The activation of third-round pick Jabari Zuniga is among the moves the New York Jets made prior to a dangerous matchup against the Chiefs.
Headed into a matchup against the defending Super Bowl champions, the New York Jets (0-7) could probably use all the help they can get. Not all reinforcements, however, will be along for the ride.
The team made several roster moves and transactions heading into their Sunday tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs (1 p.m. ET, CBS), each documented below…
Activated DL Jabari Zuniga
Zuniga was the Jets’ second pick in the third round of April’s draft (79th overall). The Florida alum missed all of training camp with a quad injury and began the year on injured reserve. He also dealt with injuries at Florida, as he was limited to five games last season, though he returned in time for the Gators’ victorious visit to the most recent Orange Bowl.
Placed DL Kyle Phillips on season-ending IR
Phillips was lost to an ankle injury in Sunday’s loss to Buffalo and underwent season-ending surgery on Tuesday. The undrafted free agent was one of the more pleasant surprises from last season, earning 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
“That’s a tough loss for us,” head coach Adam Gase said of Phillips, per notes provided by the Jets. “He’s been a really good player for us the last year and a half, but we expect him to make a full recovery, it’s going to be a long rehab process for him, but we should get him back, obviously next year.”
Designated LB Patrick Onwuasor to return to practice
Onwuasor has yet to make his New York debut, having fallen to a non-contact injury during training camp. He came over this offseason after four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, which saw him earn 234 tackles and force five fumbles.
Restored WR Lawrence Cager to the practice squad
An undrafted free rookie who previously worked with Georgia and Miami, Cager earned positive reviews in training camp and eventually got his opportunity during the Week 3 proceedings in Indianapolis. He would earn 37 yards on a pair of receptions before leaving with a hamstring issue.
Released QB David Fales
Fales served as the backup quarterback during the earlier portions of the season and appeared in two games last season. He previously served a reserve thrower during Gase’s days as a head coach in Miami.
Hendrick Motorsports announced on Wednesday that Kyle Larson will return to the NASCAR Cup Series in their rebooted No. 5 Chevrolet. Larson will be officially reinstated by NASCAR on January 1 after serving a suspension for using a racial slur during an event on the iRacing platform in April.
“Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement from HMS representative Gabrielle McMillen. “He has championship-level ability and will be a significant addition to our on-track program.”
“More importantly, I have full confidence that he understands our expectations and will be a tremendous ambassador for our team, our partners, and NASCAR. Kyle and I have had many, many conversations leading up to today’s announcement. I’m confident about what’s in his heart and his desire to be a champion in all aspects of his life and career. Kyle has done important work over the past six months, and Hendrick Motorsports is going to support those continued efforts.”
Larson, 28, previously spent six full seasons in the No. 42 Chevrolet at Chip Ganassi Racing. He was suspended and later outright fired by CGR for addressing someone as “n*****” over the radio during a virtual competition streamed on Twitch. NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension and ordered Larson to undergo sensitivity training.
Since then, Larson has made efforts to atone for the incident, notably working with the Sanneh Foundation headed by former MLS and United States soccer star Tony Sanneh. Larson publicly spoke about the incident for the first time earlier this month in an open letter on his website and a televised interview with James Brown of CBS News.
“Mr. Hendrick is one of the people who extended a hand to me over the past six months,” Larson said in the HMS statement. “Our initial conversations were not about racing. He cares about me as a person and wants to see me succeed beyond driving. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for the commitment, the faith, and the confidence from him and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports.”
Prior to his departure, Larson had won 20 races across NASCAR’s top three national levels, including six in the premier Cup Series. During his suspension, Larson competed in several events on the sprint car and midget car circuits, earning many victories, including the United States Auto Club’s Silver Crown Series finale on October 18 in Springfield, IL.
Larson’s arrival at HMS will also herald the return of the team’s No. 5 Chevrolet, which last appeared in 2017 (driven by Kasey Kahne). The car won 38 races, including the first in team history in 1984 (when it was known as All-Star Racing) with Geoffrey Bodine behind the wheel at Martinsville Speedway’s Sovran Bank 500. HMS has earned 319 more wins since then, including 260 at the Cup Series level. The team has also earned 12 Cup Series titles, including one from Terry Labonte in the No. 5 after the 1996 campaign. Other notable full-time drivers of the car include two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch and Hall-of-Famer Mark Martin.
Cliff Daniels will serve as the crew chief of Larson’s No. 5 team. Daniels currently serves as the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet, which will be piloted by Alex Bowman next season. Johnson has earned a record seven Cup Series titles (tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt) and is set to retire from NASCAR at the end of this season.
