With training camps in full swing around the country, NFL.com's network of reporters collects the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
-- One up-and-coming QB's reaction to his MVP buzz.
-- The RB who believes he belongs in the discussion of the league's best at the position.
-- Will a first-year coach emerge as Bill Belichick's new right-hand man on defense?
* * * * *
NFL: Potential changes for new CBA. The NFL and NFL Players Association are expected to soon resume negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement, although it now appears there is only a slight chance a deal could be struck before the start of the 2019 regular season.
With two seasons remaining on the current deal, there is little pressure on either side to move quickly. More likely is owners and players aim to strike a new deal early in 2020.
An 18-game regular season is being proposed by owners and has garnered plenty of attention. But after talking to several owners in the last two weeks, it is clear some of them have significant reservations about extending the regular season, and it is uncertain how hard owners would push for a longer season if the players strongly resist it. When owners broached a longer regular season during negotiations in 2011, players rejected it soundly.
However, it is likely a new collective bargaining agreement will include significant changes to the season even if 18 games is rejected: fewer preseason games and an additional round of playoffs.
There is also interest in coming up with a way to drive more money to the veteran middle class of players, who have been caught between top-end players earning big contracts and younger players working for close to minimum salaries. Putting a cap on the very top salaries -- perhaps like those earned by quarterbacks -- could be considered, although the expectation is player agents would be very resistant to it.
* * * * *
ARIZONA CARDINALS: Sixth-rounder outshining his more highly touted rookie teammates. In the early stages of Cardinals training camp, team officials had high praise for rookie wide receiver KeeSean Johnson, a sixth-round pick and the last selection of the team's three 2019 draft picks at the position. Several coaches, players and a team executive said that fourth-rounder Hakeem Butler was the rawest of the rookie wideouts and had the longest way to go among the group.
Those concerns were initially held about second-round wideout Andy Isabella, but decision makers have said he seems to finally be settling in and is making a move up the rotation. As a high pick, Isabella has the least amount of worry about making the roster. Still, Johnson is the rookie wideout who's consistently performed thus far in camp, and he could end up being the first rookie WR on the field come the regular season.
* * * * *
CHICAGO BEARS: Trubisky amused by MVP chatter. As he heads into his third NFL season, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is generating some buzz as an under-the-radar MVP possibility. Specifically, his candidacy provoked an ample amount of action in Las Vegas, as bettors raced to take advantage of casino odds ranging from 75-1 to 200-1. In early July, Caesar's Palace declared Trubisky to be the most popular MVP futures bet.
Trubisky's reaction to all the hype? "It's funny," he told me last week after the team's first training camp practice. "All the people betting on me to win in Vegas -- it's just good odds. So, why not? If it happens, the payout is great. If not, you don't lose that much."
To Trubisky, the MVP talk is a manifestation of high expectations in the wake of the Bears' 2018 season, when the team rolled to the NFC North title with a 12-4 record under rookie coach Matt Nagy.
Said the quarterback: "For us as a team, it's funny how no one believes in you and trashes you, and then because of one good season they're coming out of the woodwork and saying how great you are."
* * * * *
CINCINNATI BENGALS: Mixon being overlooked? When you talk about the best running backs in football, the same names seem to come up in each discussion. Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara are usually mentioned. But one player who doesn't get a lot of run in those conversations -- the Bengals' Joe Mixon -- believes he's one of the top backs in the game.
"No doubt -- the proof is in the pudding," he said last week when asked if he's one of the league's best at his position.
Mixon finished fourth in rushing last season (1,168 yards), and multiple members of the Bengals' new coaching staff, led by Zac Taylor, have told me they believe Mixon has the talent to be the best back in the league. Mixon averaged 4.9 yards per carry last year, and the thought is that the system Taylor has brought from his time with the Rams -- where Gurley flourished as a dual-threat -- may be a better fit for Mixon's style than the previous regime's in Cincinnati. Star receiver A.J. Green is expected to miss multiple regular-season games after undergoing ankle surgery earlier this week, so it's worth keeping an eye on Mixon to see just how much he's utilized in the passing game when Green is out, and even when Green returns.
The third-year back ranked 18th in targets among running backs with 54 last season. Expect that number to grow in 2019. From what I've gathered during my time with the Bengals during camp, this coaching staff believes the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder can be one of the better receiving backs in the league.
* * * * *
"I liked that," Hopkins said of Ramsey's stunt. "That was cool. You've gotta have fun in this game. I know when it comes to football, he'll be all business. But you have to have fun with it, too."
