NFL Training Camps 2016: Updates, Rumors and Analysis for August 11
The preseason is here!
No, really! This time I mean it! The preseason is here!
Last weekend's Hall of Fame game might have hit a snag, but on Thursday night no fewer than 12 NFL teams will get the exhibition season underway in games from Atlanta to Chicago.
There are any number of storylines in those games. Jimmy Garoppolo will start for the New England Patriots at home against the Saints. Rookie quarterbacks Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles and Paxton Lynch of the Denver Broncos will see the first game action of their NFL careers.
The games themselves will no doubt generate no shortage of analysis and speculation, but they're not the only show in town across the NFL on Thursday.
And with that in mind, here's the latest news, rumors and scuttlebutt from around the NFL—beginning with one of the teams playing Thursday evening.
Kirk Cousins Looking Sharp
There wasn't a hotter quarterback in the NFL over the second half of the 2015 than Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins, whose 69.8 completion percentage led the league.
If Cousins wants to hit the QB salary jackpot he's going to have to back that up, as the Redskins slapped the franchise tag on the fifth-year pro this year.
Well, so far so good.
As ESPN's John Keim wrote, Cousins and the Washington starters will play about a quarter Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons. That will give him some time to demonstrate what offensive coordinator Sean McVay said is an improved command of the Redskins offense:
Kirk has done a nice job of handling it. You start to see him understand where the progression takes him based on that coverage and understanding situationally how aggressive I can be on certain window-type throws and how whether second or third down alters my approach and how I attack a play.
Cousins told Keim he's eager to apply the things he learned on the practice field and in the film room to game situations:
The basic design of plays I've always understood from Day 1. But there are so many nuances and unique situations that only experienced players and quarterbacks are able to navigate properly. So just continuing to get put in those situations and react and make quick decisions and the right ones is where I'm continuing to grow.
This isn't to say Cousins has been flawless in camp. He hasn't. But early indications are his hot streak late last season was less a fluke and more a potential sign of things to come.
And for Washington, the news doesn't get any better than that.
Ladarius Green Hurting from Head to Toe
For years, as summer gives way to fall, pundits far and wide have said this is the year. This is the year Ladarius Green "breaks out" and becomes a difference-maker at the tight end position.
Just last month ESPN's Jamison Hensley was beating the drum for the Pittsburgh Steelers' newest pass-catcher:
Green is out of the shadow of the Chargers' Antonio Gates, and he comes to an explosive Steelers offense where the focus of the secondary will be on the outside with Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton. That should leave the middle of the field open for Green. He has more big-time pass catching upside than Heath Miller, who retired after 11 seasons in Pittsburgh.
But just as in San Diego, there's a roadblock. A fly in the ointment.
Green just can't stay on the field.
It was originally believed that foot surgery early this year was the cause of Green's missing OTAs and the reason he remains on the physically unable to perform list. In fact, as Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com wrote, head coach Mike Tomlin said Green's absence was all part of the long-term plan.
"He's progressing, but we really thought it would be touch-and-go up to this point," Tomlin said. "The (ankle) surgery was not a routine cleanup, so we knew it would be a significant amount of time."
However, Green's agent told Kinkhabwala "the ankle is fine," and a source inside the Steelers told her the real issue at this point is recurring headaches.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk went her one farther. Per his source, not only are the headache reports true, but Green's retirement and/or release are both on the table. He suffered three concussions in the span of less than a year in 2015, including two in successive weeks last September.
I'm not going to sit here and accuse the Steelers of trying to end-around the NFL's concussion protocols, but the conflicting reports are...curious.
Green isn't expected to play when the Steelers host the Lions Friday, and with each passing day his availability for Week 1 gets a bit more cloudy.
Sank(ey) or Swim in Nashville
It's hard to fathom given how things have played out, but Bishop Sankey of the Tennessee Titans was the first running back taken in the 2014 NFL draft.
With 762 yards over two seasons, Sankey's been a massive disappointment. And with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry now in town, Sankey's the oddest of odd men out in the Titans' backfield.
It looks like the team is gearing up to move on, one way or another. Per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, head coach Mike Mularkey indicated Sankey is going to receive "extended work" in the preseason starting Saturday when the Titans host the San Diego Chargers.
So why would a team give a young back a heavy workload in games that don't count?
Two reasons. The first is simply to avoid injury to Murray and/or Henry, who are both key pieces in a Titans offense that will likely run the ball a lot in 2016.
The second is the hope that some other NFL team will like what they see enough to throw the Titans a Day 3 pick in a trade for Sankey, allowing the team to recoup something in return for the second-round pick they wasted.
