For NFL players and teams, the start of training camp means having conflicted emotions.
There is a lot of excitement and anticipation for the season ahead. Optimism abounds as every team starts fresh at 0-0 and players get a new opportunity to prove themselves.
There is also a lot of stress and agony. Players get injured, or lose confidence, or discover that they aren’t quite where they need to be physically or mentally to perform at their best. Not a lot of “good” can happen during training camp, but there is plenty of “bad.”
With teams two weeks deep into training camp, here’s a look at the biggest developments from around the league:
▪ The Colts are cursed — That lucky horseshoe doesn’t seem to be working so well after they lost their starting quarterback and best offensive lineman to similar, non-contact foot injuries.
Carson Wentz, acquired in a trade this offseason to be the Colts’ next franchise quarterback, will be out anywhere from 5-12 weeks after a previously broken bone in his foot came loose while Wentz rolled out to pass. Wentz had his surgery last Monday, and on Tuesday three-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson underwent surgery for the same injury.
“Can’t make this up,” coach Frank Reich said.
Assuming the later end of the recovery schedule, Wentz and Nelson likely won’t be ready to play until mid-October or so. This for a team that dealt with a missed season from Andrew Luck in 2017, and Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019. The Colts had envious continuity at quarterback after going right from Peyton Manning to Luck, but have instead had one mishap after another at quarterback.
The Colts probably need to trade for a quarterback for the first month or two of the season. They have a talented roster that could make noise in the AFC, but none of the QBs on their roster — Sam Ehlinger, Brett Hundley, rookie Jalen Morton, and Jacob Eason, last year’s fourth-round pick — seem ready to play.
Nick Foles, currently sitting third on the Bears’ depth chart and only costing $4 million this year, is the obvious solution, given his history with Reich. The only reason not to do it is if Reich is afraid of another Foles-Wentz controversy when Wentz returns, but that seems like something that can be worked through. Marcus Mariota ($1.75 million salary, $4.5 million incentives) is another option.
▪ The Giants are a mess — The Giants are looking to take a big step forward in their second season under coach Joe Judge, but the start of camp has been, from an outsider’s perspective, a disaster.
It started on Tuesday when a massive fight broke out at practice — a fight ignited by, of all people, former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, who was brought in last year to be one of Judge’s veteran leaders.
Judge, who in his two seasons has taken a hard stance on discipline, lit up his players with curse words and forced them to alternate between 100-yard sprints and pushups for the rest of practice.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Giants also have had four players retire since the start of camp: tight end Kelvin Benjamin, linebacker Todd Davis, and offensive linemen Zach Fulton and Joe Looney.
Judge, a disciple of both Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, better be careful with the tough-guy act. As Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia learned, if you don’t win right away, players and teams will turn on you quickly.
▪ Dak Prescott is already hurt — Prescott seems most of the way (if not all the way) back from a gruesome ankle injury that ended his 2020 season after five weeks. But it has to be unsettling for the Cowboys that just a week into camp, Prescott is already dealing with a sore throwing shoulder.
Prescott left the practice field on July 28 and hasn’t thrown a pass since. He said he’s being “cautious,” but former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman isn’t as optimistic.
“The Cowboys are downplaying it, but I think when your franchise quarterback is missing the amount of time he’s missing, I tend to think it’s probably a little bit more significant than what they have led on,” Aikman said Thursday night on Fox.
▪ Deshaun Watson isn’t doing anything — He performed a few drills this past week and even stood in as a scout team safety when the practices were non-padded. Now that the pads are on, Watson is not on the field at all, with the Texans saying he has injuries to his ankle and calf. More likely, the Texans are playing it safe with Watson and ensuring that he doesn’t injure himself and hurt his trade value.
But the Texans and Watson remain in a holding pattern. The Texans don’t want to trade him unless they get top value, and teams aren’t offering the big ransom yet until they know more about Watson’s status with the league and whether he will have any criminal charges filed against him.
