Falcons pick up option on Vic Beasley Jr., league sacks leader in 2016

The Atlanta Falcons picked up the fifth-year option for defensive end Vic Beasley Jr., the eighth pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said the team planned to pick up Beasley’s option all along. Beasley’s contract now runs through 2019, when he’ll be scheduled to make around $14.2 million. He has a base salary of $705,000 for the 2018 season.

Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, when the Falcons made their run to the Super Bowl before falling to the New England Patriots. Beasley’s production dropped to five sacks last season as he missed two games due to a hamstring injury and had to adjust to playing more as the strongside linebacker.

The Falcons plan to play Beasley strictly at defensive end moving forward so he can focus on pressuring quarterbacks. He is part of a young core of defenders the coaches are counting on.

Gray’s commanding performance follows on the heels of Kyle Freeland’s outing a night earlier, when the lefty threw seven sizzling innings in an 8-0 win.

Padres: 3B Christian Villanueva was out of the starting lineup for a third straight game with hamstring tightness.

Alabama coach Nick Saban was never going to make a decision this spring. But as it turned out, there was no decision to be made. Tagovailoa broke his finger in the first practice of spring and further aggravated the injury a few weeks later. He didn’t play in the spring game last weekend. Hurts, for his part, was so-so in the spring game, completing 19 of 37 passes for 195 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

The last thing Saban is going to judge his quarterback race on is a spring game, and he’s also not going to be influenced by the comments from Hurts’ father, Averion Hurts, who told Bleacher Report his son would be the “biggest free agent in college football history” if he doesn’t win the starting job.

How’s it all going to play out? ESPN checked in with four head coaches and a defensive coordinator from around the country, and they weighed in anonymously. Just about all of them said they would handle it exactly the way Saban has — allow the competition to play out until somebody clearly wins the job on the practice field, all the while knowing that one of the quarterbacks could easily transfer before the season starts.steelers_034

Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell lavish praise on Lamar Jackson

The Jaguars signed Blake Bortles to a three-year contract. Which leaves the door open for the drafting of a quarterback this year or next year.

Which makes anything the team says about this year’s crop of quarterbacks even more intriguing. Especially when most teams never say much of anything about any incoming player.

Silly Embellishments of the Week: NFL Network’s Mike Mayock continues to assess hopeful NFL QBs in terms of “arm talent” — presumably their throwing arm.

NBC golf host Dan Hicks, during Sunday’s runner-up in match play, noted that after 10 holes Alex Noren has “a thin, one-up lead.” Noren won the next hole, thus Hicks declared, he “has taken control.”

Unqualified Suggestion of the Week: After recidivist NFL malfeasant Michael Bennett was indicted for assault on a paraplegic 66-year-old woman, WFAN’s Bart Scott reasoned that Bennett will be sentenced to “community service.” But whose community?

Back in February, new Colts coach Frank Reich didn’t sound like he was interested in parting ways with the 24-year-old. “There was a lot of evidence of winning football from Jacoby,” he said, via Kevin Bowen of 1070 TheFan. “… I’m very encouraged and thankful he’s on the roster.”

And last month a source told the Indianapolis Star’s Chris Wade that the Colts had rebuffed two trade offers for Brissett, lending credence to Reich’s original remarks. Also lending credence to Brissett staying put? General manager Chris Ballard’s remarks on Friday when asked about keeping the young quarterback in Indy for the long haul.

Despite the belief in Udoka by many around the league, the 40-year-old is as literal as his first name. Ime means Patience in the traditional Efik-Ibibio language of Akwa Ibom in Nigeria, where his father grew up.

When the opportunity arrives to interview for the right team in the right situation, Udoka believes his time learning from Popovich and the Spurs will have him prepared to continue the production from the Popovich coaching tree.seahawks_118

DeMarcus Cousins’ flight was to new Vegas home, not Coachella

Social-media users were left scratching their heads over an image of New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins taking an apparent private flight to somewhere other than his team’s playoff-opening win in Portland, Oregon.

The weekend intrigue extended beyond the Pelicans fan base — reaching into even the Mojave Desert — when the caption on the Instagram photo referenced the popular music festival Coachella.

Davis has carried the Pelicans in Cousins’ absence, including Saturday.

But it wasn’t a game Cousins missed — he said on a nine-second Instagram video he was “tuned in.”

