What to watch for in the NFL now that the season is over

Now that Super Bowl 50 is in the books, many fans are left with a feeling of emptiness without a game to watch every Sunday. Luckily, the offseason can be almost as exciting as the real season, and this offseason is looking like it might be one of the most transitional offseasons in the recent history of the league.

Not that the offseason started with a ton of momentum anyway. After beating the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in the ugliest Super Bowl in recent memory, the Broncos are heading into the offseason with a championship trophy paired with a few major issues. Firstly, what is going to happen with Peyton Manning? After winning the big game at age 39 and reportedly on the outs with the Broncos’ GM John Elway, it would make sense to retire on the highest of notes and pass the torch to Brock Osweiler.

Talking about Osweiler, it will be interesting seeing how the Broncos will try to lock him up for the long-term, and whether or not they can reach an agreement on an extension. Last but certainly not least, the Broncos top priority has to be the re-signing of Von Miller, one of the best defensive linemen in the league and one of the key cogs in the Broncos’ league-best defense.

On the other hand, even though the 15-1 Carolina Panthers lost in the Super Bowl, they certainly still have a bright future, and should only improve in the offseason. Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers’ first-round pick in the ____ draft and the team’s top receiving talent, should be finishing up his recovery over the offseason and back for the 2016 season. With his return, as well as the inevitable return of pro bowler Josh Norman – as the Panthers will either re-sign him or franchise tag their best cornerback. With Cam Newton’s continued growth, the return of the team’s best wide receiver in Kelvin Benjamin and best cornerback in Josh Norman, the Panthers should be right back in the Super Bowl mix next season.

While the Broncos and the Panthers were the cream of the contending crop last season, there were several fringe contenders including the Arizona Panthers, New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks – just to name a few of the teams that went the furthest in the playoffs – that could be in that mix with a little bit more talent. Be it through the free agent market or via the draft, there is plenty of available and prospective talent that could help a team.

The free agent market will not be a particularly interesting one, since the biggest fish on the market – Von Miller, Josh Norman and Muhammad Wilkerson – will either receive new contracts or get the franchise tag from their respective teams. Regardless, the market boasts a wealth of midrange talent, and depending on where some of them may go might subtly restructure the landscape of the NFL. Players like San Diego’s Eric Weddle, Carolina’s Mike Tolbert, Chicago’s Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery, and Miami’s Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller could all make an impact on the team that signs or re-signs them. While this writer will not speculate on where they might end up signing, some of the biggest free agent decisions of the offseason deserve examination.

The Indianapolis Colts are only a year removed from playing 11-5 football, which should give Colts fans some hope after a lousy 8-8 year where Andrew Luck regressed significantly and the team failed to be competitive in several games. Coupled with last season’s ugliness, Indianapolis has one of the toughest personnel decisions to make – deciding between their two young and talented tight ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Both Colts’ draft picks in the 2012 draft, both have proven to be positive offensive pieces. Dwayne Allen is the better blocker, but is a less productive receiver, accumulating 16 catches for 109 yards and only 1 touchdown in the 2015 season. Coby Fleener is not as effective of a blocker, but is a much more productive receiver, ending up with 54 catches for 491 yards and 3 touchdowns. Both will become unrestricted free agents in the offseason, and the general consensus is that the Colts will want to keep one of the players, as there will most likely be exuberant offers made for both that the team could not simultaneously match.

Another one of the toughest decisions that has to be made in the offseason is in the Washington Redskins’ hands: whether to re-sign Pierre Garcon – the team’s second-best receiver behind DeSean Jackson – or to release him, which would free up some money to use on Kirk Cousins. While Garcon had a decent year, accumulating 72 catches for 777 yards and six touchdowns, Kirk Cousins had a phenomenal contract year, throwing for 4166 yards, 29 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions, and the highest completion rate in the league at 69.8%. After such a fantastic year, Cousins will be looking to cash in as perhaps the top quarterback free agent in the league, and the Redskins could use some cap room to make sure they get their young star back on their team.

Several teams across the league will have to make important decisions this offseason, as always, and for some of the teams that finished with the worst records, their most important decisions might be made in the draft. This upcoming draft has a lot to offer, including elite top talent, from one of the most league-ready offensive tackles in recent draft history with Ole Miss’s Laremy Tunsil to Ohio State defensive star Joey Bosa both declaring eligible for the draft. This talented young class promises to bolster the NFL’s already impressive wave of young players, including Khalil Mack, Russell Wilson and Le’Veon Bell.

The youth movement around the league is only assisted by the numerous retirements – and possible retirements – of veteran stars. Marshawn Lynch has decided to retire, as well as Charles Woodson. The Broncos and the Lions are still awaiting the official decisions of Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson, who are both strongly expected to retire. If the two do decide to retire, the NFL will be losing several league legends, accentuating the youth movement and what might be one of the most transitional offseasons in recent history. Another factor making this a possibly historic transitional offseason is the change of the locations of possibly two teams. After enduring season-long rumors that the St. Louis Rams would be moved to Los Angeles after the season, the news finally came to fruition with a league vote, deciding that the Rams would be moved to LA, and that the San Diego Chargers are allowed to move to LA with them if they choose to do so.

When the 2016 NFL season begins, the league will look very differently from what it did before. While the free agent market will not be particularly exciting, the draft consists of several promising young players who will add to the NFL’s youth movement. With the bittersweet retirements of several league legends and possibly two teams finding a new home in Los Angeles, the offseason that has just begun is looking like one of the most transitional offseasons since the start of the new millennium.

 

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