Every team's quarterback subplot as 2018 NFL training camps get ready to begin
Joe Flacco's last stand? Jimmy G's continued rise? Kirk Cousins or bust? It's all about the quarterbacks
We all know by now that quarterbacks make this rockin' league go 'round. No surprise there.
If anything, this offseason fortified that fact like never before, with more playoff quarterbacks moving through trades and free agency than ever before, coupled with a record-tying first-round draft class, to say nothing of Matt Ryan's new contract. Plus, Aaron Rodgers is now poised to top both Ryan's and Kirk Cousins' record deals before we even get to the regular season.
It's all about the quarterbacks. And as I prepare to start trekking around to training camps, beginning with the Ravens on Thursday, it struck me as to just how many of the narratives and storylines of this season will go directly through the guy getting paid to throw the football. Off the top of my head at least 10 of the most intriguing subplots to the season concerned various quarterbacks either trying to win a job or trying to come back from an injury or trying to prove they are worthy of all the money being thrown their way. It's actually kind of staggering when you think about it.
In many camps -- take the Jets, Eagles and Ravens for starters -- you have multiple quarterbacks with highly compelling stories and backstories heading into camp. There are obviously no shortage of teams that chose to address their present and future QB situation in the past few months, but others that opted not to (the Giants and Chargers leap to mind) could be just as compelling to chronicle on a weekly basis as some young passers rise and some older ones, naturally, fall. Undoubtedly, a fair amount of the content we generate from camp to camp will center on the man under center. I would say, now more than ever.
So here is my look at the situations we will be watching closely throughout training camp and the preseason, which, in many instances, will provide the best excuse to actually consume a fair amount of exhibition football.
How long before Josh Rosen starts? How soon until Sam Bradford gets hurt? Throw in a rookie head coach taking over for a legend of sorts and a general manager suspended for five weeks and things could get pretty interesting in the desert.
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In Year 2 together, Matt Ryan and Kyle Shanahan clicked like never before, resulting in an MVP season and a near Super Bowl title. Will Year 2 between Ryan and Steve Sarkisian be anything close to that? And if not, are changes ahead for that staff? The Falcons host the Super Bowl and that owner ain't as patient as he may appear to be to some.
Is this Joe Flacco's final year there? Lamar Jackson will see the field ASAP -- how much will the volume of his plays expand through the season? With an overhauled set of receivers and tight ends, there are lots of new parts to hone.
Cam Newton has new minds around him on the offensive staff. Always under the microscope, and with an MVP already on his résumé and a new owner running things (one who is quite different from the defrocked Jerry Richardson), change might be very, very good for Cam.
Mitchell Trubisky is about to become the Next Big Thing in NFL QBs if you listen to some. Color me a skeptic but credit the Bears for assembling a staff that should be able to play to his strengths. The Bears have gone from an offense most have long wanted to avoid to one observers are interested in checking out in 2018.
Could well be the last stand for Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis. If they don't cull much more from the young skill players they have drafted the past few years, it probably will be.
Baker Mayfield comes into a winless team as the first overall pick. What could go wrong? If the Browns are decent -- and they just might be -- does Tyrod Taylor keep the job all season? Will there be any push from above to play the rookie like there was with a certain other former Heisman Trophy winner there?
If Dak Prescott keeps progressing he will be in line to get paid in 2019. But he doesn't have much around him anymore. And his coach is seemingly, finally, on the hot seat. Will the offense unlock more downfield presence ... or might Ezekiel Elliott carry the ball 400 times?
Was last season an anomaly for Case Keenum, journeyman turned Pro Bowl quarterback in 2017? Can he come close to that with a Denver roster that ain't quite what he had in Minnesota? And if not, do the Broncos use a high pick on a QB, finally, in 2019?
Honestly this is the exception to the rule. This has long been Matthew Stafford's offense and that remains the case. Can he get over the playoff hump, over time, with Matt Patricia at the helm?
Green Bay Packers
The best player in the league is coming back from a season lost to injury in line for the biggest contract in NFL history. With his coach's future beyond 2018 in some doubt and without his best bud, Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers' presence will be felt.
It was impossible not to be captivated by what Deshaun Watson did as a rookie in 2017 before his season-ending injury. Will durability be an issue given the way he plays the game? With the Texans reinventing their offense for him, this will get plenty of national attention.
