Justin Herbert

Panthers QB Notes: Darnold, Mayfield, Rhule, Herbert, Stafford, Tepper, Watson

Although the Panthers are starting Baker Mayfield in Week 11, they want to see Sam Darnold in action this season. Steve Wilks said he would like to give Darnold some work, though the interim HC did not indicate that would be certain to happen this week against the Ravens. “I’m interested in winning the game. This is not pay $250 to get to play,” Wilks said, via The Athletic’s Joe Person (on Twitter).

Carolina used one of its injury activations to move Darnold onto its 53-man roster last week, but the former No. 3 overall pick did not see any action against the Falcons. P.J. Walker is out of the picture for the time being, after becoming the third Carolina QB this season to suffer a high ankle sprain. Mayfield will make his first start since sustaining his ankle injury in Week 9. Here is the latest from what has become one of the more complex QB situations in recent NFL history:

  • After playing hurt last season, Mayfield has not turned it around. On the radar for a potential franchise-QB deal in 2021, Mayfield is on track for free agency for the first time. The market for the former No. 1 overall pick may check in at $5-$7MM on a prove-it deal, David Newton of ESPN.com notes. Mayfield’s 17.7 QBR ranks last in the NFL.
  • This situation has been in flux since Cam Newton‘s 2019 foot injury. Prior to the team making the Newton-for-Teddy Bridgewater change, GM Marty Hurney and most of the Panthers’ scouts were high on Justin Herbert. But Matt Rhule did not view 2020 as the window to draft a quarterback, with Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com indicating in an expansive piece the team saw a jump from No. 7 overall to No. 4 — ahead of the QB-seeking Dolphins and Chargers — as too costly. While then-Giants GM Dave Gettleman was not keen on trading down, going most of his GM career without ever doing so, the Panthers not making a push for Herbert has led to QB chaos.
  • After the Panthers determined Bridgewater — a preference of former OC Joe Brady — would be a one-and-done in Charlotte, they made a big offer for Matthew Stafford. Negotiations between new Panthers GM Scott Fitterer and Lions rookie GM Brad Holmes at the 2021 Senior Bowl led to Panthers brass leaving Mobile believing they were set to acquire Stafford, Fowler notes. It is interesting to learn how far the GMs progressed in talks, because Stafford made it known soon after he did not want to play for the Panthers. The Rams then came in late with their two-first-rounder offer, forcing the Panthers and others to look elsewhere.
  • Rhule then pushed hard for Darnold, Fowler adds, after Panthers staffers went through film sessions evaluating he, Carson Wentz and Drew Lock. The Panthers sent the Jets second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for the former No. 3 overall pick and picked up his guaranteed $18.9MM fifth-year option. Owner David Tepper begrudgingly picked up the option but became irked by the 2023 cost hanging over the franchise, per Fowler. Tepper is believed to have held up this year’s Mayfield trade talks in order to move the Browns to pick up more money on his option salary. The delay was connected to the Panthers already having Darnold’s fifth-year option to pay.
  • Tepper’s main prize during this multiyear QB odyssey, Deshaun Watson, was leery of the Panthers’ staff uncertainty, Fowler adds. All things being equal between the four finalists — Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland, New Orleans — the Panthers were not believed to be Watson’s first choice. The Falcons were viewed as the team that would have landed Watson if the Browns did not make that unprecedented $230MM guarantee offer.
  • Fitterer offered support for a Mitch Trubisky signing this offseason, according to Fowler, who adds the team never engaged in extended talks with Jimmy Garoppolo‘s camp. While Garoppolo said the Panthers were in the mix, the team was believed to be leery of his injury history. Trubisky is in Year 1 of a two-year, $14.3MM deal. While Trubisky may well be available again in 2023, the Panthers — having added six draft picks from the Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson trades — will be connected to this year’s crop of QB prospects.

Matt Rhule Latest: QBs, Giants, Brady

Despite authorizing a seven-year contract to lure Matt Rhule from Baylor, Panthers owner David Tepper cut the cord this week. Tepper did so less than three years after he outmuscled the Giants for Rhule, who was believed to have preferred the Giants job to the one he ended up taking. After the Giants sent a private plane for Rhule’s January 2020 interview, Tepper upped his offer from six years to seven, according to Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). The seven-year, $62MM contract ensured Rhule never boarded that plane.

