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Five NFL offseason storylines that are overblown; five that deserve more attention

It's the end of June, with weeks to go before training camps begin, which means we NFL junkies are left to scour the reports that came out of OTAs and minicamps earlier this month, hoping to find fun, interesting and useful scraps of information to carry us into July.

Some stories that came out deserve more attention. Others might have gotten more run than they should.

This is hype season, and all 32 teams (or most of them, anyway) feel reborn and refreshed. But not all the news out there is puppy dogs and ice cream. Some club officials might quietly be wringing their hands over their defense, their quarterbacks, contractual matters, a lack of leadership -- you name it.

Look around, and you can find examples on both sides, from the saccharine to sacrilege. I'm here to sort through the offseason news cycle and filter out what really matters and what is overblown. After all, stuff people are worried about now will quietly disappear before you know it, while narratives that feel like blow-off stories have the potential to blow up in short order.

Here are five stories on each side of the coin:


1) Falcons QB situation

I've come full circle on this one. I get why so many people didn't like the selection of Michael Penix Jr. eighth overall originally, and I don't blame them for feeling that way. Everything to that point of the offseason indicated Atlanta was making a push for now, and the Penix move appeared to undercut that in an odd way.

If you want to argue that it didn't help Kirk Cousins get better, I hear you. But I'd push back on the idea that it didn't make the team better. Falcons fans might be programmed a certain way, having seen Matt Ryan start virtually every game for a decade and a half, and Cousins had been pretty darned durable prior to last year's Achilles injury, but having two quarterbacks capable of starting is seldom a bad thing.

I'm not worried about Cousins' psyche. He's seen too much (and made too much money) to be thrown off by this. And if Cousins does get hurt, the Falcons have legitimate hope with their Plan B, even if Penix is a rookie -- in part because he's a rookie who spent six years and made 45 starts in college.

Look, the NFC South is eminently winnable. The Falcons have a favorable schedule. You might not have liked their decision to protect their most important asset with a layer of insurance, but it's hard to deny it might come in pretty handy.

2) Caleb Williams as an immediate success

I'm not exactly sure where I'd rate the expectations for Caleb Williams in Year 1, but they feel high to me. Perhaps not Andrew Luck-level rookie hype here, but I believe expectations are higher for Williams in Year 1 than they were for Trevor Lawrence a few years ago.

Those expectations should be muted more than they seem to be right now. The past seven quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall, dating back to Jameis Winston in 2015, have produced an average Year 1 season of roughly 14 starts, 16 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and about 3,100 pass yards. Pretty tame numbers collectively, even with a few positive outliers in the group.

Granted, the Bears offer Williams some things that few of those rookie QBs had: an exciting WR corps, the makings of a solid offensive line and other good foundational pieces on offense, not to mention an improved roster on defense and special teams. Williams is an exceptional talent, the likes of which the Bears might never have had at the position. The schedule also is quite manageable.

Hence the outsized hope.

Bears fans might want and expect immediate fireworks, but I'm here to say that the show might start a bit slowly. Things might not be as frustrating as they were for Zach Wilson in 2021, but 2023 Jordan Love might be a decent comp. Love was a guy who waited his turn for three full years with the Packers -- and yet, through nine games last season, Love looked ordinary, not really cranking it up several notches until Green Bay's playoff push.

I could see Williams trudging through a Love-like performance in the first half of his rookie season, if not for a bit longer, before things really start to hum. Eventually they will. I'm not worried about Williams' long-term projection. But I do believe the pressure to be great immediately comes from a chimerical perspective.

3) Bills' offseason unloading of vets

It's been easy to kick the Bills this offseason. They're down -- again -- after having to shed big swaths of salary that arguably worsened four positions. It's hard to claim that the Bills are better at receiver, offensive line, defensive line or in the secondary now than they were a year ago.

Khalil Shakir is the only receiver on the roster who has caught a pass from Josh Allen after the departures of Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield. But Allen won't be looking around like . The tight ends project to carry a bigger share of the load. The upside of Shakir and Keon Coleman can't be overlooked. And James Cook and Curtis Samuel figure to combine for more than 100 catches. If even one of the Mack Hollins/Chase Claypool/Marquez Valdes-Scantling trio does anything, Buffalo will be more than fine, I suspect.

