John Ross

Make-Or-Break Year: Bengals WR John Ross

In 2017, the Bengals had the No. 9 overall pick and two clear top needs. First, there was the defensive end position, where they were hoping to upgrade from Michael Johnson after another so-so season. They were also out to find a young and athletic wide receiver to help take the pressure off of A.J. Green. John Ross, who wowed scouts with a 4.22-second 40-yard-dash time, fit the bill at WR, though many figured the Bengals would trade down to take him.

[RELATED: Bengals Rejected Trades For William Jackson III]

Instead, they stood pat and used their top pick to take Ross. At the time, many said that it was a reach – the Washington product’s speed was undeniably impressive, but his medical history was extensive. In 2015, he tore his ACL and missed the entire season. And, after his impressive combine showing, he underwent labrum surgery. In short, evaluators loved him, but most viewed him as a one-contract player rather than a long-term investment.

So far, Ross hasn’t done much to prove the critics wrong. In three pro seasons, Ross has played a grand total of 24 games. At times, when healthy and on the field, he’s dazzled. Ross looked like a monster in the making after is Week 1 performance against the Seahawks last year, going off for seven catches, 158 yards, and two scores. In Week 2 against the 49ers, he topped 100 yards once again, and he did it with just four receptions. After that, Ross missed all of October and November due to injury and did not post another 100-yard game.

As expected, the Bengals declined Ross’ fifth-year option in May, turning down a one-year, $15.68MM add-on that would have guaranteed his 2021 season for injury. Even more concerning for Ross’ Cincinnati future, the club used the first pick of the second round to select Tee Higgins, who is fresh off of a ~1,200-yard season at Clemson. The Bengals haven’t quite written Ross off, but they’re not planning around him either.

With one year left on Ross’ original rookie contract, the story on him is roughly the same as it was three years ago – Ross has the speed and skills to dominate the league, but he has not been able to stay healthy and put it all on display. Ross can cash in as a free agent (with the Bengals or one of the league’s other 31 teams) if he turns in a full and productive season, but he’ll also have to maintain his place in the pecking order. If the majority of Joe Burrow‘s targets go to Green, Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, Ross won’t have much of an opportunity to showcase himself.

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Bengals To Decline John Ross’ Fifth-Year Option

This won’t come as much of a surprise, but the Bengals have declined wide receiver John Ross‘ fifth-year option. Ross will therefore become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020 season.

As a 2017 draft choice, Ross’ fifth-year option would have been guaranteed for injury only, but given his injury history, that was not a gamble Cincinnati was willing to take. Plus, as a top-10 pick in the 2017 draft, Ross’ option would have been worth a whopping $15.68MM, which would not have made sense for the team even if Ross had managed to stay completely healthy throughout his first three years in the league.

The Washington product was brought in to serve as a speed merchant and to add some sizzle to a passing offense that had become a middling unit despite the presence of A.J. Green. That did not happen. Instead, he failed to impress head coach Marvin Lewis in training camp in 2017, and between injuries and generally uninspiring play in practice, Ross played in only three games as a rookie and did not record a catch.

Though he started 10 games in 2018, he managed only 21 catches for 210 yards — which was a disappointment in terms of both overall output and yards-per-catch average — and after a hot start to 2019, he missed another eight games due to injury. The Bengals selected promising Clemson product Tee Higgins with the first pick of the second round in this year’s draft, and they are clearly preparing for life without Ross (which will probably look strikingly similar to life with Ross).

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AFC Notes: Tunsil, Dalton, Ross, Bengals

Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil recently landed a three-year, $66MM extension that easily made him the league’s highest-paid offensive lineman, and he did it without an agent. Tunsil negotiated the contract himself and he’s quite happy he did, writes Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com. Tunsil said he thinks he “started a trend by not having an agent doing my deal,” and that he “wanted to reset the market and become the highest-paid offensive linemen just so all the young players under me [know] that anything is possible.”

During the press call Tunsil revealed that he first started talking with the Texans back in February, and that he was insistent on signing a shorter-term deal so he could re-enter free agency again when he was still young. Tunsil is locked up through the 2023 season now, and he’ll still only be 29 when he hits free agency in the spring of 2024. This could become a growing trend in the league, and Tunsil said he spoke with Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, who also negotiated his own contract, during the process. “You just have to bet on yourself, and that’s what I did, and I got the deal done,” Tunsil declared. “I’m extremely proud of myself and the team. I’m still speechless, even though it was a couple of days ago they made the announcement. I’m still speechless.”

