NFL Training Camp Latest Buzz: Is There a Steelers QB Competition After All?
As competition continues at training camps, some players have earned praises from their coaches and others need to tighten up performances before the regular season.
At this point in the offseason, quarterback battles make headlines. Though Mitch Trubisky seems like the favorite to win the Pittsburgh Steelers’ job, he’s not a lock to claim the position. In fact, the team may change things up at practice to get a better look at one of his competitors.
Staying with the buzz at Steelers camp, one NFL insider believes wide receiver Diontae Johnson could get some good news that pertains to his contract circumstances before Week 1.
The New Orleans Saints also have some in-house matters to iron out.
They had to kick a rookie out of practice because of his extracurricular activity over the past few days. The front office may have to address a “hold in” situation with a key defender, too.
Two head coaches complimented players, but their comments may come with an ulterior motive since both camp standouts could be on the trade block this offseason.
Let’s dive into Wednesday’s biggest training camp storylines.
Jordan Love Shows Out at Practice; Will the Packers Dangle Him on the Trade Block?
This offseason, the Green Bay Packers signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a three-year, $150.8 million extension, which keeps him on the books through the 2026 term. Jordan Love isn’t going to see the field during the regular season unless he’s in for mop-up duty in a blowout or because of injury.
Heading into his third season, Love doesn’t have a future with the Packers, and the front office will have to make a decision on his fifth-year option next offseason. With Rodgers healthy and playing at an MVP level, Love has had only six appearances (one start), completing 36 out 62 passes for 411 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Love has to show his potential on the practice field and in preseason games. He earned noteworthy praise from team brass Wednesday.
“That might've been one of his best practices we've seen in three years," head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters. "He made some big-time throws with pressure in his face."
"I think you're seeing a more confident guy [who can say], 'OK, I know what's going to happen before it happens,'” general manager Brian Gutekunst said.
While the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo likely stands first in line if another team goes to the trade market for a quarterback, the Packers can boost Love’s profile. If the third-year signal-caller performs well in the preseason, a team that loses its leader in the huddle or has an unsettled situation at the position may make an offer for him.
The Packers could try to get something for a backup who’s not going to play for the foreseeable future. They have fifth-year veteran quarterback Danny Etling on the depth chart as well.
Bill Belichick Praises Nelson Agholor
Typically tight-lipped at the podium, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke highly of wide receiver Nelson Agholor on Wednesday (h/t ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith).
“A big jump. A big jump. He was here all offseason, had a really good offseason. He’s productive. He had a really good spring of training. He came out here, made plays down the field, which is very important, but he’s also playing well in other areas. Very few mental errors. I think he’s looked good.”
After a strong 2020 campaign with the Las Vegas Raiders, hauling in 48 passes for 896 yards and eight touchdowns, Agholor took a step back in his first year with the Patriots in 2021. He caught 37 passes for 473 yards and three touchdowns.
This offseason, New England acquired DeVante Parker from the Miami Dolphins and selected Tyquan Thornton in the second round of this year’s draft, which raised some questions about Agholor’s 2022 outlook with the Patriots.
Last year, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne finished first and second on the team, respectively, in receptions and yards. According to NESN’s Zack Cox, Thornton has turned heads at training camp.
Agholor's contract carries a $14.9 million cap number, though the Patriots can save $9.9 million if they trade him, per Over the Cap. With a crowded wide receiver room, New England may deal the 29-year-old wideout if a team makes a decent offer for him.
Saints Boot Trevor Penning From Practice For Fighting
NFL teams love passion, but the New Orleans Saints had to draw a line with rookie first-round tackle Trevor Penning.
According to Garland Gillen of Fox 8 in New Orleans, Penning has fought with teammates in three consecutive sessions, and the team dismissed him from Wednesday’s practice after his skirmish with defensive tackle Malcolm Roach. Previously, the rookie tackle had been in fisticuffs with Payton Turner, Taco Charlton, J.T. Gray and Scott Patchan, per Brett Martel of the Associated Press.
New head coach Dennis Allen had strong words for Penning and Roach on Wednesday, via ESPN’s Mike Triplett.
“We don’t have time for that,” Allen told reporters. Triplett added in his tweet, “[Allen] said they have work to do, and they’ve got to work together as a team.”
During the predraft process, going back to Senior Bowl week, Penning earned a reputation for his mean streak on the field, but he must find a balance because teams don’t want to see unnecessary activity lead to injuries.
Following the departure of three-time Pro Bowl tackle Terron Armstead, who signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency, the Saints will likely rely on Penning or James Hurst to start at left tackle. For now, the rookie has to channel his aggression in a different way.
Saints' C.J. Gardner-Johnson "Holding In" for a New Contract
We can add C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the list of players who’ve taken the “hold in” approach to leverage for a new deal.
According to Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football, Johnson has “limited his activity” in practices. He’s due for a $2.7 million salary in the final term of his rookie deal.
Through three seasons, Gardner-Johnson has lined up all over the secondary but primarily in the slot. He’s one of the league’s most productive nickelbacks, registering 161 tackles, 15 for loss, three sacks, 28 pass breakups and five interceptions.
Gardner-Johnson has already made his presence felt at camp, intercepting one of quarterback Jameis Winston’s passes for a touchdown last week (h/t Garland Gillen of Fox 8 in New Orleans). Clearly, he’s ready to go for the regular season and just wants a deal that’s appropriate for his worth on a defense that finished top-seven in points and yards allowed last year.
