Triple Crown winner Supreme Soul return to Jamaica now imminent

By George Davis and Mariah Ramharrack February 04, 2020

In a surprising turn of events, Supreme Soul has been cleared of having tick virus marker after a recent test was administered.  The horse has been stranded in the United States since December.

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  • NFL free agency: The contracts and trades we loved, plus 10 we hated! NFL free agency: The contracts and trades we loved, plus 10 we hated!

    NFL free agency rarely disappoints and this year was no different as a host of transactions gave fanbases plenty to get excited or frustrated about.

    This year, the top names to hit the open market were of a greater calibre to those in a typical offseason, adding to the drama.

    That free agency took place during the coronavirus pandemic meant it was the only major sporting show in town. Hopefully, it provided a welcome distraction to many.

    Including trades that went down over the period, we have picked out 10 of our favourite moves and contracts, as well as those we were not so fond of.

    TEN MOVES WE LOVED

    Brady makes Bucs contenders

    While Tom Brady, entering a season where he will be 43, can no longer carry a team like he used to, the six-time Super Bowl winner is still a top-10 quarterback. A massive upgrade on the turnover-prone Jameis Winston, Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers are postseason contenders with a support system that includes Bruce Arians' scheme, an impressive receiving corps and a defense trending in the right direction. 

    Evergreen Sanders could be Saints’ missing piece

    Drew Brees is coming back for another two shots at glory with the New Orleans Saints after leaving some money on the table to help the team's cap woes. The QB now has a second star wide receiver to pair with the brilliant Michael Thomas in the shape of the ageless Emmanuel Sanders, a piece they have been missing and previously looked to address with Dez Bryant. Sanders has still got it at 33, and with Thomas, the underrated TE Jared Cook and a healthy Alvin Kamara to throw to, Brees can help the WR reach the Super Bowl with a fourth team.

    Chargers add Harris, and much more

    The Los Angeles Chargers added an elite cornerback in Chris Harris for just $8.5m a year, boosting a defensive backfield that already contains Casey Hayward, Desmond King and Derwin James. There were other smart moves too, Bryan Bulaga boosting the offensive line, star tight end Hunter Henry retained on the franchise tag and pass-catching back Austin Ekeler signing a team-friendly four-year deal. The pieces are coming together, though they are lacking an established QB, perhaps one like…

    Rivers gives Colts crucial upgrade

    Philip Rivers contemplated retirement before opting to join an Indianapolis Colts team with one of the better rosters in the NFL, providing them with a big upgrade on Jacoby Brissett at the most important position. Rivers, now 38, will love playing behind a top-five offensive line that brought back Anthony Castonzo. There is little risk for the Colts - if it doesn't work out, Rivers is on a one-year deal and the bulk of a roster that has been built through the draft will still be there in 2021. The Texans' free-agency woes serve as a boost in the AFC South.

    Broncos buy low on dominant Casey

    At age 30, five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey still has plenty to offer, yet the Denver Broncos were able to sign him for pennies on the dollar (a seventh-round pick) to boost a defense that also added A.J. Bouye and already features Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.

    Big Play Slay just what Eagles needed

    The Philadelphia Eagles swooped for Darius Slay, who was coming off a down year but remains an elite corner, without giving up premium draft capital. They then handed him an extension that keeps Slay under their control for four years, should they wish to retain him, as the team improved a glaring weakness in the secondary. In another impressive move, they locked up rising star Javon Hargrave for his peak years and he can be paired with the great Fletcher Cox.

    Campbell smart business for win-now Ravens

    Despite his age (33), Calais Campbell remains a disruptive force on the defensive line. A trade and extension means he will help the win-now Baltimore Ravens for the next two seasons, all at the cost of just a fifth-round draft pick.

    Conklin fills pivotal Browns need

    A dreadful Cleveland Browns offensive line hindered Baker Mayfield’s sophomore season and held back a stellar cast of playmakers. After former GM John Dorsey departed, his replacement Andrew Berry was wise to add star right tackle Jack Conklin, even at $15m per year. Could Trent Williams be next on the other side of the line?

    Wait, Arizona got Hopkins for what!?

    An improving and exciting Arizona Cardinals team added one of the NFL's great receivers is in his prime, DeAndre Hopkins, to pair with Larry Fitzgerald for their number one overall pick Kyler Murray. That they could do that without giving up a first-round draft selection and getting rid of a contract they no longer wanted (more on that later), was a free-agency moment few fans will forget.

    Niners keep Armstead, land key draft pick

    The San Francisco 49ers found a way to keep Arik Armstead after his career year, and, with significant resources already invested in their defensive line, allowed the Colts to pay DeForest Buckner an eye-watering $21m a year. While his exit will hurt, the number 13 pick in the draft was impressive compensation that, in a WR-heavy class, should secure some major help for QB Jimmy Garoppolo. 

