B/R App Community Training Camp Questions: Cam Newton vs. Mac Jones and More

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJuly 30, 2021

B/R App Community Training Camp Questions: Cam Newton vs. Mac Jones and More

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    It's camping time.

    Across the NFL, teams have begun training camps in preparation for the 2021 season. We're less than a week from the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, and just over a month from the season opener between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    With camps in full swing, there is no shortage of interesting storylines. There are star players returning from injury. A handful of teams are trying to settle on a starting quarterback for 2021. And just about every team in the league has a position battle or two heating up.

    Rather than pick out some storylines of note a la the Training Camp Roundups here at Bleacher Report, this time we let you, the reader, pick the topics of discussion via the Bleacher Report app.

    Here's what you the fans are wondering about—starting with one of the aforementioned competitions under center.

QB Question No. 1 (There Will Be More)

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Who will be the starting QB for the Patriots Week 1? — @Zo500

    As it happens, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked this very question (or at least a similar one) as camp opened. As Mark Inabinett wrote for AL.com, the answer he gave was very Belichick-ian.

    "Every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance in whatever our role or capacity is," Belichick said. "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 here in training camp. We all have a lot of work to do. That includes all of us, so until we go out and do anything, then it's pretty much a clean slate."

    Well that clears that up.

    As worded, this is an easy question—barring an injury or a complete faceplant, Cam Newton will be under center when the Pats host the Miami Dolphins in Week 1.

    The bigger question is whether he should be.

    With a year of experience in Josh McDaniels' offense under his belt and an actual offseason, it's not unreasonable to expect that he'll improve on last year's mostly miserable season. But at 32, Newton is what he is—all those years of taking hits in Carolina have taken their toll.

    Is rookie Mac Jones ready to lead an NFL offense? No one knows, although he fared well in OTAs. But he's a better arm talent than Newton is (at this point in his career) before ever having set foot on the field in a game that counts. Jones completed over 77 percent of his passes with 41 touchdowns in 2020. Newton threw eight scoring passes all season long and averaged a full four fewer yards per attempt.

    Belichick will most likely make the safer call to open the season and go with Newton's experience. But the 2015 NFL MVP will have precious little margin for error.

The Ballad of Barkley

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    How will Giants offense look with (Saquon) Barkley coming back from his torn ACL? — @ScruffD0g

    On paper, there would appear to be ample room for enthusiasm about the New York Giants offense in 2021. A healthy Saquon Barkley is arguably the most dangerous running back in the NFL. With the addition of Kenny Golladay, young quarterback Daniel Jones has an impressive array of passing-game weaponry at his disposal.

    With that said, it doesn't take long for the shine to start wearing off.

    For starters, we don't know how "back" Barkley will be—especially early in the season. There continues to be rumblings that Barkley will be eased (rather than thrust) back into action, with head coach Joe Judge telling ESPN's Jordan Raanan that the team is taking a "big picture" approach with their star back.

    "We're thinking long term with Saquon; long term in the season, long term in his career," Judge said. "And by taking care of him individually, that is going to help our team long term as well. We're going to make sure when we get him out there we can keep him out there."

    Barkley isn't New York's only problem, either. Golladay is coming off the worst season of his professional career after playing in just five games for the Detroit Lions in 2020. After showing flashes of considerable potential as a rookie, Jones backslid substantially last season, throwing just 11 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions in 14 games.

    Then there's New York's offensive line, which enters the season with the distinction of being ranked as the worst unit of its kind in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Three potential starters on that line (tackles Andrew Thomas and Nate Solder and guard Zach Fulton) allowed double-digit sacks in their last season of action (Solder opted out in 2020).

    If everything falls into place, New York could have the second-best offense in the NFC East. But there are an awful lot of things that could go wrong—so third or fourth is quite a bit more likely.

QB Question No. 2 (See? Told You There Would Be More)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Will the Bears start (Andy) Dalton Week 1? If so, how many weeks until they give (Justin) Fields a shot? — @JacksonPry


    The first part of this query is easy enough to answer: Yes. Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy has insisted from the moment the team moved up to draft Fields 11th overall that Dalton remained the team's starter. Per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Dalton said he headed into camp confident that he's "the guy" for the Bears in 2021.

    "He's a first-round pick, I understand that,'' Dalton said. "But I also understand that I'm the starter. I understand that. I knew I signed a one-year deal. I knew that I was going to come in and I was going to be the starter, regardless of the situation, coming in. That's my focus. I'm not worried about all the stuff that's going to be going on with Justin because that doesn't affect me.''

    Dalton is a three-time Pro Bowler with 142 career starts under his belt. But he's also a 33-year-old quarterback on his third team in as many years who hasn't posted a winning record since 2015. The Bears aren't a Super Bowl contender, but they are a team that has made the playoffs two of the past three years that expects to do so again. Every loss that piles up is going to increase the pressure on Nagy (whose seat is rather warm) to make a switch under center.

    Let's rattle off some win (or loss) projections.

    Week 1 on the road against the Rams—loss.

    Week 2 at home against Cincinnati—revenge game for Dalton! (win)

    Week 3 at Cleveland—loss.

