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10 things to know about the franchise tag

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The franchise tag is old enough to vote, and nearly old enough to drink.  The tag made its annual return more than a week ago.  Unlike the Great Pumpkin, the tool for restricting a player’s ability to move from team to team will indeed make an appearance, in multiple NFL cities.

Eventually.  We think.  Perhaps starting as soon as today.

So here are 10 things to know about the tag.  You may have already known them.  You may have known and forgotten.  Or you may not have known at all.

Or perhaps that you didn’t want to know.

1.  The formula has changed.

Under prior labor deals, the non-exclusive franchise tag was determined by calculating the average of the five highest-paid players at each position from the prior year.  Under the 2011 CBA, the franchise tenders come from a more complex procedure.

Under Article 10, Section 2 of the CBA, the number is based on the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at each position.

So it’s no longer driven by what players at the same position made in the prior season, but by the average cap percentage consumed by the franchise tender over five years.  Then, that percentage will be applied to the 2013 salary cap to determine the franchise tender at each position.

Already confused?  We’ve got nine more.

2.  In some cases, the formula doesn’t matter.

A player getting the non-exclusive franchise tag is entitled to the greater of the formula clumsily explained above (and that was the fourth draft of it) or 120 percent of the player’s cap number from the prior year.

That’s why, for example, the franchise tender for Dolphins tackle Jake Long would be much higher than the franchise tender for an offensive lineman.  Long made enough in 2012 to result in a 20-percent raise, trumping the franchise tender.

This dynamic often applies to players who were taken high in the draft before the implementation of the rookie wage scale.  As rookie contracts expire under the new labor deal, franchise tenders for many of them will be lower.

3.  The transition tag has become meaningless.

Teams can use, in any given year, one franchise tag or one transition tag.  The transition tag gives a team the right to match an offer sheet, but no compensation if the team chooses not to match.

At one point, the transition player’s contract was not fully guaranteed once it was accepted by the player.  It now is.

The fact that the guaranteed pay on the one-year transition tender isn’t much less than the guaranteed pay for the one-year franchise tender, coupled with the lack of draft-pick compensation, has made the transition tag largely meaningless.

4.  Franchise tags can be withdrawn.

The amount of the franchise tender becomes fully guaranteed once the player signs it.  Since signing the franchise tender puts the player under contract, requiring him to show up to all mandatory offseason activities and training camp, some players choose to wait deep into the preseason before inking the offer.

The risk is that the franchise tag can be withdrawn, at any time, before it has been signed.

It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unprecedented.  Especially in Philly.  In 2002, the Eagles pulled the franchise tag from linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in early April.  Three years later, the Eagles removed the franchise tag from defensive tackle Corey Simon in late August.

The move immediately converts the player to an unrestricted free agent.  But if it comes after the big money has been spent, the player will have a hard time getting the pay day he would have realized on the first day of free agency.

5.  Franchise tender is guaranteed, with one exception.

Once a player signs the franchise tag, the one-year salary becomes fully guaranteed.  But there’s a little-known exception.

Under Article 10, Section 2(c) of the CBA, the contract can be terminated if the player fails “to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition.”

Any effort to do so would result in a review of the situation by a neutral physician and, eventually and inevitably, arbitration.  Still, the franchise tender technically isn’t fully and completely guaranteed.

6.  No non-quarterback will be tagged more than twice.

Former Seahawks tackle Walter Jones once spent three straight years under the franchise tag, pocketing a total of $20 million and then signing a long-term deal that paid him $20 million more guaranteed, back when $20 million was a very big deal for NFL purposes.

Jones rolled the dice on bearing the injury risk for the three franchise years, and he won.  Most players prefer the certainty of a long-term deal.

That’s why the 2006 CBA changed the formula to pay a non-quarterback the quarterback franchise tender if he’s tagged a third time.

Quarterbacks are protected, too.  In the third year of the franchise tag, they get at least a 44-percent raise over their cap number in the prior year.

7.  Arguably, no player can be tagged more than three times.

Last year’s grievance filed by Saints quarterback Drew Brees established that, if a player is tagged once by two different teams, it counts as being tagged twice.  Which would have entitled him to a 44-percent raise in 2013, if he had played under the franchise tag last year for the Saints.  (He was tagged in 2005 by the Chargers.)

