UFC Match Maker: Frankie Edgar – Dominick Cruz

Frankie Edgar

This past weekend at UFC Fight Island 5, Cory Sandhagen (13-2) had a huge victory over Marlon Moraes (23-7-1). After the fight was over, one of the names that Sandhagen mentioned he’d be interested in fighting was Frankie Edgar (24-8-1).

Edgar is currently ranked fifth in the UFC‘s bantamweight division after successfully making his debut against Pedro Munhoz earlier this year. Edgar is trying to work his way up another division for another UFC title opportunity.

While Sandhagen mentioned his name, it doesn’t seem like a matchup the UFC will move to book. Instead, there was another potential matchup that pundits were mentioning that is extremely intriguing for Frankie Edgar. That’s a matchup with former UFC champion, Dominick Cruz (22-3).

While Cruz has been very inactive over the last few years due to injuries, he’s healthy now. He just fought back in May where he lost his title match to Henry Cejudo back at UFC 249. A matchup between the two could serve as a legend vs legend scenario.

Would the UFC make the fight?

It would be very interesting to see if the UFC would make this fight. On one hand, the fight makes a lot of sense for both fighters. Cruz is a former champion coming off a title loss while Edgar is a former champion trying to get a bantamweight title shot.

A win for either man would put them squarely in the mix for another title shot. However, I’m not sure it would be a fight that Frankie Edgar would be interested in right now. Cruz has been so inactive, that Edgar might be looking for more of a stable opponent in the division.

That being said, it is the fight that I would move to make. I think the UFC would be better off giving Cory Sandhagen the returning TJ Dillashaw. I think the fans would love to see the potential matchup between former UFC champions Dominick Cruz and Frankie Edgar.

New York Rangers agree to terms with Alexis Lafreniere

The New York Rangers announced on Monday afternoon that they have agreed to terms with their 2020 first-round draft pick, Alexis Lafreniere.

Lafreniere is the first player who has been selected by the Rangers with the first overall pick in the NHL Amateur/Entry Draft since the universal Draft was adopted in 1969.

 

The forward, who turned 19 years-old yesterday, skated in 52 games with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) this past season, registering 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points, along with a plus-41 rating and 50 penalty minutes. He received several awards in 2019-20; he was named the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Player of the Year, received the Michel Briere Trophy as the QMJHL’s Most Valuable Player, received the Mike Bossy Trophy as the QMJHL’s Best Professional Prospect.

The 6-2, 193-pounder has skated in 173 career QMJHL games over three seasons (2017-18 – 2019-20), all with Rimouski, registering 114 goals and 183 assists for 297 points, along with a plus-128 rating and 176 penalty minutes. Lafrenière was named the CHL Player of the Year, the QMJHL’s Most Valuable Player, and the QMJHL’s Personality of the Year in each of the last two seasons (2018-19 and 2019-20); the only other player who has won each of those awards twice is Sidney Crosby. He has recorded 80 or more points in each of his three seasons in the QMJHL, including 100 or more points in two of those seasons, and he has also registered 35 or more goals in each of his three seasons in the league. Lafrenière has been named to the QMJHL First All-Star Team in each of his three seasons in the league, including his rookie season in 2017-18, when he was named the CHL Rookie of the Year and the QMJHL Rookie of the Year and registered a QMJHL career-high 42 goals in 60 games. His 42 goals in 2017-18 were the most by a QMJHL player in his U17 season or younger since Crosby (54 in 2003-04).

Via Capfriendly.com Lafreniere signed the NHL’s entry-level maximum contract which breaks down as follows;

$925k cap hit
$3.775M AAV
$11.325M total value

$832,500 Base Salary (all 3 yrs)
$92,500 Signing Bonus (all 3 yrs)
$850k Sched ‘A’ Bonus (all 3 yrs)
$2M Sched ‘B’ Bonus (all 3 yrs)

NASCAR: defending Kyle Busch on elimination, bad luck in 2020

Kyle Busch, Nascar

Kyle Busch’s NASCAR Cup Series championship defense came to an unceremonious end on Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With 32 of 36 races complete on the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series ledger, earning 12 top-five finishes and 17 top-tens is the type of statistical posting a lot of drivers would kill for.

But Kyle Busch has spent his NASCAR career proving that he’s anything but a typical driver. Thus, such an output only brings him disappointment.

The culmination of a disappointing 2020 arose for Busch on Sunday, as he and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team were officially eliminated from contending for the Cup Series championship. Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course trimmed the playoff field from a dozen drivers to eight, and Busch’s 30th-place posting wasn’t enough to allow advancement. Thus, the defending champion Busch headlines the eliminated quartet.

“It’s just been the year. Nothing has played out and been on our side. It’s just been unfortunate circumstances, a lot of bad luck,” Busch said after the race in statements provided by Toyota Racing.

With his playoff departure, Busch becomes the first defending champion erased prior to the Round of 8 since elimination rounds were introduced in 2014. Busch will also be reduced to also-ran status at next month’s season finale, where four drivers will contend for the Cup Series title, for the first time since the “Championship 4” concept was introduced that same season.

The label of disappointment is apparent once one takes a closer look at Busch’s NASCAR resume. As one of two drivers with at least 200 victories over NASCAR’s three national levels (the other being Richard Petty), Busch is in danger of going winless at the Cup level for the first time in his full-time endeavors.

Bad luck has defined Busch’s 2020 campaign, as the No. 18 Toyota was often befallen by factors beyond their control. They got caught up in several wrecks they weren’t responsible for while other races saw their vehicle befallen by technical issues. In an example of the former, Busch’s de facto must-win situation in Charlotte was necessitated through an overtime crash that began when the No. 18’s bumper received an overzealous push from rookie Tyler Reddick. 

Even Busch’s polarizing part-time escapades into the lower-tier Xfinity and Truck Series were haunted. A come-from-behind victory win in his self-owned No. 54 Toyota at the Xfinity Series’ My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway was denied by postrace inspection failure, turning the win over to Austin Cindric instead. 

Busch let his frustration out in several ways, even when things went well. After advancing to the Round of 12 with a runner-up finish at Bristol last month Busch declared he “(didn’t) care” about the next round because “we’ll be eliminated in the next round”, a comment he later labeled as “tongue-in-cheek”. After Sunday, Busch appeared to have some form of acceptance about his elimination, acknowledging that a strong year for some was disappointing in his realm. He nonetheless expressed appreciation for the efforts of his No. 18 team, one that has guided him to all but four of his 56 Cup Series wins (good for eighth all-time) and each of his Cup titles (2015, 2019).

“It’s been a terrible year for me,” Busch admitted. “As other sports greats would say, there’s many other drivers that would love to have a year that we’re having, but it’s just frustrating to know how good we are and what we’re capable of and being champions from last year to not come out here and be able to succeed and be able to win.”

“These guys on this M&M’s Camry team never give up and they fight all year long and every race and every lap, every pit stop as we can see. Man, just one of (those) off years.”

Busch pulled out all the stops in an attempt to earn an elusive win on Sunday at Charlotte’s Roval (half-oval, half-road course). Contact with fellow playoff contender Clint Bowyer cost him a tire on lap 43 of 109, forcing him to pit road under the green flag. He and his crew were able to limit the damage done and Busch wound up taking the lead with 19 to go, when he and four other lead-lap cars stayed on the track during a caution period initiated by the stalled car of Brennan Poole.

Unfortunately for Busch, he was unable to hang on to the lead, passed by his JGR teammate Erik Jones shortly after the restart. Dwindling fuel later forced Busch to pit road on the penultimate lap as road course king Chase Elliott coasted to victory, relegated him toward the back of the lead lap finishers.

Busch opted to look at the positives in defeat, pleased that he was able to improve at the Roval. Sunday marked the first time in three tries that the No. 18 was running at the finish. A late crash took him out of contention at the inaugural visit in 2018 while suspension issues took him out early in a speedbump to his championship a year later.

“We probably would have been third or fourth or somewhere in there. (Elliott) was stellar. They have the best car here,” Busch said. “We got closer this year than we were last year for as fast off as we were last year, I felt like this was at least a decent run or a better run for us. Still have a lot of work to do to try to get better. I’m not sure what it is, but we lack a lot of drive off the corners.”

Busch still has a little something to fight for, as four races remain for him to extend his streak of years with at least one win. He has earned at least one victory since joining the Cup Series full-time with Hendrick Motorsports in 2005. Busch admitted he doesn’t feel like he has a shot, but he’s ready to accept the challenge moving forward.

“It’s very important,” he said of the streak. “There’s certainly been times this year where I’ve been like ‘man, there’s something wrong with me, I’m not doing it right, I don’t know what I’m doing, or the car’s not quite right, I’m not trusting what the car’s really doing or telling me, so I should just drive it harder’…certainly it would be nice to score a win, and to have a win this year, that would be the only consolation prize with how this year has gone.”

