Midway through the first quarter, Bengals linebacker Paul Guenther probably held his breath as Emmanuel Lamur was holding in his shoulder in obvious pain. Trainers spent several minutes looking at his shoulder before the cart extracted the second-year linebacker and sent him back to the locker room. An awkward tackle on Donald Brown during a third down run popped Lamur's shoulder out of socket. The training staff popped it back into place.
Head coach Marvin Lewis said that the team will see how he responds, but the injury will likely keep Lamur out through the first month. The worst case scenario is that he's done for the season. Unfortunately, the Bengals have more than a full day to determine the seriousness of Lamur's injury and to decide how to proceed before the league-mandated 53-man roster deadline on Saturday.
What are Cincinnati's options?
Cincinnati obviously can't place Lamur on the Physically Unable to Perform list, so that option is off the table.
Injured Reserve with the designation to return is possible, but wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is also a prime candidate. In that scenario, Lamur has to be on the 53-man roster by Tuesday at 4 p.m -- several days after final cuts. Considering that Lamur is the team's best cover linebacker and starter during nickel and dime packages, the team could hit the waiver wire or free agency to replace Lamur. Or they could bring J.K. Schaffer back. But that option would theoretically be after he's waived and no better options exist on the market.
It's realistic that Lamur could be done for the season, which obviously applies with Injured Reserve. In that case, the Bengals either keep Schaffer, or use the waiver wire/free agency option to replace Lamur.
If he's only out for a month, what appears as the most hopeful scenario at this stage, the Bengals would have to carry him on the 53-man roster, adding a seventh linebacker to compensate, which means J.K. Schaffer would join Jayson DiManche.
Why can't Schaffer just replace Lamur in every scenario? At this point the Bengals would have six linebackers, three of them being natural inside backers in which coverage isn't a main strength. If Lamur's injury is temporary, then that's something that the team can manage with. If we're talking about various IR lists, even the designation to return which keeps someone out for at least half-a-season, then the Bengals need to consider coverage backers that would be available to them after final cuts.
Either way, things are too murky to make any prognostication at this point.