One way or another, Sankey should keep his bags packed. His days in Tennessee are numbered.
And now, a journey into the absurd.
When the Chargers take the field for their first exhibition game they will do so without the player they hope will form the foundation of their pass rush for years to come.
As of Thursday, one first-round pick remains unsigned. That's No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa, who remains embroiled in a nasty contract impasse with the Bolts.
As Andy Benoit of the MMQB reports, there's been absolutely zero movement between player and team over the items in dispute—offset language in Bosa's contract and the payment of his signing bonus:
With two outstanding issues simmering, one would think there might be opportunity for compromise, with the Chargers and Bosa each giving on one of the issues, something seen elsewhere in the draft. First overall pick Jared Goff does have deferrals but no offset language. Second overall pick Carson Wentz does have offset language but only $1 million of deferral that is paid in January. And since 2012, the third overall pick has either had: 1. No offset language with deferral; or 2. Offset language with bonus paid before January. This year, 19 of the first 24 picks have had their signing bonus paid in full by the end of 2016. For what it’s worth, last year’s top overall pick, Jameis Winston, had offset language and $6 million of his signing bonus deferred into the subsequent March.
The Chargers, despite the above, do not appear to be moving on either issue. Further, it appears that any suggestion that they will give in to Bosa to avoid another distraction with the uncertainty around potential relocation only emboldens them more. They will wait out Bosa, who has no options and, therefore, no leverage.
The brouhaha has been the talk of camp for the Chargers, and as Tom Krasovic of The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote, veteran tight end Antonio Gates has just about had it.
"My advice to any player that's going through any kind of contract situation is that, at one point, you've got to be a man and you've got to understand that you've got to get ready to play," he said.
For the record, Gates held out back in 2005, earning a three-game suspension from the team before caving and signing a one-year deal.
However, for every player or pundit parroting that Bosa should suck it up and sign on the dotted line, there's a counterpoint—such as this one from ESPN's Jim Trotter:
At some point it's fair to ask, when is enough enough? Owners complained that rookies were making too much money under the previous CBA, so the league successfully fought for a rookie wage scale that dramatically slashed the guaranteed dollars when players entered the league. Instead of being content with that victory, however, owners now want to recoup monies if they cut the player and he signs elsewhere. In other words, they want the player to assume some of the financial risk for bad personnel decisions, an attitude that speaks to their arrogance and sense of entitlement. What's next, injured players returning game checks when they're unable to suit up? But owners demand such things because players allow them to get away with it.
Frankly, at this point there are no winners. The player is perceived as a prima donna for holding out. The team's unwillingness to compromise makes it look stubborn to the point of stupid—willing to hurt itself just to make a point. And the Chargers certainly aren't getting better on the field as a result of this mess.
To date, Bosa's given zero indication he's going to cave, nor has the team indicated a willingness to compromise. As unfathomable as it may seem, this could carry over into September.
Jadeveon Clowney out
With J.J. Watt recovering from back surgery, the Texans badly need their complementary pass-rushers to stay healthy.
Unfortunately, that remains a problem for former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
Per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Clowney sat out a fifth straight day of practice Thursday and will miss Houston's exhibition opener at San Francisco. Wilson tweeted, "Clowney expected to return to practice as soon as next week, according to sources, making progress, team being cautious with him."
Wilson wrote that head coach Bill O' Brien doesn't appear overly concerned. "Just giving him a couple of days off," he said. "I wouldn't make too much of it."
O' Brien didn't specify what sidelined Clowney, but a source told Wilson it's "minor soreness" in Clowney's surgically repaired knee.
Clowney himself allowed to Wilson at camp's outset that his availability in 2016 is a key for the team:
Staying on the field, that's the biggest step for me this year. Play more games, play all 16, really.Taking care of my body was the biggest thing for me this offseason. I think I'm doing a good job of that. I stretched a lot more, went to yoga, chiropractor. I did everything that I wasn't doing before. It's starting to help me a lot, so everything is coming together at the right time.
Apparently things haven't quite come together like Clowney hoped, and while it isn't time to hit the panic button yet in Houston the injuries are starting to pile up.
The Awakening of Christine
No, this isn't about an old car that comes to life and mows people down. Or one of those late-night Cinemax movies that I've heard about but never, ever seen.
This is the latest buzz from Seattle, where Seahawks running back Christine Michael apparently has had his "lightbulb moment."
Apparently last year's ping-pong act from Seattle to Dallas and then back to Seattle sent a message to the 25-year-old tailback. Talented or no, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL. If you want to play, you have to earn it.
