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Dez Bryant on taking pay cut in 2018: ‘Hell, no, man’

Dez Bryant has played in 22 straight regular-season games without crossing the 100-yard mark through the air, the longest dry spell of his celebrated career.

Four days away from Sunday’s regular-season finale with the Eagles, the Cowboys receiver spoke at length about his frustrating season — and his utter reluctance to recraft his contract.

I haven’t heard no talks about that, but if it comes — well, I don’t know, Bryant said on taking a pay cut, before adding: Probably not. Hell, no, man. I believe in me.

Said Bryant: Probably at the time I should have focused on what I could control. I let a lot of things get in the way. I wish I didn’t. I feel like that affected, I know for a fact, some of my play.

The reader will determine if any of this self-analysis is valuable from a player none of us expected to verbally agree to a pay cut in late-December.

Bryant hasn’t been himself in 2017, but plenty of wideouts on the cusp of 30 find that to be true.

Set to make a whopping $13 million next season, we’ll find out soon enough how the Cowboys truly feel about the Dez Bryant Experience going forward.

Luck said he hopes to throw the ball again soon.

I’m preparing to throw the football, if that makes sense, he said. It’s a progression to get back to that point. A lot of it has to do with me. Getting my strength back to a high level — I still have a ways to go there. I don’t want to skip any steps along the way.

Added Luck: And I do not think I need another surgery. I’m on the right path, I think I’m on the right progression, trusting in that. So we’re in the process of preparing to throw the football.

Luck said he believes he will be able to participate in all football activities heading into the 2018 campaign.

I plan on being ready for everything, he said referring to the offseason schedule.

I don’t see [the 2018 season] being in jeopardy at all, Luck added.

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Giants officially hire Pat Shurmur as head coach

New York officially has its new leader of Big Blue.

The Giants have hired Pat Shurmur as head coach, the team announced on Monday.

Shurmur, 52, shot back up the ranks of head coaching candidates thanks to his work with career backup Case Keenum in 2017 as part of a Vikings team that won the NFC North and was one win from a Super Bowl berth. The coordinator conducted the league’s 10th-ranked scoring offense (23.9 points per game), and No. 11 unit in total yards per game (356.9) and passing yards per game (234.6), sparking the emergence of pass-catchers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen along the way.

Diggs and Thielen each finished in the top 25 in receiving yards as Minnesota’s offense evolved from ugly in 2016 to more than adequate in 2017. With much of it riding on the execution of Keenum and a retooled offensive line, the transformation was considered even more impressive of an achievement.

The Giants gig is Shurmur’s second head coaching job. He posted a 9-23 record with the Cleveland Browns from 2011-2012 before he was fired at the conclusion of his second campaign.

Payton pulled the stunt during the fourth quarter of his team’s 20-17 loss to Atlanta, aiming the gesture toward Freeman following a play that saw the runner wind up on the New Orleans sideline. The coach told reporters after the game that he had no memory of the incident, but reversed course on Wednesday.

It’s the same thing that we talk about with our players all of the time. It wasn’t good and I felt like as that game went on, it even affected me in calling plays, Payton said. I’ve got to [be] better that way. It was frustrating from some of the officiating. But you learn even when you’ve been in this thing as long as I have. It’s something that you regret and you look back on: ‘What are you doing?’ So, I think that’s the thing that bugged me for the better part of the week.

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Andrew Luck believes he’ll be ready for 2018 season

Andrew Luck believes he’ll be ready for work in 2018.

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback spoke to the media Friday for the first time since traveling to the Netherlands to work with a therapist on his injured throwing shoulder. Luck said he did not undergo a new procedure overseas and doesn’t think he’ll need another surgery.

I feel stronger, more stable, more confident in it. It’s better, Luck said.

The 28-year-old underwent surgery last January for an injury he initially suffered in 2015. He attempted to come back during the season but was shut down when his shoulder didn’t respond after light throwing.

We’ve heard such optimism from Luck and the Colts in the past. Nobody, not even the quarterback, knows how his body will respond until he ramps up his throwing regimen.

A somewhat melancholy Luck made it clear he misses his teammates and being on the football field.

Like any guy who is injured, it’s not easy to watch your teammates go play, he said. It feels weird, but I don’t feel like I’m part of this team right now.

The Colts and Luck hope he’s a big part of the team in 2018.

Bryant defended his on-field numbers, acknowledging he was frustrated with the offensive scheme and saying, per The Dallas Morning News, there were certain situations I couldn’t control.

Said Bryant: I’m a hell of a football player. I know that. I believe that.

