Analysis  

 

NFL offseason questions: Whither Tony Romo? Adrian Peterson?

Print

With a dearth of available marquee players in their primes, this might have been the least sexy and impactful first wave of free agency in years, with almost all of the big deals completed within hours of opening last week.

No matter who is signed, though, free agency is rarely the answer to a team's every question. But in the new league year, the New England Patriots gave a definitive response to the one that looms over the entire league: When will they come back to the pack? With unusual aggression, the Pats improved their Super Bowl-winning roster -- giving Tom Brady his speediest deep threat since Randy Moss and retaining linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- setting themselves up nicely for a few more runs in Brady's remaining seasons. On the morning after the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick lamented how far behind New England was in preparing for 2017. Like Usain Bolt coming down the stretch, the Patriots can now look over their shoulders with a smile.

For plenty of other teams, there remain an awful lot of unknowns as the marketplace dwindles and they turn their attention fully to next month's draft. Here's an assessment of some of the biggest lingering questions, to be addressed in the coming months -- and perhaps beyond:

1) What does the future hold for Kirk Cousins and the Redskins?

Ever seen the "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" feature in women's magazines? Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins should write in.

Whoever wins Washington's internal power struggle next, his task will be to make a decision on Cousins and then, perhaps, to make amends. Publicly -- and according to Cousins, privately -- the team insists it wants him long-term. But Cousins is clearly concerned enough about the future that he had a conversation with owner Dan Snyder about whether there is any franchise interest in trading Cousins. The Redskins have plenty of work to do to get back to some semblance of stability -- including adding to Terrelle Pryor to offset the free agency losses of receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon -- but no draft pick or signing is going to be more important that building a bridge back to Cousins.

2) Where will Tony Romo end up?

With the Tony Romo hostage situation dragging on toward the draft, the Houston Texans still have the greatest need for Romo, but it is obvious now that the Cowboys want badly to recoup something for their former starter. The Texans and Broncos -- theoretically another suitor for Romo -- have sent signals that they will not trade for Romo. But with no viable starter on the roster and the consensus that this year's class of quarterbacks is not Week 1 ready, Houston could be faced with deciding whether to continue a Texas standoff with the Cowboys or cede a mid-round draft pick for Romo.

If they turn away from Romo, the Texans could draft a quarterback with the 25th overall pick -- no surefire task, particularly with this class -- and use Tom Savage in the interim. Or they could sign a veteran from an underwhelming group that includes Jay Cutler, Chase Daniel and Robert Griffin III. After wisely admitting the mistake that was the Brock Osweiler signing, though, none of these outcomes would inspire optimism that the Texans' offense has been upgraded enough to hold its own with the team's stout defense.

As for Romo, who reportedly was told before free agency began that he would soon be released, the field of attractive options is noticeably small. This is the domino that could still set the quarterback market in motion, though. If the Broncos get Romo, Trevor Siemian could become available -- and the 25-year-old would be a far more enticing prize for teams seeking a young quarterback to grow with. Which brings us to the Jets ...

3) How do the Jets address quarterback? And cornerback?

Outside of their cupcakes-included wooing of Hightower, the Jets have taken a noticeably laid-back approach to free agency, despite a massive rebuild that has created roster needs at practically every position on the field.

Aside from looking for a starting quarterback, the Jets are desperate for cornerbacks, a position critically important to Todd Bowles' defense. A slew of big-name corners have already signed -- A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore leading the pack -- but the Jets' patience shouldn't be a surprise. This is a deep draft class of corners -- perhaps historically so -- and the Jets could get one with the sixth overall pick and perhaps draft another one in a later round.

(UPDATE: Former Cowboys first-round pick Morris Claiborne is expected to sign with the Jets, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday.)

That, of course, presupposes that they are not going to draft another quarterback in the first round. Drafting one would be a glaring admission that selecting Christian Hackenberg in the second round last year was a terrible mistake, something most general managers are reluctant to do when the pressure is already on. For now, the Jets have Hackenberg and Bryce Petty on the roster -- and neither has done enough to go into training camp as the presumptive starter.

GM Mike Maccagnan essentially needs to repeat the savvy signing he made of Ryan Fitzpatrick (the first time around, in 2015) or make a trade for someone like AJ McCarron to stabilize the position or provide a bridge to the future -- whether that future comes in the form of another draftee, Petty or Hackenberg.

4) Who wants Darrelle Revis and Adrian Peterson?

Darrelle Revis and Adrian Peterson will someday generate strong conversation during Hall of Fame voting. But this offseason has been a cold slap of reality for the players who used to be the best at their respective positions. Neither has a team right now, and it could be a while longer before they find one.

Compounding his dramatic drop-off in play last year, Revis appeared in court Wednesday related to charges he faces in connection with a fight in Pittsburgh. The charges were dismissed by the judge, which removes one significant hurdle for the cornerback -- although the league is still looking into the matter, and Revis could be subject to NFL discipline. But Revis will be 32 years old at the start of next season and might have to move to safety. And he needs to convince teams that the passion he seemed to lack last season has returned.

Peterson's wait, though, says much more about how the NFL views running backs like him. Peterson has taken just one visit -- to Seattle -- since the Vikings chose not to pick up his 2017 option. Then the Seahawks signed Eddie Lacy to a one-year, $5.5 million contract. What to read into that? Lacy reportedly weighed in at 267 pounds during one of his team visits, and yet the Seahawks signed him over Peterson, an indication that they prefer his age (Lacy is 26, Peterson about to be 32) and his price tag (Lacy's $3 million guaranteed is almost certainly much less than Peterson wants). And it can't be overlooked that in the three games he played for the Vikings last season, Peterson simply looked nothing like the player he once was, averaging just 1.9 yards per carry on 37 rushes.

5) After another spending spree, how does Jacksonville attack the draft?

The wholesale remaking of the Jaguars under new football czar Tom Coughlin has included five defensive free-agent signings, with big names like Bouye, Calais Campbell and Barry Church. The message: The best way to help Blake Bortles might be to radically improve the 25th-ranked scoring defense, so Bortles doesn't have to attempt 625 passes, as he did last season.

The Jaguars have been big spenders in years past, though, and have logged just 11 victories over the last three seasons. At around this time last season, they became the hot pick to be one of the league's biggest surprises. They weren't, Bortles went backwards, Gus Bradley was fired and now Coughlin is bringing his brand of football -- read: disciplined, ball-control -- back to the franchise he helped build from the ground up as an expansion team.

The draft will be the next time Coughlin can show what he thinks of the current roster. His public support for Bortles has been less than emphatic, and with the Jaguars picking fourth, Coughlin will certainly have quarterback options if he chooses to go that route.

But this is also a good draft for running backs and tight ends -- two positions that would also help Bortles -- and if the Jaguars get one of those, they will have given the young QB enough support to reverse his 2016 regression in a make-or-break season. The big question is how patient Coughlin will be with Bortles. As a head coach in Jacksonville and New York, Coughlin enjoyed remarkable quarterback stability, with Mark Brunell and Eli Manning. Now, as the top football decision maker, he will be faced with a QB still trying to find his footing -- and a team still looking for all that spending to pay off.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop