Chris Tillman back with Orioles on $3 million deal

SARASOTA, FLA — One week after pitchers and catchers reported to Sarasota for camp, the Baltimore Orioles have twice the amount of pitchers in their starting rotation than they did seven days ago.

Late Monday morning, MLB Network Insider John Heyman reported via Twitter that the Orioles reached an agreement with 2013 All-Star pitcher Chris Tillman. The 29-year-old right-hander reunites with his longtime ballclub on a one-year, $3 million contract. With incentives, Tillman could earn up to $7 million this season, but that $3 million figure is fully guaranteed.

The news comes four days after Baltimore inked a two-year, $16 million contract with veteran Andrew Cashner, who is already throwing at Orioles camp. Along with Cashner, Tillman projects to join a rotation with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Tillman has been with the Orioles since the infamous 2008 Erik Bedard trade that sent both Tillman and Adam Jones to Baltimore, along with three other players. From 2012-2014, Tillman went 38-16 with the Orioles, and made an All-Star appearance in 2013. Tillman ended the 2013 season with a 16-7 record, a 3.71 ERA, a career-high 179 strikeouts, and a 1.22 whip in 33 starts (206.1 innings).

In the second half of the 2016 season, Tillman began to experience discomfort in his right throwing shoulder, which turned into right shoulder bursitis. After a 15-day stint on the disabled list, Tillman returned for a handful of starts to end the 2016 season without any noticeable problems. However, Tillman’s shoulder issues continued during last year’s spring training, and he did not make his first start until May 7. Tillman made it through the 2017 season without landing back on the disabled list, but he had by far the worst season of his career. Tillman came out of 2017 with a 1-7 record and a 7.84 ERA in 19 starts (93 innings). His strikeouts fell from 140 to 63, and he gave up 24 home runs in 24 appearances, opposed to allowing 19 home runs in 30 appearances during the 2016 season.

The current status of Tillman’s shoulder is unknown, but Orioles fans will find out what shape Tillman is in when he undergoes the ever-so-daunting Orioles physical. Shoulder problems have prevented previous free agent pitchers from officially signing contracts with the Orioles (Grant Balfour), so it’s still very possible for the Orioles to get cold feet before Tillman officially signs his contract.

If Tillman is healthy, he could certainly play a key role on the 2018 Orioles. Starting pitching was clearly the biggest need entering camp for Baltimore, and a week into spring training they’ve doubled the depth they previously had in the rotation. It’s hard to fathom why the Orioles would bring Tillman back if his shoulder is still bothering him, so hopefully this agreement is a sign that the health of his shoulder is much better than what it was in 2017.

Even though adding two veteran pitchers is a boost, the Orioles still have work to do in the starting pitching department. General manager Dan Duquette has said multiple times that he would like a lefty in his rotation this season. None of the four starting pitchers Baltimore has are southpaws. Neither are in-house fifth-spot candidates like Miguel Castro or Gabriel Ynoa, or any of the top free agent names still on the market, like Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, or Alex Cobb.

Image Credit: Boston Herald

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Orioles sign starting pitcher Andrew Cashner

SARASOTA, FLA — On Thursday afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles finally made a move that bolsters their 2018 starting rotation by signing starting pitcher Andrew Cashner to a two-year contract worth $16 million in guaranteed money.

Along with $16 million officially signed to Cashner over two years, a $10 million vesting option for 2020 is included. The deal also includes $5 million in incentives for each season.

Cashner, 31, has eight years of experience pitching at the Major League level. He spent two seasons with the Chicago Cubs, over four seasons with the San Diego Padres before being traded to the Miami Marlins, and most recently a season with the Texas Rangers. In 2017, Cashner made 28 starts, finishing with an 11-11 record, a 3.40 ERA, and a 1.32 WHIP. That ERA is his lowest mark since the 2014 season, where he finished with a 2.55 ERA in 19 starts.

