Tough loss caps emotional day for Luck’s long-awaited return

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck waited impatiently in the Indianapolis Colts locker room Sunday.

As he contemplated his first regular-season start in more than 20 months, Luck reflected on his excruciatingly long journey back from shoulder surgery, the things he wanted to show in the opener and, of course, leading his team to victory.

Then realty hit. Indy’s first scoring chance ended when Luck’s first official pass was picked off.

He threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, but his chance to rally the Colts to a victory ended when the Bengals returned a fumble 83 yards for a touchdown in the final minute.

“It hurts that we didn’t win, it hurts that we didn’t win at home,” Luck said following a 34-23 loss to the Bengals. “It crushes all of us. But what are we going to do? We’re going to get back to work.”

The next chapter comes on the road where the Colts visit Washington and Super Bowl champion Philadelphia over the next two weeks.

If Luck continues to perform as he did Sunday and continues to improve as he did throughout the preseason, the Colts know they will be in good hands.

By most measures, Luck quickly returned to his pre-injury form following the interception.

He threw only four more errant passes in the first half while finishing 39 of 53 with 319 yards and two touchdowns. He staked the Colts to a 23-10 lead midway through the third quarter and nearly rallied them in the final four minutes with a 50-yard drive.

The rave reviews came from all corners — players, coaches, even opponents who didn’t need to review the game tape before making an assessment.

“You’re back,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he told Luck after the game.

New Colts coach Frank Reich was impressed with his first full-time look at his starting quarterback.

“I thought his accuracy was good, I thought he was poised, I mean it was fun seeing him four quarters,” Reich said. “I thought physically he looked good. He threw it well.”

And Luck followed the offensive script by hooking up with nine receivers during the game.

He also ran with urgency, managed to buy extra time, threw the ball away on occasion and continually bounced up after taking big hits including a helmet-to-helmet collision that led to the ejection of Bengals safety Shawn Williams in the first quarter.

Luck didn’t bother going to the sideline and explained he didn’t even consider the hit “much of a deal.”

Having him back on the field, though, was a huge deal for the Colts.

“Just having his leadership, the energy and the way he plays quarterback — it makes things easier for everyone else around him,” said Pro Bowl tight end Jack Doyle, whose fumble after he appeared to pick up a crucial first down at the Bengals 15-yard line in the final minute led to the clinching score.

But for Luck, this was not just another game.

He acknowledged the routine game-day drive to Lucas Oil Stadium helped put his mind at ease and that when he went through the billowing smoke for introductions, it felt as if he was playing youth football again.

He wasn’t thrown off by a question about whether a recently disclosed snowboarding accident during the 2016 offseason that may have extended his recovery period.

All he really wanted to do was finish his comeback with a win.

“Certain things felt normal,” he said. “And then some emotions crept up and sort of hit me before we went out to play. I’m so grateful and appreciative to be here.”

___

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NFL notebook: Brown, Steelers decide to part ways

NFL notebook: Brown, Steelers decide to part ways

NFL notebook: Brown, Steelers decide to part ways

After meeting with team president Art Rooney II on Tuesday, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown announced on Twitter that both sides have decided to part ways.

“Had a great meeting with Mr. Rooney today we discussed a lot of things and we cleared the air on several issues! We both agreed that it is time to move on but I’ll always have appreciation and gratitude towards the Rooney family and @steelers organization! #CallGod #Boomin,” Brown tweeted.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and vice president Omar Kahn joined the meeting.

“Everyone agreed the trade will be for the best,” a source told Schefter.

–All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is still mulling over whether to retire or return to the New England Patriots for a 10th NFL season, Rosenhaus said.

“He’s thinking it through, he’s giving it a lot of thought,” the agent said on ESPN’s “NFL Live,” adding, “I imagine a decision will happen in the next couple of weeks.”

NFL Network’s Mike Giardi tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “Gronkowski told multiple teammates/associates that he wanted to win another ring in the first few days following the Super Bowl.”

–The Kansas City Chiefs are likely to apply the franchise tag to linebacker Dee Ford, according to multiple reports.

The franchise tag period opened and will run until March 5. The linebacker tag for 2019 is expected to be $15.78 million, according to ProFootballTalk.

