NFL Veterans with Most to Prove in OTAs, Minicamps

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2019

NFL Veterans with Most to Prove in OTAs, Minicamps

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    NFL veterans with a lot to prove during OTAs and minicamps often get swept under the rug. After all, there are better things for fans to focus on as offseason activities get going.

    New rookies, big free-agent acquisitions, contract squabbles and more typically take center stage. But veterans in varying situations have plenty at stake, too.

    Some are jostling for a new contract. Others are fighting for jobs outright. Some even didn't show up at OTAs and have to prove their point later in the summer. 

    The following veterans have plenty to prove in the weeks to come, even if some of these workouts are voluntary or don't seem all that important. 

         

Reshad Jones, S, Miami Dolphins

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    Is Reshad Jones the next to go in Miami? 

    The Dolphins have undergone a talent purge while beginning a rebuild under new head coach Brian Flores. But Jones wasn't at OTAs in mid-May, and it's unclear whether he'll attend June's mandatory minicamp.

    As a result, the Dolphins are already combating questions about whether they would consider trading Jones. 

    A post-June 1 trade would make sense, as Miami would incur a dead-cap hit of only $4.0 million while saving $13.1 million in salary-cap space, per Over the Cap.

    For Jones, OTAs are a chance to prove he still belongs on the roster and deserves the contract. With five interceptions and nearly 200 combined tackles over the past two seasons, Jones seems like a worthy investment, but he has to audition all over again for a new head coach. 

Jason Verrett, CB, San Francisco 49ers

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    It feels like Jason Verrett has something to prove almost every offseason. 

    When healthy, Verrett is one of the better corners in the NFL. But he hasn't played in more than four games since 2015. He missed the entire 2018 campaign with a torn Achilles and played only five games between the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

    Verrett signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March, giving them a high-upside option who could start opposite of Richard Sherman. 

    Evan McPhillips of Pro Football Focus detailed the highlights of Verrett's breakout 2015 campaign:

    "That year, the TCU alumnus logged 720 snaps en route to an exceptional 88.4 overall grade that ranked second among qualifying cornerbacks. He was elite in coverage, where he generated a 90.9 coverage grade—the best mark at the cornerback position—after he logged three interceptions and three pass breakups on the year."

    If Verrett can prove he's healthy over the summer, he'll likely get a shot at redemption in San Francisco. If the 27-year-old shines during the regular season, he could earn a big contract next year. 

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

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    Eli Manning might be at a turning point in his career. 

    While the Giants currently have Manning penciled in as their starter, they spent the No. 6 overall pick on Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. If Manning falters, the pressure could mount for a change behind center.

    “I understand the circumstances that I am in,” Manning told reporters last week. “I know I need to play well, and I need to play well early.”

    Early returns from OTAs suggest Manning may not have a long leash.

    Last season, Manning mustered only 21 touchdowns and held the Giants offense back. The 38-year-old now has the No. 6 overall pick breathing down his neck. 

    If he continues to struggle at OTAs and minicamp, the Giants might have a tough decision on their hands. 

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Emmanuel Sanders is in a tough spot this summer. 

    The 32-year-old is working his way back from a torn Achilles he suffered in early December, and he isn't putting a timetable on his return. He's also entering the final year of his contract, and he'll be catching passes from a new quarterback this season.

    The Denver Broncos traded for Joe Flacco in March and spent a second-round pick on Drew Lock in April, although the former is expected to begin the season as the starter. They also have a pair of second-year wideouts, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, who will have a leg up over Sanders in terms of establishing chemistry with Flacco and/or Lock.

    Sanders shouldn't have any problems developing a rapport with the big-armed Flacco, as he averaged 12.1 yards per catch last season on 71 receptions, scoring four times. But he might not have much time to grow acclimated to Flacco before the start of the regular season.

Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

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    If healthy, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley has nothing to prove this summer. 

    In four NFL seasons, the 2015 No. 10 pick has more than 4,500 rushing yards on a 4.4 per-carry average and 46 rushing touchdowns. He led the league with 19 rushing and receiving touchdowns in 2017 and 21 this past season.

    However, Gurley missed the final two games of the 2018 regular season with a knee injury, and his usage was surprisingly limited in the playoffs. The Rams added more fuel to those concerns this offseason when they matched an offer sheet for restricted free agent Malcolm Brown and drafted Memphis running back Darrell Henderson at No. 70.

    In March, Jeff Howe of The Athletic reported Gurley has arthritis in his left knee, although neither Gurley nor the Rams have confirmed that report. In this case, the Rams' actions may speak louder than their words.

    In 2020, Gurley's cap hit will soar to $17.25 million. If he comes out looking limited or hobbled during OTAs or minicamp, the Rams may soon grow to regret handing him a four-year, $57.5 million extension last July. 

Case Keenum, QB, Washington Redskins

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    Journeyman quarterback Case Keenum may be staring at his last opportunity to start. 

    In 2017, Keenum had a breakout season with the Minnesota Vikings, completing a career-high 67.6 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. However, he flopped with the Denver Broncos this past season, and they shipped him to the Washington Redskins in March along with a swap of late-round picks.

    Keenum must now fend off No. 15 overall pick Dwayne Haskins for the starting job in Washington while Alex Smith continues to recover from a serious leg injury. 

    Haskins drew rave reviews during rookie minicamp, and head coach Jay Gruden referred to the quarterback competition as "a process," which suggests he may not name a starter for some time. But if Keenum can't beat Haskins for the starting job, he may not get another shot to start again.

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