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NFC South Notes: Panthers, Saints, Matthews

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer provided rare transparency about his team’s first-round decision ahead of last year’s draft, indicating the team was likely down to quarterback or left tackle at No. 6 overall. The pick became Ikem Ekwonu, and the non-Kenny Pickett QB contingent tumbled into the third round. Carolina scooped up one of those arms, Matt Corral, but he missed the season due to injury. With Sam Darnold ticketed for free agency, the Panthers face another offseason of QB questions.

Both Fitterer and assistant GM Dan Morgan spent much of the fall scouting the top four quarterbacks in the 2023 class in person, according Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). Some of these passers will be gone by the time the Panthers pick at No. 9. Mel Kiper Jr.’s first 2023 mock draft has Carolina, however, taking the fourth quarterback in this year’s class — Florida’s Anthony Richardson — in Round 1. The scouting missions to see Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Will Levis and the team’s long-running need at the position will connect it to a potential trade-up maneuver. The Bears, who traded up for Justin Fields after the Panthers passed on Stroud’s Ohio State predecessor two years ago, are open for business at No. 1. It remains to be seen which non-QB-needy teams from Nos. 2-8 will join them.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • The Saints are retaining offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael for what will be his 14th season in the role, but Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com notes they moved on from their second-longest-tenured offensive staffer. The Saints parted ways with Dan Roushar after 10 seasons. Roushar, 62, had held a number of key roles on New Orleans’ staff since 2013 — offensive line coach and running backs coach among them — but was working as the team’s run-game coordinator and tight ends coach over the past two seasons. The Saints ranked 18th and 19th on the ground, respectively, over the past two years. A former college OC, Roushar has only coached for the Saints at the NFL level.
  • As more details surface on Michael Thomasrecent restructure, the likelier it appears the Saints will release him. The former All-Pro’s reworked deal includes a $31MM roster bonus due on Day 3 of the 2023 league year, and Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.football adds Thomas would collect a whopping $30MM if he is active for four games next season (Twitter link). So, if Thomas is on the Saints’ roster absent another restructure, he would collect a cool $61MM. That reality seems … unlikely to commence. If Thomas is designated as a post-June 1 cut, the Saints would only be tagged with $11MM-plus in dead money this year.
  • In more Saints restructure news, the team pushed back the void-year vesting dates for David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport. Both D-linemen’s contracts are now set to void March 14, as opposed to February 17, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. That gives the team more time to negotiate extensions with each free agent-to-be, and GM Mickey Loomis said recently (via Underhill) the team is interested in re-signing both. Due to restructuring Davenport’s fifth-year option, the Saints would be tagged with $7.6MM in dead money absent an extension before March 14 — the final day of the 2022 league year. A $10.2MM bill would come if Onyemata is not extended by that date.
  • The Falcons created $4.2MM in 2023 cap space by doing another Jake Matthews restructure. The team accelerated $7MM of the left tackle’s 2023 roster bonus onto its 2022 payroll, Yates tweets. After eating considerable dead money over the past two years — much of it from the Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Deion Jones trades — the Falcons are set to hold the second-most cap space in the NFL — more than $56MM.

Rams Expected To Pick Up Matthew Stafford’s Options

Matthew Stafford already made it clear that he’d be returning for the 2023 season, and the Rams are prepared to make it official. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the Rams are expected to pick up Stafford’s 2023 option bonus and 2024 salary by the third day of the league year.

[RELATED: Latest On Rams QB Matthew Stafford’s Future]

The two-year commitment will cost the organization more than $50MM. Stafford’s $1.5MM 2023 base salary and prorated $12MM signing bonus were already fully guaranteed at signing. With this latest move, the Rams are locking themselves into a 2023 option bonus worth $26MM and a 2024 guaranteed salary of $31MM.

This always seemed like the expected route, but considering the uncertainty in Los Angeles surrounding Sean McVay‘s future, it was fair to wonder if the Rams could look towards a complete rebuild. In such a scenario, the Rams could have designated Stafford as a post-June 1 cap casualty, a move that still would have let them with $13.5MM dead cap in 2023 and a whopping $36MM in 2024.

