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NFL preseason Week 3 takeaways

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The Houston Texans lost starting running back Lamar Miller to what is feared to be a torn ACL in Saturday’s Week 3 game at Dallas.

Elsewhere, the Indianapolis Colts endured a postgame surprise as their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, announced his retirement. And earlier in the day, 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray displayed arm strength and accuracy in his best showing of the preseason thus far.

We have all of that and more in the biggest takeaways and fantasy football nuggets of the preseason’s third week from NFL Nation:

Jump to a matchup:
DEN-LAR | NOR-NYJ | CHI-IND | SF-KC | HOU-DAL | SEA-LAC
ARI-MIN | NYG-CIN | WSH-ATL | CAR-NE
BAL-PHI | GB-OAK | JAX-MIA | TB-CLE | BUF-DET


Saturday’s games

The Texans fear running back Lamar Miller tore his ACL, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Miller was carted off the field in the first quarter after he was hit just above the knee when he was tackled by Cowboys defensive tackle Maliek Collins. Losing Miller for the season would be a big blow to the Texans’ offense. According to Pro Football Focus, since 2016, Miller has accounted for 51.2% of Houston’s rushing yardage. The Texans might add another running back, but right now, new addition Duke Johnson Jr. is the lead back. Behind Miller and Johnson on the depth chart are Damarea Crockett, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones, Josh Ferguson and Karan Higdon. — Sarah Barshop

The Cowboys will need to have Dak Prescott at his best to truly succeed in 2019. The quarterback shrugged off a defender to throw a touchdown pass to Michael Gallup in the first quarter Saturday against Houston, but it was the work of backup Cooper Rush that answered some questions. Playing with the first team for a drive, Rush directed the Cowboys to a field goal after a touchdown pass was wiped out by a dubious penalty. He was not perfect, but he finished the first half completing 15 of 25 passes for 173 yards. While the Cowboys hope not to experience life without Prescott in the regular season, Rush has clearly outplayed Mike White to be the No. 2 quarterback. — Todd Archer

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Dak Prescott uses his feet to create space then finds Michael Gallup in the end zone for a score on the QB’s only drive.


The Seahawks have enough trust in quarterback Russell Wilson to avoid hits and not get hurt that they allowed him to run three times (for 31 yards) in a preseason game. That stood out on a night in which Andrew Luck stunned the NFL by announcing his retirement at age 29, citing how numerous injuries have taken an emotional toll. Wilson has never missed a regular season or playoff game since he and Luck were drafted together in 2012, and his 112 consecutive starts is the fourth-longest active streak among quarterbacks. The only two practices he has missed (offseason, training camp or during the season) were to attend funerals. The surprising end of Luck’s career is a reminder that Wilson’s durability shouldn’t be taken for granted. As much intrigue as there is in the Seahawks’ backup QB battle between Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch, there’s a good chance the winner might not see a meaningful snap in 2019 — Brady Henderson

The Chargers had four headline defensive players watching from the sideline in Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Brandon Mebane and Thomas Davis. Not to mention All-Pro safety Derwin James won’t be back anytime soon after having foot surgery this week. Still, coordinator Gus Bradley had to be scratching his head over the way the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks offense ran roughshod over his defense. The Los Angeles D allowed 185 rushing yards. If the Chargers truly want to reach their potential and develop into one of the best units in the league, they have to get more physical against the run. — Eric D. Williams


Four games into their five-game marathon of a preseason and two things are clear on offense for the Broncos — they have been choppy at best with just four touchdowns in four games (none against the Los Angeles Rams), and they will almost certainly be scouring the list of players who have been cut league-wide a week from now for a potential backup quarterback. The fact Kevin Hogan, who coach Vic Fangio had said would get the majority of the playing time against the Rams Saturday night, was removed from the lineup before halftime shows he has not made the most of his opportunity. And Brett Rypien, who had a fairly good showing in a two-minute drill before halftime, showed in extended work he is a rookie with some potential, but also with plenty of developmental work to do. It all means this team will have to lean on its defense plenty in the early season and that Drew Lock‘s right thumb injury will have a significant ripple effect on how the roster looks in Week 1. And the team’s backup quarterback and, after another shaky special-teams outing, punt returner, might not be on the roster yet. — Jeff Legwold

Rams coach Sean McVay took his most conservative preseason approach yet against the Broncos, as he kept backup quarterback Blake Bortles, various starters and key reserves on the sideline for Saturday’s game. However, receiver Mike Thomas, who was sidelined last season after suffering a groin injury in Week 1, continued his comeback bid. Thomas caught three passes for 76 yards, including a 51-yard reception on the second play of the game. His performance should solidify him as the fifth receiver in a group that includes Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds. — Lindsey Thiry

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Brandon Allen connects with Mike Thomas with a deep pass along the sideline for a 51-yard reception against the Broncos.


