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Vikings like that: Kirk Cousins tabbed with Super Bowl mission – Minnesota Vikings Blog



“You like that?!”

One can almost imagine how the scene played out inside the Minnesota Vikings‘ new team headquarters Tuesday morning in Eagan, Minnesota, with Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer and John DeFilippo simultaneous slapping high-fives and celebrating the excitement of landing Kirk Cousins by doing their best impersonation of the quarterback’s meme-worthy moment in Washington.

The story of the NFL offseason is centered right here in Minnesota. One game shy of reaching Super Bowl LII two months ago, the Vikings appear to have pulled the ultimate franchise power move, clearing the decks of their quarterbacks by going after and apparently landing the most coveted free agent on the open market.

Within minutes of learning about Cousins’ expected signing with the Vikings, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook moved Minnesota’s odds to win the Super Bowl in 2019 from 16-1 to 12-1. Betting odds are one thing for bookkeepers; in Minnesota, the Vikings couldn’t afford to play the wrong hand with Cousins and strike out on their most critical decision in years.

Minnesota’s Super Bowl window won’t last forever. The opening for the Vikings to contend among the best teams in the NFL and vie for their first championship is expected to expand two to three seasons given the state and stability of their roster. To get there, they needed to find their missing piece at quarterback — an issue of instability they’ve had for years that might now be remedied with Cousins under center.

The Vikings made a statement that they feel Cousins gives them the best chance of reaching the pinnacle in the NFL — not Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater or any other quarterback available in free agency.

The proof lies in the numbers for one of the most consistent passers over the past three seasons. It goes beyond fantasy stats the casual fan will point to during the years when he strung together 4,000 yard-passing seasons. Since 2015, Cousins ranks third in completion percentage (67), fifth in yards per attempt (7.8), eighth in passing TDs (81) and seventh in Total QBR (62.3), according to ESPN Stats and Information. During that same span, only one quarterback had a better completion percentage and QBR: Drew Brees.

Despite remaining tight-lipped about how this would all play out over the past few months, privately, this was the player the Vikings wanted all along. Now it’s up to Cousins to deliver after securing a three-year, fully guaranteed deal worth $84 million.

With DeFilippo, the Vikings’ new offensive coordinator dubbed the “quarterback guru,” whose offensive mind is associated with such adjectives as “brilliant,” “cutting edge” and “innovative,” Cousins found the ideal situation where he can become a franchise quarterback.

It can be argued that he played that role for Washington since being drafted by the Redskins in 2012. This time, it’s different. Combining DeFilippo’s offensive philosophy rooted in West Coast principles, the use of the run-pass option and play-action (arguably the best part of Cousins’ game) with the personnel around Cousins will help the quarterback take the next step in his career.

In Washington, Cousins didn’t have success by zeroing in on a one receiver; he’s one of four quarterbacks to throw at least five touchdowns to eight different pass-catchers since 2015. Luckily for him, he walks into a similar situation in Minnesota, with one of the NFL’s top receiving duos — Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. They also have an explosive pass-catching running back (Dalvin Cook), a top red zone scoring threat (tight end Kyle Rudolph) and a host of other options that include Jarius Wright, Latavius Murray and David Morgan.

Three of the game’s best (and most expensive) quarterbacks now reside in the NFC North. Between Cousins, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the race for a division title will grow tighter. Cousins is 4-2 against the NFC North in his career with an 83.1 QBR, the second-highest in the NFL over the past three seasons behind Dallas’ Dak Prescott. However, he doesn’t have to do it alone with Minnesota’s elite defense acting as the catalyst in the quest for back-to-back NFC North banners.

The reward clearly outweighed the risk for Minnesota in dumping a truckload of money on Cousins’ doorstep. The Vikings are hedging their bets on someone who is 26-30-1 as a starter with no playoff wins on his resume. He’s certainly got his flaws in areas he’s not proud of, including being tied for third in the NFL with 13 fumbles last season. He has a reputation for struggling in the red zone, a lack of big-time throws (he ranked 17th in that percentage in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus after a stretch of clutch throws wore off), and has been knocked as a gunslinger on third downs.

