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.

WHITE SOX HOST ASTROS, ROYALS FOR THE FIRST TIME

The White Sox haven’t played the Royals yet, but will see plenty of them coming up. Including this three-game set, the White Sox travel to Kansas City for a four-game series after the 10-game homestand.

WHITE SOX TRIPLE-A PROSPECT TIM ANDERSON EARNS BATTER OF WEEK HONORS

Staying patient could be hard for the White Sox if Anderson — named the International League batter of the week Monday after he .432 with three home runs and six RBIs in eight games — continues to perform like this.

“He certainly has the ability and the raw talent,” Hahn said. “At the same time, when we drafted this kid out of a junior college only a couple years removed from playing basketball primarily as opposed to baseball, we felt that he was going to be a level-to-level guy and spend if not a full season, close to a full season at each level. If we were to stick with that original plan then he’s slated for Charlotte this year. The good ones have a way of forcing that timeframe up a little bit and Tim’s certainly in our opinion is one of the good ones. So we’ll see what happens.”

Much like most of the Knights’ offense, Anderson got out to a slow start at Charlotte. His OPS currently stands at .672 even after a fantastic week in which he scored 12 runs, had five multi-hit games and homered in three straight games.

Anderson has a .761 career OPS, with 99 extra-base hits and 91 steals in 1,365 professional plate appearances. He spent all of the 2013 season at Single-A Kannapolis and the majority of 2014 at Single-A Winston-Salem. He received a late promotion in 2014 to Double-A Birmingham and stayed there for all of the 2015 season.

While Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — in true Jerry Jones fashion — said earlier this month his team won’t put former Jaylon Smith on injured reserve, it looks clear the former Notre Dame star linebacker won’t play in 2016.

The issue with Smith is waiting for the peroneal nerve in his left knee to “wake up.” Once that happens — and the prevailing sense out of Dallas is that it will — Smith should be ready to return to the field, most likely sometime in 2017.

Ultimately, the Yankees scored four times against White Sox relievers in their final three times at bat.

Zach Duke surrendered a go-ahead, two-run shot to Carlos Beltran in the sixth, the 400th home run of the outfielder’s career putting the Yankees ahead 5-4. Chase Headley’s pinch-hit RBI double in the seventh off Matt Albers broke a 5-all tie. And Brian McCann added a critical insurance run with a solo homer off Nate Jones in the eighth.

How to Spot Counterfeit NFL Merchandise

This haul here, worth about $100,000, is just from greater Phoenix and from the past few days.

So how does a consumer to spot a fake jersey while in Glendale?

“Their main goal is to make money. So they’re going to crank these things out as quickly as possible. And so, you’ll see that they don’t even bother to lift the needle when they go from one letter to the next. So you’ll see the cross-stitching from one letter to the next to the next. It’s all one seam,” Modricker said.

It’s not just stitching; there is also shoddy coloring and rip-off holograms. Authorities also warn that some of the material used for this knock-off merchandise can be potentially harmful to your body. Modricker pointed to a pair of fake NFL team earrings.

“When you look at it, you have no idea who made this, what materials they used. I know lead is a lot cheaper than silver. So you don’t know what you’re putting into your body,” he said.

Plus, Modricker says, it’s crushing the economy, since up to 1.4 million Massachusetts jobs rely on intellectual property.

One man is in custody facing felony charges in Wednesday’s sting.

Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert was not injured after crashing his car into a ditch following a road rage incident with another driver.

Gilbert was cited Friday for failure to “maintain reasonable control of his vehicle” and released by Brunswick, Ohio, police. Gilbert, who had a disappointing rookie season after being drafted in the first round in 2014, is traveling with the Browns to New Jersey for their season opener on Sunday against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

On the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Chicago Bears head coach John Fox recalled his memory of the fateful day, when he was a defensive coordinator for the New York Giants.

On Sept. 10, 2001, Fox was returning from Denver where the Giants had just lost to the Broncos. The overnight flight landed in New Jersey, and the players went home while the coaches headed to their offices at Giants Stadium to begin preparing for Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

Last June, Merullo traveled from his home in Massachusetts and returned to Wrigley Field as part of the ballpark’s 100th celebration.

NFL May jersey sales: Mariota tops Winston as Tebow lurks at No. 15

For the month of May, Mariota led the NFL in jersey sales, just topping Winston and Tom Brady, who finished in third and doesn’t appear to be suffering from too big of a popularity hit after the release of the Wells Report.

It’s been a good month or so for both first-round quarterbacks. Mariota impressed his wide receivers during the first round of OTAs and surprised the team’s defense with his blinding speed.

And, for Winston, it’s been nothing but rave reviews. The only complaint Lovie Smith has is that the coaches have to tell Winston when to go home and there have already been multiple reports of Winston’s dedication to studying the playbook and watching film.

It’s probably not surprising to see quarterbacks other than the two rookies dominate that list, with seven of the top 10 jerseys belonging to signal callers. And once again, just like the Madden cover vote, Odell Beckham Jr. found a way to beat out Rob Gronkowski.

And, of course, Tim Tebow somehow and someway ended up in the top-15.

DeMarco Murray has only donned his new Eagles game jersey in pictures, but that is not stopping people from wanting to get their hands on it. Murray’s No. 29 Eagles jersey was the top-selling jersey among NFL running backs for the month of May.

The rankings information was provided by the NFL’s online shop.

Just to give you an idea of how bad things are, Tim Couch went 22-37 as a starter and he’s ranked No. 4.

Ironically, Manziel is replacing Hoyer, who just happens to be the only guy on the list who has a winning record with the Browns since 1999.