The Oakland Raiders wanted a new offensive tackle, and they paid handsomely on the free-agent market to accomplish their goal.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the team signed former St. Louis Rams tackle Rodger Saffold to a five-year deal:
Saffold was selected with the 33rd overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft and was immediately placed into the Rams' lineup at left tackle. While he struggled at times protecting Sam Bradford's blind side, he performed well at the end of the 2013 season when moved inside to guard.
This strong play seemed to put him out of the Rams' price range. According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Saffold's agent Alan Herman explained:
We spoke with [Ram's Vice President of Football Operations] Kevin Demoff numerous times over the weekend. But we're probably going to move in another direction.
Kevin is a good person and a good businessman. He's wonderful to work with in these types of situations. The Rams made a valiant effort. But it's pretty hard to have multiple people making big dollars on the offensive line.
As a result, the Raiders were waiting with open arms to sign the talented offensive lineman.
Of course, not everyone was as supportive, especially with Jared Veldheer expecting to sign elsewhere. Will Brinson of CBS Sports was shocked by the terms of the deal:
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus explained earlier in the week that Saffold would not be able to replace Veldheer at tackle:
Fortunately, Tony Softli of 101 ESPN reported that Saffold would not be used at tackle:
This leaves a hole in the offensive line for the Raiders going forward, but it does still provide improvements to a squad that went 4-12 last season. The team will continue making moves in the offseason to upgrade at virtually every position.
Brinson reports that Oakland could possibly go after cornerback Darrelle Revis either in a trade or in free agency if he is cut. This would be another big move to help the squad rebuild and get back to the postseason for the first time since 2002.
The Raiders also hold the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, so it's possible they could target a starting tackle with that selection. Auburn's Greg Robinson will likely be off the board, but someone like Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M would be a logical fit.
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ESPN's Adam Caplan reported the news:
Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle noted that the Bills avoided paying Kolb a $1 million roster bonus, and feels that the team must seek out another backup QB option:
Kolb just has not panned out in the NFL. Between a myriad of injuries, inconsistent accuracy and wavering in the face of pressure, the 29-year-old veteran has not lived up to his billing as a second-round pick in the 2007 draft.
Although he has good arm talent and underrated athleticism, something has always been unfortunately off for Kolb to prevent him from developing into a reliable, long-term starter. When he arrived in Buffalo last offseason, Kolb stirred controversy—and laughter, to be frank—when he made one of the bolder proclamations coming from a player of his caliber and pedigree:
What really held Kolb back last season was a severe, possibly career-threatening concussion, but in any event he didn't play a single down in 2013.
A Super Bowl never materialized for Kolb and the Bills, and he only had one season (in which he was injured) to make good on his lofty goal. A little over a month after he signed, though, Buffalo drafted E.J. Manuel to be the franchise quarterback of the future, relegating Kolb to becoming a bridge starter at best.
Given Kolb's history of concussions—he missed time in 2010 and 2012 with them as well—and the seriousness of his most recent one, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane felt that Kolb would retire soon:
Retirement has to be a route Kolb at least contemplates at this point. It doesn't appear he'll get many, if any, chances to prove himself as a surefire starting signal-caller again in the NFL, and playing in a different league would be a letdown. The factors that have gone into his lack of success aren't totally in his control, and the two seasons he had with the Arizona Cardinals to prove himself saw him play just 15 total games.
The free-agent QB market is rather thin this offseason, though, so it's conceivable that Kolb could be brought in as a backup for a team that's starved for depth at the position. Although no team is likely to overpay for Kolb, he would embrace just about any opportunity to continue his career at this point—if he's physically capable of doing so.
Buffalo was the latest turn for Kolb, who has suffered a star-crossed fate as a pro after starring at the University of Houston. Given the trials and tribulations he has endured, it's hard to envision Kolb carrying on much further in the NFL beyond 2014.
Veteran offensive tackle Eugene Monroe has agreed to return to Baltimore in 2014, signing a contract with the Ravens, according to Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network:
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports had the terms of the agreement with the Ravens:
The 6'5", 306-pound lineman spent the final three months of 2013 with the Baltimore Ravens after being traded by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 1. Monroe started the Ravens' final 11 regular-season games before becoming an unrestricted free agent this March.
Prior to this signing, Sports Illustrated's Peter King broke down Baltimore's unique situation:
The biggest beneficiary of the high-stakes left-tackle poker: the Ravens. They could get the player they’ve wanted to keep all along, Eugene Monroe, whom they acquired for two fourth-round picks in a mid-year trade with Jacksonville. Monroe is the consensus fourth man on the list for the other teams desperate for a left tackle.
Drafted eighth overall by the Jaguars in 2009, the 26-year-old Monroe is a well-rounded tackle who can hold up in pass protection and also move bodies and clear space in the running game.
Monroe, who has started 73 regular-season games since 2009, also demonstrates tremendous balance and footwork for a man his size.
For Baltimore, this signing is huge. Most of the top available tackles are already leaning toward or have made a decision on their future this spring. Not to mention the top-tier options are going to be expensive.
Plus, given the Ravens' struggles in the running game last year, they could ill afford to let Monroe walk. Baltimore ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards during the regular season and will also want to protect their $100 million quarterback, Joe Flacco, in the coming years.
By signing Monroe to a multiyear deal, the AFC North contenders have taken a significant step toward getting back to the postseason and competing for a Super Bowl title.
But there are still plenty more moves to be made by the Ravens' front office this offseason, including a decision on free-agent tackle Michael Oher. In February, head coach John Harbaugh was optimistic that the team could bring back both starters in 2014, per BaltimoreRavens.com's Garrett Downing:
I think there's a way. It just depends on the numbers. It all comes down to the math. We've got more salary-cap space, I think we found out yesterday, so that makes it a little brighter situation. As a coach, I would love to do that. I would love to see that happen.
If the Ravens are able to return Oher for cheap and address some of their other needs through free agency and the 2014 NFL draft this May, they're sure to be contenders once again in the watered-down AFC.
For now, Monroe's long-term deal provides the Ravens with stability on the edge. Monroe will turn 27 in April and can also become a mentor to any younger or inexperienced offensive lineman the Ravens bring in this offseason or the next.
Although Baltimore now has a lot of money wrapped up in Monroe, there's no doubt investing in the left tackle is the right decision, considering what the Ravens gave up for him last fall (two draft picks) and what he offers in terms of experience, durability and versatility.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
Danica Patrick has officially survived a NASCAR race during the 2014 season.
The driver of the No. 10 car kept her machine clean on the track for the entirety of the Kobalt 400 in Las Vegas. But then again, so did everyone else in the field.
