The challenge of stopping Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens has proven beyond plenty of defensive teams during his still relatively young NFL career, and one of the finest defensive minds in the league was not up to the task in Week 6.

Jackson's meeting with fellow quarterback Justin Herbert was pegged as a battle between MVP candidates as the Ravens hosted the Los Angeles Chargers, and it is the Ravens star who has the stronger case after their dominant 34-6 win in a clash of 4-1 teams.

Brandon Staley was appointed as Chargers head coach on the back of his excellent performance in his one year as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams.

His Rams defense allowed the fewest yards per play in the NFL last season, however, the Chargers have struggled mightily against the run in 2021, making them an enticing matchup for the league's premier dual-threat quarterback in Jackson.

As it happened Jackson was able to lighten the burden on his shoulders in terms of running the ball, Latavius Murray and Le'Veon Bell each going in for rushing scores to put the Ravens 14-0 to the good in the second quarter.

Reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert responded late in the half with a one-yard touchdown throw to Jared Cook after a Jackson interception, though the Chargers still trailed 17-6 at the half.

But a 12-play, 52-yard drive ended with Jackson hitting Mark Andrews for a nine-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and there was never a hint of a Chargers comeback thereafter.

Jackson's stat line, 19 of 27 passing for 167 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions with 51 yards on eight rushes, was pedestrian by his standards, but it was enough to give the Ravens the best record in the AFC as he claimed his 35th win, breaking Dan Marino's record for the most by a quarterback before his 25th birthday.

Chiefs remain unconvincing

Plenty wondered whether it was time to panic for the Kansas City Chiefs following their Week 5 loss to the Buffalo Bills in primetime last Sunday, which dropped them to 2-3.

Concerns about the two-time defending AFC champions were furthered after a first-half performance against the Washington Football Team that saw them trail 13-10 at the half.

Patrick Mahomes threw two interceptions, one off the hands of Tyreek Hill and another with an inexplicable decision to toss the ball up for grabs after fumbling the snap.

However, a touchdown pass to Hill and Darrel Williams' second rushing score of the game put Kansas City in command before Mahomes found Demarcus Robinson in the endzone to secure a 31-13 win that moves them within striking distance of the Chargers in the AFC West.

Five in a row for Packers

The Packers are far from the finished product at this stage of the season, but it is now five wins in a row for Green Bay after their 24-14 victory over NFC North rivals the Chicago Bears.

Aaron Rodgers averaged 8.5 yards per pass play and threw for two touchdowns, with the Packers quarterback reminding the Bears' fans at Soldier Field of his hold over the division after running for a score that effectively put the game to bed.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 5-1 after Matthew Stafford threw four touchdown passes in a 38-11 rout of the New York Giants.

Week 6 of the NFL season sees the first byes of the campaign, meaning fantasy managers may need to start utilising their bench.

Though the starters picked in the early rounds of the draft often lay the foundations for a championship-winning season, the players selected to fill the void when they are not available can be the difference between claiming and missing out on the title.

With that in mind, this week's edition of fantasy picks features three players who can fill the void for fantasy managers with holes in their line-up.

A second-year wide receiver primed to play an even bigger part in an underperforming offense also features in Stats Perform's look at four players and a defense worthy of fantasy selection this week. 

Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If you have a quarterback on a bye, or you are unfortunate to be in a position where the injured Russell Wilson is your starter, then you may be in scramble mode at quarterback.

Heinicke presents a solution to fantasy owners in such a bind. Yes, Washington will be underdogs against Kansas City, but Heinicke has thrown for multiple passing touchdowns in three of his last four games and should have little difficulty moving the ball against a defense allowing 7.08 yards per play, the most in the NFL.

With a high-scoring affair likely on the horizon, Heinicke is a leading option for fantasy owners in need of a quarterback fill-in.

Running Back: Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

There isn't much reason to get excited about the Dolphins but fantasy owners of Gaskin should be extremely intrigued by this matchup in the second and final London game of the year.

Gaskin had only five carries for 25 yards last week in the Dolphins' 45-17 loss to the Buccaneers but found the endzone twice as a receiver as he hauled all 10 of his targets for 74 yards.

