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Preseason Power Rankings No. 10: Carolina Panthers

Dave Gettleman, Ron Rivera AP

There were points last season when it appeared time to start writing the obituary for Panthers coach Ron Rivera and the team built by former General Manager Marty Hurney.

Then Rivera’s team did a funny thing — they forgot how to lose.

The Panthers won 11 of their final 12 games last year, and only a loss to the 49ers in the playoffs spoiled an unpredictable run built on defense and a singular talent at quarterback.

Of course, they spent the offseason subtracting more than they added, cutting past fat into meat and bone to try to keep a good roster intact.

But that’s what they’re going to have to do for another year or so (when it’s time to pay the next wave of young stars), and they’ve done it well.

Strengths.

In quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers have perhaps the best bail-out-a-play guy in the NFL.

It seems no play is over for Newton, who has matured as a passer while remaining dangerous as a runner. His ability in short-yardage helped spark last year’s belief that they could win, and his growth as a passer helped him make plenty of big plays through the air as well.

Newton will need to be incredible, because they took away most of his help (more on that in a moment). But he is incredible, and looks comfortable running an offense which is far from cutting-edge.

It doesn’t need to be complex it if works, and he’s reached what appears to be a good relationship with play-caller Mike Shula.

They also have what might be the best defensive front seven in the NFL.

They have a pair (for a year anyway) of double-digit sack ends, which only required using more than 20 percent of their cap to keep them.

Greg Hardy got the franchise tag after an impressive salary drive (7.0 of his 15.0 sacks came in the final two games), while overpaid-but-productive veteran Charles Johnson has been a steady presence (44.0 sacks the last four season) against the run and pass.

Paired with a interior that included 2013 top picks Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, and a group of linebackers led by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the Panthers can match personnel with anyone in the league.

It’s a front designed to take the pressure off a suspect back, but it did just that a year ago, succeeding without much pedigreed talent in the secondary.

Weaknesses.

As long as you spend so much on defensive ends, you’ve got to scrimp somewhere. So the fact they’re using temps in the secondary is nearly a non-issue.

What they’re doing without on offense is alarming.

The Panthers lost two of the five or six best players in franchise history when Steve Smith was cut and Jordan Gross retired.

Smith was cut for reasons that exceeded age and production, as all the wideouts who caught a pass last year are gone. If he wasn’t so much of a grouch, they’d have possibly let him ride off into the sunset next year, but they wanted to let Newton take control of the locker room as well as the huddle.

Instead, they signed just-a-guys Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant to play stable-pony for first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin.

A good running game (everybody’s healthy for a change) and tight end Greg Olsen take some of the pressure off this odd lot of guys to perform. Which is good, because that seems unlikely.

But for all the consternation about the receivers, what happened to their offensive line is worse.

They needed an upgrade from right tackle Byron Bell, but instead they’re letting him compete for the left tackle job along with converted defensive tackle Nate Chandler. They made a run at former Bengals tackle Anthony Collins in free agency, but otherwise did nothing to improve the team’s most glaring weakness in a post-Gross environment. They’ll find out in a hurry how much they miss Gross, which might make management re-think squeezing veterans into dramatic pay cuts in the future.

The middle of the line could be OK, with center Ryan Kalil there to help along a young group. If former second-rounder Amini Silatolu plays to his pre-injury form, they have a chance. Third-rounder Trai Turner is going to have a chance to win the right guard job, and might have the quickest path to the starting lineup of any of their rookies.

Changes.

Perhaps the biggest change for the Panthers was in Rivera himself.

Once a guy with a 2-14 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, Rivera started rolling the dice and it kept working.

It wasn’t just going for fourth downs (but that’s easier when you have a giant quarterback and a big fat fullback such as Mike Tolbert), there was a different air about the Panthers last season.

They went from playing to unfulfilled potential and bloated salaries to playing like a team with something to prove.

In fact, they did have plenty to prove, as a losing record last season might have triggered a huge house-cleaning by new G.M. Dave Gettleman.

