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NFL free agency grades for AFC West: Raiders, Broncos, Chargers emerge with high marks as they pursue Chiefs

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The AFC West might just be the new version of the AFC East, which bodes well for the Chiefs and not at all well for the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders. With the emergence of Patrick Mahomes under the steady command of Andy Reid, the Chiefs are the West’s version of the Patriots. As long as Mahomes and Reid are in Kansas City, the Chiefs will be frontrunners. this means the other three teams are perpetually stuck in catch-up mode — just ask the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins how difficult it is to overcome an all-time great quarterback and coach combination. 

That’s the bad news for the Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers. They have to live in the same division as Mahomes for the foreseeable future. The good news is that all three of those teams are coming off pretty successful free agencies. While they’re still trailing the Chiefs in the division by a wide margin, all three teams can mostly be happy with how their free agencies unfolded — and as a result, they’ll all head into the upcoming season with the playoffs in mind.

Now that the most important phase of free agency has come and gone, let’s review how all four AFC West teams made out. While the Chiefs didn’t receive as good of a grade as the three teams they’re trying to hold off, it’s important to remember that already great teams don’t need to do as much in March as not-great teams. Winning free agency doesn’t always translate in wins from September to December and extra games in January. The Chiefs still own this division. The Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders all had good offseasons, but they’re still trailing the leader.

Denver Broncos

Notable additions: Graham Glasgow, Melvin Gordon, A.J. Bouye, Jurrell Casey, Nick Vannett, Sam Martin, Jeff Driskel.

Notable losses: Chris Harris, Joe Flacco, Connor McGovern, Will Parks.

It’s been a mostly good offseason for the Broncos. While there’s no doubt that losing Chris Harris, one of the best cornerbacks of the past decade, to a division rival is a brutal blow, the Broncos were always expected to lose him this offseason. That didn’t come as much of a surprise. And the Broncos did well to add A.J. Bouye via a cheap trade with the Jaguars. With Bouye, a potentially healthy Bryce Callahan, and safety Justin Simmons (who was franchise tagged), this Broncos secondary still has a chance to be pretty good under Vic Fangio. The Broncos’ best move was trading a seventh-round pick for Jurrell Casey. It’s a trade that still doesn’t make much sense from the Titans‘ perspective. The Broncos did well to acquire a very good player for very cheap. That entire Broncos defense should be excellent again. But I also like what the Broncos did on offense in bolstering their leaky offensive line by signing Graham Glasgow.

But the Broncos got dinged for their decision to sign Melvin Gordon. It just doesn’t make much sense. You’d figure that the team that has watched an undrafted rookie (Phillip Lindsay) outperform a third-round pick (Royce Freeman) would understand that teams shouldn’t spend resources on running backs, but the Broncos proceeded to give Gordon $8 million per year. It’s an unnecessary signing given the presence of the two aforementioned running backs. The Gordon signing and the loss of Harris prevented the Broncos from getting an A. But still, this was a good period of free agency for the Broncos. They did well to add good players (Bouye and Casey, in particular) who didn’t cost much.

Grade: B+

Kansas City Chiefs

Notable additions: Mike Remmers, Antonio Hamilton

Notable losses: Emmanuel Ogbah, Kendall Fuller, Stefen Wisniewski

Nobody should be surprised that the Chiefs haven’t done much in free agency. This team just won the Super Bowl, so their roster is already quite good. They’ve also got some long-term extensions (Patrick Mahomes) that they need to budget for. So, we’re not going to ding them for being mostly inactive during free agency. Losing Emmanuel Ogbah and Kendall Fuller are blows to a defense that made a big improvement last season. Bashaud Breeland remains unsigned. He’d also be a big loss for that secondary. Offensively, they haven’t lost much, but Stefen Wisniewski as a depth piece up front will be missed.

But the Chiefs have done well to retain important pieces like Chris Jones (franchise tag), Anthony Sherman, and Mike Pennel. Losses were inevitable. But the Chiefs will be keeping most of the gang together for another run at the Super Bowl. That’s the important thing. Finding a way to keep Breeland and getting Jones under contract for the long haul would improve their grade substantially.

Grade: C+

Las Vegas Raiders

Notable additions: Marcus Mariota, Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski, Carl Nassib, Eli Apple, Jeff Heath, Maliek Collins, Nelson Agholor, Jason Witten.

Notable losses: Tahir Whitehead, Karl Joseph.

It feels weird to say this, but I actually like what the Raiders did during free agency. Kwiatkoski is one of my favorite signings of the entire offseason. A long-time backup linebacker for the Bears, he made tremendous strides in 2019 when he was forced to fill in for Danny Trevathan. Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton should give the Raiders much-improved play at linebacker.

