Highlighting the Latest Buzz Around Every NFL Team Heading into Training Camp
The wait for the 2015 NFL season is almost over, folks. Several training camps will be kicking off at the end of this month, and by the beginning of August (August 9, to be exact), the 2015 preseason will officially be upon us.
Unfortunately, this still leaves us with a few weeks to kill before any real action happens.
This, of course, is what the news cycle and the rumor mill are for. Just because there isn't a lot happening on the football field doesn't mean there is nothing to talk about.
Whether it's a potential camp battle, contract negotiations or an off-field incident, every NFL team has a current and relevant topic for discussion at this point in the summer.
We're going to take a look at the latest and most up-to-date talking point for each team, as of mid-July, and give our take on what it could mean for the upcoming football season.
Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer Should Be Ready to Go in Week 1
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer missed 10 games because of injury last season and was eventually shelved with a torn ACL.
The Cardinals still managed to win 11 games, but Palmer was brilliant (11 touchdowns, three interceptions, passer rating of 95.6) in his six appearances. The team should be in good hands if he can return to pre-injury form.
So far, his rehabilitation appears to be going smoothly. The veteran quarterback is holding private workouts with teammates in California and appears to be in line with his normal offseason schedule.
“I’m not even thinking about my knee,” Palmer said, via AZCardinals.com. “I'm still rehabbing just to be on the safe side of things but I don’t need to be at rehab. I’m full go in the weight room, full go on the field, and until it’s brought up, I haven’t thought about what I'm not doing because I’m doing everything I was doing.”
There is apparently plenty of "doing" when it comes to Palmer this offseason, which is fantastic news for a guy who is coming off the second major knee injury of his career. If he can remain healthy throughout the 2015 season, the Cardinals should be considered legitimate contenders in the NFC.
Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones Could Be Getting a New Contract Soon
One big storyline this offseason has involved teams racing against the clock to lock up their star pass-catchers (more on this later). Though the Atlanta Falcons are not facing an immediate deadline with wideout Julio Jones, they could look to get a contract done before this season, the final of Jones' current deal.
Earlier this offseason, ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure reported the Falcons and Jones had not entered extension discussions. However, McClure recently reported that there is a "general sense around the team" that a deal between Atlanta and Jones could get done by training camp.
This news, of course, comes in the wake of new contracts being given to Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas. Each player received a contract worth $70 million over five years.
ESPN analyst Ryan Clark believes that Jones could be in line for a similar deal.
"Players are all worth as much as they'll give them, but I think Julio deserves to be in the Dez range," Clark said, per McClure. "Definitely more than [Vikings receiver Mike] Wallace. If more than Dez, not much more."
Jones has previously stated that he would not hold out for a new contract, so getting a deal done now would not likely affect the coming season. However, the Falcons could end up saving some money by signing Jones now instead of next offseason, when guys like A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton are scheduled to hit the open market.
Baltimore Ravens: Breshad Perriman Still Has Work to Do
Baltimore Ravens rookie receiver Breshad Perriman comes to the NFL as an unpolished product from Central Florida. However, he is big (6'2", 212 lbs) and freaky fast (ran a 4.24-second 40 at his pro day), which is why the Ravens nabbed him with the 26th overall pick in the draft.
However, Perriman's penchant for dropping passes seems to have followed him into offseason workouts.
“Just really paying attention, getting too tired and really not focusing,” Perriman said when asked to explain the drops, per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “I don’t really make excuses for it. They should have been caught, but that’s something that won’t happen too often.”
"There are a few [catches] he knows he should have had," wide receivers coach Bobby Engram said of Perriman, per Wilson. "He worked his releases, he played fast, but there are just things we’ve got to continue to progress him on and that he’s got to continue to work on to improve."
Perriman will have an opportunity to make an impact as a rookie by taking over for the departed Torrey Smith as the team's primary deep threat. It is important to remember that he is a first-year NFL player coming out of a smaller collegiate program.
Progress will come for Perriman. A few drops in practice aren't going to change that.
Buffalo Bills: Uncertain Future for OL Coach Aaron Kromer
We'd love to talk about how dangerous the Buffalo Bills are going to be in the AFC East this season, but the absolute latest news surrounding the team involves offensive line coach Aaron Kromer.