You gotta take the ’97 [Masters] win for the ages by Tiger. It was just such a dominating performance it’s hard to think of anything that could compare. There is one, it’s the other end of it. It’s the oldest to ever win the Masters, Jack Nicklaus in 1986, which happened to be my first Masters. Jack made a pivotal birdie on the 16th hole, and I declared, “the Bear has come out of hibernation.”

The 49ers had more than $47 million in cap space before the move, per Over The Cap , so this does little to affect their financial situation in the short term.

The move appears motivated by rewarding their longtime stalwart left tackle. Perhaps the pay bump was to convince Staley to stick around with Jimmy Garoppolo for the next two years instead of contemplating retirement.

The defensive end amassed 21.5 sacks the last two seasons with an FBS-leading 16.5 during the 2016 campaign. Landry only played in nine game as a senior due to an ankle injury.

The 49ers tied for 26th overall in 2017 with 30 sacks before letting Aaron Lynch leave in free agency and not picking up Elvis Dumervil’s option.

A very athletically gifted linebacker with a ton of experience in different schemes. However, all the changes on defense left Oren Burks without a true position and puts him behind fundamentally. He will fit in well with a team that runs multiple sub-packages and is looking for a good coverage linebacker with special teams upside. Burks will be a late-round selection to develop and play on special teams in the meantime.steelers_036

Nationals place Matt Wieters on DL with oblique injury

The Washington Nationals have placed catcher Matt Wieters on the 10-day disabled list with a mild left oblique strain.

Catcher Pedro Severino has been recalled from Triple-A Syracuse and is listed as the starter in Monday night’s game at Atlanta.

[Possible transactions] have got to clear the internal bar, Zaidi said. We like the guys we have. It’s good for the group of guys we have here to feel like [positional] competitions are being kept in-house as opposed to introducing different variables into the equation.

That’s a very Dodgers way of putting it and, really, why would L.A. have shaken things up This group has been knocking on the door together. It’s fitting they get another chance to stare down their annual quietus and, instead of succumbing to it, take that last step through to the other side.

For the Dodgers, the time is now. Thirty years is a long time to be living in the past.

Here is my list of potential breakout studs — not rookies who already had stellar 2017 seasons, such as the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara — to keep an eye on:

It’s a weird week with off days for teams on each weekday, so keep an eye on schedules and make sure you’re getting a full lineup.

It seems to be only aces or streamers on Tuesday’s slate, though all three starting pitcher picks could find themselves in this column regularly or even kept on as longer-term options. It’s hard to make anything of early-season hitting numbers, so a few of the batter options are players you can consider holding beyond Tuesday.

Ty Blach (L), 8 percent, San Francisco Giants vs. Seattle Mariners: Blach enjoyed a sharp debut against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, earning the win with five scoreless innings, scattering three hits and three walks and fanning three. The Mariners registered just the 23rd-best slugging percentage against lefties in 2017, and Nelson Cruz could be out with an ankle injury that might lead to a stint on the disabled list. Blach doesn’t miss a ton of bats, but he keeps the ball down (career 1.5 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio). patriots_150

Facebook gets exclusive rights to 25 afternoon MLB games

In a move that further confirms the shift in how sports leagues are delivering their content to fans, MLB and Facebook have struck a deal under which the social networking platform gets exclusive rights to 25 afternoon games this season, Bloomberg News first reported via Twitter.

Most of the MLB games Facebook will webcast are on Wednesdays, and the package begins April 4 with Phillies vs. Mets.

Also on the docket: Brewers vs. Cardinals on April 11; Royals vs. Blue Jays on April 18; and Diamondbacks vs. Phillies on April 26, a Thursday

From a consumer’s perspective, the deal makes all kinds of sense. Many people have access to computers at work, but not televisions. Some of these folks will surely appreciate the opportunity to catch some baseball on a Wednesday afternoon, while their bosses probably would rather they be working.

The league announced Saturday, the 24-year-old’s suspension will begin at the start of the season.

This is Bonifacio’s first positive test for steroids.

Bonifacio batted .255 with 17 home runs and 40 RBIs in 113 games for the Royals in 2017.

Prior to the season last year he was the Royals’ No. 6 overall prospect in 2015, according to MLB Pipeline.

He was a Marlin. Then he was a Ray. Now he’s a Maray. Hechavarria can really pick it at the six, but don’t expect all that much offense. His career .291 OBP just about tells the whole story. But seriously, he’s got an excellent glove.

