New York Jets: Sam Darnold wants to be a New Yorker “for life”

As his potential final hours as the New York Jets’ franchise QB await, Sam Darnold announced his hope to remain clad in green for the future.

As the New York Jets’ “endeavor for Trevor” (Lawrence) draws to a merciful end, the awkward question becomes the green fate of Sam Darnold.

The macabre silver lining of this brutal Jets season is the fact that their winless ledger has given them the inside track for the top overall pick in next spring’s draft. Many Jets fans have openly advocated for the Jets to lose so as to etch their place in the first slot. But the potential arrival of Lawrence, the national champion from Clemson, or another potential new franchise option (like Justin Fields of Ohio State) would likely mean the end of the line for Darnold, the Jets’ primary quarterback for the last three seasons.

Darnold’s regression has been one of the darkest lowlights of the Jets’ woebegone season. He is on pace to set career-lows in nearly every major passing category, partly thanks to missing four games due to an ankle injury suffered in an October loss to Denver. His passer rating of 67.3 is the lowest in the NFL amongst quarterbacks with at least 224 pass attempts, accompanying tallies of 1,560 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Darnold has also been sacked 28 times this season and has only been united with his top receiving trio (Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder) for three games this season.

Yet, the third overall pick of the 2018 draft wants to stick around.

In his Monday availability, reeling from the aftermath of a 40-3 defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, Darnold made it clear that this trying season has done nothing to damper his enthusiasm when it came to his current settings.

“I love it here, all the people around here, I love living here. I’ve always said it, I want to be a Jet for life,” Darnold said, per notes from the Jets. “That decision isn’t necessarily up to me, but that’s how I feel.”

Darnold, 23, was questioned about his role in the Jets’ long-term plans or even if a change of scenery would do him some good. He reiterated that he plans to take things “one day at a time”, but hopes the Jets have the confidence in him to help raise the team from the gridiron abyss.

“I believe in myself as a quarterback and as a player in this league,” he continued. “Obviously, that decision isn’t up to me, but I’m always going to believe in myself and have the utmost confidence in myself to be able to go out there and play good football on Sundays.”

“I’m not worried about speculation or what others are saying outside of our locker room. For me, I’m just worried about playing good football down this stretch and really taking it one day at a time and one game at a time.”

Darnold’s next chance to impress and potentially keep his role in New York comes on Sunday, as the Jets (0-13) return to the west coast to battle the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR makes early adjustments to 2021 schedule

The early portions of NASCAR’s 2021 schedule will have a strong Floridian feel, as the second weekend of the season will remain at Daytona.

For many, Florida in February is but a pipe dream. For NASCAR, it’s a new reality.

The auto racing circuit announced a pair of schedule shifts on Tuesday afternoon. Following the season-opening Daytona 500 for the premier Cup Series on February 14, the series will remain at the iconic Daytona International Speedway to run its second weekend of events at the venue’s road course on February 19-21. Each of the circuit’s trio of national series (Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Truck) will race on the road course for the second straight year. The second event of the season was originally a doubleheader between the Xfinity and Cup Series for Homestead-Miami Speedway, which will now move to the weekend of February 27-28.

Lost from the schedule is the annual trek to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which has annually hosted a Cup Series event since 1997. A NASCAR statement states that moving from Fontana was necessary due to “challenges resulting from the ongoing pandemic and the need for significant advance planning”. The venue was set to host its final events on its traditional two-mile D-shaped oval, before undergoing renovations that turn it into a half-mile short track. These refurbishments have likewise been put on hold. Alex Bowman is the defending winner of the Cup Series’ 400-mile race at the track, while Harrison Burton took the Xfinity portion (300 miles).

NASCAR visited the Daytona road course for the first time in August due to Watkins Glen International’s date being lost due to health protocols in New York State. The course is 3.61 miles in its NASCAR incarnation and each of the national series partook. Daytona’s road course was recently announced to be hosting the Busch Clash exhibition, a season-opening showcase that is open to playoff drivers, race winners, stage winners, and pole sitters from on-track qualifying. The race will be held on Tuesday, February 9, five days before “The Great American Race”.

