Le’Veon Bell Rumors: Transition Tag Possible; RB Wants $45 Million Guaranteed

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 02:  Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers attends SiriusXM at Super Bowl LII Radio Row at the Mall of America on February 2, 2018 in Bloomington, Minnesota.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Cindy Ord/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers may not be done with Le’Veon Bell just yet.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported there is a “very real” possibility the Steelers use their transition tag on Bell, who will be a free agent after sitting out the 2018 season over a contract dispute.

Bell, 26, is seeking $45 million in guaranteed money in his new contract. Rapoport speculated his new contract could reach five years and $85 million if he gets the $17 million per season he’s seeking.

The Steelers would have the right to match any offer Bell receives if they use the transition tag.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported there could be another battle brewing regarding the transition tag, which the NFL’s management council will attempt to say is worth $9.5 million. The NFLPA will contend the number should be $14.54 million.

Schefter also reported the Steelers and Bell were in negotiations to bring the running back to Pittsburgh before Tuesday’s deadline to report. However, the team would not commit to allowing Bell to enter unrestricted free agency.

Regardless, it seems the two sides have reached a point of no return. Steelers players pillaging Bell’s locker this week spoke volumes to what his teammates think about him; that’s not something you do to a person who’s welcome back at work.

Bell has also clearly prioritized himself over the welfare of the team, an understandable move given the shelf life of a running back but also one that makes a return seem difficult.

The Steelers have gotten Pro Bowl-caliber production from James Conner, a cheaper option who doesn’t come with the same headaches.

A transition tag feels like little more than a power play to potentially depress Bell’s market.

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Antony Catalano tries to stop Fairfax Media merger with Nine

Former Domain chief executive Antony Catalano has thrown in an eleventh hour attempt to stop the merger of Nine Entertainment and Fairfax Media, but is not interested in making a full takeover bid for the publisher.

Mr Catalano wrote to Fairfax chairman Nick Falloon on Sunday night with a proposal to buy 19.9 per cent of the publisher and prevent its merger with Nine. He has asked for a meeting of shareholders, due to take place on Monday, to be delayed so shareholders can consider his offer, which is conditional on the merger being defeated, and him being given a seat on the Fairfax board.

It is understood Fairfax is not inclined to delay the meeting and the expectation at this stage is it will proceed as scheduled with no disruption to the vote. Proxies received by the scheme of arrangement’s deadline had fallen overwhelmingly in favour of the merger. 

Nine and Fairfax declined to comment.

Mr Catalano told The Australian Financial Review he is not interested in a full takeover of Fairfax and urged the board to delay the vote on the Nine merger. 


“There is no downside in delaying the vote and only upside in exploring options that provide the best outcome for shareholders,” he said.

“I’m asking Fairfax shareholders to support a strategy that returns proceeds from the sale of assets to them. The alternate proposal became increasingly more compelling as the share price dropped.”

Mr Catalano said if Fairfax pushes ahead with the vote and the merger gets shareholder approval, which is likely given proxies were due on Saturday, he will challenge the deal when it goes to Federal Court for approval.

He said his proposal was pulled together in less than two weeks with money he put together, not private equity. 

“Of particular concern, is that it would appear that the scheme does not apply a sufficient premium for control of Fairfax’s largest asset, Domain,” Mr Catalano, who is believed to be working with Nick Bolton and is supported by Alex Waislitz, wrote to Mr Falloon.

“As the former CEO of Domain, I have a unique knowledge of that business, and accordingly believe that I could provide significant assistance in optimising its value for Fairfax shareholders, along with providing a strategy for the balance of Fairfax’s valuable assets.”

Mr Catalano said the share price declines in Fairfax and Nine since the deal was announced in July had wiped more than $740 million off the “implied value” of the merger.

“When the scheme was announced, the implied value for Fairfax shareholders was 93.9¢ per share , such a price was at the upper end of Grant Samuel & Associate’s independent valuation of 87-94¢ of Fairfax’s assets, and with credit to the Fairfax board, was probably a satisfactory transaction for shareholders. However, since that time, the implied value of the scheme has declined to 61.6¢ per share , a 34 per cent… reduction in consideration,” he said.

Mr Catalano has offered an alternative proposal to “build and realise value for Fairfax shareholders” that would include divesting non-core assets and building up Domain.

“In light of the above, I would like to inform you that I am conditionally prepared to step into the market of Fairfax to acquire an interest of up to 19.9 per cent (inclusive of the 1.2 per cent I currently beneficially own) on-market, at a price superior to the intrinsic mark-to-market value of NEC’s Scheme Proposal up to 65¢ per share,” he said. 

