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David Dermer/Associated Press
We’re one day away from the start of the 2018 NFL preseason in earnest. On Thursday, 24 teams will be in action, including the Cleveland Browns.
Fresh off the second 0-16 season in NFL history, the Browns have already had plenty of action this week. They sent a 2016 first-round receiver packing for a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos. Another wide receiver ran afoul of the law—again.
For once, it wasn’t Josh Gordon in trouble.
And Tuesday evening brought with it the debut of the 2018 version of Hard Knocks, which is offering a look inside the NFL’s most futile franchise.
It’s on the shores of Lake Erie where Wednesday’s look at training camp news and notes begins, starting with the wide receiver who’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
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David Dermer/Associated Press
It’s been a very Cleveland week for the Browns.
Shortly after they traded wide receiver Corey Coleman to the Buffalo Bills and promoted rookie Antonio Callaway to the first team, ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi reported he was cited for marijuana possession and driving on a suspended license on Sunday. According to dashcam video of the stop obtained by TMZ Sports, Callaway also had ammunition and gun parts in the vehicle.
It’s an understatement to say that isn’t a good look for Callaway. He fell to the fourth round of April’s draft largely because of a litany of off-field issues at the University of Florida. He was already in the first stage of the NFL’s substance abuse program after submitting a diluted urine sample at the combine.
Head coach Hue Jackson told reporters (via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com) that Callaway didn’t inform him about the citation beforehand.
“Again, until I know the facts, I really can’t say anything about anything,” he said. “I want to know more about it. Obviously, I’m disappointed in it, but I need to understand exactly what happened.”
According to Cabot, Callaway “had his car shipped to Cleveland just a few days ago from Florida, and that he hadn’t been in it for weeks. Meanwhile, his friends had been driving it. When police asked if they could search the car, Callaway said yes, not realizing there was marijuana in it.” Callaway “also thought he had resolved the suspended license issue, but a change of banks in his move to Cleveland foiled those plans.”
Given Callaway’s history, both of those explanations seem perfectly reasonable…to just about no one.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Tuesday’s debut episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks featured plenty of memorable moments, from an inspirational (and wildly NSFW) speech by wide receiver Jarvis Landry to some investment advice (with equally colorful language) from defensive lineman Carl Nassib.
But the lowlight of the show had to be the emergence of dissent among the coaching staff.
After head coach Hue Jackson laid out his plan to hold some players out of practice, running backs coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Haley interjected. Seeing as the Browns have one win over the last two years, the players could use all the practice time they can get, Kitchens and Haley opined.
At that point, Jackson decided to remind everyone in the room who is in charge (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk).
“Guys, listen, I’m excited about what you’re doing. I’m going to say it again. But the chair I sit in is a little different then the chair you guys sit in. I get to watch from a different lens. OK, and I think you guys can all respect that. At the end of the day, I get to drive this bus, and I’m going to get it the way I want it. That’s period. That’s just how it works. OK?”
Mind you, this conversation happened on camera. And all three coaches knew that.
There’s no way this ends badly, right?
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Rams are a trendy Super Bowl pick, but as they ready for their preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, a dark cloud is hanging over them.
The Rams are currently mired in a contract impasse with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. By failing to report for training camp as of Tuesday, Donald missed the deadline to accrue a year of service time toward unrestricted free agency.
However, Rams general manager Les Snead said Wednesday that the team is closing in on a contract extension for Donald, according to Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register.
Snead said the Rams and Aaron Donald are “in the same zip code, area code, ballpark” with regard to negotiations, Hammond tweeted. “Zip code usually means you’re close but you still haven’t agreed,” Snead added, via Hammond.
It’s important not to read too much into this news. “Same zip code” and “signed, sealed and delivered” are not the same thing.
But this is also the first tangible sign of progress in a while.
To make the deep playoff run so many expect from them, the Rams need their best defensive player on the field.
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D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press
While Donald is reportedly progressing toward a new deal, the same can’t be said about the previous Defensive Player of the Year, Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack.
“I’m really not going to discuss the contract (or) Khalil,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic. “I don’t want to talk about it. I really don’t. I really want to let Khalil do this thing. And then I just want to get him here. That’s all.”
McKenzie also wouldn’t deny, however, that the two sides haven’t had formal contract talks since February. According to ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez, McKenzie has a policy against negotiating with players who aren’t in camp, which raises the possibility that the two sides aren’t even talking.
Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reported some in the league believe the Raiders might be open to the idea of trading their best player.
“There’s a feeling the Raiders are open for business when it comes to Mack,” one NFC executive said.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez suggested the Raiders may be exploring a Mack trade because they can’t afford to pay him an average of roughly $20 million a season. Until the Raiders move into their new digs in Las Vegas, they may be too cash-poor to shell out the bonus and guarantees on another $100-plus million deal.
It’s still hard to imagine Mack playing anywhere but Oakland in 2018, but it’s getting easier.
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Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
Mack’s ongoing holdout isn’t the only bad news coming out of Oakland.
With Michael Crabtree now in Baltimore, the Raiders have a void at the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Amari Cooper. Veteran Jordy Nelson may fill that hole, but Oakland also traded for mercurial speedster Martavis Bryant as a vertical threat.
That apparently isn’t going so well.
While appearing on NFL Network, former Raiders wideout James Jones said Bryant’s having trouble adjusting to head coach Jon Gruden’s playbook, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.