Cashner is a career 3.80 ERA pitcher at the Major League level. Although he finished the 2017 season with his lowest ERA figure in four seasons, his strikeout rate fell drastically, according to WNST‘s Luke Jones.

Cashner also battled biceps tendinitus during spring training last year, and he spent a stint on the 10-day disabled list midway through the season with a left oblique strain. As Jones mentioned, the peripherals surrounding Cashner do raise some concern, much like Yovani Gallardo’s did when the O’s signed in before the 2016 season. However, the Orioles came into spring training this week with just two starting pitchers in their rotation in Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Even though general manager Dan Duquette moved slow to bring a veteran pitcher in (as he always does), he alluded to the market moving slow all offseason. That proved to be true, and the Orioles have now added a piece to their rotation with over veteran names (Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Chris Tillman, Alex Cobb, etc) still on the market.

Although this move will ease some of the concern about Baltimore’s rotation, there are still two slots in that rotation to fill. Duquette mentioned both at FanFest and to reporters earlier this week that Baltimore could sign multiple names in the free agent pool. There is still work to be done, but signing Cashner is a step in the right direction.

Let’s all note that even though Cashner and the Orioles agreed on a contract, he still has to pass the daunting Orioles physical.

Image Credit: Nolan Writin

 

Ravens to play Bears in 2018 NFL Hall of Fame Game

On Tuesday morning, the NFL announced that the Baltimore Ravens will participate in the 2018 Hall of Fame Game on Thursday, Aug. 2 from Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium from Canton, Ohio.

The Ravens will play against the Chicago Bears, two days before legendary linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Every year, the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the NFL’s preseason slate. This marks the Ravens’ first appearance in the Hall of Fame Game. The Bears have made four appearances, the most recent being in 2005 against the Miami Dolphins.

Along with competing in the Hall of Fame Game, the Ravens and Bears will still play four normally-scheduled preseason season games along with the rest of the NFL. With that said, should we see any starters play in this game, it won’t be for long.

Ticket packages for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement week are already on sale at hofexperiences.com, or by calling 844-751-0532. Individual tickets for the Hall of Fame Game and Enshrinement Ceremony go on sale on Friday, Feb. 16 at 10 a.m. ET at profootballhof.com/tickets.

Image Credit: Dawgs by Nature

Podcast: Nolan and Jake react to Super Bowl 52, latest Ravens news, and latest Terps loss

Welcome to the latest episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast! On today’s show, Nolan McGraw and Jake McDonnell break down a number of topics, including:

  1. Superbowl 52: Well-deserved for Philadelphia, the empire crumbles, and discussion on the strange McDaniels / Colts saga
  2. Reaction to last Friday’s ‘State of the Ravens’ press conference with Mr. Bisciotti (including the Ozzie Newsome / Eric DeCosta transition), and Ray Lewis’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018
  3. The Terps’ tough 74-70 loss to Penn State on Wednesday night

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Ozzie Newsome to step down after 2018 season; Eric DeCosta to take over as Ravens GM

OWINGS MILLS, MD — On Friday afternoon, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti spoke to the media for about 45 minutes. Local reporters drilled Bisciotti with a number of questions, focusing on key issues like attendance, on-field play, and retaining John Harbaugh after missing the playoffs in four of five seasons.

When Bisciotti discussed what went into his decision to keep Harbaugh, he mentioned general manager Ozzie Newsome’s name without being prompted. Bisciotti revealed that 2018 would be Newsome’s last season as the Ravens’ general manager, and that assistant general manager Eric DeCosta will succeed Newsome, with Ozzie sticking around in a lesser role to help with the transition period.

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Image Credit: The Japan Times

“We had talked after the 2013 season and it was about Eric,” Bisciotti said. “Ozzie agreed to re-do his contract for a five-year extension, in which case he would turn the 53 [man roster] over to Eric, and that’s a year away. Ozzie will step down as GM and has assured me that he is not going anywhere, and that he will work with me and work with Eric for a smooth transition. He will be the highest-paid scout in America when Eric takes over next year.”