Out of the rotation, Ohtani is capable of bringing triple-digit heat, and he has already shown off an impressive breaking pitch in his first spring start. His numbers in Japan make it plain that Ohtani is capable of claiming a regular spot in the lineup as an outfielder or designated hitter. That’s going to mean stealing at-bats from Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols, but Ohtani is talented enough to do it.seahawks_030_d104c3caab541be1-180x180

DH or not, J.D. Martinez can be a fantasy star in Boston

Every American League team hit more home runs than the Boston Red Sox last season, so adding a power bat was clearly an offseason priority. Long linked to free-agent outfielder J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox came to an agreement with the player Monday on a deal that makes a lot of sense for all. No player hit more than 24 home runs for the 2017 version of the Red Sox. Martinez, in a mere 62 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks after coming over from the Detroit Tigers, managed to hit 29.

Austin Dillon, driving the No. 3 car made famous by Dale Earnhardt, took the lead late to win the Daytona 500. It was Dillon’s only lap led. Rookie Darryl Wallace Jr, driving the 43 in his first Daytona 500, finished second. Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five.

Dillon celebrated the victory by sliding through the infield grass just as Earnhardt did when he won his first Daytona 500, 20 years ago.

Presley plays all three outfield positions. He stole five bases without being thrown out last season.

Baltimore, which announced the deal Monday, had been in the market for a left-handed hitting outfielder. Presley will compete with Jaycob Brugman, acquired from Oakland last November.

The thought with the talent angle is that, at the bare minimum, you’re supporting your ratios while you wait for a role to present itself (the Bradley approach). The résumé idea is more of a short-term plan, hoping that loyal managers look in the past to determine whom they hand the ball to in the ninth (the Melancon-rebound approach).

I prefer the Bradley approach, as there is less risk involved, but it is important to understand that you are not the only manager struggling to secure saves (29 players had 15-plus saves last season, but only 10 had more than 30), and that this category is often decided during the season.

Trump has poured fuel on the flame of a simmering culture war and has further pushed sports deep into the political arena

“Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!” Trump said.

The tweets continue a three-day crusade by the president to pressure the league to fire players who have taken a knee to protest police violence against minorities.

Among players, coaches and team owners, the public reaction has been sharply negative of his comments.

While the NFL continues to look into whether the Seahawks violated the concussion protocol in their treatment of Russell Wilson on Nov. 9, the quarterback was focused on the pain in his jaw, telling reporters it was nearly broken by a Karlos Dansby hit that kept him on liquids through last weekend.

“It was pretty close,” Wilson said of the near-fracture Friday. “The doctor was like, ‘Man, any harder, we probably [would have] had to wire your mouth shut,’ so that was a good thing that didn’t happen.”

It’s too early to say that the Seahawks have found their new bell cow back, but Chris Carson staked a strong claim Sunday, rushing for 93 yards on 20 carries in Seattle’s 12-9 win over San Francisco. Thomas Rawls, coming back from an ankle injury that sidelined him in Week 1, got the start but gained just four yards on five carries, while Eddie Lacy wasn’t even activated for the game.

The 5-foot-11, 218-pound Carson, a seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma State, got stronger as he went along. On the Seahawks’ final drive, as they were trying to ice the game, he had carries of nine, 12 and 16 yards.

In Kansas City, Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt has emerged as a full-fledged fantasy darling. The rookie, who rushed for 148 yards in the opener against New England, carved up Philadelphia on Sunday, scoring on two touchdown runs and rushing for 81 yards. One went for 53 yards and the other, well, it generated the best TD celebration of the day.jaguars_085

Who has two thumbs and pushed his team up to the No. 2 spot? This guy.

Do that, get ahead on them and you can force their offense to become one dimensional in a way they don’t want to be. The defense has actually been playing a lot better over the last few weeks — they haven’t given up more than 30 points since their blowout loss to the Steelers in Week 11. Maybe they have more upside than I think, but I could see 10 other teams strangleholding the Titans in a first round matchup.

The Bills are the best STORY in the playoffs, but not the best team. In fact, with LeSean McCoy nursing an injured ankle, it would be hard to imagine the Bills getting out of the first round. It’s awesome that Andy Dalton threw a miracle touchdown pass and is now generating over $250,000 in donations from Bills fans who are throwing $17 increments his way.

But it’s also not a team that feels like a sustainable playoff contender because of the limitations on offense. They are well coached and will be emotionally fueled for whoever they play (in this case Jacksonville) but the Bills are probably out in the first round regardless.