You can’t ask for much better in a first (and final) dress rehearsal for the complete starting offense. Drew Brees played just one series this entire preseason, and it ended with a 19-yard TD pass to well-covered WR Michael Thomas. Brees completed two passes to Thomas for 39 yards and two to Alvin Kamara for 29 yards before they and Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead called it an early night. As long as that quartet stays healthy, the Saints will be among the NFL’s top Super Bowl contenders. New Orleans’ starting defense was also strong, led by cornerback Marshon Lattimore‘s forced fumble. And undrafted rookie punt returner Deonte Harris made his strongest case yet for a roster spot with a 78-yard TD in the fourth quarter. — Mike Triplett

It was a spotty night for the Sam Darnold-led offense, which managed only seven points in five possessions — and the Jets’ touchdown came against the Saints’ backups. Darnold made a couple of big-time throws to cap a sharp preseason (he won’t play next week), but that doesn’t mean everything is A-OK with the offense. They have line issues. Center Ryan Kalil, who was expected to make his Jets debut, was a late scratch. Not ready, they said. This means their three interior starters will go into the season having played a combined total of 14 snaps — Brian Winters (seven), Kelechi Osemele (seven) and Kalil (zero). They haven’t even practiced together. — Rich Cimini

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Drew Brees finds Michael Thomas for a 19-yard touchdown throw on the first drive of the game.


Don’t rule out Deon Bush starting at safety opposite Eddie Jackson sometime in the distant future. Bush’s 91-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Colts capped off a terrific preseason for the 2016 fourth-round pick out of Miami. Veteran Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is essentially a one-year rental. The Bears are pleased with Clinton-Dix’s attitude and performance thus far, but Bush, whose original rookie contract expires after the season, is a strong candidate to be re-signed next offseason. Without question, Bush has played the best football of his young career over the summer. The Bears have taken notice. — Jeff Dickerson

Saturday night’s preseason game was overshadowed by the news that Colts franchise quarterback Andrew Luck is retiring from the NFL. Read more. — Mike Wells

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Andrew Luck calls his retirement from the NFL the hardest decision of his life, but also the right decision for him.


Less than a week after throwing for 0 yards and posting a 0.0 passer rating against the Broncos, Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo bounced back with a strong performance, finishing 14-of-20 for 188 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a passer rating of 116.2. Just as perspective was needed after that poor outing in Denver, it’s important to keep it here as well. The numbers don’t matter as much as the chance for Garoppolo to get much-needed reps and find a rhythm as he returns from a torn left ACL. He and the first-team offense did that Saturday night, playing 37 snaps and the entire first half. — Nick Wagoner

It might be time to worry about the Chiefs’ defense. All starters played most of the first half, but the defense had a tough time against Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers’ previously struggling quarterback. Rookie safety Juan Thornhill, who had been a bright spot in training camp and the first two games, had problems in coverage and showed why the Chiefs have been reluctant to give him a starting spot. The Chiefs changed their defensive coaching staff, their base system and brought in many new players during the offseason and have been racing the clock to get their defense ready for the regular season. Based on what they showed against the 49ers, it looks like they won’t have things the way they want when the regular season begins. — Adam Teicher

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Jimmy Garoppolo lofts a pass into the end zone for Matt Breida, who lays out to make the pretty 20-yard touchdown grab.


The longer Kyler Murray plays, the better he is, apparently. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick had his best showing of the preseason on Saturday, when he played nearly the entire first half, a span of 35 plays over five possessions. He had more bright spots than bad plays against the Minnesota Vikings, showing off his arm strength and accuracy on a variety of nicely-placed passes. But Murray overthrew two end zone plays by a few yards and had two passes knocked down, one of which he threw right into the defender’s arms. But Murray showed he can move the Cardinals down the field and command an NFL offense a couple of weeks before the games start counting. — Josh Weinfuss

