White Sox

Why this is a 'critical' time for Drew Brees

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Why this is a 'critical' time for Drew Brees

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Drew Brees wants a long-term extension with the Saints completed before the club's offseason training program begins in April. The quarterback also says he is concerned about how New Orleans is being portrayed in the wake of the NFL's bounty investigation The Saints' more pressing concern is not perception, but the reality that Brees may not practice or play under his current franchise tag designation. "I'd say that this is a very critical period here over the next short while until we start April 16th," Brees said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "What I'm really focused on is continuing to negotiate toward a long-term deal and I really am not going to look too far down the road other than just what's right in front of me. "I want to make sure that this is done the right way." In addition to his disappointment with the pace of contract talks with New Orleans, Brees discussed his concerns about the NFL's bounty investigation of the Saints. Brees said he has been on a "fact-finding mission" since the NFL released some of the findings of its bounty probe on March 2. The quarterback said he doesn't know all the fact about the bounty scandal. He said, however, he is under the impression some current and former defensive teammates are worried they'll be punished, and have their reputations tarnished, primarily because of bravado and tough talk that is not meant to be taken literally, but which is common in football locker rooms. "I feel like the perception might not match up with reality in this thing," Brees said. "I think the perception is that we have our entire team, our entire coaching staff, our entire organization involved in this bounty thing where we're actually going out with malicious intent to hurt people and end their careers, and that's so far from the truth. "I know the NFL staged a two-year long investigation and that they have documentation that proves certain things," Brees continued. "There are still some unanswered questions and things that we don't know, so it's hard to speculate. All I can do is speak on behalf of my teammates, knowing who they are and what they represent, and our organization, how we pride ourselves on professionalism and doing things the right way and treating people the right way." Brees said what bothers him most about the bounty probe is that the Saints are being portrayed as a bunch of "hit men." "That we're a bunch of guys out with malicious intent to seriously injure people and end guys' careers, that we take pride in that, that we compensate guys for that, we incentivize guys for that," Brees said. "That's really disheartening for me when I look at all that we've been able to accomplish over the last six years. ... It's somewhat of a black eye for the organization right now and I would just hope that people would reserve their judgment until all the facts come out, until the truth is known, instead of speculation." Since the Saints were eliminated by San Francisco in the divisional round of the 2011-12 NFL playoffs in January, Brees has been splitting most of his time between homes in San Diego and New Orleans with his two young sons and wife, Brittany, who is expecting a third boy in a little under five months. Brees spoke to the AP by phone from California. He is conducting interviews this week as part of his promotional work with Dick's Sporting Goods, which is offering the chance for a sweepstakes winner to go on a shopping spree with the quarterback. Although he hopes not to miss any work with the Saints, Brees made it clear that he is uncomfortable working under the franchise tag. He noted that the only time he has done so was his final season in San Diego, which ended with a career-threatening injury that left him with few suitors in free agency. The Saints were one of those suitors, and Brees said he intends to end his career in New Orleans, albeit under a contractual agreement that he sees fit. However, Brees declined to answer directly whether he would practice or play if a new extension is not complete by the time next season arrives. "I won't give an answer other than that was never my intent when I entered into these discussions with the Saints," Brees said. "It was to extend the deal and to sign long term and finish my career in New Orleans. ... That's what I'm working wholeheartedly toward and that's really all I can say." Brees is the reigning AP Offensive Player of the Year. In 2001, he set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a completion percentage of 71.2. The quarterback is expected to receive a contract paying in the range of, if not more than, the 18 million-per-year deals that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning had signed in recent seasons. Manning, however, was released by Indianapolis after missing all of last season with a neck injury and is back on the free-agent market. When Brees eventually returns to the field, he'll rejoin one of his favorite targets, wide receiver Marques Colston. The Saints re-signed Colston to a five-year deal. But Brees will be without free agent All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, who signed with Tampa Bay. "That's tough. Tough to lose him, period -- even tougher to watch him go to a divisional opponent in Tampa," Brees said. "He's been a mainstay for four years on the offensive line, a huge part of that Super Bowl run and you're happy for a guy like that who's certainly worked hard. You hate to see him go, but that's the nature of our league and this business, and when you draft guys and they become great players, I guess it's impossible to keep them all." Brees added he is confident general manager Mickey Loomis, Saints scouts and coaches, who took a chance on Nicks in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, would find a way to make up for his departure. "We've been very competent at drafting. ... That's a big tribute to Mickey and the scouting department and coaching staff," Brees said. "We've done a great job of finding free agents to fill spots."

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

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USA TODAY

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

GLENDALE, Ariz. — All that was missing was a dinner bell.

From all over the White Sox spring training complex at Camelback Ranch they came, lined up in front of the third-base dugout and all around the cage to see a trio of future White Sox take batting practice.

This is all it was, batting practice. But everyone wanted to get a glimpse of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo swinging the bat. And those three outfield prospects delivered, putting on quite a show and displaying exactly what gets people so darn excited about the White Sox rebuild.

How to sum it up if you weren’t there? Just be happy you weren’t parked behind the left-field fence.

Jimenez and Robert are two of the biggest stars of the White Sox rebuilding effort, with Adolfo flying a bit more under the radar, but all three have big dreams of delivering on the mission general manager Rick Hahn and his front office have undertaken over the past year and change: to turn the South Siders into perennial championship contenders. The offensive capabilities of all three guys have fans and the team alike giddy for the time they hit the big leagues.

And those three guys can’t wait for that day, either.

“Actually, just a few minutes ago when we were taking BP, we were talking about it,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “Micker and Luis said, ‘Can you imagine if we had the opportunity one day to play together in the majors: right, left and center field? The three of us together and having the opportunity to bring a championship to this team?’ I think that’s a dream for us, and we’re trying to work hard for that.”

“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day all three of us be part of the same outfield,” Adolfo told NBC Sports Chicago. “We were talking about hitting behind each other in the order and just envisioning ourselves winning championships and stuff like that. It’s awesome. I really envision myself in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”

How those three would eventually line up in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field remains to be seen. Adolfo’s highly touted arm would make him an attractive option in right field. Robert’s speed and range makes him the logical fit in center field. Jimenez will play whichever position allows his big bat to stay in the lineup every day.

Here in Arizona, the focus isn’t necessarily on some far off future but on the present. As intriguing as all three guys are and as anticipated their mere batting practice sessions seem to be, they all potentially have a long way to go to crack the big league roster. Jimenez is the furthest along, but even he has only 73 plate appearances above the Class A level. Adolfo spent his first full season above rookie ball last year. Robert has yet to play a minor league game in the United States.

The group could very well make its way through the minor leagues together, which would obviously be beneficial come the time when the three arrive on the South Side.

“We were talking about (playing in the big leagues), but also we were talking about just to have the first stage of the three of us together in the minor leagues first and then go to the majors all three of us together,” Robert said. “To have the opportunity to play there should be pretty special for us. We were dreaming about that.”

For months now, and likely for months moving forward, the question has been and will be: when?

Whether it’s Jimenez or top pitching prospect Michael Kopech or any other of the large number of prospects who have become household names, fans and observers are dying to see the stars of this rebuilding project hit the major leagues. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez made their respective jumps last season. Hahn, who has said repeatedly this offseason that the front office needs to practice patience as much as the fan base, has also mentioned that a good developmental season for these guys might involve no big league appearances at all.

And it’s worth remembering that could be the case considering the lack of experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues for all three of these guys.

“In my mind, I don’t try to set a date for when I'm going to be in the majors,” Jimenez said. “That is something I can’t control. I always talk with my dad and we share opinions, and he says, ‘You know what? Just control the things that you can control. Work hard and do the things that you need to do to get better.’ And that’s my key. That’s probably why I stay patient.”

But staying patient is sometimes easier said than done. The big crowd watching Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo send baseballs into a to-this-point-in-camp rare cloudless Arizona sky proved that.

Dreaming of the future has now become the official pastime of the South Side. And that applies to fans and players all the same.

“I’m very, very excited,” Jimenez said, “because I know from the time we have here, that when the moment comes, when we can all be in the majors, the ones that can finally reach that level, we’re going to be good, we’re going to be terrific. I know that.”

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.