Patrick Mahomes Clears Concussion Protocol

Jan. 22, 2:00pm: Mahomes has cleared the concussion protocol, as the star QB announced to reporters this afternoon. Players who are in the protocol don’t meet with the media, so the fact that Mahomes had press availability suggested that he had been given the all-clear, and that is indeed the case. With that, the much-anticipated showdown between Mahomes’ Chiefs and Josh Allen‘s Bills will have its headliners.

Jan. 20, 3:28pm: The Chiefs listed Mahomes as limited in today’s practice, though Mike Garafolo of NFL.com notes this was more of an estimation on his status since the team partook in a light workout overall (Twitter link). But had Kansas City gone through a full practice, its all-world quarterback would have been limited. Reid said Mahomes has yet to be cleared for full contact work, per the Washington Post’s Mark Maske (on Twitter). This points to Thursday being a pivotal day for Mahomes, who is in the final stages of the concussion protocol.

Jan. 20, 10:31am: Patrick Mahomes will practice on Wednesday, but he’ll be taking it easy, as NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets. The Chiefs quarterback remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol but plans to slowly ramp things up over the course of the week.

Fortunately, Mahomes is symptom-free after taking an ill-fated hard hit against the Browns. Mahomes was left dazed in the third quarter, forcing him out of the game in favor of Chad Henne. Henne had never thrown a postseason pass before — he went on to record his first ever playoff victory.

At this point, Mahomes is on track to be cleared in time for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Still, there are hurdles to clear. Per the league’s protocol, the QB must go through five steps; his light Wednesday workout is part of step No. 4. After going through a full practice, Mahomes will need the green light from team doctors and an independent neurologist.

So listen, I just leave that with [team trainer] Rick [Burkholder] and the docs,” head coach Andy Reid said earlier this week. “Because of the protocol, it’s a no-brainer from the coach’s standpoint. You don’t have to think about it, you just have to make sure you go forward and have an answer if he’s there and an answer if he’s not there. I can’t tell you from a medical standpoint where he’s at. I mean, I don’t know that. That’s their decision and I just follow it.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bengals To Spend Big On O-Line?

The Bengals’ offensive line was a major question mark going into the 2020 season, and the fear was that poor blocking would jeopardize the health of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. And then that fear became reality, as Burrow suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Week 11 and the silver lining of another lost season in Cincinnati was quickly tarnished. So, a year after Cincinnati committed significant free agent dollars to the defensive side of the ball while relying on its existing offensive linemen to develop, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic says the team appears poised to reverse a long-standing trend and to spend big on the O-line.

Jonah Williams will remain the starting left tackle, but the other four spots are up for grabs. There is some hope that the return of O-line coach Frank Pollack will help left guard Michael Jordan, but after Jordan’s poor performance in 2020, it would not be at all surprising to see the Bengals to pursue an upgrade (though the team has been historically reluctant to make major investments at guard).

The ACL injury that center Trey Hopkins sustained in the team’s regular season finale could mean that former first-rounder Billy Price will get one more chance to prove himself as a starting center, but again, after seeing Burrow writhing on the ground in pain, Cincy could seek reinforcements on the open market.

If the team does make a major free agent splash, it would likely come at right tackle, where Taylor Moton may be available. The Panthers might put the franchise tag on Moton, but if that doesn’t happen, expect the Bengals to be an active bidder for his services. Dehner also suggests that, if the team finally opens up its wallet for a guard, Joe Thuney would appear to be a perfect fit.

Whether it’s through free agency, the draft, or some combination thereof, Cincinnati has to do something. The club does want to re-sign Quinton Spain, who helped provide some stability at guard after he signed with the Bengals in October, and right tackle Bobby Hart is expected to be released, which will open up $6MM in cap space and a spot for a quality free agent. B.J. Finney, who came over from Seattle in the Carlos Dunlap trade, is also unlikely to return.

There is plenty of young skill position talent in the Queen City. With a couple of additions to the O-line, the Bengals’ offense could well be a serious threat in 2021 and beyond.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Activate DT Vita Vea

Jan. 22: The Bucs have officially activated Vea, as Peter Schrager of the NFL Network tweets. Vea will bolster an already terrific D-line and, depending on how much he plays, could provide a major boost to Tampa’s Super Bowl aspirations. In a corresponding move, the team has waived Earl Watford.

Jan. 18: The Buccaneers could be adding significant reinforcements ahead of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Packers. Tampa has designated defensive tackle Vita Vea to return from injured reserve, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets.

Stroud adds that the big man in the middle “will begin practicing Wednesday and could be activated for Sunday’s NFC title game.” This is something of a surprising development, as Vea was previously believed to be done for the season after fracturing his ankle back in October. The Washington product had been having a career year before going down, and his injury correlated strongly with a general decline in the Bucs’ defense.