This shift will only add to a Cup Series-record in races on a road course in 2021, as the season is scheduled to visit seven such venues. In addition to the recurring visits in Daytona, Watkins Glen, Sonoma, and Charlotte, the Cup Series will also visit road courses at Indianapolis, Road America, and the Circuit of the Americas.

Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5-mile oval in Homestead, a 40-minute drive from Magic City. The track hosted NASCAR’s season finales from 2002 through 2019, with that date since shifted to Phoenix. Denny Hamlin is the defending winner at the track, taking home the Dixie Vodka 400 in June.

The news of another road course should be welcomed warmly by defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott. He and his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team have won each of the last four races held at such tracks, including the inaugural visit to Daytona (the Go Bowling 325) in August.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

 

Buffalo Bills LB A.J. Klein named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

The linebacker becomes the third member of the Buffalo Bills to earn a Player of the Week Award this season.

Buffalo Bills linebacker A.J. Klein had to hold out for a little bit, but a special honor awaited him at the end of Week 12’s NFL action.

The defender earned the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in the Bills’ 27-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. Klein led all defenders with 14 tackles (3 for a loss), 1.5 sacks, and a pass breakup. His most notable contribution of the afternoon came in the early stages of the fourth quarter, when he forced Chargers running back Joshua Kelly into a three-yard loss on a crucial third-and-one in the Buffalo red zone. The takedown forced Los Angeles into a field goal that kept the lead at a manageable 24-17 margin.

Klein, 29, is in his first year with the Bills, having signed a three-year deal with the team over the offseason after seven years with Carolina and New Orleans. He struggled in the early portions of the season, but has since come up huge with Matt Milano sidelined due to injuries. Klein previously came up big in Buffalo’s statement win over Seattle, when he earned five tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble.

“I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff. I go out and do what I need to do and try to perform to the best of my ability,” Klein said of outside criticism after the Seattle win, per Mike Sherry of The Post Crescent. “It’s a good feeling when you go out and perform like this. Big plays cover probably some mistakes from earlier in the first half, but I know I can play football.”

“I have all the confidence in myself and I really don’t pay attention to any outward or outside noise. That’s one thing in this league you can’t do. You just have to focus on yourself, focus on the process and get the job done on Sundays.”

In a report from Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier praised the improvement that Klein has shown in subbing for Milano.

“We didn’t know if A.J. could do some of the things that we ask Matt to do. But as we’ve gotten more comfortable with him and he’s gotten more comfortable in our system, we’ve seen him play some much improved football,” Frazier said. “That’s a credit to A.J. just sticking with it and making himself available and then when his number is called, making those plays that are there for him to make.”

Klein becomes the third Buffalo representative to take home a Player of the Week award, joining QB Josh Allen (Weeks 2, 9) and fellow defender Jerry Hughes (Week 7). Receiver Tyreek Hill of Kansas City took home the week’s offensive honor, while New England kicker Nick Folk earned the top mark for specialists.

The Bills return to action on Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers in Glendale Arizona (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin’s team has a name

Denny Hemlin

The new NASCAR team’s name pays tribute to both Jordan and Hamlin’s iconic numerals, as Bubba Wallace will drive their first vehicle.

Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin unveiled the name of their new NASCAR Cup Series race team on Thursday, as their new venture will bear the name 23XI Racing. The name pays tribute to the number Jordan wore for a majority of his NBA career, while Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is represented via Roman numerals. Jordan’s number will also grace the track, as Bubba Wallace will drive the No. 23 Toyota when the team makes its debut next season.

“Michael and I have a shared vision for this team,” Hamlin said in a statement on the team website. “It’s exciting to see it reflected in the team name and on the race car with the iconic number 23 that Michael made famous.”

Jordan first wore No. 23 during his days at Laney High School (NC), encouraged to do by splitting the number his older brother Larry wore (45) in half. He could go on to keep the number for his collegiate and professional career with the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, with the exception of his return from a year-long retirement in 1995, when he took the aforementioned 45.

No. 23 has had a less cherished past in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series. No car bearing the number has finished in a Cup Series race’s top ten since Kenny Wallace did so with Bill Davis Racing at the Bristol event in August 2003. Al Keller was the last driver to win a race in such a car, his victory coming back in 1954. Notable drivers to previously represent the number include Michael Waltrip and current playoff driver Alex Bowman, who ran the numbers in his first season of full-time Cup Series racing with the low-budget BK Racing.

