Fire

Saints coach, GM take blame for the bounty scandal

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Saints coach, GM take blame for the bounty scandal

From Comcast SportsNet
Almost a week after the NFL pointed to them for failing to stop a bounty program involving some two dozen Saints players, coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis apologized and took the blame for violations that "happened under our watch." "These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game," Payton and Loomis added. "Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans," Payton and Loomis said in a joint statement Tuesday. Payton and Loomis also said New Orleans owner Tom Benson "had nothing to do" with the bounty pool. "We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility," they said. The league's investigation, released last Friday, said the bounty program was funded primarily by players for the past three seasons and was overseen by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He admitted to running the program and apologized within hours after the report surfaced. The NFL said it confirmed Benson was unaware of the program, and that he told Loomis to stop it immediately, but that Loomis did not. The league also said Payton, though not directly involved, was aware of the bounty pool, but did nothing to stop it. Williams now is defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. He met with NFL security officials on Monday as part of the league's ongoing investigation. Once it concludes -- the league says there is no timetable -- Roger Goodell likely will hand out the stiffest penalties of his 5 years as commissioner. Goodell has frequently taken a hard line on any action that threatens player safety. He suspended Detroit's Ndamukong Suh for two games for stomping on an opponent last season; banned Pittsburgh's James Harrison for one game after a series of flagrant hits that culminated in a collision with Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy's helmet; and has ramped up the amount of fines for what the league terms "egregious hits." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said before handing out any penalties, Goodell will review the information with his staff and consult with others, including the union and player leaders. The players' union has not seen a full report of the investigation, so it can't be certain if Goodell will levy punishment under the on-field discipline or the personal conduct policy. There's a major distinction, because players can appeal on-field punishment to independent arbitrators Art Shell and Ted Cottrell. Appeals under the personal conduct policy are heard by Goodell and other league officials. "The commissioner has broad authority to impose discipline for violation of league rules. We're not going to put it in a category right now," Aiello said. The NFL hasn't cited specific players, but fines and suspensions are probable for those found to have participated in the bounty program. "We take this issue seriously and we continue to look into it," union spokesman George Atallah said. Goodell fined the New England Patriots 250,000 and their coach, Bill Belichick, 500,000 for the Spygate scandal in 2007, when the team was caught illegally videotaping the Jets' sideline. New England also was stripped of a first-round draft pick. That violation pales in comparison to a bounty of up to 50,000 over the last three seasons that rewarded players for knocking targeted opponents out of games. The Saints can expect heavier sanctions than those given the Patriots, with suspensions likely for Loomis and Payton and a seven-figure fine for the organization. "I don't think there can be a limited focus -- if the league only is looking to penalize players and coaches," said George Martin, executive director of NFL Alumni and a former player, adding: "It is kind of shocking it still goes on in this time and age. "The organization has to take responsibility for it because it took place under their jurisdiction," he said. "The league needs to do whatever it takes in the way of discipline to make sure this is stemmed." John Lynch, an outstanding safety for 16 seasons, once was fined 75,000 for a hit on Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark. Lynch was one of the hardest and surest tacklers in the NFL. He is just as sure that Goodell will hand out hefty punishments. "I would expect this to be pretty severe and harsh because of the direction the commissioner has taken in making player safety if not his top initiative, then one of them," Lynch said. "If this is true, as blatant as this is, and to have a coach out there saying, You knock this guy out of the game. Get him taken off on a cart. Here is the monetary reward,' you need a severe and harsh punishment." That coach has been identified by the league as Williams, who could face a year's suspension and a six-figure fine. Maybe more. The Rams would not say Tuesday what duties Williams currently is performing. "Coach Williams has shown contrition for his actions and continues to cooperate with the NFL in this investigation," Rams GM Kevin Demoff told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Out of respect for the NFL's ongoing process, we will refrain from commenting until the league has come to a final decision on all aspects of this matter." Williams could turn to the NFL Coaches Association for help. Its executive director, David Cornwell, was concerned about individual coaches being singled out. "As this matter unfolds," Cornwell said, "I will work with our executive committee to protect the interests of individual coaches without compromising the NFLCA's fundamental belief that fair play and sportsmanship begins with the men who teach the game."

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”