Vince Wilfork Asks Patriots For Release After 10 Seasons With Team

The New England Patriots likely are set to release a team icon. All-Pro defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has asked the Patriots to release him, sources told NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.

Wilfork spent 10 seasons with the team. Releasing Wilfork would save the Patriots $8 million in salary cap space. Wilfork was set to count $11.6 million against the cap in 2014. The Patriots approached Wilfork about a restructured contract once, Rapoport reports.

Wilfork and the Patriots have not been in contact recently. Wilfork was drafted No. 21 overall in 2004. He was named to five Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams as a Patriot. Wilfork spent the last 13 weeks of the 2013 NFL season on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons. Wilfork, 32, was entering the last season of the five-year, $40 million contract he signed in 2010. He will become a free agent if officially released.

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Darryl Sharpton agrees to one-year deal with Redskins

WASHINGTON — A person familiar with the deal says the Washington Redskins have agreed to a one-year contract with free agent linebacker Darryl Sharpton.

The person confirmed the deal on Thursday on condition of anonymity because the contract had not yet been signed.

Sharpton would help the Redskins’ special teams and could be another candidate to replace London Fletcher, who is expected to retire.

Sharpton has started 19 games over four seasons with the Texans, including eight starts last year after Brian Cushing went down with a knee injury.

The Redskins also signed defensive end Clifton Geathers, who has been a backup for four teams over four NFL seasons. He spent last year with the Philadelphia Eagles.

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Washington Redskins Should Sign Devin Hester

The Washington Redskins‘ special teams embodies the term “many happy returns.” Unfortunately, that term mostly applied to the Redskins’ opponents in 2013. The Redskins surrendered four touchdowns via punt or kickoff return in 2013, the most allowed by any team. Returning punts and kickoffs provided additional ineptitude for the Redskins, as they finished 25th in the NFL in both categories while not recording a touchdown. It’s performances like this that get special teams coaches fired, and that’s exactly what happened when first year special teams coach Keith Burns was relieved of his coaching duties after the season.

In Burns’ defense, the kick returning duo of tight end Niles Paul and wide receiver Josh Morgan doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opposing special teams coaches. Neither does wide receiver Santana Moss, who once was a premier NFL punt returner. Not anymore, however, as Moss turns 35 in June, and most likely won’t be returning punts for the Redskins anymore.

None of that matters now. The Redskins need a spark on special teams. Free agent kick returner Devin Hester (above, No. 23) could be that spark. The Chicago Bears recently released Hester, apparently not wanting to pay him the approximate $3 million he could be seeking in 2014. That’s a lot of money to pay a specialist like Hester, who hasn’t proven capable of consistently producing in any other capacity other than returning kicks. Hester also turns 32 in November, and it would be hard to justify signing a kick return specialist like him for such a high price.

Despite Washington’s need to spend cautiously during free agency, Hester would be a great fit. The Redskins currently don’t have anyone that can provide efficiency in the kick return game. Cornerback Richard Crawford was supposed to provide that efficiency as a punt returner, but he suffered a season ending torn ACL injury before the 2013 season. If he fully recovers from that injury, it’s hard to determine how efficient he would be returning punts.

Hester set NFL records with 13 career punt returns for touchdowns, as well as returning 18 total kicks for touchdowns. In addition, Hester has also spent time at wide receiver. That won’t be necessary, with Washington signing wide receiver Andre Roberts to fill that role.

Hester is a more of a luxury than a priority for the Redskins, as shoring up their defense should be a top priority.  Nevertheless, signing this great return specialist could bring excitement to the once again woebegone Redskins’ franchise.

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Kellen Winslow Jr. back in court, but ruling on possession charge delayed

HANOVER – Former Jets tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. made a cameo appearance in municipal court Thursday to answer charges he was in possession of banned synthetic marijuana last fall, but a ruling was postponed for one last battle, staged in briefs, between the defense and prosecutors.

Defense attorney Harvey Steinberg said he will argue in his submission to the court that the substance found in Winslow’s car in the parking lot outside Target in East Hanover was not on the banned substance list at the time.

Municipal Judge Vincent A. Pirone, agitated that the case “goes back quite a ways,” told Steinberg he had three weeks to submit his brief. Prosecutors then would have five days to respond, and Pirone said he would rule by April 24, based solely on the paperwork. Steinberg, who has represented several other NFL players in court, had asked for 30 days.

The discussion took roughly three minutes.

Winslow -- who was dressed for his appearance in a red-and-black checked shirt, jeans and sneakers -- was charged when police responded to a report by a woman on Nov. 19 that she believed Winslow was masturbating in his vehicle outside Target.

When police arrived at the Route 10 department store, officers found Winslow, in sweat pants with his genitals covered, they said. When told what the woman had claimed, Winslow denied he had been masturbating and said he had been smoking and changed clothes so that he didn’t smell like smoke before returning home, police said. He added he had become lost while looking for the nearby Boston Market.

No charges were filed in connection to the masturbation claim.

Lab tests that came back on Dec. 23 revealed Winslow was in possession of synthetic marijuana, prosecutors said. He was formally charged on Dec. 30, and pleaded not guilty before a judge in Superior Court in Morristown in January.

When the incident report was released on Jan. 17 and the masturbation claim was reported by, Winslow released a statement calling it “ridiculous.” When approached for further comment before court began Thursday, Winslow said, “Hold on,” and ducked into the courtroom to meet with his attorneys.

After court, Winslow refused comment on his legal matters, and also deflected football questions. Steinberg also refused comment.

When asked if he had become a free agent as expected on Tuesday, Winslow replied, “Yeah, I’m free,” and left the municipal building.


Yonder Alonso doubles twice against the Brewers

Yonder Alonso doubled twice in three at-bats as the Padres were shut out 8-0 by the Brewers.

Alonso brought his average up to .333 in 27 Cactus League at-bats. Four of his nine hits have gone for extra bases. Nevertheless, Alonso shouldn't be expected to post lofty power numbers as he carries a sub-.400 slugging percentage in 1,121 career plate appearances.

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Jon Jay seeing new positions, showing versatility

(BaseballStL) -- Jon Jay gets the start in left field Thursday.

The move shows the Cardinals plan on moving him around as opposed to just being stationary in center like he has been the last couple years.  

Jay's new calling card is going to have to be versatility. He's not long to be an everyday player.  

He'll get a lot of at-bats but as a bench guy, he's going to need to be able to move around.  

Fortunately, if you can play center you can play left or right. Jay's solid enough defensively to handle the adjustment.

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Jon Beason, Giants agree to deal

The New York Giants and Jon Beason have agreed on a contract that will keep the linebacker with the team, a source told Terms were not disclosed.

The Carolina Panthers' first-round pick in 2007, Beason was a Pro Bowler in 2008, 2009 and 2010 before injuries began to wear him down.