Kromer, who last served as offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, was arrested earlier this month in Florida on one count of misdemeanor battery. According to John Breech of CBSSports.com, Kromer and his son were involved in a physical altercation with three boys over the use of some chairs near Kromer's beach house.
According to Breech, the Bills have since placed Kromer on paid leave, in accordance with the league's personal conduct policy.
This puts Buffalo in a bit of a bind. The team is scheduled to begin training camp at the end of this month. However, Kromer is not scheduled to appear in court until August 12, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com.
This means the team may be forced to decide whether or not to look for a new line coach before Kromer actually has his day in court. A league-imposed suspension could be in the works, regardless of any court decision. Therefore, the team might be wise to begin the process anyway.
Carolina Panthers: No More Excuses for Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has put up impressive statistics (14,426 passing yards and 2,571 rushing yards with 115 touchdowns) during his four years as a pro, but he has produced just one winning season and one playoff victory.
The playoff victory didn't even come during the winning season.
The time is now for Newton to take the next step and make the Panthers a Super Bowl contender, especially considering his new $103.8 million contract.
David Newton of ESPN.com recently wrote the following:
Yes, [Newton's] a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback coming off a season in which he won his first playoff game. But Newton's overall record with the Panthers is 30-31-1. He was 5-8-1 as the starter last season. He has been a part of a winning season only once in four years. You can give Newton somewhat of a pass because he hadn't been surrounded by the right pieces to succeed. You could argue the offensive line still isn't to the level it needs to be. But Newton is now surrounded by plenty of playmakers.
Newton has a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen to go with budding star Kelvin Benjamin and promising rookie receiver Devin Funchess. He also has a defense that ranked 10th overall in yardage (339.8 yards per game allowed).
"Newton doesn't have to win MVP or a Super Bowl (or both) to avoid being slapped with a bust label in 2015," Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon wrote earlier this month. "But if he can't improve and put together the strongest statistical season of his career while also helping the Panthers experience more team success, the pressure will mount considerably."
Chicago Bears: Rookie Kevin White Will Be a Big Part of the Offense in 2015
New Chicago Bears head coach John Fox and new offensive coordinator Adam Gase both leaned on the passing game during the past few seasons with the Denver Broncos.
This is why weapons like rookie receiver Kevin White will be important to the success of Chicago's passing attack. White takes over for the departed Brandon Marshall as the complement to young star Alshon Jeffery.
Bleacher Report's Matt Eurich recently tagged White as the key to the Chicago Bears' success on offense and explained why he is such an asset for Gase's offense:
Gase likes to create mismatches on the outside with his receivers, and he likes to use a variety of different wide receiver screens to help put the football in the hands of his playmakers. Not only is White's speed an asset on the outside in the deep-passing game, but it is also an ideal fit in Gase's screen game. Because of his quick feet and ability to make people miss, White excels in the screen game.
White does indeed have the skill set needed to thrive in Gase's system. With Marshall out of the picture, the Bears need the rookie to be ready to start in Week 1.
"Anything less would be a massive disappointment," ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson recently wrote. "Based on the offseason program, the rookie is the real deal."
If White can be a reliable starter from day one, he and Jeffery will have an opportunity to be one of the more threatening wide receiver duos in the entire league.
Cincinnati Bengals: 2015 Is Make-or-Break Year for Andy Dalton
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has led his team to the playoffs in all four of his pro seasons. However, he has been a walking disaster (0-4 postseason record with one touchdown and eight turnovers) once he actually steps onto a playoff field.
His inability to make Cincinnati anything more than a regular playoff footnote could be causing fans to lose patience with the former TCU star.
If Dalton fails in the postseason again in 2015, fans might not be the only ones to lose patience with him.
Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton offered his opinion:
That’s not to say Dalton is bad, but he is the definition of mediocre in today’s NFL, and that’s not good enough. Dalton’s mammoth $96 million contract can be escaped after this season for a $7.2 million cap hit, or he can be designated as a June 1 cut to save about $73 million from 2016-2020, per Over The Cap. That’s a decision the Bengals must think long and hard about.
Unfortunately for Dalton, he's going to have to wait at least five months to try to redeem himself in the playoffs.
Cleveland Browns: This Is a Make-or-Break Year for the Defense
It's no surprise that the Cleveland Browns have become a defensive football team under head coach Mike Pettine. He has spent his entire NFL career coaching that side of the football.
However, it is interesting to note just how much the team has invested in its defense.
