(Image credit: James Lang - USA Today Sports)
Written by: Joseph Yun
The month-long “offseason” is coming to an end and training camps are right around the corner. What are some of the biggest questions for each team heading into camp? How can they address lingering issues? Will these questions on each side of the ball doom them come regular-season time?
First, we take a look at the offensive questions that each team will likely ask of themselves.
Can Lamar Jackson continue progressing as a passer?
- Lamar is due for a massive payday and is in a seemingly eternal staredown with Josh Allen to see who gets the bigger deal. The Ravens have done well building around him and putting him in a system that accentuates his strengths as an athlete. Jackson has been improving every year as a passer but still has some things he can work on. As he enters a pivotal contract negotiation, can he improve and become a franchise quarterback as he gets paid like one? He’s the modern-day equivalent of Michael Vick.
What can Josh Allen do for an encore?
- After two inconsistent years trying to find his way, Allen exploded onto the scene as an MVP candidate in 2020, throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. The Bills are loaded to the gills as a team, particularly in the receiver room with Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and promising youngster Gabriel Davis. One factor in Allen’s favor is that Brian Daboll returns as the team’s offensive coordinator after a fruitless hiring cycle in the head coaching market. Can Allen lead the Bills to a second consecutive AFC East title while putting up similar numbers?
Is the offensive line any better than the one that ruined Joe Burrow’s rookie campaign?
- It has to be, right? It can’t get any worse from a talent perspective. It was widely expected that the Bengals would take the perceived OT1 in this year’s class, Penei Sewell to make up for the massive fissures along the line but they went with a receiver instead. The depth along the line isn’t great as they are relatively young with a former first-round left tackle Jonah Williams leading it. Three rookies dot the depth chart that could play big roles in 2021. Veteran Riley Reiff comes over from Minnesota to help stabilize the right side along with the serviceable veteran Quinton Spain. The concern is on the left side as Williams’ injury history isn’t the greatest and rookie Jackson Carman is one snap away from playing at left guard. Still, it should be an improvement over last year’s horrendous line in which Joe Mixon somehow had a 1,000-yard campaign behind.
How much will Baker Mayfield’s new deal be worth?
- Was 2020 an aberration or signs of progress from the Browns’ signal-caller? Baker certainly took his time getting going until head coach Kevin Stefanski came onto the scene to rescue Mayfield from joining the illustrious list of former Browns quarterbacks. BM didn’t have the most stable developmental environment but he made the best of it before Stefanski. He’s up for a new deal as soon as next year so it would behoove him to improve further. He certainly has the offensive weapons around him to do so and a stout defense to help get him the ball. Will Baker get to the heights of Dak’s contract or will he get a deal similar to Goff or Garoppolo?
Who’s the quarterback?
- Will it be Teddy Bridgwater or Drew Lock that leads the team onto the field? Is there a possibility that we see both guys at some point in the season? While the Broncos aren’t as good as the brief glory years under Peyton Manning, they still boast a talented squad in a brutal division. Lock has the more physical attributes but is more carefree with the ball, unlike his cohort. Keep in mind that Denver has been repeatedly mentioned as a key contender for the services of Aaron Rodgers in the unlikely event that the Packers do trade him. We probably won’t know until later in camp to decide this contest.
How many games will Tyrod Taylor and/or Davis Mills start in 2021?
- DeShaun Watson has 20+ cases of sexual assault allegations that have yet to be adjudicated on top of his trade demand from earlier in the offseason. Suffice it to say that his on-field status is a bit murky. The Texans drafted Mills with their first selection in the third round (thanks Bill O’Brien!) so clearly, he may be the present and/or future. Taylor has been the consummate pro who has been extremely unlucky in his career. Mills was a fast riser during the process despite a lot of injuries in college. Will the league rule on Watson in time for the season? Is he even tradable after all the off-field concerns? The great unknown for a franchise in turmoil continues.
Are we counting too much on the revitalization of Carson Wentz?
- Wentz may be far too gone for noted Wentz enthusiast and quarterback whisperer Frank Reich to revive. He was a disaster during his last years in Philadelphia and didn’t seem all too happy to be there given the circumstances leading to his exit. Can a smaller market and better team help revitalize his on life support career? Is he too far down the path of career destruction for a familiar face to rescue? He certainly has better weapons and a monster offensive line in Indianapolis. We shall see.
Can Trevor Lawrence possibly live up to the hype?
