Placed on IR last weekend, Pernell McPhee will be sidelined for at least two more Ravens games. But the team did not shut him down merely for rest purposes. McPhee is recovering from knee surgery, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes (subscription required).
McPhee’s latest knee operation was arthroscopic in nature, giving him a chance to return later this season. The Ravens are indeed hoping they will have him back at some point in December, Zrebiec adds.
Knee procedures are not uncommon for the 11-year veteran. Over the course of his career, McPhee has seen both knees go under the knife for injuries in different years. Before this most recent procedure, he had last seen his knee worked on just before the start of the 2017 season in what was described as a cleanup surgery.
The Ravens re-signed McPhee to a one-year deal just before the start of the season, following a 2020 slate in which he started 13 games and was third on the team with three sacks. The 11th-year veteran returned to the team that drafted him in 2019 after injury-riddled stints in Chicago and Washington.
McPhee’s 2021 campaign has been somewhat quiet. He has tallied just one sack and 14 tackles in nine games this year. But the rotational rusher stands to have a chance to contribute more to the Ravens’ latest playoff push.
There is perhaps no division in the NFL more up in the air right now than the AFC North. All four clubs have a winning record and, by extension, every team has a chance of taking the division title.
Back in the August, the Ravens were favored to win the division with +115 odds with the Browns (+140) in a close second. Since then, injuries have leveled the playing field. Now, the recently resurgent Steelers (+400) and the surprising Bengals (+2000) find themselves right in the thick of the race.
The preseason favorite Ravens were bit by the injury bug early and often, losing their three top returning running backs – J.K. Dobbins (ACL), Gus Edwards (ACL), and Justice Hill (Achilles) – before playing a single regular season game. They also lost their team leader in interceptions and starting cornerback, Marcus Peters (ACL), in the preseason and star offensive tackle, Ronnie Stanley (ankle), after only one game. The Ravens quickly adopted a next-man-up philosophy where possible and turned to the free agent market for some veterans to fill out their depleted running back room, settling on eight-year journeyman Latavius Murray and former Falcons star Devonta Freeman to tote the rock. The Ravens rattled off five straight wins after a season opening loss, but have struggled with consistent success over the last few weeks with troubling performances in losses to the Bengals and Dolphins and close three-point wins against the Vikings and Bears. Despite the up-and-down play, the Ravens occupy first place in the AFC North with a 7-3 record.
The Bengals are making a bid to be the latest team in the NFL to go from worst in the division one year to first in the division the very next year. A healthy Joe Burrow, with some NFL experience now under his belt, has benefitted greatly from the team’s first round pick out of LSU, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Chase has teamed up with wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to create quite the three-headed monster. Boyd received important experience as a number one target in 2019 in the absence of A.J. Green and Higgins had an impressive rookie year in 2020 after coming one pick shy of the first round. They’ve also been assisted greatly by a defense that ranks eighth in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bengals have shown a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde persona with dominant wins over the Steelers, Ravens, and Raiders (all +.500) and puzzling losses to struggling franchises in the Bears and Jets. They currently sit in 2nd in the AFC North with a 6-4 record.
The Steelers have run hot and cold, opening the year with a shocking road win over the Bills before losing three straight. They rebounded with four straight wins before tying the winless Lions and losing to the Chargers in which they trailed 27-10 late in the 3rd quarter. The story of the Steelers’ season has been one of a 39 year-old Ben Roethlisberger trying to find success with trio of young WRs – Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith-Schuster – and a rookie running back, Najee Harris. Johnson and Claypool have taken the reins as Roethlisberger’s top targets, while Smith-Schuster struggled to find footing in 2021 before landing on IR. Harris, has taken over as the Steelers’ bell-cow, taking 188 of the team’s 244 total carries. While Harris ranks top ten in rushing yards, the defense has struggled without stars Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt in the lineup. The Steelers currently sit at 5-4-1, good for third in the AFC North.
Even though Nick Chubb has the third-most rushing yards in the NFL, the Browns have lacked much of their expected offensive firepower. Jarvis Landry has missed 4 games while his would-be partner, Odell Beckham Jr., is out of the picture. Kareem Hunt‘s calf injury hasn’t helped either, but the Browns have still managed to stay afloat at 6-5.
There’s lots of time left in the 18-week schedule for this order to change, especially since the Browns get to face the Ravens twice inside of the next three weeks. Meanwhile, every AFC North team has a stacked dance card — all of their remaining opponents are over the .500 mark. If you enjoy entertainment and chaos, this is the divisional race for you.
So how do you see the division shaping up? Vote in our latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
Calais Campbell has provided a considerable boost to the Ravens’ defense over the past two seasons, running his string of post-30 Pro Bowl nods to four last year. But he is unsigned beyond 2021 and plans to take some time during the 2022 offseason to examine his future.
The 14-year veteran is expected to “strongly” consider retirement at season’s end, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Campbell is still playing at an elite level, slotting as Pro Football Focus’ No. 4 overall interior defender, but he has logged extensive time in the pros.
While a Campbell retirement or free agency exit would leave a void on Baltimore’s defensive line, the former Cardinals and Jaguars standout is 35 and has played 222 career games — counting 14 playoff outings. That is fifth among defensive linemen in the 21st century. Given his role as a 3-4 defensive end, the ex-Miami Hurricane does not fit the profile of a player who could tack additional years onto his career as a situational edge rusher.