“The conditions on my proposal are set out below. I intend to then have Fairfax pursue a multi-pronged strategy to build and realise value for Fairfax shareholders. This strategy includes the divestiture of non-core assets, building the Domain franchises and pursuing asset sales with a suitable control premium not presently factored into the NEC Scheme, with all proceeds to be returned to Fairfax shareholders as cash distributions or by way of share buybacks. My target return to shareholders would be within or in excess of the same range attributed by Grant Samuel & Associates in their Independent Expert report of 87-94¢ per share.”

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Barricaded refugees ‘ready to die’ than return to Libya detention

Refugees and migrants refusing to leave a cargo boat in a Libyan port are pleading to be taken to Europe, saying they are prepared to die than be returned to detention in the North African country.

As the standoff with Libyan authorities in Misrata entered its ninth day, two of those on board said on Sunday it was too dangerous to go back to Libyan detention centres, where they risk being abused and sold to people smugglers while having little hope of being evacuated.

“All people are saying now we don’t want to go outside until we die here,” Kai, an 18-year-old from South Sudan, told Al Jazeera on the phone.

The refugees and migrants were brought to Misrata on November 10, four days after setting sail in a rubber boat with the hope of reaching Italy.

Daniel, a 16-year-old from South Sudan, said the rubber boat had travelled almost 200km before the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship, The Nivin, crossed its path.

Rights groups and medical charities urge authorities to ensure the safety of those on board [Al Jazeera]

Both Kai and Daniel said the crew on board The Nivin told them they would be taken to Italy, but instead brought them to Misrata.

“We see Malta and they brought us back. All of us we entered into the international waters and they bring us back,” said Kai.

“Why would they bring us back, they know we die here. Why they bring us back here?”

After discussions with humanitarian organisations, some of those on board the docked ship agreed to disembark, including women and an infant child. According to Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity known by its French initials, MSF, there are now 77 people on board, 28 of whom are under 18.

Kai said they come from various countries, including Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Bangladesh. Many are sick and injured, after being burned with oil from the rubber boat they were travelling in, he added.

Paula Barrachina Esteban, spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), said the world body is providing humanitarian aid to those on The Nivin.

“At the moment, we’re just advocating for a solution to be found and discussing with the relevant authorities,” said Esteban.

The refugees and migrants are being given food and water, but Kai said the biggest immediate problem is the ship’s lack of toilets and bathrooms. As a result, Kai said they are forced to urinate in bottles.

Both teenagers on the ship said said Libyan authorities have threatened to force them out of the ship.

“They tell us if you don’t want to go outside, we will take you outside by force; they say we will burn the ship,” said Kai.

“The police are outside,” added Daniel. “We are frightened.”

‘People are exhausted’

Kai said he escaped to Libya with his brother after his parents disappeared during South Sudan’s war in 2013. 

In Libya, Abdul said his brother was killed by people smugglers in Beni Walid, known as the “ghost city” by refugees and migrants, after not being able to meet their demand for a $1,000 ransom payment.

Kai said this year he spent seven months in Ain Zara detention centre in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, after being caught by the Libyan coastguard attempting to cross into Italy.

Those on board are from countries such as Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Bangladesh [Al Jazeera]

He said there was too little food in the detention centre and he had no hopes of being evacuated or resettled. While escaping in July, he said the guards opened fire but he and several other detainees managed to get away safely.

After another attempt to cross the Mediterranean in September, he said was locked in detention in Khoms, where he stayed for a month before escaping again.

“Some people have [spent] nine months, one year inside the jail,” said Kai.

While many on board said they had survived torture by human traffickers in Libya, some also had stories about serious abuses in official detention centres. A third man on board The Nivin told Al Jazeera he had witnessed fellow detainees being shot and killed while escaping an official Libyan detention centre.

Al Jazeera has previously heard reports of deaths in detention centres run by the Libyan Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM). 

DCIM has not responded to multiple requests for comment. 

In Triq al Sikka, a 28-year-old Somali man burned himself to death in October, after saying to fellow detainees he felt hopeless about his changes of evacuation. In Zintan detention centre, detainees say five people have died since mid-September, most recently a 19-year-old Eritrean.

“We’re very saddened about any death in a detention centre of UNHCR people of concern – reasons why we advocate for alternatives for detention to be found,” said Esteban.

“Sometimes we provide on a purely humanitarian basis support to deal with the bodies of the deceased, but they’re under the custody of the Libyan authorities.”

