The NFL’s offseason officially has arrived for the entire league, including the Super Bowl participants.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ triumph last Sunday over the New England Patriots in a compelling Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis will become an ever-more-distant memory.
The NFL scouting combine comes later this month in Indianapolis. Then it’s on to free agency and the NFL draft. The annual league meeting will be held in late March in Orlando.
It promises to be a busy offseason, with plenty to follow. Here’s a quick look at the main issues.
Top NFL offseason story lines
Which coach will the Colts hire?
The Indianapolis Colts waited until after the Super Bowl to hire Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as their head coach, then were unceremoniously snubbed Tuesday evening when McDaniels decided to remain in New England. It’s highly unusual for an NFL head coaching search to extend this far in the offseason, but the Colts took a risk by waiting for McDaniels and then were left with no recourse when he changed his mind after agreeing to a tentative deal. They interviewed New Orleans Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell on Thursday and are scheduled to interview Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich on Friday and Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on Saturday. General Manager Chris Ballard handled the situation with dignity, saying Wednesday that the Colts will end up just fine. That remains to be seen, of course. Much will depend on the soundness of quarterback Andrew Luck’s shoulder after he missed all of the just-completed season following surgery.
Will there be any more Patriots fallout?
McDaniels stayed. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia left, following through on his commitment to be the head coach of the Detroit Lions. Coach Bill Belichick is yet to provide a public explanation for the curious Super Bowl benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler. It was a tumultuous season in Foxborough, Mass., with reports of internal friction between Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady — apparently arising from the role of Brady’s trainer, Alex Guerrero — and speculation that it would be the final season together for Brady, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft. It does not appear, at least for now, to be the case. Kraft vowed to do everything he can to hold things together as long as possible. Brady said he plans to keep playing after being the league’s MVP at age 40. McDaniels’s decision to stay renewed suspicions that Belichick could retire. But multiple people familiar with McDaniels’s situation said he was given no promises about succeeding Belichick, adding that they expect Belichick to coach next season. There are issues, yes, and the dynasty clearly is nearing its end. But it is too soon to pronounce it done. If Brady and Belichick indeed remain in place next season, they could have the Patriots right back in the top-contender mix.
Who will buy the Panthers?
Owner Jerry Richardson announced he would sell the Carolina Panthers amid the NFL’s investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct against him. There is no timetable for the sale to be completed and ratified by the other NFL owners, but the league undoubtedly would like to see the process move as quickly and seamlessly as possible. The franchise could sell for approximately $2.5 billion, and the NFL has expressed a preference for the team to remain in Charlotte. Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates has said he is part of a group exploring a bid for the franchise. WCNC-TV in Charlotte reported that Brian France, the chief executive officer of NASCAR, could be involved in a potential ownership group. That was denied by NASCAR. Rap mogul Diddy announced he was interested, and then NBA star Stephen Curry and out-of-work NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed their interest in joining his bid.
What will happen with the catch rule?
It was another season of “What’s a catch?” intrigue in the NFL, including on two notable plays in the Super Bowl. Both rulings in that game went in the Eagles’ favor, as touchdowns by Corey Clement and Zach Ertz were upheld on instant replay reviews. That drama came only four days after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in his annual state-of-the-league address during Super Bowl week that he wants the league’s rule-making competition committee to, in effect, start over from scratch this offseason in rewriting the controversial catch rule. Will it happen? That is easier said than done, of course. The competition committee studies the catch rule every offseason and so far has been unable to come up with wording for a rule to make things simpler and subject to more consistent officiating. Goodell might have provided a good guideline, however, when he said the goal isn’t to make things perfect, merely better. The focus, he said, should be dealing with the portion of the rule that says a receiver who goes to the ground while in the process of making a catch must maintain control of the football while on the turf. If the competition committee comes up with a better way to deal with that part of the catch rule, it will have done its job.
Will the NFL go to a college-style targeting rule?
Last offseason, the competition committee recommended as a point of emphasis that the most egregious illegal hits during games result in the offending player being ejected by the game officials or suspended by the league, even for a first offense. Did that work? It’s debatable. There were some suspensions this season for flagrant illegal hits, but officials remained reluctant to eject players. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said in an early-December conference call with reporters that the league will consider a college-style targeting rule for next season by which players could be subject to ejections for certain illegal hits, presumably subject to replay review. The competition committee has been reluctant in the past to make such judgment calls reviewable by replay. It will be interesting to see if the committee changes its view of that on this issue.
Where will Kirk Cousins land?
The Washington Redskins already have landed their replacement for quarterback Kirk Cousins by agreeing to trade a third-round draft pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith. The Redskins reportedly are considering franchise-tagging Cousins in order to trade him, but that would be highly problematic without Cousins’s cooperation on a new contract with his next team. If he hits the unrestricted free agent market March 14 unburdened by the franchise tag, he could choose from a group of bidders that could include the New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and maybe the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings. Jimmy Garoppolo just became the highest-paid quarterback in league history when he agreed Thursday to a five-year, $137.5 million deal to remain with the San Francisco 49ers. Cousins and his agent, Mike McCartney, worked the system masterfully in their favor while Cousins was franchise-tagged twice by the Redskins. They could make Garoppolo’s salary record short-lived.