Campbell missed time last season because of a calf strain and a positive COVID-19 test. The six-time Pro Bowler, however, has not missed a game this year to help a Baltimore defense that will not have Derek Wolfe‘s services throughout the season. Campbell’s most recent blocked field goal kept a Ravens comeback win over the Colts in play last month. He certainly stands to play a key role in the Ravens’ latest push for the AFC North title.
Campbell has not been a free agent since signing a big-ticket deal with the Jaguars in 2017. That agreement played a major role in Jacksonville making a surprise run to that year’s AFC championship game. Despite not being honored as a Pro Bowler in his first six seasons, the 6-foot-8 defender has been named to the NFL’s all-star game in six of the past seven seasons. Campbell considering stepping away from the game would be a key offseason storyline.
The Ravens want to keep both players, but they’re up against a tight cap situation already with less than $900K in room, according to Over The Cap. Meanwhile, they also have to prioritize Lamar Jackson‘s next contract. Reportedly, the star quarterback wants something in the range Patrick Mahomes‘ $45MM/year deal with the Chiefs. The Ravens can probably shave a few million off of that total — without matching KC’s ten-year commitment to Mahomes — but it’ll be a whopper of a contract no matter what.
The Ravens could consider the transition tag for Bozeman, but he’d be lumped in with the league’s highest paid tackles with the offensive lineman designation. That’d mean a ~$15M salary for next year, which is outsized even for this year’s No. 9 ranked center (per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics). The same goes for Ricard — whether he’s classified as a tight end or a running back, the ~$10MM transition tag would be far too pricey, despite his blocking ability. For now, he’s playing out the remainder of his two-year, $7.3MM pact.
The Ravens’ brutal 2021 season continues. Baltimore’s injured reserve list includes a number of top-flight starters, and the club has dealt with plenty of other injuries besides those significant enough to warrant an IR designation. Now, the Ravens will be without starting QB Lamar Jackson for their matchup against the Bears this afternoon.
Jackson is dealing with a non-COVID illness, which Peter Schrager of the NFL Network reports is a “congestion of the lungs” (Twitter link). Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network says the exact virus has not been identified (it’s not the flu), but while the team’s medical staff tried to keep Jackson hydrated enough to play, he is simply not healthy enough to do so (Twitterlinks).
Adam Schefter of ESPN.com adds (via Twitter) that this virus went through the organization last week, and other players like WR Rashod Bateman and C Bradley Bozeman were also affected. Only Jackson, however, is missing today’s game as a result of the illness.
But the Ravens are dealing with other injuries that will further undermine their chances to win today’s game. Top receiver Marquise Brown is out with a thigh injury, NT Brandon Williams is out with his lingering shoulder ailment, and Baltimore is down to three healthy corners, as CBs Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith are also inactive.
Backup QB Tyler Huntley will get his first career start in Jackson’s absence. Huntley, a 2020 UDFA, has a strong arm and offers a fair amount of running ability, so his game mimics that of Jackson. But the Ravens will obviously miss their 2019 MVP in a big way.
Despite all of their injuries (and illnesses), the team has managed a 6-3 record, largely as a result of Jackson’s heroics. A surprising Week 10 loss to the Dolphins, though, may prove damaging down the line, especially with a difficult end-of-season schedule that features five divisional games plus contests against the Packers and Rams. Now, Huntley will be called upon to keep his team atop the AFC North before that challenging stretch gets underway.
The Ravens and QB Lamar Jackson have consistently expressed full confidence that a new contract will get done, but as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes, no deal is imminent at this point. Though we have not heard many details about the negotiations, La Canfora offers a little insight in that regard.
He says that Jackson has been seeking a payout in line with Patrick Mahomes‘ $45MM/year contract with the Chiefs, but Mahomes’ deal covers 10 years, and it does not sound as if Baltimore wants to commit to that kind of a term (presumably because of the fear that Jackson’s running capabilities, which are a critical component of his value, could diminish with time). That said, the club does concede that Jackson is a $40MM+/year quarterback, and La Canfora posits that Josh Allen‘s $43MM/year deal with the Bills — a six-year pact worth $258MM, including $150MM in overall guarantees and $100MM guaranteed at signing — is probably Jackson’s floor at this point.
After all, Jackson is playing at a high level while Mahomes is in the midst of a down year and Allen has regressed a bit from his stellar 2020 campaign, so some league execs believe the Ravens will have no choice but to top Mahomes’ $45MM AAV in order to finalize a deal with the 2019 MVP. Although Jackson has thrown more interceptions this season (eight) than he and the team would like, part of that is because he has been asked to expand the club’s downfield passing game, and his throwing as a whole has noticeably improved. Marquise Brown has looked more like a true No. 1 receiver this year, rookie wideout Rashod Bateman has looked terrific in his first professional action, and Mark Andrews is still performing as one of the league’s top TEs.
Plus, Jackson continues to spearhead the Baltimore rushing attack, which is especially important this year, as the Ravens lost the top three RBs on their depth chart to injury before the season even began. Baltimore wants to avoid the type of protracted negotiations that the Cowboys had with Dak Prescott, which ultimately cost the club millions of dollars, but with Jackson accounting for even more total yards per game than he did in his MVP season, one wonders if Jackson could become the NFL’s first $50MM/year player.
There still does not seem to be any doubt that the two sides will come together on an extension; it just looks like that will not happen until 2022 at the earliest.