The receiver revealed that he’s played through tendonitis since facing the Chiefs in early November, but also acknowledged he allowed in-season distractions to drag down his play.

I felt like a lot of times I looked damn good, Bryant said, per the team’s official website. Then, I’d get to thinking about certain things and — you know, it bothers me. That’s all I can say.

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Payton regrets choking gesture directed at Freeman

If he could do it all over again, Sean Payton wouldn’t have done it all.

The Saints coach acknowledged Wednesday that he regrets having made a choking gesture toward Falcons running back Devonta Freeman when both team clashed back in Week 14.

We are pleased to welcome Pat to our organization and look forward to the leadership he will provide for our team, team president John Mara and chairman Steve Tisch said in a release from the team. He has an outstanding track record in developing young players, and it is clear his players respond to his guidance and direction. We interviewed six talented and qualified candidates, and we feel like Pat, with his vision and experience, is the right person to lead our team.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported last week New York had closed in on Shurmur as the team’s next coach, but with the Minnesota Vikings still alive in the NFC Championship Game, the Giants had to wait until they were eliminated to make his hiring official. All of that came together with the events of Sunday and Monday.

From minor leaguers with major league hopes for the upcoming season to toolsy teenagers climbing through the farm system, who made the cut as we begin counting down baseball’s best prospects?

I don’t think any of this is a big coincidence: Teams can’t buy championships. They can buy a player or two to finish off a good roster, but the bulk of a pennant-winning roster comes from within, either through cheaper players the team developed from its farm system or veterans acquired by trading such prospects. This year’s prospect-rankings package continues with the top 50 prospects in the minors. For the first half of the list, click here.

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Ken Norton Jr. named Seahawks defensive coordinator

Ken Norton Jr. is reuniting with Pete Carroll.

With Kris Richard on his way out of Seattle, Norton is returning to the Seahawks as the team’s defensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday. Norton served as the team’s linebackers coach from 2010-2014 before leaving to become Oakland’s defensive coordinator in 2015.

Norton has history with Carroll that stretches beyond the NFL. The former linebacker served as linebackers coach under Carroll at USC from 2004-2009 before leaving with Carroll for Seattle in 2010. The assistant rode the wave caused by Seattle’s defensive success to his defensive coordinator position with the Raiders, but after a second-straight disappointing season — even in Oakland’s 12-4 2016 campaign, the team finished 26th in yards allowed per game — he found himself on the way out alongside fired head coach Jack Del Rio.

Norton is returning to a familiar boss in a familiar place with a defense that is built to continue its upper-third play in 2018. That same unit retains proven personnel playing in a scheme Norton knows quite well, making this an ideal move for the coach who had to know this was a possibility all along, considering the reported terms of his contract.

It’s not going to hurt him for sure. He will learn from it, Reid said of the rookie, via ArrowheadPride.com. Every snap that he gets is a valuable snap for him whenever he has that chance of getting in there.

Reid added that Mahomes would get the first-team snaps in practice this week with Alex Smith leading the scout team. The veteran coach added he’d use the final game of the 2017 season to rest key starters and get other younger players besides Mahomes reps.

Reid said he’s not worried about the move to play Mahomes in the finale rankling Smith heading into the postseason.

Fortunately we have a quarterback who understands it, Reid said of Smith, per the Kansas City Star. He’s having an MVP caliber year.

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Koetter is the best guy to oversee that process for several other reasons.

Koetter acknowledges that Winston must continue working on reducing turnovers and not letting his drive to win spur excessive emotional outbursts like it did last week against Carolina and earlier this season in New Orleans. But nobody is quicker to defend Winston from what he perceives as unfair criticism about his leadership and maturity than Koetter.

The things he’s doing for a guy his age and experience are far beyond his years, Koetter said of the 23-year-old Winston. When you look at the tape, Jameis does a lot of good things. There are always things that have to get better.

As his rookie contract moves closer toward expiring, Bucs ownership must decide whether to offer Winston the kind of mega-deal that other young quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Derek Carr and Russell Wilson have signed. The evaluation process is far easier if Winston remains in the same offensive system, especially since he is undoubtedly making strides under Koetter and there are no guarantees he wouldn’t regress trying to master another playbook.

Such stability becomes even more important considering Winston is under NFL investigation after being accused of groping an Uber driver. If the league finds its personal conduct policy was violated and levies a perquisite six-game suspension, it will be far easier for Winston to pick up where he left off upon his return than trying to excel in a new scheme.

The Timberwolves beat the Lakers by 18 on Monday thanks both to Jimmy Butler’s 28 points and nine assists and Andrew Wiggins’ 21 points and nine rebounds.

Minnesota began the season a bit lukewarm but now finds itself 10 games above .500 at 24-14. It’s unclear if the Wolves will be able to sustain this streak with Jeff Teague’s knee injury, but almost 30 games into the season, it appears Minnesota is for real.

The Trail Blazers may have been short one of their stars, but the other stepped up when his team needed him.

C.J. McCollum went off against the surging Bulls for 32 points (albeit on 36.7 percent shooting) to power Portland to a 124-120 overtime win over Chicago. He scored 13 combined points in the final five minutes of regulation and in OT.

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Owens is a consistent hands-catcher and does a good job of adjusting his body to low throws and get his hands under the football.

Ultimately, Owens is a complete receiver, with a perfect blend of power and quickness and grades out as a fringe NFL starter.

Powell has great size and the majority of his bulk is distributed in his quads and base. Powell is an extremely strong player who has good athleticism and lateral movement ability, and he combines these two traits to stack and shed players at the line of scrimmage with ease.

Coutee possesses adequate size with outstanding foot speed with a second gear to run away from defenders in the open field. Coutee shows good ability to adjust his body to balls thrown behind him and demonstrates good leaping ability and kinesthetic sense.

Kelly offers tremendous upside at both safety and cornerback, both of which he has experience playing. Kelly flips his hips naturally without losing receiver or ball contact. He has some tackling inconsistencies and needs to be more physical in protecting against interior routes.

And, truth be told, only for the Lakers could we believe this possible, even if only slightly. Stick the general managers of the Cavaliers, Thunder, and Pelicans with truth serum and they’ll express some amount of fear of the Lakers. Fans of other teams so greedily celebrate the Lakers’ July failures because they fear a return to Lakers dominance. Kick them while they’re down, because you never know when they’ll stand back up and stomp you into the earth.

The fear is diminished with every losing season, and you have seen many in the Lakers fandom — legitimately one of the most diverse and smart fandoms in the NBA, no joke — embrace the reality of rebuilding from scratch. The plan from those in power, however, still hinges on the idea that the teams in 29th place plays by different rules. We’ll see.

In a case of bad timing, The Good Place returned to NBC last week with a scene in which Ted Danson’s character, Michael, says: Jaguars games are the only ones televised in the Bad Place because THEY SUCK.

Mande said while he was writing the first two seasons, he had just finished doing stand-up comedy shows in Jacksonville, which fueled his inspiration for the city and the team. He pondered the funniest contrast for the Jason Mendoza character, played by Manny Jacinto. On the show, Jason at first tried to convince everyone he was a Buddhist monk who had taken a vow of silence.

We thought, how about we make him a dirtbag from Florida who is an entrepreneur, a competitive dancer and a die-hard fan of this doomed franchise, Mande said. Mendoza’s dopey character is constantly ripped for his affection for the Jags and Bortles.

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9:54 p.m.: Hundley throws two incomplete passes and Green Bay heads into halftime trailing by 10.

9:52 p.m.: Keenum throws an incomplete pass on third down and the Vikings punt with 24 seconds on the clock.

9:48 p.m.: Turnover, Packers. Green Bay moves into the red zone for the first time in the game. But Hundley’s third-down pass is picked off by Vikings safety Harrison Smith with under two minutes to play in the half. Minnesota takes over on its 22 leading by 10.

9:08 p.m.: Touchdown, Vikings. Minnesota moves 68 yards on five plays and scores on a 4-yard pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs. Minnesota moved to the Green Bay 6 on a 39-yard defensive pass interference penalty by Packers cornerback Josh Hawkins. Minnesota leads 10-0.

Jamal Crawford’s locker is two to the left of his All-Star teammate’s. While Butler is preparing in another room, the three-time Sixth Man of the Year is holding a tablet in his lap, presumably to watch film.

Crawford has watched first-hand as Butler morphed from the new guy in Minnesota to the Timberwolves’ leader. He was one of the four higher profile veterans Thibodeau brought in during the Wolves’ roster reload over the summer, so he understood Butler needed time to get comfortable and more familiar with his new teammates.

But let Crawford tell it, his All-Star teammate started picking apart opposing defenses in early December once he started getting more aggressive in Minnesota’s offense. And coming from one of the better scorers this century, the most fun part about Butler’s midseason barrage is that he isn’t even playing to score.

He’s not one of those guys, Crawford told SB Nation. He can score, but he’s not playing for that. He’s just a great all-around player, and I think how he lifts everybody else up is what’s telling about him.

