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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Saturdays don’t usually generate many headlines in the NFL world, but this Saturday was one of the busiest of the football year. That’s because nearly half the teams went to battle in seven preseason contests, making it the most jam-packed day of games in Week 2 of the preseason.
Throw in that a former star in search of redemption made his sudden return to a team in desperate need of his services, and it was a fine 24 hours of NFL buzz.
Here’s a rundown of the top stories of the day, along with some reaction and analysis.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
After missing the majority of the Cleveland Browns’ training camp and half of the preseason to tend to his “overall mental and physical health,” Josh Gordon is back.
The redemption-seeking wide receiver reported to the team Saturday and is expected to attend his first training camp practice Sunday, according to Scott Petrak at Browns Zone. It’s still not clear if he’ll be able to take part in that practice, because NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero that he still has to be cleared to take the field. But this is a step in the right direction.
“As I humbly return to being a member of this team with an opportunity to get back to playing this game I love, I realize in order for me to reach my full potential my primary focus must remain on my sobriety and mental well-being,” Gordon wrote on Twitter Saturday, “Let’s get to work!”
That’ll relieve plenty of stress in Cuyahoga County, because the rebuilt Browns were looking thin at wide receiver with Gordon absent and Corey Coleman traded to Buffalo. The team was putting too many eggs in red-flag-plagued Antonio Callaway’s basket, and the rookie fourth-round pick was held without a catch in the team’s second preseason game Friday night against the Bills.
Gordon is also draped in red flags as he fights to revive a career that substance-abuse issues derailed. But he’s a former first-team All-Pro and is only 27 years old, so it’s a good sign that after hitting a midsummer speed bump, he appears to be feeling good as he returns.
Plus, Hard Knocks just got more interesting.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
You might assume Gordon’s return would be bad news for star free-agent Dez Bryant, who visited the Browns this week after lingering on the open market for more than four months. And indeed, it doesn’t look as though Bryant will gain employment in Cleveland anytime soon. But according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, that’s not because of the latest development with Gordon.
“Bryant left town without a contract on Friday, and the two sides did not come close to an agreement,” Cabot wrote Saturday. “Bryant is seeking a one-year ‘prove-it’ deal and wants to play for a contender. But the asking price may be too high for the Browns.”
Cabot notes the team will continue to look at receivers, which makes sense considering the lack of stability with Callaway and Gordon. And Jeremy Maclin and Brandon LaFell are solid candidates, even if they lack Bryant’s Q score or big-play ability.
As for Bryant, he appears to be gambling that another opportunity will arise. And injuries will happen. And teams will get desperate. But that doesn’t mean anybody is willing to gamble on him, because the 29-year-old is aging quickly, his statistics are declining and he has character concerns.
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Mary Schwalm/Associated Press
The NFL’s worst team from 2017 received a boost Saturday, and the NFL’s reigning champion will apparently get one Sunday.
That’s because Philadelphia Eagles franchise quarterback Carson Wentz is finally set to return to 11-on-11 drills in practice following a late-season ACL tear, according to ESPN.com’s Chris Mortensen. And while that’s not a shocking development, it’s gotta settle a lot of nerves in Eagles country as Super Bowl MVP and backup Nick Foles deals with a shoulder strain.
Wentz told reporters this week it was “going to be close” regarding whether he’d be healthy for Week 1, while Eagles head coach Doug Pederson noted the 2017 MVP candidate would probably need to get a week of 11-on-11 time in before being ready to roll, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Dave Zangaro.
So as long as there are no setbacks during the next week, Wentz will be looking good for that nationally televised Thursday night opener against the Atlanta Falcons on September 6.
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Roger Steinman/Associated Press
Earlier this offseason, the Dallas Cowboys made Zack Martin the NFL’s highest-paid guard, and nobody is claiming the 27-year-old Notre Dame product isn’t worth every penny. After all, Martin hasn’t missed a game in his four-year career, earning four Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pro honors along the way.
He’s on an early Hall of Fame track, and the Cowboys need him to succeed offensively. Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott get most of the adoration, but neither would have close to the same effectiveness without Martin and his star cohorts, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
That’s why it’s a tad terrifying that Martin is scheduled to undergo an MRI Sunday after injuring his right knee in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
A helmet struck Martin’s knee, after which he spent about 10 minutes in the medical tent before limping to the locker room, per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.