Julian Raickman, the head of the MSF mission in Libya, called for those on board the docked ship – and other refugees and migrants – to not be sent to detention.

“People are exhausted, they don’t want to go to those detention centres,” she said.

“I can understand as a human, and we strongly believe that we, as a humanitarian community, should work together in order to find another solution for these people than detention.

“This concerns these people on the boat but also more broadly the situation of all migrants in Libya.”

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Fantasy Football Week 11 Sleepers at Every Position

Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

Before we move on to the Week 11 sleeper picks, here’s a look back at how the Week 10 calls fared.

With introspection comes wisdom. Read that in a fortune cookie.

For the record, sleepers count as wins if they finish inside weekly starter territory in a 12-team, points-per-reception fantasy league that starts one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one defense and the always popular flex play—a fairly standard setup.

Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts (3 receptions, 36 yards): Well, I was half right. A tight end for the Colts did have a huge game last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It just wasn’t Doyle. The curse of Eric Ebron strikes again. LOSS

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans (228 passing yards, 2 TDs, 21 rushing yards, 1 reception, 21 yards): Mariota’s gone from complete fantasy afterthought to legit streaming option, and his run isn’t over yet. Foreshadowing! WIN

Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (216 passing yards, 3 TDs, 20 rushing yards): Plenty of people questioned Cleveland’s decision to draft Mayfield at No. 1 overall back in April. No one’s questioning it now. WIN

Mike Davis, RB, Seattle Seahawks (11 carries, 58 yards, 4 receptions, 22 yards, 1 TD): The Seahawks piled up a jaw-dropping 273 rushing yards in last week’s loss to the Rams. Davis was a top-15 back, despite playing second fiddle to Rashaad Penny. WIN

Ito Smith, RB, Atlanta Falcons (4 carries, 11 yards, 4 receptions, 15 yards): This recommendation was based on the belief the Falcons would be playing from ahead in the second half. Instead, Atlanta got thumped, and Smith was a non-factor. LOSS

Maurice Harris, WR, Washington Redskins (5 receptions, 52 yards, 1 carry, 4 yards): Harris cooled off last week relative to his big Week 9, but his performance against the Buccaneers still landed him inside middling flex territory. WIN

John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (2 receptions, 39 yards, 1 TD): I was hoping for more than two catches from Ross with A.J. Green sidelined by an injured toe, but his touchdown catch against the Saints salvaged the day for fantasy owners. WIN

Tyrell Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (4 receptions, 46 yards): Williams has had some big games for the Chargers this season. This wasn’t one of them—four catches and under 50 yards was barely enough to crack the top 50. LOSS

Vernon Davis, TE, Washington Redskins (GIANT FAT ZERO LOSER GOOSE EGG): One week after a solid five receptions and 62 yards on seven targets, Davis was thrown at just once in a win over Tampa. This has not been a good year for me where tight ends are concerned. LOSS

Buffalo Bills Defense/Special Teams (199 yards allowed, 10 points allowed, 2 INT, 3 sacks): Did I know that the Bills were going to open a six-pack of Butt-Kicking Lite on the Jets? No. But I’ll absolutely take it. WIN

WEEK 7: 6-4 (.600)

SEASON: 44-56 (.440)

My best week of the season, the first time I’ve gotten more right than wrong and the fourth time in five weeks I’ve hit on half my picks. At almost 45 percent for the year, if I didn’t know better, I’d think I might actually sort of know what I’m doing.

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The Kosovo quandary is a win for Russia

For nearly two decades, President Vladimir Putin has been on a mission to make Russia great again – to borrow a phrase from his American counterpart – and to right what he sees as the greatest “wrong” in the country’s recent history: the collapse of the USSR and the loss of its superpower status.

In this grand geopolitical quest, tiny Kosovo has also played a special role. Putin sees NATO’s military intervention in 1999 and the 2008 unilateral declaration of independence as a direct affront to Russian power in its traditional sphere of influence in the Balkans. This view is also broadly held in Serbia, which considers Kosovo to be historically Serbian territory.

In recent years, as the United States and the European Union increasingly appear to have failed to bring a lasting solution to the Serbia-Kosovo dispute, Russia has moved from being an outright supporter of Belgrade to trying to assume the role of a mediator.

It is in this context that Putin met Kosovo President Hashim Thaci during the Paris Peace Forum earlier this month and presumably spoke to him in German, a language both men are fluent in. 

In a tweet posted after the meeting, Thaci pointed out that Russia is supportive of a political deal between Kosovo and Serbia to resolve the long-standing sovereignty dispute.

