We've made it through the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the draft. As OTAs, mandatory minicamps, training camp and the preseason approach, here are our top 10 offseason storylines to watch.
Which one of the Big Five rookie QBs will see extensive action in 2018?
Here's how we'd rank the Big Five in terms of likelihood to be their respective teams' "majority" starter in 2018:
»Bills general manager Brandon Beane cited knowledge of the offense and overall development as the reason behind Buffalo's decision to place Allen third on the quarterback depth chart behind AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman. This is a pecking order that can, and very likely will, change fast. The rookie doesn't exactly have to jump Staubach and Favre here.
» Rosen is thought to be the most pro-ready of any of the Big Five, and Cardinals coach Steve Wilks is already on record saying that Rosen will be given the opportunity to win the starting job this summer. Then again, Arizona didn't give Sam Bradford $20 million(!) to waste away on the sideline. The best solution might be (another) Bradford trade, potentially to a team that suddenly develops a quarterback need. (Think Jay Cutler to the Dolphins last year or Bradford to the Vikings in 2016.) If Bradford sticks around, history tells us it will be just a matter of time before an injury clears the way for Rosen.
» The Jets are already backing off the early-offseason party line that Josh McCown will open the season as the starting quarterback for the second straight year. This wouldn't be a terrible plan; giving Darnold some time to marinate makes a ton of sense for Gang Green. Remember, Darnold doesn't even turn 21 until next month, and McCown was an above-average passer before a broken left hand ended his 2017 season in early December. Darnold is the future of the Jets and also represents something of a fresh start for the eternally star-crossed franchise. Don't rush this baby.
» The Browns keep putting it out there that Mayfield will redshirt as a rookie, but we'll believe that when we see it. It's highly unlikely Cleveland would have gone 0-16 with Tyrod Taylor behind center last season, but Taylor consistently frustrated the Bills with his own limitations, prompting multiple trips to the bench. It's certainly possible Taylor could also give Browns coaches fits; if so, it will be very difficult to resist getting a look at the league's No. 1 overall pick.
» If the Ravens' Jackson pick doesn't light a fire under Joe Flacco, nothing will. The rookie has almost no chance of stealing the job this summer, but Flacco has to be a lot more productive if he still wants to be The Man in December. A revamped offense should help Flacco, but it also eliminates any excuses for the organization's one-time Super Bowl hero.
Will Carson Wentz be ready for Week 1?
The Eagles quarterback tore his ACL late last season and has been on the rehab trail since his Dec. 13 surgery. The latest word came right from the horse's (dog's?) mouth during a Monday appearance on "Good Morning Football": "Rehab has been great. It's quite the process. So far everything is going well. My goal is to be ready Week 1. As an aggressive player, I'm not going to change. I believe I'll be back better than ever."
The Eagles, of course, currently have the best insurance policy possible in Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, so they have the benefit of being cautious with Wentz's timeline if they choose to be. Then again, it still feels possible that general manager Howie Roseman -- fully aware that Foles' value will never be higher than it is right now -- could trade away his famous backup by September. That only happens if Wentz's rehab continues to trend in an upward direction.
The most likely scenario: Wentz is on the field and active against the Falcons for the Thursday night opener, with Foles on the sideline and ready if things go sideways.
The Jon Gruden Show goes on ...
Gruden's decision to come out of coaching retirement, sign a guaranteed $100 million deal with the Raiders, then radically overhaul Oakland's roster has certainly brought out a strong sense of schadenfreude from within the football cognoscenti, hasn't it? It seems like everyone either wants, or expects, Chucky to fail.
Gruden and (we presume) general manager Reggie McKenzie have been insanely busy. According to ESPN, they've signed 23 free agents (including, most recently, former Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson), released 10 players, made four trades and added nine players through the draft. Now it's on Gruden to take this new-look roster and turn the Silver & Black back into a contender. Remember, Oakland was 12-3 on Christmas Eve 2016. This team was close. Of course, that was also the day the Raiders lost Derek Carr to a broken fibula. Gruden is getting paid the big bucks to return Carr and Co. to title contention.
