Thu Oct 17 7:01pm ET
By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson works out prior to an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
In this Sept. 8, 2019, file photo, Baltimore Ravens free safety Earl Thomas (29) intercepts a pass, as Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker (11), attempts to tackle, during the first half at an NFL football game, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Over the course of nine NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, Earl Thomas picked off 28 passes, earned a Super Bowl ring and was selected to the Pro Bowl six times. Those are some of the memories the standout safety will take across the country before he faces former team on Sunday as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, left, and quarterback Lamar Jackson celebrate Jackson's touchdown run against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half of a NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
SEATTLE (AP) There is an understandable mutual admiration between Baltimore's Lamar Jackson and Seattle's Russell Wilson.
In Jackson, Wilson sees a combination of speed and shiftiness working in concert with an underrated passing ability that has the young QB causing headaches for anyone tasked with slowing him down.
In Wilson, Jackson sees a veteran who has reached the pinnacle of the NFL, who has figured out a way to balance his athleticism and running ability with a dynamic right arm that makes him one of the premier passers in the league.
''I love everything about his game,'' Jackson said. ''He's a great quarterback. He makes guys miss. He breaks the pocket, and there will be guys chasing him everywhere. He knows what to do with the ball - dish it out, go to a checkdown. He makes plays. He's a playmaker, and that's what you need in a guy and at the quarterback position. That's what he is.''
Jackson and Wilson will meet on the field or the first time on Sunday when the Seahawks host the Ravens in a showdown between two of the better teams in each conference and two of the early MVP candidates.
Jackson has wowed with his combination of running and passing. He's on pace to rush for 1,200 yards and throw for 4,000. Last week, he became the first player in league history to throw for more than 200 yards and rush for more than 150 in the same regular season game.
Jackson is completing 65% of his passes, has 13 touchdowns passing and rushing and causing nightmares for opposing defenses.
''People always mention his speed. That's obvious. But I think the mixture of all the different things he can do - he can throw it down the field, he's tough, he hangs in there, he's a smart player too,'' Wilson said. ''You put all those things together with his elusiveness, which is as good as it gets, probably best you've ever seen kind of speed, he's really special.''
Where Wilson has impressed is his overall command of Seattle's offense. He's just the fourth QB in league history to start the season with six straight games with a passer rating of 100 or higher. He hasn't thrown an interception since Week 17 of last season. Wilson is playing with a confidence and savvy that's flashed at times throughout his career, but perhaps never for such a prolonged period.
''I know he's deep in the conversation for the MVP already,'' Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. ''We hope, and we're going to do everything we can, to make sure that we don't make that argument any stronger, or help make that argument any stronger.''
Here's what else to watch as the Seahawks and Ravens meet for the first time since 2015:
MY NAME IS EARL
Aside from the quarterbacks, the biggest story line is the return of safety Earl Thomas, who spent his first nine seasons with Seattle before signing with Baltimore in free agency. Thomas was a star with the Seahawks, a founding member of the ''Legion of Boom'' secondary and a three-time first-team All-Pro selection. The final image of Thomas with Seattle was being carted off the field last season after breaking his leg in Arizona and flashing the middle finger at Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, angry about not getting a contract extension with the Seahawks.
''I don't know what this game is going to bring, but I definitely respect and love the organization. They gave me my first shot,'' Thomas said.
BACKFIELD IN MOTION
The Ravens have been forced to shuffle their defensive backfield this season to cope with injuries to Tavon Young, Tony Jefferson, DeShon Elliott and Jimmy Smith. First-year general manager Eric DeCosta refurbished the secondary this week by trading for two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and signing safety Bennett Jackson from the Jets practice squad.
Both newcomers are expected to play Sunday, so it's imperative that they work in unison with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr, as well as Thomas.
''Communication is going to be really critical, especially there,'' Harbaugh said. ''It won't be quite as loud, because their offense will be on the field, maybe as it would be here. But it's a loud place, and you're on the road. It's terminology.''
Seattle should get a boost on its defensive line with the return of Jarran Reed after he was suspended for the first six games. Reed had 10+ sacks last season, but more important will be his ability to draw attention and potentially open up more on the outside for Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah. Seattle has just 10 sacks through six games and didn't have a quarterback hit recorded last week against Cleveland.
The task this week isn't so much getting pressure on Jackson as it is keeping the elusive QB contained.
''That's why we come out here to practice, to get a feel of each other,'' Reed said. ''We talked a long time. We're going to get out here. We're going to work together. We're going to build that chemistry together.''
The Ravens cranked up the music at practice this week to simulate the crowd noise at CenturyLink Field. Jackson played in packed stadiums while at Louisville, and he's twice started in Kansas City against the Chiefs. But playing in Seattle is taking it to another (sound) level.
''The coaches have been telling us it's very loud,'' Jackson said. ''I just have to do a good job of executing, calling out the plays and letting everyone hear me.''
There remains no timetable for a potential return for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (back) as he rehabs from spinal stabilization surgery. Shazier has not played for the last two seasons, and it remains to be seen if he'll ever play again. His contract from the 2019 season will not toll over to 2020, but the Steelers continue to support his comeback efforts. If Shazier's contract expires, he will become a free agent when the new league year begins on March 18. The 27-year-old was a force in the middle of the field for the Steelers in the four seasons before his injury. We wouldn't bet against Shazier making a comeback, but it might not be for the Steelers.
Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson won't be a guarantee to make the team's roster going into training camp, in the opinion of The Athletic's Chris Burke. Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2019, ended his rookie season with 63 carries for 273 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and no touchdowns on the ground. The Lions notably didn't give him a very big workload when Kerryon Johnson was hurt last year either, and he'll have to compete with Bo Scarbrough, J.D. McKissic, Tra Carson and Wes Hills for depth behind Kerryon Johnson this summer. Even if he makes the roster out of camp, Johnson won't be guaranteed many touches as the second or third running back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that the team remains undecided on whether to keep quarterback Jameis Winston or move on from the former first overall draft pick. Arians said they probably won't know what direction they are headed until the start of the three-day legal free-agent tampering period from March 16-18. If Tampa uses a franchise tag on Winston, he'll be guaranteed around $27 million on a one-year deal. The fact that the Buccaneers are waiting to see which quarterbacks become available doesn't really inspire much confidence that they want to retain him. Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and set a franchise record with 33 touchdown passes, but he also tossed a league-high 30 interceptions and lost five fumbles. With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver, Winston will have his highest fantasy value as a strong QB1 if he remains in Tampa, but that won't be up to him.
The New York Jets are highly unlikely to re-sign impending free-agent wide receiver Robby Anderson, according to league sources. Anderson is expected to receiver $13 to $15 million annually on a multi-year deal on the open market, but Gang Green would like to sign him for just $10 million annually. Because the 26-year-old will be one of the better receivers on the open market, his price will be driven up despite the fact that he had just 779 yards on 52 catches for five touchdowns. Anderson also has yet to produce a 1,000-yard season in four years in the NFL, but he will get paid, and it's unlikely to come from the Jets. The Temple alum could be a fantasy sleeper if he lands in the right situation next month.
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (knee), whose 2019 season ended in early December when he suffered a torn ACL, said he got back on an exercise bike earlier this week. The 24-year-old second-year back is ahead of schedule in his recovery, but he still might be a question mark to be ready for Week 1 in 2020. The former first-round pick could be a candidate for the Physically Unable to Perform list if he's not ready, which would keep him out the first six weeks. In 10 games for Seattle last year, Penny had 65 carries for 370 yards and three scores. If he can stay healthy for a full season, Penny has the skills to be relevant in all point-per-reception leagues. Monitor his progress this spring and through the summer.
