Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue doubles down on trade demand amid franchise tag standoff

For weeks, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has took to social media to vent about not wanting to play for the Jaguars this upcoming season.

On Tuesday, Ngakoue expressed his desire to play elsewhere on national television.

He appeared as a special guest on ESPN’s NFL Live, saying the Jaguars had an opportunity to extend him a long-term contract last offseason but talks broke off and now it’s time to move on.

″Everything comes to an end and it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter of my career,″ Ngakoue said. ″I am forever thankful what Jacksonville has brought to me and my family, but it’s time to move on.″

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Ngakoue also took another shot at the franchise on the show when he said he was a top five defensive end but due to playing in Jacksonville he has not been able to be seen enough around the country because the Jaguars play so few prime time games.

″If I end up landing on a team that’s prime time, hopefully I can show the world what I can do,″ Ngakoue said.

Ngakoue, 25, has recorded 37 1/2 sacks in four seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 201. He stated earlier this offseason that he wanted to start anew with a different team, but the Jaguars subsequently issued him the franchise tag.

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Untold tales of the Iron Man who saved baseball

  • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/
  • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
  • Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

As baseball’s work stoppage lingered into the spring of 1995 and camps opened amid a loose plan for the teams to use replacement players, a small group of Baltimore fans gathered near the parking lot entrance to the Orioles’ facility, bathed in orange T-shirts and caps. They clutched baseballs, bats and file folders with cards.

“Who are you guys waiting for?” I asked, walking past, at the outset of the first of two years covering the Orioles for the Baltimore Sun.

“Cal,” said one.

I stopped for what I thought might be a public service for this clan huddled under a rising, hot Florida sun. Cal Ripken Jr. won’t be coming today, I said. The players are on strike, and no resolution is imminent. Cal is probably back in Maryland.

They responded with polite smiles but never moved, and were still there when I walked out at day’s end, still holding their unsigned memorabilia. That resolute ardor for the Orioles’ shortstop grew exponentially as the labor problems were settled, the players went back to work and Cal’s consecutive-games streak continued. As union leaders Tom Glavine and David Cone would attest, that was a difficult year for the players generally, as frustrated fans expressed their anger over the interruption of baseball, the loss of the 1994 postseason and World Series.

But for Cal, there was only love and respect. The notion that the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa saved the sport of baseball is a popular narrative I’ve never believed, having witnessed the day-to-day response to Ripken around the country three years earlier.

Cal’s 1995 march on Lou Gehrig’s record, which culminated at Camden Yards in games 2,130 and 2,131 on Sept. 5 and 6, was exactly what the sport needed as it returned, and he was exactly the right person to provide it, because his consecutive-games streak was built upon an ethic fans wanted to see. He rightly referred to the fans’ reaction to him as a celebration of baseball, and that occurred day after day when Cal was on the field, out in the open.

Here are some of the other bits of the summer of 2,131 that weren’t always in plain sight for fans.

1. His autograph sessions were legendary.

You might have heard stories about Cal turning into a one-man autograph machine that year, and assumed such tales are exaggerated, or apocryphal, or myths borne through the fog of time.

Well, the stories are true.

Like most players, Cal stopped to sign for fans gathered along the foul lines in the two-hour window before games, around batting practice, and from time to time, I’d see him stopped to sign for fans who waited near the ramp to where he parked inside Camden Yards.

But in the midst of the ’95 season, he began to hold some postgame, late-night autograph sessions, home and road. After games, he’d retreat to the clubhouse for a quick bite to eat, and then take a seat next to the Orioles’ dugout — in my mind’s eye, I can still see him with a towel draped over his shoulder — as one single-file line snaked around the ballpark, extending to the left-field corner. And he would sign for everybody who took the time to wait, putting his name on baseballs, programs, bats, tickets, scraps of paper.

“It really began due to a simple surplus of energy, postgame,” said John Maroon, who led the Orioles’ media relations department. “He was pretty wound up after the game and he was getting a lot of requests from fans for signatures, so it started fairly generically and then became a thing. People started to clamor for it, and ask about it.”

I can’t remember actually timing those sessions, but they’d last more than an hour, easy. I’d return to the press box from the clubhouse, rewrite a game story, refresh the notebook — and as I packed up my stuff, he’d still be signing.

The peak of his autograph work that summer, however, occurred at the All-Star Game festivities, in the middle of a deadly heat wave. Arlington, Texas, was the site of the event that year, and it was so hot, more than 100 degrees, that a lot of players understandably retreated into the air conditioning after they completed their round of batting practice. Cal remained outside to sign … and sign … and sign … moving along the foul lines.

