A.J. Green

A.J. Green Expected Back For Week 12

Though the Bengals fell to the Ravens on Sunday, 24-21, the team did get one bit of good news. Seven-time Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green is expected to be ready for the team’s upcoming matchup against the Browns, ESPN’s Josina Anderson hears (Twitter link). 

Green has been sidelined since he suffered a toe injury on the last series vs. Tampa Bay in Week 8. With the injury coming just before Cincinnati’s bye week, the star receiver has only missed two games, defeats to New Orleans and Baltimore. The Bengals sputtered in both affairs, amassing just 174 yards through the air vs. the Saints, and following it up with 211 vs. the Ravens. Before he went down, Green was leading the Bengals in receiving yards (687) and touchdowns (six).

There was a remote possibility he could’ve suited up in today’s loss, but was ruled out after testing out his injured toe in warmups. With the team at 5-5 heading into Week 12, the Bengals are in a must-win game vs. the division-rival Browns to keep pace in the hunt for a wild-card berth. They are currently tied for the final spot with the Ravens, Titans, Colts and Dolphins.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Ravens, Bengals, Bell

It could be the dawn of a new era in Baltimore. As expected, 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson will get his first start under center for the Ravens today in place of an ailing Joe Flacco, as Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com writes. However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that Flacco is not expected to need surgery on his hip, so while his status for next week’s contest against the Raiders is up in the air, he could be ready for the stretch run. But if Jackson performs well and can keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive, head coach John Harbaugh — who is facing the end of his tenure in Baltimore — will have a very difficult decision to make. Jackson has reportedly shown considerable improvement in practice this week, and anticipation for his debut is running high.

Now for more from the AFC North:

  • It’s not just Flacco and Harbaugh who could be seeing their Ravens careers draw to a close. As Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic writes, today’s game feels like a last stand of sorts for a number of players. If Baltimore loses, it will be all but eliminated from playoff contention, and as the team transitions to a new GM and possibly a new head coach, veterans like Flacco, Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Michael Crabtree could all be on their way out.
  • Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that Bengals WR A.J. Green, who is inactive today, did at least travel with the team and worked out this morning. That suggests he could be ready to return next week.
  • We learned earlier this week that new Bengals assistant Hue Jackson won’t have a role in the team’s offense, but the defense is a different story. Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network report that Jackson is spending all of his time on the defensive side of the ball, and Garafolo suggests that Jackson could become Cincinnati’s defensive play-caller in a few weeks (Twitter links). Right now, head coach Marvin Lewis is still making the defensive calls, but Jackson has been present for the defensive meetings and is bringing a spark and excitement to that unit.
  • Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports says the Steelers made an eleventh hour push to get Le’Veon Bell to rejoin the team before last Tuesday’s deadline. They reportedly outlined the significant role they had in mind for him for the remainder of the season, and they made it clear that they wanted him back. They also made him aware that they intend to use the transition tag on him this offseason, but Bell simply had no interest in playing in 2018.
  • In a separate piece, La Canfora examines the free agent market for Bell. Many GMs and cap experts believe Bell overplayed his hand, as does former NFL agent Joel Corry (Twitter link). But as Corry points out, it only takes one team to give Bell the money he wants and to make him and his agent look quite savvy, and Rapoport indicates that the market for Bell’s services could be more vibrant than many expect (video link). Rapoport says Bell is looking for a front-loaded five-year, $85MM pact, and he suggests that may not be a huge stretch given the number of cash-flush teams that could be in play for him.
  • We learned earlier today that the Browns are interested in interviewing former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for their head coaching job at the end of the season, though GM John Dorsey has released a statement quelling that rumor.

AFC North Notes: Harbaugh, Flacco, Green

We learned last week that Ravens HC John Harbaugh is on the hot seat, and the team’s Week 9 loss to the division-rival Steelers did not do him any favors. Today, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes that Baltimore and Harbaugh are indeed heading for a “mutual parting of the ways.” While it is highly unlikely that Harbaugh will be fired before the end of the season — there is, after all, no dysfunction in the locker room and there are no obvious in-house candidates to replace Harbaugh — La Canfora says that 2018 is likely to be Harbaugh’s last on the Ravens’ sidelines. With the team transitioning to a new GM and facing a potential roster overhaul, both parties appear prepared to move on amicably.

