NFL Training Camp Notes: NFL's Darling Sleeper Team Dealt Huge Blow and More
Training camp is a time of hope for NFL teams. The grind of the regular season hasn't begun yet. There are no teams out of contention playing out the string. Every squad is 0-0 and optimistic that a successful campaign is just around the corner.
However, there's a dark cloud that can move in and blacken out the summer sunshine. One thing that every team tries to avoid above all else this time of year.
Serious injuries to prominent players.
Nothing takes the wind out of a team's sails and casts a pall over the practice field like watching a starter go down early in camp. Unfortunately, it happens every summer to at least one team.
The 2018 season is no different. We'll start this look at the latest news and notes from training camp with one of the most snakebitten franchises.
Did someone break a mirror?
Curse of the Chargers Strikes Again
As Hayley Elwood reported for the team's official website, cornerback Jason Verrett said he was champing at the bit after losing 27 games over the last two seasons to serious knee injuries.
"I think it's going to be a little bit more juice, just dealing with the fact that I lost two seasons," Verrett said. "I'm hungry. I'm going to grind. I'm going to grind, grind, grind. And they're going to see the Pro Bowl player that they saw in 2015."
There's just one problem. Verrett plays for the Los Angeles Chargers. And darned if I can think of a team in the NFL that gets ravaged by injuries on an annual basis more than the Bolts.
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Chargers fear that Verrett tore his Achilles tendon after the first conditioning test of training camp.
To repeat, the 27-year-old popped his Achilles (an injury that will end his season) on the first conditioning test of camp.
There's bad luck. Then there's awful luck. Then there's the worst luck ever. And finally there's whatever that is.
The injury is a huge blow to a Chargers team that's been a trendy pick to win the AFC West in 2018. It's an even bigger one for Verrett, who will now have missed at least 10 games in four of five NFL seasons.
Historic Payday for Titans OT Taylor Lewan
Friday was a good day to be a young offensive tackle in the NFL.
It was an especially good day if you were a young offensive tackle named Taylor Lewan.
As Kevin Patra reported for NFL.com, the 27-year-old got the contract extension he was looking for from the Tennessee Titans—and then some. Per Patra's colleague Ian Rapoport, Lewan's new deal will pay him $80 million over five years—topping Nate Solder's $62 million over four years and making Lewan the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history.
The pact also contains a whopping $50 million in guarantees.
The contract isn't all that surprising. Lewan has steadily improved since the Titans drafted him 11th overall in 2014, and in each of the past two seasons, he's started all 16 games and been named to the Pro Bowl.
With quarterback Marcus Mariota on a collision course with his own massive payday, it made a lot of sense for the team to lock up the player who watches Mariota's blind side—especially given how well he does it.
That Lewan reported to training camp despite not having his extension in place probably didn't hurt either.
Falcons OT Jake Matthews Strikes It Rich
Lewan isn't the only offensive tackle in the market for a new yacht—or two.
A tackle taken ahead of Lewan in 2014 hit triple-sevens in his own right Friday. Per Patra, Jake Matthews signed a five-year, $75 million extension with the Atlanta Falcons that will keep him in black and red through the 2023 season.
Matthews hasn't yet earned the accolades of Lewan—as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2016, Matthews ranked dead last among qualified tackles after a rookie season in which he struggled mightily—allowing seven sacks and nine QB hits.
However, since those first-year problems, Matthews has improved steadily. And given the premium teams place on the tackle spot and the amount of money Atlanta has invested in quarterback Matt Ryan (five years, $150 million), it's hardly a shock that the Falcons locked up Matthews—even if his resume doesn't justify top-flight tackle money at first glance.
No New Deal for Texans EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
Lewan and Matthews hit the jackpot this week, but the first player taken in 2014 reportedly won't be seeing an extension until after the 2018 season.
According to Rapoport, Houston Texans edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who posted a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2017 while playing in all 16 games for the first time, is "expected to play out the final year of his deal."
"... Barring a significant change, Houston will face the decision next offseason," Rapoport tweeted. "His health may be as important as production."
That last part is the rub. The 25-year-old, when healthy, is an explosive force off the edge. He's equally capable of blowing up backs in the backfield and chasing down quarterbacks from behind.
But Clowney has battled knee problems, including a knee scope this offseason and microfracture surgery earlier in his career.
With the franchise tag at the Texans' disposal in 2019 and a ton of money already sunk in another defensive end with injury issues in J.J. Watt, it's understandable that the team is being cautious and waiting to see if Clowney can make it through a second straight healthy season before committing big money to him.
For this campaign at least, Clowney will have to make do with the $12 million and change he'll earn on his fifth-year option.
TE Delanie Walker Gets 2-Year Extension with Titans
Here's hoping Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson stretched before he got to work Friday.
Otherwise, he may have sprained his wrist signing all those fat paychecks.
Lewan wasn't the only Titan in a good mood Friday. As ESPN.com reported, tight end Delanie Walker signed a two-year extension that will keep him under contract through the 2020 season.
Walker, 33, doesn't get the publicity of tight ends like Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots or Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs. But the 13th-year veteran has advanced to the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons. In 2017, Walker led the Titans in both receptions (74) and receiving yards (807).
Over the past five years, Walker has 356 receptions—the most by any tight end in the National Football League. And only two tight ends have topped 800 yards in each of the last four seasons—Kelce and Walker.
Exact terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the contract is worth $17 million with $12.76 million guaranteed, including an $8 million signing bonus.
It's not Lewan money. But it's good work if you can get it.