The late, great Gerry Fraley covered the Rangers at that time for the Dallas Morning News, and no writer had a more acerbic sense of humor. He was difficult to impress. But even Gerry stopped me to remark on Cal’s effort to connect with fans.

2. Teammates believed he possessed a special power of recovery.

I can recall Roger Clemens drilling Brady Anderson in the middle of the back with a fastball, and the next day, most of Brady’s back was covered with a massive bruise. Players get hurt, they bleed, they bruise.

But Cal’s injuries just seemed to disappear. Former Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald inhabited the locker next to Ripken’s and in a recent interview, he told a story of seeing Cal get hit by a pitch — and when Ben asked Cal to see the resulting damage, there was nothing. A lot of teammates had stories like that, from the 15-plus straight seasons he played without missing a game.

3. Pitchers on other teams were seemingly scared to death by the prospect of injuring him.

The consecutive-games record was odd because no matter how effectively Ripken played, you knew well in advance the exact date he would pass Gehrig’s milestone — assuming he was able to stay healthy. One errant pitch had the potential to change that, of course, and I remember there being some angst when Cal was hit a couple of times early in the season — in the fourth game of the season, and again two weeks later. This was not unusual: During the course of his career, he’d get hit anywhere from four to seven times a year.

Mike Flanagan, a coach for the Orioles that season, was the first to notice how opposing pitchers seemingly shied away from throwing inside to Cal.

In fact, he was not hit by a pitch in Baltimore’s last 130 games. Everybody in baseball wanted to see him set that record.

4. The record-setting game was such a celebrated event that President Bill Clinton attended.

Clinton was in the ESPN booth when Cal hit his home run — of course he homered in No. 2,130 and No. 2,131 — and overpowered Chris Berman on the microphone, no small feat.

5. Cal fell into a deep slump after he broke Gehrig’s record, which wasn’t a surprise, given the enormous amount of energy expended in the run-up to the big day, and all of the stuff happening for games 2,130 and 2,131. Over the next 13 games, Cal went 3-for-44 with no extra-base hits.

On a Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium on Sept. 20, he was hitless in three at-bats. The press box was situated very high behind home plate in that old ballpark, and as I wrote my story after that particular game, I glanced to the field — and saw someone walking toward home plate, carrying a bucket of balls and a batting tee, with a bat wedged in his armpit.

It was Cal, going to work, alone.

He whacked baseballs into the empty outfield before accepting the penance of retrieving them — with help from a teammate or two who emerged from the clubhouse to join him — and then repeated the drill.

He was baseball’s most powerful player, its most credible figure, owner of the year’s most celebrated record, and in an empty park following a meaningless game for a team out of contention, he looked for a fix to his slump.

And he got three hits the next day.

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Tom Brady reveals biggest reason for leaving Patriots to join Buccaneers

Tom Brady’s surprising decision to leave the New England Patriots last month for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was rooted in a need to seek out new challenges, the 42-year-old quarterback wrote in an essay on Monday.

Brady spent 20 seasons with the Patriots, winning an NFL record six Super Bowls to become arguably the best to ever play the position.

But despite that success, he said he wanted to “do things that have never been done in my sport”.

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“Changes and challenges are part of life,” Brady wrote in a heartfelt, 2,600-word piece in the Players’ Tribune.

“They’re part of athletes’ lives. They’re supposed to happen. They need to happen sometimes.

The Northern California native reflected on how he thought he may not even get drafted to the NFL in 2000 before being selected in the sixth round by the Patriots.

The change of coast was disorienting to then 22-year-old but he made his presence count and endeared himself to the passionate Patriots fan base that showered him with cheers of “Tomm-eeee! Tomm-eeee!” from the stands in Foxborough.

“Gillette Stadium holds around 70,000 people, and I’ve never not played in a sold-out stadium during my career as a Patriot. How fortunate am I?”

He also praised Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family, the coaches and the organization, putting to rest rumors that bad blood between the parties is what led to the split.

He said he was motivated to deliver for his new team packed with young talent.

“They’ve welcomed me as one of their own. They want to listen to what I have to say,” he said.

“I’m excited to be embraced fully for what I can bring to the Bucs. In turn I’m ready to embrace fully a team that is confident in what I do — and what I bring — and is willing to go on this ride with me.”

Brady said his body feels great and that he is already in mid-season form.

“Physically, I’m as capable of doing my job as I’ve ever been. Now I want to see what more I can do,” he said.

“I want to see how great I can be.”


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Tigers legendary outfielder Al Kaline dies at 85

Al Kaline, a Hall of Famer who played all 22 years of his career in Detroit, earning the nickname “Mr. Tiger,”  died on Monday, a team official confirmed to ESPN.  He was 85.

