The Atlanta Falcons open training camp on July 26 at their home practice facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Here's a closer look at the Falcons' camp:
Top storyline: There's no bigger storyline than the status of top wide receiver Julio Jones, who stayed away from offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp because of a contract dispute and is set to skip the start of training camp, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Jones has three years and almost $35 million left on the five-year, $71.25 million contract extension he signed in August 2015, an extension that included $47 million guaranteed. Yes, the Falcons typically don't reward players with new contracts until they're at least entering the final year of their deals, but this would appear to be a different case with arguably the league's best receiver. Satisfying Jones now by shuffling money in his current contract or adding incentives wouldn't be too far-fetched. However, Jones waiting until next year and until after Odell Beckham Jr. gets paid would seem to be a wise move from his side. If Jones opts for an extended holdout, it will be interesting to see how it affects a locker room expecting to make another Super Bowl run. Jones, looking for his fifth consecutive season of 1,400-plus receiving yards, means everything to the Falcons' offense, which could return to dominance in the second year under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
QB depth chart: Matt Ryan, the 2016 MVP, is now the league's highest-paid player after signing a five-year, $150 million extension that included $100 million guaranteed. Expect Ryan to take all the snaps, just like he did last season. Ryan, 33, has shown excellent durability, having not missed a game since turf toe sidelined him during the 2009 season. Behind Ryan, the Falcons have veteran Matt Schaub, who turned 37 in June. Schaub is set to make $3.25 million in the final year of his contract, so releasing him would save that much against the cap. But unless undrafted rookie Kurt Benkert steps up and beats out his fellow Virginia Cavalier, expect Schaub to back up Ryan once again.
Bubble watch: The Falcons asked a pair of veteran players to accept pay cuts -- offensive guard Andy Levitre and defensive end Brooks Reed. Levitre, penciled in as the starting left guard, was limited during the offseason while recovering from triceps and knee injuries. If his body doesn't heal, the Falcons might have to proceed with Ben Garland or Wes Schweitzer at left guard with Brandon Fusco on the right. Levitre is due $4.5 million in the final year of his deal and carries a cap figure of $5.875 million. Reed will make $3 million and count $3.94 million against the cap. Reed's teammates have praised him for his relentless effort and consistent ability to set the edge.
This rookie could start: First-round pick Calvin Ridley has all the tools to be an immediate contributor. He can line up outside opposite Jones and be an instant threat. When the Falcons took the field for their two postseason games last season, they started Jones and Mohamed Sanu at receiver with 11 personnel: two tight ends, two receivers. So, it will all depend on the alignment, but expect Ridley to be on the field a lot. He's a fluid route runner with great speed and the ability to establish separation. "He's the real deal. And he's a good person. He's not walking around like he thinks he's hot s---. He's walking around like a really good dude," Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said of Ridley. Keep an eye on second-round pick Isaiah Oliver, too, a cornerback who's already shown great ball skills playing outside, according to his teammates.
In the running: With all the talk about Jones, Ridley, Ryan and the passing game, let's not forget the Falcons have a pretty dynamic running back duo with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman wasn't happy with his performance last season, which included playing through a severe knee injury late in the season. He visited the doctor after minicamp and received full clearance. Freeman and Coleman have combined for 55 total touchdowns since 2015. They are threats in the passing game as well and could thrive even more as runners if the line comes together and if Sarkisian finds a reliable blocking fullback to sprinkle in every once in a while.
On the defensive: The Falcons have the talent and confidence to evolve into one of the league's top defensive units after finishing in the top 10 in both total defense and scoring defense a year ago. Led by 2017 Pro Bowlers Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, the Falcons have as much speed as any defense around. And if they get former sack champ Vic Beasley and cornerback Desmond Trufant playing back at Pro Bowl levels, they really could be dangerous. The biggest concern is on the interior of the defensive line next to rising star Grady Jarrett, where newcomer Terrell McClain hopes to hold it down. The most significant emphasis for the entire unit is creating more turnovers after just 16 takeaways in '17, which ranked tied for 27th in the league.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Atlanta Falcons clubhouse page.