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • The draft came and went, and the Bengals were unable to find any takers for Andy Dalton. They’ve been trying to trade their former starting quarterback for a while, and Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic thinks they will end up releasing him shortly after failing to unload him over the weekend. It looks like Cincy is about to finally give up on trading Dalton and the nearly $18MM he’s owed for 2020. We heard shortly before the draft that the Bengals hadn’t ruled out keeping him, but that was likely just a ploy to try to keep his trade value alive. The game of quarterback musical chairs has pretty much ended, and there aren’t many teams out there still looking for a veteran signal-caller. The Patriots have been rumored as an option, and it’ll be very interesting to see where Dalton ends up signing once he gets released. The Colts apparently sniffed around before opting to sign Philip Rivers.
  • Speaking of the Bengals, the draft also spelled bad news for receiver John Ross. Dehner writes that the selection of former Clemson receiver Tee Higgins at the top of the second-round “does pretty much confirm this will be Ross’ last year in Cincinnati.” The Bengals drafted Ross ninth overall in 2017, and his career got off to a very bumpy start. Injuries limited him to only three games and zero catches as a rookie, and he had only 210 yards in 2018. This past season he got off to a torrid start, racking up 270 yards and three touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. He cooled off quickly after that though, and ended up missing another eight games due to injury. He finished with 506 yards in eight games, but the progress apparently still didn’t inspire much confidence within the organization. The Bengals will have to decide this week whether or not to pick up Ross’ fifth-year option for 2021, and Dehner makes it sound like that isn’t too likely.

Bengals Activate John Ross

The Bengals have their first win and their former first-round wide receiver back in action. On Tuesday, they officially activated wide receiver John Ross off of the injured reserve list. 

Ross has been out since injuring his sternoclavicular joint in Week 4. Last month, they designated him for return, opening up a multi-week practice window. Now that Ross has been brought back within that timeframe, he’ll be eligible to play again in 2019.

Ross, the No. 9 overall pick in 2017, was written off by many as a bust, but showed some signs of life early on this year. Injuries and a lack of trust from Marvin Lewis had plagued Ross’ first two years in Cincy, but he started the season with 16 catches for 328 yards and three touchdowns in four games.

There’s now reason to believe that Ross could blossom into the top-level deep threat the Bengals were hoping for back in 2017. This is, of course, a lost season for the Bengals, but it’s a ripe opportunity for Ross to work his way back from his shoulder injury and cement his place in the team’s plans moving forward.

The Bengals figure to make lots of changes this offseason, but Ross figures to be an integral part of the offense in 2020. He remains under his rookie deal, which runs through 2020. He’ll carry a $5.45MM cap number in his final year, but the Bengals can add a fifth season via his rookie option.

To make room for Ross, the team waived rookie wide receiver Damion Willis for the second time this year.

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Bengals’ John Ross Designated For Return

Bengals wide receiver John Ross has been designated to return from injured reserve, per a club announcement. He’ll be eligible to play in Week 13, following a few weeks of practice. 

Ross, the No. 9 overall pick of the 2017 draft, was written off by many as a bust, but was finally starting to make an impact this year. Injuries and a lack of trust from Marvin Lewis had plagued Ross’ first two years in Cincy, but he started the season with 16 catches for 328 yards and 3 touchdowns in four games.

There’s now reason to believe that Ross could blossom into the top-level deep threat the Bengals were hoping for back in 2017. This is, of course, a lost season for the 0-9 Bengals, but it’s a ripe opportunity for Ross to work his way back from his shoulder injury and cement his place in the team’s plans moving forward. The Bengals figure to make lots of changes this offseason, but Ross figures to be an integral part of the offense in 2020.

Ross remains under his rookie deal, which runs through 2020. He’ll carry a $5.45MM cap number in his final year, but the Bengals can add a fifth season via his rookie option.

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Bengals Place John Ross On IR

Receivers are dropping like flies. Just moments after we heard the Chargers were placing Dontrelle Inman on injured reserve, we got word of another wideout hitting the shelf. The Bengals are placing John Ross on IR, according to a tweet from Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic.