The best thing? He’s a work in progress who has the potential to be the Vikings’ solution at quarterback for a long time. Those areas in which he has struggled — particularly inside the 20 — are among DeFilippo’s bread and butter. The new coordinator brings with him success rooted in Carson Wentz‘s 116.3 passer rating inside the red zone with zero turnovers. Simply put, with the issues that have popped up, Cousins is in the best possible hands.

The ceiling has been stretched infinitely higher after bringing Kirk Cousins into the mix. He likes it. The Vikings like it. Now it’s time to go out and deliver.

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Check out Saquon Barkley in the 2018 Body Issue



Ten years, hundreds of thousands of images — and we’re just getting started. This year 16 athletes join the revered ranks of Body Issue stars, and there are, as always, too many awe-inspiring moments to count.

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Julian Edelman of New England Patriots to mount vigorous appeal



Julian Edelman‘s appeal of his four-game drug suspension will be heard Monday, and sources say he plans to mount a vigorous defense that questions the NFL’s handling of his case.

ESPN reported earlier this month that the New England Patriots receiver was facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

As the MMQB reported a few days later, the substance for which Edelman tested positive wasn’t one the league’s drug testers recognized. That remains one of two key issues at the heart of his appeal.

The other, according to a source, involves a mishandling of the documentation and delivery of Edelman’s test results. During the course of the investigation, it was learned that the NFL had made mistakes in the manner in which those test results were handled. Edelman is arguing that the mishandling of the evidence is one of the reasons he should be exonerated.

Edelman, 32, who has been a regular participant in the team’s offseason program, organized team activities and minicamp, missed the entire 2017 season after tearing an ACL during the preseason.

To assist in his defense, Edelman has enlisted outside counsel — specifically Alex Spiro, a New York-based attorney who’s gained fame in recent years for his work representing NBA players in their legal entanglements.

Given the addition of Spiro to the defense, and the recent history between the Patriots and the NFL in the Tom Brady Deflategate matter, it’s not out of the question that Edelman could end up pursuing an appeal of his case in federal court if the arbitration does not go his way.

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Brotherly love fuels Buccaneers rookie Justin Watson – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Blog



TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie wide receiver Justin Watson can still remember how much his body ached, both the soreness in his legs and the blisters on his feet. It was during a particularly rough stretch of two-a-days the summer going into his senior year at South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania.

He can also remember the look on his older brother Tommy’s face when he went to visit him at his group home shortly after. He remembers the car ride full of complaints to his father, Doug, about how grueling practices had become, and how his legs felt like jello during that walk toward the home’s activity room.

Inside was a group of about 30 teens and young adults — all confined to wheelchairs and facing challenges few could imagine — and in the midst of it all, Justin found Tommy, smiling ear-to-ear.

“He can’t speak but he smiles and frowns and cries and is pretty responsive with his face,'” said Justin, 23, the Bucs’ 2018 fifth-round pick. “And he was just looking at me, as if to say, ‘If I had just one day in your shoes, I would run all day long, I’d practice all day long, until I was throwing up on the ground and my feet were bleeding and right when I couldn’t get back up, I’d get back up and start doing it again.'”

That moment was transformative for Justin. He vowed never to complain again — not about football, or the arduous study sessions he’d encounter in order to receive his Ivy-League diploma, or later the daunting task of making the jump to the NFL, facing tougher competition than what he encountered at the University of Pennsylvania.

“From that moment on, he’s been my inspiration,” Justin said of Tommy. “Whenever it gets tough and whenever I have a bad day, I just realize my brother Tommy would find a way to smile every single day.”

‘He’s the toughest kid that I know’

Tommy has cerebral palsy, also known as CP, a neurological disorder that is the result of a brain injury or malformation. It affects motor skills, body movement, coordination, muscle tone and balance.

Tommy, now 28, can’t speak or walk. Doctors inserted steel rods along his spine to help correct his scoliosis, because it was crushing his organs. He used to be able to feed himself his favorite food, mashed potatoes, but now he relies on a feeding tube.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that CP appears in anywhere from 1.5 to more than four per 1,000 live births. About 40 percent of children with CP have limitations walking or can’t walk at all, with 25 percent who were able to walk as children losing that ability as they get older. About 30 to 50 percent also have some degree of cognitive impairment.

When Tommy lived with his family, he required around-the-clock care from nurses until he was 21. He now gets that care at an independent living facility, which is about 15 minutes from the Watson family home in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania.

