The big sporting leagues around the world have made an efficient art-form out of turning their competitions into year-long events. The NBA is the reigning champion of this. You go from the regular season to the playoffs then the draft then free agency then summer league then preseason… then back into the regular season. The cycle begins all over again and basketball is never out of the headlines. The European football seasons have been getting in on this bag going way back with their constant transfer chatter during the offseason as well as periodic international tournaments (those poor bloody players get like four weeks holiday).
But the NFL is a bit different. They try their best, they really do. But once the draft and free agency are over and done with… who really wants to spend their time analysing down to the fine hairs who the final four players might be on the upcoming 53-man active roster? Guys who’ll hardly play a snap most weeks, whose impact on the team will be less than minimal. Mostly you’re just overreacting to team-sourced chat that Jerry Whatshisname has ‘blown everyone away’ with his play during training camp and otherwise keeping your fingers crossed that nobody whose name you’ve actually heard of gets injured.
Personally, I check out. I put the National Football League on the sidelines… take a complete break from it while I focus on other sports and then pick it up with fire and fury around this time of the year. Which means that even the stuff I followed closely – free agency and the draft for example – needs a kickstart in the old memory banks to put them in proper context ahead of the new season. So here’s a thing about some of the major storylines and events that have taken place since the 2018 NFL season concluded (the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3 in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history, by the way. In case you’d forgotten).
THE WHOLE ANDREW LUCK THING
Yeah, wow. Read this thing here…
ROB GRONKOWSKI RETIRED TOO
Long live The Gronk! He leaves as a three-time champion and one of the greatest tight ends the league has seen and he also leaves kinda young – though not as young as Andrew Luck. But for a guy who’s copped some injuries over the last few years and who has achieved so much, it’s hard to blame him. Presumably a career in the entertainment industry now beckons but let’s be honest and say that the New England Patriots are always keeping things pretty fresh and flexible so it’d be silly to think they aren’t keeping just a little space in case he gets that old familiar itch again. The Tom Brady extension, for example. Gives them that little extra room.
A few other notable 2019 retirements: Jamaal Charles, NaVorro Bowman, Marshawn Lynch, Julius Peppers, Derrick Johnson, Brian Orakpo, Max Unger, Sebastian Janikowski, Adam Pacman Jones, Vontae Davis, Derek Anderson, Josh McCown, Jordy Nelson, and Mark Sanchez. Some Hall of Famers in that crew, mate… and also Mark Sanchez.
THE CLEVELAND BROWNS MIGHT BE GOOD NOW
It’s not just Baker Mayfield. With a steadily improving young defensive unit emerging over the last couple years – headlined by Myles Garrett – the Browns then went and did two more things that immediately make them a team that other franchises are taking notice of. One is that they finally, mercifully, sacked Hue Jackson last October (record as head coach: 3-36-1) and have since hired well-regarded offensive mind Freddie Kitchens to be the Baker Whisper. Two is that they then gave Mayfield the one thing that no young quarterback can really do without: a number one receiver. Not just anyone either but one of the top dudes in the game, Odell Beckham Jr… who had signed an extension with the Giants only months earlier. A volatile team for sure but also a fascinating and extremely talented one.
KYLER MURRAY > JOSH ROSEN?
That was the decision faced by the Arizona Cardinals when they ended up with the first overall pick and they figured… yup. So they traded away the rookie QB who had arguably looked a lot better than plenty of people gave him credit for and certainly better than his stats suggest (playing for the worst team in the league tends to skew things against you) for the top overall prospect in this year’s draft. Murray looks golden so you can understand the idea. But the Miami Dolphins might still have gotten a decent one here too, a 22 year old with an accurate arm, the ability to dash for a few yards, and pretty good QB instincts who figures to take big strides on a better team.
Are Miami a better team? Well, sure, but then the Cardinals were the worst team in the league so of course that was the case. But expectations aren’t great for the Fins in 2019, we’re talking about some big changes here as Brian Flores replaces Adam Gase as head coach after a 7-9 campaign. Obviously they flipped Ryan Tannehill to Tennessee to make room for Rosen which is probably a fair compromise after Tannehill had struggled to take the strides they expected of him, largely due to injuries. Now their whole project moves back several years which buys them time… though they’d already added Ryan Fitzpatrick so it’s likely they play it slow with Rosen.
MORE QUARTERBACK MUSICAL CHAIRS
Oh but the QB shuffle was already well underway by the time that Rosen blockbuster happened. The biggest edition being old mate March 13, who served up a double blow. The Baltimore Ravens have officially embraced the Lamar Jackson Era, as indeed they ought to have, by moving Joe Flacco the hell out of Hamsterdam. And who wants an ageing Super Bowl-winning thrower with questionable accuracy at this stage of his career? John Elway of course! Elway whose record of signing post-Peyton QBs has been atrocious but at least Flacco is notably better than Case Keenum who, in turn, they moved to Washington to clear space (and both of them are better than Brock Osweiler). The R*dskins had already used a first round pick on Dwayne Haskins but he’s not considered ready to start so Keenum gets to be the veteran mentor for now, s’pose.
Remember when Nick Foles won Super Bowl MVP? He’s now gonna be playing for Jacksonville who have let Blake Bortles walk and be backup for the LA Rams. Foles was famously quite mud when he played for the Rams and the Chiefs in a past life but maybe the Jags are where he’ll finally find a home outside of Philadelphia. Lucky Bort too. Bloody guy’s now backup for a Super Bowl contender and one of the best coached offences in the NFL.
