Jake Butt “hit a little pothole” in ACL recovery

Getty Images

Broncos tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL last September and the road back to the lineup has taken a turn for the worse early in training camp.

Butt has been held out of the last four practices because of issues in his knee and the fact that the most recent ACL tear was the third that Butt has suffered will lead some to wonder if he’ll be able to make it back to the field. Broncos head coach Vic Fangio downplayed such concerns, however.

“It’s more of what you’d expect,” Fangio said, via Nicki Jhabvala of TheAthletic.com. “He’s hit a little pothole here in his road to recovery, but I don’t think it’s anything too, too serious at this point. He could be out here tomorrow or he could be another day or two.”

The Broncos suffered another injury at tight end this week when Bug Howard was carted off the field with an ankle injury. That’s an unpleasant reminder of last year’s difficulties at the position and any further absences for Butt will create questions about whether the team can count on him being part of a better 2019 season.

PFT 2019 storyline No. 2: Will Patrick Mahomes have a sophomore slump?

AP

The Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the league by storm in 2018. Can they, and he, do it again in 2019?

That’s one of the biggest storylines of the 2019 season.

Whenever someone like Mahomes emerges out of the blue and dominates the way he did, opposing defenses spend the offseason obsessing over coming up with ways to slow him down. The 13 teams on the docket this year (he plays three of them twice) surely have studied every game, every snap, every throw for anything that could be used to keep Mahomes from doing to them what he did to pretty much everyone last year.

The Patriots may have provided the blueprint for the rest of the league in the AFC Championship game, which didn’t exactly shut down the Kansas City offense but ultimately slowed things down enough to outscore them in overtime. Although the Chiefs require a defense to cover every blade of grass on the field, given the power of Mahomes’ arm and the speed of Tyreek Hill‘s feet, the Patriots chose to defend the deepest areas of the field, keeping the ball in front of them and forcing the Chiefs to move more deliberately than perhaps they’d like.

Ultimately, nothing any defense does may matter. Mahomes is at his best when he’s forced to improvise, and there’s no amount of planning that can keep a guy with uncanny gifts from winning what becomes a schoolyard scramble. If defenses decide to avoid chaos, Mahomes has the arm and accuracy to pick them apart from the pocket.

That said, it won’t be easy for Mahomes to match what he did last year. But just because other quarterbacks have struggled in their second seasons as the starter, we’ve already seen that there’s something very different about Mahomes. If that’s the case, the 2019 Mahomes will be the 2018 Mahomes — and maybe even better.

So get ready for more funny-body throws from various arm angles, with no-look passes and left-handed passes and Fran Tarkenton scrambles and balls heaved off the wrong foot or with no feet on the ground at all. No amount of coaching can stop that kind of special talent, and it’s something the NFL will get to enjoy for as long as Mahomes has the physical ability to do it.

Khalil Mack: Last year wasn’t good enough

AP

If Bears fans liked what they saw from Khalil Mack‘s first year in Chicago, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Mack, who is beginning his first training camp as a Bear after arriving just before the start of the regular season last year, said he firmly expects a better season in 2019.

“We’re hungrier than we were last year,” Mack said, via NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m speaking for myself as well. I’m way hungrier than I was last year. It definitely wasn’t good enough. Just looking forward to this year and getting better.”

Mack said teammates have told him he’s going to love the Bears’ training camp home of Bourbonnais, Illinois.

“I don’t know if it’s sarcastic or not,” Mack said, “but I’m looking forward to it.”

And Bears fans are looking forward to seeing what an even better season from Khalil Mack might look like.

Kyler Murray: I don’t see why Kliff Kingsbury’s offense wouldn’t be successful

AP

There wasn’t much question about whether Kyler Murray would be the starting quarterback when the Cardinals hit the field for training camp, but the issue of whether or not the offense Murray is running will be successful remains open.

While the details of the system that Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury still need to be fully revealed, his history as a college coach has led to doubts that he’ll be able to make a successful transition to the professional ranks. Those doubts are not shared by Murray.