The Russian president appears to have joined the Trump administration and top EU officials like the High Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, in backing a land-swap proposal Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic floated in early August.

The idea is to partition Kosovo – or “adjust borders”, as Thaci says – with Serbia taking areas in the north in exchange for recognising its independence and potentially giving up a few Albanian-majority municipalities.

The deal would clear the border dispute, the most serious hurdle along Serbia’s path to EU accession some time in the 2020s. By backing this proposed plan, Putin appears to have become an unlikely champion of the EU enlargement.

Yet, even with his support, the deal might not actually happen, as the two sides have failed to reach an agreement over the past few months. In early September,  Thaci and Vucic called off a meeting in Brussels in which they were supposed to discuss “border adjustments”.

Then in early November, talks broke up after the Kosovo government slapped a 10 percent tariff on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which hasn’t recognised Kosovan statehood under the influence of Republika Srpska, its Serb-majority entity. 

Pristina hiked up customs duties because of complaints that Belgrade is intensifying efforts to persuade countries across the world to withdraw their recognition of Kosovan independence.

The looming trade war is only the latest point of contention in the increasingly strained ties between Kosovo and Serbia. In late September, Vucic paid a controversial visit to a predominantly Serb region in northern Kosovo to which Pristina responded by sending its special forces there.

Then in mid-October, having relied on foreign forces for security for the past two decades, Kosovo decided to establish a national army, defying protests by its Serbian minority.

The Kosovan government also delayed implementing a key provision of the EU-brokered Brussels Agreement which is meant to pave the way for establishing an Association of Serbian Municipalities on its territory. This entity is supposed to represent the interests of the Serbian minority in the country.

Thaci has also faced growing criticism at home from Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and the opposition Vetvendosje, who have rejected the partition or even territorial swaps plans he had put forward. Feeling under political pressure, the Kosovan president has had to put on display his patriotic credentials and disengage with the Serbian government.

As Serbia and Kosovo outbid one another, the chances for them to produce a grand bargain are becoming slimmer by the day. So where does that turn of events leave the big players? 

The EU is certainly the biggest loser from the current stalemate. The normalisation talks, under way since 2013, are in a deadlock. Mogherini, eager to finish off her term as high representative in the coming year with a diplomatic breakthrough, is hardly happy with Vucic and Thaci’s intransigence.

The Serbia-Kosovo trade war is a blow to Brussels’ long-standing efforts to promote economic cooperation in former Yugoslavia. The EU clearly finds it difficult to make the two sides dial down tensions and implement commitments they have already made.

The allure of EU membership, which is supposed to be the union’s chief power asset, is clearly not as effective as it was in the past in pulling Belgrade and Pristina to the negotiating table. Kosovo is lagging far behind the rest of the region in the negotiation process and its citizens are still required to apply for visas in order to travel to the EU.

The US, on the other hand, is involved only halfway. Despite the endorsement of the putative partition deal and the lobbying by top European politicians like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Trump administration is not pushing hard enough.

Visiting the region in October, Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the Balkans file, underscored it was up to the two parties to work out a solution. But the assumption that Serbia and Kosovo are willing and able to provide a blueprint for normalisation has failed a major test in the past few months.

Amid this confusion and deadlock, Russia is, yet again, the winner because it does not really have skin in the game. Putin sees Kosovo a problem for the West and goes by the principle “you break it, you own it”.

As the EU and the US appear to have squandered an opportunity to resolve the Serbia-Kosovo dispute by capturing the early momentum, Russia is trying to assume the role of a constructive player open to dialogue with all parties.

It seems set on regaining ground lost in 2010 when following decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in favour of Kosovo’s independence, Serbia decided to move the issue from the remit of the UN Security Council (where Russia is a permanent member) to the EU.

Today, Russian diplomats are sniping at the EU for its failure to move the normalisation process forward; the hope is that the UNSC will once again become the appropriate venue to discuss Kosovo. And it seems that Thaci, who is insisting that Moscow is neither a friend nor a foe, seems open to engaging.  

Thus, without deploying troops in the Balkans or spending billions like the EU, Putin has become a mover and shaker on a key issue in European security.

The big question is whether the EU can regain the initiative. It is never too late for a bargain on Kosovo.  Serbia can recognise its neighbour’s sovereignty and obtain in return wide-ranging autonomy for Kosovo Serbs through the Association of Serbian Municipalities. 

That will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Kosovars which see the entity as a potential Trojan horse for both Serbia and Russia, not unlike Bosnia’s Republika Srpska. To make it work, the EU and the US should do the heavy lifting.

