What to watch at NFL minicamps: Potential holdouts, Kirk Cousins ​​comeback, 5 early QB battles

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The NFL offseason schedule continues this week with three-day mini-camps starting Tuesday for 10 teams. The remaining 22 teams will continue with organized team activities before holding their mini-camps next week.

Off-season meetings and on-field sessions are voluntary until mini-camp. But now comes the mandatory work period, and that means teams can fine players who choose not to attend.

These practice sessions will help coaches and players further prepare for training camp, which begins in late July and paves the way for the preseason and regular season.

Here are some of the key storylines to follow in the competition as the mini-camps get underway.

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Will contract disputes lead to holdouts?

The Vikings gave Justin Jefferson a massive new deal on Monday, and the Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle received a contract extension worth nearly $85 million last week, but other talented wideouts are still waiting for their big payday. Brandon Aiyuk of the 49ers, CeeDee Lamb of the Cowboys and Courtland Sutton of the Broncos may be able to hold out in minicamp as a result. They may not be alone, as Bengals receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have both skipped voluntary OTA sessions amid contract disputes. The Bengals exercised the fifth-year option on Chase’s contract, but he wants a multi-year extension similar to Waddle’s. Higgins asked for a trade as he enters the final year of his rookie deal, but the Bengals have so far declined.

Meanwhile, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa also wants an extension but has attended parts of the voluntary workouts. Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who is also seeking an extension, has skipped OTAs.

New coaching regimes

Seven teams hired new head coaches this offseason, and an eighth (the Raiders) named their interim, Antonio Pierce, to a full-time role. So minicamp will be the first time that Pierce, Jim Harbaugh (Chargers), Raheem Morris (Falcons), Jerod Mayo (Patriots), Dave Canales (Panthers), Mike Macdonald (Seahawks), Dan Quinn (Commanders) and Brian Callahan (Titans) )) fully get to know their new teams. The same goes for the 15 new offensive coordinators and 16 new defensive coordinators. These minicamp practices provide valuable opportunities for coaches and assistants to teach their systems to players so they can become more familiar with their rosters prior to the position battles in training camp.

Early QB competitions

At least five teams – and maybe six – will hold quarterback competitions this summer. The Commanders have not yet named Jayden Daniels the starter over Marcus Mariota, so in theory Quinn and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury could be in evaluation mode. Meanwhile, the Raiders, Patriots, Broncos, Vikings and Giants will have to settle for starters. The position battles may not really start until training camp, but don’t think Aidan O’Connell and Gardner Minshew (Raiders), Jacoby Brissett and Drake Maye (Patriots), JJ McCarthy and Sam Darnold (Vikings), Daniel Jones and Drew Lock (Giants) will wait until July to try to separate themselves from their counterparts with every minicamp rep and throw.

The Bears have already named 2024 No. 1 pick Caleb Williams as their starting quarterback.

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Aaron Rodgers is back on the field for the Jets after the Achilles injury that ended in Week 1 last year. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

A number of high-profile players had their 2023 seasons cut short by serious injuries. Now some of these players are at the end of their rehabilitation process. Others have returned to the field, using OTAs and mini-camp practices to knock off the rust. Coaching and training staffs use these sessions to evaluate where their stars stand about a month before training camp.

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Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (torn Achilles tendon), Kirk Cousins ​​(torn Achilles tendon), Joe Burrow (wrist surgery), Deshaun Watson (shoulder surgery) and Daniel Jones (knee surgery) will all be at minicamp in various capacities. Browns running back Nick Chubb and Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, who both suffered ACL tears, are among the high-profile non-quarterbacks still finding their way back to full strength.

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Familiar faces in new places

Some of the game’s most recognizable players have changed addresses this season. Pass rusher Danielle Hunter signed with the Texans. Running back Saquon Barkley jumped from the Giants to the Eagles. Fellow back Josh Jacobs left the Raiders for the Packers. And Derrick Henry left the Titans for the Ravens. Linebacker Leonard Floyd signed with the 49ers, wide receiver Calvin Ridley signed with the Titans, and the Steelers acquired both Russell Wilson and Justin Fields. Now that they’ve completed a few OTA sessions, they should have a good understanding of their role on their new teams and can continue to show what they’re capable of at minicamp.

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Rookie WR Marvin Harrison will start when the Cardinals hold minicamp next week. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today)

How are the rookies holding up?

Williams, Daniels, Maye, wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., offensive tackle Joe Alt and other recent draft picks have all gotten a taste of NFL practices thanks to rookie minicamp and voluntary workouts. But for some, June’s minicamp will be their first full-team field work, and in some cases their first real tests against veteran competition. The novices should become familiar with their scripts, but the teaching process still continues. The learning process will extend through training camp, but the goal is to come out of mini-camp with a good foundation so they are ready to compete in July.

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Experimenting with special teams

NFL owners have agreed to dramatic changes to the kickoff format this season. The change requires all players on the kicking team to line up on the receiving team’s 40-yard line, while the receiving team lines up nine players on its own 35. Two men will line up downfield as returners. The kicker will still kick off from his own 35. The kickoff team’s defenders are not allowed to move until the ball hits the ground in the “landing zone” – inside the receiving team’s 20-yard line. If the ball lands outside the landing zone, it is moved to the receiving team’s 40-yard line, much like a kickoff sailing out of bounds. Touchbacks would require the ball to be moved to the receiving team’s 30.

Minicamp will offer NFL players the first comprehensive opportunity to learn from their coordinators how to set up and execute the modified play, although some teams began experimenting during OTAs.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletics; photos of Kirk Cousins ​​and JJ McCarthy: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images and Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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