Oakland Raiders are wise to splash $125 million extension on quarterback Derek Carr

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Keys to the Carr: Derek Carr. Picture: Getty Images.

No wonder Derek Carr was smiling.

The man who, for the time being anyway, is now the best paid player in the NFL was asked what celebrations were in order.

Ferrari? Mansion? Private jet?

“I am going to Chick-Fil-A,” said the 28-year-old Oakland Raiders quarterback. “And I will get my wife something nice.

“She still gets coupons. She gets online and tries to find discounts. None of that’s going to change.”

You can buy a fair few burgers off the back of a $125 million, five- year deal.

In the NFL, unlike the NBA, players announce multi-year contracts but know at the end of year two, nothing is cast iron. Break clauses are inserted. Injury fears rule front office heads.

Carr will make $25m for 2017 ($12.5m signing bonus, his $7.5m roster bonus plus his $5m salary).

The roster bonus is doubled next year and is guaranteed but a $2m increase on his base salary won’t be rubberstamped until after that season’s Super Bowl.

Injury guarantees for 2019 and 2020 don’t come into force until the February of those years. Who knows what state his body will be in by then. The remaining two years of the contract have no guarantees whatsoever.

In such a rough and tumble environment, making long-term plans is fraught with difficulty.

Yet with Oakland switching to Vegas for the 2020 season, this was a move with the future firmly in mind. And as more NFL teams adopt a focused ‘Moneyball’ approach when it comes to drafts and transfers, the overwhelmingly impressive stats from his first three seasons ensured this was a financial gamble well worth taking.

The Raiders see Carr as the face of their soon to be new franchise in the desert. Last season’s performances – with and without him – certainly sealed this particular deal. When his leg broke in Indianapolis last December , the writing was on the wall for the in-form, dangerous-looking Raiders, who were enjoying their best run for well over a decade.

His right fibula snapped when twisted awkwardly on a sack and the Raiders’ best season since 2002 was also broken. The push for the postseason was maintained but ended at the first hurdle.

Carr had terrorised Houston when they met in a regular season clash in Mexico City, though with the 28 year-old stuck on the sidelines, the Raiders were outscored 62-20 through nine quarters.

But when put into context, the sums instantly highlight his worth.

Golden State’s title winning hero Kevin Durant will pocket $27m next season while the last year of Stephen Curry’s current contract costs just $12m.

Tom Brady (left) is one of the best paid in the league – he’s on around $14m a year and has bagged $196m in 17 years –  yet is 39. His days are soon numbered, while Carr is the future. He’s dynamic and determined – Carr pulled his side back from the brink seven times in the fourth quarter, either winning or forcing overtime.

With Matthew Stafford of Detroit and Washington’s Kirk Cousins set to pen new deals soon, Carr’s place at the top of the money tree won’t last long. For the God-fearing father of two, however, it’s all immaterial.

“The exciting thing for me moneywise, honestly, is this money’s going to help a lot of people,” Carr said. “I’m very thankful to have it, that it’s in our hands, because it’s going to help people not only in this country but in a lot of countries around the world.”

The Colts’ Andrew Luck is actually the best earner in the NFL once his eye watering guarantees are taken into account.

Luck has an $87m guaranteed for injury, with over half of that sum guaranteed on signing his 2016 extension. Clever thinking from the financial advisors of a player who’s been thumped with 56 sacks in his last 22 games.

Carr was sacked just 16 times in 2016 – an NFL low – making a total of 71 in 47 games. He’s fresh, injury free and raring to show the investment will be worth every penny.

MLS

The net is continuing to be cast wide by Major League Soccer in the attempt to cement its standing in the global game.

Rivalry week is a great concept with the fixture computer ensuring a host of derbies come at you thick and fast.

Last weekend saw Portland and Seattle clash as well as derbies in Dallas and New York.

And it was the match between the Red Bulls and NYCFC which saw a first-ever viewing party overseas.

Hosted in London and with former City midfielder Frank Lampard sat on the sofa as a special guest, fans packed a bar to take in the latest installment of the Hudson River derby which saw Patrick Vieira’s men bag an impressive 2-0 away win.

Even in England where the Premier League rules, MLS are finding devoted fans who are keen to experience something new. Officials I spoke to last week at MLS HQ in Manhattan were delighted to have interest in the league from other countries and will look to stage similar events in other parts of the world.

This was the first MLS event of this kind staged away from the US and I am told it was a real success.

NBA

Michael Jordan v LeBron James.

The NBA’s best-ever debate gets plenty of people hot under the collar, especially when James’ superhero act isn’t good enough to land a championship. Yet one Jordan fan has taken that extra step to make sure everyone knows where his allegiances lie.

It’s unclear whether Kalen Gilleese knows that he’s stuck with it for life but now he’s the owner of a crying LeBron face inked on his calf. Needless to say, it looks utterly ridiculous and clearly the prospect of people laughing at him down by the pool wasn’t enough to spike his plans.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people,” Gilleese said. “I think LeBron is in the top five, but he’s not Jordan. I just get ticked off by everyone saying he is. LeBron is a legend, but he’s the biggest crybaby legend of all time.”

The Salt Lake City native’s pal is a tattoo artist who’s been hearing about his plan for over two months. “After the Warriors won the championship, I convinced him to do it on me,” he added.

Next stop? Brain examination.

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Nashville Predators have ascended from humble beginnings to the cusp of Stanley Cup glory

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On the hunt for more: Nashville Predators.

Nashville is known as ‘Music City’.

It’s a mecca for the country sound and one of the most soulful places in the world.