The Vikings’ kicking situation is more cloudy than ever. Kaare Vedvik, who did all the place-kicking in Minnesota’s win on Saturday, had multiple chances to solidify his role on the 53-man roster. Instead, Vedvik missed his two field goal attempts from 43 and 54 yards, which sailed wide left and wide right, respectively. The most realistic role for Vedvik, after he was traded to Minnesota from Baltimore in exchange for a fifth-round pick, appeared to be as the specialist who handled kickoffs, punting and long field goals. Putting all kicking and punting duties on someone who is essentially still a rookie felt like a stretch to begin with. Now, Minnesota faces more questions at the position after Matt Wile handled all six punts (averaged 47.3 yards per punt, put two inside the 20). The fourth preseason game could decide this competition for good. While kicker Dan Bailey remained on the sideline throughout the third preseason game, coach Mike Zimmer opted to go for two after a fourth-quarter Mike Boone touchdown made the game, 13-9. It’s possible Zimmer was trying to be strategic with the score, although it still would have been a one-possession game even with a made 2-point conversion. Zimmer also might have been sending Vedvik a message by not letting him attempt the extra point. — Courtney Cronin

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Kyler Murray turns in a decent performance vs. the Vikings as he goes 14-of-21 with 137 yards passing with no interceptions.


Friday’s games

Despite a team that features Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens maintains that the strength of his squad is actually along the defensive line. That was on full display in Tampa, as the Browns starting front sacked Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston five times while pitching a shutout in the first half before giving way to the reserves. With Mayfield and OBJ, among others, Cleveland figures to have the offensive firepower to score with anyone in the league. If its defensive front dominates the way it did Friday, too, look out. — Jake Trotter

The Bucs had protection issues in Week 2, but this was a nightmare, with the first-team offensive line surrendering five sacks of Jameis Winston in the first half. Last week’s issues were more a function of busted protections and failing to account for extra rushers, but this week, the group was physically overpowered. “They got their asses kicked, one-on-one. Simple,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We haven’t been like that all year, so hopefully it’s correctable.” This was one of the worst games in recent memory for both starting tackles Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith, and Alex Cappa did not live up to the praise the coaching staff and front office bestowed on him in camp. Last week, it looked as if the issue was depth. Now it’s clear this whole group, with the exception of Ali Marpet, is struggling. Granted, they might not face a front seven as good as this one in the regular season, but it’s becoming more and more clear this will be their Achilles’ heel. — Jenna Laine

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Baker Mayfield says he’s not happy with some of his throws and admits he’s frustrated with his performance.


Let’s start with the positives. The Bills gave LeSean McCoy (six carries, 37 yards) and Frank Gore (eight carries, 57 yards) plenty of run in the first preseason game in which both backs were active. Isaiah McKenzie and Duke Williams each scored and have separated themselves as the final two receivers worth 53-man roster consideration. But you can’t ignore the negatives. Tre’Davious White and Quinton Spain both left the game because of quad and ankle injuries, respectively, the Bills’ defense allowed the first starting quarterback it has faced this season to complete 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, and Josh Allen turned in his worst game of the preseason — highlighted by an across-his-body interception graciously negated by a defensive penalty. The final roster is all but set, with difficult decisions coming at offensive line, linebacker, defensive end and wide receiver. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Matthew Stafford looked sharp in what probably will be his lone appearance this preseason (12-19-0-137, 1 TD), but any relief over how he played is overshadowed by what the Lions might have lost. Middle linebacker Jarrad Davis was carted off the field with what appeared to be a right foot/ankle injury and will have an MRI on Saturday, according to a source. Center Frank Ragnow appeared to injure his right knee and went straight to the locker room. The pair of former first-round picks were the anchors of the team’s linebacking corps and offensive line — two of the shakier groups Detroit has. If either one misses significant time, it could cause problems for the entire unit because of their individual roles. Detroit will have to adjust — and fast — if either injury ends up being one that keep the players out to start the regular season. — Michael Rothstein


Thursday’s games

Daniel Jones keeps checking boxes. The rookie showed physical toughness and moxie in his first road preseason game. He lost a fumble on a sack, but followed it up by making some tough throws on a touchdown drive. The rookie took over the offense after one Eli Manning series. Manning went 4-of-8 passing for 41 yards, which resulted in a field goal. Jones one-upped him. He was 9-of-11 passing for 141 yards. He has completed an impressive 25 of 30 passes for 369 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions through three preseason games. — Dianna Russini

It was a strong night for a few notable members of the Bengals’ draft class. Quarterback Ryan Finley (fourth round) completed 14 of 20 passes for 155 yards. Rodney Anderson (sixth round) starred in his Bengals debut. He caught all four of his targets for 51 yards. And Michael Jordan (fourth round) started at left guard and appears to be the front-runner to hold that spot when the regular season starts. Even though first-round pick Jonah Williams will likely be out for the season because of a shoulder injury, Thursday showed reasons to be optimistic about this year’s draft class. — Ben Baby


