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Cruz: Meeting Pinto family was "toughest by far"

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Cruz: Meeting Pinto family was "toughest by far"

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) For much of his hour-long visit with the family of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Connecticut school shootings, Victor Cruz talked about football, life and young Jack, the child who idolized him.

Tears were shed. Feelings were shared. Cleats and gloves worn by Cruz to honor Jack Pinto at Sunday's game against Atlanta were given to his family.

The New York Giants wide receiver somberly recounted Wednesday his meeting with Pinto's parents and brother in Newtown, Conn.

He struggled in his retelling only when asked about the family's decision to bury the child in the receiver's No. 80 Giants jersey. The father of an infant girl, Cruz stopped for a moment, and his eyes became watery.

``You never go through some circumstances like this and circumstances where a kid faces or a family faces something of this magnitude at their school,'' Cruz said. ``This definitely was the toughest by far.''

Jack Pinto was buried on Monday and Cruz telephoned the family to ask whether he could visit them Tuesday.

The family disclosed after Friday's massacre that Cruz was Jack's favorite player. The boy was one of 20 first-graders and six adults killed in the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Cruz drove to Newtown with his girlfriend, Elaina Watley, and their daughter, Kennedy.

``I had no expectations. I was a little nervous,'' Cruz said. ``I just didn't know how I was going to be received. You never know when they are going through something like that. You never know how it is going to go down.''

Seeing the family outside the home along with some local children made Cruz feel better.

``They were still pretty emotional, crying and stuff like that,'' Cruz said. ``I saw how affected they were by just my presence alone. I got out and gave them the cleats and the gloves and they appreciated it. The older brother (Ben) was still emotional, so I gave them to him.''

Cruz had written ``Jack Pinto, My Hero'' and ``R.I.P. Jack Pinto'' on his cleats before the Giants' loss to the Falcons Sunday in Atlanta.

The 26-year-old player best known for his salsa dances after touchdowns, signed autographs for the children before heading inside.

``I didn't want to go in there and make a speech,'' Cruz said. ``I just wanted to go and spend some time with them and be someone they could talk to, and be someone they can vent to, talk about how much of a fans they are of the team, or different times they watched the Super Bowl.''

Cruz spent that part of the visit sitting in the chair where Jack's father, Dean, sat when he watched the Giants' Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots in February.

It was a day Jack got to see his favorite team win a championship.

``It was just an emotional time,'' Cruz said. ``I spent a little bit of time with them. We got to smile a little bit, which was good for them. It was a time where I just wanted to be a positive voice, a positive light in the tunnel where it can really be negative, so it was a good time. They are a great family and they're really united at this time and it was good to see.''

Cruz said it was strange thinking about a child being buried in his jersey. He did not know how to react. Should he thank the family?

``It leaves you kind of blank,'' Cruz said. ``I am definitely honored by it. I am definitely humbled by it, and it's definitely an unfortunate but humbling experience for me.''

The visit also gave Cruz time to reflect, especially looking at his daughter.

``Ever since it happened I've kind of been spending more time with her, just cherishing the little moments, the little time you get with her because you never know when that can be taken from you,'' he said.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he was incredibly proud of Cruz for visiting with the Pinto family.

``Hopefully some of their grief might at least temporarily be suspended in being able to embrace Victor Cruz,'' Coughlin said, adding what he did speaking volumes of what he has inside.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice said what Cruz did took heart.

``You've got to be able to put yourself in that family's situation to understand at least what they're going through,'' Rice said in a conference call with the New York media about Sunday's game against the Giants. ``That's what it's about. That's something that you don't just say, `I'm going to do it.' You do it from the heart, from within and what he did was amazing.''

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Lamar Jackson to host 'Funday with LJ' in Florida despite coronavirus pandemic

Lamar Jackson to host 'Funday with LJ' in Florida despite coronavirus pandemic

Though the coronavirus pandemic has seen a recent surge in the state of Florida, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is planning to hold his third annual "Funday with LJ" event.

Set for July 11 and 12, the outside activities are a way for the quarterback to give back to his community in Pompano Beach, Florida. Jackson recently shared a flyer for the event on Instagram. 