Stafford was sidelined for much of the summer with an elbow issue. After struggling during the regular season and dealing with a pair of concussions, he ultimately landed on injured reserve in early December with a spinal cord contusion. The 34-year-old was limited to only nine games, with his 10 touchdowns being his lowest mark since a three-game appearance with Detroit in 2010.

Despite the growing list of ailments, Stafford rejected the retirement rumors last month. He doubled down during his end-of-season press conference, telling reporters that he never considered hanging up his cleats and is feeling “really comfortable and confident in moving forward” (per ESPN’s Sarah Barshop).

Latest On Rams QB Matthew Stafford’s Future

Matthew Stafford‘s Super Bowl defense didn’t get off to the best start when the QB was sidelined for much of the summer with an elbow issue. The veteran struggled for much of the regular season before ultimately landing on injured reserve in early December. With Stafford set to turn 35 years old in February while collecting a growing list of ailments, there have been some pundits questioning whether he could hang up his cleats following the 2022 campaign.

During an appearance on his wife’s podcast earlier this week, Stafford rejected the notion that he’d retire following the season. When asked by Kelly Stafford if he was planning on calling it a career, the QB quickly responded “oh no,” per Larry Holder of The Athletic.

Both Stafford and the Rams have generally downplayed his injuries. The quarterback’s elbow injury wasn’t expected to impact his throwing ability, and while his numbers were generally down across the board, the organization generally attributed the struggles to Stafford’s inability to develop a rapport with his offense prior to the regular season.

Stafford’s latest injury, a spinal cord contusion, isn’t expected to be a long-term issue and should still allow the veteran to enjoy a “healthy offseason.” Stafford also missed a pair of games this season while in concussion protocol. The former first-overall pick has generally been healthy throughout his career; after missing 19 games through his first two seasons in the NFL, Stafford only missed eight games over the following 11 years, with all of those games missed coming during the 2019 campaign.

Stafford also has plenty of financial incentive to stick around the NFL. The QB inked a four-year, $160MM deal with the Rams back in March, with the organization giving their Super Bowl-winning signal-caller $135MM in guaranteed money.

Latest On Rams QB Matthew Stafford

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is missing his second game of the season today in concussion protocol. With the Rams at 3-7 coming into today with seven games left in the season, there are some questions on how to handle the 34-year-old’s health for the rest of the year.

Stafford’s first missed game due to a concussion a couple weeks ago was the result of Stafford self-reporting symptoms following the team’s Week 9 loss to the Buccaneers. He was placed in concussion protocols and sat out the division contest against the Cardinals the next week.

This time, Stafford was experiencing what are called crossover symptoms that could seem like a concussion but may not be. In the team’s recent loss to the Saints last weekend, Stafford was pulled from the game when he experienced a stinger to his neck. He began to feel numbness in his legs, which can be a sign of head or neck injury, and since the Rams were not able to rule out a concussion during the game, Stafford was held out and placed in concussion protocol.

Looking at the Rams’ plans for the remainder of the season, we begin to get conflicting reports. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network claims that multiple sources have said “there are no current plans to shut down Stafford for the remainder of the season.” In another report, the Rams reportedly “are uncertain when or if (Stafford) will return this season,” according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Rapoport claims that, despite the team’s record, Los Angeles hopes to return Stafford to the field when he’s cleared in order to perhaps make a push for a wild card spot down the final stretch of the season. Schefter doesn’t rule out that possibility but emphasizes that, similar to the injury to wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the Rams “feel there is no need to rush back an injured player,” after losing four straight games and six of their last seven.

In the meantime, while they determine how to proceed, they are getting a look at their backup options. After John Wolford started during Stafford’s first absence, Bryce Perkins, who went undrafted out of Virginia in 2020, is currently playing in his first career start against the Chiefs today.

Panthers To Sign WR Rashard Higgins

The Panthers are not certain who their 2022 starting quarterback will be, but that passer will have a nice array of wide receivers to target. Rashard Higgins is joining Carolina’s group, Jake Trotter of ESPN.com tweets. It’s a one-year deal.