The Redskins’ offense received a boost from second-year back Derrius Guice and the defense looked strong again. But the first three preseason games have not engendered a lot of confidence in the quarterback position. The Redskins just don’t feel rookie Dwayne Haskins is close; he looks sharp on some throws — and the long-range potential is obvious — but they want him to master more of the offense and the nuances of the position. That’s fine. The problem is, Case Keenum hasn’t looked sharp. At times he moves the offense, but he sometimes forces plays that lead to mistakes. If Colt McCoy returns to full health, he’d likely get the job. But nobody knows when that will happen. Keenum needs to prove he’s a worthy starter. — John Keim

The Falcons appear to have a kicking problem. Giorgio Tavecchio, whom the team turned the kicking duties over to after saying goodbye to reliable Matt Bryant, missed a 39-yarder on his first attempt against the Redskins on Thursday night. It might not have been a concern had Tavecchio not missed two from 52 yards against the New York Jets last week, one of which was blocked and the other which sailed wide left. Tavecchio, who also missed a 54-yarder short in the Hall of Fame game against Denver, took ownership for the misses against the Jets and vowed to correct the problem. It’s fair to wonder if it’s worth bringing the 44-year-old Bryant back for one last run after he made 20 of 21 field goals last season, including a season-long 57-yarder. Tavecchio is due to make $645,000 this season. Bryant made $3.5 million total last season with a base salary of $1.1 million. Folks around the league expect Bryant to be on some team’s roster after Week 1, since the veteran’s salary in Week 1 would be fully guaranteed. Maybe the Falcons will revisit after the season opener at Minnesota, if it’s not addressed now. Update: The Falcons signed one-time Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh on Saturday and didn’t immediately release Tavecchio. — Vaughn McClure


This starts and ends with quarterback Cam Newton‘s left foot. Yes, a lot went wrong for the Panthers in Thursday’s loss to New England. The line gave up three first-half sacks, generated two first downs and 29 yards in the first half and 63 yards after three quarters. Rookie tackle Greg Little left in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. Some things went right too, namely first-round pick Brian Burns picking up his third and fourth sacks of the exhibition season. But Newton leaving after a sack at the end of the first quarter of his preseason debut with a foot injury is the headline. Backup quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Will Grier are inexperienced. The success of the Panthers depends on Newton, only now add a foot injury to the concern over whether his surgically repaired right shoulder will hold up. The injury didn’t appear serious, but the 2015 NFL MVP didn’t return to the field after leaving under his own power. He has a history with his left ankle, which he had surgically repaired in 2014. Is Newton becoming fragile at 30? Are the 1,221 hits he has taken since 2011, more than any quarterback during that span, starting to take their toll? Coach Ron Rivera said earlier in the week he’d be holding his breath if Newton got hit. He has to be holding his breath hoping that Newton is all right. — David Newton

Tom Brady made his preseason debut, and though he finished 8-of-12 for 75 yards in three series of work, the highlight actually came with his legs. Brady joked this offseason about his slow speed rating in the Madden video game, and how he was faster than he has been in the past, then showed it (kind of) by lumbering to convert a third-and-3 with a 3-yard rush to move the sticks. That was a big play to extend what turned into a 15-play touchdown drive, culminating in fullback James Develin‘s 1-yard TD dive. Brady wasn’t throwing to his full arsenal of receivers, as Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon (non-football injury list) didn’t play, but he was efficient, as usual, leading the attack. The next time Brady takes the field will likely be the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against the visiting Steelers. — Mike Reiss


Thursday night made it clear — the Ravens will rely on rookie receivers this season. First-round pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown caught three passes for 17 yards, but this performance went beyond the numbers. Brown, who was making his debut after being brought back slowly from offseason foot surgery, showed the ability to get consistently open and great quickness in getting in and out of cuts. Miles Boykin, a third-round selection, continued a strong summer with a 44-yard catch. He used his size to break a tackle and his speed to burst up the sideline for extra yards. Starting quarterback Lamar Jackson was held out the third preseason game, but he got an up-close look at his playmaking targets. The Ravens’ top three wide receivers on the roster are Boykin, Brown and Willie Snead. — Jamison Hensley

