Wednesday Morning QB (Off-Season Outlook)

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The NFL began a new season with plenty of hopes that their 50th year as a full entity was going to concentrate on football and the history of the league.

It had been a while since football was the focus of an NFL season with more off-field issues than on field successes.

The issues of concussions and domestic abuse dominated headlines for years in the NFL as the league had to rush to figure out how to deal with all of these problems.

They have not been the best at dealing with any of these issues and as a result have been getting a bad reputation.

But with the start of the new season they were hoping that all of those issues were going to be forgotten as they approached the 50th Super Bowl.

For the most part the NFL got their wish as there were a number of controversial moments in the season but overall they avoided the big conversations.

Instead the league went on with a season that represented a strange roller coaster for almost every team.

The focus moved from off-field to on-field quickly when multiple teams began the season undefeated.

The story quickly became about the six teams that went the first five weeks without losing a game.

After Week 5 is when things got even more interesting though as the undefeated teams began dropping one by one.

That by itself is not unusual as no season ends with that many undefeated teams but what is unique what happened to the formerly undefeated teams.

Once they added the first loss of the season to their record they immediately began to fall apart.

The Atlanta Falcons went from one of the best teams to a forgettable contender after they lost their first game in Week 6.football-sidebar

The Packers won their division but after starting 6-0 stumbled into the playoffs without much changing with their team.

That pattern continued with the Bengals, Patriots, and the Broncos who all had plenty of questions heading into the playoffs.

They were all saved by a great start but were struggling near the end of the season.

Never has there been a time where it seemed like there would be a battle between great teams in the playoffs only to have it turn into a question of who can actually win out of the bad teams.

As the playoffs began the Super Bowl was a bit of a mystery as the only team that had been consistent was the Carolina Panthers.

In the NFC they were able to almost walk into the Super Bowl with a few stumbles. In the AFC it wasn’t pretty but the Denver Broncos worked their way to the Super Bowl on the backs of a strong defence.

With an aging quarterback they didn’t have the offensive punch but they did have the defence to win games.

That defence helped them to the Super Bowl and allowed them to shut down one of the most prolific offences in league history.

That defence made the Broncos the best team in the league and gave Peyton Manning his second Super Bowl in what looked to be his last game.

The 50th season since the AFL-NFL merger turned out to be one with little controversy, although not entirely free of controversy, as they celebrated a gold anniversary.

Now that the season is over and the champion has been crowned the off-season is set to begin.

There will be no shortage of stories to follow as every team aside from one will try to improve their season and the one will look to repeat their season.

Teams will look to sign new free agents and draft impact players all in an attempt to get to Houston for Super Bowl LI and be crowned the new, or repeat, champions of the NFL.

It won’t be easy and some teams will have much more to overcome but the off-season is where it all begins with plenty of questions throughout the league that will be interesting to watch before the season begins against in September.

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The NFL has not seen much change in terms of the teams since Houston became a franchise in 2002 as the league has moved to international games instead of relocation or expansion. That never quieted the demand by multiple cities to get a team and none were louder than the fans in Los Angeles who had not seen an NFL franchise since the Raiders moved to Oakland in 1994. When Al Davis moved the Raiders he did it largely due to the lack of a plan for a new stadium and the cost of keeping up the L.A. Coliseum. As 2015 began those came concerns gave new life to an NFL franchise returning to the city with three teams looking to get their wish of leaving their current homes. The St. Louis Rams had been in the Edward Jones Dome since they moved to the city from Los Angeles in 1995. With no plans to build a new stadium owner Stan Kroenke purchased land in Inglewood with plans to build a stadium and move the team. They weren’t the only team though as the Oakland Raiders had been playing in O.co Stadium, known as the worst stadium in the MLB and probably the NFL, since they moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995. Mark Davis has been taking on the fight of his father to build a new stadium in Oakland for a long time. He would go into business with the San Diego Chargers who had been at Qualcom Stadium since 1967 and were struggling with the city to get a new stadium. Both teams planned a new stadium in Carson that was to be privately funded. With so much interest in moving it seemed to be a certainty that someone was going to be playing in L.A. soon and with plans in place the NFL went about decided who was going to be moving. The league approved the plan for the rams to move to Inglewood and gave the Chargers the option to move to the stadium. When next year begins the Los Angeles Rams will begin playing in a stadium that has yet to be determined as the new home is being built. The Chargers have agreed to share the stadium but have not decided to leave as they use the potential new stadium as leverage in San Diego. The NFL is returning to LA next year and there are plenty of decisions to make until then as the off-season will be full of news out of LA with some fans getting excited and others remaining upset over the first major change in the NFL since 2002.

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Every year the NFL sees players leave the game for good with retirements throughout the league that leave gaps. This off-season will be a bit different though as there are a number of teams that will be giving players some very big shoes to fill. It seems like there will be more big names leaving the game than ever before and they will leave some very big holes on a number of teams. In Seattle it seems like Marshawn Lynch is ready to hang up his cleats after a tweet during the Super Bowl. The rumours began when the season ended as he seemed to be ready to leave the Northwest or leave the game altogether. For the Seahawks his retirement means losing one of the best backs in the league. Luckily for them they were able to look at Thomas Rawls and see that he was ready to replace Lynch even if that is a tough thing to do. The bigger surprise on the retirement front came when Calvin Johnson reportedly told the Detroit Lions that he was set to retire at the age of 30. The man known as “Megatron” has not had the same impact as he has in the past but he still ranked among the best in the league. For the Lions there is nobody on the team currently that can help replace Johnson’s output and there may not be a receiver in the draft that can do it either. It is going to be a massive gap to fill but no gap will be bigger than the one that might be left by Peyton Manning. With his second Super Bowl in hand and most major QB records there is nothing left to prove for the future hall of famer. Throw in that he is not the same quarterback he was a few years ago and his retirement seems to be inevitable. If he does decide to leave the Broncos won’t be the only group looking to fill a hole as they look to Brock Osweiler to lead the team. The NFL will lose one of the best players and biggest names in the game and although there are other names to fill the role in the debate with Tom Brady the fact is that Manning leaving is the end of an era in the sport. None of these retirements are official yet as all are just rumours and guesses but if any or all do leave replacing them will become the major story for any team effected.