A six-year Browns contributor, Higgins will call a place outside Ohio home for the first time since college. No, Higgins has no Temple or Baylor ties, having played at Colorado State. But Matt Rhule nevertheless is adding a veteran wideout to a receiving corps that includes D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall.

Higgins, 27, has two 500-plus-yard receiving seasons on his resume. Last season, he finished with 275 yards as part of a Browns passing game that struggled for most of the year. Carolina’s aerial attack did as well, but the team is highly equipped at receiver for 2022.

The team remains in pursuit of Deshaun Watson, but the Texans passer has at least four suitors as he determines a second NFL employer.

Cowboys Cut CB Rashard Robinson

The Cowboys have cut cornerback Rashard Robinson, per a club announcement. The move doesn’t come as a huge surprise, since he was already unavailable until Week 3.

Robinson has his latest suspension in April, a two-game ban for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Before that, Robinson received four- and 10-game suspensions in 2018 and ’19, respectively. Both of those bans were for substance abuse — this was the five-year vet’s first PED ban.

The Cowboys signed Robinson to the taxi squad in September of last year, giving the former fourth-round pick a chance to show his stuff. Once a 13-game starter in San Francisco, he hasn’t seen much playing time since. The Cowboys used the soon-to-be 26-year-old cover man in just four games last season, though he did start three of those, shuttling him on and off their active roster.

All in all, Robinson has two interceptions, 15 passes defensed, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries to his credit across 42 career games.

Jets Waive Rashard Robinson

On Friday, the Jets waived cornerback Rashard Robinson. Pink slips were also handed to wide receiver Stacy Coley and defensive lineman Charles Tapper

[RELATED: Jets Sign 16 Undrafted Free Agents]

The Jets acquired Robinson prior to the trade deadline in 2017 and gave up a 2018 fifth-round choice in the deal. Robinson went on to appear in 16 games for the Jets between ’17 and ’19, but tallied just nine tackles in total.

The Jets still need veteran help at the cornerback position, but they were unwilling to keep Robinson around at a paltry $2MM cap hit. By cutting him, the Jets will take that entire obligation off of the books.

Browns To Tender Rashard Higgins

The Browns will tender restricted free agent Rashard Higgins, according to GM John Dorsey (via Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer). However, Dorsey did not indicate whether the Browns will employ the first- or second-round tender to cuff the wide receiver. 

[RELATED: Teams Interested In Browns’ Duke Johnson]

The first- or second-round tender will determine what pick a team would have to give the Browns if they were sign him. The first-round tender in 2019 is worth $4.407MM and the second-round tender is worth $3.095MM. It stands to reason that the second-round tender would be enough to scare away interested teams, even though this year’s wide receiver group in both free agency and the draft is underwhelming.

Higgins caught 39 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. More importantly, he developed a nice rapport with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield in the second half of the season. With Jarvis Landry entrenched in the slot, Higgins should have an opportunity to start outside next year.

Browns Unlikely To Re-Sign Rashard Higgins

The Browns are expected to part ways with wide receiver Rashard Higgins, according to sources who spoke with Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Nothing’s official yet, but that’s the likely outcome as the Browns look ahead to free agency later this month. Cabot also hears that defensive tackle Malik McDowell is trending towards a non-tender.

[RELATED: Browns Won’t Extend Mayfield This Offseason]

The 2016 fifth-round pick has spent his entire career in Cleveland, appearing in 82 regular season games in parts of six seasons. The wideout had one of his best seasons in 2020, hauling in 37 receptions for 599 yards and four touchdowns. In 2021, he finished with just 24 grabs for 275 yards and one touchdown in 15 games. All in all, the 27-year-old has collected 137 career receptions for 1,890 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Higgins re-upped with the Browns last year on a one-year, $2.37MM deal. He likely could have fetched a similar contract in 2021 but, this time around, he’d be looking at a much softer market.