Five days out of retirement, 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown got the bulk of the snaps against Baltimore in a weather-shortened game and lit it up. He finished 17-of-24 for 192 yards with two touchdowns, including a beauty of a pass down the right sideline for rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside that resulted in a 20-yard score. Injuries to Nate Sudfeld and Cody Kessler this preseason prompted the Eagles to lure McCown out of retirement to, at least temporarily, back up Carson Wentz. Thursday’s performance suggests he’s up to the task.— Tim McManus


First-year coach Matt LaFleur called an audible and yanked his starters over field conditions in Winnipeg, where the game was played on an adjusted 80-yard field because of bad spots in the end zones where the CFL goalposts are normally anchored. So any hope of seeing Aaron Rodgers in action went by the wayside. There’s a good chance Rodgers will go into the Sept. 5 regular-season opener without any preseason action. On the plus side, he should be healthy as long as the back tightness that kept him out of last week’s game doesn’t flare up. The star of the night was WR/KR Trevor Davis, who made his preseason debut and did it all with five catches for 78 yards and a touchdown, an 18-yard run on an end-around and a 17-yard punt return. Also, Tim Boyle made a solid bid for the No. 2 quarterback job with a pair of touchdown passes. — Rob Demovsky

Good luck to Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock & Co. in getting something useful out of this tape. Besides leaving 24 players back in Oakland, the Raiders who did play did so on a short field. Yeah, divots in the middle of each end zone, where the CFL goalposts are positioned, made the field unsafe. The playing surface was limited to 80 yards, with each 10-yard line serving as the reconfigured goal lines. Maybe it’s good tape for the Arena League, but the Raiders have some hard decisions to make with their final cuts. At least Keith Smith, who missed most of camp recovering from a torn meniscus in his knee, scored a touchdown on a 15-yard catch and run, serving notice to undrafted rookie Alec Ingold to slow his roll. And for what it’s worth, Nathan Peterman got the majority of work at quarterback after Mike Glennon started and played the first quarter. — Paul Gutierrez


Rookie defensive end Josh Allen overshadowed QB Nick Foles‘ first game snaps in a Jaguars uniform with a dominating performance. He led the Jaguars with four tackles (two for loss) and also had two QB hits. During the first half he pressured Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick into a bad throw, beat veteran tight end Dwayne Allen for a tackle for loss, hammered Fitzpatrick as he threw the ball to force an incompletion, forced Fitzpatrick out of the pocket into a sack by Dawuane Smoot and dropped into coverage in the flat and tackled running back Kalen Ballage for a loss. He was the main reason the Dolphins’ offense managed less than 50 yards in the first half. Though Allen played at the same time as defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue early in the game, he didn’t have those guys on the field with him in the second quarter and still made plays. If he’s able to play close to this level in the regular season the Jaguars’ defensive front could be as good or better than it was in 2017, when Campbell, Ngakoue, Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler Jr. combined for 26.5 sacks. — Mike DiRocco

Ryan Fitzpatrick has been the leader in the clubhouse for the Dolphins’ quarterback battle all offseason, but Josh Rosen gave fans some reason for hope. He piloted a 99-yard touchdown drive in the second half in which he showed off his pocket presence, mobility, arm talent and decision-making. The biggest thing for Rosen is he’s continuing to improve. Fitzpatrick had some struggles early but led a touchdown drive of his own. Fitzpatrick might end up the Week 1 starter, but Rosen looks like he will be ready sooner than later. That’s good news for Dolphins fans. — Cameron Wolfe

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For Jaguars, headache might outweigh Jalen Ramsey’s talent – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There’s no doubting Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s immense talent.

He’s a lock-down defender with a rare combination of size, length and speed. In his first three seasons, he has been to the Pro Bowl twice and was first-team All-Pro once.

There’s also no doubting Ramsey can be an immense headache.

He has questioned coaching schemes and decisions. As a rookie, he advocated for the entire defensive staff to be fired. He ripped most of the league’s quarterbacks in a magazine article. And, as everyone saw last Sunday, he publicly confronted his head coach during the game on the sideline.

At some point, the headache outweighs the talent. It’s no different than any high-maintenance relationship. There’s only so much selfishness and so many demands one side is willing to put up with until there’s no benefit to continuing the relationship.

That’s where the Jaguars seem to be with Ramsey. And if that’s the case, it’s time for that relationship to end.

Granting Ramsey’s trade request would not be not a good precedent, but it might be the best thing for the organization. Ramsey has his supporters in the locker room — including running back Leonard Fournette — and sending him away might not be well received, but the alternative is keeping someone who is unhappy and doesn’t want to be here. That doesn’t work in any relationship.

It’s not a matter of choosing coach Doug Marrone over Ramsey, either. Based on Ramsey’s history and his actions last Sunday, would Ramsey really change his behavior if the Jaguars fired Marrone and gave Ramsey the mega-contract he wants (and deserves, based on his production and talent)?

It seems unlikely.

And, to be honest: Does a team need an elite corner — and Ramsey might very well be the best in the league today, a generational talent — to win a Super Bowl? Elite quarterback, yes. Elite pass-rushers, certainly. It obviously helps to have as much talent as possible, but teams have won Super Bowls without elite cornerbacks.

As good as Ramsey has been, the Jaguars have won 18 games in his three-plus seasons — and that includes 10 victories in 2017. The franchise has had many personnel issues in the past few seasons, especially at quarterback and along the offensive line, and Ramsey’s talent and work ethic haven’t been able to help team overcome it.

Another thing to note: High-maintenance players generally don’t spend their careers in one spot. Some do: Michael Irvin, for example. But Deion Sanders didn’t. Neither did Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or Darrelle Revis. In fact, Sanders and Revis played for a combined nine teams.

By all accounts, Ramsey is one of the team’s hardest workers. He studies opposing receivers and has notebooks full of information on each. He is always in great shape and treats his craft seriously. He’s also not a bad guy. He adores his family. None of that is an issue for the Jaguars. In that respect, he’s the perfect player.

It’s everything else that’s the problem. Saying defensive coordinator Todd Wash should be fired in 2016. Questioning Wash’s defensive calls in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against New England. Ripping most of the league’s quarterbacks in a GQ article. Going on a profane tirade toward the media after a fight between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue was recorded during an open portion of training camp practice.

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All the fallout from the Big Ben and Brees injuries

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Big NFL news seems to come in pairs these days. A few weeks ago, the Texans made two huge trades in the matter of an afternoon. Over the past few days, a pair of promising young cornerbacks in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jalen Ramsey hit the trade market. On Monday, unfortunately, we saw two superstar quarterbacks hit the shelf. After Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger left their respective games with injuries in Week 2, it was confirmed that both will undergo surgery.

Brees could miss six weeks after he gets surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand, while Roethlisberger is done for the season after injuring his elbow. Surprises haven’t been hard to come by during this wild league year, but this qualifies as a stunning one-two punch. In going back through the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, I can find exactly one other date in which a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks suffered multi-week injuries on the same date. John Elway and Warren Moon each suffered injuries on Nov. 15, 1992, with Elway missing five weeks and Moon’s absence costing him six.

There are major ramifications for both the Steelers and the Saints, though the injuries hit their teams in different ways. Teams such as the Bills, Browns, Chargers and Colts have a better chance of making the postseason than they would if the Steelers were projecting to roll out Roethlisberger for 14 more starts. And while the NFC South remains wide-open, the Saints might still be the favorites with Teddy Bridgewater under center.

There’s a lot to write about with each of these situations. Let’s start with Roethlisberger, whose season is over after just six quarters of football:


Is this the end for Big Ben?

Ben Roethlisberger‘s injury throws the Steelers into significant uncertainty at the most important position in sports for the first time in 15 years. He has struggled to stay healthy at times — and his off-field behavior has included a serious motorcycle accident and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct — but the Steelers have been assured of generally above-average play from the quarterback they selected in the first round of the 2004 draft. One NFL executive to whom I recently spoke compared his team to a house and the starting quarterback to a roof. The Steelers haven’t had to worry about getting wet for 15 years. Now, suddenly, there’s a huge hole in their roof.

This injury comes at a time when the Steelers already were in transition on offense. Longtime starters Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Marcus Gilbert and Jesse James — along with legendary offensive line coach Mike Munchak — all left the organization this offseason. While the Steelers already had developed a pair of replacements in running back James Conner and offensive tackle Matt Feiler, Pittsburgh generally used mid-round draft picks (and former Munchak assistant Shaun Sarrett) to replace the others.

Pittsburgh always has been an organization built around drafting and developing young talent; but in recent years, it has used some of its cap space to target veteran help in free agency, including cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Perhaps owing to the $21.2 million in dead money Brown occupies on their 2019 cap, the only veteran the Steelers added to their offense this year was wideout Donte Moncrief, who has been a disaster while playing through a dislocated finger over the first two weeks of the season.

