UCLA student council adopts resolution to protect student-athletes from COVID-19

As campuses prepare for the possibility of a traditional calendar of fall sports, the UCLA student council has adopted a resolution asking Gov. Gavin Newsome of California and several university officials to guarantee a series of coronavirus-related protections that include allowing student-athletes to decide whether or not to participate in team activities without fear of "cancellation of their scholarships, threats, or retaliation."

The resolution, which was also addressed to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and new university athletics director Martin Jarmond, asked that athletes be included on all COVID-19 task forces; be informed about the risks COVID-19 poses to themselves and their families; and called "for public health officials to identify and enforce health and safety standards related to COVID-19, and the prevention of serious injury, abuse, and death as a condition for resuming college sports activity."

"As of today, none of the task forces created for the return to practice or competition of student-athletes has included the voices of those same students," said student council member Elijah Wade, a former UCLA football player. "This has created fear and confusion among some within the athletic community. They have concerns that their health and well being is being weighed against money for the university, its coaches, and administration.

UCLA's Joshua Kelley runs the ball during Senior Bowl practice in January. (Photo: Vasha Hunt, USA TODAY Sports)

"As we look at the rampant negligence and mistreatment of student-athletes in NCAA sports, it’s clear that colleges can not be trusted with policing themselves on any health recommendations passed down by state or local officials.”

The resolution was endorsed by the National College Players Association, which advocates for college athletes. The safeguards included by the student council should "also ensure colleges pay for any short-term or long-term COVID-19 related medical expenses for their players," the group said.

In a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports, UCLA said it "is working closely with campus leadership to determine how and when student-athletes — and the larger campus community — can return safely. The timeline and protocol that are ultimately determined will be based on the guidance of public health agencies."

OKLAHOMA:Voluntary football workouts will start July 1, later than other Power 5 programs

SEC: Conference welcomes players back, but no sign of adequate testing for coronavirus

The university's Athletic Council, which includes student-athlete representatives from all 25 sports teams, "as well as leaders from other student-athlete groups, will be consulted on return-to-training models," the statement continued. "The health and safety of our student-athletes and staff has been and will continue to be our top priority as we navigate the path forward."

Major conferences are beginning to set start dates for team activities, following the lead of the NCAA, which voted this week to allow athletes across all sports to participate in voluntary team activities beginning June 1. The Pac-12 will allow voluntary in-person workouts beginning on June 15, the conference said, as will the Big 12. The SEC will allow activities to resume on June 8.

“If a star quarterback wakes up on game day with a fever and cough, you can expect  him to play with or without a COVID-19 test at many of these colleges," said National College Players Association Executive Director Ramogi Huma. 

"We've seen players kept in games on national TV with obvious concussion symptoms, we've seen university officials cover up the sexual assaults and mistreatment of countless college athletes, about half of athletic trainers report coaches pressuring them to return seriously injured players to competition. It will be no different with unenforced COVID-19 guidelines unless public officials act."

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Coronavirus: Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says 2020 NFL season will ‘definitely’ happen

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross believes the NFL’s 2020 season will take place as scheduled later this year despite the coronavirus pandemic and that his team’s plan is to have fans in attendance.

The 80-year-old real estate developer said the league wants to have fans in place but that plan is subject to change before the regular season begins on September 10.

Speaking in an interview with CNBC, Ross said: “I think definitely there will be a football season this year. The real question is will there be fans in the stadium?

“Right now, today, we’re planning to have fans in the stadium. But I think the NFL is looking at, and is very flexible, so that we will be able to start on time and bring that entertainment that is so needed for all of us in this country.”

Miami’s home opener is scheduled for September 20 against AFC East division rival Buffalo.

The Dolphins went 5-11 in 2019 and finished last in the division but there is plenty of excitement in Miami after the team selected quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick of last month’s NFL Draft, which was held in a virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Ramsey: Rams know where I stand on extension

  • Covered Rams for two years for Los Angeles Times
  • Previously covered the Falcons
  • Has covered the NBA and college football and basketball

The Los Angeles Rams have been in contact with Jalen Ramsey’s representatives in regard to a contract extension as the All-Pro cornerback enters the final season of his rookie deal.