Not a single pileup occurred during the third race of the season as just four caution flags were waved for debris on the track throughout the 400 miles. Patrick subsequently came away in the 21st position, narrowly missing out on her first top-20 of the season.
Though she wasn't able to crack the top 20, the finish was still good enough to place her ahead of her Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, who all had miserable days. While Kevin Harvick was running strong and led 23 laps, the Phoenix winner fell behind with a broken wheel hub and finished 41st.
With Patrick finally showing a little progress after wrecking in the first two races, here is a look at the latest news on Patrick heading into the fourth race of the season.
Danica Patrick News
Sympathy points are not earned in NASCAR. And with Patrick struggling just to keep a car on the track for the first two races—technically more than that if the Sprint Unlimited race is included—she certainly wasn't awarded any by fans or other drivers.
But after her slight improvement in Vegas, Jeff Owens of Sporting News wrote about Patrick and tagged her as one of his "Winners" of the week:
Patrick battled back from two early setbacks, raced hard and wound up best in class. Her 21st-place finish was the best among her four Stewart-Haas teammates. It also was better than she finished in more than two-thirds of the races last year. By staying out of trouble, Patrick finally showed some progress.
While Patrick might not be winning over fans on the track despite Owens' analysis, she has been doing it through social media. The 31-year-old has carved out a niche group on Twitter with more than one million followers.
One of the biggest parts of NASCAR, whether fans like it or not, is advertising. And thanks to her huge following, Patrick was able to hold a vote on the social media site to help pick the color she would wear in the car, which also helps her sponsors:March 6, 2014
After choosing the right outfit, Patrick's team worked on getting the car just right to compete in the Kobalt Tools 400.
Unfortunately, the pre-race adjustments didn't go quite to plan for the SHR team. Patrick did survive the entire race, but she was unhappy with the car as she raced near the middle of the pack throughout the day.
NASCAR.com provides a few excerpts from the in-car audio between Patrick and crew chief Tony Gibson as she frantically screams about her machine:
Following the progress showing in Vegas, Patrick will have to prove herself once again at a track where she has never fared well.
In the small sample size at Bristol—just three races on the Sprint Cup circuit—Patrick has never finished in the top 20. With three finishes of 29th, 28th and 26th at the short track, she doesn't have a great history there.
But after a better performance in the third start of the season, her team might be getting its act together with plenty of time still left in the year to stage a comeback.
So will the No. 10 car finally get out of the doldrums of the NASCAR standings in Bristol? Likely not, but she will have a slightly better running than her previous finishes.
Predicted finish: 23rd
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Liverpool's search for defensive recruits this summer is reported to have taken them to the doorstep of Red Bull Salzburg, with centre-back Martin Hinteregger drawing Brendan Rodgers' eye of late.
According to The Guardian's David Hytner, Reds scouts were on hand to watch Hinteregger play the full 90 minutes of Austria's 1-1 draw against Uruguay in an international friendly last week.
The 21-year-old impressed in his duties as Luis Suarez's marker, too, with Hytner writing:
The tall and imposing Hinteregger caught the eye with his physicality and his composure on the ball. His style appears to be tailor-made for the Premier League. Since establishing himself at Salzburg, Hinteregger has also attracted the interest of Arsenal.
The English top flight would be a step up in what's demanded of the Austrian Bundesliga figure, but for one so young, Hinteregger is showing the early signs of being able to cope with the pressure.
Red Bull Salzburg's performances in the Europa League this season have been a particular testament if that upgrade in quality, the defender having played in seven of the club's eight wins thus far in the European campaign.
Squawka show that Hinteregger is joint-leader for his side in defensive actions performed per game this season (8) and a headed-duel success rate of 69 percent only speaks further of what Rodgers might see in his potential acquisition.
Those standards in European competition haven't gone unnoticed, with WhoScored nominating the stalwart for Team of the Week honours back in December:
Centre of defence has been an area of fierce debate this season, with Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho further cementing their solid reputations with the Reds, while Daniel Agger's importance in the starting XI has waned somewhat and an ageing Kolo Toure continues to show some weak areas.
As a result, it's understandable that the Merseysiders might seek fresher legs at the back, albeit an asset that might look to have more immediate impact than Sebastian Coates or Martin Kelly.
Burgeoning on not just the club but the international scene—his appearance against Uruguay was just his second cap—Hinteregger is at the head of a Salzburg side that's impressed in all facets this term, keeping three clean sheets in their last four Europa League outings.
If Liverpool are to embrace this new policy of money-saving tactics in the transfer market, a cut-price swoop for lower-risk, higher-reward signings such as this are exactly the gambles which must be weighed up.
In that train of thought, Hinteregger has a vital few months ahead in ensuring his 2013-14 season finishes in similarly impressive fashion, for a switch to one of Europe's elite divisions could rightfully come calling.
WWE once again debunked the age-old myth that it doesn't listen to fans this past week on Raw. This week, fans (kind of) took center stage as the Yes Movement hijacked Raw. The memorable scene led to Triple H not only agreeing to face Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania, but also with Daniel Bryan receiving an elusive title shot at WrestleMania should he win.
The Usos began Week 2 of their tag team championship run against RybAxel, but just one week after defeating the New Age Outlaws, it appears they are all out of competition. Once their feud is finished with the legendary tag team, who’s next?
John Cena’s irreverent, playful promo style returned against Bray Wyatt, much to the chagrin of hardcore fans. Not to fear, this WrestleMania feud will quickly get serious as it progresses.
Christian and Sheamus continue their TV feud, which at this point cannot possibly translate to a WrestleMania match. Perhaps the pair will be added to the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal? Speaking of which, assuming Alexander Rusev is entered into the fray, the Bulgarian Brute has to be considered an early favorite.
Use the hashtag #RawReview to keep the conversation going!
Former Pride and K-1 champion Mirko Filipovic believes former UFC middleweight top dog Anderson Silva will never be the same dominant force after suffering a broken left tibia and fibula late last year.
Despite the fact the Brazilian fan favorite resumed training less than two months after the gruesome injury, "Cro Cop" believes the legendary fighter's best days are still behind him, per MMA Fighting.
"I heard, thank God, he's recovering, but it'll always leave a scar in his mind, and even physically," Filipovic said on this week's edition of The MMA Hour. "He will never be the same fighter. He'll never. I really like and respect and admire him, but I don't think he will ever be 100-percent the old Anderson Silva. It was a terrible injury. He'll always start thinking, what if it happens again? But that's the name of the game. You cannot avoid it. Sometimes it just happens."