Roethlisberger was supposed to be the rock of the offense, one of the few players who wasn’t moving into a larger role or subject to a coaching change over the offseason. Now, he’s gone. The Steelers didn’t choose to sign a veteran to help back up Roethlisberger this offseason, instead letting 2017 fourth-rounder Joshua Dobbs and 2018 third-rounder Mason Rudolph compete for the job. Rudolph was the favorite and won the competition, with the Steelers promptly shipping off Dobbs to the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick.

The Steelers already have promoted Devlin Hodges from their practice squad to serve as the new backup quarterback. There aren’t exactly many options available in free agency, but I wonder if Pittsburgh might call Matt Cassel, who played under former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Kansas City. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s scheme shares many of the same playcalls with Haley’s playbook.

Even if the Steelers sign a veteran such as Cassel, they’ll move forward in the short term with Rudolph as the starter. Projecting how he will perform is a difficult enterprise. The 24-year-old played in a spread offense at Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy, posting a 79.1 Total QBR over his four seasons at school. That number comes in just behind Sam Darnold‘s 79.5 mark over his two years at Southern California.

Like Roethlisberger, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Rudolph has the prototypical size you would expect from an NFL quarterback. Some reports coming out of college, however, suggested Rudolph doesn’t have the prototypical arm strength that often is associated with that physical archetype. For what it’s worth, Rudolph’s numbers throwing deep in college were quite good, as he posted a 98.8 QBR on throws traveling 16 or more yards in the air.

The arm strength concern popped up during Rudolph’s biggest play on Sunday, the 45-yard flea-flicker that he tossed to JuJu Smith-Schuster. When Rudolph threw the pass, Smith-Schuster was accelerating past a wrong-footed Lano Hill, but Rudolph’s throw forced the star wideout to slow down and nearly gave Hill a chance to break it up. A better throw would have produced a walk-in touchdown:

It would be impossible to draw broader conclusions about Rudolph’s future from his appearance on Sunday. He was 12-of-19 passing for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against a Seahawks pass defense that had been gashed by Cincinnati at home the prior week. His interception was entirely on Moncrief, who was benched after his most recent drop. His two touchdown passes were short throws to Vance McDonald, one of which came on a failed screen. The second of those touchdown drives was just three yards. Rudolph didn’t cost the Steelers the game; Pittsburgh’s defense allowing three consecutive touchdown drives in the second half before letting the Seahawks turn a third-and-16 over two plays into a new set of downs was what pushed the Steelers to 0-2.

What we know, historically, is that the success rate for third-round quarterbacks in the NFL hasn’t been great. Since 1990, 36 quarterbacks have been drafted in the third round. Two of them are Rudolph and Will Grier, whose futures still are basically indecipherable. When you look at the other 34, just six became players who started three seasons or more. (This assumes that recently drafted quarterbacks who have been slotted into backup roles, such as C.J. Beathard and Sean Mannion, don’t suddenly turn into multiyear starters.) Five made it to at least one Pro Bowl. Two of them started and won Super Bowls; one was Nick Foles, while the other was the only passer from the 34 to turn into a no-doubt franchise quarterback — Russell Wilson.

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Tim Hasselbeck says that Mason Rudolph’s campaign to become the Steelers’ starting quarterback, even after Ben Roethlisberger’s return, has now begun.

Wilson only fell to the third round because he lacked prototypical size. Rudolph has that size; if NFL organizations thought he had the skills to play quarterback at a high level, he would have been a first-round pick. My working theory with quarterbacks is that the league is generally awful at evaluating passers and that success depends much more on the infrastructure surrounding a quarterback than we think. Moncrief aside, Rudolph seems to have above-average infrastructure around him as he begins his starting career. Most rookie quarterbacks would kill for this offensive line and a receiver as good as Smith-Schuster.

What happens next is up in the air. Roethlisberger, who has flirted with retirement in years past, issued a public statement suggesting he intends to rehab his injury and return to the team in 2020. Plans change, of course; nobody expected quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning (Colts) and Tony Romo (Cowboys) to leave their franchise when they went down injured before a season began, but their departures seemed inevitable by the time those seasons were over.

The best thing for the Steelers, naturally, would be for Rudolph to play like a superstar. If that happens, Pittsburgh will face a difficult decision. Roethlisberger is due a $12.5 million roster bonus on March 20, and his $8.5 million base salary for 2020 already is guaranteed for injury. The Steelers could choose to bring back Big Ben as their starter and keep their quarterback of the future as a backup, but once teams find their new quarterback, they tend to stick with that guy.

