This is the first offseason affected by the NFL's new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Ratified last July -- just before training camp -- the new CBA solidified the structure of the NFL offseason. No series of workouts can stretch beyond four days. Only ten days of OTA practice are allowed per team. All OTAs are voluntary. Each team is allowed just one mandatory minicamp.
And for 24 teams, that minicamp starts today.
It's a pretty big deal.
Coaching staffs will take these three-day camps seriously because it's the last time they'll share a practice field with players until late July. Immediately following minicamp, players will be advised to stay out of the news. But for the next three days, there will be lots and lots of NFL news. Here's what to watch for:
"How's that knee doing?" Injury recoveries.
The typical coachspeak response to any injury-related question goes something like this:
Looks good. We like where he's at and we'll see how he's doing as we move along here.
That, of course, doesn't mean anything. As they relate to injury situations, words out of a coach's mouth are usually on the optimistic side, and rarely on the revealing side. What players actually do on the field is much more telling, because it's a direct indication of the medical staff's evaluation.
The Lions are one of the two-dozen teams opening minicamp Tuesday, and they're a particularly noteworthy club in regard to injuries. Running back Jahvid Best (concussions) did participate in OTAs. Has he been medically cleared for training camp contact yet? Fellow tailback Mikel Leshoure missed his rookie year with a torn left Achilles'. Due to overcompensation on the other leg, he missed OTA time due to a right ankle injury. Promising rookie slot receiver Ryan Broyles tore his left ACL last November. He was limited in OTAs. Will his participation level increase this week?
New offenses and defenses: Scheme change.
Of the 24 clubs holding minicamps this week, six have changed defensive coordinators since last season. Eleven have new bosses on offense.
The Steelers are seemingly the poster children for changing offensive philosophy, due largely to the fact that new OC Todd Haley is a controversial figure. In February, we were encouraged to care that Haley hadn't met quarterback Ben Roethlisberger yet. Tight with outgoing coordinator Bruce Arians, Big Ben has on multiple occasions voiced hints of frustration with the new system.
Aside from irresponsibly reading into public comments, it will admittedly be difficult to tell whether Roethlisberger has warmed to the new offense in Pittsburgh. Big Ben wants to throw the football. The fans and owners want to run. Haley has a history of doing both. This is a situation to monitor.
To show or not to show? Disgruntled running backs.
The Ravens and Bears retained their running backs with franchise tags, and both teams begin mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. Because Ray Rice and Matt Forte haven't signed their one-year, $7.7 million tenders, they aren't obligated to show. Don't expect to see either player this week.
In Jacksonville and Denver, Maurice Jones-Drew and Willis McGahee both asked for raises this offseason. While McGahee's contract dispute has been less publicized than Jones-Drew's, it's fair to wonder whether Denver's primary back might use this opportunity to make his frustration more known. The Jags won't satisfy Jones-Drew's wishes, and fully expect him on the field this week.
It's worth noting that players who skip mandatory minicamp are subject to up to $60,000 in team-imposed fines. The max fine is $10,000 for the first day, $20,000 for the second, and $30,000 for the third.
UPDATE: Jones-Drew is skipping the minicamp in a strong sign that he's willing to hold out of training camp, and perhaps even into the season. The fact that Jones-Drew is willing to sacrifice a fairly large sum of money suggests he'll play hardball. GM Gene Smith stated adamantly Monday that the club won't satisfy Jones-Drew's contract demands. This one could get ugly.
The progress of first-round quarterbacks.
Andrew Luck's only offseason participation thus far occurred at the Colts' May 4-6 rookie camp. Due to Stanford's late graduation, he hasn't done any full-squad stuff. This three-day minicamp will not only be Luck's first performance in front of fans, it will be his first practice time with Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie. It's also a first for new TE Coby Fleener. Both rookies missed OTAs.
From an offseason standpoint, Robert Griffin III is well ahead of the curve. He's already practiced 13 times as a Redskin, and 10 times in the full-squad setting.
Four quarterbacks were drafted in this year's first round. Ryan Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick, was the third signal caller off the board. The Dolphins are currently holding OTA practices, but their minicamp doesn't take place until next Tuesday.
In Cleveland, No. 22 pick Brandon Weeden is already taking the bulk of first-team reps over Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. The Browns had their minicamp last week, but open a four-day series of OTA practices on Tuesday.
Depth chart movement: Camp battle updates.
These are still no-contact practices, and starting lineups won't be determined until August. But because there is a six-week gap between these workouts and the next time coaches and players get together, teams will look for lasting impressions. Coaches want an idea of how their offenses and defenses will look when they start training camp.
Keep an eye on the receiver battle in Chicago, opposite Brandon Marshall. While Devin Hester has again been the subject of springtime hype, rookie Alshon Jeffery's offseason has been quiet.
The tailback battle in Tampa Bay should be fierce. First-round pick Doug Martin missed some OTAs with a hamstring tweak, but he will begin closing in on incumbent LeGarrette Blount soon. Seventh-rounder Michael Smith is an intriguing prospect with sub-4.4 speed and toughness inside the tackles. Martin figures to be the Opening Day starter. Could Smith push Blount to be No. 2?
In New England, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are fighting for first-team work. Vereen got a bunch of it at early-spring workouts. The Colts' wide receiver position opposite Reggie Wayne is wide open. There are battles raging at No. 2 wideout and running back in Cincinnati. With Rice unlikely to attend Ravens minicamp, will third-round pick Bernard Pierce get the first-team reps?
Some surprises are inevitable.
24 teams. 24 head coaches. Nearly 50 coordinators. 90-man rosters.
Injuries, contract disputes, and surprise depth-chart appointments will inevitably take place this week. For all the latest, keep it locked on the Rotoworld NFL Player News Page.