It’s really, really early to be making declarations about the upcoming season, but NFL OTAs have already provided plenty of juicy stories.
Some of them will have no bearing on the overall standings at the end of the year. Some will certainly trickle that far into the future. We have no idea about which ones will make long-term impacts, but we can make some educated guesses.
One team enters the offseason with almost overbearing expectations and has a limited window with which to placate fans. Another team brought in a high-risk rookie and has done a terrible job of not protecting him. An NFL veteran with tons of tread on his tires is blowing new teammates away, while a top rookie is struggling to get off to a good start.
Taking a look around the league now that every team has gotten to get into their OTAs, these are our top takeaways.
1. Myles Garrett off to frustrating start in Cleveland
When you’re a No. 1 overall pick, the expectations cannot be any higher that you’re going to make an immediate impact. When you’re a non-quarterback taken No. 1, those expectations are raised even higher, because there is no position of greater import in the NFL than quarterback.
This leads us to defensive end Myles Garrett, who has gotten off to quite a slow start for the Cleveland Browns. And by slow start, we mean he hasn’t been doing a lot of practicing as he rehabs what’s being reported as a sore foot.
Now, Cleveland is saying all the right things, like there is no reason to panic and this isn’t a major issue. And it’s true Garrett did practice a couple times this past week, taking a day off in between Tuesday and Thursday to rest his foot. But you have to believe there’s at least the tiniest bit of panic in Cleveland’s front office. After all, last year’s first-round pick, Corey Coleman, missed a lot of his rookie campaign due to injury. Now he’s likely out until training camp with another injury, this time a hamstring issue, among other things.
The Factory of Sadness has been seemingly cursed for decades. These developments do absolutely nothing to deter fans from wondering if this is just more of the same. Hopefully, both Garrett and Coleman are able to make big-time, meaningful contributions to the Browns in 2017.
If not, then one wonders just how much patience owner Jimmy Haslam will have with Hue Jackson, Paul DePodesta, Sashi Brown and Co. as the organization continues to search for a solution to its long-standing woes.
2. Bengals have interesting way of protecting Joe Mixon
The Cincinnati Bengals knew they were taking a big risk drafting running back Joe Mixon in the second round. Owner Mike Brown said as much about bringing in a young man who has, at least once, brutally attacked a woman.
There are some players on Cincinnati’s roster who could take Mixon under their wings to help him stay out of trouble. Players that could help mold him into a model citizen and young man the organization and his family could be proud of.
Adam Jones is not one of those men (for many, many reasons). In fact, if the Bengals were smart, they’d keep Jones as far away from Mixon as humanly possible.
Alas, the Bengals are not smart.
Of all the people Mixon could be hanging out with, it’s Jones who has apparently taken it upon himself to spend time with the young man. At a concert, no less. We all believe in second chances. But Jones is a guy who’s gotten his second, third, fourth and fifth chances to reform. And as recently as last month, he’s failed to do so.
We hope this ends well. Really. But man, talk about playing with fire.
3. Expectations couldn’t be higher in Oakland
Until Derek Carr broke his leg right before the playoffs last year, the Oakland Raiders were thought of as the team best suited to challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC. Obviously that didn’t happen.
Heading into 2017 the Raiders have only added significant fuel to their fiery roster.
Carr is healthy and as focused as ever, to the point where he’s going to play out the final year of his rookie deal if he doesn’t land an extension before camp. No distractions, he’s said.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 4, 2017
Adding Marshawn Lynch and Jared Cook to Oakland’s potent offense should scare the heck out of opposing defenses, which will have their hands full.
Defensively, adding Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu and Eddie Vanderdoes were moves in the draft that should pay near-immediate dividends. We expect Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Co. to be even more aggressive going after the quarterback this year because of the extra help on the back end.
The Raiders ticked a lot of people off when the move to Las Vegas was approved. But as ticket sales show, the hype surrounding this team is as strong as ever. So also are the expectations, especially since many fans would likely agree with Ice Cube, who said the Raiders owed Oakland a title before the move to Vegas.
