Greg Zuerlein

Greg Zuerlein Avoids Injury Designation

When the Rams take the field in Super Bowl LIII, they will do it with Greg Zuerlein ready to go. The kicker and NFC Championship game hero avoided an injury designation, all but assuring he will be good to go in Atlanta, NBC Sports reports

There was some doubt on his availability after he was spotted with a boot on his left foot following their game on Sunday vs. the Saints. He also missed practice all week with a strained left foot, but it appears the absence was more precautionary than anything else.

Zuerlein played a large role in helping the Rams upend the Saints in the conference title game. Of his four made field goals, one came from 48 yards out with 15 seconds left to force overtime. He then added the game-winning 57-yard boot on the Rams’ lone overtime possession to secure the come-from-behind win.

In 11 games this season, the 2017 First Team All-Pro made 27 field goals, including 4-of-6 from beyond 50 yards. With Zuerlein a threat to score from midfield and punter Johnny Hekker a fake-punt artist, the Rams have two of the game’s biggest special teams weapons ready to go for their big tilt with New England next Sunday.

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Rams K Greg Zuerlein Still A Week Away

Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein is expected to miss at least one more week while dealing with a groin injury, head coach Sean McVay told reporters, including Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Zuerlein suffered his injury during pregame warmups prior to Week 2, but given his skill and recovery timeline, Los Angeles opted to not place him Zuerlein on injured reserve, which would have mandated an absence of at least eight games. Instead, the Rams went with Sam Ficken for two games, during which he converted only one-of-three field goals, before signing veteran Cairo Santos in advance of Week 5. Santos made both of his field goal attempts on Sunday, but missed one-of-four extra points.

Zuerlein, of course, is one of the NFL’s best kickers, and earned both first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2017. He ranked third last season with a 95% field goal conversion rate, and made six-of-seven attempts from 50+ yards. Per Football Outsiders, Zuerlein’s work on field goals and extra points added 11.3 points of field position, good for fifth in the league.

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NFC West Rumors: Rams, 49ers, Thomas

Despite the Rams‘ dominance through four games, they haven’t deployed much in the way of name talent at linebacker. They traded Alec Ogletree to the Giants and shipped Robert Quinn to the Dolphins. Los Angeles is in line to have its top current ‘backer back in Week 5, however. Sean McVay expects Barron to make his season debut against the Seahawks after missing the first four games due to a lingering Achilles injury that caused him to miss all of Los Angeles’ offseason program.

We’ve kind of got a plan in place where we’re anticipating him being able to go. And that’s subject to change based on how he responds. But he’s feeling good up to this point,” McVay said, via Myles Simmons of TheRams.com. “We’re hopeful to be able to get him back and if that’s the case we’ll be excited to get Mark out there.”

Barron started 44 games for the Rams the past four seasons and is in the third season of a five-year, $45MM contract. The Rams have started Cory Littleton and Ramik Wilson at inside linebacker this season.

Here’s the latest from this division, one that features a clear-cut favorite at the quarter pole.

  • Although McVay said earlier this week Greg Zuerlein had a chance to return Sunday, that probably remains at least a week away. The second-year Rams coach said the signing of Cairo Santos likely indicates Zuerlein is still a bit way from resuming his season. He’s been sidelined since Week 2 warmups after sustaining a groin injury.
  • Richard Sherman‘s per-game bonus-laden contract makes it critical he stay on the field as much as possible, and the veteran cornerback has a chance to play this week. The 49ers defender participated in a limited practice on Thursday and would be in line to start upon returning. However, not much else is known about the 49ers’ corner situation, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. Ahkello Witherspoon, Jimmie Ward and Greg Mabin could continue a rotation on the outside, Robert Saleh said, adding this is a product of Mabin’s progress rather than the coaching staff having issues with Ward or Witherspoon’s play.
  • Don’t look for D.J. Reed to usurp the rehabbing Adrian Colbert. Kyle Shanahan confirmed, via Maiocco, the original San Francisco free safety starter will get his job back once he returns from a hip contusion. Shanahan would be “surprised” if Colbert isn’t ready to return this week. The second-year player did not start last week but got in two full practices this week.
  • The Seahawks could franchise Earl Thomas for $12.48MM, but the three-time All-Pro could well hit the market. If he’s not franchised, it’s incredibly hard to envision Thomas back with the Seahawks. And if he is, another long holdout almost certainly commences. Despite having a broken leg end his season, Thomas may see a robust market come March, with Joel Corry of CBS Sports citing big deals given to Allen Robinson (coming off an ACL tear) and Matt Kalil (off a hip injury) as why Thomas can be expected to be a coveted commodity. Thomas has already surmounted a significant leg injury; he returned from that season-ending malady to be a 2017 Pro Bowler. He should have immense incentive to get cleared by the time free agency opens.