The next opportunity for Busch to extend his streak comes next Sunday at Kansas Speedway’s Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC). His older brother Kurt, having advanced through a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s South Point 400, will be among those racing in the Round of 8, driving the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Could the New York Yankees explore an Aroldis Chapman trade?

New York Yankees, Aroldis Chapman

There is no question that New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is one of the best in baseball, but he has been a problem postseason.

In two consecutive years, Chapman has given up home runs to knock the Yankees out of the postseason. Last year it was against Jose Altuve, who launch a curveball into the bleachers, sending the Houston Astros to the World Series. This year, Rays’ Michael Brosseau received his revenge on Chapman, hitting a ninth-inning home run that ended the Bombers’ hopes of progressing.

While Chapman finished the 2020 regular season with a 3.09 ERA and three saves, his postseason numbers weren’t as convincing. In two games against the Rays, he allowed a 3.38 ERA and one home run, which cost the Yankees the series.

TOP ARTICLE: 17 players could leave the Yankees this year, find out who might stay! 

At this point, Chapman remains one of the more dominant closers in baseball with his ferocious fastball, but the Yankees could look to gain capital in exchange for him.

One team that makes sense in a potential trade would be the Philadelphia Phillies, who simply missed out on the playoffs due to their bullpen. Their 7.06 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, and .315 batting average against were all last in the MLB.

Gathering prospects or immediate starters would be beneficial for the Yankees, who could use the bolstering in their mid-bullpen and outfield. Chapman is scheduled to make $15 million in 2021 and will be a free agent after the 2022 season. That gives any given team two more years of control, and the Yankees could always elevate Zack Britton into the closer role, which he has enjoyed success in.

With Tommy Kahnle returning from Tommy John surgery next year, I expect the Yankees to go out and find another solid bullpen arm. Trading Chapman is only acceptable if Britton is forced into the closer role, which is reasonable, considering he finished the year with a 1.89 ERA and eight saves. He only allowed four runs and zero homers over 19 innings.

New York Giants: 2 standout performances in week 5 defeat to Dallas

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

The New York Giants came within inches of beating the Dallas Cowboys in week five, and it would’ve marked their first win under new head coach Joe Judge.

However, the Giants fell apart at the seams when the fourth quarter rolled around, as their offense was unable to get into scoring position on the final drive of the game, allowing Dallas an opportunity with 54 seconds on the clock on their own 12-yard line. Thanks to multiple timely no calls from the referees, Dallas was able to secure the victory, sending the Giants to 0-5 on the season.

This is the first time in history the Giants and Jets have combined for a 0-10 start, and if ownership isn’t pacing at the fact, something must be wrong. Somebody has to be held accountable for the lack of success the Giants are enjoying, even if they’re headed down the right path.

The offense is still unable to perform at an adequate level, with the defense carrying the team for the majority of games. Thanks to four Graham Gano field goals, three of which came from 50+ yards, the Giants were able to stick in the contest.

If you add Gano’s 12 points and Kyler Fackrell’s pick-6, the offense only managed 16 points, which is simply unacceptable.

Two standout performances for the New York Giants in week 5:

1.) James Bradberry

In one of the most anticipated games of the season, free-agent signing James Bradberry had one of his best performances to date. Shadowing top pass catcher Amari Cooper all game, he allowed just two receptions for 23 yards. That is reminiscent of the Janoris Jenkins and Dez Bryant match up from years past.

However, the Cowboys focused on CeeDee Lamb in the passing game, as he racked up 124 yards matched up against Ryan Lewis and other corner options for the Giants.

Nonetheless, Bradberry has been a stud all season long, currently enjoying nine passes defended and one interception. He also has one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He’s allowed a 54.2% completion rate this season, having been targeted only 24 times in five games. He continues to be a staple for the Giants on defense and is one of the most humble players in the locker room. His outstanding performance is extremely notable and attests to his quality.

2.) Darius Slayton

While the Giants’ wide receivers were held in check throughout the contest, former sixth-round pick Darius Slayton had his way with the Cowboys secondary. He hauled in eight receptions for 129 yards, averaging 16.1 yards per catch.

On one play toward the end of the contest, Slayton landed a 39-yard pass with one hand, reminding the fanbase of Odell Beckham Jr. and his phenomenal catches from the past.

Earlier on in the game, Slayton brought in a fantastic touchdown on the right boundary, but it was called back for offensive pass interference on Damian Ratley.

