Every NFL Team's Biggest Potential Distraction for 2020

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2020

Every NFL Team's Biggest Potential Distraction for 2020

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Now that we're past the 2020 NFL draft and flurry of free-agency signings, it's fun for fans to imagine what their favorite teams will look like this season. Hyped free-agent additions, rookies and trade acquisitions all have the potential to bolster their respective squads.

    However, potential doesn't equal production, and a few key distractions can ensure it never does. The Cleveland Browns found that out the hard way in 2019.

    The Browns "won" the offseason with additions like Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt, but they stumbled in the regular season due to a lack of chemistry and an ill-prepared coaching staff.

    The distraction of expectations derailed the Browns last season, and it could do so for a different squad in 2020. Other issues such as retirement questions, coaching hot seats and contract disputes can be equally detrimental to a team's focus and chemistry.

    Here, we'll examine each team's biggest potential distraction for 2020.

Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray's Potential Sophomore Slump

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    Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
    Cardinals QB Kyler MurrayPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The stage appears to be set for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray to take a step forward in 2020. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year is entering his second NFL season, and the Cardinals added perennial Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins to his cadre of pass-catchers this offseason.

    But as former Oklahoma teammate and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield proved last season, a promising rookie campaign does not define a career.

    Mayfield set a new rookie touchdown record in 2018, but he stumbled early in 2019 and then spent the rest of the year hearing from critics quick to bash the outspoken signal-caller.

    "He's overrated as hell," ESPN analyst Rex Ryan famously said of Mayfield.

    While the more subdued Murray isn't likely to invite as harsh of a response from critics if he experiences a sophomore slump, critics will emerge nonetheless. Murray and the Cardinals will need to block them out and focus on his development.

Atlanta Falcons: An Aging Todd Gurley

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    Falcons RB Todd Gurley
    Falcons RB Todd GurleyAssociated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams released standout running back Todd Gurley earlier this offseason, and the Atlanta Falcons quickly signed him to a one-year, $5.5 million deal.

    The former Georgia Bulldogs star is a perfect schematic fit for the Falcons. He can be a physical runner between the tackles who complements Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the passing attack. He can also be a capable receiver out of the backfield, which gives Atlanta flexibility.

    However, Gurley is also coming off his worst season since 2016. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry last year and ran for a career-low 857 yards. Though Gurley is only 25 years old, his 1,265 regular-season carries may have taken their toll.

    The change of scenery might help Gurley have a bounce-back season. If not, he and the Falcons will inevitably hear talk of the three-time Pro Bowler being over the hill or overpaid.

    If Gurley's best days are behind him and he's merely an above-average back, so what? The Falcons can't react by force-feeding him the ball in an effort to increase his production—a reaction we've seen from teams in the past when notable free-agent additions don't live up to expectations.

Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson the Pocket Passer

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    Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
    Ravens QB Lamar JacksonAssociated Press

    Although he's the NFL's reigning MVP, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson still doesn't always get credit for his passing ability because he's a dual-threat and sometimes a run-first quarterback.

    "Not bad for a running back," Jackson said after throwing for 324 yards and five touchdowns in last year's season opener.

    However, Jackson has already hinted at being less of a dual threat moving forward.

    "I doubt if I'm going to be carrying the ball a lot going on in the future," he told reporters in April.

    Veering too hard away from the run could be a mistake.

    While Jackson should focus on his growth as a passer—because every young signal-caller should—he and the Ravens cannot become consumed with trying to prove that he can win as a stationary pocket passer. Doing so could become a distraction that takes away from a potentially special season in Baltimore.

Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen the Pocket Passer

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    Bills QB Josh Allen
    Bills QB Josh AllenAssociated Press

    Like Jackson, Buffalo Bills signal-caller Josh Allen is a dual-threat quarterback. As is the case in Baltimore, the Bills should not focus too much on taking away Allen's running ability.

    Now, does Allen need to improve his mechanics and pocket presence? Absolutely. He isn't as polished of a passer as Jackson, though he has the potential to be a better one if he can harness his arm talent—and improve his accuracy.

