He returned to the Sharks after Christmas but didn’t crack the lineup again until mid-March.

“Of course I was wondering, ‘Am I being put out on the pasture? Am I going to get another shot?'” Martin says. “Even when I did come back, I didn’t know if I would have the chance to play again in the NHL.”

In the meantime, the team explored trade options for Martin. But he kept grinding, in the hopes this wasn’t it for him.

Being back after so many years away might have felt awkward at first, had he taken time to truly ponder its meaning. Instead, after accepting the position in late December, he had to quickly assemble a coaching staff and make up ground in recruiting. After signing day was over and he’d cobbled together the No. 14 class in the country, including signing coveted dual-threat QB Emory Jones, there wasn’t much time before spring practice began.

With film of practice on pause, Mullen lamented that he had to miss his daughter’s sixth birthday party the previous night. With spring game preparations later on, he was sure he’d miss her birthday dinner that night as well. There was just so much to do.

Spears: Cleveland versus Toronto. LeBron versus the East’s top-seeded Raptors. The return of Curry will have a lot of eyes on Warriors versus Pelicans, but it’s time for the Raptors to be more than just a regular-season wonder and they need to get past LeBron in the second round to do that. An early ousting would be devastating for Toronto.

Snellings: We already have it. The Pelicans, with the way they dominated their first-round series, are a compelling matchup against the defending champion Warriors, who hope to bring back the injured Curry soon. Of the remaining matchups, the most intriguing might be a battle with three of the unicorn-like young superstars, with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the Bucks against Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the Sixers.

So when people wonder aloud how the incumbent starting quarterback, Feleipe Franks, will fit into his system, Mullen doesn’t get flustered. He’s not ready to name a starter this early, but he hasn’t written off Franks, who threw nine touchdowns and eight interceptions as a freshman last season. In fact, Mullen said he’s stayed away from watching any old film of the team, so chances are he doesn’t even know that Franks ran for only 20 yards.

Todd Gurley’s comments about Odell Beckham aren’t tampering

With Rams running back Todd Gurley making known his desire to see Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. come to L.A., some are suggesting that Gurley has committed tampering. He hasn’t.

“Not an issue here with a player saying he’d like to play with another player,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email.

The tampering rule simply doesn’t apply to players. Unless a player is actively recruited by the club to become a “third-party intermediary” under Section 3(b)(10) of the anti-tampering policy, the player can say or do anything when it comes to privately or publicly recruiting a player under contract with another team.

LeBron James and the Cavs hold the tiebreaker (better conference record) and should be able to handle New York in their final two games, so Philadelphia — winner of 13 straight — probably needs three more wins to stay at No. 3. Philly’s toughest remaining game is versus Milwaukee on the final night of the season (Wed., 8 p.m. ET on ESPN).

On paper, the No. 3 seed seems especially important this year, with the potential opportunity to face the injury-riddled Celtics in the conference semifinals rather than the healthy Raptors.

Via Kyle Meinke of mlive.com, Lions president Rod Wood said during the annual meetings in Orlando that the team is exploring the possibility of dropping food and drink prices. It helps that the Lions use the same concessions company that the Falcons use. It hurts that Ford Field wasn’t designed to accommodate the increased traffic to the concessions stands.

Regardless of whether the Lions can pull it off, the fact that other teams are considering this simple and easy enhancement to the game-day experience is encouraging. Maybe all new and/or renovated stadiums will be designed to service the increased crowds that will gather when a far more realistic price point is applied to a captive audience that, in most venues, must choose either to overpay or do without.

Jose Berrios (R), 97 percent, Minnesota Twins vs. Seattle Mariners: A strong argument can be tendered to sit Berrios, as he’s facing a lineup loaded with dangerous lefties. If you’re in a tight battle in the ratio categories, reserving Berrios is defensible. However, he was drafted to be a rotation stalwart, expecting good overall numbers by season’s end. Trying to time when he succeeds and struggles will drive you crazy. Personally, I leave arms of this caliber in my lineup.buccaneers_092

Last season, the Baltimore Ravens ranked 29th in the NFL with 189.4 passing yards per game.

That isn’t much bang for the $20 million-plus the Ravens give Joe Flacco a year.

The Ravens’ lack of pass-catching talent deserves much of the blame for those struggles last season. Adding Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency should be a boost in that regard, provided the latter can stay healthy. Baltimore could select a receiver with the No. 16 overall pick, too.

We prepare for him just as much as we prepare for the other boppers in their lineup, Archer said.

