Forget about OTAs, minicamps, all of that. It’s time for training camp in the NFL — when the upcoming 2019 season gets real. Some teams already have started, but everyone will get going by the end of this week. It’s OK to be excited — you should be.
NFL Nation reporters have put together camp previews and 53-man roster projections for every team, which are linked below. Take a look, soak in the information and get ready for the upcoming season.
Can Kliff Kingsbury’s version of the Air Raid work in the NFL?
There are more things working in its favor than outsiders might understand. One major reason why is because Kingsbury doesn’t mind running the ball; the opposite of which can be a misconception of the Air Raid offense. Kingsbury has a unique offensive mind, and that could be the biggest reason his scheme works. Read more.
Will Julio Jones become the league’s highest-paid receiver and the first receiver to average $20 million per year?
Jones probably deserves to be the first receiver to average $25 million per year. There has been talk about other receivers — namely Michael Thomas of the rival Saints — perhaps hitting the $20 million mark. If that’s the case, the six-time Pro Bowler Jones definitely deserves more just based on his consistent production and the fear he puts in opposing defenses. But Jones told ESPN he is not concerned with being the highest paid. He is more intent on making sure there’s enough money to spread around to keep the team intact.
Whatever happens, Jones is sure to be paid handsomely, as team owner Arthur Blank promised. Matt Ryan became the highest-paid quarterback with he received $30 million per year and $100 million guaranteed, but he then was surpassed by Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson. If Jones gets a lucrative deal that pays him his worth, he should take it even if someone else surpasses him immediately. Read more.
What’s the realistic goal for Lamar Jackson as a passer in order for the Ravens to reach the playoffs?
Every pass by Jackson this summer will be dissected, and rightfully so. The progress of Jackson as a passer is critical to the Ravens’ success, even though Baltimore will remain a run-first offense (and undoubtedly lead the NFL in rushing attempts). During the spring, Jackson often showed great touch and anticipation on one pass and then followed it up with a throw that sailed off target. Consistency will be the most popular word used by Jackson and coaches when describing the second-year starter’s goals. As far as numbers go, it’s reasonable to expect the same trajectory as Michael Vick, whose speed and strong arm are the most comparable to that of Jackson. In Vick’s second season (which, like Jackson, was his first as a full-time starter), he threw for 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions, averaging 195.7 yards passing per game. That got the Falcons into the playoffs, and that’s the type of production Baltimore needs from Jackson to reach the postseason again. Read more.
Can the Bills make the playoffs in 2019 if Josh Allen is again their leading rusher?
Don’t count on it. Though Allen’s numbers on the ground last season had football fans rushing to Cam Newton comparisons, those runs were more out of necessity than the game plan; he often had to make things happen as plays broke down around him during his rookie season. General manager Brandon Beane’s steps to bolster the Bills’ rushing attack this offseason — signing Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon and drafting Devin Singletary — suggest the team doesn’t want its first-round quarterback carrying this offense with anything but his arm. Allen’s mobility took opponents by surprise in 2018, but it won’t in 2019. Read more.
How much of the team’s success in 2019 depends on Cam Newton‘s right shoulder?
The most used phrase in the Carolina locker room is how Cam Newton goes, so go the Panthers. So, it is essential for Newton to stay healthy for an entire season in order for the team to not just make the playoffs, but make a run once there. Newton is unique to any player in the league because of his threat as a runner. He keeps defenses honest. When he was healthy last season, the Panthers were 6-2 and looking like a legitimate Super Bowl contender, particularly with Newton’s newfound accuracy in Norv Turner’s offense. When Newton’s arm became sore and weak, they lost seven straight. Read more.
Are the Bears any closer to finding a kicker?
Umm … no. The Bears held kicker auditions throughout the entire offseason program — at one point hosting nine kickers during rookie minicamp. After the dust settled, the Bears had two kickers under contract at the end of June — Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry — but neither is assured of anything. The Bears could attempt to trade and sign a veteran or scan the waiver wire for kicker help when cuts are made. Whoever thought replacing Cody Parkey (eight misses last year) would be so difficult? Read more.
How are the Bengals going to turn their defense around?