    Allen completed just 58.8 percent of his passes in 2019.

    Perhaps more importantly, Allen needs to ditch his habit of trying to take on defenders in the open field. Yes, he's 6'5" and 237 pounds, but if Allen gets knocked out of a game, Buffalo is turning to Matt Barkley or Davis Webb at quarterback.

    At the same time, though, the Bills cannot buy too heavily into the idea that Allen needs to be less of a running back and more of a pocket passer. He's not Jim Kelly, and trying to force him to be would take away one of his biggest assets and would be detrimental to the offense.

Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey's Contract

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    Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey
    Panthers RB Christian McCaffreyBrian Blanco/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers gave running back Christian McCaffrey a new four-year, $64 million deal this offseason. That's a massive contract for a running back, and it could cause distractions on two fronts.

    The first could occur if McCaffrey takes a step back in production this year. That's actually likely, considering he racked up nearly 2,400 combined rushing and receiving yards last season. He will also be learning a new offense under head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

    If McCaffrey takes a significant step back, critics will say his contract was a mistake.

    The other potential distraction would arise if Carolina—or McCaffrey himself, for that matter—tries to lighten his workload in an effort to protect its investment. Trying to protect McCaffrey and his newfound financial value could move the Panthers away from the one thing that truly worked for them offensively last season.

Chicago Bears: Matt Nagy's Hot Seat

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    Bears head coach Matt Nagy
    Bears head coach Matt NagyMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears already have one major distraction heading into 2020, as a quarterback battle between Mitchell Trubisky and trade acquisition Nick Foles looms large. However, that potential distraction is largely the product of head coach Matt Nagy's place on the hot seat.

    This is a make-or-break year for Nagy. The former Kansas City Chiefs coordinator has not transformed Chicago into an offensive powerhouse, and he hasn't developed Trubisky into a franchise quarterback.

    If the Bears don't return to the playoffs this season, Nagy could be out of a job.

    It's this pressure to win that led to the Foles trade. It could also potentially lead to questionable future moves as Nagy—and general manager Ryan Pace—try to cool the proverbial hot seat.

    A win-at-all-cost approach is only really worth it if a team is close to title contention. If the Bears get on an early roll, then that approach will be fine. However, Chicago must avoid sacrificing team chemistry and its long-term potential for the mere sake of improving its 2020 win total by a couple of games.

Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow's Lofty Expectations

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    Bengals QB Joe Burrow
    Bengals QB Joe BurrowGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    New Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. He threw 60 touchdown passes last season while leading LSU to a national title and was the No. 1 pick in last month's draft. It's fair to say the Bengals have pretty high expectations for their new signal-caller.

    However, the Bengals have to be careful to temper those expectations. This is a squad coming off of a 2-14 season, and Burrow has never played an NFL down. Expecting him to immediately be successful would be foolish.

    "You want to know how Joe Burrow's gonna become great? Surround him with a great culture, with great leadership, and some great players, he'll be great," former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said on the Move the Sticks podcast (h/t NFL.com's Grant Gordon). "If not, he won't."

    Burrow cannot get discouraged if he struggles early in his NFL tenure. Neither can his coaching staff, teammates or the Bengals faithful. There's a very real chance Cincinnati will again be one of the worst teams in the league, but that won't mean Burrow is a bust.

    Confidence is critical for a quarterback, and the Bengals have to be careful to maintain Burrow's throughout what could be a very trying season.

Cleveland Browns: Mayfield's Make-or-Break Season

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    Browns QB Baker Mayfield
    Browns QB Baker MayfieldGary Landers/Associated Press

    Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield suffered a confidence hit during his sophomore slump of 2019. The Browns—saddled with unrealistic playoff expectations—stumbled to a 6-10 record, while Mayfield regressed as a signal-caller.

    This is going to be a make-or-break season for the 2018 first overall pick. However, the Browns must be careful not to put too much pressure on the young gunslinger. They just need to know if Mayfield can develop into a high-level franchise quarterback. They don't need him to be Bernie Kosar right now.

