From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Three players fighting suspensions from the NFL's bounty investigation have told a federal judge they are comfortable with their representation by union lawyers and see no potential conflict of interest in the arrangement.The players written comments on Thursday came in response to an order a day earlier by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who lamented the failure of settlement talks and wrote that she was concerned there were competing agendas among lawyers on all sides in the dispute that were undermining the interests of the players.The judge asked whether it made more sense for New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove to have separate lawyers, rather than the same lawyers representing the NFL Players Association.The NFLPA also filed a response in which it explained that it has been seeking to engage league lawyers in settlement talks, "and the NFL continued to refuse to do so, never making a single settlement offer to the Players."The union added that it also sees no conflict in representing the players, but will help them get their own attorneys if the court desires.The NFLPA, the three players, and Saints linebacker Jon Vilma, who has his own attorney, are claiming in their consolidated lawsuits that Commissioner Roger Goodell abused his authority and followed improper procedures in disciplining the players for a program that, according to NFL investigators, paid improper cash bonuses for tackles that injured opponents. The lawsuit seeks to have the punishment handed down by Goodell thrown out.Vilma was suspended the entire season, Hargrove for eight games, Smith for four games and Fujita three games.Earlier this week, the NFLPA asked for a temporary restraining order that would allow the three players it represents to rejoin their clubs while the case proceeds. Vilma made the same request in July, and Berrigan has yet to rule on either TRO request, but could potentially do so before the Saints and Browns open the regular season on Sunday.Meanwhile, Smith, who like other suspended players has been barred from practicing this week, issued a statement expressing his concern that the matter was not resolved already, with the Saints' opener against Washington only three days away."I am disappointed my playing status remains in limbo," Smith said. "Irreparable harm has already been levied on me and the players. We have been unfairly labeled and punished by this process. While we believe in mediation and settlement, the NFL has never expressed a genuine interest in a mediation process that would provide the players with a fair venue that could be trusted, nor made a settlement offer for us to professionally consider, at any time. That is why we have asked the court for just relief. It is my sincere hope to have this matter resolved as quickly as possible so I may return to my job, teammates and fans, as we take the field against the Redskins."When Berrigan ordered the players and the union to address her concerns about conflicts of interest regarding the players' legal representation, she also ordered the NFL to respond by Thursday to the union's request for a temporary restraining order on behalf of the three players it represents in the case.The league complied, stating that it opposes the NFLPA's TRO request for the same reason it opposed a similar request by Vilma.Those reasons included NFL arguments that Berrigan did not have jurisdiction over the matter because the league's labor agreement was collectively bargained. NFL attorneys also have argued that granting a restraining order would motivate more players to bring similar frivolous requests to the courts in an effort to delay punishment in subsequent disciplinary matters.
With the MLB trade deadline only two weeks away, Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo expects the team to be more focused on acquiring players than trading away any - and that includes third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose contract expires at the end of season.
"Obviously, we’re always listening and we’re always talking to people," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "But I don’t anticipate moving Anthony Rendon, no."
Rendon's contract extension of $18.8 million going into the 2018 season will expire at the end of this season, and while Rizzo and the Nationals have made it clear they are actively working to re-sign him, a deal has yet to be made.
Rendon's agent Scott Boras told NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas during the All-Star Break that he and the [Nationals team owners] Lerners have "always worked out things -- usually."
“There are times that they make decisions and we make decisions, and I think they’ve been very good decisions for all parties involved," Boras added at the time. "When they sit down and look at where their franchise is going, that’s a direction they have to give us. Obviously, they have to make those decisions. Rendon is a superstar and that is a major decision in their franchise. I don’t ask. I just go and prepare for our meetings and we talk and kind of listen to what they tell us they want to do. It’s really in their corner as to how we go from there.”
Rizzo told the Junkies that the Nationals plan to keep Rendon, though acknowledged the calls for him from other teams do keep coming in.
‘’[An offer] would have to be something that wouldn’t make sense for us to turn down and probably wouldn’t make sense for them to acquire," Rizzo said on trading Rendon.
Rizzo said the Nationals' front office is prepared to add some players to the roster.
"We’ve been most recently in acquire mode, because, you know, we’ve had the chance to win the last eight seasons and I think we're in that mode again," Rizzo said.
