What is Sam Shields' value to the Packers?

Green Bay — Off the line, Sam Shields was toasted. Burnt. The goat in T-minus 1.2 seconds. Absolutely nothing stood between Miles Austin and the end zone.

And in a flash — Darren Woodson still can't believe it — the Green Bay Packers cornerback closed the gap for an interception. Moments later, Green Bay officially erased a 23-point deficit against the Dallas Cowboys.

Not many athletes in today's game make that play.

"You could name them on one hand," said the former Cowboys safety Woodson, who's now an analyst with ESPN. "Darrelle Revis doesn't have that type of speed to make those plays. Not a whole lot of guys have that make-up speed."

Now, it's decision time. Shields is probably the most valuable of the Packers' 17 unrestricted free agents. Do they pay him as an elite cornerback?

Receivers who have faced the 5-foot-11, 184-pound cornerback see the talent, the speed. Woodson does, too. One teammate expects the corner to be back. They agree Shields is the rare cover corner you leave 1-on-1 on an island.

As is, he's not the complete package yet. It's on general manager Ted Thompson to decide if the 26-year-old is on the verge of stardom.

Woodson doesn't see this talent often.

"It'd be a shame — and I'd say this in front of Shields — it'd be a shame if he didn't take advantage of that (talent)," said Woodson, who had 23 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles in his 12-year career. "He can be a great one."

To date, there is indisputable growth. From 2010 playoff hero to 2011 scapegoat to a playmaking 2012 and 2013 corner shadowing top receivers, Shields has created a market for himself. Last spring, he stood at his locker and admitted he needed to "ball out." He needed to earn a contract extension. And in 14 games, Shields recorded 61 tackles (51 solo) with four interceptions and 17 pass break-ups.

Woodson believes Shields has leverage.

"There's not a lot of good guys you can leave out there on the edge by themselves in 1-on-1 situations," he said. "I think he has absolutely become one of those guys that you can leave out there and say, 'Hey, you've got it. I'll see you later after the game.'"

Wide receiver Jeremy Ross faced Shields in practice (as a Packer) and a game (with the Detrioit Lions). When Green Bay and Detroit met at Ford Field, the Packers were squashed, 40-10. But Shields did go punch for punch with Calvin Johnson that day. Johnson did damage underneath on slants, while Shields ripped away a highlight-reel interception in the end zone.

When Shields has a chance at a "splash play," position coach Joe Whitt Jr. asserted, he makes it.

Ross sees the wide receiver that Shields once was at Miami (Fla.).

"He's one of the top corners in the league when it comes to ball skills," Ross said. "He can run upfield with receivers, big receivers and get his body in position to go up and get the ball. He can catch. He's a threat as a corner. I think teams will like him a lot because they can leave him 1 on 1 with guys. He can go step for step with anybody in this league.

"There are a lot of guys who are good cover guys but they don't have the ball skills to go up and get it. He has that."

Adds Lions receiver Kris Durham, "Very instinctive. He relies on his instincts a lot. And he's very strong as well. He's as complete a corner as anyone around the league I've faced. …When you have you're A's, you're A-minuses and B-pluses. I'd say he's right there in the top 10, top 15 in the league."

Durham would know. In a 27-20 Packers win over Detroit in 2012, the tall wideout beat Davon House up the sideline for a 27-yarder and House was benched for Shields. Since then, that hierarchy hasn't changed.

To veteran Jarrett Bush, its not much of a debate. He expects to see Shields back.

"He's young. He's athletic. And he has experience," Bush said. "He has a Super Bowl under his belt. He has some the best athletic ability out there. So I see him re-signing and us loading up for next year.

"I'd be shocked if we don't sign him back."

Bush, the maniac who does wind sprints after scalding 85-degree training camp practices, does not see Shields becoming complacent after inking a lucrative deal. The cornerback room is full of snubbed pros. Tramon Williams, Shields and Bush were all undrafted.

Maybe the nature of Shields rise — camp body to top corner — will keep the fire burning.

"You have to stay hungry being an undrafted free agent," Bush said. "It's a mentality. That's what we pride ourselves instaying hungry, working hard on our reps. Prove people wrong because we were undrafted, that we belong along the best.

"I feel like he got snubbed on the Pro Bowl ballot. I think a lot of big names kind of jumped ahead of him. But in due time, as long as he keeps working, the sky's the limit."

As free agency nears, Thompson could slap the franchise tag on Shields for about $11 million. Still, Woodson suspects hesitance on the Packers' part. After all, how did it get to this point? Green Bay is roughly $28 million under the cap. If they wanted Shields long term, business should be closed.

The speed drops Woodson's jaw. He remembers watching that play at Dallas and thinking, "Where the hell did he come from?" But he won't put Shields in his Top 5 cornerbacks. Not even his Top 10.

He still has one progression to make. The greats, he says, rely on smarts. They study, they stay hungry, they don't lean on pure physical ability.

"The great ones believe it," he said. "Darrelle Revis, after he's seen a split all week in practice, he's going to take a chance. Richard Sherman does it all the time, whether he's in press man or off man. They see it, they feel it, they believe it, they take the chance. I'm not sure if Shields is there just yet."

Woodson's former teammate Deion Sanders owned the five yards of the line of scrimmage. That's where the Hall of Famer "controlled his fate," Woodson said. A technician with his hands and feet, he needed to win those five yards.

Asked where Shields could improve, Ross says "his releases," his "patience" at the line of scrimmage.

This is the brand of cornerback Ross hates facing — the patient corner, the corner who refuses to fall for a juke or jive.

"I think he could get better at that," Ross said. "Being more patient at times. Those fast guys, they're ready to run. So they jump the gun real fast. I think he's so fast, that could make his game even better. He can afford to be patient because if he does get beat, he's got the make-up speed."

Watching film of Shields, Woodson saw "a totally different player," a player with a palpable swagger. He blanketed No. 1 receivers for stretches and became a wide receiver with the ball in flight. Thus, unlike Bush, there is a shred of worry in Woodson's voice. Playing in a contract year might've been one reason. He's seen this scenario before.

If the Packers do pay up for Shields, will that swagger stick? Will he do what's necessary to become elite?

Behind the scenes, Thompson and Co. must wrestle with that question.

"He can press, he can play off. He can do everything," Woodson said. "I would trust him one on one out there with anybody. But, again, I just don't know his heart."

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Lauryn Williams Becomes The 5th Person To Ever Receive A Summer & Winter Olympic Medal!

Congrats are in order for track star-turned-bobsled champion, Lauryn Williams! She and her partner, Elana Meyers snagged the silver medal in the two-(wo)man bobsled in Sochi. Williams has become the fifth person ever to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics! Williams took home the gold as a track star on the U.S. relay team at the 2012 London Games.

“Lauryn is one of the most incredible athletes ever,” fellow teammate and bronze bobsled winner, Jamie Greubel said, “and we’re so lucky she decided to stick it out and give bobsled a try.” It’s obvious Williams is one of those athletic people who can try something once and be a genius at it. We all know someone like that. Williams’ athletic prowess is super impressive. In January, Williams went to Austria for the World Cup and took home her first bobsled gold medal! Talk about a natural!

Here’s a fun fact, Williams joins fellow Winter Olympics giant, Vonetta Flowers–another sprinter-turned-bobsledder who became the first Black Olympian to win a Winter Games medal. But the medals don’t matter to Williams, maybe it’s the strong feeling of pride that she values more. She tells Yahoo Sports, “It really is not about the medal for me. I don’t need something that I can hold in my hand.” Williams said her track gold medal is at her mother’s house, but she’s not sure where her silver medal is from the 100 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Must be nice to be such a winner that the spoils don’t even phase you! Congrats Lauryn Williams!