Based on the language of the CBA, there’s an argument to be made that no player may ever be tagged more than three times during the course of his career.

Of course, tagging a player a fourth time would entail paying out a second 44-percent raise one year after paying out an initial 44-percent raise.  Which would make it highly unlikely that any team would ever want to use the tag more than three times.

8.  It’s cheap to tag kickers and punters.

There’s a belief among some fans that the use of the franchise tag meant that the player was a “franchise player.”  And so, when a team uses the tag on a punter or a kicker, fans are confused and/or amused.

But the formula for calculating franchise tenders has made it cheaper to use the tag than to sign the player to a market-value deal.

At $2.9 million for 2013, more kickers and punters could find themselves being regarded as “franchise players.”

9.  Long-term deals can be negotiated, through July 15.

Previously, the window for a team signing its franchise player to a long-term deal closed not long after the free-agency period started and then opened again on July 15.  Now, the window remains open until July 15.

After July 15, the franchise player can sign only a one-year deal with his current team.  It can be for more than the franchise tender, and it can include other terms, like playing-time or performance triggers that would prevent the tag from being used again.

But the duration can be no more than one year.

10.  One offer sheet may be signed, through July 15.

For a player carrying the non-exclusive tag, he can negotiate with any other team.  Ultimately, one offer sheet can be signed.

Once it’s signed, the situation simplifies considerably.  The player’s current team will match the offer and keep him, or the player’s team will not match the offer and collect a pair of first-round picks from the new team.

The two first-round picks given as compensation must be the team’s original picks — not any picks obtained via trade or otherwise.

And there’s a loophole which, eventually, a desperate coach or G.M. may use.  The period for signing franchise players to offer sheets lingers beyond the current year’s draft.  Thus, for example, a team that wants to sign quarterback Joe Flacco (if the Ravens use the non-exclusive tag) could, in theory, wait until after the draft, sign Flacco to a front-loaded offer sheet that the Ravens can’t match, and then surrender not the 2013 and 2014 first-round picks, but the first-round picks for 2014 and 2015.

There’s nothing in the labor deal that prevents this from happening until July 15, after which date the player can sign only a one-year deal with his current team.

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Branden Albert likely to be a game-time decision Thursday

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 29:   Branden Albert #76 of the Miami Dolphins in action against the New York Jets during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 29, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins may be down to their third-string center against the Bengals on Thursday night, which would make the loss of another starting offensive lineman a tough pill to swallow.

It’s one they will have to be prepared for, though. Left tackle Branden Albert missed the team’s walkthrough practice on Tuesday because of an ankle injury and coach Adam Gase said that a call on Albert’s status for the game will likely go down to the wire.

“It looks better today than it did yesterday, so that’s encouraging to us,” Gase said, via ESPN.com. “When you got a veteran guy like that who knows how to get his body right fast, he’s a very tough guy. So we’ll just see how it plays out. I don’t know. I probably won’t know until [Thursday].”

If Albert can’t go, the team could move right guard Jermon Bushrod to left tackle, a position he’s played in the past, or they could push left guard Larmey Tunsil outside.

Center Anthony Steen has a high-ankle sprain and Mike Pouncey still isn’t practicing due to his hip injury. Tight end Jordan Cameron and running back Arian Foster have already been ruled out and two starting linebackers — Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins — didn’t practice.

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Bears sign running back Joique Bell

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

As if they didn’t have enough other problems, the Bears found themselves thin in the backfield with the injury to Jeremy Langford.

They found a familiar face to fill the gap, signing former Lions running back Joique Bell, according to Joique Bell’s social media.

The 30-year-old Bell had worked out for the Lions lately, but has a chance at a more immediate role with the Bears.

Langford is expected to miss four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain suffered Sunday night against the Cowboys. That left rookie Jordan Howard as the primary back, since Ka’Deem Carey was out with a hamstring injury.

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Giants sign a cornerback with two ailing

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 01: D.J. Foster #27 of the New England Patriots runs in for a touchdown in front of Michael Hunter #39 of the New York Giants during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on September 1, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Giants aren’t sure whether running back Shane Vereen will miss the rest of the regular season as a result of a triceps injury, but they still went ahead and put him on injured reserve Tuesday.

