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Preseason Week 3 winners/losers: Odell Beckham gets paid

Odell Beckham landing a long-term contract extension with the Giants should not be a surprise. The fact that it came together so quietly -- after a remarkably understated training camp for OBJ -- was a nice change of pace.

Beckham is one of the most productive and talented receivers to enter the league this century. In today's NFL, with an ever-expanding salary cap, smart teams don't let players on an early track for Canton get away. The fractured ankle that sent Beckham to injured reserve last October made negotiations more complicated, but perhaps it also helped to get a deal done.

The Giants' disastrous 2017 season resulted in the team hiring a new coach, and Pat Shurmur prioritized creating a strong relationship with Beckham. Beckham was given a fresh voice to listen to and a glimpse at his football mortality, while hitting every checkpoint in his rehabilitation on the way to this new deal, which averages $20 million over the first three years, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

(For anyone freaking out over the amount, contracts for great players always go up. That's just what they do. Julio Jones is next.)

It feels like a long time ago that Beckham was sparking trade interest in March and April. Back then, someone from the Giants told NFL Network's Mike Garafolo that the reports were a good thing, something that would get Beckham's attention and remind him that the team had a "breaking point" with its tolerance for off-field storylines. General manager Dave Gettleman wouldn't promise that Beckham would be on the 2018 roster.

Beckham wasn't the only member of the Giants' receiver group to land on this supersized list of winners and losers following the third week of the preseason. Let's do this:

Going up

Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants: While Beckham waited for his deal to be finished, Shepard and Eli Manning further refined their growing connection against the Jets. Manning and Shepard looked sharp in Shurmur's system, with Shepard a serious fantasy value pick and dark horse to lead the Giants in receptions. It's all love right now in the team's receiver room:

Randy Gregory, DE, Dallas Cowboys: He's quietly one of the most intriguing stories of the preseason. After suiting up for only two games and barely practicing since 2015 because of suspensions, Gregory is back in the starting lineup and looking like a difference maker. He wasn't even fully practicing until mid-August, but he's shown off a more mature game in an admittedly tiny sample size. His potential emergence could highlight a strange cosmos where the Cowboys defense has more firepower than the offense.

Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns: If the Browns are the new version of America's Team, Garrett should be America's Pass Rusher. All signs point to a standout second season for the ferocious poet.

Michael Dickson, P, Seattle Seahawks: If you haven't heard of Dickson yet, just wait for Seahawks Twitter to tell you all aboutPunter Jesus.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Carolina Panthers: It's not too late for a breakout season. With Thomas Davis serving a four-game suspension to start the season, Thompson, entering his fourth NFL season, will play a bigger role than ever next to Luke Kuechly. An incredibly impressive preseason indicates he's ready for his close-up.

Seattle Seahawks offensive line: Addition by subtraction. That's the best argument for the potential improvement of Seattle's long-running nightmare unit. By removing offensive line coach Tom Cable and replacing him with veteran coach Mike Solari, perhaps all the highly drafted Seahawks linemen of the last few years will perform at a mediocre level -- which would be a huge step up. That's how the group looked overall in three preseason outings. It was better than that against Minnesota over the weekend.

"I had all day today," Russell Wilson beamed afterward, clearly surprised by the time he had in the pocket.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings: There wasn't much to draw from Cook's two short-yardage carries in his return to the field against Seattle on Friday, although he showed impressive power fighting through a tackle to pick up a first down. The bigger story was just that Cook was on the field again, then back at practice Sunday. His September role might gradually increase, with the Vikings boasting plenty of depth at the position, between Latavius Murray and undrafted standouts Mike Boone and Roc Thomas.

Jordan Mailata, OT, Philadelphia Eagles: Mailata's first organized football game at any level came in the preseason opener. The former Australian rugby player has already made huge strides at age 21, probably showing too much potential in his preseason work for the Eagles to risk exposing the seventh-round pick to waivers. After getting the Baldy Breakdown seal of approval, Mailata is starting to look like the latest example of the NFL's growing international reach.

Phillip Dorsett, WR, New England Patriots: The former first-round bust of the Colts has outlasted Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, Eric Decker and Jordan Matthews. He's going to start Week 1 and is finally earning Tom Brady's trust after four grabs during the Patriots' third preseason game.

Cincinnati Bengals defensive line: I didn't need to see Geno Atkins, Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson, Carlos Dunlap and Andrew Billings treat the Bills' offensive line like rag dolls to believe that this Bengals defensive line was audacious. But it was a nice reminder.

Nathan Peterman, QB, Buffalo Bills: It has sounded all along like coach Sean McDermott wanted a reason to start Peterman in Week 1. Peterman gave him statistical backing all month, completing 33 of 41 passes for 431 yards, three touchdowns and an interception that bounced off the intended receiver's chest. Josh Allen's rough time behind a hapless offensive line Sunday could delay his first NFL start, even if it was hardly all his fault.

Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers rookie defenders: All the focus on Jon Gruden's offense has obscured an extremely impressive preseason by the Raiders' gang of boom-or-bust draft picks. Veteran defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said defensive end Arden Key was as polished a rookie as he's ever seen. Rookie defensive tackles P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst have both made plays throughout the preseason. That's a lot of beef to add up front in one draft class.

Further down the California coast, Chargers safety Derwin James started for the first time and authored a fancy interception of Drew Brees. Fourth-round linebacker Kyzir White has drawn buzz all camp and is in line to start, while second-round pick Uchenna Nwosu is set to be a sub-package edge rusher -- and he could be starting sooner than later, too.

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: After looking a step slow as a rookie, Conner is no longer playing with hesitation in Year 2. His three-down skill set should allow the Pittsburgh coaches to ease Le'Veon Bell back into the lineup once he reports to the team, saving wear and tear on Bell's body for the stretch run.

Alfred Morris, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Morris went from the waiver wire to the starting lineup in less than two weeks. The signing was due to injuries to Jerick McKinnon (calf) and Matt Breida (shoulder), but Morris' knowledge of Kyle Shanahan's system (from their time together in Washington) could provide staying power. After a rugged 84-yard performance against the Colts, it's worth wondering if Morris will wind up starting some games during the regular season, too. He played much better last season in Dallas than he was given credit for, breaking a lot of tackles along the way.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: He was the immediate beneficiary of the knee injury to teammate Marqise Lee, catching three passes for 62 yards after Lee was carted off the field. With the news Monday that Lee will undergo season-ending knee surgery, the Jaguars have no choice at this point but to lean on Moncrief for production despite a rocky offseason.

A tough week for ...

The concept of Preseason Week 3 as a "dress rehearsal": National audiences watched Cooper Rush start at quarterback for the Cowboys and Chase Daniel start for the Bears. The Eagles didn't suit up their top three running backs or top three receivers. Rams coach Sean McVay hasn't played his offensive starters the entire preseason. Aaron Rodgers sat this week. So did Joe Flacco. Even when the starters did play, like in Saints-Chargers, they were removed early in the second quarter, if not earlier.

NFL coaches are forcing Commissioner Roger Goodell's hand about shortening the preseason. Either there needs to be fewer games or teams need to create far cheaper and more flexible ticket-pricing plans. (Preferably both.)

Nick Foles' confidence: Foles' wayward passes against the Patriots in Preseason Week 2 felt like a blip on the radar at the time. But after three ugly turnovers against the Browns on Thursday, this is officially a thing. There are a million ways that defending a title can be difficult, including all the injury recoveries for Eagles players this offseason that threaten their health for Week 1. Another way would be if a quarterback whose career has been defined by wild up-and-down swings fails to recapture the magic that made him a Super Bowl MVP after one life-changing month. Foles has to show he can handle what comes next. With Carson Wentz still not cleared for contact, Foles is looking more likely every day to be the NFL Kickoff starter.

"This game sometimes, you sort of get entrapped in it, that's part of it," Foles said after his outing against Cleveland.

Kansas City Chiefs defense:It's only the preseason, but ... the Chiefs' defense was the single most consistently overmatched unit I watched all month. I felt that way even before Chase Daniel and the backup Bears offense carved them up for three consecutive touchdown drives. This was not a one-week problem. The secondary appears to be a mess, especially with Eric Berry missing the preseason with a sore heel coming off the torn Achilles' tendon he suffered last year.

Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears: Missing all of training camp can have repercussions even after a player returns to the field. Bears No. 8 overall pick Roquan Smith has missed most of the last three practices with hamstring tightness and wasn't able to play in Chicago's preseason game over the weekend. He's only fully practiced three times since his holdout ended Aug. 13. These soft-tissue injuries are a plague for players trying to make up for lost time, with Browns receiver Josh Gordon also dealing with a hamstring injury after his extended absence. It's unrealistic to expect either player to make a big impact in Week 1.

Cameron Meredith, WR, New Orleans Saints: The team's restricted free agent pickup has been slow to pick up the Saints' offense. Coach Sean Payton said the receiver depth chart is "written in chalk" and Meredith playing the fourth quarter of the team's preseason game is a sign he could have snaps erased early in the season.

Dallas Cowboys safeties: One week after the Cowboys lost starter Xavier Woods to a hamstring injury that could jeopardize his status for Week 1, Woods' replacement Kavon Frazier hurt his shoulder. It's almost as if the Football Gods are trying to tell owner Jerry Jones to acquire a certain future Hall of Fame safety in Seattle who wants to play in Dallas.

The New York Jets pass rush: The Jets made the Giants offensive line look like the Seven Blocks of Granite come back to life. The team is rotating Jordan Jenkins, Josh Martin, Brandon Copeland and Frankie Luvu at outside linebacker, four players who might struggle to make most other rosters.

"It's a position that, again, we're looking at," Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan told ESPN radio earlier this month.

Maccagnan could not have orchestrated his quarterback situation better this offseason, yet the team's roster holes on the offensive line and on the edge could still sink coach Todd Bowles' season.

Andrew Luck's pass protection:Colts right tackle Austin Howard was benched after only three snaps on Saturday, the final two of which had running back Jordan Wilkins walloped in the backfield, then Luck pinballing between three different 49ers defenders. The Indianapolis Star believes Howard is already out of the picture despite receiving a $1.3 million signing bonus in the offseason.

Denzelle Good, the best candidate to replace Howard, is now week-to-week after suffering a knee injury. Starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo has barely seen the field the entire offseason, yet the team swears he'll be fine for Week 1. It's as if nothing changed at all since Luck last played.

High-profile backup-quarterback jobs: We are less than two weeks away from the season starting, and Old Dominion product Taylor Heinicke appears to be the favorite to back up Cam Newton in Carolina. Seventh-round rookie Alex McGough from Florida International could be the backup to Russell Wilson over Austin Davis, although who really can tell?

Rams backup Sean Mannion has not earned confidence this preseason, while the Cowboys are one play away from Cooper Rush starting at quarterback all season. Jon Gruden admitted out loud he doesn't know if he has his backup quarterback on the roster after Connor Cook struggled against the Packers. This contagion only threatens to spread further.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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