The offensive and defensive lines both have a chance to be good units. I am worried about the depth in both spots, but the starting groups still have some strength to them. Good health would go a long way toward providing key stability.

If there's a spot I am most worried about, it's probably that secondary. Losing four major contributors (corners Dane Jackson and Tre鈥橠avious White and safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer) is no joke. But even so, I won't write off this group, which features a few solid returners, the untapped upside of 2022 first-rounder Kaiir Elam and a potential rookie starter in second-round sleeper Cole Bishop.

But for me, what makes this more of an overblown story than it should be is the presence of Allen. He's the obvious meal ticket, and it's possible that there's an addition-by-subtraction quotient at play here that's being forgotten. No longer is there a need to force feed Diggs or issue targets to the maddeningly inconsistent Davis.

I'm lightly buying Bills stock on its way down. There might be some losses along the way, but I'm starting to think this team can get back on the mountain sooner than some might guess.

4) Chargers WR panic

When the Chargers cast off Mike Williams and Keenan Allen this offseason, it led to choruses of concern about Jim Harbaugh being left with the worst wide receiver room in the NFL in 2024. I don't think those worries are accurate, honestly, and with the kind of team Harbaugh is building in Los Angeles, it made sense to reclaim some much-needed salary flexibility and reshape the team in a different way.

With Justin Herbert at QB, the Chargers won't suddenly stop throwing the ball. There might be fewer attempts per game, but in a Harbaugh offense, you can expect an emphasis on efficiency in the passing attack.

Harbaugh coached the 49ers from 2011 to 2014, and they ranked no higher than 29th in the NFL in pass attempts and no lower than ninth in rushing attempts in any of his four seasons at the helm. That can partially be attributed to the unusual system San Francisco ran with QBs Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. But the Niners also posted the lowest INT total in three of those seasons and twice ranked in the top 10 in yards per pass attempt.

Harbaugh's imprint, even with limited cap room, was clear. He beefed up the offensive line and added tight ends and backs. The Chargers will use six-plus offensive linemen and unbalanced formations. They'll run the ball sometimes on third-and-6. This coach won't change his stripes completely.

But they will use their receivers, and it's maybe a better group than some realize. They've added seven wideouts since the draft, and I think three -- Ladd McConkey, DJ Chark and Brenden Rice -- will earn roles on this team. They also have two potential alphas (at least, alphas for this team) in Joshua Palmer and Quentin Johnston on board. Palmer could lead this group in targets (like he did in 2022 with 107), as could McConkey in a crazy scenario, but don't forget to Harbaugh's Wolverines in the Fiesta Bowl a few years ago (6-163-1 receiving).

Plus, now that L鈥橨arius Sneed out of the division, I don't think the AFC West is exactly loaded with coverage studs. Trent McDuffie is great for the Chiefs, and Denver's Patrick Surtain II is a top-shelf corner. But after that? The Chargers will have plenty of chances to win one-on-one matchups in divisional games, and their schedule on the whole is not that daunting. The WR panic feels overblown to me.

5) Texans as Super Bowl contenders

I love everything about the direction of this team and believe it'll be better in some ways than the 2023 squad that earned a lot of new fans amid a breakout season. The Texans have the coach (DeMeco Ryans), the QB (C.J. Stroud) and the play-caller (Bobby Slowik) to run it back, and they added Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs and others to the mix. What's not to like?

Well, first, the schedule. It's tough. The AFC South looks stronger as a division, and other than the Week 6 game at New England, I don't see a single contest against an opponent that you clearly can say is in a rebuild.

Plus, progress isn't always linear. We all assume the Texans are pointing upward, and they might very well be, but that doesn't necessarily translate to more wins.