Rams To Release K Sam Ficken

The Rams are releasing kicker Sam Ficken and intend to sign another veteran to kick until Greg Zuerlein is recovered from his groin injury, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The kicker auditions will include veterans Cairo Santos and Kai Forbath, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

Ficken, 25, took over for an injured Zuerlein at the tail end of the 2017 regular season and called upon to do the same thing this year. Unfortunately, he’s struggled in his two games, making just one of three field goal tries. The Rams are 4-0, but missed field goals could obviously cost them down the line.

Santos has historically been a solid kicker, but he’s dealt with a nagging groin injury for more than a year. Forbath, meanwhile, was released by the Vikings in August losing out to rookie Daniel Carlson. In 2017, Forbath converted 32-of-38 field goal attempts (including six-of-nine from 50+ yards), and his 84.2 accuracy percentage ranked 16th in the NFL.

Greg Zuerlein Out “At Least” A Few Weeks

The injury Greg Zuerlein sustained during warmups Sunday will keep him out for “at least” a few weeks, Sean McVay said (via ESPN.com’s Lindsey Thiry, on Twitter).

Los Angeles made a quick move to address this by bringing in Sam Ficken, just as it did when Zuerlein went down late last season. However, the Rams are not ready to place Zuerlein on IR. Such a move would shelve the Pro Bowl specialist for at least eight weeks, so the team certainly appears to believe the seventh-year kicker won’t be out that long.

Zuerlein suffered a groin injury prior to the Rams’ 34-0 win over the Cardinals. The Rams attempted three two-point conversions, converting each, and saw punter Johnny Hekker make an extra point and a 20-yard field goal. Ficken will supply a more proven place-kicking leg while Zuerlein rehabs.

A back injury resulted in Zuerlein heading to IR last season, sidelining the kicker for Los Angeles’ playoff game. Ficken made 2 of 3 field goal attempts and 4 of 5 extra points during his regular-season Rams replacement action last year.

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Rams To Sign K Sam Ficken

The Rams are expected to sign kicker Sam Ficken to fill in for Greg Zuerlein, who injured his groin during warmups on Sunday, tweets Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Ficken, 25, is quite familiar with Los Angeles, as he took over for an injured Zuerlein at the tail end of the 2017 regular season and into the playoffs. He converted two-of-three field goals and four-of-five extra points during in two regular season contests before making both field goal attempts during the Rams’ postseason loss. Ficken was with the Rams during the summer but was waived during final cutdowns.

Zuerlein, of course, is one of the NFL’s best kickers, and earned both first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2017. He ranked third last season with a 95% field goal conversion rate, and made six-of-seven attempts from 50+ yards. Per Garafolo, it’s currently unclear how long Zuerlein will be sidelined, but the Rams don’t intend to place him on injured reserve, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

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Rams Worked Out 10 Kickers To Replace Greg Zuerlein

The Rams will be without Greg Zuerlein for the rest of the season. Their Pro Bowl kicker, since placed on IR, will undergo back surgery on Thursday, Sean McVay said (via Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com).

Zuerlein has been playing through a back injury all season, and McVay labeled it a herniated disk. The 29-year-old kicker aggravated the injury while sleeping the night before the Rams’ Week 15 game in Seattle. McVay said his kicker could barely stand on Sunday, and it affected his performance and Los Angeles’ game plan against the Seahawks.

Up next for Zuerlein will be a 12-week recovery timetable.

