Examining where Peyton Manning could land

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Examining where Peyton Manning could land

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Peyton Manning could be the missing piece for the Miami Dolphins. Or, the Arizona Cardinals. Maybe even the New York Jets or Seattle Seahawks. Washington, Kansas City, Denver and Tennessee also are possible suitors. But for now, where the free agent quarterback lands is anybody's guess. Including Manning's. "I have no idea who wants me, what team wants me, how this process works," Manning said. "I don't know if it's like college recruiting where you go take visits. I mean, this is all so new to me." The four-time league MVP was released by the Colts on Wednesday after spending all 14 of his NFL seasons in Indianapolis, but made it clear he still wants to play football. Plenty of teams will be interested in the 35-year-old Manning -- as long as he proves he's healthy after missing last season while coming off a series of neck operations. If everything checks out, the laundry list of teams will be lengthy -- a Peyton-palooza of sorts. And, why not? Manning has been one of the greatest to play his position, rewriting record books while throwing for nearly 55,000 yards and 399 touchdowns, and winning a Super Bowl along the way. "I realize that I'm not going to play forever, and I think I'm going to know the time to stop playing," Manning said in South Florida, where he has a home and flew to after the news conference in Indianapolis to announce his release. "But right now," he added, "I still want to play." Rex Ryan's Jets could be the landing spot, a scenario that would have Manning sharing the New York-area headlines with his brother Eli of the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. That sure would ramp things up in their sibling rivalry -- and the teams' back-and-forth battle for the city spotlight. It would also likely signal the end for Mark Sanchez after three up-and-down seasons. The Dolphins have said they would strongly pursue Manning if he became available, even after Matt Moore had a solid season while taking over for a team that has tried to replace Dan Marino since 2000. "Dan Marino is my all-time favorite quarterback after my Dad and after Eli," said Manning, whose father Archie played 14 NFL seasons. "He's No. 3 on my list, so everybody knows how I feel about him. I literally have not had one conversation with anyone about these teams." The Cardinals, three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, are an intriguing possibility with one of the game's top wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald. But they still have a lot of money invested in quarterback Kevin Kolb. "There will be no other Peyton Manning," Colts owner Jim Irsay said. Which is exactly why the quarterback will be one of the most sought-after free agents in NFL history. Here's a look at some of his options: ------ ARIZONA CARDINALS: Certainly having Fitzgerald there would give Manning a game-changing receiver. Arizona would also offer Manning a warm-weather climate. The Cardinals also have been known to go after the big-named signal caller, as they did with Kurt Warner a few years ago. Coach Ken Whisenhunt gave Warner lots of freedom at the line of scrimmage and would have no problem doing that with Manning. The problem? Arizona made a big splash last offseason when it signed Kolb to a huge contract, and would owe him a 7 million roster bonus on March 17 if he remains on the team. ------ DENVER BRONCOS: What about Tebow Time? Well, despite going 8-5 and guiding the Broncos back to the playoffs for the first time in six years, Tim Tebow lost four of his last five starts and completed fewer than half his passes. Team vice president John Elway has said Tebow will be the starter when training camp rolls around -- but stopped short of naming him the QB for the season. That's because there are still plenty of questions about Tebow. The Broncos haven't had a franchise quarterback since Elway retired following his second straight championship more than a decade ago. But they're eager to see what Tebow can do with a regular offseason and dedication to becoming a pocket passer. Sure, he could learn a few things from Manning being around, but his growth could also be stunted. ------ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Matt Cassel was a Pro Bowl quarterback just two years ago, but a healthy Manning would be a step up. A big one. The Chiefs also have a terrific trio of young playmakers in running back Jamaal Charles, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and tight end Tony Moeaki. Manning would have people around him to make plays. And coach Romeo Crennel put the Chiefs in the conversation when he welcomed the idea of having Manning on his team at the NFL combine a few weeks ago. Still, Kansas City owes Cassel 5.25 million this year, 7.5 million next year and 9 million in 2014 -- a hefty bill for a backup. They also have a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll, and general manager Scott Pioli is often hands on when it comes to that side of the ball. Would there be a clash? ------ MIAMI DOLPHINS: When the Dolphins hired the offensive-minded Joe Philbin as coach in January, team officials privately said they would go after Manning if he became available. Miami has money, terrific talent and warm weather: three big selling points. Manning also has a home there. The team has started 16 quarterbacks since Marino retired, but Moore played well last year after Chad Henne was sidelined by a season-ending shoulder injury. There are doubts, though, that Moore is a franchise quarterback, and if the Dolphins don't sign Manning, they may pursue Green Bay's Matt Flynn or try to trade up and draft a quarterback in the first round. ------ NEW YORK JETS: Ryan has repeatedly expressed his admiration and respect for Manning, and the Jets aren't far removed from winning. They went to consecutive AFC championship games before in-fighting contributed to the team finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Sanchez has been the face of the franchise since they traded up to draft him fifth overall in 2009, but the Jets -- who made a huge splash by acquiring Brett Favre four years ago -- have said they will look at every position if they can improve. They also had Tom Moore, Manning's former offensive coordinator, as a consultant last season, although it's unclear if he'll be back. Despite the Jets' recent success under Ryan, the locker-room discord might be a deterrent for Manning. He also might be unwilling to play in the circus atmosphere of New York, a town in which Eli has become a huge star. Think the city's media would play up the sibling rivalry? Salary cap issues also might prevent the Jets from being a true contender. ------ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Seattle has its franchise running back in Marshawn Lynch, and seems to be solid on the outside with receivers Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, Doug Baldwin and tight end Zach Miller. The offensive line is young and improved, but the remaining question for Seattle's offense is at quarterback. Tarvaris Jackson toughed his way through a painful pectoral injury for more than half of last season, but was never overly impressive. Manning could be the answer. Still, Jackson has never been given much of a chance as a starter and played fairly well while battling his injury and was respected in the locker room. ------ TENNESSEE TITANS: Fans have already started a "Come Back, Peyton" campaign, with billboards and radio ads pushing for Manning to return to Tennessee, where he starred in college for the Vols. The Titans drafted Jake Locker with the No. 8 pick last April and signed Matt Hasselbeck to a three-year deal last July, but they went 9-7. They have around 30 million in cap space they need to use on finding a pass rush. While a happy homecoming would make for a nice story, general manager Ruston Webster has said twice in the past month -- to season-ticket holders and at the NFL combine -- that the team is happy with its quarterbacks. ------ WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Owner Dan Snyder always seems to be in play when it comes to signing big-name free agents, and the Redskins are in major need of a quarterback. Mike Shanahan has whiffed on three (Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck) in his two years in Washington, and the Redskins are expected to pursue Manning if they can determine he's healthy. They have plenty of cap space, and the Redskins can lobby Manning by saying they'll use that room to be aggressive in free agency. But that also could make them less appealing to Manning, since they're lacking at so many positions.

