49ers

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert expected to step down following 2022 NFL Draft

It’s looking like the end of an era in more ways than one in Pittsburgh.

Kevin Colbert — who has run personnel for the Steelers since 2000, winning two Super Bowls while becoming one the most respected executives in the NFL — is expecting the 2021 season to be his last one as general manager, according to sources.

Colbert’s contract runs through the 2022 NFL Draft, and he has told people he intends to stay on the job through then, sources say. But while he has not been definitive in conversations with those close to him, Colbert has acknowledged that it is likely his last season and the expectation is he’ll retire sooner rather than later after the draft.

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger acknowledging that Sunday will likely be his final regular-season game, the Steelers look to have their most significant turnover in decades at key spots. The organization has been a model of stability and success, with Roethlisberger, Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin, who has yet to have a losing season, forming the triumvirate.

Now, Pittsburgh will reload with a new QB and a new GM. They do have at least two key in-house potential candidates in VP of football and business administration Omar Khan and pro scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt.

Colbert has won two Super Bowls with the Steelers, been to three, and compiled a record of 225-124-3. He addressed his future in an interview with NFL.com prior to the season, saying he’ll talk about it with those close to him and evaluate all options when the time comes, while explaining that’s why he’s spent the last several seasons on a series of one-year deals.

When Ozzie Newsome stepped away as GM of the Baltimore Ravens in 2019 and gave way to Eric DeCosta, he stayed on in an advisory role. In similar fashion, it is conceivable that Colbert could stay on in Pittsburgh in the short

njury roundup: 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) expected to start vs. Rams

The San Francisco 49ers will have their starting quarterback in Sunday’s crucial regular-season finale.

Jimmy Garoppolo, dealing with a torn ligament in his thumb, is expected to start versus the Los Angeles Rams, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports, per a source.

Garoppolo was inactive for last week’s game due to the injury. The 49ers QB injured the thumb on his throwing hand in a Week 16 road loss to the Tennessee Titans and is likely to undergo offseason surgery to repair the injury, according to Rapoport.

Rapoport adds that San Francisco did not activate another QB ahead of Sunday’s game, and players in practice said Jimmy G looked normal when throwing the ball. Rookie Trey Lance, who led the Niners to a win over the Texans in Week 17, took the majority of the practice reps and will be ready if needed.

The 49ers can clinch a playoff spot with a win or tie versus the Rams, or a New Orleans Saints loss or tie. Los Angeles, meanwhile, can secure the NFC West title with a win over San Francisco.

Other injury news we are keeping an eye on ahead of Sunday’s Week 18 games:

Carolina Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn was added to the injury report with an ankle injury and is questionable to play versus the Buccaneers.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (ankle) is inactive for Sunday’s game against the Bengals.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (knee), listed as questionable. is active for Sunday’s game against the Packers. Rookie offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who was added to the injury report Saturday with a thumb injury, is inactive.
Green Bay Packers All-Pro offensive tackle David Bakhtiari is set to make his debut in the final week of the regular season against the Lions. Bakhtiari, who’s return this season was delayed after a long recovery from a torn ACL, tweeted out Sunday morning to confirm his return. He is officially active. Running back Aaron Jones (knee) is inactive.

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, listed as questionable, is active for Sunday’s game versus the Jaguars.
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Parry Nickerson, who on Saturday was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list and elevated from the practice squad, has been medically cleared to play.

An MRI revealed Philadelphia Eagles tight end Tyree Jackson suffered a torn ACL versus the Cowboys on Saturday, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported.

Injury roundup: 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) expected to start vs. Rams

The San Francisco 49ers will have their starting quarterback in Sunday’s crucial regular-season finale.

Jimmy Garoppolo, dealing with a torn ligament in his thumb, is expected to start versus the Los Angeles Rams, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports, per a source.

Garoppolo was inactive for last week’s game due to the injury. The 49ers QB injured the thumb on his throwing hand in a Week 16 road loss to the Tennessee Titans and is likely to undergo offseason surgery to repair the injury, according to Rapoport.

Rapoport adds that San Francisco did not activate another QB ahead of Sunday’s game, and players in practice said Jimmy G looked normal when throwing the ball. Rookie Trey Lance, who led the Niners to a win over the Texans in Week 17, took the majority of the practice reps and will be ready if needed.

The 49ers can clinch a playoff spot with a win or tie versus the Rams, or a New Orleans Saints loss or tie. Los Angeles, meanwhile, can secure the NFC West title with a win over San Francisco.