Silva suffered the severe leg break when he fought UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 168 in December, where "The Spider" looked for redemption from his July knockout loss to his American counterpart.
As fate would have it, December 28 of last year wasn't Silva's night, either, as the fight veteran snapped his leg as it slammed into Weidman's knee on a checked leg kick.
The 38-year-old required immediate surgery, but against all odds, has managed to recover at an astonishing rate.
Whether or not he can return back to his old self inside the Octagon is another question.
Prior to his UFC 162 loss to Weidman, Silva had won 17 straight bouts (16 under the UFC banner) and set the UFC record with 10 successful middleweight title defenses.
While there hasn't been any serious discussions about when Silva will return or who he would fight, he remains the top ranked 185-pound contender in the UFC's official rankings.
On the other hand, Filipovic, 39, is 1-4 in his past five MMA bouts and lost a kickboxing bout under the Glory banner this past Saturday against Remy Bonjasky.
Will Silva be able to replicate his past success or are his best fights behind him whether he likes it or not?
The Clippers are Doc Rivers. They are DeAndre Jordan. They are still Paul.
More importantly, they are Blake Griffin.
Amid the best season of his NBA career, Griffin has morphed into so much more than highlight reels and provocative stat lines. Elevating his status as a leader has transformed the Clippers.
Retaining Paul preserved their foundation. Hiring Rivers expedited a complete culture change. Jordan's ascension has deepened their frontcourt and increased late-game stability.
However, it's Griffin's transformation that has pushed these Clippers over the top, leaving them among the elite and within reach of an NBA championship.
Something Griffin has never failed to do is abuse box scores.
Even when he was routinely being coined one of the NBA's most overrated and one-dimensional talents, no stat line was safe. While he's steadily distanced himself from jarring accusations, the roots of his game haven't changed. He's still a numerical juggernaut.
Griffin is averaging a career-high 24.4 points to go along with 9.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game. There isn't another player in the NBA currently duplicating his per-game averages.
The last player to actually maintain per-game benchmarks of 24 points, nine rebounds, 3.5 assists and one steal was Kevin Garnett in 2003-04. Only five players overall have reached this milestone in the last 20 years.
If Griffin's numbers hold, he will join Garnett, Hakeem Olajuwon, Chris Webber, David Robinson and Karl Malone as the only six players since 1993-94 to produce such numbers. That's some pretty good company: three Hall of Famers (Robinson, Olajuwon and Malone) and one inevitable Hall of Famer (Garnett).
This is the kind of season Griffin is having—the kind of season that's put him in the company of all-time greats and paved the way for what's coming next.
What has truly been the biggest knock on Griffin?
A once-restricted offensive game? Nope.
His defense? Closer.
His legitimacy as a franchise cornerstone? Bingo, bango, bongo.
The playoffs weren't an option before Paul came to town. It was only then that the Clippers became relevant, opening Griffin up to even more criticism as the byproduct of top-flight point guard play.
Bringing in Rivers actually put him at further risk. There existed the distinct possibility that he would be overshadowed by two men, a player and coach, more powerful and valuable than himself.
But that hasn't happened.
Paul missed 18 consecutive games nursing a shoulder injury, setting the stage for disaster in the brutal Western Conference, where the Clippers stood to be swallowed whole.
Fortunately, they weren't. Fortunately, they went 12-6 in his absence. Fortunately, they had Griffin to not only keep them afloat, but near the top.
Being forced to plow on without the league's best point guard was actually a blessing in disguise for the Clippers. It allowed Griffin to establish an identity outside of Paul and even Rivers. During that time, he was no longer the beneficiary of circumstance. The circumstances were less than ideal. Actually, let's just call them what they were: crappy.
At least, that's what they should have been. When MVP candidates are relegated to the bench, treading water becomes difficult, nigh impossible.
Borne out of the unfortunate, though, was a second MVP candidate sporting the Clippers' red and white.
Through those 18 games without Paul, Griffin scored, rebounded and passed his way to prominence, distinctly razing any residual doubts about his superstardom. Without Paul, he shined and the Clippers dazzled.
To be sure, they weren't better without Paul. However, they were good—good enough to remain in the Western Conference's top-four conversation because of Griffin. He kept them relevant. Paul makes them great.
Because of that stint without Paul, Griffin's breakout season has come full circle.
There is satisfaction to be found there, near the top, where only the most dignified superstars reside—where Griffin himself now dwells.
Not many teams can say they have two superstars with as much talent as Paul and Griffin.
Paul's contributions and leadership are assumed. He's ubiquitous to the MVP conversation. And now, as ESPN.com's J.A. Adande writes, so is Griffin:
He showed that you can run the offense through him, or that he can initiate the offense himself by bringing the ball upcourt. He can get key buckets in the fourth quarter. Of late, his greatest quality has been his consistency. This was Griffin's 23rd consecutive game with at least 20 points, the second-longest streak in the NBA this season behind Durant's 36-and-counting.
Griffin is erasing the doubts I had about his ability to fulfill the true test of a superstar: to single-handedly lead his team to a playoff victory. That's a challenge to be met once the postseason begins. The Most Valuable Player is a reward for regular-season accomplishment. If Griffin gets his team to the top of the heap, that would be an accomplishment worth an award.
Somewhat obviously, Griffin isn't going to win MVP. James and Durant have already staked their territory. It's a two-man race. Nothing Griffin, Paul, Joakim Noah or anyone else does is going to prove otherwise.
But what team in the NBA can say it houses two potential MVP candidates? One? Two? Zero?
Even the most star-studded teams are heavily reliant on one player. Dwyane Wade couldn't necessarily carry the Miami Heat in James' extended absence. Russell Westbrook isn't guaranteed to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder into the playoffs without Durant.
Griffin's emergence as someone more than an empty-stat hoarder separates the Clippers from just about everyone. They're unique, reaping the benefits of fortunes-turning star power that extends beyond one player.
"He just works on his game and he's getting the payment," Rivers told Adande. "He's putting in a lot of deposits, and now he's getting some cash back."
So are the Clippers.
What they have now, more so than before, is something special. Something dominant and dangerous.
What they have is something worthy of a championship, anchored by Griffin, the star who now stands alongside Paul rather than behind him.
He didn't. And that's bad. It's typically a good idea not to worry about anything performance-related in spring training, but Sabathia's velocity is an exception. In light of how it relates to past trends, the Yankees should be very worried.
But here's a tease: Sabathia's second spring outing was not, however, without a silver lining.
We'll get to that. But first, let's continue on with the panic mode stuff by diving right into the less optimistic aspects of Sabathia's second spring outing.