- The number one overall selection has been billed as the greatest quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. Can he deliver on the high praise that has come his way since high school? This will determine the outcome of the Jaguars’ 2021 hopes of playoff contention. Jacksonville has given him the weapons to deliver on the much-anticipated promise.
Kansas City Chiefs
How will the revamped offensive line come together to protect Patrick Mahomes?
- As we all saw in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs’ offensive line was a giant sieve, starting multiple backups due to injuries. To offset such a potential scenario happening again, they invested heavily in the unit. The team acquired Orlando Brown from the Ravens at a high cost, brought in big money guard Joe Thuney, and returned Laurent Duvenary-Tardif from COVID opt-out. They also have rookies Trey Smith and Creed Humphries fighting for jobs. Patrick Mahomes is a unicorn but even he needs protection from time to time to make all those superhero throws. Time will be needed to get the new OL pieces to gel together so don’t be surprised if they start off slow.
Las Vegas Raiders
Is Derek Carr still Jon Gruden’s man behind center for the time being?
- The answer, for now, is yes. Gruden has been notoriously fickle in regards to the position over the years. Carr has successfully evaded being the latest departure for a couple of seasons but the Raiders were “in” the Rodgers “market” and could be for the Watson market should it materialize. The biggest competition to Carr may be on his own roster as Marcus Mariota proved capable in a pinch-hit role last season. So he can’t rest easy as the nominal starter ever it seems like.
Los Angeles Chargers
How will Justin Herbert build on an outstanding rookie campaign?
- He has a new coaching staff to play under, which is an underlying theme for his football career to date. New head coach Brandon Staley hired Joe Lombardi as OC and Shane Day as the quarterbacks coach. We shall see what these two coaches of relatively little note can accomplish with the reigning offensive rookie of the year. He still has the weapons and a retooled offensive line to make things work but teams won’t be surprised by him in 2021.
Who’s going to be WR3 when Will Fuller returns from suspension?
- Fuller certainly isn’t the bastion of great health and he is suspended for PEDs to begin the '21 season. We all know DeVante Parker and rookie first-round pick Jaylen Waddle are locked in as starters. Who’s winning the four-way battle between Jakeem Grant, Allen Hurns, Preston Williams, and Lynn Bowden when Fuller sits? It will be interesting to watch which guy steps up.
New England Patriots
How quickly will Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels transition from Cam Newton to Mac Jones?
- The feeling is that unless Cam really falters as the starter, Jones will sit for at least the duration of his rookie season. Cam’s injury history isn’t the greatest either so that’s another factor to consider. So expect Jones to get some competitive snaps here and there.
New York Jets
What’s the plan for Zach Wilson’s development?
- He’s the starter right off the bat with only 2020 fourth-round pick James Morgan serving as backup. The Jets are doing this the right way after years of mismanaging the Sam Darnold era so horrifically. They reinforced the line and invested heavily in wide receivers with Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, and Elijah Moore in the past two offseasons via the draft and offseason. It’s Wilson’s show all the way, good or bad.
Offensive line, where art thou?
- The Steelers, it appears, are going full-on youth movement on their offensive line. No projected starter or backup minus newly signed Trai Turner are entering their fourth season of service. Gone are longtime stalwarts Alejandro Villaneuva and David DeCastro and potential HOF center Maurkice Pouncey. Pittsburgh is gambling on youth a bit even if it played well in spurts. It can’t get any worse for this below-average line, right? Kevin Dotson flashed as a rookie last season. Chukwuma Okorafor is the starter at left tackle after moving from the right side so the transition might not be seamless. JC Hassenauer has the unenviable task of replacing Pouncey and continuing the lineage of star Steelers centers. It will be interesting to see if they can get it together for Big Ben’s last hurrah.
Who is Todd Downing and can he successfully navigate so many mouths to feed on offense?
- Coach Downing is the new man on the hot seat aka Titans’ offensive coordinator, replacing Arthur Smith, who left for Atlanta. Previously, he was the Raiders offensive coordinator during the Jack Del Rio regime. Derek Carr thrived under Downing’s watch until he suffered a gruesome injury and didn’t look the same the year after. In case you’ve been living in the wilderness for the past month, Julio Jones is a Titans wide receiver. Downing has a treasure trove of offensive assets that he didn’t have previously. Can he navigate the trials and tribulations of having so many mouths to feed and spread the wealth among Jones, AJ Brown, and Derrick Henry along with Anthony Firkser and Darrynton Evans?