Other injury news we are keeping an eye on ahead of Sunday’s Week 18 games:

Carolina Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn was added to the injury report with an ankle injury and is questionable to play versus the Buccaneers.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (ankle) is inactive for Sunday’s game against the Bengals.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (knee), listed as questionable. is active for Sunday’s game against the Packers. Rookie offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who was added to the injury report Saturday with a thumb injury, is inactive.

Green Bay Packers All-Pro offensive tackle David Bakhtiari is set to make his debut in the final week of the regular season against the Lions. Bakhtiari, who’s return this season was delayed after a long recovery from a torn ACL, tweeted out Sunday morning to confirm his return. He is officially active. Running back Aaron Jones (knee) is inactive.

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, listed as questionable, is active for Sunday’s game versus the Jaguars.

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Parry Nickerson, who on Saturday was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list and elevated from the practice squad, has been medically cleared to play.

An MRI revealed Philadelphia Eagles tight end Tyree Jackson suffered a torn ACL versus the Cowboys on Saturday, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported.

Browns plan to move forward with Baker Mayfield as their QB

The Browns will head into the offseason with plans to retain Baker Mayfield as their quarterback for 2022, sources say.

Coming off a playoff run last season, Cleveland has stumbled to 7-9 this season as Mayfield tried to battle through a variety of significant injuries, throwing seven interceptions in his last three games. He’ll miss Sunday’s finale against the Bengals and undergo surgery next week to repair his left (non-throwing) shoulder.

Plenty of scenarios have been rumored, including Mayfield wanting to move on and the Browns wanting to move on. Barring a dramatic shift, it doesn’t appear either development is on the horizon.

Mayfield and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski spoke Friday as part of normal exit meetings, and sources say the two are on the same page. The No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Mayfield is entering the final year of his rookie contract — a fully guaranteed $18.858 million fifth-year option — and the expectation as of now is he’ll play it out in Cleveland.

In December, Mayfield reflected in an NFL Network interview on the difficulties of the season, saying: “The tricky part about this year, has been a lot of internal things. It hasn’t just been the outside noise.”

To be sure, it wasn’t perfect. Mayfield tore his labrum in his left shoulder early in the season and elected to keep playing. He also suffered a shoulder fracture along with other injuries, missing three games.

Statistically, it was a step back from an impressive 2020 that saw him lead Cleveland to the playoffs. Mayfield is on injured reserve and Case Keenum will start Sunday against the Bengals. (Practice squad players and those on IR have their meetings with Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry before the end of the season.)

While some communication issues lingered this season, and there was frustration with the on-field product, there is plenty of blame to go around. From game-plan issues to execution, it was all rocky. That’s what often happens when a team misses the playoffs.

The belief is the issues aren’t too great to overcome, and recent conversations have supported that. Sources say all sides will continue to work on the relationships moving forward.

Logistically, a trade doesn’t make a lot sense. How could the Browns know they would upgrade at QB, while simultaneously trying to deal a QB in the final year of his contract who is also undergoing shoulder surgery that requires a four-month recovery? And how could Mayfield request a trade and find a team better equipped to win (Cleveland just made the playoffs last year and returns its core for 2022 with a defense that came together down the stretch), while undergoing extensive rehab for his shoulder?

With the Browns and Mayfield moving forward for 2022, it does set up the likely (and fairly rare) scenario of Mayfield playing out his rookie contract, sources say. If he plays well, Mayfield could follow the path of Kirk Cousins, playing on franchise tag to franchise tag unless the sides can agree to an extension.

No doubt, this will be a large topic of discussion next season. But now, all signs point to Mayfield and the Browns continuing to move forward in the same direction.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer could be coaching his final game for Minnesota today

The Vikings head into Sunday’s finale against the Bears with the very real possibility that Mike Zimmer is coaching Minnesota for the final time.

Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have kept their plans close to the vest, sources say. All signs point to the Wilfs moving on from Zimmer after eight seasons, but they hadn’t communicated any decision to Zimmer or other team officials as of Saturday. Several sources with knowledge of the coaching landscape say the belief is the team will move on, as well.

Zimmer is 71-56-1 as the Vikings’ head coach — third behind only Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant and Dennis Green in team history in wins and win percentage (.559). But Minnesota has missed the playoffs five times in eight seasons, including the past two. While Zimmer has taken the team deep into the playoffs, reaching the NFC championship game following the 2017 season on the “Minneapolis Miracle”, there are questions about whether the team has reached its ceiling under existing leadership and is in need of a reboot.