While Vereen’s situation can be revisited after at least six weeks on the list, the move opened a roster spot now and the Giants used it for some insurance against a pair of other injuries. The team announced that they have added cornerback Michael Hunter to the active roster.

Hunter spent most of last week on the team’s roster before being dispatched on Saturday in favor of safety Andrew Adams, who had a crucial personal foul in their 29-27 loss to the Redskins. Hunter’s back because Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple both left that game with injuries that could leave them unavailable for this week’s game against the Vikings. Hunter was also with the team in the preseason.

In the even the Giants need more help at corner, they could promote Steelers 2015 fourth-round pick Doran Grant from the practice squad after also signing him on Tuesday.

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Mohamed Sanu “day-to-day” with shoulder injury

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 11:  Mohamed Sanu #12 of the Atlanta Falcons scores a two-point conversion against Chris Conte #23 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on September 11, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said he’s good to go after hurting his left thumb in Monday night’s victory over the Saints, but it will be a little while before the team knows if wide receiver Mohamed Sanu qualifies for the same label.

For now, coach Dan Quinn is calling Sanu “day-to-day” as a result of the shoulder injury that knocked him out of the 45-32 win. Sanu left the game just before halftime.

Sanu, who signed with Atlanta as a free agent this offseason, had three catches for 31 yards before exiting the game. He has 11 catches for 130 yards overall, giving him the most catches of any wide receiver on the team.

Part of the reason for that is Julio Jones‘ quiet night against the Saints. Jones had one catch after a limited practice week as a result of a calf injury. Quinn said Tuesday, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, that he doesn’t expect Jones to be limited in this week’s sessions.

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49ers add to receiving corps, sign Keshawn Martin

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 20:  Keshawn Martin #82 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on December 20, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The 49ers aren’t exactly what you’d call overburdened with offensive firepower at the moment.

So they made an addition to their receiving core, though he’s a lot like a lot of the other players they have on hand.

Per Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers signed former Patriots wideout Keshawn Martin to a two-year deal.

Martin’s primarily been a special teamer, but it’s the 49ers, so who knows. Their current leading receiver is Jeremy Kerley (12 catches for 114 yards), so the bar is not exactly set particularly high.

Martin caught 24 passes for the Patriots last year, after spending his first three years with the Texans.

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Mike Tomlin says Le’Veon Bell will be ready to carry the load

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 01: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on October 1, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is back from his three-game suspension, and coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t think he’ll have to ease Bell back into the lineup.

“His level of conditioning is not a concern to us,” Tomlin said of Bell. “A guy that is highly conditioned over a 12 month calendar. We have seen him every day, he has been a part of us, and he has been in the building. He is up to speed on what we are doing from a schematic standpoint and really in tune there. We will see how sharp he is physically once we get on the practice field. But rest assured, you are going to see Le’Veon Bell and probably a lot of him on Sunday.”

DeAngelo Williams did a good job filling in for Bell the first two weeks of the season, but last week Williams managed just eight carries for 21 yards in a blowout loss to the Eagles. The Steelers need Bell to help get their offense back on track.

When Bell is available he’s one of the best running backs in the NFL. Last year he averaged 93 yards a game on the ground and also caught four passes a game.

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Doug Pederson: Carson Wentz has some of same instincts as Brett Favre

Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz, center, celebrates with Jordan Matthews after Matthews scored a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez) AP

The Eagles are 3-0 and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has played well in all three games, which has led to some big names being tossed around when asked to compare him to other quarterbacks.

Coach Doug Pederson said Monday that Wentz’s film-watching habits are “Peyton Manning-ish” and offensive coordinator Frank Reich invoked Jim Kelly’s name earlier this month. Reich spent a lot of time watching Kelly when he was a backup with the Bills and Pederson compared Wentz to a Hall of Famer that he played behind in Green Bay on Tuesday.

While on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Brett Favre, Pederson said that Wentz has a few things in common with No. 4.

“Brett, watching you play and being with you for eight years in Green Bay, this kid has some of the same instincts — and I’ve said this to people — that you had,” Pederson said. “Eyes are always downfield, you’re looking for that big play, the home-run play, the broken play. And he’s got that in him and that’s something that’s very special. And you can’t teach that. That’s an instinct that a lot of people don’t have and we’re fortunate that our guy has it.”

