Capitals

Patriots star gets a shiny new deal

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Patriots star gets a shiny new deal

From Comcast SportsNetFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots gave Pro Bowl tight end Aaron Hernandez a new, five-year contract on Monday.The deal is worth 40 million, according to reports, and comes just months after the team locked up another All-Pro tight end, Rob Gronkowski, through 2019.Hernandez's deal with the Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32) will run through 2018, and his base salaries of 545,000 and 570,000 for the next two seasons, respectively, will remain intact.The 22-year-old former standout at the University of Florida wasn't available for comment during the team's player availability Monday. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick addressed the situation."We wouldn't have done it if we weren't happy with it," he said. "I'm glad it worked out."Hernandez had 910 yards receiving last season and seven touchdowns as the Patriots won the AFC before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. In two seasons, he has 124 catches, 1,473 yards and 13 scores. He's also carried the ball eight times for 92 yards.Hernandez is expected to sign the contract no later than Tuesday, and the Patriots will close the preseason at the Giants on Wednesday. After signing the deal, the tight end will donate 50,000 to the Myra Kraft Foundation, a charitable organization honoring the late wife of New England owner Bob Kraft.At 6-foot-1, and 245 pounds, Hernandez last season experienced a dramatic boost in production from his rookie campaign, often proving difficult to cover. He is expected to play an even wider role in the offense this season. The former fourth-round draft pick has frequently lined up at tight end, receiver and even running back during training camp.In last season's playoffs, Hernandez ripped off a 43-yard run during a victory over the Denver Broncos, and finished the game with five carries for 61 yards as well as four catches for 55 yards."Aaron's improved a lot. He's worked hard, he's improved a lot in all phases of the game -- the passing game, the running game, protection and his overall versatility. He's doing a good job for us," Belichick said. "He's a hard guy to cover. We've had a lot of trouble covering him defensively."Like the 23-year-old Gronkowski, Hernandez's rookie contract wasn't set to expire until after the 2013 season, but the talented tandem of tight ends will now remain in New England throughout their prime, forming perhaps the most productive pair in recent memory.After posting one of the greatest seasons ever for a tight end last year, when he recorded 90 receptions, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns, Gronkowski was rewarded with the richest deal for a tight end in NFL annals. He agreed in June to a six-year, 53 million extension.Hernandez's contract actually averages more the first four years than Gronkowski's deal and offers more in true guaranteed money. Gronkowski was promised 12 million up front and another 5 million if he was still on the roster in 2015."They're two different types of tight ends, Rob being the bigger body type. But they both are very good at what they do," New England tight end Daniel Fells said. "They push you to get better every single day. When you have two talented guys in your room, you want to try to raise the bar yourself, and it makes me get better."And what has he learned from them so far this preseason?"That I've got a lot of work to do," Fells joked.Hernandez's deal casts a larger shadow over the possibility of a long-term contract for Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker. After a stellar season in which he led the league with 122 receptions -- 22 more than the next highest total -- Welker, who finished with 1,569 yards, was unable to come to terms on an extension this offseason. Instead, he signed a 9.5 million franchise tender in May."It's good for him. Definitely happy for him," Welker said of Hernandez. "He's a great player and (has) done a lot of great things for us. (It's) good to have him here."Welker, 31, was asked to compare his situation to that of Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, another productive fan favorite vying for a long-term extension, but who instead signed a one-year deal prior to this season."I think it's a little bit different with the sports and everything and how everything comes together," Welker said. "But at the same time, I'm under contract and I played out my last deal and I'll play out this one and we'll see where we're at."Regardless of his future with the Patriots, Welker should once again benefit from lining up beside Hernandez and Gronkowski."You can do different things," he said. "You can line up in some bigger people-type sets and in some more spread out-type sets. And with the way they can do different things, I think it really helps us in running and passing the ball."

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Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are the stars aligning for another Capitals Cup run?

Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are the stars aligning for another Capitals Cup run?

Let’s get one thing straight: There are no easy roads to a Stanley Cup. Capitals fans know that better than most after seeing their team dominate the regular season just to get upset in the first or second round of the playoffs for several years. Having said that, seeing Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Winnipeg all lose in the first round, it seems like things are setting up very nicely for Washington.

The Caps should have one thing and one thing only on their minds on Monday and that is the Carolina Hurricanes. Washington still needs one more win to advance and they should not catch themselves looking ahead to possible future matchups.

But we can look ahead.

The top seeds in both conferences have been eliminated in the first round for the first time. Long-time nemesis Pittsburgh is out. Either Boston or Toronto will soon be joining them plus there is a possibility that both Nashville and San Jose could still lose as well.

