2018 NFL Preview: 5 Stories to Watch

art-12-nfl-football-070316-getty-ftrjpg_9mtuv8uo2g6l11h93ft2y4seeThe NFL continues to be the biggest league in North American sports but as they continue their time at the top the scrutiny only gets more intense.

When someone is at the top there are always going to be looking at anything to take them down.

In the sports world the NFL is the one league that stands above the rest but because of that, they are often a target.

Sometimes it is unwarranted and the league takes the brunt of attacks because they are just at the top and in the news.

Sometimes they make it easy though and recently that has been the case as they are now the league that everyone watches when something serious happens.

The public, even those who don’t watch the NFL want to see how the NFL reacts to big issues in the world.

When something big happens in the world all eyes focus on the big industries that are in the public eye.

It has happened with the movie industry or the music industry and the sports world is no different except for the fact that the NFL is the league that takes the most focus.

When gender inequality hits the headlines people begin looking at the NFL to see what they are doing to give more opportunity to women.

When sexual harassment becomes a major story the NFL is the league that everyone begins to look at and begins to see the same patterns in the NFL as they have in the rest of the world.

The When social inequality becomes a major concern the NFL is at the forefront of the conversation.

There is no escaping it and it leads to the league having a major responsibility to respond and balance two sides of the debate.

Whether they want to or not and whether they should be or not they are right at the tip of so many of the major debates and issues in the world.

So when the league makes decisions on these issues as they affect their players and their teams it will be talked about and scrutinized.

Lately, the league has not been on the good side when they make their decisions looking more like a league stuck decades in the past rather than one leading change.

In an era where things are changing at a rapid pace, it can be tough to keep up but leagues have to try.

The NFL is failing in that aspect as they are struggling to make the right decisions at the right times.

It seemed to all start when the NFL suspended Ray Rice for two games after he was accused of hitting his girlfriend and knocking her unconscious.

A video was released shortly after showing what he had done and the NFL took a lot of heat for their lack of real action.

Rice never played another snap because no team wanted to touch him and the attention he would bring to them.football-sidebar

The NFL had made a mistake though and the attention would only increase as the years went on with more and more issues taking the headlines.

Lately, it seems as though every decision that the league is making has led to a very public outcry but also support from others.

The entire time Roger Goodell is taking the brunt of the criticism as the representative of the NFL.

On the one hand the decisions he has made have not always been the right ones but on the other hand, most of the decisions being made are directly from the owners.

He may be the face of the league but the owners are the ones who are leading the changes and the rules.

Although not every owner loves Goodell he has done what they have asked him to do and in the public eye that is not necessarily the best.

The league enters a new season with plenty of controversy surrounding them and Goodell but the reason for much of this controversy is a group of owners not willing to change.

They are stuck in the past and as long as the owners are living in a different era the NFL will stay there too.

For the next few months, they are hoping that the conversation turns to just football though as the new season is here but avoiding the big news is going to be tough.

kneelingdebate

It all started two years ago when Colin Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem, something that nobody had done. When asked why he stated that he would not stand for a country that doesn’t stand up for a section of the population, namely African Americans. He also said that until those inequalities were addressed he would not stand and the act of defiance switched to taking a knee after speaking with members of the military to ensure he wouldn’t disrespect them. Since that season Kaepernick has not been able to sign a contract and his act of defiance has spread throughout the league. Last year players from around the league began to take a knee in protest of both the social inequalities in the USA and the fact that those willing to speak out where seemingly blackballed. When the President got involved everything took on a new meaning. Last season President Trump took aim at the players protesting saying that they should be cut from the team if they protested. Some fans agreed and many owners began seeing these protests as a reason for lower attendance and less viewership. The league had to make a decision and they talked to teams trying to get them to do something else during the anthem if they had to protest. Heading into the new season the NFL had initially put in a rule that would require all players to be standing on the sideline during the anthem. The public took massive issue with the rule and the league has left it in limbo while teams are making their own teams rules. This off-season rule is only the start though as the first week of the season will likely see players kneel and protest trying to get their message out there. With that, the NFL may fine players and the debate will continue throughout the year about the league’s right to tell players what to do especially when it comes to protesting. That conversation is not going to end and it will remain the biggest story throughout the year as players plan to continue to protest and the league will need to make a decision.

brownsmoves

The Cleveland Browns have been one of the worst teams in the league for years and they have continued to make poor decisions and lame attempts at getting back. Since they came back into the league in 1999 they have had more coaches and more quarterbacks than anyone else in the league. It has been a rough go for a team that was a building block of the original NFL who eventually had their team taken away from them. Year after year top picks and new coaches have brought a little hope of improvement but nothing has come to fruition. This season that hope has come again except there may just be something different this time around. In the offseason, the Browns started with a move that won’t show up on the field but could be the biggest one in the recent history of the franchise. They hired John Dorsey, the most desirable General Manager in the league. Dorsey is a big part of the recent success in Kansas City and when the Browns hired him things seemed to be headed up already. That trajectory continued when the Browns were able to sign a big name that they usually can’t convince to come to a team at the bottom of the league. Jarvis Landry was signed and the Browns had a legitimate star NFL receiver rather than relying on rookies to carry the load. In the draft, the Browns took a big risk by drafting Baker Mayfield but earlier in the offseason traded with Buffalo for Tyrod Taylor. Although Taylor is not a superstar he is a solid QB and Mayfield has a lot of potential. These were far from the only moves throughout the year but there is new hope in Cleveland and this time it may be built to last. The Browns are not a team that will challenge for the playoffs this year but they can begin to build something to bring that excitement back to Cleveland for the first time since they got their team back.