Facing the Washington Nationals, Sabathia gave up three earned runs on four hits and a pair of walks in three innings. He struck out three.
According to Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York, the veteran lefty was honest about how he felt about his performance:
Pretty much, and we haven't even gotten to the discouraging radar gun readings yet. Here's Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:
The 86-89 range is about where Sabathia was with his fastball velocity in his first spring outing on March 1 against the Philadelphia Phillies, as Mike Axisa of RiverAveBlues.com and others noted. Sabathia's journey toward Barry Zito territory appears to be ongoing.
On that note, Axisa was proactive in asking the big question: Could such early velocity readings possibly be predictive?
When Axisa dug up the velocities that Sabathia flashed in his first televised spring outings in 2012 and 2013, he found that the answer is basically yes and no:
It's bad that the velocity Sabathia flashed in his first spring outings in 2012 and 2013 carried over into April. It's good, however, that he was able to add some velocity after April both years.
But then there's the other bad: In neither case did Sabathia recapture the velocity he had the previous year. Per FanGraphs, he never got back to his 93.8 2011 average in 2012, and he never got back to his 92.3 2012 average in 2013. The 91.1 average he finished with in 2013 is easily the worst of his career.
That's not the only career worst Sabathia produced in 2013. His 4.78 ERA was also a career worst, as was his his 85 ERA+.
To boot, key ERA estimators agree that he just wasn't very good. His FIP of 4.10 was his worst since 2004. His SIERA of 3.88 was also his worst since 2004.
If we do some detective work, we find that a big part of Sabathia's struggles was how much easier it was for batters to hit him hard. Batters racked up a .173 Isolated Power against Sabathia, the highest of his career.
Further detective work shows us that the decline in Sabathia's velocity was related to this. Per Brooks Baseball, it was much easier for batters to square up Sabathia's four-seamer (still very much his primary fastball over his sinker) in 2013:
Note: There's data for 2007 too, but not a full season's worth. So I chose to ignore it.
Correlation doesn't always equal causation, but it would appear to in this case. As Sabathia's fastball velocity has decreased, the power against it has increased.
And therein lies the chief fear of Sabathia's spring velocity readings thus far. If the trends of the past two seasons hold, it will mean yet another decline year for Sabathia's fastball velocity. And if his fastball velocity does decline even further, even more hard hits against it could be in order.
And let's face it: There's not much hope of Sabathia bucking the trend.
With his 34th birthday coming up, Sabathia is an older pitcher now. One thing we know about old pitchers is that their velocity tends to go nowhere but down. And while it may indeed be neither here nor there, it probably doesn't help that Sabathia doesn't have as much, ahem, heft to put behind his pitches as he used to. After slimming down last year, he's slimmed down even more heading into 2014.
With Sabathia's velocity unlikely to increase, the Yankees' best hope is that his reliance on his four-seamer will decrease. If he can't throw harder fastballs, fewer fastballs is the next-best thing.
Which brings us, finally, to the tease of a silver lining from Tuesday's outing. In it, Sabathia showed that he might be ready to exchange a few four-seamers for a few cutters in 2014.
Sabathia has never thrown a cutter before. But Erik Boland of Newsday got everyone's attention last week by reporting that Sabathia is ready to throw one and that he's been learning one from none other than Andy Pettitte. He broke it out for the first time in a simulated game last Thursday.
"He (Pettitte) was showing me a grip with the cutter," said Sabathia. "I used it today and it worked pretty good, so I'm anxious to take it into a game."
He did just that on Tuesday.
Here's Mike Axisa:
And Delia Enriquez of BronxBaseballDaily.com:
Yours truly was also on cutter watch. But while it was hard to tell cutters apart from flat sliders and simple four-seamers, it seemed to me that Sabathia was indeed often going to his new toy on Tuesday.
That's about as much as I can say about it, though. Because it was hard to tell what were cutters and what weren't, it's hard to narrow down the velocity of Sabathia's cutter. Nor could I get a solid read on its movement, as TV camera angles make it tough to deduce the movement of lefty fastballs of all kinds.
But for what it's worth, Enriquez's comparison of Sabathia's cutter to Pettitte's cutter seems fair enough. FanGraphs says Pettitte threw his cutter at 83.2 miles per hour in 2013, and that's about where Sabathia's cutter is likely to sit if his four-seamer is maxing out at 88. And just like Pettitte could with his, Sabathia's cutter looks like it has the potential to be a pitch he can use to jam right-handed batters.
Sabathia should definitely be interested in doing that. Per Brooks Baseball, righty batters had a .209 ISO against Sabathia's weakened four-seamer in 2013, their best ever against it. It would be good if Sabathia took to mixing up his four-seamer and cutter against right-handed batters in 2014.
You know, sort of like Pettitte did in 2013 to solid results. From Brooks Baseball:
Pettitte didn't split his four-seamer and cutter usage against righties evenly in 2012, throwing the former about twice as often as the latter. That didn't work out so well, as righties hit .330 against his four-seamer with a .121 ISO. And while they did have a .193 ISO against his cutter, they only hit it .140 against it.
Obviously, switching things up in 2013 worked pretty well. Righties still hit Pettitte's four-seamer well, but they continued to struggle against his cutter while also seeing them at a much higher rate.
If Sabathia copy cats Pettitte's aggressiveness with his new cutter against right-handed batters, it's possible that he'll be able to avoid being crushed by right-handed batters like he was in 2013. Maybe his overall numbers won't get better, but that would certainly help keep them from getting worse.
For now, all we can say is "Maybe." Because it's only spring training and Sabathia has been throwing his new cutter for all of one week, making promises about its potential would be a decidedly silly endeavor.
We can say this much, though: The Yankees had better hope that Sabathia's new cutter can be a weapon for him this year. Because if it's not, he'll be back to proving that he can get by with diminished velocity on the pitches he already has in his arsenal.
He couldn't do that in 2013. He very likely wouldn't be able to do it in 2014 either.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.
It came on the same day that the Russian side's manager, Luciano Spalletti, was sacked.
With Jose Mourinho recently being caught on tape bemoaning the quality of his strikers, and rumours of a possible move for Fernando Torres to Inter Milan circulating, the Brazilian striker has caused many people to assume he is bound for Stamford Bridge.
Hulk has long been linked with a move to Chelsea, but there is no indication at this stage that the former Porto star has any discussions with the Stamford Bridge hierarchy on his itinerary.
But with no Champions League football being played in London this week, it is unclear exactly what "work" Hulk has lined up.
It is possible that Luiz, not to mention Oscar, tried to persuade Hulk of the merits of a move to England.
