Today in sports: The NFL finds a suitably contrarian argument to help promote its new magazine, agent Leigh Steinberg is in a Twitter fight with Arizona State, and the NFLPA isn't quite sold on giving union chief DeMaurice Smith a $1 million year-end bonus.
- Nobody around baseball is quite sure on the sequence of events that led to the Los Angeles Angels and three-time National League MVP Albert Pujols agreeing to a ten-year, $254 million contract after only two days of serious negotiations. Two sources told USA Today that Pujols turned down a ten-year, $274 million offer from the Miami Marlins (which might actually have been worth $300 million, since Florida doesn't have individual income tax) on Wednesday evening because it didn't include a full no-trade clause. At that point, a return to the St. Louis Cardinals seemed likely, though ESPN's Buster Olney reports the Cardinals' final offer was for "nine years and a little less than $200 million," which would have meant handing St. Louis a hometown discount of at least 20%. According to The New York Times, the Angels swooped in and closed the deal during an all-night negotiating session with Pujols' agent at baseball's winter meetings at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas last night. Word of the signing leaked around 9 a.m, much to the dismay of Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who reportedly left the Hilton and headed to the airport without telling anyone on his staff where he was going. Pujols' contract is the second largest in baseball history, behind only the 10-year, $275 million deal the New York Yankees gave third baseman Alex Rodriguez in 2007. [Yahoo Sports]
- Chris Eaton -- FIFA's head of security -- tells Sports Illustrated soccer reporter Grant Wahl that the sport's governing body has received tips that matches were "manipulated" during last summer's Gold Cup, the biennial tournament featuring national teams from North America, the Caribbean, and Central America. While Eaton stopped of using the dreaded words "match fixing," Sports Illustrated talked to a "betting industry insider" who indicated he was "highly suspicious of every Gold Cup game involving Cuba and Grenada and also had questions about El Salvador's 5-0 loss to Mexico." The insider said his doubts involved "in-running betting" (bets that are placed while the game is going on), rather than pre-match "dead-ball betting." Wahl explains that "In-game betting on world soccer is dominated by the Asian market" and that there were "belief-defying odds swings during several Gold Cup games" featuring Cuba and Grenada. Wahl's source elaborates: "It was the sort of thing where we sat around and said, 'Yeah, this looks like it's a 99 percent chance that it's bent'...[T]he odds movements for in-running betting [in Cuba and Grenada's Gold Cup games] were just incredibly, incredibly unusual and extreme. We're talking about five to 10 times what you would typically see. And these extreme odds movements would be subsequently vindicated by what was happening on the field." Match-fixing scandals in Greece, Italy, China, and Turkey this year prompted FIFA to begin offering amnesty and financial incentives to players, referees and coaches who come forward with details of corruption. [Sports Illustrated]
- The NFL has found a nice way to generate some manufactured outrage for the debut issue of the new, league-sponsored The NFL Magazine: run an article arguing Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is the MVP of the 2011 regular season, even though he hasn't played a down. The logic is that Indianapolis was perennial playoff contender for the last decade with Manning at quarterback. Without him, they're 0-12 and facing a the possibility of a winless season. In an interview with the AP, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney shot the concept full of holes, and also inadvertently justified the piece's existence, declaring: To the guys who are playing hard, it’s unfortunate that they’re doing something like that. They will and they do look ridiculous doing that.” [The NFL Magazine via Pro Football Talk]
- The NFL Players Association is reportedly weighing whether to give union boss DeMaurice Smith a $1 million year-end bonus. Support for the measure within the union"considerable, but not unanimous," which isn't a very nice way to treat the man who got you a new, very favorable collective bargaining agreement and worked for $1 over the summer while the specifics were being ironed out. [The Washington Post]
- Agent Leigh Steinberg is hopping mad at Arizona State University for pulling an offer that would have made his client June Jones the school's next head football coach. In a post on his agency's blog yesterday, Steinberg -- who lest we forget was Cameron Crowe's inspiration for Jerry Maguire -- fumed: "Just had one of the most bizarre endings to a set of productive discussions to bring a client to a new situation. Everything was set,few tweaks left,and the principal decision maker yanks the deal w no real explanation." It came out soon after he was talking about the Arizona State talks. The school, for its part, explained that it pulled the offer to Jones -- currently the head coach at Southern Methodist -- because it "took too long" for him to respond, though the AP reports the talks collapsed "after issues were raised about Jones’ character." That gives added context to a subsequent blog post from Steinberg several hours later. Said Steinberg: "June Jones character is impeccable and unimpeachable,has done charitable&community,active&spiritual Christian faith.For any institution to try and scorch the earth by impugning man of honor is despicable—cowardly leaks." Suffice it to say, none of the candidates the school is now considering for the vacancy are Steinberg clients. [AP]