“I don’t see why everybody thinks that it can’t be successful,” Murray said, via ESPN.com. “It’s just like any other offense. It’s an offense. We work at it, we practice it and it’s our job to execute it. If we don’t, then it won’t be successful but if we do, like I said, it works at the college level. I don’t see how it couldn’t work at the pro level. So, it’s our job to make you believe in that.”

The Cardinals offense is expected to include things from Kingsbury’s time at Texas Tech as well as things Murray is familiar with from Oklahoma. However the playbook winds up looking, Murray’s ability to run it will determine how well the Kingsbury experiment plays out in Arizona.

Bruce Arians promises no music, but lots of profanity, at his first Buccaneers training camp

AP

A coach who curses like a sailor has probably found the right team to lead.

The Buccaneers, who have a pirate ship in their own stadium, launched their first training camp with Bruce Arians in charge. And he had a message during his first Tampa Bay training-camp press conference.

“Come have fun,” Arians told reporters. “We’re going to have fun. It’s going to be different when we put the pads on. There will be a lot of hollering and screaming and there won’t be any damn music. So you’ll hear some things. You know, maybe put some earplugs on the kids.”

Arians retired after the 2017 season, but after a year in the broadcast booth, where he once described a receiver as “wide-ass open,” he’s back on the sidelines, and he says his enthusiasm is “probably higher than ever.”

“I’m really excited about this team, about being back in it having been gone a year,” Arians said. “I came back early. I usually come back the day before. I was here early to get started.”

Arians promised a “really physical” training camp, with live tackling.

“That’s the only way to learn how to tackle,” Arians said. “You have to tackle some. Are we going to tackle a lot? No. Are we going to tackle certain guys? No. But we will tackle, yes.”

Arians also had a message for his players when it comes to dealing with the widespread belief that the Buccaneers won’t be very good.

“Don’t listen to the noise,” Arians said. “Go to work every day. I go back to my first year in Arizona, it was five, mostly six [predicted wins]. We won 10, and we had injuries, but we won games in the last two minutes. When you go back and look at the 5-11 record [from 2018], there were a lot of close games. We didn’t play smart enough to win, or we missed a kick, or we had a penalty or busted assignment. It was Bucs beating Bucs. Eliminate that. It wasn’t talent. It’s just play better in the final two minutes of the half and the final two minutes of the game and they’re at least 8-8.”

Former coach Dirk Koetter wasn’t able to get the players to avoid Bucs beating Bucs. This year, the task falls to Arians, a two-time NFL coach of the year who could be pulling off what he’d call a f–king trifecta if he can take the Buccaneers to 10 wins in 2019.

Melvin Gordon negotiations not going well at the moment

Getty Images

If Melvin Gordon continues to hold out, it could get expensive for him.

It may be a price he’s willing to pay.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, there is “mounting pessimism” that the Chargers running back will be showing up to training camp anytime soon, and that his absence could extend into the regular season.

In short, that means the negotiations on the new contract he wants aren’t going well.

Gordon’s entering the final year of his rookie deal, and naturally wants the raise and the security which go with that. Barring a new deal, he’s prepared to sit, and eventually demand a trade.

Without him, a playoff contender will have to depend on Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and Detrez Newsome at running back.

Tom Brady continues to move merchandise

Getty Images

He’ll soon turn 42, and he’s embarking on his 20th NFL season. Presumably, anyone who has wanted to buy something with Tom Brady‘s name or likeness on it have done so. And yet he’s still moving more merchandise than any other player in the NFL.

The NFL Players Association recently unveiled its top 50 player sales list for the 2019 preseason, a period covering March 1 through May 31, 2019. And Brady remains at the top.

Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 2), Bears linebacker Khalil Mack (No. 3), Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (No. 4), and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (No. 5) joined Brady in the top five.

Chiefs quarterback and 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes landed at No. 6, followed by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 7), Raiders receiver Antonio Brown (No. 8), Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (No. 9), and Giants running back Saquon Barkley (No. 10) finish out the top 10.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray becomes the highest rookie on the list, at No. 21.

