All eight players have tested positive for the virus (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero), putting their availability in doubt. Still, as of this writing, the game is still slated to go ahead as planned on Saturday (Twitter link).
On Monday alone, 36 NFL players — including Chargers tackleRashawn Slater — were placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list. Since then, the league has issued a memo requiring booster shots for all Tier 1 and 2 staff by Dec. 27. While players are not required to be vaccinated, coaches and trainers fall within Tier 1.
The Browns were already down three players on Sunday, including tight end David Njoku, thanks to the reserve/COVID-19 designation. Despite that, they still managed to beat the Ravens and advance to 7-6 on the year.
As expected, the Browns will be getting some reinforcement tomorrow night against the Ravens. The team has officially activated running back Kareem Hunt and and right tackle Jack Conklin from injured reserve. Both players are listed as questionable but are expected to play. Cleveland has also waived guard Hjalte Froholdt and defensive end Joe Jackson, and they’ve promoted defensive end Porter Gustin and wideout Jojo Natson from the practice squad (via Nate Ulrich of the Beacon Journal on Twitter).
Hunt has been on Cleveland’s IR list since suffering a calf injury in Week 6. Despite Hunt missing extensive time and Nick Chubb being sidelined for multiple games as well, Cleveland’s vaunted rushing attack still leads the NFL. Hunt, however, was averaging 5.2 yards per carry through six games. The ex-rushing champion has topped out at 4.9 over a full season.
Hunt has experienced knee and wrist issues as well this season, and he is unlikely to be 100% again until the 2022 campaign. But Hunt returning at slightly less than 100% would certainly help a Browns team that has struggled through the air. The running back duo obviously affects the Browns’ offensive output. In five games with Chubb and Hunt active, the Browns are averaging 28.4 points and 417.6 yards per game. In the six in which either has missed, they have scored just 16.5 points per contest while averaging barely 315 yards, via ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter).
Conklin went down with a dislocated elbow in Week 8, adding a three-game absence on top of a two-game hiatus earlier this season. The Browns gave the ex-Titans right tackle a three-year, $42MM deal in 2020. His five missed games this season mark his first extended absence since 2018, when he missed nine games. The former first-round pick remains one of the NFL’s best right tackles. Pro Football Focus grades Conklin 14th among all tackles in his abbreviated 2021 slate.
Jackson has appeared in a career-high 10 games this season, collecting 11 tackles and one sack. Froholdt has seen time in four games for Cleveland this season. Gustin got into 14 games for the Browns last year but has been limited to only one appearance in 2021. Natson has also seen time in one game this season, returning three kickoffs.
Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline Tuesday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters. In addition to waiver claims, teams can begin constructing their 16-man practice squads today. These Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers moves are noted below.
Here are Wednesday’s AFC North transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day.