Although Rhule reached out to the Giants to see if they would match, John Mara viewed such a contract as exorbitant for a coach without much NFL experience. Still, the Giants preferred Rhule to Joe Judge that year. The Panthers, who paid Baylor a $6MM buyout fee in 2020, will not be forced to pay out Rhule’s guaranteed $40MM-plus remaining. Carolina is on the hook for Rhule’s 2022 salary, but the remaining cash will be offset by the coach’s next college gig — whenever that comes to pass. Here is the latest from the Rhule dismissal:

  • The Panthers made a quarterback splash in 2020, giving Teddy Bridgewater a three-year deal worth $63MM. Then-OC Joe Brady lobbied for Bridgewater, whom the young coach worked with during his time with the Saints, Person adds. Bridgewater was by far the best QB option during the Rhule period, with the Sam Darnold, Cam Newton 2.0 and Baker Mayfield (so far) stays producing bottom-end work.
  • Another option for Carolina would have been Justin Herbert, but Person notes the team did not want to give up the draft capital necessary to trade up for the Oregon prospect. The Panthers held the No. 7 overall pick in 2020; Herbert went sixth to the Chargers. Carolina, however, may have needed to trade up to No. 3 (Detroit) to secure Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa real estate. The Dolphins and Bolts likely were not open to moving down, and at that point, Dave Gettleman had never traded down during his time as the Giants or Panthers’ GM. The Panthers liked Herbert as a prospect, but they ended up taking Derrick Brown at 7. That certainly qualifies as a notable “what if?” for the organization.
  • After the Panthers passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in 2021, they were linked to ex-Rhule Temple recruit Kenny Pickett at No. 6 this year. But Carolina did not view Pickett as worthy of such a high pick, Person adds. GM Scott Fitterer openly said before the draft the team would have the tackle prospects rated above all the QB talents in this year’s draft. Other teams tended to agree, with the Steelers nabbing Pickett at No. 20 — without trading up — and no other QBs coming off the board until Round 3.
  • Rhule’s decision to fire Brady after going on vacation during Carolina’s 2021 bye week did not sit well with some players, per Person. Rhule encouraged players to get away that week and kept his travel plans, but Brady and QBs coach Sean Ryan stayed in town to work with the recently re-signed Newton as he learned the Panthers’ new offense. Brady’s firing leaked on the Sunday during Carolina’s bye week, when Rhule returned to Charlotte. Brady is now the Bills’ quarterbacks coach.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo said the Panthers were one of the teams that showed interest in trading for him. “Things were advancing with a couple different teams,” Garoppolo said, via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch. “They were at the top of the list, I would say. One of the top couple, but I’m glad the way things worked out and I’m here.” The Panthers were among the teams skittish about Garoppolo’s salary, leading to his 49ers restructure, and his injury history was an issue with some Carolina staffers. Carolina acquired Mayfield in early July, but, adding to this franchise’s recent quarterback complications, Tepper’s desire to not overpay led to a delay that went against Rhule and Fitterer’s wishes.

Chargers To Start Jamaree Salyer At LT

The Chargers have placed starting LT Rashawn Slater on injured reserve, and they will be turning to a rookie to fill the void. As Daniel Popper of The Athletic reported earlier this week, the Bolts will deploy 2022 sixth-rounder Jamaree Salyer on QB Justin Herbert‘s blind side for the team’s Week 4 matchup with the Texans (Twitter link).

It would have been fair to expect veteran Storm Norton, who started 15 games at right tackle for the Chargers in 2021 and who filled in at left tackle in Week 3 when Slater went down with a torn biceps tendon, to get the nod, at least for the next couple of games. That is especially true given that Salyer, who is listed at 6-3, has less than ideal height for an NFL tackle. Given his size, Salyer was originally drafted as a guard, though he does have long arms and acquitted himself well as a tackle against Aidan Hutchinson — this year’s No. 2 overall pick — in the College Football Playoff semifinals last year.