A town where some of the greatest musicians – Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton to name just two – wowed the crowds. The city, however, hasn’t sprouted much sporting magnificence – until now.

Only a few years ago, people scoffed at the idea of ice hockey in Nashville. Southern types love college football, music and barbeques.

Guitars, not sticks, man.

Yet those same doubters will surely be tuning in tonight to see the Predators play for the first time in the Stanley Cup Finals.

It’s sent the city bonkers. Nashville is now affectionately known as  ‘Smashville’.

The reigning champs from Pittsburgh, led by star Sidney Crosby, stand in their way. Yet this is one of the most remarkable ascensions to the apex of ice hockey ever seen, with some wonderful characters interspersed into the narrative.

Take a wrestler formerly known as the Tennessee Stud, for example.

It was squared circle hero Ron Fuller and pal Bob Polk who first started floating the idea of Nashville hockey way back in 1989. People thought he was crazy and such was the uninterest, another business partner was drafted in to help with what seemed like a hopeless push for glory.

The Nashville Knights started off in the minor leagues – and immediately caught fire. Interest was piqued, though taking their place at hockey’s top table still seemed like the most unbelievable of pipedreams.

This season, getting a ticket for the constantly sold out Bridgestone Arena has been tougher than finding a decent Elvis impersonator. Some seats have been selling for thousands of dollars with 17,000 creating an electric atmosphere. Of course, there is a stage to keep everyone rocking.

“There’s a college football atmosphere,” said defenseman Ryan Ellis.

It seems that despite all the protestations, the interest has always been there. Even in those early days, healthy crowds of 5,000 would turn up. What Fuller and his mates cracked, however, was how to keep them entertained.

Players were introduced onto the ice with rock music, supporters invited on during the break to risk breaking their necks in the hope of landing cash prizes.

Before Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals clash with the Anaheim Ducks, fans paid $10 to smash up a car with their opponent’s logo on.

It’s certainly different! But every media market in the US has their own quirks and as Fuller kicks back this evening and watches the Preds launch their assault on the biggest trophy in US sport, he’ll know everything was worth it.

Grammy award winning artists have been queuing around the block to sing the national anthem. Country star Carrie Underwood, who’s married to captain Mike Fisher, has been belting out the Star Spangled Banner recently. So too has fellow award winning artist Luke Bryan.

Everyone is loving it apart from poor old Dennis K. Morgan, the team’s normal singer who’s been unsubtly pushed sideways to make way for vocal royalty.

Ryan Ellis.

Ryan Ellis.

Crucially, it’s all been clicking on the ice with coach Peter Laviolette working wonders. Before his arrival in 2014, the Preds had been bossed by the no-nonsense Barry Trotz ever since their NHL inception 16 years ago.

Laviolette tasted Stanley Cup victory with the Carolina Hurricanes 11 years ago and isn’t afraid to act on impulse and switch things up – he’s used 18 forwards in the post-season alone, an NHL record.

The Preds aren’t awash with superstar names. Team ethic trumps all and for that, Laviolette stands out in terms of astute man-management and harnessing a superb spirit which has transferred from the locker room to the stands. Goalie Pekka Rinne has been the standout hero, topping every stat category known to man.

It’s the fiery, often hot-headed boss though, who deserves the largest chunk of credit.

The 52 year-old is just the third coach since 1994 to take three different teams to the conference finals, the first ever to take three franchises to the final – Nashville, Carolina and Philadelphia – and is just the second US-born coach to win 500 NHL games.

Crosby and the Penguins are favourites. The Preds would become the first No16 seed to land the big one but then no team in the salary-cap era has ever landed successive titles. The Penguins won last year.

Both have been ravaged by injuries, yet it should be a brilliant series where all the neutrals will surely be dancing to Nashville’s unmistakable beat.

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Irving and James lead the way as Cavs down Celtics

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LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James combined for 76 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers battled to a 112-99 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday to move within one game of a place in the NBA Finals.

The win gives Cleveland a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and leaves them firmly on track for a third consecutive NBA Finals showdown against the Golden State Warriors.

Cleveland, stunned by Boston in Game 3 after romping two blowout wins in the opening two games of the Eastern Conference series, looked to be heading for another shock as the Celtics dominated the first half.

Boston powered into a 29-19 first quarter lead and maintained their 10-point cushion through to half-time, leading 57-47 at the break.

But as tension among Cleveland’s home fans mounted at the Quicken Loans Arena, it was left to Irving to ride to the rescue with a sensational, momentum-changing display in the third quarter.

Irving piled on 21 points in the third period as Cleveland turned their 10-point half-time deficit into an 87-80 lead at the end of the third quarter. Irving eventually finished with 42 points.

“Coming out at half-time, I just wanted to be aggressive and lead my guys and leave it all out there on the floor,” Irving said.

“We understand the goal out here and we want to accomplish something bigger than ourselves. It’s going to take a full 48 minute game to do it.”

James, determined to bounce back after a poor 11-point haul in Game 3, then steadied the Cleveland nerves in the fourth quarter, bringing the Cavaliers home for the win as Boston’s brave effort came up short.

James, who finished with 34 points, were joined in double figures by Kevin Love, who scored 17 points with 17 rebounds and five assists.

James, Irving and Love were the only three Cavs players to make double digits.

Boston, missing the injured Isaiah Thomas, had four players in double figures, with Avery Bradley scoring a leading 19 points.

Game 4 takes place in Boston on Thursday.

Irving said Cleveland would benefit from having been put under pressure by Boston in Game 3.

“We need to hit adversity in order to grow,” Irving said. “The only thing that matters now is to get a win back in Boston.”

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