Monthly Archives: July 2017

Answer each NFL team to enter the camp’s biggest problem

How will playing on a one-year deal affect Washington QB Kirk Cousins? Should the Colts count on Andrew Luck to start Week 1? What is Le’Veon Bell’s plan for the Steelers’ preseason?

As training camps around the league swing into full gear, NFL Nation reporters answer the biggest questions for each team heading into camp.

AFC East | AFC North| AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Does Tyrod Taylor have the supporting cast to provide the best evaluation of his performance?

Taylor is under the microscope after he agreed to a reduced contract this offseason that could allow the Bills to release him after the 2017 season and save $14 million of his $18.1 million cap number. Yet the Bills’ situation at receiver remains one of the murkiest in the NFL and it could affect how much Taylor is able to improve. Top wideout Sammy Watkins must stay healthy after missing chunks of his past two training camps with injuries, while newcomers Zay Jones and Andre Holmes each have something to prove in order to win the No. 2 job. There is also the possibility of an outside veteran such as Anquan Boldin entering the mix. — Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins

Will the Dolphins work out a contract extension with Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry?

To Landry’s credit, he has done all he can to not allow his contract status to become a distraction. He has said and done all the right things, including showing up for voluntary workouts in the spring. Landry is entering the final year of his rookie deal and will get paid either way. It’s just a matter of whether Miami handles it now or after the season. — James Walker

New England Patriots

Will Mike Gillislee seize the top running back job previously held by LeGarrette Blount?

Signed as a restricted free agent from Buffalo, where he was behind LeSean McCoy on the depth chart, Gillislee’s deal will pay him an average of about $3 million per season. That’s more money than the Patriots were offering Blount, who scored 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016. So they obviously see something in Gillislee that they think represents an upgrade, and training camp is the first time we’ll get to see the running game in full-pads practices.

New York Jets
Does Christian Hackenberg have a chance to win the quarterback job?

Yes, but it probably won’t happen until the season is underway. He has yet to take a regular-season snap, and he still hasn’t faced a starting defense in a game situation, counting the 2016 preseason. Chances are, the grizzled Josh McCown will land the job, but he’s considered a bridge QB. When Hackenberg is deemed ready, the job will be his. — Rich Cimini

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Will the Ravens add an offensive lineman?

Yes, but likely only one. The Ravens lost two three-year starters (right tackle Ricky Wagner and center Jeremy Zuttah) and are currently replacing them with backups who couldn’t beat out Wagner or Zuttah last season. Baltimore would be inclined to sign a center and right tackle, but the team doesn’t have enough salary-cap room to do so. If Nick Mangold would lower his asking price, the Ravens would probably sign the free-agent center to take over for either John Urschel or Ryan Jensen. Baltimore also could look to upgrade over James Hurst at right tackle. — Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Will the Bengals’ offensive line come together?

The Bengals are breaking in starters at three new positions after losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler this offseason. Longtime tackle Andre Smith has re-signed with the Bengals to play guard for the first time, and the Bengals’ 2015 top draft picks, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, will have to prove their worth at tackle. The Bengals have a lot of work to do after allowing 41 sacks last season. — Katherine Terrell

Cleveland Browns

Who emerges as the starting quarterback?

The only thing anyone can say for sure is it will be one of three. Cody Kessler has a year’s experience. Brock Osweiler opened some eyes in offseason work. And DeShone Kizer is the rookie learning his way. The Browns’ ultimate dream would be if Kizer seized the job with his camp and preseason performances. That would allow them to let him play immediately and grow from there. But the team was clear when minicamp ended in June that he’s not ready to start, so the position remains muddled. — Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers

What is Le’Veon Bell’s plan for training camp?

The Steelers’ star running back has yet to sign his franchise tender and recently told ESPN that he hadn’t decided when he would report to camp. Players understand the business aspect after Bell failed to reach a long-term deal with the team, but they’d like to see him at camp because of his importance to the team. Bell has recovered from offseason groin surgery but is training in South Florida and believes he doesn’t need many practices to be ready for the season. — Jeremy Fowler

AFC South

Houston Texans

Who will open the season as the Texans’ starting quarterback?