After the game, Slayton stated that the play wasn’t intended to be a pick, but it just happened to turn out that way. When playing in Dallas, you can never expect to have any calls go your way, and that was the case for the Giants throughout the game.

Once again, Darius rose to the occasion and proved himself to be the Giants’ number one receiver, and gaining back Sterling Shepard should help the team tremendously in the future.

TJ Dillashaw’s UFC return is upon us

The former two time UFC bantamweight champion is getting ready to make his return to the octagon. In about three months, the suspension will be lifted from TJ Dillashaw (16-4) and he will once again be allowed to compete in the UFC.

A couple of years ago, Dillashaw was riding an incredible wave in the UFC. He had regained his bantamweight title by knocking out Cody Garbrandt, then he knocked Garbrandt out again in the rematch that took place at UFC 227.

Following that, Dillashaw attempted to do something that only Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, and Amanda Nunes had done. Dillashaw wanted to become a two division champion and hold both belts at the same time.

Dillashaw’s task was to take out the UFC‘s flyweight king, Henry Cejudo. TJ Dillashaw appeared to nearly kill himself making the flyweight limit, but he successfully made it and the fight was on. However, the fight ended in just 32 seconds after Cejudo connected with a shot and put Dillashaw down.

Dillashaw protested the stoppage and wanted to run things back. The UFC seemed interested in the rematch as well. Then out of no where, Dillashaw announced that he was relinquishing his bantamweight title due to a positive drug test.

Long road back to UFC glory

Later, it came out that Dillashaw had popped for EPO. A performance enhancing drug that specifically aides in your energy levels. Dillashaw said he was struggling to maintain energy while trying to cut down to the flyweight limit. Dillashaw was suspended for two years.

Since then, Dillashaw has used the time away from the UFC to get his body right. He had a couple of shoulder surgeries to repair some damage that had been lingering for some time. Now, he feels like he is better than ever ahead of next UFC run.

There are going to be a lot of questions surrounding Dillashaw. There is also going to be a lot of pressure on his shoulders. If he can come back, test clean, and win the UFC title once again, it will be a big statement to the level of fighter that Dillashaw is.

However, if he can never return to his past form, people will always wonder if it was just the PEDs that aided Dillashaw. Granted, he never had failed a test, but popping for EPO after rumors had circulated for some time about Dillashaw isn’t a good look. Dillashaw is expected to return in early 2021 to the UFC.

New York Yankees News: 17 players could leave the Yankees – Find out who may stay

New York Yankees, DJ LeMahieu

The New York Yankees are coming off of another disappointing season, being eliminated in the 2020 ALDS by the Tampa Bay Rays in five games. Now that the season is over, the Yankee organization will be looking at what went wrong and how to solve it before starting the 2021 baseball season.  Among those decisions to be made is what to do with seventeen Yankees that might leave the team during the offseason.

Giancarlo Stanton LF DH:

Next season, Giancarlo Stanton will be in the seventh year of his $325M contract and the fourth year as a Yankee. Stanton was the NL MVP in 2017. After that season, the Yankees took over his contract from the Miami Marlins. Next year he is due $29M. He has a no-trade clause in the contract. Also in the contract is an opt-out after the 2020 season.  The likelihood of that happened is the same as saying the Yankees will have no rainouts next season. Stanton, during his time with the Yankees, has been injured often. This season, when coming back from a hamstring injury, Stanton caught fire and was a Yankee star in the postseason. He had six home runs, driving in 13 and hitting .308. Stanton will be returning. 100%.

DJ LeMahieu 2b:

In 2019 the New York Yankees obtained DJ LeMahieu from the Colorado Rockies, signing him to a two-year $24M contract that is now over. During the two years, LeMahieu has been with the Yankees; he has been everything the Yankees could have wanted from a player. During the 2019 season, he won a Player of the Week award, a Player of the Month award, and at the end of the season, he won an AL Silver Slugger Award. He topped that off at the end of the 2020 season by winning the AL Batting Title, becoming the first player to win the coveted award in both leagues.  Now he is a free agent.

The New York Yankees will surely want to retain LeMahieu to lead off their lineup. With his performance, the Yankees will not get the bargain that got with his last contract. The Yankees’ only question will be how long his new contract will be and for how many dollars. Because of his age, the contract offered will probably be between four and six years, and most likely at a 50% or more raise over his present contract.  Return projection 90%.

Brett Gardner LF CF:

Brett Gardner is a free agent again this season. Last year after a fantastic year, the Yankees signed him to a two-year $20M with a $2M signing bonus that includes a club option for the 2021 season.  If the team doesn’t exercise that option, they can buy out his contract for $2.5M. Gardner, this year did not have the season he did last year.  He hit .223 with only 5 home runs, which is an equivalent of 13 home runs in a normal season, compared to his 28 home runs last year. Obviously that is a sharp decline in power. Gardner still performs well in the field and on the base paths. He stole a home run off of Randy Arozarena in the ALDS.

The question of Gardner’s return is complicated. If it was based purely on his performance, he probably wouldn’t be returning. However, there is more to Gardner than just performance in the game. He is the heart and soul of the team. He is a clubhouse leader and mentor to younger players. Gardner is the only holdover from the 2009 World Series team and the longest-tenured Yankee as well as being one of the most popular Yankees. The Yankees will have to answer if it is worth an investment of $7.5M to keep him around? Garder has made it known that he wants to retire from baseball as a Yankee and feels he can still contribute. Probability of return 70%.

Masahiro Tanaka Starter:

Masahiro Tanaka is at the end of his seven-year $155M contract and is a free agent for the first time since being in the United States.  He was signed in 2014 to be the new New York Yankee ace. That never really materialized, except in his first season with the Yankees. An elbow injury that should have had Tommy John surgery didn’t. Tanaka played through it, and it defined his time with the Yankees. His last two seasons have been his poorest with the Yankees, with this season, being his worst, 3-3. Tanaka also lost both of his postseason starts.

Tanaka has said he loves pitching in New York. However, after his last loss, he sent a heartfelt message to Yankee fans thanking them for their support and calling them the best fans in the world. Considering the end of his contract, the message hinted that he might not be back. Tanaka is still revered as an icon in his home in Japan. Might Tanaka finish out his career in his beloved Japan? Tanaka is still relatively young at 31. He made $23M this season. If the Yankees want him back, he will not earn close to that, and it will be a short contract. The question is, will Tanaka accept a sharply discounted contract, test the free-agent market, or go back to Japan. Probability of return 50%.

J.A. Happ Starter:

J.A. Happ started with the Yankees, coming from the Blue Jays halfway through the 2018 season.  He was a godsend for the Yankees going 7-0 in the last games of the season. He did not pitch as well in 2019 but still had a respectable 12-8 season. He hasn’t fared as well in 2020, going 2-2 but with a nice 3.47 ERA. He pitched only in relief in the postseason, a game the Yankees lost while Happ gave up four earned runs.

Happ’s contract that ran out at the end of the season  and was vested for the 2021 season if he pitched 165 innings or started 27 games.  The shortened MLB season negated that vesting, and he is a free agent. Happ has been at odds with management at times. Back at the end of August, General Manager Brian Cashman lashed out at Happ for his performance. Later that day, Happ pitched 7 1/3 shut out innings for a Yankee win. Considering that Domingo German will be back with the Yankees and Luis Severino as some point, it is not likely the Yankees will offer Happ much to return. He earned $17M this season—the probability of return 25%.

James Paxton Starter:

In 2019 James Paxton who came from the Seattle Mariners was the number two pitcher for the Yankees going 15-6 in 29  starts.  During the offseason, the Yankees picked up pitching ace Gerrit Cole. With Domingo German on suspension and Luis Severino out with Tommy John surgery, Paxton again was projected to be the number two starter in the rotation. Paxton sputtered at the begining of the season and then had his season derailed by a forearm injury that kept him out the rest of the season and out for the postseaon.

Paxton throughout his career has been frequently injured. But Paxton pitched well in the 2019 postseason winning both of his games. Paxton has been a top pitcher for many of his years. If the Yankees can broker a good deal they should resign “The Big Maple.” Probability of return 60%.

Zack Britton Reliever:

Zack Britton was a closer for the Baltimore Orioles. They New York Yankees signed him to  a 3 year / $39,000,000 contract, including $39,000,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $13,000,000. In 2020, Britton  earned a base salary of $13,000,000. His contract included a opt-out at the end of the 2020 season.

Britton has been excellent for the Yankees.  At one point this year, when Aroldis Chapman was diagnosed with the coronavirus, Britton saved eight games in a row for the Yankees. He has proved that he can fill in for Chapman at any moment and do it well.  The Yankees will hope that Britton does not opt out. If he does, they are likely to work out a new contract. Probablility of return 80%.

