COVID-19 Latest: Ravens, Williams, Browns

Earlier Wednesday, the NFL took the Ravens-Steelers rematch off its Thanksgiving schedule. That game is now on tap for 12:15pm CT Sunday. More is emerging on why the Steelers will see another of their games delayed. The Ravens disciplined a strength and conditioning coach for “conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff.” The Ravens are levying the discipline because the unnamed staffer did not report symptoms or consistently wear a mask or a contact tracing device, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). This is believed to have contributed to the Ravens’ outbreak — one that comes nearly two months after a Titans outbreak altered the Steelers’ schedule. Seven Ravens players and at least five staffers have tested positive for COVID. This will not only weaken Baltimore against Pittsburgh but potentially deplete team’s roster for its Week 13 Thursday game against Dallas.

Several teams shuffled their rosters because of COVID on Wednesday. Here is the latest:

  • 49ers left tackle Trent Williams tested positive for COVID-19 last week, per ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano (on Twitter). A cancer survivor, Williams has not experienced issues with the virus yet, Graziano tweets. Williams, who landed on the 49ers’ COVID list earlier this month as a high-risk close contact, is on track to miss San Francisco’s Week 12 game in Los Angeles.
  • Six players remain on San Francisco’s virus list. The 49ers removed Arik Armstead and center Hroniss Grasu on Wednesday.
  • Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki tested positive Wednesday, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com (on Twitter). Takitaki played against the Eagles and returned an interception for a touchdown. The Cleveland starting linebacker’s positive test follows Myles Garrett‘s. Neither they nor Denzel Ward (injury) will be available for Sunday’s game against the Jaguars. The Browns closed their facility Wednesday, but their Jags game remains on schedule.
  • The Bengals placed wide receiver Auden Tate and recently acquired offensive lineman B.J. Finney on their reserve/COVID-19 list. Cincinnati has seen staffers test positive, with D-line coach Nick Eason being the most recent. Eason was alerted of his positive test Tuesday. The Bengals now have five players on their reserve/COVID list.
  • Christian Wilkins is off the Dolphins‘ COVID list. Wilkins was not reported to have tested positive, but the second-year defensive lineman still missed two games after landing on the team’s virus list.
  • Dante Fowler did test positive two weeks ago and missed the Falcons‘ Week 11 game, but the big-ticket free agent addition is off the list now and on course to return to Atlanta’s lineup Sunday.
  • The Vikings and Chargers also removed players from their respective virus lists Wednesday. Minnesota activated guard Dru Samia; Los Angeles activated cornerback Brandon Facyson.

NFL To Rescind K’Waun Williams’ Ban

Nov. 25: The NFL has reversed course in this case. The 49ers slot corner will not face a two-game ban. Issues with the testing procedures induced the league to backtrack on Williams’ suspension, according to Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Williams has insisted he has not used a banned substance.

Nov. 24: We’ve got another two-game suspension to report on the heels of Luke Gifford getting the same ban. This time it’s 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams getting hit for violating the league’s policy on PEDs.

Fortunately for San Francisco Williams is already sidelined with a high ankle sprain and wasn’t likely to play before this suspension will be up anyway. He’ll be eligible to return for the team’s Week 14 game against Washington. Williams is the team’s nickel corner who lines up in the slot. He started the year off playing a little over half of the team’s defensive snaps, but then was sidelined with a knee sprain in Week 4.

He returned in Week 8, but went down with the ankle sprain the following game. He was quite productive last year, finishing with 51 tackles, two interceptions, a sack, and four forced fumbles in 15 games and eight starts. The Pittsburgh product entered the league as an UDFA with the Browns in 2014.

He quickly became a key contributor in Cleveland but was waived after the 2015 season following a dispute with the team over an injury he had at the time. After sitting out 2016 with that injury he signed with San Francisco the following year. His strong play earned him a three-year extension worth $10MM that is set to expire at the end of this season. He’ll be a free agent this offseason and due to the high marks he received last year, he’s likely in for a raise.

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Rashod Bateman Opts Out, Enters 2021 Draft

Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman made a decision to opt out of his junior season because of COVID-19 concerns this summer but reconsidered after the Big Ten announced plans to start its campaign in the fall. But recent developments prompted Bateman to again decide to begin early preparations for his NFL career.

The standout pass catcher will wrap his final Golden Gophers slate early, citing the increased coronavirus issues (Twitter link). COVID trouble caused the cancelation of Minnesota’s Saturday game against Wisconsin, with the 100-plus-year-old rivalry representing one of many cancellations or postponements to occur across Division I-FBS over the past several days. Nine Minnesota players and six staffers tested positive for COVID-19 over the past five days. The Gophers played without 20 players due to COVID and injuries last week.

Bateman is expected to be a surefire first-round pick in 2021. Scouts Inc. rates the 6-foot-2 receiver as its No. 9 overall draft-eligible player for 2021. While wideouts Ja’Marr Chase — an LSU summer opt-out — and Alabama’s Devonta Smith rank ahead of Bateman, he will be a coveted target in yet another strong receiver draft.

