Opinion: QB conflicts, vaccination rates among NFL’s biggest questions before training camps

As minicamps and workout programs across the NFL conclude this week, teams will transition to that dead period of the offseason. Facilities largely will go dark, and many players will scatter to their hometowns or vacation destinations before the start of training camps in the final week of July.

However, a number of pressing matters remain unresolved on various fronts. 

Contract statuses, player turmoil and health and safety issues continue to command the attention of various teams. 

Here are five of the biggest questions still looming over the NFL with training camp just more than a month away. 

How will Aaron Rodgers-Packers standoff end?

As he remains at odds with his team, the reigning MVP is, in his words, enjoying his offseason devoid of responsibility. That included not reporting for mandatory minicamp, even if it did mean risking incurring more than $90,000 in fines. 

But as Rodgers remains away while taking occasional shots at his team without directly or fully discussing his dissatisfaction, everyone from his head coach to the team president remained adamant that the Packers remain committed to the quarterback. They insist that they will not trade him. 

No one knows if Rodgers plans on rolling into training camp like nothing ever happened. But that seems unlikely. The Packers seemingly will have to do more than just say all of the right things in news conferences to heal the rift between the front office and their most important player. A contract modification or extension? Future promises? Firings? Rodgers has remained vague on what it would take to resolve the issue.

Tom Brady’s advice for Aaron Rodgers on current Packers situation

Green Bay brass would do well to arrange one or multiple face-to-face meetings with Rodgers. Time remains on their side, but the next month will move quickly.

Will Deshaun Watson play in 2021? If so, where?

The Houston Texans remain in limbo with Deshaun Watson mired in the legal battle involving 22 massage therapists who have sued him for alleged sexual misconduct. The quarterback also has made it clear he has no desire to play for the team.

Houston police continue their now two-month-long investigation, and there’s no indication when a determination will be made on whether criminal charges will be leveled against the quarterback.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson could face discipline from the NFL.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson could face discipline from the NFL.
Carmen Mandato, Getty Images

Regardless of how the legal process plays out, Watson faces the possibility of disciplinary action from the NFL. There’s a good chance that Watson opens the year on the commissioner’s exempt list.

Even if the Texans, who signed Tyrod Taylor and drafted Stanford’s Davis Mills, decide to move on from Watson, finding a trade partner and determining an asking price is difficult with so much uncertainty looming over the quarterback.

Will more QBs get paid?

Dak Prescott was the latest quarterback to sign a massive deal, landing a four-year, $160 million contract from the Dallas Cowboys that put him in the same neighborhood as Patrick Mahomes and Watson in the ranks of the highest-paid players at the position. They soon could have more company as Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield all are now eligible to receive long-term extensions.

Jackson’s chances of securing a sizable payday in the near future so seem very good. He told reporters he’s not thinking about his extension. His coach, John Harbaugh said, “He’s going to get paid.” 

The 2019 MVP could very well land a contract in the neighborhood of Mahomes’ 10-year, $450 million pact. 

Meanwhile, Allen, coming off of a Pro Bowl appearance, a divisional title and two playoff victories, also seems like a strong candidate to land a contract extension. Will it happen before training camp though? GM Brandon Beane says he wants to knock out the deal sooner than later.

Mayfield’s situation isn’t as straightforward. He hasn’t experienced the same kind of success as his 2018 draft classmates. The Browns could opt to let Mayfield play another year or two – the team exercised his fifth-year option in April – to ensure he takes a leap forward before they make such a hefty financial commitment.

Will these stars get comebacks on track by start of camp?

Prescott has had an encouraging offseason and has declared that his rehabilitation from the season-ending fracture and dislocation of his right ankle has progressed to the point where he feels like he could play in a game. All signs point to him being a full go around the time the Cowboys open training camp in Oxnard, California, next month. During offseason practices, Prescott did all quarterback drills and 7-on-7 action but didn’t take part in 11-on-11 drills.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers feel optimistic that top pass-rusher Nick Bosa will have completed his recovery from the season-ending torn ACL around the start of camp as well. Bosa racked up nine sacks as a rookie in 2019, and his absence greatly hindered the Niners defense last season. A healthy return could put this unit back among the best in the league.

Another team patiently waiting for the healthy return of their brightest star: the Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Joe Burrow continues to work his way back from the knee injury that cut his rookie campaign short. Burrow said recently that his surgically repaired left knee is about 85% healed and that he anticipated being limited at the start of camp. 

Will teams’ vaccination rates improve by training camp?

Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association have strongly urged players to receive COVID-19 vaccinations to help the 2021 season run smoothly and without interruption due to a resurgence of cases. However, not everyone is on board with the vaccinations. While some teams are approaching vaccination rates of 75% or better, other locker rooms remain far below that mark as several players share concerns about the vaccine. 

The NFL and NFLPA this week laid out guidelines that heavily incentivize vaccinations. Players with vaccinations essentially can operate and live their lives without limitations while unvaccinated players will have to adhere to strict protocols, including daily testing, just as they did last season. 

League officials continue to urge coaches to educate and impress upon their players the benefits of receiving the vaccination. NFLPA officials continue to share as much information as possible with the players as well. 

It remains to be seen if the majority of skeptical players will reverse course after seeing the rigid guidelines laid out for them.

Follow USA TODAY Sports NFL columnist Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.  

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