    Mayfield will be learning a new offense under head coach Kevin Stefanski and possibly new habits under his offensive coordinator, vaunted quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt. There are likely to be more growing pains, especially early in the season.

    However, it's growth that Cleveland needs to see from Mayfield. If he is showing better pocket presence, trusting his reads more and cutting back on turnovers—he had 23 of them last year—that will represent progress.

    Such progress is more important to the future of the franchise than wins and losses. Being overly critical of Mayfield—or worse yet, turning to backup Case Keenum—because the Browns aren't winning as much as desired would be a monumental mistake.

Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott's Contract

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    Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
    Cowboys QB Dak PrescottRon Jenkins/Associated Press

    Dak Prescott's agent has denied reports the quarterback turned down a five-year deal from the Dallas Cowboys, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport. However, the fact remains that no deal is in place, and the franchise-tagged signal-caller has yet to sign his tender.

    This means a holdout is possible, which would have an obvious impact on Dallas' season. That's likely why the Cowboys were quick to give veteran Andy Dalton a one-year, $3 million deal after he was released by Cincinnati.

    Dalton is a quality bit of insurance for the Cowboys, but he does represent a sizable step back from what Prescott was in 2019—Prescott threw for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. If he isn't with the team when the season begins, Dallas' playoff hopes could be in jeopardy.

    However, even if Prescott does sign his franchise tender and start the season under center, his future in Dallas will remain a distraction. The only way the Cowboys are going to avoid it is by getting a long-term deal done before the July 15 deadline.

Denver Broncos: John Elway's QB Track Record

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    Broncos GM John Elway
    Broncos GM John ElwayAssociated Press

    The Denver Broncos appear sold on second-year quarterback Drew Lock. The former Missouri star showed plenty of promise late last season, throwing for 1,020 yards and posting a 4-1 record, but Denver has appeared sold on quarterback options before.

    GM and president of football operations John Elway has taken some big swings at quarterbacks, most notably first-rounder Paxton Lynch and free agent Joe Flacco, and missed. Denver has failed to find and develop a quarterback under his guidance and—with the exception of the Peyton Manning years—has been one of the most unsteady teams with regard to the game's most important position.

    This is a narrative that will crop up if Lock fails to live up to expectations in 2020. Denver got him two premier weapons in the draft—Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler—and now the pressure is on Lock to succeed.

    It's unfair pressure for a second-year quarterback with limited starting experience, of course, which is another potential distraction. However, the biggest issue could involve Elway and his future as Denver's top decision-maker if yet another of his quarterback choices starts looking more like a whiff than a home run.

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford's Future

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    Lions QB Matthew Stafford
    Lions QB Matthew StaffordRick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia is likely on the hot seat this year, but that isn't the franchise's biggest potential distraction. The uncertain future of franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford is a far bigger issue.

    Stafford is one of the league's most potent passers when healthy and surrounded by adequate offensive support. However, he has rarely produced the winning results expected of a former No. 1 overall pick—both because of injuries and the team's overall talent level.

    Now, the Lions might be nearing a split with the 32-year-old.

    Speculation swirled in the offseason that he could be traded. According to NFL Network's Michael Silver, it's rumored that Stafford was the one who wanted to be dealt. While nothing definitive has emerged, the fact that he recently put his Detroit-area home up for sale does nothing to quell speculation that he wants to leave.

    Stafford has three years remaining on his current contract, but his days in Detroit may already be numbered. For everyone in the organization—except perhaps Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn—this will be the biggest and potentially the most disruptive story of the season.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers' Future

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    Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
    Packers QB Aaron RodgersMatt York/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers shocked the collective football world when they traded up in the first round to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love last month. Green Bay has a future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers who is still playing at a high level. Taking his eventual successor now instead of giving Rodgers more weapons to work with seemed unnecessary.

    However, Rodgers is under contract through 2023. It's time to move past the draft and for Rodgers and the Packers to go chase another Lombardi Trophy.

    If you're thinking this is one of those "easier-said-than-done" scenarios, you are correct. The fact that Rodgers' heir apparent is now in the building is going to create a potential distraction every time he has a poor game or any degree of public friction with head coach Matt LaFleur.