The reversion to the No. 5 branding spells the end of Hendrick’s No. 88, now driven by Bowman. This car began as a part-time research and development vehicle, first donning the No. 88 upon Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s arrival in 2008, the first year it ran on a full-time basis. Bowman took over the car on a part-time basis when filling in for an injured Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 (along with four-time Cup Champion and semi-retired HMS driver Jeff Gordon) before being granted the full-time ride in 2018. The No. 88 won 11 races for HMS, its most recent coming with Bowman’s win at Fontana, CA’s Auto Club 400 in March. Larson joins the modern Hendrick stable of Bowman, William Byron, and Chase Elliott. Byron drives the No. 24 car made famous by Gordon, while Bowman and Elliott remain eligible for the 2020 Cup Series title in the Nos. 88 and 9 respectively.
The NASCAR Cup Series is set to return to action on Wednesday afternoon, as the series seeks to complete the long-delayed Autotrader Echo Park Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Precipitation has prevented the race’s full running, with 52 of 334 laps completed on the originally scheduled date of Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills announced on Wednesday that offensive lineman Quinton Spain has been released. Spain, 29, spent the past two seasons in Central New York and previously inked a two-year contract extension during the offseason.
The timing of Spain’s release seems a bit questionable, as Cody Ford suffered an injury in Monday’s loss to Kansas City and Jon Feliciano remains out indefinitely after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. However, it’s possible the move could’ve been initiated by Spain himself. In a tweet posted shortly before Buffalo announced his departure, Spain posted a photo of his Audemars Piguet watch declaring it was “time for a change”. Spain did thank Bills fans and the organization for the time he spent there.
Spain joined the Bills (4-2) on a one-year deal last season after four years with the Tennesee Titans. He became one of the most consistent presciences on Buffalo’s offensive line, partaking in every offensive snap in a 10-6 campaign. In that time, he was charged with allowing only a single sack. The aforementioned extension was granted in March and was worth $15 million over three seasons.
Known as an interior blocking prescience, Spain likely won’t have to wait long to find a new home. As for the line he leaves behind, the Bills may continue to roll with former Jets starter Brian Winters at guard. It’s also possible Feliciano could be close to returning. He was originally scheduled to come off of injured reserve after Week 4, but this turned out not to be the case.
According to Over The Cap, Spain’s release puts $3.5 million in dead money on the Buffalo books but saves them $1.25 million in 2020 cap space, putting them just over $6 million in the latter.
The Bills return to action on Sunday afternoon, as they hit the road to battle the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Stewart-Haas Racing has confirmed Chase Briscoe’s promotion to the premier Cup Series. The current Xfinity Series championship point leader will pilot the No. 14 Ford next season, occupying the seat the retiring Clint Bowyer is set to leave behind at the end of the season.
Briscoe, 25, currently drives the No. 98 Ford for SHR at the lower-tier Xfinity Series level. His nine wins in 30 races are an Xfinity Series record amongst full-time drivers at that level. The most recent of those victories, a dominant effort in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300, allowed Briscoe to become the first driver to clinch one of the four spots for championship contention at the season final in Phoenix on November 7. Briscoe has 11 victories over three years of Xfinity racing overall and also has two wins at the Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series level (his first coming with the now-defunct Brad Keselowski Racing) and also earned considerable success on the sprint car and dirt circuits.
The No. 14 Ford has been run by Stewart-Haas Racing since 2004, run mostly as a part-time under the supervision of then-full-time team owner Gene Haas. When Cup Series champion Tony Stewart entered into a partnership with Haas in 2009, at which point the car took on its current No. 14 branding. Stewart ran his final eight seasons in the car, occasionally giving way to drivers like Austin Dillon, Mark Martin, and Jeff Burton due to injury. It was in the No. 14 that Stewart earned his third and final Cup Series title, earning three wins over the final four races to hold off Carl Edwards through a wins tiebreaker in 2011.
Bowyer has driven the No. 14 car since 2017. He recently announced he would step away from racing to join Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage.
Briscoe will compete for Rookie of the Year honors and is the first such candidate to be confirmed. His new SHR teammate Cole Custer clinched the most recent edition of the award by clinching a spot in the NASCAR playoffs with a win at Kentucky Speedway over the summer. Also racing alongside Briscoe in the SHR stables are 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 and Aric Almirola in the No. 10. All four SHR Fords reached the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, though only Harvick reached the Round of 8. The status of SHR’s No. 98 Ford at the Xfinity level has yet to be announced.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Sunday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
Banned for his use of a racial slur during a streamed virtual event, Kyle Larson will be eligible to return to NASCAR on January 1.
