Steelers sign three offensive linemen

The Steelers signed three offensive linemen Monday, with tackles Joseph Cheek and Larson Graham and center Parker Collins all getting one-year deals.

Cheek, who started two seasons at guard at Texas A&M, originally signed with the Saints as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2016. The Saints waived him before the start of the season, and the Texans signed Cheek to their practice squad. He spent a month there before Houston waived him and Kansas City signed him to its practice squad, where he spent the rest of 2016 and all of 2017.

Twins: RHP Ervin Santana (finger surgery) will be back in Minnesota on Tuesday to meet with team doctors. Molitor said he’s heard Santana wants to see if he can get approval to do more in his rehab.

Astros: LHP Dallas Keuchel (0-1, 3.27 ERA) will make his third start of the season in Tuesday’s evening contest. Keuchel gave up two runs — one earned — in five innings his last start against Baltimore.

Twins: RHP Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 2.51) will make his first start at Target Field as a member of the Twins. Odorizzi, who made three starts at the park with Tampa Bay, gave up three runs in 4 1/3 innings at Pittsburgh last week.

George and Russell Westbrook each scored 24 points, and Oklahoma City snapped Houston’s 20-game home winning streak with a 108-102 victory.

The Thunder were down one with about seven minutes left before scoring the next 11 points.

I’m not adjusting my Ohtani pitching projections, which were already quite generous: 3.25 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 29 percent K rate over an expected 24 starts. It’s his hitting contribution that has taken me by surprise, necessitating an adjustment: I’d now call him capable of a .250-.260 batting average and .210 isolated power, plus anticipate he might come to the plate 325 times, which is enough for him to hit another 13-15 home runs. And that’s a significant advantage for fantasy managers in leagues with daily transactions, since the Angels’ clarity on his role on a day-to-day basis makes it rather easy to maximize his usage from both sides of the ball.

Said Bills coach Sean McDermott, “Whatever position it is. We’ve got a multitude of picks and at the end of the day we’re going to come out of this thing with some good football players.”

Jets don’t have a consensus as to quarterback, yet

Three weeks ago today, the Jets jumped three spots in round one, from No. 6 to No. 3. They presumably are looking for a quarterback. As explained by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets still haven’t settled on which one they want.

The chatter during the league meetings in Orlando was that the Jets want Baker Mayfield. Mehta recently explained that some within the organization have concerns about Mayfield’s height. While other quarterbacks on the short end of the spectrum have thrived from Fran Tarkenton to Doug Flutie to Drew Brees to Russell Wilson success without the ability to see over the scrum of linemen requires, among other things, great anticipation and flawless footwork.

Credit an adjustment to his stance — he minimized a leg kick he exhibited during the early stages of spring training and instead is now utilizing more of a toe-tap in his swing — for Ohtani’s improvement, and while his to-date hitting rates are obviously unsustainable, he looks like an unexpectedly handy contributor with the bat. Chances are, his weaknesses will likely be on pitches on the inner third of the plate, especially breaking balls, where his amount of patience will ultimately determine how streaky a hitter he’ll be. Ohtani’s power, though, sure looks legitimate, and it’s probably unfair to assume he’ll sport a whiff rate of 30-plus percent come season’s end.

The Cowboys used the franchise tag on Lawrence and signed Ealy to a one-year deal.

“We’re excited about Kony,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We spent a lot of time on him coming out in the draft. We visited with him a lot, and we worked him out. He was one of those players we had targeted. At the time, we traded up for DeMarcus Lawrence and that worked out well for us. Kony went to Carolina and had a good career, very impactful in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. We think he’s a good, young player with a lot of potential. We’re going to bring him in here.

“One of the things we try to do with our team is promote competition at every position. That really is the reason for the decisions that we made in the offseason, to create a competitive environment at every position across the position. We feel like that brings out the best in everybody.”

Ealy, 26, has 15 sacks in the regular season in his career. But he has five in five postseason games, including three in the Super Bowl loss to the Broncos to end the 2015 season.

