Sorting through the NFL’s hyperbole can be a challenge during the summer months, when OTAs, mini-camps and training camps give rise to sweeping declarations about a player’s progress (or lack thereof). Each week, our Truth Detector will attempt to guide you toward reality.
Which remarks are to be believed, and which are merely off-season fodder?
“Where Cordarrelle has made tremendous strides this year is on his route running ability and becoming a better receiver. He is very tuned in and very focused trying to prove to everybody, including himself, that he’s going to be not just a great athlete with the football in his hands, but a true receiver in the NFL.” — Vikings GM Rick Spielman on Cordarrelle Patterson’s progress, via the team’s website.
Buying or selling Spielman’s remark: Selling. Patterson is facing a make-or-break few months—the Vikings declined his fifth-year contract option, so he can become a free agent following the 2016 season. That uncertain future should serve as motivation for the 25-year-old receiver.
Is that enough on its own to generate improvement when little has come thus far? Patterson arrived in Minnesota following the 2013 draft as a very raw route runner and showed almost no tangible progress in that respect from years one through three as a pro. His catches dropped from 45 as a rookie to 33 in ’14 to two last year, as the Vikings phased him out of the offense. His yards-per-catch mark always was on the low side, too, given his exceptional natural gifts; at an 11.6 YPC two years ago, Patterson ranked sixth on the team, one spot below Greg Jennings.
Minnesota has kept Patterson in the fold because a) he was a first-round pick, so bailing on him would be painful and b) he can do things like this. For all his faults, Patterson also remains a game-breaking return man—he twice has led the league in kick return average, including with a 31.8 clip last season.
And in some ways, he may be too quick and athletic for his own good. The desire to fly around the field has made it difficult for him to nail down the intricacies of getting open. It’s possible he has found his footing, finally. We’ll have to see it to believe it.
Will Dwight Freeney land in Atlanta?
“We’re really open to the opportunities out there. ... As for Dwight [Freeney], of course we’re continuing to look at that situation." — Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff during a press conference earlier this week, on the possibility of signing Freeney.
Buying or selling Dimitroff’s remark: Buying, just as some team out there should do with Freeney. It seems like just about every team with even a moderate pass-rushing need has been linked to Freeney this off-season. And why not? Now 36, the former longtime Colt showed that he still has a little left in the tank with the Cardinals last year, churning out 8.0 sacks (plus another in the playoffs).
Of course, that success came despite Freeney sitting on the free-agent market until October, when Arizona finally scooped him up. So it would be hard to fault Freeney, 36, if he’s merely taking his time—a delay that would allow him to relax through most or all of training camp. He proved in 2015 that he does not need much time to shift into gear.
From the Falcons’s perspective, though, trying to accelerate that timeline would be wise. Atlanta has been linked to Freeney for months, and the reason why is obvious: Dan Quinn’s team entered the off-season shy on pass rushers and will exit it with an underwhelming mix of options there, led by Vic Beasley. Freeney would represent a clear upgrade, even if he inevitably bumped a younger player off the roster.
Should Green Bay worry about Jordy?
“We’ll be ready for the regular season. Like I said, there’s just a little hiccup with the other leg. We’re not worried about it. We’re going to work through it inside and continue to progress, and we’ll be ready to go at some point during camp and definitely for the season.” — Jordy Nelson discussing an injury to his left leg, via ESPN.com.
Buying or selling Nelson’s remark: Buying, but with caution for Week 1. The belief, at least on the Packers’ behalf, has been that Nelson’s return will rejuvenate an Aaron Rodgers-led passing attack that flopped without its top receiver in 2015. The reality is that Nelson is 31 years old and coming off a major knee injury, so there is a distinct possibility that he struggles to find his old form.
This specific setback is, as Nelson says, not cause for immediate concern. A common occurrence for anyone rehabbing a leg injury is to overcompensate and tweak something on the opposite side. Provided that Nelson and the Packers are being truthful about the nature of the current injury, he should be back on schedule soon.
Whether or not that means Nelson is ready for Week 1, Sept. 11 at Jacksonville, depends on how his body responds in the coming weeks. The Packers obviously would love to have him out there, but this has been—and will continue to be—a methodical process. Rushing Nelson out for the opener does not help the Packers much if he then has to sit key games in November and December dealing with residual knee soreness.
The Eagles’ quarterbacks
“I’ve said all along that Sam [Bradford]’s the guy. You’ve got to get through four [preseason] games and a lot of preseason. But going into Sept. 11, Sam’s the guy. I’ll stick with that. Chase [Daniel] is our No. 2, and Carson [Wentz] is our No. 3.’’ — Eagles coach Doug Pederson, via Philly.com.
Buying or selling Pederson’s remark: Buying. The Eagles’ quarterback race will be locked in as a much talked-about preseason storyline, even as Pederson continues to insist that the pecking order reads Bradford-Daniel-Wentz. Something will have to change drastically, however, for there to be any movement on the depth chart.
Repeating a talking point here, but Wentz always projected to be a prospect in need of time to marinate on the sideline before taking meaningful snaps. Pederson added that one of his goals for the preseason is to have Wentz ready by September to handle a backup role, lest something happen to Bradford and/or Daniel. That’s the smart play with Wentz, who played limited college snaps at an FCS school.
But plans calling for patience are the toughest to execute for NFL franchises. If Bradford falters early, the fans certainly will be calling for Wentz to take over. Philadelphia also drew the earliest bye this season (Week 4), leaving an obvious and early transition period.
The problem that Philadelphia faces developing Wentz in-season is the same one every team faces: There are limited reps to go around. If Bradford is taking all the first-team snaps during the regular season and Daniel is drawing second-team reps, what does that leave for Wentz? Very little. Most of his progress, then, has to come in August.
Whither Joey Bosa?
“I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. I really don’t know if he’ll [show up]. We’re still working on it. Hopefully we’ll get something done, but I don’t know.” — Chargers GM Tom Telesco on Joey Bosa’s status for training camp, to 1090 AM radio in San Diego.
Buying or selling Telesco’s remark: Selling. Well, buying that Telesco is not sure if Bosa will be there when camp starts Saturday—the No. 3 overall pick remains unsigned. Selling on the notion that Telesco does not have some idea where the situation stands mere days away from his team’s first practice.
Contract standoffs have been increasingly rare between teams and their draft picks ever since the new CBA implemented assigned values for each pick. (If you need a refresher on that change, read this piece from The MMQB’s Andrew Brandt.) Negotiations now boil down to the structure of contracts, usually centered around how much money is guaranteed and how much gets delivered up front. Rookies have very little leverage these days, so Bosa is using what’s available.
As of now, this is a mild inconvenience, if not a public relations hit for a franchise already dealing with the constant threat of relocation. Further delay would snowball the problem into a larger issue—rookies who miss valuable camp time and preseason games fall way behind the eight ball, and the Chargers are very much counting on Bosa to be a starter up front.