Commentary

Jets, Bears, Raiders among teams with kettles steaming

Training camp has arrived, but not without its issues. John Clayton details the top controversies not involving Brett Favre or Chad Johnson.

Originally Published: July 21, 2008
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Chris Baker, Matt Jones, Brian UrlacherGetty ImagesJets tight end Chris Baker (left) and Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (right) have contract disputes they want settled, while Jaguars receiver Matt Jones (center) has legal issues to handle as the training camp potboilers begin.
Believe it or not, Brett Favre and Chad Johnson aren't the only NFL players in the news.

Training camp has arrived, but not without its issues. Some players are threatening holdouts. Others want to be traded. Labor issues overshadow the sport after owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement.

Here are the top brewing controversies heading into camp.

The 80-man roster: General managers and coaches have been mumbling about it for months. Sensing upcoming labor negotiations, owners, who sacked NFL Europe last year, went against the wishes of their front offices by keeping camp roster limits at 80 players. In the past, coaches used NFL Europe roster exemptions to bring seven to 10 additional players to camp. Thinner rosters mean lighter training camps and plenty of worry about injuries.

[+] EnlargeRheinfire fan
Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty ImagesWhen the NFL Europe dissolved, it affected more than this Rhein Fire fan. The roster exemptions that helped NFL teams survive training camp attrition went with it.

The Indianapolis Colts, for example, are expected to start camp with at least seven players on the physically unable to perform list, including stars such as Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders. Although those players are expected to be ready for the regular season, the Colts will have to go through camp with only 73 healthy players on the practice field.

The San Diego Chargers are expected to have a similar number of PUP players. A week or two into most camps, teams usually have six to 10 players on the sidelines nursing injuries. Each position will have extra reps to get through practices, and some veterans -- potentially starters -- might be asked to play more in preseason games. The 80-man roster already has shortened the pool of undrafted rookies. As of Saturday, 32 teams had only 322 undrafted rookies on rosters. That's about 10 per team, and more will be cut in the next few days. To make matters worse, owners kept the mandatory roster cutdown to 75 players after the third week of preseason games. By then, teams will be scrambling for healthy bodies.

Baker burning: The New York Jets face an important decision this week involving tight end Chris Baker. Baker has made it clear he wants out of New York. His agents, who represented guard Pete Kendall, could cause camp distractions if he isn't traded. Last year, Kendall wanted a $1 million raise to stay with the Jets. When management refused, he provoked enough distractions that the Jets eventually traded him to the Washington Redskins. His departure hurt the Jets' offensive line, but he became the missing piece on the Redskins' line. Eric Mangini doesn't need distractions as he heads into an important third season. He's working on building a more powerful running offense, and he must decide whether Chad Pennington or Kellen Clemens is the starting quarterback. The Baker saga doesn't need to linger.

Jones a "necessary" distraction? Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Matt Jones has been a disappointment on the field and now off the field. A former first-round choice drafted to create matchup problems against slot cornerbacks, Jones has lacked the work ethic and desire to develop into a dependable receiver. Recently, he was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine. Because Jerry Porter had hamstring surgery last week that will make him a scratch for four preseason games, Jones might have to stick around. Even though Troy Williamson, Reggie Williams, Dennis Northcutt, John Broussard and Mike Walker might be ahead of him, Jones might be needed to provide experienced depth. Many will be watching how the team handles the Jones situation in training camp.

Bills, Peters at crossroads: Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters has missed all offseason work with the Buffalo Bills while trying to get a new contract. Even though he has three years left on his current deal, Peters made the move last season to left tackle and helped turn what had been a horrible offensive line into a good one. Now, Peters could hold out and set back the progress of the line. He knew the Bills took care of defensive end Aaron Schobel with an extension, even though Schobel had three years left on his contract. How they handle this problem could determine whether the Bills can take the step from a seven-win team to a playoff team. They've dumped a lot of money into the offensive line and hope to develop QB Trent Edwards behind it. They can't afford a long holdout by Peters.

Strife of Brian: The Chicago Bears still haven't resolved the Brian Urlacher situation. Urlacher is the face of the Bears' defense, but he wants more money. They offered him a $5 million signing bonus and the chance to make another $1 million a year if he plays 85 percent of the downs, but he swatted that down like he would a wobbly pass over the middle. The Bears structured the recent deal with defensive end Tommie Harris to give them wiggle room in trying to make Urlacher the highest-paid Bears defender again. If that doesn't work, Urlacher could hold out, or if he shows up without a new deal, he might be a grumpy Bear. With the Bears set to emphasize the reconstruction of a low-scoring offense in camp, they don't need problems on defense.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin and Al Davis
Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesIn just his second year as Raiders head coach, Lane Kiffin (left) needs to stay on Al Davis' good side.

Hottest of hot seats: Lane Kiffin had a tough start to the offseason, when Oakland Raiders boss Al Davis debated whether he had the right man in charge of his franchise. Kiffin survived and Davis went on a spending spree, picking up Javon Walker, Gibril Wilson, DeAngelo Hall and others. Now Kiffin needs a good training camp to take this team to the next level. Last year, Kiffin built a strong running game, and the explosiveness of Darren McFadden should make that part of the offense more exciting. But Kiffin needs a good summer out of quarterback JaMarcus Russell. No coach is on a hotter seat than Kiffin. The Raiders' schedule is easy and should lead to a good start. A bad start could put his job in jeopardy.

Trouble on Eagles' horizon? It must worry the Philadelphia Eagles a little bit that their top running back, Brian Westbrook, changed agents this week after being unhappy with his contract the past year. The Eagles have been trying to deal with cornerback Lito Sheppard, who wants a trade because he could lose playing time to Asante Samuel. Sheppard changed agents this week, but no trade seems to be on the horizon. Andy Reid would like to have a peaceful camp. A Westbrook holdout could make the summer uncomfortable.

[+] EnlargeTerry Glenn and Terrell Owens
AP Photo/ John RussellHealthy, Terry Glenn (left) and Terrell Owens form a tremendous receiving tandem for the Cowboys. But Glenn's lingering injury issues make the Cowboys' receiving depth a major question.
A lot hinging on Glenn's knee: How Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones resolves the Terry Glenn contract could be a key to the summer. Glenn needs microfracture surgery but plans to play without it. The Cowboys want him to sign a waiver that gives them the right to buy out his $1.7 million salary if he hurts the knee again. The buyout is for about $500,000, but Glenn has said no. If the Cowboys cut Glenn, they'll be short on wide receivers.

If Terrell Owens suffers an injury during the season, the Cowboys could be in trouble. Patrick Crayton is a decent receiver, but he's more of a No. 3 than a No. 2. The team hopes Isaiah Stanback should develop into a receiving threat this summer, but Miles Austin and Sam Hurd are still unproven. If Glenn is gone, Jones must come up with another alternative, but that won't be easy.

The loyalty factor in the NFC West: Anquan Boldin of the Cardinals and Bobby Engram of the Seahawks are receivers who are also leaders on their teams. Both, however, are unhappy with their contracts. Boldin missed a good portion of the Cardinals' offseason work after teammate Larry Fitzgerald got a four-year, $40 million contract. Boldin, one of the best receivers in football, will make $2.5 million this year. Engram is coming off a 94-catch season and is making only $1.7 million. Both players have a chance to be holdouts, but the teams are counting on them to be leaders and show up and play. The hope is that at some point, they'll figure out their contract issues. Holdouts could be damaging to both teams.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer