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NFL free agency winners and losers after wild start to off-season

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NFL Free Agency is unpredictable at the best of times, but in the midst of a global pandemic 2020’s version has been even more bizarre.

Given that every other major sports league is on hiatus, the NFL forged through with its off-season with a “business as usual” mantra – except it wasn’t business as usual. Travel bans and social distancing meant players could not fly to meet with clubs in person and team doctors couldn’t conduct physicals. That could be the reason many free agents with checkered injury histories are still unsigned.

With all of that in mind, here are the early winners and losers of a free agency period we’ll likely never forget.

WINNERS

Tom Brady

Who is a bigger winner than Tom Brady? The six-time Super Bowl champion got a two-year deal for $50 million guaranteed that can get as high as $59 million after incentives. The $25 million per year is the highest average salary Brady has had in his career. He’s heading to a place with warm weather, no state income tax and two Pro Bowl receivers.

Make that two big Pro Bowl receivers.

Brady has zero pass TD attempts to a six-foot-five receiver in his entire illustrious career. The four wide receivers with the most career receptions from Brady are all under six-feet.

Brady’s new wideouts are big and elite. Mike Evans is six-five and Chris Godwin is six-one. Last season, the Bucs receivers racked up 642 receiving yards on tight-window throws (less than one yard of separation at the time of the catch), which ranked third in the NFL.

It’s time to bump Brady up in your fantasy draft queues.

Tampa Bay’s ticket office

Tampa Bay was 30th in attendance in 2019, averaging under 52,000 fans. This wasn’t a one off because they were a bad team: Tampa Bay’s best attendance rank in last decade was 26th.

Why? Because the Buccaneers have been bad for a while. Tampa Bay’s last 10-win season was 2010, and that Bucs team missed the post-season. Their last division title was 2007, as was their last playoff appearance. Their last playoff win was in 2002, the year the Bucs won the Super Bowl.

Brady could end all of those streaks, and early signs show fans believe he will. Lethargy amongst Bucs fans forced to watch a bad product wasn’t always the case. When the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl more than 17 years ago, they had 100,000 people on their season-ticket waiting list.

Tampa Bay is hosting the Super Bowl this year and could be the first team to play in a Super Bowl as host. The buzz is back in The Bay.

AFC East

The AFC East is up for grabs. The mystique of Brady no longer will torment an entire division.

Since 2001, Tom Brady’s first season as a starter, TB12 has as many wins in the Super Bowl as all other AFC East starting quarterbacks have post-season wins over that period of time. Brady has won 17 AFC East titles since 2001 while the rest of the division has combined for two. The Patriots have won 11 straight division crowns and never finished worse than second with Brady as starter (2002).

But now it’s time for the other AFC East teams to step up.

The Buffalo Bills played the Patriots tough twice last year and the Miami Dolphins beat New England the last time they played, pushing the Patriots out of a first-round bye. Both the Bills and Dolphins have been aggressive this off-season and could challenge New England for the automatic playoff berth that comes with winning the division.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, centre, runs with the ball as New England Patriots defenders Joejuan Williams, left, and Duron Harmon, right, give chase in the second half, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (Steven Senne/AP)

Teddy Bridgewater

Not only did Bridgewater come back from a career-threatening injury to become a starter who garnered a lucrative contract, he bet on himself and won.

Last off-season, Bridgewater turned down a contract offer with Miami and the chance to play in his hometown, choosing instead to stay in New Orleans as a backup, waiting for the perfect fit.

When he got his opportunity this season, he balled out and went 5-0 as a starter. He was rewarded with a three-year, $63-million deal from the Carolina Panthers.

Despite now being the divisional rival of his former team, Carolina is a great fit for Bridgewater as the new offensive coordinator in Carolina, Joe Brady, was an assistant in New Orleans two years ago and knows Bridgewater well.

We expect Bridgewater’s .647 win percentage, fourth-best since 2014, to go up during his time in Carolina.

Darius Slay

Big Play Slay never hid his desire for the Detroit Lions to trade him, and trade him they did.

He’s a winner not just because he got his wish, but also because he got paid. Slay agreed to 3-year, $50-million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles after being acquired from Detroit. The average value of the deal is $16.7 million, making him the highest paid corner per year in the league.

