NFL Preseason Storylines That Will Carry Over Into 2022 Season

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 1, 2022

NFL Preseason Storylines That Will Carry Over Into 2022 Season

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    In just one week, the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams will hit the field at SoFi Stadium, and the 2022 NFL season will be underway.

    No more training camp. No more exhibition contests. Now the games will count.

    Very few people were sad to see another preseason go, including the NFL's players and coaches. But the exhibition season wasn't for naught. Across the league, position battles were settled. Roster spots were won (and lost). Starting quarterbacks were crowned.

    Just about every team entered the season with a measure of uncertainty. And much of that uncertainty is now gone.

    However, while many stories were written in full over the past couple of months, there are some that still have chapters left to go. Some of the biggest questions facing teams this year (especially at quarterback) won't be settled into well into the regular season.

    Here's a look at some of the biggest.

Replacing Ben Roethlisberger

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering uncharted waters. For the first time since 2003, when the Steelers open the season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11, it will be without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.

    The Steelers took a pair of steps to address Roethlisberger's retirement in the offseason, signing veteran free agent Mitchell Trubisky and using their first pick in the 2022 draft on Pitt's Kenny Pickett.

    In the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions, it was Trubisky who played with the starters, completing 15-of-19 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown and leading the team on a 92-yard drive to close the first half. But after the game, head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear Trubisky's performance didn't guarantee that he'll start against the Bengals.

    “Again, like I told you guys the other week, man, we’re not gonna make knee-jerk reactions or statements following a performance," Tomlin told reporters. We’ll go through our proper professional procedure. We’ll evaluate the game. We’ll meet with our front-office people. We’ll have discussions. We’ll talk internally. We’ll talk external possibilities. We’ll go through our normal procedure this time of year. And we’ll disclose it to you at our leisure, to be quite honest with you.”

    To his credit, Pickett played well in the preseason as well, completing 10-of-14 throws against the Lions. And there's no question that the first quarterback selected in 2022 is the future under center in the Steel City.

    Based on the rotation in the exhibition finale, it appears that Trubisky is the present.

    But given that Tomlin has never had a losing season in Pittsburgh, the question is how long that will be the case if the Steelers start losing games.

San Francisco Soap Opera

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    For most of the spring and summer, the dominant storyline in San Francisco was the future of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. It wasn't a matter of if Garoppolo was leaving after five seasons and a Super Bowl trip. It was just a matter of where he was headed.

    However, the trade market for the 30-year-old's services never materialized—at least not to the 49ers liking. And rather than release Garoppolo outright and potentially see him land somewhere like Seattle, the 49ers stunned the NFL last week, by restructuring Garoppolo's deal and bringing him back as Trey Lance's backup.

    Per ESPN's Nick Wagoner, even 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted he's surprised that Garoppolo is back, although he thinks the development is the best thing for both player and team.

    "We were always clear to Jimmy that salary cap wise and a backup role and supporting Trey and that if that worked for him, that was a no brainer for us," Shanahan said. "We just didn't think the chances of that were gonna happen. And it ended up being that way. And so, when it was all said and done, even though it was pretty shocking to us, we thought it was a win-win for both sides."

    The 49ers have spent the entire offseason talking up Lance as the team's starting quarterback. But Lance had an uneven preseason and has started all of three games since the 2019 season. Garoppolo, on the other hand, just led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game and has a better winning percentage as the starter in San Francisco than Aaron Rodgers does in Green Bay.

    The Niners can talk up Lance until they are blue in the face. But the reality is that re-upping Garoppolo appears to indicate that the team isn't completely sure Lance is ready. And if the 49ers struggle early in the season, it's not going to take long for fans and the media to start wondering aloud if San Francisco's best chances of winning lie with rolling Garoppolo out again.

Matthew Stafford's Elbow

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    Last year, the Los Angeles Rams made a bold move by trading for veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford—a move that paid off with a win in Super Bowl LVI.

    But staying on top of the league can be even harder than getting there. Especially if the Rams are without the services of their quarterback for part of the season.

    For a good portion of the summer, Stafford has been dealing with tendonitis in his right elbow. That tendonitis resulted in a decreased workload for Stafford in camp, but he told reporters that he accomplished what he needed to in the preseason and will be ready to rock when the Rams host the Buffalo Bills in the Thursday night opener.

    "I felt like I got a bunch of good work in," Stafford said. "I feel good and right on track to be doing what I want to be doing. I know that functionally I feel like I can do everything I need to do. So, just trying to continue on that road."

