Saints hit hard for "bounty" program
UNDATED (AP) — The so-called "bounty program" is causing plenty of off-season headaches for the National Football League.
On Wednesday, the league suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton without pay for the entire 2012 season. This follows the NFL's investigation into an incentive program for defensive players to sideline opposition players with fierce hits. The program was orchestrated by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. In addition, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has been hit with an eight-game suspension and assistant coach Joe Vitt has to sit out the first six games of the 2012 season.
Williams has been suspended indefinitely, leaving the St. Louis Rams without their newly-hired defensive coordinator for at least the 2012 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell (guh-DEHL') will review Williams' status after the upcoming season and consider whether he can return to the league.
Goodell (guh-DEHL') also has ordered the owners of all 32 NFL teams to make sure their clubs are not offering bounties
In addition, the Saints are being fined $500,000 and will forfeit second-round draft picks this year and next.
Williams is the architect of the scheme that paid out thousands of dollars to players for hits that knocked an opponent out of a game, in direct violation of league rules.
Meanwhile, Rams coach Jeff Fisher says Williams' suspension was warranted and adds he was unaware of the NFL investigation when he hired Williams in January. Fisher says he'll probably use a committee of coaches to replace Williams, a group that includes assistant head coach Dave McGinnis and defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil.
Also in the NFL, instant replay could undergo some changes when owners meet next week. They will get proposals to eliminate referees from instant replay reviews and expand what the booth official rules on, and also to allow a player to return during the season from the injured reserve list.
Former New England head coach and New York Giants offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt has died at the age of 80. During Erhardt's eight seasons as offensive coordinator under Parcells, the Giants reached the playoffs five times, won three NFC East titles and two Super Bowls.
A person with knowledge of the situation tells the AP that Alex Smith has agreed to terms on a three-year contract with San Francisco that will pay him $8 million per season with $16.5 million guaranteed. He inked the deal a day after Manning chose to continue his career with the Denver Broncos instead of the 49ers.
Oakland has agreed on a $2 million, one-year contract to bring back right tackle Khalif Barnes, who started all 16 games last season.
The New England Patriots signed cornerback Will Allen and offensive lineman Robert Gallery.
Bryan Scott has agreed to re-sign with the Bills, allowing Buffalo to retain a nine-year veteran who can play both safety and linebacker. The Bills also inked defensive end Mark Anderson, who has 35 ½ sacks in six pro seasons.
The Colts have signed free agent center Samson Satele to a three-year contract, possible paving the way for Jeff Saturday's exit from Indianapolis.
And a person familiar with the negotiations says former Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has agreed to a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Tebow to Jets
UNDATED (AP) — As if New York needed another controversy .... Now, the NFL's Jets have brought in quarterback Tim Tebow (TEE'-boh) to compete with incumbent starter Mark Sanchez. The deal was concluded with the Denver Broncos late Wednesday.
The Broncos sent the lefty quarterback to the Jets, along with a seventh-round pick in next month's draft. Denver receives the Jets' fourth- and sixth-round picks in the upcoming draft.
The trade was eventually completed after the Jets apparently balked at repaying Denver more than $5 million for a salary advance due Tebow. ESPN reported that the two sides had agreed to split that cost.
The swap was announced a day after the Broncos signed fellow quarterback Peyton Manning to a five-year contract and made Tebow expendable.
The Jets are hoping Tebow will complement Sanchez, who received a $40.5 million contract extension, with $20.5 million guaranteed, earlier this month.
Bulls rally...Magic coast...Knicks stay hot
UNDATED (AP) — It was a good night for the NBA's two conference leaders.
John Lucas, Kyle Korver and the Chicago Bulls put together a strong fourth-quarter rally to earn their sixth straight road win.
Lucas scored all 13 of his points while the Bulls were outscoring the Raptors 32-13 in the final period of a 94-82 victory at Toronto. Korver also came up big in the final quarter, scoring all 10 of his points as the Bulls came back after trailing by 12 early in the second half.
Luol Deng (LOO'-ul dehng) finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds as the East-leading Bulls improved to a league-best 39-10, three games ahead of Miami.
Oklahoma City still leads the West by 3 ½ games over San Antonio after Kevin Durant provided 32 points and nine rebounds in the Thunder's 114-91 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers. Russell Westbrook added 19 points while the Thunder were holding Blake Griffin to a career-low seven points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Tim Duncan's 21 points and 15 rebounds carried the Spurs past Minnesota 116-100. The Spurs won their fourth straight despite playing most of the game without guard Tony Parker, who left with tightness in his left hamstring with 8:03 remaining in the first half.
The Los Angeles Lakers stretched their lead in the Pacific Division to 2 ½ games over the Clippers as Kobe Bryant poured in 30 points to lead a 109-93 win at Dallas. Pau Gasol (pow gah-SAHL') added 17 points and nine rebounds to help the Lakers end the Mavericks' four-game winning streak.
Also in the NBA, Ryan Anderson drained seven three-pointers and finished with 29 points in Orlando's 103-93 victory against Phoenix. Dwight Howard added 28 points and 16 rebounds for the Magic, who led by 22 points en route to their first win in three games.
Josh Smith had 32 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and produced the go-ahead, three-point play as Atlanta clawed back from 16 points down to beat Cleveland 103-102. Joe Johnson hit a tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation and knocked down a baseline jumper with 10 seconds left in overtime to finish with 22 points.
JaVale McGee dunked off his own missed free throw following a basket with five seconds left to give Denver a 116-115 win over Detroit. McGee's four-point possession allowed him to finish with 15 points. Ty Lawson had a team-high 25 as the Nuggets overcame Ben Gordon's game-high 45 points.
