Preseason Week 2 Takeaways: The Antonio Brown Saga Just Won't End
It won't be long before real NFL Sundays are back, but this one was light. Just four teams took the field for preseason action as the weekend concluded, and the headlines didn't exactly overflow from matchups between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.
Still, off-field news made waves Sunday, starting with a kinda-silly, kinda-funny, increasingly frustrating story that just won't go away.
Before we get to what happened in actual games in Los Angeles and Minnesota, let's review and break down the news of the day from Napa, California.
Are the Raiders Reaching a Breaking Point with Antonio Brown?
The $30.1 million in guaranteed money the Oakland Raiders gave Antonio Brown in March is a sunk cost. Ditto for the third- and fifth-round draft picks they sent to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, that would change if Brown decided not to show up, even if his frostbitten feet are healed.
The way Raiders general manager Mike Mayock spoke of Brown on Sunday is enough to cause you to wonder how much longer the team is willing to tolerate Brown's petulance regarding his helmet.
One day after fully participating in a walkthrough with the team, Brown didn't show up for work Sunday, apparently because he's still upset that he's being forced to change helmets to adhere to the league's safety standards.
Mayock essentially addressed Brown directly, and he wasn't coy:
"He's upset about the helmet issue. We have supported that, we appreciate that, but at this point we pretty have exhausted all avenues of relief. So from our perspective, it's time for him to be all in or all out. We're hoping he's back soon. We've got 89 guys busting their tails. We are really excited about where this franchise is going, and we hope AB's going to be a big part of it starting Week 1 against Denver."
The Raiders might already have buyer's remorse, and they might be wishing Brown is actually willing to retire over this ridiculous issue. The franchise can't afford to let him push it around, and now we're down a path toward an ultimatum.
If a healthy Brown continues to not show up for work, the Raiders could make a claim that they don't need to pay him. If he were to retire, they'd be off the hook entirely. You get the impression Mayock and Co. won't let this linger.
Could Taysom Hill Be a Better Option Than Teddy Bridgewater?
During Sunday's Saints-Chargers broadcast on CBS, analyst Dan Fouts remarked that Saints head coach Sean Payton believes quarterback Taysom Hill can be the next Steve Young.
It's a startling comparison but one that makes sense when you consider Hill's skill set. He's become a unique offensive weapon for New Orleans, and the team is working on turning him into more than just a runner.
On Sunday, he took a big step forward.
One week after completing eight of 14 passes for 80 yards and throwing a touchdown and an interception in the team's 2019 preseason debut, Hill had his best passing game as a professional quarterback against the Bolts. The 28-year-old completed 11 of 15 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns in a turnover-free performance that also included 53 rushing yards on five carries.
Hill's always been elusive, but you can really see his development as a passer. He greatly outplayed popular Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater (who completed just five of 12 passes and threw a pick), and now you have to figure he's in a position to push Bridgewater for the No. 2 job in New Orleans.
The Saints should give Hill some first-half reps ahead of Bridgewater at some point this preseason, whether that be next week against the New York Jets or in the team's preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins. Bridgewater played well in the preseason opener, but Hill has earned a shot to compete for the right to serve as the top option behind 40-year-old Drew Brees.
Vikings Rookies Irv Smith Jr. and Alexander Mattison Could Be Factors
Veterans Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook are of course expected to see the bulk of the snaps for the Vikings at tight end and running back, respectively. But both of those positions are increasingly plural, and the Vikes used their Day 2 draft picks this offseason on two new offensive weapons who look primed to make an immediate impact in 2019.
One week after receiving nine carries in the preseason opener, Alexander Mattison added 41 yards on 10 carries in the first half Sunday night against the Seahawks. But those numbers don't reveal just how explosive he looked on one particularly dazzling 22-yard run.
Durability has been a problem for Cook, who's watched from the sideline while Mattison has run hard this month. Look for both to get plenty of work this season.
Meanwhile, Irv Smith Jr. followed up a three-catch opener with five catches on five targets and his first preseason touchdown. He was wide-open on that play, but it all helps build confidence at a position in which the transition can be tough.
Rudolph is the main man, but the win-now Vikes didn't spend a second-rounder on a tight end so that he could be a cheerleader.
The vets will still lead the way this year in Minnesota, but watch for both highly drafted rookie skill-position guys to continue to be factors throughout the season.
Sunday's Sundry Notes
Several other non-game-related stories garnered some buzz Sunday. Here's a rundown.
Aaron Rodgers missed another practice with a back injury: It was "precautionary," according to Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, who doesn't seem too concerned about his franchise quarterback's status. According to ESPN's Rob Demovsky, LaFleur said they'll take it "day by day" with Rodgers.
Sterling Shepard's fractured left thumb should be healed by Week 1: "We believe so, yeah. Absolutely," New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said when asked if the starting wide receiver would be ready to face the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 7, per ESPN's Jordan Raanan.
Colt McCoy might not be ready to start the season: The Washington Redskins quarterback has been recovering from a significant leg injury all offseason. He's yet to play in the preseason and missed practice Sunday. Afterward, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said McCoy's return "might be two or three weeks into the season," per ESPN's John Keim. So it's probably down to Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins for the starting job in D.C.
Dontrelle Inman hits the open market: The veteran receiver asked for and was granted his release from the New England Patriots, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss. It comes just after Josh Gordon was reinstated to the team, and it frees up a player who had 810 receiving yards with the Chargers three years ago.