Lamar Jackson

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.

North Notes: McCarthy, Lions, Tuitt, Ravens

Mike McCarthy‘s enjoyed the benefit of coaching two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and the Packers have qualified for nine playoff brackets in the coach’s 12 previous seasons. But with the team in danger of missing the NFC bracket for the second straight season, McCarthy appears to be firmly on the hot seat. The 13th-year Green Bay coach’s job status is “pretty clearly” uncertain regarding 2019, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). McCarthy signed a one-year extension to take him through the ’19 season, so the team isn’t committed long-term here. He’s now reporting to team president Mark Murphy under the post-Ted Thompson power structure, and with Brian Gutekunst now GM, different voices will have a say if McCarthy will be brought back.

That’s the job. That’s the way this business has gone,” McCarthy said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, when asked about his status. “I’m not going to get into comparables, but at the end of the day that’s part of the job responsibility of the head coachWe set a standard here the past 12 years and it’s our responsibility to play to that standard.”

The Packers are venturing near must-win territory if they want to secure their ninth playoff berth in 10 seasons. They face the Vikings in Minnesota next week.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions:

  • The post-Megatron Lions relied on the Marvin JonesGolden Tate tandem. For the first time since Calvin Johnson retired, neither will suit up for Detroit. Jones is out for Sunday’s game against the Panthers after missing practice this week, and ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein reports the veteran Lions wideout is seeking a second opinion on his injured right knee. Initial tests revealed no damage to Jones’ ACL or MCL, and Jones was diagnosed with a bone bruise. He’ll miss only his second game as a Lion. T.J. Jones would likely be the starter in Marvin Jones‘ place.
  • T.J. Lang‘s Lions tenure hasn’t gone as smoothly from a health standpoint. The former Pro Bowl guard landed on IR this week because of a neck injury, but that setback is not believed to be career-threatening, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports. Lang also suffered a concussion that forced him to miss time earlier this season. He only played in six games this season after missing three in 2017. Set for his age-32 season next year, Lang — with an $11.1MM cap number — will be a release candidate in the offseason. The Lions could save more than $8MM by releasing the acclaimed blocker. Lang is due a $500K roster bonus on the fourth day of the upcoming league year.
  • Darius Slay, however, will be back for the Lions after missing Week 10. Bears wideout Allen Robinson gouged the Lions in Slay’s absence, but the All-Pro cornerback was not on the injury report as of Friday and will return Sunday.
  • While the 2018 Jaguars haven’t been the kind of impediment the 2017 version was, the Steelers will be without a key starter in their attempt to beat a team that went 2-0 against them last season. Stephon Tuitt will miss Sunday’s game with an elbow injury he sustained against the Panthers. Tyson Alualu will start in Tuitt’s place up front, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets.
  • Although Robert Griffin III has been mentioned as a possible Ravens starter Sunday, the expectation remains Lamar Jackson will take the reins, Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Jackson’s hospital trip Thursday, coupled with Joe Flacco‘s hip injury, left Griffin as the Ravens’ lone practice quarterback that day. But Jackson returned to practice Friday.

Joe Flacco Doubtful For Week 11

Entering a key AFC North game, the Ravens have a decision to make. They listed Joe Flacco as doubtful going into Sunday’s game against the Bengals, putting the team to a probable Lamar Jackson-or-Robert Griffin III choice.

Flacco’s been dealing with a hip injury since Baltimore’s Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh. The veteran quarterback was spotted on crutches last week and has not practiced this week. Jackson didn’t practice on Thursday because of an illness, and a “legitimate possibility” exists of an RG3 start, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). Jackson did return to practice Friday.

John Harbaugh said Friday his starter may still play, but not practicing all week is not a good indication that will happen, Flacco’s toughness notwithstanding.

The Ravens have wanted to get Jackson involved more. Regardless of Flacco’s Sunday status, Jackson will play more. Not knowing how much obviously will make game-planning difficult for the Bengals in advance of this pivotal matchup. Griffin outplayed Jackson, viewed as a raw passer coming into the draft, during the preseason.

Griffin, though, has not played since the 2016 season. As Jackson’s been used sparingly in certain packages, Griffin’s represented roster depth. That hasn’t been needed in Baltimore since Flacco tore his ACL in 2015. The 11-year starter battled a back injury last season but did not miss any time as a result.

Griffin started five games for the 2016 Browns, being the first-unit passer in that team’s only win. Out of football last season and benched throughout 2015 in order to protect the Redskins against a potential fifth-year option vesting, Griffin’s thrown just five touchdown passes since the end of the 2013 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Joe Flacco Dealing With Hip Injury

As the Ravens attempt to vie for a playoff berth, they may have an issue at quarterback. Joe Flacco‘s now dealing with a hip injury, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Zreibec. Flacco’s status for next week’s game is in jeopardy, Zreibec reports (subscription required).

Currently in their bye week, the Ravens are ramping up Lamar Jackson for a possible Week 11 starting debut. Flacco is seeking medical opinions, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, who adds Baltimore’s course of action may not be known until next week (Twitter links). But it may well be trending in the direction of Jackson moving into a starting role for the time being.