Can Rodney Hudson elevate an already potent offense as Alex Mack did for the Falcons?
- Hudson is one of the best centers in the league and it was a surprise that the Raiders traded him. The Cardinals offensive line is really underrated and Hudson could be that final missing piece to mold the line into a great one. Is Hudson the man to elevate the line into making the Cardinals a Super Bowl contender in a rough and tumble division? He has that kind of potential.
Who steps up into the massive Julio Jones-sized void?
- The obvious answer is Calvin Ridley who had a great season in 2020 being the number two man behind Jones. First-round rookie tight end Kyle Pitts will be expected to contribute a lot as well. There’s also tight end Hayden Hurst and Russell Gage to soak up the remaining targets left behind in Jones’ absence. Ridley will face a ton of double coverage until the other weapons get more respect from opposing defenses. Still, there’s no adequate answer to replacing a future Hall of Fame-caliber receiver.
Can Sam Darnold be successfully remastered from distressed asset to competency?
- Noted QB whisperer Joe Brady has a challenge on his hands, trying to rebuild Darnold into a serviceable quarterback after years of mismanagement by the Jets organization, namely Adam Gase. Fortunately for the Panthers, they have a solid core of weapons to bolster Darnold like superstar Christian McCaffery, Robby Anderson, and DJ Moore. Hopefully, for Darnold’s sake, he doesn’t see any paranormal beings at Bank of America Stadium and progresses into a franchise quarterback. Carolina did not make a move for another quarterback despite being in play for Justin Fields at the time. They even traded away Teddy Bridgewater in an effort to put everything behind Darnold’s recovery. It’s Darnold’s show as his fifth-year option was picked up and only XFL legend PJ Walker serves as his primary backup.
How long until Matt Nagy unleashes Justin Fields to the known world?
- The Bears trumpeted the signing of Andy Dalton to the masses of social media as their starter for a month until they were presented with the opportunity to trade up to get Justin Fields. Coach Nagy hasn’t moved off his stance that Dalton will be the Opening Day starter as of yet. This isn’t a total surprise but Fields will take live game reps at some point during the season. Fields even said as much in a recent interview last month. The rookie first-round selection may be Nagy’s ticket to saving his job at least one more season after going through the Mitchell Trubisky “error”. Dalton always has been a consummate pro about things so he won’t actively undermine Fields unlike some older quarterbacks when the new guy gets in.
Is Zeke going the way of Le’Veon Bell or can he recover with a better quarterback?
- The signs ain’t good, that’s for sure. Elliott is trending downwards after signing a huge contract but he did suffer behind an injured offensive line and no Dak Prescott in 2020. He’s quickly approaching as yet another cautionary tale about paying running backs mega money. It will be interesting to see if he can rebound with Dak fully healthy and an offensive line returning to health. He no longer has to be the focal point of the offense with the Cowboys’ immense array of weapons on the perimeter. I just wouldn’t draft him in the first two rounds in fantasy this season.
Will Jared Goff be relatively successful with a much worse team and no babysitters?
- Goff was cold-heartedly cast-off to lowly Detroit after years of allegedly being labeled as the quarterback who held the Rams back. Can he succeed in an offense that is utterly and fantastically bereft of any weapons, unlike the ones he had in LA? OC Anthony Lynn is a capable OC but is he good enough to elevate Goff into something resembling a competent quarterback? The Lions are certainly banking on it because they are on track to finish no better than third in the NFC North if they are lucky.
Green Bay Packers
How long will the Aaron Rodgers drama go on?
- The story of the offseason of the decade is seemingly at an interminable conclusion. We all know what the drama is in Green Bay. It’s getting close to that time where serious money is involved. The Packers and Rodgers are at a catastrophic impasse with virtually no winners. Will the organization buckle to the superstar’s demands or will he report to training camp? Poor Jordan Love has to deal with the fallout either way.
Los Angeles Rams
How much more effusive can Sean McVay be of Matthew Stafford?
- McVay has gone out of his way every time he has a press obligation to praise his new quarterback acquisition this offseason. It’s almost a veiled shot at his previous quarterback who was exchanged for Stafford plus some other draft choices. There were rumblings last season that McVay and Goff did not see eye to eye on certain things. The industry-wide speculation was that Goff’s inconsistent performances led to McVay having to scheme around his weaknesses. It seems like the Rams head coach is immensely relieved from not having to “hand hold” his quarterback any longer and can focus on calling plays. Any more praise from him then Stafford might be sanctified as a LA sports deity like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, or even a “minor” Lakers hero like Hall of Fame legend James Worthy.