Remember Andrew Luck? Yeah, me too. Every time he lifts his arm from the first day of camp will be chronicled endlessly, and for good reason.
The Jags are still just dating Blake Bortles, despite that contract extension, and with a top defense and sound running game and a team president who won't be on the job forever, this remains (another) make-or-break year for Blake.
Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes looks like the real deal and I have long been a champion of his, but the hype train might be getting a little out of control. Every first-year starter struggles some, right? Will he be the next Andy Reid product to star at QB?
Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers is near the end and the Chargers gave heavy consideration to drafting his replacement quite high this offseason, before pushing back the inevitable again. This is a very talented roster and Anthony Lynn seemed to grow more into the head coaching role a year ago. They could be a big factor in the weak AFC.
Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff won't be sneaking up on anyone in 2018, and the Rams are now the hunted with heavy expectations. With Sean McVay there, he is in the best hands possible, and weapons abound, but some will wonder if he can duplicate last season.
Ryan Tannehill and Adam Gase have been tied at the hip since the QB-whisperer coach arrived. Can they recreate what they had two years ago before injury derailed the passer's progress? A potentially pivotal Year 3 to say the least.
All the Vikings did was chuck aside a recent first-round pick (Teddy Bridgewater) and a guy who just won for them in the playoffs (Keenum) to make Cousins the first player to get a fully guaranteed contract with upward of $90 million. So, yeah, it's Super Bowl or bust the next three years as Cousins seeks his first playoff win.
New England Patriots
Ho hum, just a (soon-to-be) 41-year old MVP quarterback who continues to defy Father Time and logic and a Patriots dynasty that might finally be a year away from actually crumbling. I doubt skipping out on spring football will impact Tom Brady in the least, but it will be a talking point.
New Orleans Saints
We all knew eventually Drew Brees would be back to finish his career as a Saint, and after making huge strides a year ago across the board it wouldn't be surprising if this team is playing deep into January with Brees trying to do what Brady (almost) did a year ago.
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is here to reignite Eli Manning's career. Or so the thinking goes. Lots of fingers crossed here after the Giants passed on every available quarterback in the 2018 draft to go this route in the first round.
New York Jets
Where to begin. Sam Darnold will play, but how soon? Bridgewater is the third QB, but for how long? Could he see the field before the rookie? Could he be a trade chip down the road, if so? Either way, Josh McCown is the best caretaker QB possible.
Jon Gruden is back in black with $10 million per year in his pocket in no small part to try to get Derek Carr back to peak form. There was no shortage of bold if not, at times, puzzling moves from the Raiders this offseason to make them even more interesting as they nudge closer to a move to Vegas.
Will Carson Wentz be ready for Week 1? (I wouldn't bet against it). How long before he truly trusts that knee and looks like an MVP candidate again? Will an injury elsewhere allow Howie Roseman to duplicate the genius of his Sam Bradford trade, only this time with Nick Foles?
Ben Roethlisberger is no longer opining about retirement, he put everyone on blast for the third-round selection of Mason Rudolph (including Rudolph himself) and is angling for another payday. With Le'Veon Bell in his walk year and a new offensive coordinator calling plays, the Steelers have lofty expectations to reach.
San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo is making Gs now, and is yet to start even the equivalent of half a season. Garoppolo will be measured against the very best in the world now after inking a record contract, and teamed with Kyle Shanahan, I wouldn't bet against him picking up right where he left off in 2017.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I don't see how the Glazer family could make a commitment to Jameis Winston beyond 2018 at this point. When he does come back from suspension, he will be in some ways fighting for his career as a face-of-the-franchise-type player. What happens if the offense rolls without him?
Seemed to me Mike Mularkey and his staff weren't best equipped to bring the best out of Marcus Mariota. Will he start to reach the upside potential that got him drafted so high? Time to find out.
Russell Wilson has just two years left on his deal, but no one seems to talk about it. Will he have to be a one-man army again this season on offense? And will Seattle give him $33 million a year in 2019 if he is? If not, you'll hear plenty of trade rumblings I presume.
Alex Smith got a monster contract and the Skins finally shed themselves of Cousins, who ownership never embraced even while he set franchise records. If Smith can't play at close to his MVP level from a year ago, big changes could be coming to D.C. Again.
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