Around the NFL  

 

Five unsolved NFL mysteries entering July

Print

The calendar has flipped from June to July, signaling vacation time for NFL players, coaches and executives.

Meanwhile, football fans are left to ponder questions left answered throughout free agency, the draft and offseason practices.

The Around the NFL Podcast recently touched on those outstanding issues, highlighting five unsolved mysteries leading into the opening of training camps in late July.

1. Will Earl Thomas suit up for the Seahawks in September?

A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Thomas has been one of the NFL's premier players since the podcast got its start in the summer of 2013. As Marc Sessler pointed out, the Seahawks' identity is undergoing a transition with the departures of longstanding veterans such as Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and likely Kam Chancellor. Is Thomas' demand for a new contract the engine driving his offseason absence? Or is there more to the story?

Of all the disgruntled stars seeking mega deals this offseason, Thomas seems like the one most likely to be dealt before the start of the season.

2. By the end of preseason action, are we going to discover that the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs have suddenly become the NFL's version of must-see TV?

In any major sport, there's a difference between a winning team and a captivating coalescence. Kansas City was in the playoff hunt annually with Alex Smith under center, generating one of the league's winningest records over the past half-decade. But where was the excitement? Where was the buy-in?

After turning last summer's preseason into his own personal highlight reel, Mahomes became a scout-team legend and so impressed his coaching staff in the regular-season finale that Andy Reid had no qualms about trading Smith after a career year.

Quarterback is played at its most visually pleasing level with a swashbuckling style, occasionally throwing caution to the wind. There is a video on NFL.com simply titled "Patrick Mahomes is unfair." Another clip is devoted solely to his ability to pull off no-look passes. There's even a segment suggesting he has a bag of tricks that the NFL has never seen.

The Chiefs understand Mahomes' derring-do style will lead to more turnovers this season, but they're willing to sacrifice the mistakes in favor of a dynamic improvisational wizard with the potential to make jaw-dropping plays on a weekly basis.

"I compare him to Brett Favre," veteran pass rusher Tamba Hali said last week. "He runs around the field and he throws the ball and he's just having fun."

Say what you want about Brett Favre, but the Packers became must-see TV the moment he took the offensive reins from Dan Majkowski in 1992.

3. For all of the cautious optimism emanating from Indianapolis, we are still left wondering if we will see the Andrew Luck of two years ago.

We are in foreign territory. Luck recently graduated to throwing the suddenly ubiquitous "Duke" football after shelving his throwing arm for the better part of 18 months. He insists his surgically repaired shoulder is not only pain-free but is also "going to stay that way." By the time Week 1 rolls around, it will have been roughly 600 days since his last official NFL pass.

Will the erstwhile franchise savior return as the superstar quarterback once hailed as a "football god"? Or will we see a reduced version of Andrew Luck under center going forward?

4. How will the quarterback dynamics play out in the Ravens nest?

Baltimore's brass has been adamant that former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is a developmental prospect and insurance policy as opposed to a direct threat to Joe Flacco's job. That may indeed be the case now that surrounding talent has been restocked in impressive fashion, but Flacco is under no delusion that his leash remains as long as it once was.

Even if coach John Harbaugh keeps finding ways to get Jackson onto the field, we don't expect the rookie to overtake the veteran this summer. As Dan Hanzus suggested, though, it will be interesting to see how the two quarterbacks co-exist. How will Flacco react not only to the fire of competition but also to the incessant hype for a dynamic young talent?

5. Who is catching Dak Prescott's passes this year?

Headlined by a dominant offensive line, the Cowboys are perhaps better positioned than any NFL team to hide a makeshift receiving corps behind a chain-moving ground attack. But this is 2018, Gregg Rosenthal emphasized. Teams have to throw the ball to win, particularly in come-from-behind situations.

With former All-Pro Dez Bryant and future Hall of Famer Jason Witten out of the picture, Prescott's established receiving threats are Jaguars castoff Allen Hurns, perennial tease Terrance Williams, 2017 disappearing act Cole Beasley, Rams draft bust Tavon Austin and third-round rookie Michael Gallup. While it's fair to question how much a declining Bryant and slow-footed Witten will be missed, the Cowboys are now counting on a collection of third and fourth receivers to engage in potential shootouts with the superior firepower of the Eagles, Giants and Redskins.

A better question might be which veteran wideout Jerry Jones will attempt to pry away from another team by mid-August.

More unsolved mysteries entering July:

-- Is this the year the Lions finally establish a ground attack?

-- Can the Bills afford to keep golden-armed rookie Josh Allen on the bench when the only other options are AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman?

-- Will a quarterback injury prompt a preseason trade for Jets offseason sensation Teddy Bridgewater?

-- How much magic is left in Jon Gruden's wand after a decade away from coaching?

-- Can Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky come close to matching the quantum leap made by reigning NFL Coach of the Year Sean McVay and Jared Goff?

-- Is Marvin Lewis the ghost of Rasputin?

Print