NFL Training Camp Buzz Roundup: Ben Roethlisberger Says Arm 'Feels Great'
The groundwork for the unprecedented 2020 NFL season is nearly in place as players prepare to practice for the first time. After weeks of negotiations, the league's owners and NFLPA finally agreed on a few significant differences in roster management, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero:
- 16-man practice squads (up to six with no limit on accrued seasons)
- Protect up to four practice-squad members each Tuesday
- Starting 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 6, unlimited players can return from injured reserve after three weeks
Each of those changes is critical to a general manager's approach in constructing a game-day roster, and the initial ripple effects will be felt throughout training camp.
More opportunities will now exist for lower-tier players. With so few opportunities to impress between the start of practice and the regular season, these extra spots could serve as a lifeline.
As such, the continued roster churn seen throughout the league becomes even more important as front offices deal with opt-outs, injuries and typical day-to-day management.
Furthermore, players who opt out will have their prorated 2020 signing bonuses taken off their teams' books for this season, per Pelissero.
Multiple NFL franchises, including the Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, are currently pondering significant roster changes.
Here's a rundown of Tuesday's latest happenings.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger Details Extent of Injury, Current Status
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has bounced back from injuries before, but last season's elbow issues were different.
"There's no real name for it, it's not Tommy John," the 38-year-old signal-caller told reporters. "There are flexor tendons attached to your elbow. I tore three of them (of the five)."
Whenever a quarterback suffers a significant injury to his throwing arm, it raises questions about the long-term ramifications, especially if he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning. However, Roethlisberger told reporters that prior to his injury, his elbow had bothered him "for quite a few years."
Now, he said his arm "feels really good."
The six-time Pro Bowl gunslinger will remain on a pitch count throughout training camp, but he's already throwing two or three times per week without any fatigue. He also said he's at his lightest weight in the last 13 or 14 years.
"Any competitor will tell you they want to go out on their own terms and it doesn't happen all the time," he said. "I didn't feel I was close to that yet. I'm not saying I have 10 years left in me, but I really feel I have years left in me."
With a healthy Roethlisberger leading the way, the Steelers are Super Bowl contenders considering their nasty defense and multitude of offensive weapons.
Tom Brady Makes Memorable First Impression as Member of Buccaneers
On Tom Brady's 43rd birthday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers received the best gift possible by finally having a true franchise quarterback lead them onto the practice field.
"[We] still have got to pinch ourselves, the fact that we have him at quarterback and everything that goes along with it," tight end Cameron Brate told reporters. "Everyone here is just super pumped."
Brady already set the tone for the entire organization through his organized workouts with teammates during the pandemic, Brate said.
"It could seem like a perfect pass, a great ball—everything seems spot on—but if he doesn't feel it's 100 percent crisp, exactly where the ball should be placed, if you weren't efficient at the top of your route, you're going to run it again until you really perfect it. He definitely is meticulous in the way he goes about his business."
The team is working through conditioning sessions, with Brady leading light throwing periods at the goal line and downfield, per The Athletic's Greg Auman.
These may only be the first steps, but they're important as the new face of the franchise elevates expectations throughout the entire roster.
Brady has already done so as the Buccaneers rely on his leadership while transitioning to him playing under center along with the organization's other offensive additions of tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back LeSean McCoy and rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs.
Alex Smith 'Part of the Conversation' for Washington's Starting QB Spot
Against the Houston Texans on Nov. 18, 2018, Washington quarterback Alex Smith suffered a career-threatening leg injury. He endured 17 surgeries, infection and nearly lost his right leg.
None of that stopped him from attempting to resume his career.
While speaking with reporters Tuesday, Washington head coach Ron Rivera spoke refused to rule out a miracle comeback from the three-time Pro Bowler. In fact, Rivera thinks Smith legitimately can be a part of the team's quarterback competition.
"I can envision it, and I said the big thing is if he can do the things that we needed him to do, that he needs to do, to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells, and he comes out and he's just raring to go. We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."
The idea of Smith even returning to the practice field was nonexistent a year ago. But he continued to work, and he has now placed himself in a position where he could make the roster and push second-year signal-caller Dwayne Haskins.
