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Opinion: 10 pressure-packed situations with NFL training camps just weeks away

·5 min read
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In just three short weeks, the NFL’s offseason will have officially come to an end as training camps kick off league-wide.

A year of change awaits. The preseason has been cut from four games to three. The regular season expands from 16 games to 17.

But as always, each season brings great intrigue and intense pressure. If expectations aren’t met, heads could roll and more changes could follow.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most pressure-packed situations across the league with 2021 training camps looming.

Green Bay's standoff with Aaron Rodgers

Here we are, weeks away from their return to the field, and the Packers still have the same uncertainty looming over their quarterback situation. Rodgers has provided little clarity — at least publicly — on his plans. The team hasn’t made changes to the front office (a great source of Rodgers’ dissatisfaction). The sides haven’t hammered out a rich, new contract extension. And on Tuesday, Rodgers dodged questions about his plans for training camp, saying during his made-for-TV golf match, “I don’t know. … we’ll see,” when asked about a Green Bay return. Time is running out for the Packers and Rodgers to reconcile and position themselves for another run at a Super Bowl. Could the reigning MVP be a no-show on Day 1 of camp?

Seahawks' relationship with Russell Wilson

The frustration that led many to believe Wilson wanted a trade this offseason has died down. Wilson attended offseason workouts and is ready to go. For now. It’s imperative the Seahawks do everything they can to make him feel supported, and his relationship with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is extremely important. Seattle must do everything possible to maximize Wilson’s talent this season; otherwise, he could officially demand a trade next offseason.

Matt Nagy's job security

Entering the fourth season on a five-year contract, the Chicago Bears’ head coach has to lead his team to greater success. After a 12-4 rookie campaign, his Bears have gone 8-8 in back-to-back seasons. He eked out a playoff appearance last season despite the lack of a winning record, but Nagy and the Bears as a whole have failed to meet expectations. He's starting over at quarterback, tabbing Andy Dalton as starter ahead of first-round pick Justin Fields. The Bears have an eye on the future but must win now.

Daniel Jones' growth

The quarterback has just as many questions surrounding him entering Year 3 as he did when the Giants drafted him sixth overall in 2019. In 21 games, Jones has committed 36 turnovers while throwing for just 35 touchdowns and posting an 8-18 record. Head coach Joe Judge sparked improvement in many areas for the Giants during his rookie campaign, but quarterback didn’t rank among them. A healthy Saquon Barkley could help Jones, and the Giants hope additions at wideout will lighten his load. But if the inconsistencies continue this season, New York could consider starting over at QB again in 2022.

Jon Gruden's comeback

Yes, he has an insanely long contract (10 years, $100 million), but Gruden has not yet made the Las Vegas Raiders winners again. In three seasons, he owns a 19-29 record with no playoff appearances, and the pressure is on. Gruden isn’t the only one feeling it. Quarterback Derek Carr has struggled and faces great uncertainty as he enters the next-to-last season on his contract, and has Marcus Mariota looking over his shoulder.

Cam Newton's quest for redemption

Patriots coach Bill Belichick stuck with Newton despite his disappointing first season in New England. The quarterback hopes that familiarity and health breeds success, and that he can put his team back in contention. However, the former league MVP could find himself on a short leash. New England drafted Alabama’s Mac Jones 15th overall this year, and if Newton struggles, Patriots coaches could elect to build for the future.

Kliff Kingsbury's legitimacy

The Arizona Cardinals viewed Kingsbury as the next young offensive innovator to take the league by storm as head coach. However, Kingsbury and his teams have struggled his first two seasons. The Cardinals did improve from a 5-10-1 2019 record, going 8-8 last season. But a 3-5 collapse in the second half of the season was troubling, and this season, Kingsbury must take the Cardinals to the next level.

Jameis Winston's rebound

After the Buccaneers went with Tom Brady over Winston (the first pick of the 2015 draft), the quarterback chose to sign with New Orleans as one of Drew Brees’ backups. He described the chance to learn from Brees and coach Sean Payton as receiving “a Harvard education in quarterback school.” Now, Brees has retired and Winston aims to prove he can succeed the future Hall of Famer. He is competing with jack-of-all-trades QB Taysom Hill for the starting job. Winston certainly has a big arm and can rack up the passing yards. He’ll have to prove he has fixed his fatal flaw: rampant interceptions.

Mike McCarthy in Big D

When he brought McCarthy to Dallas last offseason, Jerry Jones thought the former Packers coach would ensure the roster he saw as Super Bowl ready would reach its full potential. But McCarthy’s return to the sideline was a disaster, and not just because of Dak Prescott’s injury. His units looked ill-prepared, and the defense gave up yards and points at a mind-boggling rate. Jones displayed great patience with former coach Jason Garrett. He likely will not be as forgiving with McCarthy. A quick rebound from the 6-10 2020 campaign is a must.

Big Ben's last shot

The Steelers experienced a colossal disappointment after opening the year with an 11-0 record, then losing four of their last five and falling at home in the playoffs to Cleveland. Ben Roethlisberger could have opted for retirement but badly wanted one more crack at a Super Bowl run. So the 39-year-old reworked his massive contract and must take advantage of a retooled offensive line and aggressive defense.

Follow USA TODAY Sports NFL columnist Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Aaron Rodgers and Packers, Matt Nagy, Daniel Jones all under pressure