2019 NFL Offseason Storylines That Deserve More Attention
Some notable NFL stories fell under the radar during an offseason jam-packed with big news.
Antonio Brown got traded. Odell Beckham Jr. did, too. Nick Foles received an $88 million contract. An entire city rebelled against a mistake in the NFC title game. The NFL made changes to blindside hits and replay rules. The team with the No. 1 pick is seemingly looking at a quarterback after it traded up for one last year.
With all of that going on, a number of developments with big potential implications didn't get much national attention.
Roster overhauls, questionable trades and free-agent flops are among the offseason storylines that deserve a closer examination.
Texans and Jaguars Continue to Neglect Offensive Lines
Little is more important than the offensive line in today's pass-happy NFL.
Quarterbacks are hard to find. Now linemen are too, with the college game asking less and less from the players up front thanks to the popularity of quick-firing schemes and mobile passers. Finding a line isn't simple—but free agency had some clear, notable upgrades like Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James and others.
Yet two teams with miserable offensive lines looked frozen after the snap.
The Houston Texans led the NFL in sacks allowed last year, coughing up an astounding 62. The team spent a top-12 pick on Deshaun Watson, watched him tear an ACL as a rookie and then let him take all this abuse as a sophomore.
Rather than properly address the position, the Texans went out and added a pair of lower-tier free agents with Matt Kalil and Seantrel Henderson. The same criticism applies to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who coughed up a gigantic contract to Nick Foles. After allowing 53 sacks (tied for third-worst) their front office only signed a former bust, offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.
Meanwhile, Oakland paid up for Trent Brown and Carolina took Cam Newton's health seriously, spending on Matt Paradis and Daryl Williams.
Not even making a ripple at a position of need in the waves of free agency could end up playing a big role in two of the NFL's more prominent quarterback situations.
Redskins Consolidate Power, Struggle at QB Amid Fan Backlash
The Washington Redskins don't get a ton of national attention.
It isn't hard to see why. Since 2000, the franchise has just one playoff win and five winning seasons. In recent years, the franchise has made a series of unfortunate quarterback decisions, from the Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins carousel to Alex Smith and now Case Keenum.
Last season, on the way to a 7-9 finish and a second consecutive year with waves of injuries, D.J. Swearinger spoke out about the coaching and got cut. Another of the team's best defenders, Josh Norman, called out home fans for booing.
Despite all this, the Redskins decided to essentially promote Bruce Allen, the team president and source of fan ire, by eliminating certain checks and balances. Encouraging change had happened in the front office in recent years, but the team decided to cut loose chief operating officer and president of business operations Brian Lafemina, as well as others on the business side.
It throws Allen into an even more prominent position next to owner Dan Snyder. The duo is already responsible for the team's personnel decisions in recent years, so fans are rightly skeptical.
This all comes before the Redskins have to, once again, figure their quarterback out while Smith's contract limits the salary cap and massive holes remain on the depth chart at wideout and safety.
Big-Name QBs on the Mend
Considering the aforementioned offensive line issues, it shouldn't come as a surprise to hear that some of the league's prominent passers are still working their way back from injuries.
The following notable quarterbacks are on the mend:
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans: Mariota now has Ryan Tannehill breathing down his neck. He missed just two games last season, but his play was impacted in several more. The problem has most recently been classified as a "nerve issue," according to Terry McCormick.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: In a repeat of his injury a few years prior, Dalton tried to make up for poor line play by going after a snap that sailed over his head. He tore ligaments in his thumb, missed five games and is now trying to work his way back while learning a new offense installed by an entirely new coaching staff.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers: Garoppolo lasted three games in his second campaign with the 49ers before suffering a torn ACL. He's expected back for training camp, where he'll have to get back into the swing of things after completing just 59.6 percent of his passes before the injury.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Newton has been one of the biggest question marks at quarterback this offseason. He ended up undergoing shoulder surgery in January, though "cartilage damage was not as extensive as we'd feared," according to Joe Person of The Athletic. Newton technically only missed two games, but it is his second shoulder surgery in three offseasons.
Alex Smith, Washington Redskins: Ten games into his stint with Washington, Smith broke his leg, which involved a compound and spiral fracture. He spent time in the hospital and had multiple operations to combat infection, throwing his playing career into doubt.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles went all-in on Wentz after letting Nick Foles walk. But even in January, he wasn't practicing due to a back injury. He's now missed eight regular season games over the past two years, though he's expected to be healthy for OTAs.
In other words, six teams—all with playoff hopes centered around their quarterbacks—still have passers recovering from various issues. These injuries may have fallen on the backburner in terms of national attention, but should have a huge impact on the upcoming season.
