Tue Jul 7 6:15pm ET
By ROB MAADDI
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Dec. 8, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cleveland. NFLPA president JC Tretter warned players they have to "fight for necessary COVID-19 protections" and Malcolm Jenkins said "football is nonessential." With training camp less than a month away, some players are speaking out about concerns over playing football during a pandemic while others are ignoring medical advice and holding workouts with teammates. (AP Photo/David Richard, File)
The NFL and the NFLPA haven’t come to an agreement on all protocols for training camp and the preseason as the report date for teams draws closer.
The two sides finalized the protocols regarding team travel, media, and treatment response, and have also updated the facilities protocol to specifically address training camp based on recommendations from a joint committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches formed by the league and players’ union.
The league sent a 42-page memo to teams last Friday outlining those proposals. But the NFL Players Association and its president, Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter, say testing and the number of preseason games remain unresolved.
“Our normal return date for training camp is quickly approaching and we are still far from back to ‘normal,'”
“Our main concern is player safety, both in regard to preventing the virus’ transmission as well as preventing injuries after an extended and historically unique layoff.”
Tretter reiterated that players don’t want to play any preseason games and want a 48-day training camp schedule to give them more time to prepare for the season and avoid injuries. He cited an increase in injuries following the 2011 lockout.
The league last week decided to cut the preseason schedule from four games to two and pushed back the start of exhibition play an extra week to give teams more time to prepare because the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of on-field workouts.
The league previously requested that players report to camp earlier than July 28 to give them more acclimation time for strength and conditioning because they held no formal workouts or team minicamps. But the union declined.
“When we asked for a medical reason to play games that don’t count in the standings during an ongoing pandemic, the NFL failed to provide one,” Tretter wrote.
A league official told The Associated Press that Tretter’s comments were “disheartening” to read because “we’ve been working in good faith.”
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the league doesn’t want to engage in a public dispute similar to the contentious discussions between Major League Baseball and its players’ union.
“It’s not constructive. We’d rather do this face to face,” the person said. “The committee understood the utility of playing one or two preseason games to get players ready for game-day conditions, which you can’t simulate playing against yourselves, and also to practice the protocols. We will continue working together.”
Tretter is concerned players could return only to have the season shut down before it starts.
"It has been clear for months that we need to find a way to fit football inside the world of coronavirus,” Tretter wrote. “Making decisions outside that lens is both dangerous and irresponsible.”
One idea suggested by the union’s medical director, Dr. Thom Mayer, to help control the spread of the virus was to have players wear face masks. The league’s engineers and sports equipment company tested prototypes for the masks but players shot it down.
Former Pro Bowl offensive guard Trai Turner agreed to terms on an undisclosed one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. It comes on the same day that the team released long-time guard David DeCastro (ankle), who is considering retirement. Turner was released by the Los Angeles Chargers after playing in only nine games due to injury last year. The 28-year-old made five straight Pro Bowls with the Carolina Panthers from 2015 to 2019, so the Steelers will be hoping that he can find his pre-injury form. Pittsburgh's offensive line desperately needs some help after really struggling in 2020. The unit is a huge question mark heading into 2021, which is scary for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the team's ground game.
Los Angeles Rams rookie tight end Jacob Harris, a fourth-rounder out of Central Florida, received significant repetitions throughout voluntary and minicamp practices because Tyler Higbee was sidelined for the offseason program. "Jacob Harris is a guy who has definitely stood out," head coach Sean McVay said. "Just his overall speed, athleticism, you kind of feel him on the field." The 6-foot-5, 211-pounder must be evaluated outside of 7-on-7 drills, but the former receiver in college has shown improvement since joining the team. Harris will compete with second-year pro Bryce Hopkins and Johnny Mundt for playing time in 2021 behind Higbee. He is athletic and big and can create mismatches, but he'll likely take time to develop, therefore Harris is unlikely to have any fantasy value in 2021. But he's one to watch.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury is excited about the multiple ways he can use rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore, who was selected in the second round of this year's NFL draft. "He's very good in the open field, making the first guy miss," Kingsbury said. "He has a knack at some of those plays, so, yeah, he's going to be a guy that's going to be fun to try to draw stuff up for, and see how many times we can get it to him." It's easy for Moore to get lost in the shuffle on a team that includes DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green and Christian Kirk, but the rookie could have some sort of role, even if it's as a gadget player, in 2021. On a team that uses four-wide sets often, the 21-year-old from Purdue could make some noise. However, he's still a much more attractive dynasty/keeper piece.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie wide receiver Jaelon Darden missed some of minicamp with a tweaked hamstring, but the fourth-rounder runs a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at 5-foot-8, 173 pounds and looked very explosive during offseason practices. Darden drew comparisons to Emmanuel Sanders and John Brown from head coach Bruce Arians. "He's super quick and fast," Arians said. "He's a little thicker than I thought he was going to be when I watched him. He catches punts very easily and catches the football extremely easily. He can be very explosive." Darden will compete with Jaydon Mickens for the punt and kick return jobs. The fact that quarterback Tom Brady had a say in the team drafting Darden says a lot. The North Texas product has blazing speed, but he's in perhaps the deepest wide receiver room in the NFL, which means you can ignore him in single-year fantasy leagues.
Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said that tight end Ian Thomas had "a tremendous offseason" after disappointing in 2020 (20-145-1). "He looks explosive. He looks athletic," Rhule added. "If you're talking about a guy that's really had a good offseason, I would say it would be Ian Thomas. He's more comfortable with what he's doing." Thomas was a breakout candidate heading into last season, but the COVID-19 pandemic was hard on him, as he "lost a few family members through COVID." Being back on the field with in-person coaching has benefitted him this offseason. While never much of a speedster, Thomas said he feels faster this spring after slimming up. The departure of wideout Curtis Samuel should open up some targets in the middle of the field, but Thomas will also have to contend with Dan Arnold and rookie Tommy Tremble. Thomas could fare better with quarterback Sam Darnold throwing him passes, but he'll have to show us more to be worth rostering in single-year leagues.
Atlanta Falcons running back Qadree Ollison could be creating a spot for himself in the offense this year. The third-year back from Pittsburgh impressed the coaching staff during spring workouts, although lead back Mike Davis was not in attendance and players weren't going full speed. Ollison has just 23 career carries for 53 yards and four touchdowns, but in new head coach Arthur Smith's scheme, he could have a much bigger role than he did in Dirk Koetter's offense. Davis could very easily break down since he's never entered a season as a team's lead back before, so Ollison, not Cordarrelle Patterson, is the next best bet to benefit. The 24-year-old will need to prove more, though, to warrant fantasy consideration beyond the deepest formats.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Juwann Winfree, a former sixth-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2019, caught plenty of passes in organized team activities and minicamp this spring and looks to be making a strong run at a spot on the active roster. Winfree has played in just five career NFL games, though, and the Packers top four wide receivers are set -- Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and rookie Amari Rodgers. The 24-year-old also likely stood out this spring with all of Green Bay's starting wideouts skipping voluntary workouts. Nevertheless, Winfree is worth keeping an eye on in training camp to see if he can keep his positive momentum from offseason practices.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Marquise Goodwin only signed a one-year deal worth $350,000 in guaranteed money this offseason, but he still has elite speed. Goodwin took the top off the Bears defense on multiple occasions during offseason practices for what would have been long touchdown catches. Along with second-year receiver Darnell Mooney, Goodwin might give Chicago another legitimate deep threat for quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Justin Fields, both of whom have shown nice touch on long passes in organized team activities and minicamp. The 30-year-old speedster nearly recorded 1,000 yards in 2017 with the San Francisco 49ers, but he had just 186 receiving yards on 12 catches in nine games due to injuries in 2019 and opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. If he can stay healthy, Goodwin has a chance to be the team's No. 3 if they trade Anthony Miller, but for now he's just one to keep an eye on heading into training camp.
Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Andre Dillard (biceps) says he has a fire in him like never before after he missed all of last season with a biceps injury. The former first-rounder scrapped his social media to eliminate all distractions and hit the weight room hard. Dillard is stronger and more confident and has drawn praise from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland for his on-field work this offseason. He is set to compete with former rugby player Jordan Mailata for the starting left tackle job during training camp in July. The losses of Dillard and Brandon Brooks on Philly's offensive line last year was the beginning of the end for former quarterback Carson Wentz. If Dillard wins the job and plays at a high level, it'll be great news for Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Tyron Johnson is a 4.3-second 40-yard dash speedster that made the most of his 20 receptions for 398 yards last season. T-Billy impressed the coaches with his speed during offseason practices and is a qualified third receiver for the Bolts behind Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. The 25-year-old from Oklahoma State averaged a healthy 19.9 yards per catch in 2020 and an average depth of target of 20.3 yards. If Johnson wins the competition for the No. 3 job in LA over Jalen Guyton, the burner will be an enticing fantasy flier because his skill set meshes nicely with quarterback Justin Herbert's big arm down the field. You definitely need to keep tabs on Johnson's progress in training camp this summer.
Detroit Lions PK Randy Bullock and PK Matthew Wright will likely be competing for the starting kicking job into the preseason, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Kendall Hinton, who was forced to start at quarterback in an emergency situation in the 31-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints last year, has stood out in offseason workouts, according to head coach Vic Fangio. However, the former Wake Forest quarterback/wide receiver still faces long odds in a crowded depth chart at receiver. "He's super-aggressive to the ball. You feel like you can throw him a ball one-on-one and he's going to go get it," quarterback Drew Lock said. The 24-year-old threw two interceptions on his nine pass attempts and is unlikely to be relevant as a wide receiver in fantasy in 2021 despite his improvements at receiver this year. Hinton is currently buried behind Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler, Tyrie Cleveland and rookies Branden Mack and Seth Williams on the depth chart.