Realistically, if Rudolph plays well, the Steelers will have to decide on Roethlisberger’s future on March 20. If they found a trade partner, they would be off the hook for paying him that $21 million in 2020. But if they trade him — or if he retires — they also would simultaneously owe $25 million in dead money on their 2020 cap, which would see the team set the single-season dead money record for a player for the second consecutive season.

If the Steelers chose to designate Roethlisberger as a post-June 1 release, Pittsburgh would owe as much as $33.5 million in dead money, depending on the offset language in his contract. They would be able to spread that money over two years, but it still would be an enormous sum of money for him to go play somewhere else.

What the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade means

Originally, I was going to argue that the Steelers also would be in good shape if Rudolph flamed out. That argument went by the wayside on Monday night, though, when the Steelers sent their 2020 first-round pick to the Dolphins for disgruntled defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. The deal leaves Pittsburgh without its first- and third-round selections in the 2020 draft, given that it sent away its third-round pick to move up and grab Devin Bush with the 10th pick in April.

Fitzpatrick was promising as a rookie, and the Steelers will have him under contract for the next three years for a total of less than $6 million, which is a pittance for a starting cornerback in the NFL. It’s reasonable to make the economic case that the surplus value Fitzpatrick plausibly offers as a starter over the next three years would be worth a first-round pick, especially if it falls in the back half of the first round.



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‘Blessed’ OBJ torches Jets in return to MetLife

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When asked his feelings about New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Odell Beckham Jr. responded, “Who?” Then, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver let out a smile.

OBJ made his point both during — and after — Cleveland’s 23-3 win on Monday night, highlighted by a pair of spectacular plays.

On the game’s opening drive, Beckham hauled in a one-handed grab near the same pylon of his famous one-handed stab at MetLife Stadium with the New York Giants five years ago. Then in the third quarter, Beckham hauled in a quick slant off a run-pass option play from quarterback Baker Mayfield and raced a career-best 89 yards to the end zone.

Earlier in the week, Beckham accused Williams of teaching “cheap shots” and “dirty hits,” and he said that led to an ankle injury that nearly derailed his career two years ago. The next day, Williams responded to the charge with a joke, saying, “Odell who?” He then went on downplay the notion that Beckham was a “dynamic” player.

“Everybody has a right to their own opinion,” Beckham said after the game. “He’s a phenomenal coach and he’s got a great defense. I’m done talking about it.”

Beckham let his play do his talking.

He finished with six receptions for 161 receiving yards, outproducing the entire Jets pass-catching corps, which collectively had only 125 yards receiving.

“Pretty dynamic,” deadpanned Mayfield, who seemed stunned to find out that Williams had suggested otherwise. “He’s a special guy.”

On his touchdown, Beckham actually reached a maximum speed of 21.7 miles per hour, the fastest any player has run while scoring this year, according to NFL NextGen Stats.

Beckham had battled a hip injury throughout the preseason, which landed him on the injury report. He also noted he had to work through cramps in his calves and tightness in his hamstrings Monday. But Beckham said that he’s now feeling great in every way after two games with his new team.

“I think I’m in a better physical, mental space than I’ve ever been in my life,” said Beckham, who celebrated his maiden score with the Browns by pantomiming opening a front door with a key, as if to signify, “I’m home” in MetLife. “I was joking with my trainers, I’m trying to hit 24, 23 [miles per hour]. Not saying it’ll happen, but I’m working for it.

“It didn’t feel like [that was] fastest I could run. I was just trying to get to the end zone.”

Officials took away Beckham’s other opportunity to reach the end zone on the opening drive. Two plays after his one-handed catch, officials removed Beckham from the field on third-and-goal, saying his visor was too reflective. Without Beckham in the game, Mayfield threw an incompletion and Cleveland had to settle for a field goal.

“It’s just frustrating. I feel like I’ve grown a lot, to be better, do better and it’s always something,” said Beckham, who admitted he doesn’t know what visor he’ll be wearing going forward. “I don’t want to break any rules. I just want to play football.”

Beckham also complained last week about being singled out by the league for wearing a $189,500 Richard Mille watch during the season opener. The NFL said the watch violated a league rule against players wearing “hard objects.” Beckham didn’t wear a watch in Monday’s game, though he did warm up with a different designer watch beforehand. When asked about it after the game, and whether it actually cost $2 million, as some had speculated over social media, Beckham played it coy.

“I’m off of it,” he said of the watch. “I don’t really have any comment about it.

“I’m just blessed.”

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