Two guys who haven’t been moved are Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the top two picks of the 2015 draft. But Winston struggled to hold down the starter’s gig in Tampa Bay last season and this is really a make or break year for him, while Tannehill’s arrival in Tennessee puts pressure on Marcus Mariota to take his game to a new level. Need I add that both are in the final year of their rookie contracts and playing for new deals? Probably should, it’s kind of the whole point.
Also facing some heat is Derek Carr because Jon Gruden being Jon Gruden, he really likes this Nathan Peterman dude, aye? How much longer does that Gruden contract have to run… eight more years, okay.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
That’s two first round QBs mentioned, there was one more that got picked up too and his name is Daniel Jones. What’s special about him? Nothing much… other than that the New York Giants think he’s the heir apparent to Eli Manning and you can literally see why. With guys like Flacco and Tannehill getting moved, it makes zero sense that the Giants would continue to be committed to Eli. But they kept him and traded away OBJ so what else is there left to say? At least they still have Saquon Barkley. Pairing him with Manning made sense last season but another year of that is ridiculous.
Seriously, spot the difference.
However on the other side of town the New York Jets went and snapped up Le’Veon Bell following his self-enforced holdout. Bell sat out the entire 2018 season in order to protect his body ahead of free agency and as wild as that decision was… he ended up joining the New York Jets in a 4-yr/$52.5m contract so obviously that one backfired badly. The Jets, bro. Adams Gase has replaced Todd Bowles as head coach and Gase didn’t do his reputation much good in Miami with some weird moves and you can’t exactly say he handled the quarterback situation too well there either. Nah but with Bell taking some pressure off Sam Darnold that should be a huge boost to a team that needs a bit of that.
BLAME THE COACH
There have been eight head coaching changes since last season. That’s a quarter of the league coming in under new regimes. Adam Gase taking over the New York Jets is a curious one, they’ll hope he has a little more success with the Jets than he did with the Dolphins. Meanwhile Miami have replaced him with Brian Flores for his first head coaching gig – Flores being a very typical hire since he’s off the Bill Belichick coaching tree. The Arizona Cardinals opted for the experience-with-kids-during-a-rebuild model by hiring Kliff Kingsbury out of Texas Tech college, while the Denver Broncos might have hired a first time head coach in Vic Fangio but he’s a first timer with more than thirty years’ experience as an assistant in this league. And how about the Tampa Bay Buccs luring Bruce Arians out of retirement? Arians’ Cardinals were one of the best coached teams in the league a couple years ago so that’s a superb get.
But the two big coaching changes that happened were two fellas who get dumped on a fair bit, each with extremely stable quarterbacks yet minimal postseason success in recent years. Marvin Lewis had been with the Cincinnati Bengals for aaaaages but over sixteen years he somehow never won a playoff game – and had missed the playoffs the last three years in a row. This was a mutual decision and probably for the best. Zac Taylor replaces him, the second youngest head coach in the NFL currently after the man he previously served as QB coach for: Sean McVay of the LA Rams.
And of course there was the midseason firing of Mike McCarthy at the Green Bay Packers. Free Aaron Rodgers they said… well, they finally did. Matt LaFleur inherits the best quarterback in the game at the tail end of his prime to try and get them back to the Super Bowl in the ninth attempt since winning in 2010. LaFleur was previously the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Speaking of Aaron Rodgers, he was on Game of Thrones.
A BUNCH MORE FREE AGENCY DRAMA
Ndamukong Suh has signed with Tampa Bay, who lost Kwon Alexander to San Francisco and Gerald McCoy to Carolina. Earl Thomas took the delicious decision to move to Baltimore – he was infamously last seen flipping the bird to the Seattle bench after breaking his leg so glad to see him get his money somewhere. Already mentioned most of the quarterback so no need to rehash those jokers. Mark Ingram signing with Baltimore from New Orleans is a big deal. Also gotta respect the unflappable scouts from New England who have lured in Demaryius Thomas. The Chiefs getting Tyrann Mathieu is real solid for that compromised defence. Big fan of putting Vontaze Burfict on a Jon Gruden coached team too. That’ll be carnage. Some other stuff happened as well but those are the funkiest ones and this article is already long enough.
ANTONIO BROWN’S EX STILL THINKS OF HIM
It’s one thing to lose Le’Veon Bell in free agency when he didn’t even play last season (plus James Conner kinda emerged as a natural replacement) but for Antonio Brown to force his way out too? You’ve got a 37 year old quarterback and you take away his two best attacking options… suddenly the Pittsburgh Steelers look kinda odd. Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster is a fella who can step up but yeah this was a rough one.
Basically AB kicked up a fuss and demanded a trade which saw him land on the Oakland Raiders. Funny that because the Raiders traded away Amari Cooper to Dallas before the deadline last season. However that’s not even the second weirdest thing that Brown has done this offseason (accidentally wrote oddseason at first and maybe that’d be more appropriate). For one thing he got sued for $38k after he fired his personal chef due to what appears to have been a misunderstanding over a salmon’s head. He’s also been involved in a holdout against the NFL after they banned his favourite helmet. Oh and he grew a moustache and dyed it blonde plus he got frostbite on his feet from cryotherapy chamber therapy. Then got all Taylor Swifty with Ben Roethlisberger over twitter about their apparently ruined friendship (AB maintains they were never friends in the first place, his twitter history suggests otherwise but okay). I mean… yeah. Say what you want about the bloke but he knows his way to the endzone and he knows his way to a headline.
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