Hamlin’s No. 11 has a more cherished place in NASCAR history, as, in terms of wins, it’s the most successful number on the Cup Series circuit (224). Names like Hamlin, Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Mario Andretti, Buddy Baker, A.J. Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, and Bill Elliott have all contributed to that tally. Hamlin has earned seven wins this season and continues to compete for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series title. The No. 43 is second in that tally with 199 wins, all earned by Richard Petty. Wallace will run his final races in the car over the next three before joining Hamlin and Jordan’s endeavor. Petty’s race team announced this week that Erik Jones, currently Hamlin’s teammate at JGR, will succeed him the No. 43 next season.

The NASCAR Cup Series continues its trek toward the title at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Hamlin will start seventh, while Wallace will start the race in 18th.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: False positive reveal clears a path to Sunday

New York Jets

After a health scare on Friday sent players and personnel home, the New York Jets have received clearance to play on Sunday against Arizona.

A Friday morning health scare forced the New York Jets to send their men in green home, but all signs now point to spending Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

The Jets announced in a team statement that all players, coaches, and personnel have all tested negative for COVID-19. These negatives come hours after ESPN’s Adam Schefter stated the Jets emptied their Florham Park headquarters after “a presumptive positive player test”. But the team is now on pace to welcome in the Arizona Cardinals to MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

“This evening, we received negative PCR COVID-19 test results for all players, coaches, and personnel,” the statement reads. “Following a presumptive positive COVID-19 test and out of an abundance of caution to ensure everyone’s health and safety, we sent all players and personnel home this morning. We also initiated all NFL mandated protocols including player isolation, subsequent testing, and contact tracing.”

“As we have thus far, we will continue to follow required health and safety protocols in the best interests of our coaches, players, staff, and community. We look forward to our game this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.”

The Jets previously dealt with false positives during training camp. Their proximity to the NFL’s New Jersey-based BioReference testing lab helped exepditate the process that’s allowing them to play on Sunday.

As the NFL continues to navigate its way through the ongoing health crisis, two games originally scheduled for Sunday have been shifted. The New England Patriots saw one of their games moved for the second straight week, as they’ll take on the Denver Broncos on Monday late afternoon (5 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans have had no new positive tests for consecutive days after having 23 positive tests since September 24. Their matchup with the Buffalo Bills has been moved to national television status on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, CBS) and their Nashville facility could reopen this weekend.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR posts remainder of 2020 national series schedule

NASCAR revealed the remainder of their 2020 national series slate on Thursday, covering the entirety of their postseason slate.

Defying Jim Mora, NASCAR is talking about playoffs.

The auto racing body unveiled the remainder of their 2020 schedule for each of their national series, which includes the playoff slates for each. Playoffs in the premier Cup Series will begin on September 6 at Darington Raceway’s Southern 500.

While the ongoing national developments have necessitated some changes in other portions of the schedule, the Cup playoff slate remains fully in-tact. Phoenix Raceway is still set to host its first season finale on November 8, taking over the championship weekend tradition from Homestead-Miami Speedway after 17 seasons. Bristol Motor Speedway will host its first playoff race in a September 19 night event as the final stage of the first round.

Remaining schedules for the lower-tier series were also released. The NASCAR Xfinity Series will host one last doubleheader on September 11-12 at Richmond Raceway, one week before their regular-season finale at Bristol. Xfinity drivers will also take to Talladega Superspeedway for the second part of their own first round on October 3.

The most shuffling comes on the Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series slate, as they earn playoff races at Kansas (October 16) and Texas (October 25). Richmond will play host to the regular season finale on August 18 while the Truck playoffs open at Bristol on September 17.

“The one fortunate part of this latter part of the season and the playoffs is we were able to keep the original tracks and dates intact when it came to the Cup Series, but definitely they have had to be flexible with integrating some of the other series into those events so that they had a good championship schedule as well,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition in a statement on NASCAR.com. “It has been again, just like everything else, just a lot of great teamwork between the teams, NASCAR, and the venues.”

