5 Biggest NFL Storylines to Monitor Ahead of 2022 Training Camps
The NFL offseason may be quieting down with mandatory minicamps over and training camps still a month out, but it's far from silent.
The rumor mill remains ever-churning, and storylines will continue to play out even as teams take breaks from their on-field preparations for the 2022 season.
There should be no shortage of drama over the next few weeks with players still rehabilitating their injuries, positional battles on the horizon, veterans waiting to be signed and trades in the works.
With that in mind, here are five major storylines to keep an eye on ahead of training camps.
Rookie Quarterbacks Ready to Battle For Starting Roles
Although quarterbacks were far from the strength of the 2022 draft class, there are several rookies with chances to win starting jobs this offseason.
Kenny Pickett, the No. 20 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers and only signal-caller taken within the first 73 selections this year, is behind veteran signing Mitchell Trubisky and incumbent backup Mason Rudolph in the three-way competition to fill the void left by Ben Roethlisberger's retirement.
Despite a lackluster minicamp showing, the University of Pittsburgh product could ascend the depth chart before training camp even begins.
Reports have surfaced that the Steelers are open to dealing Rudolph, with Steelers insider Ray Fittipaldo noting on 93.7 The Fan that the team would likely be willing to accept a sixth-rounder in exchange for the fourth-year QB if they can't get anything better by the end of the summer.
While Pickett would have an uphill battle to usurp Trubisky as the starter, head coach Mike Tomlin told the Rich Eisen Show that he expects "fierce" competition and plans to give each contender ample opportunity to win the job.
Desmond Ridder, the No. 74 pick this year, is also auditioning for a starting role when the Atlanta Falcons open training camp July 29.
The team has an uncertain situation under center after it traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason after 14 seasons with him at the helm. Ridder is going up against veteran free-agent pickup Marcus Mariota and Feleipe Franks, who backed up Ryan as a rookie last year, in one of the league's most intriguing quarterback competitions.
According to 247Sports' Matt Howe, head coach Arthur Smith praised Ridder for his ability to absorb the offense and believes the University of Cincinnati product is "light-years ahead of most young quarterbacks."
With the Falcons in rebuilding mode, there's a legitimate chance that Ridder will end up seeing the field in 2022 even if he doesn't wrap up the preseason with a starting job.
Outside of Ridder and Pickett, there isn't likely to be much opportunity for the seven other QBs taken in the draft to start as rookies.
Sam Howell may have the best odds of the bunch to get some meaningful action with the Washington Commanders. While the fifth-round pick is considered a developmental prospect whose projected role is backing up Carson Wentz, he could get thrust into action quickly because of Wentz's lengthy injury history,
Dallas Cowboys Receiving Corps Has Several Question Marks
After fielding one of the league’s deepest receiving corps in 2021, the Dallas Cowboys are looking surprisingly thin at the position.
A big reason for this uncertainty stems from the team's decision to part ways with two of its top wideouts. Dallas traded Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns and let Cedrick Wilson walk in free agency. CeeDee Lamb was the only Cowboys receiver to reel in more catches than those two last year.
Dallas did spend money to bolster the position, although it remains to be seen if those moves will pay off. The biggest signing was Michael Gallup, who agreed to a five-year, $57.5 million extension after participating in just nine games last year because of injury, including an ACL tear suffered in Week 17.
Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones recently revealed that Gallup could miss up to three games at the start of 2022 campaign.
Dallas also picked up James Washington on the open market after he spent four disappointing seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, the 2018 second-round pick missed OTAs and minicamp with a foot injury, an ailment Washington hopes will be healed by the start of training camp.
Dallas used a third-round draft pick to select wideout Jalen Tolbert, a prospect who may quickly become a big part both the offensive and special teams units.
Brian Martin of Blogging the Boys thinks the South Alabama product will assume many of the duties Wilson's departure left unaccounted for. That versatile role could include Tolbert lining up both in the slot and outside as well as returning punts in 2022.
Dallas couldn't get a full look at Tolbert at minicamp, as he was nursing a hamstring strain and had his reps limited. With Lamb, Gallup, Washington and Noah Brown also missing practices last week, the Cowboys' best wideouts lost an opportunity to establish a rapport among themselves and with Dak Prescott.
The starting quarterback had a bounce-back season in 2021 but may find it tough to repeat that success with so much turnover in his receiving corps. A strong training camp could alleviate some of the concerns surrounding this group, making this a storyline to watch when the Cowboys start practicing again next month.
New Orleans Saints Ready To Make an Offensive Leap
The New Orleans Saints ranked dead last in passing offense last year. Thanks to some shrewd offseason pickups, it would hardly be a surprise to see them ascend to a top-five unit in 2022.
They brought back Jameis Winston on a two-year, $28 million deal after the quarterback revitalized his career during a seven-game stretch as their starter in 2021.