Can Irv Smith, Jr be that dude?
- Gone is franchise legend, Kyle Rudolph. Can the former Crimson Tide product replicate Rudolph’s production to add to a frightening offensive core? The Vikings are surely hoping so after letting Rudolph go and not investing much in the tight end position. They seem to like Smith a lot so we’ll see if he can carve out a target share behind the likes of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook out of the backfield. He doesn’t have to be George Kittle but a sufficient tight end like Zach Ertz.
New Orleans Saints
Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill?
- Who has the first crack at being the replacement for Drew Brees as he enjoys retirement? Winston is the better pure passer who apparently has tamed his gunslinger ways a bit. Hill is the more athletic and versatile of the two plus has more experience in Sean Payton’s system. Which quarterback will be the apple of Payton’s eye? My money is on Hill due to the reps that he had over Winston last season even if Winston would be a better passer.
New York Giants
What will DJ do with a revamped offensive arsenal?
- It’s getting to that point where a decision has to be made on Jones and the Giants have left him no excuses. He’s been given every asset that a quarterback can think of in star receivers like Kenny Golladay, a tight end, and a potential star running back on top of a competent offensive line. It’s up to Jones to deliver the goods now. Can he do it?
Is Jalen Hurts capable of being The Man in Philly?
- This is the Hurts show all the way through with Joe Flacco backing him up. Hurts showed flashes last season during his brief time as a starter. There are certainly weapons around him to ease the transition like back Miles Sanders, receivers Devonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Travis Fulgham. The offensive line, if healthy, is still capable. One interesting storyline is the fate of tight end Zach Ertz. He’s been on the trade block for the entirety of the offseason with little traction.
San Francisco 49ers
How quickly can Trey Lance seize the starting job away from incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo?
- The 49ers have been publicly supportive of Jimmy G’s candidacy as the returning starter but they traded multiple premium assets to draft Lance. It’s not to say that Garoppolo is a bad quarterback (he did lead them to the Super Bowl recently, after all), Lance provides a different element to the high-powered Shanahan offense. Due to Lance’s draft status, it’s only a matter of time until he gets an opportunity. This could be another Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes situation when the younger guy gets a shot late in already handled game situations.
Is the Russell Wilson drama put to bed for good?
- If not for the endless breadth of the A-a-a-ron Rodgers’ yarn still being spun, the Wilson one would’ve been the story of the offseason. Things have seemingly calmed down after high-level talks between the powers that be in Seattle and Wilson. It’s not to say that the tension won’t flare up again when two unyielding and tenacious forces of nature (Wilson and Pete Carroll) collide when the offense suffers a slump or two. Who’s to say that the offensive line won’t live up to standards and Wilson is forced to ad hoc a bunch of plays, exasperating Carroll? Tune in next year for more possible fireworks in the Pacific Northwest?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The band is back together, can they prevent the “Disease of Me” one more year?
- Well, everyone of note returns for the reigning champions. Literally all 22 starters. As with all Super Bowl champions, the specter of everyone getting theirs after sacrificing so much for a title looms large. Somehow, the Bucs defied the salary cap and did the thing. Chris Godwin is due for a big-time payday next season and will be aiming for more production. Mike Evans is still Mike Evans. AB is still on the roster. Playoff Lenny would love to take a bigger carry share from incumbent Ronald Jones while keeping Gio Bernard rooted to the bench. OJ Howard has to beat out Cameron Brate to start alongside Gronk. All that to say, the GOAT will have a lot of mouths to feed and keep happy. Can the Bucs keep the offensive targets happy all-season or will it implode eventually?
Washington Football Team
Can Ryan Fitzpatrick hold off Kyle Allen / Taylor Heinicke all season?
- Fitzmagic is the starter heading into camp after Washington failed to find an adequate successor to the failed Dwayne Haskins regime in the draft. Allen is the teacher’s pet aka Ron Rivera’s guy who was brought from his Carolina days. Heinicke played relatively well down the stretch, including a playoff game against the reigning champions. Can Fitzpatrick hold off the competition as surely one last go-around as a season-long starter? I wouldn’t be surprised if WFT was a low-key player in the Rodgers or Watson market should they materialize.