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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
A combination of positive and negative NFL news dominates the league’s offseason—with each organization dealing with a particular set of circumstances.
At times, the negative seems to outweigh the positive, but that’s a byproduct of the 24/7 news cycle. So much occurs during the six months after the Super Bowl and the start of training camp that it’s impossible to keep up with everything.
Usually, though, one individual from each franchise draws the most attention.
As always, quarterbacks are the most discussed, especially with 13 teams likely to open the 2018 campaign with a new starter. Turnover is expansive thanks to free agency and the draft, and that’s ignoring coaching changes and the development or lack thereof among incumbent players.
Training camp essentially serves as the start of another season. There will be those who emerge throughout the on-field portions of practice sessions, but the following individuals have garnered the most attention and headlines so far.
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Matt York/Associated Press
David Johnson’s status with the Arizona Cardinals has been brought into question on two fronts.
First, the elite running back suffered a broken left wrist in last year’s season-opener and missed the next 15 contests. His recovery went well, and he reported to training camp after missing minicamp.
The injury is less of a concern than his long-term future, though. The running back is still operating under his rookie contract, which has a base salary of $1.82 million this season, and he’s due for a large pay raise.
Considering the opposing forces of his stellar 2016 play and injury history, negotiations could become contentious.
“The Cardinals want me to play for them for a long time, and I want to be here for a long time,” Johnson told the team’s official site (via the Associated Press’ Bob Baum). “So definitely things are going in a positive way.”
Johnson seems to be a big part of the organization’s plans.
“There’s no doubt in my mind moving forward that we will keep a positive outlook and again, look forward to rewarding him just like we have players in the past,” general manager Steve Keim said, per Darren Urban of the Cardinals site.
Keim is serving a five-week suspension after pleading guilty to a DUI charge, though, which halted negotiations.
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Chris Szagola/Associated Press
All is right with the Atlanta Falcons after they reworked Julio Jones‘ contract and the wide receiver reported to camp.
The offseason was stormy beforehand, however, after Jones had reportedly threatened to sit out until he received a deal commensurate with the wide receiver market. Following the renegotiation, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Jones will make $13.4 million this season instead of his original $10.5 million.
Head coach Dan Quinn told Will McFadden of the Falcons’ official site:
“It was good to have Julio back. So much of the work that gets done between wide receivers and quarterbacks—it’s the individual time, it’s the group work and then a little bit of two-minute here, and then post-practice, we’re devoting a little bit of time each day for the veterans to get some work in on some skills they want to [practice].”
Concerns regarding Jones extended beyond his contract status, though.
How coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s offense evolves, particularly regarding Jones’ red-zone usage, has been heavily scrutinized. The team’s top target often served as a decoy instead of being the primary option last year. As a result, Jones finished 2017 with only three touchdown receptions. That needs to change.
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Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
The Baltimore Ravens aren’t just creating a quarterback controversy; they’re inviting one, and for good reason.
The fact that Lamar Jackson slipped all the way to the 32nd pick of the 2018 draft before the Ravens traded up to select the dynamic signal-caller was a travesty. He had an exceptional collegiate career where he won the 2016 Heisman Trophy, passed for 9,043 yards and even rushed for 289 more career yards than the No. 2 overall pick, running back Saquon Barkley.
His combination of passing prowess, elite escapability, athleticism and speed makes Jackson dangerous every time he touches a football. The Ravens plan to exploit the young quarterback’s skill set.
“One way or another, he’s going to be out there, taking snaps,” head coach John Harbaugh said, per the Toronto Sun‘s John Kryk. “… Lamar is also a weapon for us, who can play quarterback. And we’re going to play Lamar at quarterback … So we’re going to play all of our good players. I don’t see why we wouldn’t.”
Joe Flacco is still the starting quarterback. There’s no doubt about this. However, a slow start will spell the veteran’s demise.
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Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
Save the Buffalo Bills, Josh Allen. You’re their only hope.
That may not be entirely accurate, but it’s how the situation feels after the organization traded up twice in the draft before selecting Allen with the seventh overall pick.
