It’s that time of year again, so let’s take a spin around the league to look at the questions and controversies before the preseason starts. This time, we’ll have a look at the AFC East and West.
In upstate New York, hopes are high following the team’s first playoff spot since the nineties. Despite the success that Buffalo had last season, they shipped off Tyrod Taylor, and traded up in the draft to take Josh Allen. Honestly, I like the move. I had Allen as the number three QB on my board, and the Bills traded up to get him at number seven overall, the third QB taken. Currently, he’s listed third on the depth chart behind A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman, he of the five interception half. It’s a safe bet that neither guy will be able to hold off Allen, as the buzz around Allen is strong, and you don’t move up in the first round of the draft to grab a backup. In other news, the Bills have released professional bully Richie Incognito, a move that was probably a bit overdue.
With the return of Ryan Tannehill and the signing of free agent QB Bryce Petty, it’s a safe bet that journeyman slinger Jay Cutler will be re-retiring and heading back to the booth. I’m unsure if Miami fans consider that a good, or a bad thing. Tannehill has been maddeningly inconsistent since entering the league, showing All-Pro poise in one game, and full on yips in the next. Miami’s defense added one of the most versatile players in the entire draft by selecting Minkah Fitzpatrick, Nick Saban’s defensive Swiss Army knife. Fitzpatrick can play anywhere in the secondary, and also lined up at linebacker for the Crimson Tide. He’ll be an exciting player to watch, no matter how he’s deployed next year by the Dolphins. Miami is so confident with their squad this preseason that they’ve chosen to cancel the final day of minicamp. Good call, Dolphins. I’m sure the Pats are taking extra days off, too.
New England Patriots
The biggest buzz in New England was the status of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, both of whom skipped the Pats optional OTAs. Reportedly the team looked a little lax in those sessions without Brady’s leadership. I can understand why both the aging Brady and the injury-prone Gronkowski wanted to keep the miles off of their tires. Both areveterans with a lot of experience under their belts. No need to grind the gears there. Both have reported for mandatory OTAs and are participating fully. Next on the New England panic meter is the status of wide receiver Julian Edelman, who has worked his way back from injury, only to get hit with a four game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancers. One issue here. The “substance” that Edelman tested positive for is, as yet, unidentified. That means, by default, that it isn’t on the banned substances list. The Commissioner’s office will have to explain this one a bit better to have it make any sense at all. Some have wondered out loud if Brady and Belichick are still on the same page. I’ll say this, only once, for the cheap seats. They are inherently on the same page, because the book they are reading only has one page. That page says “WIN”, and nothing else. If Brady is pulling on that jersey again this season, he’s only doing it to put more distance between himself and the second best quarterback in the history of the league.
New York Jets
The Jets swapped picks with the Colts to grab former USC QB and British Royal Family stuntman Sam Darnold. That could lead to some awkwardness with former Vikings franchise QB Teddy Bridgewater. I’m not sure how it will play out, but early chatter is that the Jets like what they see in Darnold, but Bridgewater is showing flashes of his old quality. If they both look polished, I’d expect the Jets to move Bridgewater once his trade value has been established, there’s probably not much reason to keep both guys, as Bridgewater isn’t likely to provide the sort of veteran grooming that would help develop Darnold over the long term.
The Broncos have a new look this year after finishing in the basement of the AFC West last season. Under center will be Case Keenum, who last season brought the Vikings on a stunning playoff ride, despite starting the season at third on the depth chart. Keenum more than proved his chops, but was cast aside for former Washington signal caller Kirk Cousins. I’m not entirely sure that the Vikings made the best move, given Keenum’s performance last year, but SOMEONE had to take Cousins away from all that nonsense in the nation’s capital. So Minnesota’s loss could be the Bronco’s gain. Denver definitely upgraded their pass rush in the draft, though, bringing in Bradley Chubb from N.C. State. The dominant pass rusher was the clear choice to make an immediate impact on a defense that seems to have lost its way last year.
Kansas City Chiefs
Late in the season, Patrick Mahomes showed that he’s the QB of the future in Kansas City, leading Coach Andy Reid to ship off Alex Smith and put all his eggs in the basket of the second year gunslinger. Fans in KC would hope there wouldn’t be much of a sophomore slump, but he’s showed some inaccuracy and bad decision making in minicamp and during OTAs. While he sorts all of that out, the Chiefs will wait to see what’s happening with their top offensive weapon, running back Kareem Hunt. Over the offseason, Hunt has had some behavioral issues, including an altercation with a woman outside a Cleveland hotel and more recently, TMZ reported that another individual has claimed that he was punched by Hunt. While no charges have been pressed in either incident at this time, I’d guess that Hunt will be meeting with the Commissioner’s office soon enough.
Los Angeles Chargers
Last year, the Chargers were the league’s top passing offense by yards per game, but missed out on the playoffs after a shaky start that left them in too deep of a hole. They looked to address some of their defensive struggles by expending their first four picks on the defensive side of the ball, highlighted by safety Derwin James out of FSU. Reports from minicamp are that the defense is coming together nicely, playing with speed and confidence. Some expected to see the Chargers going after a replacement for Philip Rivers, but his performance last year has the Chargers brass comfortable to stand pat. Journeyman QB Geno Smith and Cardale Jones took extra reps on the last day of minicamp, as some veterans were excused. Per Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn, the backups looked “sluggish” in seven-on-seven drills. It’s safe to say that Rivers isn’t looking in the rear view mirror just yet. If they can get off to a better start, they’re a good bet to contend for the division title.
Last year was a mighty disappointment for fans of the silver and black. First the confirmation that the team would indeed be moving to Las Vegas, then a regression from their 12-4 2016 campaign to last year’s 6-10 effort. But new coach Jon Gruden is excited to see what QB Derek Carr can do with the addition of Jordy Nelson to the roster. Nelson was Aaron Rodgers’ favorite receiver in Green Bay, and he’s likely to be a huge part of the Raiders offensive plans this year. Early reports are that Carr and Nelson are finding good rhythm pretty quickly. On the defensive side of the ball, All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack is holding out. He’s on the final year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to make approximately thirteen million this year. Rumors are that Mack’s agent is looking for a multi-year deal to stay in Oakland, with guaranteed money exceeding sixty million. It’s on par with the contracts earned by other top caliber defensive ends. Mack is one of the league’s top defensive players, and Oakland would be foolish to let him get too frustrated. It seems that the two sides are still pretty far apart, so it’s likely that the holdout will continue into the preseason schedule, or beyond.
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