As for the replacement effort, Sam Ficken won quite the derby despite having no NFL kicking experience. A 2015 UDFA out of Penn State, Ficken took part in a 10-man kicker audition on Wednesday.

Veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer reports (on Twitter) the Rams worked out Roberto Aguayo, Dan Carpenter, Travis Coons, Andrew Franks, Garrett Hartley, Marshall Koehn, Younghoe Koo, Mike Meyer and Jason Myers. Two long snappers — Jeff Overbaugh and Drew Farris — and two punters-as-holders (Matt Wile and Austin Rehkow) were also on hand for this unique specialty showcase, per Balzer (on Twitter).

Carpenter and Hartley have extensive NFL experience — a combined 16 seasons’ worth — while Aguayo was selected in the second round only to become a workout journeyman by his second year. He auditioned for the Browns earlier this week and also could not procure the Rams’ kicker job, one that will feature playoff opportunities. Hartley has not kicked in a game since 2014, and Carpenter hasn’t kicked this season.

The Chargers cut Coons earlier this week, but he’s been in Los Angeles for a few weeks now after being the initial Nick Novak replacement for the Bolts. Myers hasn’t kicked since losing his Jaguars job to ex-Charger Josh Lambo, and Franks — a former Dolphin — hasn’t suited up for a 2017 contest either.

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Rams To Place Greg Zuerlein On IR

The Rams endured a surprising setback Wednesday that will affect their top-flight special teams units. Greg Zuerlein will go on IR because of a back injury, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

He cannot return this season once placed on IR. Zuerlein’s back flared up during the Rams’ road win in Seattle, Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News tweets.

The Rams will replace their kicker by signing Sam Ficken, Schefter reports. The former Penn State kicker has not attempted an NFL kick.

Zuerlein was just voted to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday night. He leads the league with 38 made field goals and has missed just two attempts. The sixth-year kicker, and one half of the Rams’ Pro Bowl specialist duo along with punter Johnny Hekker, has also made 44 of his 46 extra point tries.

A sixth-round pick out of Missouri Western in 2012, the strong-legged kicker has missed just two games in his career. Zuerlein missed two contests for the 2015 Rams. He’s enjoyed his best season this year.

The six 50-plus-yard field goal makes — including a season-long of 56 — are the second-most of his career. He of two 58-yard field goals in college and two 60-yard makes in the NFL, the 29-year-old Zuerlein provided the suddenly explosive Los Angeles offense with a safety net once it ventured into field goal range.

Ficken went to camp with the Chiefs this summer and the Jaguars in 2016, being cut after both summers. He worked out for the Chargers earlier this season and will now be one of the more important kickers in the league, with the Rams having authored one of the better turnaround seasons in NFL history. As of now, Ficken — who has not kicked in a game since suiting up with the 2014 Nittany Lions — will be called upon come playoff time.

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Notable 2018 Pro Bowl Incentives/Escalators

The NFL announced the 2018 Pro Bowl rosters earlier tonight, and aside from determining which players will spend a week in Orlando early next year, the rosters also dictate several important bonuses and/or contract escalators for individual players. Former NFL agent and current CBSSports.com contributor Joel Corry has rounded up the notable incentives earned tonight, and we’ll pass those along below. As Corry notes (Twitter link), only first ballot Pro Bowlers who actually participate in the game (unless injured or playing in the Super Bowl) are in bonuses, which are typically paid out by the end of March.

Here are the notable Pro Bowl bonuses and escalators that were preliminarily netted this evening (all links to Corry’s Twitter):