Spalletti was sacked after falling out with a number of Russian players at Zenit but Hulk may well have been unsettled by the departure of the man who paid £50m to sign him from Portugal.
Chelsea have had problems with their strike force this season; Torres and Samuel Eto'o have only 11 Premier League goals combined this season.
Since the loss of Didier Drogba in 2012 they have been unable to find a replacement who will score 20 or more goals in a season.
The 27-year-old Hulk may well be the man to finally fill Drogba's shoes. Not only is he an intimidating physical presence, he is also a proven goalscorer.
Hulk scored 54 goals in 99 league appearances for previous club Porto before moving in 2012, per UEFA.
And according to FIFA, he has scored nine times in 15 appearances in this season's league campaign.
It is a return like this that Mourinho should be expecting from his strikers, and he is not getting it from the likes of Torres.
Furthermore, the Brazilian is versatile. He can play either as a central striker or wide on the flanks.
Considering the Chelsea boss' penchant for playing various systems, Hulk would be an ideal buy for the west London side.
Chelsea already have players around which to build a team in the likes of Oscar and Eden Hazard.
Hulk could fit right into this squad without causing much disruption and he would add goals at the same time.
Chelsea are currently seven points clear at the top of the Premier League table. They have achieved this without a prolific striker.
Add the likes of Hulk to the mix and Chelsea will be an intimidating prospect for any side in Europe.
The New York Jets are looking to be active players in free agency this year. There have been some big names linked to the Jets, such as safeties T.J Ward and Chris Clemons and Donte Whitner. And there is one other name that would make perfect sense for Gang Green: Maurice Jones-Drew.
Manish Mehta of New York Daily News first mentioned Jones-Drews' name as a target for the Jets, saying it was a bit surprising. However, the Jets are in need of help with their rushing attack.
Despite ranking sixth in the league in rushing, averaging 134.9 YPG, once you factor out quarterback Geno Smith's 366 yards, their average drops to 112 YPG—good for 17th in the league.
This need for help stems from the Jets attempt to lighten the load for Smith. As TFY Draft Insider reports:
The New York Jets are returning to a more run oriented offense in 2014 in an attempt to exploit their strengths and lessen the load on Geno Smith. I’m told the game plan is to try and keep Smith under 20 passes per game.
This isn't the first time Jones-Drew has been linked to the Jets. After contract talks stalled between MJD and the Jaguars in 2012, there were rumors of him being traded. The Jets initially were linked as a possible trade partner but, according to Mehta, it was not cost-effective.
Now that the Jets have the cap room, they could finally get MJD at a reasonable price.
Head coach Rex Ryan is no stranger to getting the most out of older running backs. When Ryan became head coach of the Jets in 2009, he inherited a then-30-year-old Thomas Jones. Under Ryan's run-first offense, Jones enjoyed the best season of his career, rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The addition of Jones-Drew to the Jets backfield could yield similar results. He has the ability to be an every-down running back. He is still a strong, agile runner who can make people miss in the open field as well as make yards after contact, as he proved in 2013.
Jones-Drew also would bring veteran leadership to a young running-back group consisting of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. The young duo did compile over 1,600 combined rushing yards last year, but neither back topped 1,000 yards individually. Ivory in particular failed to live up to expectations after coming over from the New Orleans Saints' crowded backfield.
The Jets aren't the only team that will be vying for MJD's services. The Jaguars are expected to offer their star running back a two-year deal while the Dolphins have also been linked to him, per James Walker of ESPN.com. The Jets do, however, offer arguably the best chance to reach the postseason.
This potential trio of running backs could become the best in their division and one of the better trios in the NFL. They would instill a physical, hard-hitting running style that Ryan loves. They would allow the Jets to mirror the system Seattle uses, relying on hard running and play-action bootlegs that would best use Smith's athleticism.
Between the defense starting to re-emerge as a fearsome unit and a good running back unit, the Jets are starting to look like the team that went to back-to-back AFC championships. They do have a few holes to fill before they can seriously contend in the playoffs, but snagging Jones-Drew would be a step in the right direction.
Submerged in blue light and wearing glares that pierce the screen, it's clear The Ascension's dominance at NXT is just a precursor to success on a bigger stage.
Viktor and Konnor have immersed themselves into their distinct, dark gimmick. Their look, size and athletic skill promise tag team greatness and the ability to leave a lasting mark on the audience.
Kenneth Cameron was Konnor's original partner, but the WWE was forced to shift its plans. According to PWInsider, Cameron was "released from the company after being charged with battery of a law enforcement officer and disorderly intoxication."
When The Ascension reformed, Viktor took Cameron's spot and the team pushed ahead with slicker, more captivating performances.
They won the NXT tag titles last September and haven't come close to relinquishing them since with their reign now approaching 200 days. They sit atop the division, no legit threat headed their way.
In the more competitive tag team division on the main roster, The Ascension will flourish as well. Power and mat skills benefit Viktor and Konnor, but it's their visage and presentation that make them special.
Success in the WWE is so often about the right packaging.
Konnor and Viktor will excel in that facet. All the details about them work from their ring gear to their poses.
The Ascension exude menace as they prowl toward the ring. Their look is an enticing blend of styles, making both men look like they stepped out of a science fiction movie.
The gimmick translates to the ring as well.
Earlier incarnations of it had the team relying too much on grunting and barking during matches. Now they simply plow through their foes. Their body language and intense glare add to their aura of danger.
Konnor's size (6'4'', 265 lbs) and power are his best assets.
He looks the part of the bruiser of the group. In a match against The American Pitbulls, Konnor showed off his striking ability, rattling off convincing right hands.
That outing also displayed his explosiveness. Although he doesn't have as impressive acceleration as someone like Roman Reigns, he's a solid athlete as well as an overpowering beast.
Viktor is the better all-around wrestler. He's quick, strong and a quality mat wrestler. He combines grappling with viciousness in a way that will lead to him producing a number of standout matches.
When he was known as Rick Victor, he infused headlocks with nasty brawling rather effectively against CJ Parker.
One can see from this performance and others that Viktor is comfortable in the ring and moves fluidly between the ropes. He can thrive on the mat or with more acrobatic moves like a flying uppercut.
He serves as the wrestling foundation for The Ascension while Konnor's look is more imposing.
Outside of the ring, Konnor has the edge.
Of the two, he is the most magnetic, although neither exhibits top-level charisma. That's partly why their gimmick is so brilliant, as it asks very little from them on the mic. They can brood and snarl and not have to make long speeches.
Briley Pierce interviewed Viktor at FCW and The Ascension's grappler was solid. He delivered his lines well and had good timing, but no one is going to mistake him for Bray Wyatt.