No Rays of sunshine for White Sox in four-game skid

The Chicago White Sox will try to stop a four-game losing streak when they host the Tampa Bay Rays in the second meeting of a three-game series Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Chicago (3-6) has been outscored 21-12 during its early season skid. The White Sox are 0-4 at home this season as wet, cold weather has frustrated hitters and pitchers alike. It is the club’s first 0-4 start at home since 1987.

We’ve had a couple over this homestand actually where we haven’t been able to get that big hit, White Sox manager Rick Renteria said to The Athletic. We’re in the mindset sometimes of a hitter, they start thinking about the hit as opposed to the pitch and just getting something that you can handle.

Fulmer has faced the Rays once in his brief career — a two-inning relief appearance in which he gave up one run. He picked up the win out of the bullpen over Tampa Bay, which is about 80 miles from where he stood out as a prep athlete in Winter Haven, Fla.

For Tampa Bay, left-hander Blake Snell (0-1, 5.00 ERA) will try to bounce back after the New York Yankees roughed him up for five runs in 3 1/3 innings his last time out on April 4. Snell gave up home runs to Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez in that game, during which he threw 90 pitches while getting only 10 outs.

Snell, 25, has been far more effective against the White Sox during his two-plus seasons in the majors. The suburban Seattle native is 1-0 with a perfect 0.00 ERA in two career starts against Chicago. He has not allowed a run in 9 1/3 innings, including a 6 2/3-inning effort last year and a rain-shortened 2 2/3-inning outing in 2016.

White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia will look to reboot his bat after going 0-for-5 in the series opener. Garcia entered the day with a three-game hitting streak and five multi-hit performances this season to lead the team.

What was the Heisman Trophy winner’s biggest message? Enjoy the process.

Right now you have a little bit of free time. This is the part where they’re all done with their pro day and so you can’t stress about the draft, Manziel said. I stressed about it too much and I think it made my time a little bit uneasy.

If I were to sit back and really enjoy it and enjoy the time with my family because you know the day after you get drafted and you fly to your team, you get two days off and then you go straight back to rookie OTA’s and then you’re straight into regular OTA’s, straight into a couple week break and then you’re straight into the season. And that season in the NFL was a grind and so just for them I wish them all the best.

Mason Rudolph waiting to prove critics wrong in NFL Draft and beyond

The consensus opinion ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft is that Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph is the fifth- or sixth-best quarterback in the class.

The Cowboys quarterback told Jim Rome in January he thinks he’s the best quarterback in the class after completing 65 percent of his passes for a nation-leading 4,904 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2017. But most mock drafts and projections have Rudolph — generally considered a late first-round to second-round pick — behind Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson.

Rudolph said he started private training the week after Oklahoma State’s 30-21 victory over Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl, but was set back by a mid-foot sprain that left him in a walking boot for three weeks. That prevented him from working out at the Senior Bowl (he attended interviews and meetings) and limited him at the Combine (he abstained from agility drills). By the time teams attended his pro day last week in Stillwater, however, he was back to 100 percent.

It was there Rudolph was seen having an extended conversation with Steelers brass, including head coach Mike Tomlin. Rudolph has also reportedly been targeted by Denver and Arizona, and continues to have meaningful conversations with several teams — though he has been asked not to reveal which franchises have shown interest.

In those conversations, the topics have ranged from how Oklahoma State’s offense translates to the NFL to Rudolph’s strengths, weaknesses and role in the Cowboys’ offense.

Without Andre Roberson, who is a known Harden-stopper (or as much of one as can exist on this planet), George has taken the primary assignment but went to the bench shortly after Harden’s 3 for a quick rest. Russell Westbrook took over the assignment, likely to just spell George until he could return. But Westbrook, who infuriates some with his tantalizing but very inconsistent defensive ability, cranked it up. And when George checked back in after about a minute, Westbrook told him not to switch back. The reigning MVP was taking the expected MVP.

“When the game is on the line, I knew what needed to be done,” Westbrook said. “I told Paul and Corey [Brewer] to take somebody else. I got him.”

