Ten offseason storylines that will shape the 2018 NFL season


As the glow of Super Bowl LII dims, the beat goes on.

The NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the draft will vastly reshape all 32 teams into new creations.

Just look at the Eagles. A year ago, Chase Daniel sat as the understudy to a work-in-progress Carson Wentz at quarterback, while Nick Foles pondered his future as a soon-to-be-released backup to Alex Smith in Kansas City.

Beyond the quarterbacks, a trio of key cogs on offense -- power back LeGarrette Blount and wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith -- would all arrive through free agency, while Super Bowl hero Corey Clement was nabbed in the spring as an undrafted free agent. Receiver Nelson Agholor, meanwhile, was tossed about as possible trade bait after two underwhelming campaigns in Philadelphia.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Foles, Jeffery, Smith, Blount, Clement and Agholor combined for 414 of Philadelphia's outrageous 538 total yards in a stunning win over New England.

It's another reminder that title-winning teams are built in the quiet winter months and springtime weeks that slowly wind toward September.

With this in mind, here's a look at 10 offseason subplots primed to shape the 2018 NFL campaign:

1) Indy's hiring of Frank Reich, Andrew Luck's shoulder and what comes next: Colts general manager Chris Ballard faced the music Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the team was jilted by Josh McDaniels. "Let me make this clear. I want, and we want as an organization, a head coach that wants to be all in," Ballard said, calling for "someone that's 100 percent committed."

McDaniels' decision to stay in New England as offensive coordinator -- and potentially as Bill Belichick's successor -- rather than coach the Colts triggered a domino effect that will directly impact the world-champion Eagles. Philly play-caller Frank Reich was hired Sunday to be the Colts' next head man.

Now that Reich is in place, he's suddenly forced into the same role that plagued Ballard on Wednesday and all of last season: answering questions about the status of Andrew Luck. "He doesn't need surgery," Ballard said point-blank, but the status of Luck's shoulder remains a hot-to-the-touch talking point for the second straight offseason. Stay tuned.

2) The Cousins ripple effect: About to be replaced in Washington by Alex Smith, former Redskins starting quarterback Kirk Cousins is set to become the hottest free-agent prize since Peyton Manning was cut loose by the Colts in 2012. Will Broncos football czar John Elway -- playing super-recruiter once again -- put an end to Denver's tedious quarterback carousel by luring Cousins west? Whoever wants Cousins will be asked to pay nearly $30 million per year after Jimmy Garoppolo inked his massive five-year, $137.5 million contract with the Niners on Thursday. Quarterback money is prepped to blow through the roof this offseason, making Philly's combined salary for Wentz and Foles -- south of $10 million combined for 2018 -- the steal of the decade.

3) Blowing up the catch rule: Commissioner Roger Goodell knows the NFL's hyper-vague catch rule has pushed fans to the brink. "I'm not just somewhat concerned. I am concerned," Goodell said of the drunkenly layered set of rules around what constitutes a catch. "From our standpoint, I would like to start back, instead of adding to the rule, subtracting the rule. Start over again and look at the rule fundamentally from the start." These are the most promising words yet about the possibility of stripping away and simplifying the overwritten rulebook. On a hopeful note, the playoffs -- especially the Super Bowl -- were imbued with fewer ponderous reversals from New York. Don't hold your breath for major changes, but at least Goodell sees what we all see.

4) Who plays quarterback for the Vikings? Speaking of Cousins, the Vikings loom as another juicy suitor, especially with the Jaguars potentially tied to a fifth-year option on Blake Bortles if the passer's surgically repaired wrist isn't fully healed by March 16. Minnesota is about to watch Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater hit free agency. There's still a chance that Bridgewater's contract could toll for another year, keeping him on the roster -- but the Vikings are preparing for every one of their arms to become available. My guess on who stays? It's Teddy. Head coach Mike Zimmer loves Bridgewater, who's still just 25 years old and was seen as the clear-cut franchise answer before the catastrophic knee injury that struck in August of 2016.There's a scenario where Keenum sticks, too, but his contract is tricky in a ballooning free-agent market for passers. It's also fair to wonder if Keenum could wind up in New York with ex-Vikings play-caller and new Giants coach Pat Shurmur. As for Bradford, his lengthy injury history puts him in last place for a long-term deal with the Vikings.

5) The college quarterback pecking order: In his first mock draft, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, along with the rest of our experts, projected Sam Darnold of USC to become Cleveland's choice with the top overall pick. Browns draft consultant Scot McCloughan, though, came out strong (before being hired in Cleveland) for Baker Mayfield, while new Browns general manager John Dorsey also praised the Oklahoma passer. Simultaneously, a league scout told The MMQB's Peter King there is "no way" the Browns will pass on Wyoming's Josh Allen.