    Honourable mentions: Cory Littleton to the Las Vegas Raiders, Gerald McCoy to the Dallas Cowboys, Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills, D.J. Reader to the Cincinnati Bengals.
     

    THE MOVES WE DIDN'T LIKE

    Texans spend big on Cobb

    Randall Cobb was productive in racking up 828 yards for the Cowboys last season, but handing the slot man $27m over three years just before he turns 30 is a questionable move when there is a Hopkins-sized hole in your receiving corps and limited draft capital with which to fill it.

    Texans (sorry!) take on Johnson contract

    The Texans' return for losing Hopkins was pitiful and they even did the Cardinals a favour by taking on the last two years of David Johnson’s big contract. Johnson has battled injuries and not been dominant since 2016. Even if he does get close to that level again, as a running back he offers less value than a star wideout.

    Dolphins overpay for Flowers

    New York Giants draft bust Ereck Flowers had a decent year at guard for the Washington Redskins, but surely that improvement was not enough to justify a three-year, $30m pact in Miami.

    Bears still believe in Graham

    Jimmy Graham still believes he has speed and big play ability, but the Green Bay Packers disagreed as they cut him this month. The Chicago Bears promptly handed the 33-year-old a two-year, $16m deal with a no-trade clause. Recent evidence suggests this will not work out.

    Jags make puzzling Schobert splash

    At a time when they are stripping their roster bare and entering full rebuild mode, the Jacksonville Jaguars' decision to lock up a middle linebacker for five years and $53.75m was a puzzling one, whatever the merits of Joe Schobert may be.

    Titans give Tannehill all the money

    Ryan Tannehill was incredible for the Tennessee Titans after replacing Marcus Mariota, but his career to date suggests 2019 is likely to prove an outlier that will be extremely tough to repeat. The QB looked a prime candidate for a prove-it-again franchise tag but instead landed $118m over four years, as the Titans committed their immediate future to him and dropped out of the Brady sweepstakes. It could work out, but at this stage you must ask if it was all worth it just to tag Derrick Henry.

    And they pay up for struggling Beasley

    While it is only a one-year deal, there are likely better ways for the Titans, who let Casey leave, to spend $9.5m fully guaranteed (potentially rising to $12m) than on Vic Beasley, who the Atlanta Falcons were happy to let walk as he struggled to generate consistent pressure, despite recording a flattering eight sacks in 2019.

    New York make Giant reach for Martinez

    The Giants were right to move on from middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, but Blake Martinez’s career to date suggest he might not offer a huge improvement when it comes to the all-important area of pass coverage. Big Blue have agreed to pay $30.75m for three years to find out.

    Fant unlikely to solve Jets' woes

    A former college basketball star, George Fant may have been a good swing tackle option in free agency, but not a three-year, $30m starting option who the New York Jets hope can solve their offensive-line woes. He spent a good portion of last year playing as a sixth offensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks, and did not become an established starter on a unit that has traditionally been among the league's worst.


    Dishonourable mentions: Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jamie Collins to the Detroit Lions, Melvin Gordon to the Broncos, Jordan Howard to the Dolphins.

  • Jarrett Stidham: Tom Brady's heir apparent can handle Patriots pressure, says ex-coach Jarrett Stidham: Tom Brady's heir apparent can handle Patriots pressure, says ex-coach

    Given he has worked with Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Johnny Manziel, it takes a lot to make Kliff Kingsbury's jaw drop in amazement.

    Yet on a Thursday night in September 2014 he watched on in disbelief from the back of the end zone at Stephenville's Memorial Stadium as high schooler - and future New England Patriot - Jarrett Stidham delivered a dart right in front of him.

    "It was the real deal - quick release, drilled it and Kingsbury's near the end zone," Greg Winder told Stats Perform.

    "Kingsbury's mouth was just like, 'Oh wow'. I knew then he was special."

    Winder was the offensive coordinator at Stephenville High School, where Stidham was considered one of the state's finest quarterback prospects in football-mad Texas.

    "He was very receptive," Winder recalled.

    "He always knew what was going on. We would meet and talk about our gameplan and he knew exactly what we were trying to do and what he needed to do.

    "He was a great leader."

    Fast forward to 2020 and Stidham is the centre of attention again. 

    The Patriots are seeking an answer at the NFL's most important position having seen Tom Brady leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

    Stidham would appear the most likely candidate to succeed a player considered the greatest of all time, even if his NFL experience is limited to four pass attempts - one of which New York Jets safety Jamal Adams returned for a pick-six in Week 3 of last season.

    Fortunately, Stidham is used to the spotlight. Winder remembers college coaches from all over the country coming to watch him at Stephenville.

    "It was crazy, nuts," he said.

    "We'd do our workout and those coaches would be in there watching him throw. He didn't seem to be nervous at all. He's a natural."

