Devin Funchess looking to build on last season in contract year

The moment the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin was the moment Devin Funchess took over as the team’s No. 1 receiver. In the eight games following the trade, Funchess had 483 yards and averaged 16.1 yards per catch while playing the X.

The former second-round pick enters the final year of his rookie deal looking to prove he can do it for a season.

What was a hunch last week has become a reality. The NFL, despite a reputation for meting out discipline without compromise, reached a compromise with Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, giving him a three-game suspension in exchange for an agreement not to appeal and to apologize generally to the victim for whatever it is that he did.

Every year there’s more and more data that gives insight into how we can play safer and improve the game, Bailey said, via the Dallas Morning News. So, I get it and I’m all for guys playing safe because it means they are going to have long careers. You want everyone to play as long as they can. I think it’s just part of the game now. We’ve got so much data and everything is tracked. It’s good to implement what you can to make everybody safer.

However, Bailey said the rules changes, designed to result in fewer high-speed collisions, could lead to more kickoff returns and potentially more chances for injuries.

More returns could be an unintended consequence of the new rules, Bailey said. If eight members of the return team have to be lined up within 15 yards of the spot of kickoff, what’s to keep the kicker from just popping it right over the top? That could be dangerous. Not maybe a concussion, but guys being in a scrum trying to get to a popped-up ball and maybe getting an ankle rolled.

What Frazier hopes to get out of facing old team

The move lets the Yankees put a potent bat before they turn over their lineup with Brett Gardner at the top and potential MVP choice Aaron Judge hitting second. Accordingly, Yankees starting pitchers will hit eighth.

Torres has been one of the brightest spots for the Yankees in what’s been a remarkable season.

Ranked the sixth best prospect in the game according to Baseball America, Torres has hit .302 with 10 home runs and 28 RBI in 40 games.

But he had been in a rut of late.

Prior to going 2-for-3 Friday including a clutch eighth-inning single that set up Brett Gardner’s go-ahead home run the 21-year-old Venezuela native had just seven hits in his last 32 at-bats (.219) in his previous eight games entering Friday night. He had struck out nine times, or nearly in 30 percent of those at-bats.

Gorkys Hernandez (R), 7 percent, San Francisco Giants vs. San Diego Padres (RHP Jordan Lyles): Lyles is a hurler you want to attack. Not only has he been tagged for multiple homers in four of his past six starts, but he’s allowed a whopping 27 hits over his past 17 1/3 innings. The right-hander has shown reverse splits this season (.323/.353/.543), which suits Hernandez just fine (.309/.350/.509 vs. RHP).

According to Jon Heyman of FRS Baseball, three teams could emerge: Houston, Cleveland and Philadelphia. Here’s what Heyman wrote about possible interest from the Astros and Indians–and how it’s impacting Britton.

Zach Britton is in a weird spot. I’m basically showcasing myself, he told Orioles media. The Astros, who thought they had a trade for Britton at last year’s first deadline, remain interested, according to sources. The Indians, who were heavy on Britton last year, are, too.

As for the Phillies?A need in the bullpen and longtime connection to Britton could facilitate a deal.

Zach Britton was also a favorite of the Orioles execs who drafted him and now are running the Phillies. Might be something to keep an eye on.

Britton, 30, has pitched 4.1 scoreless innings since being activated from the disabled list. With five strikeouts, Britton’s swing-and-miss ability is there, but command has been lacking–including four waks. Since the start of the 2017 season, Britton’s 1.55 SO/BB ratio is far from impressive. From 2014-2016, when the lefty was on top of the sport, his SO/BB ratio sat at 3.91.

Texans training camp questions: All eyes on Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt

In the lead-up to training camps, USA TODAY Sports will be taking a look at the key questions facing each team. Today, we look at the Houston Texans:

How is Deshaun Watson’s recovery going?

The loss of their rookie quarterback proved to be a serious midseason blow for the Texans. The Clemson product had infused an anemic offense with life, setting an NFL record with 19 touchdown passes in his first seven games. Then a devastating knee injury during a non-contact practice drill ended his season. The Texans went 1-8 without Watson to finish the season at 4-12. Watson is expected to return to action by the regular-season opener

Because the Giants signed former Rutgers running back Robert Martin as an undrafted rookie did general manager Dave Gettleman see the Tweet, too? he and Barkley finally are part of the same loaded backfield.

An alternative reality plays out in front of eyes at every practice.

I think Rob Martin would laugh at that one, too, Barkley said. I think it worked out for the best for both of us.

They’re at least still in good shape in the backfield thanks to the emergence of Kenyan Drake (5.0 yards per carry two years into his career) and Frank Gore (doesn’t age), but that tandem can’t totally compensate for the shortcomings at receiver and tight end. 

Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders desperately need top receiver Amari Cooper to bounce back from an ugly 2017 season, especially since Cooper’s sidekick, Michael Crabtree, is gone. 

