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Fiesta Bowl could be Kelly's last with the Ducks

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Fiesta Bowl could be Kelly's last with the Ducks

The Oregon Ducks enter the offseason with uncertainty over coach Chip Kelly's continued tenure and possible NCAA sanctions.

But at the same time the team faces a future with a strong foundation that includes redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and speedy sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas.

Fifth-ranked Oregon finished this season 12-1 with a 35-17 victory over No. 7 Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. It was the Ducks' fourth straight trip to a BCS bowl game and second straight win.

It is also the third season that Oregon has finished with 12 wins. The team's lone loss this season came to Stanford on Nov. 17.

But since a 48-24 victory over Oregon State in the Civil War, much of the focus has been on Kelly and whether he'll make the jump to the NFL.

At least three pro teams appear to have interest in Kelly, who devised Oregon's quick-strike spread offense, including the Cleveland Browns, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buffalo Bills. And the Ducks would no doubt love to keep him, too.

It seems inevitable that Kelly will leave. Last year in the offseason he entertained interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but decided to stay at Oregon because of ``unfinished business.''

Ducks fans at the Fiesta Bowl made their feelings clear by chanting ``We want Chip!'' during the victory celebration. Nike co-founder and Oregon mega-booster Phil Knight proclaimed to a reporter following the game: ``I was one of `em.''

The buyout for Kelly's contract with Oregon is $3.5 million.

``I'll listen and we'll see,'' Kelly said about his NFL courters. He also said he hopes to wrap up a decision quickly.

A person close to the team who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Kelly's future had not yet been decided told The Associated Press that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is considered the frontrunner to succeed Kelly as head coach, but Oregon state law says that the Ducks must interview at least one qualified minority candidate for the job.

Whoever the new coach might be will likely have to deal with the fallout from an NCAA investigation into the school's use of recruiting services.

The inquiry is the result of reports that surfaced in 2011 concerning payments Oregon made to two such services, including a $25,000 check sent to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a relationship with a player who committed to Oregon.

Last month, Yahoo Sports reported that Oregon is headed toward a hearing with the NCAA committee on infractions because the two sides couldn't come to an agreement on appropriate sanctions. Yahoo cited two unidentified sources.

Earlier this year, Oregon requested a summary disposition in the case. The school presented a report to the infractions committee outlining violations the school believed occurred and appropriate sanctions. But that request was apparently turned down.

The NCAA does not comment on ongoing investigations.

``We've cooperated fully with them. If they want to talk to us again, we'll continue to cooperate fully,'' Kelly said. ``I feel confident in the situation.''

While Oregon awaits the hearing, which could be scheduled as early as this spring, the Ducks appear solid on the field for next season and perhaps beyond with rising offensive stars Mariota and Thomas.

Mariota set the team's single-season record with 38 touchdowns (32 passing, 5 rushing, 1 receiving), surpassing the previous mark of 36 held by Darron Thomas (2011) and Akili Smith (1998).

The first freshman named to the Pac-12's all-conference first team in 23 years, Mariota passed for 2,739 yards, completing a school-record 68.5 percent of his passes. He had 3,429 yards of total offense, second only to Smith's 3,947 in 1998.

The 6-foot-4 dual-threat quarterback from Hawaii credited Kelly for the season.

``The success, all that's happening with this offense is from him. To be able to just kind of go through that and to learn from it, you know, it's going to make me a better quarterback for future years,'' Mariota said.

Then there's Thomas, who scored on a 94-yard return of the opening kickoff Thursday against Kansas State. It was the longest all-purpose play in Oregon bowl history.

Thomas has a school-record 509 all-purpose yards on just 19 touches in his two career bowl games.

The Fiesta Bowl was the final game for several notable Oregon players, including running back Kenjon Barner, who broke out in his senior season after the departure of LaMichael James to the NFL.

Barner finished the season with 1,767 yards rushing, second-best in school history to James' 1,805 yards last season.

