NFL Training Camp Buzz Roundup: Aaron Rodgers Shows Up in Green Bay
Technically, every NFL team is now officially into training camp.
Veterans were to report to 29 of the league's 32 teams Tuesday, while the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were already rolling in their respective camps. And that resulted in a welcome flood of buzz as we finally waved goodbye to the deadest period of the NFL offseason.
Here's a rundown that, wonderfully, isn't loaded with the COVID-19 opt-out chatter that dominated these summaries in 2020.
Aaron Rodgers Is at Packers Camp
Aaron Rodgers dominated the offseason headlines because of his absence (from Green Bay Packers organized team activities) and his silence (regarding reports that he no longer wanted to play for the team that drafted him 24th overall 16 years ago).
When the Packers kicked off training camp Tuesday, Rodgers once again dominated the headlines, but because of his presence.
It came just a day after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Packers and Rodgers "were able to reach mutually agreed-upon terms that are close to persuading Rodgers to abandon plans he had to skip training camp and instead return for it."
The revised agreement likely increases the chances Rodgers is done in Green Bay after this season, because, according to Schefter, he'll gain "the freedom to decide where he wants to play in 2022." and it sure didn't sound this offseason as though Green Bay was his preferred football home.
Makes you figure this season will have a "Last Dance" feel to it in Wisconsin, with Rodgers and All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams expected to walk next offseason. Adams is entering a contract year and he suggested earlier this offseason that his future could be tied to Rodgers'.
At least it seems we're all-in on those terms now. It'll be fun to see how this contending Packers team approaches what might be an all-in season with the 37-year-old reigning MVP under center.
A more direct impact of Tuesday's developments? The Packers released veteran backup signal-caller Blake Bortles.
Bill Belichick Isn't Talking About Stephon Gilmore or N'Keal Harry
Rumors have swirled of late around two particular members of the New England Patriots, but as the Pats opened camp Tuesday, head coach Bill Belichick said nothing to change the perception that star cornerback Stephon Gilmore wants a new deal (or a trade) and third-year first-round wide receiver N'Keal Harry is on the trading block.
Regarding Gilmore, Belichick said "we're not gonna talk publicly about contracts." Regarding Harry, he said "not gonna talk about contracts and personal situations."
So yeah, maybe the buzz is Bill hasn't changed.
At least fellow veteran Pats defensive back Devin McCourty had more to say about Gilmore's situation, telling reporters Tuesday:
"All that stuff usually gets resolved. And whenever a player's contract comes up it's between kind of between the player and the team, so that all will be figured out. It was good seeing my guy again. And like I've always said, he's one of the best corners in this league. He's been the best guy for the last couple of years, obviously defensive MVP, and he's really made this defense operate at a different level when he's out there. So anytime I get an opportunity to be out there on the field with him, gives us a better chance to win, makes us a better defense. So it is great having you here in the locker room and on this team."
Meanwhile, Belichick did provide a slightly more compelling comment on the team's quarterback situation involving veteran Cam Newton and rookie first-round pick Mac Jones.
"Yeah, as I said, every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance in whatever our role or capacity is," he told reporters. "So it's a new season. We've done some things in the spring, but this is really the start of football season in terms of the team-building part in training camp. So we all have a lot of work to do, that includes all of us. So, until we go out and do anything, it's pretty much a clean slate."
'Incumbent' Drew Lock Gets Initial 1st-Team Reps in Denver
So that essentially confirms that the Denver Broncos will not be quarterbacked by Rodgers, at least in 2021. Next year could be a different story and Denver may very well wind up as the favorite to land Rodgers via trade again, but now the focus is on third-year second-round pick Drew Lock and veteran free-agent addition Teddy Bridgewater.
Those two are locked in a battle for the starting job as the Broncos launch camp. And for what it's worth, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio told the media Tuesday that Lock would get first dibs on starting reps because "he's the incumbent."
Fair enough. Lock, 24, also has a lot more upside than the 28-year-old Bridgewater, who has failed to take the reins at multiple NFL stops (with a severe knee injury admittedly playing a role for part of his run).
My money's on neither winning in the long run. Lock isn't reliable and Bridgewater isn't a game-changer, and the Broncos seem to be low on patience. Regardless, we'll see the younger, bigger-armed Missouri product first.
The good news for both quarterbacks is Fangio also said Tuesday that top receiver Courtland Sutton won't start camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he gets over a torn ACL.
Xavien Howard Shows Up in Miami, and Chandler Jones Appears in Arizona
Rodgers was present in Green Bay, Gilmore was at Pats camp and it's also worth noting that All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard and star pass-rusher Chandler Jones were both in attendance when the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals opened their respective camps Tuesday.
Howard, who is coming off a ridiculous 10-interception season, missed Miami's mandatory minicamp last month. NFL Network's Michael Silver reported he's seeking a new contract. On Tuesday, however, Howard announced on his Instagram that he requested a trade. Jones is also unhappy with his deal and recently requested a trade, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
Alas, the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement make it extremely hard for a veteran player to justify holding out (they face a lost accrued season and heavier fines that can't be waived by teams). It's possible we're witnessing the death of the NFL holdout, especially with Undefined's Josina Anderson reporting that safety Jamal Adams is "in the building" for the Seattle Seahawks and Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reporting that tight end Zach Ertz showed up for the Eagles.