As pointed out by Will Laws of SI.com, the Browns are spending $82.1 million on their defense this season, more than any other team. Cleveland is also the only team in the league to put more than half its cap space into the defensive side of the ball.
Cleveland's defense was good last season (ranked ninth in scoring, allowing just 21.1 points per game), but its run defense (ranked 32nd, allowing 141.6 yards per game) was putrid. The defense has to be more complete in 2015.
With all of the question marks on offense, the defense will likely have to carry the team.
Tom Reed of Cleveland.com recently wrote the following:
It's time for the Browns' defense to become the sum of its parts, to evolve into the complete unit that can play any way you like. There should be no excuses in 2015—not with a second season in the same system, not with a burgeoning secondary, all the first-round draft picks and resources dedicated to stopping the run.
If the Browns cannot field at least a top-10 defense in 2015, it is unlikely that the team is going to surpass last year's 7-9 mark. If this happens, Pettine is likely to become the latest Browns head coach to take a place on the hot seat.
Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant Deal Gets Done Just Before Deadline
The Dallas Cowboys had until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday to complete a long-term deal with franchise-tagged receiver Dez Bryant. The team narrowly beat that deadline, inking the contract on Wednesday afternoon.
According to Todd Archer of ESPN.com, Bryant's deal is for five years and $70 million with $35 million fully guaranteed. Up to $45 million can become guaranteed by 2016.
Bryant had previously informed the Cowboys that he would skip training camp and sit out regular-season games if he was not granted a long-term deal before the deadline, according to ESPN.com's Ed Werder.
By making Bryant the second-highest paid receiver in the NFL (behind Calvin Johnson), the Cowboys ensure that they will have their star receiver in the lineup in Week 1.
This was an important development for Dallas. Bryant will likely be the primary offensive weapon now that running back DeMarco Murray is no longer with the team.
Denver Broncos: Team Signs Demaryius Thomas to Long-Term Contract
Like the Cowboys, the Denver Broncos got a long-term deal with their young star receiver done just before Wednesday's deadline.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will be a fixture of the Broncos offense for many years to come.
According to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post, Thomas' deal is for five years and $70 million with $43.5 million in total guaranteed money. The team made the move just moments after Bryant's deal with the Cowboys was announced.
"Anytime you have two special football players at the same position there's always caution that nobody jumps the gun," Elway said, per Renck. "I actually think that's why it went as long as it did, especially from the agent's side."
Thomas' new deal ensures that the wideout will be without financial distraction in 2015 and that he will be around to help usher in whichever quarterback eventually succeeds Peyton Manning.
Detroit Lions: Defense Is Buying into the New Defensive Line
The Detroit Lions lost two key pieces of their first-ranked rushing defense (69.3 yards per game allowed on the ground) this offseason when defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley left in free agency.
However, the Lions seem to be taking the transition in stride.
“This year, we’re living an unknown." defensive end Daryl Tapp said, via the Lions' official website. "I think everyone is taking it as a chip on their shoulder and they continue to work and get better because we have a lot of stuff to prove this year.”
Offseason addition and five-time Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata actually seems excited about the talent Detroit is going to post at the front of the defense.
“It’s exciting, man,” Ngata said, via Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. “I’ve never been a part of a defense like this. You just have so many playmakers all over the front on the D-line. I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
The bottom line is that it's highly unlikely the Detroit defensive line is going to be quite as impressive as it was last season. However, with guys like Ngata, Tapp, Tyrunn Walker, Jason Jones and Zigga Ansah in the mix, it can still be very good.
Green Bay Packers: It's Time for the Packers and Brett Favre to Be Friends Again
When longtime Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre was traded to the New York Jets in 2008, the move didn't offend too many fans because young gunslinger Aaron Rodgers was waiting in the wings (seriously, Packers fans have been spoiled).
However, Packers fans were rightfully outraged a year later when Favre signed with the division-rival Minnesota Vikings.
Favre's decision to sign with the Vikings obviously created a strain in his relationship with the Packers organization, but it appears the time to patch that relationship is here.
Favre will be a Packer once more.
This Thanksgiving, Green Bay plans to retire Favre's No. 4 jersey during a prime-time game against Chicago.
According to Richard Ryman of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Packers are even going to resume selling Favre-related merchandise at the Packers pro shop.
This doesn't exactly have a lot of bearing on the coming season for Green Bay, but Thanksgiving night is likely to create a special moment for an entire generation of Packers faithful.
