NFL Training Camp Storylines: Part Two

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: July 30, 2007

NFL Training 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 is the second in a five-part series of the top 15 storylines that I will be following during the early weeks of training camp:

Injury Comebacks: The NFL is a league where having good health on your roster is paramount. For injured players, whose teams went on without them know that training camp is the best place to show their coaches and teammates that they are ready to contribute again. One of the bigger player coming back from injury stories is Cleveland Browns C LeCharles Bentley (Knee). After coming over to his home town team, Bentley who was 2006 top free agent tore his patellar tendon during 2006 training camp and had to endure four surgeries including several to battle a staph infection.

Bentley recently got the go ahead from his doctors that he could play again and it ended a long and arduous path that almost ended his career. If healthy, Bentley will be asked to anchor a remade O-Line that needs to get 2007 free agent Jamal Lewis going. The Browns will take Bentley’s re-entry into the lineup slowly (no contact until September), but here’s hoping the story ends well for him. Other training camp injury comebacks include Detroit Lions RB Kevin Jones (Foot), Dallas Cowboys LB/DE Greg Ellis (Torn Achilles), Carolina Panthers LT Travelle Wharton (Knee), Seattle Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander (Foot), Randy Moss (Ego) and others.

“Franchised” Players: The NFL’s version of “Decision Day” took place on July 16th as players that were “franchised” needed to decide if they want to accept their one-year offers or not. If a player failed to sign a long-term contract extension by that date, NFL rules stipulated that the only deal a franchise-tagged player could sign was the tender offer from their own club. The contract tender is a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April. In the past we have seen franchised players miss all non-mandatory off season training activities and report late or holdout of training camp (ex. Seattle Seahawks OT Walter Jones in 2004 & 2005). This year’s list of franchised players was led by all-world DE Dwight Freeney of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts and Freeney avoided a holdout by signing him to a six-year, $72 million contract (that included an NFL Record $30 million signing bonus). Freeney did well working with the franchise tag, but two other players Chicago Bears OLB Lance Briggs and New England Patriots CB Ashante Samuel (Tied for NFL lead in INTs with 10) are still trying to work with their teams while being franchised. Briggs decided that he wanted to be in camp and signed his one-year deal worth 7.2 million including stipulations that the Bears could not tag him again if he reaches certain incentives (75 percent of the team’s defensive snaps). Samuel has been offered the franchised amount (one year, $7.79 million), but remains unsigned and wants a contract similar to 49ers FA signee CB Nate Clements, who signed a $80 million deal (with a $20 million plus signing bonus). He may be in for a long battle as the Patriots seem willing to wait him out. Other franchised player Lions DT Cory Redding will be in Lions training camp after signing a seven-year, $49 million deal including $16 million guaranteed.

Donovan McNabb’s Comeback Story: Everywhere that I go Eagles fans want to know will McNabb be healthy and ready this season. Too often I have been hearing impatient whispers that McNabb is washed up after being hurt three out of the last five years, ending two on I/R. Unfortunately for McNabb the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, where people forget 2,647 yards and 18 TDs in 10 games in 2006 too easily. Even after 104 games, 22,080 yards passing and 152 TDs with the Eagles, his career with the franchise is on the line.

He is above the Birds’ magical 30 year old mark, he has an injury history, and the Eagles drafted “quarterback in waiting” Kevin Kolb (signed to four-year contract that included $2.62 million worth of guaranteed money). No one has a crystal ball, but I have a feeling that McNabb will answer his critics and he should have a lot of help from Brian Westbrook who now seems to be the focal point of the Eagles new “Ground Marty” game plan, but Big No. 5 needs to stay healthy for the entire season.

TOMMORROW: Rookie holdouts, the Patriots, and “Pacman” Jones.