What fantasy managers should care about in NFL training camp: Will Ravens extend Lamar Jackson?

·12 min read

5 Things I care about

Lamar Jackson’s contract talks

Despite some early offseason melodrama, the Kyler Murray contract saga ended the way these things always do during fantasy draft season. The team and franchise quarterback agreed to a top-of-market deal in July as the dawn of training camp approached. There were — and strangely still have been — some weird twists but the result was quarterback-extension-business as usual.

Lamar Jackson’s situation seems like it might go a bit differently.

Jackson has more hardware than Murray with an MVP trophy on the shelf and an extra year in the league. And yet he hasn’t signed a second contract with Baltimore.

The Ravens have publicly said they want to sign him long-term and placed the ball in Jackson’s court by saying he hasn’t engaged in negotiations. If that’s true, then there are two possible explanations.

Either Jackson is attempting to signal to the Ravens, “Your first offer wasn’t good enough, please try again,” or he is really preparing to go the Kirk Cousins route and dance with the devil (Read: Two franchise tags) and attempt to hit free agency in several years.

That is not confirmed and is purely speculation but if you thread that needle, a true free-agent quarterback holds unspeakable leverage and sets themselves up to leap several salary stratospheres above their true worth. Look no further than Cousins himself.

Murray’s contract structure confirmed that Deshaun Watson’s fully guaranteed deal with the Browns was not going to become the new standard for high-end quarterbacks. It was merely an outlier brought on by the fact that somehow, despite all the issues and potential lack of availability still plaguing Watson, he held massive leverage.

If Jackson wants to put himself in a position for that sort of negotiating power, he’d likely need to hit free agency.

Lamar Jackson is a fantasy superstar
Lamar Jackson's fantasy viability received a boost when he reported to training camp. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

But getting there wouldn’t happen for years and frankly, it would be a risky and arduous road.

It would be a much more comfortable situation if the Ravens and Jackson just agreed to a top-of-market deal in the next few weeks — which is certainly still possible. If Jackson plays out this year without a new deal, it won’t necessarily change his or the Ravens’ offensive projections. You’d still rather have a distraction-free season filled with good vibes alongside your freshly paid quarterback.

Jackson’s contract will be the No. 1 story to watch throughout training camp and it will only get stranger the longer he goes without signing a new deal.

Orlando Brown’s holdout

The Chiefs’ veterans reported to training camp and their franchise tag left tackle was not among them.

Orlando Brown appears set to skip the entirety of training camp and there’s some speculation he could hold out into the season after the team didn’t lock him up to a long-term deal.

It is not an ideal situation.

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The Chiefs should have given Brown an extension the moment he arrived following a trade from Baltimore. Brown was a massive part of the Chiefs fixing their offensive line in one offseason. He’s a huge piece of the puzzle and he knows it. Brown has no reason to put himself in a position to get hurt in practice without long-term security in place.

Brown not being in place during training camp probably isn’t the biggest deal in the world to you but things would turn problematic if this situation stretches into the season. He is a strong starter at left tackle and this line turned into a top-10 unit after his and a few other players’ arrivals. We’re not looking to see this line crumble.

There are situations in Kansas City we’re interested in figuring out, like the backfield rotation between Ronald Jones and Clyde Edwards-Helaire and how the targets will split in the wake of the Tyreek Hill trade. None of that is going to matter as much if this offensive line sprouts a leak without Brown.

Where Jerry Jeudy lines up

The Broncos' offense gets a bump with the arrival of Russell Wilson. We’ve known that for months but now it’s time to to learn the trickle-down effect of that upgrade. First, we have to solve the matter of how these pass-catchers are going to be deployed.

It seems that Courtland Sutton is locked in as the top receiver and the guy who will never leave the field. It makes sense. He’s freshly paid and has the best projection to X-receiver. Tim Patrick looks like he’s getting a role change to play as a big slot in Nathaniel Hackett’s offense. He also got a new contract from the current Denver leadership.

So, where does that leave Jerry Jeudy?

Jeudy has mostly played in the slot when Sutton has been healthy but, in my view, projects better as a flanker running vertical outside routes. He’s a burner who, when healthy, separates well at all levels. You can mostly write off his disappointing 2021 season to a high ankle sprain that dogged him all year long.

If he does play as the flanker, he’s still at risk of playing behind Patrick who might be used as an outside man in two-receiver sets and move to the slot in 11-personnel. Jeudy is the only of the trio who the GM hasn’t invested in yet; Jeudy was drafted by John Elway.

We need to get confirmation that Jeudy is a near every-down player for Denver to justify his aggressive post-Russ ADP bump. Having him operate outside in a more vertical role would be icing on the cake.

Michael Thomas

Simple question: Is Michael Thomas going to take part in training camp?

It’s wild that an almost two-year-old ankle injury is still a shadow hanging over Thomas’ availability. We haven’t seen Thomas operate at his peak in quite some time. No one can be sure what type of player he’ll be when/if he hits the field again.

The situation in New Orleans is also quite different. Sean Payton is gone, Drew Brees is a distant memory with Jameis Winston walking into camp as the — based on his contract — unquestioned starter and the Saints have re-stocked the wide receiver position around Thomas.