contracts

The NFL and the NFL Players are in a constant battle as the owners continue to rake in money while the players continue to want a bigger piece of the pie. NFL owners are no longer in the business because they simply love the game, although that is often why they get into the business. Owning an NFL team can be a legitimate way to make money with bigger TV deals and more attention on the league. The fact is though that the old way of doing business is no longer working as more people cut the cord and TV deals begin to dry up as the league looks for new ways to stay relevant. Still, many teams are worth more than $1 billion and owners are not hurting for money. The NFL players see this and although many are paid more than well enough they are wanting a bigger piece of what the league brings in every year. The argument is a valid one as teams continue to make more money thanks to the players who are paid well but are often thrown away easily. The average career of an NFL player hovers around 2.5 years and after that often they are in some serious pain. Even the most well paid players can get into some financial issues simply due to their medical bills after playing. So many players look to get better contracts with more money in order to set themselves up for life. They are following the other leagues around the world and notice that in many, somewhat less physical sports, the contracts are structured differently. Many of the complaints come with the idea of guaranteed money as other leagues provide guaranteed contracts while the NFL doesn’t even guarantee half of the contract. NFL players are constantly talking about fully guaranteed contracts that ensure they aren’t just tossed aside should they get hurt while playing or struggle for a season. One player is blazing the trail as Kirk Cousins is the first NFL player to sign a fully guaranteed contract in the offseason. With so many other big names still working on contracts as the season approaches Cousins’ contract might just become the standard.

bradybel

It has been one of the strongest relationships in the history of the NFL and will go down as the most successful. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been the most successful head coach-quarterback combination in NFL history. Belichick was always a talented coach as the defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells. When he got a chance at a head coaching job it didn’t go so well as he couldn’t help the Browns too much success with only one winning season from 1991-1995. After going back to an assistant he took over as the head coach in New England getting a second shot in 2000. That same year the Patriots drafted a lightly recruited Michigan quarterback in the sixth round of the draft. Tom Brady was not going to be the superstar for any team but the Patriots saw something in him that made him a potential future starter. That came earlier than expected in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe went down and Brady was given the reigns. The young QB and the head coach with a second chance took an unexpected championship that year. It turned out to be the start of one of the most dominant franchises in the history of the league. In 2017 they took their fifth Super Bowl together and they will always go down as two of the best to ever do it in the NFL. In 2018 the strongest relationship in the game seemed to show some cracks though. Reports began to surface late last year that there was a rift between Brady, Belichick and Robert Kraft. It was a strange thing to come out from a notoriously private franchise. The rift reportedly began because of the team drafting Jimmy Garapolo and Brady taking offence to what he saw as the team forcing him out. With plans to play late into his 40s, Brady didn’t take kindly to the move and to the fact that Belichick really liked the young QB. The rift between them came to a head when the Patriots traded Garappolo and Belichick was not too happy. That relationship has led to so much success but heading into 2018 that relationship could be beginning to end, although it could also be all rumours.

helmetrule

It is one of the most common complaints about the NFL as fans and players are beginning to see the league as soft. Ever since the light was shed on the dangers of head injuries in contact sports the NFL and other leagues have been trying to find ways to make violent games safer. The NFL will never get away from hitting as they can’t get away from hitting but the fact is that they are losing viewers and younger players because the sport is so violent. The sport is exciting because it is that mix of athleticism and strength along with strategy but that is also what is starting to hurt the game. The NFL has gone about trying to reduce the risk of major head injuries by passing a number of rules that are meant to keep players safe. More rules regarding hits to the head and limiting the types of hits that are allowed has all been in an attempt to reduce those major injuries. Along the way fans and players have claimed that the league is simply trying to take hitting out fo the game and that it is far less tough than it was long ago. Parts of those arguments are true as the game has evolved to highlight skill and athleticism more than toughness. It was heading that way before the rule changes but those rules have only quickened the evolution. The latest change to the rules has only ignited the hate for this new concentration on player safety. The so-called helmet rule is the latest change and it states that a player is not allowed to lower their helmet to initiate contact on another player. For the fans it is another move to make the league softer and eliminate hitting from the game. For the players it is a rule that is near impossible to follow as they claim that in the heat of the game at the speed at which it is played there is almost no way to not make that mistake. The preseason saw the flag thrown a lot and players continued to complain about the rule and the NFL making it impossible to do their jobs. The season will either see an increase in flags or an adjustment by players but one way or another this will make headlines.

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