The NFL offseason has just begun, but there are already a number of noteworthy storylines to discuss. From quarterback movement to highly public trade requests to the coaching carousel, there’s a lot to delve into.
1. Will the Joe Flacco trade be beneficial for both the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos?
It hasn’t been that long since Flacco’s Ravens and Peyton Manning’s Broncos represented the AFC in three out of four Super Bowls from 2013 to 2016, a period during which each of the two quarterbacks led their respective teams to a championship. And yet, in that time, a bit has changed for both franchises at the quarterback position. Denver has experimented with four different starting quarterbacks in three seasons in its futile efforts to achieve the nearly impossible task of finding the heir apparent to Manning. Baltimore, meanwhile, drafted Lamar Jackson prior to last season. When Flacco went down with a hip injury in Week 9, Jackson took over as the signal caller.
It was clear that Flacco’s days with the team were numbered and that a trade would be imminent. And sure enough, the Broncos came calling. The teams agreed to a deal, which will become official on Mar. 13 at the earliest, and it will send Flacco to the Mile High City. From the Ravens’ perspective, this deal makes perfect sense. Whether or not you believe Jackson and his run-heavy offense will be a viable model for long-term success, Baltimore does and that’s all that matters.
As for the Broncos, the question is whether or not the addition of Flacco can lift them from mediocrity. They already have $21 million owed to fellow quarterback Case Keenum for the upcoming season, so they clearly believe that Flacco is significantly better and that he can make them a contender. This may not be a realistic view, though, given the quarterbacks’ comparable passer ratings last season, as well as Flacco’s steep cost. If he plays out the remaining three years of his contract in Denver, the Broncos will pay him a hefty $63 million.
Furthermore, Denver is playing in a crowded, top-heavy AFC West that also includes the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, who are each coming off of 12-4 regular seasons and 1-1 postseasons. Sure, the Broncos defense remains stout. But did running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay really do enough to convince you that they will be legitimate offensive weapons? Is it realistic to think that veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be the same when he returns from a torn Achilles? Taking all this into account, along with Flacco’s mediocrity since winning Super Bowl XLVII, it’s hard to imagine Denver coming out of this deal a playoff caliber team.
2. Where will Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles end up?
Despite his invaluable late-season contributions to the Eagles over the last two years, the Super Bowl LII MVP will soon become too expensive to retain alongside the younger and more highly touted Carson Wentz. Right now, there are two teams in desperate need of a starting quarterback — the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins. The Miami Dolphins will enter the fray as well if they decide to move on from Ryan Tannehill.
When Philadelphia eventually makes a deal, Foles will more than likely end up in the state of Florida. It’s hard to imagine the Eagles trading Foles within the division, especially given the volatile nature of the NFC East. Miami is certainly a possibility, but given the Dolphins’ lack of urgency to win now, Jacksonville appears to be the most likely destination. The Jaguars have assembled one of the League’s most elite defenses, but the time is ticking on their window to contend. Blake Bortles proved to be completely inept at quarterback last year and the team needs to bring in someone who can make an immediate impact at the position. Rather than selecting a quarterback with the seventh pick of this year’s draft and hoping that whoever that is quickly develops into a solid NFL player, Jacksonville should acquire Foles and then use the pick to shore up its porous offensive line.
3. Where will the Pittsburgh Steelers ship wide receiver Antonio Brown?
Antonio Brown’s departure from Pittsburgh now seems all but certain. AB met with Steelers owner Art Rooney II on Tuesday, and the two seemingly mutually agreed that the time has come to part. Despite Brown’s recent off-field antics, there is no doubt that a number of the League’s other teams will check in with Pittsburgh to see what the asking price is for the best wide receiver in football.
When all is said and done, I believe that the Arizona Cardinals will be the team that ultimately makes the deal for AB. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury was brought in to create a high-flying, dynamic offense in Arizona. In order to accomplish this, he must provide second-year quarterback Josh Rosen with the best offensive weapons he can find. Brown would fit right into the receiving corps alongside future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and youngster Christian Kirk, and his presence would help spread the field to provide the latter with more opportunities to develop in his sophomore season. Assuming that highly skilled and versatile running back David Johnson rebounds from a disappointing 2018 campaign, Kingsbury’s offense would immediately be in prime position to improve.
4. Which head coaching hires are most intriguing?
I am very interested to see what Bruce Arians and Freddie Kitchens do with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns, respectively. First, with respect to Arians, he has an impressive history of quickly transforming teams into playoff contenders. As an interim coach with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, he helped a team led by a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck dramatically improve upon its 2-14 record the previous season. The team went 11-5 — 9-3 in the games that Arians coached — and Arians was named the AP Coach of the Year.
Following his success in Indianapolis, he was hired by the Cardinals and, with Carson Palmer at quarterback, helped them improve from 5-11 to 10-6 in one season. A year later, Arizona went 11-5, despite Palmer playing in only six games due to an ACL injury. Then, with Palmer healthy the following year, the Cards went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game; Arians, meanwhile, earned his second Coach of the Year award. The Bucs are a talented team that, with the right leadership, could quickly turn things around. I can’t wait to see what Arians can do to help Jameis Winston live up to his potential at quarterback, especially with a player as talented as wide receiver Mike Evans.
Kitchens, who at one time served under Arians as an assistant in Arizona, is in an extremely unique position. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the Browns are not the laughing stock of the League, and they may very well be the team to beat in the AFC North. The Steelers are in turmoil, the Ravens have handed Lamar Jackson the keys to the franchise (which I think is a mistake) and the Cincinnati Bengals are average at best. Cleveland has accumulated a stockpile of talented players. If quarterback Baker Mayfield continues to develop under Kitchens’ guidance, the Browns have all of the pieces in place to finally end their NFL-high, 16-season playoff drought.