In what seems like a yearly affair for the NFL, this offseason has been riddled with negative headlines that makes the most popular league in the U.S. look like its losing its grip. In particular, we’ve seen continuing debates about the police brutality and racial injustice protests during the national anthem, which continues to be a talking point thanks in part to the White House fueling it. We’ve seen the implementation of a helmet rule that may lead to a drastic change in how the game is played, which is turning off many fans of the old school, violent game of the 20th century. We’ve seen an NFL owner step down after accusations of sexual harassment came to light.
Couple all that with the growing concerns over TV ratings and the mounting research of CTE, and the NFL isn’t catching a break.
Regardless of how angry I get at the NFL or issues surrounding it, I always try to take a step back and look at why I still want to watch the sport. Then, excitement for the season coming up overcomes me. Here’s why:
This year’s draft class has a fascinating group of rookies that are sure to put on a show in the NFL this year. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks, as the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold is expected to start sooner rather than later and the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen should follow suit. Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns), Josh Rosen (Arizona Cardinals) and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens) could also see the field this year. Among the notable non-quarterbacks include New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Denver Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb and Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James.
Old Faces, New Places
Free agency was one of the most fascinating we’ve seen in years, as we saw big-name quarterbacks become the leaders of new teams. Former Kansas City Chief Alex Smith was traded to the Washington Redskins, where he replaces Kirk Cousins, who was the highly-coveted free agent that ended up in Minnesota. Meanwhile, Cousins replaced the “Minneapolis Miracle” quarterback Case Keenum, who is now in Denver trying to get the team back to playoffs since its Super Bowl season. There’s other stunning team switches as well, from cornerback Richard Sherman becoming a San Francisco 49er, to receiver Jordy Nelson going from Green Bay to Oakland, to upcoming star corner Marcus Peters being traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
Just like players moving around, there are plenty of coaching changes that occur during the offseason. This year, we will see the debut of five new head coaches that haven’t led a team before, and the return of familiar faces, such as Pat Shurmur getting his second head coaching stint with the Giants (first with the Browns). But the biggest name returning to the sideline is Jon Gruden, Super Bowl-winning head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who spent the last 10 years as an ESPN analyst. Now, he returns to the organization he first was head coach of, the Oakland Raiders, to help deliver the championship they never got with him in charge.
We will see the return of many outstanding players after they were injured last season, including Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt, and receiver Julian Edelman to name a few. This offseason, we’ve gotten relatively lucky that most of the major names of the sport have not been injured yet. Let’s hope that trend continues into the regulars season.
Underdogs to Juggernauts
The Eagles went from a 6-10 record in 2016 to Super Bowl champions in 2017. This year, who knows what could happen? The Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars, who had been among the worst teams in the league for more than decade, turned things around last year and are now looking to break through as teams on their way to a championship. But these teams are among the favored. Who could have an unexpected breakout year? Last place teams from 2017 like the 49ers, Giants, Texans and Chicago Bears could all shock the world in 2018.
Don’t count out anyone. That’s what I love about this sport. The NFL is a league of chaos for a reason.