He lost his starting middle linebacker job to Luke Kuechly in 2012, and he was a poor fit on the outside for Carolina, which traded him to the Giants for a seventh-round pick in October 2013.

The Giants immediately installed Beason as their middle linebacker, giving him responsibility for making the calls on the defense, and his new teammates accepted him and followed him as a leader.

The Giants' defense performed noticeably better over the final 11 games with Beason in the middle of it. He recorded 93 tackles in those 11 games, including 17 in the Dec. 1 road victory over the Redskins.

Beason, 29, played 15 games in 2013 after injuries limited him to a total of five in the previous two seasons.

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Chiefs Showing Interest In Devin Hester

Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star confirmed on Tuesday the Chiefs have interest in Devin Hester. How much sense Hester would make within the Chiefs offense is unknown but we do know he would perform well in special teams under Dave Toub. Even at age 31, Hester ranked in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns, according to PFF. Money could be an issue with Hester, however.

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Rookie season a roller coaster for Mavericks’ Shane Larkin

SALT LAKE CITY — He hasn’t given up on this season and all the values of being a professional player it has taught him, but Dallas Mavericks point guard Shane Larkin can’t wait until next season.

Especially after the way things have gone for him this season.

A rookie from Miami, Larkin broke his right ankle in July in the last practice before the the Mavericks left town to play in the Las Vegas Summer League. The injury forced Larkin to not only miss the summer league, but training camp, the preseason and the first 10 games of the regular season.

He’s been playing catch-up ever since.

“Its been a roller-coaster ride from the beginning, missing training camp, missing preseason, not getting the reps, being thrown in, getting a lot of minutes early and then kind of hitting some sort of slump,” Larkin said. “And then getting my minutes taken, and then getting the minutes back and playing 15 minutes a game, and then Devin [Harris] coming back and playing with him and not playing with him, and down to the D-League.”

In order words, Larkin’s head has been on a swivel all season. But he hopes a summer league, a training camp and a preseason will enhance his chances of playing more next season.

“That’s going to be a big thing going into next year, trying to gain the confidence of Dirk [Nowitzki], Monta [Ellis], Vince [Carter], Jose [Calderon] and all those guys, just to prove that last year was an up and down season,” Larkin said. “I didn’t get to play with them in preseason, I didn’t really get chemistry with them.
“And going into next year, that’s going to be the biggest thing — more on the court time with them in practice. That’s something I’m looking forward to.”

Larkin saw meaningful action for the first time in months Tuesday when he played 16 minutes against the Golden State Warriors. He was 0-of-4 from the field and went scoreless, but he did contribute three steals and three assists.

“He was aggressive on defense,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been awhile since he’s played some meaningful minutes when it’s really counted, so that’s getting his feet back in it.

“Look, this is part of the roller coaster of being a rookie in this league. You could be in it one night and out for three weeks — you got to just stay ready.”

Larkin recently played two games for the D-League’s Texas Legends, which gave him a chance to get some court time and work on his game.

“That was good for me to go down and get a rhythm,” said Larkin, who averages 2.9 points in 11.1 minutes per game. “You can see I’m becoming more and more comfortable down there.

“My last game I had my best stats down there, so I’m getting more comfortable playing with them, and it’s good just to go down there and get some rhythm, and get some playing time.”

Now, if only he can get that on the NBA level. He hopes a full complement of the summer league, training camp and preseason will do the trick.

“Summer league is big for rookies coming in,” Larkin said. “I’m definitely going to go out there this year and prove myself.

“One of the biggest thing is you’ll see a lot of intensity and lot different player than what I think I’ve shown this year.”

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Lauryn Williams comes home to thank her fans, inspire youth

ROCHESTER -- Lauryn Williams' life has been a whirlwind since she became part of Olympic history last month.

She has criss-crossed the country making appearances, both with and without her partner, Elana Meyers, with whom she won a silver medal in women's bobsled in Sochi, Russia.

But one thing was important to the Rochester native as she traveled the nation -- she wanted to come home.

Williams got her wish, as she spends the next several days in western Pennsylvania to visit family, friends and her large legion of fans.

"I’m very much looking forward to coming home," Williams said. "Although I no longer live here, Rochester will always be very special to me. The people of Rochester have been absolutely wonderful throughout this whole process and I just want to thank them in person."

The next days promise to be busy ones for the four-time U.S. Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist.

Friday, Williams will make an 11 a.m. stop at Baden Academy Charter School and at 1 p.m., she will visit her Rochester High alma mater. From 5 to 6:30 p.m., she will host a meet-and-greet for the general public in the Rochester gymnasium.

"The students and staff are very excited about Lauryn's visit," Rochester principal Mike Damon said. "I was not here when she was a student here and am looking forward to meeting her myself.

"She is a wonderful example of how hard work and dedication can impact a person's life."

Damon said several teachers who had Williams in class prior to her 2001 graduation will speak. Among them is Wes Hunkler, a mathematics/computer instructor who collects press clippings on Williams' career.

On Saturday, Williams will participate in the Pittsburgh St. Patrick's Day Parade. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. downtown.

Williams says that while she has been living out of a suitcases for the past three weeks, she is enjoying the moment.

"I’m currently on a 25-day trip full of events, meetings and other fun stuff," she said. "So I’m happy and grateful that I'm able to fit in a visit to Rochester to say hello and thank you to the fans who have supported me from day one."

Day one started well over a decade ago for the 30-year-old, who began to turn heads on the Junior Olympics circuit before setting Rochester High records in the 100- and 200-meter runs, 400-meter relay and long jump. She further honed her skill at the University of Miami, and, in 2004, won a silver medal in the 100 meters at the Athens Olympics. In 2012, she was a member of the United States' 4x100 relay team that won gold in London.

A nagging hamstring injury forced Williams to retire her track shoes last summer, but a chance airport encounter with fellow track and field star Lolo Jones led Williams to follow Jones onto the bobsled circuit.

Just a week into the sport, Williams placed third in the U.S. Push Championships and was named to the U.S. Women’s National Bobsled team. While competing on the international circuit, Williams won two silver medals and one gold medal in five World Cup events. This unprecedented rookie success resulted on a spot on Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics as a brakeman/pushman behind driver Meyers.

"I really just started with what I knew from track because there are a lot of similarities between running and serving as a bobsled brakeman. Having a track and field background definitely helped," she said. "In bobsledding, the brakeman’s job is to run fast and generate enough power to give the driver an edge and that’s my specialty.

"I was actually too light when I first started, so I had to put on some pounds," the 5-foot-3 Williams added. "In the process, I got to eat whatever I wanted, which was great."

In Williams’ first heat in the Winter Olympics, she set the push start record with a time of 5.13 seconds, resulting in a track record for Meyers and her. In Williams’ second heat, she beat her original record to set a new mark with a blistering time of 5.12 seconds. She and Meyers were overtaken by Canada in the final run, finishing just 0.10 seconds from gold.