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye could be released this offseason to clear $11.4 million in salary cap space. Bouye has two interceptions the last two years, while Tre Herndon, who started opposite of Bouye when Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Rams, had three interceptions last season and will make $660,000 in 2020. Jacksonville could look to the draft in April to try and address their need for a new cornerback. Once one of the top secondaries in the NFL just several seasons ago, it has now become a weakness for the Jags.
The Jacksonville Jaguars must decide this offseason if they will pick up running back Leonard Fournette's $10.1 million fifth-year option for 2021. It's an interesting decision because they are limited for salary cap space, so they could decline the option and wait to see how he performs in 2020 before considering a contract extension. The 25-year-old had 265 carries for a career-high 1,152 yards, but he rushed for only three touchdowns in 15 games. It's Fournette's second 1,000-yard season in his three seasons. Despite the lack of TDs in 2019, he should be seen as an RB1 in a run-first offense next season. He has yet to play in a full season, though, so he's a bit risky as an RB1.
The Jacksonville Jaguars need to continue searching for a franchise quarterback. Rookie Gardner Minshew showed flashes in 2019, but he'll need to prove he's more than just a game manager in a larger sample size. The team could also seek to find a trade partner for Nick Foles, who flopped as a big free-agent acquisition in 2019. Because of the presence of Minshew on the roster, Foles likely doesn't have much of a future in Jacksonville, and his lack of mobility limits his production with Jacksonville's offensive line a work in progress. Foles broke his collarbone in the season opener and played in just four games while being benched after he returned from injury. Even if he wins the starting job heading into next season, he'll be a midrange QB2, at best.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander (biceps), who had surgery on his pectoral muscle last season, was also dealing with a biceps injury and is undergoing surgery on Friday, according to sources. Alexander should be fully recovered in time for the 2020 season. The 25-year-old played in just eight games in 2019 in his first season with San Fran because of his pectoral injury. In those eight contests, Alexander had 34 tackles (22 solo), half a sack, a forced fumble and an interception. He's played in just 14 games the last two seasons and will need to stay on the field if he wants to remain with the 49ers past the 2020 season.
The Washington Redskins released wide receiver Paul Richardson and cornerback Josh Norman on Friday. Richardson, 27, was due to make $6.5 million this year, but he caught just 48 passes in 17 games in his two seasons and made almost $17 million in that span. Norman, 32, played just 53 percent of the defensive snaps last season and fell down the depth chart late in the year for his poor play. He was scheduled to make $12 million in 2020. Norman didn't make one Pro Bowl in his four seasons in D.C. and had seven interceptions. Richardson could latch on elsewhere as a deep threat and bounce back, but he will need to stay healthy.
The Arizona Cardinals want to retain running back Kenyan Drake, who will be a free agent in March, and placing the franchise tag on him is a possibility if they don't sign him to a long-term deal. Drake took over the starting gig from the injured David Johnson after the trade from Miami, and Johnson would likely play second fiddle to Drake in the backfield if the Cardinals don't trade him. In eight games last year, Drake ran the ball 123 times for 643 yards (5.2 yards per carry) with a career-high eight touchdowns. He fits the Cardinals much better from a fantasy perspective than he did in Miami, despite Arizona's shaky offensive line. If Johnson is on another team come next season, Drake will have RB1 upside.
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said that the team has had initial contract-extension talks with cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is heading into the final year of his contract. Peterson, a fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been one of the best cover corners in his nine seasons in the NFL. He missed the first six games of last season due to suspension and finished 2019 with 53 total tackles (46 solo), one sack, one forced fumble and two interceptions. He had a falling out with Arizona recently, but he has gone back on trade demands and is willing to remain in the desert.