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Yasmani Grandal returning from suspension, surgery

PEORIA, Ariz. — Yasmani Grandal has regained the trust of his teammates following a lengthy suspension.

Once he’s able to trust his surgically-repaired right knee again, the San Diego Padres catcher is confident he can put a nightmare 2013 season behind him.

Grandal, best known before his suspension for homering from both sides of the plate in his first major league start in 2012, is well ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in July.

He’s changed his batting stance — no more leg kick — to take pressure off the knee. He’s catching bullpen sessions every other day and did some running in a straight line Thursday. He’s set to run the bases Friday.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Grandal said. “It’s just in certain spots it’s weak, the strength is not there.”

But the 25-year-old is determined to be ready for the March 30 opener against the Dodgers and join Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson with one of the fastest returns from ACL surgery.

“That was the model,” Grandal said. “I want to be Adrian Peterson.”

Grandal was hurt in a home-plate collision July 6, barely a month after he rejoined the Padres following a 50-game suspension for a positive test of elevated testosterone levels.

“Guys put their arms around Yazzy and understood that his apology was meaningful and we moved on,” manager Bud Black said. “Yazzy integrated himself in spring training and came back to us in the middle of the summer as a — for lack of a better word — accepted member of our team.”

Grandal is providing similar support for teammate Everth Cabrera. The shortstop was banned the final 50 games of last year for his ties to Biogenesis, the since closed Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.

Grandal was also been named in the Biogenesis reports.

“He’s the one guy I’ve been texting this offseason, just to get his mind right,” Grandal said of Cabrera. “He’s in a good spot and I know how hard it is to come off a suspension and start playing.”

Grandal, who moved from Cuba to Miami when he was 9, was the 12th pick in the 2010 draft by Cincinnati. The Padres acquired him when in a trade that sent pitcher Mat Latos to the Reds after the 2011 season.

Grandal’s impressive two-homer debut allowed him to eventually supplant Nick Hundley as San Diego’s everyday catcher in 2012. He hit .297 with eight homers and 36 RBIs in 60 games.

But the suspension, injury and a .216 average in 28 games last year have left his 2014 prospects in question. Now Hundley is back as the starting catcher and Rene Rivera is also on the 40-man roster.

“If I’m not ready by the beginning of the season I’ll go on the (disabled list) and we’ll go from there,” Grandal said. “Carrying three catchers, I don’t think that’s something smart. So if I’m not 100 percent it’s totally going to hurt the team.”

Grandal, who has also volunteered to fill in at first base if needed, will be busy working on his new stance in spring training games while building strength in his knee. And he knows he’ll continue to be heckled by opposing fans for his PED suspension.

“People are going to scream at you, but that’s why it’s called home-field advantage,” Grandal said. “It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t affect me. If anything, it kind of gets me going.”

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Ryan Braun's focus remains on moving forward

Phoenix -- Ryan Braun remained in "look forward, not back" mode Thursday as he rejoined his Brewers teammates in the clubhouse for the first time since serving a season-ending, 65-game suspension for PED use.

"I'm excited to be back, excited to be in Arizona, excited to meet my new teammates, looking foward to the challenge of learning a new position, just excited to be back playing baseball," Braun told reporters after checking in to Maryvale Baseball Park.

As he did in two off-season media opportunities, including the "Brewers On Deck" fan festival, Braun deflected all questions about the Biogenesis investigation, exactly what he did and why.

"I've addressed that a couple times already in multiple press conferences, and I got pretty specific with exactly what happened and when it happened," he said. "I took responsibility for the mistake that I made and for me my focus is on this year and moving forward and learning a new position and getting ready for the season."

It was the first time that a sizable number of members from the national media had a chance to ask Braun questions and many were asked about his PED use. But he made it clear that he has said all he is going to say about that sordid chapter of his life and he is ready to move on.

"The best answer I can give you is I made a mistake," he said. "I've said multiple times that I wish I had the ability to go back and change things, do things differently. Unfortunately, I don't have that opportunity. I embrace the challenge that lies ahead. I know it won't be easy but I intend to do everything in my power to continue to be the best person and player I can be.

"I made a mistake. I deserved to be suspended. I took full responsibility for my actions and as I've said many, many times, all I can do is look forward and continue to move forward."

Asked if he felt any pressure to show he can be what he was in the past -- both clean and dirty -- one of the best players in the game, Braun said, "I think I always put a lot of pressure on myself. My expectation is always to be one of the best players in baseball. I think over the first seven or eight years of my career, I've been able to do that.

"I dealt with a similar situation in 2012 and had my best year. So, that's certainly my goal and intention this year in coming back and focusing on the season."

As for acceptance in the clubhouse, Braun said, "Everybody has been extremely supportive and I appreciate that. Certainly, when everything first occurred there was some confusion because I wasn't allowed to say anything. It was an ongoing and active investigation, so because of that I couldn't really say anything. Aside from that, my relationship with everybody has been great and I don't anticipate any change moving forward."

Braun's troubles began when he failed an MLB drug test in October 2011 at the outset of the playoffs. He tested positive for synthetic testosterone but appealed the verdict and won on what turned into a chain-of-custody case.

Asked if that was the only time he took a banned substance, Braun said, "I've already addressed that multiple times. I think I was very specific in my statement (in August of last year). I've answered all of these questions at multiple press conferences. I appreciate the interest. I completely understand and respect that you guys have a job to do but for me it's counterproductive to continue to look back. All I can do is continue to look forward, move forward, continue to head in the right direction, focus on the season and get myself prepared to be the best player I can be."

Braun got the rough treatment from fans on the road last year and realizes it will be worse in 2014 after finally admitting to PED use and taking his suspension.
"I've dealt with it the last couple of years so I think I have some idea what to expect," he said. "But I never really waste my time focusing on things that are out of my control. All I can do is deal with things as they come, deal with things to the best of my ability and that's what I intend to do."

As for the time when he was suspended, Braun said, "It was challenging. It was difficult to be away from the game. It was disappointing for me to be away from my teammates and the sport I enjoy playing so much.

"There was no easy part. None of it was easy. There's no blueprint that this is how you deal with these things or handle the situation. Basically, I made a mistake, I made a big mistake. All I can try to do from it is learn, grow, become a better person and move forward."

The tone of the media session was much different from the formal, on-field session at Maryvale two springs ago when Braun came out verbally firing, attacking the MLB drug program, the urine specimen collector and maintaining his innocence. There has been much water under the bridge since then, mostly turbulent, and he regrets telling more lies that day.

"Certainly, I wish I hadn't done the press conference," he said. "I wish that I had known then what I know now. If I had, certainly I wouldn't have done it at all. It's a different tone this day than it was that day. Like I said, I wish I could go back and not do the press conference at all."

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Gaby Sanchez ready to make first-base job his own

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Gaby Sanchez is surrounded by people who want a piece of him.

To his immediate left in the Pirate City clubhouse is Travis Ishikawa. In the next row of lockers sits Chris McGuiness. Across the hall, in the "prospects locker room," is Andrew Lambo.

They are left-handed hitters who all want a piece of Sanchez. Or, at least, a piece of his action -- a big piece, against pitchers who throw right handed, as do most, which would severely curtail the playing time of Sanchez in a first-base platoon.