New York improved to 5-0 since Mike Woodson became interim head coach, beating the 76ers 82-79 in Philadelphia. Amare Stoudemire had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Jeremy Lin added 18 points as the Knicks pulled within three games of the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers.
Nene (neh-NAY') provided 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds in his Washington debut, a 108-89 rout of New Jersey.
Rookie Klay Thompson scored a season-high 27 points and David Lee added 25 as Golden State topped New Orleans 101-92 to end a four-game skid.
Fisher signs with Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder have signed free agent guard Derek Fisher, giving him a chance to earn his sixth NBA championship. The longtime Los Angeles Lakers point guard was traded to Houston last week but decided to buy out of his contract with the Rockets and seek somewhere else to play. Thunder general manager Sam Presti says he's available to play immediately.
Diaw leaving Bobcats
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Boris Diaw's (DEE'-awz) time in Charlotte is finally over after being waived by the Bobcats.
Diaw's agent says the veteran forward had reached an agreement on a contract buyout that will allow him to sign with another team.
NCAA TOURNAMENT-NORTH CAROLINA
Cast is off Tar Heels guard
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall is out of his cast following surgery on his broken right wrist. Marshall's father told The Associated Press his son is wearing a removable splint. Dennis Marshall also said it was still too early to know if his son could play against Ohio on Friday in the NCAA tournament's round of 16 in St. Louis. He said his son "hasn't been ruled out, but not cleared to play either."
The left-handed Marshall was hurt when he was fouled on a drive against Creighton and had surgery Monday to install a screw in the wrist.
Smart staying put
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Virginia Commonwealth basketball coach Shaka Smart has ended speculation that he might take the open job at Illinois by announcing that he'll stay with the Rams. The decision by the young coach was cause for celebration among VCU fans and disappointment for their Illini counterparts. Illinois' search for a replacement for fired coach Bruce Weber has begun to resemble the search last year for a new football coach, when the school's top choices reportedly turned down the Illini.
VCU said in a news release that Smart's $1.2 million contract will be adjusted, but provided no details.
Blues fall, but so do Wings and Canucks...Rangers stretch lead
UNDATED (AP) — The St. Louis Blues had a chance to move a bit closer to clinching their first conference regular-season title in 12 years, thanks to losses by the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks.
Instead, the Blues blew leads of 2-1 and 3-2 in a 4-3 loss at Anaheim. Jason Blake notched the game-winner with 5:54 remaining, a little more than six minutes after Devante Smith-Pelly knotted the score.
Ryan Callahan scored at 2:42 of overtime to give the New York Rangers a 2-1 win over the Wings and a three-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference. Callahan's 27th goal of the season was the only scoring after teammate Brad Richards beat Ty Conklin late in the first period.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 shots and had an assist in the Blueshirts' second straight win.
The Red Wings have dropped six straight and are seven points behind the West-leading Blues with eight games to play.
The Canucks are five points behind St. Louis following their 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago. Rookie Andrew Shaw scored 2:42 into overtime, the same time Callahan's tally beat Detroit. Patrick Kane tied it in the second period with his 20th goal before the Blackhawks improved to 9-1-1 in their last 11 games to creep within eight points of St. Louis.
In other NHL action, Florida's five-game winning streak is over after Eric Staal scored twice in Carolina's 3-1 triumph over the Panthers. Joni Pitkanen (YAH'-nee PIT'-kah-nehn) added a goal and an assist as the Hurricanes prevented the Panthers from increasing their five-point edge over Washington for the Southeast Division lead.
Buffalo beat Montreal 3-0 to move into a tie with the Capitals for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth. Ryan Miller stopped 34 shots in his sixth shutout of the season, and Cody Hodgson scored twice to help the Sabres improve to 11-2-4 in their last 17 games.
NEW YORK (AP) — The Phoenix Coyotes will play the next three games without Shane Doan. That's how long the forward has been suspended for elbowing Jamie Benn of Dallas during Tuesday's loss to the Stars.
No brainer for Johnson
VIERA, Fla. (AP) — Stephen Strasburg will make his first opening-day start for the Nationals on April 5 at the Chicago Cubs.
Strasburg made just five major league starts last season after returning from Tommy John surgery. He is 6-4 with a 2.54 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 92 major league innings since making his big league debut in June 2010.
Also, New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana went six innings for the first time since undergoing major shoulder surgery 18 months ago, allowing a run and six hits while striking out six. Santana blanked the Cardinals until Lance Berkman's RBi single in the sixth.
Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter won't start opening day after a setback in his recovery from a bulging disk in his neck. The soon-to-be 37-year-old right-hander threw live batting practice on Sunday and didn't feel right the next day. Manager Mike Matheny will now hand the ball to Kyle Lohse (lohsh) for the Cards' April 4 opener at Miami and put setup man Lance Lynn in the rotation as Carpenter's replacement.
Oakland Athletics third baseman Scott Sizemore has undergone surgery on his left knee to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He'll miss the entire season after getting hurt during the A's first full-squad workout of spring training.
Forbes' annual report finds the average value of Major League Baseball teams has increased 16 percent from last year to an all-time high of $605 million. The Yankees lead the way at $1.85 billion, the 15th straight year the Bombers have topped the list. The Dodgers are second at $1.4 billion, followed by the Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies.
And former Boston Red Sox lefty Mel Parnell has passed away at age 89. Parnell was one of the most successful lefties at Fenway Park, posting a 70-30 record at home and a 123-75 mark in 10 major league seasons.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.