John Ross

North Notes: Packers, Q. Diggs, Conner

We heard last month that the Packers would be going “back to Page 1” of their playbook, but as Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal writes, Green Bay is not going to be making any wholesale changes to its offense. In light of all of the new voices on the offensive side of the ball this year — Joe Philbin is back as OC, Frank Cignetti Jr. is in as quarterbacks coach, and there are several other staff changes besides — it made sense for all involved to thoroughly review the team’s play design and philosophy. But as Philbin said, “It’s been a process of refining, enhancing, tweaking, as opposed to, ‘Yeah we scrubbed it down.’ Yes, we went page by page. (But) we’re not starting from scratch here. These players in that locker room, they’ve done some great things.” 

Philbin, of course, is primarily referring to star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers indicated that verbiage has changed — and Philbin acknowledged that such changes were made in order to streamline the playcalling — and that has created something of a learning curve. But passing game Jim Hostler said that the goal is for the offense to look the same as it always has with Rodgers under center, even if there are some refinements and enhancements here and there.

Now for more from the league’s north divisions:

  • Opposing defenses were already treating Packers WR Davante Adams as the team’s No. 1 wideout last season, so the departure of Jordy Nelson will not represent much of a change in that regard, as Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com writes. But Green Bay has not (yet) signed a veteran wideout to replace Nelson, so Adams will need to take on a more active role in terms of leadership. The Packers drafted three receivers this year — one each in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds — and return 24-year-old Geronimo Allison as the presumed No. 3 WR on the depth chart, so Adams is suddenly the second-oldest player in the wide receiver room. He was not present for the start of OTAs, which caused some concern in light of his concussion history, but neither player nor team seem concerned about his availability. Head coach Mike McCarthy simply said Adams is “battling a couple things,” presumably minor injuries.
  • Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com says Quandre Diggs has a real chance to permanently supplant Tavon Wilson as the Lions‘ starting strong safety in 2018. Diggs, a former sixth-round selection, played well in that role last season, and Rothstein suggests he may even be the favorite to start at this point. Miles Killebrew, a former fourth-round choice, appears to be on the outside looking in and may need to continue to stand out on special teams to retain his roster spot.
  • James Conner, a feel-good story and 2017 third-round choice, is featuring prominently in Steelers‘ OTAs due to Le’Veon Bell‘s continued absence, as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes. Conner showed flashes in his rookie campaign, which ended with a Week 15 MCL tear, but if he can cement himself as the team’s No. 2 back behind Bell this season — and he will need to improve in pass protection in order to do so — that could be the first step towards a starting job in 2019, depending on Bell’s contract situation.
  • John Ross is once again a full participant in the Bengals‘ OTAs, as Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer observes. Although Ross dropped a few passes, he also made some difficult grabs and is seeing a lot of passes come his way. Tyler Eifert, meanwhile, is a limited participant, but having both players involved at the beginning of full team work is a beautiful thing for Cincinnati fans.
  • Neil Stratton of InsideTheLeague.com (via Twitter) details a few more changes to the Browns‘ scouting department that were not covered several days ago.

AFC Rumors: Ross, Patriots, Broncos, Bolts

John Ross endured a disastrous rookie season after seeing his stock rise during 2017 Combine weekend. The Bengals‘ 2017 first-round pick did not catch a pass and ended the season on IR after suffering multiple injuries last year. Ross, though, is expected to be ready to run routes come spring despite undergoing shoulder surgery in December. He had both shoulders operated on last year and couldn’t get on the field until the second week of training camp following a spring shoulder surgery.

That was the problem,” Ross said, via Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “My body didn’t respond the way I wanted it to. Coming in late, I didn’t get to train. I was out of shape. That was pretty tough on my body. Rushing into it. Being out of shape. My body couldn’t take the physical aspects of the game we do every day. I thought I could. I think it kind of wore me out faster than I thought.

I really didn’t catch up until the end of the year when I started to have better practices. It all started to click together. It was already kind of too late. It was best to rest, get my body right.”

Ross has nowhere to go but up and figures to be a bigger part of the 2018 Cincinnati offense than he was last year.