In the 2018 regular season, Ford played in 16 games and recorded career highs in sacks (13), tackles (55), tackles for loss (13) and QB hits (29). The 27-year-old told WFNZ in Charlotte on Monday that he wouldn’t object to playing under the franchise tag while a longer deal is worked out between the sides.

–The New York Jets are not picking up the options on three defensive players, the team officially announced.

Defensive tackle Mike Pennel, safety Terrence Brooks and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis will become free agents.

The Jets had a deadline of Tuesday to pay a $1 million bonus to Pennel, 27, who signed a three-year contract last March. Had the team paid the bonus, the final two years of the contract would have been activated.

–New York Giants defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo will interview Thursday for the Cincinnati Bengals’ vacant defensive coordinator position, according to multiple reports.

New Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Anarumo, 52, worked together on the Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff from 2012-15. Anarumo was interim defensive coordinator with the Dolphins in 2015 but otherwise he only has coached defensive backs during his seven seasons in the NFL.

He spent more than 20 years in college coaching prior to moving to the NFL.

–Tight end Scott Simonson re-signed with the Giants, the team announced.

The 26-year-old played in 16 games (four starts) in 2018 and caught nine passes for 86 yards and one touchdown in his first season with the Giants.

Simonson, who attended Assumption College, signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He then spent two seasons with Carolina before spending the 2017 season on injured reserve with a back injury.

–The Arizona Cardinals signed former Buffalo Bills tight end Charles Clay to a one-year contract.

The Bills released Clay last week, with the eight-year veteran heading into the final year of a five-year $38 million contract. His deal with Arizona is worth up to $3.25 million, including a $350,000 signing bonus, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

–The Atlanta Falcons agreed to a three-year extension with offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo, the team announced.

Sambrailo, 26, started the last four games of the 2018 season for Atlanta, playing both left guard and right tackle. His contract was set to expire next month. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

–The Jacksonville Jaguars hired 31-year NFL coaching veteran Dom Capers as a senior defensive assistant, the team announced.

Capers, who was the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator from 1999-2000, most recently served as the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator from 2009-17.

Capers, 68, has been the head coach of two NFL expansion teams — the Carolina Panthers (1995-98) and Houston Texans (2002-05). He was named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year in 1996.

–Field Level Media

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Bears clear cap space by releasing TE Sims

Bears clear cap space by releasing TE Sims

The Chicago Bears released veteran tight end Dion Sims

Bears clear cap space by releasing TE Sims

The Chicago Bears released veteran tight end Dion Sims on Thursday, clearing $6 million in cap space.

Sims, who turned 28 on Monday, will count only $333,334 in dead money for 2019, according to NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk.

Sims signed a three-year, $18 million deal with Chicago as a free agent in 2017.

Regarded more as a blocking tight end, he played in 22 games (18 starts) with the Bears in the past two seasons, catching 17 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown. His 2018 season was cut short because of concussion issues.

Sims, a fourth-round pick by Miami in 2013, caught 74 passes for 699 yards and eight touchdowns in four seasons with the Dolphins.

–Field Level Media

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Tiger to skip Honda Classic next week

Tiger to skip Honda Classic next week

Tiger to skip Honda Classic next week

Tiger Woods, looking for a break in his spring schedule, said Thursday he will skip next week’s hometown Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Woods on Thursday committed to playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla., on March 7-10, followed a week later by The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Woods teed off Thursday at the WGC-Mexico Championship in Mexico City, his second consecutive tournament. His choice for a week off came down to the Honda Classic or Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he has won eight times at Bay Hill.

“Unfortunately, due to the schedule this year, I cannot play all the events I want to,” he wrote in a tweet on Thursday morning.

The 14-time major winner, whose last grand slam tournament victory came at the 2008 U.S. Open, tied for 15th at last weekend’s Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. He also finished tied for 20th at the Jan. 23-26 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

Woods, 43, underwent spinal fusion surgery in April 2017.

“From here on out, it’s very complicated,” Woods said in a press conference Wednesday, talking about his schedule leading up to the April 11-14 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out; how much to play, how much is too much, how much is not enough.”

–Field Level Media

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Bengals hire Anarumo as new defensive coordinator

Bengals hire Anarumo as new defensive coordinator

The Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday

Bengals hire Anarumo as new defensive coordinator

The Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday named New York Giants secondary coach Lou Anarumo their new defensive coordinator.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor worked with Anarumo when both coached in Miami.

