NFC South Notes: Winston, Panthers, Saints

Jameis Winston is on track to return for the Buccaneers this weekend after missing time with a shoulder injury. But the third-year quarterback potentially has another battle to fight off the field. An Uber driver accused Winston of sexual assault, and although he’s denied the allegation, the NFL’s launched an investigation that is expected to carry over into the offseason. Thursday, Winston was asked if he’s worried a suspension would come his way. The Bucs quarterback (via the Tampa Bay Times’ Greg Auman, on Twitter) said he has “no fear at all.” ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this month many around the league expect the Winston proceedings to become a contentious process.

Here’s the latest from the NFC South.

  • Ron Rivera is comfortable playing Greg Olsen on Sunday even if he doesn’t practice this week, Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer tweets, adding the Panthers‘ Pro Bowl tight end’s rest thus far during the practice week is “precautionary.” Olsen aggravated the foot injury that sidelined him for most of this season on Sunday and returned this to see the Charlotte-stationed foot specialist who performed his surgery, Person reports (on Twitter). Olsen did not re-fracture his foot, per Person, but has a pain-tolerance decision to make before playing. He’s uncertain to face the Saints, who have their own issues at tight end.
  • Coby Fleener will not play in Sunday’s pivotal matchup with the Panthers. The Saints tight end is in concussion protocol and is week-to-week, but he’s not going to be ready for Week 13, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The NFL insider notes this unfortunate setback could linger for Fleener. While not a high-end threat in the Saints’ passing game, Fleener has suited up in all 11 Saints contests this season. Backup Josh Hill has just nine receptions this year.
  • Willie Snead has joined Fleener as a bit player in New Orleans’ passing game, being well off his paces set the past two seasons. The third-year wideout admitted he is frustrated about his current role, one that has him at just three receptions for 32 yards, Amos Morale III of NOLA.com notes. Snead served a three-game suspension and missed multiple games due to injury, but for an exclusive-rights free agent that came into training camp wanting an amended contract, Snead is having a disastrous season for that prospect. He caught 69 and 72 passes the past two years, respectively, and approached 1,000 yards in each. Snead will be a restricted free agent in 2018.
  • It will take a contract similar to the one the Panthers authorized for Trai Turner to keep the Turner-Andrew Norwell guard tandem intact long-term, Joel Corry of CBS Sports writes. The recent rise in guard money figures to benefit Norwell, a UFA-to-be and possibly set to be the top guard available on next year’s market. The franchise tag won’t be an option for Carolina, considering the system groups all offensive linemen together, and Corry writes Norwell could exceed Kevin Zeitler‘s guard-record five-year, $60MM pact.
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