For his career, Barner finished with 5,848 all-purpose yards, 21 yards shy of James' career record. His 42 career touchdowns are also second to James (58) in the Ducks' record book.

The defensive side loses senior linebacker Michael Clay, one of the team's leaders. The senior had nine tackles in the Fiesta Bowl and was named the defensive player of the game.

``Right now, things are a lot more surreal than anything else,'' he said afterward. `` The last time playing with these guys, taking off the pads, the last time in an Oregon jersey. You're kind of surreal and in a daze right now.''

Kelly spoke after the Fiesta Bowl almost as though he was saying goodbye, too, although only time will tell.

``It's a special place with special people. They accepted me six years ago when I was at New Hampshire. Not many people knew about me,'' Kelly said. ``Gave me an opportunity to come here. It really means a lot.''

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The longterm case for the Wizards to not trade Bradley Beal is more compelling than you might think

The longterm case for the Wizards to not trade Bradley Beal is more compelling than you might think

We know teams remain interested in snagging Bradley Beal.

There’s no explanation required why true contenders or wannabes would covet a 25-year-old two-time All-Star coming off a near All-NBA season. With Anthony Davis dealt to the Lakers, Beal becomes arguably the top prize in the trade market.

Before shipping the Wizards’ leading scorer out of the DMV for long-term assets that would signal a rebuild, consider the alternative. No talking points are needed for the concept of keeping Beal, but doing so brings up the larger picture.

Assuming the Wizards remained fiscally disciplined this off-season, the team can enter the summer of 2020 with a relatively clean balance sheet and actual roster optimism.

At that point the Wizards would have Beal possibly coming off a third All-Star appearance along with 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown, a player selected with the ninth overall pick in Thursday’s Draft and a 2020 lottery pick.

Add to that the return of John Wall. It’s conceivable the five-time All-Star rejoins the team late next season, but it likely would take additional time to gauge his physical status following the devastating Achilles injury that required surgery in February. If Wall appears close to his prior form, the Wizards have an interesting starting point with those pieces.

In addition, the expiring contracts for Ian Mahinmi ($15.4 million) and Dwight Howard ($5.6) come off the books. Beal, Wall and Brown are the only current players under contract beyond next season.

This season also provides the next front office leader a chance to establish a cultural baseline for a team that dealt with locker room squabbles last season. The Wizards remain without a general manager after firing President of Basketball Operations on April 2.

Tommy Sheppard has run the front office on an interim basis since. While logically the Wizards would hold off making any splashy moves like dealing Beal until a permanent GM is named, owner Ted Leonsis is the one needing convincing regardless.

Leonsis famously told reporters last season the team “will never, ever tank.” Rebuilding doesn’t have the same negative connotation as that four-letter T-word, but dealing Beal would offer the perception of a team focused on the long haul above all.

That’s not necessarily the wrong approach. The Wizards can always head into that direction ahead of the 2020-21 season. Beal’s value would remain high. Holding him now also allows Washington to wait on Wall, clean up their salary cap and restart the contention process. The organization can also explore signing Beal to an extension this season (3-year, $111.8 million) or next.

None of this means anything to other NBA teams hoping to pry Beal away.

The New Orleans Pelicans dialed up the Wizards. The San Antonio Spurs are interested.

Logically so are the Celtics, Nets and several other teams looking to make a bold move now that the Warriors suffered two crushing injuries and the Lakers already went all in. The Knicks could enter the trade talks should Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant bypass the Big Apple.

Regardless, the Wizards appear cool with keeping their best player and with good reasons.

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On the move? Why moving up or down in the 1st round of the draft is a realistic possibility for the Caps

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On the move? Why moving up or down in the 1st round of the draft is a realistic possibility for the Caps

The NHL draft is fast approaching. The first round will take place on Friday and it could be a busy night for the Capitals.