Though, of course, he wouldn't actually rule out making any trades that send some players out of DC.
"We're an aggressive front office, we're an aggressive ownership group, and if there’s a deal to be made that would help us prepare for meaningful games in September and beyond, we’ve shown in the past that we’re capable of doing that and we're not afraid to make a trade," he said.
The Nationals take on the Orioles for game 2 of the Battle of the Beltways Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.
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The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.
But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.
With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.
The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at one of the biggest questions on the team’s defense, can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role?
When the Caps acquired Jensen at the trade deadline and immediately re-signed him for four years, the implication was clear. Suddenly, Matt Niskanen and his $5.75 million cap hit became expendable.
With the team expected to be hard up against the salary cap in the offseason, the salary would need to be moved. Sure enough, Niskanen was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas.
Gudas is a good pick up for the third-pair, but this trade is a move that only makes sense if you have a top-four defenseman to replace Niskanen on the right. Gudas, Jensen and John Carlson’s are the team’s three right-handed shots. Carlson is obviously cemented on the top pairing and Gudas is headed to the third. That leaves Jensen as the only real option on the second pair. After seeing him struggle since coming to Washington at the trade deadline, it is fair to be a little worried.
Jensen showed last season that he can be a top-four defenseman in the NHL while with the Detroit Red Wings. He was a healthy scratch on opening night, but he made sure he was not scratched again by the Red Wings and averaged 20:48 of ice-time over 60 games before he was traded.
Sure, a lack of defensive depth helped, but Jensen’s play was what earned him that spot more than anything else and it is why Washington traded for him and re-signed him before he ever played a game for the Caps.
But when he got to Washington, Jensen started struggling. An in-season trade can often be difficult with players forced to adjust to a new team and new system. Jensen certainly will not be the last trade deadline acquisition to struggle to make that transition.
“I think there was a period of adjustment where coaches were asking him to play a different system in a different way than he’s played,” Brian MacLellan said at the team’s breakdown day. “The good games were really good, I thought. And the down games were him trying to figure out system stuff and individual stuff that they were wanting him to do on the ice.”
In Detroit, defensemen do not shift too much from side to side. The blueliners have their side and they skate straight up and down the ice. In Washington, however, defensemen are constantly switching sides during play and you are expected to cover whatever side you are on when the puck begins moving back down towards the defensive zone.
Jensen is a right-shot defenseman and was not at all comfortable playing on the left. That is not uncommon. There are a lot more left-shot defensemen than righties and often if you see a player playing his off-side, it is a lefty playing on the right. Righties just are not expected to play on the left all that often because there are fewer of them. For Jensen, even having to shift over to the left within a play proved difficult.
Carolina Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele used this to his advantage in a regular season game against Washington in which he turned Jensen inside-out.
WARREN FOEGELE. WHOA. He dances around Jensen for a highlight reel goal to make it 2-1 Hurricanes over the Capitals in the second period. pic.twitter.com/HkAg3xHpRU— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 29, 2019
When you watch closely, this play is less about the fancy stickwork of Foegele and more about a defenseman who does not look comfortable at all playing on the left.
It is important to clarify what we are talking about here. The Caps are not asking Jensen to be a left defenseman. That would not be a great situation and there would be no guarantee he would ever get to the point where he could be a top-four defenseman playing on his off-side. The team’s system simply allows for defensemen to cycle from side-to-side situationally. When the opposition transitions down the ice, you may not have the opportunity to switch back to your original side and are instead expected to defend that transition from whichever side you are on. This would largely apply to quick transitions. Adjusting to that is not at all impossible and Jensen’s ability to do so will be absolutely critical for the team’s success next season.
The Niskanen trade certainly looks like a shrewd move by MacLellan as it not only saved the team money, but also upgraded the bottom pair. The move only makes sense, however, if and only if it did not leave the team with a hole in the top-four. In that case, the team will have gotten worse defensively, not better.
With a full offseason and training camp to prepare, Jensen should look far more comfortable within the system. As last season’s camp with Detroit showed, he can be prone to slow starts, but we should know by Thanksgiving if Jensen is starting to feel at home with Washington or if the defense is in serious trouble.
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