Here’s the latest out of the AFC as new wideouts and cornerbacks aim to break Ross’ 4.22-second 40-yard dash record at the Combine.

  • Rumored to be a retirement candidate again, Dante Scarnecchia is back to work with the Patriots, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com reports. The longtime Pats offensive line coach, who retired after the 2013 season only to return in 2016, looks to be part of New England’s 2018 coaching staff. Now 70, Scarnecchia has been with the Patriots (aside from the 2014-15 seasons) since 1992. Excepting those two years after his initial retirement, Scarnecchia has been the Pats’ O-line coach since 1999.
  • The Broncos have two players who could warrant non-original-round tenders on the RFA market in Matt Paradis and Shaquil Barrett. Pro Football Focus’ top two RFAs, the starting center and part-time starting outside linebacker figure to receive second-round tenders, Mike Klis of 9News writes. Worth $2.9MM apiece, two second-round tenders would cost the Broncos nearly $6MM. That would further eat into Denver’s budget in an offseason in which the team is expected to pursue Kirk Cousins. The Broncos gave Brandon Marshall a second-round tender in 2016 and signed him to a long-term deal that summer and did the same with Brandon McManus. They could take the same route with Paradis, one of the league’s top centers.
  • Denver would like to have auxiliary wideout Bennie Fowler back next season, but Klis notes the team is expected to search for an upgrade at No. 3 receiver. The Broncos have struggled to replace the spot Wes Welker vacated three years ago, with now-UFA Cody Latimer failing to fill that role. Denver drafted Carlos Henderson in the third round of last year’s draft only to see him miss the whole season. The Broncos giving Fowler an original-round tender ($1.9MM) is in play, per Klis. Fowler (29 catches, 350 yards, three TDs) made just $615K last season. The Broncos would prefer to keep starting WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in the fold rather than jettison them to create cap space.
  • The Chargers are seeking a complementary back to go with Melvin Gordon, Eric Williams of ESPN.com writes. But with Austin Ekeler working as a pass-catching back, Williams notes the team would want said supporting-caster to be more of a between-the-tackles bruiser who would spell Gordon.

AFC Notes: Bengals, Ross, Texans, O’Brien

Before he landed on IR, the Bengals spoke with first-round pick John Ross about the possibility of moving to cornerback, Mike Florio of PFT hears. It’s not clear how serious the Bengals were about a position change or why they were thinking about it in the first place. One source speculated that it was a move to help solidify the team’s depth at cornerback and Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer hears the same thing. But, another suggested to Florio that the proposed switch had to do with Ross’ overall toughness.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Head coach Bill O’Brien said he wants to be back with the Texans next season. “I enjoy being the head coach of the Houston Texans,” O’Brien said (Twitter link via Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com). “I expect to be here, but those decisions are not made by me.” Since taking over in Houston in 2014, O’Brien’s teams have gone a combined 31-30, including three straight 9-7 seasons and two AFC South titles.
  • O’Brien said he expects T.J. Yates to start for the Texans on Sunday against the Jaguars (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Tom Savage was left shaking on the field after a big hit in this weekend’s loss to the Niners. He was later brought back on to the field for a series, raising questions about the league’s concussion protocol.
  • Browns head coach Hue Jackson said he doesn’t get the feeling at all that new GM John Dorsey wants to hire his own coach (Twitter link via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal). Although the team has pledged to bring Jackson back for the 2018 season, a report over the weekend indicated that Dorsey is not sold on him.
  • Head coach Sean McDermott says that Tyrod Taylor will be the Bills‘ starting quarterback this week, provided that his knee is healthy enough (Twitter link via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com). Meanwhile, backup Nathan Peterman is in the concussion protocol. The Bills finished out Sunday’s game with Joe Webb under center, so it will be at least a couple of days before they get some clarity on who their starting QB will be against Miami.