Pederson mentioned Favre as a comp for Wentz during the draft as well, so the team didn’t wait until Wentz took the league by storm before putting him in some rarified company. The Eagles are on a bye week, which may slow the train down a little bit.

Or it might lead to someone calling him the second coming of Otto Graham because of their similar resting skills. In either case, it’s overwhelmingly clear that the Eagles like what they have in their rookie quarterback.

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Reggie Bush could be on the outs in Buffalo

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: Running back Reggie Bush #22 of the Buffalo Bill carries the ball as he is tackled by linebacker Za'Darius Smith #90 of the Baltimore Ravens and cornerback Kyle Arrington #24 of the Baltimore Ravens in the second half of the Buffalo Bills vs. the Baltimore Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Reggie Bush viewed the Bills as his best option for 2016. Through three games, the Bills haven’t viewed Bush as much of an option at all.

In the first two games, Bush had three carries for minus-four yards. For Week Three, the team’s official website suggested that Bush could play some receiver. Ultimately, he didn’t play at all.

Mike Rodak of ESPN.com notes that Bush’s disappearance could result in him being dumped from the lineup as of Monday, when defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson return from four-game suspensions.

If Bush is released, he’ll be entitled to collect the balance of his $1 million base salary as termination pay. But if the Bills are going to pay him not to play while serving as a member of the team, they may as well open the roster spot and pay him not to play while not serving as a member of the team.

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Jeff Fisher: We’ll continue to address penalties

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher walks the sideline in the second half of their NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rams had a player ejected for the second time in three weeks on Sunday when defensive lineman Eugene Sims was sent to the showers after a Buccaneers extra point early in the second quarter.

Sims was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after a post-kick spat, which means he got to join defensive tackle Aaron Donald as Rams players disqualified for games this season. The Rams’ penalty issues have gone beyond ejections as well.

They have been penalized 27 times for 249 yards through three games, something that coach Jeff Fisher said would be addressed this week.

“No place for it,” Fisher said, via ESPN.com. “No place for it at all. … It’s going to be addressed [Tuesday]. It falls under that category of the pre-snap and post-snap penalties that you just can’t have. … It doesn’t look good. We’ve addressed it, and we’ll continue to address it.”

The Rams have been among the eight most-penalized teams in the league in each of Fisher’s four full years as the team’s head coach and the same was true of two of his last three Titans teams, so it’s fair to wonder how much impact an in-season refresher course will have on a team that routinely finds itself on the wrong side of the line.

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NFL claims it shouldn’t be a party to Hall of Fame litigation

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 07: A Green Bay Packers fan sits in the stands prior to the NFL Hall of Fame Game against the Indianapolis Colts at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on August 7, 2016 in Canton, Ohio. The game was cancelled due to poor field conditions. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Regarding the Hall of Fame Game class action, the NFL has dusted off the time-honored “it wasn’t me” defense.

The league has sought dismissal of the lawsuit demanding reimbursement for fans who traveled to Canton for the scuttled exhibition game between the Colts and Packers, with the argument that the league was not a party to the contract allegedly breached between seller and buyer.

“The NFL did not issue the tickets, had no involvement in the Hall of Fame’s sale or distribution of the tickets, and did not receive any of the proceeds from the sale of those tickets,” the league’s lawyers wrote.

The league points to the fact that the Hall of Fame accepted full responsibility for the cancellation of the game, which happened due to delayed painting of the field and negligence in the drying of the paint, which melted many of the millions of rubber pellets that cushion the turf, creating a safety hazard for players.

In a response filed Monday, the plaintiffs argue that the NFL is named on the tickets, and that at a minimum a jury would have to decide whether there’s a sufficient connection between the Hall of Fame and the NFL to justify making the league responsible.

The plaintiffs also contend that the NFL is, at worst, and “undisclosed principal,” pointing to comments from Colts owner Jim Irsay, who said after the cancellation, “Hey, you’re a $12 billion league. How could you not have a field out there ready to go.” Likewise, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent sent an internal memo to all teams pointing out that he is “ultimately” accountable for the field.

It’s hard to imagine the NFL wiggling off the hook for its admitted failure to ensure the readiness of a field on which two NFL teams would be playing. The Commissioner and several owners serve on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees, and few regard the Hall of Fame as an entity separate and apart from the NFL.