The 6’5″, 237-pounder has tremendous natural ability, a cannon attached to his right shoulder, a big body and enough athleticism to create when the pocket collapses. However, he was the least consistent passer among the five first-round quarterback selections.
Whether the Bills can slow-play this process with Allen depends on either of the team’s “veteran” options, AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman. Neither has been a full-time starter in the NFL, but both are competing to keep the rookie on the bench.
Buffalo’s staff isn’t trying to rush Allen onto the field, either.
“There’s no exact way to do it, right? It’s about bringing him along the right way,” head coach Sean McDermott said, per NYUp.com’s Ryan Talbot. “We’re not going to put him out there unless we feel like he’s ready.”
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Chuck Burton/Associated Press
Big things are expected of last year’s No. 8 pick, Christian McCaffrey.
The versatile weapon will be a critical component of coordinator Norv Turner‘s new offensive scheme. In fact, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera believes getting his running back/receiver/returner the ball 25-30 times per game is “ideal,” per the Associated Press’ Steve Reed.
Those numbers may be ambitious, but McCaffrey made sure his body is ready for the pounding. According to the Charlotte Observer‘s Joseph Person, the offensive weapon weighs 208 pounds and is “noticeably bigger.”
His growth—both physically and mentally—has him in a much better place than a year ago when he finished second among rookies with 80 receptions.
“It’s been a heck of an offseason,” McCaffrey said, per Max Henson of the Panthers’ official site. “Made some changes. I feel more developed and I’m ready to go.”
McCaffrey’s value in the passing game is obvious. How he responds to an increased role in the ground game will determine his number of touches.
“When your coach tells you you’re going to get the ball more, you get a little excited about that,” McCaffrey said, per Henson.
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Nam Huh/Associated Press
Buzz continues to build for the Chicago Bears as new head coach Matt Nagy takes the reins of Mitchell Trubisky’s development.
A comparison can be made between the Bears’ situation and last year’s improved Rams squad. Sean McVay got the most out of 2016 No. 1 pick Jared Goff in their first year together. Nagy’s influence over Trubisky is similarly important from both mental and schematic perspectives.
The second-year signal-caller’s maturation can already be felt throughout the organization.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, our guy No. 10 is our leader, and that’s echoed throughout our locker room,” Kyle Long said during an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “He’s not afraid to call a guy like myself out, if the effort is lacking. He just makes everything look easy.”
Now, Trubisky needs to be placed in a position to succeed. The Bears front office helped by signing targets Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. Nagy knows how to utilize them if Trubisky’s excitement is any indication.
“I mean, what’s not to like about this offense?” Trubisky said, per the Associated Press’ Gene Chamberlain. “I love it. There’s a lot of options. We throw the ball around a lot and we’re going to balance it with a great running game.”
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John Minchillo/Associated Press
The Cincinnati Bengals’ Carl Lawson is the game’s next great pass-rusher. Just ask him.
“I feel like I can be ridiculously good,” Lawson told reporters.
Facts support the second-year defender’s claim. Lawson led all rookies last year with 8.5 sacks and 59 total quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He did so despite being a part-timer and playing a position (strong-side linebacker) unsuited to his skill set.
The Bengals coaching staff plans to rectify the situation by using him in the base defense, per the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Paul Dehner Jr. However, Lawson has to stay healthy—which has been a problem dating to his Auburn days. To handle playing more along the defensive front, Lawson reshaped his body this offseason and weighed 264 pounds at the start of training camp.
“It just happened,” he said, per The Athletic’s Justin Williams. “Just working out. I never did curls, really, so I started to do curls this offseason. This is really the first time I started doing some upper-body work…”
Bigger, stronger and in a better position to succeed, Lawson has plenty of buzz around his potential.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
After the Cleveland Browns underwent the second-ever 0-16 campaign last year, new general manager John Dorsey decided the team needed an attitude adjustment as much as a talent infusion.
Enter Jarvis Landry as the new face of the franchise.