Julio Jones Gets a New Deal...Sort Of
The dominant storyline surrounding the Falcons this offseason has involved star wideout Julio Jones. It's no secret that he was interested in reworking a five-year, $71.3 million contract that had three years remaining, as the average annual salaries of elite receivers have increased since he signed on the dotted line. There were concerns that Jones might be a no-show for training camp if the deal wasn't redone.
That wasn't the case—possibly because Atlanta tweaked Jones' contract to pay him at least an additional $2 million in 2018, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.
Head coach Dan Quinn insisted that he wasn't worried about Jones while lauding both sides for finding common ground and at least a temporary solution:
"I probably didn't feel the same stress that you and the fanbase had. I know there were some reports out regarding him not coming. ... I've known he was coming to camp for a while. And that's part of good communication, player to coaches. It wasn't necessarily where I was not expecting him to be here.
"But I am glad, between [general manager] Thomas [Dimitroff] and their side, usually, when there's something to get done, they work together and find a way to figure it out. I think that's a good example between Thomas and Jimmy [Sexton], who is Julio's representation."
Jones' contract status will no doubt become an issue again next spring, but that's something to face another day.
Packers Rookie WR J'Mon Moore Working with Starters
With Jordy Nelson gone, the Green Bay Packers have a sizable hole at the wide receiver position. This isn't to say the cupboard's bare—Davante Adams is an ascending talent, and the team still has Randall Cobb. But the Packers need a third receiver, and they drafted three youngsters at the position in April.
One of those rookies is apparently making a positive first impression.
Per Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, fourth-rounder J'Mon Moore has earned substantial snaps with the starters early in camp. Head coach Mike McCarthy indicated it's more than just tinkering.
"McCarthy says it's not an accident Packers rookie J'Mon Moore is already repping with Aaron Rodgers," Wood tweeted. "Each opportunity is earned, he said. Likes how Moore has transitioned to learning multiple WR spots."
It's a long way until Sept. 9, when the Packers host the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field in the first Sunday night affair of the season, and a ton could change on the receiver depth chart between now and then. But Moore has shone in the early going, and at 6'3" and 205 pounds, he has the size and the wheels to line up outside opposite Adams or man the slot.
Redskins OTs Morgan Moses and Trent Williams Healthy to Start Camp
The Washington Redskins made some headlines this offseason with a quarterback carousel that saw Kirk Cousins depart and Alex Smith arrive. However, the team is generally regarded as an also-ran in the NFC East.
If the Redskins are going to surprise people this year, an offensive line that's a strength when at 100 percent needs to stay that way.
So far, the early returns are promising.
Both left tackle Trent Williams (knee) and right tackle Morgan Moses (ankle) had surgery this winter, and while Emily Giambalvo of the Washington Post reported that both were limited to open training camp, the fact that they participated is a positive sign.
Williams, who fought through a nagging knee injury for most of last year, said that he's aware of the pressure on the O-line this season.
"The O-line is going to be the pillar of this team," Williams said. "If we're not successful, honestly, this team isn't successful. We've got a lot of weight on our shoulders."
Washington's line was banged up for much of last year and finished outside the top 20 in both run blocking and pass protection, per Football Outsiders.
That unit has to rebound in a big way if the team is going to be relevant in 2018.
More Dez Bryant Drama in Dallas
Dez Bryant is no longer a member of the Dallas Cowboys, but that didn't stop him from becoming the center of attention at Cowboys camp with a firestorm of tweets Friday.
As Stefan Stevenson of the Star-Telegram reported, Bryant responded to comments from executive vice president Stephen Jones, who seemed to indicate in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio that some of quarterback Dak Prescott's struggles in his sophomore year were because Dez was "in his ear."
The wideout then blasted the Cowboys' play-calling, called team owner Jerry Jones "clueless," insinuated that Travis Frederick and Sean Lee got him released and said Lee was a "snake."
Jones said that his comments regarding Prescott were taken out of context.
"I can't speak to that. I can speak to myself, which is I think the world of Dez," he said. "The guys who catch the ball want the ball. They let their quarterback know that sometimes. I was a quarterback. I understand that. Certainly in no way was it intended to be negative."
Lee denied he had anything to do with Bryant's departure.
"[The idea] that I can get anybody off the team and have any input on a roster is absurd," he said. "I love Dez, and I want the best for him. You know, to be honest, we did butt heads, because I wanted Dez to be more accountable to this team and his teammates.
"To be honest with you, a lot of the team felt that way. I think he needs to look at himself and hold himself accountable."
Chris Carson Running as Top Tailback for Seahawks
This last one could be of interest to all the fantasy football enthusiasts who will drafting their teams over the next few weeks.
Since the Seattle Seahawks selected San Diego State's Rashaad Penny at No. 27 overall in April, Penny has been something of a favorite in that community. After all, he piled up over 2,200 yards for the Aztecs in 2017, and the Seahawks need a lead tailback.
The problem is that someone forgot to tell Chris Carson he wasn't going to be the guy.
Per ESPN's Brady Henderson, Carson (and not Penny) has been working as Seattle's No.1 running back over the first two days of training camp, continuing the positive buzz dating back to minicamp and OTAs.
Carson looked pretty good last year before getting hurt, and Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times predicted a month ago that Carson will be the lead tailback when the Seahawks open the 2018 season Sept. 9 against the Denver Broncos at Mile High:
"Now healthy, Carson appeared the clear number one ending minicamp and if he stays healthy through training camp, I'd imagine he'll be the starter going into the season. And if he then could do what he did in the first four games last season—recall that he averaged 4.2 yards per carry, which was better than the likes of Leonard Fournette (3.9), Le'Veon Bell (4.0) and Ezekiel Elliottt (4.1), to name a few—he could well top the 1,000-yard mark, something no Seahawk has done since Marshawn Lynch with 1,306 in 2014."
As it turns out, he just might be onto something.