The ARCA Menards Series also posted its remaining races, including a finale at Phoenix preceding the Xfinity Series championship on November 7.

All three major national series will be in action this weekend, as their regular seasons enter their final stages. The Cup Series will have a doubleheader at Michigan International Seedway beginning on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) while the Xfinity Series races on the Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin earlier that afternoon (12 p.m. ET, NBCSN). The Trucks will race in a Friday night event at Michigan on Friday night (6 p.m. ET, FS1).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

NASCAR eschews practice and qualifying for the rest of the 2020 season

Random draws will continue to determine the starting lineups of 2020 NASCAR races, though the process could change for the playoffs.

NASCAR drivers will continue to play the lottery.

The racing series announced on Tuesday that there will be no practice or qualifying for the remaining events of their trio of national circuits. Random draws will continue to determine starting position as NASCAR continues to navigate its way through the current health crisis.

Through this system, NASCAR has been able to trim race weekends into a single day at the track for many of its drivers.

“Following discussions with our race teams and the broader industry, NASCAR will continue to conduct its race weekends without practice and qualifying for the remainder of the 2020 season in all three national series,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said in a statement. “The current format has worked well in addressing several challenges during our return to racing. Most importantly, we have seen competitive racing week-to-week.”

To Miller’s point, the NASCAR Cup Series has seen seven different winners over the last 14 races since its return from the coronavirus-induced pause. Rookie Cole Custer won the first race of his career at Kentucky Speedway’s Quaker State 400 earlier this month, while Austin Dillon ended an 88-race winless drought this past weekend at the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Traditional qualifying was held for the premiere Cup Series hours before it ran the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in May. Field inversion has been common, particularly when tracks have hosted multiple events in close proximity (i.e. the second half of the Cup Series’ weekend doubleheader at Pocono Raceway).

Random draws, however, have been the primary way to determine the starting grid in the Cup, Xfinity, and Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series. Positions are awarded based on a vehicle’s spot in the owners’ points. The first 12, for example, are assigned one of those corresponding slots in the lineup, while the next dozen get those.

NASCAR had hinted earlier in the week that the process could undergo a small tweak for the playoffs, in which each of the qualifying drivers would get those top spots. The Cup Series welcomes 16 drivers into its postseason, while Xfinity and Trucks welcome 12 and 10 respectively.

“NASCAR will adjust the starting lineup draw procedure for the Playoff races, and will announce the new process at a later date,” Miller’s statement concludes.

Many drivers have praised the lack of practice, often going from their motorhome to their car on race day.

“I thought it was really cool. I think it had zero percent effect on the race winner today,” said Chase Elliott said after a fourth-place finish at the first race back at Darlington Raceway in May. “Hopefully, we can kind of make this a trend and get back to our roots. It reminded me a lot of short track racing, which I think is a lot of fun.”

“I would much rather not practice, personally,” veteran driver and Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick said after winning the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta in June. “(But) you can definitely have both sides to that equation. I think for me, the benefit is having an experienced team, and being able to get things close is something that our team is really good at.”

The circuit returns to action with all three national series running at Kansas Speedway. Things get rolling with the Super Starter Batteries 400 on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). The Truck Series run a pair of 200-mile races on consecutive days, beginning on Friday night (7 p.m. ET, FS1).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets sign trio of 2020 draft picks (Report)

DL/LB Jabari Zuniga, QB James Morgan, and P Braden Mann are the latest New York Jets draft picks to officially sign their rookie deals.

The New York Jets revealed that two more draft picks signed with the team on Monday evening. New York confirmed that they signed defender Jabari Zuniga and quarterback James Morgan, while Manish Mehta of the New York has stated that the team has also officially added punter Braden Mann.

Mehta also had the financial terms for each first-year. Each is worth four seasons, with Zuniga earning $4.73 million, Morgan getting $4 million, and Mann rounding it off with $3.47 million.

Zuniga was the latter of the Jets’ pair of third-round picks, chosen 79th overall out of Florida. Injuries limited Zuniga to five games in his senior season, but he nonetheless managed 33 sacks over four seasons in Gainesville. Capable of playing on both the line and at linebacker, Zuniga was placed on the Chuck Bednarik Award watchlist (awarded to the nation’s top defensive lineman) during a junior campaign that saw him earn 45 tackles, including 11 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks.