This is on the way the rebuilding process has been conducted and the unnecessarily roundabout route being taken at the quarterback position. The QB of this team right now should be Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson, not DeShone Kizer. The Browns basically went out of their way not to get Wentz or Watson in the past two NFL drafts and they are paying the price for it.

Darnold wasn’t great in 2017, unable to build upon the excitement from his Rose Bowl performance a year ago. But he flashes comparable play to that of Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz and a young Eli Manning. It would be a surprise if the Browns opted for anyone else.

Rosen is expected to be the No. 2 overall pick, but it is still to be determined whether the Giants will be the team making this selection. Drafting Rosen gives the Giants (and their new regime) a quarterback with which to build after Eli Manning. But a few teams, most notably the Cardinals and Bills, might aggressively try to trade up to draft Rosen if the Giants want to give Manning another Super Bowl run.jaguars_045

All things considered and on and off the field, that’s a lot Newton had a strong bounce-back season.

Heinz Field received a similar threat from the 30-year-old that was uploaded to the facility’s website, and officials were able to get a user name and IP address. KDKA and Heinz Field officials sent the information to the FBI, which was then able to identify the suspect.

If he gets in top shape and avoids substance abuse and legal issues, he’ll play in a league in which the game looks tailor-made for Manziel’s skill set of a strong arm, excellent mobility and playmaking ability when things break down. The league rules also can help him be a dominant player with the wider field (by 12 yards compared to the NFL) and more eligible receivers helping a mobile, creative QB such as Manziel. Also, three downs to pick up 10 yards leads to more of a quarterback-driven passing league than the NFL’s four-down model.

With the defense and the running game doing their things, Bortes can reset himself with a mistake-free game as a caretaker, hurting the Bills’ chances to get key takeaways. It will be a quick afternoon for Jacksonville as it advances to a rematch with Pittsburgh in the divisional playoffs.

94%: The defensive side of the ball. They had zero pass rush in 2017, and they also couldn’t cover anyone. That’s not an ideal mix, and if ageless CB Brent Grimes retires or signs elsewhere this offseason, it becomes an even bigger issue. The easiest way to fix things would be by adding an impact edge rusher—easier said than done even with a lot of cap space and a high draft pick (unless Demarcus Lawrence hits the market it’s a soft free-agent class and an underwhelming draft class for edge rushers). They could also come up with a more creative solution.

Like a more blitz-heavy approach in 2018. It’s not that hard. The Panthers, primarily a four-man pass rush for most of the last decade, went blitz-heavy under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks this season and didn’t have to blow up the roster or the scheme to do so. Like Carolina, the Bucs have the speed at linebacker to make it work. Or, Tampa could just accept they might be multiple years away from competing in a strong NFC South.

It’s a tough angle for the official to make the call, but the real question is how Marrone watched the play from his vantage point and chose not to challenge?

He didn’t have much time to make the decision with the Bills rushing to the line to run another play, but how much time did he need? It was right in front of him and clearly appeared short.patriots_094_841eeb064ed39b39-180x180

NFL reportedly discusses Jameis Winston with Buccaneers security director

The NFL began its probe of Jameis Winston last week, and started by speaking with Buccaneers’ head of security Andres Trescastro.

According to ESPN, which cited an unidentified league source, the league’s talks with Trescastro were “more introductory and exploratory.” The investigation into allegations against the Bucs quarterback will continue but is not expected to be completed by the end of this season.

Winston, who settled a civil lawsuit stemming from the rape accusations in 2012 nine months after the alleged encounter with Kate, denied the incident and asserted that Kate “was confused as to the number of passengers in the car and who was sitting next to her.”

Winston is currently dealing with a sprained AC joint he sustained in Week 6 that has forced him to be sidelined for his third straight game Sunday against the Falcons.

Here’s a look at what has been going on in the prospect pipelines for each team in the Central Division, including our way-too-early 2018-19 watch for players who can make an impact a year from now.

The Blackhawks are in a bit of a transitional phase; this isn’t uncommon territory for them, but this time it seems to be a little rockier as their core continues to lose pieces and ages. Despite years of either trading away their picks or finding themselves lower in the first round, the Hawks have managed to maintain a decent prospect pipeline. There isn’t a lot of great depth at this point, which is the primary concern, but a few middle-round picks are starting to emerge as potential options down the line.

Henri Jokiharju, the team’s most recent first-round pick, has been having a sensational season for Portland in the WHL. The defenseman is averaging over a point per game and is expected to play a substantial role for Finland at the World Juniors.canadiens_1236_007e8cfdd038112c-140x140