Redskins

Freeney prepares for what could be final home game

Freeney prepares for what could be final home game

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Dwight Freeney understands the predicament.

He'll be 33 in February, his sack totals have declined each of the last three years and this year's salary cap hit was a staggering $19.035 million, the highest in football. Even Freeney knows that's not a good combination to take into contract talks with the Colts.

So no matter how much Freeney wants to finish his career in the same place he started it, he will try to savor every moment Sunday against Houston in what will likely be his home finale in Indianapolis.

``This could be it,'' he said. ``We'll see what happens for me and my career later and what they decide to do. Those are all business decisions for both of us. But yeah, I think the later in your career, the older you get and especially when your contract is what it is, you have to sit there and say, `Hey this might be it, man.' Just take in as much as you can take in.''

Whatever happens next, there's no doubting what Freeney has meant to this franchise over the years.

Tony Dungy and Bill Polian took the 266-pound pass rusher with the 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft as the cornerstone for their defense, even when the critics contended the choice was a reach. They argued Freeney was the quintessential small, quick college defensive end who would be nothing more than a third-down pass rush specialist against the NFL's mammoth offensive linemen - and they were wrong.

Despite starting only the final eight games as a rookie, Freeney still broke the Colts' single-season franchise record with 13 sacks, was named the AFC's defensive rookie of the month in November and December that season and finished second to Julius Peppers in balloting for defensive rookie of the year.

And he never really slowed down.

Freeney won battles on the line of scrimmage with his blazing speed and spin move, something teammates and opponents continue to try and emulate. He created nightmares for opposing linemen not only because of his ability to get to the quarterback but to knock the ball loose in the same motion. He teamed with Robert Mathis to form one of the league's most feared pass rushes for nearly a decade.

Fans appreciated his celebrations, a simple salute to those who showed up on Sunday afternoons, and players embraced his simple, down-to-earth approach to the game and life.

``We've been playing together 10 years so that speaks for itself,'' said Mathis, who joined the Colts in 2003. ``It's almost like we formed a brotherhood. It's deeper than just a teammate. We call it `9398 Bring the Heat Boulevard.' We kind of coined that term, so we want to keep it going as long as we can.''

Freeney is the franchise's career sacks leader (106 1/2), the only Colts player to win a league sacks title (16 in 2004) and his seven Pro Bowl appearances are tied for fifth in franchise-history with Lenny Moore. The only Colts with more Pro Bowl selections are Peyton Manning (11), Gino Marchetti and John Unitas (10 each) and Jim Parker (eight). Marchetti, Unitas, Parker and Moore are all Hall of Fame members, and Marchetti is the only Colts' defender to appear in more all-star games than Freeney.

When the playoffs end, the Colts will have to make the decision about re-signing Freeney or letting him go.

A year ago, Freeney watched the Colts say goodbye to four-time MVP Manning. running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett, tight end Dallas Clark, center Jeff Saturday and receiver Pierre Garcon. Receiver Reggie Wayne was so certain he would be caught in last season's overhaul that he packed up his locker and took down his nameplate a few days before the 2011 season finale at Jacksonville. He wound up coming back, a move that may go down as the Colts' best offseason player move outside of taking Andrew Luck in the draft.

Indy also gave Mathis a big contract and the converted linebacker, like Wayne, rewarded the Colts with another Pro Bowl season.

The questions about Freeney, though, are different.

He was most effective in the traditional 4-3 defense, and after switching to the 3-4 for the first time this season, Freeney has only 18 tackles and four quarterback sacks. Those numbers are down from 2011, when he had 19 tackles and 8 1/2 sacks, which was down from 25 tackles and 10 sacks in 2010. And that was down from 2009 when Freeney had 31 tackles and 13 1/2 sacks.

So the Colts must decide whether he fits into this defense, and if so, how much he's worth on a team that continues to build for the future?

``You don't know what's going to happen at the end of the day. The strangest things happen. Look at last year, everybody thought Peyton would be here and he's not,'' Freeney said. ``I guess we will figure it out when the season is over. I just appreciate everything this city has done for me, the fans have done for me. It's been a great ride and hopefully we can continue it.''

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

JUPITER, Fla. -- Police in Florida have charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution, saying they have videotape of him paying for a sex act inside an illicit massage parlor.

Jupiter police told reporters Friday that the 77-year-old Kraft hasn't been arrested. A warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified.

The charge comes amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in the area surrounding Palm Beach County. About 200 arrest warrants have been issued in recent days and more are expected.

The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this month in Atlanta. The team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update: A spokesperson for Robert Kraft issued a statement, denying Craft's involvement. "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity," a spokesperson said, via Michael Del Moro. "Because this is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further. 

