Training Camp Buzz Roundup: Daniel Jones Exceeding Early Expectations
It's here, guys and girls. It's finally here.
Half of the NFL's 32 teams opened training camp Wednesday. And while it'll take some time to get a feel for who is consistently exceeding or falling short of expectations, plenty of headlines were made Wednesday.
Here's your complete rundown, starting with what we're all quietly or loudly hoping will be a quarterback controversy in New York.
Jones Has 'Exceeded Expectations' While Eli Has 'More Appreciation' for His Role
The New York Giants opened training camp Sunday in Jersey, giving the Big Apple media yet another chance to get their sound bites from/regarding super-old quarterback Eli Manning and super-young quarterback Daniel Jones. Two from Wednesday stood out.
Most critically, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur remarked during his first camp media session that Jones has "exceeded expectations" since he was selected sixth overall in April.
“We really haven’t seen anything he can’t do in terms of playing quarterback," he said of the Duke product, per ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan.
Meanwhile, Manning noted that he's developed "more appreciation" for his role as Jones comes aboard in what is Eli's 16th season.
“When you’re younger," he said, per Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper, "you assume you’ll keep playing."
Let the controversy begin? Not yet, but it sure doesn't feel as though the Giants will be waiting several years to see Jones under center. And Manning probably knows that.
Taylor Lewan Makes Bad News on the Eve of Titans Camp
The buzz when Tennessee Titans veterans report to training camp on Thursday will undoubtedly surround star left tackle Taylor Lewan, who on Wednesday was suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
That's bad news, of course, because Lewan has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last three seasons and is a consistent, durable and reliable player in his prime at a premium position. But the good news is the Titans have one of the league's best swing tackles in Dennis Kelly.
Kelly can hang, and he should benefit from the addition of veteran free-agent acquisition Rodger Saffold.
But there's no way to spin this positively. It'll be tough sledding as the Titans deal with Myles Garrett, Justin Houston and Yannick Ngakoue in the first three weeks of the season.
Keep in mind that right tackle Jack Conklin is also recovering from knee surgery. His status will be something to watch as camp approaches.
Melvin Gordon Is Officially MIA
I know, and we landed on the moon! There were plenty of hints running back Melvin Gordon was going to be a training camp holdout, and that came to fruition on Wednesday when the Los Angeles Chargers Pro Bowler was a no-show for the opening practice of camp, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Might this linger?
Earlier this week, Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson reported that a new deal for Gordon "isn't coming soon" and that the organization is "dug in" on that stance. And it's easy to see why. The running back position has a short shelf life and has lost considerable value during the most pass-happy era in NFL history. And with the franchise tag on the table for 2020, the 26-year-old has limited leverage entering a $5.6 million contract year.
The Bolts also look as though they found a diamond in the rough with undrafted second-year back Austin Ekeler, who is one of just three backs who have averaged 5.3-plus yards per attempt on a minimum of 150 carries since the start of 2017. And 2018 seventh-rounder Justin Jackson performed well in a small sample as a rookie, so Los Angeles likely isn't concerned about Gordon's holdout.
That could mean Gordon will blink quickly. But if he's serious about this thing, we might have to get used to an Ekeler/Jackson backfield for the Chargers in August.
Yannick Ngakoue Is a No-Show in Jacksonville
Another seemingly inevitable holdout that became official Wednesday is that of Jacksonville Jaguars pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who wants a new deal after recording 29.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the team.
This might also be a bridge too far for the organization, thanks again to the fact that the franchise tag is a safety valve for 2020. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported Wednesday that talks had broken off after Jacksonville offered the 2017 Pro Bowler a "a short-term deal worth over $19 million per year with $50M-plus over the first two years."
That'd be a nice raise for a dude who is slated to make barely more than $2 million in 2019, with nothing promised beyond that. But Ngakoue is just 24 years old, and unlike Gordon he plays a premium position. He probably knows he's worth $20 million or more per season, and that with the salary cap likely to keep rising he'd land a much more lucrative deal as a free agent.
And if that's the case, kudos to him for betting on himself. He's young enough to do so, but there's also a risk when you take that chance on a rookie contract that pays you less than $3.5 million in total.
Duke Johnson Shows Up in Berea
And while Gordon and Ngakoue are digging in, running back Duke Johnson appears to have accepted his fate for 2019 by reporting for the start of Cleveland Browns training camp on Wednesday, per Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.
It's too early to tell if that'll bring an end to the offseason soap opera which Johnson starred in, but the Browns continually made it clear they had no plans to trade him despite his desire to play elsewhere, and they doubled down on that Wednesday.
"He's going to have a significant role in our offense," Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said of the versatile 25-year-old, per ESPN.com's Jake Trotter. "He's a good player. We're not going to give away good players."
The market just might not have been strong enough for a back who has failed to rush for 400 yards in each of his four NFL seasons, especially considering that he has three years and $13.8 million remaining on his contract, according to Spotrac.
Nick Chubb stood out as a rookie, but with Kareem Hunt scheduled to serve an eight-game suspension to start the season, Browns fans are probably happy to see Johnson on the practice field right now.
Mike Daniels Is a Goner in Green Bay
The news of the day occurred in Wisconsin, where the Green Bay Packers somewhat surprisingly parted ways with veteran defensive lineman Mike Daniels on the very day he was supposed to show up for the start of training camp.
The timing is a little odd. Veterans who weren't cut six weeks ago are usually either cut six weeks from now or not at all. But the move still makes sense considering that the new Green Bay regime added high-profile front-seven defenders Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary earlier this offseason.
Injuries and age are also factors for the 30-year-old Daniels, who has missed eight games the last two seasons and saw his sack total drop from five to two and his tackle total plummet from 49 to 18 (albeit in four fewer games) between 2017 and 2018.
Daniels would have preferred for this to happen in March, but there should still be a robust market for the 2017 Pro Bowler because of his experience and skill set. Meanwhile, the Packers defense barely resembles the unit that finished the 2018 season ranked in the bottom five in the NFL with just 15 takeaways.
Jalen Ramsey Isn't Shy About His Desires
Yet the viral story of the day took place back in Jacksonville, where Ngakoue's absence wasn't nearly as conspicuous as Jalen Ramsey's presence.
That's because the superstar cornerback showed up for the first day of work in an armored truck.
The message—documented here by Ben Murphy of First Coast News—was clear. Ramsey wants to get paid.
The 24-year-old two-time Pro Bowler skipped a large portion of the team's offseason program but seemed resigned to the fact he wouldn't get an extension when he said in June that the team wouldn't be offering that.
With a contract year, a fifth-year option and possibly even a franchise tag on the table, the Jaguars don't have a lot of incentive to get it done, especially now that Ramsey has stated a hometown discount isn't in the cards.
The takeaway here? Ramsey isn't going to hold out, but he also isn't going to be coy about his desire to hit the jackpot soon. Will it reach a point at which the Jaguars deem the distraction to be unworthy of the money that it'll cost them to keep him long term?
Lance Kendricks Gets a Shot in New England
The New England Patriots' tight end position has been the subject of plenty of attention this offseason. Rob Gronkowski is retired, Dwayne Allen is a member of the Miami Dolphins, and the 38-year-old Ben Watson is facing a four-game suspension.
That leaves relative no-names Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson and Ryan Izzo fighting for reps this summer, and now you can add veteran Lance Kendricks to that list.
The 31-year-old signed with the Pats on the opening day of their training camp, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, giving New England an established second-round pick who has caught 241 passes in eight seasons with the Rams and Packers.
Nobody expects Kendricks to fill Gronk's shoes, but the Patriots have a way of getting the most out of players who have fallen short of expectations. Don't be surprised at all if Kendricks winds up playing a relatively significant role in the New England offense early this season.
Cam, Kelce and Ajayi Get Green Lights
As camps launched across the nation, we also got plenty of injury updates on Wednesday. Here are some of the notable developments on the health front from the day that was in camp-land.
- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (shoulder) has avoided the PUP list to kick off camp, according to Rapoport, but he is likely to be on a pitch count.
- Tight end Travis Kelce (ankle) practiced at Kansas City Chiefs camp and told the media afterward that he's back to 100 percent, according to ESPN's Adam Teicher.
- New Seattle Seahawks pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder) was cleared for camp, according to Pelissero, which is a fantastic development considering that said injury was holding him back throughout the offseason.
- As expected, ESPN.com's Field Yates reported that Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (thumb) will indeed start camp on the non-football injury list.
- It didn't technically take place in a camp, but free-agent running back Jay Ajayi (knee) was finally fully cleared by Dr. James Andrews, according to Schefter. Look for him to move to the top of the list for teams in need of backfield help.