The first step in that direction should be to make sure Thaci and Vucic do not get carried away playing their patriotic games.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Barack Obama surprise guest at Michelle Obama’s book show

Former President Barack Obama practically brought the house down at Michelle Obama‘s book show in Washington.

The former first lady is currently touring the country promoting her memoir, “Becoming,” and participated in a conversation Saturday night moderated by her longtime friend and former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.

When the conversation shifted toward Mrs. Obama’s feelings about her husband, Jarrett announced a “special guest” and Barack Obama came on stage carrying a bouquet of pink roses for his wife.

The crowd at Capital One Arena leapt to its feet.

Jarrett asked him what about Michelle Obama captured his heart when they met at a Chicago law firm where she was his mentor.

Barack Obama said she was “one of a kind,” strong and honest, and someone he knew he could always count on.

He also said he knew that if she was the mother of his children their offspring would be “extraordinary.”

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Myer’s forced disclosure confirms profit disaster

Anyone who doesn’t sell their shares in Myer today must be a living brain donor. Late on Friday, the retailer all but confirmed it is now mere metres from the iceberg.

But only after it was forced to do so by the Australian Securities Exchange, which was so aghast at Your Store’s “nothing to see here” response to this column’s comprehensive exposure of its market-sensitive and undisclosed Q1 sales figures that the bourse suspended Myer shares 14 minutes before trading began. It took another two hours for Myer to request a halt (to extend the involuntary one it was in) and until 5:40pm for Garry Hounsell‘s board to post an actual response to the “please explain”. So, caught keeping the market uninformed of the true scale of its commercial apocalypse, Myer spent all day in an enforced trading halt coming up with the most inventive ways to present its financial performance as hunky dory. Ladies and gentlemen, this is known in the local parlance as total chaos and disarray.

Myer attempted to discredit our revelations as based on “unlawfully leaked, draft and incomplete information” before admitting to a quarterly sales decline a mere 70 basis points less catastrophic than ours (we said 5.5 per cent; they said 4.8 per cent). They claimed online sales growth of 3.6 per cent (we reported negative 5.2 per cent) by including in their calculation in-store purchases transacted at fixed iPad terminals. That’s right, if you physically go to Myer for your Reg Grundies but ring them up yourself on a self-service POS (like almost everyone has done for years at Coles and Woolies), then drive home again, Myer counts that as an online sale! What a joke. Next McDonald’s will count all McHappy Meals paid for in the drive-thru via EFTPOS as bona fide home deliveries!

So what do we now know? Well if the 4.8 per cent downward trend in sales continues through the current quarter to January 31, Myer will have $82.5 million less cash in the till at the first half than it did the year before. All else being equal and assuming the same gross margin, underlying profit after tax would be $21.7 million lower, or around $18.3 million compared to 1H18. That’s a fall of 55 per cent, when anything greater than 10 per cent is instantly discloseable to the market.

Of course, chief executive John King then repeated his (and his predecessors’) old trope: “We will not chase unprofitable sales just to hit our top line sales numbers.” But as we said on Friday, Myer’s largest operating costs (below gross profit) are fixed (rent and administration) and cutting its variable costs (marketing and labour) hurts its revenue. Its only hope is top line growth, and its delivering the opposite. Just imagine how many “one-off” and “implementation” costs King and Hounsell are going to stuff the March numbers with to get within cooee of $36 million in underlying profit.


The company’s dubious rebuttal was designed less to appease worried investors (many of who can’t or won’t sell because their parcels are now unmarketable) and more to alleviate the concerns of its lending syndicate. Our article never mentioned net debt, yet Hounsell (the former Arthur Andersen chief, who’s never been seen in the same room as Clive Palmer) proudly declared that he had “reduced net debt by $7 million compared to the previous corresponding quarter”. The banks will have to be asleep at the wheel to have their concerns alleviated by this non-evidence of so-called “solid cash flows.” Because firstly, there’s no way of knowing what the net debt balance was for the previous corresponding quarter (ending October 28, 2017). It wasn’t disclosed. Magic Garry has just told the market that net debt is now $7 million below a mystery number. We only know that net debt at July 29 last year was $113 million and that three weeks ago, it was $106 million.

And the $113 million net debt balance in July 2017 was after Myer returned $24.6 million as a final dividend in May 2017. The board paid an interim dividend in November of that year but suspended the dividend this year and did not return a cent to shareholders in May (again, because this is now all about lenders, not investors). In reality, therefore, there is a black hole of something like $16 million hiding in Hounsell’s indebtedness brag. He can stick that in his iPad and smoke it.

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