Now for more from the AFC North:

  • One name who could be part of the Ravens‘ above-referenced overhaul, of course, is quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco is battling a hip injury and has been spotted on crutches, though Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network describes the injury as more of a day-to-day malady than a week-to-week one (video link). So if Flacco can practice when the Ravens return to the field in a couple of days — they are on a bye this week — he will likely play. But Rapoport says Baltimore is “relishing” the uncertainty that the situation is creating for the team’s next opponent, the Bengals, and he expects first-round pick Lamar Jackson to get increased snaps whether Flacco plays or not.
  • As Adam Schefter of ESPN.com observes, Flacco’s injury does have a silver lining for the Ravens. If he is unable to suit up for next week’s game or for the next several games, Baltimore would have a better idea of where Jackson is at the moment — he is reportedly still struggling in practice — which would allow the club to better determine whether to retain Flacco in 2019 or move on.
  • Rapoport tweets that Bengals WR A.J. Green is “likely” to miss next week’s game against the Ravens, though there is a chance he will be able to suit up. That is a rosier outlook than the one presented by Schefter, who said earlier this week that Green will definitely miss the Ravens game and could miss multiple games after that. Schefter doubled down on that report today, saying that a December return is looking increasingly likely (Twitter link). Rapoport says 2018 seventh-rounder Auden Tate, who was waived last month but who was signed to the practice squad just one day later, has impressed and will see plenty of snaps in Green’s absence. Tate was promoted from the practice squad on Monday.
  • Although reports have suggested that the Browns will take a different approach to their head coach hiring process this time around, their are plenty of people in the coaching community who are still concerned about how the search will play out. La Canfora writes that team owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam do not have a good reputation in coaching circles, and they have been increasingly hands-on during their ownership, so it is fair to wonder whether GM John Dorsey will truly be running the show. There is even skepticism within the Browns’ organization that Dorsey will be given full autonomy, as the Haslams hired Hue Jackson over the protestations of almost all of their football operations staff, which wanted to hire Sean McDermott instead.
  • We learned earlier today that the Steelers are likely to put the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell, and we took another look at Bell’s future in the league.

A.J. Green Won’t Need Foot Surgery

Coming out of their bye, the 5-3 Bengals appear in “If the season ended today” playoff graphics. But their top weapon’s status is a concern heading into Week 10.

A.J. Green‘s toe injury prompted a visit with foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, but Marvin Lewis said Monday (via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr.) the eighth-year wide receiver wouldn’t need surgery. However, he’s not out of the woods yet.

Lewis expects Green to return this season, but ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter tweets he’s not expected to be back for a bit. Green will miss the next two Bengals games so doctors can re-evaluate his foot, Schefter adds. And this would be before determining when Green can suit up again. It might be a longer absence. While it’s good news Green won’t need surgery, the Bengals’ offense figures to absorb a significant blow in a playoff race.

Green suffered the injury on the final offensive play of the Week 8 Bengals-Buccaneers game. Lewis didn’t rule out a Green return this week but was not specific when asked about a timetable. The Bengals’ next two games are a home tilt against the surging Saints and a road Ravens matchup. Green, who missed time due to injuries in 2014 and ’16, not being available for those could be critical.

The cornerstone wideout and seven-time Pro Bowler has 45 receptions for 687 yards and six touchdowns this season. The Bengals appear to have found a consistent Green complementary piece in Tyler Boyd (49/620/5), too, but their passing game will certainly be affected without Green. Cincinnati’s already missing tight ends Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft.

North Notes: Bell, Browns, Green, Cook

The Le’Veon Bell saga is coming to a head, as the Steelers running back must sign his franchise tender by November 13 to be eligible to play for any team this season. But as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes, the CBA does not dictate that Bell must report by that day, only that he sign the tender. That means that Bell could sign the tender and not report until next Saturday, which would make him eligible to be added to the roster for next Sunday’s game — not that he would be playing in that game regardless — or he could just not sign the tender at all and skip the entire season.

The latter option is not considered likely at this time, but La Canfora says that if Bell does skip the entire 2018 campaign, the Steelers would strongly consider slapping the franchise or transition tag on him next offseason, which would of course set up another drama-filled battle. La Canfora further reports that no rival clubs called Pittsburgh at last week’s trade deadline in an attempt to acquire Bell.