“I’ve always had great respect for Lou, and I know he is a tremendous defensive coach,” Taylor said in a statement. “He’s a great fit for what we want to build here in Cincinnati. Lou is an excellent communicator who the players will have great respect for, and he will get the best out of them.”

Anarumo, 52, spent last season coaching the Giants and was in Miami from 2012-17. Anarumo and Taylor were made interim coordinators after the dismissal of head coach Joe Philbin with 12 games to go in the 2015 season.

Prior to his stint in Miami, Anarumo was a college coach for 20 seasons, kicking off his coaching career as defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy from 1992-94.

It was an exhaustive search for the Bengals.

College defensive coordinators Jeff Hafley (Ohio State) and Todd Grantham (Florida) both turned down the opportunity. The New Orleans Saints wouldn’t allow their defensive backs coach, Aaron Glenn, to interview.

Veteran NFL head coaches and coordinators Dom Capers, Jack Del Rio and Vance Joseph were considered but weren’t believed to be a good fit for the job.

The Bengals also interviewed former Falcons coordinator Marquand Manuel and Rams assistant Aubrey Pleasant.

–Field Level Media

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Ex-Lions WR Johnson to open medical marijuana business

Ex-Lions WR Johnson to open medical marijuana business

Ex-Lions WR Johnson to open medical marijuana business

Former Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson Jr. was granted preliminary licensing approval Thursday to launch a medical marijuana business in Michigan, according to mlive.com.

Johnson plans to open a chain of provisioning centers in the state under the brand name “Primitive,” according to his attorney Michael D. Stein.

This was the second time Johnson had sought approval for a provisioning center license. The Medical Marijuana Licensing Board denied his request with former Lions teammate Robert Sims two months ago, citing Johnson’s traffic violations.

This time, the six-time Pro Bowl selection applied with his wife, Brittney Johnson. They plan to have a fully integrated business, controlling all aspects from growing to processing to distribution, Stein said.

Johnson, 33, retired from the NFL following his ninth season with Detroit in 2015. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions (731), receiving yards (11,619) and touchdown catches (83).

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Ravens sign CB Young to extension

Reports: Ravens sign CB Young to extension

Reports: Ravens sign CB Young to extension

The Baltimore Ravens have agreed to a three-year contract extension with cornerback Tavon Young, multiple outlets reported Thursday.

The team announced it would hold a press conference Friday with head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta.

Young, a 2016 fourth-round draft pick, turns 25 next month. He had one year remaining on his four-year rookie contract.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the extension is a three-year, $25.8 million deal with a max value of $29 million, making him the NFL’s highest-paid nickel back. NFL Network valued the extension at three years and $27 million.

After missing the 2017 season with a torn ACL, Young returned to play in 15 games (six starts) in 2018. He registered 37 tackles and one interception and recovered three fumbles, returning two of those recoveries for touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13 and the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 16.

He missed the Ravens’ playoff loss to the Chargers with a sports hernia and had surgery in January, but is expected to be healthy in time for Baltimore’s offseason program.

Young had 50 tackles and two picks as a 2016 rookie.

–Field Level Media

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Broncos QB Keenum ‘shocked’ by Flacco trade

Broncos QB Keenum 'shocked' by Flacco trade

Broncos QB Keenum ‘shocked’ by Flacco trade

Put Denver quarterback Case Keenum atop the list of people surprised by the Broncos’ trade for Joe Flacco earlier this month.

Keenum, who signed a two-year, $36 million deal with Denver in March 2018, appeared this week on The Sports Spectrum podcast with his wife, Kimberly.

“[GM John] Elway called me that morning and we had a great conversation, which he didn’t have to do, and I appreciated that,” Keenum said. “It was definitely a shock. It was a surprise for us. … For us, we’re definitely disappointed. It’s not something we wanted to happen. I know everybody is doing their job and John feels like it was a chance to help the Broncos out.”

The Broncos traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Baltimore Ravens for Flacco on Feb. 13.

Flacco, 34, played 11 seasons with the Ravens and led them to a win in Super Bowl XLVII. He has compiled a 96-67 regular-season record, passing for 38,245 yards and 212 touchdowns.

