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Vikings Feeling the Salary Cap Squeeze, OBJ Back in Cleveland, Rookie Standouts in Minicamps

Plus, notes on why Vic Fangio has his players practicing in their game jerseys, Rams excited to get a first look at their rookies, Richard Sherman elaborates more on Doug Baldwin and much more.

OTA season is about to kick off. Buckle up…

• As of Monday morning, the Vikings have $664,266 in cap space... and first-round pick Garrett Bradbury still hasn’t signed yet. It’s clear that Minnesota has some work to do in that area—especially because every team needs to sock away some cap space for in-season injury contingencies—and the obvious place to make some space is with TE Kyle Rudolph, who has been available via trade for about a month. His $7.625 million number for 2019 ($250,000 of it tied to per-game roster bonuses) makes him both tricky to move and, without any dead money on his contract, an easy place for the Vikings to find breathing room, if they have to cut someone. Rudolph, of course, is a beloved figure in that organization, and he brings a lot to the table beyond being a really good player. But something is eventually going to have to give on that roster. And unless someone comes and blows the Vikings away with a trade offer for one of their corners, Rudolph will remain the obvious place for the team to find relief.

• Odell Beckham Jr. is back at the Browns’ facility today, because this week marks the beginning of organized team activities for many franchises, Cleveland included. To put it in simpler terms, this is when actual football practice starts—up until now, and excluding the voluntary new-coach minicamps of April and the rookie minicamps, it’s really just been lifting, conditioning and classroom work for NFL players.

• Rookie minicamps are happening across the league, and we’re beginning to hear more about teams’ late-round players. One guy that stood out at his weekend indoctrination was Texans third-round pick TE Kahale Warring. The San Diego State product flashed athleticism and movement skills, along with an imposing frame, for the coaches. He’s raw, so it may take time to find out what he’ll ultimately become in the Houston offense, but the raw ability could help him carve out a role as a matchup guy in Year 1. Worth noting that Bill O’Brien’s pretty good with tight ends, too.

• Speaking of tight ends, another guy who stood out at rookie minicamp was Cincinnati second-round pick Drew Sample. Tight end is an important position in the Bengals’ offense, so it would be huge in Zac Taylor’s first year if the team nailed that pick. The staff sees Sample, an outstanding blocker with good receiver skills, playing the role as the traditional ‘Y’ tight end, the same role that Tyler Higbee did in that offense for the Rams. If he’s healthy, Tyler Eifert would then slide into the ‘F’ role as the move tight end, to generate mismatches. And the good news here is that Sample has already shown a pretty good ability to pick up what’s being taught and apply it, which is obviously key to contributing as a rookie.

• In a year in which they didn’t have a first-round pick, the Saints believe they brought home a first-round talent in fourth-round safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. He’s gotten a rep for being a little bit of a loudmouth, which turned some teams off. But given how the Saints are put together, that won’t be a problem in New Orleans. And his nickel/safety versatility could make him an easy piece to play with, and eventually replace Vonn Bell in the lineup, should Bell walk after this year.

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• Undrafted free agent Carl Granderson also stood out in Saints minicamp. A Wyoming product, the defensive end went unselected in part because he has a pending case in which Granderson has been charged with one count of third-degree sexual assault and one count of sexual battery. His trial is July 15, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

• The Rams coaches will get their first look at their rookies this week, and I can tell you they’re all excited to see second-round safety Taylor Rapp. They were among those surprised by Rapp’s pro day 40 time (4.76), because of how fast he plays. The time scared off a lot of teams, because there’s not much history at all of an defensive back with that timed speed making it in the NFL. The Rams, conversely, are betting on the instincts, awareness and smarts that enabled to play faster than that. We’ll see where this goes, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. For what it’s worth, everyone seemed to love the kid’s tape—and the kid himself.

• Maybe I’m the only one who finds this interesting, but new Broncos coach Vic Fangio has his players practicing in game jerseys instead of practice jerseys. I’ve noticed that the Ravens (whom the ex-Baltimore assistant took the idea from) have done this in the past too, but I never thought to ask why. It’s actually because the game jerseys are much, much tighter, and harder to grab hold of for opponents. So Fangio thinks it’s important for players to practice without have the advantage of being able to yank at the other guy, because that won’t exist in games.

• Raiders GM Mike Mayock has taken his share of hits over the last month, but he has a good group of evaluators all coming to Oakland. Philadelphia’s Dwayne Joseph, New England’s Dujuan Daniels, and Dallas’ Walt Juliff and Jim Abrams are all heading to the west coast, and they come as respected evaluators in the scouting community. Forming a strong staff of scouts is an important part of a GM’s job. One of the reasons why Chris Ballard was so coveted before landing the Colts job was because he was uber-connected in the scouting community; if you hired him, a robust staff was coming with him—which is what happened in Indy. And similarly, if not to the same degree, Mayock is showing where his connections from having spent all those years on the road are paying off.

• Finally, when I talked to Richard Sherman about Doug Baldwin the other day, I asked him if it was tough to see his ex-Stanford and Seahawk teammate go out this way. He and Baldwin remain close—and he pushed back on the notion that the tough-as-nails receiver was forced from the game.

“We talk all the time, we go on family dinners, we do stuff all the time, so we all communicate all the time,” Sherman said. “It’s him going out on his own terms. And that’s the way you want to go out. If he wasn’t going out on his own terms, if he was sad, if he felt like he was beat up and he didn’t get to go out like he wanted to, then I’d feel sad for him. But that’s not how he feels at all. He’s actually really at peace with it and really happy with where he is in life and ready to move on to the next phase of his life. So I can’t be sad for him because he’s not sad.” Which, of course, is really good to hear.

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