    Stafford is as tough as they come. He has played through any number of nagging injuries throughout his career and has missed time in just one season since all the way back in 2011. That was in 2019, when a back injury cost him half the season. And at 34, Stafford is still relatively young—at least by quarterback standards.

    But Stafford's elbow soreness isn't going to go away on its own, and the cold, hard truth is that if Stafford misses significant time this season, L.A.'s chances of defending their title will be shot. Kaput. Done.

Quarterback Nontroversy in Seattle

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    There's no shortage of quarterback drama in the NFL. It's the game's most important position, so it's no surprise that many ongoing narratives across the league come from there.

    In the case of the Seattle Seahawks, it's a pretty depressing narrative.

    After trading Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos for a package that included Drew Lock, the Seahawks conducted one of the more unimpressive quarterback competitions in recent memory between Lock and Geno Smith. That competition is now over, with Smith (who was 1-2 in three starts with the Seahawks last season) winning the job.

    After Seattle's Week 3 preseason game, Smith told reporters he's excited to start the season opener against (coincidentally) Wilson and the Broncos.

    "It means a lot," Smith said. "I'm pretty sure it's something I've been preparing for. The reality is that it's just step one. It's just the beginning. I've got to make sure that I'm ready to go out there, win and play 17 games and more. So, for me, I'm grateful. I'm thankful. I'm forever indebted to the Seattle Seahawks organization. But it's time to get to work."

    Smith wasn't great in the preseason, completing just 59 percent of his passes. But he at least took care of the football, while Lock turned it over four times in two games.

    However, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll made it clear that this competition is ongoing.

    That means a short leash for Smith and the very real chance of a quarterback carousel for a Seahawks team that appears on the verge of its worst season in over a decade.

Texas-Sized Trouble in Dallas?

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    AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

    Frankly, we could keep going on and on about quarterback storylines, whether it's the development of second-year pro Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars or the impending first starts on new teams for a pair of veterans in Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson.

    But there are other things going on, including at least one team for which quarterback isn't the issue.

    Last year, the Dallas Cowboys offense led the league in yards and points per game on the way to an NFC East title. The team has a top-10 quarterback in Dak Prescott, a pair of talented running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard and a star in the making at wide receiver in CeeDee Lamb.

    But the Cowboys also have problems.

    For starters, Pro Football Focus' top-ranked offensive line from last year lost a trio of important pieces. Left guard Connor Williams and right tackle La'el Collins departed in free agency, and left tackle Tyron Smith suffered an avulsion fracture that may have ended his season before it started.

    While appearing on a Dallas-area radio station, team owner Jerry Jones indicated that rookie Tyler Smith would take over as the blindside protector (h/t Jon Machota of The Athletic).

    "He's a rookie, but he's a first-round pick, and he deserved to be a first-round pick, in my mind," Jones said. "You expect [your first and second-round picks] to play, and I think that basically we thought that when we used that first pick on Tyler."

    As if that wasn't enough, the Cowboys also have major questions at wide receiver opposite Lamb. Veteran Michael Gallup avoided the PUP list to start the season, but he won't be ready to return from an ACL tear in Week 1.

    Meanwhile, rookie third-round pick Jalen Tolbert underwhelmed in the preseason. There will likely be a lot of pressure on Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz to carry the passing attack early in the season.

Patriots Perplexing Playcalling

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    For the first time since 2012, the New England Patriots are heading into a season without Josh McDaniels as the team's offensive coordinator. Usually, that would be an easy enough fix, as the Pats could simply hire a new offensive coordinator and move on.

    But heaven forbid Bill Belichick ever did things the easy way.

    For most of the spring and summer, the biggest question hanging over the New England offense was who would be the play-caller this year. It was a question made all the odder by the fact the two leading contenders were a special teams coach in Joe Judge and a defensive coach in Matt Patricia.

    In the preseason, it was Patricia who handled most of New England's play-calling duties. But in true Belichickian fashion, when asked by reporters whether that meant the matter was settled, Patricia was less than forthcoming.

    "That was just the preseason. We'll see what happens as we get towards the regular season as we go forward," Patricia told reporters. "Right now, I'm just focused on today."

    It was a rocky preseason for Mac Jones and the New England offense this year, and it's fair to question how big a part the coaching decision has played. Judge is coaching the team's quarterbacks after Daniel Jones regressed badly on his watch in New York. When Patricia was head coach in Detroit from 2018-20, the Lions offense ranked 20th or worse twice.

    After leading the Patriots to the playoffs as a rookie, this is a critical year for Jones' development. And six Super Bowl wins tend to earn a coach the benefit of the doubt.

    But entrusting the team's future under center to coaches with next to no experience on that side of the ball is a curious path to take.

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