The defense, even with Hunter displacing Jonathan Greenard, still has to make big strides to be a consistently strong unit. The offensive line is improved but hardly dominant. The Texans lost the one effective runner (Devin Singletary) they had last season, and offseason import Joe Mixon is suddenly creeping up on 2,000 NFL touches, a threshold where some backs start to decline.

I think Stroud is special, and he helped cover a lot of holes last season. But even with this young, exciting foundation in bloom, I think another year of cultivation will be needed. The Texans will be better equipped to make a Super Bowl run in 2025 than in this coming season.


1) Is Tua the next $50 million QB?

It's QB extension season, and any day now, the Dolphins could sign quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a massive new contract that exceeds $50 million per season on average. But they haven't yet, even after presumably ensuring some future financial flexibility by letting two prized free agents (Christian Wilkins and Robert Hunt) walk this offseason. And Trevor Lawrence's recent five-year, $275 million extension with the Jaguars might make Tua's deal harder to achieve.

With Lawrence receiving a full $55 million APY, the bar has likely been raised even higher for Miami when it comes to extending Tua. Typically, getting in early on these quarterback deals is better for teams. If the Dolphins were slow-playing the idea of a $50 million pact for their QB, I can't imagine a 10-percent price bump has them suddenly more eager to pay up.

Perhaps this is all overblown, and Miami signs its guy in the coming days or weeks. That would be great for Tagovailoa, who -- to his credit -- is coming off the best year of his four-season career to date. Leading the NFL in passing yards (4,624) was a strong sign. Even more important, I believe, was starting all 18 games that Miami played, including the playoff loss. Durability was Tua's biggest question heading into last season.

But still, staying healthy enough to put together a long, prosperous career is another matter. Tagovailoa's concussion history is probably most concerning in the big picture, but he's had other ailments, too. At the same time, how do the Dolphins not sign him? There's a sunk-cost element to the investment they've made in Tua (drafted fifth overall in 2020) that can't be recouped, and there's no obvious young QB in place to groom. Meanwhile, letting him play out the final year of his rookie contract, when he could further increase his value with yet another productive campaign, is risky poker.

2) The Raiders' QB situation

There are aspects of the Raiders I find really interesting, and I believe Antonio Pierce has this team headed in the right direction. The defense has the look of a top-12 unit, and the receiving weapons are good enough for them to compete with. But it begs the question: What is the long-term plan at QB?

It could be as simple as kicking the can down the road until, say, about Nov. 1. That's roughly the midpoint of the 2024 season, and by then, we should know whether second-year pro Aidan O'Connell or offseason addition Gardner Minshew is capable of leading the Raiders to contention.

Minshew kept the Colts afloat last season after Anthony Richardson was lost to injury, and O'Connell played some solid ball down the stretch as a rookie, taking over right after Josh McDaniels was fired. It's easy to forget what a mess it was in Vegas before Pierce, O'Connell and others helped tidy things up. Having some decent WR and TE talent offers some hope, too.

But in the AFC West of all divisions, the Raiders probably need more than solid QB play. They're going up against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert -- who are in their respective primes, no less -- for roughly a quarter of the next several seasons. At some point, they'll need their quarterbacks to win some games for them instead of depending on the defense to save them.

The Raiders might make it through this season and realize they need to invest in a veteran such as Tagovailoa or Dak Prescott, if either hits the market. The decision to pass on a quarterback in this year's draft, when six QBs went in the first round, might force their hands; the 2025 QB draft class looks a lot cloudier than the '24 group did at this same time last year.

The Raiders' short- and long-term options just feel a little limited right now, and that's a tough place to be when it comes to the quarterback position in the NFL.

3) Daniel Jones and Drew Lock

Way back in the early days of free agency, Seahawks general manager John Schneider had some really interesting comments about losing QB Drew Lock to the Giants on a one-year deal, with Schneider suggesting that Lock was sold by the Giants on a chance to win the starting job. That story was tempered in the days that followed, with Lock himself clarifying that this is still Daniel Jones' team.

