Tagged in: season

Washington Nationals to open season vs. Atlanta Braves on Tuesday

The Nationals will start their season on Tuesday by hosting the Atlanta Braves after Major League Baseball postponed Monday’s opener of the teams’ three-game series because of a coronavirus outbreak that involves 11 of Washington’s players.

Four Nationals players have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week and are isolating, while another seven are under quarantine because contact tracing determined they might have been exposed to the virus.

Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier Sunday that none of those 11 — a majority of whom, although not all, were supposed to be on the Opening Day roster — would be available if the three-game set with Atlanta start Monday.

Rizzo has not publicly identified any of the players involved or the two staff members who also have been placed under quarantine due to possible exposure.

Washington has yet to play this season; its opening three-game series at home versus the New York Mets on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday was postponed.

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“Believe me, we’re in constant contact with MLB,” Rizzo said in a video call with reporters Sunday afternoon, while he was still awaiting a decision about Monday’s game.

Rizzo has been adamant that Washington would need to be able to hold team workouts before facing an opponent.

Pitchers were able go to Nationals Park one by one on Saturday and Sunday to throw bullpen sessions.

“Position players haven’t worked out in a week. And pitchers haven’t thrown any competitive pitch in that same period of time. It’s something that we’re taking very seriously here. We’re thinking of creative ways under the protocol and under the guidance to get these guys as ready as possible,” Rizzo said.

“It makes a lot of sense for baseball, player protection-wise, to have these guys go through their paces in a full workout before we take the field,” he added.

The reigning National League East champion Braves are 0-3, coming off a season-opening sweep in which they managed to score a total of three runs at the Philadelphia Phillies.

Braves manager Brian Snitker stated Sunday afternoon — before MLB’s ruling arrived — that he was going to assume his club would be playing Monday until he heard otherwise.

“This is the COVID era. Everything’s fluid,” Snitker said.

The Nationals and Braves are now slated to face each other Tuesday and Wednesday. The 2019 World Series champions, who tied for last in the division last season, then would have Thursday off before heading out for a trip that is to start Friday at the Los Angeles Dodgers.

MLB did not announce when the first four games on Washington’s schedule will be made up.

Rizzo said the four players who tested positive are “feeling much, much better,” adding that any symptoms that appeared earlier have subsided.

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Seattle Seahawks giving WR Tyler Lockett a $69.2M extension

The Seahawks are giving wide receiver Tyler Lockett a four-year, $69.2 million contract extension that incorporates $37 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday.

Lockett was entering the final season of a three-year, $31.8 million extension he signed in 2018. He has had his three best seasons since then, with 28 receiving touchdowns (fifth among NFL wide receivers) and 3,076 yards (13th).

The $17.3 million new-money average in Lockett’s extension ranks 10th among NFL wide receivers, according to Spotrac.com.

Lockett, 28, was a third-round pick by Seattle in 2015. He made the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro as a returner in his rookie season, then came back from a compound leg fracture late in the 2016 season to start every game in 2017.

He has since supplanted the retired Doug Baldwin as Seattle’s No. 1 receiver. Last season, Lockett and DK Metcalf became only the second pair of Seahawks receivers in team history to each top 1,000 yards in the same year.

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With Metcalf a year away from becoming eligible for what is expected to be a massive payday, there was no guarantee that Seattle would reinvest in Lockett with a third contract.

Lockett was set to have the third-largest cap hit of any Seahawks player in 2021 at $14.95 million. His extension lowers that number to around $7 million, a source told ESPN.

That gives Seattle some needed breathing room against the cap and is one reason for the timing of Lockett’s extension, which comes much earlier in the offseason than when the Seahawks typically do new deals for players who are under contract.

Lockett has shown a knack for improbable catches. Among players with at least 200 targets, he has the second-highest catch percentage over expectation since 2018 at plus-12%, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

That ability was on display during an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals last campaign, when Lockett turned in the most productive game of his career with 15 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

“It’s one thing to make a catch like that some time in your life, but to do it every time you get a chance, it’s pretty crazy — and particularly under pressure and the stress of the game and the situation, all that,” coach Pete Carroll said after that game.

“He’s a phenomenal, phenomenal football player.”

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Héctor Neris gets the Phillies’ closer role to start the season, Joe Girardi says

The Phillies’ rebuilt bullpen incorporates four new relievers who have experience closing games, but the ninth-inning duties will remain with the same closer from last season’s historically poor unit.

Manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday that Héctor Neris, the team’s primary closer for the last three seasons, will again handle the ninth. Archie Bradley and José Alvarado will be used in setup roles while other newcomers Sam Coonrod and Brandon Kintzler will be utilized when needed.

Neris had a 4.57 ERA in 24 appearances last campaign, converting five of his eight save chances. His production dipped last summer, but Neris’ strikeout rate (11.2 per nine innings), contact rate (61.4%), swing rate (66.2%), and hard-hit rate (39.7%) were similar to his marks in 2019 when he finished with a 2.93 ERA and 28 saves.

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There is an argument that Neris’ biggest detriment last season was bad luck as his batting average on balls in play was .381, the 14th highest among all relievers and 59% higher than it was in 2019.

More balls seemed to fall in last season against Neris, whose FIP — a stat that is similar to ERA but removes the results on balls hit into play — was the 22nd-best among relievers and two runs lower than his ERA.

The Phillies will give Neris the opportunity to show that he’s more the pitcher he was in 2019 than the one who never seemed to find his footing in last year’s truncated season. But if Neris stumbles, there are options waiting to take the ninth inning.

“Héctor’s been a successful closer, Archie’s been a successful closer. I know Alvarado can close and Kintzler’s been a successful closer,” Girardi said.

“I know they can all do it. I just decided to go with Héctor. He’s done it, he’s done it in this town, and I like the way he’s throwing the baseball.”

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Green Bay Packers bring back Kevin King despite struggles in NFC title game

The Green Bay Packers are bringing back cornerback Kevin King on a one-year deal worth up to $6 million, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

King, the Packers’ top pick in the 2017 draft, had been much maligned throughout his career for injuries and inconsistent play. He concluded his season by allowing Tom Brady’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Scott Miller with one second left in the first half of the NFC Championship Game, then was flagged for pass interference on the drive that permitted the Buccaneers to run out the clock.

King has never stayed healthy for an entire season. He missed five matches last season because of a quad injury. He has missed 23 of a possible 64 regular-season games over his four-year career. He missed more games (17) than he played in (15) during his first two NFL seasons.

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Former Packers general manager Ted Thompson traded back from No. 29 overall in the 2017 draft, passing on T.J. Watt, among others, and picked King at No. 33 overall.

King has six career interceptions, five of those coming in the 2019 season, when he played a career-high 15 matches.

His signing keeps intact the starting secondary from last season, including second-team All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander along with safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage.

The Packers have a new defensive coordinator, Joe Barry. Former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s contract was not renewed following last season.

The Packers lost All-Pro center Corey Linsley, who joined the Los Angeles Chargers on a five-year deal worth an average of $12.5 million per season.

The move reunites him with offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, who left the Packers for the Chargers via free agency a year ago.

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Former NBA All-Star forward Blake Griffin signs deal with Brooklyn Nets

Six-time All-Star forward Blake Griffin has signed a deal with the Brooklyn Nets for the rest of the campaign, the team announced Monday.

The Nets are using one of their veteran-minimum-contract slots to sign Griffin, sources told ESPN.

Griffin informed Nets general manager Sean Marks of his decision to join Brooklyn’s championship chase on Sunday evening, a reunion of sorts with his former LA Clippers teammate DeAndre Jordan.

“We’re fortunate to be able to add a player of Blake’s caliber to our roster at this point in the season,” Marks said in a statement. “Blake is a versatile frontcourt player with a long track record of success in our league, and we’re excited about the impact he’ll make for us both on and off the court in Brooklyn.”

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Griffin had interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and cleared waivers on Sunday night after agreeing to a buyout on the remaining $56.5 million left on his contract with the Detroit Pistons on Friday.

The Nets imagine Griffin, 31, as a small-ball center alternative off the bench.

Brooklyn has solidified itself as a championship contender with the addition of James Harden to a roster that includes Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Because Brooklyn will be in the luxury tax next season, the most it could offer Griffin as a free agent is the $5.9 million taxpayer mid-level exception, according to reporting by ESPN’s Bobby Marks. However, Griffin will earn $29.8 million from Detroit next year and has $255 million in career earnings.

Detroit has entered a full-fledged rebuild under the first-year general manager Troy Weaver and the chance to play the franchise’s younger players has taken precedent for the Pistons.

Griffin was traded less than a season into a five-year, $171 million max deal with the Clippers, arriving in Detroit in late-January 2018.

Injuries have dramatically altered Griffin’s game, eliminating the high-flying rim attacks that marked his All-Star career. He now leans heavily on the 3-point shot and his ability to make plays for others.

