A handful of news, notes and rumors less than 18 hours removed from the ninth Sunday of the 2018 NFL season.
1. Monday was a pretty terrible day at the Redskins’ facility in Ashburn, Va., as the team announced that Paul Richardson Jr., Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao suffered season-ending injuries. Maybe because the players lack fantasy football implications, but these injuries won’t get as much attention as they should. Losing starting guards Scherff and Lauvao in particular rips the heart out of a team that’s been built along the lines of scrimmage. Last week, after the Skins knocked off the Giants, I talked with Jay Gruden about the composition of his team, and he explained it like this—“I'm a firm believer in line-of-scrimmage football and we invested a lot of money in our offensive line and draft picks, and we've invested a lot in our defensive line. And to me that's what football's all about. It enables you to protect your quarterback, run the football, stop the run and get after the quarterback. It's paying off right now but obviously you know it's only week seven.” Gruden, of course, added the caveat knowing anything could happen. And then anything did happen. We’ll see where Washington goes from here.
2. At last check, the Steelers hadn’t heard from Le’Veon Bell’s camp, but his tweet on Monday—“Fairwell Miami”—was worth paying attention to (I’ll stay away from calling the spelling police on this one). For those who don’t know, Bell’s spent his time away in South Florida, so if he shows up in Pittsburgh, what’s next? Well, there’s the matter of re-assimilating himself to the team, which we addressed with Steelers guard David DeCastro in today’s MMQB. Then there’s how he’ll be paid. By rule, the Steelers can put him on the exempt list for up to two weeks, and his pay is at their discretion until he’s activated. Bell’s already lost $7.70 million of his $14.544 million franchise tender. If he stays away until next Tuesday’s deadline to report, that number rises to $8.56 million. And if the Steelers were to shelve him on the exempt list for the full two weeks, they could keep him from another $1.71 million, which would he’d have walked away from eight figures. That not insignificant for a guy who made $14.56 million his first five NFL seasons.
3. I’m told that new Cowboys WR Amari Cooper will likely start in his first game with his new team on Monday Night Football—that, as always, can ride on what personnel grouping an offense comes out in, which can be dictated by the situation. And from there, team sources say, Cooper is expected to play starter reps. So you should see him a lot, a good sign that he’s picking up the offense.
4. If there’s concern about Jets QB Sam Darnold’s unsightly afternoon in Miami internally, it’s that he’s not trusting his eyes and seeing the field as fast as he was in September. That can lead a young quarterback to see things that aren’t there, which is where Darnold was against the Dolphins. He’s got plenty of time to grow through it. But that sort of regression isn’t great.
5. While we’re there, the Dolphins grounds crew took a lot of hits yesterday morning—and both teams wound up relatively happy with how the field at Hard Rock Stadium played. And so those guys deserve credit for turning it around after Miami and Duke fought through a downpour on Satuday night, doing damage to the field like you’d imagine they might. The college game kicked off at 7 p.m. ET. The NFL game kicked off 18 hours later. Credit to SVP of stadiums operations Todd Boyan and heads groundskeeper Tom Wilson for making the best of a tough situation.
6. The Lions felt the sting of losing Golden Tate right away on Sunday—the guy was a machine on third down for Detroit the last five years, and the Lions went 4-of-15 on the money down against the Vikings. It did lead to a lot of work for Kenny Golladay (he played 68 of 70 snaps) opposite Marvin Jones. But it’s clear the Lions are going to need help in the slot, and that means getting more from fourth-year receiver TJ Jones.
7. I honestly didn’t know Chris Johnson hadn’t retired yet—the former Titan running back has played in a total of eight games, all for Arizona, since the start of the 2016 season. But he does leave a legacy in that 40-yard-dash combine record that he held for almost a decade, and his electric 2009 season, during which he rushed for 2006 yards—and nicknamed himself CJ2K. Johnson finishes his career as the NFL’s 35th-leading rusher of all time, just ahead of Shaun Alexander and Earl Campbell.
8. One guy not getting enough credit—Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore. The team took some criticism (I’ll raise my hand) for giving the ex-Bill a five-year, $65 million deal while embroiled in a contract dispute with Malcolm Butler. As usual, it turns out Bill Belichick knew what he was doing. Gilmore’s the eighth highest paid corner in football, in terms of average per year, and he’s playing like a top-five guy. He was largely responsible for Packers star Davante Adams’ relatively quiet Sunday night (six catches for 40 yards and a touchdown).
9. Denver’s Vance Joseph is under a lot of pressure going forward, and his staff’s handling of the end of the game against Houston is the type of thing that invites scrutiny in a time like that. It’s very fair to say Denver closed up shop once they got to the Texans 37 with 43 seconds left, which shows either too little confidence in the offense or too much confidence in kicker Brandon McManus. Either way, McManus missed a 51-yarder at the gun, which left the Broncos 3–6. And that with some buzz starting circulate in NFL circles that GM John Elway has taken a special interest in the kinds of college concepts his division rival Chiefs have employed, which could be a tip to his plans for January, if things keep going this way.
10. One question I hear a lot—is Jon Gruden doing enough to accommodate who Derek Carr is as a quarterback? I think it’s fair to say he may need to do more, and one thing that was pointed out to me on Monday was how much more comfortable Carr is in the shotgun. Jack Del Rio’s staff put Carr in the shotgun on 68% of their snaps in both 2016 and ’ 17. This year? That number has fallen to 57% (s/o to sharpfootballstats.com for those figures).