Ramsey played coy Wednesday when asked where negotiations stood.

“The Rams know where I stand,” Ramsey said on a video conference with reporters. “I think that’s all that matters at the end of the day. It will be handled. They know where I stand. They’ve been in contact with my agent. … They’re on the same page as my agent.”

When asked if he would attend training camp if he had yet to sign an extension, Ramsey showed no hesitation.

“Yeah, for sure,” he said.

Ramsey is expected to command a record-breaking contract, and it’s anticipated that he will have the upper hand in negotiations given what the Rams paid to acquire him before the trade deadline last season.

The Rams sent their 2020 and 2021 first-round draft picks and a 2021 fourth-round selection to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Ramsey, who was the No. 5 overall pick in 2016.

“I can’t really worry about that,” Ramsey said about the negotiations. “I just control what I got to worry about right now. … I feel like everybody knew what type of situation it was gonna be once they traded for me, so I think it doesn’t really need to be talked about that much. It will get handled.”

Considered among the top lockdown corners in the NFL, Ramsey has 10 interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and 49 pass deflections in four seasons.

The Rams have been aggressive in signing players to record-breaking contracts over the last two years.

Running back Todd Gurley signed a four-year, $40 million extension in July 2018 that included a record-breaking $45 million guaranteed. A month later, defensive tackle Aaron Donald signed a six-year, $135 million extension that amounted to the richest contract ever signed by a defensive player. Last September, quarterback Jared Goff signed a four-year, $134 million deal, that includes a record-breaking $110 million guaranteed.

The Rams, however, cut Gurley this offseason and also traded receiver Brandin Cooks, who was in the midst of a five-year, $81 million contract.

Gurley and Cooks’ contracts will cost the Rams nearly $30 million in dead money cap charges in 2020.

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Unveiling our projections for the 2020 NFL season: Wins, Super Bowl chances, more

The Kansas City Chiefs are still on top.

Several long months after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, Kansas City enters the 2020 NFL season as both the best team in the league and the Super Bowl favorite, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI).

FPI is our prediction model for the NFL. Preseason ratings are based on each team’s Las Vegas win total; last season’s performance on offense, defense and special teams; the number of returning starters; coaching staff changes; and starting and backup quarterbacks. FPI produces team rankings and season projections, which we’re unveiling for the 2020 season for the first time here. Here are some of the bigger takeaways from our 20,000 FPI season simulations — and jump to the bottom to see the full listing of FPI rankings for all 32 teams.

Four chalky favorites, but then a surprise

Buoyed by what FPI considers to be easily the best offense in football, the Chiefs are more than a touchdown better than an average NFL team and more than a point better than the second-best team in the league, the Baltimore Ravens. That strong rating fueled the Chiefs to a 21% chance to win the Super Bowl, which makes them the second-largest preseason favorite since we began projections in 2015, behind only the 2017 New England Patriots (32%). The Chiefs were our preseason favorite last season, too, with a 15% chance to win it all.

None of that is a shock. After quarterback Patrick Mahomes put in another strong season and led the Chiefs to the Lombardi Trophy last season, Kansas City’s offense is as sure a bet to be elite as you can have in the NFL. Because offense is more predictable from year to year relative to defense, the model has confidence that the Chiefs will be one of the best teams — if not the best team — in the league this season.

Offense predictability is also why the Ravens — not the 49ers — are FPI’s second-best team in the NFL and second-most-likely team to win the Super Bowl (17%). Simply put, Baltimore has a better offense than San Francisco. But while the Ravens have a far superior defense to the Chiefs, it’s not enough to make up for Kansas City’s advantage on offense.

Though FPI thinks the 49ers are the third-best team and the best NFC franchise, the New Orleans Saints (fourth in FPI rating) are actually the third-most-likely team to win the Super Bowl at 13%, with San Francisco coming in at 12%. Why? New Orleans faces a slightly easier schedule than the 49ers and is a tad more likely to win the NFC South (59%) than the Niners are to win the NFC West (53%). The Saints are our narrow NFC favorites in what could be quarterback Drew Brees’ last ride.

