Friday, April 12, 2024
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Yankees dealing with injury concerns weeks before Opening Day; Texans bring in two stars

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🏈 Good morning to everyone but especially …

THE HOUSTON TEXANS

The 2023 Texans were one of the league’s best stories. After so much instability at quarterback, Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud was a revelation, and after a rotating door of coaches, DeMeco Ryans proved a terrific hire.

The 2024 Texans are coming for more.

Houston made two of the biggest moves of Day 2 of the legal tampering period, trading for Joe Mixon and signing Danielle Hunter to a two-year, $49 million deal. We’ll start with Mixon.

  • He was going to be released by the Bengals before the Texans sprung a deal that will send a seventh-round pick to Cincinnati.
  • Mixon isn’t explosive, but he’s remarkably consistent, with 1,200+ yards from scrimmage in five of his seven NFL seasons.
  • Over the last three seasons, Mixon’s 27 goal-to-go touchdowns scored are tied for most among running backs.

More people may know Mixon’s name, but Hunter is the bigger addition after he racked up 16.5 sacks for the Vikings last season. He’s the first player to change teams after a season with 16+ sacks since Trace Armstrong in 2001, which tells you players of this caliber don’t hit the market often.

The Texans were wise to pounce. Hunter’s age (29) and injury history were reasons he became available, but a two-year deal is perfect: it’s not a huge investment for the Texans and Hunter has the opportunity to get another contract if he performs well. He’ll replace Jonathan Greenard, who coincidentally went to Minnesota. The Hunter signing earned a “B+” in Tyler Sullivan’s Day 2 grades.

Here were more top moves:

  • We hit on Derrick Henry to the Ravens yesterday afternoon, but I’m bringing it up again because I love it, for two reasons especially. First, the Ravens were second in yards before contact per rush last season; the Titans were 30th. He’s going to get great blocking. Second, his 96 yards rushing per game in December/January are fifth most since the 1970 merger. Late in the season, when everyone’s tired of tackling, Henry will be wreaking havoc.
  • The intra-rivalry moves continue. The Steelers are signing Patrick Queen, the Vikings added Aaron Jones, and the Dolphins nabbed Jordan Poyer. Also, don’t sleep on Denico Autry and Azeez Al-Shaair going to Houston. I’m loving this Texans offseason.
  • The Panthers added a much-needed wide receiver who can get separation, trading for Diontae Johnson. Both Carolina and Pittsburgh got strong trade grades from Bryan DeArdo.
  • In defensive back news, C.J. Gardner-Johnson is reuniting with the Eagles, Darious Williams is reuniting with the Rams, and Kenny Moore got paid historic money.

The new league year starts at 4 p.m., when these deals can become official, and Garrett Podell has handed out grades for every team based on their moves thus far. In total, we’ve got three “A” range grades, one “F” and … one “incomplete.” (Yes, we see you Dallas.) Here’s more:

👍 Honorable mentions

🤕 And not such a good morning for …

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THE NEW YORK YANKEES

After injuries derailed the Yankees‘ 2023, one would think the injury luck would swing the other way in 2024. The early returns, though, aren’t promising. Gerrit Cole‘s elbow issue — which caused the 2023 Cy Young winner to undergo an MRI — could keep him out through Opening Day as the Yankees evaluate other options for March 28 against the Astros.

Cole has not pitched in a game since March 1, hence the initial concern, and the Yankees have re-entered trade talks with the White Sox for Dylan Cease. Those two developments are probably more than a coincidence. Mike Axisa examined several avenues the Yankees could pursue to help their pitching staff, including …

  • Axisa:Sign a free agent — Blake Snell, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, and Jordan Montgomery, a former Yankee, remain unsigned, and it’s really easy to draw a straight line from Cole getting hurt to the Yankees signing either one. … One potential issue here is the competitive balance tax. The Yankees have a $308 million payroll for CBT purposes, per FanGraphs, so they are well over the $297 million top threshold … Because this will be their third straight year paying CBT, they are taxed 110% on every dollar over $297 million.”

So the best pitcher is uncertain for Opening Day. So is the best hitter. Aaron Judge had an MRI on his abdomen and is hopeful he can be ready for Game 1. Judge missed 56 games last year, so this news is less than ideal, and it follows Oswald Peraza (shoulder strain) being shut down for six to eight weeks.

If there’s some good news, it’s that Anthony Rizzo has looked healthy (and good) after missing 63 games last season. That could be a huge plus — and an early-season lifesaver — Mike notes in his spring training takeaways that matter.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

⚽ UEFA Champions League: Arsenal, Barcelona into quarterfinals

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The kids are all right. After showing their youth in a 1-0 first-leg loss to Porto, Arsenal held their composure in the second leg, advancing into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, 1-1 aggregate (4-2 penalty kicks). Over in Spain, meanwhile, Barcelona‘s youngsters fueled them to a 3-1 win (4-2 aggregate) over Napoli.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had a terrific shootout strategy, James Benge notes, so much so that CBS Sports Golazo’s Thierry Henry not only predicted the win, but didn’t even watch the deciding save. That’s confidence. As for Barcelona, 20-year old Fermín López opened the scoring, and 17-year-old Pau Cubarsí won Man of the Match.

That leaves two quarterfinal spots up for grabs, to be determined by …

  • Borussia Dortmund vs. PSV (tied 1-1) (preview)
  • Atletico Madrid vs. Inter (Inter lead 1-0) (preview)

To round things up …

🏀 NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets take top spot from Celtics

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The Nuggets are rolling. They’ve won nine of 10 since the All-Star break, with impressive wins aplenty: over the Warriors, Kings, Heat, Lakers and Celtics. That last one especially stands out … and vaulted the defending champs to No. 1 in Colin Ward-Henninger’s weekly NBA Power Rankings.

  • Ward-Henninger: “The Nuggets appeared to be unstoppable, but then they were stopped by the Suns at home in overtime. The confidence returned quickly, however, as they beat the Celtics in a tremendous potential NBA Finals preview behind Nikola Jokic‘s 32-12-11 stat line and essentially flawless clutch play. Despite the hiccup early in the week, Denver continues to assert itself as the postseason nears.”

Here’s the top five:

  1. Nuggets (previous: 2)
  2. Thunder (4)
  3. Celtics (1)
  4. Clippers (7)
  5. Suns (15)

The Celtics should feel OK about their two-spot drop considering fellow East contenders, the Bucks and Heat, both fell a league high-tying eight spots.

📺 What we’re watching Wednesday

Borussia Dortmund vs. PSV, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+
Atletico Madrid vs. Inter, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
🏀 Southland championship: Nicholls at McNeese State (M), 5 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 Big Sky championship: Northern Arizona vs. Eastern Washington (W), 5 p.m. on ESPNU
🏀 Patriot League championship: Lehigh at Colgate (M), 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
🏀 AAC championship: Rice vs. East Carolina (W), 7 p.m. on ESPNU
🏀 Nuggets at Heat, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Kings at Blues, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Cincinnati vs Kansas, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 Lakers at Kings, 10 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Capitals at Oilers, 10 p.m. on TNT
🏀 San Diego State vs. UNLV (W), 10:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
🏀 Big Sky championship: Montana State vs. Montana, 11:30 p.m. on ESPN2

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