Following an unforeseen change in circumstances, NFL training camps will get going in about three weeks. The backdrop here is an ongoing pandemic that’s plaguing the United States and questions over whether the 2020 season will begin on time.
Looking at football itself, multiple big-name quarterbacks changed teams during the spring. None more so relevant than Tom Brady. Rookie quarterbacks are also going to be looking to make an impact during camp. Meanwhile, multiple star players could be traded.
These are among the top storylines for NFL training camps.
Cam Newton back in the NFL with the Patriots
It took a while for this former league MVP to latch on with a team after the Carolina Panthers moved on from him back in March. Sure Newton has dealt with injuries over the past couple seasons, but he remains a viable starting quarterback in the league.
Newton’s move to New England coincides with Tom Brady’s departure from the organization after two decades leading the charge. He will face competition from 2019 mid-round pick Jarrett Stidham, who seemingly had the starting job locked up before Newton signed. With the Pats still looking to contend for a title, how this story plays out will be telling.
COVID-19 and the NFL world
We can’t simply ignore the backdrop here. This virus is spreading at an alarming clip throughout some of the major metropolitan areas in the United States. That includes major cities in California, Florida and Texas. The NFL does have strict protocols in place to make sure there’s no spread of the pandemic within the league. But as we have seen, coronavirus can infiltrate even the most secure of environments.
For now, the focus will be on the three states listed above. We’re talking about a quarter of the NFL teams playing in those regions. What happens if a major outbreak of COVID-19 happens in Tampa or Los Angeles during training camp? Could this halt the season in its tracks?
Rookie quarterbacks looking to emerge
It’s going to be extremely difficult for rookie quarterbacks to make an impact this season without having had the ability to work out with their teams during the spring and summer. That should delay the likes of Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert seeing action during their rookie campaigns.
Though, the Cincinnati Bengals have made it clear that rookie No. 1 pick Joe Burrow will start out of the gate. Their decision to release Andy Dalton added yet another layer to this. How will Burrow look during training camp and the Bengals’ two preseason games? I am also highly intrigued to see how surprise Packers first-round pick Jordan Love looks this summer.
Last season’s two Super Bowl teams
There’s been very little turnover for the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers since February’s impressive Super Bowl. Kansas City returns Patrick Mahomes and a whole host of weapons on offense as it looks to repeat as champions. Though, I am extremely excited to see how rookie first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks in the Chiefs’ backfield. Also of intrigue here is the contract status of star defensive lineman Chris Jones, who is threatening to hold out of camp.
In Northern California, the situation isn’t much different. The defending NFC champs traded away DeForest Buckner in a blockbuster deal. San Francisco also saw Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley retire, only to replace him with future Hall of Famer Trent Williams. The 49ers are right up there as the favorite to hoist the Lombardi in February. It’s going to be interesting to see how the influx of young talent works with San Francisco’s veteran core during training camp and the preseason.
NFL players on the trade block
It’s all about Jamal Adams. Will the New York Jets pull the trigger and trade the All-Pro safety? He’s now officially demanded to be dealt after putting up yet another tremendous season in Jersey. A move of this ilk would obviously send shock waves throughout the NFL during training camp.
The Jacksonville Jaguars will also have to think long and hard about trading Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The star pass rusher has made it clear he’s done with the Jags. New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney and electric Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel are two other players who could be moved during training camp.
Familiar faces, new places
It’s all about the quarterback position, stupid. Primarily, seeing six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady tossing the ball in a Buccaneers uniform during training camp is going to be something else. After two decades in a Patriots uniform, Brady now changes addresses in hopes of proving himself without Bill Belichick.
Philip Rivers has moved on from the Los Angeles Chargers and will now be tasked with leading the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl contention. Teddy Bridgewater replaces Cam Newton in Carolina. And as noted above, Mr. Newton is now the Patriots’ newest quarterback. A lot of star power changed teams this spring. But it’s all about the quarterback position here, folks.
Black Lives Matter, Colin Kaepernick
As much as the global pandemic affected the early stages of the NFL offseason, protests on the American streets have impacted the latter stages of the pre-camp schedule. The NFL recently changed its tune following the murder of George Floyd, admitting that it mishandled the Kaepernick-led national anthem protests. It has committed $250 million to help combat “systemic racism,” too.
Though, there’s a major backdrop here. Will Kaepernick be signed by an NFL team prior to or during training camp? Things seem to be trending in that direction. If it doesn’t happen, how will outspoken players react? It’s also going to be interesting to see how widespread national anthem protests are during the preseason. We can expect them to be much more prevalent than in recent seasons.
Other NFL free agents
We previously focused on a list of the top-eight remaining free agents. Things have certainly died down in this regard during the summer. That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of top-end talent.
Primarily, two elite pass rushers in that of Jadeveon Clowney and Everson Griffen are looking for teams. Troubled wide receivers Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown are also looking for another chance. This is going to be an interesting story to watch play out.