Not super surprising so far, right? Those four teams are widely expected to be contenders after their respective successes last season. And indeed, there is a large drop-off between the four teams with a double-digit-percent shot at winning Super Bowl LV and the rest of the pack. But when we do look down at the No. 5 spot in both FPI’s ratings and chance to win the Super Bowl, we see … the Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas finished 8-8 last season, failed to reach the playoffs and fired longtime coach Jason Garrett, replacing him with former Packers coach Mike McCarthy. So why the love for the Cowboys all of a sudden? Well, FPI actually always loved them.

Despite the mediocre .500 record, the Cowboys finished the 2019 season as FPI’s seventh-ranked team. That was fueled almost exclusively by the team’s offense, which finished third in efficiency, while the defense was merely average. The Cowboys didn’t win enough, but they were good enough.

As mentioned, offense is more consistent year to year. So with many of the key ingredients back — including quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper and offensive linemen Tyron Smith, La’el Collins and Zack Martin — there’s every reason to be bullish on the Dallas O. And it’s a big reason to be bullish on the Cowboys overall. McCarthy might bring a pass-heavier approach, and while it is not represented in the model, it supports the notion even more. Dallas has a 5% chance to win the Super Bowl and a 48% chance to win the NFC East. In fact, its divisional chances might be even higher if the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t directly behind Dallas in FPI’s rankings at No. 6 overall (Philadelphia has a 44.7% chance to take the NFC East).

Tom Brady’s new team leapfrogs his old one

The buzz around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots feels noticeably different this offseason. And yet, FPI doesn’t see much of a difference between these two teams. Though FPI does have Tampa Bay as the better of the two franchises entering 2020, the Bucs and Pats are back-to-back in the model’s rankings at No. 8 and No. 9.

That translates into a slight advantage for the Bucs in terms of chance to reach the playoffs. Tampa Bay has a 63% chance to reach the postseason, while FPI projects a 60% chance for New England. In other words, Brady’s departure has hurt FPI’s view of the Patriots, who finished last year fourth in its rankings, but the model has hardly written off Bill Belichick & Co. yet.

What about a seventh ring for Brady? Tampa Bay has a 4% chance to win the Super Bowl, and the Patriots have a 3% chance. Though the Bucs are legitimate contenders, these are the worst preseason projections a Brady-led team has had since ESPN started doing them in 2015.

The Buffalo Bills are AFC East favorites?

Technically, yes. But barely.

Here’s how close the margin is: Buffalo has a 41.0% chance to win the division while the Patriots are all the way down at … 40.9%. This division is a toss-up for the first time since we discovered fire.

The Bills rank one spot behind the Patriots in FPI’s rankings but have a slightly easier schedule. For their non-common opponents, the Patriots play the Ravens and Houston Texans, while the Bills play the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans.

Buffalo is one of four divisional favorites that did not win its division in 2019. The others are the Cowboys in the NFC East (48%), Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South (40%) and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North (38%).

Broncos, Colts face schedule extremes

One area in which FPI is particularly helpful is its ability to calculate strength of schedule. SOS is often calculated by using last year’s win-loss record, but that is a faulty measure. It fails to capture the fact that teams can be of different quality than their record suggests, given offseason player movement and the various effects of home-field advantage and rest differential. Sometimes SOS is computed by comparing the Vegas win totals of every team’s opponent, but this, too, is a faulty measure. Consider the Chiefs’ opponents: Their Vegas win totals factor in that they have to play the Chiefs, a more difficult than average game. The effect is that it makes the Chiefs’ schedule look easier than it is.

Though FPI is heavily reliant on preseason win totals, it teases out team ratings and therefore can calculate schedule strength without really running into any of those problems. And it says the Denver Broncos have the toughest schedule in the league, while the Colts have the easiest. The Broncos have five games against top-10 FPI teams: two against the Chiefs, one against the Bucs, one on the road at the Patriots and one against the Saints. The Colts have only one such game, at home against the Ravens in Week 9.

A new playoff format

The addition of a seventh playoff team in each conference has changed the structure of the postseason. An initial reaction to the league’s decision to increase the playoff field was that it made the No. 1 seed too powerful. But is that actually true? To test the effect of the seventh seed, we simulated the 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons based on preseason ratings with both the old 6-team format and the new 7-team format. What we found was somewhat surprising.