The Bengals were statistically heading toward having one of the worst defenses in NFL history before they fired coordinator Teryl Austin to try to stop the bleeding. Injuries didn’t exactly help on that front either. Aside from injuries, the biggest issue on that side of the ball were the linebackers. The Bengals released the unreliable Vontaze Burfict and drafted Germaine Pratt — probably with the intention of starting him right away. Other than that, the core of the defense hasn’t really changed. The Bengals need some big performances from budding stars such as Jessie Bates and William Jackson III, along with some good health, to turn things around. Read more.
How exactly does Odell Beckham Jr. change the offense?
Directly and indirectly, Beckham’s impact figures to be significant. Most obviously, he is a tremendous playmaker who will enhance the Browns’ intermediate and deep passing attacks. But on top of that, Beckham’s very presence will consume the attention of opposing defenses, opening up the field and creating favorable matchups for Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and even Nick Chubb and the running game. Read more.
What does coach Jason Garrett need to do to keep his job after 2019?
Only team owner Jerry Jones knows the answer to this one, but it is clear he has put Garrett on notice, since the coach is entering the season without a contract extension despite coming off a playoff season. The Cowboys have made the playoffs three times under Garrett and lost in the divisional round each time — including 2016, when they had home-field advantage in the playoffs. It would seem Garrett has to advance to at least the NFC Championship Game to get a third deal as Cowboys head coach. The Cowboys have not played in the conference title game since 1995; only Detroit and Washington have a longer drought in the NFC. Jones believes he has a roster ready to win now with a young and deep team. If Garrett doesn’t get it done this season, Jones will be on the lookout for the eighth head coach of his ownership tenure. Read more.
Is Joe Flacco, finally, the answer at quarterback?
The Broncos need — as in really, really, really need — the 34-year-old Flacco to have a lot of football left in the tank. Since the start of the 2017 season, Flacco will be the fifth player to start at quarterback for the Broncos. While the early returns were good during the offseason workouts, the Broncos need Flacco to play at the top of his game. They also need to get things settled on the offensive line — so that Flacco isn’t wading through pass-rushers in the middle of the field — and to do better at putting their quarterback in a position to run an offense that fits their personnel. Read more.
Will more players buy into Matt Patricia’s coaching style and scheme in Year 2?
For Patricia’s sake, he had better hope so. That said, it seems like so far, so good for Patricia heading into his second season. There are multiple reasons for that. First, everyone around the organization now understands what the expectations are after having been in his system for a year. Players understand what practices are going to be like and what the schedule is going to be. Second, there appeared to be a real effort this offseason to sign players, including Trey Flowers and Danny Amendola, who fit the Patriots’ mold in which Patricia was versed. They are talented players who fit into the schemes but also are players who know what to expect coming in and can set an expectation level immediately. Buy-in shouldn’t be an issue this season. If it is, that’s an even bigger problem than it was a year ago. Read more.
Dan Graziano and Dan Orlovsky share the trials Aaron Rodgers is facing in Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s system.
What does Matt LaFleur need to do to get Aaron Rodgers back to being Aaron Rodgers?
Command his respect. Yes, that might seem backward, given that LaFleur is the boss and Rodgers is the employee. But perhaps the only way to get an intellect like Rodgers to buy in is if the quarterback regards his coach as his equal. Both insist that relationship is off to a good start; from their first face-to-face meeting in late March in Arizona to the work that was wrapped up in the June minicamp, Rodgers said of their bonding exercises, “Two things I think are really important: listen and communicate.” The two also will have to come to an understanding about how to handle audibles at the line of scrimmage. Rodgers had freedom — and perhaps took too many liberties — when it came to changing calls under former coach Mike McCarthy. LaFleur’s system, rooted in the Sean McVay-Kyle Shanahan version of the West Coast offense, is more limiting. “Some of that, you just have to figure out ultimately,” Rodgers said. “But the most important thing is trust.” Read more.
Is there any pressure for the Texans to break through in the AFC?
After firing general manager Brian Gaine in June, Texans CEO Cal McNair outlined for head coach Bill O’Brien several areas in which he could improve. O’Brien wouldn’t divulge what those areas are, but McNair showed he clearly is not scared to make big — and costly — changes if he doesn’t think the team is headed in the right direction. The Texans have never been to the AFC Championship Game, and while Houston has won the AFC South in three of the past four seasons, they only have one playoff victory to show for it. The Texans don’t need to win the Super Bowl this season for the team’s leadership to remain in place, but there’s certainly some pressure to improve in 2019. Read more.