▪ Joe Burrow is returning, slowly — Burrow’s promising rookie season was cut short after 10 games when he suffered a nasty knee injury in which he tore multiple ligaments. Burrow is back participating in camp but has understandably looked a little shaky.
“I think he’s kind of a little iffy on his knee, but it’s kind of hard to tell,” Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd said. “I feel like he’s ready to go, but I also think he doesn’t want to do too much.”
The biggest hurdle for Burrow may be mental, having enough confidence to not have to think about his knee. It’s a little surprising that the Bengals didn’t get Burrow a veteran backup this year in case he has to miss any time. Their backups are three youngsters — Brandon Allen, Kyle Shurmur, and Eric Dungey.
▪ Rookie QBs are developing — Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in the draft, has been up and down, though no one is panicking.
“We want him to grow and try to put him in the toughest situations possible and then be able to see how he reacts right there in the moment and then see how he is able to bounce back the next day as well,” Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
The Jets’ Zach Wilson, the No. 2 pick, has been running around the practice field like Patrick Mahomes, showing off his ability to throw on the move and use different arm angles.
“That’s one of the traits that is very unique about him, he is an improviser,” coach Robert Saleh said. “And he can throw off his right, left, sidearm, whatever motion or platform you want to talk about.”
In San Francisco, No. 3 pick Trey Lance has been running as the clear backup behind Jimmy Garoppolo, but is already turning heads. Lance had an impressive 50-yard touchdown pass while throwing against his body in Tuesday’s practice, and he understands the offense well enough that he’s starting to correct his teammates.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who love the game and are willing to do the necessary things to prepare, and I think Trey really is an embodiment of that. And he’s looking good on the field, too,” general manager John Lynch said.
And in Chicago, No. 11 pick Justin Fields is running behind Andy Dalton on the depth chart but is making himself noticed.
“It’s been impressive to see him so young, so focused,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “And I can tell it definitely reminds me a lot of Russell Wilson.”
▪ COVID is still causing trouble — In the first week of camp, 65 players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, and a handful of unvaccinated players had to be pulled from their teams because they were high-risk close contacts of an infected person. In Minnesota, that meant the Vikings losing their top three quarterbacks for five days because rookie Kellen Mond contracted the virus and starter Kirk Cousins and backup Nathan Stanley were close contacts. All three players are unvaccinated, and if this happened in the regular season, the Vikings would have had to play a game with their fourth-string QB.
“I am disappointed that this happened,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I’m frustrated, not just with my football players who didn’t get vaccinated, but I’m frustrated with everybody [who didn’t].”
Brady will be on hand when Manning enters Hall
For 15 years, the Patriots had no bigger rival than Peyton Manning, first with the Colts and then with the Broncos. From 2001-15, either Tom Brady or Manning represented the AFC in 10 of 15 Super Bowls. Brady and Bill Belichick went 11-6 against Manning’s teams, but Manning came out ahead in the postseason, 3-2.
Now Manning’s former rivals are among his biggest supporters this weekend as Manning is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brady is flying up to Ohio for Sunday’s ceremony with Buccaneers coaches Bruce Arians and Clyde Christensen, who coached Manning with the Colts. Brady will sit in Manning’s section along with all of the former Colts.
Belichick, meanwhile, lavished praise on Manning in comments to the Globe.
“He is definitely the best quarterback I’ve coached against,” Belichick said. “There have been quarterbacks who called their own plays, but it was nowhere near the same as what he did. He basically called every play by adjusting and/or changing the play once he saw what the defense was doing. He excelled at using the cadence and recognizing blitzes, and more than any one single offensive player, he forced us to change and adapt defensive game plans.”
Belichick also offered praise for two of his close friends being inducted — former coaches Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher.
“Jimmy’s command of personnel, coaching, trades, and the draft made him one of the all-time master team builders,” Belichick said. “He took a team from 1-15 and turned it into a three-time Super Bowl champion. Jimmy’s defenses — his 4-3 split safety scheme — were as good as I have coached against. Jimmy is a great friend who has given me a lot of good advice throughout much of my career.”
As for Cowher, ”Bill had a tremendous NFL career that encompassed a lot — player, assistant coach, coordinator, and head coach,” Belichick said. “Schematically his teams were one of the very best over the course of two decades. Our teams had some fiercely competitive battles that made me a better coach. I admire and learned from his complete mastery of coaching essentials — motivation, strategy, fundamentals, and physical play. Bill and I have been close friends for 35 years and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Brady has millions of reasons to be mad
Tom Brady’s eyes practically bugged out of his head when he saw the franchise valuations as estimated by Forbes. On Twitter, Brady commented that the salary cap dropped by 20 percent this year but franchise values increased by 14 percent. “NFL players are IGNORANT,” he wrote.
No one is crying poor for Brady, but I can understand if he feels taken advantage of. However much money Brady has made in his career — nearly $290 million on the field by the end of this season — he’s still grossly underpaid relative to his value to his franchises.
Consider that Robert Kraft bought the Patriots for $173 million in 1994, and now the Patriots are valued at $5 billion, the second-most valuable franchise. Brady made millions, but Kraft made billions.
Also consider that the Buccaneers last year ranked 29th in the NFL with a valuation of $2.28 billion. Now, after one season with Brady (and one Super Bowl), the Bucs are 21st at $3 billion, an increase of about 29 percent. The Buccaneers sold out all their season tickets since Brady’s arrival, and per TickPick, the price for a ticket on the secondary market has increased 112 percent ($145.90 in 2019 to $310.13 in 2021).
From the diamond to the gridiron
The Patriots had an intriguing prospect in for a tryout on Thursday, tight end Dylan Cozens, who is 27 and did not attend college let alone play college football. Cozens, a football and baseball star in high school who had committed to play football at Arizona, opted for baseball instead after being drafted in the second round by the Phillies in 2012. Cozens hit 136 home runs in the minors (including 40 for Double A Reading) and played 45 games in the majors for the Phillies in 2018-19.
But after hitting .177 with Milwaukee’s Triple A team this spring, Cozens, listed at 6 feet 6 inches and 245 pounds, announced in June that he was going to chase his NFL dreams instead. Based on the last few weeks of the NFL’s transaction wires, it appears the Patriots were the first team to put Cozens through a workout.
The NFL will have a new instant replay decision maker this season after Al Riveron, the senior vice president of officiating for the last four seasons, stepped away from his position this past week. Riveron himself was thrust into the job in 2017 after Dean Blandino surprisingly left, and while he was involved in several questionable calls in instant replay, he performed well in a thankless and demanding job. Former official Walt Anderson, replay official Russell Yurk, and longtime former coach Perry Fewell are expected to be the main decision makers this year for the NFL’s centralized instant replay system … Speaking of job vacancies, the Raiders suddenly have four big ones. Team president Marc Badain, who was with the team for 30 years, surprisingly left at the start of training camp. And this past week, the Raiders had sudden departures of their VP of strategy and business development, their chief financial officer, and their controller. It is not yet known why the Raiders have had this significant, sudden turnover … Don’t expect to hear from Tim Tebow this training camp. Word from the Jaguars is Tebow won’t be available to the media until (if) he makes the 53-man roster … One story that refreshingly hasn’t been a story is the treatment of Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib, who this summer became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib said Friday that he’s “been met with nothing but love and support” in his locker room. “Football players get a bad rap, but we’re humble, hard-working, accepting people. And this was a great example of that.” … The NFL is looking to add an international game in Germany starting in 2022, and Sky Sports reported that seven cities submitted a bid (though, interestingly, not Berlin) … Per the Patriots’ media guide, an assistant athletic trainer on this year’s team is Cross Klemko, who is the younger brother of Robert Klemko, a former NFL writer with The MMQB who now covers criminal justice for the Washington Post. Cross was a seasonal trainer with the Patriots in 2018-20.
Quote of the week
“They say statistics are for losers, and my comment is usually losers say statistics are for losers.”
— Jaguars coach Urban Meyer, on why he keeps stats in practice to help him with roster cuts.