Michael told ESPN 710 Radio's John Clayton that his journey last year (traded to the Cowboys, released, signed by Washington, released again, re-signed by Seattle) was an invaluable learning experience:
I was here and I felt like I was back on my fourth opportunity. I wanted to run the ball well. I can’t say I was worried or not worried about getting another chance. I got out here and want to do the best I can. Last year was a humbling experience.
Michael came on strong for the Seahawks late last season after Thomas Rawls got hurt, and that performance appears to have carried over into camp, where offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell raved to ESPN's Sheil Kapadia that Michael has "had an awakening."
Rawls has been activated from the PUP list but with the team easing him back in and rookie C.J. Prosise nicked up, Michael should get plenty of work when the Seahawks open the preseason Saturday against Kansas City.
It's quite literally a chance for him to take the starting job and run with it.
Luck Up and Down
When the Indianapolis Colts open the preseason Saturday in balmy Buffalo, all eyes will be on quarterback Andrew Luck. Fans of the team are breathlessly awaiting their first glimpse of the NFL's highest-paid player since last year's injury-filled disaster of a campaign.
They might want to watch through their fingers just in case.
As Zak Keefer of the Indy Star wrote, Luck has had his moments in training camp. Unfortunately, those moments have run the gamut from "YES!" to "NO NO, OH GOD NO!"
There have been throws where Luck has looked like the superstar we saw from 2012-14. And the ill-advised interceptions that dominated his shortened 2015 campaign.
Luck freely admitted he remains a work in progress:
I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, for sure, like anybody in training camp. I'd like to think that I haven't repeated any of the same mistakes. That's part of practice, making mistakes, but you try not to repeat them.
Nothing’s ever finished, in a sense. Still making sure you understand the offense, 100 percent. The finer details of all the plays, with what Chud(zinski) is trying to accomplish with each play — not just where he’s going and where he’s going — but the intent, the purpose of the play, in a sense.
For the most part, this is a training camp story in every sense. This is the time of year to make those mistakes, the time to work out the kinks in the Colts new offense. It's sort of the entire point of training camp.
But after handing Luck approximately all of the money ever, you can't blame the Colts for wincing a little every time Luck pulls a Homer Simpson in practice, especially after last year's struggles.
Mathieu Could Return Next Week
Earlier this month the Arizona Cardinals made a big investment in defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, making the "Honey Badger" the highest-paid safety in the National Football League.
It looks like they'll soon be seeing a return on that sizable investment.
That's the latest from head coach Bruce Arians, who told SiriusXM Radio that Mathieu's recovery from a torn ACL has progressed to the point where he should see some work in scrimmages against the San Diego Chargers next week.
Given Mathieu's importance to a team with aspirations of playing next February in Super Bowl LI, his practice and preseason work will no doubt be closely monitored. But as he has all along, Mathieu told Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News he expects to be full-go when the Cardinals face the Patriots to open the regular season:
I'm pretty sure I'll be at 100 miles an hour. My plan is come back, be 100 percent and be the best player I can be for my teammates. I know if I'm 100 percent, I'm going to make the same kind of plays.
That's welcome news for the team perched atop Bleacher Report's first set of NFL Power Rankings for 2016.
Chiefs Being Berry Optimistic
We'll wrap Thursday's news with another star safety who's still waiting for his big payday.
That payday won't be coming in 2016, and since deadline passed for the Kansas City Chiefs and safety Eric Berry to work out a long-term extension the 2015 NFL Comeback Player of the Year will play this season under the franchise tag.
If and when he shows up, that is.
However, Kansas City general manager John Dorsey told Adam Teicher of ESPN.com he's confident that Berry's no-show act won't go on indefinitely:
The agent has said...at some juncture during this course, he'll show up here. I haven't talked to Eric one-on-one about when he's going to show up. Knowing what a prideful professional he is, I think he will show up at the appropriate time.'
It was a sentiment echoed by head coach Andy Reid (per Tom Pelissero of USA Today), who isn't worried about Berry or any potential distractions when the 27-year-old does finally report:
Not the way EB’s wired. It’s weird, because we all want him here. It’s just, they couldn’t get (a contract) done. I think once he gets back in here, he’ll be OK around the guys and just go play. He’s pretty professional that way. He’s not really a disturber. That’s not how he rolls.
This truly is the story that isn't a story. Berry may be upset that he didn't get his deal, but he also has zero leverage. Nevermind that he isn't about to fritter away a chunk of $11 million by letting this thing drag on to the point that the Chiefs decide to start not only fining him but actually enforcing those fines once Berry caves.
So why hasn't Berry reported? Well, in the words of Allen Iverson, "We're talking about practice."
Grueling football practices. In the muggy August heat.