Against a Jacksonville defense that has been stout against the run but is allowing a league-worst 8.79 yards per pass play, there is scope for another big day for Gaskin as the Dolphins seek their second win of an underwhelming campaign.

Wide Receiver: Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Claypool has 296 receiving yards and a touchdown over his last three games playing for a Steelers offense that had struggled mightily prior to their Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

With Juju Smith-Schuster out for the season, Claypool should claim even more of a featured role in the offense and in Week 6 has the inviting prospect of a matchup with a Seahawks defense ranked 28th in the NFL in opposing pass yards per play (7.49). Claypool is well worthy of being in your starting lineup come Sunday.

Tight End: Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

Alie-Cox was not able to find the endzone in Week 5 after catching two touchdown passes a week earlier, however, he is averaging 13.8 yards per reception, illustrating his big-play threat.

Facing a Texans defense allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, Alie-Cox should have an opportunity to make a significant impact in Week 6. Alie-Cox could prove an astute pickup for fantasy owners struggling for options at tight end.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots

The Cowboys' defense was not expected to be one of the top fantasy units in the league going into the season, however, through five games they have forced 12 takeaways, the second-most in the NFL.

Facing a quarterback in Mac Jones who has thrown a pickable pass on 4.89 per cent of his attempts, well above the average of 3.16, a meeting with the Patriots presents the Cowboys with the chance to add to that total and rack up fantasy points.

The Kansas City Chiefs have a losing record for the first time in over five years, suffering a second successive defeat as they were stunned 30-24 by AFC West rivals the Los Angeles Chargers.

Kansas City trailed 14-0 in the second quarter at Arrowhead Stadium and were behind 14-3 at half-time, however, a lead is rarely safe against the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes and, when they went 17-14 ahead with fewer than four minutes left in the third quarter, the outcome seemed inevitable.

But reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert continues to polish his increasingly impressive resume and he outdueled Mahomes in a bewitching fourth quarter that could prove pivotal in their division and the AFC playoff race.

Herbert connected on the first of two touchdown passes to Mike Williams and, after Mecole Hardman found the endzone for the Chiefs, led a field goal drive to tie the game at 24-24.

Mahomes still had over two minutes to work with to potentially win it for Kansas City but threw a critical interception and the Chargers' gamble to eschew a game-winning field goal paid off as Herbert hit Williams for another touchdown and, despite a missed extra point, Los Angeles held on as a late Hail Mary from the Chiefs came up short.

That missed extra point was the second of the day for the Chargers, the first coming after Keenan Allen caught a four-yard pass from Herbert, who then found Austin Ekeler for a 16-yard score.

Harrison Butker's 34-yard field goal was all the Chiefs could muster in the first half but Jody Fortson caught a high two-yard pass from Mahomes to narrow the gap and Clyde-Edwards Helaire scampered into the endzone to give Kansas City the lead on a 10-yard reception.

Herbert and Williams responded quickly but the Chiefs were in front again after Hardman scooted in on a six-yard pop pass. Tristan Vizciano's field goal levelled matters and, after Mahomes was picked off for the second time – Alohi Gilman snatching an ill-advised throw –  the Chargers were rewarded for their aggressive approach.

A fourth down was converted via a pass interference penalty and Herbert then hit Williams on a four-yard back-shoulder throw. Vizciano's errant extra point gave Kansas City a chance but 32 seconds and a timeout was not enough for Mahomes as the Chiefs dropped to 1-2, their first losing record since Week 11 of the 2015 season.

Tucker's record kick gives Ravens remarkable win

The Baltimore Ravens, winners over the Chiefs last week, avoided a stunning loss in the most improbable fashion thanks to the leg of Justin Tucker.

Baltimore trailed the winless Detroit Lions 17-16 with 64 seconds left and faced a fourth down and 19 with 26 seconds left.

However, Lamar Jackson hit Sammy Watkins for 36 yards to keep their hopes alive and Justin Tucker's 66-yard field goal bounced off the top of the crossbar and over, his kick from an NFL-record distance sparing the Ravens in an incredible finish.

Bills roll, Steelers slump

There was no such drama in Buffalo, where the Bills routed the Washington Football Team 43-21 behind quarterback Josh Allen's 358-yard, five-touchdown performance.

