Nationals

NFL runners sign big-money deals

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NFL runners sign big-money deals

From Comcast SportsNet
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice happily shed his franchise tag Monday after reaching agreement with the Baltimore Ravens on a new five-year contract worth roughly 40 million. The Ravens and Rice, their most versatile offensive weapon, went down to the 4 p.m. deadline before hammering out the deal. Had Rice not signed, he would have played the 2012 season under the 7.7 million franchise tag tender. Instead, he will get 17 million this year and 8 million in 2013. Baltimore has made the playoffs in each of Rice's four seasons, twice advancing to the AFC title game. He earned his second Pro Bowl invite last year after leading the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage, including a career-high 1,364 yards rushing. He also scored a career-best 15 touchdowns. Since being drafted out of Rutgers in the second round of the 2008 draft, Rice leads the NFL in receptions and yards receiving by a running back. He's had 250 catches for 2,235 yards during that span. Off the field, he's been associated with several charitable organizations. Quite simply, the Ravens weren't about to let him get away "This is another example of (owner) Steve Bisciotti's commitment to the team and to our fans to retain our core players," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Ray has been an integral part of us earning the playoffs in each of his four seasons. His production on the field speaks for itself, and his leadership in the locker room is outstanding. "I should say something about his community efforts; I think they are almost unmatched by any player in the NFL," Newsome said. "You'd have a hard time finding a player who does more or is as serious about helping others as Ray is. He is one of those players you can proudly say, He's on our team.' " As Baltimore's franchise player, Rice would not have been required to report at the start of training camp. The Ravens will hold their first full squad workout July 26, and Rice is expected to attend. In 61 career games, he ranks second in franchise history in yards rushing (4,377) and yards from scrimmage (6,612). Veteran running back Ricky Williams, who played behind Rice in 2011 and retired during the offseason, was impressed with Rice's talent and passion for the game. "He's got all the God-given ability, but he also works hard," Williams said late last year. "It's rare to find that combination. In my mind, there's only one way to have success, and that's to work hard and have a little bit of talent. He's got both."

Forte signs four-year deal
CHICAGO (AP) -- Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears have agreed to a four-year contract, settling the biggest issue hanging over the team. The Bears confirmed the deal before Monday's deadline. Had the sides not reached an agreement, Forte would have had to play next season for 7.74 million after being hit with the franchise player tag. Or he could have held out. The Bears did not release terms and agent Adisa Bakari did not return calls seeking comment. The Chicago Sun-Times, citing an unidentified source, reported the deal is worth 32 million with more than 18 million guaranteed. With Forte signed, the Bears will have all their key pieces in place when training camp starts next week. "I'm proud to be a Chicago Bear and excited to be here for another four years," Forte said in a statement released by the Bears. "I'd like to thank my family, my agent and the Chicago Bears. I've been working hard this offseason and am looking forward to joining my teammates at training camp next week. I'm glad the business part is done and we can all turn our attention to football and our goal of winning a championship." Forte expressed optimism that a deal would get done in an interview with ESPN last week, and it happened just in time. It ended a long process that began last year when he sought a multiyear extension. Negotiations with then-general manager Jerry Angelo went nowhere, but Forte decided not to hold out. He wound up having his best season. Forte made the Pro Bowl for the first time, finishing with 1,487 yards from scrimmage and 997 rushing. He missed the last four games after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee early in a loss to Kansas City on Dec. 4. By then, the Bears were in the middle of a free fall after losing quarterback Jay Cutler to a broken right thumb. They wound up finishing 8-8 after a 7-3 start and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years after reaching the NFC title game the previous year. The late plunge cost Angelo his job, setting in motion an active offseason. Phil Emery was hired as GM and quickly went to work reshaping the roster. He acquired Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall from Miami, giving Cutler a go-to target for the first time since he arrived from Denver. Even better, it's someone he knows well. Cutler and Marshall put up big numbers when they teamed with the Broncos, particularly in 2008. The Bears also filled a need at backup quarterback by bringing in Jason Campbell and signing running back Michael Bush, giving them depth at the position and insurance. That didn't sit well with Forte, who vented on Twitter that management was "undervaluing" him and that he was "disrespected." Getting him locked in is an important step for a team that's eyeing a big run. Forte was leading the league in yards from scrimmage before he was injured last season, and he ranks sixth in the league in that category since the Bears drafted him in 2008. He is the only player in NFL history with at least 900 yards rushing and 400 receiving in each of his first four seasons. "We're very pleased that we were able to come to terms on a four-year extension with Matt," Emery said. "We're excited to get him on the field and continue working toward our goal of winning a championship." The Bears believe they have the talent to compete with Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North and make a playoff run. Even so, there are some lingering questions. It remains to be seen if the blockers can hold their ground, although the Bears believe the offensive line will be put in more of a position to succeed with Mike Tice replacing the departed Mike Martz as coordinator. The defensive line also is a question mark. The Bears drafted Shea McClellin with the 19th pick, hoping he can help take some of the load off Julius Peppers after Chicago tied for 19th in the league with 33 sacks. Age could also be an issue on defense, with Briggs, Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman all in their 30s. Then again, Briggs just made his seventh straight Pro Bowl. Urlacher got picked for the eighth time last season, and Tillman made it for the first time.

