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Free agency could help solve Raiders' cornerback conundrum


Free agency could help solve Raiders' cornerback conundrum

General manager Reggie McKenzie has drafted five cornerbacks, signed seven expected starters in offseason free agency and claimed another on waivers during his Raiders tenure. He doesn’t have much to show for it.

The veteran additions rarely lasted long – in fairness, most were viewed as stopgaps -- averaging 1.25 seasons in silver and black, though one vet, Sean Smith, remains under contract at least to this point.

Amateur selections haven’t panned out, though there’s hope Gareon Conely can anchor his position group after a rookie season lost to a shin injury.

Last year’s first-round pick is penciled into the starting lineup, but uncertainty reigns at that position.

David Amerson was cut earlier this offseason. Smith remains on the roster, though it’s likely the $8.25 million he’s due is taken off the books. TJ Carrie is a week from unrestricted free agency.

The Raiders need to find solutions, long-term preferably, at this vital spot.

There are some top-flight cornerbacks in this draft, though it’s possible Ohio State’s Denzel Ward is gone before the Raiders select No. 10 overall.

There’s a strong belief, after speaking to league sources at the NFL Scouting Combine, that the Raiders will address the position in free agency.

Virtual sure things cost significant funds, and Raiders salary-cap folks will be mindful of the massive extension eventually due to Khalil Mack.

There’s quality set to hit the open market. L.A. Rams cover man Trumaine Johnson and New England’s Malcolm Butler headline that list. Kyle Fuller received the transition tag – it only gives Chicago the right to match an offer – and could be had with a weighty, well-crafted deal and no compensation sent the Bears’ way. Chicago, however, clearly wants to keep him. Indianapolis’ Rashaan Melvin should also be available after a breakout year disrupted some by a hand injury.

There’s also quality in the next tier – those guys would be better economic fits -- to get a No. 2 corner with Conley as the top guy.

Acquiring an established veteran shouldn’t stop the Raiders from re-signing Carrie. He wants to remain in Oakland, and the Raiders like him. He is a quality contributor who could prove a steady No. 3 with starter’s experience in 2018. Bringing him back would be a smart play.

The Raiders could still draft a prospect later on to provide injury protection and possibly fortify the group long-term.

That’s essential for a team that has ranked 20th or worse in five of McKenzie’s six seasons as general manager and no better than 24th the past three years, after he has a chance to finally fix the secondary.

Sacramento native Rhys Hoskins reaches Home Run Derby semis


Sacramento native Rhys Hoskins reaches Home Run Derby semis

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper thrilled the home crowd and surely made his father proud, winning the All-Star Home Run Derby on Monday night with an exceptional display of power that carried him past Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs 19-18.

Harper hit the contest-winning blast in extra time, the reward for hitting two homers at least 440 feet during the 4 minutes of regulation. After he connected with the game winner, the Washington Nationals slugger threw his bat in the air and pointed both index fingers toward the sky as a shower of streamers rained upon the crowd of 43,698.

The six-time All-Star arranged to have his dad, Ron, pitch to him in the annual contest on the eve of the All-Star Game. Harper responded with a performance that drew the loudest cheers of the night at Nationals Park.

It’s been a trying season for Harper, who’s hitting only .214 for the disappointing Nationals. He won a contest that many sluggers avoid, fearful it might wear them out and throw them off.

Harper can only hope this helps him get back into the swing.

The 2015 NL MVP beat Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and Max Muncy of the Dodgers before trumping the fifth-seeded Schwarber, who put the pressure on with a solid outing before Harper stepped to the plate.

Wearing a headband that resembled the District of Columbia flag and displaying a right sleeve with stars and stripes, Harper trailed 18-9 with 1:20 left before rallying. He homered on nine of his last 10 swings before entering extra time.

Hours before the session, Harper spoke excitedly about having his dad pitch to him in the contest. The 25-year-old said his father “worked his tail off every single day to provide for me and my family” and “now being able to have him throw to me in a big league ballpark is the cherry on top.”

Harper advanced to the final with an astonishing spree of long-ball hitting. He trailed Max Muncy of the Dodgers 12-4 with 2:20 left, then peeled off six homers in 47 seconds before calling a timeout.

Harper returned to hit three more home runs in 22 seconds, the last of them inside the right-field foul pole.

The semifinal matchup between Schwarber and Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins was a thriller. After stunning top-seed Jesus Aguilar of Milwaukee in the opening round, the eighth-seeded Hoskins ripped 20 long balls to put the pressure on Schwarber.

Using a late surge, Schwarber pulled one ball after another over the right field wall to squeeze out a 21-20 victory — by far the highest-scoring matchup of the night.

The fans dutifully cheered most home runs during the first round, but they saved their loudest cheers for Harper, the last player to step to the plate.

After Freeman hit 12 home runs over the 4-minute span, Harper unleashed six shots of at least 440 feet and secured the victory with a drive to center long before the clock expired. As the ball cleared the wall, the left-handed hitting Harper walked out of the batter’s box and thrust both arms in the air.

Freeman was the oldest player in the field at 28, and the first Braves participant since Andruw Jones in 2005.

Milwaukee’s Aguilar, the NL home run leader at the break, was eliminated in the opening round by Hoskins 17-12.

Aguilar hit too many balls to straightaway center, where the wall stands over 400 feet from the plate. Hoskins pumped most of his drives into the left-field seats, where it’s 336 feet down the line.

The most thrilling first-round match featured a near buzzer-beater by Houston’s Alex Bregman, who fell to Schwarber 16-15. The difference was the pair of homers that Schwarber hit during 30 seconds of extra time, the reward for hitting two long balls of at least 440 feet.

Bregman — the lone AL representative — appeared defeated with a minute left, but he mounted a late surge and lost when his final swing produced a drive that landed at the base of the center-field wall.

Muncy advanced by defeating No. 6 seed Javier Baez of the Cubs, 16-15. Baez hit the longest shot of the Derby, a 479-footer.

Aaron Rodgers hits fan jumping off a boat in Tahoe in stride with perfect throw


Aaron Rodgers hits fan jumping off a boat in Tahoe in stride with perfect throw

Green Bay Packers quarterback (and former Cal Golden Bear) Aaron Rodgers is known for his downfield accuracy. 

Rodgers has three successful Hail Marys to his name. The first, on Dec. 3, 2015 against the Detroit Lions, kept his team's playoff hopes alive. Another, on Jan. 16, 2016 against the Arizona Cardinals, sent the Divisional game to overtime, and a third came en route to a Wild Card game win against the New York Giants on Jan. 8, 2007. 

At the American Century Championship Celebrity Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe on Friday, Rodgers added another notch to his belt.

His latest effort won't be confused with the other three, but it's not like any of those receivers landed in a body of water, either. 

The real question? Whether or not that's a catch under the NFL's new rules.