He had ten tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks in five games while regularly eating up double teams before getting hurt. The 12th overall pick of the 2018 draft was up and down as a rookie, but started all 16 games in 2019. He had made another big leap in 2020, so it was a shame to see his season get cut so short.

Stroud noted in a follow-up tweet that the team thinks there’s a “very good chance” he’ll be able to suit up against Green Bay, although a final call won’t be made until later in the week. If he’s able to play on Sunday, it’d be a huge boost for Tampa Bay as they look to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the league’s most efficient offense.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Offered Contract To Dwayne Haskins

Former Washington Football Team signal-caller Dwayne Haskins signed with the Steelers yesterday, but he did have another offer on the table. According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, Haskins could have signed with the Panthers, whom he visited earlier this month (Twitter link).

Most likely, both offers were one-year, minimum-salary proposals, so Haskins probably chose the Steelers over the Panthers based on learning opportunity and the incumbent starters for both clubs. Haskins’ game is more similar to Ben Roethlisberger‘s — at least when Big Ben was in his prime — than to Teddy Bridgewater‘s, and 2021 will likely be Roethlisberger’s final season. The Steelers’ backup signal-caller, Mason Rudolph, will also be a free agent after the 2021 campaign, so if Haskins impresses, he could put himself in the conversation for the team’s long-term answer at quarterback.

He may have had a similar opportunity in Carolina, because while Bridgewater is under club control through 2022, he did not play well in his first season with the Panthers and does not currently seem like a good bet to see the end of his deal. But the Panthers have the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft, which could theoretically be used on a top college passer, and the team has also been speculatively connected to Deshaun Watson, so Haskins might have been looking at longer odds in Charlotte.

Still, the 2019 first-rounder will need to demonstrate a great deal of improvement both on and off the field to make the Steelers consider extending their relationship beyond the 2021 campaign (if he even lasts the whole season with the team). But he will be teamed up with Matt Canada, Pep Hamilton, or Hue Jackson, who are all in the running for Pittsburgh’s OC gig and who all have considerable experience coaching young signal-callers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Martin Mayhew To Be Washington’s GM

Jan. 22: Mayhew will indeed be the GM, and Hurney’s official title will be Executive Vice President of Football/Player Personnel, as Rapoport tweets. Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network says that both men will report to head coach Ron Rivera, who is still heading football operations (Twitter link).

Jan. 21: Washington was connected to hires of both Marty Hurney and Martin Mayhew this week, with the former being expected to lead the team’s front office. This structure may not be Washington’s preferred hierarchy, however.

It could be Mayhew in line to become Washington’s GM. The former Lions GM is the candidate Washington will go with as general manager, according to ESPN.com’s John Keim (on Twitter). Mayhew, who was with the 49ers for four years, will receive a second chance in a GM post.

Washington will still hire Mayhew and Hurney, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, but the latter will be part of a Mayhew-led front office (Twitter link). The ex-Panthers GM will serve as a high-ranking Washington staffer. The Panthers fired Hurney in December, ending his second stint as their front office boss.

The Lions fired Mayhew in 2015, doing so despite the former Washington Super Bowl-winning cornerback helping Detroit to two playoff berths after the franchise sunk to the NFL’s basement during the 2000s. Mayhew spent a year with the Giants before joining John Lynch‘s 49ers staff. The 49ers promoted Mayhew to VP of player personnel in 2019 and stand to benefit from Mayhew’s Washington hire.

The NFL’s Rooney Rule changes last year will mean the team that loses a head coach or executive is entitled to third-round draft compensation. Because the Jets hired Robert Saleh, the 49ers’ third-round pick for Mayhew will come in 2023, according to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows (subscription required). The Saleh move will provide San Francisco with third-rounders this year and next. Overall, the haul stands to be three total Round 3 picks for the 49ers, Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News tweets. These selections will come at the end of the round.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers To Interview Pep Hamilton For OC

We heard last week that the Steelers were expected to promote Matt Canada to offensive coordinator to replace Randy Fichtner, but that is not a done deal just yet. As veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson was first to report (via Twitter), Pittsburgh requested an interview with Chargers quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton for its OC position, and Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted that the Steelers will meet with Hamilton today.

This jibes with a recent report from Dulac, whose sources indicated that Canada was a “candidate” for the OC gig but that nothing had been finalized. Obviously, the Steelers are still in search mode, which means that Hue Jackson is presumably still in the running as well.

Hamilton certainly has a more extensive NFL resume than Canada, who was in the college game for his entire career except 2020, when he joined the Steelers as their QB coach. Hamilton, meanwhile, served as the Colts’ OC from 2013-15, and he has also had stops with the Jets, 49ers, Bears, and Browns.