Dehner notes that the Bengals have promoted receiver Stanley Morgan from the practice squad in a corresponding roster move, and that it’s a sternocavicular injury for Ross. We heard yesterday that Ross was going to miss some time, but it was initially reported as something that would sideline him for around a month. Now, he’ll have to miss the next eight weeks at least. On the bright side Ross is expected back this season, and the injury had about a six-week timetable but the Bengals wanted to give him extra rest, tweets Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.

It’s a tough blow for Ross, and for the Bengals’ offense. The ninth overall pick of the 2017 draft, who had been written off by many as a bust, was finally starting to make an impact. Injuries and a lack of trust from Marvin Lewis had plagued Ross’ first two years in Cincy, but he had 270 yards through the first two games of this season and was starting to look like the elite deep threat he was supposed to be.

With A.J. Green still not set to return anytime soon, the Bengals’ 0-4 offense is in dire circumstances. Second-year seventh-round pick Auden Tate will now be asked to play a big role moving forward. Morgan is an undrafted rookie from Nebraska who was waived at final cuts.

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John Ross To Miss Multiple Games

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but John Ross is going to be missing time with a significant injury. The talented but oft-hurt receiver will miss multiple games due to a shoulder injury he suffered on Monday Night Football against the Steelers, sources told Mike Garafolo of NFL Network (Twitter link).

Garafolo notes that his time on the sidelines “could be in the range of a month or so.” It’s devastating news for Ross, as he was finally starting to come on strong. Injuries have plagued the ninth overall pick of the 2017 draft during his football career, dating all the way back to an ACL tear he suffered in college. Knee and shoulder issues limited him as a rookie, and he ended up in Marvin Lewis’ doghouse.

Ross was frequently a healthy scratch under Lewis as a rookie, and after an underwhelming sophomore season, many people labeled him a bust. He reportedly had a strong offseason, and started to thrive in new coach Zac Taylor’s system. He had 270 yards receiving and three touchdowns through the first two weeks of the season, and looked like the blazing fast deep threat he was always supposed to be coming into the league.

Now, it’s yet another setback for the Washington product. It’s also the last thing this Bengals team needed, as their offense looked terrible on Monday night in a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh. A.J. Green doesn’t look like he’s particularly close to returning from his ankle injury, so Cincinnati’s receiving corp will be very thin moving forward. They’ll be leaning heavily on Tyler Boyd moving forward. Taylor’s tenure has gotten off to a disastrous start, as the Bengals are now 0-4. He’ll try to pick up his first win as a head coach in Week 5 against the Cardinals.

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AFC North Notes: Ravens, Steelers, Browns

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters last week that slot cornerback Tavon Young could miss the 2019 season after suffering a serious neck injury, but the club hasn’t been given an update on the status of the 25-year-old defensive back. “Nothing definitive,” Harbaugh said, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com (Twitter link). “It’s in the opinions of the doctors. I’m sure there are different ways of looking at it, so they’ll probably see how it goes in the next week or two or three, and see what the progress is.” If Young is sidelined for the upcoming campaign, Baltimore will likely deploy Brandon Carr in the slot, while Cyrus Jones is also a candidate to see work inside.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • John Ross will finally make his 2019 practice debut early next week, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told reporters, including Ben Baby of ESPN.com (Twitter link). A hamstring injury has forced Ross to sit out of practice sessions thus far, but if the former ninth overall pick gets in two weeks of work, Taylor believes he’ll be ready for the season opener against the Seahawks. Cincinnati will already be without A.J. Green for the first few weeks of the season after the veteran pass-catcher suffered an ankle injury in July, so getting Ross on the field would be a boon to the club’s offense. Ross, 24, posted only 21 receptions a year ago but did haul in seven touchdowns.
  • More from Cincinnati, where receiver depth isn’t the only roster issue: Cordy Glenn has been diagnosed with a concussion, meaning the left tackle may not be ready for Week 1, tweets Jay Morrison of The Athletic. As a result, the Bengals — who have already lost rookie left tackle Jonah Williams (shoulder injury) and left guard Clint Boling (retirement), may be forced to use Andre Smith as Andy Dalton‘s blindside protector, per Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Smith, now in his fourth stint with the Bengals, does have some experience at left tackle, but the overwhelming majority of his NFL time has been spent on the right side.
  • Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton has posted a “tremendous” preseason and could have a significant role on Pittsburgh’s defense, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. Sutton has played so well that he could potentially overtake Mike Hilton as the team’s slot corner. At worst, Sutton is likely to serve as the Steelers’ third outside corner behind Joe Haden and Steven Nelson and play as a dime linebacker in six-defensive back looks. Sutton, a third-round pick out of Tennessee in 2017, played 113 defensive snaps during his rookie campaign and 240 last season.
  • The Browns now have three candidates to replace Kevin Zeitler at right guard, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes. Veteran Eric Kush was thought to be leading the competition against 2018 second-round pick Austin Corbett, but rookie sixth-rounder Drew Forbes has also entered the mix. Per head coach Freddie Kitchens, the battle is still wide open. Corbett, though, hasn’t practiced at right guard in weeks, and is instead working as Cleveland’s backup center.