Sanchez says they are welcome to try. No, really welcome, because "it's not really competition because, in the end, we're all in it for the same thing -- to win."
That said, Sanchez suggests they could be wasting their time. As could Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington if he continues to track the trade and free-agent markets for a possibly higher-profile lefty hitter to pair with Sanchez.

"I know I can be an everyday guy. There is no doubt in my mind. I know I can do it," Sanchez said, trying to soothe a fan base that considers the first-base situation -- further emaciated by the departure of Garrett Jones -- the biggest emergency facing the 2014 Bucs. "I know I can go out there and produce and help the team win. I truly believe that. I'm definitely good enough to keep going out there as the everyday guy."

Pretty emphatic for a guy who, in a season and a half with the Pirates has hit about .200 versus right-handed pitchers. However, Sanchez argues, those at-bats came sporadically, usually on days he was already in the starting lineup against southpaws (against whom he hit .333 last season).

"When you're in there every day and get four at-bats, all the reps, that really helps," Sanchez said. "I feel like if I get the opportunity to go out there and play every day, I'll show what I can do."

Go ahead and argue otherwise, Sanchez and Monica Swasey dare you.

Er, Monica?

"Her husband is the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Miami," explained Sanchez, a native and resident of Miami. "Monica does her own training. A couple of other big leaguers work with her, and they told me to come by and give her a try."

Sanchez wasn't too sure. He had trained once before with Mrs. Swasey, but all he'd lost that time was pep. However, manager Clint Hurdle did send Sanchez off into the offseason asking him to get in better shape, so the first baseman hooked back up with Swasey. This time, he lost pounds and fat -- a lot of both.

"She was a lot more into conditioning before -- a lot of running and stuff -- and I felt like I was getting tired during the season," Sanchez recalled. "But I was told she had changed, was more baseball-specific, not as crazy with the whole conditioning thing. And she was phenomenal. Four times a week ... she helped out a lot, with everything you would need in baseball to be better, to prevent injuries, all those things."

Sanchez was one of the first position players to arrive in camp. The running gag for days was, "When is the rest of Gaby getting in?"

"He's shown up in a very good place," Hurdle acknowledged. "He got it done, he went to work. He got everything out of the winter that he could. He's a smart guy; he understood what he needed to do, the opportunity that is in front of him. He's done everything to put himself in the best situation to compete physically since he's been here."

Since "he's been here," Sanchez has platooned. Through no fault of his own: When Sanchez joined the Pirates at the 2012 Trade Deadline, Jones was entrenched as the lefty-hitting first baseman and was in the midst of a productive season. Jones wound up second on that team with 86 RBIs and third with 27 home runs. Sanchez fell into the platoon role.

"They already had someone in place," Sanchez said, "and, together, we made a pretty good duo, and the team was doing well."

It was a new role for Sanchez, who, in the previous two seasons, had played 310 games with the Marlins. That made him their everyday first baseman. Although always a stronger hitter against left-handers -- who doesn't put up better numbers against opposite-side throwers? -- he held his own against righties in those two seasons, hitting .256 against them, with 27 of his 38 home runs.

"Then I had two bad months (the first two months of the 2012 season with Miami), and all of a sudden I was a platoon guy when I got here," Sanchez said.

The Pirates brass' confidence in Sanchez's ability to again roll out a total game is evidenced by the fact that, despite winters-long reports that linked the Bucs with just about every available first baseman, Huntington has not yet pulled the trigger.

"We feel good about this club. We've got some guys who are deserving of opportunities," said Huntington, who included Sanchez in that group. "If they can't capitalize on that, then we begin looking elsewhere."

While it is true a club such as Pittsburgh can't lightly consign a $2.3 million-player to part-time status, also true is the perception the inactivity is a vote of confidence in Sanchez.

"I think so. We've spoken about it a bit, and they said that if they found somebody who'd help the team, they would pursue that," Sanchez said. "I'm OK with whatever my role will be. I hope that will be an everyday role -- but whatever they want from me, that's what they'll get, that's what I'll do."

Still, no promises. It is way too early for that.

"He's an honest self-evaluator," Hurdle said of Sanchez. "We continue to communicate, so he's clear on what we think. Where he takes it from there, it's up to him. Is our best first base situation a platoon or one guy? We'll see."

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Lauryn Williams makes history


KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – She missed a gold medal by a split-second, but what she achieved can be measured only in ages.

Lauryn Williams, the track star-turned-bobsledder from the University of Miami, has become only the fifth person ever to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Williams accomplished the feat with partner Elana Meyers in the two-man bobsled here Wednesday, winning silver after leading the first three of four heats. The 5-foot-3 30-year-old, who began running at age 9 in Detroit, won gold as part of the U.S. relay team at 2012 London Games.

"I feel like I'm in the presence of Jesse Owens," said teammate Lolo Jones, who did not medal. "When I looked at Lauryn Williams come out of that sled, I was so emotionally choked up."

The Americans also captured bronze, with Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans easily cruising into third position to win a place on the podium. It was the first time the U.S. has won two medals in the event.

"Lauryn is one of the most incredible athletes ever," Greubel said, "and we're so lucky she decided to stick it out and give bobsled a try."

Williams' silver comes only 12 years after another sprinter-turned-bobsledder, Vonetta Flowers, became the first black Olympian to win a Winter Games gold medal.

American Eddie Eagan, a boxer and bobsledder, is still the only Olympian to win gold in both the Winter and Summer Games. He did it in 1920 and 1932. Williams said her track gold medal is at her mother's house, but she's not sure where her silver medal is from the 100 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

"It really is not about the medal for me," she said. "I don't need something that I can hold in my hand."

Williams said she is not sure about her future plans, hinting she may not return to compete in 2018, but her future standing in the sport, and in the Olympic history books, is indelible.

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Hearing for 3 suspects in Sean Taylor slaying

SeanTaylor copy
MIAMI — Trial dates could be set for three remaining suspects in the 2007 slaying of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor, who was fatally shot during a burglary at his South Florida home.

A judge set a Thursday hearing for 26-year-old Jason Mitchell, 24-year-old Charles Wardlow and 22-year-old Timothy Brown. They are each charged with first-degree murder and face possible life in prison.

The three are accused of taking part in the burglary along with the alleged shooter, 23-year-old Eric Rivera Jr., and a fifth man who pleaded guilty. Rivera was sentenced last month to 57 years in prison after he was convicted at trial of second-degree murder and armed burglary, although he denied shooting Taylor.

Taylor was an all-pro safety with the Redskins who also starred at the University of Miami.

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Jimmy Graham: ‘I’m A Football Player’

Last week, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham helped kick off NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans at an adidas NBA All-Star Charity Event in the French Quarter, hanging out with and signing autographs for 30 kids from the local Kingsley House. After finishing up with the kids, we grabbed Graham to ask him briefly about his contract situation.

Graham, the top free agent in the league this offseason, is likely to be franchise-tagged by the Saints—the only question is whether he’ll be tagged as a wide receiver or a tight end. The franchise tag essentially pays a player the average of the top few salaries across the NFL at his position, meaning that if Graham is tagged as a tight end, he’ll make considerably less money in 2014 than he would if he were labeled a wide receiver. And, for a guy that lines up out wide even more than he does inside, he might feel like he’s owed those extra millions.

In fact, it was even reported that his camp is ready to file a grievance if he’s franchised as a tight end. On the subject of how he reacts to speculation about WR vs. TE, and what’s going to happen with his franchise tag and his contract, Graham told us simply:

“As far as that goes, I don’t pay attention to what people call it. I play and I get lined up, and I do what I’m told. I’m a football player, who’s going to go out there and make a play and try to help us win.”