A change at the top in Charlotte
The Panthers are in a very different situation, of course. The NFL is currently investigating team owner Jerry Richardson for sexual harassment and workplace misconduct. Richardson announced in December that he was selling the team, and the current asking price (if you care to get involved in the bidding) sits in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion. The New York Times reported last month that the ownership search was in its "home stretch" and that two favorites had emerged: Ben Navarro, owner of the investment firm Sherman Financial Group, and Alan Kestenbaum, the chief executive of Bedrock Industries.
This is probably not a storyline the Panthers -- or the league -- would like to see stretch into the summer months.
Andrew Luck's health
The Colts continue to talk positively about Luck's rehab from shoulder surgery, but it seems noteworthy that the quarterback didn't throw a single pass during Indy's veteran minicamp last month. The team made sure to put it out there that this inactivity didn't represent a red flag, but at some point we're going to have to see Andrew Luck back on a football field to actually buy into the idea that he's going to play in a game for the first time since the Colts' 2016 regular-season finale. The overall buzz around Luck and a return has been positive, but nothing should be assumed. Colts fans are right to be both optimistic and nervous.
Lingering heat on Patriot Way
When Tom Bradypleaded the fifth after buddy Jim Gray asked him if he felt properly appreciated by the Patriots, it served as a reminder of just how much things have changed between now and when ESPN's Seth Wickersham dropped his bombshell report on dysfunction behind the scenes in New England back in early January. Back then, it would have seemed impossible that Brady would air any dirty laundry about his relationship with Bill Belichick. The same goes for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who, in between ridiculous personal appearances, has used the media this offseason to float retirement rumors and express frustrations with the Pats.
Yes, it's been a tumultuous few months for the Patriots, who fell short in a close-fought Super Bowl, were roasted by fans and the press over the still-mysterious Malcolm Butler benching and lost several key contributors in free agency -- all as Brady and Gronk, the team's two most important players, have grumbled in public and private. The question is: Will there be more juicy tabloid content to come or will the Patriots successfully button things up and begin preparation for another season of presumed AFC dominance? We'd imagine they will, but we're kind of in unprecedented territory here.
Will the Packers and Aaron Rodgers do business?
We should be getting closer to that historic Aaron Rodgers payday. Last week, the Falcons gave Matt Ryana five-year, $150 million contract extension with $100 million guaranteed. The contract made Ryan the first player to break the $30 million threshold for annual pay. The expectation now is for Green Bay to give Rodgers a deal that will quickly supplant Ryan's contract as the biggest ever. New general manager Brian Gutekunst said last week that he expects a new Rodgers pact "soon", which is a good idea -- especially after Rodgers expressed irritation about not being consulted ahead of some notable offseason moves. The Packers' business plan should be clear: Keep 12 happy at all costs. Literally.
Will Big Ben continue to speak his mind on team-building?
Ben Roethlisberger made no secret of his disdain for the Steelers' decision to take Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round of last month's draft, a bold -- if not totally shocking -- bit of grousing that figures to make for an icy quarterbacks room this spring and summer. (Seriously, if ever there was a time for the Steelers to star on "Hard Knocks," this is it.) Rudolph took the high road after Roethlisberger's comments went viral, and one can imagine some higher-ups in Pittsburgh are angling for a chat with their longtime star about basic teammate decorum.
Will Colin Kaepernick (or Eric Reid) get a job?
The Bay Area News Group reported that quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid, free agents and former 49ers teammates, worked out at Cal State East Bay on Tuesday. This came a day after the NFL Players Association filed a non-injury grievance and a system arbitrator case on behalf of Reid. Kaepernick is in the middle of a collusion case against the NFL.
"Colin [Kaepernick] and Eric have taken courageous action at the expense of their professional careers and personal lives," Reid's attorney, Mark Geragos said in a statement to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport on Monday. "We stand shoulder to shoulder with the NFLPA in our fight for justice, equality and inalienable rights of all Americans."
Geragos also represents Kaepernick.
Are there any teams willing to give Kaepernick or Reid -- both very capable NFL talents -- a chance to continue their careers?
Which team (or teams) will be forced to pivot off a disastrous injury?
It's a sad reality of the football business. Players suffer season-ending injuries every summer, whether it be in OTAs, training camp or during the preseason. If you get to Week 1 without any significant losses, it is a major blessing. Some notable examples in the last few years:
These are the types of injuries that seriously test the merit of both your coaching staff and your roster depth. Time will tell where the wheel lands this year. In an ideal world, 2018 will be remembered as an outlier.