Tagged in: free agent

J.J. Watt agrees to two-year contract with Arizona Cardinals

Free-agent pass-rusher J.J. Watt has agreed to a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, the team revealed Monday.

Terms were not disclosed, but a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the deal is worth $31 million and includes $23 million guaranteed.

“I’m excited to get started,” Watt said on the tarmac after the plane landed. “Very excited to get started, get to work, get to know the people of Arizona.”

Watt, 31, was released by the Houston Texans, who granted his request on Feb. 12, ending his 10-year run with the franchise.

Four days later, Watt’s former Texans teammate and current Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins posted a photo of himself and Watt photoshopped in a Cardinals uniform on Instagram with the caption: “Let’s finish what we started…” Hopkins reacted to Monday’s news by tweeting: “Life is good in Arizona!”

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Watt will reunite with Vance Joseph, the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator, who was the Texans’ defensive backs coach during Watt’s first three campaigns in Houston.

In Arizona, Watt will be paired with fellow pass-rusher Chandler Jones, who leads the NFL in sacks since he was drafted in the first round in 2012 with 97. Second during that span is Watt with 95.5.

Watt’s addition meant minimal variations to the Cardinals’ odds for the 2021 season from Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. Their odds to win the Super Bowl stays 40-1 and to win the NFC remain 20-1. Arizona’s odds to win the NFC West moved from 7-1 to 6-1, still the longest odds of the four teams in the division.

“The one thing I can promise you is I’m going to work my ass off every single day to make you proud,” Watt said. “Very proud to be a part of the ‘Bird Gang’ and the ‘Red Sea.'”

In 2020, Watt ranked 15th out of 119 qualified pass-rushers in pass rush win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He concluded the season with five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception he returned for a touchdown. He has been plagued with injuries recently, having played 16 games in a season only twice since 2015.

After the Texans drafted Watt with the No. 11 pick in 2011, he became the face of the franchise, winning three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2012 to ’15. Watt is one of three players to collect that award three times. A five-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time first-team All-Pro, Watt was by far the most productive pass-rusher in Texans history with 101 career sacks.

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Richard Sherman wants to play two more seasons before retiring

Set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman’s next NFL stop is likely to be his last.

Sherman, who will be 33 in March and has long maintained that he wants to play until he’s 35, told Stephen A. Smith on his ESPN+ show Stephen A’s World on Monday that he intends to follow through on that plan and laid out what the rest of his NFL career might look like.

“I only want to play two more [seasons],” Sherman stated. “I want to get on a competitive team. I think I still have a lot to give to the game. I think I still have a lot that I want to accomplish and I think I can go out there and help a defense come together like it should and reach their potential, reach the heights that the defenses that I’ve played on have reached.”

When the new NFL league year opens on March 17, it will be Sherman’s second foray into unrestricted free agency but the first time following the expiration of his contract. In 2018, Sherman quickly signed with the 49ers after the Seattle Seahawks released him after seven seasons there.

At the time, Sherman was coming off a ruptured right Achilles suffered in November 2017. Acting as his own agent, Sherman negotiated a three-year, $27.15 million deal with the Niners that contained heavy incentives should he return to his previous All-Pro form.

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Sherman did just that in 2019, earning his fifth Pro Bowl nod and a spot on the second-team All-Pro squad. But the 2020 season was essentially a lost one for Sherman, who had a calf injury all season and appeared in just five matches.

In December, Sherman said it would take a “miracle” for him to return to the 49ers, given their many free agents and lack of salary-cap space to keep them. Among the players Sherman expects to get lucrative contracts from the 49ers before he would be in the mix are left tackle Trent Williams, cornerback Jason Verrett and linebacker Fred Warner, who is not yet a free agent but is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

That position hasn’t changed, either, as Sherman is still expecting to depart.

In speaking to Smith on Monday, Sherman mentioned the Las Vegas Raiders as a potential destination. New Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was Sherman’s defensive coordinator in Seattle in 2011 and 2012, and is expected to install a similar defensive scheme to what Sherman played in with the Seahawks and the 49ers.