He’s talked for two years about the cap issues created by the previous administration (the cost of owner Jerry Richardson spending none of the money before his lockout, and then spending it all at once afterward). Gettleman’s done a good job of filling in the blanks with day laborers, and appears to have done so again.

Losing players such as Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn shouldn’t sting as much, considering they were a minimum-wage free agent and a seventh-round pick. He found spare parts before, and has again, with cornerback Antoine Cason and safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud in line to be this year’s beneficiaries of a pass rush.

Camp Battles.

The Panthers need to find a pair of starting wideouts, and it would be swell if Benjamin would grow into the job in a hurry. Beyond that, they have a bunch of unproven receivers who will be angling for significant roles, from journeyman haircut Tiquan Underwood to kids including Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King.

There’s also some shuffling among the offensive line jobs and in the secondary, with plenty of roles to fill.

One guy who might need to win a job is former starting safety Charles Godfrey, who tore his Achilles last year and then was forced into a pay cut just to have a chance. Godfrey could end up playing as their nickel, and he has some corner skills from his college days. Whether he can run remains to be seen.

Prospects.

It’s hard to not expect regression, considering the way the Panthers exceeded every reasonable expectation last year.

Their defense and Newton gives them a solid base to build upon, but it will only get harder from here.

They’re built to beat the best teams in the conference, and might have played the Seahawks tougher than anyone in Week One (before anybody realized they were any good).

If they find two dependable tackles and can get something — anything — from their receiving corps, they have a chance to pull off the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.

But it’s hard to consider either of those feats a given, which makes this a team which could still play well, but win far fewer games.

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Who’s left? Exploring the remaining free agents

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field following the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeatred the Packers 38-30.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing golf. Without a contract, he’s not going to training camp this week.

Fitzpatrick hasn’t said much about his situation, and the Jets basically issued a gag order six weeks ago. So, we’ll see what happens with camp starting and teams across the league getting back to work.

PFT has put together a list of other players who are still unsigned as camps open. Most of them are older players who might wait until the regular season begins or end up atop the emergency call list various player personnel departments keep as they shuffle their 90-man camp rosters and deal with various injuries and situations. Past Fitzpatrick, who’s clearly the most intriguing unsigned player, the players are listed in no particular order…

Fitzpatrick – His staredown with the Jets continues. It could get really interesting if Geno Smith has a great start to camp or if some other team that believes it’s a contender loses its quarterback to injury in August.

Dwight Freeney – He’s made a few visits and figures to eventually have some real suitors given how well (eight sacks in 11 games) he played last season for the Cardinals. Waiting last year seemed to work, so Freeney, 36, probably will have no problem being patient as he awaits a call and a chance to play a 15th season.

Greg Hardy – Hardy brings baggage, but lots of teams are looking for pass rushers. He recently visited the Jaguars, but reports say no signing is imminent. A team would have to be convinced that Hardy can still be an impact player before taking him on.

Anquan Boldin – Boldin is 35, but it’s not like he was ever a speed burner. He knows how to get open and how to catch passes in traffic, and he’ll eventually land with a team that wants him to play in the slot and help keep the chains moving.

Omar Bolden – While most players on this list are on the wrong side of 30, Bolden is 27. He signed with the Bears in March but was cut last week. Bolden can help in the return game as well as playing as a backup defensive back, and he probably won’t be unemployed for long.

Brian Hartline – Released by the Browns in the spring, Hartline had a productive 2015 before an injury ended his season. He’s not going to be a starter, but like Boldin he’s probably near the top of the call list for teams who either lose a receiver in camp or are looking to upgrade the slot position.

Antonio Cromartie – He’s 32, but he’s missed very few starts over his 10-year career and has generally been around the ball. He went without an interception in 15 starts last season, so teams might be wondering if he can still keep up.

Michael Vick – After subbing with the Steelers last season, Vick recently has been campaigning for a job and saying he’d like to play one more season. He signed during camp last summer, and it would likely be a similar scenario this time around if he’s going to land with a team.