The No. 1 seed’s chances to reach the Super Bowl changed by a negligible amount from the old format to the new. The No. 2 seed, unsurprisingly, saw its chances drop significantly — down almost 11 percentage points — given that it has to play an extra game. But then, interestingly, the No. 3 seed became more likely to reach the Super Bowl (by 3 percentage points), as did the No. 4 seed (by 2%), No. 5 seed (by 1%) and No. 6 seed (by about 0.5%). The new No. 7 seed had a 4% chance to reach the Super Bowl.

But to be fair, those sims were based on the actual teams in each of these seasons. So it could be affected by the range of team strengths in those seasons. To test further, we ran additional sims in two additional scenarios: one in which each seed had a set level of team strength, and one in which all seeds were given the same team strength (before home-field advantage). But the same pattern emerged, though the No. 1 seed became slightly more likely to reach the Super Bowl under a 7-team format, and the No. 6 seed became slightly less likely to make the big game.

So what’s going on here? Though the No. 1 seed has a relatively much better position than the No. 2 seed, its path to the Super Bowl remains the same. With the new playoff format, the biggest changes are that it has the potential to face a No. 7 seed in the divisional round and that it is less likely to face the No. 2 seed in the conference championship. But based on our simulations, this amounts to either a negligible or small advantage.

The No. 3 seed’s increased chance to reach the Super Bowl is interesting but explainable. No matter what, the No. 3 seed ends up in a better scenario in the divisional round than it had before. Either it faces a No. 2 seed who no longer had the advantage of a bye, or it faces a lesser opponent and earns home-field advantage. There’s a similar story for the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds, as each is also less likely to play against the No. 1 seed than it was before, just to a lesser extent because they are not guaranteed a better position than they would have had before.

So to sum up: The No. 1 seed is much more likely than any other team to reach the Super Bowl, but its actual chances have barely increased over the old system. Instead, increased chances for the lower seeds — especially the No. 3 seed and the new No. 7 seed — come at the expense of the No. 2 seed.

Lucky No. 7

Speaking of those new seventh seeds, who does FPI predict they will be in 2020? No team is more likely to earn a No. 7 seed than the Cleveland Browns, who hold a 10% chance that they land precisely in that slot. The Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams — all also in the 10% chance range — are in close succession after Cleveland. One-third of the time in our simulations, the seventh seed came from a division with another wild-card team.

A seventh playoff team in the conference also opens up the possibility that all four teams in a division could reach the postseason. And in 2% of our simulations, that actually happened. By far the most likely division for that to happen is the NFC West, which achieved the result in 214 out of 20,000 simulations. The AFC North and AFC West are tied as the next-most-likely divisions to pull it off, and the NFC East is the least likely to do it.

Is Trevor Lawrence destined for Jacksonville?

The Jacksonville Jaguars are rolling the dice on Gardner Minshew II under center, and FPI is not optimistic about it. The upside for Jacksonville? It is the most likely team to land the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, with a 23% chance. The Washington Redskins, who just selected No. 2 in April, are the next highest with a 13% shot.

But even if the Jags don’t land the top pick, there’s a very good chance they’ll still land a top pick. There’s an 85% chance that Jacksonville, which is projected by FPI to win a league-low 4.9 games this season, is in the top 10 of next year’s draft.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be the No. 1 pick, either. Twelve months ago we assumed Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa would be the first pick in the 2020 draft. And 12 months before that we assumed USC’s Sam Darnold would go first in the 2018 class. Time will tell!