Back in Thomas’ record-setting 2019 season, the Saints had a running back and tight end finish second and third in targets behind Thomas, respectively. Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook’s combined 162 looks still fell 23 short of Thomas’ 185. With Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry in the fold, the Saints potentially have legitimate volume-earners to complement or replace Thomas.

At the height of his powers, I never bought into the “slant boy” nickname for Thomas. That was more a factor of playing with Brees and his rapidly declining skill set. He can run the full route tree and, going into 2020, I was even excited about the possibility of seeing him paired with a big-armed passer for the first time.

Of course, that never came close to materializing.

The range of outcomes just feels so massive for Thomas. The Saints could either get a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver season or absolutely nothing from him this season. He is one of the most important veterans to track this summer.

Patriots' offense reports

Perhaps because a variety of media members are still clinging to their pre-draft evaluations of Mac Jones but it feels like the steady drumbeat of his positive offseason has gone under-discussed.

The fantasy community seems to be projecting the Patriots as if they’ll be the same slow, run-heavy team that they were in the weird Cam Newton season and Jones’ rookie year. But what if Jones’ development encourages New England to come out of its shell more and kick up the pace and passing volume?

At times last year, Jones looked like the type of accurate, point-guard style of quarterback who could handle a bump in his duties. If he takes another step, could he go down the Philip Rivers trajectory? We are so obsessed with dual-threat passers now but there is still room for this archetype of quarterback to lead a great offense.

Jones didn’t get enough credit for being the quarterback of a playoff team and way outplaying every other 2021 rookie. His potential growth is still being slept on. If he takes another step, he could make for an interesting man at the helm of an offense with a diverse set of receiving options.

5 Things I don’t care about

Packers WR rotation

So many wide receiver situations turned over this offseason and we should be keeping a close eye on the majority of them. One I’ll probably not place much importance on is the Packers receiver battle.

This might seem crazy and perhaps I’ll be wrong but I just do not see the 2022 upside case for any of these wide receivers hitting, despite the presence of Aaron Rodgers.

For starters, I do believe that the Packers might try and get by with some sort of committee approach at receiver. They could run Sammy Watkins as their top outside receiver before transitioning to rookie Christian Watson in the last month or so.

The skill-set of players like Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard overlap a bit as primary slot guys who thrive in the dirty work underneath. We shouldn’t be outright shocked either if someone like Romeo Doubs or Amari Rodgers squeezes their way into the mix and muddies the waters even more.

It just doesn’t look like any of those guys is good enough right now to force the Packers to dedicate a large share of a potentially shrinking passing pie to them. My projections have this team as one where a group of guys could get between 500 to 850 yards but no one clears 1,000.

Injury optimism

The summer is the worst time for injury optimism. That counts for guys who are coming off an injury, get hurt during camp, etc.

One thing I don’t care for during training camp is the instant someone is available to practice, we need to immediately fire up the bullish case in their range of outcomes. Just for one example, let’s think about Jaguars' running back James Robinson. He’s come racing back from a late-season Achilles tear and avoided the PUP list to start camp.

James Robinson #25 of the Jacksonville Jaguars
Just because James Robinson avoided the PUP list doesn't mean he's a fantasy lock. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

That is awesome news for Robinson, a player worth rooting for who has already way out-kicked career expectations. The Jags would be better off if Robinson can take the field early this year. But we just watched Cam Akers come back early from the same injury last year and struggle to efficiently gain yardage in the postseason.

Robinson might be back but just how well he’ll perform, especially early, is an open question.

We should be baking in the downside with every single injury question that we had coming into camp along with any that pop up between now and Week 1.

Leonard Fournette weight watch

Leonard Fournette himself has poked fun at the obsession over his offseason weight. All of the talk about his image could easily end up being a non-story by Week 1.

Fournette is a proven vet who has the trust of Tom Brady in the passing game. He looks locked into a workhorse role on a great offense. That’s what matters. Player weight fluctuates all the time. Fournette can easily get down to his playing weight during summer practices the rest of the way.

Until we get any kind of hard, concrete evidence he’s in a position battle or at risk of losing his job because of how he looked during minicamp, we simply should not care.

One more Tyreek Hill quote

The former Chiefs receiver has apparently never heard of the phrase “underpromise, overdeliver” or “confidence is silent and insecurities are loud.” Any chance he gets to be in front of a microphone, he’s been chomping at the bit to tell us not just how happy he is to be out of Kansas City but how his new quarterback is actually a secret superstar or “the most accurate” passer in the league.

We’ll see.

This season was already a make-or-break campaign for Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins are still waiting for Tua to put together a full, steady season, much less be in contention for the heights Hill wants us to believe he’s already achieved. The pressure to take massive leaps only mounts with each media appearance from the star receiver.

I’m all set on hearing Hill’s projected outward confidence. I’m more ready to judge the results.

Camp observer/writer opinions

An annual reminder: We want reports and concrete evidence of where guys are lining up and/or their standing in their respective offenses — not guesses. Beat writers are crucial resources and do amazing work. Camp observations are good.

However, a report that (insert wide receiver) is taking all the snaps with the first team is way more valuable than opinions about player performance in the summer. Similarly, a writer saying (insert wide receiver) is expected to hold this role but it doesn’t materialize further than that opinion isn’t worthwhile.

We are about to get slammed with a lot of information. Be ready to filter out the signal from the noise.

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