After New York’s bullpen wasted a three-run lead for the second straight game, Gregorius drove an 0-2 pitch from Pruitt into the second deck in right in a four-run seventh. He blooped an opposite-field, broken-bat, two-run single to left in a three-run eighth.

It died a soldier’s death, he said of his lumber.

Fans rewarded Gregorius with a pair of curtain calls — he said they were his first in New York — after his second career multihomer game.

Judge was telling me to go out there, Gregorius said.

Unlike last year, the Chargers need to show they can seal the deal.

Five of L.A.’s seven losses last year were by a combined 18 points, and the Chargers lost four of those by a field goal or less. The team’s four-game skid to open the season featured two last-second losses on missed/blocked kicks and a two-point loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions.

The 2017 Chargers were a clinic in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory—a team that dug an early hole it couldn’t climb out of. The last thing they need in 2018 is a sluggish start reminiscent of that.

The other tantalizing possibility involves a player on the Giants’ roster. General manager Dave Gettleman has reportedly been looking for two first-round picks from teams looking to acquire star wideout Odell Beckham Jr., and the Patriots suddenly have two first-round picks in this year’s draft to work with. Beckham is under contract for one more year at $8.5 million, and while Cooks wasn’t necessarily a great fit for the Patriots offense, Beckham’s ability to accelerate after the catch and turn routine slants and crossing routes into touchdowns would make him a terrifying matchup with Brady in the fold.patriots_039

For Terrelle Pryor, health will be a key ingredient to a potential 2018 rebound

Last year, when receiver Terrelle Pryor opted for a one-year deal with Washington after generating more than 1,000 receiving yards with the Browns in 2016, many expected Pryor to explode in an offense run by a franchise quarterback in Kirk Cousins. Instead, Pryor regressed.

The key to a 2018 turnaround could be health. Pryor suffered an ankle injury in Week Two against the Rams, and the injury bothered him until he underwent season-ending ankle surgery in November.

And on Monday, President Trump — whose New Hampshire primary win two years ago set him on a course for the presidency — is slated to make an appearance in the state for the first time since 2016.

The next presidential primaries here are nearly two years away, but the unusual flurry of activity is stoking speculation about whether a sitting president could face a serious challenge from within his own party for the first time in a quarter-century.

Newly minted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, winner of two Super Bowls, a league MVP, Super Bowl MVP, and a member of the 2,000-yards rushing club, the one accolade that has eluded Davis is the trophy for Mile High Report Media Madness tournament. Last year, Davis crushed Dan Fouts, Shannon Sharpe, Brandon Stokley, Ed McCaffrey, and Kurt Warner only to fall to eventual Champion Brandon Perna. This year, Davis repeated against Sharpe, Stokley, and Warner while adding Mike Pritchard’s pelt to his collection. Does Davis have what it takes to unseat the reigning champion

The free-agent market didn’t pan out quite as well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as it could’ve, considering the team had so much cap room with which to work. Sometimes that happens, but there was a positive for the Buccaneers, even if it wasn’t a star-studded class of signings. They beefed up their defensive line, helping both their pass rush and run defense.

They swapped 32-year-old defensive end Robert Ayers for the 29-year-old Vinny Curry to help their anemic pass rush. Curry, who signed a three-year deal worth $27 million, had only three sacks last year but is great at pressuring quarterbacks.patriots_026

NBA wrap: Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre Jr. lead Wizards past Pistons

The Wizards, down 10 points to the Pistons after the first quarter, had already caught up by halftime, but they did most of their damage in the third.

Washington outscored the Pistons 45-28 in the first 12 minutes of the second half, taking control of the game on the road, ultimately leading to a 122-112 win. Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. were a big part of the comeback, scoring 26 points apiece.

The two combined to shoot 9 of 16 from 3-point range, lighting up the scoreboard while the Pistons looked helpless on defense. Oubre added five rebounds, while Beal had three rebounds and three assists.

Kings forward Justin Jackson is going to receive opportunities with Sacramento’s new youth movement, but he didn’t take advantage of his situation Friday, scoring just three points with one rebound and zero assists in a 106-88 loss to the Grizzlies.

Thunder (25-20) at Cavaliers (27-17) 3:30 p.m. ET — The Cavs, losers in nine of their last 13 games, have been linked with a number of possible trade targets, including Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. The Thunder have looked more impressive lately, but the three-headed monster of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony still hasn’t clicked. LeBron James could reach 30,000 career points in this game.

Cleveland knew the season was going to be rough in the beginning as they were not expecting to have guard Isaiah Thomas playing until January. Thomas is back in the lineup but still the team is mired in problems.

The Cavaliers are 2-3 with Thomas on the court and are allowing 123 points per game in those five outings. Cleveland is 25th in the league in points allowed per game, and are allowing nearly 18 points more per time out with Thomas on the court.

James talked about having a consistent plan on the court earlier this year and how that made the defense better during their 13-game winning streak. The team has not yet had that consistency with Thomas on the court. He has missed two of the last five games and has been on a minutes restriction as well.

The Penguins had dropped five straight to the Flames, including a 2-1 overtime loss in Calgary in November back when they played very much like a team dealing with a Stanley Cup hangover. Four months later, Pittsburgh is again looking like a threat to make a deep playoff run and wasted little time sprinting to a 2-0 lead.

Vancouver, which dropped to 3-7-1 in February, is 5-11-1 against intradivision foes.

The Canucks got goals from Sven Baertschi, Thomas Vanek and Daniel Sedin.

Anders Nilsson, who played in his 100th career game, had 19 saves for the Canucks before being replaced by Jacob Markstrom at the start of the third period. Markstrom made 8 stops for Vancouver.

“It’s definitely frustrating, I’m not happy with the loss,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “The players gotta realize that against a quick team they’re not gonna have as much time and space if you turn the puck over a couple of times inside their blue line.”

The Rams forced 28 turnovers this season, good for fifth-best in the league. They also went from registering just 31 sacks in 2016 to 48 in 2017, better than all but three teams. Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald led the way with 11, tying a career best.

Even though the Rams’ 2017 ended with a loss against the Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card round, McVay helped them make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. There’s no denying McVay has this young team on the right path.

Lewis could also jump routes and make plays on the ball. He led all linebackers with six interceptions in 2003. Lewis only went three seasons without registering at least one interception.

His 50 takeaways are the second-most among linebackers in NFL history. Jack Ham, a Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Hall of Famer, has three more takeaways than Lewis.

“We didn’t get off to a great start and we kept trying to find that one game when we could turn it around,” Spagnuolo said. “We just couldn’t. And sometimes when it snowballs downward and you keep trying to push that thing back up hill, it gets tougher and tougher.

Since the 1970s, nothing has more defined the identity of this city than its scrappy hometown football team.

The Steelers rose at the same time the city’s economy sank, becoming a symbol of underdog hope.

They still had their Steelers even though the factories, mills and coal mines shuttered. They still had their Steelers as families were ripped apart, children forced to move away in search of opportunity.

It’s a way of life around these parts. We hold our athletes and owners to a high standard. And on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to meet that standard. And not just one or two players, but the entire franchise, from owner on down.”

Given his track record of rebuilding the Bengals into playoff teams after mini-slumps, I would rather bet on a known commodity than an unknown prospect that doesn’t have the chops to handle the unique circumstances of this job. Remember, this is a franchise that traditionally hires coaches with previous ties to the organization, and none of the viable options (Hue Jackson, Jay Gruden and Vance Joseph) hit the streets during this coaching cycle.

“Right after practice, me and one to three other [players] would go to somebody’s house [to get high],” Britton recalls. “Smoking helped me to socialize with teammates. We let our guards down . . . But a lot of the time [stoned talk] wasn’t even about football. Cannabis took us out of football. We were hanging out and just being people. It brought us closer together as teammates.”

So Chiefs coach Andy Reid, in an effort to both rest veteran Alex Smith and give Mahomes some valuable experience, opted to make this move.

“Every snap that he gets is a valuable snap for him for whenever he has that chance of getting in there [as the full-time starter], Fortunately, we’re in a situation where we can do that,” Reid said.

This is something Payton did in 2006, when he selected a handful of players (Reggie Bush, Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, Zach Strief and Marques Colston) that helped make up the core of the team’s Super Bowl-winning squad in 2009. With each of those aforementioned players (plus Rob Ninkovich, who spent a year in New Orleans before moving on to Miami and New England) putting in a decade of service in the league, Payton had enough examples of the kind of players he needed to return the Saints back to prominence.

“The football makeup of that class, those guys all played 10 years,” Payton said. “The football makeup, the intelligence, the grit, those key factors in trying to measure success, it was important that we were clear. We weren’t being hard on each evaluation, but we need that type of foundation again of smart, tough football players that we had a clear vision for.”nike-youth-cardinals-063

According to Pro Football Focus, Guice forced seven missed tackles against Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl.

Third, that talent is constructed in a way that should be familiar to Patriots fans, and not in a good way. The Eagles bear a striking resemblance to the 2011 Giants team that upended the Pats in Indianapolis.