And even though it’s a quarterback-driven league, several franchise quarterbacks landed surprisingly low on the list. Saints quarterback Drew Brees grabbed the last spot in the top 20. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, currently the highest-paid player in league history, finished at No. 30. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton came in at No. 40. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr landed at No. 43. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers barely made the list, at No. 48.

But at least Rivers made the top 50; Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford did not.

Then there’s this: The Rams made it to the Super Bowl, but none of their players qualified for the top 30. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald (No. 32), running back Todd Gurley (No. 34), and quarterback Jared Goff (No. 45) were the only members of the NFC champions to make the list.

The Patriots meanwhile have three in the top 20: Brady, receiver Julian Edelman (No. 15), and tight end Rob Gronkowski (No. 17), even though Gronk has retired from the game. For now, at least.

Report: Ezekiel Elliott wants to leapfrog Todd Gurley’s deal

Getty Images

Last year, the Rams gave running back Todd Gurley a contract that the Rams now surely regret. This year, running back Ezekiel Elliott wants even more from the Cowboys.

Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reports that Elliott hopes to surpass the four-year, $57.5 million extension given to Gurley. (That’s a new-money average of $14.375 million per year.) It’s unclear whether the Cowboys are willing to go there, especially if Elliott is looking for the same kind of structure, with Gurley having $34.5 million fully guaranteed by March 2019 and the Rams facing a decision on whether to fully guarantee Gurley another $10.5 million by March 2020. Also, most of Gurley’s fully guaranteed money is not subject to offset language.

It’s also unclear whether and to what extent the two sides are making progress. The indications continue to be that COO Stephen Jones, who dubbed Elliott earlier this year “the straw, if you will, that stirs our drink,” is handling these talks on his own, with no one below him in the organization involved or even aware of what’s going on.

Later today, we’ll all be aware as to whether Jones and Elliott’s agent, Rocky Arceneaux, have made enough progress to get Elliott to show up for training camp in California. He already missed the team flight from Dallas, which surely wasn’t accidental or inadvertent. The question now is whether the Cowboys do or say enough to get Elliott to make the trip on his own to Oxnard.

Given that it’s much easier under the CBA to hold out than to show up and leave, Elliott shouldn’t show up until he gets it in a written document signed at the bottom by Jerral Wayne Jones.

Carson Wentz excited to begin camp with no restrictions

AP

Now that Carson Wentz has some experience coming back from injury, he has a new appreciation for practicing at the start of training camp.

The Eagles quarterback has no limitations as he returns from the back injury that shelved him last year, unlike his slow work back from the knee injury the year before.

“Before the injury, it’s something you take for granted,” Wentz said of camp, via Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News. “You appreciate it more. It’s exciting to get out here day one and get going right away.”

Wentz even said he planned to play during the preseason, but noted it was coach Doug Pederson’s call. There’s more pressure this season with the loss of backup quarterback/Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, and the Eagles’ aggressive offseason (which included giving him a mammoth extension.

“Every season has expectations. Every season has pressure. I don’t think it’s really that much different, in that regard,” he said. “There’s always pressure. Whether there’s this much or this much, it doesn’t really change, at least for me, the way I approach it.”

At least this year, he’s approaching it healthy.

Source: Saints, Michael Thomas are “close”

Getty Images

That perfect world envisioned by Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis may be emerging, sooner than a later.

A source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the Saints and receiver Michael Thomas are “close” to getting a deal done that would end his unexpected holdout.

The characterization comes at a time when chatter has emerged that the Saints could trade Thomas in lieu of signing him; the source dismissed that possibility.

Of course, “close” doesn’t mean done. One or both sides will need to move in order to close the gap and do the deal. It appears, based on scattered bits and pieces we’ve gleaned, that the contract would be a five-year extension, and that the question is whether it will be worth $19 million per year or $20 million per year.

Within that bigger picture, there also could be structural questions regarding cash flow, guarantees, etc. But it appears that the biggest hangup for now relates to the average payout over the next five new years of the contract.

