The NFL always has drama. It’s what keeps us engaged over the long offseason.
When the games start, the soap operas still go on. We’re not exactly sure what the next big NFL story will be – who knew that we’d be debating Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Giants going on a boat party, as we were last postseason? – but here’s a look at 10 controversies that are brewing already:
Colin Kaepernick still looking for a job
Every time a quarterback gets injured, you’ll hear Kaepernick’s name. Every time a shaky starter struggles, someone will point out that Kaepernick is a free agent. We’ve discussed Kaepernick being on the free-agent market for months now, and we made it through the preseason without a single team signing him. Some groups are planning boycotts over their belief that the NFL is blackballing Kaepernick. Since there’s no chance we get through this season without quarterback injuries and some of the lower-end starters struggling, we’ll hear plenty more about Kaepernick.
The national anthem protests continue
The protests have continued even with Kaepernick unsigned. The most notable one came when multiple Cleveland Browns took a knee before a preseason game. The Cleveland police union said it will not hold the flag during the anthem at Browns home games due to the protests (the irony of a group protesting during the anthem because another group is protesting during the anthem … yeah). Whether or not you believe the NFL has an unspoken agreement to keep Kaepernick out, the national anthem protests are not going away even if Kaepernick remains unsigned.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. the NFL
This one isn’t brewing, it’s a full-blown controversy at this point. Go and read Charles Robinson’s great reporting on Elliott’s suspension appeal to understand that this is going to get worse before it gets better, starting when the appeal decision comes down presumably this week. Any possible outcome will be a huge story. If the suspension stays at six games, this seems certain to go to court. If it gets reduced from six games but not completely vacated, people will wonder how the NFL can justify that, given its six-game domestic violence policy. And if the suspension is totally vacated, it will be a serious embarrassment for the NFL with another botched attempt at discipline. Stay tuned.
When will Mitch Trubisky play?
The Chicago Bears, presumably, didn’t draft Trubisky to sit very long. And even if they planned for Trubisky to sit and learn all season (which is what teams did more than a decade ago; that notion really doesn’t apply anymore), Trubisky blew that out of the water with his fantastic play in preseason. It becomes a question of when, not if, he replaces Mike Glennon. With a brutal early season schedule, the drumbeat will be loud to turn to Trubisky until it happens.
Will Le’Veon Bell be back in Pittsburgh next season? Will Ben Roethlisberger?
It’s hard to ignore what might happen with the Steelers after this season. Roethlisberger has already talked about retirement and hasn’t committed to next season. Bell is on the franchise tag and wants a long-term deal. It would be nice and tidy if the Steelers won a Super Bowl and then could happily wish either adieu next offseason, but until that happens there will be some angst over two of Pittsburgh’s most important players. We can’t say for certain if either will be back with the Steelers in 2018.
Kirk Cousins’ uncertain future hangs over Washington
By now we all know that the Redskins have botched the Cousins situation pretty bad. By continuing to play on the franchise tag and refusing Washington’s paltry offers, Cousins has put himself in a position to really cash in next offseason. Cousins has not let all of the contract madness affect his play to this point. That’s not to say it won’t be an issue this season. If the Redskins struggle and Cousins doesn’t play well (they have a tough schedule this season, especially when it comes to opposing pass defenses), you’ll hear a lot more about the uncertain contract situation.
The Rams need to pay Aaron Donald
One of the best defensive players in the NFL might not be on the field Week 1. The Los Angeles Rams haven’t been well run in a while, and it’s baffling why they haven’t gotten Donald signed to a long-term extension. This should be easy: Pay the man. Maybe Donald signs a huge extension this week and all of this is forgotten. If not, we’ll be wondering how the Rams have gotten to the point where their dominant defensive tackle is either missing games or playing while unhappy with his deal. The longer this goes on, the worse it will look for the Rams.
The Chiefs have a quarterback controversy, whether they like it or not
Much like Mitch Trubisky with the Bears, the Chiefs can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube after fans saw Patrick Mahomes make some incredible plays in the preseason. Alex Smith is pretty much the opposite of Mahomes: a good, solid veteran who doesn’t excite anyone but Andy Reid can trust him to not make mistakes. You know that with any bumps in the road, there will be the itch to see what Mahomes can do when games count. His upside is already obvious. The Chiefs better win early and often, and Smith better play well, to hold Mahomes off this season.
When will Andrew Luck play again?
Here’s what we know: Luck won’t play in Week 1 as he recovers from shoulder surgery. And … well, that’s about all we know. The Colts haven’t shared much information on Luck’s health, so we have to guess. Will he be back in Week 2 or Week 12? We have no idea at this point. The Colts’ trade for Jacoby Brissett didn’t exactly signal that Luck will be back right away, but maybe Indianapolis just viewed it as a chance to acquire a talented young quarterback and not give up too much. The Colts didn’t put Luck on the regular-season physically unable to perform list so they apparently don’t think he’ll miss too much of the season (players on the PUP list are out for six weeks automatically), but we don’t know that for sure. The longer this goes on, the more impatient everyone will get with the Colts’ lack of transparency.
Tom Brady vs. Jimmy Garoppolo
Based on what we saw from Brady last postseason, this one might never be an issue. Brady looks as good as new and it just doesn’t seem he will slow down. However, sometimes when players lose it, they lose it fast. Brady is 40, and the history of 40-year-old quarterbacks is really bad. It’s basically one great season by Brett Favre, one good season by Warren Moon, and that’s it. What if Brady starts to play like he’s 40? Bill Belichick is cold blooded when it comes to decisions, but could he possibly bench Brady? What complicates all of this is that Garoppolo can become a free agent next offseason and nobody knows what the Patriots’ plan is for him going forward. If Brady slumps – as crazy as that sounds – it will get very interesting in New England.
Podcast: NFL season preview! It’s here!
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