Of course, we need to talk about Marcus Mariota. While Mariota’s career is trending in the wrong direction after getting usurped by Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee, Mariota was brought to Las Vegas on a very affordable contract. He’ll be good competition for Derek Carr. I’d be willing to bet he’ll supplant him at some point during the 2020 season. If healthy (a big if), Mariota could be a good fit for Jon Gruden’s offense. 

Nobody should expect the Raiders to challenge the Chiefs for the division crown. This is still Kansas City’s division – and it’ll remain that way until Mahomes retires (a scary thought for the three other AFC West teams). But the Raiders found ways to get better during free agency with the draft still to come. They emerge with a high grade. The reason they didn’t get an A? A couple of signings that felt unnecessary (Jason Witten) and the fact that they didn’t get a better quarterback than Mariota in an offseason with a bevy of quarterbacks available both in free agency and the trade market. I don’t think Mariota pushes them over the hump.

Grade: A-

Los Angeles Chargers

Notable additions: Chris Harris, Bryan Bulaga, Linval Joseph, Nick Vigil, Trai Turner (trade).

Notable losses: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Derek Watt, Adrian Phillips, Thomas Davis, Travis Benjamin

Outside of their inability to upgrade at quarterback (a pretty big issue) after moving on from Philip Rivers, the Chargers actually experienced a pretty good offseason. I like their extension for Austin Ekeler, the perfect running back for the modern NFL. Keeping Hunter Henry via the franchise tag was a smart move. He’s a top-tier tight end when healthy. The problem is, he can’t stay healthy. Which makes him the perfect tag candidate.

They added Chris Harris and Linval Joseph to a defense that was already pretty good. It’s not difficult to imagine this defense becoming a top-five unit in 2020 with the addition of a great cornerback and a good defensive tackle.

Offensively, the Chargers found a way to improve their line in a big way. Getting Trai Turner for Russell Okung without being forced to part ways with a draft pick was an incredible trade. Bryan Bulaga is an elite offensive tackle if healthy (but again, that’s a big if). Unfortunately, the Chargers bolstered their offensive line after they got rid of their Hall-of-Fame quarterback. Missing out on Tom Brady hurt, but the Chargers at least have a pretty good backup plan in Tyrod Taylor. It still feels like Taylor is underappreciated just because his stint with the Browns didn’t go as planned even though nobody every succeeds at quarterback in Cleveland. But Taylor is solid, and the Chargers can draft a quarterback now that they’ve filled most of their important needs via free agency.

Still, the loss of Rivers and their inability to find a great replacement is what prevented the Chargers from getting an A.

Grade: A-



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All Black legend Carter in shock Super Rugby comeback, Sports News

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Two-time All Blacks World Cup winner Dan Carter announced a shock Super Rugby comeback with Auckland Blues on Thursday at the age of 38, saying he realised during coronavirus lockdown how much he missed the game.

Carter, a three-time world player of the year, has been a free agent since returning to New Zealand in March from Japan, where a virus-enforced shutdown ended his lucrative stint with Kobe Steelers.

“Two things from the lockdown that I realised was that I really enjoyed spending more time with my family and that I miss rugby,” Carter said.

“For me it is a chance to mentor some young players and to give back to New Zealand rugby,” he added.

The signing comes as New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams prepare to start a domestic tournament next week, after COVID-19 halted the southern hemisphere championship in March.

Carter has not played in his homeland since his international retirement in 2015, when he helped the All Blacks seal back-to-back World Cup titles at Twickenham.

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald said Carter signed a short-term deal as cover for injured fullback Stephen Perofeta. He joins a squad already containing Beauden Barrett, his successor as All Blacks playmaker.

As a replacement player, Carter will reportedly be on a minimum contract worth NZ$1,800 (US$1,155) a week, a huge cut from the millions he earned playing club rugby in France and Japan.

“It definitely not about money, he’s not getting rich doing it,” MacDonald said.

As the Blues already have Barrett — himself a two-time world player of the year — Carter may fill the role of supersub off the bench.

“I have not played for several months so it will take me a little bit of time to get game-ready,” he said.

Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry had no doubt Carter still had the ability to play at the top level, despite his age.

“It’s marvellous, he’ll add a huge amount of experience but he’s also been playing very well in Japan,” Henry told Radio New Zealand.

All Blacks halfback and former teammate Aaron Smith tweeted: “The goat (greatest of all time) is back in Super rugby!”

– Thumbs-up from nanna –

MacDonald indicated Carter would be behind Barrett and rising star Otare Black in the pecking order.

“If he gets back into playing form that warrants selection, then he could help us as a utility back in midfield or fullback,” he said.

Carter played the first of his 112 Tests for the All Blacks in 2003, scored a record 1,598 points during his international career and was the world player of the year in 2005, 2012 and 2015.

He played for French club Racing 92 after retiring from Test rugby following the 2015 World Cup, before signing a two-year deal with Kobe Steelers in 2018.