“He’s the toughest kid that I know,” Justin said. “He’s battling every day and he fights through things every day. If my legs are burning on the last set of squats, that’s nothing compared to what he goes through.”

It’s Tommy that he’s thought about during NFL workouts in the oppressive Florida heat, and since being sidelined during mandatory minicamp because of injury. It’s Tommy that he’ll pay a visit to before he reports back to training camp, where he’ll likely start sixth on the depth chart as he tries to play catch-up, probably needing to beat out Freddie Martino, Bobo Wilson and Bernard Reedy to secure a roster spot.

Tommy’s always been Justin’s sounding board and source of comfort. When Justin was having second thoughts about attending Wharton, one of the top businesses undergraduate programs in the country with an acceptance rate of just 7 percent and an average SAT score of 1499, he went to his older brother.

“I was really scared at first,” said Justin. “He’s a great listener and I remember sitting there, and I was nervous as heck, and I was like, ‘I think I’m going to go to Penn, but I don’t know.’ I was worried about the school being too hard and if I could do Philly and everything else, and I said, ‘What do you think?'”

“It was probably the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on his face,” Justin said. “To me it was just reassuring. It seemed like he said, ‘Go for it.’ And I did. It ended up working out great with both football and I’ll [have graduated] as an Ivy-League grad. … I was talking about school being hard and a challenge and he’s looking at me like, ‘Man, you’d be surprised what Watsons can go through. I go through harder things than that just by getting up in the morning.'”

‘Thought everyone had a brother that has special needs’

Justin has also drawn inspiration from his parents, Doug and Terri Watson, who did their best to make life as normal as possible for their four children — Justin, Tommy, Alex, now 24, and Abby, now 18 — despite Tommy’s condition. They scheduled family vacations around Tommy’s summer camps and got the other three involved in competitive sports.

“I kind of think that growing up, I thought that everyone had a brother that has special needs, or that has someone in their family that needs a little extra care,” Justin said. “I don’t think I fully appreciated how much of a sacrifice it was at first for my parents — their first-born child born with cerebral palsy, and not only the financial stress it puts on you, but just the emotional and mental stress.”

Doug and Terri each had to work two jobs to support Tommy’s medical care. (The CDC estimates that the lifetime of medical costs for a person with CP exceeds $1 million).

Though Tommy would spend about seven hours each day at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, which also caters to medically fragile students, Terri would work for several other families providing child care.

Doug would work during the day at BNY Mellon in Pittsburgh doing client service management before working nights at a smaller company doing computer security. He’d pick up extra shifts so he could take off when one of his children had a game, or even to coach one of their teams. Terri would have dinner ready for them before they all got home, then head out the door for a few more hours of work.

“She would pack herself Cheerios and wouldn’t even get to eat the dinner she had made after a full day of work,” Justin said, adding that his parents didn’t sleep well for years because they’d worry about Tommy in the middle of the night. He never heard them complain either.

“My parents would never say, ‘We had to do this because of Tommy,’ or ‘we had to do this or that.’ That’s just what they needed to do,” Justin said. “They needed to work that many hours to make sure we never needed anything and to [make sure] we were more well-off than they were. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully appreciate it. But definitely when I got to college and saw, ‘Man my parents were working 12-hour days for me, I better be putting in at least 12-hour days myself to say thank you to them.”

“He’s a special young man”

Penn football coach Ray Priore could see that work ethic in Justin. He got the sense Justin was playing for so much more than himself.

“He is a special young man,” said Priore, who had coaches from other sports marvel at Watson’s work habits, wanting to clone him, because he’d be the first one out onto the field, 45 minutes early. “He showed up to practice every day as if it was a work day. I think that goes back to a great upbringing — great family life, parents are wonderful people. [They] instilled the values that [he] has — being resilient — and I think that comes from his family background, that resilience and that toughness.”

“I’m not sure he had a bad practice in four years or a practice with [less] effort. He’s driven that way. … We always talked about, ‘Success is a choice.’ You can choose to be average or you can choose to be successful. Justin chose to be successful. In everything — he attacks.”

He put the betterment of the group before his own needs. He was offered a prestigious internship at Goldman Sachs going into his senior year that would have put him in position to earn six figures right out of college. He turned it down to stay in Philadelphia to work out with his teammates.