“Jarvis Landry is the type of football player we want on this team for a long time,” Dorsey said after acquiring the wide receiver in a trade from the Miami Dolphins, per Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Baskin. “Obviously, he’s an accomplished playmaker … but in his short time as a Brown we can already see the type of leadership and competitiveness he’s going to bring to his teammates.”
The receiver’s brash personality is every bit as important to the franchise’s growth as his sticky hands and ability to dominate from the slot. More is expected of Landry in Cleveland’s offense, though, even after setting an NFL record with 400 receptions in his first four seasons.
“He’s still a young player (25) and the best is yet to come,” wide receivers coach Adam Henry said, per Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. “… He’s a guy that has a big catch radius and also has a great football IQ in picking up the offense.”
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Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Randy Gregory has spent more weeks on the NFL’s suspension list than on the field for the Dallas Cowboys. But the organization and his teammates weren’t willing to give up on the talented defensive end.
“Just like soldiers, when you have brothers fall the wrong way, do you give up on them? No,” Demarcus Lawrence said, per the Dallas Morning News‘ Jon Machota. “We say togetherness, we say family for a reason. … Randy is my brother. We stuck by him for a long time, and it’s time for him to ball now.”
The NFL reinstated Gregory on Monday after he missed last year because of a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. His inclusion in the lineup is a much-needed boost after David Irving received his own four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Because it’s been so long since Gregory took the field, some may have forgotten how talented he is. The 2015 second-round pick is a Gumby-like edge-bender with outstanding quickness off the snap.
“He’s got a lot of ability; we know that,” head coach Jason Garrett said, per the Morning News‘ Brad Townsend. “But deep down he’s a good person, so it’ll be a good chance for him to get back on the right track.”
A healthy, committed Gregory opposite Lawrence will be a frightening sight for opposing quarterbacks.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Denver Broncos seem to be more excited about this year’s No. 5 pick, Bradley Chubb, than new starting quarterback Case Keenum, and no one can blame them.
Chubb’s potential opposite Von Miller can once again put the Broncos’ defensive front among the league’s most feared. Miller’s outstanding play year after year will be there again in 2018, and Chubb can become a DeMarcus Ware-like running mate.
“He’s great,” Miller said of Chubb, per Mile High Report’s Tim Lynch. “He reminds me of myself. He texts me late at night. Texts me at 3 o’clock in the morning. I’m up (laughing). I’m all for it. It’s good, it’s some of the same stuff I saw—it’s some of the same stuff that I was doing with DeMarcus [Ware].”
The Broncos never expected Chubb to be available at their draft slot after he recorded 55 total pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus. But the Cleveland Browns surprised many with Denzel Ward’s selection at No. 4.
“We just felt that where we were and with Bradley staring at us, we couldn’t pass him up,” general manager John Elway said, per Pro Football Talk’s Darin Gantt.
Keenum’s presence shouldn’t be overlooked, but Chubb is a possible franchise-defining talent.
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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Teez Tabor is finally living up to his own expectations. The Florida product proclaimed himself the best cornerback in the 2017 NFL draft class before he fell to the 53rd pick as eight cornerbacks, including former teammate Quincy Wilson, went ahead of him.
Tabor worked his way onto the Detroit Lions’ first-team defense opposite Darius Slay leading up to training camp.
“He had a heck of an offseason,” receiver Golden Tate said, per Tim Twentyman of the Lions’ official site. “One of the best DB’s as far as participation, grinding and showing up to work every day and getting better. We’ve seen this guy get better very quickly, and we’re expecting him to do some great things this camp.”
Even when DeShawn Shead received first-team reps during Detroit’s first day of camp, Tabor continued to shine with the second unit, according to MLive.com’s Kyle Meinke, who called the second-year defensive back the most impressive defensive player on the field.
Tabor continues to place himself in position to be a significant contributor this fall—whether he’s starting opposite Slay or serving as the Lions’ third corner.
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Mike Roemer/Associated Press
Aaron Rodgers is the obvious candidate anytime the Green Bay Packers are discussed. But the team’s offense isn’t the problem. Mike Pettine’s hiring as defensive coordinator should provide the biggest difference.