Tennessee Titans quarterback DeShone Kizer has looked good in organized team activities and minicamp this offseason, especially on midrange routes across the middle. Kizer worked only with quarterbacks coach Pat O'Hara last year as the team's "quarantine QB," and his quick decision-making in offseason practices is evidence that he has a strong understanding of the playbook. Like starter Ryan Tannehill, the fifth-year veteran can make most of the necessary throws and can also make plays on the move. Kizer looks ready to compete with Logan Woodside for the backup job in training camp next month. The 25-year-old last played in 2018 with the Green Bay Packers, but he should be at least serviceable if he's forced into action in 2021 because of a Tannehill injury.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. has arguably been the team's best offensive player throughout organized team activities and minicamp this offseason. It's an important development due to the addition of Marvin Jones and presence of D.J. Chark. Rookie running back Travis Etienne has also been getting repetitions at receiver. The Jags are using Shenault as a receiver instead of trying to use him in the backfield, and his development as a pass-catcher has been a highlight of the spring. The 22-year-old wasn't overly impressive in his rookie season, but he was also working with quarterbacks Gardner Minshew II, Jake Luton and Mike Glennon. With first overall pick Trevor Lawrence now under center and Shenault likely to move to the slot, expect an improvement in Year 2.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz didn't have a great relationship with his teammates while with the Philadelphia Eagles, but according to those inside the Colts organization, the transition this offseason has been a smooth one. "He comes in and asks about my family, my sister and things like that," running back Nyheim Hines said. "As a new guy, it's pretty cool. It shows that he's caring and trying to take care of us." Wentz has also turned a lot of heads with his play on the field in offseason practices. The 28-year-old signal-caller has performed as a top-five fantasy QB in head coach Frank Reich's offense before, but can he do it in Indy now? With a solid offensive line in front of him, Wentz is a QB2 target with QB1 upside in his new home.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins seems poised for a big season after leading the team in receiving in his rookie campaign. Coaches and teammates have noticed Higgins' physical development this offseason, but he has flown under the radar due to the addition of wideout Ja'Marr Chase in the first round this year. The 22-year-old second-year pass-catcher has a bright future, but his fantasy ceiling took a hit with the addition of Chase, who will command a large target share right away. Higgins is an excellent target as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3 after catching 67 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns in 2020, and that was without quarterback Joe Burrow for a full season.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins was a standout during the first few days of last year's training camp, but a shoulder injury kept him out all season. Now healthy, Hodgins stood out again during organized team activities and minicamp and shed his red non-contact jersey. He has an uphill battle in a crowded receiver room in Buffalo, but he has received praise from head coach Sean McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen. The 22-year-old was taken with the 207th overall selection in the 2020 draft out of Oregon State after he caught 176 passes for 2,322 yards and 20 touchdowns in three collegiate seasons. He's off the fantasy radar for now, but keep an eye on him later this summer in training camp.
New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley, who opted out in 2020 due to COVID-19 and played in just two games due to injuries in 2019, could have a bounce-back year in 2021. Mosley looked slimmer and quicker during offseason practices, which should help him transition to the team's 4-3 defensive scheme. He was one of the league's best off-ball linebackers before his injuries in his first year with the Jets, but he'll need to prove that the rust is shaken off this summer in training camp. The Jets defense should take a huge step forward if Mosley returns to his pre-injury form, and savvy fantasy managers in IDP leagues will take advantage of his low cost.
The Chicago Bears are expected to give rookie quarterback Justin Fields a lot of work in preseason games this fall. The Bears plan is to start with veteran Andy Dalton under center to begin the season, but Fields is expected to take over at some point when he's ready. The 11th overall pick is fitting in just fine and said he's completely on board with the team's plan. "My job is, strictly, get better and be the best quarterback I can be, and hope my team wins. That's what I'm going to do whether it's starting, whether it's sitting, I'm going to do whatever is going to help us win," Fields said. His dual-threat ability makes him an excellent dynasty/keeper target this year, but only time will tell if he can make some noise in single-year setups in 2021.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the team's best receiver at minicamp, but he's coming off the worst season of his seven-year career. "I'm not going to lie to you; it is fun," quarterback Lamar Jackson said of Watkins. "A big receiver, nice target, fast guy. Sammy is going to make our job a lot easier." The Ravens don't throw the ball much as a run-first offense, but they upgraded their receiving corps with Watkins and rookies Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace in the draft. Watkins is going undrafted in most leagues because of his poor performance in 2020, but if he gains chemistry with Jackson as one of his top targets, he could be a fantastic late-round value in deeper leagues at his current ADP of 214.