 

Both Newsome and DeCosta have been with the Ravens since the team’s inception in 1996. Newsome played 13 seasons in the NFL as a tight end for the Cleveland Browns. He had a Hall-Of-Fame career, finishing with 662 receptions for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 for his successes on the field. Four years after his retirement as a player, the Browns hired Newsome as an assignment scout. He worked his way up to being named the Browns’ director of player personnel, a role he would flourish in. When the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens, Newsome was named the general manager and has been in that role ever since.

In his 22 years as general manager of the Ravens, Newsome has drafted two Hall of Fame players in Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis (and several potential future Hall of Famers, including Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Marshal Yanda), and won two Superbowl Championships in 2000 and 2012. 18 of Newsome’s draftees have seen selected to the Pro Bowl. Newsome, now the third longest-tenured general manager in the NFL, has long been regarded as one of the best in the business.

Along with Newsome, DeCosta has been around since day one for the Ravens. He joined Baltimore’s staff in 1996 as an area scout. He worked his way up the ranks, serving six years as the director of college scouting, three years as director of player personnel, and finally as the assistant general manager, a role DeCosta has been in since 2012.

Although the Ravens’ brass kept this announcement a secret for four seasons, it should not come as a surprise to anyone. For years, other NFL teams have tried to steal DeCosta away from Baltimore, most recently the Packers. Every time DeCosta was offered or recruited for a job opening around the NFL, he turned it down. Now that the Ravens’ plan initiated in 2013 has been made public, we now know why DeCosta turned down several attractive jobs.

Newsome will go down as one of the best general managers in the history of the NFL. He had a Hall of Fame career on the field, and after he retires he will be considered again for his stellar career in the front office. Now 61-years-old and having battled a couple minor health scares, the time has come for Newsome to hand the keys to the castle to DeCosta. Keeping Newsome around in a smaller role for a few years is a brilliant idea. DeCosta has watched Ozzie for over two decades now, and if he has any questions, Ozzie will be right there for advice. With that said, DeCosta will be the one putting pen to paper and making the final ruling on decisions regarding the roster.

This is a move that Ravens fans have been anticipating for a few years now. After the 2018 season, we will finally get to see what DeCosta is capable of.

Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

Super Bowl 52 Preview

On Sunday, Feb. 4, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots will face off in the 52’nd installment of the Super Bowl from Mall of America Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Let’s waste no time and break down the game, featuring insight from Charm City Bird Watch owner Jake McDonnell, along with authors Nolan McGraw, Tyler Feeser, and Vasilios Nikolaou. Each staff writer’s take includes a blurb about the game, followed by their official pick.

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Image Credit: Bleeding Green Nation

Jake: Eagles fans, this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Everyone, including myself, counted you out after Carson Wentz tore his ACL in week 14. After watching Nick Foles struggle during the final two weeks of the regular season, I left the Eagles out for dead. I picked against them in both the divisional round and in the conference championship round, and I ate my words. I am scared to eat my words again, especially since I go to school in central-eastern Pennsylvania.

If I sat down and just looked at the rosters, the Eagles would be the easy pick. Despite losing Wentz, Jason Peters, and others, their roster is loaded with talent at almost every position. Philly’s roster was deep at the start of the season. When they’ve lost key pieces due to injury (Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Peters), they’ve made trades or free agent signings to fill the void (Jay Ajayi, Dannell Ellerbee).

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Eagles also have several former Ravens on their roster – Torrey Smith, Corey Graham, Timmy Jernigan, and Ellerbee (Lawrence Guy is the fifth former Raven in this game, except he’s on the other sideline with the Patriots). This, combined with the hatred shared between the Ravens and Patriots, is causing most Ravens fans to root for the Eagles, along with the rest of America minus the New England / Boston area. I would like to point out that should New England emerge victorious on Sunday, they will tie the Steelers for the most Super Bowl championships with six.