Beyond that, Graham said only that he’ll have to wait and see how things play out. Meanwhile, he’s prepping for a March 1 USO trip to Afghanistan to show love to the troops, and looking forward to flying—yes, he’s a licensed pilot—daily around Florida and the East coast when he gets back. Graham says he only watched a little bit of Super Bowl XLVIII, admitting that it was tough to watch the Seahawks triumph.

“It’s tough to watch any football game when you’re not in it,” he said. “They’re a very good team, they have amazing players. What they’ve been able to do with that team out there, and stack all those good players, is pretty special. A lot of teams are going to patent what they’re doing after that. The game was over fairly quickly in that one.”

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Eric Winston: Miami Dolphins' locker room an 'outlier'

After the world gasped at the grotesque way some members of the Miami Dolphins treated one another in the locker room, NFL players began reaching out to tell fans that those actions were isolated, not pervasive.

Offensive tackle Eric Winston has spent eight seasons in NFL locker rooms -- six with the Houston Texans and one with the Kansas City Chiefs before joining the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. The 30-year-old told NFL Network's "NFL AM" on Wednesday that he believes most locker rooms are good places to work.

"Not every locker room is like the Dolphins, that is a very big minority part of the NFL," he said. "Most locker rooms are fun to be in, are accepting of everybody, are good with young players. There are always going to be the jokes, the getting the rookies to go buy breakfast on Saturday morning, getting the rookies to dress up on Halloween, things like that. But (Miami) is just such an outlier -- so to speak -- of what really goes on in an NFL locker room."

Winston said that the light of shame needs to be shone on the Dolphins' locker room, not NFL teams in general.

"So I think the sense that 'Oh, everything needs to change, things need to change,'" he said. "Well Miami's locker room needs to change, not everybody else's. Everybody else has been doing the right thing for a long time."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly spoke to more than 30 players in the past two months to get their opinions on how to improve the working conditions in NFL locker rooms. 

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant, writing for TheMMQB.com, echoed Winston's thought that most locker rooms aren't like the one in Miami. However, Avant believes the NFL still can improve the work experience.

"As for the new legislation I mentioned earlier, maybe it's harsher fines for players, or a code of conduct, or more supervision," Avant wrote. "I'm not quite sure what it will be, but I do know something is necessary ...

"With proper structure in place, the NFL can be a support system for someone in the same situation Jonathan Martin was in, and also provide a helping hand to those who hazed him. We can educate young men on the merits of tolerance, and also the value of holding ourselves to higher standards. It can help mold us into productive members of society when we leave this league. Aren't those the values we want for our kids?"

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Andre Johnson not retiring anytime soon

HUMBLE — Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson said he’s recovered from a late-season wrist injury that forced him to miss the Pro Bowl and is fully healthy three months before the annual draft.

“I had played for a few weeks (with the wrist) and it was pretty sore and I didn’t want to go back out there and bang it up anymore,” Johnson said Wednesday at the Golf Club of Houston.

Johnson spoke with the media after receiving a quick golf lesson. He’s holding a charity event March 10 at the club, which will benefit the Houston Area Women’s Center.

“It’s so exciting. We are just thrilled,” said Rebecca White, the center’s president and CEO. “It’s very welcome news. Every year we serve 10s of 1,000s of Houstonians and we do that because we are lucky to be in a very generous community. And this is just another extraordinary example.”

Johnson was his normal low-key self Wednesday. But he willingly addressed multiple topics, including the intrigue surrounding former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the after effects of being part of last season’s 2-14 Texans and ex-Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s recent announcement that he’s gay.

Johnson has spent time with Manziel and believes he’s a “great player.”

The Texans hold the No. 1 pick in the May draft. If they select a QB, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Manziel are the leading candidates.

“(Manziel) seems like a good kid. Very into football,” Johnson said. “He’s exciting. He’s an exciting player to watch. I enjoyed watching him in college. He doesn’t have the name Johnny Football for nothing. I think he’s a great player.”

As for Sam, Johnson acknowledged the situation is much more complicated. Johnson highly respects Sam’s courage. But whether he’ll fit in with an NFL team remains to be determined.

“I don’t know. Everybody says what they would do or how they would react or whatever. But you don’t know until you’re in that position,” Johnson said. “As far as we know, he’s the first guy to come out and say it. You have to respect him a lot for that. Because it’s not like he’s being undercover with that or hiding something. The guy’s come out and said it is what it is. To me, I think you respect him more for that than anything, because he’s not hiding anything, he’s not pretending to be someone.”

The veteran wide receiver has barely had time to meet Bill O’Brien, the Texans’ new coach. Johnson said limitations set by the new collective bargaining agreement have initially prevented the two from speaking at length.

“I had a chance to sit down and talk with him once,” Johnson said. “It was a very short conversation.”
The first impression was positive, though.

“He seems like a great guy,” Johnson said. “He seems like he really loves the game of football. He’s very passionate about it. He’s all about team. I think all of those characteristics are great. We’ll just see what happens.”

While the Texans were the worst team in the NFL last season and the 32-year-old Johnson’s entering his 12th season, the seven-time Pro Bowler hasn’t given any thought to ending his career anytime soon.

“I know I’m not a second-, third-, or fourth-year guy. Everything comes to an end at some point,” said Johnson, who started all 16 games in 2013, recording 109 receptions for 1,407 yards and five touchdowns. “But right now I don’t know when it might end. I’m feeling fine. I’m feeling healthy. So I’m going to continue to play as long as I can.

“Everybody knows that day when it’s over. When that day comes, I’ll have no problem stepping away. But right now I feel fine. I feel like I still have a few more years left in me.”

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New batting stance should help Yasmani Grandal

PEORIA, Ariz. — The annual rites of spring training, traditions steeped in perennial sunshine, include a whole lot of newness. New body. New approach. New swing. All the talk of fresh beginnings can get overbearing, to the point of becoming stale.

There are the exceptions, the alterations unveiled in February that can lead to real change in, say, April and May.

Such as the latest development for Yasmani Grandal, this one coming at — not behind — the plate. Less than eight months removed from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, the catcher has adopted a new batting stance in hopes of recapturing his form of 2012, when he debuted with the Padres to rave reviews.

The changes — which are significant, if not drastic — are, too, driven by necessity.

“The main thing that we did this offseason was figure out a way to not put too much pressure on my knee,” said the switch-hitting Grandal, “...something that could put the knee in the right spot soon, so that whenever you get that vigorous turn, it doesn’t damage anything.”

Gone is the leg kick, replaced by a toe tap. Lowered is the starting point of the hands, now down to Grandal’s midsection. The overall movement is quieter and, simultaneously, more conscious.

“I was more of a guy who would get the timing just body-wise — my hands would go back by themselves,” Grandal said. “This year, with the change and not having the leg kick, now we gotta work the hands more, make sure they get to the right spot.”

When Washington’s Anthony Rendon slid into Grandal’s right knee last July, inadvertently tearing the ACL, the immediate concern was for Grandal’s ability to perform his primary task, the squatting and bending sure to test any rehabilitating catcher.

Thus far this spring, Grandal has been passing those challenges, making a full return by the season opener, indeed, an actual possibility.

The other half of his recovery, the turning and twisting, has similarly produced encouraging results. Tuesday, Grandal continued his spring run of impressive batting practices, launching shots over the fence at the Peoria Sports Complex’s practice field with regularity.

