Mid-June the only quiet time in the NFL
It’s mid-June, which means for the next month or so, NFL teams basically hibernate.
Yes, even those 24/7, sleep-in-the-office, watch-film-around-the-clock coaches take some sort of a break.
It’s also a good time to look at key developments of the offseason, and where some teams stand heading to training camp at the end of July.
“I think they’re very aware of a lot of the things we’re trying to teach,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says. “I think they’re in a good place right now.
“Sometimes you just get here and run plays, but you’re not learning how to play the game. We’ve progressed to the part now where we’re trying to learn how to play games, trying to learn how to play at the end of games, how to play with the clock, without the clock, with the ball or without the ball. Because I think that’s going to be important when we come down to starting getting into the real stuff.”
The real, real stuff is three months away. Here are some observations after all the offseason machinations.
WHO HAS IT BETTER THAN US?
A fifth Lombardi Trophy in their collection, Super Bowl rings with more diamonds than a nearby Tiffany, and a soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback who looks, acts and plays as if he’s 30. Did the Patriots really need much more to make the first half of 2017 special?
Yet look at their roster and, if you are one of the other 31 NFL teams, you should be shuddering. New England went 14-2 last season, including four games without Tom Brady, but looks even stronger now.
Feeling a need to bolster the receiving group, the Patriots brought in Brandin Cooks and Dwayne Allen.
Desiring a better pass rush, they acquired Kony Ealy.
After taking a hit at running back (no LeGarrette Blount), Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead added depth.
Perhaps best of all, they signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore away from division rival Buffalo. If incumbent Malcolm Butler can’t be made happy by management, the Patriots remain covered in the coverage department.
Sure, they lost Blount, Martellus Bennett, Chris Long and Logan Ryan. But the Patriots more than compensated for those defections.
WHO HAS IT WORSE?
Matt Forte, one of the few — very few — remaining veterans with any credentials on the Jets, vehemently denies the team intends to tank this season to get a very high draft pick. We can’t be sure Jets management has the same approach as Forte and his teammates.
An examination of the massive roster for minicamp, which included a dozen non-contract players trying out, revealed Forte, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. Beyond them and a few journeymen, the Jets look like a noncontender in the ACC, let alone the NFL.
In tearing apart virtually everything, the Jets actually made some wise moves. Darrelle Revis is a shell of the star cornerback he once was. The battles in the trenches have taken a huge toll on center Nick Mangold. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick followed the best season of his nomadic career with one of the worst.
Still, the manner and timing with which the likes of dedicated linebacker David Harris and their only proven receiver, Eric Decker, were released seem almost ruthless. What has been left behind seems worthless.
FAMOUS FACES, NEW PLACES
Speaking of examining rosters, it’s going to take some time to get accustomed to Adrian Peterson in a fleur-de-lis jersey; Jamaal Charles not with the Chiefs but with the archrival Broncos; Lawrence Timmons on South Beach, not in the Steel City; and the Chargers in Los Angeles.
Not to mention Julius Peppers back in Carolina. Andrew Whitworth a Ram. DeSean Jackson a Buccaneer. Calais Campbell a Jaguar. Tony Jefferson a Raven. Eddie Lacy a Seahawk.
Shall we go on?
Upheaval is a constant in the NFL, which is part of the attraction, especially in the fantasy football era. Unlike with draft picks, observers don’t need to wait too long to evaluate a free agent signing or even a trade, as rare as they are.
Of most interest in 2017 might be how much potential Hall of Famers such as Peterson and Peppers have left.
We remember when Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick were thrilling, new-wave quarterbacks. Now, they’re unemployed.
Revis was a shutdown cornerback for three franchises. He’s looking for work.
Anquan Boldin and James Starks helped teams win Super Bowls. They are out of work.
Mario Williams was the league’s top overall draft pick in 2006. He’s nowhere in the league.
Gary Barnidge was a productive tight end in Cleveland, of all places. Another nowhere man.
Vincent Jackson, Trent Cole, D’Qwell Jackson, Alterraun Verner, Ryan Clady, all with Pro Bowl credentials. Unemployed.
Some of these guys, particularly Barnidge, Verner and Cole, should find landing spots by the time training camps open. All will need to lower their monetary expectations to get a job.
Sure, opening day isn’t until September. But the seats under quite a few coaches and general managers won’t be cooling off until then, if at all.
Most obvious are GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles with the Jets. Not any more comfortable are the GM/coach combinations of Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson in Cleveland; Ryan Pace and John Fox in Chicago; and maybe even Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton in New Orleans.
They could all use some positive mojo as they head out on holiday.