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Jason Witten Comes Out of Retirement to Return to the Cowboys

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Jason Witten’s retirement proved to be short-lived, as the future Hall of Famer has announced that he will return to the field next season.

Witten will now return to play for the Dallas Cowboys and is set to sign a one-year $3.5 million deal.

Witten originally chose to retire so that he could enter the broadcast booth as the color commentator for ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

ESPN will have to fill the color commentator position on Monday Night Football for the second year in a row, as Jon Gruden left the job a year ago to become the head coach of the Raiders.

Football fans are not likely to miss Witten in the booth, as he was often criticized in his lone season working for ESPN.

Now Witten can get back to doing what he does best, picking up first downs as Dak Prescott’s primary possession receiver.

In Witten’s last season playing for the Cowboys, he caught 63 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns. Witten will surely look to replicate that production this season.

Football

Cowboys Sign Jaylon Smith to Five-Year $64 Million Extension

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The Dallas Cowboys just signed one of their franchise players to a long-term contract extension. It just isn’t one of the players you were expecting.

Quarterback Dak Prescott and runningback Ezekiel Elliot are both still waiting on their extensions, but the Cowboys just paid star linebacker Jaylon Smith.

Smith, 24, was drafted by the Cowboys in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Last season, Smith played in all 16 games and was one of the Cowboys leading-tacklers with 120 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown. Now he got paid and in a big way.

Smith suffered a brutal knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl in his last season in college. Smith was projected to be the No. 1 overall pick before the injury, but after tearing both his ACL and LCL, his draft stock plummeted.

The Cowboys took a chance on him, by drafting Smith in the second round. When they did, Michael Irving announced the pick and said he was going to hang onto the draft card for Smith to sign once he gets into Canton.

Now Smith’s hard work has already paid off as he has signed an extension that no one expected him to get three years ago.

Smith has committed everything to the Cowboys and has recently talked about wanting to be part of that family for life.

There is no doubt that Smith’s commitment to the Cowboys has paid off, as he will now get the chance to play the remainder of his career in Dallas.

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College Football

Cedric Benson Dies in Motorcycle Accident at Age of 36

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Full Disclosure: I typically refrain, as much as possible, from writing in the first person. This article, however, seemed like it could only be written in the first person, and therefore it draws from that pretty heavily. If that’s not your jam, feel free to explore other articles across the site. But I wanted to write this. ‘Nuff Ced.

In the fall of 2001, a big kid with braids walked across the 40 Acres better known as the University of Texas in Austin. His name was Cedric Benson. Dreadlocked  running backs were a trend for the Longhorns. To wrap up the 1990s, Texas featured Heisman trophy winner Ricky Williams. Both Williams and Benson had played briefly in minor league baseball, both were running backs that combined size and speed, and both were as playful off the field as they were dominant on it.

And, did I mention, they both had braids coming out of the back of their helmets?

Benson ushered in a new decade of Texas football for fans in Austin. His freshman year, Benson wowed eyes when he broke 1,000 yards rushing. His senior year, he had nearly 2,000 (1,834, to be exact). He and backfield teammate Vince Young led the Longhorns to a Rose Bowl victory in Pasadena, and Young promised the crowd they’d be back in Southern California, on the same stage, celebrating a National Championship the next season. Young’s prophecy rang true as the Longhorns knocked off the USC Trojans in one of the greatest college football games of the modern game even though Cedric Benson had graduated a year earlier. The program that was struggling to get “over the hump” in the Big 12 the year before Benson arrived had reached the mountain top the year after he left.

Instead of celebrating a second time in Pasadena, Benson was drafted #4 overall by the Chicago Bears. When he graduated, he had the second most rushing yards, second most rushing touchdowns, and the second highest yards per carry in the history of the University of Texas. Beneath the dreadlocks, Benson was seemingly smiling on every carry, as he ran through every defender, on every snap he played in burnt orange. Austin loved him, and his professors praised him (Benson was on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll multiple times).

Benson was at home in Austin.

Benson’s true home was famed Midland, Texas. Midland Lee High School, most notable as the rival school of the protagonist in the book and movie entitled Friday Night Lights, is a historic program from a city of less than 200,000 people. Benson was a big fish in that small pond, literally. His high school highlights look more like a grown man playing in a Pop Warner league than a teenager amongst peers. He and the Rebels won 3 state championships. He rushed for the most yards in the history of the largest division (at the time, 5A) in Texas High School Football history.

Ricky Williams came to Texas first, and set a slew of records in burnt orange. When someone mentions a dreadlocked Longhorn running back, Williams is the first to come to mind, and Benson tends to be an afterthought. Benson’s professional career got off to a rocky start. Contract disputes and injuries spoiled his time in Chicago, a time that Benson would claim “no year in Chicago was I happy.” After some legal trouble, for which he wasn’t indicted, Benson found himself on the Bengals. A one-year contract turned into a four-year stint. Benson broke 1,000 yards three times in Cincinnati, and finished his career with a short-lived run in Green Bay.