John Kuhn – The longtime Packers fullback has said he’s confident he’ll get a call soon, even if it’s not from the Packers.

Mike Neal – It’s surprising that Neal, who just turned 29, remains unemployed given that he had four sacks for the Packers last year, has starting experience and can play both defensive end and outside linebacker.

Leon Hall – The former first-rounder and longtime Bengals cornerback has taken some visits but has not yet found a home. If Hall, 31, doesn’t return to the Bengals, look for him to sign with another contender and play as a third or fourth cornerback.

Percy Harvin – Harvin reportedly has chosen retirement and doesn’t plan to play in 2016, but there’s never been much predictable about Harvin.

Joique Bell – If Bell is healthy, he can contribute in some team’s running back rotation. Given his injury history, it might be a while before a team gives him a call.

Donte Whitner – The Browns released Whitner after the start of free agency. He’s 31 and didn’t have a strong 2015 season, but he was good in 2014 for the Browns. He’s likely atop the emergency call list of many teams if a need at strong safety arises.

Randy Starks – Like Whitner, Starks was released by the Browns in the offseason. Starks, 32, had a quiet season on a bad team last year, but his ability to rush the passer and play multiple positions across the defensive line make him an attractive target for a team that decides it wants to boost its depth.

Stephen Tulloch – Finally released by the Lions earlier this month, Tulloch, 31, figures to be on the call list of a few teams if a need at inside linebacker arises — and if Tulloch is healthy.

Roddy White – His breakup with the Falcons came as no surprise. White will turn 35 in November, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team give him a look in late August or early September.

James Jones – Jones ended up playing a pretty important role for the Packers last season. It’s no surprise that the team is going young at wide receiver, but Jones, 32, will eventually get a call from some team.

Andre Johnson – He’s 35, but remains hopeful some team will give him a shot.

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Lack of Brees negotiations not a surprise

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 28: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints reacts on the sideline after a failed third down play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter of the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Saints quarterback Drew Brees apparently needs an explanation regarding why he hasn’t heard from the team in the last three months regarding a new contract. In the event he really doesn’t know (and chances are he does), the reason is simple: It’s a deadline-driven business, and Brees made it clear several months ago that the deadline is the start of the regular season.

With the Saints carrying the quarterback’s $30 million cap number deep into the offseason, through all acquisitions and draft picks and other moves that would have been made easier with the extra cap space that a new Brees deal would have created, there’s currently no urgency from the team’s perspective to do a new contract now. As Week One approaches, there will be.

The urgency will be there because Brees has said he won’t be talking once the season starts. It’s the same approach he applied four years ago, as Brees entered the final season of his initial six-year, $60 million deal.

But now that his five-year, $100 million deal is concluding, Brees has plenty of leverage. With a cap number of $30 million this year and in light of the grievance filed by Brees in 2012 regarding the stacking of franchise tags used by multiple teams, a tag of Brees in 2017 would be the third of his career — and it would entitle him to a 44-percent raise over his 2016 cap number.

That’s $43.2 million. For one year. For a quarterback who turns 38 in January.

If the Saints opt not to devote what would be, if the cap grows to $165 million in 2017, more than 26 percent of the total available space to one player, then the market will determine Brees’ value. The question then becomes whether another team that has all the pieces except a quarterback (e.g., the Broncos or maybe the Jets or perhaps the Cardinals, depending on how Carson Palmer performs this year) would put together an offer that the Saints can’t or won’t match.

Even if the Saints could or would match, there’s nothing that would keep Brees from taking the same or less elsewhere, if that’s what he chooses to do.

Brees and the Saints understand these issues, and both sides know when the clock strikes 12. If nothing happens by then, nothing likely will happen until after the season. At that point, plenty of things could happen.

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Andrew Luck: It was an “awesome, gutsy move” to keep Pagano, Grigson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Chuck Pagano of the Indianapolis Colts talks to his players during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

There wasn’t much that went right for the Colts last season, but that didn’t lead to the sweeping changes that some expected during the offseason.