Coach Bill O’Brien says Tom Savage is the No. 1 guy right now, but given the two first-round picks Houston gave up to draft Deshaun Watson, he should get a legitimate look during training camp. Savage is entering his fourth season in the Texans’ system, but because of injuries, he has played in only five NFL games and has not thrown a touchdown pass. Regardless of who starts at quarterback in Week 1, O’Brien has shown he’s not shy about switching it up during the season. — Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts

Will Andrew Luck be the Colts’ starting quarterback in Week 1?

The Colts hope that’s the case, but they’re not 100 percent sure yet. Luck was placed on the active physically unable to perform list with the anticipation that he’ll be ready for the start of the regular season. The Colts can’t say with certainty that Luck will be the starter against the Los Angeles Rams because he missed the entire offseason while rehabbing from January shoulder surgery. Luck finally resumed throwing the week of July 17. The next step for him is to return to the practice field. — Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

Can Blake Bortles make the necessary strides to elevate his game?

Bortles leads the NFL in turnovers (63) and is second in interceptions (51) over the past three years, and the Jaguars have made it very clear to him that he must significantly decrease those numbers. While more attention is paid to his mechanics, it’s his decision-making that has to improve. He has to get rid of the ball quicker, not predetermine where he’s going with the ball, and become better at reading defenses. — Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

Will Marcus Mariota adjust his playing style to stay healthy?

Headed into training camp, Mariota said he’s “ready to go with everything” seven months after suffering a broken right leg, his second consecutive season-ending injury. The Titans have high expectations in 2017, and all of them rely on Mariota, who plans to be a lighter, faster quarterback at 218 pounds this season, remaining healthy and more consistent. The Titans will need a lot out of their franchise quarterback, but the plan may need to shift to fewer designed runs and more sliding after scrambling to keep Mariota healthy for 16-plus games. — Cameron Wolfe

AFC West

Denver Broncos

How long will coach Vance Joseph wait to pick a starter at quarterback?

Joseph has said that what Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch did during the offseason program was geared toward learning Mike McCoy’s offense and didn’t count on the proverbial scorecard to win the job. However, at training camp, every throw, every decision, every word the two say in the huddle matters. Many of the Broncos’ players have said the sooner the team picks a starter, the better, but Joseph has said he’s in no hurry. Joseph has said he will “take however long it takes to pick the right guy” and that he’ll make a decision when he sees “separation.” Joseph has even said he would take the decision right up to the regular season, but a set of joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers to go along with the Aug. 19 preseason game against the 49ers will have a lot to do with his decision. — Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs

How much will QB Patrick Mahomes II play as a rookie?

The Chiefs are determined not to ruin Mahomes, and the quickest way to do that is to play him before he’s ready. Judging from the way Mahomes played during offseason practice, he won’t be ready for some time — perhaps next season. He’s beginning training camp as the No. 3 quarterback, and while he could rise on the depth chart at some point this year, he’ll have to earn the promotion. In the Chiefs’ perfect world, Mahomes won’t play at all in 2017. That means starter Alex Smith stays healthy and is playing well. — Adam Teicher

Los Angeles Chargers

How much, if any, will rookie receiver Mike Williams play in 2017?

The Clemson product was diagnosed with a lower-back disk herniation that kept him out of offseason work. Williams likely will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but he has responded positively after a second epidural shot. The Chargers hope he can make it onto the field at some point during training camp so they can get him ready for the regular season. — Eric D. Williams

Oakland Raiders

Who is the middle linebacker?

The Raiders play in the Black Hole at the Oakland Coliseum, but they also might have a black hole in the middle of their defense … at least when it comes to experience at the position. The guy who started 11 games there last season, Perry Riley Jr., remains unsigned. The guy who started the season at middle linebacker last season, Ben Heeney, is on the non-football injury list. And the guy who manned it in offseason workouts, Tyrell Adams, did not play a single snap on defense last season after being signed to the practice squad in early October before being promoted to the active squad in late November. The gig, it seems, is Adams’ to lose. — Paul Gutierrez

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

How well will the Cowboys rush the passer?

They don’t have a DeMarcus Ware type who will command attention from an offense on each snap, so they will rely on a quantity-over-quality approach. The Cowboys don’t have a player with a double-digit-sack season in his career. They believe they will have four or five players, such as DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Benson Mayowa and Taco Charlton, who can get five to eight sacks on the season. — Todd Archer

New York Giants

Did the Giants do enough to fix the offense?