Furthering that connection, Raiders coach Jon Gruden raised some eyebrows last week when he showed on the podcast Sherman co-hosts with Cris Collinsworth and told Sherman the Raiders “are looking for an alpha presence in our secondary, somebody that could play this Hawk 3-press technique with the read step. If you’re available and interested, maybe you and I can get together at some point off air.”

In addition to the Raiders, there’s also an obvious tie to the New York Jets, who just hired former Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as head coach. No matter where he heads, Sherman seems intent on finishing his career on his terms and his timetable.

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Sean Payton wants New Orleans Saints to re-sign QB Jameis Winston ‘sooner than later’

So much for Sean Payton’s poker face. The New Orleans Saints coach didn’t try to cloak the team’s desire to re-sign free-agent quarterback Jameis Winston if Drew Brees retires as expected.

Payton spoke glowingly about Winston to ESPN and other media outlets while doing some Super Bowl week appearances on Wednesday, saying the Saints would like to re-sign him “sooner than later.”

Payton also specifically told CBS Sports’ Pick Six Podcast that he believes Brees to make an announcement “in the next week or two.”

Payton has been saying for months that he thinks the Saints’ next quarterback is already “in the building” — a reference that contains both Winston and Taysom Hill. And he reiterated Wednesday that the Saints have a “pretty good vision” for both players.

It was notable that Payton mentioned Winston first and talked about him in greater detail when asked about the Saints’ future QB plans by ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin Show and by NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show — saying it was an “easy” question.

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However, Payton stressed that the reason he mentioned Winston first was that he’s a free agent and Hill is already under contract for one more year.

“Jameis Winston, we know. We had a year with him. He was fantastic as a leader. He’s got tremendous arm talent. He’s a young prospect that we like a lot,” Payton said in his ESPN appearance.

“When you have a player for a season, he’s kind of giving you a chance to see what he’s about, and there’s a little bit of an audition there. But the same audition takes place for us. He’s getting a chance to see, ‘Hey, this is how they do it here. Does this fit me? Does this head coach, this position coach? Is this a place I feel comfortable playing?'”

Payton told “Good Morning Football”: “A lot of times you want to hold your cards closer to the vest [with a] free agent. But him along with Taysom Hill, we’ve said it all along, we’re gonna develop and coach those guys. And Jameis is one of those guys that we have a big interest in.”

Winston, who just turned 27 in January, signed a one-year contract with the Saints last spring for $1.1 million plus incentives because he specifically wanted to learn under Payton and Brees while trying to renew his career. He called it “a Harvard education in quarterback school.”

Winston didn’t get much on-field experience, since there was no preseason and Payton elected to start Hill while Brees was sidelined for four matches by broken ribs and a punctured lung.

However, Winston did make his best play of the season when he completed a 56-yard touchdown pass on a trick play in New Orleans’ playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Winston was 7-of-11 for 75 yards in the regular season with no touchdowns or turnovers.

Hill, 30, went 3-1 in those four starts, with some highs and some lows. But Payton explained that part of the reason he selected Hill over Winston was that Hill was in his fourth year in New Orleans — and Payton had made a promise to Hill that he would get such an opportunity when he re-signed last year as a restricted free agent.

It appears that this year would be more of an open competition between Winston and Hill, assuming the Saints don’t make any other big moves at the position.

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St. Louis Cardinals officially acquire Nolan Arenado from Colorado Rockies

The St. Louis Cardinals completed their blockbuster trade to obtain All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies on Monday night.

St. Louis dealt left-hander Austin Gomber and four minor leaguers to the Rockies: infielders Elehuris Montero and Mateo Gil along with right-handers Tony Locey and Jake Sommers.

As part of the trade, Colorado will send cash to St. Louis to offset part of the money Arenado is due in his contract.

Arenado had been set to be paid $199 million over the remaining six seasons of a $260 million, eight-year contract. As part of his agreement to waive a no-trade provision, Arenado agreed to add a season to his deal, which now extends for seven seasons through 2027.

His deal had given him the right to opt out and become a free agent after the 2021 season. His new contract gives him the right to opt out and become a free agent after either the 2022 or 2023 season.

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“Many have heard me say that one of the great things about baseball is that you always have a chance to get better,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said in a statement. “Today we got better! A deal of this nature, acquiring a player of Nolan’s considerable talents, are the ones that can set you apart in many ways.”

