News and notes to know heading into Week 10…
1. The Steelers are still waiting to hear from Le’Veon Bell and his camp on his plan for this week, per sources. What can we tell you definitively? The quarterback franchise tag (projected at about $24 million) is, as you’d expect, not in play for 2019. But the transition tag, which should land at about $9.6 million, could be—the Steelers just haven’t discussed it yet. That tag would give the team matching rights, but there’d be no compensation coming back if they were to decline another team’s offer sheet. Either way, Bell will be hitting the market for real in 2019.
As for the shorter term, if Bell does show up the Steelers’ plan has been to put him on the exempt list, which is basically a procedural move for guys who return to the roster. They can keep him there for up to two weeks, and his pay during that time is at their discretion—and likely would be something the team and player would negotiate, after the club sees what kind of shape he’s in (I’m told they really don’t know now). And that adds another layer of unknown that might discourage him from reporting. There is, of course, an element of pride at work here. He went against advice he was given in turning down deals in 2017 and ’18. And forfeiting $8.55 million to this point wasn’t without risk. Putting that aside won’t be easy. For their part, the Steelers really want him back for the stretch drive, and genuinely believe he can be deadly coming in with fresh legs. Maybe they can persuade him, if/when the sides finally do talk. Regardless, we’ll know by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.
2. The Jaguars are hopeful that Leonard Fournette will be a full go today in Indianapolis, but the plan for now is a “play it by ear” approach. The trade for Carlos Hyde was a sure sign of how they value the physical edge those backs bring to the offense.
3. Not that they have much of a choice, but in Cincinnati today the Saints will turn to Austin Carr as the third receiver, behind Michael Thomas and rookie Tre’Quan Smith. Carr had been splitting time with Cam Meredith, who just joined Ted Ginn on IR. And the Saints will continue to evaluate veteran options like the two guys they worked out with Dez Bryant last week: Kamar Aiken and Brandon Marshall.
4.Sitting Rob Gronkowski is the smart play for a Patriots team that has its Week 11 bye sitting on the other end of today’s game—shelving him would give Gronk a solid four-week break in the middle of the season. It would also likely put his incentives out of reach. He would be 41 catches, 637 yards and eight touchdowns short of his incentive triggers with six games to go, and his snap percentage of 71% percent (he needs to play 80%) would take a hit too. If I’m the Patriots, I tell him, We’ll take care of the money, you just get healthy. And maybe they’ll quietly do that.
5. The Bills’ decision to go with Matt Barkley is pretty simple: It’s near impossible for the coaches to sell Nathan Peterman as the best option to the team anymore. So when the decision was made to give Josh Allen another two weeks (the bye is next week), the call to go to Barkley was going to come, so long as Barkley was ready to go.
6. Not a great first free-agent class for Giants GM Dave Gettleman. Nate Solder has been underwhelming at left tackle. And free-agent guard Patrick Omameh would up making $5.5 million with the team for 10 weeks of work, before getting his walking papers Saturday, eight months after signing.
7. The Cowboys’ loss of Sean Lee is at least softened by the fact that it’s not the first time this year they’ve been in this spot. As it was earlier in the fall, Jaylon Smith will stick at the Mike (middle linebacker) spot, while Leighton Vander Esch will resume work in Lee’s old spot at the Will (weakside linebacker).
8. We’ve mentioned that it’s obvious Drew Brees is in the MVP chase. Ditto for Philip Rivers. He’s on pace for career bests in touchdown passes and passer rating, is right there in completion percentage, and is on pace for his lowest interception total since he became a starter. The amazing thing? As the coaches see it, his timing and anticipation continue to improve, which has made him even more accurate.
9. The Ravens, it’s worth noting, don’t owe Joe Flacco any guaranteed money after this season. So even if he can play through his hip injury, it’s understandable why GM-to-be Eric DeCosta and Co. would want to see more of Lamar Jackson in an effort to gauge his readiness.
10. We’ll have more on Monday, but s/o to Rams LT Andrew Whitworth for all he’s done in the wake of the shootings and wildfires in Thousand Oaks, Calif. And shoutout to our armed forces as well on this special day.
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