This is a developing story. Visit NBC Sports Boston for the latest Robert Kraft news and updates. 

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Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fans on the sidewalks at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches are held back by wire fence, just a few feet away from players clicking past in spikes on concrete. It emulates two priorities: access and the idea the team’s managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, had when he was a kid at spring training.

“You want to be able to see your favorites,” Lerner said Friday.

When Lerner, 65, comes to West Palm Beach, he still does that. He stops in the clubhouse to distribute handshakes and hugs. Running into Anthony Rendon on a crosswalk near the fields really lit up Lerner, who is still using a cane following an amputation of his lower left leg in 2017 necessitated by the diagnosis of spindle cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Not in West Palm Beach is a player Lerner had a close relationship with. On the day Manny Machado was introduced in San Diego, Bryce Harper remained, to the astonishment of many, unemployed. 

Lerner last addressed Harper’s free agency when he sat for radio interviews, Dec. 10, the day Patrick Corbin was introduced. He said the Nationals were no longer in the mix for Harper. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract which had an expiration date: when free agency began, it would be retracted. Harper declined, vaulting the baseball world into a months-long saga filled with tension, misinformation and growing exasperation.

“Nothing’s certainly changed on our end; we’ve moved on, as I said back then,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington. “We had to. There was no way we could wait around. Bryce I’m sure will make his decision, hopefully in the next few days. But, we filled out our roster and like I said, we wish him nothing but the best. There’s always that -- the door’s cracked a little bit. I have no clue at this point what they’re up to. I mean, we really haven’t heard from them in a couple months.”

The prospect of a wait was of prime concern before the season ended. Washington used its personal window to negotiate with Harper, producing a lucrative baseline offer, with the aforementioned end date. Not long after, Corbin received a six-year, $140 million from the organization, which stood throughout the offseason as the benchmark in both length and total value prior to Machado’s decision. If Harper accepted the Nationals original offer, they would not have been able to pay Corbin, according to a source.

The organization moved forward plugging holes at catcher, second base and in the bullpen. It deemed the current outfield foursome as more than satisfactory. Also looming was the possibility of another year over the competitive balance tax, something that prompted the team to start shuffling finances late last season when it was clear the playoffs were not an option.

“It’s a pretty severe penalty if you go over and it’s been our goal all year to stay under that,” Lerner said.

Which complicates the future. Anthony Rendon is entering the final year of his contract. Rendon and the team are open to an extension, which has been discussed here and there for 18 months. Rendon reiterated his position when speaking with reporters earlier this week. Lerner turned his visual affection for Rendon into words Friday. 

“We love Tony to death,” Lerner said. “He’s certainly one of the greatest players in the game today. He’s an even finer person. His activities with the youth baseball academy back in D.C. are phenomenal. He does it under the radar. It’s very important to him. Just a great example of the way a professional athlete should conduct himself. Like I said, he’s one of my favorites for a reason.”

Washington rose perennial losers upon coming to Washington to an organization with annual prominent expectations. It chose not to retain manager Dusty Baker, instead hiring Dave Martinez in an attempt to push the team beyond the first round. Martinez’s arrival came with the edict that something more than division titles and first-round bow outs were now necessary for the team. The Nationals finished 82-80 last year during a season filled with injuries, under-performance and often mediocre fundamental baseball. Lerner suffered through with the irritation of a typical fan.

“I have my routine [following losses]. I go into a closet and scream a little after,” Lerner said with a laugh. “No, no. That’s one thing that’s good about baseball. You’re going to play the next day. But I go home. I’m totally depressed. I won’t turn on the sports news or anything and get up the next morning, it’s a new day, get up and go after it again today. When I’m sitting down there, I’m very passionate as a fan. I’m yelling at the umpires like everybody else. I want to win. I hate losing exhibition games let alone regular-season games.”

Enter 2019. The Nationals are amid the favorites in a taught National League East. Short-term fixes frame the team’s mainstays. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin possess the three long-term commitments in the clubhouse. Rendon may be next. The Nationals want to retain that talent level, avoid the tax and put together a team with a chance to win the division or more. Harper’s talent made that possible when here. His price made it difficult going forward. They decided to try it without him. 

“Our goal every year is certainly to make the playoffs,” Lerner said. “In reality, we look back where we are in the world and where our needs are. It’s not just…certainly, we don’t want to go crazy with free agency. But we said when we first got the team, we’re going to build up the minor leagues, we’re going to get to a point where we can start to dabble in free agency, which we did with Jayson Werth, and when we find a need or a special player, we’re going to go after that player if it makes monetary sense for us. Our philosophy has never changed but, certainly, our goal is to make the playoffs and hopefully deep into the playoffs.”
 

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