    Back when he dazzled future Arizona Cardinals head coach Kingsbury with his throw against Lubbock Cooper, Stidham had already committed to Texas Tech.

    He would end up going to nearby Baylor, though, avoiding a quarterback competition with future NFL MVP Mahomes.

    However, that to be proved a short-lived stop. The football programme was rocked after Baylor head coach Art Briles was dismissed once an investigation found there was a "fundamental failure" by officials to respond to sexual assault allegations.

    After consulting Winder about his next move, Stidham sat out for a year and then spent two seasons as Auburn's starting quarterback before declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, when the Patriots selected him as Brady's latest backup.

    Now, with Brady gone and only Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler as rivals, Stidham would appear to have a clear path to the starter's job.

    Succeeding Brady means he will be under even more scrutiny than usual, though Stidham, who moved in with a guardian family at 18, has already had to cope with plenty of pressure.

    "He's been in a lot of different situations in his life with pressure and different circumstances on and off the field, he'll respond," Winder adds.

    But can he be successful under Bill Belichick, a man who has won six Super Bowl titles as a head coach, and with a team that has won the AFC East for 11 straight seasons?

    "I just think he needs to be with the right organisation, the right situation," Winder claims.

    "And I think he's in the right organisation and the right time."

  • Fifty points behind Liverpool & clean sheet woe - Solskjaer's first year as permanent Man Utd boss Fifty points behind Liverpool & clean sheet woe - Solskjaer's first year as permanent Man Utd boss

    It is easy to lose track of time in these strange days of lockdowns and isolations caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

    Right now it seems an eternity ago, yet it was only a year to the day – March 28, 2019 – that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as Manchester United's full-time manager.

    The Red Devils had won 14 of their 19 games in all competitions during Solskjaer's temporary stint, including a famous Champions League last-16 second-leg comeback at Paris Saint-Germain.

    Rio Ferdinand had demanded United hand his fellow club icon a blank contract to sign and the good times were, it seemed, on their way back to Old Trafford.

    And yet after all that early promise, it has been a year largely of stagnation. Twelve months of two steps forward, then a couple back. Those early successes seem like halcyon days, although there were encouraging signs prior to the suspension of the Premier League as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

    Below, we have taken a look at how Solskjaer's United compare to the other "big six" (Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal) over the past 12 months in the Premier League with the help of Opta data.

    ONLY HALF AS GOOD AS SIZZLING REDS

    If Manchester United knocked Liverpool off their (insert naughty word here) perch, then Jurgen Klopp's Reds have conquered all in front of them in their bid to return to it.

    Liverpool's wait for a Premier League title may have been frustratingly held up but over the past year they have accumulated an astonishing 103 points from 36 top-flight matches.

    That is 22 more than Manchester City, second in our table for this span, have accumulated.

    United are a whopping 50 points adrift of Liverpool's accumulation having played a game more. Indeed, their tally of 53 is only the seventh best and is fewer than Wolves (56) and Crystal Palace (55).

    Chelsea have managed 63 and are fourth behind Leicester City (64), but United have amassed more points than both Tottenham (51) and Arsenal (50).

     

    LAGGING BEHIND IN WINS AND GOALS

    A slight concern for United fans is the fact they have won just 14 of the 37 league games played during Solskjaer's permanent stewardship thus far.

    Of the so-called "big six", only Arsenal (12) have triumphed in fewer outings, with Tottenham on the same number and Chelsea (18), City (26) and Liverpool (34) all ahead.

    In the same period, only Spurs – now managed by the man Solskjaer replaced, Jose Mourinho – have lost more games, with 14 to United's 12.

    The January signing of Bruno Fernandes has gone some way to helping United's creativity void in midfield, though their return of 51 goals is significantly lower than Liverpool (85) and City (84).

    Only the Gunners (50) have managed fewer, with Chelsea (64) and Spurs (57) both ahead of Solskjaer's side in this bracket.

    It comes as little surprise that United also struggle in terms of shot conversion (9 per cent). Chelsea (10 per cent), Spurs, City, Arsenal (all 12 per cent) and Liverpool (15 per cent) all perform better.

    It is not necessarily for a lack of efforts, either. United have registered more shots (544) and shots on target (203) than both Arsenal (411 and 141) and Spurs (486 and 169).

     

    FEWER CLEAN SHEETS THAN A HOTEL LAUNDRY ROOM

    Defensively, United stand up reasonably well against their five major rivals. They have conceded fewer goals (44) than each of Arsenal (48), Spurs (47) and Chelsea (45). Liverpool (25) and City (33), unsurprisingly, lead in that department too.

    But United have not been able to keep too many clean sheets. Indeed, they have denied opposition sides from scoring on just eight occasions. Only Tottenham - with seven - have a worse record.

    United have faced 142 shots on target, which is less than Spurs (180) and Arsenal (185).

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