The raise is well-deserved. Slay is one of three defensive backs to be selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons. Over the last three seasons, he has 52 per cent completion rate allowed as the nearest defender, third best in the NFL. He covers No. 1 receivers exclusively, and last year had a 50 per cent completion rate allowed against Pro Bowl wideout.

That’s what he’ll be called to do in the NFC East by the Eagles, which is why they are also winners here. Slay limited Amari Cooper to just two catches in Week 11 last season. Philadelphia needs Slay badly as the team’s corners were injured and inept last year – the Eagles allowed 11 30-yard touchdowns in the air last season, 10 of which were to perimeter receivers. That’s more than twice as many as any other defence.

lions-darius-slay-knocks-down-ball-for-broncos-courtland-sutton
In this Dec. 22, 2019 photo, Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) knocks away a pass in the end zone intended for Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) during the second half in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Detroit Lions

The Slay trade was actually mutually beneficial. Detroit gives up their best player on defence, but they are more than one player away from contention and gets third- and fifth-round picks in return for Slay.

The Lions now have nine picks in the upcoming draft, including four of the top 85. They need to stockpile talent to improve the roster as head coach Matt Patricia looks to turn the team into a contender. He’s already put his stamp on the team, as the Lions have seven former Patriots on their team and only six Lions who were on the roster before Patricia took over ahead of the 2018 season. But big improvements need to be made, and more draft picks are the key.

Detroit is desperately trying to rebuild the culture of the team and improve the talent. The Slay trade, if the Lions draft well, will help them do that.

Nick Foles

Just 14 months ago, Nick Foles was beating the Chicago Bears in the playoffs. Now he’s been brought in as the saviour to help them get back there.

Foles has four playoff wins as a starter. The Bears have four as a franchise since 1991. In total, 23 starting quarterbacks have played for Chicago since 2000, the second-most by any team in that span behind only the Cleveland Browns.

Foles’ tenure in Jacksonville started off poorly as he suffered a broken clavicle in the first game of his Jaguars career and was 0-4 as a starting quarterback last season when he returned. But, when healthy, Foles has proven to be a winner. He is 26-22 as a starter and a Super Bowl LII MVP.

Now Foles could join Jim McMahon and Trent Dilfer as the only Super Bowl-winning QBs to start for five teams. And he’s back in the offence he played well in as Bears head coach Matt Nagy was with the Chiefs and Eagles when Foles played for those teams. Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and QB coach John DeFilippo also both coached Foles with the Eagles and are now reuniting with him in Chicago.

LOSERS

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have gone from Super Bowl contender to troubled times in a short period of time.

General manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay are being forced to revamp L.A.’s lineup because they have mismanaged the salary cap and have failed to hit on players in the draft. Not only did they have to cut their starting running back in Todd Gurley before $10.5 million was guaranteed on his contract on Thursday, their defence was decimated this off-season as they’ve said goodbye to Dante Fowler Jr., Cory Littleton, Michael Brockers, Clay Matthews and Nickell Robey-Coleman.

All the Rams have been able to add to replace them with thus far is Leonard Floyd and A’Shawn Robinson.

Highly paid running backs

I don’t want to place a specific name to this because this is bigger than one player and is a sign of the trend happening at the position, but it’s clear now: it’s not a good investment to pay elite running backs.

The aforementioned Gurley is the latest and greatest example. He scored 21 total touchdowns in 2018 and was rewarded by the Rams that July as the team made him the highest-paid player at his position and gave him $45 million guaranteed.

A year before Gurley was made the highest-paid back in the league, Devonta Freeman had that distinction.

Both players were released this week after their teams couldn’t find a trade partner. Gurley is just 25 years old and Freeman is 28.

Gurley was great. He is one of five players in NFL history with 70 or more touchdowns in their first five seasons. But an arthritic knee and drop in his workload made him expendable. He rushed for just 57.1 yards per game in 2019, 21st in the league, and had zero 100-yard rushing games.

Gurley was also one of four running backs making at least $13 million last year. Among them, only Ezekiel Elliott rushed for more than 1,000 yards, putting up 1,357 yards while making $15 million. Gurley made $14.4 million and rushed for 857 yards. Le’Veon Bell rushed for 789 yards and had a career-low three touchdowns for $13.1 million. David Johnson put up 345 yards and made $13 million.

Gurley and Johnson are already on new teams and there are rumours Bell could be on the move as well. None of their teams made the playoffs.

While the argument can be made that you need an elite runner to win, you definitely shouldn’t pay one big money.

Todd-Gurley
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley celebrates after scoring a touchdown. (Scott Eklund/AP)

Melvin Gordon

Gordon bet on himself and lost. The league figured out the trend outlined above before Gordon got his market-setting payday.

The 2019 NFL season started with Gordon holding out for a long-term contract. Gordon missed four games and sat out nine total weeks, including training camp. The absence seemed to hurt Gordon as he put up just 3.8 yards per rush and eight rush touchdowns in 2019 when he ended his holdout without a deal.

Gordon turns 27 next month, so that big payday he was hoping for now will likely never come. After putting up just 612 rush yards in 2019, Gordon ended up settling for a two-year deal worth $16 million dollars from the Denver Broncos.

Jameis Winston

There’s no shame in being replaced by the best quarterback of all-time, but it’s not ideal that after being the first-overall pick in 2015 and now at the age of 25, Winston is an unrestricted free agent still searching for a new team.

Last season Winston put up 33 passing touchdowns, second-most in the league, but coupled those scores with 30 interceptions, seven of which were pick-sixes.

Despite plenty of opportunities, Winston is just 28-42 in his career as a starter. His style of play isn’t conducive to winning football. The top seven NFL teams in turnover differential all made the playoffs. Meanwhile, Winston has 23 more turnovers than anybody since 2015.

It’ll be tough for a team to talk itself into signing Winston, especially when it can’t meet with him in person to have him explain away his on-field decision-making or off-field indiscretions.

Mitchell Trubisky

If Foles is a winner, Mitchell Trubisky has to be a loser by default.

It’s not just that Trubisky was the second pick in the 2017 draft ahead of both Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes and is already on the verge of being replaced, it’s that the Bears traded up to get him. After all that, Trubisky has just one winning season and one playoff appearance as a starter despite the Bears boasting a championship-level defence ready to win now.

Former first-overall picks Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are looking for work right now and they have more accomplished resumes than Trubisky. If Trubisky doesn’t prove he can be a solid starter and hold off Foles in the inevitable Windy City QB Battle, he’ll be the next pivot looking for work.

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Tokyo Olympics CEO hints Games could be in doubt even in 2021 – CBC.ca

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As the coronavirus spreads in Japan, the chief executive of the Tokyo Games said Friday he can’t guarantee the postponed Olympics will be staged next year — even with the long delay.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued an emergency declaration this week to battle the virus, putting the country under restrictions after it seemed it had avoided a significant outbreak.

“I don’t think anyone would be able to say if it is going to be possible to get it under control by next July or not,” Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said, speaking through an interpreter at a news conference conducted remotely. “We’re certainly are not in a position to give you a clear answer.”

The Olympics were postponed last month with a new opening set for July 23, 2021, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24.

WATCH | Damian Warner on bright side of Olympic postponement: 

Olympic bronze medallist in decathlon Damian Warner didn’t dwell on disappointment, but instead chooses to focus on getting even better for a 2021 Olympics. 1:10

Abe has been criticized for being slow to act against the coronavirus. Opposition political leaders have suggested he downplayed the severity of the virus and have said it may have been tied to wanting to hold the Olympics this year.

“We have made the decision to postpone the Games by one year,” Muto said. “So this means that all we can do is work hard to prepare for the Games. We sincerely hope that come next year mankind will manage to overcome the coronavirus crisis.”

Muto was asked if there are alternative plans to holding the Games in 2021.

“Rather than think about alternatives plans, we should put in all of our effort,” he said. “Mankind should bring together all of its technology and wisdom to work hard so they can develop treatments, medicines and vaccines.”

WATCH | Flashback to Andre De Grasse’s 2016 showdown with Usain Bolt: 

Watch highlights of Andre De Grasse and Usain Bolt battling it out and building a bromance at the Rio 2016 Olympics. 0:43

Japan has reported about 5,000 cases and 100 deaths. The country has the world’s oldest population, and COVID-19 can be especially serious for the elderly.

Muto was asked several times about the added costs of postponing, which has been estimated by Japanese media at between $2 billion and $6 billion US. He said it was too soon to know the price tag and who would pay.

He also acknowledged that Tokyo Olympic organizers had taken out insurance.