Obviously, this means Cleveland will turn around and pick UCLA's Josh Rosen, right?

It's a fool's task, to be sure, but let's unfurl our DEEPLY UNRELIABLE SIGNAL-CALLING MATCHMAKER-BOT 1.0, which quickly and haphazardly pairs available veteran and draft-eligible quarterbacks with needy teams:

» Browns: Baker Mayfield

» Giants: Josh Rosen

» Broncos: Kirk Cousins

» Jets: Sam Darnold

» Dolphins: Stay put with Ryan Tannehill

» Cardinals: Josh Allen, Tyrod Taylor

» Bills: Case Keenum

» Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater

NOTE: If you don't like my list, feel free to ping Around The NFL news editor @David_Ely on Twitter. He'll be happy to rapidly process and reply to your complaints. Thx.

6) The evolving state of the Patriots: New England has done a nice job of bottling up its occasional frustrations and keeping mum with the media. Any in-house or outside-generated controversy has historically become fuel for the team en route to another 13-win season. But has the pattern finally been shaken? With McDaniels lured back to Foxborough, his return hints at a post-Belichick regime that will eventually forge on without the services of Tom Brady.

The odds are low, but I wouldn't be stunned to see Belichick suddenly retire in the coming weeks. The more likely scenario is one last go-around for the Patriots as we know them, but this looms as a fascinating offseason for a team that has operated as the most consistent superpower in professional sports since the start of the century.

7) Gruden's reshaping of the Raiders: The Silver and Black are either (A) a playoff-worthy team that lost its way last season, or (B) the remnant of a fluky postseason campaign in 2016. Either way, Jon Gruden faces immediate pressure to get Oakland back to the party next season. In what feels like a boom-or-bust scenario, Chucky will double as headline news every time he opens his mouth. It promises to be a wild ride for Raiders fans, but it's easy to forget Gruden's final years in Tampa Bay (45-51 with an 0-2 playoff record after winning Super Bowl XXXVII). Anything less than a double-digit-win season is bound to disappoint a fan base expecting its returning coach to act as a savior from the skies.

8) The growth of Patrick Mahomes: With Alex Smith out of the picture, the Chiefs have officially handed the offense to Mahomes, the cannon-armed second-year passer who gives coach Andy Reid a rare skill set to work with. Unlike the uber-experienced Smith, Mahomes owns just one NFL start and lingering questions about his raw skill set. A year ago, we were asking if Jared Goff could bounce back from a lost rookie season in Los Angeles, and if Wentz could iron out some of the mechanical issues that affected his first NFL campaign. After both passers made massive second-year leaps, Mahomes sits on the horizon as one of the NFL's next burgeoning stars. On a roster littered with offensive talent and strong coaching, he's in good position to shine.

9) NFC North facelift: Talk about an evolving four-pack of teams. With a healthy Aaron Rodgers back in the mix, the Packers have promised a more aggressive approach to free agency under new general manager Brian Gutekunst. Minnesota must replace a star assistant in Shurmur and figure out the quarterback position, but the club's core roster remains intact. In Chicago, first-time head coach Matt Nagy is charged with flipping the switch on second-year passer Mitchell Trubisky. It's been eons since the Bears were fun to watch on offense, but Chicago's decision to nab former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich as coordinator makes this an attack to monitor all offseason. And don't forget about the Lions, who have a top-10 passer in Matthew Stafford and one of the game's more intriguing rookie coaches in Matt Patricia. After watching a legion of Belichickites flame out at the head-coaching level, can Patricia transform a Lions team that seemed content to go 9-7 for the rest of time under the last guy?

10) Who will make Saquon Barkley the center of their universe? The past two drafts have seen NFL teams completely revamp their attacks after picking plug-and-play star runners. The Cowboys did it with Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 before the Jaguars followed suit with Leonard Fournette in 2017. Alvin Kamara in New Orleans and Kareem Hunt in Kansas City also morphed into top-tier rainmakers. With Barkley mocked as high as No. 1 to the Browns, the Penn State wonder looms as one of the draft's most intriguing figures. The Giants (at No. 2) and the Colts (at No. 3) have gone without game-changing backs for years on end. Barkley would be a welcome sight in both New York and Indianapolis, but it wouldn't be shocking to see a team trade up if it believes Barkley can match what Elliott and others have brought to the table.

Friends and lovers: Welcome to the offseason.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.



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