On a text thread with a couple of friends during the Eagles game, we were debating whether not Philly could trade Carson Wentz or if he was losing money on his second contract with every big Foles completion. I think we were joking? I was joking. But Foles has a history of doing some good things, both small and big sample size, in the NFL.

After sitting atop my quarterback rankings for the vast majority of the season, a brutal game at home against Kansas State sunk Rudolph to No. 2, just behind Lamar Jackson, as bowl season approached. Following a masterful 351-yard, two-touchdown, zero-interception performance against Virginia Tech, he regains the No. 1 quarterback spot.

Clockwork for him. On the season, Guice had four games with at least five forced missed tackles. One can reasonably argue that Guice is more impressive than Barkley between the tackles, and he’s probably more powerful through tackles. He just lacks elite long speed.

The Jets stayed put and had their choice of Adams or Lattimore, the draft’s top cornerback. They went with Adams, who was well worth the No. 6 selection. Should they have gone the QB route and taken Watson or Mahomes? Perhaps. But a case could be made that neither was worth the No. 6 pick.

Eric Reid, who has taken over the 49ers’ leadership on the matter since Kaepernick became a free agent, has promised that the team will continue to be out front on the issue. He and his teammates have, he says, the backing of owner Jed York, who has “expressed very clearly that he wants to support us,” Reid said. “That he’s not going to force us to do anything. Speaking for our team, that’s what he’s told me explicitly.”chargers_042

Seahawks fire offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell

Darrell Bevell’s run in Seattle has come to an end.

Prior to his Seahawks run, Bevell served as coordinator for the Vikings from 2006 to 2010. With coaching friends around the league and a resume stocked with accolades, he’ll find work again.

It’s late in the process for Seattle to make a switch, with new coaching staffs forming league-wide, but working with Wilson and Carroll make this an interesting landing spot for candidates. Carroll — typically loyal to his staff — could also choose to promote from within.

If Cam Newton deserves the chance to grow under a fresh-thinking play-caller in Carolina, the same is true of Wilson. Repeatedly asking your quarterback to singlehandedly save the day can be fun to watch, but it comes with a cost.

The latest example is Jim Plunkett, once a No. 1 overall draft pick in the NFL who quarterbacked the Raiders (first in Oakland and later in Los Angeles) to two Super Bowl titles, winning MVP honors the first time, a 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV.

Plunkett, 69, is the subject of a profile in Friday’s Mercury News in which he discusses being in constant pain, remembering 10 concussions suffered while assuming there were many more and saying: My life sucks. It’s no fun being in this body right now. Everything hurts.

There are a couple other drugs I take — I can’t know them all, he said. I’ve got to take them every day to quote-unquote survive.patriots_150_551ce72f98304b1e-180x180

It was a controversial call. Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera told reporters it wasn’t even explained to him on the field.

According to tight end Greg Olsen, other officials on the field even disagreed with the decision before it could be officially announced.

Other than those specifics, Gruden didn’t talk much about his contract. But he did make a joke about the reported length of the deal.

Gruden was asked by former Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson whether or not the team included a no-trade clause in his contract. Gruden said that they did, and he also said there is no ownership stake in the team included in his deal.

He addressed Woodson directly another time, and with a funnier quote. Gruden’s last game as the Raiders head coach was the infamous Tuck Rule game. Woodson is the one who stripped the ball from Tom Brady. The Tuck Rule was born when officials ruled it a forward pass. Gruden made it clear that he disagrees.

It was notable enough to dive into the inner battles over the national anthem issue between the league office and owners in a Seth Wickersham/Don Van Natta story for ESPN last week. But it seemed more jarring Sunday when Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that 17 owners participated in a conference call Thursday to explore roadblocking what seemed to be an imminent five-year contract extension for commissioner Roger Goodell.

Brown was a full participant during the Steelers’ Wednesday and Thursday practices, but he fell ill on Friday and didn’t practice. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin sent Brown home — telling reporters that he didn’t want Brown to get anyone else sick.

“Antonio has looked really good,” Tomlin said, via the team’s official website. “He didn’t participate today. I sent him home with an illness. I didn’t want him to get any of the guys that weren’t sick, sick. We’ll bring him back in the building tomorrow. I don’t have a lot of reservations about him from a physical health standpoint. We do need to get him well from an illness standpoint.”

Because it’s uncertain now if Goodell’s contract is fit to be signed today, or if the owners can still try to negotiate the deal down, it may be a moot point. But as one ownership source told me Sunday, Jones wouldn’t be going to this extent if he didn’t think he could affect the final number on Goodell’s deal—or whether there’s a deal at all. This source also said he thought Goodell would react badly to taking any significant pay cut. wings_1035