The team the Bills lost to in Week 1, the Pittsburgh Steelers, suffered a second straight defeat as they were beaten 24-10 by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Justin Fields was sacked nine times in his Chicago Bears debut, which saw them lose 26-6 to the Cleveland Browns, while Jamal Agnew tied the record for the NFL's longest play with a 109-yard return of Matt Prater's missed field goal but the Jacksonville Jaguars still lost 31-19 to the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.

Taylor Heinicke is determined to establish himself with the Washington Football Team, and his display in the 30-29 win over the New York Giants was hailed as "gutty" by Ron Rivera.

Filling in for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is out with a hip injury and likely not available until November, Heinicke threw two touchdown passes in a game for the first time in his short NFL career.

The quarterback has had prior spells in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers, but before this season he had tallied just eight games in the league.

Now Heinicke has a chance to play a string of games for Washington, and even though he threw an interception with 2:22 remaining in Thursday night's game, he came good after that, commandeering the drive that resulted in Dustin Hopkins making a match-winning field goal.

Heinicke finished the game with 34-for-46 passing for 336 yards and the two touchdowns, as Washington won their first game of the season.

Speaking on Thursday Night Football, Heinicke said: "Defense came up big and we had a chance to close them out there and throwing a pick is not what you want to do.

"A lot of guys came up to me and said we've got one more chance to do it and fortunately we did. Defense came up and we went down and scored."

Asked whether he considered he had done enough to stay on the team, Heinicke said: "I do, and I have confidence that I can do it. If those guys in the locker room and the facility believe in me, that's all that matters and I think they do, so let's try to keep this ball rolling."

An impressed Rivera was captivated by Heinicke looking to make amends for his error, and by the 28-year-old's overall performance..

"It was very gutty," said the Washington coach. "The thing that was real impressive about him was the way he bounced back after the turnover. Prior to that, he went down and, in what, three plays, he scored a touchdown and turned around, and we were trying to kill the clock, and he made a bad read, made a bad decision.

"But getting that opportunity, he stepped up again."

Heinicke lost his cool and threw down his helmet after the interception, before gathering his thoughts and moving on.

"He was p*****. He was upset at himself, he really was," said Rivera. "He slammed his helmet into the ground. It was just one of those things that you just felt if we can get the ball into his hands...

"He does have the ability to throw the ball, and make all the throws And we've seen that. And he's got a lot of confidence. And when he gets into a really nice rhythm, he can deliver a good ball.

"He's got a little swagger to him and his team-mates feed off of it, they really do."

The New York Giants were left to rue missed opportunities and a costly late Dexter Lawrence offside as they went down 30-29 to the Washington in Thursday Night Football in Maryland.

Dustin Hopkins successfully converted a 43-yard attempt for the win on the buzzer, although he had missed his initial 48-yard try, only to get a second chance due to Lawrence jumping early.

Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, in only his third NFL start, completed 34 of 46 passes for 336 yards, compared to Giants QB Daniel Jones who had 22 from 32 for 249 yards.

Heinicke, who was playing for the injured Ryan Fitzpatrick, claimed his first career win as a starting QB, highlighted by a key fourth-quarter pass for a Ricky Seals-Jones touchdown.

The result earns Washington their first win of the season, while the Giants are 0-2 after their opening defeat to the Denver Broncos.

Jones had put the Giants ahead when he rushed into the end zone in the first quarter, breaking a Kamren Curl tackle.

Washington leveled it up with a Terry McLaurin touchdown from Heinicke's pinpoint throw, after Giants offensive lineman Nick Gates was carted off with a gruesome lower leg fracture. McLaurin had 11 catches and 107 yards for the game.

New York were denied another running Jones touchdown in the second quarter for a tight hold call against CJ Board, eliminating a 58-yard play, before dependable Giants kicker Graham Gano made it 10-7.

Washington grabbed a 14-10 lead at half-time when running back JD McKissic drove down the left for a late touchdown.

Gano reduced the deficit, before Darius Slayton's touchdown from a Jones pass for a 33-yard completion. Hopkins made it 20-17 at the final change with a 49-yard attempt.