Just a year ago, the Browns figured their receiving corps was set for years to come with Higgins backing top targets Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Now, OBJ is in Los Angeles following a messy divorce and Landry profiles as a potential release candidate. The five-time Pro Bowler has one year left on his deal with a 2022 cap hit of $16.4MM — cutting him would clear the bulk of it with just $1.5MM in dead money remaining. A restructuring is also possible, though they’d have to furnish Landry with more in the way of guarantees.

In other Browns news, the team is reportedly willing to keep tight end David Njoku off the market with a ~$10MM/year deal.

NFL Suspends Cowboys’ Rashard Robinson

Rashard Robinson has incurred another suspension. The NFL handed the Cowboys cornerback a two-game ban for violating its performance-enhancing drug policy, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

This is familiar territory for the veteran defender. Robinson received four- and 10-game suspensions in 2018 and ’19, respectively. Both bans were for substance abuse. This marks the five-year vet’s first PED ban.

The Cowboys signed Robinson in September, adding him to their practice squad. The former fourth-round pick has also played for the 49ers and Jets. San Francisco traded Robinson to New York at the 2017 deadline.

While Robinson was a 13-game starter with the 49ers, he has not received extensive playing time since. The Cowboys used the 25-year-old cover man in four games last season, though he did start three of those, shuttling him on and off their active roster. Robinson is signed through the 2021 season.

Rams Rule Out Matthew Stafford For Week 12

After being placed in the concussion protocol once again, it comes as little surprise that the Rams will be without their starting quarterback for the second time in three weeks. The team has ruled out Matthew Stafford for their Week 12 matchup against the Chiefs, though the reason being cited could be cause for additional concern.

Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic tweets that, in addition to being in concussion protocol, Stafford has undergone neck and spine testing. The Rams believe that he is currently dealing with a neck strain, ESPN’s Adam Schefter adds (Twitter link). That would add further to Stafford’s injury problems which have been ever-present this campaign.

The 34-year-old faced concerns over his throwing elbow in the lead-in to the season, his second with the Rams. The ailment has been understood as something to simply be dealt with throughout the campaign, rather than one requiring surgery and an extended absence. Then, in Week 10, Stafford was sidelined by a concussion.

Coming off a massive extension signed this offseason, the former Lion has struggled considerably this year relative to his Super-Bowl winning campaign of 2021. The same is true as a whole for the Rams’ offense, which ranks 29th in the league in both yards and points per game. Injuries suffered along the offensive line, and by wideout Cooper Kupp, leave the unit with a much more bleak outlook for the remainder of the season than their performance last season and summer expectations would have suggested.

In the immediate future, attention will turn not to John Wolford – who filled in for Stafford in Week 10 – but rather rookie Bryce Perkins. With the former also banged up, the latter is expected to receive first-team reps in practice this week (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport). Perkins, a UDFA out of Virginia, saw the field for five snaps during the Rams’ loss to the Cardinals 10 days ago, but he will now be in line for his first career start.

The undermanned Rams will face a tough challenge in attempting to snap their four-game losing streak when they visit Kansas City on Sunday. The intermediate- and long-term health of their starting quarterback will remain a more important situation to monitor regardless of the outcome of the game, however.

Rams QB Matthew Stafford Back In Concussion Protocol

Matthew Stafford is back in concussion protocol. Days after exiting the multi-step process, the Rams have once again placed their QB in concussion protocol, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com (on Twitter). Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic tweeted yesterday that Stafford would undergo further testing in Los Angeles to determine the next step.

Stafford exited yesterday’s loss to the Saints during the third quarter and didn’t return. The veteran QB previously entered concussion protocol following Los Angeles’ Week 9 loss to the Buccaneers. At the time, coach Sean McVay said he wasn’t aware of Stafford’s concussion symptoms during that game, but doctors later determined that it was “appropriate” for the QB to enter protocol, per ESPN’s Sarah Barshop.

The veteran QB had just exited concussion protocol on Friday after missing Week 10, and it seems like the organization may be proceeding with the utmost caution. Considering today’s development, it sounds like Stafford is at risk of missing another game.

“Yesterday, when we went into the tent, (we) got his symptoms, he checked out feeling pretty good, but we wanted to be over-precautious,” McVay said earlier today (via the team’s website). “But where he’s at right now, as it relates to his status, still in evaluation to see if we are going to put him in the protocol.”