Yes, the Packers signed Muhammad Wilkerson and drafted defenders Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and Oren Burks. Personnel changes are only part of the solution, though. A new approach is needed.
“Coach Pettine got up in front of the squad and gave [a speech]—I don’t want to beef it up too much, but it was a near all-timer,” Rodgers said, per the Daily Sentinel‘s Jason Wilde.
“I’ve been around here for 14 years, and that was a really, really good talk to the team. As an offensive player, to hear the defensive coordinator get up there and talk about defense the way he did and goals and mindset, that was pretty impressive. And that gives you a lot of hope.”
Pettine may have failed as the Cleveland Browns’ head coach (who hasn’t?), but he remains one of league’s better defensive minds. He’ll bring an aggressive approach with numerous different looks and blitz packages to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
The Packers defense hasn’t confused anyone in quite some time.
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Pat Sullivan/Associated Press
The NFL is a better league when J.J. Watt is healthy and on the field. He hasn’t been either for a long time.
Watt passed his physical after reporting to camp and avoided the PUP list, according to NFL Network Ian Rapoport. While back injuries can linger, Watt’s availability shouldn’t come as a surprise based on his work ethic.
“That this dude really works out, all day,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said, per Fox 26 KRIV’s Mark Berman. “Sometimes with the world we live in and social media, guys can fake it. This guy really likes to work out. He’s the ultimate leader.”
Will he be the same player who won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards? He believes he can return to that lofty status.
“I could look back at these last two years and say, ‘Man, those are two of the s–ttiest years of my life,'” Watt said, per ESPN.com’s Sarah Barshop. “But I can also look back at them and see how much I’ve learned and how important it is for me to go back out on this field and play at the level I know I can play to show that I can overcome what I’ve been through.”
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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Usually, a report of a quarterback’s completion percentage in training camp is almost meaningless. Yet, nothing could be sweeter knowing Andrew Luck is back on the field after missing the 2017 season as his throwing shoulder recovered from offseason surgery.
Luck completed 11 of his 19 passes during his first day of training camp, according to the Indianapolis Star‘s Zak Keefer, and the Colts couldn’t be happier even though he threw an interception.
“He’s throwing the ball pretty well,” general manager Chris Ballard said, per Andrew Walker of the Colts official site. “I thought the first day, there was one ball on a swing pass that I was like, ‘Ooh. OK. There you go.’ He really let it go. And then I thought the next day you saw four or five balls that he really let go.”
The fact that Luck can rip throws says everything about his progress despite multiple setbacks.
“You can’t force things to happen, and I think I convinced myself that I could force things to happen,” the quarterback said, per Keefer. “And I paid for it. I don’t want to repeat those, maybe, missteps. Some things just take time, and I’ve learned that.”
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Until Blake Bortles proves he’s the type of quarterback who can carry the offense, running back Leonard Fournette will shoulder the responsibility.
Fournette has always been a workhorse dating back to his high school days. The runner decided he can be more explosive by returning to his prep-school weight. Fournette told the Times-Picayune‘s Jeff Duncan he’s now down to 223 pounds.
The 2017 fourth overall pick has always been an explosive downhill runner, but a reworked physique should help his lateral agility and footwork. More importantly, he can become a bigger part of the Jaguars’ passing game.
“Again, Leonard is a playmaker, so we’re trying to get him on the field as much as we can and keep pushing him over to third down and things of that nature,” head coach Doug Marrone said during minicamp, per SB Nation’s Ryan Day. “I thought he did a very job at the end of the year in the protection phase of things—really stepping up there with blitzing linebackers and really taking them on. He showed great growth in his first year from that because that’s usually the toughest thing.”
The more reliable Fournette becomes; the more snaps he’ll get, even with T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant on the roster.
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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Patrick Mahomes better be good, because the Kansas City Chiefs are banking the organization’s future on his potential.
The Chiefs made an organizational decision to trade Alex Smith after the veteran signal-caller helped lead them to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons in favor of an unproven gunslinger.
The switch had to happen after the organization traded two first-round picks and a third-rounder to select Mahomes with the 10th overall pick. The reason is simple: Mahomes expands the playbook by being able to make throws Smith (and many other quarterbacks around the league) can’t as a passer.
“You want to be able to use the arm and take the deep shots, but at the same time, you want to keep the efficiency this offense has,” Mahomes said, per USA Today‘s Lindsay H. Jones. “It was one of the most efficient offenses in the league last year, and we want to keep building and get better every single year.”
Exciting elements will be added to the Chiefs offense, especially with Sammy Watkins alongside Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. However, the team might take a slight step back simply because Mahomes will suffer some growing pains.
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Chris Carlson/Associated Press
Injuries have the been the biggest storyline to the Los Chargers offseason so far with Hunter Henry and Jason Verrett already out for the season.
The latter impediment can be offset by Derwin James’ presence.
Los Angeles may have gotten the steal of the draft when James, a legitimate top-10 talent, fell to the 17th overall selection. A 6’2″, 215-pound safety may not seem like an ideal replacement for a silky smooth cover corner like Verrett, but James can provide depth in certain situations by allowing Gus Bradley to rely on big nickel instead of dime looks and cover the slot in some cases.
Although, James’ role has yet to be defined.
“That’s still a work in progress,” defensive backs coach Ron Milus said, per Ricky Henne of the team’s official site. “We’re still trying to figure out where Derwin’s at mentally in our system.”
On the surface, the rookie is perfect for the Kam Chancellor role in Bradley’s scheme. However, Jahleel Addae is already entrenched at strong safety—which leads one to believe James can be used in a flex role as a safety, nickel linebacker or slot option.
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Greg Beacham/Associated Press
Aaron Donald didn’t report to the Los Angeles Ram last year until the team started preparing for its Week 1 opponent. The organization might have to wait a little longer if the front office doesn’t make Donald the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, some believe the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year will not play another down until he receives a new contract.
Last year’s holdout accomplished exactly nothing. While the defensive tackle waits for the pay bump he’s earned, the Rams acquired Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh and then signed Toddy Gurley and Brandin Cooks to significant contract extensions.
Donald, meanwhile, is the team’s 11th highest-paid player as he enters the final year of his rookie deal, per Spotrac.
“Each situation is different,” general manager Les Snead said, per the Los Angeles Times‘ Gary Klein. “Different players, different agents. … You work on everything simultaneously but you really don’t know when you’re going to get something done or not because it’s case by case.”
The Rams aren’t complete until Donald is back on the field and creating havoc in opposing backfields.
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Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
The Miami Dolphins pressed the reset button this offseason in an attempt to alter the team’s locker room culture.
The team traded away Jarvis Landry, released Mike Pouncey and acquired Robert Quinn. Danny Amendola, Frank Gore, Josh Sitton and Albert Wilson signed in free agency as well.
A new-look roster is being built around quarterback Ryan Tannehill and middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan after both suffered knee injuries before the start of the 2017 campaign.
Tannehill already showed how he fits in Gase’s offense, whereas McMillan is arguably a more important piece of the puzzle as the Dolphins search for some consistency among their linebackers.
“There’s a different kind of swagger about Raekwon McMillan,” Gase said, per SB Nation’s Matthew Cannata. “Guys in the locker room respect him. He has leadership. He’s not afraid to tell anyone anything. He’s all ball. When I watch him every day, I turn to [general manager Chris Grier] and tell him that he got this one right.”
Obviously, Tannehill’s maturation is vital to the team’s success. However, McMillan is expected to be the play-caller and playmaker for a defense that’s struggled to establish itself in recent seasons.
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Jim Mone/Associated Press
Kirk Cousins became the biggest free agent of this millennium, and the Minnesota Vikings signed him.
Sure, Peyton Manning accomplished more by the time he tested the market, but he was far from his prime and coming off neck surgery before signing with the Denver Broncos.
Cousins, on the other hand, is 29 years old with three straight 4,000-yard passing campaigns after maximizing his value for two seasons with the Washington Redskins. The quarterback then leveraged his situation into a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract with Minnesota.