The lead changed three times in the final quarter, with Jones pushing the ball downfield, enabling Gano to get within range for a 52-yard attempt, with Hopkins responding with nine minutes to go to make it 23-20.

Slayton fluffed a golden chance to open up a big Giants lead when he got open in the end zone but dropped a Jones pass.

Gano extended New York's lead to six points before Heinicke found McKissic down the sideline for a 56-yard play, the longest of the game. From the next play, Heinicke delivered to tightend Seals-Jones for a catch into the corner to put Washington up 27-26 with 4:33 to play.

Washington gave up a turnover before the Giants earned territory, settling for Gano to convert his 35th consecutive attempt to put them up 29-27 with two minutes to play.

Heinicke and Washington edged forward, with Hopkins' initial attempt with five seconds on the clock missing, before converting his reprieve for the win.

Washington Football Team quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick faces a spell on the sidelines after suffering a hip injury.

Fitzpatrick, 38, was injured during Sunday's Week 1 20-16 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Washington have not given a timescale for his return but reports suggest he could be out for between six and eight weeks.

He was replaced against the Chargers by Taylor Heinicke, who will start Thursday's match against the New York Giants.

Heinicke's appearance on Thursday will be his first regular season start since 2018 but coach Ron Rivera believes he can handle the pressure.

"I think our guys will rally around him," Rivera told a media conference. "He plays a little bit like his hair's on fire and plays a little bit like a gunslinger.

"But I think he's matured a little bit. He understands what he has to do and how he has to do it. I'm excited to see what's going to happen."

The NFL has fined the Washington Football Team $10million after the completion of an independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct within the workplace.

Following Thursday's announcement of the punishment, which does not strip the team of any draft picks, owner Dan Snyder decided to hand over his day-to-day responsibilities to his wife Tanya, who was named co-CEO on Tuesday.

The investigation, which began last year and consisted of independent counsel Beth Wilkinson interviewing more than 150 people, found that for years women within the organisation were bullied and several females experienced sexual harassment and experienced "a general lack of respect in the workplace".

"Ownership and senior management paid little or no attention to these issues," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "In some instances, senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct themselves, including use of demeaning language and public embarrassment. This set the tone for the organisation and led to key executives believing that disrespectful behaviour and more serious misconduct was acceptable in the workplace."

Snyder blamed himself for the workplace environment and apologised to those affected.

"I have learned a lot in the past few months about how my club operated, and the kind of workplace that we had," Snyder said in a statement. "It is now clear that the culture was not what it should be, but I did not realise the extent of the problems, or my role in allowing that culture to develop and continue. I know that as the owner, I am ultimately responsible for the workplace."

He went on to say that, for the next several months, "Tanya will assume the responsibilities of CEO and will oversee all day-to-day team operations and represent the club on all league activities".

As part of the report, Wilkinson made 10 recommendations on improving workplace culture, including developing formal protocols for reporting harassment, developing a formal disciplinary action plan and providing training to all employees on bullying, harassment and inclusion.

The Snyders agreed to implement all 10 of the recommendations.

"I agree with the Commissioner's decisions in this matter," Snyder said, "and am committed to implementing his investigation's important recommendations.

"Going forward, my focus will be on making the Washington Football Team a source of pride to all of its employees, fans and partners, including my partners in the NFL."

The Philadelphia Eagles have bolstered their defense with the signing of Ryan Kerrigan.

Defensive end Kerrigan has spent 10 seasons with the Washington Football Team after being picked in the first round of the 2011 draft.

A four-time Pro Bowler, Kerrigan holds the Washington franchise record for sacks with 95.5, which are the fifth-most in the NFL since 2011.

"I'll never be able to sum up what these past 10 years have meant to me in an Instagram post, but what I can say is that they have been some of the best of my life," Kerrigan wrote in a farewell message to Washington on Instagram. 

"I hope you had as much fun watching me as I did playing for you. Thank you, Washington, for everything."

In a subsequent post announcing his signing with Washington's NFC East rivals the Eagles, he wrote: "I know I probably wasn't your favourite player over the past decade, but @philadelphiaeagles fans I'm fired up to be playing for you guys now!"

He joins a Philadelphia defense that was seventh in the NFL in forcing negative passing plays in 2020 with 53 for minus 349 yards.