This season, Bateman is averaging more yards per game than he did during a breakout 1,219-yard sophomore slate. The Gophers’ top weapon was on track to push for another 1,000-yard season, despite Minnesota being set to max out at eight games this year. He caught 36 passes for 472 yards and two scores in five games.

It will be interesting to see if other early-round prospects follow Bateman’s lead, in light of what has become an increasingly unstable college football season.

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Titans Work Out Brooks Reed

The Titans are still looking for a boost to their pass rush. Per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, the club has brought in veteran edge defender Brooks Reed for a workout (Twitter link).

Though Tennessee picked up a critical overtime win against the Ravens on Sunday to keep pace with the Colts in the AFC South, Mike Vrabel‘s defense has struggled all season, and one of the reasons for that is the unit’s inability to pressure the opposing quarterback. The Titans have recorded just 12 sacks on the season, third-fewest in the NFL, and they rank near the bottom of the league in terms of passing yards allowed per game.

At this point in his career, Reed is unlikely to move the needle too much, but Tennessee has to try something. The team’s two major free agent additions to its pass rushing corps — Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley — were major flops, and now Clowney is on IR while Beasley is on the Raiders’ practice squad.

Reed, 33, was a second-round pick of the Texans back in 2011. He posted six sacks in his rookie campaign, but that ended up representing a career high. For much of his professional tenure, which includes a four-year stint with the Falcons and a nine-game showing with the Cardinals last year, he has been deployed as a rotational pass rusher.

His 2019 campaign with Arizona was cut short due to a hamstring injury, and this marks the first time we have heard of interest in his services this year.

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Colts Place DeForest Buckner On Reserve/COVID-19 List

The Colts have placed DeForest Buckner on the reserve/COVID-19 list, according to a team announcement. This could be an especially difficult blow, as Indianapolis will take on the Titans in a battle for first place in the AFC South on Sunday.

At this point, it’s unclear if Buckner tested positive or if he is considered a close contact with someone who did. If he tested positive, he is guaranteed to miss the matchup with Tennessee, though if his placement on the list is due to a close contact, he may be back on the field on Sunday (depending on when the contact occurred and his test results in the coming days)+.

Indianapolis pulled off one of the biggest blockbusters of this offseason in acquiring Buckner, as it shipped a first-round pick to the 49ers in exchange for one of the game’s premier interior defenders and signed him to a massive $21MM/year extension. And Buckner has not disappointed, as Pro Football Focus currently ranks him fifth among all interior D-linemen, including an especially high pass-rush grade (though he has generated just 2.5 sacks on the season).

PFF is not quite as bullish on his run defense, but it still considers him an above-average performer in that regard. And the Colts will need all the run support they can get against Titans’ RB Derrick Henry, who rushed for 103 yards on just 19 carries against Indy two weeks ago.

Buckner joins fellow DL Denico Autry on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and as Stephen Holder of The Athletic tweets, Autry’s status for Sunday’s game is still unclear. If the Colts are without both players, they will need monster performances from players like Tyquan Lewis and Grover Stewart to contain Henry.

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Bengals Promote QB Brandon Allen

Nov. 25: Allen, not Finley, will get the start against the Giants on Sunday, per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network (via Twitter). The 28-year-old Arkansas product finally saw his first regular season action in the pros in 2019, starting three games for the Broncos. Denver won just one of those games, and Allen posted a poor 68.3 QB rating.

Nov. 23: The Bengals will promote Brandon Allen from the practice squad to the active roster, as NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero tweets. Following Joe Burrow‘s season-ending knee injury, the Bengals’ QB depth chart now consists of Allen and Ryan Finley.

[RELATED: Joe Burrow Done For Year]

Burrow had to be carted off the field on Sunday after his left knee got rolled up. He didn’t need a doctor to tell him that it was an ACL tear. Shortly after leaving the game, Burrow announced that he was done for the year on social media. Minutes later, the Bengals officially confirmed the news.

It’s been a trying year for the Bengals, but Burrow was one of their few bright spots. Behind a porous offensive line, the No. 1 overall pick managed 2,688 yards and 13 touchdowns against just five interceptions.

Finley will take over for the former Heisman Trophy winner, with Allen holding the clipboard on the sidelines. The Burrow-less Bengals will look for win No. 3 this week against the Giants who are (somehow) in the NFC East chase.

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Broncos Have Not Discussed Garett Bolles Extension

A few months ago, any talk of the Broncos giving an extension to LT Garett Bolles would have seemed ridiculous. After all, Denver declined Bolles’ fifth-year option back in May, and the former first-round pick had not even come close to living up to his draft status.

But Bolles has been outstanding in 2020, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ top-rated tackle and receiving excellent marks for both his run-blocking and pass-blocking acumen. Plus, he has been called for just three holding penalties thus far, only one of which has been accepted. In his first two years as a pro, he was tied for the league lead in most accepted holding penalties, and in 2019, he was tied for sixth.