Others:

There are several other New York Yankees that are not on the roster that have also become free agents.  The most notible are 40 year old back up catcher Erik Kratz, probability of return 60%. The other is SS Jordy Mercer an infielder, probability of return 30%. Others include C Josh Thole, RP Dan Otero, SP Chad Bettis, SS Jonathan Diaz, RP Wilking Rodriquez, 3b Matt Duffy, RP J Graham and RP Fernando Abad. The probability of return for these range from 30% to zero. Of these others, Dan Otero and Matt Duffy have the best chance of return.

The probibilities or return for any of these Yankees players could be affected by what the Yankee front office does to procure new players, like Tevor Bauer, Franisco Lindor, or even a J.T. Realmuto and others. That and the faith they have in up and coming prospects, will make this one of the most interesting postseason of changes in recent years as the Yankees try to reshape the team and get that elusive 28th World Championship.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.

 

 

 

What’s next for Cory Sandhagen after UFC Fight Island 5?

This past Saturday night, the UFC hosted their fifth fight night from Fight Island. In the main event of the evening, there was a bantamweight contest between former title challenger Marlon Moraes (23-7-1) and Cory Sandhagen (13-2).

It was a very big fight for the UFC‘s bantamweight division. Moraes was the top ranked contender while Sandhagen came in fourth. Despite being fourth, Sandhagen was actually the betting favorite heading into UFC Fight Island 5.

In the fight, Sandhagen made it apparent why he was the betting favorite. Sandhagen did a fantastic job of striking from the outside and flustering Moraes with his movement. Moraes really just looked like he could never get going on Saturday.

Finally, in the second round, Sandhagen handed a spinning kicked that floored the former UFC title challenger. A few follow up shots after that caused the referee to step in and call a stop to the action. The biggest UFC win so far for Sandhagen.

Who should the UFC pair him with next?

In his post fight interview, Sandhagen had a couple of names that he was interested. TJ Dillashaw and Frankie Edgar were the two names that Sandhagen had in mind when envisioning his next UFC fight. He figured those were the only two ahead of him in the title picture.

Edgar recently made his successful UFC bantamweight debut by defeating Pedro Munhoz. The fight was razor close, but a win put Edgar near the top of the division. Edgar is looking to challenge for a UFC title in the third weight class that he’s competed in.

TJ Dillashaw is able to come back in January after being suspended for two years. The former UFC bantamweight king was known as one of the best fighters in the world a couple of years ago. Dillashaw dropped down to flyweight in his last UFC contest to challenge Henry Cejudo.

Dillashaw lost to Cejudo, but that wasn’t the main story however. He tested positive for EPO and was suspended for two years. He had to relinquish his UFC bantamweight title, but he’s itching to get back into the cage.

Personally, I like either fight for Sandhagen. A win over one of those high profile guys would surely put him in the title picture. Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan are expecting to fight early next year, but Sandhagen could get a UFC title shot at some point in 2021.

New York Jets: Offseason failure presents itself through DeAndre Hopkins

The New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals are each seeking returns to glory. Arizona showed why they have a major head start on Sunday.

New York Jets fans may think they have it back, but supporters of the Arizona Cardinals have about a half-century headstart if the two sides were to engage in comparing struggles of NFL fandom.

Technically speaking, the Cardinals first came to life as “Morgan Athletic Club” on the South Side of Chicago in 1898…14 years before Arizona was admitted to the Union. The organization that came to become Cardinals first partook in professional competition in 1920, though they’ve struggled to stock their trophy case since then. They mustered only two NFL championships prior to the 1970 merger and have appeared in a single Super Bowl through endeavors in Chicago, St. Louis, and The Grand Canyon State. Unlike the Jets, the Cardinals couldn’t come home with a victory in that visit to the Big Game (though it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying).

Thus, both the Cardinals and Jets are used to the concept of a rebuild. A good number of their quadrennial meetings have been played in the backdrop of such. Sunday’s Week 5 get-together was no exception.

Enough has been written in metropolitan circles about the Jets’ playoff drought, one that’s set to graduate from elementary school at this rate. This latest portion of perpetual reconstruction appeared to provide assurances of a reliable franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold and a well-founded offensive mind in Adam Gase. As the first four weeks had proven, both of those expectations have now only been added to the Jets’ endless list of questions. Darnold was held from the Arizona matchup, leading to Joe Flacco taking his place.

Sunday was perhaps meant to be the first professional meeting between Darnold and his fellow Southern California native, college football legend, and 2018 draftee Josh Rosen. Instead, Rosen and head coach Steve Wilks seem like a distant memory, respectively replaced by NFL sophomores Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury (he of two NFL passes, both with the Jets).

