INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Super Bowl is done. The Los Angeles Rams are the sport’s champions with their triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals. And the offseason that already had arrived for 30 of the 32 NFL teams is now officially at hand for everyone.
No one is really off in the offseason. There is never a quiet moment, it seems, for the NFL. Here’s what to keep in mind.
1. Joe Burrow is a major star
If there were any doubts about that, they were erased by the Bengals’ postseason run. The second-year Cincinnati quarterback is the real deal and one of the NFL’s biggest stars. The Bengals might have lost Sunday, but they could have staying power. They have Burrow. They have a dynamic group of wide receivers led by Ja’Marr Chase. They have good complementary pieces. The task now is to fortify Burrow’s offensive line.
If that happens, Burrow could join Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen to form an imposing triumvirate of AFC quarterbacks that could divide the bulk of the conference’s Super Bowl berths over the next decade or so. The Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert will have to prove that he can join that group.
2. There’s more than one way to build a team — and get a QB
The Bengals got Burrow the old-fashioned way: They were sufficiently pitiable to be in position to draft him. The Rams took the new-age approach last offseason and traded for Matthew Stafford. Elite quarterbacks no longer are tied to one team forever. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a Super Bowl title in the first season after signing Tom Brady in free agency. The Rams capitalized immediately on their trade for Stafford. Other teams — and other quarterbacks — undoubtedly have taken notice.
3. It’s Sean McVay’s NFL
Rams Coach Sean McVay is now a Super Bowl-winning coach at age 36. He coached Sunday’s Super Bowl against a former assistant coach of his, the Bengals’ Zac Taylor. McVay’s offensive coordinator, Kevin O’Connell, now becomes the coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Another Rams offensive coordinator under McVay, Matt LaFleur, has coached the Green Bay Packers to three straight playoff appearances. It’s good to be Sean McVay these days. Is 36 too young to have your own coaching tree?
4. The tanking allegations aren’t going away
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said last week that the tanking accusations made by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores against the team and its owner, Stephen Ross, in his racial-discrimination lawsuit are “probably among the most serious allegations that I’ve ever heard” made within the league. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the claims, denied by Ross, are “very disturbing” and will be investigated and taken “very seriously.” This issue won’t simply fade away.
The integrity of the outcome of games is under more intense scrutiny than ever, given the league’s recent pivot toward embracing legalized sports gambling. The Dolphins and Ross would face major sanctions if the accusations are substantiated by the NFL, and there probably will be calls for the league to reconsider implementing a draft-lottery system to discourage teams from losing on purpose to improve draft positioning.
What will Aaron Rodgers do? The quarterback said soon after he collected his fourth league MVP award Thursday night that “there will be a decision in the near future” about his next step. He has not said whether he will continue playing and, if he does, whether he will remain with the Packers.
He could join Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in retiring this offseason. He could seek a trade and thus set up a bidding competition among the Buccaneers, Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and other quarterback-needy teams. (Would the San Francisco 49ers put the Trey Lance era on hold to try to bring Rodgers back to the Bay Area?) He could remain in Green Bay, although the Packers would have to convince him that a rebuilding phase is not in the offing despite a salary cap crunch and wide receiver Davante Adams’s pending free agency. For a second straight offseason, Rodgers’s status is a leading story line.
6. No Tom Brady, no Sean Payton
Brady was less than a week into retirement when he said last week on his “Let’s Go!” podcast that “you never say never” about a return to playing. When Payton stepped aside as coach of the New Orleans Saints, he said he didn’t expect to coach in the 2022 season, but he left open the possibility of a return to the sideline at some point. Brady and Payton are gone, for now, but not to be forgotten too quickly.
7. The QB reshuffle
Rodgers is the highest-profile quarterback who could change teams this offseason, but there are other intriguing possibilities. The Houston Texans could trade Deshaun Watson after he didn’t play at all this past season while facing allegations of sexual misconduct made by women in civil lawsuits. He has denied the accusations and has not been charged with a crime. Once there is some clarity to his legal and playing status, the Dolphins, Carolina Panthers and other teams could renew their pursuit.
There was speculation last offseason about the prospect of the Seattle Seahawks trading Russell Wilson, so that issue perhaps will be revisited. Jimmy Garoppolo seems nearly certain to leave the 49ers. And it remains to be seen whether Josh McDaniels, the new coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, will stick with Derek Carr.
8. Minority hiring
The Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel and the Texans’ Lovie Smith were the only minority head coaches hired this offseason among nine teams with vacancies. Smith was the lone Black head coach hired. Smith and the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin are the NFL’s only active Black head coaches.
Goodell said last week that the league won’t “take anything off the table” as it reexamines its minority hiring practices and attempts to achieve better results from its diversity efforts. He mentioned possibly further modifying or even eliminating the Rooney Rule. But there are no easy solutions.
The league office repeatedly has taken steps to compel teams to consider deep and diverse pools of candidates and to incentivize minority hiring. Yet the issues have persisted in the final step in the process, when teams and owners make their hiring choices. Flores’s lawsuit has put the issue into the courts. All eyes will be on what the NFL and the owners do next.
9. Commanders investigations
Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder faces a new allegation of sexual harassment made by Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager for the team, at a congressional roundtable. Snyder has denied the accusation. But the NFL has said it will investigate and evaluate whether disciplinary measures are warranted.
After the team announced last week that it would investigate the latest accusation, the NFL said within hours that the league — and not the team — would run the probe. Lawyers for the league wrote to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that the team was denying access to approximately 109,000 documents related to attorney Beth Wilkinson’s prior investigation into the team’s workplace. Snyder’s attorney, Jordan Siev, said the team has not prevented the NFL from obtaining any non-privileged documents. A variety of issues still must be resolved.
10. Broncos sale
The Denver Broncos are being sold by the trust of late owner Pat Bowlen, and some estimates put the potential price around $4 billion. There has been speculation about Hall of Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and John Elway being courted by prospective ownership groups. Media mogul Byron Allen has said he will make a bid that, if successful, would make him the first Black principal owner of an NFL franchise.
This is a flagship NFL franchise with a proud history and a devoted fan base, and its sale is likely to provide the latest signpost of the league’s financial might.
11. Overtime rules, instant replay
The NFL and its competition committee plan to consider potential modifications to the overtime format, particularly for postseason games, after the topic was raised again in the aftermath of the Chiefs-Bills thriller during the AFC playoffs. But that’s a nearly annual conversation — and it’s far from certain, people familiar with the deliberations have said, that any changes will be enacted this offseason.
The league also plans to give consideration to prospective tweaks to the instant replay system, potentially making roughing-the-passer calls reviewable or perhaps even giving a team the ability to challenge any on-field ruling within the structure of the current coach’s challenge arrangement. But the NFL remains extremely wary of putting a full-fledged “sky judge” system into effect, a person with knowledge of the league’s thinking has said.
The rule-changing process gets going in earnest at the NFL scouting combine.
12. Coronavirus protocols
The NFL and NFL Players Association made protocol adjustments to deal with the league’s December surge in coronavirus cases attributed to the omicron variant. The NFL has completed a second straight season — with no games lost entirely — amid the pandemic. There were issues: Three games were postponed during the 2021 regular season. Rodgers created a national furor when he tested positive for the virus and then vigorously and very publicly defended his unvaccinated status.
But the league has reached the finish line on another season. Protocols could ease from here, barring another major surge in cases and an increase in the severity of disease, and the league and union have an entire offseason to study developments and make decisions about next steps.