Keenum, 31, went 6-10 in his first season with the Broncos, passing for 3,890 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Keenum, who played for the Houston Texans, St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings before signing with Denver, said he doesn’t know what his future holds. He is reportedly guaranteed $7 million in 2019.

“It’s really open-ended right now,” Keenum said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. This is still very fresh. A lot of these emotions we’re talking about are still going on and still happening. Who knows what’s going to be in store? I don’t, for sure.”

–Field Level Media

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Report: NFL reinstates former Bills RB Williams

Report: NFL reinstates former Bills RB Williams

Report: NFL reinstates former Bills RB Williams

The NFL conditionally reinstated former Buffalo Bills running back Karlos Williams after a lengthy suspension for substance abuse, according to multiple reports.

Williams, 25, hasn’t played in the league since his rookie season in 2015.

The fifth-round draft pick from Florida State showed promise when he appeared in 11 games for Buffalo, rushing for 517 yards and seven touchdowns and adding 11 catches for 96 yards and two scores.

After the Bills cut him during training camp the following year, Williams signed with the Steelers’ practice squad but never got on the field due to multiple substance abuse violations.

He received a four-game suspension in July 2016, a 10-game ban in November 2016, and a minimum one-year suspension in June 2017.

A conditional reinstatement means Williams is free to sign with a team and play next season, as long as he meets certain treatment conditions.

–Field Level Media

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Source: NFL wants Rams’ info on Gurley’s injury

Source: NFL wants Rams' info on Gurley's injury

Source: NFL wants Rams’ info on Gurley’s injury

A revelation from running back C.J. Anderson that Todd Gurley’s knee injury was more severe than the Los Angeles Rams thought — and disclosed — triggered an NFL request for more information from the team, a league source told Field Level Media.

Gurley was not on the Super Bowl injury report. He largely gave way to Anderson in the postseason, but the company line from the Rams centered around head coach Sean McVay taking the blame for not getting Gurley more involved.

Gurley missed the final two regular-season games, dealing with an undisclosed knee problem, after rushing for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns in 14 games. He also caught 59 passes for 580 yards and four scores.

After the Rams went through their final on-field workout Friday, two days before the Super Bowl, McVay labeled Gurley “100 percent.”

A league source told FLM that the NFL office routinely seeks more information from teams in situations such as Gurley’s.

In 2017, the NFL ruled the Seattle Seahawks misinterpreted the rules when failing to disclose cornerback Richard Sherman’s sprained knee. Seattle was let off with only a warning, but reportedly faced potential discipline including a fine or loss of a draft pick.

Gurley returned for the playoffs — with 16 carries for 115 yards against Dallas — but had only a combined 14 carries and two receptions in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII.

But Gurley rushed just 10 times for 35 yards in the 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots.

“The injury was a little bit more than what everybody in the building thought, including himself,” Anderson said Tuesday on FS1’s “Undisputed.”

Anderson said he would call the injury a sprained knee. Gurley suffered a torn left ACL in 2014.

“Obviously, it’s the same knee injury he’s had before in his career,” Anderson said.

“I had surgery on my meniscus and once you have a knee, you always have a knee. So it aggravates, and if he was getting a lot of touches earlier in the year — obviously him being one of the best running backs, that probably was the case.”

Anderson, signed with the Rams for the final two regular-season games, had 46 postseason carries. Gurley had 30.

Gurley led the NFL with 21 touchdowns and 17 rushing scores during the regular season. He notched his third 1,000-yard rushing season in four years since the Rams took him with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media

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Report: Saints to release veteran S Coleman

Report: Saints to release veteran S Coleman

The New Orleans Saints

Report: Saints to release veteran S Coleman

The New Orleans Saints are planning to release safety Kurt Coleman and clear more than $4 million in cap space, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Thursday.

Coleman signed a three-year, $16.3 million deal with the Saints last offseason and was due $5.5 million in total compensation in 2019.

A source told Garafolo that New Orleans was open to bringing the nine-year NFL veteran back at a reduced rate.

Coleman, 30, played in all 16 regular-season games for the NFC South champions in 2018, registering 32 tackles and one forced fumble in nine starts.

A seventh-round pick by Philadelphia in 2010, Coleman played for the Eagles (2010-13), Kansas City Chiefs (2014) and Carolina Panthers (2015-17) before joining the Saints.

