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Falcons GM optimistic about Julio contract talks

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff continued to express optimism about the progress of contract talks with Julio Jones, without putting a timetable on reaching a new deal with the star wide receiver.

Jones reported to training camp Monday without a new contract. The six-time Pro Bowler said in the offseason he trusted team owner Arthur Blank’s word when Blank said a deal would be completed in a matter of time.

Jones spent the first two days of training camp primarily rehabbing on the side following a minor offseason foot procedure [bunion removal]. Coach Dan Quinn emphasized that Jones not being a full participant in practice has to do with rehabbing, not the contract talks.

“We have the utmost faith that Julio is coming here and he’s taking care of his business while he’s here, and we’ll keep plugging away with [Jones’ agent] Jimmy [Sexton],” Dimitroff told ESPN on Tuesday. “We have a very good working relationship and respect for Jimmy Sexton and CAA, and I’m confident [the deal] will get done.”

Jones has two years and $21 million left on his contract. The Falcons renegotiated his current deal last year, netting Jones an extra $2.9 million for 2018. He signed the renegotiated deal on July 27.

Dimitroff addressed the possibility of Jones’ camp waiting to see what happens with contracts for other top wide receivers, such as Michael Thomas from the New Orleans Saints. The market could soar up to $20 million per year, which would make it logical for Jones to want to wait and see. Cleveland’s Odell Beckham Jr. currently leads the way at $18 million per year, while Jones stands 12th at $14.25 million.

“I understand that, from a business standpoint,” Dimitroff said of waiting for the market to be set. “Do I agree with it necessarily? That’s not for me to argue about.”

Dimitroff also acknowledged language in the collective bargaining agreement which states how a player’s contract cannot be renegotiated to increase the salary from the original terms for a period of 12 months after the most recent renegotiation. A source explained to ESPN that such would apply in Jones’ case (from July 27) if his aggregate cap number over the next two years in a new deal exceeds the current aggregate cap number of $26,359,334 for 2019, 2020.

However, Dimitroff was cautious not to point to the CBA rule as the holdup in contract talks.

“It would make it more free-flowing to negotiate outside of the year with the guidelines,” Dimitroff said. “That’s not to say that’s why we’re not getting something done right at this moment. I’m saying logically stated that, of course, [the rule] can play into it. But I do not want to answer for Jimmy Sexton.”

Sexton could not be reached for comment regarding the status of negotiations.

Overall, Dimitroff feels confident about how talks have progressed and how Jones has handled the matter with professionalism.

“Julio’s been nothing but great with us over the years,” Dimitroff said. “Even last year, when it got a little bit dusty during that time, we were able to sit down and work through it. I thought we worked through it cleanly.

“We understand being the highest-paid receiver in the NFL. And the fact that Julio is approaching it the way he is is appreciated. That said, we expect nothing less from Julio Jones, one of our main leaders on this team.”

The Falcons reached pre-training camp deals with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones. Jarrett, who received the franchise tag, signed a four-year, $68 million deal with $42.5 million guaranteed. Deion Jones signed a four-year, $57 million deal with $34 million guaranteed.

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I know Odell Beckham Jr. wants to be here

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BEREA, Ohio – Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry said Thursday that teammate Odell Beckham Jr. wants to stay in Cleveland, despite reports and speculation OBJ is looking for a way out.

“I think he wants to be here,” Landry said. “I know he wants to be here.”

Sunday morning, Fox Sports reported during its NFL pregame show that Beckham has been telling opposing players and coaches before games, “come get me” out of Cleveland.

Beckham, who declined comment on the report after Cleveland’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals, had fueled speculation days earlier, when he was vague about his future with the Browns beyond the 2019 season.

“No one knows what the future holds, like tomorrow,” Beckham said then, when asked if he wanted to be in Cleveland next year. “I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen.”

Landry, one of Beckham’s closest friends dating back to when the two played together at LSU, was more definitive, even joking that he would “beat his a–” if Beckham was confiding in other people and not him.

“He doesn’t want to leave and he’s not trying to leave,” Landry said.

Beckham has gone seven consecutive games without topping 100 receiving yards, the longest such streak of his career. He has also been playing through a hip and groin injury, which has hampered how much he can practice during the week and limited his explosiveness in games.

“It’s not even about trying to go somewhere else,” Landry said. “I think for him, he’s been a leader, he’s a guy that comes to work every day, he’s a guy that’s playing through injuries, all the things you want out of a player. Inside of this organization, he has a voice, he has responsibility to himself, to all of us, to go out there and compete each and every Sunday and he does that.”

Beckham has only two touchdowns, as he and quarterback Baker Mayfield have struggled to find a consistent connection in their first year together. Mayfield defended Beckham after Sunday’s game, saying that the injury “wasn’t handled right” by the team’s training staff (Mayfield later apologized and said he didn’t intend “to throw our medical staff under the bus”).

Wednesday, Mayfield was also asked if he thinks Beckham wants to be in Cleveland long-term.

“I can’t answer that for him,” Mayfield said. “I mean, there’s all the rumors going around. But I have my conversations with him and I know what we talk about, so I trust him wholeheartedly.”

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Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s namesakes include babies, puppies and a pig

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BALTIMORE — This city’s love for Justin Tucker began with … a pig?

In 2012, Tucker was a relatively unknown kicker locked in a battle with Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff. Tucker went undrafted coming out of Texas, but the Baltimore Ravens were intrigued by his strong leg and even stronger self-confidence. He received no signing bonus or any guarantee of a long-term future.

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‘I thought I was Rain Man’

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LAS VEGAS — This is not your typical Friday night on the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.

