Saints sign two undrafted rookies, waive four players

The Saints confirmed Monday that they signed a couple of veteran players — tackle Michael Ola and defensive tackle Jay Bromley — after tryouts at their rookie minicamp and also announced the addition of a pair of undrafted rookies.

Linebacker KeShun Freeman comes to New Orleans after spending the last four years at Georgia Tech. He made 45 starts over those four seasons and left school with 159 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

Although Eli Manning is by all accounts a great guy who does great things in the community (his work on behalf of children fighting cancer is beyond admirable), any plausible claim that any player has committed fraud in connection with the sale of items used during NFL games should give the NFL concern. If there’s a “good guy” or a “favored team” exception for memorabilia fraud, will similar exceptions be made when questions emerge in future years regarding whether a player is accused of betting on NFL games, shaving points, and/or throwing games?

Despite the fact that Tyrod Taylor was the Buffalo Bills quarterback when they made the playoffs for the first time this century, they clearly did not believe he was the long-term answer. Taylor kept his interception totals low, but he averaged fewer than 7.0 yards per attempt the last two seasons and his passer rating dropped in each of those campaigns.

So kudos to the Bills for getting a third-round pick in exchange for Taylor in March before moving on to a pair of intriguing young passing options. They got good value later that month for AJ McCarron. And then they craftily moved up in the draft to add physical marvel Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick.

McCarron’s making just $5 million a year, and Allen is considered a long-term project, so there isn’t much pressure on either signal-caller right now. The Bills would surely love to get back to the playoffs, but this isn’t a Super Bowl-caliber team at the moment. The silver lining is that the Bills and their fans will get to spend this season assessing two high-potential fresh faces at the game’s most important position. 

Rising NFL Stars to Keep an Eye in OTAs

With the 2018 NFL draft and the bulk of free agency in the rearview mirror, it’s time for the next chapter of the offseason.

At this point next week, all 32 NFL franchises will have started their organized team activities for 2018. There’ll be a lot to keep an eye on between now and the middle of June, when professional football takes a real vacation for the first and only time all year.

Between now and then, we’ve highlighted a dozen promising young players who are worth paying close attention to as OTAs get underway. Some are coming back from injuries, while others are learning new systems or preparing to play bigger roles, but they’re all looking to prove they’re ready to take the next step toward stardom.

That’s great news for Vikings fans who are anxious to see how Cook looks in his first full offseason as a pro, especially after the team lost versatile back Jerick McKinnon in free agency.

Two seasons into his career, Derrick Henry has scored 11 touchdowns on only 310 touches while averaging a solid 4.3 yards per carry. That might explain why the Tennessee Titans released veteran back DeMarco Murray in March, paving the way for Henry to serve in a much larger role in 2018.

I’ve been a part of Hard Knocks and when you experience it first hand, you come to appreciate the inside look it really gives fans, Browns coach Hue Jackson said in a statement. “I want people to see how much our players and coaches care, how hard they work and how badly they want to win for Cleveland.”

Beyond the presence of Mayfield, the brash Heisman Trophy winner, the Browns should provide a fair dose of other intriguing storylines — from Jackson, who is 1-31 in two seasons in Cleveland, to the additions of quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

The Browns also have a largely-reworked front office, now led by first-year general manager John Dorsey.

The storylines in Cleveland are compelling, which make the Browns an ideal partner on Hard Knocks, said Ross Ketover of NFL Films, which partners with HBO Sports on the series. “We’re looking forward to showing NFL fans around the world what the Haslams, John Dorsey, Hue Jackson and the coaching staff are doing to rebuild the team and reboot one of the most iconic franchises in sports.”

MORE: NFL worst-to-first candidates: Which teams could make big leaps in 2018?

NFL sets Super Bowl host cities for 2023, 2024

Boston has done well against the Hill-LeBron two-man game, but Cleveland hasn’t used it enough. For the playoffs, the Cavs have scored 1.14 points per possession when Hill screens for LeBron, and 1.17 the other way around — elite marks, per Second Spectrum.

Super Bowl 57 will be the third at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, which also hosted in 2008 and 2015. Arizona also hosted the Super Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in 1996.

“All parties are grateful to have the matter, which began in 2014, concluded and are now focused on football, the fans and the future.”

It’s undeniable that something has been different about these Capitals through three rounds of the playoffs, from a mental toughness perspective. When adversity struck in the first two rounds against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington pushed through it.

“This group has been resilient as hell all year,” said coach Barry Trotz, as the Capitals attempt to rally again in the Eastern Conference finals, down 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning heading into Game 6 on Monday.

He will receive another $250,000 per game if he plays 33 percent of the snaps and the team wins for a max payout of $8 million.

The $250,000 per game doubles to $500,000 in the playoffs with a win worth $1 million if plays a third of the game. That amount could go up to $1.5 million if Foles plays more than half the snaps and the Eagles win the game. He will also earn $500,000 if he makes the Pro Bowl on the original ballot.

Foles’ payday is the result of a restructured contract after he lead the Eagles to last season’s Super Bowl victory and was named MVP.

Technically, this is true. Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd and Nathan Walker are 24. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are 23. Jakub Vrana is 22. Shane Gersich is 21. All of them are old enough to buy their own ticket for “Deadpool 2.” If they’re kids, it’s only in hockey parlance. Like the fact that none of them had played a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before this postseason.

So we’ll call them “young players who contributed mightily to this deepest Washington Capitals playoff run in 20 years,” thanks to their skill, their speed and their good fortune of not having marinated in the disappointment of prior postseason failures.

Packers, Patriots well-positioned for 2019 NFL draft

The 2018 draft featured a flurry of trades, but we won’t have any idea who got the better end of those deals for at least another year, when the 2019 draft picks that were traded over the weekend are used.

The Bills could certainly use help at wide receiver, but after they drafted two receivers in Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud and North Carolina’s Austin Proehl, they don’t sound like they want to make a move for Bryant right now. Bryant hasn’t found a fit since the Cowboys released him, and he’s still looking.

Colts fans have heard the team’s optimism repeatedly over the past 16 months without seeing the former No. 1 overall pick return to the field.

Luck continues to recover from shoulder surgery performed in January 2017, which kept him out all of last season.

Irsay declared last month that Luck had “turned the corner” in his rehab. He reiterated Saturday that the Colts expect Luck to start the season under center.

“I think it’s a stepping stone process,” Irsay said. “He’s got to go through practices; he’s got to get roughed up a little by his teammates; he’s got to get roughed up in preseason; and then he’s got to play regular season when it’s all on the line. You guys know this is a process, and football players like Drew Brees have come through for a decade and have had excellence after the surgery that Andrew went through.

“We feel we have a guy for the next 10 years who’s going to be a great, great football player.”

Mayfield’s biggest adjustment will come in learning to play under center, Jackson said. The Heisman Trophy winner played 95 percent of his college snaps in the shotgun but will play only 60-70 percent in the shotgun in the NFL, per Cabot.

Mayfield said at the combine he wasn’t “going to settle for the backup job.” But after the Browns drafted him, Mayfield said he understood why the Browns have named Taylor the starter.

Man killed, dumped on roadside in apparent retaliation for shooting death of Carlos Gray

The death of former Green Bay Packers defensive end Carlos Gray has now led to another person losing their life.

According to Jay Reeves of the Associated Press, the bullet-riddle body of a man, 21-year old Darryl Thomas, was found dumped on the side of the road near Birmingham, Ala. on Wednesday. Authorities say the death is being viewed as retribution for Gray’s shooting death late Monday night inside his home.

There are notable free agents available on the open market, including DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson, but drastic moves in New Orleans are unlikely.

The Saints don’t have plans to sign a veteran running back to replace Ingram, a team official told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche.

Wyche adds the official said that along with second-year pro Alvin Kamara, the Saints have other running backs on the roster the team desires to evaluate. The group includes Daniel Lasco, Jonathan Williams, Trey Edmunds and rookie Boston Scott, whom the Saints selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

What is Tom Brady missing by steering clear of offseason workouts?

Ballage split time in the Sun Devils backfield over the last three years and had his biggest game early in the 2016 season when he scored eight touchdowns in a win over Texas Tech. He had 15 total touchdowns during the 2016 season and added 44 catches out of the backfield before dropping to 20 in his senior season. Ballage also returned kickoffs the last two years.

Receiving and special teams work were roles handled by Damien Williams during his tenure with Miami. He left for Kansas City as a free agent, which may present Ballage a path to playing time as a rookie.

She told police they met on a Texas beach, fellow college students visiting South Padre Island during spring break 1996.

She was a 21-year-old college student at a large university; they were two football players and Theta Chi fraternity brothers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York.

On the evening of March 15, 1996, the woman told police that two men burst into the upscale hotel room where she was sleeping and took turns violently sexually assaulting her, according to court records and a news account at the time. They were arrested, charged and later indicted by a grand jury on one count of aggravated sexual assault — but they never stood trial and were not convicted.

Baker Mayfield ‘definitely’ in conversation for Browns’ No. 1 pick

Baker Mayfield “definitely” has been a part of the Cleveland Browns’ considerations with the No. 1 draft pick, a league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and the former Oklahoma quarterback cannot be ruled out as a possibility for the top overall selection Thursday night.

The source said the Browns may have already decided whom they would select at No. 1. But before that final decision, whenever it was made, Mayfield was in that conversation.

The inclusion of Mayfield in the Browns’ conversation adds murkiness to the top of the draft, where Cleveland owns picks Nos. 1 and 4.

Raptors: Fred VanVleet (right shoulder) was not available. VanVleet has played fewer than three minutes in the series, all in Game 2. … After making 18 turnovers in each of Games 3 and 4, Toronto had 10 turnovers in Game 5.

Before the game, players from both teams held up banners with the hashtag (hash)TORONTOSTRONG and a moment of silence was held to honor the victims of the deadly van attack Monday in Toronto. The Raptors, the Wizards and the NBA will make a donation to a fund for victims and those affected by the incident.

Callaway’s new agent, Malki Kawa, said Tuesday that it was for a diluted sample. A diluted sample is treated as a positive test result under the NFL’s Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse.

Kawa did not represent Callaway during the combine; he was hired two weeks ago.

Shortly after Callaway was informed that he tested positive, he and his former agent, Melvin Bratton, parted ways.

In December 2015, a female Florida student accused Callaway of sexually assaulting her, but a Title IX hearing officer cleared him of wrongdoing in August 2016. The woman and her witnesses boycotted the hearing because the university appointed an attorney who was also a Gators football booster to hear the case. Callaway was never criminally charged in the incident.

According to the hearing officer’s ruling, Callaway testified that he was “high on marijuana” during the encounter with the woman and stated that he was “so stoned I had no interest in having sex with anyone.”

Saints to honor late owner Tom Benson with empty chair in their war room for NFL draft

The New Orleans Saints will leave an empty chair in their war room during this week’s NFL draft in honor of late owner Tom Benson, who died in March.

“We’ll be thinking about him for sure,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told reporters at his Wednesday pre-draft news conference. “I’ve tried not to think about that. We miss him on a daily basis.”

Loomis said Benson’s “excitement would have been off the charts” at a time when the sports empire now run by his wife, Gayle Benson, is thriving. Not only are the Saints coming off of an 11-5 season, but the Bensons also own the red-hot New Orleans Pelicans and a horse, Lone Sailor, that will be running in the Kentucky Derby.

However, Loomis stressed that the Saints don’t necessarily need to fill all of those needs through the draft. And they both stressed the need to stick to their draft board and draft the highest-graded player, regardless of position needs — a philosophy that has served them well over the years.