Kaline, an 18-time All-Star and a 10-time Gold Glove winner in right field, retired shortly after recording his 3,000 hit in 1974 and joined the Tigers broadcasting team. He continued to work for the Tigers after his retirement from the booth in 2002.

He became the first Tiger to have his number retired, with the “Six” by which he was known in the clubhouse going up on the walls in 1980. He was also elected to the Hall of Fame that year, his first on the ballot.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Kaline joined the Tigers right out of high school, making his major-league debut in 1953. By 1955, he had become the youngest player ever to win the American League batting title and finished second to Yogi Berra in voting for the AL MVP.

Like many players of his era, Kaline worked in the off-season after getting into the majors, as a salesman in a Baltimore sporting goods –  even after he won the batting title in 1955.

“I was a terrible salesman,” Kaline said. “Most of the time, I was down in the basement practicing my swing.”

Kaline made his lone appearance in a World Series in 1968, on the Tigers team led by pitchers Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich. Kaline had been sidelined for part of the season with a broken arm, and when he returned he was used mostly as a pinch-hitter or first baseman because the outfield trio of Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup was playing well.

When the Tigers clinched the penant, Kaline went to manager Mayo Smith and told him that he didn’t deserve to start. Smith ignored him and played Kaline, who  he batted .379, hit two home runs and drove in eight as the Tigers beat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

 Kaline finished his career  3,007 hits, 399 home runs and a .297 career batting average.

On his 80th birthday, he said “To this day,  I can’t believe the life I’ve had. I wanted to be a baseball player – and do the one thing I was good at. “Even now, I love it so much.”

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NFL to hold ‘fully virtual draft’ with coaches, GMs forced to work from home

The NFL draft still is set to take place as scheduled later this month, but the annual event will feature some significant changes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo Monday telling teams that the draft will be "fully virtual," with coaches, general managers and other team personnel operating separately from their own homes.

The league instructed teams in March to shut down their facilities but previously kept open the possibility that organizations might be able to have employees in the same place together, so long as they followed the Center for Disease Control guidelines on social distancing.

"We have made this decision for several reasons," Goodell said in Monday's statement. "All Clubs will not have access to their facilities, which is contrary to the fundamental equity principle that all clubs operate in a consistent and fair way. Moreover, we want all NFL personnel to comply with government directives and to model safe and appropriate health practices. … And after consulting with medical advisors, we cannot identify an alternative that is preferable from a medical or public health perspective, given the varying needs of clubs, the need properly to screen participants, and the unique risk factors that individual club employees may face."

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The mandate will force changes for the New Orleans Saints, who planned to have team personnel gather at Dixie Brewery. Saints coach Sean Payton, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 but said he had fully recovered, told USA TODAY Sports last week that the setup would be safe, with the team adhering to social distancing guidelines and taking temperatures prior to each day.

Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.

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Russell Wilson asks Jadeveon Clowney to return to Seahawks: ‘I need you homie’

Russell Wilson must be sleepless in Seattle awaiting Jadeveon Clowney’s free agency decision.

The Seahawks quarterback has pleaded for the three-time Pro Bowler to return to Seattle on more than one occasion, most recently on Thursday while answering fans’ questions on his Instagram page. One such question asked if he could “talk some sense” into Clowney.

His response was equal parts endearing and hilarious:

“Clowney come back. If you are listening bro. We’ve got another Super Bowl to win, man. We need you. We need you to come back Clowney. Clowney, Clowney if you can hear me, please come back, bro. I need you homie.”

MORE: 10 best available free agents still unsigned in 2020

Clowney, a former No. 1 overall pick, surely has several options and suitors as he weighs his free agency options. Perhaps he could be swayed to return to the Seahawks if Wilson sang his plea to the tune of “Baby Come Back” by Player.

Clowney come back. If you are listening /
We’ve got another Super Bowl to win man /

We need you back. Clowney if you can hear me /
Please come back bro. I need you homie /

Clowney spent one season in Seattle after getting traded by the Texans in late August. He had a decent campaign in 2019, totaling 31 tackles (seven for loss), three sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception returned for touchdown. The Seahawks are thought to be in the running for Clowney’s services with an offer in the $13-15 million range, though it’s thought he is looking for a more lucrative deal.

There’s no telling what Clowney’s decision might be, but Wilson’s impassioned call has to be worth something.

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Colts owner Irsay donating 10,000 N95 masks

  • Previously worked at Indianapolis Star, covering the Indiana Pacers for nine seasons
  • Also covered Vikings for St. Paul Pioneer Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts owner Jim Irsay has obtained more than 10,000 N95 masks that he plans to have distributed to medical people, he announced on Twitter on Sunday.

