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NFL: The 5 Biggest Questions Of The Teams Out Of Postseason

The time has come; the day is here.

Postseason is upon us, fellow pro football junkies. And for those whose teams have earned a coveted playoff spot, the fun is just beginning.

For the rest of us, the only thing that is left in 2018 is a plethora of unanswered questions; with this season having reached a dreadful close for 24 teams, there are now 24 organizations already under the microscope in preparation for next season.

Riddled with inquiries, the league is in for a particularly exciting offseason as it is, those who have already entered their vacations from playtime are already preparing to make nips and tucks to their teams and back offices. 

Some of us are faced with more wonderment than others. Most certainly, myself and my cohorts in the Giants fandom are riddled with contradictory emotions of fear and hope. My team is definitely not alone in maneuvering this maze of opportunity, so here are the five biggest questions for the consideration of those of us who no longer have Super Bowl LII to dream on (because let’s be honest, who cares about the problems of any of the overrated teams that made it to divisionals?):

 

I. Giants: Who are the actual options for head coach, and who, of those options, actually makes the most sense? Who should the fans want?

After the truly devastating firing of head coach Ben McAdoo (may he rest in peace), the New York Giants are in dangerous, vulnerable territory. Dave Gettleman’s reinstatement in the leadership less than two weeks ago has already proven productive; it took less than a week for the new GM to wield the axe in the back office (VP of player evaluation Marc Ross was fired on New Years Eve). It seems the new boss has plenty of plans for the organization beyond just “kick[ing] ass,” as he remarked in his introductory press conference. 

The G-men have come to the conclusion of their season, and it is time to start entertaining options for Gettleman’s new partner in crime. Considering the history of the organization, it is highly unlikely that John Mara will employ the most popular choice for the job, but they are also not reputed for pulling success out of obscurity. Most recently interviewed was Pat Shurmur, Minnesota’s offensive coordinator, who is coming off a highly-reputable regular season. Shurmur, who is no stranger to the pressures that come with a head coaching position (he had a very short, unmemorable stint with the Browns several years back), is a very worthwhile option, considering his experience in dealing with many of the stresses the Giants’ offense encountered this year.

The other candidates that have been vied thus far include current interim head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and Patriots coordinators Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels, who have both experienced working under the triumphant Bill Belichick — another contender, according to the New York Daily News. Belichick, the notoriously tyrannical current head coach of the rival Pats team, would be returning home in escape from the problems that have allegedly surfaced within the holy trinity of leaders in his current franchise. Rex Ryan predicts his departure from Boston in the coming offseason.

The seemingly endless possibilities have left Giants fans (like myself) plagued with immeasurable stress from the overload of potential that is available. Eric Studesville, a release from the Broncos last week, and Steve Wilks, who is coming off a successful year coaching the Panthers' secondary to the wild card this weekend, are both still potential interviewees, as is Jim Schwartz of the Eagles, who has had to postpone his interview until after the Eagles have finished their year due to scheduling difficulties. As if there weren’t enough names in this question, the media has alluded to big-timers in the NCAA as contenders, such as Jim Harbaugh (ha) and Nick Saban (ha ha). So who can we legitimately consider? Who can we trust? Will the noble Giants become victims of the Patri(ot)-archy? Will the other options echo the shameful and short-lived McAdoo era? Should this position even be the most vital focus for the Giants in their offseason, or do we have bigger issues that must be addressed?

 

II. Alex Smith: For whom is he the answer?

Smith began this season with the Chiefs with much acclaim.  His 26 touchdowns in 2017, paired with only five interceptions, had him rated the best passer in the NFL. Rumors of turning to backup Patrick Mahomes have been circulating since Smith’s slump, and while it is not a bad option to keep him as Mahomes’ alternate next season, KC might be better off getting some money for their starter, sending him to an organization where he might have some opportunity to thrive.

So where might that be? Obviously, his options are the other playoff eliminated teams. The Browns, obviously, have a continuing issue with finding the match they need for their coaching staff and presumably strong offensive line. While it may sound like an experienced starter’s nightmare to be traded to Cleveland, the organization would make sense considering his age, as he would also be a great mentor for DeShone Kizer, their struggling rookie. New GM John Dorsey, who was calling the shots as the GM in Kansas when they orchestrated the trade for Smith before, would be the playmaker once more if this option were to move forward. However, the Browns have a huge opportunity to reshape their roster this year in the draft, and it is also unclear what Smith might cost them.