This is not meant to discount any of the teams the Caps could still play. Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders swept the Penguins and earned a spot in the second round. He has proven his worth as a coach and his team is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to score on, let alone beat. The Columbus Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead on Washington last season and got better this year as they showed Tampa Bay with a four-game sweep. Whoever comes out of the West no doubt will be a great team as well.

But if you were to draw up the best-case scenario for the Caps through the first round, having Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Winnipeg all lose would likely be part of that scenario.

The Cup is truly up for grabs. This is true every year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it is especially true this year. If the Hurricanes find a way to win Game 6 and shock the Caps in Game 7, we are going to look back at this season as a missed opportunity considering the number of contenders ousted in the first round.

SEE THIS WEEK’S STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.

  • The Caps are, at their core, a physical team. That is how they ultimately find success and they went away from that earlier in the series, especially in Games 3 and 4. When they reestablished it in Game 5, they blew the Hurricanes away. Any team can play well for one game. Any team can respond after losing a really good player for one game. The real test is to see how they play in Raleigh where they were beaten so thoroughly and the offense was held to only a single power play goal and zero 5-on-5 production.
  • If you want to know why physical play still matters in today’s NHL, watch Brett Connolly’s Game 5 goal again. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton is in a footrace with Alex Ovechkin to get the puck behind Carolina’s net and he completely gives up on the play. He does not go into the boards and put himself in a position to get checked by Ovechkin. It looked like he thought the play would be called icing, but if you’re not 100-percent sure you need to get to that puck even if it means taking a hit. Hamilton looked like he wanted no part of that which allowed Ovechkin to get the puck and set up a goal.
  • The Caps may finally have settled on defensive pairings. The defense has been a work in progress ever since Michal Kempny’s injury, but Todd Reirden may have finally found three pairs he can stick with. After making his playoff debut in Game 4, Jonas Siegenthaler played on the top defensive pair with John Carlson on Saturday. We have seen Reirden mix and match his defensive pairs throughout games, but things stuck in Game 5 as Siegenthaler and Carlson played 11:19 together at 5-on-5. The most Carlson played with any other defenseman at 5-on-5 during the game was 51 seconds. I asked Reirden afterward if he felt he had found his top defensive pair and he remained non-committal saying he still would mix and match as needed depending on the situation, but the numbers speak for themselves. Siegenthaler is a defensively responsible player, he has not looked rattled at all by the forecheck and, perhaps most importantly, he’s a left-handed shot allowing Carlson to play on his natural right side. I like the look of this pair a lot.
  • Nick Jensen has had a rough series. In fact, it looks like it has been a rough transition from Detroit to Washington since he was acquired. That’s OK. Sometimes players take time to adjust to a new team and a new system, but because of that, it benefits the Caps more to have him play on the third pair than the top, especially if moving him up means playing with Carlson on the left. That’s a lot to ask. With Siegenthaler up top, Jensen moved back down to the third pair on Saturday and it was easily his best game of the series. Pairing him with Brooks Orpik allows Jensen to step more into the offense, an area of the game in which his skills are greatly underrated. Jensen looked good on both ends of the ice in Game 5 and was particularly strong on the penalty kill. He can be a top-four defenseman, but I am not sure he is ready for that type of role in Washington yet. He is a definite asset on the third pair, however, and he showed that on Saturday.

The Caps are one win away from advancing to the second round. Here is where they stand among the other playoff teams in this week’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

We've made in to NFL draft week. Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The 2019 NFL Draft is Thursday night in Nashville, Tn. While the chances of pundits predicting each team's first-round pick accurately is about the same as picking the Powerball numbers, we can't seem to stop ourselves from looking at them. Here's a look at 20 prospects mocked to the Ravens at No. 22, courtesy of the Ravens' website.  


2. One of the many exciting parts of the NFL draft is waiting to hear which organizations trade forward or backwards to acquire a pick. Just last year, the Ravens traded back from their No. 16 pick several times to select Hayden Hurst at No. 25, before trading back into the first-round to pick Lamar Jackson at No. 32. But which trade in Ravens history was the most impactful? ESPN's Jamison Hensley selected the Ravens' trade for running back Jamal Lewis.


"In 1999, the Ravens traded their second-round pick (No. 43) for Atlanta's first-round pick in 2000, which they used to land running back Jamal Lewis," Hensley wrote. "The Falcons selected tight end Reggie Kelly, and the Ravens got what turned into the No. 5 overall pick in the 2000 draft. Baltimore drafted Lewis, who carried the offense during the team's 2000 Super Bowl championship season and recorded the NFL's fifth 2,000-yard season in 2003."


3. As Marlon Humphrey enters his third year in the league, the cornerback will not only be expected to take on a leadership role within the Ravens' new look defense, but top his impressive sophomore season. In 2018, Humphrey contested 35% of targets thrown into his coverage marking the second-best rate in all the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. 


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

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

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.

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