With Super Bowl LI in the books and free agency just about a month away, the NFL offseason is upon us. That means we’re bound to see a number of moves in the coming weeks and months. This is the time in which franchises are built, or in the Patriots’ case, dynasties.
So what will be the biggest story lines of the offseason? There will be plenty, from the quarterback carousel to the Raiders’ home in 2017 to potential rule changes for the upcoming year.
We ranked the 10 biggest stories to watch – the ones that will shape the offseason.
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The Patriots’ free agency decisions
The Super Bowl champions have a strong roster going into 2017, but they also have several key decisions to make. Dont'a Hightower, Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Jabaal Sheard and Alan Branch are all free agents, and that’s just to name a few. How many can the Patriots keep? Will they go in a new direction offensively by letting Blount and Bennett hit free agency?
These are the types of questions the Patriots will have to answer come March, and they won’t be easy ones. Sure, Tom Brady will always make New England a contender each year, but he can’t do it all himself. The Patriots need to retain their core of players.
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Potential rule changes to improve pace of play
Roger Goodell said at his press conference during Super Bowl week that the NFL will be looking at several potential rule changes to speed up games. Among them are reducing the number of commercial breaks, allowing officials to review plays on Surface tablets and a time limit between an extra point and the ensuing kickoff.
The competition committee will review these possible alterations, and changes could be instituted in the upcoming season. Will that help TV ratings? It may. Will it give way to more action-per-minute? Absolutely. After all, who doesn’t want to see more football in a shorter period of time?
The Raiders’ next home
The Raiders just about severed ties with their fan base in Oakland when they declared that they would try to move to Las Vegas. Now, their stadium deal in Sin City is beginning to crumble, and they’re having a bit of trouble finding a home. Roger Goodell said San Diego isn’t a conceivable option until a new stadium is built, leaving Vegas and Oakland as the Raiders’ likeliest homes in 2017. How will they be received in the Bay Area if they’re forced to make an embarrassing return after turning their backs on the fans? They may soon find out if things don't firm up in Vegas.
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The future of the “Killer B’s” in Pittsburgh
The offseason is a mere two weeks old for the Steelers, and it’s been somewhat of a disaster already. Antonio Brown has been accused of only caring about personal stats, Ben Roethlisberger said he isn’t certain to return next season, and Le’Veon Bell is set to be a free agent. How’s your offseason going so far?
Obviously, it's likely all three will be in black and yellow next season, but there’s the slim chance that at least one of them won’t be.
Will Brown’s agent force a trade with the Steelers reluctant to give him a long-term deal in response to recent accusations?
Will they feel comfortable paying Bell north of $12 million on the franchise tag if they can’t reach a deal? He does have off-field concerns and an injury history.
Roethlisberger is probably going to return, but what if he doesn’t? That would change the entire landscape of the AFC next season.
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The Jay Cutler situation
The quarterback carousel is going to be full this offseason, and it’s bound to spin for months. Jay Cutler has a seat on that rotating carnival ride, and where he’ll end up no one knows. His cap hit will be $16 million if the Bears keep him, or just $2 million in dead money if they cut him. A team desperate for a quarterback – the 49ers, Jets or Browns – could take a chance on the veteran, who certainly has plenty of years left. It’s just up to the Bears to set the wheels in motion.
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The Browns’ draft strategy
The Browns are in an interesting position this draft season. They can have their pick of the quarterbacks with the No. 1 overall choice, or they can wait and take one at No. 12 – hoping one of their liking falls to them. Waiting would allow the Browns to take the best player available first overall, with that player likely being Myles Garrett – a blue-chip pass rusher who can be a Von Miller-type defender on the edge.
He’s a can’t-miss prospect, but the Browns are desperate for a quarterback, and there’s a chance the top three will be gone by No. 12.
Adrian Peterson’s future in Minnesota
Peterson’s days in Minnesota are numbered unless he chooses to take a pay cut. If he doesn't, the Vikings will be on the hook for $18 million in 2017, which is a huge amount for a 31-year-old running back who just played three games this season. Or, the Vikings can make the smart move and release him for no penalty. Knowing Peterson’s freakish athleticism and unmatched work ethic, it would come as no surprise to see him go to a playoff contender and turn them into a Super Bowl threat – a la the Giants or Buccaneers.
Jimmy Garoppolo trade scenarios
Tom Brady proved in Super Bowl LI that he’s not going anywhere any time soon, throwing it a record 62 times for 466 yards. That leaves an interesting situation in regard to backup Jimmy Garoppolo. The smart move would be for New England to trade him and net at least a second-round pick before he hits free agency next offseason. Teams like the Browns, Bears and 49ers could all be in the mix, which would allow them to pass on a quarterback at the top of the draft. Garoppolo could easily be on the move this offseason, and a trade involving him would be a blockbuster.
Kirk Cousins’ contract situation
The Redskins have a franchise-altering decision to make regarding Kirk Cousins this offseason. They can either sign him long-term, hit him with the franchise tag for just shy of $23 million, or let him walk and start all over at quarterback. Considering they were in the playoffs just two years ago, they aren’t likely to let Cousins hit free agency. If they sign him to a lucrative extension, it could very well make him the highest-paid player in the NFL.
Tony Romo’s landing spot
Dallas? Denver? Houston? Pebble Beach? Where will Tony Romo play next season? Will he take a pay cut to remain with the Cowboys as Dak Prescott’s backup? Not likely. Will the Cowboys be able to find a suitable trade partner in order to get something in return for the veteran quarterback? Chances are looking slimmer by the day.
The likeliest scenario is that Romo is released outright, allowing him to choose his next team. That decision, assuming he goes to a contender, could significantly shift the landscape of the NFL next season.
Of course, he could always retire and take up golf full-time, though reports suggest that isn’t happening yet.
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