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The NFL will always have big coaching changes where the eyes of a fan base or a league will be trained on the new men in charge. That may never be truer than in San Francisco next season when Chip Kelly takes over the 49ers. When Kelly entered the league from Oregon the excitement and skepticism was everywhere. On one hand Kelly was potentially set to bring in a new era in the NFL with an offensive revolution. While with the Ducks, Kelly was known for creating an offence that moved faster than any had before. They put up big numbers and ran more plays than any other team in the country. There were also the detractors though who didn’t think that a college coach with that extreme of a deviation from a traditional NFL offence could never survive. Most thought that Kelly was not going to be able to put together a team that could run the offence he wanted to run and that eventually he would fail. In his first two seasons he guided the Philadelphia Eagles to two 10-win seasons and a playoff appearance. Then in 2015 he gained control of the player personnel decisions and had his worst season as a head coach in the NFL. For that one season he was fired from the Eagles and was left wondering if the NFL or the NCAA was going to be his best shot in the future. Eventually he was hired by the San Francisco 49ers after their terrible season under Jim Tomsula. The Niners had already seen success with a college coach in Jim Harbaugh but the working relationship fell apart leaving a last minute back-up. Now they will look to Kelly, who did not lobby for control of the personnel decisions and didn’t get control, to help them get back to winning. The biggest reason for the decision to go to San Francisco was Colin Kaepernick, a player that Kelly was reportedly ready to request be traded to any team he went to. Kaepernick seems to have other ideas though asking to be traded by the team in order to get a fresh start after a season where he was benched for Blaine Gabbert. It is sure to be a much debated topic this off-season as Kelly seems ready to sell Kaepernick on this new system while the memories of a non-committal marriage may be too much to keep him there. More than that everyone will wonder if Kelly will be able to get the team he needs to truly become an NFL coach.

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The off-field issues may not have been the biggest focus this season but there is no doubt that they won’t be gone forever. In fact as the season drew to a close one of the biggest stories continued to get more serious as time went on. He was the biggest star in college football before he headed into the NFL draft as one of the most exciting and most controversial quarterbacks in the draft. On one hand he was one of the most talented quarterbacks to come into the draft in a long time. He had a great arm and was not afraid to run the ball and was often compared to Brett Favre for his gun-slinging ways. On the other hand he had a reputation as a partier with multiple incidents worrying some about the risk in taking him in the draft. When he went into the draft the debate about the liability of drafting him took focus but the Cleveland Browns, in desperate need of a quarterback, ignored the signs and drafted him anyway. The increased fame and new found wealth got him places and his partying ways only seemed to get worse throughout his rookie season. In the 2015 off-season he checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse but it didn’t seem to affect him much. Throughout the season Manziel was questioned by police for an argument with his girlfriend and was spotted at multiple parties during bye weeks and after the season. Around the Super Bowl charges were brought against Manziel for another incident involving his girlfriend where he allegedly threatened to kill her and himself. His father came out saying that he was worried about his son’s mental health and well being and that if someone didn’t help him he might not see 24-years-old. Reports surfaced of multiple failed rehab stints and his out of control drinking. The Browns had tried to help but near the end of the season seemed fed up with his issues and when Hugh Jackson was hired as the new head coach rumours were that he accepted the job on the condition that Manziel was no longer the quarterback. With the situation only seemingly getting worse the Browns and the NFL have a decision to make this off-season. They can either wash their hands of the problem child, leaving him to fend for himself or they can help Manziel and stick with him. He may never play a snap in the NFL again but this is bigger than the game and the league’s response could be another off-field controversy or an off-field success.

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Every NFL season there are great stories about accomplishment but none is bigger than the team that gets to walk off of the field as champions. They are full of great stories involving great people that get a ring to show that their sacrifices meant something. Along with stories of accomplishment though there are always stories about heartbreak. Just like the stories of success there is no bigger heartbreak than the team on the other side of the field in the Super Bowl. Just like the team that won the losing team had to make sacrifices and is full of stories that would have been great if they had taken home the title. Instead they are put into the category of Super Bowl loser and mostly forgotten about. These players are not used to being labelled losers and for any of them losing is not an easy thing to deal with. Add to that the fact that they came within one game of winning something they have been working for their entire lives to win and things get tougher. It may have only been that much tougher for the Panthers who came into the Super Bowl as the heavy favourites to win. That clearly wasn’t the case for the Panthers who saw their prolific offence hit a brick wall made up of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Most teams move on from that type of performance, it wasn’t terrible just not their usual, and think about next season. The difference this off-season could be that the Panthers had been playing on emotion all year and are a very emotional team. It helps them in plenty of ways as they can be intense when they need to be but also love to have fun when they are winning. When they lose though the other side tends to come out as it did in 2014 when they were far from a contender. That year their leader, Cam Newton, regularly had press conferences where he seemed to be pouting about bad performances and it did not help their year. It happened again after the Super Bowl and although it is never easy to accept losing if that attitude continues into the off-season and next year another 2014 season could be on the horizon. The off-season will be important to see if they can move past the devastating loss and stay the same team with some key free agents needing to be signed. They will be watched closely all off-season as they try to recover from getting so close but falling short in the biggest game.

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