Will the Browns actually try to get a franchise QB?
The Browns, after a winless season, hired John Dorsey as their general manager to try to lead the franchise back to respectability. His primary task will be to add a prospective franchise quarterback after the previous front office regime passed up the chance to take Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the last two NFL drafts. Dorsey has a number of options. Cousins, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and AJ McCarron are eligible for free agency. The Browns have the first and fourth overall selections in a quarterback-rich draft that includes USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy winner, Baker Mayfield. Dorsey must choose wisely. Much is at stake.
What will the Eagles do with Nick Foles?
There has been talk that the Eagles should take advantage of the increased value of quarterback Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, and trade him this offseason. They have Foles under contract for one more season after he signed a two-year deal to back up Wentz, then took over as the starter when Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury in December. The Eagles seem hopeful that Wentz, as he works his way back from torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee, will be ready for next season’s opening game. But the opener will come less than nine months after his surgery, and some within the league believe the Eagles would be wise to keep Foles as an insurance policy.
What about the rest of the QB market?
Garoppolo is off the market. Drew Brees is eligible for unrestricted free agency, but it would be shocking if he leaves New Orleans. Cousins will be the big name on the market, provided that the Redskins don’t franchise-tag him to trade him and create a stare-down contest to see whether the team or Cousins would blink first. But there will be options for quarterback-needy teams even before the draft. The Vikings don’t have Keenum, Bradford or Bridgewater under contract. Keenum will be a particularly intriguing case after his breakout season. The Jaguars have an interesting situation with Blake Bortles after exercising the fifth-year option in his rookie contract for more than $19 million. That deal becomes guaranteed if Bortles cannot pass a physical by mid-March, and he just underwent wrist surgery.
Will Colin Kaepernick get a job?
Kaepernick was out of the league this entire season after opting out of his deal with the 49ers, who indicated they would have released him rather than keeping him under the terms of that contract. He filed a grievance accusing teams of improperly colluding to keep him out of the NFL. The movement of players protesting during the national anthem that he started during the 2016 season remained a significant issue this season, as President Trump’s sharp criticism of the protests intensified a national controversy. Other players have said that Kaepernick being signed by a team remains a major issue to them. His employment status will remain closely watched.
Will NFL owners change the anthem policy?
Goodell was noncommittal at his news conference during Super Bowl week when asked whether owners will change the anthem policy for next season and keep players in the locker room until after the anthem is played. But people familiar with the league’s inner workings have said some owners would favor that approach and believe there could be strong support for it. The owners meet in March and again in May. Their next steps to address the controversy over the protests will be scrutinized by the White House and everyone else.
Who will draft Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield?
All four prized rookie quarterbacks-to-be are likely to be chosen in the draft’s opening round, and it wouldn’t be stunning to see all four go in the top 10. The Browns could get things going with the No. 1 pick if they don’t land Cousins in free agency. The New York Giants have the No. 2 overall choice and are expected to select a quarterback of the future even if they retain Eli Manning, as promised. The Broncos have the No. 5 pick and the Jets are sixth. The Cardinals choose 15th and the Bills have the wherewithal to trade up if they want, with the 21st and 22nd picks.
How will the returns of Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Odell Beckham Jr. and Richard Sherman go?
It was a season that was, at times, more remarkable for who wasn’t on the field than for who was. Rodgers made a brief return to the Green Bay lineup until the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention. Luck didn’t play all season. Wentz, Watson, Watt, Beckham and Sherman suffered season-ending injuries. There has been speculation about a possible roster purge in Seattle that could involve Sherman. Otherwise those standout players will have their starting jobs awaiting them while their teams cross their fingers and hope for speedy returns. The opening say availability of Wentz and Luck promise to be major story lines as the 2018 regular season nears. Watt has had a string of injuries and there is room to wonder if he can recapture the form that made him a three-time NFL defensive player of the year for Houston.
What will happen with the Jerry Richardson and Jameis Winston investigations?
The NFL is investigating Richardson for alleged workplace misconduct and investigating Winston, the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, over allegations by an Uber driver that Winston groped her in 2016. Winston has denied the accusations. The Winston case provides another test of the NFL’s ability to handle investigations of player misconduct and administer player discipline. The just-completed season included another closely scrutinized and vigorously contested case of player discipline, when the NFL Players Association went to federal court to attempt to overturn the league’s six-game suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott under the personal conduct policy. Elliott and the NFLPA managed to delay implementation of the suspension for half a season before the NFL prevailed in court and the union and Elliott dropped their legal challenge. Other owners believed that the anger of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones over Elliott’s punishment fueled his failed bid to stop Goodell’s five-year contract extension. In Richardson’s case, it would not be unprecedented for the league to discipline an owner. Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games under the personal conduct policy in 2014 after his guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated. But, with the Panthers’ sale, it’s possible that Richardson will be a former NFL owner by the time the league’s investigation of him is completed.