NASCAR has approved Kyle Larson’s application for reinstatement. The former Cup Series star will be eligible to partake in NASCAR-sanctioned events beginning January 1, 2021. Larson was previously banned indefinitely for using a racial slur during a live-streamed virtual event on the iRacing platform.
“NASCAR continues to prioritize diversity and inclusion across our sport,” a statement from NASCAR read. “Kyle Larson has fulfilled the requirements set by NASCAR and has taken several voluntary measures, to better educate himself so that he can use his platform to help bridge the divide in our country. Larson’s indefinite suspension has been lifted. Under the terms of his reinstatement, he will be cleared to return to all NASCAR racing activities effective January 1, 2021.”
Larson has begun to speak openly about the April incident that led to his banishment from NASCAR, penning an open letter on his website and speaking with Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press and James Brown of CBS. In that event, Larson tried to get his spotter’s attention by saying “hey, n*****” over his radio. Since the incident, Larson vowed to educate himself on what African-American have dealt with in terms of racism.
“Since April, I’ve done a lot of reflecting. I realized how little I really knew about the African-American experience in this country and racism in general,” Larson wrote in his letter. Educating myself is something I should’ve done a long time ago, because it would’ve made me a better person – the kind of person who doesn’t casually throw around an awful, racist word. The kind who makes an effort to understand the hate and oppression it symbolizes and the depth of pain it has caused Black people throughout history and still to this day. It was past time for me to shut up, listen, and learn.”
Larson will continue with his work at the Urban Youth Racing School a STEM education program based in Philadelphia. Prior to his release, he drove the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, earning six wins over six full-time seasons. Recent rumors have connected Larson to Hendrick Motorsports, which has an opening in their No. 88 Chevrolet. Current driver Alex Bowman is moving to the No. 48, whose seat will be left vacated by the retiring Jimmie Johnson.
Le’Veon Bell and the Buffalo Bills weren’t a match made to be, but that’s not a cause for concern for the AFC East leaders.
Buffalo Bell simply was not to be.
Despite reportedly keeping the Buffalo Bills on his shortlist, Le’Veon Bell opted to sign with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs earlier this week. The three-time Pro Bowl running back spent less than 48 hours in free agency after his release from the New York Jets on Tuesday night, during the Bills’ 42-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Bell will not be eligible to play in the Chiefs’ Monday late afternoon meeting with the Bills (5 p.m. ET, ESPN), but is expected to join an already powerful offense headlined by Patrick Mahomes soon enough.
It may be a tough break for the Bills (4-1) to miss out on Bell, but ESM has three reasons why it’s not the end of Buffalo’s football world…
Don’t Get Caught Up in the Bell Drama
During his brief availability, Bell had reportedly narrowed his list down to three suitors: Buffalo, Kansas City, and the Miami Dolphins. Bell surely had football reasons for his whittling, but it’s probably no coincidence that each of those choices each had meetings with the Jets on their schedule (Bell wouldn’t have been ready for the Jets’ Sunday visit to South Beach, but the teams are scheduled to reunite in New Jersey on November 29).
That’s the type of “baggage” that the Bills simply didn’t need.
In the grand scheme of things, it probably wasn’t a dealbreaker, but a personal revenge story nonetheless removes focus from the ultimate goal of a win. The Bills’ rise to power has been done with relatively little drama and an emphasis on team performances. It’d be great, at least from a Buffalo standpoint, to see Bell go to a division rival and torch the Jets for 150 yards and two scores at MetLife Stadium. But that’s the type of thing the Bills don’t need to concern themselves with. This is a story about the Buffalo Bills…not the Buffalo Bells.
There’s More Help Available
If the Bills really want to improve a rushing game that’s struggled to find traction in the early going (currently 28th in the NFL at 93.8 yards per game as top option Devin Singletary has struggled to regain his rookie season form), there are other names available, even on their own roster, that can help things out. The injured Zack Moss struggled in the early going (48 yards on 17 carries) but T.J. Yeldon made the most out of an extended opportunity in the loss to Tennessee on Tuesday (74 total yards and a receiving touchdown). If the Bills do opt to seek help elsewhere, serviceable options linger in the form of Spencer Ware and Bilal Powell.
Adjusting the run game, for better or worse, might be moot, however, because…
Rushing Isn’t the Problem on This Team
For the first time in this era of contention, the Bills are facing some true adversity. They might’ve faced some scrutiny after the narrow loss in Cleveland last November, but they went to four of their next five games to wrap up a playoff berth. Questions now surround Buffalo after suffering a one-sided loss to the Titans, with doubters questioning who they’ve beaten and if they’re really ready to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC East.