In 132 career games, Coleman has returned 21 interceptions for 238 yards and two touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Steelers clear way for RB Bell to be free agent

NFL notebook: Steelers clear way for RB Bell to be free agent

NFL notebook: Steelers clear way for RB Bell to be free agent

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will be an unrestricted free agent as the team will not use a transition or franchise tag on the three-time Pro Bowler who sat out the entire 2018 season in a contract standoff, general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters Wednesday.

“Le’Veon is still a great player. We can’t afford to use any other type of tags,” Colbert said. “Le’Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year.” Bell later tweeted: “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty I am free at last”

Bell, who turned 27 on Monday, has posted three 1,000-yard seasons since entering the league in 2013. He sat last season rather than collect $14.5 million under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, when a long-term deal with the Steelers could not be reached.

In Bell’s absence, second-year back James Conner emerged as a reliable starter. He finished the 2018 season with 973 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

–The Steelers will attempt to trade disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown this offseason, but Colbert told reporters Wednesday that they will not give away the All-Pro.

After meeting with team president Art Rooney II on Tuesday, Brown announced on Twitter that both sides had decided to part ways. Brown, 30, is due a $2.5 million roster bonus on March 17 and has three years remaining on a five-year, $72.7 million contract extension he signed before the 2017 season.

Colbert told reporters that the Steelers weren’t yet engaged in trade talks, but he expected they would pick up. Still, he said Brown conceivably could return to Pittsburgh if there is “no trade that does not benefit the team.” The GM also said Brown will not be allowed to select the team to which he is traded.

–Landon Collins, a three-time Pro Bowl safety, might soon be moving on from the New York Giants, according to a report from ESPN. Or not, according to other reports.

Reporter Josina Anderson wrote on Twitter that “Collins cleaned out his locker today at the team facility and said his goodbyes to teammates, coaches and trainers,” presumably not expecting to stay with the team. Collins, a four-year pro, can become an unrestricted free agent when the new NFL year begins March 13.

Later Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network chimed in, writing that Collins took “personal items” from his locker. According to Garafolo, “He doesn’t expect to be at the facility for a while. Why? The franchise tag he publicly said he doesn’t want. But the smart money remains on Collins with NYG this year.”

–The Seattle Seahawks could use the franchise tag option for the first time since 2010 if they can’t agree on a contract with defensive end Frank Clark before the March 5 tag deadline.

Clark, 25, will become a free agent on March 13 if no agreement is reached and likely would be pursued by many teams. He led the Seahawks with 13 sacks in the regular season, and head coach Pete Carroll said he wants him back.

Clark told The News Tribune in January that he expects to remain with the Seahawks in the upcoming season, if not beyond. Based on the defensive end market, the Seahawks likely would be paying Clark – their second-round draft pick in 2015 – at least $15 million a year in a new contract.

–The Oakland Raiders could wind up staying in the city for two more seasons, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Despite a contentious history between the two sides, the Raiders and the Oakland Coliseum Authority resumed negotiations earlier this month, and the Chronicle reported that an announcement about a new, short-term lease could be made in the next two weeks.

The Raiders announced plans to move into a new stadium in Las Vegas before the 2020 season, but their lease to play their home games in Oakland expired at the end of the 2019 season.

–The Chicago Bears are expected to release tight end Dion Sims, who made just four starts in 2018 during a season that was cut short because of concussion issues, the NFL Network reported.

Sims was scheduled to make $6 million in the final season of his three-year, $18 million contract with the Bears.

Sims, 28, had just two catches for 9 yards in 2018. Regarded more as a blocking tight end, he played in eight games last season and did not see action again after starting in a 41-9 victory on Nov. 4 over the Buffalo Bills.

–Field Level Media

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Speculation swirls on S Collins’ future with Giants

Speculation swirls on S Collins' future with Giants

Speculation swirls on S Collins’ future with Giants

Landon Collins, a three-time Pro Bowl safety, might soon be moving on from the New York Giants, according to a report Wednesday from ESPN.

Or not, according to other reports.

Reporter Josina Anderson wrote on Twitter that, “I’m told that Giants S Landon Collins cleaned out his locker today at the team facility and said his goodbyes to teammates, coaches and trainers. It doesn’t seem like Collins expects to be a Giant for much longer, per sources.”

