The top 10 storylines for what could be a wild, weird, historic NFL offseason
Usually, NFL offseasons are a disappointment. Teams are smart about locking up their own potential free agents. The franchise tag takes plenty of great players off the market. Attractive quarterbacks are almost never available.
That’s why this offseason seems much different.
Some players who can become free agents next month will be re-signed or given the franchise tag, and some quarterbacks will stay put after a lot of breathless speculation. So it might not be the crazy offseason it could be. But it has the potential to get wilder than any offseason in recent memory.
So buckle up, and let’s take a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines for the offseason. While this look has plenty of quarterback talk, take a full look at the potential movement at quarterback around the NFL this offseason to get an idea how wacky things might get.
Where will Tom Brady go?
Everyone outside of New England has some Patriots fatigue. And none of those people want to see the Patriots’ dynasty continue. So this weird Brady uncertainty might matter to people in much different ways.
But make no mistake, this is the story we’ll remember years from now.
We never forget when iconic players switch teams late in their careers, whether it’s Willie Mays to the Mets or Michael Jordan to the Wizards or Joe Montana to the Chiefs. There would be something bizarre about seeing Brady with the Raiders, Chargers or anyone other than the Patriots. It would be captivating to watch the Patriots try and replace Brady, especially since there’s no easy answer for that at the moment.
If Brady stays with New England, it won’t have the longstanding impact as Brady switching teams at age 43. And if Brady does switch teams, we’ll still be talking about it decades from now.
What becomes of Jameis Winston?
Winston is perhaps the most perplexing player in the NFL.
He’s 26 years old, a former No. 1 overall pick and his 5,108 yards last season ranks eighth in NFL history. He also posted the first 30-interception season since 1988, and his turnovers are a chronic problem. After five seasons as a starter, it’s hard to believe that changes.
So who is Winston? Is he the type of player a franchise wants to pay as a top-end quarterback? You can find any stat you want to argue your Winston case, good or bad. In some categories he ranks favorably with some of the greatest quarterbacks ever through five years. Yet we all know the downside.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to be wrestling with the decision. If Winston hits the open market, his free agency will be unpredictable and fascinating.
Can the Cowboys keep everyone happy?
Dak Prescott needs to get paid. Dallas probably isn’t letting Amari Cooper walk, because that’s not what Jerry Jones does. Defensive back Byron Jones doesn’t get the headlines of the other two, but he’s an important free agent too.
The Cowboys have a new coach, Mike McCarthy, but we don’t know what the roster will look like yet. Clearly the most important piece is getting Prescott signed. He’ll get the franchise tag if he doesn’t sign an extension before March 10, but that wouldn’t solve the problem long term. And it’s hard to fit in contracts like Cooper or Jones before knowing what Prescott’s deal looks like.
The Cowboys have the talent for a nice bounce-back season, especially if Jason Garrett really was the problem and McCarthy is an upgrade. But there are a lot of important questions ahead.
Who will the Bengals take?
Joe Burrow seemed like a slam dunk as the Cincinnati Bengals’ No. 1 overall pick. He’s coming off perhaps the greatest season for a college quarterback, winning a Heisman Trophy and leading LSU to a national championship. And he was raised in Ohio.
But there seems to be some mystery around the pick. The Bengals coached Oregon’s Justin Herbert at the Senior Bowl and had great things to say about him. There is at least some question about Burrow’s desire to play for the Bengals.
It still seems likely that the speculation will be much ado about nothing and the Bengals land on Burrow. But there will be some interesting moments before then.
Shifting in the NFC North
If there’s one division that might have the most moving parts this offseason, it could be the NFC North.
While the Detroit Lions are probably not much of a threat until further notice, the plights of the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears are worth watching. The Vikings have the worst salary-cap situation in the league, so even though they’re coming off a good season, the roster could look much different next season. How they navigate shaving off some big contracts is the key to their offseason.