“I hit a ball over the top of the batter’s eye here. I don’t think I’ve ever done that,” said Grandal, who calls his swing the best it’s been in two years. “I think (my swing is) gonna be more compact, more powerful. I might have more extra-base hits this year.”

In other words, the hope is for a return to two seasons ago. As a rookie, Grandal hit .297 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs in 60 games.

Last season’s encore, spoiled by suspension and injury, saw him hit .216 with one home run in 28 games.

“This year,” Grandal said, “I gotta concentrate on staying on my back foot a lot, just so that I get that stress out of the front knee. Actually, I think it’s gonna work out great, because that’s one of the things that I used to do. First year in the big leagues, I did it great. Then last year, it just didn’t click.

“There’s times that that happens, especially when you start getting a little tired — obviously, your legs don’t work as much. So I think that’s the one thing that’s gonna help me out the most this year, to drive the ball.”

Assistant hitting coach Alonzo Powell has been working with Grandal on his new stance since Jan. 1.

“He’s in a better place now with the timing,” Powell said. “He’s able to simplify some things and make it easier for him to repeat his swing.”

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Redskins stay or go: WR Santana Moss

Position/name: WR/Santana Moss  
Age: 34
2013 cap number: $4 million
2013 stats: 42 receptions, 452 yards, 2 touchdowns

Background: Moss’s career is winding down. That cannot be debated. What the Redskins must decide, however, is this: does the slot receiver have enough left to help them win in 2014? Last season, Moss recorded the lowest yards per catch average of his career (10.8) and, with eight drops, ranked 83rd in catch percentage (54.5), according to ProFootballFocus.com. Off the field, though, Moss is a locker room leader and a mentor to the team’s young players. He also shared the Media Good Guy Award for routinely answering reporters’ tough questions as the losses mounted.  Still, the question remains: Does the good outweigh the bad?

El-Bashir: Stay—It’s usually a bad business decision to re-sign an older player after his production drops off as precipitously as Moss’ did in 2013. But to me, if there ever were a reason to make an exception to that rule, Moss is it. The reason? Veteran leadership will be critical in a rebuilding year and, with London Fletcher retiring, Moss is the logical successor. Remember when Moss called out Robert Griffin III for not accepting enough responsibility? Few players had enough juice to say something like that. And you know what? It worked; RG3’s tone changed. In the long run, RG3 will be a better teammate because of what Moss said. On the field, Moss should be good for 500 snaps, 40 receptions and 400-plus yards. I say sign him to an affordable, short-term deal. He’ll earn it with his presence alone.

Tandler: Go—I certainly get the importance of locker room leadership and Moss has been one of the best on and off the field since joining the team in 2005. But all good things must come to an end and 2014 is the years for Moss’ Redskins career to end. He had the worst season of his career in 2013 after having the second- and third-worst years of his career the two previous seasons. He turns 35 on June 1 and the chances of him getting better are as slim as those of RG3 and Mike Shanahan vacationing together in Cabo. The Redskins need to move on and give those snaps to a younger player. Yes there will be a leadership vacuum in the locker room but such situations have a way of working themselves out. I didn’t notice Pierre Garçon having much problem being blunt about Griffin’s struggles last year. 

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Meet the Free Agents: OT Jason Fox

Free agent to be: Jason Fox
Position: Offensive tackle
Age: 25
Years in the league: 4
What he made last season: $1,323,000 (cap number and base salary)

What he did last season: Fox won the starting right tackle job out of training camp, beating out both veteran Corey Hilliard and undrafted rookie free agent LaAdrian Waddle. After injury-plagued seasons, Fox finally looked like he was turning into the player he appeared to be out of Miami (Fla.). Then injuries returned -- first his groin followed by his knee -- and by the end of the season he was firmly behind Waddle on the depth chart and possibly behind Hilliard as well. He ended up playing in eight games in 2013 and 13 in his four years with Detroit.

His potential market value: Not great. Fox has never been able to put together enough games together to show what he could be capable of when healthy, and that will be a concern to a lot of teams. He is still a young player and if healthy could be valuable -- after all, he did beat out two other players for the job on what ended up being one of the NFL’s top offensive lines -- but that would take a degree of optimism from a team.

Will he fit the Lions still: Probably not. With Waddle projecting as the right tackle of the future after being inserted into the lineup midway through the season and performing well next to rookie right guard Larry Warford, Fox wouldn’t be a starter. Hilliard is still on the roster as well, although at a $1.9 million cap number could have cause for concern about his status with the team entering the final year of his contract. Couldn’t see the team offering him much more than the veteran’s minimum, if anything at all, and he would have to be comfortable with essentially not having a chance to play barring injury.

What happens: Fox probably heads somewhere else if he can find someone to take a shot on him. He has the talent and if he does become healthy could be an asset, but that is not a risk the Lions should take as anything more than a fourth offensive tackle at this point. That Hilliard has familiarity with Jim Caldwell from the time they spent together in Indianapolis could also help the veteran stick around. General manager Martin Mayhew was high on Fox a year ago, saying he had starter-level talent, but that was before two more injuries and the signing and then emergence of Waddle.

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Bryant McKinnie sticks up for Richie Incognito

Even though Ted Wells found that Richie Incognito bullied Jonathan Martin, fellow Miami Dolphin Bryant McKinnie stood up for the troubled former Pro Bowl guard.

Speaking on SiriusXM Radio, McKinnie said Martin handled the situation poorly and that he never witnessed any bullying in the locker room.

“I don’t feel like ‘bullying’ is the term because nobody physically harmed him or made him do anything,” McKinnie said on-air. “He always had an option to say yes or no. It was never that he got bullied like he feared for his life. I just feel like he went about it the wrong way and didn’t communicate properly with the proper people."

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Jimmy Graham wide receiver? Free agent plans on filing grievance if Saints franchise tag him as tight end

The New Orleans Saints are likely hoping they'll be able to count Jimmy Graham as a member of the team next season, but if Graham has it his way it will cost the franchise far more money.

Graham is expected to receive the franchise tag from the Saints, which would pay him the average salary among the top five players at his position. Graham is nominally a tight end, which would mean New Orleans owes him $7.9 million. Graham, however, is making noise about wanting to be franchise tagged as a wide receiver, which would pay him about $16.8 million.

Any fantasy football player will say that Graham is a tight end, but franchise tags are decided on what percentage of plays an individual player lined up at a position. This would make Graham's case as a wide receiver rather strong; he lined up as a wide receiver on 67 percent of his snaps and caught 68 passes in that role.

NFL.com's Ian Rappaport tweeted the following message regarding the subject: "No progress yet for Jimmy Graham and #Saints. If, as expected, he's tagged as a TE, expect an immediate grievance to be tagged as a WR."

The issue could mean a great deal for the Saints, who don't necessarily have the greatest salary cap situation in the league; in fact Overthecap.com projects them to currently be at $12 million over the salary cap without either of Graham's franchise numbers counting towards the estimation.

Aside from quarterback Drew Brees, Graham is the most important player on the team. His size, speed and catching ability set him apart from just about all other receiving options in the NFL, and his ability to line up on the line of scrimmage or out wide make the Saints offense nearly impossible to game plan for.

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Lauryn Williams, in 1st place, could become first woman with Winter, Summer golds

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – They were 1-2-3 in the women’s bobsled World Cup points standings this season.

They are the top three sleds headed into in the final two heats in what has developed into a three-team race where the question is who wins gold, silver and bronze?

