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12 most eye-opening early training camp developments

Jesse Reed
Bills quarterback Josh Allen

It’s early, but there’s been plenty of interesting training camp developments brewing around the league already with the first preseason games coming up quickly.

We’ve seen some surprising depth-chart moves come to fruition. Some teams are dealing with some very disgruntled stars who are holding out for contracts they may not get. On the other side of that same coin, some of the league’s best have gotten paid in a major way.

And, of course, injuries have already had an impact on teams’ plans this summer.

These are the most eye-opening developments happening around the league early in training camp.

Chargers lose star CB to injury

Los Angeles Chargers fans must feel their team is cursed. Already seen as one of the most snake bitten teams in recent memory, the Chargers lost burgeoning star tight end Hunter Henry this spring. Then, this past week one of their best defensive players, cornerback Jason Verrett, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles.  It’s the second year in a row the former first-round pick has suffered a season-ending injury.

On paper, the Chargers featured a championship-caliber roster before these injuries. Attrition has already claimed two of their top players, however, and training camp has only just begun.

Hopefully, second-year defensive back Desmond King can continue to develop. He’ll be counted on even more this year than he was as a rookie to fill the void left by Verrett. And hopefully the injury bug stays away from Los Angeles, which really could make noise in the playoffs this year.

Jets could be dangling Teddy Bridgewater as trade bait

So many NFL teams struggle to find just one capable quarterback. The New York Jets, who’ve been in that boat more often than not in recent memory, now have three capable passers, including No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold (more on him later).

According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the starting job is Darnold’s to win. This echoes what offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has said recently. Furthermore, Cimini notes that the Jets are open to trading Teddy Bridgewater, whose services will be in high demand when the inevitable occurs and a team loses a quarterback to injury this summer.

By all accounts, Bridgewater has looked phenomenal all offseason. His knee is holding up well and he’s been impressive during practices. If he stays healthy, then the Jets will likely profit in a big way by trading him later this summer. The alternative is that they keep three quarterbacks, which in this day and age is rare.

Packers might have a surprise star on offense

When the Green Bay Packers released Jordy Nelson earlier this year, quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t pleased. Time could have softened the blow, however, especially in light of a surprising development.

According to Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore has been getting some first-team reps with Rodgers and the first-team offense, and that’s not an accident.

“McCarthy says it’s not an accident Packers rookie J’Mon Moore is already repping with Aaron Rodgers,” Wood tweeted. “Each opportunity is earned, he said. Likes how Moore has transitioned to learning multiple WR spots.”

Fantasy footballers, keep an eye out for more on this as the summer progresses into fall. We could be looking at a legit sleeper stud here, because when Rodgers starts gelling with receivers all hell usually breaks loose.

Injury leads Browns to consider kicking tires on Dez

Dez Bryant is one of the top remaining NFL free agents

When the Cleveland Browns opened training camp, head coach Hue Jackson surprised reporters with news that third-year receiver Ricardo Louis would miss the entire season with a neck injury after undergoing surgery this offseason.

Cleveland has some talent at receiver this year, but depth is certainly an issue, especially in light of Louis’ injury. In response to this, Browns general manager John Dorsey has acknowledged that the team has discussed bringing in former Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant, who still remains unsigned.

More recently, it’s been reported that Cleveland has actually discussed bring Bryant in on a one-year deal. Whether he deigns to sign with a team that’s won just a single game the past two years remains to be seen. That being said, right now this might just be his best chance to play in 2018. It’s also worth noting that Bryant teaming up with Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman would give the Browns quite a loaded lineup.

Cardinals improve defensive secondary in a big way

The Arizona Cardinals have one of the best young safeties in the league developing in Budda Baker. They also have savvy veteran safety Antoine Bethea and All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Now, thanks to one of the low-key best free-agency additions we’ve seen all year, they have former Chargers safety Tre Boston, who was one of the top free safeties in the entire league last year. Thanks to a tremendously soft market for safeties, they got Boston on the cheap with a one-year deal. He’s going to be a huge playmaker for them in 2018 and should help Baker continue to develop at a rapid pace.

Could RG3 stick in Baltimore?

We teased a depth-chart surprise in the opening of this article. Well, here it is: The Baltimore Ravens, at least temporarily, have former No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III as the backup to Joe Flacco, with rookie Lamar Jackson as the third-string quarterback.

This was a bit of a stunner, especially because of how much the Ravens talked up Jackson all offseason long.

We can’t read too much into the first depth chart of the summer, because these things have a way of flipping on their heads in short order. That being said, this did show us that perhaps RG3 really isn’t just in Baltimore to be a camp arm. He could have a legitimate shot at sticking on the roster this season as the backup to Flacco.

Panthers lose top offensive lineman, possibly for season

It’s no secret that the Carolina Panthers have struggled to protect Cam Newton. He’s been among the most-sacked quarterbacks in the league since his rookie season (256 sacks in his first seven seasons).

One of the guys who’s been pretty good recently, however, was right tackle Daryl Williams, who earned Second-team All-Pro honors last season. Unfortunately for him, Newton and the Panthers, Williams was carted off the field with a knee injury on Saturday that is more than likely going to end his season.

This injury could be devastating to the Panthers. They will now need last year’s second-round pick, Taylor Moton, to step up in a big way and fill the void.

Rashaad Penny relegated to second string

The Seattle Seahawks earned the scorn of many who cover the draft when they used their first-round pick on former San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny. It’s not that analysts expect Penny to fail, but there weren’t many who saw him as a top-tier running back, either.

On top of that, Seattle had many other needs, and there were players on the board at the time that Penny was selected who could have filled some of those needs.

All that to say that what’s happened so far in camp isn’t changing the optics of the team’s decision to select Penny so early. According to ESPN’s Brady Henderson, Chris Carson has been looking phenomenal and has been working with the first-team offense early in training camp.

Penny could one day prove everyone wrong and make the Seahawks look like geniuses. Right now, however, things aren’t looking quite so rosy.

Sam Darnold still a no-show amid contract impasse

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold

As the Jets move closer to their first preseason game, No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold remains away from the team. He has yet to sign his rookie contract, though he reportedly has asked his agents to get the deal done so he can join his teammates.

If Darnold doesn’t get into camp soon, then his chance to earn the starting job ahead of Week 1 will dwindle. Right now, he remains away from the Jets due to a contract issue his representatives are having with the Jets.

Almost certainly, this has to do with offset language, as rookie contract figures are set in stone. Regardless of what the issue is, however, Darnold will end up falling behind the longer he stays away.

Josh Allen the best of the bunch in Buffalo?

When training camp opened up, the Buffalo Bills were determined to have AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman battle it out for the starting job. Meanwhile, rookie Josh Allen was relegated to third string, like he had been during OTAs and minicamp.

Well, if things continue to progress the way they have early in camp, Buffalo might feel inclined to just go ahead and let Allen start. He’s reportedly been the best quarterback so far, which is obviously great news for the Bills, who want to see their first-round investment pay off.

On the other hand, the long-term development of Allen is nothing to mess around with. The best-case scenario would be to have him on the sideline this year, rather than getting eaten alive by NFL defenses. That means either McCarron or Peterman needs to step up.

Rams, Raiders and Seahawks in sticky situation with top defenders

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald

Three of the best defensive stars in the NFL are currently away from their respective teams, holding out for new contracts.

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald reportedly isn’t even going to show up this year if he doesn’t land a long-term contract. He’s about to head into the final year of his rookie contract, which would pay peanuts compared to what he’ll earn on a new deal.

Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack is in exactly the same boat as Donald, set to play out the final year of his rookie deal. He’s been away from the team all offseason and has reportedly not had much positive contact with Oakland about a new deal. Furthermore, he has not even talked to head coach Jon Gruden at this point. Yeah, it’s not looking great, Raider Nation.

Finally, the Seattle Seahawks appear to be preparing to play out the 2018 season without star free safety Earl Thomas. Thomas only has $1.9 million guaranteed left on his current contract and wants an extension. Seattle reportedly has no interest in giving him a new deal. It’s also been reported that Thomas has put his home in Seattle on the market and is “done” with the Seahawks.

Meanwhile, other players got PAID

While Donald, Mack and Thomas all remain away from their teams, other players have shown up to camp and were rewarded for it.

Rams running back Todd Gurley is now the top-paid running back in the game. Left tackle Taylor Lewan made history with his new deal in Tennessee, and tight end Delanie Walker is now one of the highest-paid tight ends in the game. Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons reconciled their differences, and his teammate Jake Matthews also got paid big time.

It’s likely we’ll see other players land huge extensions this summer before camp ends, too. Whether the aforementioned holdouts are included among them remains to be seen.