The Packers need to put almost all of their offseason capital into receiver. They desperately need someone to pair with Davante Adams. They made it to the NFC championship game with Allen Lazard being the second-best option for Aaron Rodgers, and upgrading the targets aside from Adams should be the only priority this offseason. Meanwhile, the Bears can’t feel great about quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, but will they have better options? Whether the Bears seriously pursue any of the available quarterbacks will be a big story this offseason.
Is Tua Tagovailoa healthy?
There was a positive report this week that all is well with Tagovailoa’s recovery from a bad hip injury. That’s all well and good, but it’s probably best to wait for NFL teams to check him out at the scouting combine before believing a sunny, anonymous report.
The medical reports on the Alabama quarterback are as important as any in recent memory, in regards to the NFL draft. If Tagovailoa can prove his hip injury will have no lingering effect, we need to remember that for a long time he seemed to be a lock as the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. If health isn’t a concern — though it’s hard to believe there won’t be any worries at all — then he’ll be a very high pick. The Bengals would have to at least consider him first overall. If there are issues, Tagovailoa becomes a very risky pick for team drafting early in the first round.
You’re going to hear a lot about Tagovailoa’s hip over the next couple months. His health and how it affects his stock could be the biggest story of this year’s draft.
New homes (and big splashes?) for three teams
The Chargers, Rams and Raiders will all be moving into nice new stadiums this season. The Raiders are moving to a whole new city, shifting from Oakland to Las Vegas.
The Rams probably don’t need to make a big headline as they move into their new palace, but the Chargers and Raiders probably do. The Chargers are virtually anonymous in Los Angeles, and that won’t change just because they’re moving into the Rams’ stadium. The Chargers moved on from Philip Rivers, so there’s an opportunity to swing big at quarterback, if an enticing option becomes available.
The Raiders will do fine in a new market, due to the novelty. But they don’t really have a marketable star as they move to a new market. Whose jersey will new Raiders fans buy, Darren Waller? Derek Carr is the quarterback now but his job security has been a topic of conversation for a couple years. Whether at quarterback or another position, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raiders overpay for a star this offseason.
Will Derrick Henry be the rare running back to get paid?
Henry had an outstanding season and a great postseason for the Tennessee Titans. If he came along 20 years ago, he’d get a massive deal in free agency. Maybe make that 10 years ago.
But by now we all know how teams view running backs. And the rare long-term deals for backs are still bad investments, as seen with Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and arguably Ezekiel Elliott too. Now Henry, the 2019 NFL rushing champ, becomes the latest test as he hits free agency.
Henry doesn’t really fit the ideal of the modern back. He’s a big back — though a great big-play threat — who doesn’t catch the ball very often. But he’s excellent at what he does and showed last season he can carry an offense. He also logged more than 300 carries last season and that’s not a positive on the open market.
There are many free agents worth watching this offseason. But Henry’s contract will say a lot about an entire position.
Watch the Dolphins
The Dolphins will pick at No. 5, 18 and 26 in the first round. They have an extra second-round pick too. Using the old Jimmy Johnson point system, the Dolphins have the most draft capital in the NFL according to Tankathon.com.
So the Dolphins have the most draft capital, but who has the most salary-cap space? That would also be the Dolphins, at more than $89 million in effective cap space according to OverTheCap.com.
Miami can own this offseason. That hasn’t always worked out in the past. The Dolphins have made impulsive moves and it hasn’t gotten them any closer to a Super Bowl. This regime seems committed to building a strong foundation and not going for a quick fix.
Given the resources the Dolphins come into the offseason with, their plan will be interesting to watch unfold.
The Philip Rivers sweepstakes
Many of the potentially juicy stories involving quarterbacks could end up vanishing. Teams might fear the unknown at quarterback and decide to stick with the status quo; that’s what usually happens in the NFL. But at least one big name will be available.
The Chargers and Philip Rivers decided to part ways. That’s a major shift, considering Rivers had been the Chargers’ starting quarterback since 2006. Rivers never missed a game in that stretch.
Rivers’ play slipped last season, as he turned 38 years old. But some team will look at him and see him as a short-term upgrade at quarterback. We might not know Rivers’ landing spot until all the other quarterback dominoes fall, if they do.
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