He fought over every screen, jumped passing lanes and frustrated Harden. It sparked a 9-0 run for the Thunder to go up eight midway through the fourth, which included a Westbrook 3, a Westbrook layup and a Westbrook steal and pass to George for two free throws.

Westbrook shows relentless defense vs. HardenRussell Westbrook knocks the ball out of bounds and then steals it from James Harden in the 4th quarter.

Donnie Jones wants to keep playing

The Eagles released Donnie Jones from the reserve/retired list earlier Wednesday, and Ian Rapoport reports it came at the punter’s request. Jones wants to continue his career.

Pelicans: They improved to 26-25 vs the West. … They won the season series 3-1. … New Orleans hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2007-08.

Clippers: C Boban Marjanovic scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth. … Starting guards Austin Rivers (right elbow soreness) and Lou Williams (sprained right ankle) sat out, but are likely to return for Wednesday’s season finale.

Since shaving his beard last week, Mirotic has played like a new man. He came in averaging 28 points and shooting 56 percent from the field, compared to 14.6 points and 28 percent shooting with the beard he’d had since 2013. “You look like you’re 18 now, so you’re getting some calls,” Gentry told Mirotic.

Rookie C.J. Williams was signed to a multi-year contract after being a two-way player this season. The 28-year-old guard has appeared in 37 games for the Clippers — he started Monday — and 16 games for their NBA G League affiliate in Ontario. The North Carolina State graduate played in France, Greece and Italy and the G League before signing with the Clippers last fall. “I actually cried for about an hour,” said Williams, who surprised his visiting parents with the news. “You think of all the things you’ve done to get to this point.” Coach Doc Rivers said Williams is “a great, great person to have in your locker room. He came in and proved he’s an NBA player.”

“I mean, listen, throughout a long season if you’re able to accomplish feats no matter what’s going on, you should always try to appreciate it, try to take time,” James said. “I’ve been one, I’ve kind of like been a hypocrite [with] that because I’m always moving and trying to figure how we can be better the next day or whatever the case [might] be. So, it’s always hard for me to be like, ‘OK, another division crown.’ Even after all that’s gone on with our team and our ballclub this year, but it’s a pretty cool thing.”

The Cavs’ struggles this season are well chronicled — starting with trading away franchise stalwart Kyrie Irving in the offseason for an injured Isaiah Thomas; to Thomas, as well as Jae Crowder, struggling to fit in; to persistent injuries suffered by just about everybody on the roster not named James, including major injuries to Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson; to dealing away six players at the trade deadline and incorporating four new ones; to JR Smith being suspended for throwing a bowl of soup at an assistant coach; to Kyle Korver mourning the loss of his younger brother; to head coach Tyronn Lue needing to take a leave of absence to address serious chest pains and other ailments.

How much better will Spencer Long make Jets’ struggling offensive line

The Jets didn’t overhaul their offensive line this offseason, but it has a chance to perform significantly better in 2018.

That’s because right guard Brian Winters is healthy again, and center Wesley Johnson is gone, having signed with the Lions.

Winters battled through an abdomen muscle tear that eventually required surgery. He still managed to play in 13 games, but he wasn’t himself.

Johnson stunk last season, and it became clear he wasn’t the long-term answer for replacing Nick Mangold. The Jets signedSpencer Long to replace him. Long could be an upgrade at center, provided he has moved past last season’s quadriceps tear, which required surgery.

Jets coach Todd Bowles believes Long’s presence will upgrade the Jets’ line.

How bad was the Jets’ line last season The Jets allowed the NFL’s fifth-highest sack percentage. They ranked 20th in yards per carry and 19th in rushing yards per game.

Bowles after the season fired line coach Steve Marshall and replaced him with recently fired Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. He will be the Jets’ running game coordinator, in addition to their line coach. Dennison will team with new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.

So why does Bowles think Dennison’s line will be better than Marshall’s was last year

We’ll be healthier, number one, Bowles said. Number two, they’ll be more in synch with some of the things we’re trying to do, playing to their strengths. We had guys overstepping [last year] from a technique standpoint. I think they’ll be a lot better.