The 29-year-old Arenado has hit .293 with an .890 OPS over eight seasons, averaging 35 home runs and 114 RBIs per 162 games. Aided in part by hitter-friendly Coors Field, he has led the National League in home runs three times and topped the majors in RBIs twice.

The Cardinals concluded second in the NL Central last season and lost a first-round playoff matchup versus the San Diego Padres.

Arenado will bump Matt Carpenter out of his role as the starting third baseman and play in an infield with All-Stars Paul DeJong at shortstop and Paul Goldschmidt at first base.

Arenado slumped during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, hitting .253 with eight home runs and a .738 OPS over 48 games before going on the injured list Sept. 21 with a bruised left shoulder. He earned $12,962,963 in prorated pay and won his eighth consecutive Gold Glove. Arenado led the majors with 15 defensive runs saved.

St. Louis brings back much of the same team that made last year’s postseason, including veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright, who finalized an $8 million, one-year deal Friday.

Wainwright is returning for his 17th season with St. Louis, matching Bob Gibson (1959-75) for the second-most seasons with the Cardinals among pitchers, one behind Jesse Haines (1920-37).

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Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays reach agreement on 1-year, $18M deal

Infielder Marcus Semien is in agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays on a one-year, $18 million contract, a source familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Semien will become the second star and fourth free agent added by the Blue Jays during a slow offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto gave outfielder George Springer a $150 million, six-year deal. Toronto also agreed to one-year contracts with right-handers Kirby Yates ($5.5 million) and Tyler Chatwood ($3 million) and re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8 million, one-year contract.

Coming off a career year in 2019, Semien struggled in 2020 while dealing with a rib injury, as the shortstop hit just .223 with 7 home runs, 28 runs, 23 RBIs and 4 stolen bases for the Oakland Athletics. His production was down largely due to his strikeouts being up, as he fanned on 21.2% of his plate appearances.

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It was a different story for Semien in 2019, when he concluded third in AL MVP voting after posting personal bests with 33 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .285 batting average while playing in all 162 matches. His WAR (8.9) was third in the majors that season, and he parlayed that into a one-year, $13 million deal — more than double his contract after earning $5.9 million in 2018. He earned $4,814,815 in prorated pay for 2020.

Semien was tied for 190th among batters in WAR in 2020, with 0.5. Even with the decline in 2020, he is one of just six hitters to account for at least 9.0 WAR in the past two seasons combined.

Semien’s 151 runs scored since the start of the 2019 season rank second among all American League players, and his 100 extra-base hits rank fifth.

In eight MLB campaigns, Semien, who is above average when it comes to base running, has a .254 batting average with 115 home runs, 380 RBIs, 467 runs scored and 66 stolen bases — but with 731 strikeouts in 3,266 at-bats — for the Chicago White Sox and A’s.

Toronto went 32-28 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, concluding third in the AL East behind the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees and qualifying for the expanded postseason despite behind forced to play home matches in Buffalo, New York, due to Canadian government restrictions on travel. The Blue Jays were swept in two games by the AL champion Rays in a first-round series.

Toronto has an emerging young core and is adding major contracts, while younger players such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have relatively low salaries because they remain shy of eligibility for arbitration.

It is not clear where the Blue Jays will play home games when the 2021 season starts.

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Free agent Corey Kluber to throw bullpen session for interested teams next week

Free agent Corey Kluber, the two-time Cy Young Award winner who has been derailed by injuries over the past two years, is on calendar for a normal spring training and will throw for interested suitors next week.

Kluber will conduct a 30-pitch bullpen on the morning of Jan. 13 at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where the 34-year-old right-hander has spent half his offseason, his agent, B.B. Abbott of Jet Sports Management, told ESPN on Monday.

Kluber established himself among the game’s most dominant starting pitchers while with the Cleveland Indians from 2014 to 2018, winning 83 games, posting a 2.85 ERA and averaging 218 innings per season.

But he suffered a fractured ulna bone in his right arm on a comebacker in early May 2019, then strained his oblique as he neared a return in late August.

The Texas Rangers traded for him four months later, then watched him suffer a season-ending strain of his teres major muscle — near his right shoulder — 18 pitches into his Rangers debut on July 26, 2020.