Konnor gets a slightly higher grade as a talker. He hasn't shown it much with his current gimmick, but he can be charming and funny as he showed in his NXT profile video.
In that clip, he mentions that Ted DiBiase was his favorite wrestler growing up. It's not surprising then, that he has seemed to have worked so hard on his evil laugh.
Though it's not a performance at the level of WWE's best, Konnor does well to creep out the audience in the following promo:
He's far more on Luke Harper's level here than he is Wyatt's. The Ascension could certainly benefit from a mouthpiece. A stellar talker would allow WWE to put the team into more complex stories.
Neither man is a wow-inspiring athlete either.
That's likely a part of why so many of their matches are short. That allows The Ascension to excel in bursts, but they haven't yet shown they can pull off longer, main event-worthy matches.
With more opportunities and experience, they could well prove that they can do that. The appeal of the gimmick will afford them chances other prospects won't get.
The NXT tag titles look good in The Ascension's hands and one can count on them hoisting the WWE versions as well.
They are two solid athletes who complement each other well and have the benefit of one of the better looks and gimmicks in recent memory. Neither Ax or Smash of Demolition were headliners on their own, but as a team, dressed up in their leather garb and face paint, they became the tag division's kingpins for quite a while.
The Ascension can do that as well.
They aren't as physically dominating as The Road Warriors and don't have an elite talker like The Wyatt Family does, but their strengths are numerous. Their mic skills aren't bad either—certainly not inferior enough to hold them back from championship glory.
The team is destined for a top spot thanks to how marketable and memorable they are.
A plus for the team and bad news for Viktor and Konnor is that The Ascension's parts are interchangeable to a degree. Ask Cameron, who watched as the team welcomed a new member and moved forward as if he was never there.
Should one member get injured or leave the company, WWE can slide another big man in Konnor's place or another ring general in Viktor's place.
As is, though, this duo is the right blend of haunting and exciting, a two-man demolition crew sure to carry on its habit of wrecking foes to the top of the WWE tag division.
Be sure to check out previous installments in this ongoing series:
Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert has agreed on a five-year contract with the Miami Dolphins, giving the team a much needed boost on the offensive line.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported the news Tuesday:
Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald reported on Monday that a deal between Albert and the Dolphins was imminent, but couldn't be made official until the beginning of free agency:
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio cited a league source on Sunday in reporting that "all signs currently point to" Albert taking his talents to South Beach once the market was open for business on Tuesday.
Albert was selected No. 15 overall in the 2008 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs and played all six of his previous seasons with the team. Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post drew a clear connection that makes the fit for Albert in Miami all the more logical:
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly emphasized the importance of the Dolphins shoring up the position before Albert was signed:
After being hit with the franchise-tag designation in 2013 and seeing Eric Fisher chosen with the top overall pick in that year's draft, the writing appeared to be on the wall that Albert's time in Kansas City was coming to a close. The Chiefs didn't appear interested in paying him, and Fisher's move to right tackle as a rookie didn't go smoothly enough to make it a permanent decision.
Thus, this is the best move for both sides in Albert's situation, and he will be embraced with open arms in Miami. Due to the bullying saga that plagued the team this past season, the Dolphins are out three starters from last year's Week 1 lineup in guard Richie Incognito and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. Guard John Jerry isn't likely to return after he hits the open market since he was named in attorney Ted Wells' investigative report.
Since Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo are also free agents, new general manager Dennis Hickey had his work cut out from the beginning at offensive tackle, but landing Albert is a big step in the right direction.
Miami needs to see for sure what it has in quarterback Ryan Tannehill as he prepares for his third year under center. Part of his uneven performances thus far has been due to poor protection, so Albert adds definitive insurance on his blind side.
Albert also has familiarity with his former offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, who will help him acclimate to the offense run by coordinator Bill Lazor.
Establishing a more consistent running game also has to be a focus for Miami. While Albert has the athleticism to get to the second level on shorter pass plays, he can't block for guards on the inside, which is where Hickey still has work to do.
This move to sign Albert confirms what Bleacher Report's Chris Simms heard, in that the Dolphins preferred Albert over the likes of Eugene Monroe and other franchise-caliber left tackles available in free agency:
In any event, Hickey has done an admirable job in his brief time in charge of personnel, landing Albert and re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes. Albert is a big, make-or-break type of investment who could give the Dolphins hope almost all by himself. If he winds up being a disappointment, detractors will wonder why Miami pulled the trigger on a deal for him so early and didn't wait for the potentially better Monroe or the draft to seek more of a surefire option.
Since the Dolphins had more than $34.3 million in salary cap room before striking a deal with Albert (h/t Spotrac.com), it is conceivable that they will spend even more in free agency to upgrade the roster. This is a big 2014 campaign for Coach Joe Philbin and co., and it may be the last straw for Tannehill.
Albert's position isn't the only one that needs fixing in Miami. The good news is that he emphatically addresses one major need and should give Tannehill confidence to hang in the pocket without wilting from pressure and deliver the ball downfield as he's capable of.
Donte Whitner has reached an agreement with the Cleveland Browns on a four-year, $28 million deal.
Adam Schefter of ESPN provided word of the free-agent signing on Tuesday:
Whitner later tweeted about his move to the Browns:
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network initially noted the deal was expected to check in around $28 million over four years:
Whitner spent the past three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers after a five-year stint with the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo drafted him with the eighth overall selection in the 2006 NFL draft. While he developed into a solid contributor, he didn't live up to the first-round hype.
He proceeded to earn two Pro Bowl nods during his three years in San Francisco. It was the type of performance, especially in 2013, that was seemingly going to make him one of the highest-ranked 2014 free agents by all media outlets.
That wasn't the case, however. Whitner took to Twitter after he discovered he was barely ranked inside the top 50 free agents by NFL.com. Clearly he didn't think the rankings were too accurate:
He was eventually moved up two spots, but it's doubtful the safety found that any more satisfying given his improvement during his stay with the 49ers.
Other outlets had a more positive view of Whitner. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the No. 13 player available and the third-best safety behind Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward. It pointed toward his 2013 success as reason for the placement:
In 2012 the coverage of Whitner was arguably the weak link in the 49ers defense. Fast forward a year and the former first round pick has no such worries, really upping his game. It’s taken longer than you might think but he has become the player he was drafted to be.
It's a moot point now, of course. Whitner has latched on with a new team and can begin the process of proving himself once again. Perhaps he'll benefit from the added motivation of the low ranking, which clearly irked him if nothing else.
Looking ahead, he should remain an impact performer in Cleveland. The talented defensive back may not be the game-changing safety the Bills thought they were getting nearly a decade ago, but it's also no longer fair to judge Whitner on that scale after eight seasons in the league.