"He's looked good, he really has," Rivera said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression. ... He's looked really fluid, he really has, and it's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors that have helped him get to where he is today."
Smith starting again seems like a long shot, but there's no reason to doubt him considering how much he's already overcome.
Seattle Seahawks Continue to Monitor Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon Situations
The Seattle Seahawks are contemplating the possibility of adding another wide receiver to play alongside Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, and head coach Pete Carroll acknowledged to reporters the team's interest in both Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon.
"What I'd say to you is what we always say because it's what we always do and who we are. [General manager John Schneider] is competing at every turn. There's never been a process, unless we just missed it, that we weren't involved with to understand what the chances were of helping our club. He's all over it. He understands what's going on right now, as much as you can. It's a very complex situation. We just need to see where it fits somewhere down the road. That's all I got for you."
On Friday, the NFL suspended Brown without pay for the first eight regular-season games of the 2020 campaign. The suspension could be lengthened due to an ongoing investigation regarding allegations of sexual assaulting a former trainer, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler (via ESPN's Brady Henderson).
Brown has seven 1,000-yard seasons and seven Pro Bowl nods on his resume, but Gordon may be a better fit in Seattle since he played for the Seahawks last season.
The 29-year-old caught seven passes for 139 yards in five games before being indefinitely suspended yet again. 710 ESPN Seattle's John Clayton recently reported the team wants to re-sign him once he's available. He's now going through the process of reinstatement, and the Seahawks are awaiting the league's decision.
"It's not in our hands," Carroll said Tuesday. "Josh did a really good job with us last year. He fit in really well. He was part of this team by the way we opened and embraced his coming to us but also by the way he adapted. So we are very open to that thought, and we'll see what happens."
Cincinnati Bengals RB Joe Mixon Sets Price for Potential Contract Extension
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon wants to get paid, and he knows his price.
The Cincinnati Enquirer's Tyler Dragon reported the two-time 1,100-yard rusher "hopes to receive an extension that places him amongst the top eight highest-paid running backs in the league."
Earlier this offseason, The Athletic's Paul Dehner wrote the organization was "prepared for a holdout" if the two sides couldn't reach a long-term extension.
Mixon is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and he's an outstanding running back who will only help rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. The 24-year-old did report to training camp, but there may be obstacles to getting an extension ironed out in the coming weeks, including uncertainty regarding this season's revenue and a potential lowered salary cap next year.
"There are challenges that we will be working through and hopefully we will be able to come to an agreement. Time will tell on that," Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said, per Dragon. "But it's something we are certainly cognizant of and want to address."
To reach Mixon's asking price, Cincinnati must offer at least $7.8 million annually, per Spotrac. Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey reset the market this offseason when he agreed to a four-year, $64 million extension.
If Mixon receives an extension, it should fall somewhere within that wide range of top-paid backs.
Cleveland Browns DT Andrew Billings Opts Out of 2020 Campaign
The Cleveland Browns lacked the power necessary to anchor the middle of last year's defense. Larry Ogunjobi can be an outstanding 1-technique when healthy, but his game is predicated on disrupting backfields more than holding the point of attack.
As such, new general manager Andrew Berry decided to sign powerhouse Andrew Billings to a one-year, $3.5 million free-agent deal this offseason. Billings and Ogunjobi were expected to compete for the starting nose tackle spot, but that will no longer be the case, as the former is opting out of the season.
Last year, the Browns fielded the league's third-worst run defense and allowed five yards per carry. They needed someone who could gobble up double-teams and allow the linebackers to run freely.
That guy is no longer on the roster.
The Browns still have Ogunjobi, Sheldon Richardson, Eli Ankou, Daniel Ekuale and third-round rookie Jordan Elliott, but they lack a true run defender. Veteran free-agent options like Damon Harrison, Tim Jernigan or Domata Peko could serve as Band-Aids this fall.
Miami Dolphins WR Allen Hurns Opts Out, Too
Allen Hurns, the Miami Dolphins' fourth-leading receiver last season, also chose to opt out of the 2020 campaign, according to head coach Brian Flores (via a team statement).