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Both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at practice

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 11: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the New England Patriots and Jimmy Garoppolo #10 enter the field for drills before a preseason game with New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

It remains to be seen if one or both can actually suit up and play this week, but at least the two quarterbacks on the Patriots roster were actually on the practice field today.

According to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett were on hand for the start of practice, as the team hopes one or both will be available this week against the Bills.

Garoppolo missed last week’s win over the Texans with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. Rookie Brissett started, but suffered a thumb injury that has led to some speculation about his status.

Brissett had tape around his thumb and wrist, and joked with reporters as he walked through the locker room, saying: “Never seen so many people looking at my hand.”

Garoppolo didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t in a sling or anything, either.

Reporters were only there for stretching, and the Patriots don’t have to submit an injury report until tomorrow. And they’re a week away from Tom Brady coming back, at which point the panic won’t be as intense.

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Kory Lichtensteiger injury could open door for John Sullivan

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 29: John Sullivan #65 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on before the game against the Detroit Lions on December 29, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Redskins coach Jay Gruden called center Kory Lichtensteiger’s calf injury “moderate” on Monday, but it may keep him out long enough for the team to bring in outside help to cover for his absence.

Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reports that Lichtensteiger’s injury may land him on injured reserve. As a result, the team is bringing former Vikings center John Sullivan in for a workout on Tuesday.

Sullivan was released by the Vikings in late August after attempts to find a trade partner failed to result in a deal. The Vikings opted to go with Joe Berger as their starter in the middle of the line this season.

Sullivan started all but three games for the Vikings between 2009 and 2014 before missing all of last season with a back injury. He was a productive player before the injury and would make a good fill-in for the Redskins if his long layoff hasn’t left too much rust on his game.

Spencer Long filled in for Lichtensteiger after he left last Sunday’s game against the Giants and Gruden said on Monday that the team was considering bringing in offensive line help with left guard Shawn Lauvao ailing as well.

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Panthers bring back defensive tackle Kyle Love

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 22:  Kyle Love #93 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a sack of Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers have spent more resources on their defensive tackle position than most, but they’ve found themselves thin at the moment.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, the Panthers have brought back defensive tackle Kyle Love to cover the absence of first-round pick Vernon Butler, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week.

Love was in camp with the Panthers this offseason, but was squeezed out of the depth chart that includes first-rounders Butler and Star Lotulelei, second-rounder Kawann Short and veteran Paul Soliai.

No corresponding move has been announced.

Love, who has also spent time with the Patriots, Chiefs, and Jaguars, was a valuable rotation player for the Panthers last year, with 4.0 sacks in 18 regular season and playoff games.

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Vikings elevate Willie Beavers

helmets-1 Getty Images

With guard Alex Boone hobbled by a hip injury, the Vikings have called up more help at the position. Specifically, the NFC North leaders have promoted Willie Beavers, a fourth-round pick who didn’t qualify for the team’s 53-man roster.

Beavers has served on the practice squad since being cut and clearing waivers. He could find himself activated if Boone misses time after an injury that happened on Sunday in Charlotte.

The Vikings weren’t required to release a player, due to the availability of a roster spot following the placement of running back Adrian Peterson on injured reserve last week.

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Ryan Shazier, Ramon Foster “very questionable” for Week Four

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Shazier #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers signals to the sideline after being injured during the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on November 2, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers will have several injured players to monitor as they head toward Sunday night’s matchup with the Chiefs.

During a Tuesday session with the media, coach Mike Tomlin said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that linebacker Ryan Shazier, guard Ramon Foster and wide receiver Eli Rogers are all “very questionable” for this week’s game.

Shazier aggravated a knee injury that he suffered in the season opener, but he was able to return to last Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. Foster didn’t return after injuring his chest and Rogers’ day came to an early end thanks to a toe injury.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons left the game with a shin injury and Tomlin said Tuesday that he suffered a puncture wound, although he expects the veteran to be fine for this week’s game. Safeties Sean Davis and Robert Golden will be evaluated over the course of the week, leaving the Steelers with plenty of question marks.

More certain is the return of running back Le’Veon Bell, who has returned from suspension and is expected to resume his leading role on the Pittsburgh offense.

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