Cubs: Jorge Soler, Ryan Kalish and what the outfield picture looks like now

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Cubs: Jorge Soler, Ryan Kalish and what the outfield picture looks like now

PITTSBURGH – More than five hours before first pitch, Jorge Soler took early batting practice on Tuesday afternoon in an empty PNC Park while a group of Cubs coaches watched the young Cuban hitter.

The Cubs unveiled a different outfield look for that night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, trying to jumpstart Soler by batting him second and putting him in left, while keeping Dexter Fowler in center and moving Kris Bryant to right.

The team with the best record in baseball can’t be in scramble mode in the first week of May, but the Cubs are almost burning through the depth they acquired this winter.

Jason Heyward is still dealing with the sore right wrist that’s been bothering him since early April. An MRI on Matt Szczur’s right hamstring revealed a strain that landed him on the disabled list. The Cubs promoted Ryan Kalish – a guy who planned to play independent ball before signing a minor-league deal in March – from Triple-A Iowa.

Manager Joe Maddon has been asked about Soler – who began the day hitting .186 with a .591 OPS – in the context of trading for pitching, losing playing time with the Fowler signing and getting another chance after Kyle Schwarber’s season-ending knee surgery.

So Maddon didn’t feel like looking for a deeper meaning to Soler’s opportunity this time.

“It’s Tuesday, that’s it, I swear,” Maddon said. “Because you got other options to deal with. There’s different ways to look at this. I’m going to continue to try to do my best to keep everybody solvent. That’s the best way I can answer that. George obviously has prodigious power ability, so we’ll see how it plays.

“But I’m not going to make any promises.”

Beyond Bryant’s versatility as an All-Star third baseman, the Cubs also have super-utility guys Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez with the ability to toggle between the infield and the outfield.

It’s a remarkable comeback story for Kalish, another former Boston Red Sox prospect with connections to Theo Epstein’s front office.

Kalish struggled to stay healthy at Fenway Park and eventually recovered from cervical fusion surgery – performed by the same doctor who did the neck procedure for Peyton Manning – to make the Opening Day roster for Rick Renteria’s Cubs in 2014.

Kalish spent last year hanging out in Southern California, thinking about life after baseball and watching old buddies like Anthony Rizzo perform in the playoffs.

“I needed to keep trying,” Kalish said. “There were points where people were saying (stuff), even close friends wondering like: ‘Hey, maybe it’s time to move on?’ But I just couldn’t have that.

“I was going (to independent ball) if this didn’t come. The crazy part is that season hasn’t even started yet. It starts in like two weeks. But with all this developing, it just puts it all in perspective. It makes me appreciate what I have.”

The Cubs don’t want to rush Albert Almora from Iowa, even though they know their 2012 first-round pick could play above-average defense in The Show right now. Almora just turned 22, isn’t on the 40-man roster yet and has spent about a month on the Triple-A level.

Until this setback, Szczur had maximized his opportunity after the Cubs ruled out Shane Victorino (calf) for the Opening Day roster. Victorino is still working into game shape at the team’s Arizona complex and getting closer to joining the Triple-A club.

Szczur, who’s out of minor-league options, went from a bubble player to a key contributor, hitting .367 with two homers and 10 RBI in 34 plate appearances and becoming a late-game defensive replacement for Soler.

“It’s always bad timing,” Szczur said.

White Sox: For John Danks, shoulder surgery was a mixed bag

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White Sox: For John Danks, shoulder surgery was a mixed bag

The success rate for baseball players returning from shoulder surgery is awfully low, no matter what your definition of success is. 

Some never make it back to the major leagues. Others do, but for abbreviated stints before they’re forced out of the game. Some, like John Danks, return, but aren’t as effective as they were before going under the knife. 

Last year, FiveThirtyEight.com ran the numbers and found that only 67 percent of players who underwent a shoulder procedure returned to the major leagues (the rate for Tommy John surgery is 80 percent). For those pitchers who did return, they averaged 134 fewer innings per season than they did pre-surgery. 

With that in mind, Danks is somewhat of an outlier. From his return to the mound in 2013 until being designated for assignment by the White Sox this week, Danks threw 532 innings in 88 starts, and actually threw more innings in 2014 and 2015 than he did in 2011, his last full year in the majors before his August 2012 surgery. 

“The mere fact he got back on that mound and contributed to us over the last couple of years is a testament to his makeup, his strength and his character,” general manager Rick Hahn said. 

But no matter how hard Danks worked, and no matter how many adjustments he implemented, the results never returned to their pre-surgery levels. From 2008-2011, Danks looked like one of baseball’s more promising up-and-coming starters, posting a 3.77 ERA over 778 2/3 innings. It’s why the White Sox rewarded him with a five-year, $65 million extension in December of 2011. 

In those 532 innings since his surgery, though, Danks had a 4.84 ERA and allowed more home runs (88) than he did from 2008-2011 (80). 

“He never pointed fingers, he never blamed anyone other than himself,” ace left-hander Chris Sale said. “He was a man about it, he was a professional about it. A lot of people get stuck on the stats and the stuff. Some people don’t come back from the surgery he had.

“Not only did he come back from it, but he pitched with it at the highest level of baseball you can possibly be at.”

Danks’ average fastball velocity dropped from 91.6 mph in 2011 to the upper 80’s from 2013-2015, then plummeted to 87.1 mph in his four starts this season. That’s the most direct effect of Danks’ Aug. 6, 2012 surgery to repair a capsular tear and minor debridements of the rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder. 

Consider this: In Game 163 against the Minnesota Twins in 2008 — arguably the highlight of Danks’ career — the fastest pitch he threw was 95.5 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net. In his final start with the White Sox April 28 against the Baltimore Orioles, the hardest fastball he threw was 90.5 mph. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that after the shoulder surgery, he was a different guy,” Hahn said, “and that’s certainly zero fault of John Danks. He did everything in his power to fight back. And really, given the extent of the surgery, I sincerely mean it is impressive how much he was able to contribute after the surgery. 

“The fact that he even got back to the big-league level and the fact that he was able from time to time to put us in position to win ballgames, that’s a huge testament to his work ethic and his competitive spirit. There’s zero doubt in my mind the shoulder surgery changed who he was as a pitcher.”

Danks was able to push through over three years with the White Sox post-surgery, but he never could figure out how to reverse those consistently sub-optimal results. 

But as everyone within the White Sox organization will remind you, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. 

“As far as work ethic and just guts, he had all of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That was never a question. He’s always been able to do that and there’s a lot of respect for him in the clubhouse for all the things that he did and one of them’s coming back from an injury and trying to gut through it.” 

Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston rips 'arrogant' Aaron Rodgers in ESPN interview

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Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston rips 'arrogant' Aaron Rodgers in ESPN interview

Three days after the conclusion of the NFL Draft, Lamarr Houston already fired the first shot in the new chapter of the Bears-Packers rivalry.

After the Bears beat the Packers on Thanksgiving night last season, Houston spouted off on Aaron Rodgers, saying, "I give two flying you know what about him. I really don't like that guy."

The Bears linebacker made an appearance on ESPN's SportsNation Monday and further explained his issue with the Green Bay quarterback, including Rodgers' championship belt celebration:

"He's a little arrogant for me," Houston said. "He's a little too arrogant. He's a cheesehead. I'm a Bear; he's a cheesehead. I have a lot of respect for his game, I will say that. He's a great quarterback and as a player, I have a lot of respect for his game. That whole championship belt thing kinda gets on my nerves."

When asked if Rodgers has ever displayed this arrogance on the field besides the celebration, Houston said:

"He's chimed a few words to me before. And I'll keep that to myself."

It's particularly interesting that Houston takes issue with Rodgers' celebrations considering the linebacker tore his ACL celebrating a sack in the Bears' blowout loss to the New England Patriots in 2014.

Houston recorded seven tackles and a sack of Rodgers in that Thanksgiving matchup last season.

The Bears meet the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 7 and host Rodgers and Co. at Soldier Field Week 15 in 2016.