4. NFC East rivalries already in mid-season form
Josh Norman must not like the offseason, because he’s started a couple of fights already with two of his most famous rivals. In a wide-ranging interview with Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report, Norman called out both NFC East rivals Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. Essentially, he said neither player tests his greatness (read more about that here).
He’ll have at least four chances to back up his big talk. And now that defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has said he’ll allow Norman to shadow the top receiver every week, those battles should only intensify. Last year, Norman wasn’t always on Bryant or OBJ. This year, he apparently will be.
Will we see Norman shut them down? He’s had good success against Beckham Jr. in the past, who seems to have little ability to block out Norman’s mental attacks. But Dez Bryant was pretty successful last year the two times they met up, and he’s fully healthy entering the 2017 season.
Josh Norman says Dez Bryant, NFC East receivers are just guys; 'I'm not enhancing my craft' against them."
INTERESTING. 🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔 pic.twitter.com/e8BCqcnNvq
— ✭🤷🏽♂️✭ (@Unbotherable) May 25, 2017
We can’t wait to see Bryant and Norman square up. And we also look forward to seeing if Beckham Jr. has finally learned how to control his emotions. So far, he’s been on the losing end of his battles with Norman.
Whatever happens, we know for sure it’s going to be must-see football.
5. Adrian Peterson making good first impression in the Bayou
It’s going to be fascinating to see how Adrian Peterson fits in with the New Orleans Saints this season. They’ve been such a pass-first team the past few seasons, and suddenly they have Peterson, Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.
How much will Peterson play? How will he be utilized? There are far more questions than answers right now. But one thing we know for certain is that the Saints have had nothing but superlatives to say about Peterson so far.
Head coach Sean Payton even went so far as to say Peterson is breaking conventional wisdom with the way he’s defying age (he’s 32). His new teammates view him as some sort of NFL demigod, and Terron Armstead said he’s never seen someone with a more explosive first couple of steps.
We’re not convinced the good times will last. After all, Peterson was really struggling even before he was injured last year. And while some of that had to do with Minnesota’s offensive line, even when he did have running lanes Peterson wasn’t hitting them like we’ve seen in the past.
But so far, the Saints couldn’t be more pleased with their new (old) running back.
6. Trouble in paradise for Seahawks?
Even before Seth Wickersham’s much talked-about column detailing Richard Sherman’s alleged problems with Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson and the offense, trouble was brewing in Seattle.
Sherman reportedly asked the team to trade him. That was the first sign something wasn’t right in Seattle’s locker room. All the leaks coming out of Seattle lately remind us of the way things started falling apart for the San Francisco 49ers in the year before Jim Harbaugh’s last hurrah.
Then there are the issues on the field.
Seattle’s offensive line — the unit that has allowed Wilson to be pressured more than any other quarterback in the league — is still broken.
Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in the business at making plays when they break down. Unfortunately, they break down all to frequently, and he spent all of last year dealing with injuries.
Russell Wilson has been adapting to pressure since his rookie year, with his time to throw dropping from 3.35 in 2012, to 2.66 in 2016. pic.twitter.com/AWg4LLBZ6M
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 17, 2017
The Legion of Boom secondary is older, and it was abused last year in the playoffs when Earl Thomas was injured.
Despite Pete Carroll’s insistence that everything is just hunky dory in Seattle’s locker room, there is way too much smoke for a fire to not exist somewhere. Carroll has done an outstanding job keeping all the big personalities from destroying the good vibes. But at some point, adversity has the potential to fracture this team.
And adversity is almost certain to come.
7. Chiefs’ move to cut Jeremy Maclin makes little sense
Kansas City shocked everyone — Alex Smith and Jeremy Maclin himself — when it released the veteran receiver. This is the only receiver who has ever caught 1,000 yards worth of passes from Smith in a single season. Suddenly he’s not with the club, and quite honestly the Chiefs don’t have his replacement on the roster.
Now, the Chiefs were a bit cap strapped heading into the offseason and were sitting around $3.5 million under the cap before releasing Maclin. They are saving $10 million total with the move (split up into two seasons), and they still need to sign some of their draft picks.
Still, there are other ways to cut cap space than dropping the hammer on a 29-year-old receiver still in his prime. Last year was a poor season for Maclin, who got hurt and ended up catching just 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns. However, the year prior he caught 87 balls for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns, becoming the first receiver in years to make that type of impact for Kansas City.
Now the Chiefs head into the season with Albert Wilson, Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, De’Anthony Thomas, Demarcus Robinson and rookie Jehu Chesson. Aside from Hill, there isn’t a lot to be optimistic about if you’re a Chiefs fan.
On the flip side, Kansas City’s loss could be Buffalo’s gain. The Bills are reportedly in preliminary talks with Maclin, who’s being recruited by both Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy.
8. The Colin Kaepernick conundrum
So, it looks like the Seattle Seahawks aren’t going to sign Colin Kaepernick after all. When asked about this, head coach Pete Carroll said Kaepernick’s a starter, and they already have a starter. It’s also been reported that the two sides were far apart on money.
Before the Seahawks brought Kaepernick in for a visit, the general consensus by most who don’t think the quarterback is being blackballed by the league is that he doesn’t have a job because he’s not a starter any more. They say Kaepernick is demanding to be a starter (which he’s reportedly denied, by the way) and that he’s just not good enough to start.
While that might be true for teams that have a starter, like Seattle, it’s certainly not true for other teams that don’t have a quarterback. Yet we’ve seen dozens of awful quarterbacks not named Kaepernick get signed for relatively lucrative contracts.
Heck, journeyman Josh McCown (career record of 18-42) is going to ease into a starting job with the New York Jets because they have NO OTHER OPTION.
At this point, especially in light of recent comments made by New York Giants co-owner John Mara, it’s clear most of the league is too scared to hire Kaepernick. Because of his political beliefs. Not because of anything having to do with football.
All other lines of reasoning have been proved false.
9. Browns have most interesting QB competition in NFL
Heading into the summer months, we have absolutely zero clue about who will start games behind center for the Cleveland Browns in 2017. Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer and Brock Osweiler all have a legitimate chance to be the guy this year.
Kessler was named the starter heading into OTAs, and head coach Hue Jackson said someone would have to knock him off that spot for anything to change. But since then, both Osweiler and Kizer have been talked up by Cleveland’s coaching staff.
Osweiler has been dubbed a “pleasant surprise” by none other than Jackson himself. He noted the reputation that followed the quarterback into Cleveland hasn’t been what the Browns have seen.
Kizer has also been highlighted for his exceptional ability to absorb everything that’s been thrown at him so far. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com said the rookie out of Notre Dame is doing everything he can to be “on the fast track” to playing.
Training camp and preseason games will determine which of these three ends up starting. Who would have thought that Cleveland’s quarterback competition would become so intriguing?
10. Rams not handing starting job to Jared Goff
From a rookie who’s doing everything he can to impress out of the gate we look to a second-year quarterback who will end up being pushed by his backup.
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Jared Goff, is still the starter (by default) for the Los Angeles Rams. But based on comments made by rookie head coach Sean McVay, the job isn’t secure. Not by a long shot.
McVay said “whoever we feel like gives us the best chance to win football games” is going to start at quarterback.
“Right now, we feel really good about what they’ve both [Jared Goff and Sean Mannion] done,” McVay continued, per the team’s Twitter account. “Jared’s done a nice job of getting better, but you always want to make sure you’re playing the guy that you feel like gives you the best ability to win football games. Right now, Jared is the starter.”
That’s not a ringing endorsement. It’s pretty much the opposite of a ringing endorsement.
If last year is any indication, Goff could end up losing his job. As a rookie, he wasn’t even allowed to hit the field until the Rams were well out of the playoff chase and Case Keenum proved to be completely incapable of winning games. Then when he did play, Goff completed just 54.6 percent of his passes, averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt while throwing five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games.
Mannion wasn’t any better. But the Rams have a very strong defense and need a guy behind center who won’t panic in the face of pressure — something Goff did numerous times last year.
Kaepernick to the rescue? We’re kind of joking, but quite honestly he might be the best option.