As for Brown, who, like Hopkins, is one of the elite players at his position -- well, this could add another element to their friendly and ongoing competition.
"I might have to take it up a notch," Hopkins said of his 2020 camp arrival. "I've got a few tricks up my sleeve. Maybe if I got a helicopter ... or I could come in on a parachute."
Practice makes perfect (hands). If you watched a Texans game last year, you and everyone else (including Houston's opponent) tuning in knew the game plan was to get DeAndre Hopkins the ball. Yet, the two-time first-team All-Pro had the highest percentage of his team's targets, receptions and receiving yards of any player last season. Even with everyone knowing he was the go-to guy, Hopkins still finished with 115 catches last year. The Saints' Michael Thomas, who just became the highest-paid receiver in the NFL, was the only WR who had more receptions.
What makes Hopkins' 2018 even more incredible was that he didn't drop a single pass. That's right -- zero. He had the most receptions without a drop in a season since Pro Football Focus started charting drops in 2007.
How did he do it?
When I spoke with Hopkins this week, he told me about some of his offseason exercises -- the ones that lead to having zero drops in a season.
"Shoot, man. I catch a lot of little things," Hopkins said while holding his massive hand -- one that requires a XXXXL glove -- up in front of his face. "Small balls. Sometimes I put something over my eye. In a game, sometimes you only got one eye (with a clear view) so you got to focus, so I cover up one eye and catch different things with my hands. A lot of times I'll try to catch small balls with just my fingers because I feel like if you can catch things with just your fingers it's easy to catch with your hands."
* * * * *
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: What does future hold for budding star on D? Whatever hard feelings Chris Jones may have felt this spring have been replaced with a singular focus on playing his best football in 2019. The Chiefs' star defensive tackle, who was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2018, skipped the team's offseason activities in hopes of gaining a new contract, and there had been speculation that he might hold out of training camp until he arrived with other veterans on the designated report date of July 26. A team source said Jones has wanted a deal closer to the five-year, $104 million package (with roughly $63 million in guaranteed money) the Chiefs gave defensive end Frank Clark earlier this year. However, the same source said the Chiefs are thinking more about the money it will take to give extensions to quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the reigning league MVP, and Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill. That means Jones, who's in the final year of his rookie deal, is unlikely to get a better offer than what he's already received from the team -- the source said it's around $40 million in guaranteed money over four years -- at least in 2019. The dynamics will be different next offseason, though, when Jones' rookie deal is due to expire and the use of the franchise tag will be in play.
For now, Jones, who is heading into his fourth year after amassing 15.5 sacks in 2018, is approaching the season with a positive attitude.
"It's always important to get in the building, get the new plays going, get a feel of the new coaches and what you're getting into," Jones told reporters earlier this week. "It's always important to be around new teammates. You want to be around them. (Skipping offseason activities) was tough but you know I felt like it was right at the time. I'm here now and I'm focused on getting better and winning that Super Bowl and dominating in this league."
* * * * *
Chad Beebe -- son of former NFL receiver Don Beebe and an undrafted free agent out of Northern Illinois last year -- only had four catches in three games while battling injuries as a rookie. But he showed over and over on the scout team that he can beat single coverage, which he figures to see plenty of from the slot, with Thielen and Diggs commanding extra attention on the outside, especially on third down.
Asked during Wednesday's "Inside Training Camp Live" which No. 3 and No. 4 receiver has stood out in camp, coach Mike Zimmer did nothing to stop the hype.
"Chad Beebe's been doing a really nice job," Zimmer said. "He's been playing some inside and some outside. He's a guy that we found in one of the (undrafted rookie) workouts that has great acceleration. ... He's a guy that doesn't have to slow down out of his breaks. So he's breaking full speed."
Zimmer also had positive words for several other receivers, including former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, who has had a good camp mostly working with the reserves. But it was Beebe's job to lose entering camp, and so far, he hasn't loosened his grip.
* * * * *
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Rookie coach in line for big role? When Jerod Mayo played for the Patriots, from 2008 to 2015, teammates would often refer to him as an extension of the coaching staff. So the fact that Bill Belichick hired Mayo to be his inside linebackers coach this offseason shouldn't come as a complete surprise. What has been surprising, though, is how quickly Mayo has assumed a prominent role on the sidelines and as a teacher.
"Jerod's great," Belichick said during a press conference earlier this week. "He brings a lot of value to our football team and our defense."