When the New York Post refuted that Collins’ locker had been cleaned out, Collins re-tweeted that post while adding, “The stuff in that locker that I have left I do not need” followed by a “100” symbol.

Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network chimed in, writing that Collins took “personal items” from his locker. According to Garafolo, “He doesn’t expect to be at the facility for a while. Why? The franchise tag he publicly said he doesn’t want. But the smart money remains on Collins with NYG this year.”

Collins, a four-year pro, can become an unrestricted free agent when the new NFL year begins March 13. The Giants have until March 5 to use the franchise tag on him.

Anderson reported Tuesday that sources said the Giants had not been “in active negotiations on a contract extension.”

Collins, 25, ended last season on injured reserve because of torn labrum in his left shoulder. He still led the team with 96 tackles, despite missing the final four games.

Collins has led the Giants in tackles in each of his four seasons after being selected in the second round (33rd overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Alabama. Collins has 428 tackles and eight interceptions in 59 games, all starts.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Bears expected to release TE Sims

Report: Bears expected to release TE Sims

The Chicago Bears are expected to release tight end

Report: Bears expected to release TE Sims

The Chicago Bears are expected to release tight end Dion Sims, who made just four starts in 2018 during a season that was cut short because of concussion issues, the NFL Network reported Wednesday.

Sims was scheduled to make $6 million in the final year of his three-year, $18 million contract with the Bears.

Sims, 28, had just two catches for 9 yards in 2018. Regarded more as a blocking tight end, he played in eight games last season and did not see action again after starting in a 41-9 victory on Nov. 4 over the Buffalo Bills.

In 2017, his first season with the Bears, he started in all 14 games in which he played, catching 15 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.

In six seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Bears, the former fourth-round draft pick in 2013 out of Michigan State has 91 receptions for 888 yards and nine touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

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Woods: Masters grabbed my attention months ago

Woods: Masters grabbed my attention months ago

Woods: Masters grabbed my attention months ago

The PGA Tour has not even reached the East Coast yet in 2019 and already Tiger Woods has one eye trained toward the April 11-14 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga.

In fact, Woods admitted Wednesday, in advance of this weekend’s WGC-Mexico Championship in Mexico City, that the Masters grabbed his attention long before this week.

“(It) started probably back in October, November,” Woods at a Wednesday press conference in Mexico, of the major tournament he has won four times, including his most recent in 2005.

With the PGA Tour having already roared through Hawaii, California and Arizona, it will reach Florida next week for the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Then there is the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Fla., a tournament Woods has won eight times.

With four consecutive Florida tournaments on the horizon, Woods is starting to realize there is too much of a good thing ahead. He wants to find the sweet spot between too many rounds before the Masters, and not enough.

“From here on out, it’s very complicated,” Woods said. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out; how much to play, how much is too much, how much is not enough.”

The 14-time major winner, whose last grand slam tournament victory came at the 2008 U.S. Open, was tied for 15th at last weekend’s Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. He also finished tied for 20th at the Jan. 23-26 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, in La Jolla, Calif.

Unlike at last year’s Masters, when Woods finished tied for 32nd while just making his return from spinal fusion surgery, he sounds as if he has more confidence this time around.

“Last year was different, and in previous years it was nonexistent,” Woods said. “This year, to be able to ramp up a schedule and to be able to know what I can and can’t do going into the event, is a lot more comforting than this has been in the previous years because it’s been kind of an unknown going into that event.”

–Field Level Media

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Steelers GM: Brown trade requires ‘significant compensation’

Steelers GM: Brown trade requires 'significant compensation'

The Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers GM: Brown trade requires ‘significant compensation’

The Pittsburgh Steelers will attempt to trade disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown this offseason, but general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters Wednesday that they aren’t going to give away the All-Pro.

“We’re not going to move a significant player for less than significant compensation,” Colbert said.

After meeting with team president Art Rooney II on Tuesday, Brown announced on Twitter that both sides had decided to part ways.

“Had a great meeting with Mr.Rooney today we discussed a lot of things and we cleared the air on several issues! We both agreed that it is time to move on but I’ll always have appreciation and gratitude towards the Rooney family and @steelers organization! #CallGod #Boomin,” Brown tweeted.