“(Assistant general manager/college scouting director Jeff Ireland) says this a lot: ‘Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to build on a strength, add to a strength,'” Loomis said. “And we agree with that.”

Payton and Loomis also said that quarterback is just as much in play this year as it has been in recent years, even though the Saints have just one pick in the top 90. They won’t force a quarterback pick, however, even though Drew Brees is 39 years old. It will depend on their draft grades, just like any other position.

Reports surfaced earlier this month that Seattle pulled out of a planned workout for Kaepernick, who has been without an NFL team since the end of the 2016 season. Seattle has been one of the few teams to show any interest in Kaepernick following his protests during the national anthem in the 2016 season with San Francisco.

Carroll said the reports of what happened with the intended workout were “blown up.”

“I think we’ve been working at this thing for some time now. I don’t think that was really as telling as it came across,” Carroll said. “We’re really aware of him and he’s a fine football player and there may be a place for him. We don’t know that yet.”

Whether Seattle revisits Kaepernick might be answered during this week’s draft, if the Seahawks invest a draft pick in a quarterback for the first time since selecting Russell Wilson in 2012. Seattle has signed backups Stephen Morris and Austin Davis this offseason.

Diamondbacks power past Phillies 8-2

Arizona provided plenty of run support for Matt Koch (1-0). He went six innings and allowed two runs and six hits. He walked two and struck out four.

“Day-to-day kind of stuff,” manager Joe Maddon said before the Cubs beat Milwaukee 1-0 Thursday. “I’m not anticipating anything awful or bad. We’re just waiting for everyone to be on board. Once we do that, he’ll be back out there playing.”

The decision is mostly Bryant’s to make, according to Maddon, who said Bryant might be available off the bench Thursday night. But it’s possible the former MVP needs a few more days after being hit by a 96 mph fastball from German Marquez in the first inning of Sunday’s game. He walked off with help from Maddon and the Cubs’ training staff and subsequently passed all tests.

Nelson Cruz added three hits, including two RBI singles.

Hernandez (3-2) settled down after giving up the homer to Moncada and a double by Yolmer Sanchez on his first two pitches. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner went six innings, scattering three runs and seven hits while striking out six and walking two.

Defensively, Wall also helped hold DeMar DeRozan to 1-for-5 shooting in those final six minutes, most of them without All-Star Bradley Beal, who had fouled out in that game.

During Game 5, Wall hit 4-of-6 sbots and scored 10 of his points in the third quarter. He hit two more baskets early in the fourth before failing to score again in the last 9:41.

Acuna became the youngest player in the majors when he was called up from Triple-A before the game. He went 1 for 5 and played left field.

“As soon as I hit the field, I felt at home,” Acuna said through a translator. “I felt comfortable.”

Atlanta manager Brian Snitker saw no signs of nerves from his prodigy.

“I thought he was really good,” Snitker said. “Nothing affected him. He wasn’t overwhelmed. He went out and played his game.”

Acuna asked for jersey No. 13, following fellow Venezuelans Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel. The newcomer twice flied out deep, and struck out twice.

Ozzie Albies, the second-youngest player in the bigs at 21, homered for Atlanta. He was hit by a pitch to begin the ninth and scored on the go-ahead run on Johan Camargo’s second double of the game, a sharp one-hopper that shortstop Cliff Pennington couldn’t backhand.

Bruins score 4 in 3rd to beat Maple Leafs 7-4 in Game 7

Jake DeBrusk watched the tiebreaking goal go into the net from ice level, sliding into the boards on his backside after he was flattened by Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner.

The Bruins rookie didn’t even have time to climb up off his knees before he was mobbed by teammates.

“Jake had a real coming-out party in the series,” coach Bruce Cassidy said after DeBrusk scored twice to help Boston beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-4 on Wednesday night and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“Uh, it went pretty well,” he said with a laugh. “Obviously, with the win it was special — something I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget this series just in general, first playoffs. I was really happy to contribute.”

