Packers’ Randall Cobb set to return vs. Cardinals

Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who has missed six of the past eight games because of a hamstring injury, believes he will return to play against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

But that’s not the only thing he’s excited about.

He can’t wait to see what Aaron Rodgers does.

Cobb, Rodgers’ longest-tenured receiver on the team, has heard all the recent criticism of his quarterback — from talk about sloppy fundamentals and missing open receivers with the game on the line to being out of sync with coach Mike McCarthy’s playcalling.

Cobb thinks he knows what’s coming.

“I’m excited to get back out there because I know with all the noise that’s been said over the past week about him [Rodgers], he’s getting ready to light everybody up this week,” Cobb said Thursday. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and I look forward to helping him out.”

It could help to have a veteran receiver like Cobb back on the field.

Cobb has played in only five of 11 games this season. He initially pulled his hamstring during the Week 3 game at Washington. To that point, Cobb had 17 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown in less than three full games. He had the game-winning, 75-yard touchdown catch against the Bears in the opener. He initially missed three games (Weeks 4-6) and then returned after the Packers’ bye.

However, that lasted only two weeks. On the Thursday before the Nov. 11 game against Miami, he again pulled his hamstring in practice.

Cobb went through an extensive workout on the field before last Sunday’s game at Minnesota, but it was never the plan for him to play against the Vikings. Cobb said it was the first time since the injury that he felt no issues with his hamstring, but he admitted it’s always tricky to know when muscle injuries are fully healed.

“I think I might have pushed myself to come back a little too early and reinjured it, obviously,” Cobb said. “But I really do feel really good right now. I think that we’ve taken the proper steps and hopefully this is the right time and I’ll be able to push through this.”

Without Cobb and Geronimo Allison (abdominal surgery), the Packers have had to rely on rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown as the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers behind Davante Adams.

“[Cobb’s return] would be a big boost for us,” Rodgers said this week.

There’s also a chance left tackle David Bakhtiari, who dropped out of the Vikings game on Sunday, could play. That would be critical against Arizona’s top pass-rusher, Chandler Jones, who has 11 sacks.

Bakhtiari (knee) did some limited practice work on Thursday after going through rehab work Wednesday.

As deadline nears, Le’Veon Bell and Steelers not in contact

Le’Veon Bell has not had contact with the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, sources tell ESPN, and barring an unforeseen development in the next few days, is not expected to report to the team in time for Thursday night’s game against the Panthers, increasing the possibility that the star running back will not play at all this season.

Bell faces a deadline of Nov. 13 to report in order to play at all this season. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Bell must report to the Steelers by 4 p.m. ET next Tuesday or he will be ineligible for the remainder of the season, a source confirmed to ESPN.

The collective bargaining agreement mandates that any player on a contract or on a tender must report by the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season if he wants to play that year.

But one source pointed out to ESPN that it “doesn’t make any sense for [Bell] to play now.”

“If he doesn’t want to play for $14.5 million, why would he want to play for $5 million?” the source told ESPN, referring to the prorated balance remaining on Bell’s $14.5 million franchise tender.

Bell told ESPN in early October that he is staying away to preserve his long-term health for his next contract but intends to play football this season. Bell has been working out in Miami this season, but on Monday he tweeted “Fairwell Miami” without further explanation.

But despite Bell’s tweet, the Steelers still haven’t heard from him and their focus remains the same with the players and coaches in the building as they prepare for Thursday’s game vs. Carolina, a source told ESPN.

Bell said the Steelers told him they plan to place the transition tag on him this offseason, and a source confirmed to ESPN that the tag would be worth approximately $9 million to $10 million.

The transition tag would allow Bell to negotiate with other teams and allow the Steelers to match any offer. If the Steelers match, regardless of the offer, Bell would have to sign that deal with Pittsburgh.

Bell does not have to report to the Steelers by a certain date to get an accrued season to become eligible for free agency, contrary to what ESPN and others previously reported. Bell already has played the four-plus seasons he needs to become a free agent after the season.