The South Island native already has three Super Rugby titles from his 13-year stint with the Canterbury Crusaders and remains the competition’s top points-scorer with 1,708.

Often described as the best fly-half to play the game, Carter revealed in his autobiography that he turned down an approach from the Blues in 2009 after his Crusaders-supporting grandmother Pam Carter opposed the move.

However, Nanna Carter said on Thursday that she had no problems with the latest deal and would support the Blues over the Crusaders when her grandson was playing for the Aucklanders.

“I don’t care where he plays as long as he plays,” she told stuff.co.nz.

“I miss him playing. I’m thrilled. I heard it on the news this morning and I thought ‘Good on you Dan’.”

The Blues claimed the last of their three Super Rugby titles in 2003 and have not made the playoffs since 2011. 

Once regarded as a regional powerhouse, they have been the worst performing New Zealand Super Rugby team since 2014.

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Drew Brees faces backlash from teammates, others in NFL and around sports for anthem protest comments

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It’s not often that an NFL receiver will publicly call out his quarterback for something, but that’s exactly what Michael Thomas did to Drew Brees on Wednesday. The Saints receiver clearly wasn’t happy after seeing an interview that Brees did with Yahoo Finance. During the interview, the Saints quarterback was asked what his thoughts were on the subject of players potentially kneeling again during the national anthem for the 2020 season. 

Brees then made it very clear that he’s against that form of protest because he views it as disrespectful to the American flag. 

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said. “Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played, and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.”

Brees also added that standing with your hand over your heart is an equally good way of showing unity. 

“Every time I stand with my hand over my heart, looking at that flag, and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about, and in many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed,” Brees said. “Not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movements of the ’60s, and everyone, and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point. And is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go, but I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better and that we are all part of the solution.”

Since making the comments, Brees has faced some major backlash, including some that came from two of his own teammates: Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.  

Sanders just signed with the team back in March after reaching the Super Bowl with the 49ers last season. 

As for Thomas, although he called Brees out, he also gave his quarterback the benefit of the doubt. 

Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins posted a very emotional video on Instagram in response to Brees’ comments and said that if he didn’t understand what was wrong with what he said, then he is “part of the problem.”

LeBron James was one of many athletes who were surprised by Brees’ comments. 

Back in the NFL, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted a photo of himself linking arms with his teammates, saying, “A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game. It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action.”

Richard Sherman, like Jenkins, added that Brees’ comments are “part of the problem.”

Tyrann Mathieu, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Jamal Adams and Hall of Famer Ed Reed, who grew up just outside of New Orleans, weighed also weighed in. (NSFW language in Reed’s video) 

A few hours after making his comments, Brees attempted to clarify his remarks.

“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees said, via ESPN.com. “I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”

Brees was asked about the possibility of players kneeling because there’s a chance that some NFL players could end up making the decision to kneel during the national anthem this season as a way to protest racial injustice and police brutality against minorities.

Colin Kaepernick started the protest in 2016 and his actions have been lauded by some NFL coaches and players around the league following the death of George Floyd in May. The African-American man was killed in Minnesota last week after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. 



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MLB owners reject MLBPA’s 114-game proposal for 2020 season, per report

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On Sunday, the MLB Players Association submitted a proposal to Major League Baseball for a 2020 season that would include, among other aspects, a 114-game regular season and expanded playoffs. It took the league a few days to respond, but on Wednesday owners rejected the union’s proposal and said they would not send a counteroffer, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

The owners are said to want a shorter regular season, perhaps as short as 50 or 60 games, with an emphasis on getting to the postseason quickly. The hope is to have the postseason completed before a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus can sweep the country, thus ensuring the league pockets all of the money from playoff television deals. (The union, as part of its proposal, included the potential for mass deferrals if the postseason was canceled due to a renewed spread of COVID-19.)

It should be noted that refusing to make a counteroffer is a well-known negotiating tactic, one commonly employed in baseball circles by agent Scott Boras, and that the league’s stance does not necessarily mean the 2020 season is endangered. Still, this was eyed as a pivotal week if the two sides wanted to begin play sometime in early July, and so far there’s been limited momentum toward a deal. 

Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that commissioner Rob Manfred would be willing to force a shortened season with prorated salaries if the two sides could not strike an agreement. That season would be about half as long as the players’ desired length.

While the sides remain apart on the money and season length, it appears they’re closer than not when it comes to the health component. Indeed, the players are expected to get “much of what they want on health and safety,” according to SNY’s Andy Martino

Originally, the league had sent the union a 67-page proposal that laid out its vision for testing and safety protocols. That document included guidelines on travel, clubhouse arrangement, and players’ etiquette when on the road. The union subsequently offered revisions, with players reportedly wanting more access to workout and recovery equipment.

MLB had originally intended to launch its season on March 26.Two weeks prior, the league was forced to hit pause, alongside every other in-season professional sports league, due to the spread of COVID-19. 



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