As long as he continues to make his presence felt by slowing down the opposing run game, he should provide good value. Furthermore, he should still be in the midst of his peak seasons at age 28, which lowers the risk involved with the signing.
It seems like a win-win situation.
Arthur Jones, one of the most skilled defensive ends on the open market, has reportedly signed a new five-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts. The team announced the deal on Tuesday afternoon:
Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported the news:
Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun added more details:
Jones was in high demand this offseason, as the former Baltimore Ravens standout has been a consistent contributor during his first three seasons in the league and appears poised for a breakout campaign in 2014.
The 27-year-old is coming off his second straight four-sack season, while also serving as a rock-solid run stuffer due to his elite strength and massive 6’3”, 315-pound frame.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has nothing but praise for the Syracuse star that the franchise selected in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
Harbaugh admitted that his team would struggle to match any massive offers for Jones’ services and explained why to NFL.com’s Marc Sessler: "If you put the tape on, they're going to like him a lot."
The Colts were one team that had a strong interest in Jones and liked him a lot right off the bat. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun first noted that Indianapolis was ready to ink Jones to a deal as early as Tuesday:
The organization accomplished that goal, reuniting the defensive end with former coordinator and current Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. Jones is the second lineman to follow Pagano to Indianapolis and will soon play on the same line as former teammate Cory Redding.
Baltimore primarily used Jones in a reserve role during his tenure with the franchise, coming off the bench to provide a boost against the run. The Colts will likely give Jones a chance to shine as a starter and he should compete for the starting right end job.
With the amount of money he’s now making, it would be downright surprising if the Rochester, New York, native does not play a major role with his new club.
Jones has the chance to make a massive impact on the Indianapolis defense and bring toughness to the front seven of the squad, which gave up 125.1 yards per game to opposing rushers last season.
NFL free agency is here, which means the rumors are at the highest possible pitch when it comes to some of the top names on the market.
Thanks to the legal tampering period that preceded the opening of the market, plenty of deals were already agreed to in principle—but no ink was allowed to actually touch paper.
Now, all chaos breaks loose.
It can be very difficult to keep up with all of the nuggets of info making the rounds, so here is a look at the latest on three of the biggest names in search of a new deal.
Jairus Byrd No Lock in Washington, May Stay in Buffalo?
As arguably the top prize on the market, former Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd may be—believe it or not—back on his way to Buffalo.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane, there is an outside chance Byrd will crawl back to Buffalo if he cannot get the deal he desires on the open market:
Rapoport's details are especially interesting because the Washington Redskins figured to be major players for Byrd's services (Come on, when is Washington not in play for a top free agent?).
But honestly, it makes sense that some on the market are allegedly balking at Byrd's requests, as detailed by NFL Network's Albert Breer:
Look, Byrd is a great player. He ranked as the No. 8 overall safety in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), for a reason. But the market may fight back on this one, and in what would be a surprise to most, Byrd may stay with the Bills after all.
This meshes well with what Byrd told ESPN's Mike Rodak recently about his open dialouge with the Bills front office:
The door is not closed on anything. I'm not closing the door on any opportunities at all. The lines of communication are still open. I've talked to [CEO] Russ [Brandon] and [general manager] Doug [Whaley] a couple days ago. We're talking. So it's not anything that's hard feelings or anything like that. The conversations that we've had, we know what's going on. We're all on the same page. We'll go from here.
Justin Tuck Going Back Home?
At the age of 30 and coming off a season in which he recorded 11 sacks, Justin Tuck is one of free agency's unheralded gems who has plenty left to offer if the price is right.
But according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the market is being unkind to Tuck, which may in turn land him right back with the New York Giants:
Per a league source, Tuck’s exploration of the market currently is causing him to lean toward remaining with the Giants.
One team, we’re told, was willing to pay Tuck $3 million per year. For that amount elsewhere, Tuck is inclined to stay in New York.
No shocker here. Why would Tuck leave familiar territory while uprooting his family for such a meager sum?
In the current environment over the past few seasons, the most money for players like Tuck will be with his old team. That appears to be the case here, and barring an uptick on the market, Tuck looks like he is going to be back in New York next season.
The Darrelle Revis Saga
Get used to seeing Darrelle Revis' name in the headlines until this whole ordeal is sorted out.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will cut Revis on March 12 if they have not found a trade partner:
It gets more complicated.
The only presumable way a team will be willing to give up a major haul to obtain Revis would be for him to restructure his ridiculous contract that will pay him $16 million next year alone. According to Florio, Revis will not take a pay cut to make a trade happen:
Per a league source, Revis declined Tampa’s request to reduce his compensation. Which sparked the effort to trade him and the inevitable decision, if they can’t trade him, to cut him. The source explains that Revis won’t take a pay cut to facilitate a trade.
According to Schefter, the Oakland Raiders and the Cleveland Browns are the two names seriously in the mix to land Revis at this time. However, a deal seems unlikely without the star corner consenting to a pay cut and with both teams knowing full and well Tampa Bay is sure to cut him in order to avoid the $1.5 million bonus he is due Wednesday.
There appears to be a great chance Revis hits the market, which would truly be a sight to see as the majority of the teams in the league would surely have some level of interest in the NFL's best corner.
Heading into this week's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., there are a host of schools trying to upset a top-heavy group of powerhouses.
No. 6 Virginia, No. 7 Duke, No. 11 Syracuse and No. 16 North Carolina highlight the ACC tourney bracket and have each earned first-round byes into Friday's quarterfinals. All 15 teams in the league will take part in the tournament, which begins on Wednesday with the bottom six squads battling it out.
Looking at the latest NCAA tournament projections, most expect the ACC to send five teams to the Big Dance. Pittsburgh is currently in the best position to earn the fifth at-large bid, according to Joe Lunardi of ESPN, and could probably still be a part of March Madness with one or two victories.
Meanwhile, the other schools in the conference are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and make deep runs against this rugged field. Here's a look at three teams that have to reach the semifinals or finals in order to make their cases to the NCAA tournament selection committee.
No. 6 Clemson (19-11 overall, 10-8 ACC)
The Tigers fell short on Saturday against Pitt, 83-78, in a crucial regular-season finale for both teams.
A win for Clemson would have put it in much better position heading into the conference tourney, but for now they have little to no shot of making the Big Dance with their current resume.
But perhaps the Tigers are feeling confident about their chances to make the semifinals in the ACC tournament. In order to do that, Clemson must defeat the winner of Georgia Tech/Boston College before upsetting Duke in the quarterfinals.
