NFL Training Camp Notes: Khalil Mack Sends Message as a No-Show, and More
Rejoice, for NFL football is back with 22 teams reporting to training camp Wednesday.
Soon the pads will be cracking with every player competing to earn a roster spot, trying to become a starter or maintaining his previous status within the lineup.
The first days of camp are filled with excitement as rookies begin to ingratiate themselves, veterans establish team parameters, coaches implement the new year's philosophy and fans get their first look at what may be the next Super Bowl winner.
Hope springs eternal even though nothing is ever quite what it seems.
Teams are still negotiating with free agents, rookies and disgruntled individuals while trying to figure out the yearly jigsaw puzzle that is their roster and praying everyone stays healthy until the regular season.
Training camps are the beginning of a new year where anything is possible if everything falls into place. But that's rarely the case. Some teams will be irrationally excited about their prospects and players, while cracks start to emerge among others even before everyone is in the team facilities and contributing.
These are the highs and lows that go along with the NFL's dog days of summer.
Khalil Mack No-Shows Raiders Camp Because of 'Tense' Contract Negotiations
The last two NFL Defensive Player of the Year winners, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, won't report to training camp as they await new contracts.
The Los Angeles Rams already experienced this last year when Donald missed all of training camp and the preseason. The organization, meanwhile, continues to go about its business.
Mack's decision throws a bigger wrench into the Oakland Raiders' operation. Donald showed up late last year and still dominated. Mack could do the same this year, but if he doesn't, the Raiders don't have the difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball to pick up the slack.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the three-time Pro Bowler is more than posturing. Recent contract negotiations have "not gone smoothly and things are tense," per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Mack doesn't plan to return until something changes. Before then, things could take a turn for the worse.
"I've heard from multiple people in the last four or five days [on] the Khalil Mack situation," The Athletic's John Middlekauff reported. "I've heard they're not close, it’s not close at all, he ain't going to be at training camp unless they raise their offer significantly. … I would get ready for an ugly situation."
Of course, both sides want to reach a long-term solution. After all, Mack is counted among the league's best pass-rushers and has "got it all," according to the recently retired Joe Thomas.
"We're going to find a way to get Khalil Mack back," head coach Jon Gruden said, per ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez.
The solution is simple: Make Mack the NFL's highest-paid defender, and he'll report to camp. Anything less is a slap in the face.
Falcons Ownership Provides Extensions for Head Coach, GM Before WR Julio Jones
Julio Jones isn't happy nor should he be. He and Antonio Brown are the game's premier wide receivers, yet only one of the two is counted among the top eight regarding average yearly salary. Brown is the game's highest-paid receiver at $17 million per season, according to Spotrac. Jones ranks ninth at $14.3 million.
The Atlanta Falcons' top target reset the market when he signed an extension in 2015. His contract no longer represents his value, though, with Brown, Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks, Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry and Davante Adams all signing significant deals since the start of the 2017 calendar year.
Jones already told the organization he won't report Thursday for the start of training camp as he awaits a new or reworked contract, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter.
The Falcons countered by stating they haven't budgeted for a renegotiation this offseason when they're concerned about signing Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett and Ricardo Allen to long-term extensions, per The Athletic's Jeff Schultz.
So, Atlanta's Wednesday announcement it reached contract extensions with general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn must have been quite a surprise to Jones. Granted, these deals don't count against a team's salary cap, but ownership is willing to spend money, and there are ways to massage the numbers.
For example, part of the contract can be converted into a signing bonus, or the team can add potential performance-based incentives. Both of these are feasible solutions without completely rejiggering Jones' current deal.
Something needs to be done since Jones is "resolute in his mindset," according to Rapoport.
Colts Plan to Have Andrew Luck Behind Center for Entire Preseason
Finally, Andrew Luck is back on the football field.
After months of wondering if the Indianapolis Colts' franchise quarterback would ever return to form, he's ready to take over the offense for the long haul.
