NFL decides to let Titans, Browns wear cleats for good causes despite bye week

This season, the NFL allowed players to wear personalized cleats for a special cause in Week 13. Since the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns were on a bye week last week, it was expected that players from both teams couldn’t participate in My Cause My Cleats. However, the NFL has changed its mind.

According to ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky, players from the Titans and the Browns will be able to participate in Week 14. Initially, according to Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, the NFL told his team that they can wear their personalized cleats during pregame, not during the game.

However, the veteran cornerback told Kuharsky that he would have been willing to wear his cleats and take the fine. Titans tight end Delaine Walker was in the same boat as McCourty.

With Cutler due to make $12.5 million in 2017, in addition to a $2.5 million roster bonus, it’s possible that the Bears will cut ties with the quarterback as they embarks on a full-scale rebuild. However, that’s not a terribly expensive price tag for Chicago to take on if it feels Cutler can contribute as a backup, so it’s still a possibility he could return another year.

The question for the Bears will be how they improve the quarterback position in the offseason, whether that’s through free agency or the 2017 NFL draft.

Cutler was the No. 11 overall selection in the 2006 NFL draft of the Denver Broncos and spent three seasons with the team, making a Pro Bowl in 2008. Following his first and only career trip to the Pro Bowl, the Broncos traded Cutler to the Bears along with a fifth-round pick in exchange for Kyle Orton, first-round selections in 2009 and 2010, and a third-round pick in 2009.

Steelers need Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers down the stretch

While Ladarius Green quickly has emerged as Ben Roethlisberger’s No. 2 passing target, the window hasn’t closed for Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers.

Roethlisberger always seems to mention Rogers in news-conference settings and his desire to get him the ball. Rogers has averaged 25 yards per game the last three weeks but says “the middle of the field is open” for him. Rogers isn’t concerned about getting the ball but about being in position to receive the ball.

“Every chance I get, I focus on getting open and killing a [defender],” Rogers said.
“We need him down the stretch,” Haley said.

Defenses will eventually key on Green, forcing Big Ben to either keep feeding Antonio Brown or spread to Rogers over the middle or Coates deep. At least one should benefit.

Kelly, 56, is proud to see the growth in Roethlisberger, 34, who once upon a time showed up to an event in Buffalo with security guards. Roethlisberger, who long ago admitted to being humbled by his early career travails, has “no ego, down to earth, cool with everybody,” Kelly said.

The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and Bills Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly have become good friends in recent years.

“Without a doubt, playing for a franchise like the Steelers, there’s a certain graduation, and when you’re young and going from nothing to a millionaire, that changes you,” Kelly said of Roethlisberger. “But he’s handling himself pretty darned good. He’s far from that. That was a phase.”

The two hit it off instantly, prompting Roethlisberger and several other mutual friends to make the trip to Ellicottville every offseason for the last seven years or so. They slice through the snow outdoors and play pool indoors, with Kelly providing laughter at a no-huddle pace.

What’s next for the Chargers and Raiders now that the Rams are moving to LA?

The new home of the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, Calif. won’t be finished until 2019, making the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum the team’s temporary home until then. But it’s unlikely that the Rams will be alone in Los Angeles, and it’s probable that the San Diego Chargers opt to move 120 miles north to join the Rams.

The problem for the Chargers is that the team never intended to move to Inglewood and had its sights set on sharing a home in Carson, Calif. with the Raiders. Now the team has been given the option to share a stadium with the Rams and owner Dean Spanos has some options to mull over.

While some candidates are still likely to pop up and earn interviews, there are a handful of assistant coaches who have drawn the majority of the interest from teams looking to hire new head coaches. Some assistants, like Adam Gase of the Chicago Bears, have been a top candidate in the past and are looking to finally take their shot at being a head coach. Others, like Hue Jackson of the Cincinnati Bengals, have head coaching experience already.

Even Mike Shanahan, a former head coach for three NFL teams who hasn’t coached since 2013, has come out of the weeds to establish himself as a possible head coach for a fourth time.

As of now, here are the candidates to be head coaches in 2016:

The shine of Austin’s résumé faded some when the Lions dropped from No. 2 in total defense in 2014 to No. 18 in 2015, but the 50-year-old’s experience in bringing along defensive backs has earned him interest from a few NFL franchises. During the 2015 offseason, Austin was twice interviewed by the Atlanta Falcons before the team settled on Dan Quinn and he turned down an interview request from the Denver Broncos.

