An early look ahead at some notable story lines for the NFL’s 2017 offseason …
Super Bowl fallout
The biggest collapse in Super Bowl history is sure to leave a mark on a young Atlanta Falcons team. How will coach Dan Quinn’s group respond? There’s no question they have loads of ascending talent, plus the reigning NFL MVP, quarterback Matt Ryan. But even setting aside past history of title-game losers, the Falcons have their work cut out. First order of business: Who replaces offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan now that he has officially left for the San Francisco 49ers? The champion Patriots have a few things to sort out, too, including contract talks with linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback Malcolm Butler, as well as the future of backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s health will be worth monitoring as he comes off his latest surgery as well.
Where does Romo go?
It’s rare for a 36-year-old backup quarterback who has back problems, lost his starting job to a rookie and has played in five games over two seasons to be a compelling trade option. But Tony Romo is a unique case. The Dallas Cowboys can’t justify keeping him as a $14 million backup. Nobody knows what’ll happen when Romo gets hit again, but in a QB-deficient league, he should have suitors. It’s just a matter of whether Dallas trades him or releases him, which would provide some salary-cap flexibility.
Things could get wild at the most important position. The Washington Redskins will have to make a decision on franchise tagging Kirk Cousins again if they can’t get a long-term deal done. The Buffalo Bills have a decision to make on Tyrod Taylor’s option. Colin Kaepernick is expected to opt out of his deal with the 49ers. Garoppolo figures to join Romo on the trade market. The Chicago Bears seem likely to release Jay Cutler. There will be options in free agency, too, with Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) probably the best of that bunch. Certainly there’s no shortage of teams looking for a starter either – the Bears, 49ers, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns among them, not to mention short-term uncertainty for teams such as the Denver Broncos.
Off to market?
There are a lot of big names set to hit the unrestricted free-agent market in March … until extensions and franchise tags start taking them off. Besides the QBs, the list includes running backs Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Eddie Lacy (Green Bay Packers); receivers Alshon Jeffery (Bears), Kenny Stills (Miami Dolphins) and Terrelle Pryor (Browns); tight end Martellus Bennett (Patriots); defensive linemen Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants) and Kawann Short (Carolina Panthers); linebackers Hightower, Chandler Jones (Arizona Cardinals) and DeMarcus Ware (Broncos); cornerbacks A.J. Bouye (Houston Texans) and Dre Kirkpatrick (Cincinnati Bengals); and safety Eric Berry (Chiefs). Butler would be an intriguing option on the restricted market, depending on the tender if the Patriots can’t get a deal done.
Running back Adrian Peterson has a highly uncertain future with the Minnesota Vikings, who likely will offer him a deep pay cut to stay. And he’s not alone. The long list of other vets to keep an eye on for pay cuts or potential releases include fellow running backs Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs) and Doug Martin (Buccaneers) and cornerback Darrelle Revis (Jets).
Vegas, baby, Vegas
The Oakland Raiders’ Sin City dream remains alive, despite casino mogul Sheldon Adelson's withdrawal from the proposed stadium project. Will they get their business deal together in time for a potential vote at the NFL’s next scheduled meetings in March? And will 24 of 32 owners approve? Either way, they’re expected to play the next two seasons in Oakland.
Resolution figures to be coming on several players the NFL is investigating for possible personal conduct policy violations, including Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, former Giants kicker Josh Brown and former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
No player in the 2017 draft figures to be more polarizing than Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who was caught on video 2 ½ years ago punching a woman. He’s a borderline first-round talent, but some in the NFL think he might not get drafted at all. Right or wrong, his fate will be scrutinized as a litmus test on the league’s attitude towards violence against women.
Who’s No. 1?
The Browns hold the No. 1 pick, and they need just about everything. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is widely projected as the draft’s top player, but it’s early in the process. This isn’t viewed as a great QB class, with North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer most discussed among scouts as potential first-round picks. And of course, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cleveland trades down.
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2020 season, but both sides have made public comments about their interest in renegotiating and, in turn, extending labor peace. Issues include TV revenue, stadium credits, marijuana, offseason workout rules and the commissioner’s power over discipline.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.