AFC North Rumors: Harrison, Ross, Browns

James Harrison sounds like he’s regretting his offseason decision to re-sign with the Steelers. The 39-year-old edge defender told NBC’s Michele Tafoya he would have signed elsewhere had he known he was going to receive this level of playing time (Twitter link). Harrison’s been active for just four Steelers games and has played just 29 snaps. While the Steelers viewed him as a bullpen-type weapon this offseason, those plans either haven’t come to fruition or are part of a long-game solution by the Super Bowl-contending team. He delivered standout football as a full-timer last season, and Pro Football Focus has not viewed Bud Dupree‘s work highly this season. But it hasn’t been enough to get Harrison on the field. Harrison signed a two-year deal to stay in Pittsburgh in March; the Steelers can save $1.3MM by cutting him after the season. While Harrison could look elsewhere if he wants to continue his career, he’ll turn 40 in May and did not fare well the only other time he left Pittsburgh, having retired from the 2013 Bengals.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions.

  • John Ross enjoyed an up-and-down 2017. The former Washington speedster became a top-10 selection despite offseason injuries but enjoyed one of the more nondescript rookie seasons a first-round wideout has in memory, playing just 17 snaps over three Bengals games and failing to catch a pass. Ross will encounter more hurdles soon. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter) Ross will undergo surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder. This comes after Ross underwent a procedure to repair the labrum in his right shoulder. While this marks yet another surgery for the oft-injured pass-catcher, Rapoport notes Ross is expected to be ready by OTAs.
  • The Bengals placed Adam Jones on IR on Saturday, but the veteran cornerback does not want to wrap up his career just yet. The 34-year-old Jones said (on Twitter) he’s “not done playing football.” A team option will determine whether Jones will play his age-35 season on the Bengals, who can save $6MM by cutting the polarizing but effective corner.
  • Paul DePodesta and John Dorsey have yet to meet, with their first summit set to come when they watch Sunday’s Browns-Packers game together. Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports the team’s chief strategy officer was not in on the GM’s hiring, and the longtime Browns reporter doesn’t see how this setup will work. The former MLB exec and Dorsey will each report to Jimmy Haslam, with some potentially contradictory philosophies, while the Browns attempt to move on from a chaotic period that was largely caused by disparate-thinking voices in the building.
  • However, the draft choices Brown acquired and cap space he helped create were the most attractive part of this job, Dorsey said (via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com). Dorsey will control the 53-man roster for the first time in his GM history, commandeering these responsibilities after Andy Reid had them in Kansas City, and he’ll be entering an offseason with more than $110MM in cap space and five first- or second-round picks in the upcoming draft. Dorsey will also likely have access to the No. 1 pick, just as he did during his first Chiefs draft in 2013. The Chiefs took Eric Fisher atop a lower-regarded draft that year.

Bengals Place WR John Ross On IR

The Bengals placed wide receiver John Ross on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. This brings an end to a frustrating year for the team’s first-round pick. John Ross (Vertical)

The speedy wideout appeared in only three games this year and did not catch a single pass. Injuries marred his freshman season in the pros, which is exactly what scouts feared in the spring.

Ross was lighting quick, but he had more red flags than a USSR medal ceremony. He tore his ACL and missed the 2015 collegiate campaign and also underwent labrum surgery after the combine. Clubs loved his 4.22-second 40-yard-dash time, but many viewed him as a one contract player and not as a long-term investment. Next year, he’ll work to prove those critics wrong.

At 5-7, the Bengals have less than a 2% chance of reaching the playoffs. They’ll face the Bears, Vikings, Lions, and Ravens, without their top pick in tow.

In related moves, the Bengals have promoted defensive tackle Josh Tupou from practice squad and signed linebacker Carl Bradford to the practice squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bengals WR John Ross Suffers Knee Sprain

Bengals first-round pick John Ross suffered a knee sprain in Cincinnati’s final preseason game. The sprain is expected to keep him out of the season opener and likely for the team’s short turnaround in Week 2, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). He could potentially return for Week 3. John Ross (Vertical)

Cincinnati starts the 2017 campaign at home against the division-rival Ravens, and then faces the Texans just four days later. That quick turnaround could hypothetically force Ross to miss multiple games, especially if he suffers a setback of some sort. After the Bengals’ Thursday night game versus Houston, the club doesn’t play for 10 more days, so September 24 at Green Bay should represent a worst-case return date for Ross.

