The NFL is heading into its down season – if there is such a thing. Or at least the time when players can catch their breaths and coaches might get away for some rest before the 23-hour days start up again. However, there will still be news and stories to keep an eye on.
RealSport offers five storylines to keep in mind before training camps open in late July.
When will Aaron Rodgers get paid?
Atlanta's Matt Ryan is the first player to make $30 million per season after signing a five-year deal with a $100 million guaranteed. The Green Bay Packers star will get more. Just how much more and exactly when that becomes official remains a mystery at the moment.
It's only a matter of time, but one would think it comes before Green Bay opens its training camp, and maybe even before the team's mandatory minicamp June 12-14. Rodgers, apparently, even had a hand, or voice, in Ryan's deal getting done with the Falcons. Man, this guy gets whatever he wants.
But at age 34, Rodgers is well worth it, we know that, and he's back healthy after missing most of last season with a broken collarbone. Rodgers is one player who has never allowed money to dictate his play, and that should remain the case even after his soon-to-be historic payday.
What will happen with Earl Thomas?
Unhappy that he remains without a contract extension, Thomas was a no-show for Seattle's OTAs this month. It's uncertain exactly what to make of Thomas' intentions considering there have been mixed messages spreading around about whether he will or will not hold out until a deal gets done.
That uncertainty hurts the Seahawks, who no longer possess an intimidating defense and have moved on from emotional leaders Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett. The health of safety Kam Chancellor remains a concern, so potentially being without Thomas only makes the defense more vulnerable than it appears to be.
Perhaps an underlying issue in Thomas' case is whether Seattle still sees itself as a Super Bowl contender or a franchise ready to rebuild. If it's the latter, then there is no point to overpaying for Thomas, who is still an above-average performer but maybe not one worthy of breaking the bank.
Rookie quarterback race
Four quarterbacks taken within the top 10 picks of this year's draft and each could start for their respective teams by the end of the season. Maybe even by the end of training camp, for some.
Josh Allen in Buffalo and Sam Darnold with the New York Jets seem like the best bets to win starting nods for Week 1. Josh Rosen is waiting behind Sam Bradford in Arizona, but that seems like a matter of time before Bradford suffers another injury or struggles, thus opening the door for the former UCLA star.
Then there is Baker Mayfield, the most intriguing of the bunch. The surprise No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns, Mayfield is behind Tyrod Taylor to begin the season and appears to be the one in the foursome whose team is OK with waiting for. The Browns may opt to groom Mayfield and bring him along slowly as long as the team fares well.
But it's Cleveland. How good can things get?
Will Andrew Luck be ready for training camp?
That's the plan, but no real progress was made during OTAs and a timeline for Luck's activities going forward doesn't seem all that clear. The brass of the Indianapolis Colts insist everything is fine, but we've heard that for months.
The reality is Luck has not played a down of meaningful football since New Year's Day 2017, and even if he throws well during the upcoming minicamp, how much rust will Luck display and will the chemistry be there with the likes of running back Marlon Mack, receiver Ryan Grant and maybe even tight end Eric Ebron?
Luck's situation remains frustrating to Colts' fans, who already seem to be preparing themselves for another rough season.
The Los Angeles Rams are all in
Playing their second season in the land of glitz and glamour and coming off a 4-12 campaign, the Los Angeles Rams were easily the NFL’s surprise team with an 11-5 2017 mark and first division crown since 2003. Sure, we expected the Rams’ expectations to heighten this season, but considering who they’ve acquired and what they’ve given up in doing so signals Sean McVay’s group is ready to take it all now.
Whether they will raise the Lombardi Trophy in Atlanta remains to be seen, but Los Angeles has pulled out all the stops to take a shot. The Rams made news with the additions of perennial NFL stars in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and receiver Brandin Cooks. All have been at or near the top of those positions in their careers.
The only potential snag appears to be Aaron Donald's contract situation, which is a similar scenario to Thomas. The only difference is that Donald is the best defensive player in the league.
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