It's minicamp time across the National Football League, and this time it's for real.
That's because "mandatory" has replaced "voluntary" in front of the word "minicamp", so now no-shows risk hefty fines by staying at home.
That hasn't stopped some prominent names from doing just that, most of whom are looking for fat contract extensions.
However, money's far from the only storyline swirling around the NFL as camps get underway, and here's a look at some of the biggest ones from around the league.
We might as well get this out of the way.
Just in case you were in Nepal yesterday (welcome back!), there was a bit of news, as it was announced that the New England Patriots had signed polarizing quarterback Tim Tebow.
According to Mike Garafalo of USA Today, the two-year deal contains no guaranteed money and a league-minimum base salary, but Tebow could earn up to $2 million in 2014 by achieving certain playing-time incentives.
Needless to say, Tebow's arrival at camp brought the media out in droves, but Bill Belichick was his usual stoic self, telling reporters that he has no intention of giving out "minute-by-minute" updates on Tebow, according to Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times.
However, since many people still want constant updates on Tebow, Farmer relayed that a throwing coach, Dennis Gile, a former NFL, CFL and Arena League quarterback who now trains passers in Arizona, worked with Tebow in the offseason and believes that Tebow's throwing motion has improved considerably over the past few months:
In shorts, out there on the football field, he changed his motion and he’s very smooth...I’ve got it on film, and film doesn’t lie. What he does when he goes out in a game situation and live bullets, I’m not sure what will happen. I just know he’s a great guy, a hard worker, and this off-season his throwing motion became 100 times better.
Sounds like Tom Brady had better watch his back!
(Yes, I'm kidding.)
Andre Smith has developed into one of the best right tackles in the NFL, and back in April the Cincinnati Bengals rewarded Smith with a three-year, $18 million contract.
It looks like Smith will be giving some of that money back.
After skipping voluntary workouts, Smith is also absent from minicamp this week due to "personal issues," according to Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Smith's absence will cost him over $160,000. Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated that Smith will be fined $66,150 for missing minicamp, and the 26-year-old will also forfeit a $100,000 workout bonus.
Lewis didn't sound pleased that Smith wasn't in attendance.
I think we all have to make choices once in a while in life that we pay a cost for. In this case I have to do it that way. I have to be fair, I mean, we are not necessarily dealing with a death in the family or something like that or your wife is having a baby or so forth. In this case, this is something there has to be ramifications from this.
Frankly, Lewis' concern is understandable. Smith's weight and conditioning have been an issue throughout his career. The last thing the fifth-year pro needs is for that to get away from him, and it's much easier for that to happen with Smith away from the team.
With the departure of Steven Jackson in free agency, the St. Louis Rams have one of the more unsettled backfield situations in the National Football League.
Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and rookie Zac Stacy will all vie for carries this year for the Rams, and minicamp offers the team a chance to begin to sort out the pecking order.
According to Joe Lyons of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is leaning towards a committee approach:
You need multiple backs in this league. We’re going to try to play to their strengths. With (Jackson) last year, it was a little different. It was harder to do the committee because every time you took him out, you knew you were missing his leadership and his toughness. This year I think we’ve got nice pieces to try and blend in and differently attack people.
For his part Richardson, who is the leading returning rusher for the Rams, after gaining 475 yards last year, welcomes the competition:
I’m definitely working toward a bigger role. I’m excited about getting a chance to show the coaching staff what I can do. I definitely feel like I can be the starter, but I guess that’s something that will be decided in training camp. We’re all friends, working to push each other and to make each other better, but we’re also all trying to be that No. 1 guy.
This will be a very interesting competition to watch throughout the summer, especially for fantasy football enthusiasts.
As to this author? My money's on Stacy winning the job.
There are several competitions under center this summer around the NFL, but the most heavily scrutinized is likely occurring in the Big Apple.
If practice reps are any indication as to who will be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets, then incumbent Mark Sanchez has the edge over rookie Geno Smith. According to Rich Cimini of ESPN, Sanchez has been working exclusively with the starters, while Smith has practiced with the second team.
As to how they're performing, Cimini wasn't exactly impressed.
It was a blah day for Sanchez and Smith. They weren't great, but they weren't terrible. As usual, Sanchez worked exclusively with the starters, completing four of eight passes with a sack and a near-interception. On a bootleg, he threw a pass into the chest of DE Muhammad Wilkerson, who couldn't hang on to what should've been an easy interception. Smith practiced with the second team, going 4-for-7 with three sacks. Both quarterbacks struggled in seven-on-seven drills, as Sanchez misfired on the last four passes, Smith his final three. The silver lining: No turnovers for either quarterback.
Hey, there weren't any butt-fumbles. That's progress, right?
They didn't really run a whole lot of zone reads and different things (at West Virginia), but (Smith) has the skill set to where there's no reason he shouldn't be able to do that...Running for first downs and touchdowns, I think that's how the league is probably going to progress with these things.
The fact that that's very similar to what the Jets said about Tim Tebow last year should be more than a little terrifying to Jets fans.
There isn't really a quarterback competition per se happening in Oakland. Most pundits expect that it will be Matt Flynn under center for the Raiders in Week 1.
However, the news from Oakland's minincamp doesn't inspire a lot of hope for Raider fans as far as 2013 is concerned, no matter who lines up under center.