Williams became one of only five individuals to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, and the first American woman to do so.
"Believe it or not, I haven’t had much time to sit and digest everything," she said. "When things calm down and I’m able to breathe, I’ll be able to reflect on the gravity of what just happened and how I can use that to further inspire and motivate young people."

Williams said she is uncertain where she goes from here, but is keeping her options open.

"If this most recent Olympic experience has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to never say never," she said. "I never thought I would get into bobsled, compete in the Winter Olympics, or win a silver medal doing it, but I did and it was an amazing experience. While I’m working on the next phase of my life, I haven’t completely ruled out another Olympics.

"But right now, I definitely want kids to know that you can do anything you put your mind to, and accomplish anything you want to achieve, because hard work knows no limits."

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Yasmani Grandal playing catch-up after rehabbing knee

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres still have a lot of catchers in camp, and manager Bud Black says they're all going to play in the coming days. But it's possible that the one San Diego is most interested in watching is Yasmani Grandal.

Grandal, who is coming back from July 2013 surgery to repair the anterior collateral and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee, has offensive upside, as evidenced by his .297 average, eight home run, 36 RBI production in a 60-game stint in 2012. After that season ended, Grandal was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for testosterone and ended up having his season cut short by the injury, leaving him with a .216 average and one homer in 28 games.

Things are getting better, however.

Grandal's knee has progressed quickly and he made his Cactus League debut Monday, going 1-for-2 and catching three innings in a win over the Rockies at Salt River Fields. On Wednesday morning, Padres manager Bud Black said Grandal would likely play in Thursday's home game against the Brewers, too.

"As Spring Training goes, there's a progression of how you use your players, especially the catchers, how you build their endurance to get them ready for the regular season," Black said.

"But Yasi now is a little bit behind, obviously, from where he started. He's still in a little bit of rehab mode but starting to transition toward full-time player mode. And that's a good thing. Any time you start transitioning from rehab player to player, without any restriction, that's where you want to be."

Black said there are still restrictions, but not too many.

"Physically, he's doing great, and he feels good about where he is, the medical staff feels good about where he is," Black said. "It's great to have him back out on the diamond playing."

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Ryan Braun, cleat company 3N2 agree

Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun has agreed to his first endorsement deal since he was suspended for 65 games last season for violating Major League Baseball's anti-drug agreement.

Upstart baseball cleat manufacturer 3N2 said it will pay Braun a fraction of the price he was getting from Nike, which terminated his deal on Aug. 2, although specific terms were not disclosed.

3N2 president Marty Graham told that the company contacted Braun's representatives that day to talk about a possible deal. Things got more serious when Braun tried on the shoes, and he's been wearing them throughout spring training.

"We believe in Ryan," Graham said. "We've all made mistakes, and we're all human beings. Our country is about second chances."

Sports-market tracking firm SportsOneSource says that 3N2 has 0.2 percent market share of the roughly $220 million U.S. baseball cleat market behind the likes of industry leaders Nike, Under Armour, Mizuno, adidas and New Balance. Graham says that because smaller, independent distributors aren't as well tracked, the company believes it has closer to a 2 percent share.

As of December, Braun -- who lost $3.3 million in salary as a result of the suspension -- was known by 25 percent of U.S. consumers, according to the Davie Brown Index. The DBI data reflects that Braun's appeal among consumers is in line with those of Donald Trump and Dennis Rodman, and his endorsement value currently ranks with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

"With this being Ryan's first announced endorsement since all of the negative publicity hit, it better be airtight and really authentic," said Matt Delzell, managing director of celebrity talent The Marketing Arm, which owns the DBI.

Graham doesn't think there's any risk for his company in backing Braun.

"We're very honest," Graham said. "We're not Nike or Under Armour, who do cleats and products across a variety of categories. This is who we are. Once Ryan has the year we think he is going to have, much of the past will be water under the bridge."

3N2 isn't the only company that will give Braun new life in 2014. Nike's termination opened up the chance to get not only a new shoe brand but also a new batting glove. An official with Franklin says Braun will get paid to wear the company's "Natural II" line this season.

"He is one of the best players in the game and definitely will be out to prove himself this year," said Adam Franklin, the company's director of e-commerce.
In September, in the midst of his suspension, Braun's name was taken off a restaurant in Milwaukee that bore his name.

Braun was suspended 50 games for being a first-time offender in the drug program and 15 more games for conduct detrimental to the investigation into his role with the Biogenesis clinic scandal.

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All Is Quiet On The Vince Wilfork Front

All’s quiet on the Vince Wilfork front, as well. While there have been reports about the defensive tackle being approached by the team about his $11.6 million cap hit, and about doing something with the final year of his deal, everything, at least for the moment, remains status quo.

Should the need arise, the Patriots still have other avenues to pursue to shave off cap money if they begin signing players to lucrative deals. The Pats just have to keep the top 51 contracts beneath the $133 million salary cap threshold when rosters are set before Week 1 of the 2014 season.

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Clinton Portis -- Tight Pants Don't Make You Gay ... They Make You Fashionable


Skinny jeans don't dictate sexual orientation ... so says ex-NFL running back Clinton Portis who tells TMZ Sports he's already prepping for a wave of homophobic hate over his extremely tight pants. 

The former Washington Redskins superstar rocked his new look during an appearance on the NFL Network last week ... and people instantly went to Twitter to deliver the gay jokes, such as: 

-- "Clinton Portis dressing like he heading to the local gay bar & sh*t!!"
-- "Clinton Portis pants on nfl am gay as sh*t."
-- "Is Clinton portis Gay cause what he have on is wow Lmbo"

But Clinton tells TMZ Sports it doesn't bother him ... saying, ""People are really judgmental. They'll make comments, but I'm comfortable with myself. I know I like girls. I felt good about the outfit." 

Portis -- who notes he bought the entire outfit at Zara for $300 (including the shoes) -- says, "People say 'I can't believe you wore that.' Give them some time and everyone will be wearing it."

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Money a question mark for Devin Hester

CHICAGO -- The idea of three-time Pro Bowl returner Devin Hester reuniting with ex-Chicago Bears' special teams coordinator Dave Toub in Kansas City remains "a possibility," according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, but the Chiefs are not believed to have the financial flexibility to overspend to acquire Hester.

Hester earned a total of $2,107,523 in the final year of his contract with the Bears, but he is not expected to command that kind of money on the open market after the Bears announced Hester would not be re-signed.

One league source anticipates Hester will have to settle for around $1 million, although it's unknown if any concrete figures were exchanged between Hester and interested teams during the NFL's legal tampering period leading up the start of free agency.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with former Bears and current Bucs head coach Lovie Smith calling the shots, are also believed to be a potential match for Hester.

Hester set the Bears' single-game record last year with 249 kickoff return yards versus the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2. He finished the year with 51 kickoff returns for 1,436 yards (27.6 yard average) and 18 punt returns for 256 yards and one touchdown.

Hester holds the all-time NFL record for combined career kick return touchdowns with 18.

