Drew Brees, Saints still have 'a ways to go'

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Drew Brees, Saints still have 'a ways to go'

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is confident that he and the Saints will agree on a long-term contract. With the start of training camp about a month off, the two sides still have "a ways to go" to close the gap, the 2010 Super Bowl MVP said Tuesday. Nonetheless, he said, "I'm confident, and always have been, that we'll get a long-term deal accomplished." Brees acknowledged that the NFL's bounty investigation into the Saints has slowed down negotiations. "This has been a stressful offseason in a lot of ways. There's been a lot of distractions for everybody," he said. "I'm not using that as an excuse other than just stating it as fact. That has delayed things quite a bit at times." And when it comes to that bounty probe, Brees is adamant that the league has not proved money ever changed hands in a pay-to-injure scheme. "How can everybody think that when there's been no proof that's been put forth thus far?" he said. "There's been an investigation; there's been a lot of stuff put in the media as to what was going on. But is there any proof to back that up? No, there's not. Not yet." Brees was in New York on Tuesday to discuss a program that provides free concussion testing for more than 3,300 middle and high schools and youth sports organizations. He was joined on a panel by retired New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter, former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks and ex-U.S. women's soccer team goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Scurry's career was ended by a concussion more than two years ago, and she still suffers symptoms such as short-term memory loss, she said. Against that backdrop are the allegations that Saints defensive players intended to injure their opponents. But Brees described the NFL's evidence so far as "hearsay" and "hypotheticals," not the definitive proof needed. "If there is, then it needs to come forward," he said. "If it is what they say it is, then punishments will be levied and deservedly so. But if there's not, then we need to vindicate the guys that were obviously wrongly accused." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded in an email to The Associated Press that "the evidence is overwhelming." "The investigation was thorough and includes statements from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge about the details of the program, corroborating documentation and other evidence," Aiello said. "The enforcement of the bounty rule is important to protect players that are put at risk by this kind of scheme. Certainly, Drew Brees would not want to be the target in a bounty scheme and that is why we must eliminate bounties from football." Even if Brees signs a contract in time and doesn't miss any of training camp, the Saints will be short-handed after the penalties handed out by the NFL in the bounty case. Coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma have been suspended the entire season. Assistant coach Joe Vitt, the interim replacement for Payton, is banned for six games, while defensive end Will Smith is docked four. General manager Mickey Loomis will miss eight games. Former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was suspended eight games and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, got three games. "They had a conclusion that they wanted to reach that this was going on," Brees said of the NFL. "So a predetermined conclusion: We're going to gear the investigation and everything toward that conclusion as opposed to let's just gather the facts." The league accused the Saints of running a bounty system from 2009-11 under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has been suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Roger Goodell and issued an apology for his role in the scandal. Brees questioned the testimony coaches gave to the NFL. "A lot those coaches were living in fear of their careers if they did not cooperate," he said. The Saints placed their one-year franchise tag on Brees, barring him from negotiating with other teams. Brees has skipped voluntary practices and minicamp while holding out for a long-term deal. "I feel like there's been progress made over the last few weeks," he said. "But there's still a ways to go. I'm hopeful that it will happen sooner than later."

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”