Going back to the matchups, clearly the Eagles are the more talented team. You could make the argument that if Wentz was playing in this game, the Eagles would win easily. I’m hesitant to think that they would, because Wentz aside, the Eagles still have to play the greatest coach and the greatest quarterback of all time. The tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will make their eighth career Super Bowl appearance with the Patriots, winners of five of their seven attempts. This is the third time in four years that the Patriots will compete in the Super Bowl, giving them the clear experience advantage.

There are some other small factors that play into the Patriots’ favor, too. Both teams are used to playing outdoors. The Super Bowl will be played indoors. Keep in mind that Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots, is a turf surface, like Mall of America Stadium. The Eagles play on grass at Lincoln Financial Field. 12 of the last 13 Super Bowl champions won while wearing their white jerseys. The Patriots will wear white on Sunday. Although I do not believe in conspiracy theories, many people will claim that the referees will favor the Patriots in this game too. I know that a lot of what I said in this paragraph could be taken as junk, but minus the point about the officials, it’s all true. Another fact to point out is that Eagles fans will be foaming at the mouth to take over Minnesota, and they will have plenty of fans on-hand at Mall of America Stadium.

As I sit here and type this out, I have no idea who to pick. The easy cop-out would be to pick the Patriots, coached and quarterbacked by the best do ever do it. On the other hand, you have an Eagles team that has dominated all season and has the much better roster. Looking at the most recent results, the Patriots had to come from behind and beat Jacksonville, while the Eagles curb-stomped the Vikings 38-7.

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Image Credit: WCVB-TV

13 years ago in Jacksonville, Adam Vinatieri booted a 22-yard field goal with 8:40 remaining in Super Bowl 39. That kick put the Patriots up 10. Although the Eagles scored a touchdown with just under two minutes left, the Patriots got the ball back and put the game away.

They say what goes around, comes around. That’s what I believe what happens this Sunday. Give me Jake Elliott kicking a field goal with five minutes left to put the Eagles up by 10. New England will threat again, but they will run out of time. The Patriots came out on top on that night in Jacksonville, but the Eagles will win the rematch. They’ve been the better team all season, and I believe they will prove to be just that on Sunday. They’re ready for this.

Pick: Eagles 24, Patriots 21

Nolan: There is no shortage of narratives surrounding this year’s big game. The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles put themselves in the Super Bowl conversation relatively early but their seasons took two completely different paths. On one hand you have a New England team that was pegged to become repeat champions right from the start. The Patriots didn’t have much trouble getting back to the Super Bowl after playing in a weak AFC East division and facing just one of the only two teams in the playoffs that posed a legitimate threat to them.

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Image Credit: Chicago Tribune

The Eagles garnered their own share of attention early in the year and quickly made a name for themselves in a competitive NFC playoff picture. Led by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, Philadelphia went 11-2 and won nine games in a row while securing a #1 seed. After losing Wentz to a season-ending injury, Philadelphia went from a favorite to a long shot in the eyes of the media. The Eagles were underdogs in both of their playoff matchups and even though that won’t change come Sunday, I don’t think the Eagles fan base would want it any other way at this point.

It’s no secret that I have doubted the Eagles so far in the playoffs. I incorrectly picked them to lose to both the Falcons and Vikings. While I am still skeptical, Philadelphia has shown me that they are truly worthy of being in the Super Bowl. Their game plans against Atlanta and Minnesota were so well-executed that I know the Eagles will not be caught off guard by New England. I also have no doubt that this will be a close contest but the Patriots are probably the most daunting opponent the Eagles have faced all year.

I should have probably learned my lesson by now, but I’m still not picking the Eagles. When a playoff game comes down to crunch time, I will never confidently bet against a Tom Brady-led offense. Between last year’s Super Bowl and this year’s AFC championship game, Brady has shown why he is arguably the greatest of all time. In both of these games, the Patriots put together two great comebacks without their best weapon on the field. Even with a very impressive defense, Philadelphia is going to have their hands full against Rob Gronkowski and Pats offense.