They added wide receiver Brandon Marshall, tight end Evan Engram and blocking tight end Rhett Ellison this offseason, but they barely addressed the offensive line. It’s possible the Giants begin the season with the same five starters on the line, with Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart as the tackles. They should be improved but will still have some limitations with a below-average running game and line. — Jordan Raanan

Philadelphia Eagles

Will Carson Wentz take a giant leap forward in Year 2?

Coach Doug Pederson described Wentz as “refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to go” this week as the Eagles kicked off training camp. Wentz added that he is in “a way better place” mentally than this time a year ago when he was dealing with the major transition from North Dakota State to the pros. Now armed with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith at receiver and with a year in this system under his belt, the expectation is that Wentz will take his game to another level in 2017. — Tim McManus

Washington Redskins

Will Kirk Cousins’ contract situation become a distraction?

Not to him. Cousins has been prepared all offseason for playing on the one-year franchise-tag deal — and was probably more annoyed last offseason when no long-term deal was reached. Playing in a similar spot last season let him know he can handle it. A bigger problem will be adjusting to life without productive receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Cousins needs Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson to be productive. — John Keim

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Does Mitchell Trubisky have a legitimate chance to start games as a rookie?

The Bears already promised the starting quarterback job to Mike Glennon, and they also signed veteran backup Mark Sanchez for good measure, but Trubisky was drafted No. 2 overall. If Trubisky doesn’t play in 2017, he would be Chicago’s second top-10 pick (Kevin White is the other) in the past three years to sit out his rookie season. The only other intrigue surrounding the Bears is John Fox’s job status (9-23 in Chicago), but Trubisky is a far more compelling figure as it relates to Chicago’s future. — Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions

Who is going to block Matthew Stafford’s blind side?

This shouldn’t have needed to be a question for the Lions, but then Taylor Decker had shoulder surgery and was deemed out indefinitely. He was placed on the PUP list Tuesday, and now, it’s an open competition. Two of the candidates — Cyrus Kouandjio (NFI list) and Corey Robinson (PUP) — also will start training camp sitting out. That leaves the Lions with two real potential options for now: Cornelius Lucas and Greg Robinson. Lucas re-signed with the Lions as a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Lions traded for Robinson during minicamp last month. But Detroit has to figure out some sort of solution here or this could be a rough start to the 2017 season. — Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers

Will Ty Montgomery be the Packers’ workhorse back?

When Eddie Lacy signed with the Seahawks and general manager Ted Thompson didn’t sign a veteran, it ensured that Montgomery would get the first crack at the starting job. And although coach Mike McCarthy proclaimed the former receiver as his starter even after the team drafted three running backs, he didn’t make any promises about Montgomery’s workload. It’s a safe bet Montgomery will get more than the 77 carries he got last season, but it might be a stretch to expect him to match Lacy’s 200-plus carry pace from his first two seasons. — Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

How much better will the running game be?

The Vikings signed Latavius Murray, drafted Dalvin Cook and gave a combined $36.8 million to Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, two tackles who will likely bring more to the team as run-blockers than they will as pass protectors. It’s all to fix a ground game that was the league’s worst last season thanks in part to an inability to open holes at the line of scrimmage. As the Vikings seek to make things easier for Sam Bradford, improving their running game will be a major priority. — Ben Goessling

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Who will start at right guard following the retirement of Chris Chester?

Entering camp, both Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland are the prime candidates to fill Chester’s place. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said nothing will be decided until the team puts the pads on and until both Schweitzer and Garland get to play in preseason games. Schweitzer was inactive for every game last season as a rookie, while Garland’s primary contribution in 2016 was as a defensive lineman. — Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers

Can Cam Newton return to his 2015 MVP form, or at least get close to it?

The Panthers QB statistically had his worst season in 2016, and then he had surgery in March to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. Camp is the first real test for that. The Panthers have surrounded Newton with more weapons, such as first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey, so he can depend on other playmakers instead of carrying the load himself — particularly in the running game. How Newton plays will determine how far this team goes. — David Newton

New Orleans Saints

Who will replace Terron Armstead at left tackle?