"We're excited to work with X and all the players that are here," Dolphins head coach Brian Flores told the media Tuesday. "Those conversations with X's representation and Chris and myself will be internal and confidential."
No Zach Wilson Yet at Jets Camp
The expectation is that Zach Wilson will be one of two rookie quarterbacks to kick off the season in a starting role, but it's worth noting that the New York Jets' No. 2 overall pick wasn't present for the opening day of training camp Tuesday because he's yet to sign his rookie contract.
Wilson and San Francisco 49ers' No. 3 overall selection Trey Lance are the only rookies who are yet to put pen to paper on entry-level deals with their respective teams. And while it's still pretty early to worry (rookies holdouts almost never linger into the regular season these days), every missed rep now could hurt Wilson's chances of delivering early in that QB1 spot.
"This is business," Jets head coach Robert Saleh said to reporters. "And [general manager Joe Douglas has] got a great handle on everything. When it gets done, it gets done."
Lance's situation is a little less dire, mainly because 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan reiterated Tuesday that there's no quarterback competition there and Jimmy Garoppolo has the starting job locked down.
Nagy 'Really Impressed' by Fields, Says Montgomery Could Get 20 Carries a Game
Speaking of first-round rookie quarterbacks, the Chicago Bears insisted throughout the offseason that they viewed Justin Fields as veteran Andy Dalton's backup, even if we all know it's just a matter of time before the Ohio State product takes over.
Tuesday, Bears head coach Matt Nagy might have moved the bar a little by publicly stating that he's "really impressed" by the progress Fields has made since OTAs. He noted that the 22-year-old had clearly done his homework this summer, according to ESPN's Jeff Dickerson.
Meanwhile, Nagy fed fantasy peeps something to consider by reiterating that running back David Montgomery carrying the ball 20 times per game is "very doable."
That would be significant because Montgomery was one of the most productive backs in football last year thanks partly to his receiving numbers, but he averaged 16.5 carries per game.
Fields and Montgomery could make Bears games appointment viewing in 2021.
Steelers Focused on 2021 with Big Ben
There's been plenty of speculation about veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's future with the Pittsburgh Steelers and in the NFL in general. And that certainly didn't die at Steelers camp Tuesday when ESPN's Brooke Pryor asked Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert if he's approaching 2021 as if it's Big Ben's last in Pittsburgh.
"2021 is all we're worried about with Ben," Colbert said. "… Beyond that, none of us know."
The Steelers at one point seemed unsure about keeping the 39-year-old for 2021, but the finances were never on their side. They worked out a new deal this offseason and that will no longer be the case when they can move on at a cost of $10.4 million in 2022.
It's probably safe to say 2021 will be a make-or-break year for Roethlisberger's future with the team, and possibly in the league. Could both he and Rodgers be on the move next year?
Malik Hooker Joins the Cowboys
The safety position has long been viewed as a weakness for the Dallas Cowboys, but they've at least got reinforcements in 2021. A team that earlier this offseason signed Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal (who can play strong safety or linebacker) added another potential starter at that position with the acquisition of former first-round pick Malik Hooker on Tuesday.
It's no surprise, as Hooker had visited the Cowboys on several occasions this offseason. Nonetheless, it's a low-risk move with a potentially high reward considering Hooker's ceiling. Hooker struggled with consistency and durability as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, but the former Ohio State star had seven interceptions in his first three seasons and he's still just 25 years old.
At the very least, the Cowboys now have more options at safety than they've had in years. Time will tell if any of these guys can step up.
Washington Locks Up Logan Thomas
When tight end Logan Thomas showed up at the start of the Washington Football Team's training camp Tuesday, he did so as a much richer man than he previously was.
That's because the 2020 breakout player signed a new three-year contract worth roughly $24 million with more than $10 million guaranteed, according to Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post.
The converted quarterback revived his career at the tight end position with a 670-yard, six-touchdown season as Washington's primary option in that spot in 2020. Now, at 30, he's finally cashing in. But because he's relatively new to the position, he should have more tread on his tire than usual for a player that age.
The WFT is banking on that in hopes that Thomas, Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson can be its key weapons for years to come.
Kliff Kingsbury Says the Ball Is in Larry Fitzgerald's Court
We're yet to find out if Larry Fitzgerald is done with the Arizona Cardinals and the NFL, but the Cardinals made it clear on Tuesday that they aren't done with Fitzgerald.
"The ball is in his court," Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the 37-year-old 11-time Pro Bowler, who told ESPN's Rachel Nichols (via ProFootballTalk) earlier this month that he's undecided on playing this year.
At this point, Fitz is a fairly limited contributor, primarily out of the slot. But while the Cards are pretty loaded on the boundaries, the jury's still out on Andy Isabella and rookie Rondale Moore inside. They could use Fitzgerald one more year, but his presence is unlikely to make or break the Cards in Kyler Murray's third season.
- Star New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) has officially opened camp on the PUP list, according to PFT.
- Receiver Preston Williams (foot) suffered the same fate as the Dolphins launched camp, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
- Elsewhere in receiver injury news, Odell Beckham Jr. (knee) passed his physical and avoided the PUP list, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
- No PUP in San Francisco for edges Nick Bosa (knee) and Dee Ford (back) or receiver Jalen Hurd (knee), according to Can Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
- Running back Jeff Wilson (knee) and safety Tarvarius Moore (Achilles) weren't so lucky.
- Rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list for the New York Giants, according to The Record's Art Stapleton, who noted that linebacker Blake Martinez is now on said list.