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Redskins re-sign WR Santana Moss

The Redskins have re-signed veteran wide receiver Santana Moss to a one-year deal, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed.

Moss, entering his 14th NFL season, turns 35 in June. Last season he recorded 42 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns.

It remains unclear what type of role Moss will have considering the team earlier on Tuesday came to an agreement with slot receiver Andre Roberts.

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Chicago Bears Re-Sign DJ Williams to 1-Year Deal

The Chicago Bears have agreed to terms on a 1-year deal with veteran linebacker DJ Williams, per Josina Anderson:

Text from LB D.J. Williams: "I've agreed to sign with the Bears."

For everyone rushing Shea McClellin or Jon Bostic to the middle linebacker spot, not so fast.  DJ is in the house!

Williams was brought in last offseason as a stopgap for the “retiring” Brian Urlacher.  The Bears drafted Jonathan Bostic in the second round, presumably to play middle linebacker, but after part of the season at the Mike, Phil Emery acknowledged that Bostic’s strength might be on the outside.  I suspect he’s going to study at the hand of Lance Briggs and replace Lance when he’s done with the Bears.

Williams was just starting to hit his stride with the Bears when a torn pectoral muscle that cost him the rest of last season after just just a handful of games with the Bears last season.  They must have seen enough in him to bring him back on another 1-year deal, terms not yet disclosed.

It’s not the sexiest pickup for the Bears, but it’s another solid addition to their defense that will create a ton of competition at the linebacker position.

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Jon Beason Reportedly Pricing Himself Out of New York Giants’ Range

One of the big offseason focuses for the New York Giants has been re-signing linebacker Jon Beason — something that was once considered their top priority. But with the official start to free agency looming, a deal between the two sides has not been struck and Beason has become an unrestricted free agent.

One of the problems, suggests Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network, is Beason's asking price, which is said to be outside of the Giants' range.

One of the surprises of free agency was Jon Beason not re-signing with Giants _ at least yet, Representing yourself in talks can be shaky

Just told he's asking too much for NYG ... MT @APTCan One surprise of free agency is Jon Beason not re-signing with Giants_at least yet

Previously, Beason hinted that money wasn't much of an issue. Rather, he felt proud to be a part of the Giants organization and had said many times he'd love to re-sign. In his own words, it wasn't about money, but rather, all "about winning."

"Being a free agent, it’s the first time where you get to choose where you want to play or who you want to play with and all of that stuff," Beason said. "But when you come to a place like the New York Giants, there are high standards, there are great players and this team has done it on a consistent level, so for me it’s all about winning at this point in my career."

Although Beason is asking too much for the Giants at the moment, it doesn't necessarily mean that bridge has been burned or that there's no going back. The reality is, Beason gambled when he opted to represent himself, and may soon find that the market doesn't support his asking price. If and when that happens, expect he and the Giants to rekindle their contract negotiations.

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Ryan Jackson in the running for bench role with Padres

The Padres are taking a long look at infielder Ryan Jackson as a potential bench bat this season, reports.

Jackson has shown versatility in the infield this spring, playing second base, third base and shortstop, and has been impressive defensively. While he isn't a major threat with his bat, he did go 2 for 3 with a triple and a home run in his previous two games heading into Tuesday's action.

Jackson made a brief, seven-game appearance with the Cardinals last season while hitting .278/.352/.346 in 442 at-bats at Triple-A Memphis.

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Ryan Braun: 'I'll just let my work speak for itself, as every artist should'

With Alex Rodriguez suspended for the season, I'm not sure there is a more hated active player right now than Ryan Braun. He served a 65-game suspension for his ties to Biogenesis last year, but not before beating a failed performance-enhancing drug test in an appeal during the 2011-12 offseason and dragging several people through the mud along the way.

The boos and nasty chants have already started in spring training, but Braun told Bob Nightengale of USA Today they don't bother him:

"Dude, say what you want about me, but I am strong,'' Braun says in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY Sports. "Mentally, and emotionally, I am strong.

"This doesn't bother me. People may have something new to yell now, but it's really no different than anything I've gone though. I've never gone to Chicago and had them cheer for me. I've never gone to St. Louis and had them say, "I hope you do great.' Nobody's fans have ever cheered for the opposing team's best player.

"I'm sure it will be a bit adventuresome at times this year, but if anything, it's probably better now. Normally, you go to Philly and Chicago, and they're talking about your mom, your sister, your girlfriend, whatever. So, now, it will be just about me.''

Braun, 30, is 7 for 11 with two doubles, two homers, three walks and one strikeout in six spring training games so far. He heard "M-V-P-E-D" chants earlier this spring according to Nightengale -- I applaud the creativity -- and is regularly heckled not just while at the plate, but while in the field and the on-deck circle as well.

Still, Braun is not concerned about what he hears from the fans because he can't control it. He is focused on getting back to being one of the best players in the world.

"I'm one of the league leaders in confidence,'' says Braun, who is hitting .636 this spring with two homers. "If I perform like I've always done, I'll be one of the best players in this game. I don't need any added motivation of drama at work.

"I'll just let my work speak for itself, as every artist should.''

An artist, huh? No, I would not say confidence is a problem for Braun at this point.

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Yasmani Grandal plays in first game since July

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In his first plate appearance since July 6, Yasmani Grandal wasted no time. The first pitch he saw, a fastball up and in, was redirected through the middle for a seventh-inning single.

His first appearance behind the plate, also since July 6, arrived in the bottom of the inning. Almost immediately, the Rockies challenged the Padres catcher.
Grandal was up to it. With two outs, Rosell Herrera took off from first. The would-be base-stealer slid into second but was met with a tag.

Inning over. Return begun, officially.

Indeed, Monday was one of great consequence for Grandal, a little more than eight months after he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, and barely seven months after he underwent reconstructive surgery.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Grandal said after the game. “This is what I’ve been working for since day one. Just seeing the results, seeing how I feel, means we did a good job in the offseason. Everybody I worked with did a great job with me.”

Rene Rivera started and played the first six innings of the Padres’ 5-0 shutout of Colorado. Grandal closed it out from there. Besides his single, he grounded out in his other at-bat.

Saturday, Grandal caught three innings in a simulated game. It was a major step. The next arrived Monday.

“He bounced back great from Saturday,” Padres manager Bud Black said. “There’s still a process with Yazi as we move forward. He still has to build endurance and stamina, but it’s good to see in a real game. It’s a different type of intensity and emotion, and he handled it very well today.”

The steps after Monday will include catching more innings, building up to a full nine, and then on back-to-back days. While Opening Day remains a possibility for Grandal, the build-up will remain gradual.

“It’s a process, and I understand the process,” Grandal said. “It’s a process that’s going to benefit me in the future, and that’s what we’re looking forward to. I want to be here in the playoffs. I want to be here during the season, but the playoffs is what counts.”