Armstead will miss at least half the season after injuring his shoulder in minicamp — a big blow since he has emerged as one of the league’s top young tackles. The Saints would love for first-round draft choice Ryan Ramczyk to win the job in training camp. But the 32nd overall pick is an unknown since he played at Wisconsin for just one year and was still recovering from hip surgery in organized team activities and minicamp. He’ll compete with veterans Khalif Barnes and Bryce Harris. Andrus Peat, a 2015 first-round pick, is also an option, but coach Sean Payton said the Saints would prefer to keep Peat at left guard unless their hand is forced. — Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How much better will Jameis Winston and the Bucs’ offense be with new weapons DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard?

The Bucs were 20th in the league last season in red zone scoring (TDs only), and it was a major point of emphasis this offseason. If they want to take things to the next level and possibly knock off the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers this season, or even the Atlanta Falcons in their own division, the offense needs to score more than 20-22 points per game, and that’s a realistic possibility with a smart veteran in Jackson and a gifted rookie in Howard. — Jenna Laine

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Will the rest during OTAs, minicamp and training camp help quarterback Carson Palmer?

The early returns are, yes, it’s helping, but the true answer won’t be seen until midway through the season, when Palmer’s arm has gone through the ringer of practice, game, rest … and repeat eight more times. Should his arm be rested and healthier this season, it could be the launching point for the Cardinals to bounce back from a 7-8-1 season and return to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. But if his arm doesn’t respond to the rest over the course of a season, then Palmer’s time in the NFL may be slowly coming to an end. — Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

How much better is Jared Goff?

Nothing matters more to this franchise than that. The Rams moved up 14 spots to draft Goff No. 1 overall last year, but he never challenged for the starting quarterback job during training camp and never won a game during the regular season. His numbers through seven starts — 54.6 percent completion rate, 5.3 yards per attempt, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and a 22.2 Total QBR — were dreadful. But a new coaching staff, led by the offense-minded Sean McVay, and a full year of NFL experience will surely help. What appears to be an improved offensive line also will help. How much better will Goff be in Year 2? The Rams are hoping it’s a lot better. — Alden Gonzalez

San Francisco 49ers

Will Reuben Foster be healthy and productive enough to win a starting job?

The Niners have insisted all along that Foster’s surgically repaired shoulder would be ready to go by the start of training camp, and there have been no indications otherwise since the offseason program ended. Even assuming Foster is healthy, he figures to be in a tight battle with veteran Malcolm Smith for the starting weakside linebacker job. Smith has the experience and knowledge of coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense to be the guy early on, but it still feels like just a matter of time before Foster steps into the starting lineup. — Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks

Did Seattle do enough to address the offensive line?

Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider are tired of talking about it, but the offensive line remains the biggest question mark on the team. A healthy Earl Thomas will help the defense bounce back. And a healthy Russell Wilson will give the offense a lift. But if the Seahawks can’t protect him, they’ll be in trouble. Seattle signed Luke Joeckel to play left guard or left tackle, and the team drafted Ethan Pocic out of LSU in the second round. But much of the progress with this group will be determined by how much guys such as George Fant, Mark Glowinski and Germain Ifedi can improve in their young careers. — Sheil Kapadia

Robert Griffin III will provide the backup QB for the mobility of the charger

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said training camp will be all about competition, even at the quarterback position.

Well, it appears that Lynn stayed true to his word. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that former Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is scheduled for a workout with the Chargers on Tuesday.

The starting quarterback for the Chargers for the past decade, franchise quarterback Philip Rivers, is signed through the 2019 season and not going anywhere. However, the Chargers could be looking for a more mobile signal caller to back up Rivers, who is not known for his ability to escape outside the pocket.

University of Oregon product Kellen Clemens has served as Rivers’ backup for the last two seasons. The Chargers also have two developmental prospects on the roster in Mike Bercovici and Eli Jenkins.

But at 27 years old, Griffin could give the Chargers someone to provide a different look for opposing defenses on the oft chance Rivers gets injured.

The Chargers got an up-close look at Griffin last season, as the Baylor product helped lead the Browns to the team’s only win of the season, a 20-17 victory over the Chargers in Cleveland.

Griffin also would be a good fit for Lynn’s run-oriented offense. With the fleet-footed Tyrod Taylor leading Lynn’s offense in 2016, the Buffalo Bills had the No. 1-ranked running team, averaging 164.4 rushing yards per contest.

The last time the Chargers carried three quarterbacks on the active roster was 2013, and could do so again this year if Griffin is added to the mix for training camp, which starts Sunday.