Zreibec reports Flacco suffered this injury on the Ravens’ sixth offensive play against the Steelers last week. Flacco played through the issue last week and was seen limping in the locker room postgame. The Ravens are obviously concerned their longtime starter won’t be able to take the snaps next week.

Jackson has taken snaps this season in specialty packages, as an admittedly uninspired Flacco lines up at wide receiver, but has only attempted 12 passes. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner completed seven of those. He’s run for 139 yards on 28 carries.

The rookie was not viewed to be as refined of a passing prospect as the four other quarterbacks drafted in the first round, and the Ravens were not looking at promoting Jackson yet. However, La Canfora notes they do want to see more of the Louisville product. That may well happen soon. Home games against the Bengals and Raiders represent the next assignments on the Ravens’ schedule.

Flacco has missed just six starts in an 11-year career. All of those came in 2015 due to a torn ACL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Browns, Ravens, Steelers, Vikes

Though it only began Monday, it might be time to pump the brakes on the Bruce Arians/Browns speculation, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Arians said yesterday the Browns were the only NFL gig for which he’d consider leaving retired life, but the ex-Cardinals coach was primarily attempting to highlight former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano‘s qualifications for the Cleveland job rather than tout himself, per Rapoport. It’s not surprising that Arians would put forth Pagano as a candidate for the Browns, as Arians took over as the Colts’ head coach in 2012 after Pagano was diagnosed with cancer.

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

  • The Ravens don’t have any intention of benching starting quarterback Joe Flacco for first-round rookie Lamar Jackson, but they do want to advance their usage of the Louisville product, according to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. “He’s getting better as a quarterback, an NFL quarterback, all the time. You know, I love the guy,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson. “I want to see Lamar on the field, too. How to do that? That’s kind of what we’re working through, so that’s what we’ve got to figure out.” Jackson, 21, has rushed 28 times for 139 yards and one touchdown and completed seven-of-twelve passing attempts for 87 yards and another score. Meanwhile, among quarterbacks with at least 250 attempts, starter Joe Flacco ranks 17th in adjusted net yards per attempt and 18th in passer rating.
  • If Le’Veon Bell doesn’t report to the Steelers this season, a potential 2019 transition tag would become all the more valuable, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. The contractual bargaining agreement indicates Bell would receive a 20% raise over his 2017 salary, meaning he’d be in line for $14.54MM in 2019. If Bell does report this year, however, that 20% would be applied to his 2018 earnings, meaning the transition tag would be worth only $9-10MM. In all, the transition is somewhat irrelevant, as Pittsburgh would have no interest in matching any offer sheet from a rival club.
  • Former Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd has filed a $180MM lawsuit against famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews, alleging that a botched 2016 operation prematurely ended the former’s NFL career, as Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com writes. Floyd alleges he was set to undergo a minor knee procedure two years ago, but was instead given a pain blocker that caused significant nerve and muscle damage. Floyd, who has not played in the NFL since the surgery, is currently engaged in settlement discussions with the Vikings, whom Floyd alleges owes him salary.

Ravens Torn On Keeping Robert Griffin III

The Ravens’ roster hasn’t featured a three-quarterback setup since the 2009 season, but circumstances this year may induce a change to their usual approach.

John Harbaugh said Thursday, via Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com, that Robert Griffin III‘s roster spot will go down to the wire. Despite being out of football last season, Griffin has outplayed Lamar Jackson during the preseason to this point but hasn’t gotten nearly as many game reps as the rookie.

He has played at a starting-caliber level in the games that he’s played, and he’s an experienced guy,” Harbaugh said, via Hensley. “I’d rather have him than not have him, for sure, but there are other factors that go into that and we’ll have to figure all that out. [GM] Ozzie [Newsome] ultimately will have to make that decision.”

RG3’s $1MM salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the Ravens’ Week 1 roster. It’s possible Baltimore would release the 28-year-old quarterback only to bring him back after Week 1, but given the depth issues many teams have at sports’ marquee job, another team could swoop in with a better offer. Griffin could also serve as a trade chip, but Jackson’s struggled during most of the preseason. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner’s completed just 42 percent of his passes. The 2011 Heisman recipient, Griffin’s only attempted 26 passes but has outplayed the younger prospect.

Joe Flacco‘s missed just 10 games in his 10-season career, and each came in 2015 after he tore an ACL. The Ravens are pleased by the strides Jackson’s made, per Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic (subscription required), who adds that Griffin’s roster spot will come down to how Jackson performs during the preseason’s remainder.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Vikings, Dunlap, Jackson

One of the final pieces to the Vikings‘ extensive extension puzzle, Stefon Diggs does not want to leave the Twin Cities anytime soon. Although the emerging wide receiver could be in line for WR1 money on the open market next year, Diggs would prefer his second contract come from the Vikings — as so many of his peers’ have in recent years.