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

It’s no secret that the Nationals bullpen is one of the weakest units in baseball this season. Fans in the nation’s capital have spent two months watching relievers cough up leads and put games out of reach, and the numbers speak for themselves. 

Washington’s team ERA among relievers is an unsightly 7.09 entering Memorial Day Weekend, nearly a full run higher than the 29th-ranked Orioles. As a unit, they’ve pitched fewer innings than any other bullpen, yet have allowed the second-most earned runs.

No one has been immune. Sean Doolittle, by far the best option in 2019, has seen his ERA balloon to 3.68. Justin Miller is the only other regular reliever with an ERA below 5, and he’s at 4.02.

It’s caused much consternation in the fanbase, and for good reason. Where did the Nationals go wrong in building this bullpen? What could they have done differently?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at four relievers who are experiencing various levels of success while no longer in Washington.

Felipe Vazquez

Vazquez has been lights out in Pittsburgh in 2019. He ranks top-10 among relievers in WAR (0.9) and top-12 in ERA (1.25). He holds the sixth-best K/9 (14.54) and is tied for the fourth-most saves in baseball with 13.

Every one of those numbers would lead the Nationals with ease. At 27, Vazquez has turned into one of the elite relievers in the sport. He’s been terrific all three years with the Pirates, and 2019 looks like his best season yet.

Of course, he wasn’t ready to be this guy in 2016 when the Nationals traded him for Mark Melancon. It was a necessary trade at the time, and one that worked out well in a vacuum. Melancon pitched well in Washington and didn’t allow a run in the 2016 postseason.

Right now, the Nats could really use a Felipe Vazquez, but the logic behind their trade at the time was sound.

Blake Treinen

Treinen has already allowed as many earned runs in 2019 (seven) as he did in all of 2018. It’s not a knock on his performance this season, where his 2.59 ERA would still lead the Nationals, but a recognition of just how dominant he was in 2018.

In the modern era of Major League Baseball, it’s just about impossible for a reliever to win the Cy Young. Even with just 80 innings pitched last year, Treinen finished sixth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting. 

That’s right. He was so good, he got down-ballot votes for MVP. It was a sensational year.

His usually-elite ground ball rate is down this season, which has led to some regression, but it’s still notable he put together a 2018 season that far outshines any individual season the Nats have seen.

It was clear in 2017 he wasn’t capable of performing as the team’s closer, eventually earning a demotion before being traded to Oakland.

Despite his enormous success in the years since the trade, it’s hard to question the Nationals here. Not only did it seem apparent Treinen wasn’t going to figure things out in D.C., but the trade brought back Sean Doolittle, the lone consistently great reliever the Nats have had in recent years.

Brandon Kintzler

Kintzler pitched parts of two seasons in Washington, but ultimately spent exactly one year with the Nationals. In that year, he tossed 68.2 innings while striking out 43 batters and walking 18.

His ERA with the Nationals was 3.54, too high for a high-leverage reliever. He struggled mightily in 2018 after being traded to the Cubs, but has settled down this season to the tune of a 2.96 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 24 innings.

As is the case for just about any halfway-decent reliever, the current Nationals bullpen would benefit from having him, but this isn’t nearly the loss Treinen or Vasquez were.

Shawn Kelley

Kelley was up-and-down in his time with the Nationals. His ERA was below three in 2016 and 2018, but the 2017 season was marred with injuries, inconsistency, and a tendency to allow home runs (a whopping 12 in just 26 innings).

Of course, Kelley was pitching better in 2018, but it wasn’t performance that led to his departure. 

In a blowout Nationals 25-4 victory over the Mets in July 2018, Kelley allowed three earned runs, including a home run. After the home run, he slammed his glove on the ground while staring at the Nats dugout.

The next day, he was designated for assignment as a result of the outburst and never pitched for the Nationals again, traded away a few days later. 

In his 33.2 innings since the trade, Kelley has been terrific. He posted a 2.16 ERA with the Athletics in 2018 and currently holds a 1.59 ERA in 2019 despite pitching his home games in Texas. He’s even filled in at closer with the Rangers, recording five saves so far this year.

Though his removal wasn’t for performance issues like Kintzler's or to acquire proven closers like Treinen’s and Vasquez’s were, the loss of Kelley can be felt just as hard. As is the case with each of these relievers, Kelley’s numbers would lead the Nationals bullpen in just about every category.

For the most part, these moves made sense at the time, for one reason or another. But the Nationals have yet to adequately replace most of these arms, and the 2019 team is suffering as a result.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

Kick off your holiday weekend with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. One of the most obvious needs for the Ravens is help rushing the passer, and they're hoping to find some of that help on the interior in the form of free agent Gerald McCoy. The longtime Buccaneer DL visited Cleveland last week, but left town without agreeing to a contract.

Reportedly interested in playing for a contender, the former top-five pick is scheduled to visit the Ravens on Tuesday.

2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is still struggling to throw the ball, as he noted things aren't right yet when it comes to accuracy. Media members noticed the ball wobbling through the air on many throws, and Jackson told them he thinks his hand is too high on the ball. If he's going to successfully run Greg Roman's new offensive scheme, Jackson will eventually need to be able to hit his receivers in stride with greater regularity.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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