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Pro football returns to San Diego, along with tailgating

Sun Feb 17 9:40pm ET
By BERNIE WILSON
AP Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO (AP) Two years after the Chargers left their home of 56 seasons, pro football returned to San Diego on a cold, rainy winter Sunday, with a different dynamic mixed in with a beloved local tradition.

On the field at SDCCU Stadium, the San Diego Fleet of the new Alliance of American Football, coached by San Diegan Mike Martz, played their home opener against the Atlanta Legends on a field drenched by repeated downpours.

Out in the parking lot before the game, tailgaters of all persuasions - Chargers fans, ex-Chargers fans, Los Angeles Rams fans, Fleet fans - huddled under pop-up tents to drink beer, grill meat and enjoy loud music.

Members of the Chargers fan group Bolt Pride set up a tailgate next to the Rams World Order, many of whose members cheered for the Rams before they left for St. Louis after the 1994 season, and then welcomed them back in 2016.

''I'm from San Diego. I've got to represent my town, no matter what,'' said Bolt Pride member Jorge Santiesteban, 38. ''There's disappointment that the Chargers left. I hate the owner of the team, you know what I mean? There's nothing I can do. A lot of people stayed on board, a lot of people didn't. I did. I've still got my season tickets. I support them 100 percent.''

The Rams World Order fans were here to support Martz, who was with the Rams when they moved to St. Louis and was their offensive coordinator when ''The Greatest Show on Turf'' won the Super Bowl after the 1999 season, and receivers coach Az-Zahir Hakim, a former player with the Rams and San Diego State.

''It's all about football,'' said Michael Martinez of Lake Elsinore, president of Rams World Order. ''It's kind of sad with the San Diego Chargers leaving for L.A., but it's nice that San Diego has another football team. We're here to represent, we're here supporting Mike Martz, Az Hakim.

Fellow Rams World Order member Greg Hill of San Diego said he was living in Orange County when the Rams, who at the time played in Anaheim, left for St. Louis.

''We feel their pain,'' he said, referring to fans of the San Diego Chargers who have declined to support them in L.A. ''Our team left us before coming back.''

There has been plenty of angst in San Diego since the Chargers left, with some ex-fans hating on those who continue to support the Bolts.

There was no such angst in the parking lot Sunday as everyone's common goal was to try to stay dry and have fun.

Shawn P. Walchef, owner of the popular Cali Comfort barbecue restaurant in suburban Spring Valley who has remained a Chargers season-ticket holder, hosted a birthday tailgate for radio talk show host Scott Kaplan, who started the Chargers Hater Club when the team bailed.

''We're all here for the Fleet,'' Walchef said. ''We all love football, we all love pro sports, we all love tailgating. That's why we're here.''

Walchef understands the hate and the spite, and said San Diegans have the right to be upset with the way Chargers owner Dean Spanos left town. But he said he'd never tell anyone who they should cheer for.

''It's weird to see more anti-Chargers fans attacking Chargers fans than vice versa, than we ever used to fight with the Raiders, which is weird,'' he said. ''I can't believe there's a fan base that actually has 32 NFL teams cheering against them, because you have the former fans. It's not just 31 teams, it's 32.''

The rain probably kept many fans away. At the start of the game - the AAF did away with kickoffs - there might have roughly 9,000 fans in the 70,000-seat stadium, although there might have been more in the clubs and concourses.

Former Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, who splits his time between San Diego and L.A., was at the game.

''You still have a ton of people down here who love football, even when the NFL is not going on,'' Merriman said. ''They're hungry for football. I was in San Antonio for the opening weekend and it was rocking. It shows you that people love to watch football all year long.''

The Alliance, co-founded by Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian and TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol, is the latest alternative league. While others failed, this one has strong NFL connections and is full of players who hope to get a shot at the big time.

The Chargers had a scout in the press box.

Player Notes
Rashaan Melvin Mar 23 1:00am ET

The Detroit Lions signed free-agent cornerback Rashaan Melvin to a one-year, $3.5 million deal on Friday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Melvin played for the Patriots in 2015 when head coach Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator. The 29-year-old has been mostly a starter the last three seasons with the Colts and Raiders and had a career-high three interceptions with the Colts in 2017. He could be the replacement for Nevin Lawson, who signed with the Raiders earlier this week.

From RotoBaller

Mike Glennon Mar 23 12:50am ET

The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent quarterback Mike Glennon to a one-year, $2 million deal on Friday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The 29-year-old will be with his fourth different team in the last four seasons and will serve as Derek Carr's backup in silver and black. Glennon has played in 27 games (22 starts) and is 6-16 as a starter in his five seasons in the NFL. He has 35 touchdown passes, 20 interceptions and an 84.0 quarterback rating. Glennon won't be fantasy relevant.

From RotoBaller

Morgan Burnett Mar 22 11:50am ET

The Pittsburgh Steelers informed safety Morgan Burnett that they will release him by April 1 per the player's request, according to his agent, Kevin Conner. Both parties discussed trade possibilities before the release, according to a source. Pittsburgh signed the safety to a three-year, $14.25 million contract last season that included a $4.25 million signing bonus. Burnett missed four of the first six games of 2018 due to injury and recorded 30 tackles and six pass deflections in a sub-package role in 11 games. The 30-year-old had previously played eight seasons with the Packers.

From RotoBaller

Malcolm Brown Mar 22 11:40am ET

The Los Angeles Rams are matching the Detroit Lions offer sheet for restricted free-agent running back Malcolm Brown on Friday. Brown's deal with the Rams is for two years with a $3.3 million base salary, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He'll receive $2.1 million in practice guarantees ($1 million base guaranteed and a $1.1 million roster bonus to be issued April 15). Brown landed on Injured Reserve in Week 13 with a clavicle injury. He played just 15 percent of the offensive snaps and had 264 yards from scrimmage and one receiving touchdown. He's merely depth behind Todd Gurley.

From RotoBaller

Cody Latimer Mar 22 11:40am ET

The New York Giants re-signed wide receiver Cody Latimer to an undisclosed deal on Friday. Latimer played in the first three games and the last two games of the 2018 season but just one of the 11 games in between in his first season in New York because of injuries. He battled a knee injury and also spent two months on Injured Reserve with a pulled hamstring. Latimer finished with only 11 receptions for 190 yards and one touchdown and also averaged 24.6 yards on five kickoff returns. He might have more opportunities to make noise in 2019 with Odell Beckham Jr. out of the picture, but Latimer still doesn't have much fantasy upside.

From RotoBaller

Trevor Siemian Mar 22 10:45am ET

The New York Jets agreed to terms with free-agent quarterback Trevor Siemian on a one-year, $2 million deal on Wednesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Siemian can make up to $3 million in incentives. The 27-year-old former Bronco didn't play at all with the Vikings last year while backing up Kirk Cousins. He was the starter in Denver in 2016 and 2017, completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. New York's addition of Siemian likely means that veteran Josh McCown, a 40-year-old journeyman quarterback, will leave in free agency or retire. Siemian won't have any fantasy appeal in his new digs while backing up Sam Darnold.

Jared Cook Mar 22 10:44am ET

The New Orleans Saints are expected to sign free-agent tight end Jared Cook, sources told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Cook, who turns 32 next month, had a career year with the Raiders in 2018, catching 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns. The veteran can stretch opposing defenses down the seam and should open up more space for star receiver Michael Thomas on the outside. While it would be foolish to expect Cook to put up better numbers than he did in Oakland, he should remain a strong TE1 option in the high-flying offense of the Saints.

Clay Matthews Mar 22 10:23am ET

Updating previous reports, Los Angeles Rams LB Clay Matthews' two-year deal has a $9.25 million base value with $5.5 million guaranteed.