Houston Texans: Quarterback Battle Is About to Be Front and Center
The Houston Texans will begin training camp in a little over two weeks, and the most important competition for the team will undoubtedly be at quarterback.
Former New England backups Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett will compete for the starting job. Both have prior ties to head coach Bill O'Brien, who once served as the Patriots' quarterbacks coach.
"Ultimately, you win over the fans by winning football games," Hoyer recently said, per Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.
Before either quarterback can win over fans, of course, he will have to win the starting job. Hoyer and Mallet will get to make their attempts in front of a camera crew.
The Texans will be the subject of HBO's Hard Knocks, which will premiere in early August.
If the Texans can find a competent signal-caller between these two (or possibly even Tom Savage), the team will have a good chance of making a postseason run in 2015. The team went 9-7 a year ago with three different starters at quarterback.
Indianapolis Colts: Going All-in with Offense
The Indianapolis Colts had a good offense in 2014. They averaged 28.6 points per game (sixth in the NFL) and 406.6 yards per contest (third in the league) last season.
Those numbers, apparently, weren't good enough. This offseason, the Colts added veteran receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore, guard Todd Herremans and first-round receiver Phillip Dorsett.
Indianapolis should now be able to go toe-to-toe with any offensive attack in the league.
All high hopes, no doubt, in Indianapolis. All largely justified by the year-to-year progress the offense is making with Luck at quarterback. Are the Colts built for a Super Bowl run? It won't be long before we find out. But there seems to be very little question inside this locker room that Luck, now a savvy veteran with playoff experience, is ready to give it a shot. And it seems his teammates are ready for the ride.
It's important to recognize that the Indianapolis defense under coordinator Greg Manusky was actually a competent unit a season ago. The defense was ranked 11th overall (342.7 yards per game allowed) during the regular season and embarrassed quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Andy Dalton in the postseason.
The hype surrounding the Colts is real, and Indianapolis should be considered a title contender this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles Will Improve in Year 2
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles struggled in a big way as a rookie in 2014. In fact, Pro Football Focus rated him last among 75 quarterbacks for the season.
Of course, he has to get better in 2015, right? A quarterback can't be any worse than being the very worst.
Kidding aside, Bortles has to get better this season in order to justify his third overall selection in last year's draft. The good news is that there is plenty of reason to believe he can do so.
The former Central Florida star has some physical assets that cannot be taught. He stands 6'5" and possesses a rocket arm. He also has the type of pocket mobility that has led many to draw comparisons between him and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton recently stated why Bortles can be the league's most improved quarterback in 2015:
Young quarterbacks often struggle early in their careers, and Bortles was no different. His accuracy and consistency must improve. But there are too many good plays and flashes from his rookie campaign to ignore. Bortles will have more help around him this season, and this group looks much more formidable than what was rolled out in 2014.
The Jaguars do indeed have new weapons like tight end Julius Thomas and running back T.J. Yeldon. This should make things at least a little easier on Bortles.
"We might have a rising star on our hands," NFL Media's Conor Orr recently wrote of Bortles. "Or at least a good quarterback that will more consistently look like a good quarterback in 2015."
Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston Inks Long-Term Deal
The big news in barbecue town is that the Kansas City Chiefs have reached a long-term deal with prized pass-rusher Justin Houston.
According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $101 million over six years with $52.5 million guaranteed. It is the richest linebacker contract in history.
Houston had been slapped with the franchise tag, which meant the Chiefs would have had his services in 2015, barring a holdout. The new deal ensures that Houston, who has 33.0 sacks over the past two seasons, won't be going anywhere for a while and definitely won't have any reason for financial distraction in the coming season.
The deal was announced Wednesday, shortly before the 4 p.m. ET deadline for franchised players to sign a long-term deal. Had the two sides not agreed on a new contract, Houston would have earned $13.19 million in 2015 under the franchise tag.
Miami Dolphins: DeVante Parker Is Recovering Well
Miami Dolphins fans got a bit of a scare last month when they learned rookie receiver DeVante Parker underwent surgery to replace a screw in his foot. It was the same foot he injured during his senior season at Louisville.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported at the time that the move was only precautionary.
While Parker's recovery may prevent him from properly preparing for the coming season, there never appeared to be any real danger of him missing it.