Adding Bell to the run game wasn’t going to answer that question either way.
Even if the top option Singletary has struggled in the early going (down to 3.9 yards a carry after averaging 5.1 last season), Buffalo has managed to procure a 4-1 record thus far. If anything, Josh Allen’s ability to partially sustain the ground game in the early going (a 3.5 average but 101 yards, 3 touchdowns) should only add to his MVP case. The passing game, bolstered by the addition of Stefon Diggs, has them situated as one of five NFL teams averaging 400 yards a game. If any outside help should be contacted…and the Bills have only about $4 million in cap space (which more than likely rules them out on a trade deadline candidate like David Johnson)…it should go toward the defense, namely the efforts in stopping the pass. The Bills let up just over 263 yards through the air a game (24th in the NFL), and matchups with the pass-happy Chiefs, Patriots, Seahawks, and Cardinals loom large before their Week 11 bye.
Problems on offense can be adjusted. Missing out on Bell stings now, but that wasn’t going to be the make-or-break move when it comes to a potential Buffalo Super Bowl run. Using whatever cap space they have would be much better spent on bolstering the defense.
Le’Veon Bell’s name was not long for free agency. Less than 48 hours after the New York Jets granted his release, the running back has agreed to a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. Though Bell will not be available for Kansas City’s Monday late afternoon tilt against Buffalo on Monday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN), Kansas City is set to take on the Jets on November 1 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Bell commemorated his move by sharing his image photos shopped in Chiefs gear.
Kansas City (4-1) has enjoyed the services of first-round rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire at running back this season (10th in the NFL with 344 yards rushing), but have appeared to add themselves a very solid depth option in Bell. The rusher earned a pair of first-team All-Pro nominations and three Pro Bowl invites during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2013-17) and ran for 5,336 yards in a black and yellow uniform. He inked a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets after sitting out the entire 2018 campaign due to a contract dispute.
Through a series of alleged misuse and injuries, Bell was never able to regain his elite form with the Jets. He ran for only 789 yards and three scores last season, a full-season career-low. Bell partook in two games this season, partially sidelined by a hamstring injury that led to a stint on the temporary injured reserve. His final Jets showing came in a Week 5 return, when he ran for 60 yards on only 13 carries in a 30-10 defeat to Arizona.
Though the return on Edwards-Helaire has been strong in the early going, the Chiefs have struggled to fill the void left behind by Super Bowl hero Damien Williams, who opted out of the 2020 season. Current reserves Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson have united for 67 yards on 17 carries.
As for the Jets, Bell’s release carries $19 million in a dead money cap hit over the next two seasons, including $15 million this year.
The Jets (0-5) will partake in their first Bell-free game on Sunday late afternoon against the Miami Dolphins (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).
The New York Jets have released running back Le’Veon Bell, the team confirmed on Tuesday night. Bell’s Jets career ends less than two years into a four-year contract ink during the 2019 offseason.
“After having conversations with Le’Veon and his agent and exploring potential trade options over the past couple of day, we have made the decision to release Le’Veon,” Jets general manager Joe Douglas said in a statement. “The Jets organization appreciates Le’Veon’s efforts during his time here and we know he worked hard to make significant contributions to this team. We believe this decision is in the best interests of both parties and wish him future success.”
Bell’s Jets career ends after just 17 games that saw him tally 863 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. He joined the Jets on a deal worth $52.5 million after an illustrious five-year career in Pittsburgh, one that saw him put up 5,336 yards over five seasons. Bell sat out the entire 2018 season after long-term contract talks between him and the Steelers broke down.
Bell’s relationship with head coach Adam Gase was a point of contention during his brief time in New York. Gase’s usage of the running back was constantly called into question, as Bell’s 245 carries were his lowest tally since his rookie season. His 789 yards and three scores were also full-season lows for the former Michigan State Spartan.
Upon Bell’s release, Frank Gore and rookie La’Mical Perine are the active returnees on the Jets’ roster. The team has also promoted free agent signee Ty Johnson to their active 53-man unit. Johnson, a former Detroit Lions’ draft pick, was signed on October 2.
The Jets return to action on Sunday afternoon against the Miami Dolphins (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).
Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Wood Brothers Racing next NASCAR season, but will abdicate the No. 21 to Austin Cindric the following year.
The number 21 proved to be both aces and bust for Matt DiBenedetto on Thursday.
Wood Brothers Racing, the NASCAR Cup Series’ longest-running team, announced that DiBenedetto would return to pilot their historic No. 21 Ford, but only for next season. Xfinity Series standout Austin Cindric is set to take over in 2022. Cindric has also signed a multi-year with Team Penske, with whom WBR shares a technical alliance.