USA-1 pilot Elana Meyers and brakeman Lauryn Williams (Detroit), who set a track record today, are in first place with a two-heat time of 1:54.89, 0.23 seconds of a Canada-1 pilot Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse and 0.56 ahead of USA-2 pilot Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans.

“We always push each other,” Greubel said. “I know it’s going to be a fight for the top three.”

Greubel leads Belgium-1 by 0.49, putting the top three sleds in strong medallb_icon1 position headed into the final two heats Wednesday.

USA-3 pilot Jazmine Fenlator and track star Lolo Jones are in 11th place.

The top three teams offer compelling story lines, intrigue and one amazing shot at history from bobsled’s most unlikely gold medallb_icon1 contender.

Jones isn’t the only track star here. Williams is a two-time Olympic medalist in track, including gold at the 2012 London Olympics in the 4x100 relay, and history is within reach. She hopped in a bobsled for the first time in July, and after her first trip down the hill, Williams said bobsledder Bree Schaaf kept checking “to see if my suitcase was still there because she thought I was going to go home. I definitely thought about it.”

Six months later, the former west sider is two strong runs down the mountain from becoming the first woman — and second person — to win a gold medal in the Summer and Winter Olympics.

The friendly, easygoing and humble Williams said Olympic history is not on her mind.

“I didn’t come here for fame, for glory, to get rich or anything like that,” she said. “I’ve thoroughly just been enjoying the ride. I showed up and I said I wanted to help these girls.”

Williams might just help Meyers to a gold medal, too. On their first run, they set a start record in 5.13 seconds and a track record in 57.26 seconds.

“Lauryn came out and gave me a huge start,” Meyers said. “I just tried to be as smooth as possible on the track, and that’s really what I did. There definitely were some mistakes and definitely some areas to clean up.”

Added Williams, to the Associated Press: “Anytime I step on any track, ice track, regular track, any kind of track, my goal is to win,” she said. “So I’m not surprised at all. We prepared well, we did everything we’re supposed to do and we know we’re as good as the rest of the field.”

It was expected Meyers and Humphries would battle for gold. Humphries won the World Cup points title, winning three of eight races, and Meyers was second in the standings, winning two races and placing second in five others.

Looking ahead to the final heat, Meyers and Humphries as the last two sleds going for gold would be a fitting ending to the season.

Humphries, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics gold medalist, and Meyers, who won bronze as a brakeman four years ago, worked out in Calgary together this summer — bobsled’s version of LeBron James and Kevin Durant working out together in the off-season.

“It’s hard to continue to stay motivated and to stay on top, and I knew I needed someone to push me,” Humphries said. “She had agreed that in order for her to be pushed, she needed to be with somebody who can push in the gym and on the track. We call it a Battle Royale.”

For a time during training in the last week, Meyers wondered whether a medal would even be possible. It was a bad week on the track.

Meyers crashed her BMW-built sled on their initial training run, and Williams was late applying the brakes the following day and the pair blasted into a wall near the finish, damaging the front end of the carbon-fibered sliding machine.

However, the incident didn’t crack their relationship.

“The chemistry’s been building the whole time, but I think after we wrecked the sled the other day, that’s when it was solidified,” Meyers said.

Williams was grateful for her driver’s patience.

“That was a bonding moment,” Williams said. “She didn’t yell at all. She was emotional about the sled but she didn’t freak. ‘E’ handled it like a pro.”

On Facebook, Meyers posted a lengthy message saying, “This Olympics has been the most difficult athletic experience of my life. I’ve been beaten up physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

Turns out, the track mishaps were a bonding agent for Meyers and Williams, who raced together just once on the World Cup circuit this season.
“Lauryn has been there for me, and she’s the most positive person I have ever met,” Meyers said. “It’s been incredible. I thought when our sled broke, it was over. She’s held me together.”

Bobsled coaches took a risk pairing Williams with Meyers instead of Evans, who finished in the top three five times in six races with Meyers.

Evans said she questioned the move at first, too. But now she’s on the verge of a medal with Greubel, who overcame a torn ACL in 2011 and paid her own way in Europe to get more driving experience.

Gruebel wasn’t on the World Cup team in 2011-12, but she had to sharpen her driving skills and decided to compete on the Europa Cup tour — bobsled’s minor leagues.

It wasn’t easy. Out of her pocket, she rented rooms, a bobsled and a truck — stick shift, no less — driving from one European mountain to another and racing, never knowing what would come of it.

“We were thinking of ways to be frugal and shipped about 70 pound of dry food — ramen noodles, packets of tuna, protein bars. We didn’t have any money,” Greubel said.

“That was a hard time to get through but made me realize how bad I wanted it and what I was willing to do to get through it. I needed to do it and I got through it, and here I am today.”

On Wednesday, she is two heats from an Olympic medal.

“That was definitely the goal going into the Olympics. Aja and I had (a medal) on our minds,” Greubel said. “It’s right where we want to be, and in a good position to fight back and try to move up.”

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Gaby Sanchez prepared to forgo Pirates' 1B platoon

BRADENTON, Fla. — Gaby Sanchez is like everyone else who isn’t privy to the general manager’s text messages and emails.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” the first baseman said Tuesday before the Pirates held their first full-squad workout of spring training at Pirate City.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington spent the entire off-season trying to acquire a left-handed hitting first baseman to platoon with the right-handed hitting Sanchez but came away empty.

There has been talk that the Pirates have at least some interest in switch-hitting Kendrys Morales, who is a free agent. But the Pirates would have to give up their first-round pick – 25th overall – in this year’s amateur draft to the Mariners as compensation for signing Morales.

The Pirates are also going to look at left-handed hitting rookie Andrew Lambo at first base when Grapefruit League games begin next week. He hit a combined 32 home runs between Class AA Altoona and Class AAA Indianapolis last season.

But Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle said repeatedly over the winter that they would feel comfortable with Sanchez as their everyday first baseman.

Sanchez, who lost 20 pounds by following a more difficult off-season workout regimen, believes he is up to the task after platooning last season with Garrett Jones, who became a free agent and signed with the Marlins during the off-season after the Pirates failed to tender him a contract.

“Of course, I want to be an everyday player, who wouldn’t?” Sanchez said with a smile. “I’ve done it before in my career, and I feel like I can do it if that’s what this team needs. I feel like I’m in great shape and prepared to play on a regular basis.”

The biggest question surrounding Sanchez is whether he can hit right-handed pitching on a consistent basis. Over his six-year career, he has a .895 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) against left-handers but a .700 mark versus righties.

“I really believe if I get the chance to play regularly against right-handed pitchers that I would have success against them,” Sanchez said. “It’s like anything else, the more you do something, the better you are going to get at it. I know I can hit righties. It’s not like I’ve never got a hit off of one.

“Hopefully, I’ll get that opportunity and I’ll take advantage of it. We’ll see what happens.”

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Yonder Alonso Expected To Have Close To 20 HRs This Season

Padres manager Bud Black did hit on a few topics today in his daily talk with the media.

For Yonder Alonso, Black agreed with a question that he could see 20 home runs come off of his bat this season. He didn’t give an exact number, but said “somewhere in and around there, I don’t want to put a number on it, but sure”. Alonso has only hit 15 home runs in two seasons with the Padres. He had nine playing a full season in 2012 and with the other six coming in his injury-plagued 2013 season.

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Giants have 'discussed' deal with FA Jon Beason

ESPN New York reports the Giants have "discussed a long-term deal" with free agent MLB Jon Beason.