The Raiders inexplicably decided to replace Crabtree—who scored eight-plus touchdowns in each of his three seasons in Oakland—with the older, less productive Jordy Nelson, whose numbers fell off a cliff during his age-32 season with the Packers in 2017. They also landed Martavis Bryant from the Steelers, but Bryant has lacked consistency throughout his tumultuous four-year career.

Tight end Jared Cook had a decent maiden season with the Raiders after coming over from Green Bay a year ago, but Carr will miss Crabtree if both Cooper and Nelson can’t get back on track or Bryant can’t emerge.

Chiefs sign third-rounder, make more moves

The Chiefs handled a bunch of paperwork Thursday, as teams approach the end of offseason programs.

The team announced a handful of transactions, including the signing of third-round pick Derrick Nnadi.

Six NBA teams are clients, along with five NFL teams and five MLB teams. Teams in the MLS and NHL and several major college programs also use AIQ. In six years, the database has grown to the point that test scores offer a statistical correlation with on-field performance — whether it’s rushing yards, interceptions, batting average, slugging percentage, scoring average or steals in basketball.

We’re comparing apples to apples not apples to oranges, Bowman said. If you score well on our tests, it’s something that’s notable and something that’s special.

The son of ex-Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Erik Williams has been arrested for a double murder in a drug deal gone bad in Texas.

According to FanRag Sports, Murray and the Athletics have a $5 million deal in place which will allow him to play football for Oklahoma in 2018. The slot for the No. 9 pick in the MLB draft is $4.76 million, so the A’s will have to move some money around with their other picks.

The deal allows him to play for just one year, though. Murray has two years left of college football eligibility.

Kyler Murray and the A’s have a deal that guarantees him close to $5M and allows him to play football (he’s a QB and could be Baker Mayfield’s replacement) at Oklahoma for 1 year.

Oakland took Murray with ninth-overall pick Monday knowing full well he is slotted to be OU’s starting quarterback in the fall, taking over for 2017 Heisman Trophy winner — and No. 1 NFL draft pick — Baker Mayfield.

Report: Patriots shopped Gronk to teams they trust

No, the Patriots didn’t have a deal in place for tight end Rob Gronkowski that was kiboshed by owner Robert Kraft after quarterback Tom Brady threatened to retire. Yes, they were calling teams about a potential trade as recently as three days before the draft.

So who were they calling? Albert Breer of SI.com recently said on FS1 that the Patriots talked not to the entire league, but to some teams they trust.

In fact, he’s now using that case as a recruitment tool — as in, sign with him and it won’t happen to you.

[CAA] should be going through [clients’] social media, line-by-line, the minute they become a client, he said. This is no different than representing a politician. You have to know everything that could potentially come out.

Darnold will get a chance to compete for the job.

We’ll see what happens at the end of training camp, Bowles said, via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.

Vacchiano quotes a team source saying Darnold as a real chance to open the season under center. Darnold has taken first-team reps, impressing the Jets with how he’s handled everything so far.

We threw the whole playbook at him, Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. Just like the same with Josh and Teddy. If you treat them like a rookie, they will become a rookie. We threw the whole book at him to see what he can handle, what he needs to work on.

Wilkins noted that the squad does have a local hair-salon sponsor, but the women are required to tip for whatever the service would’ve cost: For me, it was probably close to $150 a month. She also paid $10 to $15 out of pocket for spray tans once or twice a month, year-round.

The ladies also have to wash their own uniforms, unlike the players.

Dion Lewis says he and Derrick Henry can be NFL’s best RB duo

The Tennessee Titans’ top two running backs couldn’t look more different to observers. Derrick Henry stands tall at 6-foot-3, weighing an imposing 245 pounds. Newcomer Dion Lewis stands 5-foot-7, but after a few minutes of watching the 190-pound back run through arm tackles, it’s clear he’s not all that little. There isn’t a more diverse NFL backfield, and the Titans hope what makes them unique will also make them great together

I thought it was a good play by Sevy, he said. It was definitely him being aggressive. I think when the ball first went up, Gary didn’t see it. So the sun being what it was, the way I saw it was Gary looked at it and then kind of looked to his right for maybe help from third base or something like he couldn’t find it. And I think Sevy saw that maybe (Sanchez) didn’t see it. So he said, ‘Maybe I’m going to catch that and went up and got the rebound.

Severino cracked up telling his side of the story on a day he pitched eight shutout innings to improve to 10-2.

He didn’t say, ‘I got it’ until I was there, so I went for it, Severino said. At the beginning, he didn’t see (the ball). I went there and when I jumped, I heard, ‘I got it.’ But I already was in the air.

When Severino came down with the ball, Sanchez told him, ‘You took it from my glove.

Later, Sanchez said, I was very surprised he jumped and caught it. I think it’s just his instinct to make a play there.

Surprisingly, Yankees manager Aaron Boone approved of Severino rushing in to steal the ball from Sanchez.

