The NFL preseason officially kicked off last week with the Hall of Fame Game between the Broncos and Falcons, but this week provides the first full slate, with all 32 teams in action from Thursday through Saturday. What can we expect in the coming weeks? Jeremy Bergman has that covered with nine juicy headlines ... from the future!
1) Seeing red: Pass interference challenges skyrocket as coaches test limits of new rule
It's worthwhile to experiment in the summer. The warm times are when we question the order of things and try out new trends, in life and in sport. Football is trying something new this year -- and only this year, so far: allowing pass interference to be challengeable by coaches and reviewable by the booth under two minutes and in overtime. All a reaction to a missed call on the second-most meaningful Sunday of the season, the new rule will go for a ride this month during the least substantial contests of the calendar year, west of the Pro Bowl. We've already seen Vic Fangio throw a red flag to challenge a defensive pass interference call on Broncos CB Linden Stephens in the Hall of Fame Game; it was upheld upon review. Fangio admitted after the game he just wanted to be the first to challenge a PI call. We'll always remember where we were when Walt Anderson put on those oversized headphones and proved to the football world that the sky wasn't falling, though the challenge flags are. As early as Thursday night, when the first slate of Week 1 preseason games get underway, coaches will be extremely liberal with the red flag, questioning even the most blatant interference calls, just so they can get the practice. It's preseason for everybody, baby. Even for Al Riveron and the refs, who will surely be criticized for the one call they botch ... or the one call they don't review under two minutes ... or the one they do that swings the balance of an exhibition.
This isn't going to end well. Williams is holding out from the Redskins, seemingly in equal parts due to anger over his contract and how the club handled his cancer scare. The 31-year-old has two years left on his deal and is set to make just north of $11 million in 2019, good for seventh among left tackles, according to Spotrac. That's not enough for the seven-time Pro Bowler. Washington already has a backup plan, as the Redskins signed veteran tackle Donald Penn to fill in on [insert QB here]'s blind side. Though Washington brass has indicated it doesn't want to part ways with Williams, that word should be taken with a grain of bath salts. Left tackle is a premium need for NFL teams and there are few bona fide stars at the position. Williams should garner great interest and a legit return, even given his health. Washington will end up sending Williams to a contender that has an issue at left tackle and cap space to spare. Looking at you, Cleveland. I see what you're doing "extending" Tom Brady, New England. Pony up, Houston, whoever's running things over there. Trent's on the block.
When HBO and NFL Films announced that "Hard Knocks" would feature Jon Gruden's Raiders, it felt like a perfect marriage. A camera-friendly, mic'd-up maestro cult-leading a roster full of budding stars and controversial figures? What could go wrong? Nothing, when it comes to entertainment; HBO is essentially 3D-printing greenbacks here. But in reality, traps have already been set for drama. Gruden remains fiery and coarse as ever, while young-blood players like Johnathan Abram are outspoken and at times reckless -- on and off the field. Cleveland's early-season calamity was hinted at in the very first episode of its "Hard Knocks" season in 2018, when Hue Jackson and Todd Haley clashed in a meeting room. This season, a camp kerfuffle in Napa Valley will come in the second or third episode involving Abram, Gruden or both, one that threatens the Good Feelings that have emanated throughout this offseason. These Raiders, like Antonio Brown's mangled soles, are not quite as calloused as they project themselves to be.
Forget "Who shot J.R.?" This is what I call Dallas drama! Three offensive stars. Three contract standoffs. Two dutifully reporting for training camp. One holding out in a Cabo compound. No end in sight! It's ratings gold, Jerrah, gold! Spoiler: None of these deals will get done while the team is in Oxnard; that much has been stated by the Joneses over the past week. But when the Cowboys ride back to Dallas, these contracts will fall like dominoes. First, Cooper will strike it rich, but not quite highest-paid receiver rich, before the Falcons ink Julio Jones to his incoming mega-extension. Then, Dallas will turn its attention to Prescott and hand him a long-term, $30 million-a-year deal with a boatload set aside for 2020, just enough so his representation can use some metric calling him the highest-paid QB of all time for a week or so. Then it's Zeke's turn. The RB, whose representatives reportedly told the 'Boys he won't show up or play during the 2019 season without a new deal, will change course and report to the facility after Dallas handles his teammates' contract situations amicably. My Pensieve can't peer any longer into this scenario without fritzing, so I'll leave the resolution of Elliott's contract situation to the football gods/Joneses. Don't expect a Week 1 cliffhanger in Big D.