As Mike Klis of 9News.com writes, Bolles credits increased attention to his technique as one of the primary reasons for his stark improvement, along with new OC Pat Shurmur‘s pulling scheme. “I think in the past I just used my athletic ability to get the technical side of things,” Bolles said. “To the little things where taking sets barefoot in your kitchen, to watching film, watching guys, looking on the outside shoulder, hand movement and hand fights, and things like that.”

Better fundamentals have allowed the 28-year-old’s natural athleticism — which is what attracted the attention of GM John Elway to begin with — to shine through. And as he is earning just under $2MM this year, he looks like one of the best bargains in the league.

So one would think that Denver would be acting quickly to lock him up on a long-term basis, especially since the left tackle market is red-hot at the moment. But according to Klis, the club has yet to open extension talks, though that’s almost certainly due to the financial uncertainty created by COVID-19 and the fact that the salary cap is likely to decrease in 2021.

There is no indication that the Broncos are opposed to a new deal, and Bolles would certainly be receptive to one. “I mean, (a contract extension) would be nice, but it’s not up to me,” he said (via Troy Renck of Denver 7 ABC). “That’s why I hired an agent, he talks to Mr. Elway. When they want to do it, they’ll do it. That’s just how I look at it. I just want to be consistent. I have to go out there and play at a high level every single week.”

Given his past track record and the likelihood of a depressed free agent market, it would be surprising to see Bolles match or top David Bakhtiari‘s new $23MM/year deal with the Packers, and he may not hit the $20MM AAV threshold. But a surefire Pro Bowl (and perhaps First Team All-Pro) left tackle coming off a dominant season will be a highly-desirable commodity, so whether it comes from the Broncos or someone else, Bolles will be in line for a pretty sizable raise in short order.

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NFL Postpones Ravens-Steelers Due To COVID-19

Thursday’s game between the Ravens and Steelers has been postponed due to a rash of positive COVID-19 tests. Now, the two teams are set to meet on Sunday afternoon, though the league will continue to monitor the situation between now and then.

We learned yesterday that Baltimore was dealing with 10 total coronavirus cases, including five players. As Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports (via Twitter), the Ravens have actually had seven players test positive over the past three days: RBs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins — which we already knew about — QB Trace McSorley, OLB Pernell McPhee, DE Calais Campbell, C Matt Skura, and G/C Patrick Mekari, all of whom will be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. As such, the league really had no other choice but to push back the game.

Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network points out that the league did not make the decision because the Ravens would have been extremely shorthanded. After all, the players who tested positive won’t be allowed to play on Sunday either. Instead, a number of Baltimore players are (obviously) close contacts with those who tested positive, and the NFL wants to make sure the spread is contained (Twitter link).

Unfortunately, things could get worse for the Ravens. Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the league and the team know how the outbreak began, and there is a chance more players will test positive. By Friday, the NFL expects to know if everything is under control or if the game will need to be postponed again.

If another postponement becomes necessary, this game will likely be the first one set in on the novel Week 18. The Ravens are scheduled to play the Cowboys next Thursday, so the league will not make them play a game on Monday or Tuesday before a Thursday night contest.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

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Cardinals Sign Seth DeValve To Practice Squad

The Cardinals have signed Seth DeValve to the practice squad, per a club announcement. The tight end became a free agent when the Panthers dropped him from the taxi squad last week, and he’s yet to see live action in 2020.

The 27-year-old first joined the Panthers in March after a one-year stint in Jacksonville. That deal lasted just a few months, thanks to a lingering toe injury. In June, Carolina dropped DeValve with a failed physical designation.

DeValve logged more snaps that any other Jaguars tight end in 2019, but he was rarely targeted. He finished out with 12 catches for 140 yards off of 18 opportunities. His best season to date came in 2017, when he posted career highs of 33 receptions and 395 yards.

The Cardinals currently have three tight ends on the varsity squad in Darrell Daniels, Dan Arnold, and Maxx Williams. If an injury or opportunity arises, they’ll DeValve on call.

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This Date In Transactions History: Panthers Shut Down Michael Oher

On this date in 2016, the Panthers placed Michael Oher on injured reserve. The move, in essence, capped Oher’s NFL career.

[RELATED: A Look Back At The Patriots-49ers Jimmy Garoppolo Trade] 

The left tackle had suffered a serious concussion, just months after inking a brand new three-year, $21.6MM extension. The new portion of that deal was set to start in 2017, but he never played a snap on that pact. Oher, of “Blind Side” fame, later ran into personal trouble. In the spring of ’17, he was alleged to have fought an Uber driver. Later on, he posted a picture to social media with what appeared to be prescribed medication for brain injuries.

In July of that year, the Panthers released Oher with a failed physical designation, which allowed him to collect injury compensation. Oher’s contract was over before it even began, and his NFL career was finished after just eight seasons in the NFL. Oher overcame adversity throughout his life to become a first-round pick and found his second wind with the Panthers after some rocky years with the Ravens and Titans. The Panthers reached Super Bowl 50 with Oher as Cam Newton‘s protector and they hoped to keep him in that spot through at least 2019. Instead, Oher would see his last NFL down at the age of 30 and leave the game after starting in all 110 of his games.

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