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What NFL personnel people said about Sam Shields

Green Bay - Here's what three executives in personnel for National Football League teams had to say about cornerback Sam Shields in the last week.

Their comments were made before Shields was resigned by the Green Bay Packers Saturday for what a source said was worth $39 million over four years, or $9.75 million per year.

NFC scout: "He's somewhat of a mystery to me. I think he's played well enough to merit other teams liking him but I also think there's a lot of issues that go into him historically that might cause some to back off. He's a corner so he might get a look. He must think there's a big pot o' gold. There's definitely holes in his game. The board at corner shrunk because (Brent) Grimes signed with Miami. There''s still probably a handful of corners that are better than him."

AFC scout: "Rising starter. Not a No. 1. He's a solid No. 2 starting corner. If you look at some of the corner deals that got done in the past he should feel he should get a complementary contract. The market last year in free agency was depressed at corner. But here's a young player (26) who still actually may be ascending, to a degree, and be a starter for the next five years. Drew (Rosenhaus) usually is pretty good at what he thinks he can get. I wouldn't be surprised if he got somewhere between $7 million and $8 million (per year)."

AFC scout: "He can run and cover with most people. If people are comfortable with his lack of physicalness then he's got a chance to get paid. If you look at him and say, 'OK, this is a cover corner and that's what he's going to be doing, and I'm going to pay him for his coverage skills and not dwell on the lack of tackling,' then he's got a chance to make pretty good money out there. Somebody could ante up, maybe somebody's that familiar with him. I'm not sure how the guys in Oakland feel about him because they could lose a couple of their corners. That ($6.5 million average) is pretty dang good money."

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Garçon On Moss: 'We Need Him Back'

While all good things must come to an end, there are those in Washington that want to see Santana Moss back in the burgundy and gold next season.
The 13-year NFL veteran recently finished his ninth season with the Redskins, putting up modest numbers with 42 catches for 452 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

This was his lowest season production since 2002, his sophomore season in New York. But the impact that cannot be quantified is the leadership Moss provided to a young offense.

His role in the locker room is one of the many reasons why fellow receiver Pierre Garçon wants him back.

"I would love him to come back," Garçon recently told ESPN 980. "He definitely helps me out with my game, and it helps everybody in the receiver room with a definite leader on our team.

"We would definitely love him to come back and definitely need him to come back to help our offense to move forward."

With veteran Joshua Morgan also headed for free agency, Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson still developing, the Redskins may have a need at receiver.

Even if the Redskins look for a long-term answer in the draft, Moss provides the type of veteran guidance necessary in the locker room.

"He’s definitely a great player, definitely a leader in the locker room, definitely a leader in the NFL," Garçon said. "He’s been around for a long time, definitely playing well, and I love what he does."

And Moss has been at it for a long time in Washington, putting up elite numbers that land him as one of the best receivers in franchise history.

In Week 6, Moss surpassed 7,500 receiving yards with the Redskins, joining Art Monk (12,026), Charley Taylor (9,110) and Gary Clark (8,742) as the only players in team history to reach the milestone.

In Week 9, Moss recorded the 700th reception of his career, becoming the ninth active player at the time to reach the milestone, joining Tony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Jason Witten, Wes Welker, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald.

Moss’ 700th career reception was also the 549th of his tenure with the Redskins, tying Gary Clark for third-most in team history. He later took full possession of third place, trailing only Monk and Taylor.

In Week 11 at Philadelphia, Moss surpassed the career 10,000-yard milestone, becoming the seventh active player to do so, joining Tony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

In Week 15, Moss caught a 3-yard touchdown, the 48th of any kind with Washington. He tied running back Stephen Davis for 10th in team history.

If he were to return, Moss would be reunited with receivers coach Ike Hilliard, who oversaw Moss' eight touchdown 2012 campaign in Washington.
Garçon believes Moss can return to his 2012 form and still produce on the field.

"He's a slot receiver, he’s a punt returner, and he can take it to the house," he said. "We definitely would love Santana to come back.

"We [would] have Santana, we have Jordan Reed, we have myself, we have whoever else that they sign in free agency. But he’s definitely a weapon we can use right away."

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Andre Johnson supports Women's Center in Golf Classi

It was a beautiful Monday for birdies and bogeys as Texans wide receiver Andre Johnsonicon-article-link hosted his inaugural Celebrity Golf Classic at the Golf Club of Houston. The charitable event benefited the Houston Area Women’s Center, an organization dedicated to helping individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence in their efforts to move forward.

Johnson, an avid leader in community involvement, relished the opportunity to support an organization like the Women’s Center.

“You always want to give back, especially being here 11 years now,” he said. “Not many people get to see you and interact with you, and that’s just something I said I always wanted to do.

“Growing up I never got a chance to meet a professional athlete, so I always said I wanted to get out and let people get a chance to meet you or give you a hug or shake your hand. That’ s why I continue to do what I do.”

Joining him on the links were teammates, former Texans, friends and others. Tight end Owen Daniels, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, as well as free agent fullback Vonta Leach and Philadelphia linebacker DeMeco Ryans spoke about Johnson’s generosity in the community.

“We love helping out our teammates and other players around the league when they have foundations and things that mean a lot to them,” Daniels said. “’Dre’s one of my favorites, so it’s great to be here for him.”

“Whenever Andre calls, I have to make sure I’m here,” echoed Ryans. “He’s, first and foremost, a great friend and always has been from when I was here in Houston and we still keep in touch. He’s an awesome guy who’s doing great things in the community. You have to come out and support a first class guy like Andre.”

For 37 years the Women’s Center has been providing shelter, counseling and advocacy to support women, children and men in building lives free from the effects of violence. Johnson’s contribution will assist in providing a place of refuge and relief to the 120 people living in residential shelters.

“My foundation is always working with kids that grew up in a single parent home and things like that,” Johnson said in an interview last month. “I’ve been able to work with the women at the Women’s Center in the past, and we wanted to reach back out to them and work with them again. Giving back to the women that have been battered and stuff like that and have been through some tough things in their life, just to help them get back on their feet. We just try to help out as much as we can.”

As for his golf game, Johnson predicted it would be “very inconsistent.”

“I may hit a good shot and hit five bad ones,” he said with a laugh. “I think that’s what makes me want to play it so bad and become good at it, because it’s a challenge. I’m a competitor.”

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Brian Barton Signs

Crabs bring back OFs Brian Barton and Cyle Hankerd; Sign RHP Eric Massingham

Looking to bolster his bullpen and lineup, Blue Crabs manager, Lance Burkhart, added three more players to his 2014 roster. On Friday, he announced the signing of outfielders Brian Barton and Cyle Hankerd along with the addition of right-handed pitcher Eric Massingham. Barton will be entering his fourth season in Southern Maryland while Hankerd will be returning for his second stint as a member of Crustacean Nation and Massingham will be entering his first season with the Crabs.

