AFC Notes: Jets, Chargers, Ekeler, Bengals, Waynes

Another week, more drama with the Jets. While tanking is often talked about in the NFL in terms of roster construction and letting young guys play, it’s very rare for a team to be accused of actively trying to lose games. But that’s exactly what’s happening in New York, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News writes. The latest dustup surrounds starting cornerback Bless Austin, and a neck injury that just landed him on injured reserve. Head coach Adam Gase had previously expressed optimism that Austin would play this past Sunday, then suddenly pivoted and said the team’s doctors told him Austin didn’t feel good.

Mehta writes that Jets employees “vehemently disagreed with the head coach’s characterization of the situation.” He reports that Austin told teammates the neck issue would only require a couple of days of rest, and that the medical staff shared that opinion. After that, “people at all levels of the organization have started to wonder whether Jets brass actually care about winning any of their remaining games.” Mehta says some within the building have concluded “the powers that be want to tank for Trevor Lawrence.” The Jets just cut starting cornerback Pierre Desir and placed fellow corner Brian Poole on injured reserve, making Austin’s absence all the more significant in their now extremely young secondary. It’s not unusual for a team to strip down its roster of veterans, but it would be unusual for a team to purposely sideline a healthy player in order to field a less competitive product. This will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on as the season winds down.

Here’s more from a couple of the AFC’s other divisions:

  • The Chargers are in the midst of yet another injury-plagued season, but reinforcements may be on the way. The team will designate star running back Austin Ekeler to return from injured reserve and he’ll practice this week, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweets. Pelissero adds that it’s not clear yet if he’ll be able to be active for this weekend’s game against the Bills, but either way it sounds like he’ll be back on the field very soon. He’s been one of the league’s most productive running backs the past two years, both as a runner and receiver. Ekeler hasn’t played since Week 4 due to a serious hamstring injury he suffered against the Buccaneers. He was averaging over five yards per carry with 17 receptions through only a little over three games.
  • While Ekeler will be back any week now, things are a lot less certain for Bengals cornerback Trae Waynes. Waynes signed a three-year, $42MM deal with Cincy this offseason, but hasn’t played in a game yet after tearing a pec in August. Waynes finally popped up on the rehab field at a Bengals practice this past week, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic writes, but a return this season is still in question. “Still unsure at this point, honestly,” Waynes said. “I’m trying to work as hard and as fast and as smart as I can to get back out there without risk of jeopardizing my body to another injury. Unfortunately, it’s not up to me to decide if I can get cleared. So, I’m just doing my part to make that happen as soon as possible.” Waynes expressed frustration with what looks like a lost year, adding that the COVID-19 restrictions have made it hard for him to get acclimated to his new team without being able to practice or play. “Very frustrating, boring,” the former first-round pick of the Vikings said. “I’m not used to it. It’s my first major injury through college and the NFL. I’m not used to just sitting out the whole season and doing absolutely nothing but rehabbing.”
  • In case you missed it, crucial Titans linebacker Jayon Brown is out for the season.
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