The Eagles are not short on talented pass rushers. Brandon Graham was fifth in the league among edge rushers last season with a pressure rate of 23.5 per cent, while Josh Sweat's adjusted sack rate of 4.4 per cent was marginally better than that of Kerrigan (4.3) in 2020.

Interior defensive lineman Fletcher Cox had 6.5 sacks and has at least 5.5 sacks in five of his past six seasons.

The Eagles will hope the addition of Kerrigan to an already talented defensive front will help them bounce back from a 4-11-1 season under new head coach Nick Sirianni.

Alex Smith has announced his retirement from the NFL, despite the quarterback admitting he still feels to have "plenty of snaps" left in him.

The first overall pick in the 2005 draft, Smith started out with the San Francisco 49ers before going on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Football Team.

The 36-year-old's career was in jeopardy when he suffered a gruesome leg injury in November 2018, leading to 17 operations and - having avoided the need for his leg to be amputated - a lengthy rehabilitation regime.

However, he made his return to action for Washington in a 2020 season that saw the franchise win the NFC East to make the playoffs and Smith named Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

Released in the offseason, he initially indicated a desire to carry on playing but released an Instagram video on Monday confirming the end of his 16-year career in the league.

"Two years ago, I was stuck in a wheelchair staring down at my mangled leg and wondering if I would ever be able to go on a walk with my wife again or play games with my kids in the yard," Smith said.

"Putting my helmet back on was the furthest thing from my mind. I just kept asking myself: 'All this for a stupid game?'.

"Then someone did something that changed my recovery completely – he put a football back in my hands. I don't know what it was, but all of a sudden, I felt stronger, more driven. What once seemed impossible began to come into focus."

Smith was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2004, his final year of college football with the University of Utah before entering the draft.

The signal-caller threw for 35,650 yards with 199 touchdowns and 109 interceptions in the NFL. He completed 62.6 per cent of his pass attempts and ends with an overall QB rating of 86.9.

There were also 15 rushing touchdowns, five of which came in the 2016 campaign when he helped the Chiefs to the first of five successive divisional titles in the AFC West.

"Even though I've got plenty of snaps left in me, after 16 years of giving this game everything I've got, I can't wait to see what else is possible," Smith said towards the end of a montage that included clips of his arduous recovery process.

"But first, I'm going to take a little time to enjoy some of those walks with my wife, and my kids have no idea what is coming for them in the back yard."

Winning the NFC East in 2020 is unlikely to take pride of place on many CVs.

The Washington Football Team came through the worst division in football with a 7-9 record before falling at the first hurdle in the playoffs, battling hard before being beaten by eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But as well as scraping together the most wins, a strange season provided Washington with greater cause for optimism than their divisional rivals.

Ron Rivera's team were particularly strong on defense, as a lack of top-level production at the quarterback position prevented them from being anything more than the best of a bad bunch.

That is evidenced by Stats Perform data, but Washington's offseason moves to date suggest they should get better in 2021.

Offense

Washington had three different starters at quarterback last year, rarely the sign of an effective offensive unit.

And none of Dwayne Haskins (six starts), Alex Smith (six) or Kyle Allen (four) are set to line up under center in the coming campaign following the recruitment of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The new QB ended 2020 as a backup on a non-playoff team in Miami but still undoubtedly offers an upgrade, having played some of the best football of his career in recent seasons.

 

Washington ranked 25th for net passing yards per game (216.6), albeit that still had them second in the division in that regard.

Haskins, a first-round pick in 2019, was released in December after he was pictured partying without a mask at a strip club following a defeat to the Seattle Seahawks and then completed just 50.0 per cent of 28 passes, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, against the Carolina Panthers, earning a wretched passer rating of 36.9.

Among qualifying QBs - 224 attempts for the season - only Nick Foles (5.94) trailed Haskins in yards per attempt (5.97), while his passer rating of 73.0 was third-worst behind Sam Darnold (72.7) and Carson Wentz (72.8).

Haskins was only playing against Seattle and Carolina because Smith, back from his awful, life-threatening leg injury, was out again. Smith won his final five starts of 2020 but finished the year close behind Haskins, with a seventh-worst 6.28 yards per attempt and fifth-worst 78.5 passer rating, and has since been cut.