Barton, 31, will return to the Blue Crabs for a third straight year and fourth in his career. After missing significant time due to injury, Barton ended 2013 with a .262 batting average and 19 doubles in 97 games. The right-handed hitting outfielder enters 2014 fourth in franchise history in hits (350), doubles (63), triples (14), and batting average (.291).

Before coming to Southern Maryland, Barton spent a majority of his career playing Triple-A ball as part of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves farm organizations. Barton also appeared in 83 games for the Cardinals and Braves as a utility outfielder with a .268 average, 23 runs, 41 hits, 13 extra-base hits and 13 RBIs from 2008-09.

The Los Angeles, California native was originally signed by Cleveland as an amateur free agent in 2005 and made his major league debut on April 1, 2008 for the Cardinals. Barton last appeared in a major league uniform for Atlanta on June 3, 2009.

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Danny Valencia in line to be Royals' sole backup infielder

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Danny Valencia has fond memories of Kauffman Stadium.

And he should, considering it was the site of his first Major League home run, a grand slam off none other than Zack Greinke, and it triggered a 19-1 runaway for the Minnesota Twins.

"I remember that one," Valencia said. "It was pretty cool. It was a fastball, 3-1 count I think. He challenges up -- he's not afraid to go after guys so you knew what you were going to get -- and I was fortunate enough to get a pitch to hit."

That came in the first inning on July 26, 2010, and the ball landed in the left-field bullpen. Not only that, but Valencia had four of the Twins' 20 hits in what matched the Royals' worst beating in history.

Now Valencia is in the Kansas City clubhouse, hoping to make memories with the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. He has to make the team first, and he is off to a slow start at the plate (3-for-20, .150). But he is a leading candidate to be a backup infielder, perhaps the only backup infielder, on the Royals' 25-man roster.

Third base is the only position Valencia has played in the Majors, but he has played 28 games at first base in the Minors and has been working at second base in training camp.

"Danny's going to be adequate at second," manager Ned Yost said. "His natural position is third, so that's where he's going to be best, and he's going to be adequate at first. That's what you want."

Nothing is decided, of course, but it is possible the Royals could open the season with just one backup infielder. Look at the numbers: nine regulars, probably 12 pitchers, a backup catcher and two backup outfielders in Jarrod Dyson and Justin Maxwell. That makes 24, leaving room for one extra infielder.

If that infielder is Valencia -- and the Royals like the idea of his right-handed bat coming off the bench or as an alternative at first base for Eric Hosmer or at third base for Mike Moustakas -- then they would not have a true shortstop in reserve for Alcides Escobar. Valencia says he can handle that job.

"Am I a Gold Glove shortstop?" Valencia said. "Who you gonna compare me with, a J.J. Hardy or an Escobar? Am I one of those guys? Probably not, but can I do the job and hold down the fort for a game or two games? I'm sure I can."

In case of a real emergency, the Royals can have a shortstop ready to quickly move from Triple-A Omaha.

Always in the background to roster decision-making in Spring Training is the issue of Minor League options. Valencia is out of options, and so is Pedro Ciriaco, a natural shortstop who has been a big league backup there. In the outfield, Dyson, Maxwell and Carlos Peguero are also out of options. So there is a risk of losing any of them if they are not on the Opening Day roster.

Middle infielders need a certain amount of range. Valencia's range?

"I think it's solid; I think it's serviceable," he said. "Am I Escobar? No. But I think I can definitely get over there and play there. I'm faster than I've ever been. This offseason I worked a lot on my speed and agility, so I feel like I move around pretty well."

Valenica, who helped the University of Miami appear in the 2006 World Series, was a 19th-round choice of the Twins in that year's Draft. He surfaced in the big leagues in 2010 and did well enough (.311, 40 RBIs in 85 games) to finish third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.

His slam off Greinke and four total hits came in his 28th game that year and during a hot streak.

"Coming into that, I had back-to-back three-hit games so, coming into that, I was 3-for-5, 3-for-5, 4-for-4, 4-for-5 in four games," Valencia said. "I was like, wow, I've got this thing figured out. You know how baseball is; it's up and down. It's all a process."

The 2011 season was down in terms of average -- Valencia batted .246, but with 15 homers, 28 doubles and 72 RBIs in 154 games. When he sputtered at the start of 2012, he was sent to Triple-A Rochester and in August was traded to Boston.

"I fell into the trap of being one of those guys who have struggled a little bit and started listening to everything because you want to be the coachable guy," Valencia said of his waning days with the Twins. "Some of the things they had me do and implemented into my swing in the offseason going into 2012 didn't really work for me. And it was really hard for me to figure it out that year."

That winter, Boston sent him to Baltimore, and he split last season between the Orioles and Triple-A Norfolk. Valencia said he noticed improvement after he got "back to basics." He had a .286 average for Norfolk and .304 for Baltimore. Between the clubs, he had 22 homers and 74 RBIs in 117 games.

Valencia, 29, has acquired one of those labels that are rampant in baseball: Can hit only left-handed pitchers. In fact last year, among AL hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, he led the league with a .371 average against lefties.

But bring that up, and...

"You're insinuating that he can't hit right-handed pitching," Yost said.

Not exactly true, of course. Valencia's career average of .329 against lefties is 100 points higher than his average against righties. But Valencia has batted nearly twice as often against right-handers and has 21 of his 33 homers against them.

"It started just recently," Valencia said of that label. "You don't get to the big leagues only hitting left-handed pitching. I think it's one of those things where I've had so much success against lefties -- way more success against lefties than righties -- it's easy to say that. But I think last year I felt more comfortable in the limited at-bats I had against right-handed pitching."

And don't forget -- Greinke is a right-hander.

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Ryan Braun says in interview that heckling doesn't faze him

In an interview that ran in the Monday edition of USA Today, Brewers rightfielder Ryan Braun says the heckling he hears from opposing fans doesn't faze him in the least.

Braun tells Bob Nightengale: "Dude, say what you want about me, but I am strong. Mentally, and emotionally, I am strong."

"This doesn't bother me," Braun added. "People may have something new to yell now, but it's really no different than anything I've gone though. I've never gone to Chicago and had them cheer for me. I've never gone to St. Louis and had them say, "I hope you do great.' Nobody's fans have ever cheered for the opposing team's best player.

"I'm sure it will be a bit adventuresome at times this year, but if anything, it's probably better now. Normally, you go to Philly and Chicago, and they're talking about your mom, your sister, your girlfriend, whatever. So, now, it will be just about me.''

Braun, of course, referred to the heckling and booing that has ramped up since he accepted a 65-game, season-ending suspension in 2013 for being caught using a banned substance in MLB's investigation of the Biogenesis clinic.

In the article, Nightengale writes that Braun wishes he could tell the whole story, that he never had heard previously of Biogenesis operator Tony Bosch or set foot in the clinic. Of course, you didn't have to go to the clinic to purchase the PEDs it was selling.

"There's just no reason to get into it and continue to bring this stuff up,'' Braun said. "It's bad for baseball. It's bad for the team. It's bad for me. It's not good for anyone.

"Well, it's probably good for (TV) ratings, or else people wouldn't continue to do it.''

Braun tested positive in October 2011 for synthetic testosterone, a banned substance in the MLB drug program. He appealed that result and won on a chain-of-custody argument but eventually was snared in the Biogenesis investigation, which revealed he had purchased synthetic testosterone in the form of lozenges and creams.

The article states that Braun "believed at the time, it was perfectly legal." That is a remarkable assertion because players are tested for synthetic testosterone, a substance that is on the banned list in MLB's drug program.

Many folks were more upset with Braun's cover-up of the PED use than the actual use itself, because he lied about it for a year and a half, attacked the MLB drug program and pointed a finger at specimen collector Dino Laurenzi Jr. According to Braun, he has since made amends with Laurenzi.

As for the criticism and response he has heard from fans, Braun said, "All this stuff, really, is indicative of a larger issue in our society. People love negativity. There are so many great stories out there, so many wonderful things to focus on, but people focus on the negative because a lot of people aren't happy in life.''

Braun figures to be the most scrutinized player in the majors this year as people wait to see if he'll perform up to his high standards without the benefit of PEDs. Braun left no doubt in his USA Today interview how he expects to perform on the field.

"I'm one of the league leaders in confidence," he said. "If I perform like I've always done, I'll be one of the best players in this game. I don't need any added motivation or drama at work.

"I'll just let my work speak for itself, as every artist should."

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Sean Spence (knee) ahead of schedule

Steelers ILB Sean Spence (knee) is "significantly ahead" of where the team thought he would be at this point.
Spence wrecked his knee in the 2012 preseason. Among other things, he damaged the peroneal nerve in the knee. It caused a lack of movement and sensation in the foot and leg. The nerve has apparently regenerated, and Spence might be able to contribute in 2014. He could help replace ILB Larry Foote.

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Dolphins should make Devin Hester's next return a homecoming

Devin Hester is the most productive kick-return specialist in NFL history.

Gee, do you think the Miami Dolphins, 26th in the league in scoring last year, could use some of that?

It's a simple question with all kinds of clumsy qualifiers, starting with Hester's age (31), but the Chicago Bears don't want him anymore and the NFL's free-agency period is about to begin so, really, why shouldn't new Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey at least be talking about this?

This is one blockbuster of a Palm Beach County story waiting to happen, with Hester, a former star at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach and the University of Miami, coming home to burn one last trail through the NFL record books.

Anthony Carter, the Suncoast giant of another era, would have jumped on this hometown hero gig but the Dolphins traded his draft rights away in 1985 in return for a Vikings linebacker named Robin Sendlein who played one year in Miami and a second-round draft pick that was part of the deal to bring Hugh Green here.

If the Dolphins thought AC had too much wear on his tires after playing in the old USFL, they were wrong. Carter was a Pro Bowl receiver for Minnesota with a variety of spectacular highlights in the playoffs, including 143 yards in punt returns in one game and 227 reception yards in another.

And what about Anquan Boldin of Pahokee High School and Florida State, another of the most amazing athletes to come out of this area? The Dolphins could have had him midway through the second round of the 2003 draft but instead took linebacker Eddie Moore, who turned out to be so much less.

Boldin came around again in the offseasons of 2010 and 2013, when his former teams in Arizona and Baltimore figured the powerful wide receiver was getting a little old and traded him away for a handful of mid- to late-round draft picks. A pittance, but the Dolphins weren't sufficiently interested to offer even that much. These days Boldin, 33, is working on a new $12 million contract with the 49ers and looking to put up his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season and the seventh of his career.

Now here comes Hester, the local legend who need not get away.

If he's getting on in years, that didn't stop Hester from averaging 27.7 yards on punt returns last year, which was top-five in the league and 5 yards more than Miami's Marcus Thigpen.

If he's prone to double back and give ground in constant quest of the home-run return, that didn't stop Hester from bringing a punt back 81 yards for a touchdown in a game at Washington last year. Thigpen's longest punt return for the Dolphins in 2013 was 34 yards.

The strongest reason to avoid spending money on Hester or any return specialist is the NFL's 2011 decision to encourage touchbacks and discourage high-speed collisions by moving the kickoff spot 5 yards closer to the end zone.

Once again, though, Hester has managed to keep it exciting no matter the odds.

It took him just six games after that rule was installed to score a touchdown on a 98-yard kickoff return. What's more, Hester was just about standing on the back line of the end zone the night he returned a missed Giants field goal 108 yards for a touchdown in 2006.

The Bears don't play in Miami all that often, of course, and just once since Hester came into the league. He did return the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl for a touchdown seven years ago, however, in a game played at Pro Player Stadium. The Dolphins' home field was a fair fit for him that night and it could be again.

Bottom line, somebody's going to have Hester on their roster the day he scores his 20th return touchdown to break the all-time record tie with Deion Sanders. Might as well be Miami, unless Stephen Ross prefers to keep buying seats in his own stadium in order to avoid local TV blackouts.

When your team is 8-8 or 7-9 or whatever, fans need a little magic to take home with them. If Hester doesn't always deliver that, and pronto, at least there is the promise every time he touches the ball.

That's the one thing that never gets old.

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Sam Shields, Packers strike four-year, $39M contract

Former Green Bay Packers executive Andrew Brandt is fond of saying that "deadlines spur action."

That appears to be the case with the Packers and cornerback Sam Shields. At an impasse last week, Shields was prepared to test the open market.

With free agency just days away, the Packers agreed to re-sign Shields to a new contract, agent Drew Rosenhaus revealed Saturday.

A person who has seen the contract tells NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport the deal is worth $39 million over four years. NFL Media's Albert Breer adds that Shields received a $12.5 million signing bonus and will collect $21 million over the first two years of the pact.

ProFootballTalk first reported the new contract.

The Packers increased their offer considerably, as Rapoport previously reported the team was offering just $6 million annually.

Shields' contract is a sign that free agents -- particularly at cornerback -- are entering a healthier market than last offseason, now that the salary cap has been increased to $133 million.

Ranked No. 20 on Around The League's list of the top 101 free agents, Shields offers sub-4.40 speed and demonstrated the ability to lock down top receivers such as A.J. Green and Josh Gordon.

Count Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman among those who approve of the deal.

“Always happy for a man getting what he deserves! Congrats @ShieldSam37”

With Shields locked up and Casey Hayward returning from injury, the Packers are deep at cornerback. It will be interesting to see if they move impressive 2013 fifth-round draft pick Micah Hyde to safety.

Now that Shields has passed Tramon Williams as the highest-paid player in the Packers' secondary, hotly pursued Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner should have his sights set on a new contract worth more than $10 million annually.

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New York Giants interested in signing Devin Hester?