Coach Chuck Pagano and General Manager Ryan Grigson remain in their jobs and have contracts running for several seasons after a year that saw internal sniping while the Colts slipped down the standings. It was a decision that came as a surprise to quarterback Andrew Luck and his agreement on a big extension of his own shows that it was a pleasant one.

“I think [owner Jim] Irsay showed a lot of guts keeping coach Pagano and Ryan,” Luck said, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. “I think the easy thing is to start all over, I really do. I think that was an awesome, gutsy move. I think it surprised me, but then again, I think any decision would’ve surprised me.”

While the Colts opted for the status quo with Pagano and Grigson, they did hire a new defensive coordinator and acquire a handful of new offensive linemen in hopes of strengthening two of the weakest parts of the team. If those moves don’t have the desired effect, awesome and gutsy may not be the most frequent adjectives used to describe Irsay’s call to stick with what’s on hand.

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The Saints are still coming to West Virginia

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WV - JULY 14:  The front entrance of Greenbrier Resort is seen July 14, 2006 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The bunker, codenamed "Project Greek Island" and planned by the Eisenhower Administration, was a 112,000 square-foot shelter constructed beneath the Greenbrier Resort's West Virginia Wing, to serve as a relocation site for members of the U.S. Congress and associated staff in the event of a nuclear attack on the U.S. soil. The facility was built between 1958 and 1961 and was maintained in a state of operational readiness until the government terminated the lease with the resort in 1995. The bunker will be reopened for public tours on August 20 after a two-year-long renovation.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Getty Images

After devastating flooding struck last month in West Virginia, forcing the cancellation of a PGA tour event held annually at The Greenbrier, questions emerged regarding whether the Saints would still be able to hold training camp there. One report indicated that the Saints would stay in Louisiana. That report ended up being inaccurate.

The Saints are coming back this week, and that’s a good thing for those who need the financial and emotional lift that will come from the team not turning its back on an area that is still slowly recovering from a disaster that claimed more than 20 lives and displaced hundreds from their homes.

Much still needs to be done to get things back to normal. PFT readers can still drop a few bucks into the kettle via a Go Fund Me page established by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission. The proceeds will replace football gear and other sports equipment lost by various high schools and middle schools due to the water and the mud and the overall nasty crap that makes make the five-letter “F” word far worse than the four-letter one.

PFT has contributed $7,500 directly to the WVSSAC, which we mention not as a way to pat ourselves on the back but as the catalyst for jostling as many of you as possible into coughing up $5 here or $10 there or, for the one-percenters in the crowd maybe even a little, or a lot, more than that.

Apart from a spare-change-style donation, you soon will have a chance to bid on an NBC Sports Radio helmet signed by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (a very nice gesture by him) and others at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe. Here’s Aaron sinking a long putt from the rough and sharing a chest bump with Brian Baumgartner, better known by many as Kevin Malone from The Office.

Fortunately, Kevin Malone won’t be involved in counting the money that eventually is generated by the efforts to replenish the sports gear for kids in the areas affected by the flooding.

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Eagles re-signing QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

San Francisco 49ers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Meet the new Eagles camp arm. Same as the old Eagles camp arm.

Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who was cut by the Eagles in May, is expected to re-sign with the team, Adam Caplan of ESPN reports.

Bethel-Thompson is used to coming and going in his football career. He started college at UCLA and finished it at Sacramento State, and has had three different stints with the 49ers, two with the Dolphins, two with the Vikings, one with the Patriots, one with the San Jose SaberCats of Arena Football and one with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League. Overall, he’s been cut nine times. Now he’ll begin his second stint with the Eagles.

There is almost no chance of Bethel-Thompson actually making the 53-player roster, as Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel and Carson Wentz have the three quarterback spots locked up.

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Alex Boone predicts Blaine Gabbert will start over Colin Kaepernick

459137483 Getty Images

As the 2016 regular season approaches, a move that would have seemed highly irregular a year ago now seems inevitable. When the 49ers open things up in Week One against the Rams, the quarterback will be Blaine Gabbert not Colin Kaepernick.