Irsay is donating the masks to the Indiana State Department of Health so that they can be distributed to hospitals most in need. The N95’s are respiratory masks used to help protect doctors and nurses working with COVID-19 patients.

The masks have been in short supply for health care workers and first responders across the country as they continue to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Irsay’s announcement came days after New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sent his team plane to Shenzhen, China to pick up 1.2 million N95 which will be distributed in Massachusetts and New York.

Irsay also gave $1 million to the Gleaners Food Bank in Indianapolis last month to help in relief efforts. Irsay donated the money after he challenged Colts to raise $200,000 for relief boxes to help feed children out of school and families out of work because of the virus. It took fans less than 24 hours to reach the $200,000.

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NFL community reacts to passing of Tom Dempsey

Former NFL kicker Tom Dempsey, who held the league’s field goal record for 43 years, passed away Saturday night at the age of 73, the New Orleans Saints announced. His 63-yard boot from 1970 still stands as one of the sport’s ineligible images.

Many from the NFL community took to Twitter on Sunday to recognize the legendary kicker, who spent 11 seasons with the Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills.

Tom Dempsey’s historic 63-yard field goal on Nov. 8, 1970

The Eagles are saddened to learn of the passing of former kicker Tom Dempsey.

Rest In Peace, Tom Dempsey. NFL icon who stunned the sports world in 1970

Tom Dempsey was a fun teammate to be around. He was a jokester. My condolences to his family. RIP my friend

RIP to Triple OG #ForTheBrand, Tom Dempsey.

This 63 yard BOMB would go on to be the @NFL’s longest kick for decades (and DECADES)

The world lost a ball kickin stud.

Thoughts and prayers with the Dempsey family. Legend! ⚜️

RIP Tom Dempsey. ����������������

Met Tom Dempsey in 2012, while reporting on the longevity of the 63-yd FG record. We sat in his kitchen. His Alzheimer’s was already at the door, but damn, he remembered everything about that kick. RIP

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Jadeveon Clowney: Cleveland Browns interested in free agent defensive end

The Cleveland Browns have shown interest in free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, according to reports.

Per ESPN’s report, sources believe the Browns had been closer to a deal than other suitors for Clowney, who has not gotten the offers he has hoped for since his contract with the Seattle Seahawks expires at the end of last season.

Clowney, 27, was reportedly seeking more than $20m annually when he hit free agency in mid-March, but his market has developed slowly.

One factor could be his injury history – which includes microfracture surgery on his knee and core muscle surgery after the 2019 season – and the inability for teams to give players a physical in person during the coronavirus outbreak.

An ESPN report earlier this week said Clowney has dropped his asking price to $17-18m annually, with the Tennessee Titans showing interest and the Seahawks still hoping to re-sign him.

While not all salaries for free agent signings have been reported, the Browns have the most cap space in the NFL currently, per Spotrac’s projections, at $43.6m

They added defensive end Adrian Clayborn on a two-year, $5.8m deal, and they also have Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon at the position. Vernon, however, could be released for a $15.5m cap savings at any time.

Clowney tallied 31 tackles, three sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception in 13 games (11 starts) in his first season with Seattle in 2019.

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After Rams fans raise $2.3 million for charity, GM Kevin Demoff reads mean tweets about new logo

To coincide with their scheduled move into SoFi Stadium this year, the Los Angeles Rams rebranded their official team logo. 

Hopefully, the $2.25 billion stadium is better received by fans than the logo. 

With the team receiving so much online backlash from fans, the team executed a fundraising effort for coronavirus relief that resulted in general manager Kevin Demoff fulfilling his promise of reading the top mean tweets about the logo. Demoff tweeted out the video Friday night. 

Highlights of the burns include include: 

"If you're low on toilet paper, don't worry. You can get it now on NFL shop. #ramslogo" 

"Looks like some freshman college students in Graphic Design 101 made it in about 6 minutes." 

"The new LA Rams logo is the major way of social distancing." 

Rams fans, thanks to you we raised over $2.3m for ⁦@LAUnitedWay⁩ & ⁦@LAFoodBank⁩ during our ⁦@ABC7⁩ telethon. The deal was you raise $2m, I would read Mean Tweets about the logo. So here you go and thanks for helping Angelenos in need when it is needed the most!

In all, fans raised $2.3 million for United Way of L.A. and LA Regional Food Bank. 

“If some self-deprecating humor and people taking shots at me can raise money for someone who needs a meal, that’s the best thing I can do with my time,” Demoff told USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell last week. 

Hall of Famer and former Rams running back Eric Dickerson assured Rams fans that he was going to bring those concerns to the front office. 

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