“I just had a chance to speak with (offensive foordinator Greg) Olson and he said talent-wise, there’s probably nobody that can compete with [Bryant] talent-wise. But they said he’s not picking up the playbook, and that’s the reason of a little frustration right now because they want to get him on the field, but he’s not able to grasp the playbook yet. They’ve only got him lining up in one spot to try to slow it down and help him out. They need him to pick it up.”
Coming on the heels of an earlier report that Gruden is similarly displeased with Bryant’s grasp of the offense (or lack thereof), it appears as though his tenure with his second team isn’t going much better than the first.
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Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
This may seem like we’re piling on the Raiders, but it’s been a big news day for them.
Unfortunately, none of that news has been good.
Earlier Wednesday, Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the Raiders are asking offensive tackle Donald Penn to take a pay cut. The 35-year-old Penn, who signed a two-year, $18.7 million contract extension a year ago, is on the physically unable to perform list as he rehabs from a foot injury that ended his 2017 season in December.
It’s unclear how significant a pay cut the Raiders want Penn to take or how it would be structured. But according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Oakland may look to trade or release Penn if he’s unwilling to restructure his deal.
Penn isn’t the player he once was, and he’s returning from a fairly serious injury. The Raiders also drafted his potential heir apparent at left tackle this year in Kolton Miller.
But accelerating Miller’s timetable would put a lot of pressure on him. It would also open up a hole on the other end of the line.
At this time of year, teams hope to reduce the number of holes on their roster, not increase them.
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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Rams were wildly aggressive in the offseason, with one of their bolder moves being their acquisition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
Cooks may be the shiny new toy in town, but an old face has been starring for the Rams so far in camp.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, second-year wide receiver Cooper Kupp was dominant in L.A.’s dual-team practice with the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday.
“The second-year receiver was a go-to guy for (Jared) Goff, and the chemistry was obvious in the 11-on-11 unscripted portion. The Ravens tried lining up slot corners and regular corners and even hybrid linebackers on him, but to no avail. In general, he was a matchup problem, and with Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks on the outside and the Rams hopeful for a breakthrough season for tight end Tyler Higbee, Kupp remains in line for a bevy of targets. Goff and he have something special going on.”
That Kupp was nearly unstoppable against one of the NFL’s better defenses from last year shows how deep L.A.’s pass-catching corps is in 2018.
Opposing secondaries are going to have a tough time slowing down Goff and the Rams this season.
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Mike McCarn/Associated Press
The last thing any NFL team wants in training camp is a significant injury to a starter.
The Carolina Panthers have already suffered two along the offensive line alone.
Roughly 10 days after Carolina lost starting right tackle Daryl Williams to a a torn MCL and dislocated right patella, starting guard Amini Silatolu went down as well.
According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, Silatolu “has a torn meniscus in his left knee and will undergo surgery, the team said later Tuesday. Sports medicine doctors generally say it takes a minimum of four to six weeks to recover from such procedures.”
The 29-year-old, who has started 31 games over five seasons in Carolina, was listed as the starting left guard on the Panthers’ first unofficial depth chart.
Head coach Ron Rivera admitted the issues are adding up for Carolina’s O-line.
“If they come back with bad news (on Silatolu), obviously we’ll be concerned,” he told reporters. “We like where we are right now. We think we’ve got solid depth and we’ve got a couple of young guys we really have high hopes for, as well. So we just have to be really smart and hopefully lucky a little bit, too.”
The news on Silatolu could have been worse. It also could have been a lot better, especially after the Panthers lost Pro Bowler Andrew Norwell in free agency.
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Sarah Warnock/Associated Press
The Panthers aren’t the only NFL team dealing with the injury bug this week.
According to Nate Taylor of The Athletic, Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen will have knee surgery that could sideline him into the regular season.
“I can confirm, per source, that Daniel Sorensen will have knee surgery involving the tibia that will force him to miss the preseason,” Taylor tweeted. “Recovery could take up to eight weeks.”
Sorensen’s specific injury hasn’t been revealed, but given the recovery timetable and the mention of his tibia, the fifth-year pro may have suffered a tibial plateau fracture, as Charles Goldman of Chiefs Wire noted. Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens suffered a similar injury last August and was back in action early in October.
Then again, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans suffered a tibial plateau fracture around the time Hitchens returned and was done for the year. No two injuries are alike.
Sorensen’s injury isn’t devastating news, but it’s a blow to a Chiefs secondary that was already a question mark. With Eric Berry working his way back from an Achilles tear, the Chiefs will open the preseason without either of their starting safeties on the field.
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Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
The Seattle Seahawks are in the midst of a major transition.
Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are all gone. Earl Thomas’ future in Seattle remains uncertain, as he and the team are embroiled in a nasty contract impasse.
It’ll largely be on quarterback Russell Wilson to drag the Seahawks back to the playoffs in 2018. His top target thinks he’s up to the task.
While speaking to Michael Dugar of The Athletic, veteran wideout Doug Baldwin said Wilson’s never been better.
“Well, the biggest thing is I think Russell’s better,” Baldwin said. “This is the best I’ve seen Russ since he’s been here. I’m really excited and happy for his progress, because obviously that makes us a lot better. It makes it easier on us.”
New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Wilson has been working hard at improving his technique and learning the new offense.
“We’ve introduced him to some new things that he’s never done before,” Schottenheimer said. “It’s getting him comfortable with some of those things, but it’s great give and take—and it’s because we worked hard at the relationship.”
The Rams are the class of the NFC West on paper, and the 49ers appear vastly improved. With the Seahawks seemingly headed in the opposite direction, it may take an MVP-caliber season from Wilson to keep Seattle in the hunt in the division.
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