A guy who spent six seasons with the 49ers, including a 2015 campaign that resulted in Kaepernick being benched for Gabbert, believes Gabbert will win the job in the first year with Chip Kelly as the head coach.

“To be honest I think that Blaine did a great job last year,” new Vikings guard Alex Boone told me from the field at U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday, “and from what I know of Blaine, I think he’s probably gonna take the reins. I mean I think he’s a good guy, he knows what he’s doing out there, and he just has the support of the group so I think that’s one of the things to look forward to.”

If/when (when) Gabbert starts against the Rams, he won’t have Boone around to protect the quarterback against a chippy L.A. Rams defense that last year infuriated Vikings coach Mike Zimmer with lows hits on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Although Boone declined to call the Rams defense dirty, he vowed to ensure that neither the Rams nor anyone else will be taking cheap shots at his quarterback.

That’s part of the mindset Zimmer wants in his offensive linemen, and the hope is that Boone’s attitude will spread to the rest of the offensive linemen. If it works, the Vikings’ biggest weakness in 2015 will become a strength with Boone, a giant of a guard at 6-8, imposing his will on opponents and his colorful personality on teammates.

Raw and honest but with a positive attitude and a genuine love of the game and an excited anticipation for training camp, Boone could be the difference maker the Vikings need on the field and in the locker room. The new stadium could be a difference maker, too.

“Levi’s [Stadium] was great but I think this place blows it away,” Boone said, who played for the 49ers when their new venue opened two years ago. “I just think the structure alone and the atmosphere it’s gonna bring, it’s gonna be outrageous.”

Outrageous is likely a good word to describe Boone. And if he makes his position group more outrageous and less cerebral, he’ll be worth every penny the Vikings are paying him and a lot more.

To hear everything Boone had to say, dial up the PFT Live podcast from Friday at iTunes or audioBoom.

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Todd Bowles: It’s not just about the quarterback

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27:  Head coach Todd Bowles of the New York Jets looks on before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on September 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets closed one of their long-running offseason subplots when they signed defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to a five-year contract on July 15, which left only the Ryan Fitzpatrick saga unresolved heading into training camp.

The impasse between the team and last year’s starting quarterback has been well documented to this point and coach Todd Bowles didn’t offer any updates during an interview with Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. He did say that he’s willing to move on with Geno Smith should things play out that way and offered a reminder that other positions will play a role in determining the Jets’ fate this season.

“I think Geno can be a good starter, but he’s got to prove it in training camp like everybody else,” Bowles said. “It’s not just about the quarterback position. You got to have a team around that position to play ball, but he’s been in the system a year. He has a better grasp of it going into training camp and we’ll see what he does.”

The rest of the Jets team and Fitzpatrick were able to navigate their way to 10 wins under Bowles last season, although that wasn’t enough for the team to make it to the playoffs. With players like Wilkerson, Darrelle Revis, Sheldon Richardson, Nick Mangold and Brandon Marshall on hand, the cast around the quarterback has star power again this season and Bowles knows that it is “win-now every year” for the team. Re-signing Fitzpatrick doesn’t assure the Jets will improve on last year’s finish, but it isn’t hard to see fingers pointing in that direction should the Jets stumble without him running the offense.

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John Kuhn expects to get a call during training camp

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Fullback John Kuhn #30 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates his 5-yard touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter on December 20, 2015 at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Packers won 30-20. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Will there be a need to tell a confused colleague that they’re saying “Kuuuuuuuuuhn” and not booing this season?

John Kuhn believes there will be. The longtime Packers fullback has not landed a job for 2016 as camps get set to open around the league, but says he’s staying in shape and ready to roll because he expects to hear a call from a team before the summer is out.

“I’ve had 11 years in the NFL so far, so that’s good, but I’m not done,” Kuhn said on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan. “I work out four or five times a week and I’m putting in what I have to on the front end for expecting somebody to make my phone ring here at some point in time. If not this week, if not next week, sometime in August, somebody’s going to have a need for somebody who’s willing to come in, work hard, do some of the dirty work that not everybody does anymore.”

Kuhn said a return to the Packers or a job with a contender would be ideal, but knows that he can’t control which team might look in his direction. He also can’t control the overall trends of the NFL, although Kuhn said he thinks the variety of sub packages used by defenses has kept “a place in this game for running a two-back offense.”

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Sunday morning one-liners

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 30: Everson Griffen #97 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates his sack of Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter on November 30, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

Who will be the No. 3 wide receiver for the Bills?

Assessing whether the Dolphins offensive line has improved.

S Patrick Chung isn’t worried about the Patriots offense with QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Jets are set to have a punting battle this summer.

Five things to know about Ravens TE Benjamin Watson.

Bengals LB Vincent Rey has been eating like a caveman.

Rookie receivers are among the things to watch at Browns camp.

Said Steelers LB Arthur Moats, “We felt like we should have won it last year. With that being the mentality, and with everyone coming back, we know for a fact what we’re capable of. If we don’t win it this year it’s because we didn’t do it. It’s on us.”

Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins looks to Cecil Shorts for advice.

DL Arthur Jones‘ suspension weakens a Colts defense that already had question marks.

Jaguars wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan has been at it a long time.

Titans TE Delanie Walker helped hand out 50 free dental exams to kids.

The Broncos need more from their young offensive linemen.

Said Chiefs QB Alex Smith, “We have a good opportunity, but camp hasn’t even started and there are so many things that are going to happen throughout training camp and over the course of the season.”

What will Raiders WR Amari Cooper do in his second season?

Remembering the day K Rolf Benirschke returned to the Chargers.

Did the Cowboys improve their backup quarterback situation.

We’re getting closer to finding out if Giants WR Victor Cruz is back to form.

A preview of the Eagles receiving corps.

Setting expectations for Redskins TE Jordan Reed.

Coach John Fox’s reputation is among the things to like most about the Bears.

The Lions have plenty of receiver jobs up for grabs.

Questions about RB Eddie Lacy and others surround the Packers with camp about to start.

Vikings DE Everson Griffen says last year’s playoff loss is motivation for this year.

Breaking down the Falcons linebackers.

The Panthers are packed and ready for training camp.

Saints CB Keenan Lewis says he’ll be ready for Week One.

The competition at cornerback will be something to watch at Buccaneers camp.

The speed of S Tyrann Mathieu’s return to form is one of the questions to answer at Cardinals camp.

Musing about when the Rams will hand the starting job to QB Jared Goff.

Jerry Rice likes 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert’s confidence.

The Seahawks would love an encore performance from WR Doug Baldwin.

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Tom Brady can’t play catch with teammates while suspended

Detroit Lions Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

We may see a rusty Tom Brady in Week Five.

Brady is suspended for the first four games of the season over Deflategate, so he’s scheduled to make his regular season debut in Week Five against the Browns. Quarterbacks regularly miss time with injuries and then return to the field without any problems, but those quarterbacks have usually been working with their teammates at practice and participating in team meetings. Brady’s case will be different.

Not only is Brady not allowed to go to practices or team meetings during the four weeks when he’s suspended, but he’s not even allowed to have contact with coaches, or have a teammate over to his house to play catch.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Boston Herald that if Brady wanted Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski or any other Patriot to come over to his house and help him stay sharp, the NFL would prohibit it. Brady can’t “engage in any team football-related activities or discussions with teammates, even if away from the club facility.”

Would the NFL really be able to enforce a prohibition of “any team football-related activities or discussion?” Maybe not, but at this point Brady would be wise not to do anything that would result in a lengthy investigation. The last one didn’t go well for Brady.

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DeAndre Hopkins wants to be “treated for what I’m worth”

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 27: DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans celebrates a touchdown pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first quarter on September 27, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Texans gave defensive end J.J. Watt a big-money deal after only three seasons. They’ve yet to do the same for receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who’ll soon begin his fourth NFL campaign.

The first-round pick has a five-year rookie deal, so the first question is when will the Texans make a meaningful effort to extend his contract? The second — and far more important — question is how much will they offer?

“I’m not looking for a certain range,” Hopkins said Saturday, via Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com. “I just want to be treated for what I’m worth. That’s fair to say, right?”

It’s fair to say, but harder to do. A player is “worth” whatever someone will pay him. But the Texans have ways to keep someone else from paying him more than the Texans would pay, starting with two more years of Hopkins being under contract and then the franchise tag.

The earlier the Texans pay Hopkins, the sooner he’ll be shifting the injury risk to the team. Thus, the longer they wait, the more Hopkins should want.

For now, the team and Hopkins’ agents are talking. Are they making any progress? Per Ganguli, the wideout paused before offering this assessment.

“You know, that’s between my agents and the Texans,” Hopkins said. “I love this city. I don’t want to play anywhere else but here. So the rest will work itself out, hopefully.”

Hopkins had 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. The year before that, he 76 passes for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns. Making both performances even more impressive is the reality that the Texans haven’t exactly had franchise-level quarterback play. If they get it from Brock Osweiler in 2016, Hopkins’ numbers could go even higher.

And so will what he’s worth. Whatever that may be.

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Bucs claim WR Krause

Tampa Bay Bucaneers v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Buccaneers claimed wide receiver Jonathan Krause off waivers from the Eagles Saturday.

Krause has bounced around the league the last two seasons, spending time with the Browns, Patriots and Eagles. He broke into the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Browns in 2014 and played his first two regular-season games with the Eagles last season, catching two passes for 11 yards.

The Bucs made room on the roster for Krause by designating offensive lineman Dominique Robertson as waived with a non-football injury. Robertson is an undrafted rookie out of West Georgia.

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McCoy says he’s not bothered by “opinions” or perceptions

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 20: Running back LeSean McCoy #25 of the Buffalo Bills in action against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 20, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills running back LeSean McCoy wasn’t charged for his role in a February nightclub incident involving McCoy and some off-duty police officers, but the story made headlines.

If McCoy’s reputation took a hit from the alleged fight, he doesn’t seem to mind.

I know what type of person I am and what I do for my community, what type of father I am,” McCoy said Saturday during a hometown charity event. “People always have their own opinions. You can’t change them. And I’m fine with that.”

The NFL has decided not to discipline McCoy for his role in the alleged February incident. He hasn’t given many — if any — interviews in the meantime, so his deciding to talk to Harrisburg area reporters Saturday counts as a big deal.

The Eagles traded McCoy to the Bills before the 2015 season. He’s been involved in his share of controversies over the last several seasons, but he’s said he’s not bothered by “what the media gives” people.

“If the media only paints a picture of a player as this or whatever that may be, then that’s what the people see,” McCoy said. “So I don’t really go back and forth about that.”

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Bengals cut Taylor Mays

Carolina Panthers v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

The Bengals released veteran safety Taylor Mays Saturday, just a few months after bringing him back on a one-year deal.

Mays played for the Bengals from 2011-14. He played 14 games and started five last season for the Raiders after being cut by the Vikings and Lions. A second-round pick of the 49ers in 2010, Mays has played in 80 career games and started 15.

In March, Mays was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

The Bengals had added Mays in April but released him just before the start of training camp.

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Still unsigned, Ryan Fitzpatrick is golfing as camp approaches

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 03:   Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets watches the game against the Buffalo Bills from the sidelines during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo Bills beat the New York Jets 22-17 (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

Free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned as NFL training camps begin to open, and when last we heard about him he was declining to talk about his contract status.

But Fitzpatrick will talk about golf, telling NBC he found teeing off at the American Century Championship “nerve wracking.”

“It’s easier to play in front of a crowd when you’re good at something and comfortable doing it,” he said. “Football is easy to play in front of a crowd. Golf, you have to think about.”

Fitzpatrick doesn’t sound like he’s ready to start thinking about Jets camp just yet.

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