A new trend in big-name NFL cuts, plus a must-see block

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Good morning! Anthony Edwards just soared past you.

You Get Paid, You Get Cut: Where have all the safeties gone?

NFL free agency officially starts Monday, but team business is well underway. Yesterday’s transactions were a fascinating micro lesson in positional value. Consider:

Cornerbacks = valuable. The Bears and cornerback Jaylon Johnson agreed to a four-year, $76 million contract extension, and Johnson deserves every cent. The $19 million average annual value puts him at No. 7 among corners. Outside of elite pass rushers, CBs are the most valuable defenders. This has been true for many years.

Safeties? Unclear. As Jeff Howe writes in an illuminating story today, more than $100 million in safety salary has been cut by NFL teams this offseason, nearly $40 million more than any other position.

  • Most notable on that list: the Broncos’ Justin Simmons, who made the Pro Bowl last season and the All-Pro list in four of the last five years. It’s easy to write off Simmons’ release as fallout from Russell Wilson’s contract (the safety was due $14.5 million this year), but the problem is a little deeper.
  • As teams have opted for pass-heavy offenses, premiums have been placed on quarterbacks, pass rushers and corners. So higher-paid safeties like Simmons, Quandre Diggs, Jordan Poyer, Kevin Byard and Jamal Adams are looking for jobs. The top end of safety salaries still skews around $20 million per year, but expect that number to come down over the next few years.

One doesn’t have to look further than the contract 31-year-old Tyrann Mathieu signed with the Saints yesterday: two years and $13 million. That might be closer to what a good veteran safety can expect going forward.

Make sure to read Jeff’s story for more context today. At least safeties aren’t running backs?

Your NFL newsletter friends at Scoop City will have more on this later today, too.

Whiplash: Minnesota’s dizzying day

Yesterday began with awful news for the West-leading Minnesota Timberwolves: star forward Karl-Anthony Towns is out indefinitely with a torn meniscus in his left knee, sources told The Athletic, derailing what has been a dream season for both team and player.

Disaster. Right? The stats say Minnesota’s offense takes a massive hit with Towns off the floor. Who could possibly replace his production? Ahem:

  • Last night, Anthony Edwards greeted our worries with an otherworldly performance in Minnesota’s 113-111 win over the Pacers. He scored 44 points on 18-of-35 shooting, shouldering the literal and mental load for that newly questionable offense. He also did this:

He hit his head on the rim on a game-winning block. I repeat: The 6-foot-4 man hit his head on the rim. Edwards won’t be able to score 44 every night, but if he can become the primary engine for Minnesota’s offense down the stretch — and make a couple of monumental blocks along the way — they might have a chance to hold the fort.

News to Know

Another big NHL trade
The Pittsburgh Penguins are trading franchise stalwart Jake Guentzel to the Carolina Hurricanes, the teams announced yesterday, a final sign of the Penguins’ descent this season. For Carolina, the trade is a big win for a team that hopes Guentzel is the last piece needed for a title run. Also on the NHL trade board: Tampa Bay added Ducks forward Anthony Duclair late last night, too. (The trade deadline is today. Live blog here.)

Wilson to meet with Steelers
A possible Russell Wilson suitor has emerged in Pittsburgh, with whom the embattled quarterback will discuss a possible union before the start of free agency on Monday. Wilson may be the most fascinating name left on the free-agent market, both because of his former stature in the league and because of his low price tag — the Broncos are paying his entire $39 million salary this year, less what any new team pays him, which could be pennies for all Wilson cares (or $1.2 million, the league minimum).

Iditarod musher penalized

Remember the Iditarod story from Wednesday? Dallas Seavey, the man who shot and killed a moose after it attacked his dogs during the race, was penalized two hours for not sufficiently gutting the moose. Seavey remains in first place, though. And the good news: His injured dog, Faloo, was medically cleared to go home yesterday.

More news

Quote of the Week: It’s an armadillo stadium now

Sometimes an answer can be so direct that it sticks with you for a decade.

In college, I covered an awful LSU basketball team for the student newspaper. At a midweek press conference, I asked coach Trent Johnson how he planned to improve a terrible offense, and his answer still lurks in my head: “We’re not trying to miss the shots, Chris.”

Perfect honesty is compelling to me, which is why I cackled when I read this Q&A with Bjarke Ingels, the architect for the Athletics’ planned stadium in Vegas, which was described as “a spherical armadillo” in the press release.

Our Evan Drellich asked Ingels about the concept:

“I mean, it’s not like we tried to make it look like an armadillo.”

And yet! I will never not call this stadium the Armadillo Dome (Armadillome? We’ll work on it.) because of this answer. The full Q&A is worth a read, because Ingels goes in-depth about how much care went into the design.

Watch This Game

NBA: Timberwolves at Cavaliers
7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
I am again curious to see how Minnesota reacts without Towns. They have enough talent to still be a great team without him — but margins are thin. Meanwhile, Cleveland is ailing too, but still a top-three team in the East.

NCAAW: No. 13 Oregon State vs. No. 2 Stanford
8 p.m ET on PAC-12 Network
This is our best women’s conference tourney game today. It’s all starting to feel real.

Pulse Picks

Remember Scott Mitchell, the former Lions quarterback most blame for the Lions’ struggles with Barry Sanders? Mitchell is tired of the discourse. He’s fighting back now, as Dan Pompei writes in a great story out this morning. Mitchell’s words are fierce.

I thought this conversation between Robert Mays and Dianna Russini was particularly interesting: We’ve arrived at the greatest group of NFL free-agent running backs in history.

Most other college football coaches would’ve left Kansas by now. Not Lance Leipold. Max Olson writes about the sport’s most fearless program-builder.

A prominent physician is sounding the alarm on MLB pitching injuries. Worth a read this morning.

Kyle Tucker writes about 40-year-old Samford coach Bucky McMillan, who went from Birmingham high school coach directly to Division I basketball. His success in Year 1 has been astounding.

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(Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

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