Football Power Index’s full 2020 season rankings

1. Kansas City Chiefs

Projected wins: 11.2
Chance to reach playoffs: 94%

2. Baltimore Ravens

Projected wins: 11.0
Chance to reach playoffs: 92%

3. San Francisco 49ers

Projected wins: 10.2
Chance to reach playoffs: 81%

4. New Orleans Saints

Projected wins: 10.2
Chance to reach playoffs: 83%

5. Dallas Cowboys

Projected wins: 9.3
Chance to reach playoffs: 69%

6. Philadelphia Eagles

Projected wins: 9.1
Chance to reach playoffs: 66%

7. Seattle Seahawks

Projected wins: 8.9
Chance to reach playoffs: 58%

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Projected wins: 9.1
Chance to reach playoffs: 63%

9. New England Patriots

Projected wins: 8.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 60%

10. Buffalo Bills

Projected wins: 8.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 60%

11. Los Angeles Rams

Projected wins: 8.3
Chance to reach playoffs: 45%

12. Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected wins: 8.8
Chance to reach playoffs: 58%

13. Minnesota Vikings

Projected wins: 8.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 54%

14. Indianapolis Colts

Projected wins: 8.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 58%

15. Green Bay Packers

Projected wins: 8.1
Chance to reach playoffs: 43%

16. Tennessee Titans

Projected wins: 8.4
Chance to reach playoffs: 55%

17. Denver Broncos

Projected wins: 7.4
Chance to reach playoffs: 32%

18. Atlanta Falcons

Projected wins: 7.5
Chance to reach playoffs: 31%

19. Cleveland Browns

Projected wins: 8.2
Chance to reach playoffs: 46%

20. Los Angeles Chargers

Projected wins: 7.7
Chance to reach playoffs: 35%

21. Chicago Bears

Projected wins: 8.0
Chance to reach playoffs: 41%

22. Arizona Cardinals

Projected wins: 7.3
Chance to reach playoffs: 25%

23. Las Vegas Raiders

Projected wins: 6.9
Chance to reach playoffs: 24%

24. Houston Texans

Projected wins: 7.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 38%

25. New York Jets

Projected wins: 6.8
Chance to reach playoffs: 24%

26. New York Giants

Projected wins: 6.1
Chance to reach playoffs: 12%

27. Miami Dolphins

Projected wins: 6.2
Chance to reach playoffs: 14%

28. Detroit Lions

Projected wins: 6.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 17%

29. Carolina Panthers

Projected wins: 5.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 7%

30. Cincinnati Bengals

Projected wins: 5.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 8%

31. Washington Redskins

Projected wins: 5.5
Chance to reach playoffs: 6%

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected wins: 4.9
Chance to reach playoffs: 4%

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Washington Nationals unveil 2019 World Series rings, which feature 170 diamonds, Baby Shark

With a stunning 170 diamonds and 23.2 carats of symbolism, the Washington Nationals' 2019 World Series championship rings were unveiled on Sunday in a virtual ceremony on television and the team's social media accounts.

Several team members were originally scheduled to receive their rings as part of the event, but the players collectively chose to postpone the ceremony until they could gather in person. The Nationals clinched their first World Series championship in franchise history by stunning the Houston Astros with a late rally in a 6-2 Game 7 win.

The front of the Nationals' ring reads "World Champions" and features the "Curly W" logo made up of 30 rubies, 108 diamonds and 32 sapphires to highlight the team's red, white and blue color scheme. One side displays the player's name and number, along with an outline of several iconic Washington, D.C., landmarks. The other side shows the World Series trophy with the championship motto "Fight Finished."

On the inside portion of the ring, Nationals' playoff series wins are noted, along with an etching of a small shark in honor of outfielder Gerardo Parra's wildly popular "Baby Shark" walk-up song. 

2019: Washington Nationals (Photo: Josten's)

As for the symbolism, here's how the 23.2 total carats of gemstones were broken down:

Thirty rubies stand for 30 runs scored in four World Series wins.

Thirty-two sapphires stand for seven walk-off wins, plus 13 shutout wins, plus eight longest winning streak, plus four postseason rounds won. One-hundred eight diamonds stand for 105 regular-season and postseason wins, plus one World Series championship, plus two in, "a nod to the duality of franchise history." (The Nationals were once the Montreal Expos.)

One other feature of the ring is an inscription of manager Dave Martinez's mantra of "Go 1-0 every day."

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2019 Washington Nationals World Series Championship [email protected] // #NATITUDEpic.twitter.com/TqPTnEIFsa

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Twins’ Class AA team, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, list stadium on Airbnb for $1,500 per night

With no minor league baseball games to be played, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos are getting creative and diving into the hospitality business. 

The team, the Class AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins that plays in the Southern League, listed Blue Wahoos Stadium on Airbnb, starting at $1,500 a night (plus fees). 