The Jags could also use an experienced and physical quarterback to replace the inconsistent Blake Bortles, but would Smith be able to give their already strong team anything that he could not give the Chiefs this year? Arizona is also in a state of rebuild with the retirement of Carson Palmer and head coach Bruce Arians, and an offense that desperately needs rebuilding. That said, Smith would be an expensive investment, and the Cardinals would lose a much needed draft pick. Obviously Denver is at a loss for a consistent, well-performing passer, but KC would only be hurting themselves by dealing him to another team in the AFC West. 

 

III. Broncos: Still in need of a reliable QB.

While Alex Smith is still looking for a post, many teams (my Giants, included), are in the market for a new playmaker of their own. Since Smith is not an ideal option for the Broncos, what should the team be looking for? Their current QB roster has proven entirely unreliable, which is a shame considering the potential that the team has in their receiving unit. They could draft anew, using their fifth overall pick on one of the few decent QBs of the upcoming draft class, but to bring a rookie to a team that lacks good mentors is not usually a strong choice. A kid like Baker Mayfield with a bit of attitude and a lot of strong leadership history (now accompanied with the ego boost of his Heisman) could work. But the Broncos are probably best off making a trade for a veteran QB. Someone with the experience and years that accompany Smith, but who could also be a part of a trade that would be valuable to all teams.

My friends, it almost pains me to present the following option. Perhaps my own biases are informing this take, but one might consider Eli Manning an excellent option. Sure, there are other candidates that would fit Denver’s bill in this category. A free agent like Kirk Cousins might jive well with John Elway, but the salary that would be associated with his deal would likely be more than Manning’s, and there’s a strong likelihood that the Racial-slurs will throw their tag on their man for a third straight year. There is also a romantic element associated with the idea that Eli might follow in his brother’s footsteps. Peyton won his second Super Bowl in Denver, and Eli might have a shot at another title, as the Broncos will supply him with lots of offensive talent (particularly if they smartly draft a star running back) to supplement their already good defense. They probably won’t have to give up too much salary space for him, and Eli would be able to buy Elway some time, while possibly making the Mile High City a contender. His relationship with Tom Coughlin might also make him a good fit with the Jags, who will need to asses their options after the Bortles fiasco this season. Coughlin has already vocalized his interest in and support of the quarterback after his benching by McAdo[n’t even start with me on this clown]. But in the instance that the Jags don’t snag him, and opt for a rookie to train under Bortles, with Peyton’s family still living in Denver, he could certainly have a comfortable wind-down to his long and decorated career. They will likely entertain trading draft assets, which would make Manning their most appealing option since the G-men are trying to draft new talent and do some rebuilding.

The Broncos will, regardless of the direction they take, have to make some decisions regarding their current QB roster. Since Siemian, Osweiler, and Lynch all underperformed, offseason will likely include a competition for the backup slot, and an analysis of the worth of each of these players, while the office explores their opportunities for trading and releasing at least one of them to make space. Siemian and Lynch both lost opportunities to show their stuff this season with their respective injuries, leaving the Denver offense to rely on the unpredictable Osweiler. Lynch has the highest completion percentage at 66.7%, followed by Seimian and then Brock. None of their ratings are anything to write home about, so it’s safe to say that the events of offseason will be the determining factor in who stays and who goes.

 

IV. Raiders: Was the Gruden contract a good idea?

Jon Gruden’s newly-confirmed contract is ridden with many implications that are noteworthy not only to Raiders fans, but to the entire league. The coach, who is coming off a nine-year employment hiatus in the NFL, will return to the team that nicknamed him “Chucky” in his first stint as their leader from 1998-2001. His lone Super Bowl championship came in his inaugural year with the Buccaneers, the team to whom he was traded, in 2003. After Gruden was fired by Tampa in 2009, he began a successful broadcasting career with ESPN as a commentator and analyst, opening the door to the numerous opportunities that young fans recognize him from today, namely Jon Gruden’s QB Camp, the “Gruden Grinder” portion of ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast, and a series of sweepstakes-ridden Corona commercials. 