Again, while he had successful moments, Benson was never at home anywhere as he was in Austin. The 40 acres, the hill country, the Colorado River, he spent off season celebrations on boats along the Lake, taking in views at The Oasis, and enjoying the scenic hill country.

On Sunday, when I and many others got the ESPN App alert, there was a surreal moment. “Cedric Benson Dies at the Age of 36” has to be one of the least expected push notifications I’ve ever received. As details unfolded, the unfortunate scene continued to be more and more illustrated until finally the picture was clear, and sad.

Benson posted a photo on his Instagram story Saturday afternoon that he was taking his motorcycle out for a ride. It appeared he was excited to go through the hill country. As he wound around northwest Austin, Benson and a woman (Aamna Najam, who received her PhD from UT last spring), collided with a van crossing traffic on RM2222. The accident left the vehicles in flames, Benson and Najam were dead when the authorities arrived. The two passengers in the van were injured, but survived.

Benson leaves us not as the mythical hero on the football field that Williams, his predecessor, or Young, his contemporary, are in Austin. Perhaps that’s due to his quiet on the field demeanor. Perhaps it’s due to the timing of his career. Perhaps, with several off the field incidents, it’s because he felt more human than mythical.  

On Sunday, the ESPN App alert that Benson had died, suddenly, struck a far more powerful chord than I ever would have realized.

I can’t even, completely, say I remember being some die hard Cedric Benson fan. I did move to Austin as a kid in 1996, and can vividly remember going to a few games I got to watch him run over, by, and around people in person. I do remember being convinced in his freshman year that he was the next Ricky Williams. I do remember thinking that he and Vince Young made up the best team in America in the 2004-05 season. I can remember making my first trip to Dallas for the Red River Shootout, and watching the offense struggle to pass the ball in a 0-12 loss to Oklahoma. I can remember sitting in my grandparents house, watching him run through Michigan in the Rose Bowl. I can remember seas of burnt orange 32 jerseys all over Austin for much longer than the four years Cedric was on campus.

When an athlete passes away before their time, it’s hard to swallow. Miami went through it when Jose Fernandez passed away in a boat crash. Maryland went through it when Len Bias passed away after an overdose. Los Angeles went through it when Hank Gathers collapsed on the court. Miami and the Washington DC area went through it when Sean Taylor was murdered in his home.  There are countless examples of unfortunate car or plane crashes, unknown medical issues, or some other unforeseen time takes the life of an athlete.

When an athlete passes away at a young age it always hits in a weird way. It’s not the same as when you know someone personally, because you don’t. Fans of Benson (or Fernandez, or Bias, or Gathers, or Taylor) don’t feel the pain in the way his friends and family do. But there is a much stronger connection, and pain, than just reading about a random, but equally unfortunate, car accident on twitter.

We feel much more connected to these people because of the impact they have on our lives.

I connected with Cedric Benson because of the relationship, even if it’s really just a one-way relationship, built over watching him play for my Texas Longhorns for a dozen Saturdays a year for four years. I celebrated his accomplishments, rooted for him through his troubles, and felt sad when he hit a rough patch. I wanted the best for him because of that connection.

Cedric was the Texas running back. Sure, Ricky Williams came first. Sure, Ricky set a lot of records. Sure, Ricky won the Heisman. But Benson was from west Texas. He came back to Austin every off season. He spent his free time enjoying the Lone Star State. For many Texas fans and Austenites alike, he felt like one of us.

Now, after the tragic weekend, Texas fans are left with a similar hole to that of any sports fan base when a star gets taken away too early. Benson hadn’t played football in more than half a decade, but he was a lifelong Longhorn, Austenite, and Texan. He was one of the same “us” that I and so many others feel a part of.

Rest in Peace, Cedric. Thank you for being one of us.

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Football

Jets Lose Star Linebacker Avery Williamson For the Season

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The New York Jets were in the midst of their second preseason game on Thursday and it was time to see what the second unit could do.

Every defensive starter had been taken out of the game, except for one, Avery Williamson.

Williamson, 27, was one of the Jets leading tacklers last year with 120 tackles and was being counted on to be a huge piece to a revamped defense. Then disaster struck, as the Jets lost Williamson to a freak injury in a meaningless preseason game.

The worst part about Williamson’s injury is that it could have been avoided. Not only should he not have been on the field, but it was his teammate, cornerback Tevaughn Campbell that injured him.

Campbell was attempting to deflect a pass attempt by Matt Ryan and dove at the quarterback, but instead landed on Williamson’s knee.

Now the Jets are without one of their best defensive player, in a season where they hoped to challenge the New England Patriots in the division.

It has been reported that they are adding a new veteran linebacker to the mix, but it will be hard for Albert McClellan to replicate Williamson’s production.

Only time will tell if the Jets can absorb this loss. Either way, it is an unfortunate turn of events for a player that was on the brink of stardom and a big contract.

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