AFC Notes: Kraft, Patriots, Bengals

Patriots owner Robert Kraft might not be out of the woods just yet. We heard a few days ago that a judge had ruled in favor of Kraft’s legal team to suppress video evidence in his case that had allegedly been obtained illegally. It was a major procedural win for Kraft, and indicated he might get out of his situation without being convicted of anything. That being said, the government isn’t going down without a fight. Prosecutors are appealing the judges decision, and are looking to get the video evidence reinstated, per T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com.

Kraft’s attorney William Burck celebrated the news, saying it was a sign that the government’s case was very weak without the tape. The lead prosecutor is “acknowledging he has no case without the illegal video recordings that four Florida judges have now found to be unconstitutional,” Burck said. “No evidence means no trial. So the state had only two options — drop the case or appeal. They chose to appeal, but we are confident the appellate court will agree with Judge Hanser and the other judges who threw out their illegally obtained evidence.” Even if Burck is right and the state eventually drops the case, the Patriots boss could still face discipline from the league. How likely Roger Goodell is to issue punishment without a conviction is anyone’s guess. We’ll keep you updated when a ruling on the appeal comes in.

Here’s more from the AFC on a quiet Sunday afternoon:

  • Speaking of the Patriots, they now have a very crowded running backs room. James White, Sony Michel, core special teamer Brandon Bolden (who just got $2MM guaranteed to return to New England), and last month’s third round pick Damien Harris all seem like locks to make the roster and be active on game-days. As such, Rex Burkhead could be the odd-man out, writes Jeff Howe of The Athletic. Howe doesn’t think the Pats will cut Burkhead as long as he’s healthy, but he could be facing an uphill battle to be on the active-46 on Sundays. Howe points out that Bill Belichick is usually pretty steadfast about keeping only four running backs active, but he could make an exception if Burkhead’s special teams prowess is deemed too valuable. Burkhead is heading into the second year of a three-year extension he signed in March of 2018, and it’s not inconceivable he could be cut this offseason. Injuries limited him to just eight games last year, and ten in 2017.
  • John Ross didn’t participate in the Bengals’ veterans voluntary minicamp last month due to “tightness,” per Geoff Hobson of the team’s official site. This isn’t necessarily major news, but it’s notable because of Ross’ lengthy history with lower body injuries. Groin issues forced Ross to miss a few games last year, and he only played in three games as a rookie due to shoulder and knee issues, so it’s troubling he’s dealing with any sort of “tightness.” The ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft has proven he can be a burner, but not much else. We heard back in February the team was shopping the young wideout, but the Bengals pushed back on those reports soon after. New Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor has promised Ross a fresh start, but he’ll need to stay healthy to get that. He’ll have his work cut out for him carving out targets behind A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, who are entrenched as the first and second options. If he wants to avoid being labeled as a bust, he needs a big 2019.

Bengals: We’re Not Shopping John Ross

Multiple reports indicate the Bengals are looking to trade John Ross, but the club says that’s not accurate. On Wednesday, Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin called those rumors “fake news,” and added that the club has no plans to trade the wide receiver. 

We have had no discussion about [Ross],” Tobin said (Twitter link via Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly). “That’s from the ‘ready, fire, aim’ school of journalism.”

Just two years ago, Ross turned heads as an ultra-speedy prospect out of Washington. Unfortunately, injuries sidetracked him as a rookie and his usage was inconsistent in 2018. It seems unlikely that Ross is a major part of the Bengals’ plans moving forward, so Tobin’s denial should be taken with a grain of salt.

Instead, Tobin’s comments at the combine could be a last ditch effort to salvage Ross’ trade value. After investing a top 10 pick in Ross, the Bengals do not necessarily want to trade the speedster for pennies on the dollar. This year’s free agent wide receiver class is lackluster, so the Bengals could be holding out hope for an OK return via trade.

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