For nine NFL teams, offseason work went from voluntary to mandatory.
Players under contract can be fined for skipping mandatory minicamp. Players who have been franchise tagged, but not signed the tender are not under contract and therefore cannot be fined.
Minicamps for the nine squads run from Tuesday through Thursday, after players underwent physicals on Monday. Phase three of offseason workout rules apply (no live contact is permitted, but teams can run 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills). According to the collective bargaining agreement, two-a-day practices are permitted at two of the three days during mandatory minicamp, with restrictions: players may be on the field for a total of no more than three and a half hours per day; no practice can last more than two and a half hours of on-field activities; the second practice shall be limited to walk-through instruction only; organized activities can't begin prior to 7 a.m. or end after 8:30 p.m. local time; and players may only be asked to participate in club activities for a maximum of 10 hours per day.
Viewed mostly as players running around in shorts and helmets, sans pads, minicamps are a shell of real football, but some aspects can give us brief glimpses of how players might be used or how teams operate once the fall arrives.
With that in mind, let's run down one thing to watch for each of the nine teams opening minicamp today.
The whole band is back together: Much offseason consternation surrounded Odell Beckham Jr.'s decision to skip most of the Browns' offseason workouts. Several other Browns players skipped some portions of voluntary work, as well. Mandatory minicamp provides a three-day set for OBJ, Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt et al. to mesh before a six-week summer break. Tuesday is also expected mark the first time running back Duke Johnson, who requested a trade earlier this offseason, reports for on-field work. With Johnson reportedly showing up, his usage could be an interesting one to track -- will Freddie Kitchens split him out wide or use two-back sets, or will he be burried on the depth chart adding fuel to his trade request?
Joe Flacco leading youthful Broncos offense:Drew Lock's tutelage behind Flacco will be a narrative talking point, but I'm more interested in the growing relationship between the veteran and his exceedingly young skill corps. With Emmanuel Sanders still recovering from an Achilles tear, the Broncos' weapons are all young. The top two running backs (Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman) enter their second seasons. The top two receivers are also both second-year players (Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton). And the potential top tight end is rookie Noah Fant. There is high-level talent upside with the group, but the youthfulness could give reason for pause. How will Flacco build chemistry with such a young group as he presses toward a big season for his future as a starting signal-caller?
Darrell Bevell's new offense: On a macro-level it will be necessary throughout the offseason to track how the new offensive coordinator's scheme flows. We know the Lions run the ball more in 2019, but what sort of passing formations do they throw from? Will we see more two tight-end sets this year, as we expect after Detroit drafted T.J. Hockenson and signed Jesse James? Will the Lions throw out of these two-TE sets and, if so, what role then will slot receiver Danny Amendola play? How much tempo will Bevell deploy, given that's where Matthew Stafford excels? On a more micro-level what will the running back rotation with Kerryon Johnson, free agent addition C.J. Anderson and pass-catcher Theo Riddick look like? The Lions want to simultaneously run the ball more and not wear out Johnson. Might that mean Anderson could see a significant workload in Honolulu Blue?
Ryan vs. Josh: It's the most obvious competition to watch this week, but also one of the most important in determining how the rest of the summer unfolds. By all accounts, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been clearly ahead of Josh Rosen in mastery of the Dolphins' offense and execution during OTAs. Will that continue? As Rosen picks up more of the offense over time, will he catch and surpass Fitzpatrick? Or will the gun-slinging Fitzmagic force Miami to keep him as the starter to open training camp and the regular season? In what could be a one-year audition for Rosen in Miami, the Dolphins need to find out if he can excel. The true battle will come during training camp, but the seeds to that competition could be planted this week if Rosen can begin to make ground on the veteran.
New England Patriots
TB12 back in action: The anxiety of Bostonians rose this offseason as Tom Brady once again skipped voluntary offseason workouts, instead opting for a few side sessions with teammates on his own. You'd think, given that the G.O.A.T. did similarly last year and still brought home a Lombardi Trophy, concerns wouldn't have been very high with Patriots fans. You'd have thought wrong as far too much handwringing has occurred over the topic. Never fear, TB12 is back with teammates for mandatory minicamp. With the offensive turnover, it will be interesting to see how crisp the 41-year-old's chemistry is with younger newcomers. Gone are the likes Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Cordarrelle Patterson, etc., replaced by unretired veteran Benjamin Watson, first-round rookie N'Keal Harry and veterans Demaryius Thomas and Dontrelle Inman. This week marks the start of ramping up preparations in defense of Brady's sixth Super Bowl trophy. With a trend toward big receiving options this offseason, it will be notable how Josh McDaniels begins the process of piecing together his offense in 2019.
New York Giants
Will Daniel Jones push Eli Manning at all? Big Blue has no plans to launch a full-blown QB battle, instead allowing Manning the opportunity to remain the starter another season. Could Jones give coaches even the slightest reason to pause and reconsider? Despite trading Beckham this offseason, the Giants offense has good weaponry overall: from stud Saquon Barkley, to veteran addition Golden Tate, to Sterling Shepard to talented tight end Evan Engram. If the offensive line upgrades finally take, the Giants offense might not be as painful to watch as it had been the past several seasons. Those same reasons the front office thinks Manning can bounce back could be a reason to give the rookie a chance to grow with the other young talent. At some point, Jones might overtake Manning this year. First, the No. 6 overall pick must show strides in open formats like minicamp.
New York Jets
Le'Veon Bell finally hits the field in New Jersey: Finally all the think-pieces about Bell's absence can wash out to sea. The running back's decision to skip voluntary workouts to train on his own caused much of the NY media to blow a gasket. Now, we'll finally get to see the dual-threat running back worked into Adam Gase's scheme. It will be interesting to see how the coach incorporates the every-down back, given how he used RBs in Miami. How fast will second-year quarterback Sam Darnold mesh will Bell as a blocker and pass-catcher? Obviously, with this being Bell's first time on the field with teammates, we won't see the full plan, but hints should start to trickle out this week that we can take toward training camp.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston's progress under Bruce Arians: In what could be Winston's last best chance to keep the starting QB job in Tampa, this week marks the next step in the development. If Bruce Arians can't tame Winston's bad habits and mold him into a franchise passer, it likely can't be done. All reports out of Tampa thus far have been glowing, as they should be at the early stages when defenders can't contact and plays are run in shorts. We need to see further progression with Winston all summer to buy that he won't revert to the same turnover-prone signal-caller he was under Dirk Koetter. So far, so good. This week is another baby-step in the season-long process.
Will Dwayne Haskins push Case Keenum already? The Redskins wanted to use the spring to see if Haskins was ready to fight Keenum for the starting job come training camp. The initial press during OTAs has been positive. Can Haskins make the case even stronger during the three days of minicamp? If Haskins impresses, we're likely to have a full-blown training camp battle come late July with the rookie getting a potential edge to start. Conversely, Keenum could put distance between himself and the rookie by lighting up the practice field this week and show he's closer to the player we saw in Minnesota than the one from Denver. It's a big three days for Haskins to force Jay Gruden's hands and earn a legit chance to win the starting job sooner rather than later.