Frederik Andersen had 29 saves for the Maple Leafs, who have not won a playoff series since 2004. They came close in the first round in 2013, when they rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit against Boston and took a 4-1 lead in Game 7.

“It’s always disappointing,” said Patrick Marleau, who scored twice for Toronto. “Obviously, you’re trying to win the Cup. To fall short once again, it’s heartbreaking every time.”

Travis Dermott also scored for the Maple Leafs, who again won back-to-back games after falling behind 3-1 in the series. Game 6 came in Toronto on the night that a man drove a van onto a crowded sidewalk in the city, killing 10 people and injuring more than a dozen others.

“At the end, it was (all) about will,” Antetokounmpo said. “I was out there, I was trying to make plays, I was trying to be aggressive.”

He had plenty of company to help keep the Celtics on their heels down the stretch.

Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon each added 16 points, with Brogdon hitting a momentum-swinging 3 from the left corner to give the Bucks a two-possession lead with 5:22 left.

Just getting to Game 7 is a small but significant step for a young team that lost in six games to the Toronto Raptors a year ago. The up-and-coming Bucks haven’t played a seventh game in the playoffs since losing to Atlanta in the first round in 2010.

“This is what you work for. Embrace that moment. Go out as a team, attack it together … find a way to get a win,” coach Joe Prunty said.

The Celtics had their shots to win in it six. They led by nine early, then drew as close as 80-78 with 7:13 left on Marcus Morris’ 3-pointer.

The Bucks made the last big push to close out the Celtics.

Maple Leafs hold moment of silence for van attack victims

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins held a moment of silence before Game 6 of their first-round playoff series to pay tribute to the victims of a van attack in Toronto that left 10 pedestrians dead and 15 injured on Monday.

The arena was darkened and images of the city were displayed on the videoboard. The public address announcer asked patrons to remove their hats.

Bruins center Patrice Bergeron recalled that, saying in a message displayed to the crowd, “I can guarantee you, the city of Boston is behind the city of Toronto right now.

“Unfortunately, Boston’s been through it in 2013 and same thing with my teammates. So my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this.”

Speaking at a news conference Monday night, Toronto’s Chief of Police Mark Saunders raised the initial death toll of nine to 10, saying another victim had died at a hospital. He said 15 others were hospitalized.

A rented van had plowed down a crowded Toronto sidewalk Monday, causing injuries and deaths before fleeing. The driver was quickly arrested in a confrontation with police, Canadian authorities said. Witnesses said the driver was moving fast and appeared to be acting deliberately, but police officials would not comment on the cause or any possible motive.

Ohtani struck out seven and has fanned 26 this year, a record for an Angels pitcher after the first four career games of his career.

He said he felt better than he did in his last outing.

“To get my pitch count down, I’ve got to throw first-pitch strikes,” he said through a translator. “That’s the key. Also, the Astros have a very good lineup and they made me work really hard. If the pitch count goes up, there’s nothing I can do about that.”

The Angels jumped on Charlie Morton early to build a 4-1 lead. Derek Fisher hit a two-run homer for Houston in the fifth off Ohtani and Brian McCann added a two-run homer off Jose Alvarez in the sixth to put the Astros ahead.

There were runners at first and second with two outs in the seventh when Albert Pujols snapped an 0-for-7 slide with an RBI single to tie it at 5. Simmons then sent a pitch from Joe Smith (1-1) to the train tracks atop left field for fourth career multihomer game.

“They won the World Series last year and we beat them two times in a row,” Simmons said. “It’s just a confidence-booster for us.”

Alex Bregman hit an RBI single off Jim Johnson (2-0) in the seventh and Marwin Gonzalez added a run-scoring single off Justin Anderson to cut the lead to 8-7 with one out in the inning. But Anderson retired the next two batters to wriggle out of a bases-loaded jam and preserve the lead.