Will Andrew Luck go from NFL Comeback Player of the Year to league MVP?
The opportunity will be there for Luck, who threw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns last season. This is the first time in his eight-year NFL career that he enters the season with the same starting offensive line under contract from the previous season. Luck also has the deepest group of skill-position players in his career and is in the same offensive system in consecutive seasons for just the second time. The Colts might find themselves in some shootout-style games this fall against the likes of the Steelers, Chiefs, Saints and Chargers. All of those factors make Luck, who missed OTAs with a calf strain, a legitimate MVP candidate. Read more.
What is the offense going to look like with coordinator John DeFilippo and quarterback Nick Foles?
Foles doesn’t have the caliber of playmakers he had in Philadelphia — especially at tight end — but there should be more downfield shots. The Jaguars threw 103 passes that traveled more than 25 yards in the air over the past three seasons (which ranked 25th out of 32 NFL teams), but Foles consistently took deep shots during OTAs and minicamp. That might seem counter to the kind of offense that executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone want, but it can be a huge help to the running game. If the Jaguars are willing to go downfield more, defenses can’t just gang up to stop the run the way they did the past two seasons. Read more.
Will the considerable defensive changes make a difference?
They can’t hurt. The Chiefs can’t be much worse than last year, when their defensive deficiencies kept them out of the Super Bowl. The Chiefs, with their potent offense, don’t need to be dominant on defense. They need to be competent, and that’s an achievable goal. With Steve Spagnuolo as the new defensive coordinator, Kansas City will be better coached. There also are as many as seven new defensive starters, led by safety Tyrann Mathieu and end Frank Clark. They are too talented on defense to rank near the bottom once again. Read more.
The NFL Live crew weighs in on Melvin Gordon saying he won’t report to Chargers camp, with Victor Cruz appreciating Gordon thinking of his teammates.
When will Melvin Gordon report to camp?
TBD. Through his agent, Gordon threatened to hold out and demand a trade if he does not receive a contract extension before training camp starts. Gordon is in the final year of his rookie contract that will pay him $5.6 million in 2019. Since the start of the 2016 season, Gordon is tied for second in the league in total touchdowns (38) and fourth in yards from scrimmage (4,372), so it’s understandable that the Wisconsin product wants a new deal. The issue for the Chargers is Gordon’s injury history, which affects his value. Gordon has ended two of his first four seasons in the NFL on the injured reserve due to knee issues and only played one 16-game season. Gordon also hobbled through the end of the 2018 season with injuries to both knees. Although the Chargers were 4-0 without Gordon in the lineup, he is still a vital part of the team that makes the offense go. If the Chargers truly believe they can make the Super Bowl, general manager Tom Telesco has to figure out how to strike a deal and get Gordon in camp sooner rather than later. Read more.
Can running back Todd Gurley II power the Rams to a second consecutive Super Bowl?
Questions remain about the health of Gurley’s left knee after the All-Pro running back was sidelined for the final two games of the regular season and struggled in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII — then did not participate in football activities throughout the offseason program. Over the past two seasons, Gurley has rushed for 2,556 yards and 30 touchdowns and caught 123 passes for 1,368 yards and 10 touchdowns. It’s unclear whether Gurley will be able to shoulder a similar load going forward. Read more.
What must Josh Rosen do to convince the Dolphins they don’t need to draft a first-round quarterback in 2020?
The hand Rosen has been dealt isn’t ideal. The Cardinals gave up on him after one season with the NFL’s worst roster and shipped him to the rebuilding Dolphins for what seems like a one-year tryout. The Dolphins are strong contenders to take one of the heralded quarterbacks in the 2020 draft in hopes of ending their two-decade quarterback search. To put that plan on hold, Rosen will need to show leadership, success on third down and in the fourth quarter, and glimpses of long-term promise. Ryan Fitzpatrick appears to be the favorite to start in Week 1, but Rosen should get his chance to start — and the pressure will be on him to shine. Read more.
How much better will the offensive line be in 2019?
Minnesota surrendered a league-high 227 pressures and ranked 29th in pass-blocking efficiency during its 8-7-1 season, according to Pro Football Focus. The offensive line underwent significant changes this offseason, beginning with the departure of Mike Remmers, Nick Easton and Tom Compton and followed by the addition of Josh Kline in free agency along with spending three draft picks on O-linemen (Garrett Bradbury in the first round, Dru Samia in the fourth and Olisaemeka Udoh in the sixth). The biggest area of improvement is with the interior personnel. Last season, Remmers, Compton and Pat Elflein ranked in the bottom 17 of all interior linemen in pressures allowed (109). With Bradbury slated to play center, Elflein is expected to move to left guard, a position he thrived at in college. Riley Reiff is an above-average left tackle who has managed to stay relatively healthy throughout his time in Minnesota. And the Vikings are eager to see how another year in the NFL with time to add size to his frame will help Brian O’Neill grow at right tackle. On paper, the Reiff-Elflein-Bradbury-Kline-O’Neill starting five is a considerable upgrade. Read more.
How will the Patriots’ offense adjust without tight end Rob Gronkowski?
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said there isn’t another player who can simply slide into Gronkowski’s spot, because Gronk was such a rare player. So it’s possible the tight end position isn’t as much of a central focus of the offense in the passing game, with the Patriots relying more on a stocked running back position and going to more three- and four-wide sets if the personnel at receiver comes together. The Patriots’ offense always has been about tailoring its attack to the strength of its personnel — and how to best exploit the opposition’s weaknesses — so it’s a blank canvas at this point, with Matt LaCosse (career-high 24 receptions in 2018) entering training camp as the No. 1 tight end. Read more.
How much longer will QB Drew Brees keep this up?
For a while there, Brees looked ageless last season. Through the first 11 games, he threw 29 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. But then he and the Saints’ passing offense fell into a rut (seven TDs and five picks over his final six games, including the playoffs). New Orleans obviously should expect something in the middle of those two extremes going forward. But the 40-year-old is still good enough to lead a Super Bowl-winning offense — and he probably could for at least two or three more years (see: Brady, Tom). The bigger question is how long Brees wants to keep trying, now that he basically is signing contract extensions on a year-to-year basis — and whether the Saints can afford to keep paying a premium for backup QB Teddy Bridgewater to wait in the wings. Read more.
Dan Orlovsky and Booger McFarland share expectations for Giants rookie Daniel Jones and a potential timeline for him to start at QB over Eli Manning.
What does Eli Manning need to do to remain the starting quarterback for 16 games?
Coach Pat Shurmur already has declared that Manning is the starter. So there isn’t any real quarterback competition this summer, even though Daniel Jones will be breathing down Manning’s neck and we’ll get a better grasp of how close the rookie is to being ready. Still, all Manning has to do is win games. That will keep him on the field. As long as the Giants are realistically alive for the playoffs, Manning will be their quarterback; the organization’s decision-makers believe he has something left and have made this clear with their actions and words. Read more.
Can Sam Darnold improve enough in Year 2 to make the Jets a playoff contender?
Recent history says yes. The past four quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 improved significantly in their second season and made the playoffs — Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes and Mitchell Trubisky. Except for Mahomes, Darnold has as much upside as any of them. For Darnold, the key is making better decisions on early downs. His passer rating on first and second down was only 78.3; it was 83.5 on third down. It’s usually the other way around for rookies. The reality is that both numbers need to come up a lot. The honeymoon is over and expectations are higher than in 2018. That could be a challenge, because as we saw in his final season at USC, Darnold started pressing and committed too many turnovers. So much will hinge on his supporting cast, especially the offensive line. Read more.
What does Derek Carr need to do to have a future with Jon Gruden?
Um, win. And win some more. Carr, who has struggled since breaking his right ankle in the penultimate game of his MVP-like 2016 season, showed improvement late last year in his first season in Gruden’s offense. And while this will only be the second time in Carr’s six-year career that he will play in the same system in consecutive seasons and he has a revamped offensive line and new weapons at receiver in Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, excuses will be hard to come by. So if the Raiders end up with another top-five pick, that will likely mean Carr — whose guaranteed money is all paid out — will have had a bad season. And with two first-round draft picks next spring, Gruden can start fresh in Las Vegas in 2020. Read more.
Domonique Foxworth stresses that if Derek Carr doesn’t play up to expectations for the Raiders this year, he will be out of a job.
Wentz looked great this spring, and he is the healthiest he has been since 2017, when he was on an MVP charge. He took a deep dive on body wellness this offseason and came away with a new and improved diet and training regimen that he believes will help keep him on the field and aid in career longevity. The Eagles showed their belief in his ability to return to form by giving him a four-year, $128 million contract extension in June. They need him to stay upright. While they believe in Nate Sudfeld — Foles’ successor — he has played only 25 career snaps in the NFL. Read more.
They need one of the best seasons of his 15-year career, for starters. The Steelers are relying on their 37-year-old veteran to offset the loss of serious weaponry. Roethlisberger has a way of elevating a supporting cast — 11 different receivers have caught at least 100 passes in Pittsburgh’s offense during the Big Ben era — and he needs Vance McDonald, James Washington or someone else to become No. 12 soon enough. Expect Roethlisberger to rely on his no-huddle offense, mixing a quick-strike passing game with run checks at the line. He led the league with 5,129 passing yards in 2018, and don’t be surprised if he contends for 5,000 once again. Read more.
Can Jimmy Garoppolo bounce back from a torn ACL and become the franchise quarterback the 49ers believe he can be?
The Week 3 knee injury that derailed Garoppolo’s season was a double whammy because it left many still wondering if Garoppolo is truly the long-term answer at the position. The Niners believe he is and are paying him as such, but Garoppolo still has just 10 career starts to his name and has yet to show he can stay healthy and produce for an entire season. Aside from $4.2 million in remaining signing bonus money, the Niners could get out from Garoppolo’s contract without penalty after the 2019 season. Clearly, they intend to have him as their franchise quarterback for a long time, but this is an important season for him to prove he is the guy they believe he can be. Read more.
When Clark and Reed combined for 23.5 sacks last season, defensive line looked as though it could be one of the strongest position groups on Seattle’s roster heading into 2019. But Clark’s trade to Kansas City and Reed’s six-game suspension leave this as easily the Seahawks’ most suspect unit — even more so than a secondary with no more original Legion of Boom members remaining. If Ezekiel Ansah were healthy, it would be reasonable to think he could produce a season similar to that of Clark’s in 2018, but Ansah is recovering from shoulder surgery and might not be ready by Week 1. The Seahawks drafted L.J. Collier with the first-round pick they got for Clark, but recent history tells us that only so much can be expected of a rookie pass-rusher drafted outside of the top 15. You’ve heard of a backfield-by-committee plan; the Seahawks might have to go with a “sacks-by-committee” scheme, with other players such as Poona Ford, Quinton Jefferson, Cassius Marsh, Barkevious Mingo, Jacob Martin and Rasheem Green pitching in. As for replacing Thomas, rookie second-round pick Marquise Blair will get every opportunity to start at one of the safety spots alongside Bradley McDougald. Neither Blair nor veterans Delano Hill or Tedric Thompson distinguished himself over the offseason program, so this will be one of the most wide-open position battles in camp. Read more.
Who will step into pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul‘s role while he heals from a fractured neck?
The earliest Pierre-Paul could return is November, sources told ESPN. Three players — Carl Nassib, Shaquil Barrett and Noah Spence — will largely be responsible for filling the void left by the first Bucs player to record double-digit sacks in 12 seasons. While Nassib might be the obvious choice here because of his 6.5 sacks last season, Spence and Barrett are really intriguing names to watch. Read more.
What has to happen for the Titans to make a playoff push?
They need to get more explosive on offense. They had only six plays of 40 yards or more last season. Opposing defenses are going gear up to stop Derrick Henry and the rushing attack early in the season. The Titans have to complete some deep passes to keep defenses honest. That would help lead to some early wins. Getting off to a strong start when the schedule is tough to open the season will help put the Titans in the driver’s seat for making a push to the playoffs in the back half of the schedule. Read more.
What will it take for coach Jay Gruden to keep his job?
The organization hasn’t issued a “playoffs-or-out” demand on Gruden. But after three straight non-playoff seasons and only one postseason appearance in his first five years (with no wins), it should be obvious. However, the nuance comes in this: What if they go 8-8 or 7-9 but finish strong and rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins develops? Do you still fire Gruden? (The issues in Washington are far from his alone.) Short of that, it should be playoffs or done. Read more.