Belichick responds to Ballard brouhaha

Belichick responds to Ballard brouhaha

By Tom E. Curran

FOXBORO - When the Patriots claimed injured Giants tight end Jake Ballard on Tuesday, the folks in New York were clearly bummed.

New York released Ballard to clear a roster spot for the team to re-sign defensive lineman Rocky Bernard.

The Giants hoped Ballard would pass through the league without anyone putting a claim on him. After all, Ballard tore an ACL in the Super Bowl and also had microfracture surgery. He would be of no help to anyone in 2012. Thirty teams passed. The Patriots didn't.

The Giants weren't happy. On Wednesday, head coach Tom Coughlin said, I certainly thought (Ballard would go unclaimed), for sure, Coughlin said. So did everybody. The whole building felt that way. Everyone did. It's obvious. It was a calculated risk that didn't work.

The Giants were kicking themselves, but there was no doubt a measure of agitation with the Patriots because every other team left Ballard alone. It's a professional courtesy, an unwritten rule (or expectation) that teams will stay away from players who are waived in order to pass them through to the practice squad or injured reserve.

Asked about the notion the Patriots breached an unwritten, Belichick said crisply, "First of all, there aren't any unwrittens."

He then deftly segued to inferring that the Giants may have been working on a deal for Ballard to return. He did so by pointing out that, of course the Giants wouldn't have been circumventing the rules by negotiating with a released player who was still in the waiver process.

"As you know, I'm sure you're aware you can't negotiate a contract (with a player), release him and then renegotiate a contract with him that was already done in advance, so I'm sure the Giants weren't doing that," said Belichick. "A player's on waivers, he's on waivers. Ours or anybody else's. I don't know what unwrittens you're talking about. Anytime you put a player on waivers, there's 31 other teams that can take him if they want him. We all know that. There's no secrets about that."

That doesn't mean that teams don't waive players with the strong hope that the player will go unclaimed. And it doesn't mean coaches won't pick up the phone and lobby opposing coaches to leave their waived players alone.

That's what Vikings coach Brad Childress said Belichick did in 2007 when New England waived tight end Garrett Mills.

Childress said on a Minnesota radio station that Belichick, "Didn't really care for (being told the Vikings wouldn't pass on claiming Mills). He was trying to leverage, but you always find out who is honest and straightforward."

The Patriots later claimed linebacker David Herron in what was viewed as a revenge move.

So why did the Patriots claim a player who can't play this year?

Well, they are light at tight end. Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells are still rehabbing injuries. Veteran Bo Scaife is a duct tape answer. And undrafted rookie Brad Herman just blew his Achilles last week. Defensive end Alex Silvestro has been taking reps at tight end during OTAs to give the Patriots enough bodies.

And while Ballard isn't going to fix that issue presently, tight end is clearly a lot more shallow than one who looks simply at the Patriots tight end production. It's a pivotal position in their offense and a varied one and the team had no backups to either spot in 2011.

Ballard has talent and can be a direct backup to Gronkowski. And he can compete with Fells for the third tight end role.

Ballard, meanwhile, sounds as if he didn't expect any of this to happen.

In a statement released through his agent, Ballard said, "While this was very sudden and I am still experiencing a great deal of differing emotions, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you and place some closure on a wonderful chapter in my life. I will greatly miss my teammates, the fans, the organization, and albeit short-lived, I will forever cherish all the great memories that we created during my time in a Giant uniform.

He added, "I am humbled by the opportunity that the Patriots have afforded me and as I have always done, I will bring nothing but hard work, professionalism, and integrity to what is already a world-class organization."

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

BOSTON – The wait is finally over for the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley.
 
Bradley will return to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after having missed the previous 18 games (and 22 out of 23) with a right Achilles injury.
 
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will play with a minutes restriction for the first week, and adjust accordingly.
 
Although Jaylen Brown has done a solid job filling in for Bradley with the first unit, Stevens had every intention of Bradley returning as a starter.
 
“He’s our starting two-guard,” Stevens said. “We started the year really well as far as that group playing together. We haven’t had that group playing together very often. Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) are both able to give us a lot off the bench as well as if we need to plug them into a (starting) lineup later on. We feel good about that.”
 
As far as handling Bradley’s minutes this week, Stevens has a very simple approach to what he needs to do.
 
“I’m just going to play him in the first couple of stints,” Stevens said. “And when his minutes run out he won’t play anymore. It is hard if you’re trying to save minutes for the end. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense with getting stiff, sitting for a long time, coming off a long lay-off.”
 
Bradley is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds. A first-team All-NBA Defender last season, Bradley is also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.