The final NFL game of the season, Super Bowl LII, has come and gone. But the league’s most intriguing storylines are far from over.
According to 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton, these are the stories to keep an eye on this offseason.
What happens with Kirk Cousins?
Washington’s trade to acquire veteran quarterback Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs will sure make free agency more interesting. Incumbent quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has played for Washington under a franchise tag for the previous two years, is set to become an unrestricted free agent March 14.
Washington could franchise Cousins again (that franchise tag window opens Feb. 20) to try to get something out of a trade. Otherwise, there are a number of suitors – including the Broncos, Cardinals, Giants, and Browns – who would be willing to shell out some serious cash for the former Washington starter.
We’re still a few months out from the 2018 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 26, but mock analysts will be positing landing spots for four of the biggest names from this upcoming quarterback class: USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
According to Clayton, their draft position will influence those of other quarterbacks – including Washington State’s Luke Falk.
“How the maneuverings are going to go for them is really going to determine a lot. I mean, it’s a rich draft for quarterbacks. Look at Luke Falk: he’s sitting there probably before he was in the fourth round, I think now he’s probably in the third round.”
Is Andrew Luck coming back?
“He’s not going to have (another) surgery, so that’s a positive thing,” Clayton said, “but still, you don’t know how he’s going to be. Because remember: that surgery he had was 13 months ago and he’s still not able to throw. That’s got to be a concern. I hope he’s going to be back, just for the sake of the National Football League. And (the Colts) need a quarterback like that because that division is slowly getting better. Tennessee made the playoffs, Houston has Deshaun Watson, (and then) you look at what’s going on in Jacksonville (with their defense).”
Will the Jaguars stick with Blake Bortles?
“At it stands right now they’re almost stuck with him. Because he’ll have wrist surgery after the season, and as we saw with (Seahawks safety) Kam Chancellor, there is an injury guarantee on the contract and that fifth year option of over $19 million. They’re on the line to have to pay that. If he can’t pass the physical by March 14, they’re stuck with the $19 million.”
“Can Jon Gruden turn around the Oakland Raiders, a team that won 12 games two years ago and then just fell flat on its face last year? Gruden coming back making $10 million a year, 10 years $100 million, given a license to go sign as many coaches as he wants at big prices. That’s going to be a big story.”
Turnaround in the NFC West
The Rams dethroned the Seahawks in 2017 to finish atop the NFC West, and Seattle’s road back to dominance in the division will only get trickier next year.
“The NFC West is, I think, now a stronger division with the 49ers getting better, getting Jimmy Garoppolo, and you know the Rams have now totally turned it around with the NFL Coach of the Year in Sean McVay.”
Is the NFL going to screw up the catch rule again?
The NFL’s Competition Committee will examine the league’s controversial catch rule this offseason.
“You know they’re going to go back to the drawing board,” Clayton said, “you know they’re going to try to eliminate some of the verbiage, but I still get worried when I hear people in the competition committee talking about it and they say, ‘Well, we’re going to make it simple. Ball in hand, feet on ground, and…’
“When they say the ‘and,’ that’s where the problem comes in. They come back with all this silliness, like ‘survive the ground,’ ‘make a football act,’ I mean, what is this?
“I think the mentality now in New York when they start to try to look at the replay is to eliminate the catch, not try to make the catch. Because now you look at more exceptions than anything else. Whereas all the official is doing is looking at the ball in the hand, the feet, and saying ‘oh, catch.’
“I would say ball in hand, feet on ground, stop. Don’t put that ‘and’ in there, because that’s where you get in trouble. You can see in replay a better view than what any official has… but again, I think you need to go with that instant, because I think it’s so important that you have more catches. I love defense. You want defense to succeed, and they have so many things against the defense. But in this case, it’s penalizing great plays on the offense, and you’re taking great plays away from the game.
“They can fix it by making things simple.”