Hurns caught 32 passes for 416 yards and two touchdowns in his first year with the organization.
The 28-year-old could have bolstered a Miami receiving corps that includes DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Albert Wilson. Now, the Dolphins may have to incorporate younger options to develop alongside No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa once he takes over under center.
Isaiah Ford, Jakeem Grant and Gary Jennings Jr. will have a chance to become bigger parts of the offense. Of the three, Ford led the way last season with 23 receptions for 244 yards. Rookies Kirk Merritt and Matt Cole could also compete for snaps.
The Dolphins are transitioning this offseason with Chan Gailey taking over play-calling duties. As such, the entire group will have a clean slate as they learn the new system.
"Players love playing for [Gailey] because he gives them freedom—a certain amount of freedom, not a whole lot—and he's a guy that does care about the details but he really cares about the end result, not necessarily how you got there," said veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played five seasons for Gailey with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly.
San Francisco 49ers Looking at Extra Edge Options
The San Francisco 49ers feature arguably the league's best defensive front, even after trading DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts.
However, the organization understands the strength of its front is built upon depth and the ability to come at opposing quarterbacks in waves. That allows defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to vary his coverages and limit blitz packages because the defensive linemen can create pressure without added help.
Even though the Niners have Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Ronald Blair and even Solomon Thomas to work off the edge, they continue to look at available options. Former Pro Bowl defensive end Ziggy Ansah visited Tuesday and went through a physical and COVID-19 test, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
No agreement is in place, but Ansah's talent is undeniable. The same can be said of his injury history. The 31-year-old pass-rusher missed 14 of 32 games over the last two seasons because of shoulder and ankle injuries and mustered only 6.5 sacks.
Ansah wasn't the only free-agent edge-defender in the Seahawks' facility Tuesday. Dion Jordan also visited, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Jordan has been suspended multiple times for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug and substance-abuse policies, and he underwent knee surgery in June 2018. In seven games with the Oakland Raiders last season, the 2013 third overall pick managed two sacks and five combined tackles..
Both are low-risk, high-reward options to provide depth and possibly contribute as part of an already talented rotation if the Niners eventually sign either one.
DT P.J. Hall Fails Physical, Raiders-Vikings Trade Nixed
The Las Vegas Raiders tried to pull off the "We'll leak that we plan to release a player" to gain something in value via trade. It almost worked, too.
The Minnesota Vikings agreed to trade a conditional 2021 seventh-round draft pick to the Raiders for defensive tackle P.J. Hall. But the 2018 second-round pick failed his physical, thus negating the agreement.
The Raiders will likely go ahead with their original plan by releasing a defender who started 12 games for them a year ago, unless some other front office wants to take a flier on the 25-year-old.
While the exact reason behind the failed physical isn't known, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden previously stated Hall showed up to last season's training camp "overweight," per Heavy's Austin Boyd.
Conditioning could be a factor again since Hall didn't miss a game last season due to injury. In fact, he's played in 30 of 32 possible games through his first two seasons. He generated 23 pressures last season and an overall grade of 70.2, according to Pro Football Focus.
Multiple teams—including the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals—still need defensive tackle depth, and Hall may be worth the risk of a minimal investment.
Buffalo Bills Makes Another Move Along Offensive Interior
In less than a week, the Buffalo Bills lost starting right guard Jon Feliciano to an injury, signed a replacement in former New York Jets lineman Brian Winters and released a quality utility blocker in Spencer Long.
The Bills announced the decision regarding Long on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old signed a three-year, $12.6 million deal with the Bills last offseason after starting 13 games for the Jets in 2018. However, he didn't earn a starting spot during his only season in Buffalo. Long played in 14 games, but he primarily served as a swing interior option at center and guard.
Those types of players are valuable, just not at the rate Buffalo would have paid Long had it retained him. The Bills save $2.4 million toward this year's salary cap with his release, per Spotrac.
Long will likely find another home thanks to his versatility, while the Bills can rely on a combination of Daryl Williams and Evan Boehm to handle backup guard or center duties.