The finality of the situation does seem to have reached Zimmer. He addressed it this week during an interview with longtime team broadcaster Paul Allen.

“Regardless of anything that goes on after the season, I can stand proud,” Zimmer said in the interview. “When I walk into a stadium like Lambeau (Field) or I walk into U.S. Bank Stadium and I say to myself, ‘A billion people would love to be sitting here right now and doing this job.'”

For a veteran team that appeared playoff-ready based on the personnel, it has been a roller-coaster season. The Vikings started 1-3 and have had 14 one-score games. There have been heart-stopping finishes that too often went the other way.

The Vikings’ playoff hopes slipped away with losses the past two weeks to the Rams and Packers without their full offensive arsenal because of COVID-19. Running back Dalvin Cook tested positive and missed the Rams game, and quarterback Kirk Cousins did the same and missed the game against the Packers, leaving backup Sean Mannion in charge of a 37-10 debacle on national TV. Meanwhile, Zimmer’s defense has stumbled badly, entering Week 18 ranked 31st in yards allowed and 25th in scoring.

Other important decisions await this offseason, including on Cousins, who has had another strong year statistically — he enters Sunday with 30 touchdowns, just seven interceptions and a 101.3 passer rating — but has been to the playoffs just once in four seasons as Minnesota’s QB. He’s fully guaranteed $35 million in the last year of his contract in 2022 with a more than $45 million salary cap number, which the Vikings could lower by extending him again.

Texans will evaluate head coach David Culley’s future as Deshaun Watson trade looms

The Texans will evaluate their entire football operation — including the future of head coach David Culley — in the coming days as they embark on a critical offseason that could yield a long-awaited trade of quarterback Deshaun Watson before free agency opens in March, sources say.

Houston is 4-12 in its first season under Culley, 66, who took over a team in transition and has been viewed as a potential bridge to the future. First-year general manager Nick Caserio has embarked on a total overhaul of the roster and salary cap, and Watson hasn’t played this season amid 22 allegations of sexual misconduct and a longstanding trade request.

Sources say Culley has the building’s respect as a person, and it would’ve been difficult for any coach to win big in his position. But some players have grown frustrated with some in-game decisions and communication issues, and multiple key veterans have been released or disciplined during the season. If Culley is retained, he’ll need to address those issues and will likely make changes to his staff, per sources.

In his public comments, Caserio has consistently said all evaluations will come after the season. The expectation is the Texans decision-makers will meet and take their time before deciding how to proceed. Is Culley part of the vision for the Texans’ future? If not, there’s a case for moving on and bringing in the next coach now, so that person can have input as the Texans continue reshaping the roster — with potentially unprecedented assets once an anticipated Watson deal is complete.

Multiple teams were willing to offer packages including three first-round picks and two third-round picks for Watson, 26, before the trade deadline, sources say, but the lack of resolution to Watson’s legal situation scuttled the chances of finalizing a deal.

The target now is to trade Watson before the 2022 league year begins on March 16, maximizing the flexibility the Texans have in free agency and the draft. And some clarity on the serious legal matters Watson faces could be coming soon.

The Houston prosecutor handling 10 criminal complaints filed against Watson is expected to make clear her stance on any potential charges sometime in the next several weeks and turn over the case to a grand jury, sources say. Depositions have also begun for the 22 women who accused Watson of sexual misconduct in civil court; Watson’s deposition can take place no sooner than Feb. 22 and a pre-trial conference is set for May. Watson has denied wrongdoing.

The NFL also has an open investigation into the allegations against Watson under the league’s personal-conduct policy. Though Watson hasn’t played for the Texans this season, he has not been suspended or placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, meaning he remains free to play and has been collecting his $10.54 million salary. His salary jumps to $35 million next season on a deal that runs through 2025.

Watson has a no-trade clause and waived it this season only to his preferred destination, the Dolphins. In essence, he has veto power. However, the Panthers also showed renewed interest in a potential Watson trade before the deadline in November, and other teams figure to be interested as well, pending further information on the legal cases and possible league discipline.

Watson has no issues with Culley or Caserio, but he has made clear he won’t play another snap for Texans owner Cal McNair, in part because he felt misled about the hiring of Caserio. And at this point, sources say Watson is in no hurry to figure out his new NFL destination, since 2022 training camp is still over six months away.

The Texans have already begun moving on at the position, using a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on quarterback Davis Mills, who has shown flashes of his potential in 12 games (10 starts), including recent wins over the Jaguars and Chargers. They’re expected to explore the QB market this offseason as well.

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