Following last season’s Super Bowl championship, Stafford has struggled in 2022, perhaps due to lingering elbow issues. The Rams are 3-6 in Stafford’s nine starts, with the QB completing 68 percent of his passes for 2,087 yards, 10 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Bryce Perkins filled in for Stafford on Sunday, completing five of his 10 pass attempts for 64 yards while adding another 39 yards on the ground. John Wolford, who is currently dealing with a neck injury, started in place of Stafford during LA’s Week 10 loss to the Cardinals.

Browns, Rashard Higgins Talk Extension

The Browns and Rashard Higgins have begun preliminary talks on a contract extension, Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter) hears. The wide receiver is currently on track for free agency after his one-year, $910K deal expires. 

Higgins, a fifth-year pro, enjoyed a solid 2018 with 39 grabs for 572 yards and four scores. Unfortunately, a knee injury kept him from building on that in 2019, but he still drew a fair amount of interest as a free agent. Despite having more lucrative offers on the table, Higgins opted to re-up with the Browns, favoring his chemistry with Baker Mayfield over short-term dollars.

So far, that decision has paid off. Higgins has 25 grabs for 400 yards and three TDs through ten games, and he could be on the verge of a pay bump in Cleveland. And, after a 6/95/1 showing to help beat the Titans, there couldn’t be a better time for him to negotiate. If the season ended today, Higgins’ 16.0 yards per grab would represent a career best, and the season is far from over. The 9-3 Browns — with the Ravens on the horizon — are on track to break the league’s longest-standing playoff drought.

Rashard Mendenhall Retires

Free agent running back Rashard Mendenhall is retiring, reports ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Mendenhall, 26, spent his first five seasons with the Steelers, then started 13 games last year for the Cardinals, rushing for 687 yards and eight touchdowns.

A first-round draft pick from Illinois in 2008, Mendenhall totaled 4,236 yards and 39 touchdowns in his six-year career. He surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

Mendenhall hinted at retirement in a February 25 column for Huffington Post: “And as I write this, today is the day that the journey is over and I am fully at peace. Eagerly looking to a new way, which lies ahead.”

PFR’s Luke Adams ranked Mendenhall in the second tier of free agent running backs.

Matthew Stafford Cleared For Week 11 Return

The Rams were on the losing end of an all-backup quarterback battle last week, but they are set to have their starter available under center on Sunday. Matthew Stafford has been removed from the team’s injury report and is in line to play against the Saints.

Stafford had missed Los Angeles’ loss to the Cardinals in Week 10 due to a concussion. He made steady progress in recent days, though, lining him up to be cleared in time for Sunday’s game. The Rams turned to backup John Wolford in Stafford’s absence, with the exception of a handful of snaps given to rookie Bryce Perkins.

Stafford being back at the helm will be a welcomed sight, despite that fact that his second season with the Rams has not gone as smoothly as his first. The 34-year-old has an 8:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio (after throwing five in the first two games, and one in three consecutive contests between Weeks 4 and 6) while averaging 46 fewer passing yards per game than 2021.

Overall, the Rams rank 17th in the league in that regard, as they have struggled mightily on offense. The run game has fared even worse, of course, but a healthy Stafford could especially be needed moving forward given the fact the the team’s most consistent contributor is now out of the picture.

Cooper Kupp‘s high ankle sprain required surgery and has landed him on IR, leaving him sidelined for at least four games. With the Rams sitting at 3-6, that has led to questions about whether the the reigning Offensive Player of the Year will see the field again in 2022. An offensive resurgence will be needed to bring the team back into playoff contention.

Stafford – who like Kupp and Aaron Donald signed a big-ticket extension this offseason – entered the campaign with concerns over his throwing elbow, though the more significant concern has become the offensive line in front of him. On that note, ESPN’s Sarah Barshop reports that neither guard David Andrews nor center Brian Allen will be available against the Saints (Twitter links). That will induce even more alterations to the injury-ravaged unit, while the Rams look to end their three-game skid with the No. 1 QB back in the fold.