“Tokyo 2020 has taken out several insurance policies,” he said. “But whether the postponement of the Games qualifies as an event that is covered is not clear yet.”

WATCH | Simone Biles cried after learning of Olympic postponement: 

The four-time Olympic champion broke her silence on the year-long postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, appearing on NBC’s ‘Today’ show on Wednesday morning. 0:33

He was also asked about the Olympic flame, which was taken off public display this week in Fukushima prefecture. Muto had an away-from-the-microphone talk with a spokesperson before talking about the flame.

“After the Olympic torch relay was cancelled, the Olympic flame was put under the management of Tokyo 2020,” Muto said. “Obviously in the future there is a possibility it might be put on display somewhere. However, for now it is under the management of Tokyo 2020 and I’m not going to make any further comment on the issue.”

There are suggestions the International Olympic Committee is thinking of taking the flame on a world tour, hoping to use it as a symbol of the battle against the virus. However, any tour would be impossible until travel restrictions are lifted.

Taking the flame away from Japan could also upset the hosts.

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Report: MLB considering divisional realignment for 2020 season – Sportsnet.ca

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In anticipation of an abbreviated 2020 season, one of many proposals MLB is reportedly considering is a major realignment that would eliminate the traditional American and National Leagues, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

“The plan would have all 30 teams returning to their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona,” Nightengale writes, “playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes.”

The clubs would first be allowed three weeks of training, adds Nightengale, including exhibition games, before opening a regular season in divisions that could look like so:

GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE

NORTH: New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates.

SOUTH: Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles.

EAST: Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins.

CACTUS LEAGUE

NORTHEAST: Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics.

WEST: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels.

NORTHWEST: Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals.

The most significant change for the Blue Jays would be to a move out of the AL East, along with the Yankees, to play against their Grapefruit league opponents, which could mean an easier path to the playoffs for Toronto.

Nightengale elaborated on how the post-season format could potentially look under such a format.

“Baseball, even with the realignment, could still play 12 games apiece against their new divisional opponents and six games apiece against the other teams in the state. … The DH would likely be universally implemented as well. There could still be division winners and wild-card winners, perhaps adding two more wild-card teams to each league, or a postseason tournament with all 30 teams,” he wrote.

“The winner of the Cactus League in Arizona would play the winner of the Grapefruit League in Florida for the World Series championship, utilizing the domed stadiums in late November.”

No official decision has yet been made on when the league will return, or what exactly that return will look like.

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Joe Rogan gushes for ‘psychotic’ Dana White following UFC 249 cancelation — ‘He’s a real man’ – MMA Mania

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White was not going to let a silly little thing like a global pandemic stop him from staging mixed martial arts (MMA) events, even if it meant taking his promotion to west coast tribal grounds or remote tropical islands to bypass local and federal quarantines.

So was he a hero … or an idiot?

That depends on who you ask. For longtime color commentator Joe Rogan, still on the fence about attending when word came in that UFC 249 was canceled, White is a “real man” who deserves praise for his dogged persistence in trying to make the “Ferguson vs. Gaethje” pay-per-view (PPV) event a reality.

“He’s a psychotic driving force for the most exciting organization in the world and I don’t think the organization gets where it is without Dana White,” Rogan said on his official podcast. “I think you have to have a crazy person at the wheel. You have a guy who doesn’t give a fuck. He’s a real man. He doesn’t give a fuck, he’ll talk shit, he’ll insult people, he’ll go back with you.”

White helped convince casino magnates Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to purchase UFC back in 2001 for a paltry $2 million — which they later sold for $4 billion — and no question his drive and longterm vision helped shape the future of combat sports. The promotion would be nothing without the fighters, obviously, and White had a couple of big breaks along the way, but his contributions to MMA cannot be overstated.

“Imagine being the president of the UFC,” Rogan continued. “Imagine having all these fights that you have to make and having all this pressure on you, and you’re also a famous guy like Dana is. Imagine being that guy. Fuck that job. President of the UFC is second only to President of the United States. Bro, he’s under ridiculous amounts of pressure.”

White is also on the hook for the $750 million check from ESPN and parent company Disney, which requires 42 live events in 2020 to cash. Expect a very busy fight schedule once the promotion gets up and running later this year, though we’re at the mercy of coronavirus as far as that timeline is concerned.

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