The 28-year-old Winston led New Orleans to a 5-2 record and completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,170 yards and 14 touchdowns with a 102.8 passer rating before going down with a torn ACL in Week 8.
More importantly, he avoided the mistakes that plagued him during his tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, throwing just three interceptions and fumbling only twice while taking 11 sacks.
Although he didn’t meet the qualifying 200-pass threshold, Winston would have ranked as a top-10 quarterback at Football Outsider's DVOA had he continued that trajectory.
New Orleans did plenty more to improve its offense. One of the most notable moves was drafting a potential star at the receiver position in Chris Olave. The Ohio State product became the third wideout off the board at No. 11 overall.
The Bleacher Report Scouting Department praised his versatility and pro-readiness, projecting him as a Day 1 starter who will provide consistent production.
Olave will be joined by Jarvis Landry, an eight-year veteran who was picked up following his release from the Browns. Although he dealt with injuries last year and had a career-low 570 receiving yards, the five-time Pro Bowler could be the type of quality depth receiver this offense was clearly lacking last year.
Then there's the return of Michael Thomas, the All-Pro wideout who racked up an eye-popping 1,725 receiving yards in 2019 before missing most of 2020 and all of the 2021 campaign with injuries.
Alvin Kamara, one of the league's best pass-catching running backs, should also be healthy, though he could miss some games if the NFL suspends him under its personal-conduct policy after he was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with battery resulting in substantial bodily harm.
Expect this team to showcase some serious firepower and put the league on notice as soon as training camp begins.
Cleveland Browns' Uncertain QB Situation
The Cleveland Browns executed a blockbuster trade for Deshaun Watson knowing that the quarterback’s availability was in limbo.
While a pair of Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges in March, there were 24 civil lawsuits filed against him by women alleging sexual assault or misconduct. On June 13, Jonathan Jones of the NFL on CBS reported two more suits could be filed soon. Watson settled 20 of the 24 existing lawsuits Tuesday.
According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the NFL plans to complete its investigation by the time Cleveland opens training camp July 27. Maske noted Watson is expected to receive a "significant" suspension.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that some in the league office want Watson to remain off the field until all the civil lawsuits are resolved, while Maske noted "the league 'probably' will seek a suspension of one full season."
If Watson isn't available, the Browns may try to turn back to incumbent starter Baker Mayfield. Mayfield remains on the roster despite making a trade request prior to the Watson deal.
Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reported in March that Mayfield has no plans of playing for the Browns in 2022. There aren't indications he's had a change of heart.
That would leave Jacoby Brissett, who signed a one-year, $4.7 million contract in March, as the QB1. The 29-year-old has a 14-23 career record, though Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski recently told reporters he is confident in Brissett’s ability to win games as a starter.
Brissett started five games for the Miami Dolphins last year, going 2-3 while completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 1,283 yards and five touchdowns against four interceptions. He also took 19 sacks.
Free-Agent Signings and Trades Still in the Pipeline
The initial waves of free agency and the draft may have come and gone, but teams are nowhere near finished tinkering with their rosters.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones are the best available options for squads in need of help at the wide receiver position. While OBJ may not sign anytime soon as he recovers from an ACL injury that could keep him sidelined until November, Jones has a chance to turn things around following a 2021 campaign in which he posted career-low reception (31) and receiving yardage (434) numbers.
ESPN's Matt Bowen called the Indianapolis Colts the best fit for the 33-year-old Jones. It would give him a chance to reunite with quarterback Matt Ryan and rekindle their chemistry after the pair spent a decade together in Atlanta.
There are also plenty of organizations that need to bolster their offensive lines. Duane Brown should be a popular target as the top unsigned left tackle. Although he's in the twilight of his career, the 36-year-old is coming off his fifth Pro Bowl nod and appeared in all 17 games for the Seattle Seahawks in 2021.
Clubs looking for help under center won't find much on the free-agent pile, but there is at least one proven starter available via trade.
The San Francisco 49ers have been ready to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo for months, but their incumbent starter had shoulder surgery following the 2021 campaign.
Earlier this month, head coach Kyle Shanahan told ESPN's Nick Wagoner that Garoppolo should be throwing again before training camp begins, and a clean bill of health will make it much easier for the Niners to offload Garoppolo and clear $25.6 million off their books.
Teams have also inquired about the availability of Robert Quinn, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The elite Chicago Bears edge-rusher accumulated the second-most sacks (18.5) in the league last year.
Rapoport noted in April that "Chicago is not shopping him," but CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported last month that Quinn "wants out" of the Windy City.
These are just a few of the many dominoes left to fall. There should be a flurry of transactions right before training camps begin and during the lead-up to the 2022 campaign as clubs look to reinforce their rosters and patch holes.