Beason bounced back to full health last season, but graded out as just the No. 47 inside linebacker in Pro Football Focus' ratings. Now 29, his lengthy injury history makes him a poor candidate for either the franchise tag or a long-term deal. Unless the Giants can get Beason locked up at a team-friendly price, he'll likely reach the open market.

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Packers expected to meet with Sam Shields' agent

The Packers are expected to meet with free agent CB Sam Shields' player rep at the Combine.

Combine meetings are commonplace, but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported late last month that the sides had been in "regular contact." The Pack are clearly motivated to lock their top corner up to a long-term deal, avoiding the roughly $11 million franchise tag. A former undrafted free agent, Shields has little incentive to agree to anything less than market value.

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Devin Hester once again linked to Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't have a quality returner yet, but they may sign one in free agency. According to Dan Pompei, "some suspect" that Devin Hester will be reunited with Lovie Smith. Hester's contract in Chicago is up and the Bears seem unlikely to re-sign the three-time All-Pro returner.

New special teams coordinator Kevin O'Dea stressed the importance of finding a great returner, something the Bucs have failed to do since Clifton Smith's career ended due to injury. Devin Hester could fill that role, as he was the Bears' only punt returner and primary kick returner last season, and was effective even at age 31, averaging 14.2 yards per punt return and 27.6 yards per kick return.

Another free agent option would be Dexter McCluster. He'd make more sense for a number of reasons. McCluster worked with O'Dea in Kansas City, is significantly younger than Devin Hester and would be a useful player on offense. Hester who has struggled to be productive outside of his job as a returner throughout his career.

McCluster led the league in punt return yards and punt return touchdowns last year, though that was in part due to the fact that he led the league in number of punt returns. Hester actually put up a better average as a punt returner last year, and had one touchdown on just 18 punt returns. That low number of punt returns was due largely to the fact that Bears opponents refused to kick to Hester: no other Bear managed a single punt return last year.

McCluster and Hester have both been repeatedly linked with the Bucs over the past weeks, although those links are little more than speculation for now. The Bucs would love to find a productive returner who can also contribute on offense, but they may just have to settle for a productive returner this time.

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Richard Gordon re-ups with Kansas City

For the second time in the last week, the Kansas City Chiefs re-signed one of their own free agents. TE Richard Gordon, who was signed late in the season, received a 1-year contract extension, according to Brian McIntyre and verified via NFLPA records. The contract is worth $645,000.

Last week, the Chiefs re-signed long snapper Thomas Gafford, one of their own free agents, to a 1-year contract.

Gordon, who went to college at Miami, was a 2011 sixth round pick by the Oakland Raiders. By 2013, he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers for a brief stint before being released. In mid-December of last year, the Chiefs signed him. He appeared in one game for the Chiefs, the Week 17 finale against the San Diego Chargers where the starters rested. He caught one pass for three yards.

Gordon was scheduled to be a restricted free agent, which meant the Chiefs controlled his rights. Gordon is like so many other young players on the Chiefs who are basically an unknown. Good teams get contributions from unlikely places, such as a former sixth round pick who has been on three teams in three years.

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Bryant McKinnie Weighs In On Wells Report

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Just before Jonathan Martin left the Miami Dolphins, the team acquired left tackle Bryant McKinnie in a trade. McKinnie was in the locker room for a short time with both Martin and Incognito and shared his thoughts on the Wells report, the locker room culture and the Dolphins to CBSMiami.

“It’s a very long report, 144 pages, I guess based off what they put together, they’re saying that Incognito and those guys weren’t trying to push him (Martin) out,” McKinnie told CBS4. “Maybe he could have communicated, even with myself, or you know Coach Philbin or Turner to express what was going on and why he felt a certain way and maybe things could have worked out a little better.”

McKinnie joined the Dolphins shortly before a final incident caused Martin to walk away from the team. From the time McKinnie was in the locker room, he didn’t see harassment, but said Martin could have seen it differently.

“I looked at it like it was just a joke. I never took it as someone was being harassed or felt any type of way so I never thought it was anything too bad with the situation,” McKinnie said. “Obviously you never know what people are going through. I guess he was keeping a lot of stuff inside and eventually people will snap when they keep it inside and get frustrated.”

In the aftermath of Martin leaving the team, McKinnie said that everyone tried to find Martin and help bring him back to the team.

“Immediately when he left, everyone called his phone and texted him, but it was going to voice mail because they were trying to reach out to see if he was okay,” McKinnie said. “That was the immediate reaction to the incident when he left. After that, when everything came out, it put people in awkward positions. They really just wanted to fall back from the situation and see what would happen from there.”

In the Wells Report released Friday, Coach Joe Philbin was exonerated, but the report took issue with some of offensive line coach Jim Turner’s actions. McKinnie said neither coach is responsible and he had no problem with Coach Turner.

“I don’t hold Coach Philbin or Turner responsible for incidents that take didn’t take place in the locker room. You can’t hold them responsible definitely for things that are taking place outside the locker room,” McKinnie said. “What’s going on in the locker room sometimes, if people feel they are joking, I don’t think that that’s something that he would be made aware or because it was nothing he felt was kind of harmful at the time. If he was made aware of it, he probably would have been able to stop it.”

McKinnie continued, “My time with Turner was great. I didn’t see anything that showed me any signs of Turner encouraging or doing anything with the situation. I don’t feel like him or Philbin had any clue to the extent of what was going on with the whole situation.”

McKinnie also spoke highly of the Dolphins organization which he believed handled the entire incident “well.”

“The team still moved forward and it brought the team together and win a couple of more games and get close to making the playoffs,” said McKinnie. “I don’t look at it like a black eye for the organization and at the end of the day; we’ll see if those guys will be back or not.”

Finally, McKinnie tackled the biggest issue facing Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito, and the 31 other teams in the NFL: which player will be brought back into a locker room first?

“I think out of the two, who will have a harder time coming back into the locker room might be Jonathan because people will feel like, ‘I don’t know how I should talk to him or how I should treat him,’” McKinnie said. “From that standpoint, I don’t think Richie will have a hard time because a lot of people look at it as it’s just a guy thing and that’s just something that goes on in some other locker rooms as well. So, I think if anyone it would be Jonathan has the harder time and people might categorize him as being soft.”

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Vince Wilfork candidate for Suggs-like extension?

ESPN Boston believes Patriots NT Vince Wilfork could be a candidate for a Terrell Suggs-type extension.

Suggs, 31, signed a five-year, $28.5 million deal on Monday, slashing his 2014 cap number. "Only" $16 million of the deal is guaranteed. Going on 33, Wilfork is coming off major injury and headed into the final year of his contract. He's currently set to count a steep $11.6 million against the cap. An extension would lower that number while likely locking up a Bill Belichick favorite at a team-friendly rate.

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Jimmy Graham not worried about Saints contract talks

The New Orleans Saints parted ways with four veterans this week in part to prep for the inevitable signing -- or franchise tagging -- of Jimmy Graham.

The tight end isn't fretting about when a contract will get finished.

"For me, I'm just standing," he told The Times-Picayune when asked where he stands on negotiations. "I take every day one day at a time. I'm just going to wait and see what happens because that's where it's at."

The Saints cut corner Jabari Greer, safety Roman Harper and defensive end/linebacker Will Smith on Wednesday, and announced that they would not re-sign linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Those moves saved the Saints around $16 million, but more cuts are likely.

How far under the cap New Orleans must get to re-sign Graham remains a question mark. If it comes down to a franchise tag, the contention about whether the 27-year-old is designated as a tight end or a wide receiver will be important.