Washington currently holds the 25th pick in the draft. It will be the highest pick this team has had since taking Ilya Samsonov 22nd overall in the 2015 draft. The question, however, is will they stay there?

The more you look at the team’s situation, the more a move in either direction looks like a realistic possibility for the Caps. Here’s why.

Why the Caps could move up

In most situations, an NHL team should pick the best player available. Since most NHL prospects, including most players taken in the first round, will take years to develop before they see NHL action, it does not generally make sense to draft for an immediate need. When teams become fixated on drafting a certain position, it can lead to those teams passing on elite talent at other positions.

For Washington, however, they no longer can afford to ignore the team’s need for a difference-maker at forward.

You have to go all the way back to 2014 to find the last time the Caps drafted a forward in the first round when they drafted Jakub Vrana. Since then, however, they have drafted a goalie, two defensemen and have traded out of the first round completely.

The dearth of forward talent among the team’s prospects is starting to catch up to it. In a year in which the Caps need forward depth but have very little money to fill it, an ideal solution would be to plug any holes on the bottom six with cheap prospects.

Without any top-end forwards in the system, however, that is not really an option.

Riley Barber (sixth-round pick) is an unrestricted free agent and said he does not see himself re-signing with Washington. Nathan Walker (third-round pick) is also a UFA and, though he sounded more open to re-signing with the Caps than Barber, there is no guarantee he does not leave in free agency. Shane Gersich (fifth-round pick) and Garrett Pilon (third-round pick) still look like they need another year in Hershey. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (fifth-round pick) has a whopping 16 games of North American experience and it is hard to know what exactly to expect from him. Kody Clark (second-round pick) and Riley Sutter (third-round pick) still need time to develop.

This team needs a high-end forward prospect, if not for this year then for the near future. It needs that guy who can infuse a bit of youth and excitement, as well as skill, back into the lineup when he gets a call-up. We are not talking about the next Connor McDavid here, just a top-six forward to add to the system because right now it does not appear Washington really has any top-six forwards besides the guys already in the NHL.

That needs to change.

There is value to be found late in the first round of the draft—Marcus Johansson was taken 24th overall in 2009, Evgeny Kuznetsov was 26th overall in 2010 and Andre Burakovsky was 23rd overall in 2013 just to name a few—but waiting for a good forward to drop into their laps this year may not be the ideal strategy knowing they need to pick a forward in the first round.

Moving up the draft will ensure they can grab one of the top forwards available. If they move up high enough, perhaps they could even snap someone who could potentially be ready to help the team in the latter half of the season, though that is a lot to ask of a young forward.

The point is Washington cannot afford to go with the usual “best available” mentality and see who falls to 25. General manager Brian MacLellan will have to get proactive and move up to ensure he gets the best available player at the position of need. We may not be talking Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, but even moving up to the mid-round can dramatically affect the quality of prospects available.

Why the Caps could move down

Elliotte Friedman had an interesting note on the Caps in his latest 31 Thoughts column. He listed Washington among one of the most aggressive teams in trade talks saying generally of the NHL “we could see some frenetic attempts to move up and down.”

Friedman also wrote, “Other teams believe the Capitals are in total ‘go for it’ mode.”

When a team is in “go for It mode” and trying to win a Cup, the first-round draft pick can be useful trade bait to help bring in a significant piece and bolster the roster. Granted, Washington has very little cap room available so any trade would likely include sending salary with the pick which would, in turn, lower the value of return, but this team is just one year removed from winning the Cup. It is not as if they need to make a major addition to be a contender.

Trading away a first-round pick would be the exact opposite of addressing the team’s need for high-end prospect forward talent as written above, but it is hard to build a team for now and for the future. With Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Co. all in their 30s, it would be understandable why MacLellan would choose to go all-in on winning another Cup in the next few years.

Whether the Caps move up, down or stand pat, we will have all the latest analysis on NBC Sports Washington’s coverage of the draft starting at 8 p.m. on Friday.

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