"When he practices, he's full-go," head coach Frank Reich said, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. "There are no restrictions."
The Colts plan to monitor the quarterback's progress by utilizing a regimented practice schedule, but his shoulder responded to offseason treatment and won't limit him in game situations.
"I would plan on him playing in Seattle," Reich said of Luck's status for the first preseason contest, per the team's official site.
Colts officials have been positive about the quarterback's status before only to find out later he was nowhere near ready to perform. Now a year-and-a-half removed from his 2016 surgery, Luck looks and, more importantly, feels ready to return.
"I feel like I'm in a much better place," Luck said, per NFL.com's Herbie Teope. "I'm the best I've felt in a long, long time. I've got work to do still. I've got things I have to do, things I have to go out and prove to myself. But yeah, I feel a lot better."
The 2012 first overall pick needed to progress far more than anyone let on publicly. According to the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer, Luck said his shoulder "revolted" because he pushed too hard. Retirement even crossed his mind.
Luck is just now entering his prime at 28 years old, and his throwing shoulder is once again ready for the NFL's rigors.
Ravens' Lamar Jackson Will Be 'Out There, Taking Snaps' This Season
The Baltimore Ravens must walk a fine line in utilizing Lamar Jackson without his presence in the lineup becoming a full-blown quarterback controversy.
Joe Flacco is still the starter, but the coaching staff isn't avoiding using Jackson.
"One way or another, he's going to be out there, taking snaps," head coach John Harbaugh told the Toronto Sun's John Kryk.
"Lamar is also a weapon for us, who can play quarterback. And we're going to play Lamar at quarterback. … So we're going to play all of our good players. I don't see why we wouldn't."
The Ravens already experimented with two-quarterback looks and may consider Jackson at wide receiver. Those offensive wrinkles should be expected throughout training camp since the rookie's exact usage is yet to be determined.
"Situationally, whatever we can figure out," Harbaugh added. "We're still figuring that out. I don't know how exactly, yet."
The fact that Baltimore wants Jackson on the field says everything about the young man and his eventual future with the franchise. It's only a matter of time before he becomes the starting quarterback.
"He's done an outstanding job up to date," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said of his first-year signal-caller, per ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley. "He's way ahead of the curve now."
Until then, Jackson can serve in multiple roles as the Ravens' biggest offensive threat.
Could Dez Bryant Find a New Home in Cleveland?
The Josh Gordon drama never stops, and it creates ripples effects throughout the Cleveland Browns organization and possibly around the league.
Everyone wishes the best for Gordon in his recovery as he continues treatments through the start of training camp, but the Browns have to prepare for the possibility—even if it's slight—of the wide receiver not being available this season.
According to Cabot, Dorsey called the 29-year-old wide receiver "very passionate" and "talented." The general manager even attended Bryant's workout to establish "a feel for him."
The Browns won't address whether Gordon has been suspended again. Questions about the receiver's standing are met with encouragement and well-wishes.
"I'm going to respect Josh's privacy," Dorsey said, per the News-Herald's Jeff Schudel.
So, Bryant enters the conversation. Gordon's absence creates a rather large hole in the Browns roster. The organization acquired Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins this offseason and paid him to be the offense's No. 1 target. Beyond him, the offense lacks options.
Corey Coleman, whom the team selected 15th overall in the 2016 draft, hasn't developed. Recent draft pick Antonio Callaway didn't even play football last season. Jeff Janis is a career special teamer. And Ricardo Louis, who led the team's wide receivers last season with 357 yards, has already been ruled out for the upcoming campaign due to a neck injury, per the Chronicle-Telegram's Scott Petrak.
Bryant's physical presence on the outside might be exactly what the Browns need right now.
Antonio Gates 'Actively Negotiating' a Return to the Los Angeles Chargers
Antonio Gates is already the Chargers' all-time leader with 927 career receptions, 11,508 receiving yards and 114 touchdowns. The tight end may get a chance to pad those numbers for one more season.