In 2017 the New York Giants training camp was backed up by QB

The New York Giants open training camp July 27 at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J. Here’s a closer look at the Giants camp:

Top storylines

How the new-look offense takes shape: The Giants added wide receiver Brandon Marshall in free agency and tight end Evan Engram in the draft. Paul Perkins is now the starter at running back. We’ll see if it makes a significant difference for an offense that averaged a paltry 19.4 points per game last season.

Brandon Marshall (15) will get plenty of opportunities opposite Odell Beckham Jr.

Brandon Marshall (15) will get plenty of opportunities opposite Odell Beckham Jr.

Is the offensive line good enough? There is a good chance the Giants go with the same line that started most of last season. That leaves massive doubts about their tackles. Left tackle Ereck Flowers dropped weight this offseason, but will it translate to a better, more effective player? Also, how will free-agent signing D.J. Fluker fit into the mix? Will he fit into the mix? We’ll find out quickly this summer.

Defense’s next step: The Giants allowed the second-fewest points (17.8 ppg) last season, and there’s potential for their defense to be even better in its second season together. The goal will be to keep this group healthy and find ways to integrate young players such as middle linebacker B.J. Goodson, safety Darian Thompson and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Let’s see if they dominate this summer.

QB depth chart: Eyes will be on the Giants’ quarterback position this year more than most, and it has little to do with Eli Manning. He remains the unequivocal starter. But behind him there is intrigue with third-round pick Davis Webb and former New York Jets starter Geno Smith now in the mix. Smith and veteran Josh Johnson are expected to compete for the backup job, and Webb probably will serve as the third-stringer this season as he makes the massive jump to a pro-style offense. All their performances this summer will be scrutinized.

Bubble watch: Smith might be a former second-round pick and starter, but he’s far from guaranteed a spot on the roster. He’s coming off a major knee injury and is learning a new offense. If he doesn’t perform well this summer, the Giants won’t hesitate to end the experiment. Smith’s contract included only $325K in guaranteed money for a reason. He’s playing for a roster spot at training camp.

Rookies could start: Engram and Tomlinson are expected to contribute immediately. The Giants’ top two picks still need to prove capable of starting this summer. The Giants have players at tight end (Rhett Ellison, Will Tye and Matt LaCosse) and defensive tackle (Corbin Bryant, Jay Bromley and Robert Thomas) who will seriously compete for the jobs.

Top competition: Darian Thompson vs. Andrew Adams at free safety. Safeties coach David Merritt said this spring Adams earned the opportunity to be in the mix with the way he played last season as an undrafted rookie. He’ll have his work cut out for him, though. Thompson returns healthy, and the Giants are especially high on their 2016 third-round pick as a center fielder to play opposite Landon Collins. Thompson enters camp as the favorite, as long as his body cooperates.

The new middle linebacker: Goodson is slated to take over in the middle of the Giants’ defense after a strong spring in which he proved capable of being the team’s play-caller. It’s the second-year linebacker’s job to lose. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will be watching closely to see if Goodson can help take his defense to the next level as an upgrade over last season’s starter, Kelvin Sheppard.

For daily updates at camp, check out the New York Giants clubhouse page.

Each NFL attack and defensive ghosts of power

Every cloud has a silver lining, and every NFL team does some things well. Even the worst team has certain plays and tendencies in which the players are productive.

We’ve gone through Football Outsiders’ extensive statistical databases to point out specific strengths of each team in 2016: one for offense, one for defense. Some of these splits are significant for illuminating the strengths and weaknesses of each team’s personnel. Other splits tend to oscillate wildly from year to year, and a great performance in 2016 may not indicate that a team will be equally strong in the same ways in 2017. Either way, the numbers provide an interesting window into what each team did right last season.

Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics are explained here. The most important is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures success on each play compared to the league average, adjusted for situation and opponent. Because DVOA is measured on a per-play basis, it can easily be separated to measure specific splits; you’ll see a lot of those ratings below.

Charting stats such as frequency of blitzes, pass pressure and play-action come from ESPN Stats & Information research. Other charting metrics, including player personnel and broken tackles, come from Sports Information Solutions. You’ll be able to find many more of these stats in our Football Outsiders Almanac 2017, which will be released online on July 24.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

Offense: Running from two-back sets

The Bills were much better when they had a fullback or tight end in the backfield: 5.7 yards per carry and 24.4 percent DVOA from multi-back sets, compared to 4.6 yards and 7.4 percent DVOA from single-back sets. Fifty-seven percent of the Bills’ runs come out of multi-back sets last year, the highest rate in the league. Buffalo and New England were the only teams over 50 percent. Just five years ago, more than half the teams in the league were over 50 percent.

