Chicago Cubs

Meet the richest defensive player in NFL history

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Meet the richest defensive player in NFL history

From Comcast SportsNet
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- New England quarterback Tom Brady might want to watch his back. The Jets' Mark Sanchez, too. After spending the past six seasons harassing quarterbacks for the Houston Texans, defensive end Mario Williams -- one of the NFL's top pass-rushers -- has found new motivation in a whopping contract and a new home in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills. "I'm ecstatic, very excited. I can't wait for the opportunity," Williams said Thursday after signing a six-year deal potentially worth 100 million. "There's no pressure. I've played against great quarterbacks. And I'm looking forward to playing against these quarterbacks, chasing them down and making things happen." Williams' deal, which includes 50 million in guaranteed money, is the richest ever given to an NFL defensive player. It came after two days of talks, which started when the Bills flew the former top draft pick to Buffalo on a private jet Tuesday, shortly after the NFL's free agency period opened. Terms of Williams' contract were provided by the player's agent, Ben Dogra. "We got a lot better," Buffalo general manager Buddy Nix said, noting that the Bills addressed their highest offseason priority by bolstering what had been an anemic pass rush. "Good things come to the people that wait. So you guys have been waiting, and we've got a good thing here." Though the contract was agreed to shortly after noon, the news conference to introduce Williams was delayed by more than two hours as the two sides worked out the final details. The wait was even longer for Nix, who noted the Bills pro scouts identified Williams as their key target since January. "The No. 1 guy for us from Day 1 was this guy," Nix said. "Obviously, you don't do anything until he hits free agency, but it's been a long process. And it's been fun, especially since it turned out right." After quarterback Peyton Manning, Williams has been regarded as one of the top free agents available this offseason. Williams' addition immediately improves a defense that had difficulty applying pressure since Aaron Schobel was released before the 2010 season. Buffalo managed just 27 sacks in 2010, and 29 sacks last season, 10 coming in one game. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, Williams is a two-time Pro Bowl starter and had a franchise-best 53 sacks in six seasons with the Texans. Williams was limited to playing just five games last season as a result of a torn chest muscle. He also missed three games in 2010 after having surgery to repair a sports hernia. Williams said he's healthy, and is accustomed to the playing in the spotlight. The Texans were initially questioned for overlooking running back Reggie Bush by drafting Williams with the No. 1 pick in 2006. "The only pressure and motivation I have is to come in here and do what I need to do with my teammates and for us to succeed," Williams said. Coach Chan Gailey is looking forward to seeing Williams help a line that features two solid tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Kyle Williams is expected to be fully healthy after having surgery to repair a nagging foot injury. Dareus, the third player picked in last year's draft, is coming off a promising rookie season in which he led the Bills with 5-12 sacks. "I can't put a percentage on how much better we are, but I know we're appreciatively better," Gailey said. "A better pass rush makes a better secondary. A better defense makes a better offense. It all works together." Mario Williams was intrigued by Buffalo, and did his homework after getting the sense the Bills might pursue him in free agency. In the past few weeks, he spoke to players familiar with the city, and his Texans position coach, Bill Kollar, who spent two seasons with the Bills. Then he got a chance to learn more about the city over the past two days touring the region, along with his fiance, Erin Marzouki, who arrived in Buffalo on Wednesday. What Williams discovered is that Buffalo reminded him of his small-town home of Richlands, N.C. "It was just like going back," he said. "I couldn't say no, it's a family atmosphere here." He immediately noted Bills fans' passion for football, and how many came up with colorful ways to urge Williams to sign with Buffalo. The best example was seeing pictures of a local pizza place using pepperoni to spell out "Come Mario 90" on its pies, the 90 referring to Williams' number in Houston. The avid outdoorsman, Williams also found a hunting partner in the get-acquainted process, Bills' Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. Kelly played a role in the recruiting by inviting Williams and Marzouki over to his house in suburban Buffalo. It was during the visit that Williams happened to spot nine deer in Kelly's backyard. More important, Williams believes he can make a difference on a team that got off to a 5-2 start last year before unraveling by losing eight of its last 10. "You saw from the very beginning of last year what is capable here," Williams said. "We're just adding more pieces." And Williams is a big one.

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez broke the code of silence when he mentioned to reporters the latest thing for a Cubs team that designed a Party Room for their state-of-the-art clubhouse at Wrigley Field, turned Jason Heyward’s Rain Delay Speech into World Series mythology and interviews each other in the dugout for pretend TV segments after hitting home runs.

“He doesn’t know how the Italian way works,” Anthony Rizzo said. “There are supposed to be team things that stay with the team.”