The Saints have $11.3 million in cap space, which is enough to boost Gardner-Johnson’s salary for the short term. As a top slot defender, he would likely command close to $10 million annually. That’s slightly above Kenny Moore II ($8.3 million AAV), who’s in a contract dispute with the Indianapolis Colts, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star.
Mitch Trubisky Struggling with 1st-Team Reps
The Pittsburgh Steelers may shuffle the pecking order at quarterback soon.
The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly shared his observations from the Steelers’ sixth camp practice.
“Now, [Mason] Rudolph said before practice that he expects to get some first-team reps eventually," Kaboly wrote. "Trubisky has gotten them all and really hasn’t been sharp. To go along with the 16 consecutive failures in [the] Seven Shots [drill], Trubisky hasn’t been consistent at all."
Kaboly noted that Trubisky failed to recognize safety Damontae Kazee bail out of the box and into coverage for an interception. He also called rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett “a one-read-and-go quarterback” and noted his lack of patience is holding him back.
Still, Trubisky’s lackluster performances open the door for his competitors to claim the starting job, and Rudolph seems like he’s in line to get some action with the starters soon.
The Steelers have five weeks to tab their Week 1 starter for the regular season. Though the quarterback battle isn’t much to write home about at the moment, one of the three signal-callers could make a strong case for himself in preseason action. Pittsburgh will play its first exhibition game against the Seattle Seahawks on August 13.
Steelers, Diontae Johnson Could Come to Terms on a Short Extension
Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson made headlines with his decision to “hold in” for a new contract. He’s present for training camp to avoid fines but not participating in full capacity heading into the final season of his pact, in which he's set to make $2.8 million.
The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers signed wide receivers DK Metcalf (three years, $72 million) and Deebo Samuel (three years, max value of $73.5 million) to extensions, respectively, over the past week. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo believes Johnson, who’s coming off a Pro Bowl year with 107 catches for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns, might ink a short-term extension before the Steelers’ season opener.
Steelers new general manager Omar Khan, who replaced Kevin Colbert this offseason, revealed that the team is in active talks with Johnson’s representatives, via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly:
“The conversations we have with Diontae and his representatives are going to stay between us. We don’t discuss that publicly, but we have been in conversations. We want Diontae and we are excited to have Diontae a part of this team. We hope he is going to be a Steeler for a long time.”
Pittsburgh has a deep wide receiver group with Chase Claypool, Anthony Miller, rookie second-rounder George Pickens and rookie fourth-rounder Calvin Austin III on the roster. Because of that depth, the front office may not want to pay Johnson $20 million annually as other teams will for lead receivers.
However, as Garafolo suggests, a short-term extension could give the Steelers and Johnson a middle ground in negotiations.
Cowboys Add Anthony Barr to a Shaky Linebacker Room
In an intriguing move, the Dallas Cowboys signed Anthony Barr on a one-year deal. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the 30-year-old linebacker also considered the Denver Broncos.
Over the past two years, Barr has battled injuries and missed 20 games. He's no longer a full-time starter, but the former Minnesota Viking can fill some gaps in the Cowboys' linebacker rotation.
Micah Parsons, the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year, played a significant number of snaps on the edge in addition to his duties at middle linebacker last season. He may continue to move around Dan Quinn's defense as the Cowboys look to replace Randy Gregory's pass-rushing production.
Last October, linebacker Jabril Cox tore his ACL. Per USA Today's Jori Epstein, he sat out Tuesday's practice with a banged-up knee, and the Cowboys may exercise some caution because of his significant injury from the previous campaign.
Leighton Vander Esch has played through two full seasons (2018 and 2021), but he's missed 13 outings between 2019 and 2020. Dallas may have wanted veteran insurance for him as well.
With some potential injury concerns at linebacker and Parsons' much-needed versatility, Dallas made a logical move to bring in Barr. He's not the Pro Bowl playmaker from four years ago, but if healthy, he can shore up the second level of the Cowboys defense.
Jimmy Garoppolo Cleared For Practice Without Limitations
Jimmy Garoppolo may be one step closer to finding a new destination.
In July, the San Francisco 49ers granted Garoppolo permission to seek a trade, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Coming off shoulder surgery on his throwing arm and a cap number of approximately $27 million, his trade value took a hit.
General manager John Lynch provided an update on Garoppolo's condition and explained why the quarterback has worked on the side in recent practices (h/t ProFootballTalk's Myles Simmons).
"We've just made the decision that it's in his best interest to be off to the side, and that was made mutually," Lynch said. "It was made with Dr. [Neil] ElAttrache, but he has no restrictions, and I'm watching him throw out here right now. He looks pretty good."
As the 49ers move forward with second-year quarterback Trey Lance, they'll likely continue to shop Garoppolo. We cannot assume that the team will cut him if it doesn't find a trade partner, though. Back in March, head coach Kyle Shanahan presented the idea that the 49ers could keep the 30-year-old signal-caller on the roster in 2022.
Nonetheless, a team uncomfortable with its quarterback room after final roster cuts may inquire about a healthy Garoppolo, who's led the 49ers to the playoffs twice as a serviceable starter.
Player contracts and salary-cap data are provided by Over the Cap.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.