Notable Veterans Still on the Market
Those with free-agency fatigue had better get ready for the second half.
The big names dominated the headlines, as guys reeling in millions of dollars tend to do. But the second and third wave of the market often boasts incredible value.
To name a few of the notables still looking for work:
Marshawn Lynch, RB: Le'Veon Bell and others demanded the attention. But Beast Mode is only 32 and averaged 4.2 yards per carry over six games last year. Adrian Peterson just put up 1,000 yards at 33 years old, so Lynch is far from done.
Michael Crabtree, WR: It didn't work out for Crabtree in Baltimore, which is understandable given the team's quarterback spot. Even so, he averaged north of 11 yards per catch on 100 targets.
Ezekiel Ansah, Edge: An elite pass-rusher with 12 or more sacks in two of his last four campaigns, only injury concerns could stop him from landing somewhere.
Nick Perry, Edge: Perry didn't live up to his contract in Green Bay. But he's 28 and put up 18 total sacks in the two years prior to last season.
Ndamukong Suh, DL: Maybe Suh didn't blow the doors off offenses next to Aaron Donald. But he's still a steady contributor with a big name taking his time picking a new home.
Morris Claiborne, CB: Claiborne is a former top-six pick who played well last year during his second season with the New York Jets.
Eric Berry, S: The best safety left on the market has played in three games over the past two seasons but still offers big upside.
The Chiefs Nuked Their Defense
The Legion of Boom and other big names on the Seattle Seahawks broke up a few years ago and it seemed like the defense was doomed.
Not so—and now the Kansas City Chiefs are hoping for the same result.
The Chiefs had to cut ties with Eric Berry, who has missed 29 games over the past two seasons and is now 30 years old. Justin Houston was getting up there in age too, so for salary reasons, he was permitted to seek out a new gig. In a rather unexpected turn though, the Chiefs decided to slap the franchise tag on Dee Ford and ship him to the San Francisco 49ers.
Willingly giving up a 28-year-old disruptor with 10 or more sacks in two of his last three seasons is an odd decision, but indicative of the rebuild the Chiefs want on that side of the ball.
So it goes after coughing up 26.3 points per game (ranked 24th), 132.1 rushing yards (27th) and 273.4 passing yards (31st), somehow mostly negating a 50-touchdown effort from Patrick Mahomes.
The new additions tasked with turning things around? Edge defender Alex Okafor, linebacker Damien Wilson, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Tyrann Mathieu, as well as defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah, who comes over via trade.
It's a quiet but big overhaul for the Chiefs with rather unpredictable results.
John Elway Stumbles Again at QB
John Elway continues to struggle with the quarterback position.
The latest gamble? Having his Denver Broncos strike up a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for Joe Flacco.
Flacco, the guy who lost his job to a rookie last year, completed 61.2 percent of his passes beforehand with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. At 6'6", he at least fits the Elway mold.
Which isn't to say last season's Case Keenum decision was any better—as the one-hit wonder in Minnesota completed 62.3 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Since coming aboard in 2011, Elway has drafted five quarterbacks and each has fizzled out: Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly.
Other than loving tall quarterbacks (three of the aforementioned are 6'6" or taller), there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to Elway's QB dartboard. And given the realities of Flacco's performance and age (34), nobody should rule out Elway taking another shot in the draft.
Franchise Tag Locks Up Elite Pass-Rushers
As usual, elite pass-rushing talent didn't hit the open market this year, slotting in right alongside offensive tackles and quarterbacks as items teams just don't let escape.
The aforementioned Dee Ford got hit with a tag before getting traded. The Dallas Cowboys kept DeMarcus Lawrence on a tag. So did the Houston Texans with Jadeveon Clowney. Ditto for the Seattle Seahawks and Frank Clark. On the interior, the Atlanta Falcons locked down Grady Jarrett.
For context, those guys had 51.5 sacks between them last year.
The rest of the market scrambled to overpay for the rest. Trey Flowers was the top name and landed in Detroit, but he's a defensive Swiss Army knife, not strictly a disruptor. Meanwhile, Green Bay threw more than $100 million combined at the duo of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, who combined for just 12.5 sacks last year.
Justin Houston, Dante Fowler, Brandon Graham and Clay Matthews, to name a few, had their own red flags or quips but still made notable money. Even 37-year-old Cameron Wake got $23 million over three years in Tennessee.
Pressure is king in today's NFL, a point subtly reinforced by the market's spending despite a draft whose prominent disruptors command the spotlight.