The most peculiar play of the game came in the fifth when Rays right fielder Carlos Gomez hit a high popup just in front of the plate and Severino raced in and jumped over Sanchez to make the catch.

Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ DH on Saturday, was 2 for 4 with two doubles. He’s hitting.444 (8 for 18) over his last five games.

Cardinals sign a running back

The Cardinals had a roster spot open up this week when undrafted rookie fullback Austin Ramesh decided to walk away from football after several concussions during his college career at Wisconsin.

The team has dragged this thing out, but it’s clear Luck isn’t healthy enough to play. The Colts will look to Brissett to carry the team for the rest of the season.

After luck was placed on IR earlier in the week, it was reported that he was advised to not throw for months in order to focus on his rehab.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, there’s also a chance he could have another surgery:

First, most recommendations have Luck taking a few months off from throwing likely two to three months to focus solely on rehab. At this point, no one has recommended another surgery, though it remains a possibility.

I’m going to ask all of those people to recommend to me — because that’s what they’re protesting — people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system. And I understand that. I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated and I’m gonna take a look at those applications and if I find and my committee finds that they’ve been unfairly treated than we’ll pardon them. Or at least let them out.

I think it’s going to be interesting, Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook said, via Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I think there’s a lot of people wondering about how it’s going to be. Thankfully, we have at least what we think it’s going to be now, the rules and so forth, (so) we’re able to work on it. You’re probably going to see, in my opinion — it’s just my opinion — but more returns.

As Tom Brady returns to practice, Patriots QB falls short of Bill Belichick’s standards

Deep into the first mandatory minicamp practice of the year for the New England Patriots, everything came to a sudden halt. For good reason.

Bill Belichick was screaming, his fury directed at the offense guided by Tom Brady. Judging by the choice words, it was apparent that what Belichick saw was too sloppy for comfort. He ordered the entire unit to sprint a lap down the field and back, with Brady at the front of the pack, while the defense rested.

Maybe this is just the challenge that Brady, 40, needs. Like, go ahead, try a new offseason regimen and see if you can still win it all. However given the established standards here, everything might not be kosher unless Brady and Belichick can lead the Patriots to another title. You know, Super Bowl or bust.

What he’s done since February, you have to be a superstar to do that, Baffert said. He’s like Pharoah. They’re superstars.

Two batters after Judge put the Yankees in the lead, Giancarlo Stanton had teammates dumbfounded watching him homer to left on an 0-1 changeup from righty Joe Biagini that looked like it was shot out of a cannon.

I think that’s maybe the hardest ball I’ve ever seen hit, manager Aaron Boone said.

By Statcast calculations, this 416-foot blast had a 119.3 mph exit velocity that made it the hardest-hit homer of the season and second hardest ball hit this year behind only a 119.9 mph single to right center that Judge hit off Los Angeles Angels righty Garrett Richards on May 27 at Yankee Stadium.

How Sanchez still impacts Yankees as a.200 hitter

Since Statcast started keeping exit velocities in 2015, Stanton’s homer was tied for the 12th hardest hit on a list in which he and Judge have 11 of the top 13.

Stanton didn’t do a post-game interview with reporters. Maybe he wasn’t impressed.

NFL Execs: Johnny Manziel’s’Potential Is off the Charts’ Amid Comeback Attempt

NFL executives reportedly think Johnny Manziel’s potential is “off the charts,” according to B/R’s Mike Freeman, as the quarterback attempts to make an NFL comeback.

Freeman added:

“My bottom line is that there is no doubt in my mind that someone should sign him,” he noted. “I’ve seen enough of the quarterback skill. His endurance has not been an issue. I’ve never been around Johnny Manziel until this moment in time, but I see a very quick arm. I see very active eyes. He sees things and particularly when he’s on the move, those classic Johnny Manziel plays, I’ve seen those come up here.”

B/R’s Mike Tanier tried to put Manziel’s showing in context, however:

But Seifert reported that 17 NFL teams have been in attendance for the league’s practices, and they saw a number of nice plays from Manziel:

It’s unclear if Manziel will catch on with an NFL team, but if he doesn’t, he’ll likely continue his career with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who Seifert reported “covet” Manziel. Regardless, it appears Johnny Football will be on the field next season.

There was nothing super remarkable about the play, just more of what we have come to expect from the shoo-in for the Rookie of the Year award.

The dunk came during a second quarter in which the Sixers achieved all the separation they would need, and they went on to tie the franchise record for consecutive single-season victories with their 14th straight win, 109-97.

They are now 21-0 when holding opponents under 100 points; they are now at 50 victories, and they have the ability to lock up the No. 3 seed if they win their final two games — at Atlanta on Tuesday and home against Milwaukee on Wednesday night.

No matter what happens, Game 1 of their first round series will be at the Wells Fargo Center sometime next weekend.

“I wouldn’t want to play these guys in the first round, not with them having home court, not in this place,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.