Mayo has been seen wearing the headset and communicating plays to the defensive huddle in camp. Is it possible that someone new to coaching could end up calling the defensive plays, with Brian Flores -- who handled those duties last season -- now the head coach in Miami? Belichick made sure we knew that storyline has been overblown.
"We're not calling anything at camp yet," he said. "The plays are all scripted."
No one will argue with Belichick -- he is the boss -- but no other defensive coach was seen wearing the headset during practice. On top of that, Mayo is making a major-league impression on his charges, some of whom are his former teammates.
"He's really the same," said linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who played alongside Mayo for four seasons. "It's great to have him leading the meetings and being able to talk. You know, some coaches, it's easy for them to say X's and O's, but they don't really understand what you actually see. With him, he has a different perspective and he's able to give us a lot of knowledge."
"I told Jerod that I'm not listening to him because we're the same age," joked newcomer Michael Bennett. "It's nice to have a young guy who knows the plays, who lived the defense, and he just knows. You trust the way that he plays because he played in the game and you know he knows the call. He was the leader before, so to have him in the huddle every single time, you can't let him down because he's been in the game."
* * * * *
NEW YORK GIANTS: Receiver woes cut deep. The Giants' receiving corps was always going to be a story this year after the offseason trade of Odell Beckham, Jr., but it reached crisis level in the first week of camp, when No. 1 receiver Sterling Shepardbroke his thumb, No. 2 receiver Golden Tate was suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances and Corey Coleman, likely to have been the No. 3 receiver, tore his ACL. Coleman is expected to miss the season.
Tate is appealing the suspension, although those are almost always unsuccessful. The good news is that Shepard is almost certain to be ready for the regular-season opener. The day after he broke the tip of his left thumb, he was running routes at practice and catching tennis balls. He was even tossing a football (with his right hand), and there was just a small bandage on the thumb.
* * * * *
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Testy start to camp. The energy around the first day of full pads at Niners camp in Santa Clara was palpable on Monday. QB Jimmy Garoppolo is looking comfortable as he returns from ACL surgery. Sporting a knee brace, Garoppolo is continuing to build chemistry with a receiving corps that includes a couple picks from the 2019 NFL Draft. Rookie WR Deebo Samuel, a second-round selection, has shown his speed and strength during drills. Third-round receiver Jalen Hurd caused a bit of a stir on Sunday during drills when he was involved in two scuffles with members of the defense. After reviewing the practice tape, head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Monday that he wants Hurd to be physical. Shanahan is looking for Hurd to irritate guys, but knows there's a line that can't be crossed to avoid penalties. According to the coach, on that particular day of practice, Hurd lost his cool, but he used it as a teachable moment.
"Didn't see it on tape, but someone took a shot at him and then that's where I got upset with Jalen," Shanahan said. "He's going to piss a lot of people off and I hope a lot of people take shots at him and I hope he sits there with his helmet on and smiles at them and waves to them as they get ejected and gets us a free 15 yards. But, he failed in that yesterday. He got the guy irritated enough to lose his composure, the guy hit him and then he fought back, so we lost both of them for the game. We had offsetting penalties, so he didn't help us. But that was a good thing to point out. We want physical guys, we want to be able to get after it and compete. We want them on the tip of fighting. But football's not fighting. Football is football. You get as close as you can to fighting and then you remember it's football and the play's over and you go back to the huddle. If you don't, it's a selfish act and it's fake toughness to me. All you're doing is hurting the team, and Jalen's a tough dude. I think he'll be real good at this going forward."
On defense, rookie DE Nick Bosa has garnered praise from players and coaches in the early stages of camp after missing time this offseason with a hamstring injury suffered during OTAs. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said he sees the opportunity for Bosa to be great, but knows there's still a lot for the 2019 draft's second overall pick to learn. Now, we'd be remiss to discuss San Francisco's defense without mentioning new D-line coach Kris Kocurek, who held the same role with the Miami Dolphins last season after spending the previous nine seasons on the Detroit Lions' staff. The players gravitate to his high energy. In speaking to several people within the organization, they told me Kocurek is a game changer, saying he can take a group that includes five former first-round picks to the next level. Saleh said the energy from the defensive line is like "organized chaos," and that's exactly what he wants to see. When asked about Kocurek's imprint, Saleh says you can feel the difference.
"The get-off, the speed, the violence, the way they run to the ball. There's an old saying, defenses will be recognized as fast when the D-line is wreaking havoc and will be recognized as a hard-hitting defense when the back end is hitting people," Saleh told reporters. "They're really adding to the speed element of the game. I mean, they're everywhere so far."