The Barclays Center ice has gone through some rough patches this season.

Ben Lovejoy, D, New Jersey Devils: “I think that NHL ice, you expect [it] to not be perfect. A lot of things go on in these buildings. We are professional athletes that are the best at our game. We’re not expecting perfect ice sheets every night. We have to go out and execute on them.”

Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota Wild: “I feel like the puck is bouncing a lot. I don’t know if that’s the ice, if that’s the puck or what it is. Some nights it’s good, some nights it’s bad. Who knows what it is?”

Ian Cole, D, Pittsburgh Penguins: “I think it’s getting harder for them to keep good ice. I think they have less concerts, less stuff like that in places like Edmonton and Calgary. You come to a place like Boston or New York or L.A. or Chicago, and they have a lot of other things going on in the arena, which makes it hard to keep good ice. There’s more people, more events. Singers complaining it’s too cold in the arenas, so they want the heat turned up. I mean, if the singers want it at 60 degrees, it’s tough to keep ice. Everyone is very knowledgeable about it. I think the right people are very aware of the situation, and they’re trying their best to keep good ice. I don’t think they’re purposely trying to make bad ice.

The Celtics, however, are widely known to be eager to trade for either George or the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler. So the possibility remains that a strong offer from Boston on deadline day spurs the Pacers into trading George sooner than they ever imagined.

But the Indiana star gave little indication, after the Pacers’ first practice coming out of the All-Star break, that he expects a deal this week.

“I have no concerns,” George told local reporters. “I’m here. I practiced today. My head is not wrapped around that. I’ve got a team to turn around in the second half, and that’s what I’m committed to.”

 

235031848235458211-C201-1

NFL Combine results 2015: Full measurements for running backs

On Thursday, quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs all got measured at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. This year’s running back class is as deep as it’s ever been, but with the value of running backs in today’s NFL all over the place, nobody is quite sure how many of these guys, if any, will get selected in the first round.

With one of the strongest free agent classes this season as well, this should be an interesting draft as far as the running back position is concerned. There are few surprises when it comes to the way the running backs measure out. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley are widely considered the top two backs in the draft, but there is no consensus on the top player between the two.

Gurley comes with injury concerns as he’s rehabbing a torn ACL, while Gordon is a product of a system that routinely delivers top draft prospects from the position — but those prospects often struggle in the NFL. The measurements on Thursday revealed that things are close between the two there, as well. Gordon and Gurley both came in at 6’0, weighed within 7 pounds of each other, and had virtually identical hand size and arm length.

Running back is notable as the one position where height isn’t a huge deal and the smaller guys can compete. You’ll find smaller receivers and smaller cornerbacks, but life in the NFL is easier for a small running back. The height disparity between the shortest (Trey Williams, Dee Hart and B.J. Catalon at 5’7) and the tallest (Dominique Brown and Matt Jones at 6’2) is significant. For the most part, though, the running backs were within the same size range.

Saints QB Drew Brees is one of three skill players who have been tagged twice at any point in their careers.

There is only one possibility: receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. If the Browns don’t re-sign him before free agency, they would have $105 million in cap room to decide if they want to keep him with a franchise tag cost expected to be more than $15 million for one year. It’s not the preferred way to go, but the Browns would at least have the option.

The franchise tag pays a player close to market value for one year, but provides no future guarantees. The tag becomes an advantage if a player remains healthy and valuable enough that the team feels compelled to use it multiple times. The second tag is slotted at 120 percent of the first, and the third at 144 percent of the second.

How rarely do teams use the tag on the same player in consecutive years? It could come in the form of Eddie Lacy, who is headed toward free agency. The Packers are open to re-signing him for the right price, which is in the $2.5 million to $3 million range plus possibly incentives. But there’s always the chance someone will offer him a much bigger contract and lure him away.

It happens more often than you might think: 13 times since 1997, including twice since 2011 (Cleveland Browns place-kicker Phil Dawson and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer).

It is much less common for skill players, however, and Cousins would be the first quarterback ever franchised in consecutive years. There have been only three skill players who have been tagged twice at any point in their careers: quarterbacks Drew Brees (2005, 2012) and Peyton Manning (2004, 2011) and receiver Rob Moore (1995, 1999).

Are some positions more susceptible to the franchise tag than others?

Branch recovered the ball with an assist from defensive end Rob Ninkovich

Whether via the franchise tag or a new deal with the Redskins or another team, Kirk Cousins looks set to cash in this offseason.

If Cousins signs before those others, there’s no way he’ll end up as the highest-paid. If others sign before him, the price tag inches higher. You can make a strong case he shouldn’t be the highest-paid of this group no matter when he signs. But Cousins owns the leverage. The Redskins control whether or not he returns through the franchise tag.

Also, Cousins and his agent, Mike McCartney, are well aware of their leverage. They know if the Redskins don’t make a strong offer, Cousins will either be allowed to hit the open market or receive the franchise tag. The tag number is approximately $24 million.

Any deal must average that amount to entice him to sign. Why? Because Cousins’ side also knows that if he’s tagged by the March 1 deadline, the 2018 tag would be $34.5 million, a figure no team would pay. So he’d be entering unrestricted free agency, where his deal could be a lot higher (assuming he plays well, of course).

On linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s strip-sack in the fourth quarter that turned out to be a game-turning play, Branch recovered the ball with an assist from defensive end Rob Ninkovich.

“Honestly, I didn’t even see the sack happen,” Branch relayed on Sirius XM NFL radio. “I was getting double-teamed, and I saw a hand hit the ball out, and I saw the ball kind of floating in the air. My first initial reaction was to try to catch it. So I reached out, that wasn’t happening, and I didn’t know if it was an incomplete pass or a fumble. With the Patriots’ defense, they tell you it doesn’t matter and ‘fall on the ball and let the refs sort it out.’

Branch thought he might have recovered the fumble regardless — he was throwing some elbows — but felt Ninkovich’s assist made it a lot easier.

New NFL coaches will change the 2015 NFL Draft

The never-ending cycle of front office and coaching staff overhaul continues again this offseason, and seven teams have new head coaches for 2015 — the Jets, Bills, 49ers, Falcons, Raiders, Broncos and Bears. The changes these teams make, schematically and philosophically, will have heavy effects on how they draft and build their rosters for next year.

The draft is a crapshoot no matter what when it comes to predicting picks, but as team needs change based on the new regimes, selections can be surprising as established players are replaced by draft picks and as teams change their style of personnel. Just when you think you’ve got a grasp of where things will go in the first round and a little beyond, these wild card teams come in and screw with everyone, and it creates a kind of butterfly effect. It’s going to be awesome.

Washington has a ton of holes to fill this offseason, but perhaps none is more important than finding a dominant pass rusher, especially with Brian Orakpo set to hit free agency in March. McShay notes that Gregory has “freakish athleticism” for a player his size (6’6, 245 pounds), and would be an excellent guy to pair with Ryan Kerrigan at outside linebacker.

The New York Giants released defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka on Tuesday afternoon, reports NFL.com’s Kimberly Jones. The veteran has spent his entire nine-season career with Big Blue, winning two Super Bowls during that time.

This past season the 31-year-old had a career-low 2.5 sacks and 28 tackles in 11 games before a knee injury ended his campaign in late November. The advanced metrics were not kind to Kiwanuka the past two years. According to Pro Football Focus, he rated as the second-worst 4-3 defensive end in 2013 and the third-worst in 2014.

Kiwanuka was supposed to count $7.45 million against the salary cap next season, the fourth-highest cap charge on the team. The Giants will gain $4.825 million in cap space by cutting him, per Over the Cap.