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said that cutting running back David Johnson "is not an option." Keim also added that "you can't just have one back," and Kenyan Drake, who took over the starting role in the second half last year, is scheduled to be a free agent in March. Johnson ran the ball just 94 times for 345 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two rushing touchdowns in 13 games last season. He battled nagging injuries that slowed him down and caused him to lose the starting job to Drake. The 28-year-old looked like a shell of his former self, one that ran for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016. Even if DJ returns in 2020, it seems unlikely that he'll be a bell-cow back with all of his injury concerns.
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said that quarterback Tyrod Taylor, last year's backup to Philip Rivers, could have an opportunity to win the starting job in 2020. "Tyrod Taylor is a heck of a quarterback," Lynn told AM 570 LA Sports. "We couldn't have a better backup right now, and now he has an opportunity to maybe step up into a starting role." Taking care of the football is a top priority for Lynn after Philip Rivers turned the ball over 23 times in 2019. In his last full season as a starter, Taylor turned the ball over just six times in 2017 while leading the Bills to the playoffs. Taylor can also add an element with his legs on the ground as a mobile quarterback. With the weapons around him if he's the starter, Taylor will have QB1 upside, but he'll be better off taken as a QB2 with upside in fantasy.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (hernia) recently underwent sports hernia surgery. A third-round pick in 2019, Johnson caught 59 passes on 92 targets for 680 yards and five touchdowns in a full season in his rookie year with Pittsburgh. He saw more opportunities during the year with JuJu Smith-Schuster banged up, but he was also hurt by poor quarterback play from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. If Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) returns healthy in 2020, Johnson could make quite the leap in his second season as the potential No. 2 receiver behind Smith-Schuster. He should be recovered in plenty of time to be ready for training camp this summer.
The Los Angeles Chargers agreed to a one-year contract extension with head coach Anthony Lynn that puts him with the team through the 2021 season. The Chargers are entering a transition now that they have officially moved on from veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, and they're expected to let running back Melvin Gordon walk in free agency as well. Tyrod Taylor could be under center for the Bolts, at least to start the 2020 season, but the Chargers could also upgrade the position through free agency, the draft or a trade. Lynn, 51, led the Chargers to a disappointing 5-11 last-place finish in the AFC West. He's 26-22 in his three years with LA.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said that "all signs are good to this point" with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (elbow), who will have a medical checkup on Feb. 21. The team's medical staff has constantly been working with Big Ben, and Colbert said Roethlisberger could be better than he was a year ago. The 37-year-old (38 in March) played in just two games in 2019 before requiring right elbow surgery. It will be tough for him to be better than he was in 2018 (5,129 yards, 34 touchdowns), but Big Ben could still have QB1 upside in 2020. The smart play is to take him as a QB2 with some upside in fantasy drafts, though. A healthy Big Ben will be great news for JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was a huge bust in 2019.
The Tennessee Titans agreed on a one-year contract extension with tight end Anthony Firkser on Thursday. Firkser was on track to become an exclusive-rights free agent in March. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. The Harvard alum had two big touchdown catches in the playoffs and hauled in 14 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown in 15 games during the regular season. Firkser caught three passes for 45 yards and the two scores in the postseason. Tennessee might be moving on from veteran Delanie Walker this offseason, but even so, Firkser will likely back up Jonnu Smith in 2020, making him a fantasy afterthought.
Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn refuted a Wednesday night report that the team is in talks to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford. "100% False!!" Quinn wrote in a text message to the Free Press. Stafford is entering his 12th season in the NFL and threw for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions while setting a career-high passer rating in just eight games before suffering a back injury that caused him to miss the rest of the season. Detroit has the No. 3 pick in the draft, prompting speculation that they could move on from Stafford and select another QB. Stafford gives the Lions the best chance to win in 2020, and the team would incur a $32 million salary cap hit if they trade him.
Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford is the subject of trade rumors, but general manager Bob Quinn stated the rumors are '100 percent false.'
Fantasy Spin: Stafford was third in fantasy points per game at the position, but he missed half of the season. He'll be a midrange QB1 with some injury risk next season.