6 Biggest Unanswered Questions After NFL Minicamps

With the NFL‘s veteran minicamp sessions concluded, the beginnings of the 2023 season have taken shape. Though we won’t ever truly know about the progress teams have made until the season actually starts, we’re getting a better understanding of how they’ve decided to approach this year.

Unfortunately, some teams have produced more questions than answers this early into the process. We look at the biggest questions around the NFL that have been left unanswered by minicamp.

6 Unanswered Questions After NFL Minicamps

Who Will DeAndre Hopkins Sign With?

After former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was released from Arizona, he’s been playing it a little slow finding a new team to sign with. He recently visited the New England Patriots but left without a deal in hand.

It could be the case that Hopkins has a number of teams on his docket and he’s willing to play it carefully, or that he’s misevaluated the market.

Once the top receiver in the NFL, Hopkins is on the decline but still remarkably talented. He can still supercharge an offense, even if he doesn’t command the attention that top receivers typically do. Hopkins offers an intriguing option to teams that haven’t fully fleshed out their receiving corps yet.

How Will Aaron Rodgers Acclimate to New York?

The media blitz for Aaron Rodgers has been positive, and his participation in voluntary team activities earlier in the offseason may have earned him some time off. The New York Jets didn’t hold their veteran minicamp, meaning that we haven’t heard much in terms of reports on his progress working with new receivers.

That’s not a knock on the Jets — who already have extra training camp time and will start a week early because of their participation in the Hall of Fame game — or on Rodgers. It just leaves outside observers with fewer pieces of information to work with.

In the meantime, Rodgers has been earning praise from lifestyle media in New York for his red-carpet appearances and aggressive willingness to take on the sights of the city.

Both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning initially struggled to maintain their previous form with their second teams. While the legends quickly moved past those early first-year struggles to make deep playoff runs and win championships, a faulty start could be fatal in a division as stacked as the AFC East.

Can San Francisco Navigate the QB Situation With Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, and Sam Darnold?

Brock Purdy was present at the San Francisco 49ers minicamp but is still recovering from his UCL surgery and isn’t scheduled to practice with the team until much later in the offseason. Instead, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold duked it out for the right to begin the season as the top quarterback while Purdy recovers.

Unfortunately, the early returns are murky. Both quarterbacks purportedly struggled in camp, and their recent history of play in the NFL is somewhat alarming, though Lance has a small sample size while Darnold finished out his Carolina career on a positive note.

The 49ers are in a complicated QB situation, and it would be best if they could have a true camp competition to confirm that Purdy can sustain his surprising success. Without it, we’re left leaving minicamp without much more clarity than we had.

Will Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Evan Engram, Chris Jones, or Danielle Hunter End Their Holdouts?

Minicamp is the first time we see many players express real dissatisfaction about their contract situation. While players will often negotiate their contract situations in the press before or after the draft, the first time they can express their true convictions with anything on the line comes in the mandatory reporting period when their resolve is tested by a daily fine schedule that can total $90,000 over three days.

That doesn’t apply to three players, as they are technically not under contract and are, therefore, not subject to fines. Those three players were franchise tendered by their respective teams, which prevents them from signing with another team but doesn’t make them contracted to their original team until they sign the tag.

New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley, Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs, and Jacksonville Jaguars TE Evan Engram all have declined to sign their franchise tags in the hopes of securing a long-term deal with their teams. They’ve taken advantage of the fact that they aren’t subject to fines in order to hold out.

All three provided significant value to their franchises last year, with the two running backs operating as perhaps the most productive players on their offenses while Engram was hoping to turn his prove-it year into a long-term deal.

The two pass rushers, edge defender Danielle Hunter and defensive tackle Chris Jones, both have provided extraordinary value to their franchises. Hunter is scheduled to finish his five-year extension having earned $77.9 million, while Jones will finish his four-year extension having earned $81.3 million. Both are below the market rates for their respective production profiles over that time.

Jones ranks eighth among defensive tackles in average per year on his current deal, while Hunter ranks 15th. Both are in the final year of their respective contracts and haven’t been granted long-term security — another reason to hold off from football activities.

While the Kansas City Chiefs have expressed optimism that the Jones’ holdout will be over by the time training camp starts, there’s a little bit more uncertainty surrounding Hunter and his training camp availability. The Vikings have fielded multiple calls from other teams bearing trade packages, though there hasn’t been any indication that they themselves are active in that market.

Can the Kansas City Chiefs Dominate Without Skill Talent?

Last year, the Chiefs did a remarkable job producing one of the top offenses in the NFL without a premier receiver or running back. Naturally, having Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce helped quite a bit, but that’s a difficult situation to sustain.

Other high-level offenses have more than one franchise-quality skill player. The Eagles have A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith, the Bengals have Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, and the Dolphins have the pair of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill.

The Bills are on a bit of an island with the Chiefs, featuring Stefon Diggs and not much else. Buffalo just went through a bit of a minor crisis when Diggs wasn’t available to practice on the first day of minicamp.

Right now, Kansas City doesn’t have a solid depth chart at receiver. Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Skyy Moore are the top candidates for the job, with rookie second-round pick Rashee Rice in the mix as well.

K.C.’s RB room is about as impressive, with Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon vying for the top spot on the depth chart. That list doesn’t inspire much confidence, but the Chiefs have seemingly never needed much in the way of confidence.

The question isn’t whether or not the Chiefs’ offense will be effective, but whether they’ll be able to keep pace with the other high-level NFL offenses without that much skill talent. If Kansas City is wholly dependent on one skill player (who will retire sooner rather than later), they might be an easier-to-solve offense than in the past.

Can Sean Payton Save Russell Wilson?

We won’t be able to tell if Russell Wilson will look like his Seattle self until the season actually starts, but the early returns are somewhat mixed. The Denver Broncos have indicated that they’re happy with where Wilson is at but also revealed that they seem to be attempting to rebuild his mechanics from the ground up.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said in the first minicamp presser that “There’s some muscle memory that we have to overcome. He’s used to doing things a certain way, and we’re presenting a new way of doing things.”

On top of that, the Broncos have barred Wilson’s private throwing coach from the facility, reversing a trend over the last few years where his coach, Jake Heaps, regularly had access to him at his facility.

Introducing those kinds of changes can always produce risk. It could be the case that the changes in Wilson’s process could hurt more than help, even if that would normally be the best course of action.

The early returns on Wilson’s minicamp performance are positive, but that’s relatively scant evidence in light of the new questions about whether or not attempting to rework his process is a worthwhile risk.

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