When I pair this with New England’s Super Bowl experience, I have no hesitation picking the Patriots. I’m not saying the Eagles will be intimidated by the big game spotlight, but I know that they cannot be more comfortable than the Patriots who have a roster full of players with at least one Super Bowl under their belt.

Pick: Patriots 34, Eagles 31

Tyler: Philadelphia will once again be playing as the underdog as they try to win their first Super Bowl in team history on Sunday. It is probably a good thing for them as they have been the underdog in each of their previous two postseason games. They love when people doubt them. They don’t lack the confidence that is needed to beat a team like the Patriots. The thing with the Eagles is that they have their confidence under control. They are cocky but know how to control themselves. At the time of me writing this, they haven’t given New England any bulletin board material, which is important.

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Image Credit: Pro Football Rumors

On the field, Philadelphia has the talent, the players, and believe it or not, the coaching to beat New England. But they are going to have to be near perfect (if not perfect) in order to beat them. Two weeks ago the Eagles showed just how dominant they can be on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. They completely dismantled Minnesota’s top-ranked defense. New England doesn’t have near the defensive talent that Minnesota has but New England does have Bill Belichick and two weeks to prepare. Nick Foles will need to play as well as he did against Minnesota if the Eagles want to have a chance. I look for the Eagles coaching staff to continue putting Foles in positions to be successful. The run-pass-options have proven to be effective so far this postseason. I also look for the running game to be established early and often so that Foles isn’t forced to make plays and potentially mistakes.

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Image Credit: Pro Football Rumors

Defensively, the Eagles have the pass rush to get pressure on Tom Brady. I also think they have the front seven to be able to neutralize the running game of the Patriots. The difficult thing for the Eagles will be stopping Rob Gronkowski and the entire Patriots passing game. I don’t know if they have anyone that can match up with Gronkowski and keep him neutralized. The pass rush could get to Brady enough that it helps out the secondary on the outside. Stopping Gronkowski is going to be the key for the Eagles in this game. If they can do that even a little they will be fine. If they can’t stop him, that will be the deciding factor in the game.

Ultimately, I think Foles shuts his doubters up one last time and leads the Eagles to a championship. He will win the Super Bowl MVP award as well. Jake Elliott kicks a game-winning field goal after Foles drives them down the field and into field goal range.

Pick: Eagles 27, Patriots 24

Vasilios: It’s that time of year folks, where companies shell out millions of dollars for a 30-second commercial spot and some people care more about those than the game. But for us sports-inclined folks, we are about to watch a Super Bowl rematch from 13 years ago where the quarterback for the Eagles at that time was Donovan McNabb. Not much has changed for the Patriots, besides switching automatic kickers Adam Vinatieri for Stephen Gostkowski, and a new cast of role players. From Super Bowl 39 until now, arguably the best head coach/quarterback duo in history in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady continues to stand the test of time.

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Image Credit: The Seattle Times

The Eagles are the consummate underdog, as evidenced by the German Shepherd mask donned by several Eagles players after their wins against the Falcons and Vikings. That defense is suffocating, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are absolute monsters off the ball and rookie end Derek Barnett is no slouch either. But the spotlight rests on the biggest enigma on the Eagles roster, Nick Foles. After taking over for Carson Wentz in week 14, he has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in recent history, matched only by Brady in that span.

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Image Credit: New England Patriots

But if I recall correctly, Brady usurped the job from his predecessor, Drew Bledsoe, and went on to win a Super Bowl that same year against The Greatest Show On Turf led by Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. I’m not saying that Foles’ career will follow the same unique path, but damn, Foles has the chance to “Tom Brady” Tom Brady.

Eagles win a tightly contested game and hand Brady and the Pats their third Super Bowl loss to an NFC East team.