Per the Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Parker's agent, James Gould, said earlier this month that the receiver may miss some of the preseason but there should be no concerns. According to Gould, "everything is perfect" with Parker's recovery.
While it's good for the Dolphins to stay positive where Parker is concerned, there is little chance that missing time in training camp or preseason won't affect his rookie season. No matter how talented Parker might be, we're still talking about a first-year NFL player who is coming off an injury-shortened season and learning a new offense.
The good news, of course, is that Parker should be on the field in Week 1.
Minnesota Vikings: The Defense Will Be a Force in 2015
The Minnesota Vikings experienced a defensive resurgence under new head coach Mike Zimmer last season. They ranked 11th in scoring defense with just 21.4 points per game allowed and seventh in pass defense with 223.2 yards per game allowed.
The Vikings were rated ninth overall defensively by Pro Football Focus.
Minnesota's defense could be even better in 2015, especially after a draft that yielded cornerback Trae Waynes and linebacker Eric Kendricks.
"Waynes gives Minnesota the best one-two punch at cornerback in a division full of frightening passing attacks," Rob Rang of CBSSports.com wrote after the draft.
The Vikings could very well field the best overall defense in the NFC North and one of the best units in the entire league this season.
"I don't think it's necessary to wait until the middle of next season," ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson wrote earlier this month. "Minnesota has the division's best defense in May, at least on paper. With all due respect to Chicago, Green Bay and Detroit, Zimmer's team is loaded on the defensive side of the ball."
With quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a year older and Adrian Peterson back in the fold, this could be a dangerous playoff team if the defense is indeed a top-tier unit.
New England Patriots: The Deflated-Football Scandal Is Far from over
By now, virtually everyone is aware that the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady allegedly deflated footballs in order to gain a competitive advantage last postseason.
Brady was handed a four-game suspension, and the Patriots were docked $1 million and two future draft picks after independent investigator Ted Wells deemed it "more probable than not" that Brady knew of such a plot.
With the punishment handed down, one might think the deflated-football scandal (it's really time to stop attaching "gate" to every scandal as if it's clever) would be over.
However, Brady unsurprisingly appealed his suspension before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and if his appeal is unsuccessful, we could still be hearing about this thing for quite some time.
According to Cindy Boren of the Washington Post, Brady and the NFLPA plan to challenge the league in federal court if Brady is not fully exonerated. Considering Wells' report is far from 100 percent conclusive, this shouldn't be too surprising.
On a recent appearance with The Dan Patrick Show, Sports Illustrated's Peter King even suggested that a final ruling should be delayed until after the 2015 season and another round of cold-weather playoff games.
King reasoned that the league needs to further evaluate the affect of cold conditions on football pressure in order to determine if anything illegal actually took place last January.
New Orleans Saints: Brandin Cooks Will Have to Deliver in 2015
New Orleans Saints receiver Brandin Cooks had a decent rookie campaign with 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdowns.
However, the Saints are going to count on him to produce a lot more this season, now that tight end Jimmy Graham and wideout Kenny Stills are gone.
"First of all, people may call it pressure but I don't see it as pressure," Cooks said last month, per Sam Spiegelman of NOLA.com. "It's part of the game. Guys are gone left and right from this locker room. What you do about that is you step up and make plays."
Fortunately, it appears that the speedy Cooks has all the tools to make plays for the Saints this season. If he had stayed healthy as a rookie, we might have gotten a better taste of exactly what he can do.
"Cooks was on pace for 85 receptions and roughly 1,000 yards from scrimmage prior to his season-ending injury in Week 11," NFL Media's Chris Wesseling explained in one recent post. "Even if the Saints shift to a ball-control approach, a healthy Cooks has a good chance to sail past those numbers in 2015."
Longtime Saints veteran Marques Colston is still with the team, but Cooks will likely be the more explosive target for quarterback Drew Brees this season. If he can continue to grow and can remain healthy, Cooks could produce Pro Bowl numbers in 2015.
New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr. Is the Next Big Thing
There may not have been a single surprised individual when New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. won the "Best Play" ESPY Award earlier this week for last season's remarkable one-handed catch.
If you haven't seen that play...well, it means you probably don't own an Internet device and therefore aren't even reading this.
However, Beckham isn't taking the NFL world by storm just because he can catch a ball with five fingers. He is a budding superstar and a playmaker in the truest sense of the word. He racked up 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns last season despite appearing in just 12 games.