Bevell only worked with Aaron Rodgers for one year in Green Bay and was never able to bring along Tarvaris Jackson to the level of a competent NFL starter in Minnesota. However, he had his first real chance to mold a top talent into an elite quarterback with Russell Wilson and he passed that test with flying colors. Under the tutelage of Bevell, Wilson has become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with consistent improvement in each season, and that has earned the coach plenty of praise.

Brock Osweiler has failed to throw multiple touchdown passes against the Raiders

Others receiving votes: Aaron Rodgers is the answer to this trivia question: Name the only player to have more fantasy points the past four weeks than Colin Kaepernick. Yes, Kap is running (373 rushing yards in six starts), but did you know he’s fifth in passing yards the past four weeks? Chicago’s defense has started to show some leaks, and now linebacker Danny Trevathan has been added to the list of injured Bears on D. … Similar to Kap, Tyrod Taylor’s rushing keeps his floor high. He has scored at least six points with his legs in five of the past six games, and he should have Sammy Watkins in a game against a Raiders team that allows the eighth-highest completion percentage on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air.

Since Week 8, only Brock Osweiler has failed to throw multiple touchdown passes against the Raiders. … If you are truly in scraping the bottom of the barrel mode, deep-league territory I’ve gotta say, I actually think Ryan Fitzpatrick is OK here. The Colts have allowed at least two touchdown passes in eight straight games; cornerback Vontae Davis might miss this game; and the game is in New York.

Mitchell (15.6 percent owned, ninth-most added player). ESPN New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss preached some caution with the rookie last week, because veteran receiver Chris Hogan was expected back and opportunities would be limited. But two things happened since then: Mitchell scored two TDs while playing just 34 snaps (almost exactly half the snaps of Hogan and Julian Edelman). And news broke that tight end Rob Gronkowski will have back surgery.

Mitchell might still be the No. 3 receiver in New England, but Reiss said the Patriots will likely use more three-receiver sets without Gronk. And he said Mitchell has “entered the Tom Brady ‘Circle of Trust.'”

“Thus, there is more confidence in him as a fantasy player this week,” Reiss said.

Kaepernick comeback: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains a work in progress as he rehabs his career under coach Chip Kelly. But for fantasy purposes, he’s back as a bona fide starter. Only Aaron Rodgers has more fantasy points during the past four weeks than Kaepernick’s 95 points in ESPN standard leagues.

Hill leads the Chiefs with seven touchdowns after scoring three Sunday night — on a catch, a run and a kick return. As long as you’re not counting on a repeat performance, he might be worth a start as a No. 3 fantasy receiver or flex play.

Everyone is offering to rub J.J. Watt’s groin after surgery

The life of a professional athlete isn’t always easy. You have to stay in peak physical condition, be prepared mentally to endure harsh criticism and deal with thousands of strangers asking to rub your groin. It’s this last thing that J.J. Watt is dealing with, even if he’s thankful for it.

Also appreciate all the “nurses” offering to help rehab my groin surgeries. Didn’t realize there were so many qualified pros out there! Haha

— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) January 30, 2016
It’s great to see a country rally around Watt in his time of need. Surely the Texans have some top-notch physical therapists who can do this job, but it’s always nice to have a backup.

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky: What happened off the field this week was just as important as what he did on it. Spence needed to be forthcoming to teams about the drug issues that got him dismissed at Ohio State, and he was during a multitude of meetings with personnel members. If you couple that with what Spence showed this week, it’s easy to see him becoming a top-15 pick in April. All week, Spence was terrorizing offensive linemen with his speed and ability to bend around the edge. Star pass rushers like Spence don’t last long in the draft.

Nick Vannett, TE, Ohio State: At Ohio State, Vannett was underutilized in head coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense. Vannett said after practice on Thursday that he wanted to show he’s much more of a pass catcher and playmaker. After a good week of practice, Vannett’s mission was accomplished. Vannett has good size at 6’5 3/4 and 256 pounds, and used it to body defenders all week to create room to make catches. Vannett’s teammate Jeff Heuerman was a third-round pick at tight end last year. Vannett could go even higher.

Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech: It was a good, consistent week for Butler. At 325 pounds, he moved around much better than expected and is a naturally strong player against the run. Butler is working this offseason on his pass rush ability, and some of that flashed during one-on-one drills. In a loaded defensive tackle class, Butler justified his second-round status at the Senior Bowl.