While the Cardinals were the strong favorites in Sunday’s meeting…and the 30-10 final decision in their favor did nothing to dispel that notion…it would be fair to say that, from a team standpoint, both sides had little to lose in whatever kind of season the NFL would be able to wrangle out of 2020. The Jets had to deal with an upstart Buffalo team and the eternal contenders from New England in their division. Arizona’s NFC West brethren have represented the conference in five of the past eight Super Bowls. Missing the playoffs at this point in their respective franchise timelines would be nothing to be upset about.

However, one player showcased just how wide the divide is between the modern incarnations of these star-crossed franchises: Arizona receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Hopkins is used to restoring football entities back to their former state of glory. A breakout sophomore season at Clemson commenced an unprecedented, ongoing streak of success for the Tigers. Once acquired by the Houston Texans, another breakout second-year saw the NFL’s youngest franchise leap from two wins to nine. He went on to oversee what’s been Houston’s most successful endeavors, earning winning season in five of his six campaigns.

A since-fired head coach/general manager (Bill O’Brien) offered Hopkins’ services to a devouring NFL public this offseason. Each of Houston’s 31 competitors had reason to engage in trade talks, but both New York and Arizona had special cases.

The Jets’ approach to the 2020 offseason was an understandable undertaking: find protection for Darnold. For all their shortcomings, the Jets did manage to somewhat succeed in that regard, mostly through the drafting of Mekhi Becton at No. 11 overall. But Darnold’s weaponry remained a question. The Jets let Robby Anderson abscond to Carolina with little resistance and the selection of Becton came with the sacrificial bypassing of several elite receiving prospects (Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy). With Darnold’s sense of on-field continuity mostly gone…tight end Chris Herndon was the only receiver leftover from his rookie season…the Jets opted to sign December wonder Breshad Perriman, who was finally showcasing his first-round potential in Tampa Bay after an injury to Mike Evans.

They also drafted Baylor playmaker Denzel Mims with their first post-Becton selection, but bringing in a talent like Hopkins could’ve worked wonders, provided a heavenly spark of momentum for a team struggling to light a match. They had the cap space to work with as well, partially boosted by the releases of veterans like Trumaine Johnson and Brian Winters. The Jets also had some extra draft capital to work with as well, the most high-profile addition being a day two choice earned through the Leonard Williams trade.

New York Giants, DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It was a day two pick that eventually netted Hopkins, but it was Arizona who pounced. In exchange for rusty former fantasy football hero David Johnson, an immediate second-round choice, and a fourth-rounder reserved for next spring, Hopkins joined a mostly homegrown arsenal featuring Christian Kirk, sophomore projects Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson..and, of course, the eternal Larry Fitzgerald.

Therein lies the difference between the Jets and Cardinals: Arizona surrounded their franchise catalyst with weaponry that can assist in present and future exploits. The Jets opted to focus solely on the future…without trying to prove anything in the present. Arizona (3-2) is thus blessed with a rebuild that’s ahead of schedule. The might Seahawks and Rams (a combined 9-1) present a major problem, but they’re currently tied with Carolina for the last spot in the premature NFC wild-card picture, bolstered by an opening weekend win over defending Big Game finalists in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Jets wallow in the NFL’s cellar, morbidly counting down the days until a purge that presumably waiting until the offseason.

That was purely on display on Sunday. Hopkins earned a game-best 131 yards on six receptions, his last being a 37-yard scoring hookup between him and Murray that created the final margin and inexplicably led to an unsuccessful two-point conversion after the Jets invaded the neutral zone on the extra point. Hopkins’ performance shows that not even Gregg Williams’ defense can be exempt from the changes ahead, while also giving the Jets (0-5) an all-too-relevant case of what might’ve been. Neither Perriman nor Mims was available for Sunday’s proceedings, each sidelined due to injuries.

Injuries should never be held against NFL players. Football is a violent game, one that can swipe away fortunes and glory in the blink of an eye, as Dallas Cowboys Dak Prescott tragically found out the hard way in Sunday’s late window. There’s still time for Perriman to live up to the $8 million the Jets are paying him for what’s currently a single year of service and Mims has a lot of time to show that he can be a day two receiving gem. However, Hopkins’ showing in East Rutherford can serve as a bit of reckoning for general manager Joe Douglas as well.