Baez let it slip before Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, replaying the dramatic 10-inning comeback victory from the night before at Miller Park. If you see the Cubs instantly disappear from the dugout, or a TV camera shows a shot of an empty dugout…    

“We got this new thing,” Baez said. “I don’t want to be the one saying it. I’ll just let him say it. But it’s really fun. When somebody’s mad, everybody walks in and we do some fun things that get us hyper. You guys ask Rizzo.”

The Godfather gave a cryptic response. Omerta is expected to be part of The Cubs Way.

“It’s a team retreat,” Rizzo said. “It’s not just me. It’s anyone who needs to let out some steam this late in the season. It’s a team thing. It’s a long season and you go through ups and downs. And there’s times where you get to that boiling point where you just want to kill anything in your way.”

Rizzo needed to vent and called his teammates into the visiting clubhouse on Thursday night after striking out with two runners on in the eighth inning of a tie game that could swing the National League Central race.

“Throughout the year, you go back in the tunnel probably 25 times,” Rizzo said. “You got to take it out somewhere. You can only stay sane so long. It’s September. It’s a team (thing) now.

“It’s worked. We’re 3-for-3 on it. But it’s not me gathering. It’s just whoever feels like it’s time – you’ll see the team rushing off the bench and going for a nice little retreat.”

In many ways, Rizzo sets the clubhouse tone with his laid-back vibe off the field and intense competitive streak on the field. Tom Verducci’s book, “The Cubs Way,” detailed a scene before last year’s World Series Game 7 where Rizzo got naked, played “Rocky” music, quoted movie lines and shadowboxed until reliever Hector Rondon joined “in on the hijinks, picked up an aerosol can of shoe cleaner and sprayed it in the direction of Rizzo’s groin.”

“This is strictly in-game,” Rizzo said. “You can’t do it, though, and be selfish and go on a nice little retreat when we’re winning. It’s got to be the right timing. It helps, too, because it’s been fun the last couple weeks since we started doing it.”

One obvious benefit: There are no annoying TV cameras. Like in late July when frustrated pitcher John Lackey bumped into Rizzo in the Wrigley Field dugout and exchanged words with the face-of-the-franchise first baseman.

“We’ve come together now,” Rizzo said. “It’s not about anyone. It’s about us. When things go wrong for a certain individual, we rally around him. And that’s what we got to keep doing from here on out.”

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez tries to use baseball as an escape, but his thoughts inevitably drift toward Puerto Rico and the damage and destruction Hurricane Maria has inflicted on his beloved island.  

“I’ve been doing my best to stay in the game,” Baez said. “But, really, my mind has been over there, trying to find out about family, how they’re doing.”

Baez could compartmentalize enough in the ninth inning to deliver the two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single on Thursday night at Miller Park, setting the stage for a dramatic 5-3 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that created a huge shift in momentum for the Cubs in the National League Central race.  

But several Cubs have been distracted during this nightmare hurricane season, seeing the haunting images on TV and thinking about more than magic numbers. Baez finally made contact with his brother, Gadiel, before Friday’s game in Milwaukee.

“He finally found a spot that has service. Everybody’s disconnected,” Baez said. “It’s been really, really crazy over there. They say there’s no trees in Puerto Rico right now.

“It’s really bad. (But) there are still people smiling and trying to get through it. We got no (other) option. Our whole family is over there. I think if we work together, the process is going to be faster and the help is going to be (stronger). Hopefully, everybody stays together and just tries to help.”

Baez has been using his social-media platforms, asking for prayers and helping raise funds through the GoFundMe page started by catcher Rene Rivera’s family and supported by teammate Victor Caratini.

Known for his flash and highlight-reel moments, Baez is actually more of a low-key personality off the field, close to his family and developing into one of the most important and dependable players for the defending World Series champs.       

“Sometimes, when you are going through difficult moments,” manager Joe Maddon said, “getting out there kind of is that little island that you need just to park your brain for a couple hours.

“You keep reading about it. You’re talking four-to-six months without power. When you read those lines, you know it’s devastating. But live it.

“Again, as an athlete, when you’re going through difficulties outside of your occupation, sometimes it’s the best place to be for those couple hours. And then you go back to reality afterwards.

“Javy has been on the stage. He’s had the bright lights shining on him for a long period of time for a young guy. He’s learned how to handle this pretty well.”

Baez starred for the team that made it to the World Baseball Classic championship game in March. He could feel the pride and energy and what that meant to Puerto Rico during an economic crisis.

“Our whole island, they were there for us,” Baez said. “If we really work together, we can get through it faster, and everything’s going to be OK over there.”