With Frederick already dealing with stingers, Cowboys fans will be holding their breath Sunday.
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Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
In March, the New York Jets took a big step toward improving their defense by making free-agent cornerback Trumaine Johnson the highest-paid cornerback in the AFC. And when you’re making $14.5 million a year and you’ve yet to play a game for your new team, any injury is far from ideal
Thus, it’s discouraging that the 28-year-old wasn’t practicing Saturday after straining a hamstring in Thursday’s preseason game against the Washington Redskins, according to ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini.
Per Cimini, Jets head coach Todd Bowles said Saturday that Johnson will “hopefully” be back soon. But hamstrings can be tricky, and the Jets don’t have a lot of depth at that position. They need their highest-paid player on the field, because Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine and Darryl Roberts probably won’t get the job done as their top three cover men.
At the very least, Johnson’s injury is worth watching.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
While one of the Jets’ best players deals with what is hopefully a minor injury, one of the Indianapolis Colts’ top weapons also missed practice time Saturday as a result of what is expected to be a short-time nick.
That weapon is four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who was clicking with returning franchise quarterback Andrew Luck early in camp but “missed most of practice and had his shoulder wrapped” Saturday, according to Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star.
The “Colts don’t expect it to be serious,” added Keefer, “though he might miss Monday’s game.”
In Indy’s first preseason contest last week against the Seattle Seahawks, Luck targeted Hilton on three of his first four passes. And while Luck was just shaking off the rust early in camp, the Herald Bulletin‘s George Bremer tweeted that the QB and Hilton were “definitely in sync.”
So yeah, the Colts and their fans had better hope it isn’t serious. And while it’s nice that the team appears to feel that way, the organization has taken a lot of heat for arguably underselling Luck’s condition during his recovery from shoulder surgery last offseason.
This is something to keep an eye on.
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James Kenney/Associated Press
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not have quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games of the 2018 regular season as he serves a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. And because Winston has encountered problems on and off the field early in his career, that has some wondering if the 2015 No. 1 overall pick will ever live up to expectations in Tampa.
Those who doubt Winston probably have mixed feelings on nights like these.
Playing with and against mainly second-teamers after relieving backup-but-early-season starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 24-year-old Florida State product completed 13 of 18 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns in a turnover-free performance against the Tennessee Titans.
That last part is key. Winston has to cut down on his mistakes, and he made zero big ones while under a lot of pressure to perform (literally and figuratively) Saturday night.
Winston had to prove that an 11-of-13 outing in Tampa Bay’s first preseason affair wasn’t a fluke, and he came through. His first completion was a pinpoint-accurate deep ball down the sideline to Mike Evans, and he followed that with a big over-the-top throw to DeSean Jackson. He then had a touchdown strike to Chris Godwin nullified by a holding penalty, but he still got the Bucs on the board, and that was a sign of things to come.
Winston hit Jackson in stride on a beautiful deep throw early on his second drive, then he flashed coolness in the pocket before making another nice throw to tight end O.J. Howard, leading to a magical (although somewhat dangerous) third-down touchdown pass to Godwin.
His next drive ended with a perfect touchdown strike to Justin Watson on a 3rd-and-long, completing what was nearly a perfect night for a reputably imperfect quarterback.
Is Winston turning a corner just in time? The jury remains out, but this is a good start on the path toward redemption.
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Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
The Denver Broncos defense wasn’t its usual crisp self in head coach Vance Joseph’s first season last year, but Denver has complemented stud pass-rusher Von Miller with preseason Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bradley Chubb. And on Saturday night against the Chicago Bears, that unit looked strong.
One week after struggling against Minnesota Vikings’ first- and second-teamers, the Broncos limited Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears’ first-team offense to seven points in the first half of Denver’s second preseason game. And arguably more importantly, Chubb came up big with a sack of Trubisky that resulted in a safety on Chicago’s second possession.
The snap was bad and Chubb didn’t face a lot of resistance, but he diagnosed the calamitous situation quickly and took care of business.
It wasn’t long ago that the Broncos had one of the best defenses in football (can you remember 2016?), and that D still has Miller and standout corner Chris Harris Jr. Throw in Chubb, and the Broncos could be warming up to do damage on that side of the ball in 2018.