Month: January 2020

West Rumors: Clowney, 49ers, Chiefs

Jadeveon Clowney returned to practice Friday, and Pete Carroll expects his top defensive end to play against the Vikings. But it looks like the former No. 1 overall pick will have to battle some pain the rest of the way. The Seahawks defender practiced for the first time since suffering a core muscle injury, and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com notes (via Twitter) the sixth-year defender believes he can put off surgery until the offseason. But another surgery appears likely for Clowney, who missed all of the Texans’ 2018 offseason program because of a knee surgery. He also underwent microfracture surgery earlier in his career. While this core issue likely will not impact Clowney’s potential free agency much, his ability to play through this malady should be something to monitor for the rest of this season.

Here is the latest from around the NFL:

  • Joe Staley missed last week’s 49ers blowout because of a broken finger, but the veteran left tackle returned to practice Friday and worked through a limited practice Saturday. Staley has only played in three games this season, missing most of San Francisco’s resurgence with a broken leg. He’s questionable to face the Ravens.
  • Sunday’s marquee game will not include Dee Ford, who remains out with a quad and hamstring injuries. Boasting one of the deepest defensive lines in recent NFL history, the 49ers are uniquely covered on this front. Ford’s stretch run, though, could be pivotal to his future. The 49ers signed the ex-Chief to a frontloaded deal that does not contain any guaranteed money after this season.
  • The Chiefs have not enjoyed much backfield consistency this season, and that trend will continue Sunday. Starter Damien Williams will miss the Raiders rematch with a rib injury, leaving LeSean McCoy and second-year back Darrel Williams set to man the backfield in Kansas City.
  • Drew Lock is now on the Broncos’ active roster. The second-round rookie has been out for more than three months due to a thumb injury.
  • Although the Cardinals have yet to approach Patrick Peterson about another extension, the All-Pro cornerback would welcome such discussions.

Poll: Who Will Earn NFC’s No. 1 Seed?

The NFC’s contender class (non-NFC East contingent) has separated from the pack, giving the conference a clear top five going into December. With the NFC-leading 49ers set for a historically brutal late-season stretch, cases can be made for each of the top five moving to the home-field advantage bracket position.

While the Cowboys and Eagles are almost certainly vying for the conference’s No. 4 seed, the 49ers, Saints, Seahawks, Packers and Vikings comprise one of the more interesting pursuits of a conference’s No. 1 slot in recent memory. Week 17 in the NFC may not feature many starters resting.

Armed with the ninth-best defensive DVOA figure through 11 games in the Football Outsiders-developed metric’s 34-season history, the 49ers carry a 10-1 record into the regular season’s final month. They made a statement in the first leg of their difficult three-game stretch, a defensive line-keyed rout of the Packers, but still have games in Baltimore and New Orleans (both oddly staying in the early-Sunday time slot) on tap. The 49ers also conclude their season with a Seattle trip. They have not won in Seattle since 2011, when Tarvaris Jackson was at the controls for the Seahawks, and have not earned a playoff bye in seven years.

While the 49ers have the NFL’s second-toughest schedule remaining, the Seahawks’ remaining SOS is not much easier. Their final five games double as the seventh-most difficult stretch run. Seattle (9-2, No. 8 in DVOA) is 9-2 but won in San Francisco during a 6-0 road start. Following their home tilt against the Vikings, who lost in Seattle on a Monday night in December 2018, the Seahawks have a road Rams game scheduled before meetings with the Panthers and Cardinals.

New Orleans does not have it any easier, with the league’s fifth-toughest slate remaining. After the 49ers, however, the Saints (10-2, No. 6 in DVOA) face the Colts at home before outdoor games in Nashville and Charlotte. Since 1994, only the Seahawks (2013-14) and Eagles (2002-04) have earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed in back-to-back years. Illustrating the stakes for the Saints: they are 6-1 at home in the playoffs under Sean Payton, with the loss obviously coming in controversial fashion last season, and 1-5 on the road during the Payton-Drew Brees era.

The Vikings (8-3, No. 7 DVOA) sit 11th in the December SOS rankings but do have each of their divisional home games remaining, with a “road” game against the Chargers mixed in. Were they to stick the landing and reach the playoffs, it would mark an extraordinarily rare run. With no Viking quarterback helping the team to two postseason berths since Daunte Culpepper, Kirk Cousins guiding Minnesota to January football would make six different starting quarterbacks since Culpepper’s 2004 season to lead the Vikings to the playoffs.