After two years working under Jim Harbaugh as the University of Michigan’s assistant head coach/passing game coordinator, and after an ill-fated gig as the head coach and GM of the XFL’s DC Defenders, the 46-year-old Hamilton rejoined the NFL ranks in 2020, when he hooked on with the Chargers. The success of rookie QB Justin Herbert has helped Hamilton boost his stock, as he is also a candidate for the Dolphins’ OC position.

If he joins the Steelers, Hamilton will be tasked with getting more out of a unit that finished 25th in the league in total offense in 2020 despite the presence of some highly-talented weapons. He will also try to develop the games of potential Ben Roethlisberger heirs Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

San Antonio Hopes To Land NFL Team

Texas is big enough for three NFL teams, according to the mayor of San Antonio. Mayor Ron Nirenberg is confident that SA will land an NFL team between now and 2030 (via KSAT).

If there’s not that corporate base, pro sports franchises look elsewhere. And one of the things that has hindered that corporate base for decades in San Antonio is the fact that we didn’t have enough workers to fill the positions that they would want to move here,” said Nirenberg. “That’s why we’re investing in our own people and access to education, access to skills training and workforce development. So when we want to take those jobs that are available, we have the people to do it. And that’s improving our economic trajectory. That’s also improving the prospects for pro sports here.”

San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the U.S., though it trails other large cities in per capita income. Currently, the Spurs stand as their only major league sports team, though the city does have minor league baseball, basketball, and soccer clubs.

The NFL may come to San Antonio someday, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, given the current economic climate. The NFL has not introduced an expansion team in nearly 20 years since the Texans launched in Houston.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Deny Tim Kelly Interview Requests

The Texans have denied interview requests from teams interested in offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tim Kelly (via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle). The Texans have yet to hire their next head coach, but they seem intent on keeping Kelly as a part of their staff.

Kelly, who will turn 35 this offseason, has spent the last two years as the Texans’ offensive coordinator. Bill O’Brien called the plays in Kelly’s first year with Houston. Last year, he ceded the headset to Kelly.

Deshaun Watson, who has lobbied for more control over the team’s hiring decisions, has been one of Kelly’s biggest advocates.

Tim over the past two years has really taken my game to a whole another level as far as just knowledge, reading defenses, understanding run points and run schemes, understanding the way of different concepts and different situations,” said Watson. “His knowledge of just the game of football is very, very bright and he really helped me take my game, especially this year, the best football I’ve played in my career.

With Kelly in command, Watson threw for a league-high 4,823 yards with 33 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. It sounds like Kelly will continue to serve as Watson’s guru in 2021.

Steelers’ Vance McDonald Retires From NFL

Vance McDonald announced his retirement on Friday morning. The longtime Steelers tight end says that he will focus on faith and family in the next chapter of his life.

My family and I are so grateful for everything NFL football has provided us in our life—all the memories both good and the difficult, the relationships and friends we’ve made along the way, the life lessons the game provided both me and my loved ones,” McDonald said in a statement. “It’s always been our dream and mission to leverage the platform given us through the NFL to help serve and uplift others along the way, and we will continue to find ways to serve others as we begin this next chapter of our lives. I am proud to retire a Steeler.”

McDonald first entered the league as a second round pick of the 49ers in 2013. In 2017, the Niners shipped him to the Steelers where he would turn in some of his best performances. McDonald’s signature season came in 2018, when he tallied 50 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns.

“I am appreciative of Vance’s contributions during the last four years of his career that he spent in Pittsburgh,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “He was a class act on and off the field, leading many of our efforts in the community while also being a voice for our social justice efforts and the community work during the pandemic.”

McDonald leaves with 181 catches, 2,036 receiving yards, and 15 touchdowns for his career. We here at PFR wish him the best in retirement.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dirk Koetter Retires From Coaching

Dirk Koetter has retired from football. After 39 years in coaching, the former Falcons offensive coordinator announced that he will move back to Idaho instead of pursuing a new job in 2021.

[RELATED: Falcons Hire Dave Ragone, Dean Pees]

After 39 seasons of coaching football, it’s time to move on to the next phase of my life,” Koetter wrote on Facebook (Twitter link via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.) “From 1982 at Highland High through the 2020 season with the Atlanta Falcons it’s been nothing but football year round with not nearly enough time for anything else, especially family,”

Koetter served as the Falcons’ OC from 2012-14, then took on the same job in Tampa Bay. When the Bucs fired Lovie Smith in 2016, Koetter was promoted to head coach. After going 9-7 in his first HC year, Koetter’s Bucs posted back-to-back 5-11 campaigns. He returned to Atlanta in 2019 to serve as Dan Quinn‘s offensive coordinator and stayed on after his fall firing. However, new head coach Arthur Smith has hired his own OC in Dave Ragone.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL News & NFL Rumors