The New York Giants have some questions to answer this offseason but while everyone is focusing not heir glaring need for offensive line help — something that is rightfully the priority — other areas of the roster need to be filled out as well.

Wide receiver help is desperately needed for the Giants and their kick return game is one of the worst in the NFL. That’s why fans are starting to warm to the idea that Devin Hester could be a realistic option for New York this offseason. Giants beat writer Mike Graziano isn’t totally selling the idea of Hester coming to New York but he’s not buying either.

The Giants’ kick return and punt return units ranked among the worst in the league in 2013. Devin Hester, who was released by the Chicago Bears earlier this week, is one of the best return men in NFL history. I think it’s safe to connect the dots and assume the Giants will have interest. As for Hester’s price, it’s hard to say.

Graziano goes on to say that Hester’s lack of ability at wide receiver greatly reduces his value to the Giants and he’d likely be exclusively a return man. That’s not a bad role to have Hester in, but the money might not be right for what Hester’s true value is and that could kill the whole deal.

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Patriots and Vince Wilfork talking new contract

One of the biggest priorities this offseason for the Patriots is how to handle Vince Wilfork.

The Patriots star nose tackle missed most of last season with a torn achilles, a worrisome injury for someone who is ~325 lbs.

He is also set to have the second highest salary on the team next season, behind only Tom Brady. Wilfork will count against the cap for $11,600,000. With the Patriots having so many of their own free agents to sign other improvements that need to be made on the roster, getting that number down is a priority.

Of course, we all knew this a long time ago, but it seems the two sides are finally talking about ways to help fix this contract.

Mike Reiss of reports that the Patriots have had recent discussions with representatives for Wilfork about altering his contract. Presumably, the Patriots would like to reduce Wilfork’s number this year, either by getting him to accept a pay cut or getting him to take an extension that spreads some of this year’s $11.6 million cap hit into future years.

Wilfork is getting up there in age (he's 33) and the Pats really hold all the leverage here. If Wilfork doesn't agree to an extension or restructure, they could easily just release him and only take a $3,600,000 hit against the cap. Back in March of 2010, Wilfork signed a five year, $40 million contract with $25 million guaranteed.

The Pats currently have $12,199,254 in cap space. Getting Wilfork's massive number down would allow them to get that number down without releasing players they may want to keep around (Tommy Kelly, Adrian Wilson). They can save even more money by extending Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostowski.

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Jimmy Graham 'shocked and disappointed' at Saints

It's been a tough offseason for New Orleans Saints fans. They've had to say goodbye to Super Bowl heroes like Lance Moore, Will Smith, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Jonathan Vilma. They learned Friday that Darren Sproles is out too.

It's been a tough offseason for one of their best players, too:

“Wow unbelievable. Shocked and disappointed on everything that's gone on this offseason.”

Graham, of course, has his own issues with the team. He's trying to negotiate a long-term contract, and isn't happy that he was given the franchise tag at the tight end position. (His agent will argue he deserves to be paid like a wide receiver.)

Graham also might be feeling a bit guilty. He knows that some of his good friends were cut, in part, in order to free up salary cap room so that they could pay Graham.

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Andre Johnson prepared to catch passes from any QB next season

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is fully aware that he could be paired with a new starting quarterback this season. The best player in franchise history will attempt to find a quick rhythm with anyone the Texans select to lead them. But the 11-year veteran acknowledged he prefers to take the field with a QB who already knows the intricacies of the NFL.

“You want a guy that’s going to be able to come in and do the best job and play right away,” Johnson said Sunday during a media event at a downtown Houston restaurant. “Most of the time guys are looking for veterans because they have the most experience, they know what to expect. But sometimes you can find that young guy that can come in and pick it up right away and go out there and make plays for you.”

Johnson’s foundation is hosting its inaugural charity golf tournament Monday at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble. The event will benefit the Houston Area Women’s Center.

Texans quarterback Case Keenum joined ex-Texans players Vonta Leach and Dunta Robinson in supporting Johnson’s gathering.

Keenum, who is fully healthy after missing the final two games of 2013, intends to use the Texans’ overhaul of their coaching staff as an opportunity to prove he can become a starter again.

“That’s the beauty of a new coaching staff and a new system, is that everybody kind of starts out at zero,” Keenum said. “We all get to build new relationships and new trust.”

Johnson spoke with former starter Matt Schaub about two weeks ago. While many expect the veteran QB to be released when free agency begins Tuesday, Johnson said Schaub recently had the mindset that he would be a part of coach Bill O’Brien’s team in 2014.

“I get the feeling that he feels like he’s going to be here. … He’s in good spirits,” Johnson said. “I think this offseason was great for him, just to get away and clear his mind.

“As long as (Matt) is my teammate, me and him are going to be working together. Hopefully he’s still here. That’s out of my control but we’ll see what happens.”

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Brandon Spikes would be shocked if the New England Patriots release Vince Wilfork

There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks that Vince Wilfork's inflated salary could lead to his release.

Set to count $11.6 million against the salary cap in 2014, Wilfork, 32, is fighting his way back from a torn Achilles. With his age, injury, and size all working against him, some have speculated that Wilfork could be released if he refuses to accept a new deal.

At least one person who has played with Wilfork can’t fathom this possibility.

“If he hits the free agency, I would be shocked,” linebacker Brandon Spikes said during an appearance on NFL Network. “I think the Patriots love him, the organization up there, Boston loves him. He’s been there for a while. I just honestly can’t see him leaving.”

Wilfork, who is entering the final year of his contract, suffered the injury in Week 4 and missed the rest of the season. In 2012, he earned All-Pro honors after collecting 48 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles.

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Yasmani Grandal: Knee Responds Well To Catching


Grandal (knee) said his knee felt good Sunday after catching three innings in a simulated game Saturday, Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Grandal has been catching bullpen sessions for weeks now, but he's just recently been cleared to catch in simulated games and it's uncertain when he may get the green light to play in actual spring games. Though Grandal hasn't been ruled out for Opening Day, it's looking like Nick Hundley and Rene Rivera could open the year as the top options behind the plate for San Diego.

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Yasmani Grandal performs epic video bomb and teammate Seth Smith has no idea

Photobombing and videobombing are trendy, but the actions almost always will be funny. At some point, maybe during a somber interview about a dead person, it won't be appropriate. But during a baseball interview, sometimes it's necessary to move the action along. Nothing against San Diego Padres slugger Seth Smith, but whatever he must have been discussing could not have been as interesting as what teammate Yasmani Grandal did behind him.

With Smith caught completely unaware, Grandal walked up behind him and took a round of imaginary batting practice. After taking a swing, Grandal dropped to a knee and, like he was shooting skeet, aimed and fired and invisible shell at the non-existant baseball. He then turned and dropped his ghost bat and walked away. Like he sleepwalked the entire thing.

Watching it on Deadspin (unless Smith collects Yahoo mail!) is probably the first time he even realized what happened. Yes, the Padres might be a surprise team to watch in 2014.


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