With two of their worst offensive games of the decade occurring in November trips to Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Packers (8-3, No. 10 DVOA) have cooled off considerably. They do, however, have by far the easiest road to January among the NFC’s premier quintet. Only the Eagles and Browns face a worse run of opponents than the Packers, who draw the Giants, Redskins, Bears and Lions. The Packers have not earned a playoff bye in five years but appear a stealth threat to make such a push this season.

So which of the NFC’s powers will end up securing home-field advantage? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your thoughts on this race in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Robinson, Thielen, Browns

Allen Robinson sounds confident the he and the Bears will discuss an extension at some point. The sixth-year wide receiver has enjoyed his best season since 2015, averaging 70.8 yards per game and having become the Bears’ most reliable skill-position player. The 27-year-old wideout sounds willing to wait, however. He is signed through the 2020 season.

My focus is just to finish the season strong, and I am sure at some point in time whether it’s my agent starting it or them, it will be talked about,” Robinson said, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. “There is a good amount of time. So many different scenarios can play out. The time will come.”

Although no guaranteed money remains on Robinson’s three-year, $42MM deal, he is set to earn $10.9MM in base salary next season and is certainly not at risk of being released.

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • Adam Thielen‘s last game featuring double-digit snaps came in Week 6, but the Vikings‘ highest-paid skill-position player is trending in a better direction for Monday night’s game. Battling a hamstring injury, Thielen returned to practice Friday and got in two limited workouts this week. He does not expect to be a game-time decision, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter), so the Vikings (and certain fantasy owners) may have some advance notice. Thielen will see his 1,000-yard streak likely stop after two seasons, but the 29-year-old standout is certainly pivotal to Minnesota’s hopes at winning the NFC North.
  • This will not be the week David Njoku returns to the Browns’ skill-position arsenal. The Browns did not activate their top tight end by Saturday afternoon’s deadline, so he will miss another game. With Njoku having returned to practice on Nov. 20, the Browns do not have to activate him until Dec. 10. If Njoku is not activated by then, he will spend the rest of the season on IR. The third-year tight end underwent surgery for a broken wrist during his IR stay.
  • Cleveland will be without left tackle Greg Robinson as well. The oft-scrutinized former No. 2 overall pick did not practice this week and will remain in concussion protocol through Week 13. Kyle Murphy started for Robinson at left tackle when he was benched earlier this year. The Browns, however, gave the sixth-year blocker his job back soon after.
  • Yet another Andre Smith stint with the Bengals will come to an end. The winless team waived the veteran tackle on Saturday.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/30/19

Here are Saturday’s minor moves:

Baltimore Ravens

Chicago Bears

Miami Dolphins

New York Giants

Washington Redskins

Jaguars Activate LB Jake Ryan From NFI List

Out of game action for nearly two full seasons, Jake Ryan appears set to return to the field. The Jaguars activated the veteran linebacker from their NFI list Saturday, clearing the way for Ryan’s first game since the Packers’ 2017 regular-season finale.

The former Green Bay starter tore an ACL during the 2018 offseason and entered free agency on the heels of a lost season. Although the Jaguars expected Ryan to be ready for Week 1, an August setback shelved him for nearly three more months.

A fourth-round pick out of Michigan, Ryan started 27 games with the Packers. The ACL tear damaged his stock going into free agency, but the Jaguars — who hired ex-Packers DC Dom Capers this offseason — opted to take a chance on him via two-year, $8MM deal. Ryan’s injury likely prompted the Jags to guarantee him just $1MM and include a $5.5MM option bonus — due on the 22nd day of the 2020 league year — in the event he can display his old form.

On a Jaguars team that lost Telvin Smith in the offseason, Ryan will have a chance to convince the Jaguars to pick up that option. He combined for 160 tackles between the 2016-17 seasons, during which he served as a primary Green Bay starter at inside linebacker.

To make room on the 53-man roster, the Jags placed running back Tyler Ervin on IR.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Terrelle Pryor Charged With Simple Assault

Terrelle Pryor has improved from critical to stable condition, but more details have emerged on the incident that led to his hospitalization.

The free agent wide receiver was arrested and charged with simple assault, according to WPXI. A 24-year-old woman, Shalaya Briston, was charged with criminal attempt homicide and aggravated assault, according to the Pittsburgh TV station.

Pryor, 30, was stabbed in the shoulder and chest and underwent surgery Saturday morning. The incident took place at the Heinz Lofts apartment complex in Pittsburgh, and police were seen in the area. The former Ohio State star quarterback suffered artery damage and will be in the hospital until at least Sunday morning, Josina Anderson of ESPN.com tweets.

Pryor grew up in Jeannette, Pa., and starred in both football and basketball at Jeannette High School.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans To Place T Tytus Howard On IR

The Texans will be without their starting right tackle the rest of the way. They are placing first-round pick Tytus Howard on IR, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. A torn meniscus will end Howard’s season, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport notes (via Twitter) the rookie will soon undergo surgery.