That’s intense. And those knives don’t exactly look dull, either.

Donald is currently trying to land a new contract extension with the Los Angeles Rams.

Some of the free agents your favorite team signed in March will become busts, as will some of the players ultimately drafted in April. But because nobody can predict who will boom and who will bust, the glass often feels half-full this time of year.

The problem is offseason improvements don’t mean much if all 32 NFL teams feel they’re getting better. Every team has made changes this offseason, but not all changes will prove positive.

How does the NFL field look after a wild March Let’s take a moment to rank all 32 teams.

The aforementioned fan dynamics this time of year indicate most of you won’t be happy with what you’re about to read, in which case you’re welcome to believe this is anApril Fools’ joke.

(It isn’t.)

Whether that requires a reset or rebuild depends on how well the Seahawks perform in 2018.

Schneider is right when it comes to the ever-churning carousel of NFL roster management. Still, it’s hard to overlook what has been the biggest renovation project of the Schneider-Pete Carroll era in Seattle. Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson, Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Lane and Paul Richardson are among the notable players who’ve left over the last month. Cliff Avril’s neck injury has jeopardized his career, and it remains to be seen if Kam Chancellor’s neck injury will continue to be an issue moving forward.

With the team parting ways with some highly valued veteran talent, can the Seahawks improve on last year’s 9-7 mark in the highly competitive NFC West It’s hard to say, but Schneider will be leaning on a new generation of players to make it happen.

The Alabama All-American joined Oakland as the fourth player picked in the 2015 NFL Draft. He became the third player in NFL history to produce seasons with at least 70 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two years in the league.

But in 2017, Cooper fell into the general downturn experienced by the Raiders, as they followed their 12-4 showing of 2016 — Oakland’s first winning record since 2002 — with a 6-10 record.

Cooper’s production dropped to 48 receptions for 680 yards and seven touchdowns.

Injuries got the blame for the falloff. Cooper missed two games because of a concussion and ankle injury, and Oakland quarterback Derek Carr said Cooper was out there playing on one foot.

Per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, New York would seek a first-round pick and then some if they were looking to deal their star player. Given that hefty price tag, and the massive contract extension a team would then have to dole out to Beckham, a trade seems unlikely.

What are the Raiders getting in Nelson?

Suh, though, simply wasn’t able to take Miami to the heights expected upon his arrival. The times Suh truly took over a game and looked unblockable were few and far between.

Suh wasn’t even the NFL’s best defensive tackle during his Dolphins run. Aaron Donald of the Rams has proven far more disruptive in the same time span while playing on a much cheaper rookie contract.

It’s also a new general manager in Green Bay, and it stands to reason he wants to get the team a bit younger.

Nelson did struggle last season, playing in 15 games but only catching 53 passes for 482 yards and six touchdowns.

That was well south of his 2016 production, coming off an ACL injury, when he had 97 receptions for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns.

It’s worth noting that Nelson’s 2017 production hinged on the health of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

In Weeks 1 through 6, before Rodgers was hurt, Nelson averaged 1.48 yards per route run.

After Rodgers went down, he averaged 0.62 yards per route run, according to Pro Football Focus.

Minnesota put itself in a position to make this move through shrewd salary-cap management that yielded $53 million in space heading into the offseason (Vikings executive Rob Brzezinski, take a bow). Almost every key player is already under contract through at least this season, and prized running back Dalvin Cook is set to return after a knee injury prematurely ended his rookie campaign.

Spielman must now hope signing Cousins won’t lead to the Vikings suffering the same fate as Captain Ahab for both the short and long term. Minnesota might be unable to re-sign standout players in the future because Cousins is consuming so much cap space. That makes the margin of error even smaller in upcoming Vikings drafts.

The Jones fracture is going to end up dictating Watkins’ long-term success, and wideouts haven’t always been able to get past their foot issues.

Julian Edelman and Julio Jones were both able to recover from a broken foot and return to their previous level of play.