"That's not for me to decide," Graham said at a charity event Thursday. "I'm going to do, and I'm going to play, whatever I'm asked to do. It's that simple."
Graham will not leave New Orleans, that much is clear. However, we're just getting started down the bumpy road that ends in a contract being signed.

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What Will It Cost for New York Giants to Keep Jon Beason?

If you ask a lot of the fans of the New York Giants right now which of the current crop of free agents they would like to keep the most, the most common answer you would hear would be Jon Beason.

As much as some want to keep Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph and even Hakeem Nicks, the one name most fans say that is a priority is Beason. The veteran linebacker was acquired in early October in a deal with the Carolina Panthers that cost the Giants all of a seventh-round draft pick and helped turn a defense that at one time, was ranked 31st in the league and finished eighth overall.

While a lot of people thought he was done given that his last full season in the NFL was back in 2010, Beason used the trade to the Giants as his second chance to show every single doubter in the league that he was far from done and still had a lot left in the tank and made ever bit of his stint with the Giants count in 2013. In the 12 games that he played in New York, he totaled for 93 tackles and one interception and ended up with 104 for the season, the first time he reached over 100 since his last healthy season, which was again, back in 2010.

Beason took a very early liking to New York and made it very clear that he wanted to remain a Giant for the remainder of his career and even thought he could join the team as a coach or advisor in some capacity after his playing career was over, but the short time he spent in New York made Beason fall in love with the team, city and the aura that came with playing in New Jersey. Now that the season is over and with less than a month until free agency begins, the Giants have plenty of time to try and work out a deal with the now 29-year-old middle linebacker and lock him up for the next couple of seasons.

But what's the price tag going to be for Beason? He made roughly around $3.25 million in 2013 and likely would be due for a pay raise given how he returned to the elite, play-making form that for several years, made him one of the best middle linebackers in the entire sport. It's tough to use previous deals that the Giants have signed in the past only because the last couple of linebackers they signed long-term in Antonio Pierce (five years, $26 in 2005) and Michael Boley (five years, $25 million in 2009), they were both 26 at the time, whereas Beason is three years older than that and is finally shaking off the label of being injury prone. With that said, Beason's as vital to that eighth-ranked defense and the team knows it.

If Beason is true to his word, then perhaps a four-year deal for $19.5 million would be enough get things done, or if the Giants want to sweeten the deal, a five-year deal for $23.5 million with around $11 million guaranteed. With that, it raises his pay to a shade over $4 million per season and it will give Beason the chance to continue his success with the Giants and potentially, finish his career with the team, which is what he wanted from the moment he arrived back in October.

Giants general manager Jerry Reese alluded to the fact that he was going to try and sign some of his own players before the March 11 starting date for free agency and Beason likely is one he wants to keep off the market and with the team, so if both sides are open to a deal that favors both parties, it could be only a matter of time before Beason does re-sign. Last year, the Giants re-signed Will Beatty to his five-year deal back on February 27, which was well before last year's starting time to free agency back on March 11, so the next two weeks could be a pivotal time for the Giants to pick up the negotiations with themselves and Beason and convince him that he needs to stick around and help the team win another championship.

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Yasmani Grandal poised to prove himself

PEORIA, Ariz. — Yasmani Grandal practically skipped into the Arizona sunshine on Friday, the first Padres player out the door and on the field for the first workout of spring training.

Not a surprise.

In the clubhouse earlier that morning, Grandal was on edge.

After brief salutations, I told him I’ve heard he’s been saying he’s good to go.

“I’m showing I’m good,” he said quickly, right on the border of defensive and confrontational.

And so it went for another minute, Grandal jumping on every question the way the Padres hope he’ll turn on pitches and swat them to every corner.

It was highly enjoyable, more lively than combative.

It seems there may be something new about the brash Cuban -- a maturity forged by trial, an eagerness stoked by obstacles.

It’s like there is an energy field around him, a pent-up energy field.

“Where he is in his career, what has transpired, he’s in a different spot for a number of reasons,” Padres Manager Bud Black said. “… His motivation and desire to get back on the field as a healthy player and to prove (himself) -- this guy (has been) a major-league player-in-waiting for a long time. His motivation and sense of commitment is as strong as I’ve seen it.”

Grandal is barely 25 years old, and the range of possible career arcs spans a practically limitless horizon for a guy who plays catcher and hits a bit.
But this is a crucial year for the former first-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds who was acquired by the Padres in a December 2011 trade, flourished for half a rookie season in 2012, was suspended the first 50 games of 2013 for testing positive for a banned substance, then tore his ACL in the third inning of his 28th game.

Or put another way, by Grandal: “Up, go down, up again, go down … The past year-and-a-half has been a roller coaster.”

That’s called a quick summation of an abbreviated beginning.

It’s time for a sustained, unquestioned breakout.

“It’s about proving to myself I can come back and play again with everything that has happened,” he explained.

Therein is just one small morsel for believing Grandal’s apparent maturation is legitimate.

Talking in May, just down Interstate 10 in Tucson as he played out his minor-league stint prior to joining the Padres following his suspension, Grandal spoke only of the need to prove things to others. As he still does, he wore his confidence right on his chest, just down from the chip on his shoulder. Questions about the need to maybe also show himself he could be the same player without artificial help were met then with smug assurances that he knew how good he was.
He still does. Hopefully, that never leaves. But his confidence is now infused with the kind of sensibleness that experience ripens, as he readily acknowledged a player is always fueled by inward doubts.

“Compared to 2012 and 2013,” Grandal said in response to a question about there being a difference in him, laughing as he did so as a way of expressing he believes there is no quantifying the transformation.

“Getting injured,” he said, “taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about myself, a lot about how mentally tough I am to get through things, work through things. It made me grow.”

And, oh, he still knows this: “A lot of people look at the stats of 2013 of just 28 games and they kind of see it as, ‘Oh, he didn’t do good because of this (not using a banned substance).”

His defense is that he didn’t hit all last offseason and was essentially just getting started when Anthony Rendon slid into his leg on July 6. His assertion is that “if I had played another 80 games or another 60 games” he could have gotten back near the level he’d left off in ’12, when he hit .297 with eight home runs and 36 RBI in 192 at-bats.

Well, here he is in spring training, doing things a hand injury didn’t allow last spring. The belief is that he will start the season, though he is on something of a scaled-back regimen to guard against setback.

He has a unique opportunity.

Of the 67 professional players suspended since Major League Baseball instituted its drug policy in 2004, few have come back to perform at same the level as (or better than) they did before being caught. The majority were veterans nearer the end of their career than the beginning.

Grandal is young, not even arbitration eligible until 2016, with a chance to be a key part of a franchise’s anticipated renaissance.

He’s eager to do it.

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Black believing in Yasmani Grandal's early return

Of course, Yasmani Grandal believes he’ll make a speedy return from last year’s devastating knee injury. Players are supposed to say those things.

Manager Bud Black, however, added a measure of credibility to Grandal’s Opening Day target after watching his catcher work through drills on Wednesday ahead of the start of spring training.

It’s still a lofty goal, to be sure, but Black certainly believes in it more today than he did when Grandal announced his intentions shortly after a surgery that was supposed to wipe out a good portion of the 2014 season.

“Watching him (Wednesday) doing some agility drills on the field, we’re really encouraged about how he’s moving and what he’s doing on the field,” Black said. “You talk to the doctors, you talk to the therapists, you talk to the strength guys, they are really – I don’t want to say amazed – but they are extremely happy with his progression.”

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