    Week 4 at home against the Lions—win.

    Week 5 in Vegas against the Raiders—a loss here would be an early tipping point, but we'll go with win.

    Here's where the bottom falls out.

    Staring in Week 6, the Bears start a four-week gauntlet. There's a home date against the rival Packers, a trip to Tampa, a home tilt with the 49ers and a road game in Pittsburgh.

    The San Fran game is the only one the Bears might be favored in, and they have to win two to avoid hitting the bye under .500.

    At that point, the Fields furor will hit full boil. But in Week 11, the Bears host the Baltimore Ravens. It's not a great matchup for a rookie making his first career start.

    Assuming a loss there (and at that point a losing record), though, Nagy won't have much choice if he plans to coach the team past this year.

    Justin Fields will make his first start on Thanksgiving in Detroit.

QB Question No. 3 (Mile-High Edition)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Who's going to win the starting job between Drew Lock and Teddy (Bridgewater)? — @NYCSports321

    If you listen intently enough, you can still hear the quiet sobbing from Denver after dreams of landing Aaron Rodgers were squashed (at least in 2021).

    Landing Rodgers was more fantasy than reality this year. The decision that the Broncos face under center is the one they were always going to face—give Drew Lock one more shot as the starting quarterback or turn the offense over to Teddy Bridgewater.

    Per Zach Segars of Mile High Sports, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said as training camp opened that the competition is as wide open as Rocky Mountain National Park.

    "[The reps] will be 50/50 unless it's an odd number," Fangio said. "Then, somebody got one more. We'll take a look at it after the first off day and maybe we have a day where one of them gets 70 percent and the other gets 30, and then flip it the next day. I think when you look up to the point where we make a decision, it's going to be a 50/50 thing, both from a rep standpoint and working with what group."

    The thing is, it shouldn't be.

    Bridgewater was hardly a world-beater in his lone season as the starter for the Carolina Panthers, winning just four of 15 starts. But there weren't many statistical categories in which he wasn't better than Lock last year.

    Completion percentage? Not close—Bridgewater's was almost 12 points higher. He averaged more passing yards per game and yards per attempt. He threw one fewer touchdown pass than Lock, but also threw four fewer interceptions. His passer rating and QBR were both over 15 points higher than Lock's.

    The only conceivable edge that Lock might have over Bridgewater is familiarity with Denver's offense, and that edge won't last.

    It will be Bridgewater who starts at quarterback for the Broncos at MetLife Stadium against the Giants on September 12.

    Because it has to be.

Joe Burrow's Return

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    How is Joe Burrow looking? — @paul_davis

    This is both a simple question and a complicated one. It's simple because it's all of five words long. It's complicated because assessing Joe Burrow's return isn't especially easy just a couple days into training camp.

    Early reports on Burrow's recovery from the ACL tear that ended his rookie season have been just about universally positive. The first overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft participated fully in OTAs, and as Jeremy Rauch reported for Fox 19, Burrow said he's just about all the way back physically.

    "I'm just about 100 percent," Burrow said. "Feeling great. I feel great going into week one."

    There's reason for optimism outside of Burrow's proclamation. With the addition of his old LSU teammate, Ja'Marr Chase, the Bengals have an impressive threesome of wideouts in Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. An argument can be made that Cincinnati would have been better served drafting tackle Penei Sewell over Chase in the 2021 draft, but the offseason additions of tackle Riley Reiff and guard Jackson Carman should provide a boost to one of the league's worst offensive lines in 2020.

    With that said, it has still been less than nine months since Burrow tore his knee up against Washington, and while Cincy's line is better, it's still average on a good day. If Burrow sees any action in the preseason it will be brief, so we won't really know where Burrow is until he faces pressure from the likes of Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 and Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears in Week 2.

The Latest on Deshaun Watson

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    What will happen with the ongoing Deshaun Watson saga? — @NYCSports321

    This is about as loaded as questions get.

    There was another app user who asked why Deshaun Watson reported to Texans camp at all given his well-publicized trade demands. That question is a much easier one to answer—holding out of camp could mean a $50,000 fine from the team, per day.

    That adds up pretty quickly.

    The bad blood between player and team remains very much alive though. As Brian Smith reported for the Houston Chronicle, Watson has been used as both the fourth-string quarterback and as a safety in early practice sessions.

    Per ESPN's Sarah Barshop, the Texans have changed their stance on Watson's trade request and are at least willing to listen to offers. But the team is reportedly seeking the sun, moon and stars for the 25-year-old—a "combination of five high draft picks and starting-caliber players."

    Watson is under investigation by the NFL and Houston police and facing lawsuits from 22 women accusing him of sexual misconduct or assault. The lawsuits all accuse Watson of sexually inappropriate behavior during massage sessions, with some of the women also alleging that he sexually assaulted them. Watson has denied the allegations and said that any sexual activity that took place was consensual.

    However, given the nature of those unresolved investigations and lawsuits, the odds that someone will pay Houston's reported price at present are slim to none.

    As Barshop reported, the league has yet to make a determination on Watson's playing status for 2021.

    "The NFL's review of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson remains ongoing and active," the league said in a statement. "We are working cooperatively with the Houston Police Department and ensuring that the NFL's inquiry does not interfere with their investigation. As we continue to gather additional information and monitor law enforcement developments, we will make appropriate decisions consistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy. At this time, there are no restrictions on Watson's participation in club activities."

    At this point, the league can afford to be patient as the investigation proceeds. But barring an unexpectedly rapid conclusion to Watson's civil cases and the criminal investigations, the Commissioner's Exempt List remains a very real possibility. Watson would still be paid, but he wouldn't be eligible to play.

    Whether the league uses that list to buy time as things play out, or if it acts independently once its investigation has ended, remains to be seen. So does what (if any) discipline he'll face.

    Once his playing future is settled, Watson is going to be traded. The only question is where and for what.

    But that's probably not going to happen any time soon.

Why Not Washington?

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    Ryan M. Kelly/Associated Press

    Where's the love for WFT? — @bobbydigital

    I may not be the best person to answer this question—among the NFL analysts here at Bleacher Report, I was the only one who ranked the Washington Football Team inside the top 10 in our most recent NFL Power Rankings.

    Still, I ranked four teams in the NFC ahead of Washington, so I'll take a stab at relaying my colleagues' reasons for skepticism where Washington is concerned.

    Washington is admittedly a team that has quite a bit going for it in 2021. In running back Antonio Gibson, wideouts Curtis Samuel and Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas, the WFT has a solid cadre of skill-position talent. The offensive line finished sixth in PFF's end-of-season rankings in 2020. The defense has the potential to be one of the NFL's best—especially if linebacker Jamin Davis lives up to his first-round pedigree and safety Landon Collins can recapture his Pro Bowl form.

    The biggest question mark is under center with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Per ESPN's John Keim, Fitzpatrick said his ninth team is the best situation he's ever been in.

    "This is the best situation I've ever been in or the best situation I've ever gone into as 'the guy,'" Fitzpatrick said.

    Fitzpatrick was decent in Miami last year, winning four of seven starts while completing a career-high 68.5 percent of his passes. But the 38-year-old has bounced all over the league for a reason—he has thrown double-digit interceptions nine times and is 27 games under .500 as a starter.

    Winning the NFC East means besting Dak Prescott. Having success in the playoffs means beating the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady.

    It's fair to question whether Fitzpatrick can do that.

Trying out Tryon

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    How well do you think Buccaneers first round pick Joe Tryon is looking? And where do you see him plugging into our defense? — @Kamicausey06

    Given that the defending Super Bowl champions brought back all 22 starters from the team that pounded the Kansas City Chiefs, the team entered the 2021 draft without any glaring needs. The team was able to take a best player available approach with the final pick in Round 1—and the player the team settled on was Washington edge-rusher Joe Tryon.

    It's still awfully early, but to date it seems to have been a good call. The 6'5", 259-pounder has gotten some early reps with the ones on defense. Per Scott Smith of the team's website, the youngster has already made quite the impression on one of his veteran teammates.

    "Shaq Barrett says rookie teammate Joe Tryon is 'the real deal,'" Smith tweeted, "and has a very bright future with the Buccaneers."

    Tryon may well have a long and successful NFL career ahead of him. But both Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul were on the field for more than 75 percent of the team's defensive snaps. With a pair of Pro Bowl-caliber edge-rushers on the depth chart ahead of him, Tryon will be eased into the pros.

    He'll see some rotational and subpackage work, but barring an injury, most of Tryon's first season will be spent watching from the sideline.

Let's Make a Deal

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    What are the odds the Colts will acquire Xavien Howard from the Dolphins? — @oaks

    This much is sure—it appears that cornerback Xavien Howard is on his way out in Miami. It had been rumored for some time that the 2020 interceptions leader was unhappy with his contract, and as Jeremy Fowler reported for ESPN, things finally came to a head when the 28-year-old formally requested a trade.

    "I'm one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, and the tape backs up that claim," Howard said. "Yet, I'm the second highest paid cornerback on my own team, and it's not even close."

    There are no shortage of teams that would like to add a Pro Bowl corner, the Colts included. And Indy does have a fair amount of salary cap space—$14.3 million per Over the Cap. But what the Colts don't have is draft capital to burn—thanks to the Carson Wentz trade, the Colts will either ship their first- or second-round pick in 2022 to the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Given their choice, Miami would also probably rather send Howard out of the AFC—a Dolphins team with postseason aspirations doesn't need to have to go through one of their own players. And there are a couple trade partners in the NFC that could make sense. The Arizona Cardinals have a disgruntled star of their own (edge-rusher Chandler Jones) who could be included in a deal. The Seattle Seahawks have a glaring need for help at cornerback and Super Bowl ambitions.

    In the AFC, the Los Angeles Chargers have the fifth-most cap space in the league and could use a boost in the secondary. The Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs have already shown a willingness to swing a big trade this offseason and have a need at the position, although they would be a harder sell for the Dolphins.

    The Colts have also been aggressive on the trade market in recent years, so they can't be ruled out. But Indianapolis wouldn't make my top-five potential trade partners for Howard's services.