Up to 10 guests can stay at the stadium, with four bunk beds and a pair of queen sized beds available in rooms adjacent to the clubhouse. Visitors will have full access to the stadium, including the batting cages. 

Per the listing, "guests are welcome to hit from home plate, play catch in the outfield, run the bases, enjoy a picnic in the outfield, or find other creative uses for the field!"

The clubhouse features "four leather couches, two flat screen TVs, a ping pong table, padded chairs and two large tables. Two bathrooms with showers are connected directly to the clubhouse." There are two more flat screens and a kitchenette in the bedroom. 

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A Blue Wahoos staff member will remain on site throughout the stay to answer questions and provide security. 

The Blue Wahoos, co-owned by professional golfer Bubba Watson, set up a disc golf course on the field for fans to enjoy on Friday and will do so again Sunday. On Saturday, a local baseball tournament took place on the field. And on May 29, Pensacola is hosting a movie and fireworks night. 

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Tom Brady’s trash talk is about as lame as you’d think it is

Maybe Tom Brady should stick to his day job. Well, kind of.

The veteran quarterback is making a new home in Florida for this upcoming season — as you may or may not have heard — and he’s going to be calling plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With a new team in a new division comes new rivals, and with new rivals comes an opportunity to plant your flag by talking a little smack. Saints head coach Sean Payton revealed that he sent Tom Brady a text soon after the NFL schedule release, getting an early start on territorial rights.

“We want to quiet the cannons, that’s what I text Tom, hashtag keep the cannons quiet,” Payton said during an Instagram Live session with NFL Network’s Kay Adams. “We’ve known each other for years.”

Brady’s response?

“Oh, he laughs. He says, ‘You guys are the favorites, we’re the underdogs,’ blah, blah, blah.‘”

Jeez, Tom. That’s it? For a notorious smack-talker, he needs new material, especially for a potential Week 1 divisional matchup between the Bucs and the Saints. 

The “underdogs” thing is something that’s been a staple of Brady’s career, as he has espoused the underdog mantra for his entire NFL tenure. The idea of a Brady-led team being an underdog is a bit of malarkey, of course. The Patriots entered their 2019 playoff matchup vs. the Chiefs as underdogs for the first time in the 67 games prior.

Brady has the Michael Jordan mentality in that he’ll find motivation from everything, whether it be headlines on sports pages or Starbucks baristas spelling his name wrong on cups. Whatever works, man. To that end, it has worked, since Brady’s a six-time Super Bowl champ.

By the way, Payton doesn’t get a pass here, either. “#KeepTheCannonsQuiet” is entirely too long of a hashtag.

Come on, guys. Give us better trash talk than that in these sports-less times. We’re craving some real drama.

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Joe Flacco signs with New York Jets on one-year deal

The New York Jets have signed Joe Flacco as their back-up quarterback on a one-year deal, reportedly worth $1.5m with $3m in potential add-ons.

The 35-year-old was released by the Denver Broncos after failing a physical examination in March and underwent surgery on a neck problem last month.

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Flacco’s only season in Denver was cut short when he was placed on injured reserve on November 1 with a herniated cervical disk in his neck, having served as their starting quarterback for the first half of the 2019 campaign.

Acquired from the Baltimore Ravens for a fourth-round pick last year, Flacco started eight games for the Broncos before getting hurt, throwing for 1,822 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions as Denver started 2-6.

His 85.1 passer rating was his highest mark in a season since 2014 (91.0).

Flacco has a career passer rating of 84.1, having thrown 218 touchdown passes and 141 interceptions. He has thrown for a total of 40,067 yards.

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A universal DH opens the door to these potential breakout NL hitters

Sure, some sports are back. But "sports" as we know them are largely still on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Today is Day 72 without sports ⚾️.

Although many details have yet to be ironed out, there's growing optimism we'll have Major League Baseball back at some point this summer.

Assuming the players and owners can reach a compromise off the field, one of the most likely changes on the field for this season is the use of the designated hitter in every game. There’s simply no reason for any pitcher to set foot in a batter’s box in 2020.

