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2020 NFL Preview: 10 brewing controversies, including issues for Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott

·6 min read
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Let’s make this a COVID-19-free list.

We all know how the pandemic could affect NFL teams and games. We have seen all the issues in Major League Baseball. We have heard about the NFL season amid coronavirus for months. We can all agree that any potential controversy this season is first and foremost related to COVID-19 and the endless ways it could affect the season.

Let’s look at everything unrelated to the pandemic that could create uncomfortable headlines in the NFL this season. We like drama, and these are 10 brewing controversies we could see blow up in 2020:

10. Derek Carr looking over his shoulder at Marcus Mariota

People have been trying to bench Derek Carr for a long time, but the Las Vegas Raiders don’t have another option. When the Raiders signed Mariota, who was a favorite of general manager Mike Mayock coming out of the University of Oregon, it gave the Raiders a notable name behind Carr. Mariota might be broken; his play with the Tennessee Titans rapidly eroded. But Carr is just one of those players everyone can’t wait to move on from, and if he falters there will be calls for Mariota.

9. Deshaun Watson without DeAndre Hopkins

Deshaun Watson is probably staying with the Houston Texans because it’s risky to play the franchise tag game like Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott. Still, you have to wonder how Watson feels about the team’s path. Last season Texans coach Bill O’Brien made a flurry of odd moves, including trading Jadeveon Clowney and giving up a lot of draft picks to get offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. The trade of DeAndre Hopkins shocked the NFL world and it couldn’t have been happy news for Watson. He isn’t the type to rip his team, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he has concerns.

8. Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook contracts

Once Joe Mixon reached a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, attention turned to Kamara and Cook. Kamara sat out practices with the New Orleans Saints, reportedly over contract negotiations. Cook has also been seeking a new deal, though that money might have gone to Yannick Ngakoue when the Minnesota Vikings traded for the disgruntled Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher. Neither player will be happy entering the season without an extension, though they might not have a ton of leverage either. We’ll see if the unhappiness gets settled or pops up again during the season.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 09: Joe Judge talks after being introduced introduced as the new head coach of the New York Giants during a news conference at MetLife Stadium on January 9, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Joe Judge talks after being introduced as head coach of the New York Giants during a news conference at MetLife Stadium on Jan. 9, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

7. Joe Judge’s unique approach

Judge has done some unconventional things as the New York Giants’ new head coach, from not saying the players’ names for months after he got the job to taping tennis balls to defensive backs’ hands to keep them from holding in practice. There are only two ways this goes: Judge wins and he’s hailed as a creative genius, or he loses and his high-school methods get run out of the NFL fast. Fair or not, certain methods don’t play with grown men and the only way to win them over is to have success in a hurry. The Giants have a very tough early season schedule and if they start poorly you might hear some grumbling out of the locker room, which is what happened to another former Patriots assistant who is keen on goofy practice methods ...

6. Matt Patricia’s hot-seat season

The Detroit Lions could be a surprise team. There’s plenty of talent. But through two seasons, Patricia has generally been known for two things: Losing a lot of games and alienating his players. Many Lions who have left have been critical of Patricia. If the Lions get off to a bad start, and the negative stories start coming out of the Detroit locker room again, the team will have to consider if they have the right head coach in place.

5. Drew Brees and the Saints’ locker room

Give the New Orleans Saints credit. They were angry at Brees for his stance on player demonstrations and let their frustration be known, but then seemingly worked on repairing the relationship behind closed doors. That doesn’t mean all of Brees’ teammates have forgiven and forgotten. And all eyes will be on Brees to see how he reacts to any plans his teammates have to bring attention to racial injustice before or during games. It could still be an issue for team chemistry.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) talks with Jameis Winston (2) during a practice. (David Grunfeld/The Advocate via AP, Pool)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) talks with Jameis Winston (2) during a practice. (David Grunfeld/The Advocate via AP, Pool)

4. Adam Gase against Le’Veon Bell, and everyone else

Gase hasn’t endeared himself to the New York Jets. He’s chippy with the media. He seems to turn players off. And his feud with Bell is becoming ridiculous. Gase didn’t agree with the decision to sign Bell to a large deal and it seems he has let that affect his coaching decisions. The latest issue, when Bell disputed that his hamstrings hurt when he was limited in practice and wondered why he wasn’t getting more reps, was not a good sign for this season.

3. Dak Prescott and his one-year deal

Given what the Dallas Cowboys have on offense, it’s hard to envision Prescott not putting up big numbers. And with every touchdown and 300-yard game, Prescott’s contract situation will be brought up. He’s on the one-year franchise tag, and next season the tag would be about $37 million. It’s a fascinating contract situation and one that will be tracked all season.

2. Anything related to the Washington Football Team

It’s not like the rest of the NFL can’t figure out it would be better off if Daniel Snyder sold the Washington Football Team. But it’s not so easy to dump a bad franchise owner. The seemingly endless controversies in Washington keep piling up, and the results of the NFL’s investigation will presumably result in punishment. And with many female ex-employees coming forward, who knows what’s next? This story is far from over and it has the potential to lead to some huge changes.

1. Aaron Rodgers’ discontent

Rodgers says he’ll be a good teammate to Jordan Love, the Green Bay Packers’ first-round draft pick who will presumably replace Rodgers in the next couple years. And while that could be true, it doesn’t mean Rodgers will be happy with the team itself. You can understand why Rodgers would be miffed. The Packers were close to a Super Bowl last season and then had a baffling offseason, highlighted by trading up to take a quarterback when many talented receivers were on the board. Rodgers doesn’t mind sharing his displeasure, and we could hear about it if this season doesn’t go smoothly.

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