    The fact that Green Bay used its first three selections on Love, running back A.J. Dillon and H-back Josiah Deguara only increases the perception that the Packers are building around LaFleur instead of Rodgers—LaFleur led a run-oriented attack as offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.

    Even if there isn't a looming power struggle between Rodgers and LaFleur, the reality that Rodgers' tenure in Green Bay has a visible endpoint will hang over the franchise until it arrives.

Houston Texans: Bill O'Brien the GM

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    Texans coach and GM Bill O'Brien
    Texans coach and GM Bill O'BrienCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Bill O'Brien the head coach has done plenty of good things for the Houston Texans. He has led the franchise to the postseason in four of the last five years, and he has helped Deshaun Watson become one of the top young quarterbacks in the league.

    The jury is still out on Bill O'Brien the general manager, however.

    Since becoming the de facto GM last offseason—he was officially granted the title this past January—O'Brien has traded away Jadeveon Clowney, traded two first-round picks and more for Laremy Tunsil, inked Tunsil to a massive $22 million-per-year deal, and traded away DeAndre Hopkins.

    Now, these moves may pay off. Tunsil is an above-average tackle, and Houston did get a new running back in David Johnson as part of the Hopkins deal. However, if they don't, there could be trouble.

    Should the Texans struggle in 2020—especially if the passing game suffers without Hopkins—O'Brien will likely be at the center of the criticism. He may wind up on the hot seat, not because of his efficacy as a coach but because of his results as general manager.

Indianapolis Colts: Philip Rivers' Future

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    Colts QB Philip Rivers
    Colts QB Philip RiversCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts have a new starting quarterback for 2020 in Philip Rivers. According to head coach Frank Reich, Rivers may be the starter for longer than that.

    "I can just tell you I really believe it's Philip [Rivers'] intent to play multiple years [with the Colts]," Reich said earlier this month, per The Athletic's Zak Keefer.

    The problem is that this potential timeline doesn't fit with Rivers' initial plans unless you're looking at the literal definition of "multiple."

    "I can say for certain that if I'm playing, it's a two-year maximum," Rivers said back in February, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.

    Two years may technically be multiple years, but that doesn't mean Rivers is a long-term answer in Indianapolis. The uncertainty about his future—and exactly when the Colts need to have a succession plan in place—could disrupt the flow of the 2020 campaign.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The 2021 Draft

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    Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
    Clemson QB Trevor LawrenceGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars appear ready to give quarterback Gardner Minshew II a full-season audition for the long-term job. They traded Nick Foles to the Bears and have only the likes of Joshua Dobbs and Mike Glennon behind Minshew.

    However, the Jaguars cannot afford to be disingenuous with the audition. Minshew flashed plenty of potential as a rookie, throwing for 3,271 yards and 21 touchdowns in 14 games, and he deserves a fair chance to succeed.

    Jacksonville cannot afford to be distracted by the potential spoils of the 2021 draft, which could happen if the team stumbles out of the gate. Quarterbacks like Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields will be draft-eligible next April, and the Jaguars could face the all-too-real temptation to tank, which would likely rob Minshew of the chance to establish himself as an NFL starter.

    That could come back to bite the Jaguars for a couple of reasons. For one, there's no guarantee tanking will result in the draft's No. 1 pick—just ask the Miami Dolphins. There's also no guarantee that prospects like Lawrence will enter next offseason healthy and viewed as a sure thing.

    Just ask Tua Tagovailoa.

    Of course, "sure things" don't exist in the draft anyway. Looking too hard at the 2021 class could blind Jacksonville to the reality that Minshew might just be its best option at quarterback.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Super Bowl Hangover

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    Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
    Chiefs QB Patrick MahomesOrlin Wagner/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs are reigning Super Bowl champions. They're rightfully among the title favorites for 2020—Kansas City has the best odds at 4-1, according to Caesars Palace—but getting back to and winning the big game won't be easy.

    The NFL hasn't had back-to-back champions since the New England Patriots won in 2004 and 2005.

