It's the last week before summer vacation in the NFL. With 18 teams conducting mandatory minicamp to wrap up their offseason programs, here's a look at which stories will stick and which stories from the week don't have staying power.
Danielle Hunter and Sheldon Richardson return to the Vikings. Hunter never left town; it just felt that way after a contract dispute, which preceded a neck injury that kept him out for the entire 2020 season. Hunter's importance to the Vikings' defense was deeply felt during his absence. They had no pass rush without him and still look thin on the edge even after the team enticed him back to work with a sensible compromise: They accelerated some guaranteed money in his contract and added an option for 2022 that guarantees he'll make $20 million or hit free agency next year.
Then again, the Vikings don't look nearly as thin up front after signing Richardson to a one-year deal. (He also played for them in 2018.) No one is expecting miracles at this stage of Richardson's career, but he's a dependable starter who will wind up making less than a lot of inferior free agents because the Browns released him so late in the offseason. With Richardson, Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson up front, Minnesota's defensive line should look a lot better than the ugly unit we saw in 2020. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has more depth in the secondary and some difference-makers up front again. A return to a top-10 defense is possible, and that's all the Vikings should need for a return to the playoffs.
Xavien Howard is skipping minicamp. Dolphins coach Brian Flores called Howard’s contract situation “unique,” which is true for a lot of reasons. Flores alluded to the length of Howard's contract, signed in 2019 and through 2024. It's rare for teams to hand a player new money so soon after giving out a long-term extension.
Howard's situation is complicated by the reality that he missed 11 games with a knee injury in 2019 and was arrested for domestic battery later that year. The charges were ultimately dropped, and Howard did not face league punishment.
Howard probably isn't thrilled that teammate Byron Jones signed a bigger contract than Howard to join the Dolphins last offseason, before Howard put together an All-Pro 2020 campaign that included him finishing third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting.
I don't see an easy solution here. The fact that he is signed for so many more years, combined with his domestic battery arrest, makes his situation unlike any holdout I can remember. Flores has done a remarkable job making surprising rotating pieces coalesce in Miami, but this is a different sort of challenge for him and general manager Chris Grier.
The NFL and NFL Players Association agree to COVID protocols for the 2021 season. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Wednesday all the details of COVID-19 protocols for this season. The short version is no surprise: Players who aren't vaccinated will be limited from being around their teammates, just like a year ago, and will have considerably less freedom inside and outside the team’s facility, whether they are in the weight room, on road trips or during the bye week.
The news came in the same week that Jaguars' second-year pass rusher K'Lavon Chaisson tested positive for COVID-19, an example of how positive tests could impact the season. The on-field repercussions -- not to mention the significant medical risks -- for players who contract the virus remain very real. Missing minicamp is one thing. Players who miss time on the field during the preseason or regular season because of a positive COVID test could ultimately cost themselves playing time and money.
Pelissero also reported this week that NFL players passed the 50 percent threshold for vaccination, and it's clear the league is doing everything possible to raise that number before training camp.
Jamal Adams was excused from Seahawks minicamp, while Duane Brown wants a new contract. Adams' absence matters in a positive way. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll excused Adams from minicamp and noted that a new contract is "coming" after "good talks," which is a strong sign that a deal will be completed before training camp. The Seahawks knew they'd have to pay Adams big money after forking over so many draft picks for him, and there's not much need for fans to sweat the details when the outcome is predetermined.
Left tackle Duane Brown is entering the final year of his contract and also would like a new contract. Brown had a contentious history with his former team in Houston, but the Seahawks love him, and he's still playing at a very high level. Don't be surprised if they tack a year or two on to his current deal in hopes that Brown follows the Andrew Whitworth career path of late-30s excellence.
It doesn't matta!
Stephon Gilmore skips minicamp. One of the most misunderstood aspects of The Patriot Way is the notion that every player is treated equally. Stephon Gilmore is not every Patriot.
Bill Belichick has loved Gilmore since the day he arrived, something that could be seen this week when Belichick was asked about his cornerback's absence. At first, the coach alluded to weather issues for late-arriving players. That bought Belichick a day. Then he made it clear that Gilmore's absence wasn't a huge concern.
It's rare for the Patriots to give out money when they don't need to, but it happens every so often with special players. They have given short-term pay bumps before the season to favorite sons like Julian Edelman, Patrick Chung and ... Stephon Gilmore in the past. Gilmore's contract (he has one year left on the five-year pact that initially brought him to New England in 2017) was adjusted up before the 2020 season, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all if that happens again, especially after hearing teammate Devin McCourty's thoughts on the matter.
"Gilly is still under contract so when he comes back in, he does what he does," McCourty said via NBCSports New England. "And we all know that he's a guy, I think, you know ... I've been talking to him. He's still a part of this team."
With increased fines in training camp, holding out of minicamp is one of the last forms of leverage a player can easily exercise. It sounds like this is part of a negotiation, and there isn't too much concern on either side.
Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa throws five interceptions in a driving rainstorm. I will not put too much stock into player performance or depth-chart speculation in June. I will not put too much stock into player performance or depth-chart speculation in June. I will not put too much stock into player performance or depth-chart speculation in June.
Patriots reporters continue to write about Mac Jones out-playing Cam Newton. Non-padded practices with minimal or no pass rush help a few different types of players. One is the shifty slot receiver that no defender can cover in space. The other is the accurate pocket quarterback who doesn't have to move much.
It's great for the rookie first-round pick that he's reportedly making progress this offseason. It's not surprising that he's more accurate than Newton on a throw-to-throw basis. But Bill Belichick constantly says that this time of year is about teaching and installing, while training camp is about competition and evaluation. I believe him! That's when the real stuff starts.
Denzel Mims is not getting first-team reps at Jets practice. It's not a huge surprise that Mims is behind players like free-agent pickup Keelan Cole and rookie Elijah Moore, who were both acquired with the offense being installed by new coordinator Mike LaFleur in mind. The Jets have a deep wideout crew, and Mims, last year's second-round pick, has a tougher path to playing time than expected. I would just caution against burying him yet, because every team needs vertical threats, because the real competition hasn't started and because the Jets should find a way to use all their weapons.
Matt Nagy continuing to pump up Andy Dalton. Cris Collinsworth asked Matt Nagy this week whether there was any scenario in which Dalton wouldn't be the Bears' Week 1 starter. Nagy started his answer with, "No," and a whole lot of folks who didn't look beyond that ended up slamming Nagy for something he didn't truly say. Here's the rest of the quote:
"No, I mean Andy is our starter. And again, I can't predict anything, you know how it goes. There are so many things that could happen between today and Week 1, but Andy is our starter and Justin's our No. 2 and we're going to stick with this plan."
Left unsaid was that one of the "many things that could happen between today and Week 1" is Dalton no longer starting for Chicago! This is not Nagy's fault. These are impossible questions to answer in June, especially when Dalton came to the Bears in free agency with the plan to start. But we have seen coaches backtrack on these plans year after year with rookie quarterbacks, and ultimately, Justin Fields balling out in August is a possibility.