Pick: Eagles 21, Patriots 17

Super Bowl LII broadcast information:

Kickoff: 6:30 pm

Channel: NBC

Commentators: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Head Referee: Gene Steratore

Halftime show: Justin Timberlake

Image Credit: NFL.com

Early takeaways, quotes from Orioles Fanfest

BALTIMORE — The early months of the year mean one thing for Baltimore Orioles fans – Fanfest. The annual gathering took place on Saturday at the Baltimore Convention Center. In a time where several important decisions face the franchise, both on and off the field, this offseason has been a quiet one for the O’s. Every year, Fanfest gives both fans and the media an opportunity to hear from the likes of manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette, both of whom’s contracts expire after the 2018 season. Now that the fan forum and multiple media sessions have ended with the Orioles’ brass, there’s some clarity of where things stand for this team a few months away from the regular season.

Takeaway #1 – Manny Machado will play shortstop this season, Tim Beckham will shift to third base

Speaking of expiring contracts, Manny Machado‘s $16 million arbitration settling marks the last year the Orioles have him under club control. Barring a contract extension, Machado will become a free agent after the season and command a contract worth over $300 million, a figure the Orioles have never come close to touching. The relationship between Machado and the Orioles appears to be at a standstill, as both him and Jonathan Schoop backed out of their Fanfest appearances that were scheduled for this weekend.

At the Convention Center, Orioles season ticket holders drilled both Showalter and Duquette with questions, a lot of them inquiring about Machado’s status. Showalter revealed that Machado will slide over to shortstop this season, and that Tim Beckham will shift to third base. Shortstop is Machado’s natural, preferred position, but he’s played third base for Baltimore since being called up in 2012. Machado has always wanted to play shortstop, and now that J.J. Hardy seems to not be in the plans (or possibly retiring), this is not a shocking move. Judging on how the Orioles have handled Machado’s contract situation, it’s safe to assume that he’s not happy with where things stand right now. If so, I think letting him play his preferred position in possibly his final year in Baltimore is a smart move.

Takeaway #2 – O’s relationship with Machado, Schoop is suffering

Since Machado and Schoop backed out of their Fanfest appearances at the last minute, fans also asked Showalter and Duquette about where things stand with the two young superstars.

Duquette – “Obviously, we’re disappointed they’re not here. We talked to them about the merits of being here and being available to our fans, but they’re not here. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Showalter – “I’m disappointed that Jon’s not here. I think we all get advice along the way and heed some of it and some we don’t. I think he got some bad advice and it’s one of those things. We’ll move on and it’s unfortunate.”

More Buck – “I’ve gotten a feel for what Manny’s absence is about and I have a pretty good understanding of that. Jon’s I don’t. The reasons I’ve been given, not very good.”

Although Schoop remains under club control one year more than Machado, they remain best friends off the field. Showalter claimned that Schoop got “bad advice” from his agent, but it’s clear that Schoop is just as unhappy as Machado.

Awkward.

Takeaway #3 – Still no clarity or direction with starting rotation issues

As of now, the only pitchers locked into the Orioles’ starting rotation are Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. That’s a problem. Yes, the free agent market for starting pitchers is rough, and starting pitchers are expensive, but the Orioles did nothing this offseason to improve a rotation that finished 2017 with a 5.70 ERA.

When asked about addressing the starting rotation before the regular season starts, Duquette did not have much to say that has not been said already.

“We still have some work to do with our starting pitching – yeah, a lot of heads nodding,” Duquette said. “That’ll be the key to the team, if we can find some starting pitching. The other [positions] will be able to sustain a competitive team. If we can’t find the starting pitching we need and the depth, it’s going to be a difficult year.”

Duquette also stated that he’s “confident” that the Orioles can add some starting pitching, and that he would like to have that done by March 1, four weeks before the regular season begins.

More Nuggets:

Image Credit: Maryland Sports Blog