    Super Bowl hangovers are real, and for a variety of reasons. For one, reigning champs have a massive target on their backs. While teams shouldn't need extra motivation to win on game day, they often find it in the prospect of knocking off the champ.

    Secondly, the high expectations that come with being champions can create undue pressure on players and coaches who are now expected to win every time they take the field. A slump at any point in 2020 could turn that pressure into a locker-room distraction—especially if the team starts looking to point fingers for the lack of positive results.

Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr's Future

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    Raiders QB Derek Carr
    Raiders QB Derek CarrJack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The 2020 season will mark the Raiders' first in Las Vegas. Could it also mark Derek Carr's final season with the franchise? It's entirely possible, especially if Carr fails to take the team to the postseason.

    The Raiders were close to being a playoff team last year, finishing with a 7-9 record. While Carr performed reasonably well—he passed for 4,054 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions—the perception remained that he isn't the guy for head coach Jon Gruden.

    The Raiders added Marcus Mariota in the offseason, which only further fueled speculation that Carr's days with the Raiders are numbered.

    Las Vegas then drafted Henry Ruggs III to be the team's new No. 1 receiver and to give Carr the premier top target he hasn't had since Amari Cooper. If he doesn't capitalize and have a tremendous season, Carr could potentially be on the chopping block.

    Though Carr is under contract through 2022, he has just $2.5 million in dead money on his deal after this season.

    The uncertainty surrounding Carr's future could become a major distraction, especially if he struggles for any significant stretch.

Los Angeles Chargers: Pressure to Start Herbert

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    Chargers QB Justin Herbert
    Chargers QB Justin HerbertMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Like the Bengals, the Los Angeles Chargers used their first pick on a new quarterback. Unlike Cincinnati, Los Angeles should be in no hurry to put him on the field. While former Oregon signal-caller Justin Herbert may have a ton of physical upside, he is not a pro-ready passer.

    "He's confident attacking downfield, but touch throws evade him and may have created tentativeness with certain short and intermediate throws," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of Herbert. "Ball placement requires additional emphasis."

    Burrow is Cincinnati's best option after releasing Dalton. However, the Chargers have journeyman Tyrod Taylor, and they should stick with him even if the season starts to go south.

    Putting Herbert on the field could ruin his confidence, as it has done to many a quarterback before him. However, if Taylor isn't delivering wins, there will be a distracting call for Los Angeles to see what it has in the rookie.

Los Angeles Rams: A Potential Jared Goff Hot Seat

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    Rams QB Jared Goff
    Rams QB Jared GoffMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    When Sean McVay took over as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, he was almost immediately labeled an offensive genius. He helped transform quarterback Jared Goff from a rookie disappointment into a high-level starter—Goff had 3,804 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017.

    Goff had another strong season in 2018, throwing for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns while helping lead L.A. to the Super Bowl. However, he regressed significantly last year, again topping 4,600 yards but tossing 16 picks and just 22 touchdowns.

    For stretches in 2019, both Goff and McVay appeared out of their element.

    "It's not like McVay can't coach anymore. But defenses have caught up to his play-action heavy attack," Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab wrote in November.

    Herein lies the problem. If Goff's emergence was only a product of McVay's creativity, he may continue regressing back the level of play we saw before the head coach's arrival. If Goff has another shaky season, it could cause fans and teammates alike to lose confidence in the inconsistent and arguably overpaid—Goff is set to earn more than $34 million in 2021—quarterback.

    While Los Angeles isn't likely to move on from Goff, any uncertainty surrounding his development and his future could be very disruptive.

Miami Dolphins: Pressure to Start Tagovailoa

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    Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
    Dolphins QB Tua TagovailoaVasha Hunt/Associated Press

    The Dolphins find themselves in a situation similar to the Chargers'. They have a journeyman quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick set to start at quarterback. They also have a rookie first-rounder in Tagovailoa waiting in the wings.

    Like Los Angeles, Miami must ignore the temptation to turn the offense over to the rookie, but for different reasons. While Herbert simply isn't ready for the starting job, Tagovailoa is coming off a dislocated and fractured hip and represents a major injury risk.

