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

The NFL’s offseason schedule rolls on this week with three-day minicamps, which start Tuesday for 10 teams. The remaining 22 teams will continue with organized team activities before holding their minicamps next week.

Offseason meetings and on-field sessions are voluntary until minicamp. But now comes the mandatory work period, and that means teams can fine players who elect not to attend.

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

Here are some of the top storylines to follow around the league as minicamps get underway.

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Will contract disputes lead to holdouts?

The Vikings on Monday gave Justin Jefferson a mammoth new deal, and the Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle got a contract extension worth nearly $85 million last week, but other talented wideouts are still awaiting their big pay days. The 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk, Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb and Broncos’ Courtland Sutton may hold out from minicamp because of it. They may not be alone, because Bengals wide 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 multiyear extension similar to Waddle’s. Higgins requested a trade as he enters the final year of his rookie deal, but the Bengals have refused thus far.

Meanwhile, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa wants an extension, too, but has attended portions of the voluntary workouts. Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, also desiring an extension, has skipped OTAs.

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New coaching regimes

Seven teams hired new head coaches this offseason, and an eighth (the Raiders) elevated their interim, Antonio Pierce, to the full-time job. 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) meet with their new teams in full. The same goes for the 15 new offensive coordinators and 16 new defensive coordinators. These minicamp practices give coaches and assistants valuable opportunities to teach their systems to players as they better familiarize themselves with their rosters in advance of training camp position battles.

Early QB competitions

At least five teams — and maybe six — figure to have 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 all must settle on starters. The position battles may not begin in earnest until training camp, but don’t think that Aidan O’Connell and Gardner Minshew (Raiders), Jacoby Brissett and Drake Maye (Patriots), J.J. McCarthy and Sam Darnold (Vikings), Daniel Jones and Drew Lock (Giants) will wait until July to attempt to separate themselves from their counterparts with each minicamp rep and throw.

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


Aaron Rodgers is back on the field with the Jets after last year’s Week 1 season-ending Achilles injury. (Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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

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 get in some work in various capacities at minicamp. Browns running back Nick Chubb and Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, who both suffered ACL tears, are among the high-profile non-quarterbacks still working their way back to full strength.

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Familiar faces in new places

Some of the game’s most recognizable players changed addresses this offseason. 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 with the Titans, and the Steelers acquired both Russell Wilson and Justin Fields. With a few OTA sessions now under their belts, they should be gaining a good understanding of their roles with their new teams and can continue to show at minicamp what they’re capable of.


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

How do the rookies hold 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-squad on-field work, and in some cases, their first real tests against veteran competition. The rookies should be starting to gain familiarity with their playbooks, but the education process remains ongoing. The learning will extend through training camp, but the goal is to come out of minicamp with a good base so they are ready to compete in July.

Special teams experimentation

The NFL’s owners agreed to dramatic changes to the kickoff format this offseason. The modification calls for all players on the kicking team to line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line while the receiving team lines nine players up 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 defenders won’t be permitted to move until the ball hits the ground in the “landing zone” — inside the receiving team’s 20-yard line. If the ball hits short of the landing zone, it would be moved to the receiving team’s 40-yard line just as if a kickoff sails out of bounds. Touchbacks would call for the ball to be moved to the receiving team’s 30.

Minicamp will provide the first extended opportunity for NFL players to learn from their coordinators how to line up and execute the modified play, though some teams started experimenting during OTAs.

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

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