The performance of Oakland's quarterbacks in minicamp has been absolutely shredded by the media, including this scathing review from beat man Steve Corkran of the Oakland Tribune.
In 19 years covering the NFL, today’s showing by Matt Flynn, Tyler Wilson, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin rates as one of the worst in memory. Time and again, balls were batted at the line of scrimmage, thrown behind receivers, thrown over receivers, delivered too high or just plain off the mark. All four quarterbacks were just as guilty, with none of the four doing anything to distinguish himself today.
Granted, it's still very early, and Flynn downplayed the criticism, telling Corkran that "right now everyone is still learning, everyone is learning each other, everyone is learning a new playbook. Things are coming. Things are formulating."
However, the NFL is a league in which teams will go as far as their quarterback takes them.
In the Raiders case, it doesn't appear that's going to be very far this year.
There's been a great deal written about the recent absences of wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks from the New York Giants' OTAs.
With mandatory minicamp underway, one of those wideouts is back in the fold.
Nicks, who drew head coach Tom Coughlin's ire by not attending voluntary workouts, showed up at minicamp on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old told Dan Duggan of The New York Times that all is well between player and coach.
I feel where he was coming from on that. I could have done a better job at reaching out, but we finally got to talk, so we got things straight on that end. Coach Coughlin, that’s my guy, so I think that relationship can’t go sour.
Heading into a contract year and coming off an injury-marred 2012 season this is a huge campaign for Nicks, but head coach Tom "Sunshine" Coughlin said the fifth-year pro has some catching up to do.
He’s definitely not in tune with where we are. We’ve had nine O.T.A.’s and we’ve thrown a lot at him. He’s just had one meeting. But if he’s around, he’ll pick it up quick.
Cruz, however, remains MIA. There's not really anything that the team can do about it either, since Cruz has yet to sign his free-agent tender he's not under contract and as such not subject to fines.
In fact, much like tackle Ryan Clady of the Denver Broncos and safety Jairus Byrd of the Buffalo Bills (who were franchise tagged but haven't signed their tenders), Cruz can't practice with the team.
No deal, no practice. Dem's da rules.
The team is in negotiations with Cruz on a long-term contract, but those talks appear to have hit a snag, with Coughlin stating, “I’ve been optimistic since Day 1, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere, has it? The clock is running.”
It may seem a bit strange that a 27-year-old running back with two 1,000-yard seasons in the last three years would have a hard time finding work.
However, in the case of Ahmad Bradshaw, the reason that it took so long is plainly evident.
Bradshaw, who signed a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts this week, joined his new team on Wednesday.
With a walking boot on his troublesome right foot.
Bradshaw had surgery on the foot in January, but insists he'll be ready for training camp, telling Mike Chappell of The Indianapolis Star, “With me, there’s no concern.”
Head coach Chuck Pagano doesn't appear to be worried about Bradshaw's availability. Pagano also likes the skill set that Bradshaw brings to the table, telling Chappell, “He’s strong as heck. He’s a downhill guy. This guy will carve himself out a role and a niche on our football team, I’m sure.”
It's worth noting that for all the talk about Bradshaw's foot, he's missed only 12 games in six seasons. You can bet that Bradshaw's right flipper will be a hot topic in Indy, until he is able to show that he's 100 percent healthy.
There's been a great deal of scrutiny regarding the battle to start at quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in new head coach Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense.
Michael Vick has already gone public with his desire to know whether he's starting sooner as opposed to later.
Now a teammate has joined the call for the question to be answered.
As Zach Berman of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, wide receiver DeSean Jackson echoed Vick's sentiments in an interview on the NFL Network:
I have been hearing some things about Vick saying that he wants to know. At the same time, the team wants to know too. We need to go into training camp prepared and know who is going to be our starting quarterback. Whether it is [Nick] Foles or Vick, I think they would both do a great job and we will be ready for the season.
Jackson called the competition "even" to this point, and at any rate it doesn't appear that Jackson or Vick will get their wish.
Kelly made it clear in an earlier interview with Berman that he's in no rush to name a starter, and this competition will likely extend well into the preseason.
With the New Orleans Saints moving to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the team is in dire need of pass-rushers.
The Saints added one of Ryan's former players from Dallas in free agency in an effort to fill that hole, but now it's back to square one.
That's because linebacker Victor Butler, who recently inked a two-year, $3 million contract with the Saints, tore his ACL in Tuesday's practice session according to Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune.
Butler, who had 25 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles, went down after colliding with running back Mark Ingram.
During a non-contact practice.
Maybe Ryan thinks "non" is Latin for "more."
We'll wrap this look at minicamp news with a positive report about a former star who has struggled mightily the last couple of seasons.
That star is San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who hasn't played a full 16-game season since tallying over 1,100 receiving yards in 2009.
The 32-year-old has been hampered by an assortment of injuries since, but the table may be set for a big bounce-back season in 2013.
At least that's the latest from Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego, who reports that Gates looks "quick and fit."
A healthy Gates would be a huge boost to the San Diego offense. Not only are the Chargers facing more than a little uncertainty at the wide receiver position, but having his security blanket back would go a long way towards helping quarterback Philip Rivers shake off the stink of two straight down seasons.
Hey! Gates has had two down seasons in a row too!
We may be onto something here.