    The last thing the Dolphins can afford is for their new franchise quarterback to suffer a career-threatening injury before his career even gets off the ground.

    If Tagovailoa is fully recovered and completely ready to be an NFL starter, then the Dolphins can hand him the keys, but there should be no rush to make that happen in 2020. Rookie quarterbacks make rookie mistakes, which can leave them open to big hits and potential injury. That's extra risky for Tagovailoa.

    Still, Tagovailoa is the future in Miami, not Fitzpatrick. His presence on the sideline in and of itself will be a bit of a distraction.

Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins' Prime-Time Woes

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    Vikings QB Kirk Cousins
    Vikings QB Kirk CousinsDoug Benc/Associated Press

    This potential distraction isn't just about Kirk Cousins' inability to consistently win in prime time—though it's worth mentioning that the Minnesota Vikings went just 1-4 in such games last season. It's more about the perception that Cousins is a good statistical quarterback but not an elite signal-caller.

    Cousins' lack of prime-time success—those games often come against quality opponents—is pert of this equation.

    Should Cousins struggle against top competition while beating up on the league's lesser teams in 2020, it will fuel the idea that perhaps he isn't the right quarterback for the Vikings. That could be a problem in the wake of his two-year, $66 million extension.

    Big money equals big expectations in the NFL, and Cousins' recent deal will only place added pressure on him to perform. That pressure could quickly become a distraction if he doesn't.

New England Patriots: The No-Brady Narrative

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    Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
    Patriots head coach Bill BelichickCharles Krupa/Associated Press

    In case you haven't heard, Tom Brady is no longer the quarterback of the New England Patriots. Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, leaving head coach Bill Belichick to continue his reign of terror on the NFL without him.

    Well, at least Belichick will try to ensure New England remains the thorn in the NFL's side without Brady. The reality, though, is that New England simply might not be a playoff contender with second-year man Jarrett Stidham or journeyman Brian Hoyer under center instead of Brady.

    This season may be all about rebuilding, figuring out if Stidham can be the quarterback of the future and/or determining if targeting a signal-caller in next year's draft is the best move for the franchise.

    Unfortunately, any and everything that Belichick and the Patriots do this season is going to be under the "no-Brady" microscope. The entire 2020 season will constantly be compared to what it might have been had Brady re-signed in the offseason.

    While New England is typically great at blocking out external noise, this is a narrative that may penetrate even Belichick's cone of silence.

New Orleans Saints: Brees' Potential Last Run

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    Saints QB Drew Brees
    Saints QB Drew BreesJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    While the Patriots are about to learn what life is like without Tom Brady, the New Orleans Saints aren't quite there yet with Drew Brees. However, that time could be coming soon. According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, Brees has agreed to join NBC Sports as an analyst following his playing career.

    This particular tidbit is likely to hang over the Saints all season long because it creates the impression—accurately or not—that Brees is beginning to focus more on his next career than his current one.

    The uncertainty surrounding Brees' future will be a distraction for the Saints. He is under contract through 2021, but the presence of the waiting NBC job will spark speculation that this will be Brees' last season.

    New Orleans is hoping to end the Brees era with another Super Bowl ring. To do so, the Saints—and Brees—need to focus solely on this season, not on what may come next.

New York Giants: Daniel Jones' Potential Year 2 Struggles

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    Giants QB Daniel Jones
    Giants QB Daniel JonesVera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press

    New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones showed glimpses of greatness as a rookie last season. However, he also had a penchant for coughing up the football. Jones fumbled 18 times in 13 games, losing 11 of them.

    The Giants and new head coach Joe Judge need to focus on developing Jones, addressing his ball security and improving his pocket presence. This needs to be the primary focus, even if Jones and the Giants' overall results are not favorable.

    A few (or many) losses shouldn't overshadow the positive strides the Giants hope to see from him.

    As is the case with other young quarterbacks on this list, New York must overlook Jones' potential Year 2 struggles as they relate to wins and losses. His development is the far more important factor, even if numerous losses cause Giants fans to publicly turn on the former Duke standout.

New York Jets: Adam Gase's Hot Seat

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    Jets head coach Adam Gase
    Jets head coach Adam GaseMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Adam Gase may not have been in the hot seat during his first season as the New York Jets head coach. However, his seat was warm enough that owner Christopher Johnson felt the need to publicly back Gase in early November.

    The temperature could rise a few degrees in 2020, especially if quarterback Sam Darnold remains inconsistent and the Jets continue losing.

    Gase was hired because of his—arguably unwarranted—reputation as a quarterback guru. He was supposed to unleash Darnold's potential and turn the Jets into an AFC East contender. While Darnold did show some signs of development, his issues with decision-making and ball security remained.

    He turned the ball over 18 times in 13 games last season.

    If Gase doesn't obviously have Darnold on the right track early, questions about his job security will arise. Let's not gloss over the fact that Gase was hired right after posting a 23-25 record as coach of the rival Dolphins. He's proven nothing as a head coach, and a potential hot seat could arise and become a major distraction this year.

Philadelphia Eagles: Wentz the Nondurable

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    Eagles QB Carson Wentz
    Eagles QB Carson WentzChris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles used a second-round draft pick on former Oklahoma signal-caller Jalen Hurts last month, a surprise given the presence of quarterback Carson Wentz. However, Hurts was drafted to be a high-end backup and a package player. He shouldn't be a distraction to Wentz or the Eagles offense in general.

    The potential distraction could come if Hurts is called upon to start during the 2020 season. This would likely mean that Wentz has sustained yet another injury, which would further add to the narrative, perhaps unwarranted, that he is injury-prone.

    Injuries robbed Wentz of a chance to play in the 2017 and 2018 postseasons. The former second overall pick finally got to appear in a playoff game last year but was quickly sidelined by a concussion. While his notable injury history is unfortunate and not exactly Wentz's fault—though he could do a better job of avoiding contact—it is very real.

    If Wentz does suffer another significant injury, it's likely to call his future in Philadelphia into question. It could also provide a case for Hurts being the team's more reliable option. Either situation would be distracting for the Eagles.

Pittsburgh Steelers: An Aging Big Ben

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    Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
    Steelers QB Ben RoethlisbergerKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are hopeful that the return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger will jump-start what was a stagnant offense in 2019. Pittsburgh averaged just 4.7 yards per offensive play last season, the same average allowed by their championship-caliber defense.

    Presumably, a healthy Big Ben will fix those offensive woes.

    The problem, however, is that he might not. While Pittsburgh's optimism is warranted, Roethlisberger is still a 38-year-old quarterback coming off of a significant elbow injury. There's absolutely zero guarantee that he can regain the form he had in 2018, when he passed for 5,129 yards.

    In two games before the injury last season, Roethlisberger completed just 56.5 percent of his passes for 351 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

    What if Roethlisberger is simply past his prime? If he experiences a Peyton Manning-like sudden drop-off in 2020, it will severely hinder Pittsburgh's playoff chances. It will also create a cloud of quarterback uncertainty that will hang over the franchise throughout the year.

San Francisco 49ers: The Super Bowl Hangover

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    49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan
    49ers head coach Kyle ShanahanCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    As is the case for the Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers will have to deal with the dreaded Super Bowl hangover in 2020. In their case, though, they'll be trying to come back from a disappointing late-game loss on the NFL's biggest stage.

    "It shouldn't be a problem," head coach Kyle Shanahan said, per Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk. "We'll lick our wounds, we'll get over this. We'll be fired up for next year."

    While 49ers fans should appreciate Shanahan's optimism, history suggests that bouncing back could be a bit of a problem. Only eight teams have gotten back to the championship game the year after losing it during the Super Bowl era. Three of those teams were the 1991-93 Bills.

    Only three teams have gotten back to the Super Bowl the year after a loss and won.

    The fact that San Francisco lost Super Bowl LIV—and the manner in which it lost—is going to follow the team throughout 2020.