Upon the conclusion of his final live telecast as a live ESPN analyst on Saturday, the Raiders organization took approximately one hour to announce Gruden as their new head coach. His contract will likely implicate $100 million over 10 years, more than any contract for a coach in NFL history — a huge gamble for a team that currently features the second-highest paid quarterback in the league. Not to mention the obvious gamble of committing to a coach who is, for all intents and purposes, nine years out of practice.

The Raiders have spent the last two years making active moves to rebuild their organization; the contracts that have been signed by their team leaders (QB Derek Carr, and now Gruden) are likely somewhat reactionary to the announcement of the team’s relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas, which was affirmed last spring, and will occur upon the completion of their new stadium (sometime after the 2018 season). The money that had filtered through the organization in the last year has already raised many substantial red flags: The approximately $800 million in subsidies that are being used for the new stadium, the $125 million Carr contract, and of course the $100 million that has now been suggested as a promise to Gruden. Now, the fans who are planning to stick around through the change in geography have to consider the gamble that owner Mark Davis has put them in. Will this move contribute to the rebuilding of their beloved franchise? or will the it be another 33 years before the Raiders see the Super Bowl?

Hopefully all of you in the #RaidersNation will get as much of a kick out of this throwback as I did: Derek Carr, in 2014, going through Coach Gruden's QB camp on ESPN.

 

V. Cowboys: Who is to blame for this season’s fall from grace, and how can they fix it?

How ‘bout them cockboys? The team that was rumored to be the most feared competitor in the NFC at the start of the season certainly had a slump after their rookie leaders led them to playoffs last year. But riddled with drama (what else is new), the boys had a rough year as they tackled a plethora of off-field controversies that undoubtedly affected their on-field performance. The season began with highly publicized problems surrounding RB Zeke Elliott. His alleged actions of sexual abuse, and the way he and his people went about fighting his 6-week suspension, definitely contributed to the disastrous season. Many fans blame the NFL personal conduct policy; others argue that the way trials were handled was the ultimate cause of the team’s failure to proceed into the offseason. The latter argument carries significantly more substance. 

For starters, the way the appeals were handled by the NFL is monumental to the upkeep of their consistency in policy enforcement. Their decisions have set the bar for the handling of these issues in the future, imploring a message of zero tolerance for domestic violence situations involving their employees. Aside from that, however, is the reality of how the rollercoaster of appeals affected their season as a whole. Had Elliott not constantly fought the suspension, and served his time early in the season, Jason Garrett would have had ample time to nip and tuck at his receiving line, and groom more players to fill the shoes of the running back. Dak Prescott would have had the opportunity to create relationships with his other options in preparation for their potential playoff run. Upon Elliott’s return, they would have the opportunity to confuse their opposing defenses with their rotation of men.

One of my favorite columnists, Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News, called for the firing of Garrett for a collection of reasons; namely allowing the squad’s fifth at-home loss of the season against the Seahawks for not giving Elliott the ball at the goal line on multiple occasions — presumably a coaching decision that was made with my aforementioned intents of throwing off the Seahawks’ secondary. This season can rest much blame on the shoulders of their head coach. But all of these issues ultimately round back to owner Jerry Jones, who can’t seem to keep his nose out of the drama and his name out of the news. Cowlishaw, who also called Garrett “the Marvin Lewis of the NFC,” worries that Jones is putting too much stock in a coaching staff that isn’t working. Not to mention, Jones had a very active voice in the Elliott drama, as he argued his star sophomore’s innocence, threatening to sue the league and essentially campaign against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract extension. His loud aversions to the national anthem protests, and the rules he enforced on his players, also sparked spirited discussions amongst his team and staff, which must have caused a certain amount of distraction from gameplay.

The Cowboys have plenty of opportunities over the coming offseason to make the adjustments they need to a team that is strong on paper, but what they would do about their coaching situation remains unclear, and as long as Jones remains the HBIC, it’s hard to be optimistic about the drama coming to a cease any time soon.

 

Runners-up to this list: 

  1. Lions: Was Matt Stafford worth all that money? And if so, what changes should be made to justify their choice?
  2. Colts: What should we expect from Andrew Luck next year?
  3. Dolphins: Does Cutler deserve another season? If not, who would replace him? Do his demands make sense? Was it a good idea in the first place?
  4. Steelers: Trouble at the steel mill - what needs to happen for the drama to stop?
  5. Bengals: Why was Marvin Lewis re-signed?
  6. Browns: What now? In every single sense, what the heck now?