Another NFL spring football cycle is in the books — the first full one since before the pandemic. OTAs and minicamps are a low-stress way for teams to learn their new players, coaches and schemes. But that doesn’t mean they were without drama. Here are the biggest NFL winners and losers from the spring that was.
Winners from 2022 NFL OTAs and minicamps
Back up the Brinks truck. Some big-time money has exchanged hands in the last two months. Plus, OTAs brought promising signs from three young quarterbacks.
A bunch of players who wanted to get paid
This was the spring of the contract extension. Over $430 million in new deals have been signed since the NFL draft. The list of players with newly secured futures is long:
- Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (three years, $50.5 million).
- Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (four years, $84 million).
- Browns tight end David Njoku (four years, $56.8 million).
- Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (three years, $95 million).
- Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (three years, $80.1 million).
- Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (two years, $32 million).
- Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (four years, $73.6 million).
Good for them all. NFL revenues are expected to continue to swell, and it’s only right for many of the NFL’s top players to share in that largesse.
Alabama quarterbacks with something to prove
This has been the Rehab Tua’s Confidence offseason in Miami, and it seems to have worked. Lavish praise from coaches and teammates (most notably Tyreek Hill) has helped give Tua Tagovailoa his swagger back, and we love the fact that he called out his critics (or “Twitter warriors,” as he put it).
Of course, we won’t be total believers until we see it in a game, but Tua’s performance in camp has been an encouraging step forward.
Same goes for Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, whom Tagovailoa replaced at Alabama. Hurts lit up Philly’s defense in 7-on-7 drills, and his mechanics have been much improved.
“He’s working every day to get better, and I’m really pleased where he is right now, but we have to continue to lay the groundwork,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said recently. “That he went 11 of 12 yesterday in 7-on-7 means nothing. He has to continue to get better and better and better. I don’t know; you guys would have a better feel what he was today. I didn’t keep track. I’ll go watch it when I’m done with you guys, but I thought he had a pretty good day today, too.
“But really what I noticed is he’s really seeing where to go with the football and going there quick.”
Postscript: We haven’t yet weighed in on Hill’s unnecessary (and silly, to be honest) comparison of Tagovailoa and Patrick Mahomes, but we’ll say this: Tua had a better bad throw rate (16.3% to 18.8%) and on-target rate (80.1% to 77.5%) than the former MVP.
Of course, accuracy is just one part of the equation. Mahomes is a far better talent. But we’d agree with Hill that Tua is indeed more accurate than Mahomes.
Quarterback class of 2022
One of the advantages of low expectations is they can be easy to exceed. That’s been the case so far for quarterbacks drafted this year. Already some of the biggest names have shown at least glimpses of what they can become on this level.
Don’t take our word for it. Just ask their coaches.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith on Desmond Ridder: “Behind the scenes, the things that he has done, as a rookie, really from the neck up. How he’s operating, when we’re doing the rookie walk-throughs, when we do these installations and on the field, and his command. Then you’re betting on some of the physical things you see at times to catch up. He’s light years ahead of most young quarterbacks, in terms of playing from the neck up. I will give him that compliment.”
Panthers coach Matt Rhule on Matt Corral: “I think the arrow is definitely pointed up for Matt. But that’s going to take some time.”
Don’t be surprised if one, if not both, of these young passers get significant playing time as rookies.
Losers from 2022 NFL OTAs and minicamps
It feels a bit like Groundhog Day for three teams and their tricky QB situations. Plus, not all star wide receivers cashed in this spring.
One reason we’re pretty sure we’ll see Corral at some point this season is because Sam Darnold (not to mention his contract) remains a problem.
According to reporters who observed open Panthers practices, Darnold again looked shaky, to put it kindly, in practice. We’re probably at the point where we know what Darnold is, and it isn’t good enough. Perhaps Corral has a great training camp and beats Darnold out. Perhaps the Panthers trade for a quarterback (more on that in a bit).
But for now, Rhule is rolling with Darnold, because he doesn’t really have any other choice. And so he’s going to do what he can to boost Darnold’s confidence.
“Sam’s gotten a lot better,” Rhule said this week. “Really, really improving in the offense, and if we played today, Sam would be our quarterback.”
Rhule added: “Sam’s job is to take the next five weeks, make sure he shows up to Wofford better than what he is right now. He said to me yesterday how good he feels footwork-wise in the offense. He’s got to get to training camp, and improve and he’s got to do it with the pads on with people trying to knock you down.
“You look at the quarterbacking world from high school through college now, it’s so much 7-on-7 a lot of guys can throw it — it’s what you do when guys are trying to chase you down. So, those are his steps. He knows that, I know that, Ben [McAdoo] knows that, that’s our job as coaches is, our job is not to think, ‘hey we need to go get this, go get that’ — that’s Scott [Fitterer’s] job — our job is to get Sam as ready as possible.”
Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin
Since St. Patrick’s Day, teams have handed out roughly two-thirds of a BILLION in contract extensions to wide receivers, with the biggest contracts going to Davante Adams (five years, $140 million), Tyreek Hill (four years, $120 million) and A.J. Brown (four years, $100 million).
That cannot sit well with Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin, who will make $6.8 million combined this year. Samuel asked for a trade months back, but the 49ers never obliged. McLaurin boycotted mandatory minicamp, but Washington coach Ron Rivera said point-blank that McLaurin won’t be dealt.
Odds are good, then, that both will be on the field for their respective teams this year, and there’s a sense both will ultimately get paid. If not, next offseason could be a repeat of the crazy 2022 receiver derby.
Cap managers for the Niners and Browns
Training camp is in five or so weeks, and yet the 49ers and Browns still have way-too-expensive backups on their roster. Baker Mayfield is owed $18.9 million fully guaranteed. Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo counts for $27 million against the cap. In an ideal world, neither will play a down for the Browns and Niners, respectively.
Injuries, finances, and performance issues have all played a role so far in neither Mayfield nor Garoppolo getting traded. San Francisco could cut their guy and save $25.5 million. But as of now, they’ve decided to keep him. Perhaps the Panthers panic and decide to take one of those contracts. But for now, they’ve shown discipline. Which could make for some tough decisions in the weeks to come.
One unlikely, but possible outcome: Both remain on their current teams. Heck, the Browns will need a Week 1 starter if Deshaun Watson gets suspended.