the summer as they look to strengthen after missing out on the league title to Lille and a semifinal Champions League exit to Manchester City.

Wijnaldum, who is preparing for the European Championship with Netherlands, played for Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven before making the move to England with Newcastle United in 2016 for around €15 million.

After Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League a year later, he joined Liverpool on a five-year deal for a fee of €25m.

He helped Liverpool collect the Champions League in 2019, famously scoring twice in the semifinal victory over Barca, and was part of the side which won the Premier League a year later.

During his five-year stay at Anfield, he also won the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup. In total, he made 237 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 22 goals.

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Barcelona set for big exits due to virus

Lionel Messi, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Frenkie de Jong are the only players safe at Barcelona this summer as the Catalan club predict less spending and more player exchanges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, sources have told ESPN.

Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu insisted last month that the club would still be “capable” of landing the game’s best players, but he warned deals could be organized in a very different way after the crisis.

“There is not going to be as much money in the transfer market because of the pandemic,” Bartomeu said. “But I predict that we are going to see a lot more swap deals.”

Barcelona have already committed to two transfers that will be completed in the summer. Forward Francisco Trincao will move to Camp Nou from Braga in a €30 million deal and Las Palmas midfielder Pedri will join for an initial €5m.

However, sources have told ESPN that the club continues to target another attacker and an internal debate has developed over whether it will still be possible to sign Lautaro Martinez or Neymar — or even both — when the window opens.

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There is also a wish to sign a right-back, a centre-back to replace Gerard Pique in the long term and a physical midfielder.

Inter striker Lautaro has a release clause of €111m that becomes active in the first two weeks of July. However, sources say Barca have “no intention” of paying that much. There have already been several meetings with the Serie A side and the possibility of including players to lower the price has been discussed.

Neymar remains Barca’s other big target. A year ago, Barca offered PSG several combinations of cash plus players, with Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic, Samuel Umtiti, Jean-Clair Todibo and Ousmane Dembele all put forward. PSG rejected the proposals then, but Barca hope they will change their stance this summer with Neymar’s deal up in 2022 and the possibility of the player invoking Article 17 to force an exit unilaterally.

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Augusta National to close by week’s end

Augusta National first postponed the Masters. Now the home of the Masters is closing its club.

Golf Digest obtained a letter from Chairman Fred Ridley to Augusta National members that says the club will close by the end of the week because of growing concerns over the new coronavirus and how it might affect the staff.

The club would confirm only that a memo had been sent.

“Beginning today, we are taking the necessary steps to curtail our operations so, by the end of this week, the Club will be closed until further notice,” Ridley stated in the memo obtained by Golf Digest.

Ridley said the grounds would be maintained with limited personnel and said other duties would be handled remotely.

He said he would review the situation and send timely updates, and he thanked the members for “patience and trust as we plan for the realities of this pandemic.”

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The Masters was planned for April 9-12. This will be the first time since 1946 — when the Masters resumed after World War II — that golf’s most viewed tournament is not the first full week in April. Augusta National closes about a month after the Masters for the summer and reopens in October.

Still to be determined is when it could be rescheduled, which is the club’s plan. Ridley’s letter comes one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered that events of 50 or more people be shut down for eight weeks. That would last until the second full week in May.

Still up in the air is the second major of the year, the PGA Championship, scheduled for May 14-17 in San Francisco.

If played as scheduled, the top 20 from the 2019 PGA professional of the year standings would qualify for the PGA. The PGA of America has yet to announce a decision on the PGA Championship.

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