Griffin averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 20 matches for Detroit this season.

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Denver Broncos placing franchise tag on safety Justin Simmons

The Denver Broncos are placing the franchise tag on safety Justin Simmons for the second successive season, it was announced Friday.

Simmons, who was poised to become an unrestricted free agent, becomes the first player to be tagged this offseason. The Broncos now have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal.

“Designating Justin with the franchise tag is a procedural move that allows us to continue working on a long-term deal,” general manager George Paton said in a statement Friday. We are completely focused on making sure Justin remains a big part of the Denver Broncos for many years to come.”

NFL teams have until Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET to place the franchise tag on their most valuable player.

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Simmons, the Broncos’ third-round pick in the 2016 draft, played on the franchise player tag in 2020, worth $11.4 million.

He concluded with 96 tackles and five interceptions. It was his third consecutive 90-tackle season. He has consistently been an active player in run defense along the line of scrimmage with the versatility to match up on a variety of players in coverage.

The 27-year-old has the combination of on-field performance and off-field community engagement, given that he has played every defensive snap for each of the past three campaigns and was the Broncos’ nominee this past season for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

When Paton was hired in January, Broncos president of football operations John Elway said trying to re-sign Simmons was “one of the biggest things” Paton had on his to-do list.

Simmons has consistently been one of the most active players in the community and one of the team’s leading voices in social justice initiatives.

He has acquired the Darrent Williams Good Guy Award, given out by the Denver chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America each season to a Broncos player to recognize professionalism and depth in interactions with the media. Simmons is the only three-time winner of the award since it started in 2006.

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Ben Roethlisberger signs with Pittsburgh Steelers for 2021 NFL season

Ben Roethlisberger is officially back with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2021 NFL season, the team revealed Thursday.

The Steelers did not disclose the terms, but a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Roethlisberger willingly reduced his pay to $14 million from $19 million in this final year of his contract and spread the cash payment through 2022. The move lowers the team’s salary-cap hit by more than $15 million.

“It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization,” Roethlisberger said in a statement issued by the team. “I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team address other players who are so vital to our success. I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go.”

Roethlisberger was previously under contract for the 2021 season, although the team made it clear he could not return with the $41.2 million cap hit.

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“We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021,” general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. “We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. Our goal remains the same — to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.”

Roethlisberger, who turned 39 earlier this week, threw 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season, his first after major elbow surgery following a season-ending injury in Week 2 of the 2019 season.

He attempted 608 passes in the 2020 season — tied for the second-highest total of his career — and maintained throughout the season that his elbow felt fine and wasn’t affecting his on-field performance, though dismal halves versus the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and even the Cleveland Browns suggested otherwise at times.

Still, Roethlisberger showed an ability to stretch the field late in the season, upping his average air yards per attempt from 6 yards to 8 yards for the final three games.

After the season, Roethlisberger stated he hoped the Steelers would want him back if he opted to return rather than retiring.

Team president Art Rooney II and Colbert made it clear in offseason interviews and statements that Roethlisberger could not come back on his current contract but that they wanted the quarterback to return for one more season — as long as they could free up money to field a competitive team around the quarterback.

With Roethlisberger’s deal, the Steelers are close to cap-compliant for the beginning of the new league year on March 17. Although Roethlisberger’s restructured contract reduces his cap hit, the team still faces a difficult task in re-signing any of its 19 unrestricted free agents, including receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and linebacker Bud Dupree.

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Washington LB Thomas Davis Sr. says he’ll retire after 2020 season

Washington Football Team linebacker Thomas Davis Sr. will retire at the end of this campaign, he said in an Instagram post.

Washington (6-9) can extend Davis’ final season by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East on Sunday.

Davis, 37, has played 16 years in the NFL — the first 14 with Carolina and then the past two with the Los Angeles Chargers and Washington. Davis has served mostly in a backup role with Washington this season. He has played in seven games and received 132 snaps from scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Washington coach Ron Rivera signed him because of Davis’ leadership and his familiarity with what Rivera wanted from his players.

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Rivera trusted Davis because of how he played for him in Carolina, where he made the Pro Bowl three consecutive seasons, from 2015 to 2017. He was a first team All-Pro performer in 2015, the year Carolina reached the Super Bowl. Davis signed a two-year deal with the Chargers in 2019 but was released last offseason.

Davis also endured three torn ACLs.