As Emily Kaplan of The MMQB.com recently pointed out, he also happens to be a pretty popular guy:
The Offseason of Odell has included (but in no way was limited to): hobnobbing at the Super Bowl, sitting alongside Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour at New York Fashion Week, dining with LeBron James, befriending Michael Jordan, hosting an NBA All-Star weekend party, upping that with a soiree at The Michael Jackson Mansion, meeting childhood idol David Beckham and attending yet another fashion show with Wintour, this time in London.
Beckham appears poised to be the next big NFL personality off the field and one of the most dominating young players on it. Expect the Giants offense to be even more dangerous in 2015 with Beckham and a healthy Victor Cruz at receiver. The two appeared in just two games together last season.
New York Jets: Things Are Finally Looking Up for Geno Smith
New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith has mostly disappointed in his first two pro seasons. He has a career passer rating of just 71.5, he was benched last season in favor of an aged Michael Vick, and Pro Football Focus rated him 71st among all quarterbacks in 2014.
It seems, though, that Smith is getting some real support this offseason.
Early in the offseason, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey made it known that the starting job would be Smith's to lose, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.
Smith has also been getting public support from teammates like linebacker Demario Davis.
"I'm very high on Geno," Davis said during an interview with WFAN's Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts, per Darryl Slater of NJ.com. "Ever since he came in, I've been high on Geno. I look at Geno as a guy who puts in a lot of time into his craft."
Though it is far from unusual to hear teammates support one another, there are real reasons for optimism regarding Smith. He will benefit from having new weapons like wideout Brandon Marshall and rookie receiver Devin Smith. He will also get to work with Gailey, who made current backup Ryan Fitzpatrick look like a star when the two were with the Bills.
"He owns skills that are difficult to teach," NFL Media's Gregg Rosenthal recently wrote of Smith's potential. "He has excellent pocket movement, buying time to attempt passes. Some quarterbacks never get that sixth sense in the pocket; Geno has it. He is not afraid to make difficult throws."
If Smith can provide a steady presence in 2015, the Jets are likely to be a real threat in the AFC East.
Oakland Raiders: Efforts to Keep Team in Oakland Are Lagging Behind
Don't look now, but the Oakland Raiders are quietly building the foundation for a competitive football team.
Actually, no one seems to be looking at the team these days because much of the talk surrounding the Raiders is about whether or not they are on the verge of moving back to Las Angeles.
The league is looking to move one and ideally two teams to the L.A. market in the near future. The Raiders (along with the Rams and Chargers) are one candidate for relocation. Keeping the team in Oakland will almost certainly require a new stadium.
The problem is that a realistic stadium proposal doesn't appear to be close.
The focus of October meetings in New York will be the home markets, but owners will only hear from two of those three cities. St. Louis and San Diego have put together serious proposals—although the Rams and Chargers aren't impressed. But Oakland is lagging in a big way, so much so that representatives from that city likely won't even be invited to New York for the meetings.
If the league does invite Oakland, it will be so that owners can see what little progress that city has made.
This is obviously not what Oakland football fans want to hear, and it is an issue that could easily hang over the 2015 season for the Raiders.
Philadelphia Eagles: Sam Bradford's Health Still a Major Question Mark
The problem is that Bradford brings with him serious injury concerns. He has missed 31 games in five years and has ended each of the past two seasons on injured reserve with a torn ACL.
Bradford has the skills to be a true franchise quarterback for the Eagles and currently appears healthy, but the team has to know that his next major injury could be right around the corner.
Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com recently compared Bradford to Philadelphia 76ers Joel Embiid, who is set to miss the second straight season of his pro career:
Yes, taking a risk on injured players at a discounted rate sometimes pays-off, and can turn around a franchise. Bradford very well could end up doing that just for the Eagles. But when you take a big risk at such an important part of the franchise (at quarterback for the Eagles, at the No. 3 overall pick for the Sixers), it is pretty critical it works out—and even with all of the optimism in the world, sometimes it just doesn't.
Eagles fans should feel optimistic about what Philadelphia can accomplish with Bradford at under center. However, his injury history is going to stay in the back of a lot of minds this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: This Could Be the League's Best Offense in 2015
Fans are just going to have to accept that the Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer a defensive team. This fact will probably be easier to swallow when you realize they may well be the best offensive team in the NFL.
