NFL Training Camp Storylines: Part One

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: July 29, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — Training camps from Wisconsin to Lehigh have either opened up or will be opening up shortly. The NFL season is upon us and so are the storylines. It is amazing that I am now busy 52 weeks a year covering the NFL.

Old-timers used to tell me that the NFL was a six-month league, where it shutdown in January and the spring and summer were quiet. Well, I guess that was before sports talk radio, the internet age, draft hysteria, fantasy football, and any other any morsel related to the league that astute fans are consuming year round.

Here are the first in a series of the top 15 storylines that I will be following during the early weeks of training camp:

Michael Vick’s dogfighting soap opera: What started out as a minor distraction over the Falcons has now morphed into a national story that surrounds the entire NFL. Round one of the story was the indictment of Vick and three others on July 17, which included gruesome allegations included in the indictment. This past week amidst protests by PETA and other animal rights groups, we had round two of the Vick dogfighting case as Commissioner Roger Goodell informed the star QB to not report to Falcons training camp. The Commissioner did the move so that he and special NFL investigative attorney Eric Holder could gather as much detail as possible regarding the case. The public also found out that Falcons owner Arthur Blank was also going to suspend him for four weeks for misconduct (the Keyshawn rule), but the Commissioner told him to wait. The NFL is trying to ensure that they have covered all of their bases regarding the Vick case, before I believe they will issue the inevitable year long suspension that we know is coming.

The NFL cannot afford to come down lightly on Vick despite him being only being charged and not convicted at the moment. The league has already set a precedent by suspending “Pacman” Jones for a year without a conviction and now you are talking about one of the games biggest stars. Vick, who pleaded not guilty in court on July 26 and is now awaiting a November 26 trial, would be best served to strike a deal with Blank on a leave of absence with pay, so he and his high powered attorney Billy Martin can concentrate on his court battles where he is facing six years in prison and fines of up to $350,000 dollars. If he doesn’t cooperate with Blank and the NFL, you could see Vick released (ala Tank Johnson) with Falcons eating $6 million in 2007 and $15 million in 2008 on the salary cap. With all the Vick goings on, it has to make you wonder if the Falcons did the right thing trading valuable backup QB Matt Schaub to the Texans. BTW: Vick had to surrender is passport so the CFL is out of the question.

Larry Johnson’s contract situation: This is a situation that has carried on since the 2006 season ended and screams “buckle” yourself in. Unfortunately we are probably going to see a training camp holdout, because on one side of the table you have a small market franchise, who typically will not pay over the top for players and on the other side you have a 28-year old running back, who feels he deserves to get paid like MVP LaDainian Tomlinson ($21 million guaranteed). Johnson is a two-time Pro Bowl player and is the physical down hill runner that Head Coach Herman Edwards loves. Edwards believes in grinding the clock and LJ is his sledgehammer. After a great season in which he set an NFL record with 416 carries and having healthy a 4.3 ypc average (1,789 yards, 17 TDs), you would think Johnson would be in the proverbial cat-bird seat.

But the Chiefs really don’t seem that anxious to give into Johnson, because of his age, mileage, and he is already under contract for this year ($1.9 million broken down into $1.7 million base salary, plus a $200,000-plus for incentives achieved) with the possibility of them “franchising” him after the season. Johnson’s current deal is not “chump change”, but it is not LT money and he will not settle for less. The Chiefs believing that they need a happy Johnson have countered with an offer of guaranteed money somewhere between $11 and $14 million, which is on the level of the bonus money paid to Seattle’s Shaun Alexander, who received $13.5 million worth of guaranteed money in 2006. I believe that the Hunt family and GM Carl Peterson will be content to let Johnson wait around until he comes to his senses. Johnson stands to lose more than $111,000 per game and the Chiefs could also opt to fine him $14,000 for each day he is not at training camp and pursue a pro-rated portion of his initial signing bonus that could amount to as much as $660,000. With the team already have Michael Bennett and the recently recovered Priest Holmes on the roster, there really is no immediate need for the Chiefs to pursue Johnson like there is no tomorrow. We will have to wait and see who blink first in this million-dollar poker game.

Other unhappy veterans and possible holdouts: One thing is for certain in the NFL when one player gets a shiny new contract five other players at his position are saying they deserve equal or more, because they are better players. I have found most players talk tough about holding out until the prospect fines (up to $14,000 daily) for missing camp and missed game checks come into play. If a player does hold out usually they report before Week 10, because that is the cutoff for receiving credit for a season in the NFLs free agent system. Last year, we saw former Patriots WR Deion Branch hold out until Sept. 11 when he was traded to the Seahawks (missed one game check of $65,625 and had to pay fines for missing training camp).

One player that has been extremely vocal about his displeasure with his current contract is Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl G Alan Faneca. Faneca recently watched as lesser players like Dallas’ Leonard Davis (seven years, $49.6 million with $18.75 guaranteed) hauled in large signing bonuses while he has been embattled with the Steelers. With the Steelers signing S Troy Polamalu to four-year extension worth $30.19 million that makes him the highest-paid player in team history, don’t for Faneca to get a new deal anytime soon. (Other holdout candidates: Jets G Pete Kendall, Giants DE Michael Strahan, Bills DT Darwin Walker, and others).

NEXT: Injury comebacks, “Franchised” players, and Donovan McNabb.