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The Rangers declined their $18 million option on Kluber’s contract near the end of October.

Kluber was cleared to resume throwing shortly thereafter and has since thrown three bullpen sessions, Abbott said. He is expected to throw off the mound once more and receive a final MRI within the next nine days.

Kluber’s showcase comes amid a slow-moving offseason, particularly for pitchers.

Of the 30 starters who made up Kiley McDaniel’s top 120 free agents in early December, only seven have committed to teams for 2021 — two of whom did so by taking the qualifying offer.

In a time when teams are especially concerned about pitcher workloads coming off a shortened season and owners are hesitant to spend with another season without fans in attendance, Kluber can provide an established track record at a discount rate.

The risk, however, is obvious — Kluber has accumulated only 36⅔ innings over the past two years.

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Free agent Adam Wainwright uncertain of his future with St. Louis Cardinals

Longtime St. Louis Cardinals star and current free agent Adam Wainwright is in wait-and-see mode.

“I know the nature of the business of baseball with salaries, and not sure what the revenues will be like next year,” Wainwright told ESPN this week. “Or the fan situation.

“St. Louis is very dependent on their fan situation to bring in revenues to offset player costs. They said that, and I really believe them. They don’t have the billion, billion, billion dollar TV deals that some other teams do.”

Between 2013 and 2019, the Cardinals ranked second in the National League in attendance, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite playing in the 23rd-largest market in the country.

Like many teams, St. Louis is trying to thread the needle of putting a winning product on the field while being cognizant of revenue uncertainty, meaning the futures of both Wainwright and fellow longtime Cardinal Yadier Molina are up in the air.

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“They’re going to put a winning team on the field,” Wainwright stated. “It’s going to be interesting to see what they do, though. Yadier is a free agent too. We just don’t know what they’re going to be offering — or if they will offer.”

It’s the existing situation many free agents find themselves in, and they’re bound to have some company come Dec. 2, the deadline for arbitration-eligible players to be offered contracts for 2021.

Those who are non-tendered on or before Dec. 2 become free agents, meaning the market could be flooded with players who are in their peak years along with the older free agents like Wainwright. The expectation is teams will lighten their payroll obligations this offseason by letting go more players than ever.

“That’s what I’m expecting, yes,” Wainwright said. “There’s so much uncertainty among teams and players, it’s just going to be a wild ride. This is whole situation is different than anything we’ve ever faced.”

Wainwright broke in with the Cardinals in 2005, spending the entirety of his 15-year career with them. But that relationship is in jeopardy for the 39-year-old right-hander, who pitched well in 2020 despite all the difficulties, including a COVID-19 outbreak on his team.

“Every player has an expiration date,” Wainwright stated. “It’s just the nature of the game. You will never hear me say a bad word about the city of St. Louis or the Cardinals organization. They’ve done so much for me. They’re amazing people from top to bottom. I’ve been so blessed.”

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New York Jets continue roster shake-up, release veteran cornerback Pierre Desir

Veteran cornerback Pierre Desir, a free-agent disappointment who was benched for the final two series in the last game, was released Tuesday by the New York Jets.

The move, not unexpected, opens a starting position for rookie Bryce Hall, who substituted Desir in the Week 9 loss to the New England Patriots. The Jets (0-9) had a bye last weekend.

The Jets signed Desir in March, soon after he was released by the Indianapolis Colts. They gave him a one-year, $4 million contract, including $3.25 million in guarantees, expecting him to be their No. 1 corner.

That never materialized. In fact, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams benched Desir in the first half of the first game.

After one week in a backup role, Desir returned to the starting lineup and remained there for the next seven matches. In the final minutes of the 30-27 loss to the Patriots, Desir permitted a 31-yard completion to wide receiver Damiere Byrd — a play in which Desir half-heartedly gave chase across the field. He was immediately pulled from the game and Hall finished the series and played the entire final drive.

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Desir’s only shining moment came in a Week 4 loss to the Denver Broncos, when he intercepted two passes, including one returned for a touchdown.

In nine matches, Desir recorded three interceptions, eight pass break-ups and one forced fumble.