Plus, Porzingis is anemic. He discussed his struggles with anemia at length with ESPN’s Ian Begley.

I would run three times up and down the court in practice, and I would be dead tired. Not sweating at all. But dead tired, breathing like crazy, he said. And it was just the worst feeling ever. I was really struggling.

Porzingis has his anemia under control with iron pills, but it could be another factor in his fatigue.

Either way, this is something the Knicks should monitor. It might be good to get him a few spots of rest here and there to prepare for a final playoff push.

Luckily for the Knicks, they’ve got three games over the next six days, so maybe they’ll be able to buy him some rest then.

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Sutton’s fluid movements, remarkable body control and finishing ability remind of AJ Green.

Franklin offers elite speed and open-field ability but hasn’t done much to prove he’s a true NFL running back or receiver. He’s more an athlete than receiver or running back, and didn’t earn substantial playing time until later this senior season. He showed his top-end speed as a wildcat/gadget player.

He’s dominant in one-on-one and red zone opportunities, but his late-breaking route definition and hand placement as a pass-catcher needs work.

Owens is a consistent hands-catcher and does a good job of adjusting his body to low throws and get his hands under the football. Ultimately, Owens is a complete receiver, with a perfect blend of power and quickness and grades out as a fringe NFL starter.

Powell has great size and the majority of his bulk is distributed in his quads and base. Powell is an extremely strong player who has good athleticism and lateral movement ability, and he combines these two traits to stack and shed players at the line of scrimmage with ease.

So when are the Boston Celtics going to be the best team in the league? Two years from now? Three? Four?

That’s a dumb prediction to make �� in 2013, who saw the Golden State Warriors becoming arguably the greatest dynasty of all time? �� but the path is increasingly being laid out in front of us. The Celtics have offered no qualms about building for the future, and they’re still laughably ahead of schedule. The team’s 102-88 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday didn’t mean anything �� no Cleveland regular season game truly means anything, and Isaiah Thomas didn’t play. But it was at least another reminder of how great Boston has played this season against all odds.

Nobody knows if the Celtics will actually become the best team in the league in some uncertain amount of time. Golden State’s hegemony looks stable for at least another couple seasons. Houston believes they can keep shifting pieces looking for the perfect formula around James Harden and Chris Paul for three to four years. Philadelphia might have a new age Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal pairing in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and never count out the Spurs, ever, for any reason. The same goes for LeBron James and whatever superteam he could create.

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Giants hire Dave Gettleman as GM

Former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is back in the NFL and has a big task in front of him.

The two-win Giants announced Thursday they have hired Gettleman as the team’s new GM.

Giants co-owner John Mara fired GM Jerry Reese, along with coach Ben McAdoo after the team dropped to 2-10 on the season with a loss to the Raiders. Mara said he wants to hire a new GM before bringing aboard a new coach.

Gettleman to the Giants makes perfect sense �C he worked for the organization under former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi for more than 10 years, and Accorsi, who is consulting with Mara during the hiring process, holds Gettleman in high regard, having recommended him for the Panthers job.

Alvin Kamara wound up on the greatest percentage of ESPN playoff teams’ as well as finalists’ rosters, landing on 77.4 percent of the former and 48.3 percent of the latter, so predictably he ended up on the second-highest percentage of championship rosters (24.1 percent). A 30.8 PPR-fantasy-point Week 17 surely had a lot to say about that, but Kamara’s historic, 320.4-point rookie campaign at the price of a waiver pickup in most leagues largely propelled him to that status. He did, however, also suffer the third-largest drop-off in terms of percentage placement on champions’ compared to finalists’ rosters, 24.2 percent, which trailed only Greg Zuerlein’s 34.6 and Alfred Morris’ 24.5.

Two other Week 17 standouts understandably had large says in their teams’ championship quests, as top individual scorer JuJu Smith-Schuster (35.3 PPR fantasy points, found on 23.8 percent of championship rosters) and No. 3 scorer Dion Lewis (31.3 points, 21.4 percent) joined Gurley and Kamara as the only players this season to land on at least 20 percent of ESPN champions’ rosters.

Streaming members of the San Francisco 49ers’ passing game was an apparently good strategy during the 2017 fantasy football playoffs, as Marquise Goodwin wound up on 16.8 percent of ESPN championship rosters, third highest among wide receivers, while Jimmy Garoppolo landed on 16.0 percent, highest among quarterbacks. That makes sense, considering Garoppolo’s 72.26 PPR fantasy points during Weeks 14-17 were third most among quarterbacks, while Goodwin’s 57.5 points during that four-week span were 12th most among wide receivers.

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