I’ll take “Colossal Disappointments” for $400, Alex. No, actually I’ll take “I Lost All My Bargaining Power in Free Agency” for $600.
This year has been a comedy of errors for Alshon Jeffery. Coming off an injury-plagued 2015 campaign, Jeffery was unable to reach a long-term deal with the Bears this offseason, instead choosing to play out 2016 under the $14.6 million franchise tag. Betting on himself, Jeffery’s numbers have fallen steadily this year. So far he’s averaged a mere 70 yards per game. That’s a fine number by NFL standards but a far cry from Jeffery’s best seasons including last year when he put up 89.7 yards per game, which was eighth-most among qualified wide receivers.
After seeing a boom in targets last year following the departure of Brandon Marshall (who has had a similarly trying season in East Rutherford), Jeffery’s involvement has dwindled in 2016. He ranks just 25th in targets behind players like Davante Adams and Tavon Austin. Even more discouraging is that Jeffery went his first seven games without a touchdown (he still has just one) and hasn’t gone over 100 yards since Week 1. Chicago’s instability at quarterback has certainly had an impact—Brian Hoyer’s five weeks under center were sandwiched by two underwhelming stints by Jay Cutler. But the real root of Jeffery’s struggles remains a mystery.
Jeffery’s nightmare season got a whole lot worse Monday when the star wide receiver was hit with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Jeffery will be eligible to return against the Packers in Week 15, but not before missing games against the Giants, Titans, 49ers and Lions. Those games present a huge missed opportunity for Jeffery as the Giants and Titans both rank in the bottom-10 in passing yards allowed while the Lions have yielded the third-most receiving touchdowns this year.
Jeffery released a statement explaining that his positive test was triggered by a supplement he took to combat swelling. The supplement, which Jeffery said was recommended to him, contained an ingredient found on the NFL’s banned substance list. “I take full responsibility and I’m deeply upset with myself for not doing the proper research on this supplement,” said Jeffery. “I will work hard to earn back the respect and trust of the Bears nation and look forward to being back on the field.”
Losing a player of Jeffery’s caliber for any amount of time is significant, though for fantasy owners it might alleviate the weekly headache of waiting for Jeffery to turn his season around. Most fantasy leagues conclude in Week 16, so cutting bait on Jeffery might be a tad premature. But in smaller re-draft settings, keeping Jeffery around for the long haul will be a judgment call owners will have to weigh on a case-by-case basis.
In the meantime, the players that stand to benefit the most are probably Cameron Meredith and Zach Miller. Meredith had a nice stretch earlier this year but has faded badly in recent weeks, aside from a fluke Hail Mary in Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay. With a more consistent target share (he was targeted just twice in Week 10), it’s possible Meredith could ascend to weekly WR3 status. Meanwhile it’s safe to pencil Miller in as a weekly TE1. Despite a five-game touchdown drought, Miller is still tied for fifth among tight ends with 62 targets including 17 over his last two games. He’s been one of Cutler’s favorite receivers over the last two seasons and should play an important role in the passing game going forward.
After that, it gets a bit dicey. In theory, Eddie Royal should be in store for more targets, but he showed very little Sunday in his return from a three-week toe injury. Marquess Wilson is another name to watch for, though it’s anyone’s guess how his surgically-repaired foot will hold up, if he even plays this year. Obviously, Jeffery’s absence is a big downgrade for Cutler’s already slim fantasy prospects. Not that he was an option before, but now Cutler’s fantasy use will be strictly limited to two-quarterback leagues.
There was a time not long ago when it looked like Jeffery might receive a contract similar to the five-year, $70 million pact inked by Dez Bryant prior to the 2015 campaign. But after his year from Hell, a shorter deal with fewer guarantees is probably the best Jeffery can hope for. Jeffery was never likely to return to Chicago but his lackluster first half and subsequent suspension probably sealed his fate. Cutler will likely join him on the job-hunting trail this offseason as his contract carries no guaranteed money after this season.
What a brutal 24 hours it’s been for Chicago. Not only did the Bears get torched by an unremarkable Buccaneers’ squad, but they also lost right guard Kyle Long to a season-ending ankle injury. The three-time Pro Bowler holds PPF’s 22nd highest grade out of 79 qualifiers at guard. Center Bobby Massie (concussion) was also injured in Sunday’s loss. Ted Larsen is expected to fill in at right guard with Mike Adams handling center.