Defense: Play when trailing

One reason the Bills really weren’t blown out until the last week of the season: The defense never let opponents run away with a game. Although the Bills had one of the league’s worst defenses overall (27th in DVOA), they ranked third in defense when they were losing by more than a touchdown.

Miami Dolphins

Offense: Empty sets

The Dolphins were fabulous from empty-backfield sets: 8.9 yards per play and a league-leading 95.0 percent DVOA.

Defense: First-down pass defense

Overall, the Dolphins had an average pass defense, 16th-ranked DVOA in the NFL. But on first down, the Dolphins ranked third in pass-defense DVOA; only Denver and Pittsburgh were better.

NFL business will not happen in the next three years

Our ESPN Insiders have provided an expert assessment of how NFL teams are positioned to compete during the next three seasons. That will bring us to the year 2020, the dawn of a new decade and the start of a key period for owners and players as they posture for the expiration of their 10-year collective bargaining agreement. (Assuming they don’t agree on an extension before the current CBA expires after the 2020 season.)
What will the NFL look like at that point? What advances will it have made? What issues will it have solved, and what problems might still remain? Let’s take a closer look.

Roger Goodell's position as the league's "judge, jury and executioner" has fueled countless public dust-ups and legal disputes. Will the commissioner's power change in the future?

Roger Goodell’s position as the league’s “judge, jury and executioner” has fueled countless public dust-ups and legal disputes. Will the commissioner’s power change in the future?

Guaranteed contracts

You’ve heard the argument: NFL players have the shortest careers — less than four years, on average — while playing a game that maims some of them. Yet their contracts are never fully guaranteed, meaning teams can release them at any time without paying the full amount due. But establishing a fully guaranteed paradigm is not a matter of changing policy. (It’s not mentioned in the CBA.) It would require a fundamental change in the market. Players have long agreed to these terms during individual negotiations. What would incentivize owners to guarantee contracts fully when they don’t have to? A high-profile player could hold out and force a one-off concession, but it’s tough to imagine all players benefiting in the same way. And even if owners changed their approach, it’s fair to wonder if they would simply reduce multiyear, partially guaranteed offers to one-year, fully guaranteed deals. In short, it’s difficult to conceive a meaningful path to fully guaranteed multiyear deals across the league.

Predict the best newcomer for each NFL department

This summer, NFL Nation reporters are answering the biggest questions for every team in divisional roundtables.

Monday’s question: Who will be the best newcomer?

AFC East

The rich kept getting richer. The New England Patriots acquired Brandin Cooks, who has the eighth-most receiving yards in the NFL since 2015. He’s an ideal wide receiver for the Patriots’ offense — undersized but explosive, capable of turning a short crossing route into a 30-yard gain.

After a season off, Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has the potential to be the best newcomer in the AFC West.

After a season off, Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has the potential to be the best newcomer in the AFC West.

AFC North

The Cleveland Browns need the answer to be Myles Garrett, the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Garrett had 31 sacks in college and is considered one of the best defensive prospects in years. But there are plenty of wide receivers who are new to the division as well.

AFC South

There is no consensus here. The Jaguars added potential impact players in defensive end Calais Campbell, running back Leonard Fournette and cornerback A.J. Bouye. They hope the influx of new blood helps them rebound from last season’s 3-13 finish.

AFC West

As long as he is more Beast Mode than Bust Mode and more rested than rusted, the easy answer is Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch. After retiring from the Seahawks and taking a season off, he returns to his hometown of Oakland.
NFC East

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery comes to the Eagles from the Chicago Bears. When healthy, he’s a Pro Bowl player and a difference-maker who had more than 1,400 receiving yards in his second professional season. Others have a chance to make an impact.
NFC North

This is a tough question because there are a lot of players with similar levels of importance. Vikings running back Latavius Murray and Packers tight end Martellus Bennett top the list of candidates. Who else makes the grade?

NFC South

DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard could be the one-two punch the Bucs’ receiving game needs. But this division has many newcomers that could have an impact to choose from. Read more

NFC West

The San Francisco 49ers did a ton of work to rebuild under a new GM and coach. Receiver Pierre Garcon, linebacker Reuben Foster and defensive end Solomon Thomas all have potential. The Rams also made a big investment at left tackle.