Sean McVay On Matthew Stafford’s Preseason Injury, 2023 Outlook

The Rams have little to play for in the remaining weeks of the 2022 season, one in which the team has fallen well short of expectations. They will all-but assuredly not have their starting quarterback available again this year due to his most recent injury, but one dating back to the summer was named as part of the reason for the defending champions’ struggles.

When speaking to the media, head coach Seam McVay was asked about Stafford’s preseason elbow injury. That ailment left him sidelined for much of the summer, and limited his ability to work with the rest of the team during training camp; both he and the team, however, repeatedly played down the significance of the injury with respect to his ability to perform during the regular season. McVay struck a markedly different tone when reflecting on the issue, though.

“I definitely think it had an impact because you talk about rapport, establishing a rapport, a rhythm, a comfort not only with, everybody wants to talk about he and [wide receiver] Cooper [Kupp], but even just some of the newer pieces,” McVay said, via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk“I think it definitely had an impact without a doubt.”

Stafford played through the lingering effects of the elbow injury throughout the year, as the Rams’ offense was decimated by injuries up front and struggled to establish any consistency amongst its playmakers aside from Kupp. He missed Weeks 10 and 12 while in the league’s concussion protocol, and has ultimately been placed on IR. That leaves him eligible to return no sooner than Week 17, making it quite possible the former Lion joins Kupp and Aaron Donald in being shut down until 2023.

On that point, McVay further pointed to Stafford’s campaign being over. He said the expectation is that his latest injury – a spinal cord contusion – will not be long-term, and should allow for a “healthy offseason” (Twitter link via Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic). With Stafford sidelined, Los Angeles will likely rely on John Wolford as their starter, barring the acquisition of a veteran like the recently-waived Baker Mayfield.

Given the substantial investment the Rams made in Stafford this past offseason, approaching the coming months with caution would come as little surprise. A return to health would bode well for the team in 2023, and allow them to avoid a repeat of this summer’s issues which played out over the course of a lost season.

Browns’ Rashard Higgins Wants Extension

Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins could receive some significant interest on the open market this offseason, but the young wideout is making it clear he wants to stay in Cleveland. “I want to be in Cleveland, no other team. Tell (John) Dorsey, Tell Lonzo (Alonso Highsmith) to get it done”, Higgins said this week at the Super Bowl, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.

Dorsey, the Browns’ GM, said last week that the team had talked to Higgins’ representatives about a new contract, and it sounds like the interest is definitely mutual. Higgins is only scheduled to be a restricted free agent anyway so the Browns could match any offer he receives from another team, but it doesn’t seem like it’ll get to that point.

Higgins’ agent Michael Swensen told Kay Cabot “we’re getting there”, meaning a deal could be close. The Browns drafted Higgins in the fifth round out of Colorado State back in 2016. They cut him before the 2017 season, but quickly re-signed him. He didn’t do much as a rookie, but showed signs of progress last season before breaking out in 2018.

This past year he caught 39 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns in only 13 games, and showed a nice rapport with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. With Jarvis Landry entrenched in the slot, Higgins should have an opportunity to start outside next year. Higgins sounded excited to help turn around the Browns, raving about Mayfield, new coach Freddie Kitchens, and the organization in his comments to Kay Cabot. At this point it would be surprising if he’s not locked up by the time free agency rolls around in March.

Matthew Stafford Expected To Miss Week 10

NOVEMBER 12: ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reports that Stafford will indeed miss out on tomorrow’s game, barring a “drastic change” (Twitter link). That will leave Wolford in line for his third career start.

NOVEMBER 9: The Rams have lost four of their past five games and have seen their offense crater from its 2021 form. The defending Super Bowl champions now face the prospect of their starting quarterback being unavailable.

Sean McVay said Wednesday that Matthew Stafford is in the team’s concussion protocol. The 34-year-old quarterback entered the protocol Tuesday, Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic tweets. It is believed Stafford sustained the concussion against the Buccaneers on Sunday, but the Rams noticed symptoms during standard checks with the 14th-year veteran Tuesday (Twitter link).

