Given the recent surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the league, we expected to see more roster churning today than we typically would on a December Sunday. Here are today’s minor (and not so minor) moves. This page will, of course, be updated throughout the day:
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.
Wyatt Teller got himself paid. The Browns signed their starting guard to a four-year extension, reports NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter).
The four-year pact will keep Teller in Cleveland through the 2025 season. The deal is worth $56.8MM ($29MM guaranteed), making him one of the highest-paid offensive guards in the NFL (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Twitter). Teller was originally set to hit free agency following this season.
Teller was a fifth-round pick by the Bills in 2018, but he was traded to the Browns after only one season in Buffalo. Since joining Cleveland, the offensive lineman has started 29 of his 35 appearances. That includes nine starts this season, with Teller appeared in 100 percent of his team’s offensive snaps. Pro Football Focus has been especially fond of his recent performance, grading him as one of the best guards (especially with run blocking) in the NFL (per Garafolo on Twitter).
GM Andrew Berry has been busy investing money and assets into his offensive line since he took on the role. He gave Jack Conklin a $42MM deal, and he selected Jedrick Wills Jr. with the 10th-overall pick in the 2020 draft. Now, Berry can rest easy knowing that he has another foundational piece under contract for the foreseeable future.
Just before the start of the 2019 season, the Browns acquired guard Wyatt Teller from Buffalo. The Bills had selected Teller in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, but they deemed him expendable just a year later. Cleveland was in need of offensive line depth, so for the fairly modest price of a fifth- and sixth-round draft pick, the John Dorsey-led Browns acquired the Virginia Tech product, who in 2020 emerged from relative obscurity to become the best guard in the league per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics. Dorsey might be gone, but he did leave the Browns with a few lovely parting gifts.
With three years of service time under his belt, Teller is now extension-eligible, and we recently heard that current GM Andrew Berry has a new contract for the 26-year-old on the agenda. Of course, long-term deals for quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, and cornerback Denzel Ward are also on the docket, so it’s uncertain when (or even if) a Teller deal might get done.
As with virtually all big-money contracts, as Teller’s promises to be, there are a couple of issues that need to be resolved. For one, Teller was not particularly impressive in 2019, his first year in Cleveland. To be fair, the offense as a whole underperformed under the stewardship of since-deposed head coach Freddie Kitchens, so Teller’s excellence in new HC Kevin Stefanski’s wide-zone scheme is probably a better indicator of how he will fare moving forward.
Another potential sticking point is the fact that, as good as he was in 2020, Teller missed five full contests and most of a sixth due to injury. Berry & Co. might want to see Teller sustain a certain level of performance for at least a full season’s worth of games before authorizing a massive extension (which is also rumored to be the front office’s mindset with respect to Mayfield). It is also fair to wonder whether the presence of center J.C. Tretter (PFF’s second-best pivot in 2020) to Teller’s left and right tackle Jack Conklin (PFF’s 10th-best tackle) to his right makes Teller look better than he actually is.
As of today, Spotrac estimates Teller’s market value to be roughly $12MM per year. That would position him as the fifth-highest-paid guard in football, behind Joe Thuney, Brandon Brooks, Zack Martin, and Andrew Norwell. For purposes of this exercise, we’re excluding Washington’s Brandon Scherff, who is presently attached to his second franchise tender and whose $18MM+ salary for 2021 might be a bit of an outlier. However, if Scherff and the WFT were to agree to an extension, it would almost certainly come with an AAV at least as high as Thuney’s $16MM, thereby making Teller’s estimated market value of $12MM/year the sixth-highest mark in the league.
In light of the above-referenced concerns, Berry could, with a straight face, offer a four-year deal to Teller worth around $48MM and including about $30MM in practical guarantees. But if Teller is anything like his quarterback, he will be willing to bet on himself and will demand something that puts him closer to the top of the guard market.
And it would not be surprising to see the Browns go there. After all, though Mayfield may be good enough to bring a championship to Cleveland with the right pieces around him, he does not appear to be the type of passer that can overcome the deficiencies of a weak O-line. Right now, the Browns have arguably the best offensive front in the league, and Berry would surely be loathe to let one of that unit’s best assets walk away. That is especially true when considering how a good line can make the two-headed rushing tandem of Chubb and Kareem Hunt even more imposing than it already is, and given that Teller is especially adept at run-blocking.