Salyer also has a higher ceiling than Norton, a 2017 UDFA who lost this summer’s training camp battle for the starting RT job to Trey Pipkins III. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes, the expectation is that Salyer will be a capable replacement for Slater. In the first three weeks of his pro career, Salyer has seen the field for 11 special teams snaps, so Sunday’s game will represent a trial by fire.

Herbert, of course, needs all the protection he can get. The passer is dealing with fractured rib cartilage, and while he came off the injury report on Friday, head coach Brandon Staley has confirmed that the injury will linger and will impact Herbert for some time. Luckily, starting center Corey Linsley — who exited the team’s Week 2 loss to the Chiefs due to a knee injury and who was inactive for the Week 3 loss to the Jaguars — is active for Sunday’s Houston contest.

RapSheet also passes along some good news with respect to Slater. Despite reports that the second-year pro would miss the remainder of the season, he may be able to return near the end of the campaign. If the Chargers are in the playoff hunt, Slater could suit up for one of the final two games of the season, or at least for the first game of the postseason if Los Angeles should qualify.

Cornerback J.C. Jackson, like Herbert, also came off the injury report on Friday.

Latest On Chargers QB Justin Herbert

SEPTEMBER 25, 1:57pm: Rapoport tweets that Herbert will play today, not long after the team confirmed that he will be active. His mobility and pain tolerance will be worth closely monitoring, though, of course. The club announced that receiver Keenan Allen and cornerback J.C. Jackson will not play against the Jaguars, however.

SEPTEMBER 25, 10:47am: Herbert received a pain injection on Thursday, with mixed results. If he gets another injection on Sunday in an effort to suit up for the Jaguars contest, it will be done with an ultrasound imaging monitor to guide the administering doctor (though one assumes an ultrasound was utilized for the Thursday injection as well, especially in light of the Taylor situation).

However, the Chargers’ medical team has encouraged Herbert to take a long-term view of the situation, thus implying that sitting out at least the Week 3 game may be his best bet. After all, this injury can linger for weeks or months, and a rib protector does not assist with rotation when Herbert has to twist or throw.

Herbert must sign a form advising him of the risks if he chooses to get an injection. Presumably, he needed to sign a similar form for the Thursday injection.

SEPTEMBER 23: Justin Herbert‘s most recent in-game visuals would make it unsurprising if he missed time, but the star quarterback managed limited practices all week. He will go into Sunday’s Jaguars-Chargers game with the vague questionable designation.

While Herbert said he feels good, Chase Daniel took some first-team reps at Chargers practice Friday, via ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (Twitter links). Herbert also stopped short of guaranteeing he will play Sunday. Daniel re-signed on another one-year deal to return as Herbert’s backup; the veteran QB2 has not yet started a game as a Charger.

I don’t know,” Herbert said on a decision to play. “Whatever the plan is, I know our team is going to be prepared and do everything we can. That decision will be made on Sunday. Haven’t ruled anything out.”

Herbert suffered a rib cartilage fracture late in the Bolts’ Week 2 loss to the Chiefs. Herbert’s rib issue comes days after his Chargers QB1 predecessor, Tyrod Taylor, filed a lawsuit against the team’s doctor after a pregame injection resulted in a punctured lung. That development sidelined Taylor, who was dealing with a rib injury in September 2020, and allowed Herbert to take over earlier than the team planned to make that transition.

Brandon Staley said this week the Chargers will be careful with their starter, indicating all parties — following Taylor’s lawsuit — are on the same page here.

“I think we have full alignment with Justin and his family, his agents, and then the medical professionals, and that’s what we’re going to try to do is have alignment that way and just kind of trust the process and hopefully get him well soon,” Staley said.

Daniel, 36 in October, is 2-3 in his career as a starter. The 14th-year veteran has not started a game since an October 2019 contest against the Raiders in London, but he has worked with Joe Lombardi with two teams, being with the current Bolts OC in New Orleans and Los Angeles. It is unknown if, in order to play, Herbert will need to have a pain-killing injection before the Chargers’ game against the Jags or if that will need to be part of his routine going forward. More clarity will come as this intraconference game approaches. Herbert has never missed an NFL game due to injury.