With the protocol having been enhanced this season, a scenario in which the Rams play without him in Week 10 is certainly on the table. Stafford has not missed a game since joining the Rams and has only missed games in one of the past 12 seasons (2019). The Rams (3-5) host the Cardinals (3-6) on Sunday.

Rams backup John Wolford has been with the team since 2019, when the Rams signed him after a stay in the Alliance of American Football. Wolford started in place of Jared Goff late during the 2020 season, replacing the longtime starter for Los Angeles’ regular-season finale and in the team’s wild-card playoff game against the Seahawks. A Goff hand injury led to Wolford starting in Seattle, but Wolford suffered a subsequent injury that summoned Goff back into action. Between the regular season and playoffs, Wolford has thrown 48 career passes.

The league’s revised protocol, put in place earlier this season following Tua Tagovailoa‘s controversial re-entry into the Dolphins’ Week 3 game after he showed concussion symptoms, added ataxia — defined as an “abnormality of balance/stability, motor coordination or dysfunctional speech caused by a neurological issue” — to the list of mandatory no-go symptoms. The changes to the protocol have led to more players, including Dolphins backup QB Teddy Bridgewater, being ruled out of games due to head injuries.

Following his removal from a game due to ataxia, Bridgewater cleared the protocol six days after his removal from a Dolphins-Jets game. The Dolphins still started third-stringer Skylar Thompson in their matchup with the Vikings, but Bridgewater replaced the rookie after an early-game injury. The steps back to action for players remain more complicated compared to the protocol’s previous seasons, providing another hiccup for a Rams team that has traversed a bumpy title-defense season.

Stafford dealt with an elbow issue throughout the offseason and has been sacked 28 times. He was only dropped 30 times during the entire 2021 season. Only Justin Fields (33) and Joe Burrow (30) have been sacked more than Stafford, who took four against the Buccaneers. Offensive line issues have led to Stafford’s sack spike. The Rams have dealt with injuries everywhere but right tackle up front and have seen second-string blockers go down as well. This has hindered McVay’s offense, which ranks 31st in scoring entering Week 10. None of McVay’s first five Rams offenses have ranked worse than 11th.

Falcons, Jake Matthews Agree To Extension

The Falcons and Jake Matthews have agreed to terms on a three-year extension (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). The new pact furnishes the left tackle with $52.5MM over the first three years with an average of $18.5MM per annum. 

[RELATED: Falcons Restructure Ryan’s Contract]

The deal makes sense for both sides. Matthews picks up additional dollars and security while the Falcons gain some much-needed cap space. It’s a big step up for Matthews, who previously played on a five-year, $75MM contract. At the time, that deal made Matthews one of the three highest paid left tackles in the league. Now that the market has advanced, Matthews had to be taken to the next tier.

Matthews has a perfect attendance record across eight NFL seasons, save for one missed game as a rookie. Last year, the Texas A&M product finished with a 71.4 overall grade, per the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus. However, in years past, he’s placed as one of the top-ranked LTs in the league.

The Falcons also gained some breathing room last week by restructuring Matt Ryan‘s contract. With help from their longtime quarterback, Atlanta gained an extra $12MM in cap space for 2022.

NFL Suspends Jets’ Rashard Robinson

Jets cornerback Rashard Robinson has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He’ll be eligible to return to the active roster on October 1 after the team’s Week 4 contest against the Jaguars. In the interim, he’ll be allowed to participate in all preseason practices and games.

The Jets acquired Robinson in a pre-deadline trade in 2017, giving up a 2018 fifth-round choice in exchange for the former fourth-round pick. Robinson appeared in six games but recorded just two tackles.

Robinson’s suspension stems from a December incident in which he was pulled over by cops and found to have marijuana-laced candy in his possession. Apparently, that was not the cornerback’s first instance of off-the-field trouble. The 23-year-old reportedly also had an “embarrassing and troubling incident” on a Niners team flight in 2017. He had words with SF coaches in the midst of that outburst, and that prompted the team to ship him to New Jersey.

Robinson’s first game with the Jets in 2018 – if he sticks on the roster – will be against the Broncos on October 7.

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