Morgan is set to partake in the Jets’ competition for the backup quarterback job behind Sam Darnold. He was chosen in the fourth round (125th overall) out of Florida International. Despite spending only two seasons with the Golden Panthers, having transferred there from Bowling Green, Morgan ranks second in FIU history in passing yardage (5,312) and touchdowns (40).

Mann was the Jets’ final pick of the April proceedings, having his name called with the 191st overall pick. The Texas A&M product was one of the most prolific punters in college football history, earning unanimous All-American honors and the Ray Guy Award (bestowed to the nation’s top punter) after his junior season. His 51.0 average is the best in NCAA history.

With these signings, first-round pick Mekhi Becton and third-rounder Ashtyn Davis are the only Jets selections who have yet to sign.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NFL set to remove two games from the preseason schedule (Report)

As the NFL continues to prepare for an uncertain 2020, the already-maligned preseason slate has seen two weeks erased from its ledger.

Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the National Football League is ready to do away with half of its preseason slate as it prepares to potentially navigate a season through the COVID-19 pandemic. The PFT report says that the first and final weeks of summer’s exhibition summer quartet are on the chopping block.

The league is set to make a formal announcement regarding the decision on Thursday, one week after the cancellation of the preseason-opening Pro Football Hall of Fame Game between Dallas and Pittsburgh in Canton, Ohio.

Trimming the preseason has long been discussed and appeared to be a certainty when the new collective bargaining agreement left open the possibility of a 17-game regular-season slate in 2021. The league’s squads have played four preseason games ever since 1978

If Weeks 1 and 4 are eliminated from the preseason picture, the annual meeting between the local New York Jets and New York Giants would be eliminated, having been scheduled for the opening week for the second consecutive season. Starters rarely play past the first quarter in the opener, and often sit out the finale entirely. The Jets and Giants have respectively played interconference rivals from Philadelphia and New England in the final week of summer games since the turn of the century. It’s possible these games could be rescheduled to cut down on travel. If the cancellations are kept, the Jets would have a visit to Detroit and an East Rutherford tilt with Pittsburgh (the former being nationally televised on ESPN). The Giants have a road game against Tennessee and a visit from Green Bay left on their docket.

Many teams are planning to open training camp on July 28 with the first games scheduled for the week of August 20-24.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Report: New York Jets have had trade discussions about Marcus Maye

New York Jets, Marcus Maye

The New York Jets could in a bit of a bind when it comes to their top free safety, who is set to be a free agent in 2021.

Per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the New York Jets have engaged in trade talks centered around starting free safety Marcus Maye.

Maye has been a solid contributor to the Jets since joining the team a second-round draft pick (39th overall) in 2017. The Florida alum has earned 178 tackles, 11 pass breakups, and four interceptions over the last three seasons. He has formed a strong relationship with fellow starting safety and SEC alum Jamal Adams, with the two forming a formidable duo in the secondary.

But with both defenders set to enter the final year of their rookie contracts and a big payday potentially coming Adams’ way, it appears that the Jets will at least try to get something for Maye before he potentially leaves for nothing in free agency. Mehta’s report said that both head coach Adam Gase and general manager Joe Douglas engaged in trade talks involving Maye, but no such deals were made. Maye would recover from an injury-riddled 2018 campaign to pick up 65 tackles, seven breakups, and an interception last year.

Adding to the case in trading for Maye is the fact the Jets bolstered their secondary depth this offseason. During the third round of last month’s draft, New York chose versatile safety Ashtyn Davis from Cal-Berkeley (68th overall). Davis earned all-Pac-12 honors over his last two seasons with the Golden Bears and also doubled as the team’s returner. The Jets also added cornerbacks in both the draft (fifth-rounder Bryce Hall) and free agency (Pierre Desir, Brian Poole).

Adams’ fifth-year option would set the Jets back $9.8 million if they choose to pick it up in 2021. Preliminary discussions have been held about a long-term extension or the franchise tag could be used (at the risk of an Adams holdout).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags