The NFL offseason comes to a crescendo this week with 28 -- count 'em, 28 -- of the league's 32 teams holding mandatory minicamps. (The other four had them last week.)
Over the coming days, coaches will be able to evaluate the players on their rosters in concert and competition with one another for the final time until the late-July/early-August days of training camp.
After Thursday, the NFL goes dark for about a month and a half. So if you're into things like first-team rep tracking and live Twitter updates of 11-on-11 drills, this is the week for you. Watch it. Embrace it. Commit it to memory because it's going to have to last you for a while.
Here are the five biggest questions facing NFL teams as we roll into mandatory minicamp week:
Who's (not) showing up?
Until now, all 2018 NFL offseason activity for these 28 teams has been voluntary. But this week is mandatory, and players who skip these workouts could face fines of up to $84,435. For some players, that money pales in comparison to the contract extensions they're expecting, which means they might be willing to swallow it to avoid the risk of injuring themselves and missing out on the big, guaranteed paydays waiting for them in the coming weeks or months.
We will watch to see whether Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Cowboys guard Zack Martin, Cardinals running back David Johnson and others in the final years of their rookie contracts show up without new deals. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, a franchise player who hasn't signed his franchise tender and thus technically isn't on the Steelers' roster, can (and likely will) skip this week's camp without penalty. But the others on that list are worth watching because they're in sensitive situations. If you're Beckham, for example, and you're currently scheduled to earn $8.5 million this year on your fifth-year rookie contract option, do you show up and risk an injury that could jeopardize the $35 million or so in guaranteed money that comes with a top WR contract these days?
Another player worth watching here is Seattle safety Earl Thomas. He isn't on a rookie deal, and he's scheduled to earn a tidy $8.5 million this year. But he has only one year left on his deal, and this offseason has seen many of his high-profile, championship teammates depart Seattle via trade or release. Thomas announced Sunday that he won't show up for this week's camp or any other Seahawks offseason activity until his contract is addressed. As long as Thomas remains unsigned beyond this season, he'll be a name atop all the trade-candidate lists.
How healthy is your quarterback?
The list of high-profile quarterbacks working their way back from injury this offseason includes Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, Houston's Deshaun Watson, Arizona's Sam Bradford, Miami's Ryan Tannehill and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers and Tannehill have been healthy for a while and fully participating in offseason work to this point. But questions surround the others.
Luck still hasn't thrown a football since his brief return to practice in October. He has been out since the 2016 season trying to recover from shoulder surgery, and while there's nothing but optimism on Luck emanating from the Colts' building, the same was true this time last year. If he starts engaging this week in football activity we haven't seen from him in the past year and a half, it'll be easier to join the Colts in their outward optimism.
Wentz and Watson, both recovering from torn ACLs, have been able to work a fair bit during recent practices. Watson, whose injury happened a month before Wentz's and was less extensive, is expected to be able to do some drills this week and be ready for the start of training camp. Wentz has been participating in 7-on-7 drills already, and the Eagles are hopeful that they can have him back in time for Week 1. But with Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles still there as an obviously capable backup, there's no reason for the Eagles to take any risks by rushing Wentz back. Expect them to continue to bring him along slowly.
As for Bradford? Signs are good, but the Cardinals are deliberately limiting his offseason activity due to his extensive injury history. But it's worth wondering whether Bradford will want to start taking on more first-team reps in an effort to show he's healthy enough to hold off first-round pick Josh Rosen for the starting job. Bradford's contract makes him the clear favorite, but his health history potentially leaves the door open for the rookie.
What about these rookies, anyway?
Rosen is one of five first-round quarterbacks from this year's draft, and the other four will draw just as much attention this week as we track where they stand.
In Cleveland, No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield is behind Tyrod Taylor, and the team plans to keep him there once the season starts. This week likely is about Mayfield's continued progress in the things that are new to him in his transition from college to the pros: taking snaps from under center, operating out of a huddle, etc.
The Jets are bringing along No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold in a similar way; he's behind both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. McCown is a known quantity, and Bridgewater has looked good in his continued effort to recover from his devastating 2016 knee injury. But the fans are going to want to know about Darnold, who has to be the future, and whether he has a shot to start right away.
Buffalo is working Josh Allen as a backup while letting AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman split first-team reps. The relative lack of starting experience with those two should provide Allen an opportunity to win the job if he develops quickly, but he was seen before the draft as a prospect who needed time before starting in the NFL.
They should be especially busy in Baltimore, where they just lost two OTA practices due to a violation of offseason workout rules. Joe Flacco is still the starter, but many eyes will be on No. 32 overall pick Lamar Jackson. Can he develop quickly enough to be the No. 2 quarterback this season? Do the Ravens have plans to use him and his unique skills in creative ways while he develops? The practice plan for Jackson could offer some clues as to the timetable they have for him.
How quickly are they picking up the new stuff?
Coaching staff changes across the league mean new principles and new schemes that will take time to learn. Watch, for example, the Giants: Head coach Pat Shurmur is installing a new offense, and defensive coordinator James Bettcher is revamping the defense. Does one of those groups look worse than the other in team drills because the concepts on its side of the ball are more complex?
How does Cam Newton look under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner in Carolina? What changes should we expect in the Steelers' offense with Todd Haley gone? How different will the Packers' defense look with Mike Pettine as coordinator? Can new Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur have the same success with Marcus Mariota that he and Sean McVay had with Jared Goff last year in L.A.?
Minicamp offers a glimpse at some of these new coaches and new concepts and how players are reacting to them.
Who enters the summer on the roster bubble?
As always, there are veterans with recognizable names who are fighting for their jobs because their teams drafted players who play their positions, because their salaries are too high or because they can't get/stay healthy -- players such as Jets cornerback Buster Skrine, Seattle newcomer Brandon Marshall and New England's Jeremy Hill. Even former first-round picks Breshad Perriman in Baltimore, Corey Coleman in Cleveland and Ereck Flowers of the Giants could find themselves in roster peril come late August. They might want to get a jump on things with strong performances this week.
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