Pittsburgh ranked seventh in scoring last season (27.2 points per game) and second in offensive yardage (411.1 yards per game on average). The team has quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (4,952 passing yards in 2014), wide receiver Antonio Brown (1,698 receiving yards) and running back Le'Veon Bell (2,221 combined rushing and receiving yards).
Oh, and the Steelers also have an up-and-coming young receiver in Martavis Bryant and a promising rookie wideout in Sammie Coates.
"When you think of the Steelers, you think of defense first, and that's always the way it has been," former Steelers safety and ESPN analyst Ryan Clark recently told Jason Reid of ESPN.com. "So is this strange? Yeah. It's really strange."
Expect the defending AFC North champions to win plenty of football games in 2015—but with offense instead of defense.
San Diego Chargers: Excitement Is Building Around Melvin Gordon
The San Diego Chargers used the 15th overall pick in this year's draft on former Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. The hope was that Gordon, who racked up 2,587 yards on the ground last season, could be the every-down back the Chargers have lacked since the days of LaDainian Tomlinson.
The early buzz suggests that Gordon can be exactly that.
“He studies and he’s smart,” Chargers running back coach Ollie Wilson said back in June, per Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. “When you give him something, you know that you’re on to the next thing. Usually with rookies it takes a little while to get it done."
Gordon has even drawn some praise from Tomlinson, the Chargers legend himself.
"I like what I've seen from Melvin in college," Tomlinson said, via ThePostGame.com. "I think he has all the skills to be a terrific pro. You know, he certainly has had a lot of experience in all phases of the game, catching the football, blocking and obviously he's a great runner. In that offense, he should do just fine."
According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers had the sixth-best passing offense in the league last season. In terms of passing yardage, the team ranked 10th with 256.1 yards per game. However, San Diego averaged just 85.4 yards per game on the ground (30th in the NFL).
If Gordon can be anything like Tomlinson was in his heyday, the Chargers could have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league in 2015.
San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Hyde Can Be a Replacement for Frank Gore
After 10 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, running back Frank Gore is no longer a member of the team.
The most likely candidate to replace Gore at the top of the depth chart is former Ohio State star Carlos Hyde. As a rookie last season, Hyde rushed for 333 yards on 83 carries. He can likely expect a much bigger workload in 2015.
Hyde is the big (6'0", 235 lbs) physical runner who can hammer between the tackles. The 49ers also have Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter and rookie Mike Davis on the roster, but Hyde seems best suited for a heavy workload.
"With Bush and Hunter on the roster, it might take a few weeks to sort out," NFL Media's Kevin Patra recently wrote. "But Hyde should eventually take over as the primary back. His combination of size and speed is the best bet for the 49ers to get consistent production from their backfield."
Bleacher Report's Bryan Knowles recently made an optimistic projection for Hyde of 200 carries and 1,000 yards for 2015.
While this isn't quite the workload that fans are used to seeing from Gore, it should be more than enough to spearhead what will likely be a committee at running back.
Seattle Seahawks: Time Could Be Running out to Strike a Deal with Russell Wilson
Now that the NFL floodgates have seemingly opened, could it be time for the Seattle Seahawks to pay quarterback Russell Wilson?
The former Wisconsin star is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is scheduled to make just $1.54 million. Wilson has hinted that he might be all right playing in another city in 2016.
“At the end of the day I trust the process,” Wilson said during an appearance on The Adam and Joe Show on 99.9 The Fan. “I know God’s going to take me and put me where he wants to have me. I hope that’s Seattle. I love it there, it’s a great place. But I’ve also gone through the ups and downs and been moved around before."
If the Seahawks wish to avoid a contract dispute next offseason and a potential distraction in 2015, giving Wilson an extension now would seem like the right move.
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, however, the window to do a deal may close at the beginning of training camp.
If this is true and the Seahawks fail to strike a deal, Wilson's status could be a cloud that hangs over Seattle all season long.
St. Louis Rams: This Is a Pivotal Year for Head Coach Jeff Fisher
Head coach Jeff Fisher has done some good things with the St. Louis Rams in his three seasons. The team has one of the most fearsome young defensive fronts, has developed a reputation for tough, physical play and is certainly no longer a laughingstock in the brutal NFC West.
The problem is that after three seasons, we still aren't talking about the Rams as playoff contenders. The team hasn't won more than seven games in any season under Fisher and went just 6-10 during last year's quarterback-challenged campaign.