Colbert told reporters that the Steelers weren’t yet engaged in trade talks, but he expected they would pick up. Still, he said Brown conceivably could return to Pittsburgh if there is “no trade that does not benefit the team.”

The GM also said Brown will not be allowed to select the team to which he is traded.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported in January that Pittsburgh likely would seek a second-round draft pick for the 30-year-old Brown. But Wednesday, his colleague Tom Pelissero said Brown probably would net the Steelers only a mid-round pick after months of drama.

Brown, 30, is due a $2.5 million roster bonus on March 17. Pittsburgh can avoid payment by releasing or trading the seven-time Pro Bowl selection before that date.

He has three years remaining on a five-year, $72.7 million contract extension he signed before the 2017 season.

–Field Level Media

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Steelers clear way for RB Bell to be free agent

Steelers clear way for RB Bell to be free agent

Steelers clear way for RB Bell to be free agent

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will be an unrestricted free agent.

The team will not use a transition or franchise tag on Bell, who sat out the entire 2018 season in a contract standoff, general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters Wednesday.

“Le’Veon is still a great player. We can’t afford to use any other type of tags,” Colbert said. “Le’Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year.”

Bell, who turned 27 on Monday, has posted three 1,000-yard seasons and earned three Pro Bowl selections since entering the league in 2013. He sat last season rather than collect $14.5 million under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, when a long-term deal with the Steelers could not be reached.

Bell later tweeted: “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty I am free at last”

In Bell’s absence, second-year back James Conner emerged as a reliable starter. He finished the 2018 season with 973 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

Using the transition tag seemed unlikely, but the Steelers could have used that tag — expected to carry a one-season value of $9.5 million to $14.5 million — in a sign-and-trade scenario.

Sources recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin are tired of the drama with Bell and “have no desire to sign him to a long-term deal or place the transition tag on him with the intention of keeping him for one more season.”

The NFL’s new league year begins March 13.

Bell, in 62 NFL games (all starts), has rushed for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns on 1,229 carries, also catching 312 passes for 2,660 yards and seven scores.

–Field Level Media

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Agent: Vikings WR Thielen won’t hold out for contract

Agent: Vikings WR Thielen won't hold out for contract

Agent: Vikings WR Thielen won’t hold out for contract

Wide receiver Adam Thielen’s $5.85 million salary for 2019 puts him among the lowest-paid No. 1 receivers on any team.

And with two years left on the four-year, $19.25 million contract he signed in 2017, the Vikings might consider trying to extend the contract of the productive 28-year-old wideout. Or they could wait.

His agent, Blake Baratz, told SKOR North radio in the Twin Cities on Tuesday that Thielen will not hold out to force the Vikings to the negotiating table.

“Adam’s not that type of person,” Baratz said. “I would never condone a player to hold out or be disruptive if it wasn’t for a very valid reason, and (what’s not) a valid reason, to me, is both sides working in good faith to come to a conclusion that makes sense for everybody.”

The Vikings signed Thielen, who played collegiately at Minnesota State, as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He has played in all 80 games (46 starts) over five seasons and has caught 293 passes for 3,897 yards and 19 touchdowns.

In 2018, he had career highs in receptions (113), yards (1,373) and TDs (nine). He is a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

“This team has a lot of really good things in place for it, and I know they want to take care of Adam and I know they want Adam there and I know they want to reward Adam,” Baratz said.

“What exactly that looks like and when that happens, I can’t speak to yet, but I’m cautiously optimistic that everyone will come around and do the right thing.

“There’s not — no one’s being greedy. Everyone understands the situation and it’s really in their court. He has a couple of years left on his deal, but he’s earned a significant pay raise. Not to mention what he’s done on the field, he might be one of the best people in the entire National Football League and represents the city and the organization and state and frankly, the entire region unbelievably.”

–Field Level Media

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Rams’ Anderson: Gurley’s knee injury worse than thought

Rams' Anderson: Gurley's knee injury worse than thought

Rams’ Anderson: Gurley’s knee injury worse than thought

Los Angeles Rams running back C.J. Anderson said teammate Todd Gurley was “more hurt than what we thought,” which helps explain the star running back’s lack of usage late in the playoffs.