Marcus Gilchrist reaches agreement with Raiders

This week, the Raiders have signed one tight end and re-signed another. They’ve added a former Pro Bowl wide receiver and former Pro Bowl running back. For good measure, they’ve picked up a fullback who specializes on special teams.

Of course, they haven’t forgotten about their defense.

But a handful of higher-ups representing teams in the running for Mayfield did make it to the indoor football facilities on the OU campus, including Broncos general manager John Elway, senior personnel advisor Gary Kubiak and head coach Vance Joseph. Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan was in attendance, as well as Giants offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula and Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, both of whom met privately with Mayfield at some point during the week.

Yes, Mayfield threw the football (against air, without a defense), and we’ll get to that. But the biggest happenings were behind the scenes. Whisenhunt was part of a Chargers contingent that hosted Mayfield for lunch on Tuesday at the QB’s favorite local restaurant, Charleston’s, a cozy spot serving American fare about three-and-a-half miles west of campus. Mayfield had been provided a list of plays and concepts and was asked to go over the package with the Chargers staff, as well as explain elements of coach Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma offense. The Browns, Saints and Jets are among the teams planning to hold private workouts for Mayfield in Norman over the next two weeks, and he has newly scheduled visits to Denver and Arizona.

Jumping into the Colts’ slot at No. 3 would ensure the Bills get a shot at a top quarterback. While Buffalo has several holes to fill, several key starters return from last year’s playoff team including offensive standouts like LeSean McCoy and a hopefully healthy Kelvin Benjamin. Picking up a rookie quarterback will give the Bills an inexpensive option that allows them to spend more freely on free agents as well, which should include adding some much-needed weapons to an offense where no wide receiver had more than 27 catches.

Grade for Browns: B+ Kizer needed a change of scenery after his disastrous rookie season, and Browns general manager John Dorsey might have found a new free safety by trading for a struggling cornerback in Randall.

Mike Pouncey to be released by Dolphins

That didn’t stop them from signing Sammy Watkins, whom many considered the best wide receiver on the free agent market. Though Watkins has been somewhat of a disappointment during his career, perhaps Andy Reid can maximize his talent If Mahomes is as good as advertised, Kansas City could have one of the most dangerous offenses in football. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs acquired former Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade.

He may have been an underrated piece in the Smith deal, but he had four interceptions last season and should help replace Marcus Peters. They weren’t done there, as they also signed one of the best free agent linebackers available in Anthony Hitchens.

Claiborne started 15 games for the Jets last season, helping lead a young secondary that improved substantially. In 2018, he’ll be playing alongside former Ram Trumaine Johnson, who agreed to terms with the Jets on a five-year, $72.5 million deal ($34 million guaranteed) earlier this week.

In January, after the regular season, Claiborne indicated his desire to come back to New York.

GM Ryan Pace sent a clear message that the NFL’s worst passing attack wouldn’t stand pat. Now, second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has a cadre of new weapons with a No. 1 receiver in Robinson, an emerging tight end in Trey Burton and a slot standout in Taylor Gabriel.

Thanks in part to Sammy Watkins’ somewhat surprising departure, Austin is instead sticking around. The wideout has agreed to restructure his contract with the Rams, which has four years remaining on it, according to the Los Angeles Daily News’ Vincent Bonsignore.

The Raiders family was saddened to learn of the passing of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Mr. Benson was an instrumental influence on the league’s growth upon purchasing the Saints in 1985 and his leadership was essential to New Orleans becoming a frequent host for the Super Bowl. His dedication to community and charitable endeavors will continue to live on in New Orleans and beyond. The Raider Nation’s thoughts and prayers are with Gayle Benson and the Benson family at this time.

Ngata, ranked No. 74 on NFL.com’s Top 101 Free Agents of 2018 list, adds to the Eagles’ embarrassment of riches on the defensive line. The 34-year-old joins Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, Brandon Graham, Timmy Jernigan, Derek Barnett, Chris Long and Vinny Curry (until he gets traded or released).