ESPN.com's Terry Blount recently made his case for putting Fisher on the hot seat this season:
I don’t see how Fisher could survive another losing season with the Rams, no matter how you justify it. And there are plenty of ways to justify his three-year tenure and 20-27-1 record, starting with the injuries to former quarterback Sam Bradford. But now the Rams have pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table with the trade for quarterback Nick Foles.
This is definitely going to be an important season for Fisher, especially since the team might now have a serviceable offense with Nick Foles and first-round running back Todd Gurley in the mix. This should definitely be seen as a put-up-or-shut-up season for the Rams.
However, it seems unlikely that Fisher will be going anywhere within the next year. The team will be dealing with the relocation drama all season, and the head coach has two years remaining on his current contract.
The L.A. noise is likely to be louder than any talk of firing Fisher in 2015.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston Is Fitting Right in at New Home
Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Jameis Winston may have entered the league with some off-field concerns, but his new team has to be pleased with his early time in the league.
Winston has been praised throughout the offseason for his work ethic and talent by teammates like tight end Luke Stocker.
"He's extremely talented," Stocker said, via PewterReport.com. "No need to say it. Everyone knows that. What is impressive is the speed that Jameis has picked everything up—from the huddle to the cadence to the checks to the audibles. He's picked everything up so fast."
Winston has also managed to turn heads off the field during his short time as a pro.
According to Jared Dubin of CBSSports.com, Winston took the time earlier this month to visit Dwayne Mitchell, a teenage patient at Miami's Jackson South Hospital. According to JoeBucsFan.com, Winston will also be involved in the “community involvement” charitable efforts with Bill Currie Ford of Tampa.
The Buccaneers aren't going to know if Winston really is a legitimate franchise quarterback for quite some time, but it's good to know that he is already acting like one.
Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota Remains Unsigned
Ever since the rookie wage scale was implemented as part of the new collective bargaining agreement in 2011, there hasn't been much fear of rookie holdouts.
However, No. 2 overall draft pick and potential Tennessee Titans franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota remains unsigned. He is the only first-round pick to remain unsigned.
According to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com, the Titans refuse to budge on the decision to include offset language in Mariota's contract. Such language would allow the Titans to recover guaranteed money should the quarterback be released and then sign with another team.
"We've always had offset language in our player contracts. It's nothing new," Titans CEO Steve Underwood said, per Kuharsky. "I think it is important where a high first-round draft pick is concerned, because it's the precedent."
Mariota's situation is interesting because the quarterback selected one spot before him, Jameis Winston, signed his rookie deal the day after he was drafted. However, it isn't an unusual situation for the Titans.
Last year's first-round pick, Taylor Lewan, didn't sign his rookie deal until July 24.
If Mariota still isn't signed when the Titans open training camp on July 30, then there will be reason for concern. For now, this looks like it's just something to talk about during the offseason lull.
Washington Redskins: Running Game Will Be a Real Factor in 2015
Last season, the Washington Redskins ranked just 19th in rushing offense with 105.7 yards per game. This was part of the reason the team only came away with four wins.
Despite plenty of instability at quarterback, Washington still averaged 252.9 passing yards per game (11th in the NFL). If the team can run effectively, it can likely be competitive this season.
In order to help strengthen the run game, the Redskins brought in former Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan. He previously served as offensive line coach with the Jets.
In each of his past two stops, Callahan has been part of a top-five rushing offense.
“Obviously his staple is being a great line coach, a physical line coach,” head coach Jay Gruden said of Callahan back in March, per John Keim of ESPN.com. “And the running game he brings is more a physical, downhill approach that we employed some last year, but not as many as we could."
In addition to hiring Callahan, Washington also spent a first-round pick on guard Brandon Scherff and added former Florida running back Matt Jones in the third round of this year's draft. Jones will join Alfred Morris, who rushed for 1.074 yards last year, in the backfield.
Washington will also have quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has rushed for 1,480 yards in three seasons.
Griffin still has to prove that he can be a legitimate franchise signal-caller, but a strong running game can definitely help take pressure off him in 2015.
"Another top-10 finish in rushing offense would certainly negate the naysayers that suggest Callahan is walking into gigs with premium talent," NFL Media's Conor Orr recently wrote. "It would also be a godsend for Robert Griffin III, who is trying desperately to get his game back."