A 6-hour outdoor extravaganza that features go-karts, rock climbing, flag football, water slides and more, "Funday with LJ" is open to the public. 

RELATED: HOW MAHOMES' EXTENSION IMPACTS JACKSON

With the pandemic still being a major risk, Jackson has set up some precautions that include requiring adults to wear masks and restricting autographs as a way to limit close contact. Children will also have to sign a waiver before participating in any games or activities.

Though the measures are important, the event does come with some risk. Broward County, where the two days of activities will take place, has reported over 21,000 positive COVID-19 cases. Additionally, the area currently is not allowing groups of more than 10 people to be together at once, the city's website says.

With NFL training camp just weeks away, Jackson's gesture for his community is a kind one. However, it won't come without some obvious health risks.

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How does Patrick Mahomes' mega-extension impact the Ravens and Lamar Jackson?

How does Patrick Mahomes' mega-extension impact the Ravens and Lamar Jackson?

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has agreed to a massive 10-year mega-extension with the Kansas City Chiefs, a deal that ESPN's Adam Schefter has classified as the "richest in NFL history."

In Kansas City, fans rejoiced. The best quarterback in the NFL is under contract for their favorite team for the next 12 seasons.

But in Baltimore? Ravens fans likely immediately thought about Lamar Jackson and the potential deal he could command next offseason.

Jackson is entering his third NFL season and currently is in a similar position to where Mahomes was just a year prior. While they have different playing styles, the career arc through each of their first two seasons has plenty of similarities.

Both quarterbacks sat for the majority of their rookie seasons before becoming their respective team's starter the following year. In each of their first full seasons as the starting quarterback, Mahomes and Jackson led their respective squads to the No. 1 seed in the AFC while earning NFL MVP honors along the way. Both of them even graced the cover of Madden following their MVP seasons, too.

What Jackson does as a curtain call for his incredible 2019 campaign will certainly impact his future contract. Mahomes parlayed his MVP season in 2018 to a Super Bowl title and MVP last year, which confirmed Kansas City's belief in the need to invest in the QB long-term.

Baltimore is expected to be one of the NFL's best teams once again this fall, and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has publicly stated he expects Jackson to make a leap as a passer in 2020.

RELATED: MADDEN BETA UPLOADED WRONG HEADSHOT FOR LAMAR JACKSON

As far as how much Jackson will make, it's unjust to put him in the same ballpark as Mahomes at this time -- the Chiefs passer has had arguably the best two years to begin his career as a starter than any quarterback in NFL history.

But, if the Ravens quarterback follows up his incredible 2019 season with an even better 2020, Jackson certainly could have an argument to command a deal similar to the Chiefs' QB just agreed to.

Entering the NFL, much of the knack on Jackson had to do with his arm. Well, the Ravens quarterback led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes a season ago, while also breaking the single-season rushing yards record by a quarterback. Sure, Jackson may not have the arm talent that Mahomes has, but there are also things the Ravens QB can do that the Chiefs passer simply cannot.

For Jackson, next offseason is likely the time the quarterback will sign an extension, similarly to how Mahomes did on Monday. In recent years, we've seen Jared Goff and Carson Wentz also sign lucrative extensions following their third professional season.

But as the salary cap continues to change, and now with Mahomes' record deal, the reality is that Jackson's future contract numbers are a guessing game.

Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson and Dallas Cowboys signal-caller Dak Prescott are both due for extensions, and each could happen before Jackson signs a new deal. Those future deals will likely only increase what Jackson, who has an already more impressive resume than both of them, can command.

What Jackson does as an encore to his MVP season will be crucial in contract negotiations next summer. If Jackson regresses slightly but still turns in a solid season, a deal like Goff's (four years, $110 million) or Wentz's (four-years, $107 million) could be two baselines to follow. Yet, if he improves upon his great 2019 year, Mahomes has set the bar for what the Ravens QB can ask for.

Regardless, Jackson's future deal in Baltimore won't be cheap. But, as the quarterback has proven thus far in his career, it will be worth it. Remember, good quarterbacks win Super Bowls, not cheap ones.

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