I want to be here. I love being here,” Diggs said, (Twitter link, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press). “I love being a part of the organization. They took a chance on me early on so I love it here as far as where we’re at. … Hopefully, we can get some things done and we’ll see how it goes.”

The Vikings have discussed an extension with Diggs’ camp, but nothing appears to be imminent, per Tomasson. Diggs and Anthony Barr represent the final two steps in Minnesota’s years-long effort to fortify a core, one that stands to be in its primes throughout Kirk Cousins‘ contract. If Diggs were to hit free agency, though, he would almost certainly be a coveted commodity. While Odell Beckham Jr. could theoretically be a 2019 free agent, that seems unlikely. Diggs could be the top wideout on a market that as of now would include Devin Funchess, Randall Cobb and Kelvin Benjamin.

Here’s the latest from the North.

  • Carlos Dunlap and the Bengals may be approaching the finish line on what would be a third Cincinnati contract for the veteran defensive end. Drew Rosenhaus spent time in Cincinnati this weekend, and Dunlap said (via Paul Dehner Jr. and Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer), “When you see him out here you know he is doing something. He’s out here for a reason.” Dunlap and the Bengals have made progress on a deal this offseason, but the 29-year-old pass rusher remains tied to his second contract. That deal expires after this season. Dunlap wants to play the rest of his NFL days in Cincinnati. “I would love to get it done. I would love to finish my career here as a Bengal,” he said, via Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com.
  • Lamar Jackson‘s slender frame emerged as a pre-draft topic, but the Ravens rookie not planning a significant weight-gain project as he readies for the NFL. Jackson said (via Terez Paylor of Yahoo.com) he’s at 216 pounds and doesn’t want to be above 220, in order to maintain his elite speed.
  • First-round pick Mike Hughes will work as the Vikings‘ kick returner, while veteran Marcus Sherels will start off as the punt returner, Tomasson tweets. Though there will be competition, this would be the team’s preferred arrangement. Re-signed this offseason, Sherels has been Minnesota’s punt-return man for seven years. Hughes only worked as a return man in one season, last year at Central Florida, but he totaled three return touchdowns in that time.
  • As expected, Mychal Kendricks saw his first Browns action as a weak-side linebacker, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal notes. Recovering from offseason ankle surgery, the former Eagles ‘backer is participating on a limited basis for now. Ulrich suggests Kendricks may be a super-sub, working at all three Browns linebacker spots while Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins and Joe Schobert retain their first-string roles.

AFC Notes: Ravens, Flacco, Brady, Jets

Receiver Breshad Perriman has disappointed since being selected in the first round of the 2015 draft. In three seasons with the Ravens, the 24-year-old has hauled in only 43 receptions for 576 yards and three touchdowns. Considering his lack of production and the team’s depth at his position, Perriman understands that this is a make-or-break year.

“It’s a scary topic,” he told Edward Lee of The Baltimore Sun. “You know what’s on the line; you know that everything is on the line. It’s kind of like a make-or-break year, but at the same time, you can’t put that extra pressure on yourself. So I just really want to go out there and get better every day and control what you can control. Go out there and get better every day and go hard and everything will play out.”

The Ravens signed three free agent receivers in Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead, and the also drafted a pair of wideouts in Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley. Naturally, Perriman recognizes that he’ll have to compete for a roster spot.

“This whole game is nothing but competition,” he said. “So it’s basically just the same thing. We all embrace it, and we all know that it’s a lot of competition. At the same time, we still want the best for each other and we still encourage each other and motivate each other. When we step out here between these lines, we’re all just trying to compete and make plays.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the AFC…

  • There’s been plenty of talk about the Ravens decision to select quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round of this past year’s draft. Agent Joe Linta told Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic that incumbent quarterback Joe Flacco had expected the organization to select a signal-caller, just not in the first round. “We talked about it many times, We knew they were going to draft somebody; I would have thought it may have been a Mason Rudolph situation,” said Linta, referring to the situation between the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger. “But they had a guy they targeted, and they took him. They didn’t do anything wrong…A lot of people in the media have to create a controversy. No one is mad that they picked a QB. [Ravens executives] are not stupid. They want to win more than they want Joe out. You got a 33-year-old guy with two major injuries. It would be bad business for them to not have a good guy behind him.”
  • Tom Brady may have been absent from team OTAs, but it sounds like he’s going to be early for Patriots training camp. As Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com points out, Brady commented on a Patriots Instagram post stating that he’ll be showing up to training camp four days early. Brady has previously said he missed non-mandatory minicamp due to “personal reasons,” and he made an appearance at Patriots practice in early June.
  • Jets wideout Robby Anderson is set to be a restricted free agent next offseason, and Brian Costello of the New York Post says it’d be a shock if the team didn’t bring him back. However, the writer notes that the embattled 25-year-old could receive a lucrative offer from another team if he has a big 2018 season. Legal issues aside, the former undrafted free agent has looked like a starting receiver during his two years with the Jets, including a 2017 campaign where he hauled in 63 receptions for 941 yards and seven touchdowns.

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.