Ross, the ninth overall selection in this year’s draft, will add an element of speed to Cincinnati’s offense when healthy, but the Bengals have the wide receiver depth to withstand a short absence from their first-year wideout. A.J. Green, clearly, is one of the best receivers in the league, and Cincinnati also boasts secondary options such as Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, and fourth-round rookie Josh Malone.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Browns, Bengals, Oher, Raiders

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is currently without an agent, tweets Jason Cole of Bleacher Report, who adds Gordon has utilized three different agents in three years. Gordon, 26, is in limbo at the moment after applying for reinstatement in March. He’s yet to hear back from the league regarding his status, and Gordon’s fate with Cleveland is also in question. While reports have indicated the Browns may look to trade Gordon, executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown said the club is open to a Gordon return.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Bengals have agreed to pay first-round wide receiver John Ross his entire 2017 base salary even if he lands on the non-football injury list, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Though Ross suffered injuries (including a torn labrum) while playing football, he wasn’t yet in the NFL when those issues cropped, so the NFI list is still a viable option. Clubs aren’t required to pay players on NFI, but will typically negotiate some sort of compensation if a unique situation arises, and that’s especially true if the player was injured upon arrival in the NFL. Cincinnati inked Ross to a four-year deal worth $17.116MM earlier this week.
  • Given that Max Unger may miss the start of the 2017 campaign, the Saints could turn to reserve interior lineman Senio Kelemete to man the center position until Unger returns to full health. Taking over the starting job could be financially beneficial to Kelemete, as he can earn a $200K incentive if he plays 50% of New Orleans’ snaps next season, according to Nick Underhill of the Advocate (Twitter link). Kelemete, 26, can bring in another $200K for hitting the 60% and 70% snap mark, as well. In 2016, Kelemete played on 57.5% of the Saints’ offensive plays.
  • Panthers offensive tackle Michael Oher turned himself in to Nashville police on Tuesday and will now appear in court on June 6, according to Joseph Person and Lavendrick Smith of the Charlotte Observer. Oher was cited for misdemeanor assault last week following an altercation with an Uber driver in which Oher allegedly knocked the driver to the ground. Carolina selected Western Michigan tackle Taylor Moton in the second round, so Oher — who is still dealing with concussion concerns on top of his legal issues — isn’t a lock to return as a starter, or even make the roster, in 2017.
  • The Raiders were “impressed” by undrafted safety Marcus McWilson, and are expected to sign him to a contract following his tryout at the club’s rookie minicamp, per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Twitter link). McWilson, a Kentucky product, played in 13 games for the Wildcats in 2016, racking up 108 tackles (4.5 for loss) and one interception, which he returned for a touchdown. Oakland has already signed 17 UDFAs and two additional tryout players, but hasn’t yet announced the signing of McWilson.

Bengals Sign John Ross

The Bengals have signed first-round pick (No. 9 overall) John Ross and fourth-round pick (No. 116 overall) Carl Lawson to their rookie contracts, per Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer (via Twitter).

Apr 27, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Huskies receiver John Ross poses after being selected as the number 9 overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ross, of course, had a breakout final season at Washington (81 catches for 1,150 yards and a whopping 17 receiving TDs), and he has game-breaking speed, which will be an excellent complement to A.J. Green in Cincinnati. The concern, of course, is that the diminutive wideout has major medical red flags, which caused some teams to drop him on their boards or remove him from their boards entirely. Ross tore his ACL and missed the 2015 collegiate campaign and also underwent labrum surgery after the combine, and we heard last week that some clubs only view him as a one contract player and not as a long-term investment.

If he stays healthy, his explosiveness could be a boon to the Bengals both on the offensive side of the ball and in the return game. He will be in line for a four-year deal worth roughly $17MM and a $10.5MM signing bonus.