But is it really? Yes, GM Joe Schoen that Jones remained atop the depth chart, and passing on a quarterback -- in spite of Schoen traversing the country to scout all the QB prospects -- certainly sent a message of support for the in-house QBs, at least for the meanwhile. Drafting Malik Nabers and bolstering the offensive line this offseason are moves that also figure to help whichever quarterback takes the starting job and runs with it.

I think Jones will get his shot, and he said he's on schedule to be under center Week 1. Even so, I just can't escape the idea that the Giants will , who wasn't great in Seattle last season but certainly had his share of moments in relief of Geno Smith. The Giants watched him pinch hit against them in Week 4 and later watched as Lock led a stirring Week 15 upset of the Eagles.

This situation might end up being similar to the ones listed above, where the Giants ride out 2024 as best they can and make a call sometime down the road on how to proceed. But one way or another, I believe Lock factors in here more than some folks are prepared to admit.

4) Anthony Richardson's health

I was actually watching some Anthony Richardson tape recently when news came across that he was dealing with shoulder soreness during mandatory minicamp. Richardson , saying it was no biggie and that he felt fine.

Typical slow-news-cycle story, eh? It's June, so there's nothing to worry about, right? Sorry, but when I hear the words quarterback and shoulder soreness together, I don't just brush it off, no matter what time of year it is, especially when said shoulder was recently surgically repaired. Consider me a little worried.

There's no young QB in my mind who has a better chance to change the dynamic of his team and his offense than Richardson. The play I was watching against the Rams is a perfect encapsulation of his rare skill: that he delivered to Alec Pierce despite being unable to step into the throw, thanks to a clobbering by Aaron Donald.

We know about Richardson's running ability. That was a ready-made skill the moment he entered the NFL last season. But it's throws like the one that he made to Pierce that give us a window into Richardson's vast potential. With Jonathan Taylor another year removed from his 2023 injury and holdout, and with the Colts adding more insulation offensively, Richardson could truly shift this franchise by taking off in 2024.

But that shoulder ...

Athletes have setbacks all the time -- heck, it wasn't even clear this time a year ago if Brock Purdy, who went on to tally MVP votes for the Niners, was going to be ready for the start of the season. But shoulders are notoriously tricky, and injuries to them tend to linger; shoulders are also prone to reinjury. With Joe Flacco on board, there's an intriguing level of security behind Richardson. But the last thing the Colts want this year is another incomplete season from the former No. 4 overall pick, clouding the picture of him and his team going forward.

5) The new kickoff rules

There has been some buzz from the diehards and special-teams junkies about the , but I am a bit shocked it hasn't been louder to this point. No rule change this offseason was more stark and dramatic, and it absolutely will impact games this season.

Since 2011, the kickoff has undergone a host of changes, mostly aimed at player safety. Those results appeared to be productive. But for all intents and purposes, the kickoff return seemed headed the way of the dodo bird.

I'm not even sure if people realize how much the kickoff return has disappeared from the game in recent years. In 2010, the season prior to the first major rule change in this era, there were 2,033 kickoffs returned and 23 touchdowns. The following season, those numbers fell to 1,375 and nine, respectively. From 2018 to 2022, the league totals for those seasons averaged out to roughly 1,000 kickoff returns and seven TDs. And last season, they fell off a cliff, with a mere 587 returns and four TDs.

The NFL came in this offseason and rescued the kickoff, and I am here for it. But the new rules are vastly different. In addition to lopping off about 25 yards of running on the returns (which coaches love, because it speeds up practices and boosts efficiency), the pursuit and blocking angles are different, and everything happens faster. We could see some wild breakdowns (or breakouts) in the preseason as the format is being field tested live.

Teams that have been stronger on special teams the past few years, including the Texans, Ravens and Colts, might have an advantage this season. Clubs that have struggled on those units, such as the Packers, Dolphins and Rams, might lose a few close games if they don't improve there.

In the end, it's still blocking and tackling, essentially offense and defense, on these plays. But the hope is that the kickoff has returned to being a competitive play and not mostly what it was on the road to becoming: a ceremonial one. I predict this not-so-subtle change will have a dramatic effect on games this season, and it could serve as a hidden X-factor for the smarter, more resourceful clubs out there.

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