Gurley missed the final two regular-season games, dealing with a knee problem, after rushing for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns in 14 games. He also caught 59 passes for 580 yards and four scores.

He returned for the playoffs — with 16 carries for 115 yards against Dallas — but had only a combined 14 carries and two receptions in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII. Rams coach Sean McVay had declared Gurley’s left knee “100 percent” before the Super Bowl and Gurley was not on the injury report.

But Gurley rushed just 10 times for 35 yards in the 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots.

“The injury was a little bit more than what everybody in the building thought, including himself,” Anderson said Tuesday on FS1’s “Undisputed.”

Anderson said he would call the injury a sprained knee. Gurley suffered a torn left ACL in 2014.

“Obviously, it’s the same knee injury he’s had before in his career,” Anderson said.

“I had surgery on my meniscus and once you have a knee, you always have a knee. So it aggravates, and if he was getting a lot of touches earlier in the year — obviously him being one of the best running backs, that probably was the case.”

Anderson, was signed with the Rams for the final two regular-season games, had 46 postseason carries. Gurley had 30.

Gurley led the NFL with 21 touchdowns and 17 rushing scores during the regular season. He notched his third 1,000-yard rushing season in four years since the Rams took him with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

–Field Level Media

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Stricker named U.S. Ryder Cup captain

Stricker named U.S. Ryder Cup captain

Stricker named U.S. Ryder Cup captain

Steve Stricker officially was named the captain for the 2020 United States Ryder Cup team on Wednesday, ending months of speculation that the Wisconsin native would head up the U.S. team at Whistling Straits next year.

At his pre-tournament press conference at the WGC-Mexico Championship, Tiger Woods said that Stricker was “the overwhelming choice for us on the committee.”

Stricker, who turns 52 on Saturday, will be the 29th U.S. Ryder Cup captain — and the first without a major title on his playing resume. However, he has a wealth of Ryder Cup experience, having played in the event three times and serving as an assistant three others.

Born in Edgerton, Wis., Stricker still calls Madison home. He has 26 career professional wins, including 12 on the PGA tour. His best finish in a major was runner-up in the 1998 PGA Championship.

“I am truly humbled by this opportunity,” Stricker said. “I’m very competitive. We want to win this more than ever and I’m here to help in any way I can. It’s truly an honor.”

The Americans were dominated by Team Europe in Paris last year, losing 17 1/2 to 10 1/2 at Le Golf National. Stricker knows Whistling Straits intimately, and the U.S. side hopes that gives the team an edge.

“It looks like an ocean out there, not one of the Great Lakes,” he said. “It’s challenging to the eye.”

Eight of the 12 spots on the U.S. team will be decided by points, with the final four captain’s picks being announced three weeks before the start of the event on Sept. 1, 2020.

Stricker also said that 2018 captain Jim Furyk will be among his vice captains.

“Communication is my biggest thing,” Stricker said. “Being up front with (the players) and knowing what I expect from them is the biggest thing.”

–Field Level Media

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Report: Raiders likely to play in Oakland in ’19

Report: Raiders likely to play in Oakland in '19

Report: Raiders likely to play in Oakland in ’19

The Oakland Raiders could wind up staying in the city for two more seasons, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

The Raiders announced plans to move into a new stadium in Las Vegas before the 2020 season, but their lease to play their home games in Oakland expired at the end of the 2019 season.

Owner Mark Davis attempted to push the team for a one- or two-season stay in San Francisco — sharing a venue with baseball’s Giants — but that plan never got off the ground.

Despite a contentious history between the two sides, the Raiders and the Oakland Coliseum Authority resumed negotiations earlier this month, and the Chronicle reported that an announcement about a new, short-term lease could be made in the next two weeks.

“It’s for one year for sure, with an option for the second year,” a source told the Chronicle.

The two sides reportedly have agreed to a $7.5 million deal for the 2019 season with an increase to $10.5 million for the following season, should the Raiders need to utilize the facility for a second year.

The option for 2020 would kick in if the new $1.8 billion stadium in Las Vegas isn’t game ready.

The Raiders had a plan in place to play in Oakland in 2019, but Davis pulled out after the city joined a lawsuit seeking damages from the team. The Raiders had also discussed playing their home games in Santa Clara at Levi’s Stadium, sharing the venue with the 49ers.

–Field Level Media

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