Morgan Burnett Mar 22 9:43am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers FS Morgan Burnett will be released by April 1, per the player's request, according to his agent, Kevin Conner.

Robert Griffin III Mar 22 8:23am ET

Free-agent QB Robert Griffin III (Ravens) re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens Friday, March 22, on a two-year deal. Financial terms weren't disclosed, and the deal is pending a physical.

Marcus Sherels Mar 21 10:20pm ET

The New Orleans Saints signed long-time Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. The 31-year-old was the Vikings primary punt returner for the last eight years and averaged 12.0 yards per punt return in 2018 to finish in the league's top five for the third time in the last six seasons. He was also used occasionally as a kickoff returner and was a backup cornerback. New Orleans ranked in the league's bottom 10 teams in punt return yardage the last two years. Sherels won't be an option in most fantasy leagues with his move to the Saints.

From RotoBaller

O.J. Howard Mar 21 10:13pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard (ankle) spent time running routes and catching passes from Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes Thursday, March 21.

Fantasy Spin: Howard was having a TE1 campaign in 2018 before an injury ended his season early, but he should be back at full strength well before the start of next season. He is a big-play weapon from the tight end spot and could finish as a top-five fantasy option at his position.

Robert Griffin III Mar 21 10:10pm ET

The Baltimore Ravens re-signed backup quarterback Robert Griffin III on Thursday to an undisclosed two-year deal. The 29-year-old will continue to back up starter Lamar Jackson in 2019. The former first-round pick can be an invaluable source for Jackson as he matures heading into his second season, but RG3 will continue to have no fantasy value.

From RotoBaller

Jordan Howard Mar 21 10:03pm ET

Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard is unlikely to have a role in the offense if he remains with the team in 2019, in the opinion of Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

Fantasy Spin: Howard has always struggled to make an impact in the passing game, and after regressing as a between-the-tackles runner last year, the Bears don't have much incentive to feature him in the offense. Feel free to take a flier on him in the final rounds of drafts, but don't count on him to be a contributor for your fantasy squad.

Justin Houston Mar 21 10:00pm ET

The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent outside linebacker Justin Houston to a two-year deal worth $24 million on Thursday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Houston had nine sacks for the Chiefs last year, but he was cut with the team trying to get younger and defense while transitioning from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 scheme. The Colts also run a 4-3, but they project to use him as a defensive end for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has dealt with a nagging knee injury in recent years but still has 18.5 sacks in the last two years. The veteran will certainly help boost a weak Indy pass rush from a season ago.

From RotoBaller

Jordan Reed Mar 21 9:33pm ET

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (toe) has been working out with teammates this offseason, according to RB Adrian Peterson.

Fantasy Spin: Reed managed to play in 13 games last season, but it didn't translate into much production on the field. Between constant health issues and slipping per-game numbers, Reed is no more than a late-round lottery ticket heading into 2019.

Cooper Kupp Mar 21 9:23pm ET

Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp (knee) said his recovery is where it is 'supposed to be' at this point in the process.

Fantasy Spin: Kupp is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 season. He was Jared Goff's go-to target on third downs and in the red zone prior to the injury, and Kupp should be able to deliver WR2 numbers, especially in PPR formats.

Hunter Henry Mar 21 9:23pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers TE Hunter Henry (knee) is expected to be ready for the start of OTAs, according to general manager Tom Telesco.

Fantasy Spin: Assuming he doesn't suffer any setbacks, Henry should open the year as the starting tight end for the Chargers and a low-end TE1 candidate for fantasy owners.

Stephen Gostkowski Mar 21 7:03pm ET

Free-agent PK Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots) is making progress in contract talks with the New England Patriots. Gostkowski has also received interest from other teams.

Fantasy Spin: Gostkowski struggled at times this past season but still can be a weekly starting option in all fantasy leagues.

Mar 21 6:43pm ET

Free-agent DT Al Woods (Colts) met with the Detroit Lions Thursday, March 21.