In April, the Chargers told Gates they planned to move forward with Hunter Henry and wouldn't re-sign the 15-year veteran.
"We can't say enough about the type of person he is and player. These decisions are really, really difficult," Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said at the time, per the Los Angeles Times' Dan Woike. "We put a lot of thought into where this roster needs to go, fully knowing that Antonio stepped in last year when we really needed him and played really well. But as we were looking at it, we really felt like this Hunter Henry's time."
Henry's time will have to wait after he suffered a torn ACL during organized team activities. Gates is the obvious replacement, and the Chargers organization has reconsidered its previous stance.
Gates' agent, Tom Condon, told SiriusXM NFL Radio's Alex Marvez he's "actively negotiating" with the Chargers to reach a deal for the tight end's return.
The 38-year-old Gates still wants to play. Former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson believes Gates only wants to play for the Chargers. A team source told ESPN's Josina Anderson on Monday that the preference was to get it done before camp as well.
"He's had a heck of a run," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "He has nothing left to prove, that's for sure. But to have him be a part and contribute to what we think can be a special year would be great to have."
Some things make too much sense not to happen. This is one of them.
49ers CB Richard Sherman Is Way Ahead of Schedule, Passes Physical
Richard Sherman ruptured his Achilles tendon less than nine months ago against the Arizona Cardinals. Usually, an injury of such severity takes at least nine months, if not a full year, to heal before a player returns to action.
Yet, Sherman passed his physical and earned a $2 million bonus after reporting to the San Francisco 49ers training camp.
"As soon as it happened, I talked to Kobe [Bryant], maybe the next day," the four-time Pro Bowl defensive back said, per the San Jose Mercury News' Cam Inman. "He gave me pointers he had to do early in the process to expedite the healing process. I was more proactive than reactive. There were techniques he gave me that helped."
Sherman is an integral part of the 49ers transition to a Seattle Seahawks-like defense under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. He's the team's top cornerback after signing a three-year, $27.2 free-agent contract. But he must be healthy to provide San Francisco with what he once did for Seattle.
"We trust what he thinks and how he works," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "A lot of it is up to Richard. If he's being too aggressive, it's our job to pull him back. It's a matter of time when he gets back, and we want to be smart with that."
The team doesn't have to rush the process even though the cornerback passed his physical. His mere presence will be a major factor in the defense's maturation.
"He's one of the most intelligent football players I've ever been around, the way he understands concepts and offense," general manager John Lynch said. "He hasn't been on the field much, but he's already had a huge impact on the guys around him."
Giants' Supplemental Draft Pick Will Be Unable to Supplement Secondary
Sam Beal had been a member of the New York Giants organization for exactly eight days before he suffered a potentially season-ending shoulder injury, per ESPN's Dianna Russini.
According to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, the rookie cornerback became entangled with a teammate during Tuesday's practice and the shoulder popped out of place. SNY's Ralph Vacchiano reported a non-surgical approach is being discussed—which would allow Beal to play this fall—but surgery is the more likely option.
The Giants were excited enough about Beal's skill set as a man-cover corner to spend a third-round pick in this year's supplemental draft to acquire his services.
"He's long, he's very athletic for a corner, he has all the physical skills," general manager Dave Gettleman said after selecting Beal, per the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard. "... We just feel it gives us a really talented young kid with the ability to ascend."
Everything Gettleman said can still apply to the Giants secondary upon Beal's return next season, but the unit will consider alternatives after losing a talented young option.
Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple are once again slated to be the team's starting cornerbacks, with William Gay adding a veteran presence. Another free-agent acquisition, Curtis Riley, may have the inside track as the fourth corner. The team may even consider re-signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The timing of Beal's injury allows the organization to reassess its cornerback room even though the rookie may not have been anything more than a fourth or fifth corner this year.