Rudy Gay agrees with the Spurs’ two-year contract of $ 17.2 million

Free-agent forward Rudy Gay has reached agreement on a two-year, $17.2 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs, league sources told ESPN.

The deal includes a player option on the second year, league sources said.

Gay has discussed deals with several winning teams, including Oklahoma City and Utah, in recent days, league sources said. The market tightened on him in the aftermath of a season-ending Achilles injury, but Gay ultimately chose the Spurs for a chance to contend in the Western Conference.

With what is essentially a one-year deal, Gay has the ability to make a full recovery, play well and return to free agency next summer.

Gay appeared to confirm the agreement in an Instagram post on Thursday.
An 11-year NBA veteran, Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 30 games with the Sacramento Kings in 2016-17 before suffering a complete tear of his left Achilles tendon Jan. 18 against the Indiana Pacers.

Gay, who turns 31 in August, is actively rehabilitating the Achilles tear, and there’s an expectation that he should be ready to return sometime in the fall. Gay opted out of $14 million in the final year of his contract with the Kings, simply ready to move on from the organization.

The Spurs used their full midlevel exception on Gay and recruited him hard since the start of July 1 free agency to finally secure a deal Thursday night, league sources said. San Antonio is desperate for athletic wing players to join All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard to try to defend the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference.

Former Super Bowl-winning 49ers punter Max Runager died at the age of 61

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Max Runager, the former NFL punter who helped the San Francisco 49ers win the Super Bowl following the 1984 season, has died. He was 61.

The 49ers announced Runager’s death on Sunday, and The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg reported that he was found dead Friday in his car in a parking lot in South Carolina. No foul play is suspected.

Runager played 11 seasons in the NFL after being drafted out of South Carolina by Philadelphia in the eighth round in 1979. He spent his first five years with the Eagles, losing the Super Bowl following the 1980 season before joining San Francisco in 1984.

The Niners went 15-1 his first season and beat Miami for the title. Runager played four seasons for San Francisco and came back for one game in 1988. He also played four seasons for Cleveland.

Runager finished his career with 661 career punts and a 40.2 yards-per-punt average.

NFC North Q & A: Which top of the top QB is Matthew Stafford?

There’s little argument that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the top two quarterbacks in the NFL, but what about the next tier? Where does Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions fit in? ESPN’s NFC North reporters weigh in.

Matthew Stafford passed for 24 touchdowns and a career-low 10 interceptions in 2016.

Matthew Stafford passed for 24 touchdowns and a career-low 10 interceptions in 2016.

Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Packers reporter: How many playoff wins does Stafford have? That’s right, zero. Zip. Zilch. He’s 0-3 in playoff starts. Now, that’s not the only measure of a quarterback. After all, Mark Sanchez has four playoff wins. But for Stafford to make that jump into the next category with quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, he’s going to need to do something in the postseason. He might never be in the category of Rodgers or Brady, or even Drew Brees or Eli Manning, but some playoff success would elevate his status.

Jeff Dickerson, Chicago Bears reporter: I think Stafford sneaks into the top 10. My past issues with him were based solely on turnovers. To me, Stafford looked like an out-of-control gunslinger with all those crazy arm angles. But he has become a more efficient and smarter quarterback. Stafford had a career-low 10 interceptions in 2016. That’s a great sign for Lions fans. And Stafford is only 29. It feels like he has been in the league forever, but the best might be yet to come. So, right now, I’d rank Stafford ninth or 10th among NFL QBs.

Ben Goessling, Minnesota Vikings reporter: He looked like one of the best in the league before he was injured late last season. But until he does more to help the Lions get out of the first round of the playoffs, it’s tough to put him in the top group of QBs. In the parlance of Mike Sando’s annual quarterback survey of talent evaluators around the league, I’d put Stafford as a Tier 2 QB: good enough to reach the playoffs, but maybe not the Super Bowl. He’s certainly not in the league of a Brady, Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger. I’d put Russell Wilson, Ryan and Newton (and maybe Derek Carr) above him. Brees might still be ahead of him, too, though Brees’ rising turnover numbers are concerning. Stafford is probably in a realm with Kirk Cousins, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Alex Smith.