For Fitzpatrick, this is a low bar to clear.

But the former Dolphins QB should also have the benefit of greater talent on the end of his passes, with wide receiver Teddy McLaurin carrying the load for Washington in 2020 with 87 catches on 134 targets for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns.

McLaurin ranked 14th in the league for receiving yards per game (74.5), with Logan Thomas the team's next best performer in 64th (41.9).

On the ground, Antonio Gibson found more help, effectively protected by his offensive line as he rushed for 170 carries, 795 yards and 11 TDs.

But Washington's total offense put up just 317.3 yards per game and 4.83 per play, ranking 30th and 31st. Improvement should come easy but is desperately required.

Defense

If those offensive yardage numbers effectively sum up Washington's woes on that side of the ball, the figures going the other way do a similar job.

Washington allowed a meagre 304.6 yards per game and 4.85 per play, totals only undercut by the Los Angeles Rams' outstanding defensive unit. Opponents scored just 329 points, the fourth-fewest in the NFL.

Blessed with the star performers that were absent elsewhere in the team, the defense made light work of the other similarly poor NFC East offenses.

Washington have found incredible value up front, where defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young and defensive tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen are all still on their rookie contracts.

Sweat led the team in sacks (9.5 for 83.0 yards), QB hits (20) and tackles for loss (12) and scored a defensive TD on his only pick, while Young was not far behind (7.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, 10 TFL, four forced fumbles and three recovered). Payne had 3.0 sacks, eight QB hits and seven TFL, as Allen had 2.0, 14 and three.

Sweat, Young and Payne also combined to stuff 16.0 runs, contributing to Washington's impressive record in forcing stoppages. Only Pittsburgh's defense (25.0) allowed a lower percentage of conversions on fourth down (37.5).

These players will have to be paid eventually if a talented quartet of the future is to stay together, but these are not worries for this year.

The big defensive offseason questions instead lay elsewhere, notably how would Washington replace cornerback Ronald Darby's production with 16 passes defensed? The signing of William Jackson III has already answered that query.

Offseason

Jackson's three-year, $40.5million signing has been Washington's biggest outlay in free agency, his 11 passes defensed ensuring they should again have a top performer at corner.

The team clearly recognised they could not afford to weaken the strongest area of their roster.

Another safety could yet be of use, although Kamren Curl (63 tackles, three interceptions and a defensive TD) and Landon Collins, recovering from a torn Achilles, are both on the books.

On the offense, Fitzpatrick's one-year, $10m deal showed exactly how Washington see his signing. The 39-year-old is neither a long-term solution nor a game-changer but should instead do enough to keep his new team at the top of the division.

To help the veteran - and McLaurin - the team made a big pick-up at receiver in the form of Curtis Samuel, a second-round draft pick during Rivera's time with the Panthers.

He arrives for three years and $34.5m, having posted a career-high 1,051 yards (851 receiving, 200 rushing) in 2020, along with five TDs.

But Washington still have not quite gone all in - not that they need to.

Even if they do not look a genuine contender at this stage, the team's defense will keep them in most games.

With $20.9m of cap space remaining and their first-round pick at 19, Washington are instead well positioned to seize on any unexpected opportunities that come their way.

It might only take a crazy trade from a team in turmoil or a lucky bounce in a big game to bring the NFC East champions to the fore.

Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel is expected to sign with the Washington Football Team.

According to ESPN and NFL Network on Wednesday, Samuel is signing a three-year contract worth $34.5million in Washington.

Samuel will reunite with Washington head coach Ron Rivera, who coached the 24-year-old during his first three seasons in Carolina.

A second-round draft pick in 2017, Samuel had a career-best 77 catches for 851 yards and 41 rushes for 200 yards last season as the Panthers (5-11) missed the playoffs.

In 53 career games Samuel has 185 receptions for 2,087 yards and 14 touchdown receptions and 478 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.

Washington (7-9) topped the NFC East in 2020, but lost to eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers n the Wild Card Round.

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera praised Alex Smith for his impact on a young roster after the franchise confirmed the departure of the veteran quarterback.

Friday's announcement came as no surprise, considering there had been widespread reports of Smith's impending release at the start of the week.

The 36-year-old was pivotal in helping Washington rally from a 2-7 record to win the NFC East and qualify for the playoffs, throwing for 1,582 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions after stepping in to take over as starter from Kyle Allen.

However, the former number one overall pick was sidelined by a calf issue for the Wild Card loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Taylor Heinicke started instead and, having done well in his limited opportunities at the back end of the season, was handed a new two-year contract in February. 

Smith was voted as the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press having recovered from a career-threatening leg injury to resume his career, though he is now looking for a new home after Washington agreed to cut him.

"I had a chance to meet with Alex Smith this week and we had a very honest and real discussion," Rivera said in a statement released by Washington. "We had the chance to reflect on the 2020 season and talk about moving forward into the next year. 

"After the conclusion of that meeting, we decided that it would be best for both parties to move on, and we will be granting Alex his request to be released. 

"I want to thank Alex for his contributions this past year. He made such an impact on our young roster and his leadership was one of the key factors in our late-season success, and in making the playoffs for the first time since 2015. 

"Everyone here in Washington wishes Alex and his family the best going forward and appreciates all that he gave to our organisation."

Smith, who previously played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, made clear in an interview with GQ last month that he intends to carry on playing in 2021, insisting he had "got more left" following his long road to recovery.

He underwent 17 operations and overcame sepsis after suffering a compound fracture injury to his right leg in a game against the Houston Texans in November 2018.

Alex Smith will need to find a new home if he wants to carry on playing as the Washington Football Team reportedly plan to release the quarterback.  

Smith's return to action from a gruesome leg injury was one of the feel-good stories of the 2020 NFL season; the 36-year-old was named Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press after throwing for 1,582 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions.  

However, according to a report by NFL Network duo Ian Rapoport and Kim Jones, Washington are expected to part ways with the player in the coming days. 

His career had previously appeared in serious jeopardy after he suffered a compound fracture of his right leg during a game against the Houston Texans in November 2018. Following initial surgery, Smith developed necrotising fasciitis – a rare but serious bacterial infection – and sepsis.  

After a total of 17 operations and having avoided the need for the leg to be amputated, he went through a lengthy and arduous rehabilitation regime before returning to the active roster last year.  

Smith was called to duty when Washington starter Kyle Allen was hurt in the Week 5 game against the Los Angeles Rams. His family were there to witness him play again too, though it proved to be a tough outing: he was sacked six times while completing nine of his 17 pass attempts for 37 yards in a 30-10 defeat.  

Allen resumed starting duties before a serious ankle injury against the New York Giants in Week 9 put an end to his campaign. Smith again stepped in, throwing for one score and three interceptions in a 23-20 defeat. There were career-high numbers for passing attempts (55), completions (38) and yards (390) the following week in a loss to the Detroit Lions, at which stage the franchise had a 2-7 record.  

Yet Smith celebrated a first win as a starter in 754 days against the Cincinnati Bengals, the first of five in a row for Washington under his stewardship as they rallied to clinch the NFC East title.  

A calf issue denied him the chance to play in the Wild Card playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though. Taylor Heinicke started instead and, having done well in his limited opportunities under head coach Ron Rivera, was handed a new two-year deal in February.  

Smith - who previously played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs - will seemingly not be back for the 2021 season. 

Taylor Heinicke has re-signed with Washington for two years after the stand-in quarterback impressed in the team's losing playoff bid.

The 27-year-old has penned an extension worth a reported $8.75 million, marking a remarkable turnaround for a man whose NFL career looked to be heading for an early finish.

Heinicke stepped in after Alex Smith, who steered Washington to the divisional title in Week 17, failed to overcome a calf injury in time to start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He threw for 306 yards and a touchdown, as well as rushing for 46 yards and a further score, in a 31-23 playoff defeat for the NFC East champions to the Bucs.

Having been set for restricted free agency, Heinicke was delighted to be given a new lease of life.

"It's a good feeling," Heinicke, who is studying for an engineering degree, told Washington's website.

"Everyone knows I was at home taking math classes...so for this contact to come, it's a big sigh of relief.

"I'm really excited. This is the place I wanted to be, so everything came together pretty smoothly, and I'm really excited to be back."

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