Mailbag: Many questions remain as teams prepare to shut down until training camp
Twenty-three teams conduct veteran minicamps this week and three others conclude their spring preparation with their final organized team activities.
That means by Friday, only the Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans will be on the clock. How fast has time flown? It's hard to believe that training facilities are mostly ready to shut down until the start of training camp in late July.
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Of the three teams already checked out for the summer, two have lingering questions. Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has yet to settle on a starting quarterback, leaving Michael Vick wondering where he stands. The Cleveland Browns finished work hearing the bombshell that wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for two games and that halfback Trent Richardson is once again injured, although not seriously.
Only Andy Reid, new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, can head into vacation feeling good about his new roster and team preparation.
So what are the things to watch this week?
1. Sorting out the New York Jets' offense: Mark Sanchez remains confident he will end up the starting quarterback, but a lot is unsettled on offense. With Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill injured and Dustin Keller gone, the Jets are trying out pass-catchers. Kellen Winslow Jr. and Mike Sims-Walker are among the invitees, but they come to a talent-starved offense trying to figure out whether to stay with Sanchez or go with rookie Geno Smith. Head coach Rex Ryan isn't ready to name a starter.
2. Figuring out the Buffalo Bills: The Bills have a three-way battle for the quarterback job, although first-round pick EJ Manuel might be considered too raw to win the job. Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson need to do their best to impress new head coach Doug Marrone.
3. Running backs on stage: Teams may have ignored the halfbacks by not selecting any in the first round, but backs will be on stage to see if they can start. Some interesting running back battles are taking shape. Montee Ball gets a chance to see if he can win the Broncos' starting job. Green Bay gets a chance to see during the final OTAs if Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin are the answers to the Packers' running back woes. The Steelers will get a serious look at Le'Veon Bell. Miami has to sort out a battle between veterans Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. With Ahmad Bradshaw gone, the New York Giants will test to see if last year's first-rounder, David Wilson, is ready for prime time.
4. Cowboys' play calling: It took until early June for the Dallas Cowboys to decide on their playcaller, but offensive coordinator Bill Callahan gets the assignment. He'll get a chance during the Cowboys' three-day minicamp to convince the players he is the right fit. Unfortunately, Tony Romo is injured so the installation will be done with Kyle Orton.
5. The new Ravens: Super Bowl-winning coach John Harbaugh gets a full look at his six new starters on defense. Issues have developed at linebacker. Harbaugh hasn't been happy with the conditioning of Courtney Upshaw. Rolando McClain was released. Big challenges exist in the revamped secondary, which is trying to break in veteran Michael Huff and rookie Matt Elam.
6. Positive changes in Arizona: Bruce Arians has been drawing great reviews from his players for how he's coaching the offense. This week during a minicamp, he'll get a chance to have Carson Palmer and the offense work against the defense.
7. Improvement from Cam Newton: Ron Rivera has been pleased with Newton's work this offseason. Now, Newton has to show the team he's more in control of the offense during the minicamp. The plan this year is to run the ball a little more to take some pressure off the third-year quarterback.
8. Getting the ball deep: Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has been working with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on getting deeper throws. The Bengals are loaded with weapons: A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Mohamed Sanu, Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Dalton is trying to get more out of them.
9. Seeing if Jay Cutler buys in: The Bears won't know until the regular season whether Cutler buys into new head coach Marc Trestman, but things seem to be going well now. Cutler will get to work against the Bears' defense and get a preview of what the new offense will look like.
10. Figuring things out in Jacksonville: Gus Bradley is a positive person in a negative environment. The Jaguars are starved for talent. Bradley will have three more days to give the team a positive feeling heading into camp, but it sure would help if a quarterback -- Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne -- would step up to claim the starting job.
From the inbox
Q: Are teams allowed to test their players for drugs/PEDs independently? I would think owners would want to handle potential problems "in-house" before suspensions hurt the team.
Mike in College Stations, Texas
A: The drug tests are administered by the league and not teams because this is a collectively bargained issue. Franchises have the option of levying fines and suspensions, but the teams can't be too proactive because they are dealing with union employees. The league isn't going to allow a system in which problems such as this are handled more in-house than by the league because it would create an environment in which teams could try to cover up their problems. Owners would like to handle suspensions in-house because they can control the results. That could lead to some competitive imbalances. Under the current systems, all suspensions are handled by an independent decision-maker.
Keith in Rockland County, N.Y., is thinking about creative ways to get around the cap. He suggests getting around the cap by giving employment to family members of top players and handing them big money. There are no secrets in the NFL. Those who cover the team would pick up on that, and the fines on salary-cap violations are pretty stiff. ... Mike in Phoenix doesn't understand why the NFL doesn't break down its record book for 12, 14 and 16 games so the great players of the past aren't bypassed when their records are eclipsed. Those players aren't forgotten, but imagine what will happen if the league goes to 18 games? Thanks for thinking about the value of the past records. ... Drew in Charlotte, N.C., is curious about how to get a team to Los Angeles. The simplest way is to steal a team from another city. If the league would expand, it would have to expand to another city, too, but I don't see that happening. The league likes its current format of 32 teams. ... Rich in Berea, Ohio, isn't in favor of an 18-game schedule that requires teams to sit players for two of the 18 games. I agree with you. It gets a little complicated figuring out when a player would miss those two games. Understand, this is one of the things that this has been discussed. For the players to sign off on an 18-game schedule, the league will have to make it so the players don't feel their bodies are being beaten down too much.
Q: First off, I am very much against the prospect of giving a team from "America's favorite sport" to our cousins across the pond. However, with the revenue that's bound to be made in one of the world's richest cities, the realist in me knows it's bound to happen. With that said, wouldn't a solution be for the NFL to schedule a bye either before or after that game for the visiting teams and put the London team in an eastern division to minimize its flying?
Enrique in March Air Force Reserve Base, Calif.
A: First of all, London should never get a team ahead of Los Angeles. Until the L.A. situation is handled, a London team has to be a considered a long-term dream. I have a lot of problems with a London move. The logistics are tough. Now, teams that play in London get a bye week after the game to recover. That won't happen if London gets eight home games and eight road games. There would be a significant home-field advantage for a London team. It's great to promote the international model, but I still believe such a move is many years away.
Q: I have a thought on what to do with the Pro Bowl. What if instead of doing a game, the NFL hosted a skills competition among the Pro Bowl players (keeping it in Hawaii would probably keep the players happy). The players could be broken down into similar position groups and then compete in a variety of football skill games as well as other skill games (darts, pool, basketball, etc.). There could be individual awards and guys could still contribute to overall team points (similar to how a track meet is scored). I think guys would still go all out to win each event, and the games could be spaced out over a couple of days and then broadcast as a lead-up to the Super Bowl.
Kris from Wichita, Kan.
A: That could be an option, but honestly, how much time would you invest watching it? For the first year or two, such a skills competition might draw viewers, but I don't think it can sustain a good TV rating. For players, the participation might not be bad as long as the competition is held in Hawaii. That would make it even more of a vacation because so little will be asked of the players. The longer I think about this, if you can't have a good, pure game, the Pro Bowl should be scrapped.
Q: Why all the problems with the Redskins' team name? I get the sensitivity. However, it is a team name, and the brand portrays the image in a strong way, meaning the strength of Native Americans. Should the Vikings change their name because Scandinavian-Americans don't want to be associated with pagan raiders who killed and plundered? People sometimes need to get over themselves. Daniel Snyder, don't change the name.
Sam in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
A: I just think the name has been around long enough and is such a brand for the franchise that it will be hard to make a name change. I feel for those who are offended. But I don't think any fans are looking at the Redskins as a negative slam on Native Americans. They look at the Redskins as an NFL brand and one of the most popular brands in sports.
Q: During the offseason, there has been a lot of talk about where the NFL draft will be held because of the conflict with Radio Music City Hall scheduling. A couple of weeks ago someone suggested that the Super Bowl-winning city might host it, and you rightly shot it down. My suggestion is the opposite and takes care of the problems you associated with the Super Bowl-winning team. The city with the first pick in the draft should host it. This would make sure that the event is well attended and gives the NFL enough time to schedule and plan the event. Also, if the pick is traded (which hasn't happened since '01), the team probably will be compensated with more picks in that draft. Every NFL city has its merits and sights to see, and just as Super Bowl bidding is far more open, the NFL should be open to inviting its college applicants to other venues as well.
Curt in Helena, Mont.
A: Your option isn't bad, but the draft itself is getting so big it needs a consistent venue. You could maybe create a rotation of four or five places, but I think it would create problems if year to year the league won't know until the end of the regular season where to move the draft. Still, the league might consider such a plan because it would build excitement in a city that had a horrible season. The NFL is all about marketing, and if the venues are good enough, the league could switch to your plan.
Q: It has been a long time since Rams fans have had anything to cheer about. Sam Bradford was supposed to improve the franchise, but he has been mediocre. Now, everyone says that they garnered some playmakers in this year's draft and Bradford now has the weapons to move this franchise forward. Do you think the Rams are moving in the right direction, or should I become a fan of the Chiefs?
David in St. Louis
A: You can be a fan of both teams, but there is no reason to leave the Rams. This is an exciting, young team. Bradford now has fast weapons. As he says, the Rams no longer have to rely on long, plodding drives to get touchdowns. Bradford can make a quick, short pass to Tavon Austin or a long pass to Chris Givens and get big chunks of yards. They have a chance to be one of the surprise teams in the league. They aren't the "Greatest Show on Turf," but they will be fun to watch this year.
Q: I have asked a number of people this question but can't seem to get a good answer. If the NFL goes from four preseason games and 16 regular-season games to two preseason and 18 in the regular season, where does the extra money come in? Thanks.
Scott in Minneapolis, Minn.
A: The ticket sales numbers will be the same, but there could be a big spike in the television dollars. The debate will be how much of that extra money would go to the players. If the players don't get the right share, they won't sign off on an 18-game schedule. At the moment, this union is opposed to 18 games. What you would be substituting is preseason TV money for regular-season TV money. Television money in the preseason is negotiated on a team-by-team basis with local stations. The networks would more than compensate by replacing the two preseason weeks with regular-season weeks. It's big money.
Q: The New York Giants missed the playoffs after winning it all. They released Ahmad Bradshaw, they don't have Victor Cruz or Hakeem Nicks at OTAs. Should Giants fans be worried about the upcoming season? Nicks hasn't been healthy since 2012 and Cruz remaines unsigned. David Wilson appears ready to take on a bigger role. Do the Giants have enough firepower to keep up in the NFC?
John in Staten Island, N.Y.
A: There is enough there to win the NFC East, but it remains to be seen how well the Giants can hold up in the playoffs against the other top teams in the conference. Despite the problems, the Giants have three things going for them: Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin as the coach and Jerry Reese doing a good job as a general manager finding players. They are still a contender. As we've seen, if they make the playoffs and Manning gets hot, a lot of good things can happen.
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