Now for more the league’s North divisions:

  • When the Browns have hired a new head coach in recent seasons, they have used a search firm, but Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) says he would be surprised if the team, with respected GM John Dorsey now in charge, goes that route when it looks for another HC this offseason. Rapoport’s sources expect Dorsey to conduct the search himself, and they expect that he will do so very “secretly.” Rapoport says one name under consideration would be Josh McDaniels, who is reportedly open to revisiting HC opportunities (should another one come his way), and RapSheet also lists John DeFilippo, Mike McCarthy, and Lincoln Riley as potential targets.
  • Bengals WR A.J. Green is battling a toe injury, per Rapoport (via Twitter), who says that Green either has visited or will visit foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson. There will be more clarity on the injury soon, and Rapoport says surgery remains on the table. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets that Green is expected to miss time regardless of whether he has surgery.
  • Vikings WR Stefon Diggs will miss today’s game with a rib injury, per Rapoport (video link), though it is uncertain whether Diggs will miss any additional time (given that he expected to play today and was listed as questionable on the final injury report, it seems that he’ll be ready to go after Minnesota’s bye next week. Meanwhile, RB Dalvin Cook is expected to hit the field today, which will mark his first appearance since Week 4. Cook will be on a pitch count and is only expected to see 20 snaps or so, but when the team returns from bye, it could have Cook and Diggs at full strength.
  • The Packers signed punter Drew Kaser yesterday, but the team is not moving on from incumbent J.K. Scott at this time, per ESPN.com. However, it is still an open question as to whether Scott will be punting against the Patriots tonight.
  • We learned earlier today that Ravens HC John Harbaugh is on the hot seat as the team faces a critical divisional matchup against Pittsburgh this afternoon.

North Notes: Bengals, Hue, Browns, Pack, Vikes

A return to the Bengals could make sense for recently-fired Browns head coach Hue Jackson, as Mike Garafolo of NFL.com indicates (Twitter link). Jackson is extremely close with Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis, and has previously worked in the Queen City on two occasions, first as wide receivers coach from 2004-06 and then in multiple roles (including offensive coordinator) from 2012-15. The Bengals still have to play the Browns twice this season, so adding Jackson with the intent of gaining intel on Cleveland wouldn’t be out of the question, but Cincinnati could be concerned about forcing incumbent play-caller Bill Lazor to look over his shoulder.

Jackson also gave an interview Thursday to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com in which he attempts to explain reports of “internal discord” between he and similarly fired Browns OC Todd Haley. The entire piece is well worth a full read, as Jackson expresses frustration at the prior state of Cleveland’s roster and the Browns passing on quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Carson Wentz in recent drafts.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams isn’t once to mince words, and he didn’t hold back Wednesday when asked about other opportunities he’s had in the NFL. “Since I left Buffalo, I had 11 letters to interview for head coaching jobs,” said Williams (Twitter link via Cabot). “Four of them didn’t even have to interview, just show up and sign the contract.” Williams gave no indication as to what clubs offered him a position, nor do most (if any) teams hand out head coaching gigs without at least a sit-down meeting. Williams, who is retaining his role as Cleveland’s defensive coordinator, also said he had no part in promoting Freddie Kitchens from running backs coach to interim offensive coordinator, according to Tony Grossi of ESPN.com (Twitter link).
  • A.J. Green was in a walking boot following the Bengals‘ Week 8 win over the Buccaneers, and he’s still not “out of the woods,” tweets Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s unclear exactly what issue is bothering Green, and initial reports suggested the boot was simply precautionary. But the injury has continued to swell, per Dehner, so Cincinnati is putting its star receiver through further tests. The Bengals are on a bye in Week 9 so Green has plenty of time to recover, but any absence would be a massive blow to Cincinnati’s offense as the club continues its push for a playoff spot.
  • The Packers traded both safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and running back Ty Montgomery following what were perceived as locker room issues, but Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst says neither deal was intended to send a message to Packers players, as Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com writes. “I think you take everything into consideration when you make these kind of decisions, but performance comes first,” Gutekunst said. “That’s always the major factor in these decisions. Everything’s taken into account, but it’s never usually just one thing.” Clinton-Dix had indicated he didn’t expect to re-sign with Green Bay, while Montgomery reportedly went rogue by taking a late-game kickoff out of the end zone on Sunday.
  • Before signing with the Vikings‘ practice squad earlier this week, defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo also had p-squad offers from the Giants and Packers, per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press (Twitter link). Odenigbo, who also worked out for the Saints earlier this week, says he’ll now play only on the edge for Minnesota instead of dabbling at defensive tackle, and interestingly says that designation was actually part of his pact with the Vikings.

