The NFL season is back! The preseason is wrapping up and games are going to matter from here on out. It’s been 208 days since Super Bowl 52… It’s been 124 days since the NFL Draft. The excitement and tension is palpable at this point around the NFL landscape.
With all of the talk and lead up there have been a few things that have lingered in my mind as we are about a week away from the Week One kickoff…
How will politics play out this year in the NFL? If you are tired of politics in sports, you are surely not the only one. While a lot of people have embraced politics in sports, the other half of the fan base has not. Every time that a player kneels for the National Anthem or takes a political stance of some kind there are equal parts cheers and boos in the stadium and around the country. This country is currently split about 50/50 on the political spectrum and things have a very polarizing effect. Social media has only served as a magnifying glass for that polarization. The NFL has been thrust into the forefront with their National Anthem controversy. This season will be similar to last and you will see protests continue. They may take a different shape or name, but they will be present. Let’s wait and see if the NFL ratings take another hit. Whether you want to admit it or not, the protests played a role in the declining ratings. Last year the regular season viewership was down almost 10%. Another hit like that would likely hit the players where it hurts, their pocketbooks.
While we are talking about pocket books let’s talk about a trend in NFL contracts. Three contracts in particular.
- Kirk Cousins – 3 years, $84 million (fully guaranteed)
- Aaron Rodgers – 4 years, $134 million ($102.5 million guaranteed)
- Odell Beckham Jr. – 5 years, $95 million ($65 million guaranteed)
The numbers haven’t quite reached NBA proportions but they are quickly approaching it. The big takeaway though is the amount of the guarantees. Between these three contracts there is $251.5 million guaranteed or over 80%. That is good news for NFL players moving forward in their contact negotiations. The ultimate goal is fully guaranteed contracts. Cousins showed this off-season that it is possible.
Rookie quarterbacks will dominate storylines this season. A week before the season starts the New York Jets announced that Sam Darnold will be their starting quarterback. Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson could all usurp the starting job over the incumbent veterans. By the end of the season there could be rookies in upwards of 20% of the starting quarterback roles. It is usually boom or bust with rookie quarterbacks. Who is this year’s Deshaun Watson?
Why is no one talking about Ryan Shazier? There is so much talk about concussions (rightfully so) but there hasn’t been enough about Shazier and the consequences of these players getting bigger, faster, and stronger each and every year. Football is a violent game. That was evident with the hit that Shazier took last December. Some see it as a freak accident. But no matter what you call it, Shazier had to relearn to walk and will likely never play football again. While we all hope that there isn’t another life changing injury again this season, it has become a byproduct of some of the biggest and strongest human beings on the planet colliding with each other at full speed. Shazier will be a rallying cry and motivation for the Steelers this year but I wonder if his story will be a further hindrance for youth football program involvement and the future of the game.
Last year teams scored an average of 21.7 points per game. That is down a full point from 22.7 points per game in 2016. You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a year where fewer points were scored. This year that is all changing. The highest per game average in league history was in 1948, with 23.6 points per game. That is an attainable number this year. Defenses are going to be hindered by the new helmet rules and offenses are going to have a lot of scoring opportunities. Even if the defense is slowed up by half a step, that is enough to make a huge difference. Expect that 70 year old scoring record to be in jeopardy this year.
The NFC is loaded! When you think about Super Bowl contenders you largely think about the NFC. Stop me when I list a team that isn’t a contender… Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams. That’s 8 teams! Only 6 of those teams will make the playoffs. It is wild to consider how loaded the NFC is. The AFC on the other hand could see the Cleveland Browns compete for a wild card spot…
There’s been a lot of talk about what is more likely for the Philadelphia Eagles… Repeating as Super Bowl Champs or missing the playoffs completely? I fall on the missing the playoffs side of the discussion. It is insanely difficult to win back to back. And the Eagles are starting the season with two quarterbacks both at under 100%, their best receiver is going to miss multiple games, and question marks on their offensive identity. To win another Super Bowl you have to make it to the playoffs first and two other NFC East teams appear to be better than a year ago.
Roger Goodell needs to come out of hiding. The commissioner of the NFL has been in hiding since the NFL draft. There have been rule changes, statements, and memos from the commissioner’s office but the typically public figure hasn’t been out in front of a lot of the controversy this off-season. This has to be a calculated plan from the NFL, as the appearance of the commissioner in a spat with anybody (let alone the President of the United States) would be bad for the brand. Now that the season is starting, it would be the perfect time for the head of the league to step out and actually lead.