While the situation seems bittersweet for DiBenedetto, the 29-year-old expressed only excitement and gratitude in a statement released by the team.
“It’s such an honor to be able to continue to drive for Wood Brothers Racing and have another year to grow with this organization,” DiBenedetto said in the statement. “I am excited to learn from our 2020 notebook and I’m confident that with a full season under our belt and working together as a team, we will produce even better results. I also want to thank Ford Performance and Team Penske for their efforts in making this happen.
“These types of decisions take a lot of time, as we all know there are a lot of factors in play. All three groups want to make the best decisions for everyone involved and I’m appreciative to have the opportunity to continue to compete for such a legendary race team.”
Founded by the titular Wood brothers (Leonard and the late Glen) in 1950, the No. 21 Ford has been a staple on the Cup Series tracks. Previous drivers to take the wheel include A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Dale Jarrett, and Ryan Blaney. The team has won 99 Cup Series, its most recent coming with Blaney in a 2017 race at Pocono.
While DiBenedetto is still seeking his first Cup Series win, he has gained himself a strong following after working his way up through the lower-tiers of auto racing. He raced for several low-budget teams at the Cup Series level prior to joining WBR, posting respectable results in subpar equipment. DiBenedetto’s patience was rewarded with his first NASCAR playoff berth. Through 31 of 36 races, he has earned a career-best eight top-ten finishes in the No. 21. He’s also tied his personal best with three top-five postings, including a pair of runner-up results at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in February and September. Another runner-up finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday was taken from him when NASCAR determined that DiBenedetto forced race-winner Denny Hamlin out of bounds below the track’s yellow line.
In July, DiBenedetto raced his way into the NASCAR All-Star Race after winning the All-Star Open beforehand.
Though DiBenedetto was eliminated from championship contention after the first round, he was very hopeful about what the future had in store, continually expressing interest in re-upping with the Woods.
“I feel like the Wood Brothers are an amazing family, and you can tell they ooze confidence in me, and that’s such an amazing feeling. The same with Team Penske and our alliance with them,” DiBenedetto said after his more recent second-place run in Vegas. “I can feel that everyone has confidence in me and our team and knows we’re only going to continue to get much better.”
Cindric will take over the ride in 2022, as NASCAR is expected to run its highly touted “Next Gen” racecar. He will compete for Rookie of the Year honors behind the wheel the No. 21, but he will run select races with Team Penske next season. Cindric has enjoyed a breakout year in the Xfinity Series realm, winning five races in Penske’s No. 22 Ford. He currently sits in second place in the standings with five races to go.
It’s possible Cindric could take over one of team owner Roger Penske’s current full-time cars, which include Blaney in the No. 12 and former Cup Series champions Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in the Nos 2 and 22 respectively. Each of Penske’s three full-time cars likewise made the Cup Series playoffs, with Keselowski and Logano still in contention for the title.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Sunday afternoon with the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
With Sam Darnold’s situation in question, the New York Jets added quarterback Mike White to their active roster. In a corresponding move, the team released rusher Kalen Ballage.
White, 25, was the Jets’ backup quarterback for the first three games this season but returned to the practice squad when Joe Flacco was cleared for action prior to last Thursday’s game against Denver. The former Dallas Cowboys draft pick (fifth round, 2018) was first signed to the New York practice squad last September and signed a reserve/future contract in January. He has yet to appear in an NFL game.
White’s return may be a negative omen towards the status of starter Sam Darnold for Sunday’s visit from the Arizona Cardinals (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Darnold sustained a shoulder injury while taking a sack in Thursday’s 37-28 loss to the Broncos and was removed from the game. Flacco took his spot on the next New York series, but Darnold returned before the drive ended and was not taken out from that point forward. If Darnold is out, the former Super Bowl MVP Flacco will likely get the start with White once against serving as the understudy.
While Darnold claims his shoulder “feels good” and the team is taking his status on a day-to-day basis, according to team reporter Ethan Greenberg, Thursday’s aftermath has many speculating about Darnold’s status for Week 5. Darnold has missed six games due to injury or illness over his first two NFL seasons and the Jets are 0-6 in such contests.
The rearrival of White led to an early end for Ballage’s Jets career. A former pupil of head coach Adam Gase with the Miami Dolphins, Ballage failed a physical that voided an August trade to the Jets. He was signed just over two weeks later by the Jets after the Dolphins waived him. Ballege failed to find a lasting role in the Jets’ offense, even with starting running back Le’Veon Bell out due to an injury. He earned 67 yards on nine receptions over three games in New York, as well as 13 yards on a trio of rushing attempts.