Just yesterday, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com confirmed that the Browns will try to extend Teller, although she did not offer any indication that contract talks had advanced particularly far. With so many other high-profile talents in line for lucrative extensions, it’s hard to determine exactly how Berry is triaging the situation, but Teller is certainly a player that other clubs are hoping makes it to free agency in 2022.
Why then? Because at the start of the 2020 season, for which there were no spring workouts and no preseason, Mayfield was still getting used to head coach Kevin Stefanski‘s offense. But as Cabot observes, Mayfield was Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-rated QB over the final seven games of the year, and both player and team believe that is more representative of who Mayfield is (even though he did have some quality performances over the first few weeks of the campaign as well). By waiting until the end of October to authorize a massive extension, the Browns will essentially have a full season of data on how Mayfield performs in a quality offense that he completely understands.
The Browns are also working on new contracts for other key members of the roster, like CB Denzel Ward, RB Nick Chubb, and G Wyatt Teller (this is the first we have publicly heard that the club is talking contract with Teller and Ward, though it’s hardly a surprise). The front office might want to get those less costly pacts out of the way before turning its full attention to the Mayfield situation.
The Browns are 10-4 and appear to be playoff-bound for the first time since 2002, but they suddenly find themselves thin at right guard. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link), offensive lineman Chris Hubbard suffered a dislocated kneecap in Cleveland’s win over the Giants last night. Hubbard will go under the knife, and his season will be over.
Hubbard was filling in for starting RG Wyatt Teller, who sustained a sprained ankle in the Browns’ loss to the Ravens last week and who is not expected back until the playoffs, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes. Teller also missed some time earlier this season with a strained calf, and his absence is significant. The third-year blocker is playing at a Pro Bowl level and is currently Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated guard.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski said this morning that he is not prepared to rule Hubbard out for the rest of the season, and he also said he does not know if Hubbard will need surgery. However, he did confirm that the veteran O-lineman will miss a significant amount of time (Twitter link via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal).
Hubbard has not lived up to the five-year, $37.5MM deal he signed with Cleveland in March 2018, but he does offer valuable experience and depth. He has started in Teller’s absence in each of the four games that Teller has missed this season, and he also started a game at right tackle. Rookie Nick Harris will line up at right guard for the time being, and it would not be surprising to see the Browns sign a reinforcement in the coming days.
The Browns are about to get a major boost to their offense. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that Cleveland has activated Nick Chubb from injured reserve. The running back is expected to play tomorrow against the Texans.
Chubb was rolling through his first three-plus games of the 2020 campaign, collecting 335 rushing yards and four scores on only 57 carries (good for 5.9 yards per attempt). However, he was placed on injured reserve with an MCL injury in early October, but there was always some optimism that Chubb would return sooner than later. Following a productive week at practice, the Browns staff felt Chubb was ready to return to the field.
In his stead, the team has turned to Kareem Hunt and (to a lesser extent) D’Ernest Johnson. Hunt, who has 18 receptions through eight games, should still see a role in the passing game, but Chubb should otherwise take up the majority of the carries. The running game will have an excellent opportunity for a standout performance against Houston tomorrow, as the Texans are allowing 159.5 rushing yards per game.
Offensive guard Wyatt Teller should also be on the field against Houston. The lineman was limited in practice this week with a calf strain, but head coach KevinStefanski indicated that Teller would be good to go this weekend.
The Bills have sent guard Wyatt Teller and a seventh-round pick to the Browns in exchange for a fifth-round pick and a sixth-round pick in 2020. The deal, announced by Buffalo, will give Cleveland some additional depth on the offensive line.
Given the timing of the deal, Teller seems a near-lock to make the final cut. He’ll find out for sure on Saturday afternoon, when teams go from the 90-man max to the 53-man limit.
Teller a former fifth-round pick of the Bills in 2018, started the final seven games of his rookie year at left guard.