AFC Notes: L. Jackson, Green, Fowler

Before the draft, new Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson refuted reports that multiple teams wanted to him to work out as a wide receiver. Perhaps that was simply because Jackson, who represents himself, wanted to downplay the notion that his quarterback skills will not translate to the professional level, because now that he is officially a first-round pick and is on a team that is committed to his future as a QB, Jackson’s story is a little different.

Jackson said in a recent interview with the Ravens’ official website (video link) that the Chargers were the first team to approach him about running routes during the combine. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner was taken aback by the request, which triggered his decision to not run the 40-yard dash and to rely on his game film instead.

Of course, Jackson may be deployed as a wide receiver on occasion this year. Joe Flacco remains the Ravens’ starter, but Baltimore wants to take advantage of Jackson’s elite athleticism, so the team is designing packages that will put both players on the field at the same time.

Now let’s take a look at several more AFC items:

  • Bengals WR A.J. Green is entering the fourth year of the five-year pact he signed in September 2015, which made him the highest-paid receiver in the league at the time. In terms of average annual value, Green is now the sixth-highest paid wideout in the game, and if Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. get their way, he will be the eighth-highest paid by the time the regular season rolls around. But as Paul Dehner Jr. and Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer write, it does not sound as if Green will be asking for more money until the expiration of his current deal at the end of the 2019 season. Green supports his colleagues’ efforts to rework their existing contracts, but as for himself, he said, “I don’t really get caught up in what’s the money like because I signed my deal and it was the highest paid at that point. It’s going to always go up. So you can’t keep up with that. At the end of the day [owner Mike Brown] took care of me. I’m still under contract for the next two years and we’ll go from there.” 
  • Yesterday, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com suggested that the Jets could flip Teddy Bridgewater to a QB-needy team for a pass rusher, and he named the Jaguars‘ Dante Fowler as one potential target. However, Florida Football Insiders does not buy the fact that Fowler will be on the move this offseason. 2018 is a critical year for Fowler, who is set for unrestricted free agency in 2019 since the Jags declined his fifth-year option last month. But Jacksonville believes he is an ascending player, and he did put up eight sacks last season, so the club is hoping for continued strong production from him in his platform campaign.
  • We rounded up a series of Patriots-related notes earlier today, and we asked you yesterday what team you think poses the biggest threat to the Pats’ hopes of repeating as AFC champs in 2018. Thus far, PFR readers believe the Steelers have the best chance.

AFC Notes: Dolphins, Green, Ramsey

Just a day after activating offensive lineman Ted Larsen, the Dolphins have decided to make him inactive for their Sunday night affair versus the Raiders. Larsen, 30, was forced onto the injured reserve for the first two months of the season after suffering a torn biceps in the offseason. It remains to be seen how long it’s going to take until Larsen returns to the starting lineup, but he’s expected to replace left guard Jesse Davis at some point over the next few games.

  • Just as a key starter is returning in Larsen, Miami said goodbye to lead running back Jay Ajayi when they dealt him to the Eagles for a fourth round pick on the day of the trade deadline. The move came as a surprise to many Dolphins fans given the importance of the 24 year-old to the team’s offense. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald opines that the deal was just another in a series of questionable decisions that the franchise has made over the last few years. Salguero points out the team’s moves to get rid of Vontae Davis, Brandon Marshall, Mike Wallace and Karlos Dansby as points in time where the team gave up too early on talent. The trade does open up more playing time for the likes of Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, but the Dolphins’ offense will certainly look a lot different without Ajayi in the backfield.
  • One of the many brawls as a part pf today’s slate of games came from an incident between Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Green. After Ramsey pushed one of the league’s best receivers after the whistle, Green unleashed a flurry of punches onto the Jaguars second-year defensive back, which prompted both sidelines into a shoving match. Both Green and Ramsey were ejected after the scuffle. However, Green was apologetic about the incident after the loss, as Michael DiRocco and Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com pass along. “I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I apologize to my teammates, [Bengals owner Mike] Brown, and everybody, because that’s not who I am. It just got the best of me today.” We’ll see how the league reacts to the situation as a suspension could be in order given the severity of Green’s reaction.
  • While both players were forced to leave the contest, many around the league pointed out that Ramsey did not actually throw a punch. However, there was some clarity given out on that front after the game. Apparently, the officials said that Ramsey was ejected because they thought he did throw a punch, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Rapoport reports that the Jags cornerback was informed by league officials after the team’s win that he was sent to the locker room because they thought he engaged Green too, even though it appears that Ramsey did not punch back. We’ll have to see how the Jacksonville players and coaches react to the apparent officiating mistake.

