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.

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Scott Zolak said on Pregame Live Sunday that the Patriots are better-suited to survive a season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski than they were a season ago. 

Zolak said that given the health of Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and the signing of Chris Hogan, the offense has more stability at other positions to make up for the loss of Gronkowski, whose season is over due to back surgery. As for the tight end position, Zolak said he feels the Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett to protect themselves against scenarios like the one they currently face. 

“This offseason they [acquired] Martellus Bennett, I think for this very reason: to prepare for what really happens year after year, is some sort of issue comes up with Rob Gronkowski and you have to play without him,” Zolak said.

Bennett was questionable with an ankle injury for this week’s game, but is expected to play. Asked about the health of Bennett, Zolak said that he believes the tight end is good to play, but that his importance to the team with Gronkowski out means the Pats will need to be careful. 

“I think he’s healthy enough to get through about 30-35 snaps,” Zolak said. “They’ve got to balance him now moving forward.”