Cold cynicism born of double-doinks past is giving way to sunny, cock-eyed optimism in Chicago. The search for a kicker who doesn't clang game-winning field goal attempts or succumb to the sounds of "Augusta silence" is going ... well? Just last weekend, the two remaining candidates -- Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro -- put on a show at Soldier Field. But all great battles and rivalries must come to an end. Brady vs. Manning. Ali vs. Frazier. Marbury v. Madison. So it will be with Fry vs. Pineiro, when Chicago lets go of the former and rides the ex-Raider/Gator's leg into the regular season.
This isn't a recycled headline or even a played-out trope. Andrew Luck is injured again and being uber-precautious with his on-field outlook. Last year, it was his shoulder. The year before that, the shoulder. Now, it's his lower leg. A calf hasn't caused this much consternation among a fan base since Moses returned from Mt. Sinai, AM I RIGHT? Luck says he'll be ready for Week 1, and the Stanford grad's assessment is probably correct, but the Colts will end up holding Luck out of all of their preseason contests and hiding him from the media during training camp practices. The Colts say Luck's Achilles tendon is not at risk due to this calf injury, but that doesn't mean this injury won't prove to be Indy's Achilles' heel early on in the 2019 campaign.
Washington is playing it safe with Dwayne Haskins. That likely means the 'Skins won't rush to start the No. 15 overall pick unless he's lights out in his preseason appearances or injuries strike above him in the unofficial depth chart that Jay Gruden scratched together because he had to. That leaves McCoy and Keenum, two Texas gunslingers with a lick o' rust on their tailgates. McCoy is the longtime 'Skins backup who's never had a chance to start for any extended period of time. Keenum is the reliable journeyman who oscillates between mediocrity and miraculous. If McCoy is healthy, and it appears he is, he will win this job, not necessarily because he's better than Keenum, but because he's been around the organization longer and is "due." Washington will make that clear ahead of its fourth preseason game, after which Keenum will be put immediately on the block. Starting-caliber QBs get traded or signed every training camp due to injury or availability: Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Jay Cutler. In this QB competition, Keenum (and his $3.5 million salary) will be the odd man out of town.
Whereas Elliott has the most leverage of the league's remaining holdouts, Gordon is not so fortunate. The Chargers back has skipped all of training camp in anticipation of a deal north of the $10 million per year L.A. is offering. Like Zeke, Gordon is being held back by a front office that is unwilling to pay out the nose for a running back. As has been reported, Todd Gurley's situation six miles east of Gordon, where the Rams RB is dealing with an arthritic knee condition just one season after signing a $15M/year extension, has teams like the Chargers spooked. Adding to Gordon's problems is that he's not Gurley or Elliott or Le'Veon Bell. He's a top-10 back, but maybe not a top-five back. All this, plus a solid Chargers backfield behind him, will contribute to an extended holdout that threatens Gordon's availability for the start of the season. But with a week to go before the Bolts open against Indianapolis, the back will show up in Costa Mesa, not quite paid in full but having fully made his point.
Report out of MIA is that Rosen is no longer M.I.A. The sophomore slinger the Dolphins thought they were getting when they bit on Arizona's desperate reel during the draft showed up in Miami's scrimmage this past weekend, while Fitzpatrick took a step back after leading the QB battle for the bulk of offseason work. This doesn't mean Rosen is on a fast track to start Week 1; progress is not a straight line. A few shaky preseason performances from Rosen will worry Miami's green coaching staff, forcing Brian Flores and Co. to hand the reins, at least for the start of the season, to a seasoned vet in Fitzpatrick. Better safe than sorry, fish tank or not.