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.

Kentucky Derby ripe for an upset

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Kentucky Derby ripe for an upset

We have been very lucky, and spoiled as racing fans in recent years as we’ve gotten to see great stories play out right in front of us on Derby day and beyond. From the upset victory of 50-1 shot Mine That Bird in 2009, to California Chrome winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2014, to a Triple Crown winner last year in American Pharoah, we have seen a bit of everything.

This year’s edition of the Derby brings intrigue as well. The Derby favorite, Nyquist, rolls into Louisville riding a seven-race win streak. His connections have been here before, as owner J. Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez teamed up for the Derby win in 2012 with I’ll Have Another. Nyquist has done nothing wrong either, winning from on or near the lead when the pace is slow to closing from a bit further back when the early pace was swift.  Everything is lined up for Nyquist to continue his winning ways, but this year the Derby will provide one thing, a ton of value.

While Nyquist may be the only undefeated horse entering the starting gate in the Derby on Saturday afternoon, he may also be the only horse that goes off at odds of less than 10-1. With value galore, here are my top five selections for the 2016 Kentucky Derby:

1. #17 Mor Spirit (12-1 odds)

Trainer Bob Baffert has been here before also. He saddled American Pharoah to his Triple Crown last year. He has also sent out Derby winners Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and War Emblem (2002). This year Mor Spirit flies under the radar. Never worse than second in seven lifetime races, Mor Spirit has the running style that may be most favorable this Saturday. While the early pace is unknown, the Derby does have its share of deep closers. Mor Spirit will likely sit in the second flight of horses early and avoid traffic late. He ran second in the slop at Churchill as a two-year-old, and has gone heavily favored in his three California starts this year, a win and pair of second-place efforts. With warmer conditions expected Saturday in Kentucky, and a chance of rain, each could benefit Mor Spirit.

2. #11 Exaggerator (8-1 odds)

Exaggerator is the one horse you will lose any type of value on should it rain Saturday. He has run three times on a wet track, winning twice, and finishing second in his other off track start. While he was extremely impressive in the Santa Anita Derby, he was also helped by suicidal early pace fractions ahead of him, which he likely won’t see in the Derby on Saturday. He benefits from a middle of the pack post draw and looks to get a similar trip to Mor Spirit. Not an overly quick workout horse in the morning, his final drill at Churchill on April 30 was a bit slower than some would have liked to have seen. That being said, he looks to be peaking at the right time and the 1-1/4 mile distance should be no issue for him.

3. #13 Nyquist (3-1 odds)

It’s tough in a 20-horse field to set a morning line, especially with so many talented runners, but I expect Nyquist to go off even lower than the 3-1 morning line he was set at. He hasn’t done anything wrong thus far on his career. He can win from on or off the pace and easily put away Mohaymen and the rest of the Florida Derby field in his last start. The concern for Nyquist could be if he is keen to go early and faces pace pressure. With possible speed horses like Mohaymen and Outwork breaking from the two gates just to his outside, and Danzing Candy with likely no choice but to send from post 20, jockey Mario Gutierrez will have to make his choice early on where he plans to place Nyquist. Nyquist also is one of the few that has neither raced, nor posted a workout over the Churchill surface entering the Derby.

4. #10 Whitmore (20-1 odds)

Some may question whether or not Whitmore is quick enough to compete in the Derby, but he has some things going for him entering Saturday’s race. First, he has won, and won impressively, at Churchill Downs. After a slow break in his debut, he crushed a field sprinting at Churchill last fall. He worked his way into the Derby by running second or third in the three Arkansas preps, and is likely to go off at odds of higher than his 20-1 morning line. Second, and possibly more important, is that Whitmore picks up the guy you want in the saddle on Derby Day in jockey Victor Espinoza. Espinoza looks to make it three Derby victories in a row and confidence in the saddle is no concern. Look for Whitmore to be weaving through traffic late.

5. #3 Creator (10-1 odds)

If Whitmore is going to be there in the end, odds are Creator will be as well. The horse that finished ahead of Whitmore in winning the Arkansas Derby, Creator is another that is peaking at the right time. The biggest concern for Creator may be his running style as he will likely be sitting somewhere between 17th-20th the first time the horses pass the finish line. He will need a clean trip, and a strong pace ahead of him to close into, but often times that occurs in the Derby. Sired by Tapit, Creator is one of the most well-bred horses in the field to handle the 1-1/4 mile distance.

How am I going to play the Derby?

I will play Mor Spirit, Exaggerator, and Whitmore all to win, as long as their odds are 10-1 or higher. I am going to put these five horses in an exacta and trifecta box as well. For a minimal amount of money, you can play a $1 exacta box, which will cost a total of $20, and a $1 trifecta box, which will cost $60.

A reminder, this weekend also kicks off summer harness racing action at Hawthorne. Live harness racing will take place this Friday and Saturday night with a 7:20 p.m. first post. Beginning next week, racing will take place every Thursday-Sunday at 7:20 p.m.

For those looking to wager on the Kentucky Derby, the doors at Hawthorne will open at 8:00 AM on Friday and Saturday morning as players can watch and wager races from Churchill and throughout the country all day long.

How far will you take it? - The Wrigley Field Ivy

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How far will you take it? - The Wrigley Field Ivy

Once spring slowly turns to summer in Chicago, the iconic ivy — which has been around since 1937 — begins to grow along the outfield bricks at Wrigley Field.

If not for daily maintenance from the groundskeepers, the ivy would cover up the distance markers, signage and even spread into the bleachers at the historic home of the Cubs.

Kelly Crull takes a ride around Wrigleyville in the all-new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid bringing you a special Cubs feature on the iconic ivy. Make sure to check back all summer long for more features!

Watch: Huskers' Tim Miles flies with Blue Angels, almost vomits

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Watch: Huskers' Tim Miles flies with Blue Angels, almost vomits

Well, it's going to be pretty difficult for college basketball to top this line this offseason.

"It's all dry heave, I can't puke."

Nebraska head basketball coach Tim Miles took a ride with the Blue Angels, a very cool and surely very frightening experience, and the fine folks with the Huskers were good enough to post a video of Miles' flight.

While watching the coach experience the take off and the rolls is very cool, there's perhaps no more entertaining moment than when he reaches for the barf bag.

Check it out:

Miles is without a doubt the Big Ten's funniest coach. No wonder he produced this kind of moment.

Great flight, coach!