Hall, a fifth-round pick from Virginia, has played only one match, as he spent the first eight games battling back from a serious ankle injury that occurred during his final campaign in college. He started the 2020 season on the non-football injury list and practiced only two weeks before making his debut versus the Patriots.

In rebuilding mode, the Jets have traded or released several veterans in recent weeks, including running back Le’Veon Bell, linebacker Avery Williamson and nose tackle Steve McLendon. The Jets also placed nickelback Brian Poole (knee/shoulder) on injured reserve.

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Trevor Bauer rejects Cincinnati Reds’ qualifying offer, but open to return

Free-agent right-hander Trevor Bauer has rejected the Cincinnati Reds’ $18.9 million qualifying offer for the 2021 campaign, agent Rachel Luba revealed on Twitter.

Luba, however, said Bauer remains open to discussing a return to Cincinnati and “all other interested teams thru Free Agency.”

“Why wait for the QO to expire to state the obvious,” agent Rachel Luba tweeted Wednesday. She added that Bauer “believes the QO is a ridiculous process so let’s just put it to bed.”

Bauer, 29, who went 5-4 with a National League-leading 1.73 ERA in 11 starts last season and is a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award, was one of six players in Major League Baseball to receive the qualifying offer.

His salary in 2020 was $17.5 million. If Bauer signs with another team, the Reds will receive draft-pick compensation in the 2021 draft.

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Players have until Nov. 11 to decide whether to accept the qualifying offer.

In nine campaigns, Bauer is 75-64 with a 3.90 ERA. Drafted No. 3 overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, he was traded to Cleveland in a three-team deal in 2012 and spent seven seasons with the Indians before he was traded to the Reds in 2019.

Because of pandemic-related penny-pinching, Bauer is unlikely to land a contract on par with Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million) or Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million). FanGraphs crowdsourcing projects a three-year deal worth $29 million per year for Bauer. I think five years is possible. If he indeed takes one year, it could come in as high as $35 million. Maybe more.

The Reds presently have approximately $103 million on the books for nine players next season, plus $21.2 million in projected arbitration salaries for another nine players.

Last year’s $166 million full season payroll would’ve been a franchise record, and with payrolls set to come down following the pandemic, it’s uncertain whether Cincinnati can afford to keep Bauer.

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Le’Veon Bell released by New York Jets

The New York Jets’ rocky relationship with Le’Veon Bell came to a sudden end on Tuesday when the Jets informed they had released the running back.

It ended a 19-month tenure that was filled with disappointment and broken promises. Bell, who arrived as a marquee free agent in 2019, never clicked with coach Adam Gase, who opposed the signing from the outset.

“After having conversations with Le’Veon and his agent and exploring potential trade options over the past couple of days, we have made the decision to release Le’Veon,” the team said in a statement.

“The Jets organization appreciates Le’Veon’s efforts during his time here and we know he worked hard to make significant contributions to this team. We believe this decision is in the best interests of both parties and wish him future success.”

As a vested veteran, Bell is not subject to waivers. He will be a free agent at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.

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Frustrated by his lack of participation in the offense, Bell met with Gase and general manager Joe Douglas on Monday, a source said. They told Bell they would explore a trade, and they gave his agent authorization to speak with other teams.

The Jets contacted every team but found the contract was difficult to move.

They were willing to eat some of the $6 million remaining on his 2020 base salary, but the sticking point was an $8 million injury guarantee in 2021, a source said. No team wanted to take on that much risk, fearing a serious injury this campaign.

In the end, neither did the Jets. They could’ve continued to shop him until the Nov. 3 trading deadline, hoping to recoup a late-round pick, but they too were wary of the injury guarantee, knowing they were planning to cut him in the offseason.

The Jets are responsible for the remaining $6 million on Bell’s 2020 base pay, but there’s an offset clause that will defray it by the amount of the salary on a new contract with his next team.

Bell returned to the lineup on Sunday and carried the ball 13 times for 60 yards. He was targeted only once in the passing game.

On several occasions, Gase talked about getting Bell more involved as a receiver. On Sunday, rookie running back La’Mical Perine saw no action.

Bell’s departure should create playing time for Perine, who will share the workload with the 37-year-old Gore.

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