An extra hitter in every National League team's lineup can potentially ease some playing-time crunches — and open the door to breakout performances. 

Cubs outfielder Ian Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie in 2017, but spent most of the 2019 season in the minor leagues. (Photo: Rick Scuteri, USA TODAY Sports)

Here are eight post-hype NL sleepers, all 26 or younger, who are poised to take their games to the next level in an abbreviated season.

OF Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs. Happ hit 24 homers in 2017, but his power dropped off the following season and he spent most of last year at Class AAA. A switch-hitter with a bit more pop from the right side, Happ, 25, showed signs of a rebound when he returned to Chicago with an outstanding .300 isolated slugging percentage in 140 at-bats.

SS Carter Kieboom, Washington Nationals. The defensive struggles he had while replacing injured shortstop Trea Turner during last year's two-week cameo almost certainly impacted Kieboom on offense. But the 2016 first-rounder has always been able to hit. With Turner healthy, Kieboom, 22, will get his chance playing third base.

3B/OF Scott Kingery, Philadelphia Phillies. Big things were expected when Kingery signed a long-term contract two years ago – before he’d ever played a game in the majors. Although his 2019 counting stats were decent (19 home runs, 15 stolen bases), there’s still plenty of room for growth in his age-26 season.

OF Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals. His stat sheet is dominated by home runs and strikeouts … and last year, injuries also figured prominently. But O’Neill, 24, has plenty of untapped potential. He has elite sprint speed – at 29.9 feet/second, he surprisingly ranked 10th (out of 568 players) in the majors last year – so an improvement in contact rate and an extra lineup slot could help elevate his profile significantly.

OF Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves. Riley, 23, hit nine home runs in his first 18 games after being promoted, but his star quickly faded when pitchers stopped challenging him. He hit nine more homers over his last 62 games and struck out nearly 38% of the time. Off to a strong start at the plate this spring, Riley has several avenues to playing time at third base, outfield or DH.

2B Brendan Rodgers, Colorado Rockies. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Rodgers also saw his season cut short by shoulder surgery. Throughout the minors, he had a tendency to struggle initially at a new level before ultimately succeeding. The pattern repeated as he hit .224/.272/.250 in 81 plate appearances after making his MLB debut as a 22-year-old last May. That experience should make him more prepared, while the DH should offer additional avenues to playing time.

OF Josh Rojas, Arizona Diamondbacks. One of four players the D’backs received in the Zack Greinke trade, Rojas, 25, hit a sizzling .332/.418/1.023 in the minors, but struggled after making his MLB debut last August. He played all four infield positions in the minors, but was almost exclusively an outfielder in Arizona. Rojas should see action all over the diamond as extra playing time opens up.

OF Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, Senzel had a disappointing MLB debut, hitting .256/.315/.427 and suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in September. This season’s delayed start should have him close to 100% recovered from surgery — and a DH spot will keep his bat in the lineup without taxing him too much on defense. Senzel, 24, has the hit tool and the speed to be an impact player – as long as he’s healthy enough to play every day. 

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New York Jets and Jamal Adams in stand-off over contract extension

Talks over a new deal for New York Jets safety Jamal Adams have come to a standstill, with reports the two sides have even discussed the possibility of a trade.

Adams and the Jets have reportedly had several discussions since last month’s Draft, but remain divided over the timing and urgency of an improved contract.

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The 24-year-old, a two-time Pro Bowl selection since being taken by New York with the sixth overall pick in 2017, is entering his fourth season and is due to make $3.5m in 2020.

The Jets want to wait to do a long-term extension while Adams wants one done before the season.

Timing is on the Jets’ side, having already exercised Adams’ fifth-year option, putting him under team control for the next two seasons before his contract runs out.

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“Winning has a price…”

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“Winning has a price…”

A post shared by Jamal Adams (@presidentmal) on

If he plays on his fifth-year option, Adams would make $9.9m in 2021.

According to ESPN, the two sides even talked about the possibility of a trade, something Adams is reportedly open to but that the Jets want no part of.

There are also reports more than half the teams in the NFL have reached out to the Jets with interest in a possible trade for Adams.

The Jets reportedly entertained trade offers for Adams last year, with the Dallas Cowboys heavily linked.

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