Six NFL figures under pressure as 2018 season dawns

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The late Freddie Mercury once told us this about pressure:

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure that brings a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

I'm pretty sure Mercury wasn't singing about the NFL -- though, honestly, who would be able to refute that definitively at this juncture? (Man in back: "The surviving members of Queen!") Point taken, sir. That song is probably not about the NFL.

But Mercury's message -- like in so many of his best songs -- is a universal one. Pressure pushes down on everyone ... and that is certainly the case in the world of professional football. Some face more of it than others, of course. As a new season dawns, let's look at six people facing substantial pressure -- and hoping not to be sitting at home listening to old Queen and David Bowie records this time next year.

John Elway

A few years ago, Elway was an untouchable. He had gone from legend on the football field to a titan in the front office. His ability to navigate the fun-house mirror that was Tebowmania, then win the biggest free-agent derby of all time remains the greatest 1-2 punch we've seen from a general manager this century. The Broncos advanced to the title game twice in three years, winning a Lombardi in Super Bowl 50. Ol' No. 7 did his helicopter spin thing all the way to the top.

But Elway and the Broncos have lost their way since. Denver started its 2016 title defense 4-0, but have gone 10-18 since, missing the playoffs in consecutive years. Quarterback Paxton Lynch -- tabbed as the heir apparent to Peyton Manning -- now looks like one of the biggest draft flops of the decade. Lynch hasn't been Elway's only personnel misfire. The last five years have been dotted with more misses than hits. The roster was compromised as a result, the proof seen in last year's 5-11 pudding.

Elway received considerable praise for his 2018 draft class, which includes edge rusher Bradley Chubb, wide receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Royce Freeman. Elway, desperately looking to plug the hole at his former position, bought in on Case Keenum's breakout in Minnesota. If he gets immediate production from the newbies, all will be well at Mile High. If not? Things will start to get very uncomfortable for a Rocky Mountain icon.

Eli Manning

Let's clarify something here: A human in Eli Manning's position should be feeling a lot of pressure entering 2018. But Eli Manning himself? I'm not really sure pressure registers as a thing for him. You could drop a cinderblock on Eli's big toe and I'm not sure you'd get a blink. Regardless, Eli absolutely has to turn back the clock. The Giants' decision to bypass a quarterback at No. 2 overall in favor of running back Saquon Barkley served as a remarkable show of faith, but Big Blue is unlikely to retain the same fuzzy feelings for their two-time Super Bowl MVP if he runs back another season like last year. The last two, really.

The offensive line has been improved. Ben McAdoo has been jettisoned. Odell Beckham Jr. is healthy. Tight end Evan Engram is a rising star. Barkley looms as a comet. Eli has no more excuses ... not that he ever made one. If he doesn't return to pre-2016 level, the Giants simply have to move on.

Jason Witten

It's almost showtime for Jason Witten, the former Cowboys tight end who now joins Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland as part of ESPN's "Monday Night Football" makeover. Witten is in a very difficult spot. We're not talking about replacing Jon Gruden -- Chucky got plenty of mileage out of Gruden's Grinders and Spider 2 Y Banana, but he was never a beloved presence in the booth. Witten's real competition is Tony Romo. How's that for irony?

Romo, of course, was an instant broadcast sensation for CBS. This was Kanye landing with "The College Dropout," Guns 'N' Roses arriving with "Appetite for Destruction," Jennifer Lopez announcing herself with "On The 6." (Well, two of those anyway.) Romo was a natural, and his excellence inadvertently lifted the bar for his best bud. The fact that Romo and Witten were already deeply entwined in the public mind makes the ensuing comparisons all the more inevitable.

Witten was clearly tight in his debut during the Jets-Redskins preseason game last week. He admitted as much -- and that's obviously understandable. He's going to need reps. It might help if he stays off the internet as he gets them.

Reggie McKenzie and Les Snead

Two California-based GMs with two similar problems. The Raiders and Rams both have transcendent defensive talents entering the final years of their rookie deals -- Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, respectively -- sitting at home over contract disputes. The New York Daily News reported this week that more than a dozen teams have reached out to the Raiders about Mack, though Oakland is not believed to be entertaining a trade right now. A week ago, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported there was "no end in sight" in the impasse between player and team. Yikes. The forecast isn't quite that cloudy in Los Angeles. Rams coach Sean McVay said the team has had "increased dialogue" with Donald's side, and we know from last season that Donald -- the reigning Defensive Player of the Year -- can show up for Week 1 and still ball out.

But keep in mind the stakes here. McKenzie might not survive another down year in Oakland. Snead and the Rams are in full-on Super Bowl or bust mode. Neither team gets where they want to go without their superstar defenders. Mack and Donald would seem to have the leverage ... and yet, here we are.

Mike McCarthy

On the most recent "Around The NFL Podcast," we broke down the hot-seat temperature for each coach in the league, March Madness bracket style. Mike McCarthy was a No. 5 seed with Bizarro Cinderella potential. (It was a weird segment.) These are times of change in Green Bay, with new management and an enhanced sense of urgency around Aaron Rodgers, the 34-year-old franchise rock who hasn't been back to the Super Bowl since the Packers won the whole thing in 2011.

Given Rodgers' otherworldly greatness, this is unacceptable, and sooner than later people are going to pay for it. Really, it's already started. Brian Guntekunst has replaced Ted Thompson as general manager. Mike Pettine replaced Teflon Dom Capers at defensive coordinator. If Rodgers stays healthy and the Packers disappoint again in 2018, you have to wonder if it will be McCarthy's turn to be removed from the equation.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus. For more from Hanzus, listen to the "Around The NFL Podcast," and send him questions for his next mailbag using the hashtag #DotComMailbag.

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