Bonuses

  • Ravens S Eric Weddle, $1MM; requires Baltimore in playoffs (link): Still playing like one of the league’s best coverage safeties at the age of 32, Weddle needs the Ravens to land one of the AFC Wild Card slots in order to earn his incentive. Baltimore appears to on course to do just that, as FiveThirtyEight gives the club an 87% of earning a postseason berth. That playoff appearance will be largely due to the Ravens’ defense, which ranks second only to Jacksonville in DVOA.
  • Bills S Micah Hyde, $400K (link): Sean McDermott can coach defensive backs. After spending years finding gems at safety for the Eagles and Panthers, the Bills head coach has helped Hyde transform into a top-notch DB. Hyde, who inked a five-year, $30.5MM contract with Buffalo in the spring, ranked a respectable 53rd in Pro Football Focus‘ safety grades a year ago. This season? He’s ninth.
  • Raiders G Kelechi Osemele, $300K (link): Under general manager Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders have employed what is often referred to as an “all cash” salary cap management system, wherein prorated signing bonuses are rarely used while base salary guarantees, roster bonuses, and — as evidenced by the number of Oakland players on this list — incentive clauses are heavily employed. Osemele, the league’s highest-paid interior offensive lineman, is signed through 2020 with cap charges north of $10MM in each season.
  • Rams K Greg Zuerlein, $250K (link): While the Los Angeles offense garners the most headlines, the club’s special teams unit has maintained its dominance under coordinator John Fassel, who briefly took over as the Rams’ interim head coach in 2016. Fassel, Zuerlein, & Co. have managed a No. 2 ranking in special teams DVOA, while Zuerlein himself has been worth 15.1 points of field position (second in the NFL).
  • Raiders T Donald Penn, $200K (link): Penn’s summer holdout lead to extra guarantees in the future, but didn’t end with a change to his 2017 salary, meaning this bonus part of his original deal. The 34-year-old Penn is currently on injured reserve, and will miss his first game since 2007 on Sunday. Still, his renegotiated contract now contains a $3MM guarantee for 2018, meaning he’s likely part of the Raiders’ plans.
  • Patriots ST Matthew Slater, $150K (link): Slater has now earned a Pro Bowl berth in every season since 2011. At some point, it’s fair to wonder if Slater is skating by on reputation, as he played only a quarter of the Patriots’ special teams snaps this year. Slater missed more special teams tackles than he made prior to his 2016 berth, tweets Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus.
  • Raiders C Rodney Hudson, $100K (link): For all of Oakland’s problems this season, the Raiders have continued to boast some of the NFL’s best pass-blocking offensive lineman. Hudson is the best pass-blocking center in the league by a wide margin, meaning he’s eminently affordable at $8.9MM annually.

Escalators

  • Lions CB Darius Slay, $550K base salary increase in 2018 (link): As Corry reports, Slay had three ways to earn this heft escalator — post five or more interceptions (he sits at seven), play on 80% or more of Detroit’s defensive snaps (he’s at 97.6%), or earn a Pro Bowl berth. Slay managed all three in what has become the best season of an increasingly impressive five-year career.
  • Eagles T Lane Johnson, $250K base salary increase each season from 2018-21 (link): Depending on Jason Peters‘ health and the Eagles’ plans, Johnson could very well be playing left tackle as soon as 2018. Even with his base salary set to increase, Johnson won’t have a cap charge north of $13.5MM over the life of his contract.
  • Eagles G Brandon Brooks, $250K base salary increase each season from 2018-20 (link): General manager Howie Roseman zeroed in on Brooks at the outset of the 2016 free agent period, and the 28-year-old has quickly proved to be one of the best free agent signings in recent memory. Brooks will earn an $8.5MM base salary — the largest during his five-year deal — in 2018.
  • Eagles TE Zach Ertz, $250K base salary increase from 2019-21 (link): Per Corry, Ertz also picked up a $100K bonus for 2017. Ertz has already set a career-high in touchdowns (eight) and has a shot to set new marks in receptions and yards even though he missed two games with injury. A former second-round pick, Ertz ranks among the top-five tight ends in catches, yards, and scores.

Rams Re-Sign K Greg Zuerlein

The Rams have re-signed Greg Zuerlein, according to a team announcement. The kicker gets a three-year deal to remain in L.A. Young GZ will average $2.25MM per year on the new pact, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter).

Zuerlein is entering his sixth season with the Rams. After a rough 2015 in which he made only 66.7% of his attempted field goals, he bounced back in 2016 and converted on 86.4% of his tries, though he only had 22 attempts overall. Zuerlein also converted on all 23 of his extra point opportunities, no small feat given the recently-extended range. In 2015, he missed two of the longer distance XP attempts.

Amongst all kickers with eight or more games played, Zuerlein’s 86.4% field goal percentage was good for ninth-best in the league.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.