He played nearly every skill position on offense aside from Wildcat quarterback. He also attended every special teams meeting his senior year despite not playing a single snap with the unit, because he felt it was important to know what they were doing at all times.

“I’ve been coaching football for a long time and I’ve had a lot of real good players that have played, so don’t take this the wrong way, but he’s a young man that really embodied everything as a coach that you say you want to be around,” Priore said. “Whatever it is, he has it.”

What impressed Priore most though, was the bond Justin developed with a little boy named Vhito DeCapria, who’d been stricken with cancer and was adopted by the Quaker football team. Priore saw empathy in his eyes and a tenderness in his heart.

“It was special to watch this sort of connection between the two,” Priore said. “I think there was definitely a special connection between Justin and Vhito that you sort of [saw] that the twinkle in the eye with it … a very, very special bond.”

Justin understood many of Vhito’s fears, because he lived them with his own family. While Vhito lost all of his hair and went through 40 days of chemo, Tommy had been in and out of the hospital back home.

“He embraced it,” Priore said. “It’s amazing how many things you can put on a young man’s lap or in his hands — how much can he carry? And he’s had to carry a lot.”

“You can work your way to great things, and you can make a difference, and I know he made a difference in that young man’s life, I’m sure, and in his brother’s life and his family’s life as well.”

‘Way he’s wired is exactly how you want them’

Watson fits the resilient and committed type of player general manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter talked about all offseason. In fact, Licht even told the Glazer family, who own the Bucs, that Watson was one of his “favorite sleepers in the draft.”

“The way he’s wired is just exactly how you want them,” said Licht. “He just loves the game. He’s a blue-collar kid who, one of his major inspirations is his older brother who has cerebral palsy. It’s just a great story.”

Before Justin suffered the injury during organized team activities, you could see the makings of a physical receiver and a tough blocker who could hold his own, even against cornerback Carlton Davis, a second-round draft pick who has gotten a lot of reps with the first-team offense.

“I really like him,” said offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “He’s big, fast, physical, smart. That’s what you’re looking for, a guy that can develop. Moving forward, those kind of guys rarely underachieve when you have that sort of measurable skill set. So, he’s looked really good at the start and what we looked for.”

No matter the distance

Because of Tommy’s condition, travel has been nearly impossible. He wasn’t able to go to any of Justin’s college games, but it never stopped him from supporting his brother’s football career. While the rest of the family traveled to Philadelphia during the draft so they could be with Justin while he studied for exams, Tommy watched it on TV.

“They said that whenever my name got called, when the soldiers read, ‘Justin Watson,’ they said he started laughing and smiling,” Justin said of Tommy. “It’s awesome. Because you’re not sure if he realizes it or not, but they said he had the biggest smile. And my aunt went and drove there right after to see him and she played a couple of videos that were online and she said he was smiling the whole time, so it was cool to hear that.”

There’s a tiny glimmer of hope that if Justin makes the 53-man roster, Tommy might be able to go to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 28, but it’s still more than four hours of driving.

The good news is that games in the NFL are on TV far more than they were at Penn.

For now, Doug and Terri visit Tommy about three times a week. Tommy has many friends, including a roommate who has CP. He enjoys swimming, which has served as a form of therapy for him for much of his life, thanks to a generous donation years ago from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, something Justin has thought about getting involved with now that he’s a pro. Right now though, it’s one step at a time.

“He gets me through the hard stuff on a day-to-day basis — the workouts, the extra workouts that you don’t feel like doing, when you’re on your last sprint and you’re thinking about dogging it,” Justin said. “[And] late in games, when the going gets tough, like this year, we were on a four-game losing streak — times like that, when it’s tough to keep getting up, [when you] keep getting hit, just to keep getting up and keep moving forward, that’s when I think about my play and dedicating it to him.”

Justin doesn’t want people to feel sorry for his brother. Not everyone understands what it means for a family that has a child or a grown child with special needs. But the Watsons all view Tommy’s life as a gift — a miracle — and they feel fortunate they can bear witness to it.

“I wish more than anything that he didn’t have to go through what he has to go through on an every-day basis, but he truly is a blessing,” Justin said. “If someone with cerebral palsy like my brother can find a way to smile, we can all find a way to smile.”

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