Seven NFL teams with loose ends heading into camp


Heading into training camp, there are the blockbuster storylines that will follow certain teams throughout the summer and beyond. There are also the tiny odds and ends that could end up being a much larger headache than originally expected. This is what we're exploring here -- items often considered simple preseason minutiae -- a light snowfall in the short term but could end up taking on a more avalanche-like consistency closer to the regular season.

From rookie contracts and unsettled debts to new training camp theories, there are plenty of under-the-radar issues worth tracking as camps wear on.

Unsigned rookie contracts

The Raiders have yet to ink their first or second-round picks and neither are currently with the team during the rookie-only portion of training camp. There are three teams -- the Raiders and Gareon Conley, the 49ers and Solomon Thomas, and the Titans and Corey Davis -- that have yet to come to terms with their first-round picks.

While most of this can be couched as nonsense -- Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa's holdout lingered weeks into the preseason and he ended up winning Defensive Rookie of the Year -- there are complex issues which can arise from these minor impasses. Nothing is forgotten from the negotiating table. For a general manager like the Titans' Jon Robinson, who signed his 2016 first-round pick in May of that year, he might already be frustrated with the process. Offset language, which was at the heart of the Bosa impasse, was a long-held take-it-or-leave-it organizational standard for Chargers general manager Tom Telesco. Challenging that status quo -- a right players should pursue -- can often make waves right off the bat.

The Duane Brown holdout

As NFL Network's Mike Garafolo noted this week during "Inside Training Camp Live," the Texans won a stare down with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins after a one-day holdout last year. That was the precursor to a deal they will almost certainly need to hand him during this season or at some point before an ugly game of (franchise) tag eventually breaks out. Now franchise left tackle Duane Brown is holding out, even if general manager Rick Smith won't call it that.

"There's no contract dispute," Smith told reporters Tuesday. "Duane's under contract for two more years. That's our position. We're here to get our football team ready for the season, and he should be a part of it. ... Here's an important member of our team, and he ought to be here."

The difference between Brown's holdout and Hopkins' holdout is potential leverage. At best, Houston is going to be starting Tom Savage in the opener. Savage has five career appearances and two NFL starts. At worst, the Texans will be starting rookie Deshaun Watson. Either proposition is scary without a three-time Pro Bowl left tackle anchoring your offensive line. Brown has been the bedrock of this roster for nearly a decade and with their playoff push in full swing, Houston cannot afford to move on without him.

The Aaron Donald deal

If Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham both joined forces, there's a decent chance the 2014 draft diamonds could collectively force their teams to buckle and extend their rookie deals long before free agency in 2019. For now, it looks like Donald will go at it alone.

The Rams' star is just two days from deciding whether or not he wants to take his fight into the preseason and hold out. Does he deserve it? Absolutely. Aside from Von Miller and Khalil Mack, Donald might be the single most disruptive player in the NFL. Does he have leverage? That gets more complicated. Donald would only say, "We'll see what happens" when asked about a holdout by SiriusXM NFL Radio at the end of last month. Should he arrive feeling his point was proven, it still won't solve the fundamental issue: Donald is underpaid but locked in a rookie contract. He is far and away the best player on a team trying to secure a new fan base in a new city. Is that worth bending precedent to get him some cash early?

Arizona's full tackle summer

Coach Bruce Arians is a man of conviction, and at the combine I watched as he said -- without hesitation -- that the Cardinals would hit all summer after finishing last season as a poor tackling team. This has been an attitude gradually phased out by most coaches due in large part to the decreased practice time and increased value of entrenched starters. The injury bug scares just about everyone.

Should it work out -- the Steelers, among a few other teams still tackle during camp and prefer a physical style -- Arians will be hailed for his throwback sensibility. He's not alone. The Colts also have openly pondered having a more physical camp as they try to rebuild their defense from the ashes.

It's obvious what's on the line here: A more conditioned, physical Cardinals defense is well worth the risk. This is a team with one last shot at a potentially deep playoff run before most of their important pieces retire. Losing one of their best defensive players in a hitting drill that didn't need to be will frustrate fans beyond reason.

The Le'Veon Bell situation

Given the way Pittsburgh exited the playoffs and the Ben Roethlisberger retirement flirtation which followed, this always had the chance to be an awkward 2017 for the Steelers. Now, Le'Veon Bell enters the scene after telling NFL Network's Ike Taylor that he wished to be paid as not only a running back, but as a No. 2 wide receiver -- essentially $15 million per season.

To be clear, this is not an unreasonable request. There is only one other player in the NFL who can do what Bell does -- Cardinals running back David Johnson. Bell is the ultimate security blanket for a quarterback and a complete, defense-spreading weapon for offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Now, he comes to camp with a wide receiver who was recognized contractually at the top of his position and a quarterback who, at one time, also was granted an extension at the top of the market before the rest of the Big Three quarterbacks from 2004 NFL Draft.

Because of the franchise tag, Bell is still being paid atop the running back market, though he's yet to sign the franchise tender. Antonio Brown has already reached out to have a top secret conversation. Is this the precursor of a healing moment for the franchise, or will this signal more frustration and unease?