The Vikings believe Cousins can push them into uncharted territory because, unlike last year, there won’t be a quarterback competition.
“We don’t have that here, and I think we exude that confidence in Kirk,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said, per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune‘s Ben Goessling. “I think he exudes that confidence in us, and we’re really looking forward to him playing well this year.”
Cousins can be the missing piece for a roster loaded with talent at every level.
“When you know your role, and it’s been defined, you can then lead from a place of greater comfort,” the quarterback said. “I think that helps the overall dynamic.”
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Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Offensive linemen don’t usually drive conversations. When one is supposed to protect Tom Brady’s blind side, though, the entire narrative changes. Now, who becomes Brady’s next protector is one of the NFL’s most interesting training camp battles.
Nate Solder’s departure forced the Patriots to change gears.
First, the organization drafted Isaiah Wynn with the 23rd overall pick to compete for the spot even though he doesn’t have prototypical size (6’2″, 310 pounds). The team also acquired right tackle Trent Brown from the San Francisco 49ers in a draft-day trade.
Brown received the majority of first-team left tackle reps at the onset of training camp, according to the Boston Globe‘s Nora Princiotti. But Wynn shouldn’t shouldn’t be ruled out considering the team’s investment and perception of his skill set.
“He’s a really good player in the best conference in America at his position,” offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said, per NBC Sports Boston’s Mike Giardi. “He’s smart. He’s as tough as they come. … Look, we look for great traits—smart, tough and athletic enough to play the position and he’s got all three.”
As long as Brady remains upright, what the starting left tackle looks like doesn’t matter.
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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
With the 14th pick of the 2018 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saint select…Marcus Davenport.
The Saints caught nearly everyone off guard when they decided to forego the quarterback of the future (Lamar Jackson in this case) and select a raw, yet talented, pass-rusher.
“He’s someone that we felt fit a lot of the things that we were looking for,” head coach Sean Payton said, per 247Sports’ James Parks. “He also played defensive end, and we kind of put a premium on that position.”
New Orleans managed an impressive 42 sacks last season, but Cameron Jordan’s 13 sacks nearly eclipsed the rest of the entire front. Davenport provides a big (6’6″, 265 pounds) and athletic complementary piece to potentially complete the Saints defense.
“I love his size, his work ethic, and there’s a grit element to the way he plays,” Payton added. “So there’s a projection with every one of these young players. Hopefully, we have the same success we had a year ago with this class. It’s being decisive and having a plan.”
The coaching plans to utilize Davenport as the defense’s right end opposite Jordan.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Eli Manning is still the New York Giants’ quarterback, but the offense now belongs to Saquon Barkley.
Running back is a position where rookies can make an instant impact. Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt and Ezekiel Elliott made big splashes during the first seasons, and Barkley is a more complete talent.
“We’re excited about him,” co-owner John Mara said, per the Giants Wire’s John Fennelly. “He obviously has unlimited physical skills. … I think he adds a completely different dimension that maybe we haven’t had in our offense in quite some time. I do get a little nervous about all the hype since he hasn’t played a down yet, but I think he’s capable of living up to it and just very mature beyond his years, I think.”
The 233-pound Barkley is special. First, he’s an outstanding athlete with 4.4 speed, enough athleticism to jump over a defender and the power to run through tackles. The running back is a threat to pop a long run any time he touches the ball. He’s also a fluid receiver out of the backfield or lined up wide.
As long as Barkley runs hard between the tackles and quickly picks up the Giants’ protection calls, the sky is the limit for the 21-year-old back.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Multiple franchises have decided the best path to competitiveness is signing a veteran quarterback while doubling down with a top draft prospect at the game’s most important position.
The New York Jets took the most interesting approach by re-signing the 39-year-old Josh McCown, investing in a hobbled Teddy Bridgewater and still using the third overall pick in April’s draft to select Sam Darnold.
Bridgewater was a lottery ticket. If he showed the knee injury that cost him two seasons wasn’t a problem, the team had another solid option. If not, the organization could easily move on from his one-year, $6 million contract.
Instead, he exceeded every expectation throughout the offseason and into the start of training camp.
“I’m told that some people at the Jets are so impressed with Bridgewater thus far that they are quote ‘obsessed,'” NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported. “They feel like they have three guys for once that they can go into battle with and succeed with.”
The 2014 first-round pick was well on his way to becoming the Minnesota Vikings’ franchise quarterback before tragedy struck. The Vikings’ loss appears to be the Jets’ gain.
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Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
Jon Gruden simultaneously brought excitement and bewilderment to the Oakland Raiders organization, and it all started with one quote.
“Are you talking about the analytics? All the modern technology? I am trying to throw the game back to 1998,” Gruden said at the NFL Scouting Combine, per Pro Football Weekly‘s Eric Edholm.
The comment took on a life of itself. Gruden’s adjustment to the modern game after being in the television booth for the past decade remains a gigantic question mark. Also, the team signed numerous aging veterans—which is the exact opposite of the league’s preferred approach.
Furthermore, concerns arose when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Gruden had yet to speak with the team’s best player, Khalil Mack, who is holding out because of a contract dispute. On the surface, the report doesn’t reflect well on the head coach even though he doesn’t negotiate the deals.
But everything now falls at Gruden’s feet since he supposedly signed a 10-year, $100 million deal and serves as the de facto general manager.
Mack, Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Gareon Conley and Karl Joseph may be a talented foundation to build upon, but, good or bad, the Raiders are Gruden’s show.
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Chris Szagola/Associated Press
No team can spend much time enjoying a title since the rest of the league is trying to get better every day and knock the reigning champions off the mountaintop.
The Philadelphia Eagles, for example, had to decide whether they would trade backup quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles as they oversaw Carson Wentz’s recovery from a season-ending knee injury.
General manager Howie Roseman decided against doing so even though Wentz is a little further ahead than expected as training camp started.
According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the Eagles chose not to place their franchise quarterback on the physically unable perform list, because he is able to do individual and seven-on-seven drills. Wentz hasn’t been cleared for full-contact drills, but it seems likely that he’ll be on the field for the start the regular season.
“I’m not really sure. I’d probably say it’s September 6,” Wentz said of a timetable, per USA Today‘s Mike Jones. “That’s the goal, but we’ll see.”
Said head coach Doug Pederson: “Six weeks is a long time. We have a plan.”
Right now, the plan includes Foles and likely will until the trade deadline as long as Wentz doesn’t suffer any setbacks.
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Don Wright/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t make big acquisitions or overspend on personnel. This trend continued and became far more public during Le’Veon Bell’s failed contract negotiations.
Bell’s status dominated the NFL landscape, because he’s the game’s most complete running back as the only player to finish top 10 overall in rushing yards and receptions last season. Once the two sides didn’t reach a long-term agreement before the July 16 deadline for franchise-tagged players, the Steelers were done discussing Bell until he reports.
“I am focused on the guys that are here. My mentality regarding Le’Veon would be very similar to the way it was a year ago,” head coach Mike Tomlin said at the start of training camp, per NFL.com’s Marc Sessler. “Obviously both sides tried in earnest to get a deal done. We weren’t able to do that. … When he gets here we will evaluate his overall readiness and how much time he missed and see the ramifications of that.”
Bell now expects the 2018 campaign to be his last in a Steelers uniform. How much Pittsburgh’s front office should have paid its running back won’t go away during training camp, the regular season or even next year.
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Tony Avelar/Associated Press
Jimmy Garoppolo is already famous before he even establishes himself as a successful NFL quarterback. But all the factors are present to become one of the league’s best.
“I’ve been around for a long time and I think Jimmy is really special at what he does,” left tackle Joe Staley said, per ESPN.com’s Nick Wagoner. “He’s so unique, too, as a personality. He’s very, very intense, very fiery but also very, very calm. … No situation is too big, and [I’m] just excited to build this team with him.”
The rush to anoint the next great thing tends to supersede reality. Garoppolo understands both he and the 49ers are still a work in progress.