Kevin White jumps Amari Cooper in Todd McShay’s Mock Draft 3.0

One key milestone in the draft evaluation process was checked off earlier this week with the end of the NFL Combine, and another was completed on Thursday when ESPN’s Todd McShay released the third version of his mock draft. After sorting through the results from the measurements, positional drills and athletic testing of the top prospects, McShay made several updates to his big board and shuffled a couple of defensive ends and wide receivers around.

McShay acknowledged that while either Mariota or Winston are possibilities here for the quarterback-needy Bucs, he sees Winston as having the edge based on his superior on-field performance. He believes the former Florida State quarterback is the most complete and pro-ready signal caller in the draft, and that he has separated himself from Mariota at this point.

While the uniform will not be shown off for another six weeks, it appears the main crux of the uniform will stay the same. Brownie the Elf will also remain a part of the team as a secondary logo, and will get the color update, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

SB Nation’s Dan Kadar released his most recent mock draft on Monday following the Combine, and he see things very differently than McShay after the Buccaneers take Winston at No. 1. He has the Titans scooping up Mariota with the next pick, thinking that Tennessee is not sold on the future of Mettenberger, and then Jacksonville taking Williams third.

Kadar also still has Cooper has the top wide receiver and slots him at No. 4 to the Raiders. He moved Fowler up his board and thinks the Jets will snap him with the sixth pick, while the Bears opt for an edge rusher in Kentucky’s Bud Dupree at No. 7.

Next he sees the Falcons filling their pass-rushing needs with Clemson’s Vic Beasley, who also improved his stock with an impressive Combine performance. Kadar agrees with McShay in that the Giants will select an offensive lineman with the ninth pick, but he believes it will be LSU’s La’el Collins. Rounding out the top 10, Kadar has the Rams upgrading their offensive line by taking Scherff.

The Vikings were sixth in DVOA heading into the Lions game

This year, the Vikings’ defense has improved dramatically. The Vikings were sixth in DVOA heading into the Lions game, which is still below their second-place rank in points allowed per game, but the gap is much smaller. They’ve chipped in with three defensive touchdowns, while their return units have added three scores on punt and kick returns. Minnesota’s returners have been worth 17.1 points of field position this year through Week 11, second in the league behind the efforts of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Of course, their special teams haven’t been perfect, mostly owing to a bad start for Blair Walsh, and while their running game was effective last season with Peterson, the performance with Peterson injured and an offensive line riddled with injuries has been historically awful.

How bad? They narrowly avoid being called the worst rushing attack through 11 games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The Vikings have run the ball 275 times for 782 yards this season, an average of 2.84 yards per carry. The worst post-merger rushing attack through 11 games, that of the 1971 Houston Oilers, averaged 2.82 yards per rush.

The Vikings’ running game has been practically nonexistent this season.

The offensive line woes are obviously also influencing the ways in which the Vikings use Bradford. Even if they wanted to ask him to throw the ball downfield to Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson, there’s no way the offensive line would be able to hold up long enough to give Bradford the time to make those throws.

Carolina Panthers at Oakland Raiders

Carolina is a game team and will give this its best shot, but it doesn’t seem like it’s the Panthers’ year. The Panthers are running out of straws to grasp, and having Luke Kuechly (and Ryan Kalil) out for this one will really hurt. The Raiders are a first-place team and are starting to play like it. They pull another one out late at home.

Score: Raiders 27, Panthers 21

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos

Last week was certainly a head-scratcher against Tampa Bay, as Kansas City doesn’t usually lose at home to under-.500 teams. The Chiefs need to play their best overall game of the year to win in Denver. They won there last year, so they won’t be scared of the situation. Denver hasn’t found its running game without C.J. Anderson, and I think the defense will be up to the task against Trevor Siemian. Justin Houston plays more of a role in this one and Kansas City wins on the road.

Score: Chiefs 20, Broncos 19

Saints expected to sign CB Brandon Browner, according to report

The New Orleans Saints have reached a deal on a three-year agreement with free agent cornerback Brandon Browner. The news was first reported by Pro Football Talk, and Mike Garafolo reported the deal is for three years.

The cornerback position bedeviled the Saints last season. New Orleans’ secondary gave up more than 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, putting it comfortably among the bottom third of all NFL teams in both categories. Browner would give the Saints a physical man coverage corner.

Philadelphia still has a need at wide receiver after letting Jeremy Maclin sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. It may also try to stock up on draft picks, or make a move up the draft board to snag quarterback Marcus Mariota. Rumored trade partners include the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, all of who are picking No. 10 or worse in the draft order.

The Eagles would save a fair bit of cap space by getting rid of Mathis — $6.5 million in 2015 and $7 million in 2016. They would also be losing the highest rated offensive guard since 2011, according to Pro Football Focus.

Kelly and the Eagles are having the most fascinating offseason of any team in the NFL. We can only guess at the outcome, so in the meantime let’s all gawk at the process.

The 49ers offseason rolls on, uncomfortably
I’ve enjoyed watching Trent Baalke’s uncomfortable press conferences this year. You can sense the 49ers’ inner turmoil in each one of his statements. He was on the defensive at the Combine, testily parrying questions about the breakup with Jim Harbaugh and repeating a practiced mantra about being focused on the future. This week, he was denying just about everything related to free agency and the buzz around it.

The most sensible thing he’s said or done so far this spring is promise that Ahmad Brooks isn’t going anywhere, despite being seen by the media as a potential cap casualty.

Adrian Peterson could return for Vikings in December

The Vikings have fielded one of the NFL’s weakest running attacks thanks to a league-low 70 rushing yards per game. Fortunately for Minnesota, help may soon be on the way.

Former MVP Adrian Peterson is targeting a mid-December return from the knee injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since Week 2, according to a report from ESPN’s Ben Goessling. He could return for the final two games of a regular season that’s been equal parts inspiring and frustrating for the Vikings.

The team placed Peterson on injured reserve in September after successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The move allowed Minnesota to add another player to their 53-man active roster while their star running back recuperated from the injury. They signed former Broncos tailback Ronnie Hillman to split carries with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon.

Following the game, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said this to reporters: “I don’t know when he can come back, but he has a hamstring injury.”

On Monday, Lewis said it’s a strain and that he’ll definitely miss the team’s Week 12 game against the Baltimore Ravens, but could still come back before the end of the season.

The loss of Green is bad news for the Bengals, who are fighting for a playoff spot in a tough AFC North division, but it looked like it could’ve been much worse news. With its top playmaker expected to miss time, Cincinnati will have to depend on its rushing attack and other players to step up.

This season, Green has 66 catches for 964 yards and four touchdowns.

That was the first time the word retirement had ever crept into my head.

Cleveland has had six different quarterbacks under center this season because of injuries, including Pryor, a former college quarterback. Browns quarterbacks are being hit too often to offer consistent play, and having to rotate in other players at quarterback because of injuries deprives the offense of the continuity it needs to win games.

Kirk Cousins cashes in, leads Redskins to big win over Packers

The Washington Redskins keep wanting to see more from quarterback Kirk Cousins before they give him a lot more money. They’re trying to build a roster, which is smart. They’re trying to be prudent with their money, which is also smart.

Cousins keeps giving them more. He did so once again Sunday night, in a 42-24 win over the Green Bay Packers. All Cousins did was connect on several deep throws; all he did was throw for 375 yards and three touchdowns. As he headed to the locker room after the victory, he passed Washington general manager Scot McCloughan and playfully (we think) yelled, “How do you like me now?!”

“It’s more funny than it is anything,” Baldwin said. “[Bevell] knows that when we get in the red zone, I want the ball thrown to me. I want to score touchdowns. And so, it’s like in that situation, him flipping the bird to me because now he’s got me throwing the ball to somebody else.”

Asked what Bevell’s reaction was when he got to the sideline, Baldwin said, “He just looked at me and laughed. Nothing could be said. It worked out perfectly, right?”

The Seahawks had the play called in the huddle but were going to go to it only if they got the right look. Wilson said the Seahawks have been trying to call the play for the last four or five years. Oftentimes, they got the wrong look and switched out of it.

“I was talking to him, saying we can switch jobs if he wants,” Wilson said. “It may not be pretty, but we can switch jobs. Obviously it was a great job by him, great throw. He got some heat over there on the right side, and he still made a great throw. And a good call by coach Bevell. We executed it well there.”

Joked Baldwin, “They doubted my arm ability. They doubted that I could make the throw, so I’m glad I could prove them wrong.”

Mathews left Sunday’s game in the first half with a knee injury, while Sproles injured his ribs on a punt return. Both were ruled out for the rest of the game. ESPN’s Adam Caplan reported that the initial word on Mathews is that he has a sprained MCL. Mathews was seen wearing a brace on his knee in the locker room after the game.