With the cap expected to grow in the coming years, and if Thomas is willing to commit through 2024, this one should be easy to resolve, because whatever Thomas gets now likely will be viewed as a great deal by 2022 at the latest — especially since he’s made it clear that he’s a great receiver.

The real question the Saints need to ask themselves is whether they are confident that, post-Drew Brees, they’ll get the most out of Thomas. Chances are that, as long as Sean Payton remains the coach in New Orleans, they will.

Bills first-rounder Ed Oliver has “a long way to go”

AP

Ed Oliver‘s ability to make an instant impact was suggested by the Bills’ eagerness to use a top 10 pick on him.

But they still need him to go through a longer process before they think he’s ready.

Via Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News, Oliver worked with the second team defense in his first practice, and coach Sean McDermott made it clear they expected a lot from the former Houston defensive tackle.

“He’s a rookie, you know, and this is his real first day of practice, like real practice,” McDermott said. “It’s a journey, so it’ll take some time. He’ll have to go through, really, everything that the rookies go through in terms of getting themselves acclimated to the NFL. There’s a gap between major college football and the NFL, so he’s got a long way to go right now.”

While being behind Jordan Phillips on the depth chart seems like a temporary arrangement (at least it better be), Oliver is not taking an eventual promotion for granted.

“Ain’t nothing given to nobody, and if you don’t work for it, you’ll never have nothing,” Oliver said. “I know what’s in front of me. I know what I have to do to be successful. Right now it’s just put your head down and go to work. Every day is a chance to learn. I could be a 10-year vet, you still have something to learn. So just me coming in, I’m quiet. It’s the only way I know how to try and get it right.”

His college performance (three-time All-American) indicates that might not take long, but he’s willing to put in the work.

Cam Newton connected on deep balls in first practice

AP

Cam Newton might be on a pitch count, but he can still bring the heater.

Via David Newton of ESPN.com, the Panthers quarterback cut loose a number of deep throws in his first camp practice since offseason shoulder surgery, which barring setbacks, should be a good sign for his recovery.

He’s healthy and ready to go,” quarterbacks coach Scott Turner said after practice. “He looked good. We will look at the film, but I felt good about it.”

The last time we saw Newton throw, it wasn’t pretty. He admitted after the fact that he couldn’t throw 30 yards last fall, before the team shut him down for his own good. He had surgery in January, and even as recently as minicamp in June, was limited on throws, in both number and distance.

But Thursday night, he completed several deep balls, and Turner said he threw a normal amount.

“Everything we’ve been told and everything we saw pointed toward him being ready to go,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “It did a lot for not just us, but it did a lot for him, just uncorking one like that.”

As long as he continues on this trajectory, that will take care of one of the biggest questions the Panthers carry into the season.

Darren Sproles had other offers but didn’t want to leave Philadelphia

Getty Images

Eagles running back Darren Sproles is back for his 15th NFL training camp, after an offseason in which he contemplated retirement and considered signing elsewhere. But he said Philadelphia feels like home.

Sproles, who spent the offseason as a free agent before signing with the Eagles this month, said he talked to both of the other teams he has played for, the Chargers and the Saints, about a return. He also had interest from other teams. Philadelphia, however, is his favorite place to play.

I love this organization,’’ he said. “We’re like a family here. From the locker room to the front office to the fans, once you’ve been here, you don’t want to go anywhere else.’’

The 36-year-old Sproles says he’s still healthy and in good shape.

“I’ve been blessed,’’ he said. “And I’ve taken care of my body. I never let myself get out of shape. I just try to always train at a high level. No breaks. Because when you get in the game and you’re running that hurry-up offense, you don’t get any breaks. So, my thing is that’s the way I want to train.’’

In what is likely the last training camp of his career, Sproles is excited to make it a good one.

Kyler Murray hits field for training camp as unquestioned starter for Cardinals

AP

It’s Kyler Murray‘s show to run in the desert.

In case there was any doubt about whether Murray would have full control of the reins as the No. 1 quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals this season, the first practice of training camp would seem to make the picture abundantly clear.

According to Darren Urban of the team’s website, Murray took every snap with Arizona’s first-team offense on Thursday. It’s the same game plan the Cardinals have had with Murray the entire offseason as they look to get Murray ready to roll for the regular season.

“Everybody in this locker room knows he’s going to be here,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “First pick overall, guys understand, it’s going to be his show. You want to be a part of it? Get on board.”

Murray has always appeared to be the ideal candidate to run Kliff Kingbury’s offense in his first go as a head coach in the NFL. Instilling Murray as the starter straight from the jump also eliminates the distraction of teammates having to prepare for the possibility of seeing two different quarterbacks under center on a revolving basis, as the Cardinals experienced last year with Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen.

“Last year, you have to worry about ‘50-50ing’ it up, make sure you’re getting reps with Josh, make sure you’re getting reps with Sam,” wide receiver Christian Kirk said. “Even the coaches would say, ‘We know Sam is starting but make sure you get reps with Josh as well because you never know when he might be thrown in.’ So you have to divvy it up.

Of course, if Murray begins throwing out performances in practice on a daily basis that resembled Nathan Peterman‘s start against the Chargers in 2017, they may be forced to reconsider if Murray is ready. However, Murray knows he has full control over that outcome as well. Only if that scenario were to play out would there be any question as to whether Murray is the team’s starting quarterback or not and he’s intent on keeping that possibility off the table.

“I think it takes away from the distraction, people asking questions and all that stuff,” Murray said of being the clear starter from day one. “It’s my job to earn that right every day.”

Ezekiel Ansah avoids PUP list, will still be worked back slowly with Seahawks

Getty Images

A six-game suspension for Jarran Reed to start the season has only intensified the magnifying glass upon the lack of proven pass rush production on the Seahawks’ roster.

The team’s need for pass rushers was illustrated by their signing of former Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah shortly after the compensatory draft pick threshold in May was reached. That was before Reed, who jumped from three sacks in his first two years combined to 10.5 sacks last year, was hit with a suspension for a personal conduct policy violation that will keep him out until mid-October.

Both Ansah and tight end Will Dissly, who ruptured his patella tendon last October, avoided the physically unable to perform list to start training camp for Seattle.

While Dissly is much closer to a return to the practice fields, Ansah will be brought along more slowly. The reason the team wanted to keep Ansah active was so he could take part in walkthrough sessions with the team as he continues to work on strengthening his shoulders after surgery this offseason.

“We are just going to ease our way into these days and see how he can handle the work, don’t want to rush it,” head coach Pete Carroll said Thursday. “We thought all along that it would probably be all the way through camp. So, the fact that he isn’t on PUP now and he’s going to get in work and be in walkthroughs today so he can actively be involved.”

Ansah is by far the most proven edge rusher on Seattle’s roster. However, his status has remained up in the air as he continues to work back from the injury that ultimately ended his tenure in Detroit. Ansah has posted seasons with 14.5 and 12.0 sacks in his six years with Detroit. The most productive outside pass rusher besides Ansah on the Seahawks’ roster is former Seattle draft pick Cassius Marsh, who notched 5.5 sacks last year with the San Francisco 49ers.

Carroll, who is optimistic by nature, remains hopeful that Ansah will be ready for the start of the season. Regardless of whether he makes that deadline or not, Carroll said Ansah is progressing well in his recovery process and he is fully healed from the surgery. The fact he isn’t on the PUP list would seem to indicate Seattle believes he’ll be ready far earlier than a six-week stint on the in-season PUP list would allow.

“His shoulder is healed, it’s solid,” he said. “They did all of the retesting again, just in the last couple days, to ensure that. He’s got a little bit of soreness in the lifting coming back, but really nothing to hold him back. It’s just a matter of keep getting stronger and making sure it’s really secure before we go. He’s bench pressing and doing the dumbbells and all that kind of stuff. He’s got good strength, he’ll get better strength. He came back at 270, he was 250 something when he came back in the springtime. He’s really built back up and that’s about his playing weight right in there. We are really looking forward to him being a big factor.”