Clemson already knocked off the Blue Devils in early January at home behind a big effort from Jaron Blossomgame, so the Tigers know they're capable.
On Tuesday, the program also celebrated K.J. McDaniels, who was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
With a current RPI of 80 and a 1-6 mark against top-50 RPI opponents, a second win against the Blue Devils is a must for the Tigers.
No. 7 North Carolina State (19-12 overall, 9-9 ACC)
On Tuesday, N.C. State sophomore forward T.J. Warren was named the ACC Player of the Year following a stellar campaign that was capped off with a couple of exclamation marks. To close out the regular season, Warren popped off for 41 points against Pittsburgh and 42 against Boston College.
Warren, who led the league in scoring (24.1 PPG) and field goal percentage (53.2) while pulling down 7.1 rebounds per game, received 48 votes for the award compared to 25 that went to Duke freshman Jabari Parker.
But the Wolfpack still have to add some signature wins to their resume, following a season full of close losses. Coach Mark Gottfried recently spoke to Joe Giglio of the Raleigh News and Observer about his squad heading into the ACC tournament.
"We're the team, in my mind, we're the near-miss," Gottfried said. "We've had a couple, two or three, where we've missed closely, that would have changed this whole thing. The reality is we're not there."
The "two or three" would be a reference to one-point losses to Wake Forest, Syracuse and North Carolina. All three, it must be pointed out in Gottfried's defense, hinged on either missed calls (Codi Miller-McIntyre’s walk, James Michael McAdoo’s foul on T.J. Warren in overtime) or a dubious interpretation of a foul call (Trevor Cooney’s foul of Warren).
Ultimately, close losses aren't worth much in today's competitive world of college basketball. In order to hear their name called on Sunday, the Wolfpack will have to get past the winner of Miami/Virginia Tech to reach Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
To this point, the Wolfpack are 0-6 against top-25 RPI teams and 2-7 against top-50 RPI opponents, so a win over the Orange is necessary for their fleeting tourney hopes.
No. 9 Florida State (18-12 overall, 9-9 ACC)
This year's Florida State Seminoles squad has been hit-or-miss.
On the bright side of things, they have three top-50 RPI victories (VCU, Massachusetts, Pittsburgh) on their resume. On the flip side, they're capable to prolonged funks, like the 2-6 stretch they encountered earlier this year, lowlighted by the 77-73 loss to Miami.
FSU had a chance to make a statement against a struggling Syracuse squad on Sunday, but fell flat in a 74-58 loss. Still, the team sounds upbeat heading into the ACC tournament, per Corey Clark of Tallahassee.com.
“We’re right where we want to be still,” FSU senior guard Ian Miller said after Sunday’s loss to Syracuse. “We’re not behind and we’re not ahead. We’re just right on time. We’ve just got to go back, get our bodies rejuvenated and get ready to go up to Greensboro and really shock the world now.”
Florida State comes into the ACC Tournament as the No. 9 seed, having finished the regular season with an 18-12 record overall and a 9-9 mark in the ACC. The Seminoles will take on the eighth-seeded Maryland Terrapins (17-14, 9-9) on Thursday in the second day of the conference tourney.
Maryland will be a handful in itself for Florida State, and if the Seminoles were to win on Thursday, top conference seed Virginia will be awaiting them. The Cavaliers have handed FSU a pair of 12-point defeats this year, but the Seminoles will have to overcome the odds and pull the upset in the quarterfinals to have any shot of reaching the NCAA tournament.
The Dallas Cowboys had an awful defense a season ago, and now they will be without one of their biggest stars after releasing All-Pro defensive end and nine-year veteran DeMarcus Ware.
Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram broke the news on Tuesday:
This past season was the first time Ware wasn't named to a Pro Bowl since 2006. It was also the first time in his career Ware failed to play all 16 regular-season games, as he missed three contests. The mileage, wear and tear and injuries Ware has fought through evidently didn't convince the Cowboys that he was worth keeping around at such a steep cost.
ESPN's Andrew Brandt commented on the move:
Ware, who turns 32 at the end of July, would have been owed $12.25 million in base salary in 2014 and was going to count just over $16 million total against the cap, per Spotrac.com.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported on March 4 that the Cowboys told Ware they wanted him to stay—just not for so much money:
But owner and general manager Jerry Jones had already spoken about the possibility of cutting Ware due to his massive cap figure on ESPN's SportsCenter, per a Feb. 24 report by Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News:
There’s no question when you are where we are on the cap, even though we’ve had some new cap space added, and you have a defensive player that’s your highest paid defensive player, and he hasn’t been on the field much the last two years, that has to be considered. You can’t have it all.
It's hard to say Ware hasn't been on the field, because he didn't miss a single game until this past year. Maybe one can't have it all, but an NFL franchise needs at least a passable defense to win championships—and if they're elite, like the reigning Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks, all the better.
Fellow defensive cornerstone linebacker Sean Lee and quarterback Tony Romo have restructured their contracts to alleviate the cap burden for America's Team, per ESPN.com's Todd Archer on March 4. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick also pitched in to help the cause, but Clarence Hill Jr. of the Star-Telegram didn't see it as too big of a sacrifice:
Apparently, similar accommodations couldn't be made with Ware. With all the questionable moves Jones has made for the better part of two decades, Ware seemed like one of the bright spots.
Defense has been holding Dallas back from being a legitimate contender, and getting rid of Ware seems to go against the agenda of improving the unquestioned inferior side of the ball. Although Romo takes a ton of blame for the Cowboys' recent mediocrity, he is put into tough situations by a woeful defensive unit a lot of the time.
New coordinator Rod Marinelli will have his work cut out for him losing a pass-rusher of Ware's caliber, who is among the premier players at his position in the game when healthy. The Cowboys finished last in total yards allowed in 2013 and were 26th in scoring defense, unable to stop the run or the pass.
Looking forward to what's on the horizon for Ware, the good news is he can get out of the perpetual shadow cast over the Dallas franchise. After carrying such a big load for a bad defense and grinding through physical ailments, he is free to choose his next pro team for the first time.
Plenty of organizations should be lining up to sign him. Even if Ware is looking for more of a lucrative, multi-year deal, as long as he can convince interested suitors that he's healthy enough to play to his typical high level, he should have no problem finding a new NFL home.
Although it has to be bittersweet for Ware to leave the team that drafted him No. 11 overall in 2005, a fresh start seems in the best interest of both parties. It would have been nice to see Ware in Dallas if the Cowboys are able turn things around in the near future, but this is his first opportunity to look elsewhere, and it should result in Ware landing in a more positive overall environment.