Rookie running back Jordan Howard has been a bright spot for the Bears this season, but his status is also up in the air after suffering an Achilles/ankle injury late in Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay. Howard doesn’t think the injury is serious, so hopefully he’ll be ready to roll Sunday against the Giants. Howard has totaled over 300 yards from scrimmage over his last two games while emerging as a weekly RB2 in fantasy.
At least the Bears picked a good year to be irrelevant. Most Chicago sports fans are too busy basking in the Cubs’ World Series victory to care about the train wreck happening at Soldier Field.
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Giants Win Nail-biter on MNF
The Giants extended their winning streak to four with a one-point victory over the Bengals on Monday Night Football. As the score would suggest, it didn’t come easy for the Giants. It rarely has this year. New York’s six victories have come by a combined 21 points.
The Giants got it done with defense on Monday night. Olivier Vernon wreaked havoc on the Bengals with 10 tackles and one sack while Landon Collins notched his fourth interception of the season. Collins is the only player in football who leads his team in sacks, tackles and interceptions.
Odell Beckham did the heavy lifting on offense with 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. After going his first four games without a touchdown, Beckham has visited the end zone six times over his last five contests. He’s averaged 94 yards per game in that span. Monday Beckham became the fastest receiver in NFL history to reach 3,500 yards. It took him only 36 games. Beckham had no trouble winning his matchup with Adam Jones, who has struggled in coverage all year (100th out of 116 qualifiers in PFF’s cornerback grades).
Andy Dalton got off to a blistering start by completing three passes for 85 yards and a touchdown on the Bengals’ opening drive but was mostly held in check after that. His lone touchdown pass went to A.J. Green, who is on the verge of becoming the second receiver to begin his career with six straight 1,000-yard seasons. Randy Moss was the first to accomplish that feat. Tight end Tyler Eifert led the Bengals with 96 receiving yards, giving him 198 yards over his last two outings. Eifert made the longest catch of his career on a 71-yard strike from Dalton early in the first quarter.
Giants coach Ben McAdoo made a gutsy call in the fourth quarter, electing to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the three-yard-line. The risk paid off as Eli Manning found rookie Sterling Shepard on a slant for the go-ahead touchdown. Shepard has followed up a four-game touchdown drought by scoring in back-to-back contests.
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Quick Hits: Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he has “no idea” if Adrian Peterson (knee surgery) will play again this season. The Vikings could sure use him. They’ve averaged a pitiful 2.7 yards per carry … Xavier Rhodes is now in the league’s concussion protocol. He’s tied for the Vikings’ team lead with two interceptions … Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said he still has no plans to bench Blake Bortles. The third-year quarterback has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes with four interceptions over his last four games … Will Fuller is optimistic about his status for Week 11 after missing Sunday’s game with a leg injury. The first-round rookie has caught just six passes for 49 yards over his last three outings … Bills coach Rex Ryan said Sammy Watkins (foot) is not ready to resume practicing. Watkins can come off injured reserve as soon as Week 12 but that seems unlikely … Markus Wheaton will have his shoulder looked at by a specialist. The injury has limited Wheaton to three games this season … Robert Quinn was hospitalized Monday morning with what the Rams are calling a “non-football related illness.” He’s in stable condition … Rob Gronkowski suffered a chest injury (it was initially reported as a punctured lung) in Sunday’s loss to Seattle. The injury occurred on this play, which Gronkowski said was one of the biggest hits he’s ever taken … Aqib Talib is expected to return after the Broncos’ upcoming bye week. He’s missed Denver’s last three games with a lower back injury. Derek Wolfe, who sat out Sunday’s game with a fractured elbow, should also be back after the bye … Coach Todd Bowles hasn’t decided who will be the Jets’ starting quarterback when the team returns from its bye week. Bryce Petty was ineffective in his NFL debut against the Rams on Sunday while Ryan Fitzpatrick has been among the worst quarterbacks in football this season. Fitzpatrick was sidelined by a sprained MCL in Week 10 … Tevin Coleman is expected to return after the Falcons’ upcoming bye week. Coleman has missed Atlanta’s last three games with a strained hamstring … Jacob Tamme is headed for a second opinion on his injured shoulder. Rookie Austin Hooper has filled in for Tamme at tight end the last two games … Larry Fitzgerald underwent an MRI on his injured knee but isn’t expected to miss any time. Fitzgerald is second in the league in catches behind Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown.