NFL Teams Are Exploring New Training Camp Sites in States Less Restricted Due to COVID-19

The NFL and its teams are considering all sorts of contingency plans for this season. Teams in states with stricter social distancing rules are already looking for new places they could hold a training camp with up to 150 people between players and staff. Plus, notes on syncing the season with college football, jumps forward for Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, and more.
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If you’re looking for more on contingency plans for the months ahead, you’ve come to the right place. We’re all over that in this week’s MAQB.

• Per sources, a number of teams are already deep into exploring out-of-state training camp sites, in anticipation that their states’ restrictions will make staging camp at home in late July and early August impossible. Simple reality dictates that the 10 teams in the Northeast corridor and on the West Coast need to get ahead of this now. In Seattle, the best-case scenario, based on the plans laid out by the state, is that gatherings of over 50 people are allowed eight weeks from now. In Massachusetts, the mayor of Boston just called off all festivals and parades through Labor Day. New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and California, likewise, are a ways off from loosening the reins to the degree needed to hold an NFL camp. Counting 90 players, the coaching staff, scouts, doctors, trainers, strength staff, cafeteria staff, etc., if you cut away everything else, you may be able to run a camp with 150 people onsite. And the fact is, that’s a number that’s a still a ways off from being allowable in some corners of the country.

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• Also, pretty much every NFL person I’ve talked to on this subject has mentioned a desire to keep the pro football season synced up with college football, since so many important offseason events at the pro level are tied directly to the college level. To that end, one thing that NFL teams have heard is the college season could start Oct. 1, with each school’s non-conference schedule eliminated (one hang-up is the money the mid-majors would lose in this happening). If that happens, it at least cracks the door a little further for the NFL to consider moving its start date back too. One thing the schedule release on Thursday did reflect was a preference for moving the season back over shortening it. Each team having a common bye with its Week 2 opponent makes it easy to shave a week off without losing a game, and the Week 3/4 dynamic (no division games, with every team playing one home game and one away game) shows a way to get down to 14 games. But there’s no trap door to get to 12 games as easily.

• One other place where college football could play a role here—as teams look for out-of-state camp sites, colleges will likely be prevalent among the candidates. And it seems less-than-likely that schools will be open to hosting camps before their campuses have re-opened, which would naturally cut down the number of viable sites out there.

• Last thing on this: NFL team executives have a conference call tonight with the NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allan Sills, to discuss the re-opening of facilities. A memo last week asked teams to submit plans for re-entry into their workplaces, starting as early as May 15 (the first phase would include a max of 50% of team employees, up to 75 people). That first phase, by the way, isn’t so much of a problem, because it doesn’t include players. What would be an issue for a lot of clubs is if players were allowed back in facilities before it’s feasible, by rule, in some areas of the country. That makes it unlikely that players can go back into their teams’ buildings before the summer.

• I mentioned on Twitter that I’d re-heat a point here that my buddy Daniel Jeremiah raised, because it’s a good one—the Jets and Browns would be right to expect improvement from their young quarterbacks this year, because of their improvement at the tackle spots. And this is something I don’t even view as much of a projection. Really, it’s grounded in fact. If you look at the last three big breakout years from young quarterbacks, each guy had a really good pair of big men bookending the line: Carson Wentz in 2017 (Jason Peters/Lane Johnson), Patrick Mahomes in 2018 (Eric Fisher/Mitch Schwartz) and Lamar Jackson last year (Ronnie Stanley/Orlando Brown). And in putting Mekhi Becton and George Fant in front of Sam Darnold, and Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin in front of Baker Mayfield, the Jets and Browns made serious strides toward giving their young guys a similar advantage this offseason.

• And if you need more affirmation of the importance of good line play over skill talent for a quarterback, take a look at what Colts OC Nick Sirianni told the Indy press about Philip Rivers’s decision to sign there: “The big part of Philip being here is Anthony Castonzo. Quenton Nelson. Ryan Kelly. Braden Smith. Mark Glowinski. Those guys are studs. That’s something that he just kept mentioning after we signed him of how valuable those guys were to him.” Rivers had skill guys everywhere with the Chargers last year. His line was shaky. He knows how it affected him. Which makes that reasoning pretty logical.

• When the Jets signed Frank Gore last week, I couldn’t help but think of a series of talks I’ve had with Adam Gase over the last few years about how important it is, and has been, for him to get the right kinds of people in his building. “That was one of the first things we talked about [in the interview with the Jets],” Gase told me last spring. “I don’t think I’ll ever change from that. Someone told me a few years back, ‘Don’t prostitute talent for culture.’ That’s stuck with me. And I agree with that. Watch [the Patriots], they’ve done a great job for a long time, to where they have the right locker room and those guys play together, and they win together. With a lot of teams that end up going deep in the playoffs, it’s a consistent thing.” Bottom line: Gase brought Gore to Miami two years ago for these reasons, and I know it was a factor in the coach bringing the 37-year-old to Jersey this year.

• Cowboys COO Stephen Jones is right when he says there’s not great precedent for quarterbacks on top-of-the-market deals winning Super Bowls. In fact, eight years after the NFL’s first $20 million-per-year contract was signed, we still haven’t seen a quarterback making that much win one, believe it or not (Frank Clark actually became the first player to turn that trick in February). That said, Dak Prescott has every right to draw a hard line here. The time to get hometown discounts from players is when teams can buy back a year or two of injury risks. Conversely, as it stands, Prescott played out his rookie deal, incurring all of the risk. So now it’s justifiably time for him to get his.

• The Dolphins didn’t draft Tua Tagovailoa for this reason—but it hasn’t taken much time for his marketability to show itself, with his jersey already flying off the shelves. It’s also another good example of why the NFL is so protective of its relationship with college football. Not only does the NFL get more fully developed players, who’ve gotten great coaching, out of the brand-name programs that provide a de facto minor league, free of charge, the league also gets guys who are already stars that teams can sell.

• Pretty cool to see the job the Players Coalition did in gathering support to call for the Department of Justice to investigate the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. Clearly, it was meaningful too to have prominent white athletes and coaches like Tom Brady and Steve Kerr involved.

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