AFC West Notes: Chargers, Hackett, Chiefs

After Justin Herbert finished the 2021 season in the unusual position of being the AFC’s Pro Bowl starter but out of the playoffs, Brandon Staley voiced concerns about the Chargers‘ roster to ownership. Staley conveyed to both ownership and the Bolts’ front office that defensive and special teams upgrades were necessary this offseason. More specifically, Staley wanted veteran pieces, ESPN.com’s Lindsey Thiry notes, adding that the second-year HC sought a defense capable of complementing a ready-now offense.

[I] felt really strongly that in order to build a complete football team that was ready to face what we’re going to have to face,” Staley said, “that we needed to make significant changes in those two phases of the game.”

DVOA placed the 2021 Chargers fourth in offense and 26th defensively, despite the fast-rising Staley becoming the team’s head coach based on his defensive credentials. Facing a time crunch created by Herbert’s extension eligibility, the Chargers added big-ticket defensive pieces in Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson. Auxiliary troops like Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Kyle Van Noy and Bryce Callahan signed as well. The Chargers also extended Derwin James, on a safety-record deal, this summer. The team, which ranked 28th in special teams DVOA last season, replaced its punter and long snapper as well. JK Scott and ex-Falcon Josh Harris are in those roles this year.

These additions raise the stakes for Staley, who will have fewer excuses given his 2022 personnel. Here is the latest from the AFC West, shifting first to a coach off to an unusual start:

  • It is uncertain if the Broncos will change Nathaniel Hackett‘s game-day roles, but after the rookie HC’s game-management struggles through two weeks, he said (via 9News’ Mike Klis, on Twitter) GM George Paton and assistant GM Darren Mougey have assisted him in these areas this week. Although the puzzling 64-yard field goal decision in Seattle and the Denver crowd counting down the play clock in Week 2 (after the team’s fourth delay-of-game penalty of the season) are the main takeaways from Hackett’s start, the Broncos are 0-for-6 in red zone touchdowns and have committed 25 penalties — including six false starts — through two games. The 25 infractions are a Broncos two-game record. Hackett said (via Klis, on Twitter) the team will have “good answers moving forward” in these areas.
  • Willie Gay‘s four-game suspension will take a starting linebacker off the field for the Chiefs. While the team used a third-round pick on Leo Chenal this year, Andy Reid said (via ESPN.com’s Adam Teicher, on Twitter) Darius Harris will be first in line to fill in for Gay. The Middle Tennessee State alum has been with the Chiefs since 2019, being part of the team’s UDFA class. Spending much of his career on Kansas City’s practice squad, Harris has played 13 games — including two starts, both in 2020 — with the team.
  • While Staley stressed the team will not rush Herbert back, the third-year Chargers quarterback practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday. Herbert’s rib cartilage fracture comes as the doctor leading his rehab effort — David S. Gazzaniga — is being sued by former Bolts QB Tyrod Taylor regarding a 2020 incident. “I think we have full alignment with Justin and his family, his agents, and then the medical professionals, and that’s what we’re going to try to do is have alignment that way and just kind of trust the process and hopefully get him well soon,” Staley said, via Thiry.

Justin Herbert Avoids Serious Injury

After laboring through the final minutes of the Chargers’ Thursday game, Justin Herbert underwent a series of tests. The scans did not reveal an injury that will force the star quarterback to miss much time, if any at all.

Brandon Staley said Herbert sustained a rib cartilage fracture and called his starting QB “day-to-day.” Herbert should have a decent chance of playing in the Bolts’ Week 3 game, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

While Staley noted (via Bridget Condon of NFL.com, on Twitter) this is a better outcome than a rib fracture, a fracture of any kind should not exactly be dismissed as a non-issue for the third-year passer. Herbert at one point passed on running for an easy first down as he winced in pain near the end of the Chargers’ Kansas City tilt. Of course, he then threw a strike to DeAndre Carter to set up the Chargers near the Chiefs’ goal line.

A series of rib fractures shut down Drew Brees for a stretch in 2020, but the then-Saints quarterback also suffered a collapsed lung. That set of injuries caused Brees to miss five games that season. Herbert does have a longer stretch to ramp up for Week 3 — a Chargers-Jaguars matchup — but Thursday’s visuals were obviously concerning.

This is certainly a pivotal year for the Chargers, who have missed the playoffs in two of the three seasons in which Herbert must be attached to a rookie contract. The Bolts aggressively upgraded their roster this offseason, adding the likes of Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Kyle Van Noy and Bryce Callahan on defense. Herbert remains the centerpiece of Tom Telesco‘s plan. The former No. 6 overall pick becomes extension-eligible in 2023, though he can be kept on his rookie deal through 2024 via the fifth-year option. Most teams have opted for pre-Year 4 extensions with star quarterbacks, so this season could be Herbert’s last on that rookie deal.

Chargers QB Justin Herbert’s Responsibility Extending Off-Field?

After only two years in the NFL, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has made an incredible impression on the field for Los Angeles, breaking a few league records along the way. His impact on the team hasn’t stopped there, though, as the Chargers have asked for Herbert’s opinions on roster decisions, as well, according to Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports. 

There is plenty about the 24-year-old quarterback to be impressed about. Despite the lack of team success, Herbert has accumulated “the most completions (839) and passing yards (9,350) through the first two seasons of a career” in NFL history. He also became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 30 touchdowns or more in each of his first two seasons. The feat of throwing for over 5,000 yards in a season this past year is another anomaly, as only Patrick Mahomes and Dan Marino had accomplished that in one of their first two years of NFL football.

In an interview with the young phenom, Kerr inquired about the impacts of Herbert’s career so far beyond the gridiron. He asked the Oregon product if Los Angeles asks for his input on roster construction, if they invite his opinions on what he needs in order to improve the roster.

“The great part about the Chargers is they have asked!” Herbert replied. “They definitely want to keep communication open there, but my response to them is ‘I just want to play quarterback and I trust you guys and whatever you decide to do.'”

The answer to the question says a ton about the respect the Chargers have for their young passer and his response to their request shows trust and maturity. There are plenty of things for Herbert to be working on this offseason, but scouting probably shouldn’t be on the list. Trusting general manager Tom Telesco and company to build a team around him is probably the best move for Herbert at the current moment. But how has that trust been serving him so far?

The biggest possible move the Chargers could make to help Herbert succeed is exactly what they did. Los Angeles took Herbert’s leading receiver from last year, Mike Williams, and secured his return with a three-year, $60MM contract. The Williams signing, along with exclusive rights free agent Jalen Guyton signing a one-year deal, ensures that all four of Herbert’s top wide receivers from last year will return in 2022.

After the departures of Jared Cook and Stephen Anderson in free agency, the Chargers only return 235 receiving yards from the tight end position between Donald Parham, who signed his ERFA tender in March, and Tre’ McKitty. Los Angeles countered the losses by signing former Seahawks tight end Gerald Everett to a two-year, $12MM contract. While his numbers have never been eye-popping, Everett has shown reliably, putting up at least 400 receiving yards each of the last three years and catching four touchdowns last season.

Los Angeles utilized the draft, as well, to bring in a strong back up running back in Isaiah Spiller to relieve Austin Ekeler on occasion. They also attempted to fill in some weak spots on the offensive line by drafting guards Zion Johnson in the first round and Jamaree Salyer in the sixth.

Not only have the Chargers been making moves to build their offense around Herbert, but they made major moves on the defensive-side of the ball in an attempt to build a complete team for Herbert to lead to the playoffs. To combat the losses of Uchenna Nwosu, Kyzir White, Justin Jones, and Kyler Fackrell, Los Angeles broke out the checkbook to bring in the likes of J.C. Jackson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Kyle Van Noy, Bryce Callahan, and Troy Reeder. They even sacrificed some draft capital in a trade with Chicago that brought former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack back to California.