“I’ve come a long way (laughs), especially from last season cramming everything in,” the 26-year-old quarterback said, per Bay Area News Group’s Cam Inman. “But still have a long way to go developing that chemistry between me and the skill position, the O-line, everything.”
A 5-0 start with the 49ers should get everyone excited. It’s simply the beginning, though, with Garoppolo leading a still-evolving roster. Some setbacks will occur even if the 49ers quarterback believes he’s better than former teammate Tom Brady.
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John Froschauer/Associated Press
Will the Seattle Seahawks completely dismantle the Legion of Boom secondary this year? Richard Sherman is already gone. Kam Chancellor is out for the season with a neck injury. Earl Thomas is the lone remaining piece, and he may never play another down for the team.
Thomas did not report to training camp, and he’s prepared to sit out into the regular season unless he gets a new deal or trade, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders are potential trade partners even though both lack the financial flexibility to absorb a significant contract.
Seattle’s front office isn’t prepared to rework the safety’s contract, either. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Thomas has already been informed by the team he won’t receive a new deal.
Without the six-time Pro Bowl defensive back in the lineup, the Seahawks must turn to second-year safety Tedric Thompson, who has received help from his idol.
“Me and ET watch film together,” Thompson said, per the Tacoma News Tribune‘s Gregg Bell. “… He’s helped me translate what he sees on the film. It’s helped me so much.”
On or off the field, Thomas’ presence looms over the entire Seahawks organization.
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will enter the 2018 campaign with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback because Jameis Winston continues to make poor off-field decisions.
The NFL suspended Winston three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy after an investigation into sexual assault allegations from an Uber driver.
“It’s disappointing that Jameis put himself in that position and put our team in that position,” head coach Dirk Koetter said, per ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine.
The franchise chose Winston with the 2015 No. 1 overall pick despite his checkered history. While the individual is to blame for his actions, the organization could have passed on him.
Here’s the irony of the situation: The upcoming campaign is somewhat of a make-or-break season for Winston since he hasn’t displayed the level of development expected of him through three years. The organization picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, but the two sides should be discussing a long-term extension instead of worrying about his future with the team.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Derrick Henry is now the focal point of the Tennessee Titans offense. The team began its transition away from DeMarco Murray last season, and then the veteran running back was released this offseason.
Tennessee signed Dion Lewis to provide some juice, particularly in the passing game, but Henry should be considered the Titans’ lead back.
“No predictions, I just want to be a dominant back,” Henry said, per Jim Wyatt of the team’s official site. “I want to be a premier back in this league. And that is me starting out in training camp, getting ready with these guys, competing every day and getting better.
“I definitely want to be dominant this year, and any opportunities that I get, take advantage of them.”
To achieve his goals, the 24-year-old back, who is listed as 247 pounds, told reporters he added a “little more muscle” and is “probably two or three or four pounds heavier.”
“He’s a physical specimen out there,” center Ben Jones said. “He’s a monster. It’s his mindset—he’s grinding; he wants to be the best.”
As Marcus Mariota’s development continues, new coordinator Matt LaFleur can lean on Henry to establish an offensive identity.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Alex Smith is now the Washington Redskins quarterback, and the team is arguably better today than last year.
Sure, Kirk Cousins provided three straight 4,000-yard campaigns, but Smith is counted among the league’s best after an MVP-like 2017 performance with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs, though, had a mega-talented first-round quarterback sitting on the bench and lacked salary-cap flexibility, so a trade became necessary.
Cousins’ time with Washington, meanwhile, came to a close after receiving the franchise tag for two straight seasons.
Head coach Jay Gruden believes his new signal-caller is an upgrade at the position. Smith may even be getting better as he ages.
“I feel like I’m a young 34-year-old and I do have a lot of ball left ahead of me, and I’m excited to kind of keep pushing that, push that ceiling,” Smith said, per the Washington Post‘s Kimberley A. Martin. “I still feel like I haven’t reached it.”
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are all older and still playing at an elite level. Smith must master a new offense, but his growth, even as a veteran passer, should significantly help Washington this fall.