As a reminder of how he endured, Davis posted pictures of cleats on Instagram that sum up his career. One cleat has written on it “3 ACL Tears. 3 ACL Recoveries.” It also shows how many Pro Bowls he earned. On the other cleat, it reflects him winning the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Carolina drafted Davis with the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft; he had played linebacker and free safety at Georgia. He was considered a top safety prospect before that draft, but the Panthers moved him to linebacker.

His speed and athleticism helped him have success in the NFL. In 199 games, Davis recorded 1,151 tackles, 29 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and 13 interceptions.

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Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson given no assurance he’ll finish season

Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson said he has received no assurances from the front office that he will keep his job for the remainder of the season, but is “not going there mentally” when it comes to his job security.

“Listen, I’ve been around this league a long time, 25 years I believe as a player and a coach, and we’re always based on and evaluated on our performance,” he stated.

“Right now, that’s obviously not my concern as far as that decision goes. That’s out of my hands. But what’s in my hands and in my control is getting the team prepared and ready for Green Bay this weekend.”

The Eagles are in the midst of a three-game slide that has dropped them to 3-7-1 on the season and into third place in the historically bad NFC East.

Quarterback Carson Wentz has regressed dramatically in Year 5 and the offense has tied a season low in points with 17 in each of the last three weeks.

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Pederson said that temporarily giving up playcalling is “on the table” — the first time he’s been open to the idea publicly — but suggested a modification there wasn’t imminent.

With facilities across the NFL closed Tuesday, Pederson did his day-after news conference from his home office.

In the background was a towering bookshelf lined with awards and memorabilia.

Dominating the scene just off to his right was a replica of the Lombardi Trophy — a not-so-subtle reminder of the unparalleled heights he helped lift this franchise to a short time ago.

It was with that backdrop that Pederson faced questions regarding his job security for the first time.

He has guided the Eagles to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, starting with their Super Bowl run in 2017, but the offense has grown stagnant over the last two years. That has not gone unnoticed by owner Jeffrey Lurie, who skipped their Week 11 game at the Cleveland Browns in part out of frustration, sources told ESPN.

With the team reeling, there are some on the inside who believe that Pederson needs to lead Philadelphia to a division title in 2020 to keep his job.

“Our relationship is good. We communicate a lot throughout the week,” Pederson said of Lurie. “We have our typical weekly meeting and cover a lot of ground.

“But that relationship is good. Listen, some of these questions might be for Mr. Lurie obviously, but my job is to prepare the team and get ready for Green Bay.”

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Brandon Allen to replace injured Joe Burrow at QB for Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen will take over for the injured Joe Burrow as the team’s starter, a source confirmed to ESPN on Wednesday.

Allen, who has spent the entire campaign on the practice squad, will be making his fourth career NFL start on Sunday versus the New York Giants. The other three starts came with the Denver Broncos last season.

A sixth-round pick in the 2016 draft, Allen was picked up by the Bengals during training camp as a contingency option due to COVID-19. He was among the team’s final preseason cuts and was added to the practice squad.

NFL Network first reported that Allen would start for the Bengals. After the Bengals selected Burrow with the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, they opted not to add another quarterback to the 53-man roster.

On Monday, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Allen filled that void because of the promotions allowed from the practice squad this season.

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“Whether he’s on the active roster or the practice squad doesn’t really matter,” Taylor said. “He’s still in the room doing that kind of stuff.”

Allen and Taylor have a familiarity with each other.

The two were with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and 2018, when Taylor was an assistant coach. Taylor noted Allen’s experience with the team’s system when discussing the quarterback options for the rest of the season.

Burrow was placed on injured reserve Monday after he tore multiple ligaments in his left knee during last weekend’s 20-9 defeat to Washington. A timetable for Burrow’s surgery or eventual return is still uncertain.

Allen earns the nod as Cincinnati’s starter over second-year quarterback Ryan Finley. Finley, a 2019 fourth-round pick, started three games in 2019 as the Bengals evaluated their quarterback options ahead of the 2020 draft.

Finley served as the team’s primary backup quarterback the past two seasons but was 3-of-10 passing for 30 yards versus Washington.

“He’s in a tough spot there in the second half, but that’s life as a backup quarterback,” Taylor said. “You’ve got to get yourself ready to go. There’s things that I wish I could put him in a better position to get a better opportunity, but the bottom line is we didn’t get it done and weren’t able to get any points there in the second half to help us win.”

Also Wednesday, running back Giovani Bernard was held out of practice with a concussion, the team said. It wasn’t clear if he would be able to play versus the Giants. If not, the likely starter would be Samaje Perine.

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