The final gasps of offseason work are finally upon the NFL, as teams hold mandatory minicamps over the next 10 days before heading into the relatively dormant six weeks that precede the opening of training camps.
Coaches will tell you that the bulk of what they try to accomplish at this time of the year is mental, not physical, and the real hope is that everybody gets out healthy. Still, we're about to enter our longest stretch of the year without any appreciable football developments, so it's worth embracing these last, few glimpses of players and coaches to give yourself something to obsess about until late July. With that in mind, here are a few people and subjects to hold your attention through a long, hot summer.
1. Whither the whiny quarterbacks? Normally perceived -- particularly by defensive opponents -- as the most coddled players in the sport, this has been the year that quarterbacks received the harsh reality checks so familiar to everybody else in a business without guaranteed contracts.
Considering that even Peyton Manning went into retirement knowing the Broncos no longer had a use for him, the cold shoulder shouldn't have come as a surprise for the rest. But Fitzpatrick, Nick Foles and Sam Bradford had their eyes opened when they realized -- the draft really crystallized things -- their teams didn't value them as highly as they expected.
They did not handle it particularly well. Bradford wanted a trade and missed some workouts with the Eagles, Foles skipped all Rams workouts after the draft because, as Rams coach Jeff Fisher publicly volunteered, he suspected he was not long for the roster. Fitzpatrick's contract dispute has devolved into a bitter staredown with no end in sight.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson reiterated late last week that Bradford will, barring injury, start the season opener in September. But the Foles and Fitzpatrick situations bear watching. If the Rams release Foles, he could be a pawn if the Jets try to pressure Fitzpatrick to sign. Or he could be a legitimate veteran roster addition if the Jets move on from Fitzpatrick and like Foles as Geno Smith insurance. Whatever happens, it will almost certainly be before training camps open.
2. The Patriots only hope they have more clarity on their own quarterback by the opening of training camp. It's déjà vu all over again in Foxborough, where the Patriots are in almost exactly the same spot they were at this time last year -- waiting for the court's next move on Tom Brady. Like last year at this time, Brady is suspended for the time being, and the Patriots will likely spend their minicamp this week the way they did last year -- getting lots of practice reps for Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. Monday marks two weeks since Brady's attorneys filed a petition seeking a rehearing of the case -- a three-judge panel reinstated his suspension -- and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals should decide in the next few weeks whether it will grant the rehearing. But with the weeks slipping away, the court moving at its own pace, and a few legal options yet to play out, Brady's status for the season opener could again come down to the wire in the summer's most overheated drama.
3. By far the biggest single gamble of free agency was made by the Houston Texans, who paid a whopping $37 million guaranteed in a four-year, $72 million contract for quarterback Brock Osweiler (associated midsize gamble: John Elway letting Osweiler walk, leaving Gary Kubiak to sort through three potential starters this season). Osweiler is skipping the Broncos' trip to the White House to be at the Texans' OTAs, ostensibly because every practice rep is important at this stage. That's good, because it's difficult to overstate the expectations that will be attached to Osweiler given the contract he received. The Texans believe they have found the franchise quarterback to marry with their championship-caliber defense. They are basing that, though, on all of seven starts, which ended with Osweiler benched for Peyton Manning in his twilight. By all accounts, Osweiler has done everything right since he signed, from organizing workouts with his new teammates in Arizona to getting a jump on learning the playbook. Next week's minicamp, though, will be our first good barometer of Osweiler's comfort level with Bill O'Brien's offense.
4. The limited-contact work of the offseason doesn't lend itself to meshing overhauled units, but the New York Giants have to hope its new-look defense can develop chemistry in meeting rooms and walkthroughs. The Giants' extreme makeover was one of the most compelling shopping sprees of free agency, and expectations are high that the league-worst defense will be so dramatically different that the Giants' turnaround will follow quickly. It falls to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to make all the new parts -- Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison the biggest names and paychecks among them -- fit together, and to get the most out of Jason Pierre-Paul, who, it is hoped, will be more productive a full year removed from his hand injury. It's a tall order, but given what the NFC East looked like last year, the division could hinge on Spagnuolo's results.
5. The league's Chip Kelly obsession seems to have quieted since he moved to San Francisco -- we miss the smoothie updates -- but the 49ers will provide plenty of intrigue this summer. Colin Kaepernick, who seemed oh-so-close to becoming a Bronco a few months ago and is still recovering from offseason surgeries, attended OTAs but has not taken part in team drills under Kelly and it now seems entirely possible we won't see him in Kelly's offense until training camp starts. Assuming Kaepernick is still with the team at that point. With Blaine Gabbert having gotten all this extra offseason work, Kaepernick will start from behind and while his physical ability would seem to make him a great fit for the style of play Kelly likes from his quarterbacks, history tells us that how Kaepernick and Kelly work together -- how Kelly and anybody work together -- will have a significant impact on what the 49ers look like at the start of the season and beyond.