The Professional Bull Riders World Championships are in town, drawing record crowds. Instead of the classic tones of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, country music blares in front of the New York-New York hotel and casino on The Strip. Vests and button-down, long-sleeve shirts, tucked into tight-fitting jeans with showcase belts, are en vogue. Canned beer and cowboy hats are everywhere, as PBR fans mill around outside T-Mobile Arena ahead of the quarterfinal round.

Little do they know that an imposter is on his way: a 44-year-old professional gambler who is in disguise and on a mission to beat the town’s bookmakers. But the gig is almost up: The longtime wise-guy hustle he’s trying to pull off tonight is on its last leg, and a staple of American sports betting could be on its way out.

Just before 7 p.m., a man pulls up in front of New York-New York in a red Ford with South Dakota plates. It’s his buddy’s car, he says. We’ll call him Cowboy Erik. Tan and stocky with the broad shoulders of a competitive tennis player, he has a short, graying beard and hair to match. He sounds like a vulgar sports-talk radio host from the East Coast. But he isn’t.

His outfit for the night looks familiar: vest, button-down, long-sleeve shirt and jeans, with a cowboy hat in the back seat. He’s hoping to fool the sportsbooks into thinking he’s a naïve, happy-go-lucky tourist in town for a rootin’-tootin’ good time.

However, given his untucked shirt and tennis shoes, it’s kind of a poor disguise. Ten years ago, he went all-out: big belt buckle, cowboy boots and his best Wyoming accent. It’s not worth it anymore.

Indeed, for this pretend cowboy, tonight might be one of his last rides on what for decades has been a moneymaking train: parlay cards.

Long considered a sucker bet — and they are for most of us — professional bettors such as Cowboy Erik have been beating parlay cards for decades. But the edge is diminishing, and the hassle is increasing.

“This may be the last year I do this,” he says to me before he steps on the gas and we speed off into the Vegas night.


Parlay cards — the hard-copy, pencil-and-paper betting sheets — have been commonplace at sportsbooks and, more on the down low, at some local taverns for a century. They gained popularity in early 1900s and were many Americans’ first bet, their foray into sports betting.

Traditionally, at sportsbooks in casinos, parlay cards are long and skinny, about the length of a ruler and width of a cocktail napkin. The week’s games are listed on the cards with the coinciding odds. To win, you have to make multiple picks and get them all right. If you do, you’re treated to payout odds that are normally less than your actual chances of nailing every one of your picks individually.

Here’s how noted gambling expert, author and MIT graduate Ed Miller sums up your odds of hitting a three-leg parlay in his latest book “The Logic of Sports Betting”:

“Assuming you have no ability to pick good bets, and your bets are all independent of one another, your chance of winning each 50-50 bet is about 50%. That gives the chance that you win all three bets as 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.125 or 12.5%.”

Over time, you should hit one out of every eight of your “lock” three-teamers. Unfortunately, the typical payout on a three-teamer is 6-1. That’s not great, but it’s also not unbeatable for the savvy gambler.

Here’s how the pros beat the parlay cards:

• The physical cards are printed early in the week, often on Tuesdays, with the point spreads for the games available at that time. Sportsbooks normally put out the cards on Thursday mornings.

• This is key: The point spreads on the cards don’t change, even if an impactful player (such as a quarterback) is ruled out. For example, in Week 10, the Kansas City Chiefs were 3.5-point favorites over the Tennessee Titans on the parlay card, but the current line on the oddsboard had shifted to Chiefs -6. Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes‘ status for the game had been upgraded late in the week, after the cards were printed, causing the point spread to grow in favor of the Chiefs.

• Professional bettors wait until Friday night or Saturday morning to place their parlay bets. They can bet Tuesday’s lines with Friday’s information and build their parlay cards around the games with stale point spreads. For example, Chiefs -3.5 would be a play.

• Each point the spread on the parlay card differs from the up-to-date line improves the bettors’ odds. Load parlay cards up with enough of these games with stale numbers, and the odds can be flipped in your favor.

Easy enough, right? Not exactly.

Casinos aren’t built on letting advantage players such as Cowboy Erik bludgeon their bottom lines. Bookmakers fight back, sometimes eliminating games with stale numbers from being eligible to bet on the cards, requiring supervised approval for any cards over certain amounts or outright refusing to take the wagers altogether. It is perfectly legal for sportsbooks to refuse service to bettors. It doesn’t stop bettors from trying, though.

Sneaky bettors target the graveyard shift or wait until the Saturday morning rush to see if they can catch a ticket writer in a hurry. They’ll put in parlay cards for varying amounts just to see how much they can bet without having to go through the approval process. They like to hop around from one betting window to the next, testing ticket writers while employing techniques to distract them. Cowboy Erik, for example, has been known to bet a card and give it to the teller as a tip — anything to get on their good side.

It turns into a bookie-vs.-bettor, cat-and-mouse game that some sportsbooks no longer want to play. Ultimately, it might spell the end of the traditional parlay card, leaving wiseguys with one fewer hustle in their repertoire.


Cowboy Erik in action

Cowboy Erik drives quickly and aggressively. He boasts of knowing the quickest routes from one Las Vegas sportsbook to the next and the best parking spots to get in and out of casinos efficiently.

He’s single, and his dog, Wimbledon, normally rides shotgun on his adventures. Tonight, Cowboy Erik is stuck with me.

The first stop is the South Point Casino, an off-the-strip joint with a popular 24-hour sportsbook. Cowboy hat on, Erik strolls past a renowned hot dog cart and moseys over to a side wall next to the betting counter where the parlay cards are. He grabs a dozen cards and heads to the back bar to get to work.

For 15 minutes, he scours the numbers, comparing the point spreads on the cards to the current lines at an influential offshore sportsbook on his phone.

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