AFC Notes: Bengals, Barnidge, Texans, Pats

A “near mutiny” among Bengals players left head coach Marvin Lewis no choice but to fire offensive coordinator Ken Zampese on Friday, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports. The Bengals’ best offensive player, wide receiver A.J. Green, was part of the unhappy bunch, notes Florio, though Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer disputes the notion that there was anything resembling a “mutiny” (Twitter link). There was a disconnect between Zampese and the players, though, Owczarski adds. The Zampese-led Bengals scored a mere nine points in the team’s first two games, both losses, and the offense racked up just 516 yards in that span. Green posted respectable production along the way, picking up 10 receptions for 141 yards, but new O-coordinator Bill Lazor is going to have to involve him (and the Bengals’ other top skill players) in their attack more, Florio observes. Green agrees, having told reporters after Thursday night’s 13-9 loss to Houston: “We are playing like sh– right now. We got to find a way to get our playmakers the ball. That’s it. It’s a superstar-driven league. You are not going to win without them” (via Paul Dehner Jr. of the Enquirer).

More from the AFC:

  • It appears free agent tight end Gary Barnidge‘s stay on the unemployment line will continue. Barnidge worked out for the Texans on Friday, but they’re not going to sign him, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com suggests (on Twitter). The team opted to add tight end MyCole Pruitt to its practice squad after his own Friday tryout. Barnidge carries a more impressive track record than Pruitt and many other tight ends, of course, having logged quality seasons in Cleveland over each of the previous two campaigns. However, the 31-year-old hasn’t been able to find work since the Browns released him after the draft.
  • The Patriots will go without linebacker Dont’a Hightower and wide receiver Danny Amendola in New Orleans on Sunday, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. Hightower suffered a right knee injury in the third quarter of Week 1 against the Chiefs, perhaps helping to pave the way for a late-game collapse from New England’s defense. The Patriots yielded 21 fourth-quarter points en route to a 42-27 loss. Amendola, who was the Patriots’ leading receiver against the Chiefs (six catches, 100 yards), is dealing with a concussion and a knee injury. Down Amendola, Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell, the Pats look poised to take on the Saints with Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as their only options in a suddenly thin receiving corps.
  • The Luckless Colts have settled on a quarterback for Week 2.

Bengals Place A.J. Green On IR

A.J. Green‘s season is officially over. Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports (via Twitter) that the star wideout has been placed on the injured reserve. The team has promoted offensive lineman Trey Hopkins from the practice squad to take Green’s roster spot.

A.J. GreenIt appeared that Green was going to make his return from a hamstring injury last weekend, but the organization abruptly announced that the wideout would miss the contest. This caused a bit of drama in the locker room, as Green and his teammates were preparing for the receiver to take the field for the first time since mid-November. Reports indicated that ownership made the decision to keep Green out of the game in an attempt to prevent any further injury.

Despite the fact that the “rug got pulled out from under” the squad, Green denied reports that he was unhappy with the organization. Still, the wideout wasn’t spotted at the Bengals facility this week. ESPN.com’s Bob Holtzman reported that it’s “rare” for an injured player to be absent for so long.

Green finished the 2016 season with 66 receptions for 964 yards and four touchdowns. It was the first time in the 28-year-old’s six-year career that he didn’t finish with at least 1,000 receiving yards. Despite the career-low numbers, Green was still selected as a Pro Bowler for the sixth time.

Hopkins joined the Bengals as an undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2014. The 24-year-old offensive guard was active for the Bengals Week 1 matchup against the Jets, but he didn’t end up taking the field. Hopkins could make his NFL debut this weekend.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.