Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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Minicamp Roll Call

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I heard a story once about Scottie Pippen. Apparently the NBA Hall of Famer and sub enthusiast likes to order desserts at restaurants but he’ll only eat one bite, just so he can get a taste.

 

That’s kind of what the NFL offseason is like. Yes, teams are practicing but it’s not the real thing. Nobody’s wearing pads or going all out yet. And in many cases, the best players aren’t even practicing. It’s the first bite of a chocolate cake—tasty but ultimately unsatisfying.

 

But if you’re going to circle one week on the offseason calendar, make it this one: minicamp week. It’s not that minicamp is any more intense than regular OTAs. The main difference is that attendance is mandatory while participation in OTAs, though strongly encouraged, is technically optional.

 

Monday didn’t disappoint. As minicamps opened around the league, many players resurfaced including Alshon Jeffery and Rob Gronkowski. Both missed OTAs but for different reasons.

 

Gronkowski returned to practice on Monday after sitting out the last several weeks of OTAs. New England has been taking things slow with Gronkowski, which is probably the wise approach given his past injuries and supreme importance within the Patriots’ pass-first scheme. As usual, the Pats aren’t giving many hints as to why Gronk was absent for so long. We do know he was dealing with an “undisclosed physical ailment” (that really narrows it down) but was working behind the scenes at Gillette Stadium while OTAs were going on.

 

It’s all water under the bridge now as Gronkowski was back on the practice field Monday along with teammate Dion Lewis, who is coming back from a torn ACL. The injury occurred seven months ago but Lewis is already cutting and wasn’t wearing a brace at Monday’s session. He’ll be ready to resume his role as New England’s passing-down back Week 1 against the Cardinals.

 

Unlike Gronk, Jeffery’s absence wasn’t injury-related. Jeffery wants a new contract and when that happens, players usually keep their distance. Bears GM Ryan Pace wasn’t pleased that Jeffery decided to train on his own instead of practicing with his teammates during OTAs but his attendance at minicamp was never in much doubt. After all, skipping minicamp comes with a $76,000 fine.

 

Holding out is about the only leverage players have over their employers and even that comes at a steep price. Contract disputes often put players between a rock and a hard place because agents are telling them to sit out when all they want to do is play. Jeffery could have skipped minicamp on principle but his desire to play and be with his teammates won out. Or maybe he just didn’t want to pay the fine, which was Stephon Gilmore’s primary motivation for attending Bills’ minicamp this week.

 

Gilmore, who led the Bills with three interceptions last year, has quietly developed into one of the game’s top corners. Now he wants to be paid like one. Entering the last year of his contract, the time for a new deal is now or never.

 

Josh Norman set the market price with his landmark $75 million deal with Washington and Gilmore will likely be looking at a similar payday if he hits free agency. The Bills would prefer that he didn’t, but so far contract talks have stalled. Keep in mind, the Bills also have to address quarterback with Tyrod Taylor coming off the books next season. Gilmore made a statement by sitting out OTAs but arrived Monday for the start of mandatory minicamp. Gilmore quoted the great philosopher Marshawn Lynch by tweeting, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” It’s worth noting that Gilmore is recovering from shoulder surgery and probably wouldn’t have been able to do much at OTAs anyway.

 

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin also attended the Bills’ first day of minicamp. Goodwin hasn’t accomplished much in his football career—he’s only caught 20 career passes and hasn’t scored a touchdown since 2013. But his presence is significant because the Olympics are a little less than two months away and Goodwin is a gold medal contender in the long jump. His arrival was a pleasant surprise to head coach Rex Ryan, who wasn’t expecting Goodwin back until after the Olympics in mid-August. Ryan said in an interview last week that while he respected Goodwin and was proud of him for representing the United States in Rio, his continued absence from the team’s offseason program was putting him at a disadvantage. It looks like Goodwin got the message loud and clear.

 

While even the most disgruntled players typically wave the white flag when fines are involved, one player isn’t backing down. Reshad Jones heard crickets when he asked the Dolphins for a raise and now it looks like he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is. Jones is the league’s ninth-highest-paid safety by annual salary but is aiming for an extension that would net him at least $10 million a year.

 

When other teams overpay for players it creates a domino effect. Jones probably saw Vikings safety Harrison Smith earn a five-year, $51.25 million extension last week and thought he could do better. Denver is having the same difficulty with Von Miller, who is trying to squeeze every last penny out of the Broncos simply because the Giants overpaid for a lesser player in Olivier Vernon (five years, $85 million).

 

Contract negotiations are no longer about what a player is actually worth. It’s all about what the market dictates. Josh Norman, a guy no one had heard of until last season, is now making $15 million a year. Ryan Fitzpatrick thinks he’s worth Sam Bradford money ($18 million a year) and he might be right. There’s no rhyme or reason to spending anymore and the disconnect is only going to grow as salary caps and player salaries continue to increase.

 

Jones has two years left on his deal, which means his contract doesn’t require immediate attention. The Dolphins will happily let him forfeit more paychecks if he wants to. The feeling around the league is that Jones overplayed his hand and is too stubborn to admit his mistake. Unless Jones wants to lose more money (sitting out regular season games would cost him over $450,000 a pop), he should come crawling back to the Dolphins at some point.

 

It might be a little late in the game to be adding new pieces but when you have a Calvin Johnson-sized hole to fill at wide receiver, you need all the help you can get. The Lions added former Redskin Andre Roberts to the fold on Monday and brought ex-49er Anquan Boldin in for a visit. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones are locked in as the starters but everything after that is up for grabs. Corey Fuller recently underwent foot surgery while Jeremy Kerley (undisclosed) hasn’t practiced in two weeks.

 

It’s surprising that Boldin hasn’t found a team yet. The 13-year veteran has reached 1,000 yards receiving seven times in his career including two of the last three seasons. Boldin was expected to hold out for a contender but so far only the Lions and Redskins have shown interest. The 35-year-old proved he had something left in the tank last year by leading the 49ers in every major receiving category.

 

Minicamp has presented some interesting plotlines but the real drama will begin next month at training camp. Get ready to eat it up.

 

Quick Hits: The Eagles signed Fletcher Cox to a monster six-year, $103 million extension on Monday. The deal comes with $63 million guaranteed, the most ever for a non-quarterback … Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News is calling rookie Sterling Shepard a “lock” for a starting spot opposite Odell Beckham at wide receiver. That means Victor Cruz will slide into the No. 3 role, assuming he’s healthy, which hasn’t been the case in two years … Ryan Mathews has been getting most of the first-team reps at OTAs but Eagles coach Doug Pederson still thinks the team could use a running back by committee with Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood. “Ryan, he can handle all the stuff and the pounding,” said Pederson. “But with the guys we have ... Darren is obviously a big part of that and now with Wendell coming on, I think it could be a little bit of a running back by committee” … Nelson Agholor is being investigated for an alleged sexual assault on an exotic dancer at Cheerleaders Gentleman’s Club in Philadelphia. Police are expected to interview Agholor as part of the investigation … Kawann Short reported to Panthers mandatory minicamp on Monday. Short skipped OTAs over his contract, which expires after 2016 … Stephen Tulloch has been excused from Lions mandatory minicamp. He’s still waiting to get cut after being told in February he was no longer part of the team’s plans … Steve Smith Sr. isn’t sure when he’ll resume practicing. He’s still recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered in November … Dr. James Andrews said Breshad Perriman’s ACL tear might not be as serious as originally thought. He’ll undergo arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday. After that, doctors will decide whether a full reconstruction is necessary … Mike Williams’ season-ending ACL tear might open the door for Clay Harbor to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster. Williams had a good chance to make the team as a blocking tight end but was placed on injured reserve last week … The Broncos had their ring ceremony on Sunday. Wade Phillips’ name was spelled wrong on his ring. Brock Osweiler, who also skipped last week’s trip to the White House, was not in attendance … Jeff Driskel is making an impact at Niners’ OTAs. He’s still behind Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback but might see time on special teams this year as a personal punt protector. Look for him to run some fakes too … Leger Douzable signed with Buffalo on Monday. He’ll be reunited with Rex Ryan, who coached him on the Jets from 2013-14 … Remember Nate Robinson from all those dunk contests back in the day? The Seahawks brought him in for a tryout on Monday. Robinson played cornerback in college at Washington but quit to play basketball after his freshman year.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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