(Reuters) - Devin Hester, who holds the NFL record with 18 career touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns, said on Thursday he has been informed he will not be re-signed by the Chicago Bears. Hester has also played some as a defensive back and pass receiver in his eight seasons with the Bears but made his mark as a threat to score any time he settled under a kick and made three Pro Bowls as a returner. The 31-year-old Hester capped off a spectacular 2006 rookie season by becoming the first player ever to return the opening kickoff of a Super Bowl for a touchdown, dashing 92 yards in an eventual loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Hester, a second-round NFL Draft pick out of Miami, is also tied with Hall of Famer Deion Sanders's career mark of 19 return touchdowns, which includes punts, kickoffs, missed field goals, fumbles and interceptions.
(Reuters) - Twelve-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey will be released by the Denver Broncos, according to a report on the National Football League website on Thursday. Bailey, 35, met with Broncos general manager John Elway and head coach John Fox on Wednesday at the team's headquarters and was told that the club was ready to move on without him, the website reported, citing a league source. "It was like, 'We're ready to move on.' That was that," Bailey said, according to the Denver Post. Bailey played the last 10 seasons with the Broncos after his first five NFL seasons with the Washington Redskins and reached the Super Bowl for the first time last month, losing to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Buffalo Bills, who have played a National Football League home game in Toronto for each of the past six years, will not play one there in 2014, team president Russ Brandon said Wednesday. The Bills had an agreement with Rogers Centre, the retractable-domed home of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays and Canadian football's Toronto Argonauts, that runs through 2017. They have lost five of their six home games at Toronto, most recently last season when 38,969 spectators watched Atlanta beat Buffalo 34-31.
(Reuters) - Peyton Manning, who led the Denver Broncos to an appearance in last month's Super Bowl, has been fully cleared to play next season, according to a report on the National Football League's website on Monday. The 37-year-old quarterback's annual checkup was mandated as part of the five-year, $96 million contract he signed in 2012 after missing the 2011 NFL season following multiple surgeries on his neck. The examination was considered a formality since Manning played in each of his team's 19 games during the 2013 campaign, which ended with a loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl. After getting the all-clear, Manning's $20 million salary becomes guaranteed for the 2014 season, according to a report that cited a source in the Broncos' organization.
(Reuters) - The National Football League's salary cap will be increased by nearly $10 million next year to $133 million per team, the league told teams on Friday. The rise is larger than initial estimates and gives teams a little extra breathing room under the cap, which is tied to projected revenue from all of the NFL's commercial agreements for the upcoming season and meets requirements under the Players' Association's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The 2014 level represents the highest salary cap set by the league, though that is expected to rise in 2015 when new television contracts are factored into the equation. The 2011 CBA gives players 55 percent of revenue from TV deals, 45 percent of revenue from league properties and 40 percent of local revenue.
(Reuters) - The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks made two "extremely tough decisions" when they released wide receiver Sidney Rice and defensive end Red Bryant on Friday to create additional salary cap space. With free agency fast approaching on March 11, Seattle offloaded Rice, who was due $8.5 million in base salary for 2014, and Bryant, who was set to earn $4.5 million. Rice, 27, has been plagued with assorted injuries since signing a five-year contract with the team in 2011 while Bryant, 29, has played limited snaps in his role as a run-stuffing defensive end. "We want to thank both Red and Sidney for their effort, commitment and contribution to the Seattle Seahawks over the last few years," Seahawks general manager John Schneider said in a statement.
Former National Football League star Darren Sharper, facing rape charges in Los Angeles and New Orleans, was in police custody Friday in California, officials said. The 38-year-old was arrested Thursday evening and taken to Los Angeles' Men's Central Jail, where he was being held without bail, according to LA County jail records. Sharper was already facing charges in California of drugging and raping two women he met in a Los Angeles nightclub. Then on Thursday police in New Orleans issued new arrest warrants, according to local media.