So, yes, the Chargers have been going to great lengths to prop Herbert up and help him and the franchise succeed, going as far as to ask Herbert exactly what he needs from them. Herbert trusts them and they’ve rewarded his trust thus far.

Chargers WR Jalen Guyton, TE Donald Parham Sign ERFA Tenders

A pair of offensive skill players signed their tenders with the Chargers today. According to ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter), wide receiver Jalen Guyton and tight end Donald Parham officially inked their exclusive rights free agent tenders.

Guyton, a 2019 undrafted free agent out of North Texas, has spent the majority of his three-year career with the Chargers. He basically redshirted his rookie campaign before turning into a serviceable target for Justin Herbert over the past two seasons. In 32 games (11 starts) between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Guyton has hauled in 59 receptions for 959 yards and six touchdowns.

After bouncing around the NFL and XFL to begin his professional career, Parham caught on with the Chargers in 2020. He’s seen time in 27 games (14 starts) over the past two years, hauling in 30 receptions for 349 yards and six touchdowns. His 2021 season ended on IR after he suffered a scary concussion in December.

The Chargers also officially announced the signing of linebacker Troy Reeder today. We learned that Reeder was inking a one-year deal with the team this past weekend.

TE Hunter Henry Discusses Free Agency, Chargers

Hunter Henry could be in line for a significant pay day this offseason, as the 26-year-old will headline the class of free agent tight ends. Like any free agent, Henry is naturally looking to secure a lucrative contract in free agency, but the five-year veteran admitted that he’ll also be valuing his suitors’ quarterback situations.

“Obviously, you’ve got to look at it financially,” Henry said during an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio (via Twitter). “That’s part of it, but I don’t think it’s all about that.

“I want to play somewhere there’s a good quarterback. That’s huge for our position … Playing with a good quarterback always makes things better. You got to look at both. You got to look at some of the financial stuff, but not dive too deep into it that you go chasing it because I also want to play with a good quarterback.”

Of course, some would naturally point to Henry’s incumbent team as a match. Justin Herbert had a standout rookie season, and Henry benefited by hauling in 60 receptions for 613 yards and four touchdowns. Henry noted his connection with Herbert, and he said he’d welcome a return to Los Angeles.

“I really enjoyed my time here, so I’m not going to ever rule that out,” Henry explained. “With a young quarterback, me and Justin have formed a relationship. But I think I’m open to whatever, and I kind of have to [be], in a way. But I’ve really enjoyed my time, and if that continues, I’ll be excited. If it doesn’t, then that will be a new step.”

Due to his lack of consistency and previous injury concerns, Henry will have a tough time reaching the average annual values of fellow tight ends George Kittle ($15MM) and Travis Kelce ($14.3MM). However, after being slapped with the franchise tag last offseason, Henry still ranked third in AVV at $10.6MM (a number that would climb if he’s franchised a second time). Austin Hooper managed to secure a four-year, $42MM deal last offseason ($10.5MM AAV), and that would be a logical financial framework for Henry’s next contract.

Bills OC Brian Daboll Is “Favorite” For Chargers HC Job

Brian Daboll could soon be heading to the west coast. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the Bills offensive coordinator “has emerged as a favorite” for the Chargers head-coaching gig.

Predictably, the Chargers organization is waiting to see how tonight’s Bills game goes before making any moves. If Buffalo loses, Los Angeles can offer Daboll the job as soon as possible. If the Bills win, then the organization has to wait until Buffalo is eliminated before they can negotiate a contract with their new head coach.

As Schefter notes, there are two logical reasons why Daboll has emerged as the leading candidate for the vacancy. For starters, Daboll received a lot of credit for Josh Allen‘s emergence this season, and the Chargers are hoping the coach can help Justin Herbert take the next step. Daboll also went to high school and played football with Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, so there’s an obvious connection there.

Daboll, 45, started his NFL coaching career back in 2000 with the Patriots. He got his first coordinator gig with the Browns in 2009, and he’s since held the same role with the Dolphins, Chiefs, and the Bills (along with Alabama). Daboll was mentioned as a candidate for the Jets vacancy, and he was one of the nine reported candidates for the Chargers job. As our 2021 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker shows, that list includes: