7 NFL Questions That Must Be Answered Before the Start of Training Camps
The National Football League has canceled the 2020 Hall of Fame Game, which could indicate that more changes to the offseason schedule are coming. But if things go as planned, players will report to training camp on July 28.
This means we're roughly a month out from the most important team-building portion of the offseason. Rosters will come together, position battles will be decided, and roles will be finalized in late July and in August.
Of course, this doesn't mean that teams are just sitting idly by and waiting for camps to kick off. There are questions that many of them must answer before then if they hope to maximize the value of training camp.
Here, we'll examine seven big questions that must be answered before camps open next month.
How Willing to Adapt Their Offense Are the New England Patriots?
The New England Patriots will have a new starting quarterback now that Tom Brady is a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before this past weekend, it appeared that the job would go to second-year man Jarrett Stidham. However, the Patriots agreed to a one-year deal with Cam Newton late Sunday, meaning that Stidham will at least have competition for the starting gig.
Between now and camp, the Patriots need to determine just how willing they are to adapt their offense to Newton's skill set. Will they fully embrace his dual-threat ability, or will this be a direct competition to see who can best run Josh McDaniels' offense?
This is important to sort out because it will dictate how the quarterback competition in camp unfolds. If New England is willing to adapt to Newton instead of the other way around, the veteran should have a clear leg up in the competition—provided, of course, that he is healthy.
Newton is a three-time Pro Bowler and a former league MVP. His dual-threat ability is one of his biggest assets and not something the Patriots have traditionally used in their offense. If the Patriots are going to maximize that ability, they're going to have to go all-in with Newton and not view him as a short-term experiment.
And this could indeed just be an experiment. According to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Newton's deal is only worth up to $7.5 million. This means that the Patriots are in no way obligated to commit to Newton and his skill set. The question they have to answer is are they willing to be?
Who Will Call Plays for the Cleveland Browns?
According to new Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, the team has not yet decided whether he or offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call plays in 2020.
"That really remains to be seen," Stefanski said, per Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot. "I’d like to get everybody back in the building, get out there practicing and get together before we make that decision. That decision will be made before Sept. 13, I promise you that."
Really, this is something that the Browns need to sort out long before the regular-season opener.
Poor play-calling was one of the biggest problems for the Browns offense last season, and it contributed to a disappointing second season for quarterback Baker Mayfield. Freddie Kitchens proved incapable of handling both head-coaching duties and play-calling. If Stefanski has any doubt about his ability to handle both, he should strongly consider giving the responsibility to Van Pelt to open the season.
Determining whether Mayfield can be a legitimate franchise quarterback has to be the primary goal in 2020, and Cleveland would be wise to limit concerns about its play-calling as early as possible. The last thing Cleveland can afford is another season in which Mayfield fails to develop.
Are the New York Jets Still Invested in Le'Veon Bell?
This isn't a question in the literal sense, because financially, the New York Jets are still very much invested in running back Le'Veon Bell. The former Pittsburgh Steelers standout has $17 million in dead money remaining on his contract to go with a $15.5 million 2020 cap hit.
What the Jets have to figure out is whether they still view Bell as a long-term piece of the proverbial puzzle. Bell averaged just 3.2 yards per carry last season. He's 28 years old and may already be past his playing prime.
ESPN's Rich Cimini believes that New York will shop Bell at the trade deadline if it has fallen out of contention by then.
If the Jets are already looking ahead to trading or releasing Bell, they need to focus on preparing other backfield options. Among them is Frank Gore, a veteran the Jets value highly and signed in May.
"The leadership he brings is one of those things you need to see it because it's unique," head coach Adam Gase said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. "The impact he has on guys is phenomenal."
A strong running game would be extremely valuable as the Jets continue to develop quarterback Sam Darnold. If Bell isn't going to lead the rushing attack all season, the Jets need to start figuring out who can.
Are the Jacksonville Jaguars Willing to Deal with a Yannick Ngakoue Holdout?
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is one of the better young players in the NFL. The 25-year-old has produced at least eight sacks in each of his four pro seasons and has 37.5 to go with 122 tackles and two interceptions.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Ngakoue has no interest in playing in Jacksonville this season.
"It's obvious my time is up in my current situation," he tweeted. "Let's both move on."
Ngakoue was given the franchise tag this offseason and clearly isn't happy about it. The Jaguars now need to determine if they're willing to deal with a holdout while hoping that Ngakoue will give in and play this season. If not, they should strongly consider getting whatever they can in a trade before the start of camp.
Parting with Ngakoue would hurt the defense, but the Jaguars did draft former LSU pass-rusher K'Lavon Chaisson in April. If Ngakoue isn't going to be part of the equation, Jacksonville can start building its pass rush around Chaisson and second-year edge-rusher Josh Allen.
By holding out hope that Ngakoue eventually shows up, the Jaguars run the risk of both not having him in 2020 and losing him next offseason for nothing.
Will the Chicago Bears Hold a Truly Open Quarterback Competition?
According to Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace, the Bears will hold an open quarterback competition between offseason acquisition Nick Foles and 2017 first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky.
"We want to create competition. We've talked to both players and it's an open competition," Pace said, via the team's official Twitter account.
But the Bears need to be honest with themselves and determine whether this will truly be an open competition. The jobs of both Pace and head coach Matt Nagy could be on the line this year, and the winner of said competition could help determine if one or both of them will be retained.
Trubisky winning the competition would seemingly benefit Pace, who traded up to take the North Carolina quarterback ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Nagy is less tied to Trubisky and needs to pick the quarterback who gives him the best chance to win.
If Nagy has become frustrated with Trubisky's inconsistency over the last couple of years, he could be pulling for Foles.
The problem is that if either Pace or Nagy is favoring a specific quarterback, it's only going to hurt Chicago in the long run. The Bears need to figure out whether Trubisky or Nagy has been the problem, and a competition rigged in either direction will make doing so more difficult.
Will the Los Angeles Chargers Give Justin Herbert a Legitimate Chance to Start?
The Los Angeles Chargers drafted former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert to be their quarterback of the future. This doesn't mean that Herbert will be the quarterback of the immediate future. The former Ducks standout isn't considered a particularly pro-ready prospect, and he's going to have a sizable transition to make.
However, the Chargers appear ready to give Herbert a shot at the starting job.
"We're preparing Justin to be ready to come in and compete from day one," quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton said, per Kevin Wade of 247Sports.
The question is whether Hamilton means what he says or if this will be Tyrod Taylor's offense until further notice. The journeyman quarterback has been pegged as the team's bridge quarterback ever since Philip Rivers left town earlier this offseason.
This is, after all, a team that went 12-4 just two years ago.
The Chargers have to decide whether their goal is to rebuild with Herbert or push for the playoffs this season—or if doing both is possible. Figuring that out will impact their priorities for training camp.
Will the Miami Dolphins Give Tua Tagovailoa a Crack at the Starting Job?
Like the Chargers, the Miami Dolphins have to decide if they're willing to let their rookie quarterback compete for the starting job. Their reason for staring down that decision, however, is quite different.
The Dolphins, who went 5-11 last season, probably don't have to factor a potential playoff run into their decision. What they do have to consider is the fact that Tagovailoa suffered a dislocated and fractured hip less than one year ago. Putting him under center with an underwhelming roster could easily open him up to reinjury.
Instead, the Dolphins could start Ryan Fitzpatrick for another season. This would give the rookie more time to heal and adjust to the speed and nuances of the pro game—theoretically allowing him to better protect himself once he takes the field.
The problem is that Tagovailoa has a higher ceiling than Fitzpatrick and is the future at quarterback for the franchise. He might even give the Dolphins the best chance to be competitive this season.
"According to every coach I've spoken to, it's a foregone conclusion that he will beat out veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and start Week 1 against the Patriots on Sept. 13," Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote in May.
The Dolphins have to weigh Tagovailoa's upside against his risk of reinjury and come up with a definitive game plan before the start of training camp.