Most Intriguing Athlete Storylines to Follow in 2017

Zac Wassink@https://twitter.com/ZacWassinkFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2017

Most Intriguing Athlete Storylines to Follow in 2017

0 of 10

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Plenty of the most intriguing athletes in the world will make headlines for their actions in and away from competition throughout 2017. 

    UFC champion Conor McGregor is one example. McGregor, who currently holds the lightweight title, has a reputation for outlandish behavior at press conferences and public events, and it's a safe bet McGregor will cut at least one entertaining promo on an opposing fighter that will lead to fans around the world spending money on a pay-per-view show. 

    Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Tony Romo will make news later this year even if he never again throws a pass while wearing a Dallas jersey. The future of Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper remains in doubt. Dele Alli could be the next Tottenham Hotspur player to ditch the London outfit for Spain. 

    Men and women who are perceived to be some of the best athletes in the world will pursue titles and personal awards over the next 12 months, and their successes and failures will be discussed among analysts and fans. The unpredictable nature of sports helps make such forms of entertainment so enjoyable, and it's anybody's guess what will happen in the top leagues and organizations between now and the night of December 31. 

Will Tiger Woods Win Again?

1 of 10

    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    It's a proven fact casual sports fans care more about the PGA when Tiger Woods is playing. As Alex Myers of Golf Digest wrote in December, the 2016 Hero World Challenge enjoyed a massive ratings bump caused by Woods' presence on the course. The 41-year-old is no longer the best golfer in the world, but there's little question he remains the sport's top star and top draw.

    Woods announced via his personal website during the first week of 2017 that he plans to begin his season with the Farmers Insurance Open later this month. Assuming he remains healthy and is happy with his play over the next several months, it seems logical we will see him perform at the Masters. 

    Fans apparently believe Woods can find his former form and win on one of golf's biggest stages. According to Robby Kalland of CBS Sports, people began betting on Woods to win the 2017 Masters after he played only nine holes at the Hero World Challenge. 

    For whatever reasons, some still see Woods as the player of old even though he hasn't won a tournament since 2013. 

Will Serena Williams Beat Margaret Court's Record?

2 of 10

    Jason Oxenham/Associated Press

    Serena Williams is probably already the greatest female tennis player in history, and one could argue she's the sport's greatest star, male or female. Williams has won every Grand Slam event, and she's won Olympic gold medals. She turned 35 years old last September, but she remains the most recognizable star in the women's game. 

    As Linda Pearce of the Syndey Morning Herald explained last July, Williams is only two grand slam titles from matching Margaret Court's record of 24. While Williams dealt with a shoulder injury last fall, she played in New Zealand earlier this month. All indications are that she'll be ready for the start of this year's Australian Open. 

    Williams played in the finals of three Grand Slams last year, and she defeated Angelique Kerber to win her seventh Wimbledon last July. Williams currently sits beneath only Kerber in the official WTA rankings, and the American could overtake Kerber if she is able to remain healthy throughout the year. 

How Much Is Kirk Cousins Worth?

3 of 10

    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    All things considered, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins may be the most intriguing player in the NFL because of his uncertain future. Cousins had an opportunity to lead the Redskins back to the playoffs in the final game of the regular season, but he had a rough outing and threw two costly interceptions in a loss to division rivals the New York Giants. 

    Those two picks may lead to Cousins and the Redskins parting ways later this year. 

    As Connor Hughes of NJ.com recently explained, Cousins would earn over $23 million for next season if the Redskins used the franchise tag to keep him for another year. Cousins probably would receive offers from multiple teams if Washington allowed him to enter free agency. The New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills are three clubs that immediately come to mind. 

    Cousins will get paid at some point in 2017. It will be interesting how much money a team guarantees him and also if a team will go all-in on naming Cousins its QB of the future past the 2017 season. 

Is Gary Sanchez the Next Face of New York Sports?

4 of 10

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    It's easy to forget New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez played in only 53 games last season because the 24-year-old produced numbers worthy of Rookie of the Year votes during his time with the club. Sanchez, per Baseball-Reference.com, hit 20 home runs and drove home 42 RBI in his 201 at-bats. He finished the campaign with a .299 batting average and an OPS of 1.032. 

    It seemed, last summer, the Yankees were willing to embrace a franchise rebuild that involved starting younger talent and, probably, losing a decent chunk of games until those players developed. The club traded veterans such as Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, Alex Rodriguez retired in August and Mark Teixeira ended his career in October. 

    Sanchez and other younger would-be stars played well enough to keep the Yankees in the playoff hunt through September, though, and the catcher will be looking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and show he can be New York's next baseball star. 

Will Ronda Rousey Retire?

5 of 10

    John Locher/Associated Press

    48 seconds. That how long it took for Amanda Nunes to defeat Ronda Rousey on December 30. In less than one minute, the former "baddest woman on the planet" was relegated to an afterthought in the bantamweight division and a fighter who didn't belong in a cage competing for a title. 

    We can only speculate about Rousey's future as of the start of 2017, because she has given no definitive answer about her plans following her latest defeat. The 29-year-old could, and maybe should, leave coach Edmond Tarverdyan and join a different fight camp in an attempt to rebuild herself as a fighter. Rousey could hang her gloves up for good and pursue acting and other opportunities. Maybe she'll take part in a WrestleMania segment for the second time since 2015.