(Reuters) - Tight end Dennis Pitta, who is a favored target for quarterback Joe Flacco, has signed a five-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, the National Football League team said on Friday. Pitta, a fourth-round pick by the Ravens in the 2010 NFL Draft, had been set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11. Though no financial details were disclosed by the team, Pitta's deal is estimated by local media to be worth $32 million, making him one of the highest paid tight ends in the league. "I could not be more excited to remain a Baltimore Raven," Pitta, 28, was quoted as saying by the Baltimore Sun. "To be given the opportunity to continue my career here is incredible.
New Orleans police have obtained arrest warrants for former National Football League star Darren Sharper and another man accused of raping two women in the city, local media reported. Sharper, 38, is already facing charges in California of drugging and raping two women he met in a Los Angeles nightclub -- accusations similar to those he faces in other US states. The Times-Picayune newspaper reported on Thursday that Sharper and Erik Nunez, described by police as a 26-year-old acquaintance of the retired player, both face two counts of aggravated rape. According to the newspaper, two women have said they were sexually assaulted in the same New Orleans apartment on the same night in September after a night of drinking.
(Reuters) - The Texas Rangers will add a player with a championship pedigree to their spring training roster on Monday with Super Bowl-champion quarterback Russell Wilson set to join the club in Surprise, Arizona. However, do not expect to see the former minor league second baseman grab a bat and step to the plate in the preseason game against the Cleveland Indians at Surprise Stadium. "The guy's a Super Bowl champ," Rangers manager Ron Washington said Thursday, according to ESPN.com when asked whether Seattle Seahawks quarterback Wilson might get an at-bat. I'm not running him up there." Wilson, whose Seahawks won Super Bowl 48 earlier this month, is expected to participate in the Rangers' workout on Monday before suiting up for the game at Surprise Stadium.
Canton (United States) (AFP) - The New York Giants and Buffalo Bills will meet in the National Football League's pre-season opener after each team sends a former player into the American Football Hall of Fame. The league announced Thursday that the Bills and Giants would meet in the Hall of Fame Game at Canton, Ohio, on August 3, a day after enshrinement ceremonies for seven inductees. Receiver Andre Reed played 15 of his 16 seasons with the Bills from 1985-1999 while fellow honoree Michael Strahan spent his entire 15-season career as a defensive end with the Giants from 1993-2007.
A controversial anti-gay bill was vetoed by Arizona governor Jan Brewer only hours after pressure from American sports leagues that pump millions of dollars into the US state's economy. The National Football League, which will stage Super Bowl 49 next February in Arizona, as well as Major League Baseball and Arizona's NBA and Women's NBA teams made it clear they did not want to see Senate Bill 1062 become law. The bill would have let businesses refuse to serve gays and lesbians for religious reasons, drawing protest marches at the state capitol and raising fears from Arizona businesses about possible lost tourism and convention income.
Former National Football League star Aaron Hernandez, charged with shooting a friend to death last year, was involved in a Massachusetts jailhouse scuffle with another inmate that left neither man seriously injured, law enforcement officials said on Wednesday. "There was an altercation between two inmates in our special management unit, and one of them was Aaron Hernandez," said Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. "It was stopped very quickly by my staff." Neither inmate involved in the incident on Tuesday required medical attention, and officials are investigating whether Hernandez or the other man, who was not identified, will face internal disciplinary measures or criminal charges, Hodgson said. Hernandez, 24, is jailed in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, about 60 miles south of Boston.
(Reuters) - Michael Sam has received plenty of positive support since he said he was gay two weeks ago but wants to be known for his feats on the gridiron, not his sexuality, the NFL draft prospect has said. The University of Missouri defensive end publicly revealed his sexuality two weeks ago and could become the first openly homosexual player in the National Football League if, as expected, he is chosen by a team in May's draft. "I just want to do what I love to do, and that's play football," Sam told a packed press conference at the NFL combine, where teams assess draft prospects, in Indianapolis on Saturday. "I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player, not Michael Sam the gay football player." Sam, a 6-foot, 2-inch (188-cm), 260-pound (118-kg) pass rusher, was named Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) after leading the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss, and was projected to be mid-round pick in the May 8-10 seven-round NFL draft.