As a relatively late arrival to the proceedings of the Darnold era, Douglas has a bit of a longer leash than some of his green comrades. Hopkins held not only Douglas’ regime accountable, but that of Mike Maccagnan’s as well. For all the negligence Maccagnan displayed on the offensive line, the receiving corps remained famished as well. The four receivers chosen in Maccagnan drafts (Devin Smith, Charone Peake, ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen in 2015-19) earned a combined 47 receptions. None of them are currently in the Jets’ organization and only Smith (a second-round choice in 2015) is still on the outskirts of an NFL roster (Houston’s practice squad).

Douglas has built goodwill in green circles by addressing the blocking woes Maccagnan more or less ignored and netting two first-round picks for a certain star safety that napalmed every bridge he had in New York. But the failure to surround Darnold with weapons could well for the downfall for both of them. Watching Hopkins on MetLife Stadium’s treacherous turf forced one to recall that Douglas addressed rumors of Hopkins and Stefon Diggs (who’s off to a tremendous in Buffalo) with claims of “due diligence” and not having “a ton of discussions with the Texans” (per ESPN’s Rich Cimini).

Maybe acquiring Hopkins would’ve cost the Jets a little too much of their offseason capital. 2020 was never meant to be a playoffs-or-bust season (even in these dark modern times, Christopher Johnson has refused to place a postseason mandate on the beleaguered Gase). But the opportunity for the Jets to take a major step forward has come and gone. No one’s entirely sure when, or even if, the next one’s going to come.

There are many unfortunate occasions that could well come to define the 2020 New York Jets. Watching Hopkins tear up a field he could’ve called his own could be one of the many turning points this team in flux and transition is going to work with.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Yankees: Projecting a dream starting pitching rotation for the 2021 season

New York Yankees, Luis Severino

The New York Yankees’ kryptonite was their starting pitching rotation during the 2020 season. With injuries once again hurting their chances of continuity and success, general manager Brian Cashman will have to address the unit once again this upcoming off-season. While the bullpen was also tumultuous, after the injury to Tommy Kahnle, both units will have to be bolstered.

2020 starting rotation:

1.) Gerrit Cole

2.) James Paxton

3.) Masahiro Tanaka

4.) Jordan Montgomery

5.) JA Happ

6.) Deivi Garcia

The Yankees had plenty of talent in their starting rotation, but James Paxton, JA Happ, and Masahiro Tanaka are all set to hit free agency. Reports have indicated that Tanaka could return to Japan, and Paxton’s inability to stay healthy remains an issue. Happ, who fell short of a $17 million vesting option for 2021, will undoubtedly hit the market and take his talents elsewhere.

That leaves the Yankees down three significant starters, leaving Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, and Deivi Garcia as the only three healthy options from 2020.

However, they will re-gaining Luis Severino and Domingo German. Both pitchers have the quality to be high profile players for any given team, but Tommy John surgery for Severino and a year without baseball for German will undoubtedly set them back. The Yankees will have to go into 2021, expecting the worst.

How Cashman operates this off-season regarding the starting pitching rotation should be interesting. The Yankees desperately need a number two to pair with Cole, and their back-end starters have been problematic the past few years. Severino hasn’t been reliable due to injury, but the rise of Garcia should prove to be beneficial.

2021 projected starting rotation:

1.) Gerrit Cole

2.) Trevor Bauer

3.) Luis Severino

4.) James Paxton

5.) Jordan Montgomery

6.) Deivi Garcia

This would be an ideal starting rotation for the New York Yankees, as they would add one of the best arms from 2020 in Trevor Bauer, and also gain Severino back as their third option. Bauer finished the campaign with a 1.73 ERA, recording two shutouts and nine home runs.

After a tough 2019, spending time with both the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, he backed up his journeyman performance with a Cy Young caliber season. With Tanaka and Happ coming off the books, the Yankees will be saving $40 million, equalling more than enough to sign a player like Bauer. The only issue, Gerrit and Trevor have a troubled past.

”I have no problem with Gerrit. We had a rocky relationship in college, because he told me that I had no future in baseball and he insulted my work ethic as a freshman. I don’t take kindly to those couple things, so we had our issues,” Bauer said in an interview back in 2018.

Bauer suggests that the feud is long over, but competitors can often hold onto old grudges. In this scenario, winning a World Series might cure their disgruntled relationship.

As for the return of Paxton, his injury will likely lower his salary cap hit for next season. Retaining him for another two years could make sense, and on the team-friendly deal, keeping him around is beneficial. When on his game, Paxton is a fantastic lefty pitcher and having some diversity in the rotation is always a positive.

What do you think of this starting rotation? Comment below!