    Rousey was the first true female superstar of her sport, and she remains an important UFC figure even if her best days of a fighter are in the past. Her celebrity status and previous accomplishments will keep us interested in her future activities whether or not she chooses to launch another comeback following her loss to Nunes. 

How Will the Washington Nationals Handle Bryce Harper?

6 of 10

    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    The relationship between the Washington Nationals and outfielder Bryce Harper will be fascinating to follow over the next 12 months. 

    Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote in December Harper is seeking a 10-year contract worth $400 million. That's not a shocking report, as the 24-year-old is one of the top young stars in all of baseball. The perennial All-Star already has one MVP award on his impressive resume, and it's not a stretch to suggest Harper is not yet in his physical prime. 

    As Mike Axisa of CBS Sports explained in February 2016, the Nationals control Harper's rights through 2018. Logic suggests Washington would desire to secure his services before he enters a contract year, but that may not be realistic unless the club is willing to meet his demands. 

    As crazy as the notion may seem this winter, Harper may find himself on the trading block next December if he and the Nationals cannot come to terms on a new deal before Thanksgiving Day. 

Will Dele Alli Go to Spain?

7 of 10

    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli is evolving into a breakout star playing under manager Mauricio Pochettino. Alli became a key figure for a Tottenham squad that earned a return to the Champions League in 2016, and the 20-year-old began 2017 with a pair of headed goals during Tottenham's impressive 2-0 win over Chelsea. 

    According to Steve Stammers of the Mirror, both Barcelona and Real Madrid could offer £70 million for Alli during the summer transfer window. 

    As passionate Spurs fans know, Tottenham have a history of losing stars to Spanish giants. Midfielder Luka Modric left White Hart Lane for Real Madrid in 2012, and winger Gareth Bale departed Tottenham for Real in September 2013. 

    Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of the best clubs in the world, and both will be in the Champions League for the foreseeable future. It's also worth noting both clubs can afford to offer Alli more money than what he'll receive from Spurs. Either Spanish club may make Alli an offer he feels he can't refuse before September 2017. 

Will Kevin Durant Stay with the Golden State Warriors?

8 of 10

    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant can elect to enter free agency following the 2016-17 NBA season. Per Spotrac, Durant's current deal includes a player option for the 2017-18 campaign, meaning he can terminate the deal an attempt to make more money from the Warriors or from a different team this coming summer.

    Those out there who cannot comprehend the thought of Durant joining a new team for the second time in two years should think back to last June. There weren't overwhelming rumors linking Durant with the Warriors as he and the Oklahoma City Thunder held a 3-1 series lead over Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. If anything, it seemed this past May as if Durant was on the cusp of helping the Thunder become maybe the best team in the league. 

    As Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated pointed out last August, Durant is "impulsive enough" to be his own man and sign with a different team in 2017. A lot can, and will, occur between now and July 1, and the events of the next six months may affect and change Durant's mindset regarding his future. 

Where Will Tony Romo Play in 2017?

9 of 10

    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Those of you assuming current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will play for the Denver Broncos next fall may need to rethink things. 

    According to SportsDayDFW.com, ESPN's Ed Werder stated on the ESPN Dallas radio program "Cowlishaw and Dennis" that Denver general manager John Elway has "little or no interest" in signing Romo as of January 9. The Broncos currently have both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch on their roster, and Werder explained Romo's injury history and Denver's lackluster offensive line may prevent the Broncos from attempting to acquire the Dallas QB later this year. 

    Romo lost his job to injury and to rookie Dak Prescott in 2016, and there's no reason to believe he will replace Prescott on the Dallas depth chart at any point. While Romo turns 37 years old in April, there will likely be multiple teams interested in trading for him before or after the upcoming draft. The Broncos, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams could use an upgrade at QB. 

    Romo's new home, if he chooses to leave Dallas, will be a top NFL storyline following Super Bowl LI. 

What Will Conor McGregor Do Next?

10 of 10

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    As of the second week of January 2017, we cannot say, with any certainty, when we will again see Conor McGregor fight at a UFC event. As the MMA Junkie staff explained in late December, UFC boss Dana White is planning for life without McGregor for up to 10 months, meaning the current lightweight champion may only fight once in 2017. 

    The flamboyant 28-year-old established himself as the top star in the UFC in 2016. McGregor proved that throwing bottles at an opponent during a press event can be a profitable decision when, per Dave Meltzer of MMA Fighting, he became the biggest draw in the history of the promotion. McGregor made more history in November when he defeated Eddie Alvarez and became the first simultaneous two-division UFC champion.

    McGregor, seemingly, has little left to accomplish as a mixed martial artist. Perhaps, as FOX Sports staff writers mentioned in December, McGregor will face Tyron Woodley at Croke Park in Dublin. That bout could draw over 80,000 fans. Maybe the often-rumored boxing match between McGregor and retired fighter Floyd Mayweather will become a reality. 

    Whatever he decides, we hope McGregor's break from fighting ends sooner than later. McGregor making headlines and irritating other fighters makes the UFC that much more entertaining.