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson Trade Rumors

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    Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
    Seahawks QB Russell WilsonChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    According to NBC Sports' Chris Simms, the Seattle Seahawks considered trading quarterback Russell Wilson to the Browns back in 2018. While that consideration may not have been too serious, it does bring up one important fact: Seattle does not consider Wilson unmovable.

    Now, this probably won't linger over the Seahawks' season, unless Seattle stumbles early and does not appear a lock for the postseason. Then, the trade buzz surrounding Wilson could grow stronger.

    Here's why: Wilson is playing on a four-year, $140 million deal. While he unquestionably deserves to be one of the game's highest-paid quarterbacks, that sort of contract isn't exactly team-friendly. Seattle won a Super Bowl with Wilson on a rookie contract, in part, because it could afford to pay other top-notch players at other positions.

    If the Seahawks don't look like title contenders in 2020, they could consider revisiting that situation by dealing Wilson and going after another first-round signal-caller. While they might not pull the trigger, the possibility could become a distraction for Wilson and his teammates.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Pressure to Win Now

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    Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
    Buccaneers QB Tom BradyBill Sikes/Associated Press

    The Buccaneers were immediately labeled title contenders when they signed Tom Brady in free agency. According to Caesars Palace, the Buccaneers are 12-1 to win the whole thing, only slightly behind the reigning NFC champ 49ers (8-1).

    While championship expectations do seem to follow Brady, the Buccaneers cannot let them become a distraction. If Tampa stumbles out of the gate, those expectations could turn to discouragement and frustration quickly.

    The Buccaneers won't have much time with Brady in which to meet those expectations.

    And there is a very real chance the Buccaneers don't begin the 2020 season red-hot. Brady is a soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback playing for a new team and in a new offense. He's also making the massive transition during the most unusual offseason in recent memory.

    It's fair to wonder if Brady and head coach Bruce Arians can mesh their offensive philosophies between now and the start of the regular season, especially with much of the work being done virtually. It's also fair to wonder if a tough early schedule—the Bucs open at New Orleans, play at Denver in Week 3 and host Green Bay in Week 6—could put Tampa at a disadvantage in the NFC South race.

Tennessee Titans: Ryan Tannehill's Contract

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    Titans QB Ryan Tannehill
    Titans QB Ryan TannehillJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a tremendous season for the Tennessee Titans in 2019. The former Dolphins first-round pick posted a remarkable 117.5 quarterback rating and helped lead Tennessee to the AFC title game.

    The Titans rewarded him with a new four-year, $118 million contract.

    Tennessee cannot allow that contract to become a distraction. This is a real concern because if Tannehill struggles in his second Titans campaign, plenty of fans and media members are going to point to it as a mistake.

    If the Titans begin the season, say, 2-3 or 2-4 and Tannehill is playing poorly, he's going to be labeled an overpaid player. That's the reality of the NFL, and it's going to create outside noise that may be difficult to tune out.

    Compounding the issue is the fact that Tennessee signed Tannehill to a long-term deal while giving league rushing leader Derrick Henry the franchise tag. The perception that the Titans bet on the wrong player could be a problem.

Washington Redskins: A Potential Quarterback Battle

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    Washington QB Dwayne Haskins
    Washington QB Dwayne HaskinsPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins should have one primary goal in 2020: determine if Dwayne Haskins can be a franchise quarterback. If the prognosis isn't good, Washington could potentially take a crack at guys like Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields in the 2021 draft.

    However, there remains a possibility that Haskins won't get a full-season audition this year. The Redskins hired former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera this offseason, then traded for former Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen.

    If Haskins struggles in camp or during the season, the temptation to turn to Allen will exist. For the sake of the franchise's future, Washington needs to resist that temptation—unless Rivera truly believes Allen is the quarterback of the future.

    Either way, going back and forth between the two signal-callers could be a distraction of disastrous proportions. It could cause a divide in the locker room, specifically involving returning players who already support Haskins.

    "I want to see him blossom," veteran running back Adrian Peterson said, per Ethan Cadeaux of NBC Sports Washington.

    Even worse, flip-flopping between quarterbacks could leave Washington without a clear idea of what it has at the position.


    All contract information via Spotrac.