Howard previously carried a doubtful designation into Sunday night’s game against the Patriots, but the Texans will remove him from their 53-man roster. The small-school lineman will end his season with eight games (all starts). He had previously missed time due to a partially torn MCL.

The only first-round pick in GM Brian Gaine‘s brief Texans tenure, Howard was moved to guard before becoming Houston’s starting right tackle for most of this season. He graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 52 overall tackle. While that is a middle-of-the-pack position, Howard marked an improvement from the embattled tackle situation the Texans featured last season.

Houston has used Roderick Johnson as a fill-in for Howard previously this season. The former Browns draft pick has played in 11 games, with two starts, and has been given 201 snaps. The Texans also have veteran Chris Clark, a journeyman who has filled in at multiple junctures for the team. Clark has started games at both left and right tackles with Houston.

The Texans promoted defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes from their practice squad to take Howard’s roster spot. A former third-round Raiders pick, Vanderdoes caught on with the Texans’ taxi squad late last month.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns To Scratch Damarious Randall Vs. Steelers

Prior to the now-infamous conclusion to this season’s first Browns-Steelers game, Damarious Randall was ejected for delivering a helmet-to-helmet hit. Although Randall was not suspended, he will join Myles Garrett in missing the Pittsburgh leg of this series.

The Browns will make Randall a healthy scratch, having departed for Pennsylvania without the starting safety, according to a team announcement. Freddie Kitchens‘ choice to leave Randall in Cleveland instead stems from an unknown incident that occurred this week, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

Randall was ejected after a hit on Diontae Johnson resulted in the Steelers rookie suffering a concussion. Randall played against the Dolphins last week, doing after saying he’d received death threats because of his hit on Johnson. The former Packers defender has started 22 games since being traded to the Browns in 2018. He’s made seven starts this season, missing four games due to injury.

Cleveland has already lost its other starting safety, Morgan Burnett, for the season. The team has consistently had to play backups in the secondary this season, due to injuries and now a surprise scratch.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions Sign Joe Callahan To Practice Squad

Joe Callahan has thrown just seven passes since entering the league as a 2016 UDFA, but the quarterback is now on a seventh team. The Lions’ Saturday quarterback moves included bringing Callahan onto their practice squad.

The Division III product has done well to stay on the NFL radar, having been on active rosters, practice squads and a mainstay on the workout circuit.

The Lions placed Jeff Driskel on IR and signed Kyle Sloter off the Cardinals’ practice squad. With Matthew Stafford dealing with back injuries, and seemingly an IR candidate himself, Detroit added some insurance in Callahan. Sloter and David Blough are Detroit’s only healthy passers on its active roster.

Since coming into the league as a Wesley College (Del.) product, Callahan has previously been with the Saints, Packers, Browns, Eagles, Buccaneers and Redskins. His game action came during a 2017 Packers contest, during which he completed 5 of 7 passes for 11 yards.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions To Sign Sloter, Place Driskel On IR

2:04pm: Instead of placing Stafford on IR, the Lions will slide Driskel to their injured list, per Yates (on Twitter). Driskel started three games for the Lions in place of Stafford this season but missed Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day game with a hamstring injury. Although Driskel got in three limited practices this week, he will nevertheless end up on IR. Sloter and Blough are now the only healthy quarterbacks on the Lions’ roster.

1:55pm: Kyle Sloter will head back to an NFC North franchise. The Lions will sign the former UDFA quarterback off the Cardinals’ practice squad, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.

This will give Detroit four quarterbacks on its active roster. While it could be a precursor to a Matthew Stafford IR trip, no such move has been made yet. Stafford, Sloter, Jeff Driskel and David Blough will reside on the Lions’ 53-man roster.

Shortly after teams finalized their rosters in early September, the Lions scheduled a Sloter workout. But he instead opted to join the Cardinals’ practice squad. Nearly three months later, Sloter will head to Detroit.

Sloter spent two seasons with the Vikings, who plucked him off waivers from the Broncos after his strong 2017 preseason as a rookie UDFA. The Northern Colorado alum, however, could not beat out Sean Mannion for Minnesota’s backup job this year. The Cardinals signed him to their practice squad shortly after the Vikings cut him.

Stafford has missed the past four Lions games, giving way to first Driskel and then Blough. Stafford has objected to being shut down early, but with the Lions now well out of contention at 3-8-1, it would not make much sense to redeploy their franchise centerpiece this season. The 31-year-old passer is dealing with fractured bones in his back.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.