The NFL’s offseason has arrived. The confetti is done falling on the New England Patriots’ fifth Super Bowl victory. The testimonials to the reaffirmed all-time greatness of quarterback Tom Brady have been made, and Coach Bill Belichick already has lamented that the Patriots are five weeks behind in their preparations for next season.
So it is, indeed, on to the 2017 season, for the Patriots and everyone else.
But first, there is offseason work to be done over the next seven months. There are plenty of intriguing issues to be resolved between now and next season’s opener to be held in Foxborough, Mass.
The fate of the Raiders
Just when it seemed that things were lining up for the owners of the 32 NFL teams to ratify the Raiders’ proposed move from Oakland to Las Vegas, the deal unraveled with the withdrawal of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Now it’s up to the Raiders and their owner, Mark Davis, to attempt to reassemble it.
Adelson was to provide $650 million toward the construction of the proposed $1.9 billion stadium in Vegas for the Raiders and the UNLV football team. There is $750 million of public funding in place and the Raiders are to provide $500 million. Investment banking firm Goldman Sachs reportedly no longer is an option to step in and provide the money that Adelson was to provide.
If Davis can put the stadium deal back together, the Raiders’ move to Vegas seemingly would have a good chance to get the 24 votes among the 32 owners necessary for approval. Wariness among the owners about the size of the Vegas market and about placing a team in the nation’s gambling capital appeared to have diminished in recent months.
“There is a great deal of work to be done and there are several elements of that,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week. “Financing of the stadium is just one. Obviously the stadium project itself, the depth of the market — all of those are things that we’ve studied over the last several months. But that will increase in intensity over the next month or so as we move forward in that process. … As it relates to whether gambling can coexist with the NFL — in fact, it does.
“It’s happening today. It’s sponsored by governments. It exists throughout our world. What we have always said is we need to make sure that there’s a fine line between team sports gambling and the NFL. We want to protect the integrity of our game.”
The owners meet in March in Phoenix at the annual league meeting. They meet again in May in Chicago. There is not extreme urgency to get the matter resolved, given that Davis already had planned to keep the franchise in Oakland while a new stadium in Vegas would be under construction. But if the Raiders are not going to be Vegas-bound, they must work toward a new-stadium solution in Oakland or toward a prospective move elsewhere. Their future cannot remain so unsettled indefinitely, can it?
The NFL Players Association’s board of player representatives meets in March in Scottsdale, Ariz. DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA’s executive director, has said the union’s leadership is preparing a proposal for consideration by the player reps that would lead to the sport’s drug policy taking a “less punitive” approach toward recreational marijuana use by players.
That proposal, if approved by the player reps, would be forwarded to the league, which also would have to ratify it for marijuana-related changes to be enacted under the sport’s collectively bargained drug policy.
The league and union agreed to marijuana-related changes three years ago. Goodell has said the league is eager to engage with the union on potential changes to the drug policy and other issues related to the collective bargaining agreement. But marijuana remains banned under the sport’s drug policy and the league in the past has cited the marijuana prohibition in federal law, even amid the growing legalization movement by states, and the need to wait for medical advisers to reach conclusions about potential benefits to players.
The NFLPA’s proposal regarding recreational marijuana use is to come while the union separately studies the potential benefits of marijuana as a pain management tool for players and whether it believes that such use should be made permissible.
Tony Romo has made it clear that he wants to keep playing. But he’ll have to leave Dallas to accomplish that after Dak Prescott made the Cowboys his team with his sensational rookie season while playing in place of the injured Romo. The Cowboys seem likely to accommodate Romo’s wishes rather than keeping him on the roster to count $24.7 million against next season’s salary cap as a backup.
It remains to be seen whether owner Jerry Jones will attempt to get something in return for Romo via a trade or release him and put the selection of a new team fully in Romo’s hands. The biggest question, of course, is which quarterback-needy team — perhaps from among the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers — will take a chance on Romo, who has played in only five games over the past two seasons and turns 37 in April.
“It sounds great,” Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, an analyst for the NFL Network, said during Super Bowl week. “If you get a healthy Tony Romo, yeah, he’s better than three-fourths of the guys in the league. It’s just a matter of can he stay healthy and how long do you get him and in whatever window you have, can you reach that level?”
The Texans and Broncos, with their Super Bowl-ready defenses and quarterback deficiencies, might be the teams to watch.
Garoppolo’s trade value
Somehow, Brady’s Deflategate suspension could end up working out in the Patriots’ favor. They won the Super Bowl, anyway, and backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo boosted his trade value considerably by thriving during Brady’s absence.
The Browns possess the first and 12th overall selections in the NFL draft and make the most sense as a trade partner. They could choose Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett with the No. 1 choice and send the 12th pick to the Patriots as part of a package for Garoppolo.
But, then again, since when do the Browns do anything that makes sense when it comes to trying to get a quarterback?
Officiating or replay changes?
Will the NFL’s rulemaking competition committee propose major changes to the owners regarding the instant replay system, such as making hits on quarterbacks or pass interference reviewable?
The committee has been against making judgment calls by officials subject to replay reviews. But officiating controversies have come with such regularity in recent seasons that some in and around the sport are convinced that significant changes are needed.
At the Super Bowl, Goodell mentioned possible tweaks to quicken the pace of games, including having tablets brought to the sideline for on-field replay reviews and utilizing a play clock between extra points and the ensuing kickoffs. Also, two measures that were ratified by the owners last year on a one-year trial basis — having the football spotted at the 25-yard line for touchbacks on kickoffs and requiring an automatic ejection of any player penalized twice for unsportsmanlike conduct in the same game — must be re-ratified by the owners this offseason if they are to remain in effect.
Landing spots for Kaepernick, Cutler
Colin Kaepernick can void his contract with the 49ers and become a free agent.
The Bears can void their relationship with Cutler by trading or releasing him. The guaranteed portion of Cutler’s seven-year, $126.7 million contract has expired and he is coming off shoulder surgery. Not to mention that he is, after all, Jay Cutler.
Neither would be likely to be viewed as an ideal solution at quarterback for any team. But not every team, keep in mind, can get the quarterback that it really wants.
If they don’t trade for a quarterback, the Browns have to find another way to get one. They can’t go into another season counting on Robert Griffin III to be the answer, can they?
The top draft-eligible quarterbacks include Deshaun Watson of Clemson, Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina and DeShone Kizer or Notre Dame. Of course, few regarded Prescott as a top-of-the-draft quarterback a year ago, and he wasn’t taken until the fourth round. That worked out pretty well for the Cowboys.
Kirk Cousins is eligible for free agency after throwing for more than 4,900 yards this season for the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins could re-sign Cousins to a long-term contract. They could, instead, franchise-tag him for a second year in a row. That would entitle the Redskins to a pair of first-round draft picks from another team if they allow him to leave via an offer sheet. But they conceivably could work out different terms for a Cousins departure if they would choose to do so. And the 49ers — now coached by Kyle Shanahan, a former Redskins offensive coordinator early in Cousins’s tenure with the team — have the No. 2 selection in the draft and need a quarterback.
So it’s possible that the Redskins will have options.