Lawson, meanwhile, was the first of three fourth-round selections the Bengals made, and he will earn roughly $3MM over the life of his four-year pact. The Auburn product amassed 9.5 sacks in his final collegiate season, and Cincinnati plans to utilize his pass-rushing skills from the outside linebacker position even though he lined up as a defensive end in college.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Bengals, Raiders, Lynch, Patriots

The Bengals selected Washington wide receiver John Ross with the ninth overall pick last Thursday, but some clubs didn’t view Ross as a worthwhile long-term investment, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. “We looked at him as a one-contract player,” one front office told La Canfora. “Our doctors had serious reservations about his longevity at this level.” Ross tore his ACL and missed the 2015 collegiate campaign, and also underwent labrum surgery after the combine. If healthy, Ross and his 4.22-second speed should add a new dynamic to Cincinnati’s offense.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • The Raiders‘ deal with running back Marshawn Lynch is worth $9MM over two years, reports Ben Volin of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). In 2017, Lynch will earn a fully guaranteed base salary of $1.35MM plus a $1MM roster bonus due May 3 (which makes it effectively guaranteed). Lynch can also bring in $500K in per-game roster bonuses and $150K via a workout bonus. In 2018, Lynch’s cap number will be $6MM — including a $4MM base salary — but because none of that money is guaranteed (and because Oakland didn’t use a signing bonus), the Raiders can cut Lynch after 2017 with no dead money accelerating onto their cap.
  • Even if new Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley is handed felony charges after an alleged sexual assault, he can’t be suspended by the NFL, league spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Because the incident and accusations occurred prior to Conley entering the league, the NFL cannot discipline him, although the episode come into play down the line. If Conley were to violate the NFL’s conduct policy going forward, he could be treated as a “repeat offender,” according to Florio.
  • Mike Gillislee‘s two-year pact with the Patriots was front-loaded in order to convince the Bills not to match, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets. Gillislee will earn a fully guaranteed base salary of $1.5MM in 2017, and will also rake $2MM via a roster bonus and $500K in per-game roster bonuses. In 2018, he’ll see a non-guaranteed base salary of $1.9MM with another $500K available in per-gamers. No signing bonus was used in the deal.

Draft Rumors: Cowboys, Conley, McCaffrey

Let’s round up the latest NFL Draft rumors:

  • The Cowboys should not been overlooked as a possible destination when it comes to Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, Tom Pelissero of USA Today tweets. Dallas need cornerback help and, as Pelissero notes, they’re used to taking risks. Dallas had Conley in for a visit and also phoned him on Wednesday. Conley, of course, is dealing with allegations of rape, and could fall as far as the third round. If he’s cleared of all charges, Conley could represent an excellent value for the Cowboys at the end of Round 1.
  • Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter) gets the sense that Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is likely to go in the top ten. One NFL GM told Schefter that McCaffrey “had the best combine workout I’ve seen. Ever.” McCaffrey has been linked to the top-10 range for some time, and a number of clubs within that space make sense as a landing spot. The Eagles, sitting at No. 14, are reportedly “infatuated” with McCaffrey, but understand they may have to trade ahead of Carolina.
  • Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (on Twitter) wouldn’t be shocked if the Chargers beat the Panthers to the punch on selecting McCaffrey. Los Angeles used a first-round pick on running back Melvin Gordon in 2015, and he broke out with 10 rushing touchdowns during his sophomore campaign. However, the Chargers did lose Danny Woodhead in free agency, and McCaffrey would presumably fill Woodhead’s passing down role with aplomb.
  • The Ravens‘ interest in Corey Davis is real, Peter Schrager of NFL Network tweets. Baltimore owns the No. 16 overall pick, and is certainly in the market for a wide receiver after losing Steve Smith to retirement. Former first-round pick Breshad Perriman has been injured during much of his NFL tenure, so the Ravens could use another pass-catcher to pair with Mike Wallace. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reported a strong link between Davis and the Ravens on Wednesday.
  • Both UCLA linebacker Takkarist McKinley and Washington wide receiver John Ross could slide due to their medical history, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Both players underwent surgery during the predraft process. While McKinley and Ross are certainly considered talented prospects, interested clubs will have to weigh injury risk against potential upside.