10 Things We Learned from the NFL Season and What It Means for 2018

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 9, 2018

FILE - In this Dec. 31, 2017, file photo, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J. Cousins says he is likely to wait until March for any possible negotiations with the Washington Redskins, indicating he would first make the team decide whether to apply a transition or franchise tag on him for the third year in a row. Appearing at a fan forum aired live on 106.7 The Fan, the local radio station on which the quarterback makes weekly regular-season appearances, Cousins said Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, he believes the Redskins are
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

In the NFL, football never truly ends. The Super Bowl is over, but the plotting, scouting and poker moves are just beginning.

As the Eagles celebrate, the Patriots lick their wounds, and teams begin dreaming about their own Super Bowls, we look at 10 storylines that will shape the offseason and the season to come.

    

1. The Browns may finally get this quarterback thing right

You read that right. Finally, the Browns might find a starting quarterback.

What are you smoking? 'Cause I want some.

Hear me out. Since the Browns' return to the NFL in 1999, the team has started 28 different quarterbacks. Nineteen seasons, 28 different starters and one playoff appearance. That's pathological ineptitude.

Yet what I'm hearing about the Browns from league sources is they are going all in on quarterbacks this offseason. They want to sign a veteran (Kirk Cousins, perhaps) and draft Wyoming's Josh Allen. They would also keep DeShone Kizer on the roster.

So is Kizer gonna play safety?

No, silly. The idea is that the Browns would give themselves as many options at the position as possible. And that's smart—not a word we normally associate with the Browns.

     

2. In the Saints we trust

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Sometimes it's easy to forget the Saints went 11-5 and that it took perhaps the greatest freak play of all time for the Vikings to beat them in the postseason. If there was one team I'd pick right now as the greatest conference challengers to the Eagles, it would be the Saints.

Yeah, but they don't have a defense, and have you heard of the Rams?

The Saints have enough of a defense to win games, and they have Drew Brees, who, like Tom Brady, ages in reverse. Brees will be back. You can count on that.

We've also seen that the running game, with Alvin Kamara scampering all over the field, can be the best in football. The Saints can be a scary good team and will be for some time.

     

3. Rob Gronkowski really is considering retiring from football

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

I was standing in front of the Patriots tight end after the Super Bowl when he said he wouldn't fully commit to returning next season. Like everyone around me, I was shocked. But not totally.

Patriots players have told me privately for the past few weeks that the severe head trauma Gronkowski suffered late in the first half against Jacksonville in the AFC title game has changed how he views the sport.

"He doesn't want to be a vegetable in 10 years," one Patriots player texted to me this week.

My guess: He returns to the sport, and the Patriots make him the highest-paid tight end in football (which he currently is not).

Of course, it is possible Gronkowski goes to acting, as Bill Burt from CNHI Sports Boston reported.

Did you say acting? Don't you have to know how to act in order to be an actor?

Have you ever seen a Steven Seagal movie?

The important thing to remember is that these Gronkowski rumors aren't just rumors. His thoughts about leaving the NFL are real, but don't count on it just yet.

    

4. Russell Wilson's not-so-subtle message

SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 03:  Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson #3 of the Texas Rangers watches action during a spring training baseball against the Cleveland Indians game on March 3, 2014 in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images)
Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

Russell Wilson, who may be the nicest dude on the planet, is playing a game of ruthless three-dimensional chess, and it's fun to watch.

Three-dimensional chess like in Star Wars?

Not exactly. But yes, Wilson is using baseball to send a message to the Seahawks, and that message is a simple one: Pay me more.

I'm a Russell Wilson guy, so I would…

You own Russell Wilson pom-poms.

I do not. I wear Russell Wilson Hawaiian shirts. There's a difference. But I like Wilson a great deal, mainly because few quarterbacks in history account for as much of their team's offense as Wilson does. He knows this, and while he's a great dude, he is also a ferocious competitor, and I mean that as a compliment.

That news Wilson was traded from the Rangers to the Yankees came out isn't just coincidence. This is Wilson's not-so-subtle way of saying, "I want a better contract or, y'know, maybe I'll just try this baseball thing."

Wilson did this before with his previous contract. There was baseball talk then, too, and when he got a new deal, the baseball talk disappeared.

So look for the Seahawks and Wilson to get a new deal done.

     

5. Tom Brady can play another five years

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Lost in the fact that New England fell to the Eagles is that Brady threw for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards. Think about that for a second. Five. Hundred. Yards.

I like when you use. Periods. To. Emphasize. Like this.

The point is, Brady, despite his age, isn't slowing down, and the Patriots will be just as good next season.

     

6. The same ol' Bengals

John Autey/Associated Press

Nothing will change for Cincinnati because nothing changed with Cincinnati.

You like riddles now?

Marvin Lewis is a good coach. He took the team to the postseason in five straight years from 2011-15. He's greatly competent.

I feel a "but" on the horizon.

You're right. The Bengals have weapons, but they've long had weapons. The problem is that sometimes a coach wears out his welcome, loses his touch to inspire. There's never been a greater example of that than Lewis and the Bengals. So while they may make the postseason again, there is little reason to believe Lewis will be able to push them too far into it.

    

7. Officiating will continue to be a problem

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Referee Gene Steratore checks the replay of the Philadelphia Eagles touchdown against the New England Patriots during the third quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

There is one guarantee in football and it's…

Your Super Bowl picks will suck?

Um, no. It's that there will be officiating controversies. There always have been officiating controversies, and the game's speed, along with the increasing thickness of the rulebook, ensures there will be plenty next season, too.

With so many rules and so much athleticism on the field, officials have become increasingly paralyzed when the flags fly.

So let's get things started now and ask: What's a damn catch?

    

8. L.A.'s bright future

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 12:  Head Coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams talks to quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams during the game against the Houston Texans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 12, 2017 in Los Angeles,
Harry How/Getty Images

The Rams have the potential to be the next great dynasty.

Hey idiot, you just crowned the Saints and wrote they are the greatest challenge to the Eagles.

I did, but in the long term, the Rams have one of the best outlooks in the sport. They have the offensive player of the year in Todd Gurley, the defensive player of the year in Aaron Donald and the coach of the year in Sean McVay. Quarterback Jared Goff is talented, and the team has depth across the roster.

The challenge for them is getting Goff to play at an even higher level. We saw the Eagles pry that out of Carson Wentz (and later Nick Foles). Can the Rams do the same with Goff? If they can, look out: L.A. may be the center of the NFL universe for years to come.

    

9. Josh McDaniels will be the next coach of the Patriots

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

McDaniels didn't just abandon the Colts; he turned his back on a handful of assistants who were supposed to work with him. They left their organizations and now are left in limbo waiting to work with a head coach they may not even know. Tony Dungy tweeted about how unfair the situation is:

There is only one way McDaniels would do something like this. He must have been promised that he will be Bill Belichick's successor. I don't have any proof, but that seems to be the only logical explanation. Why else would McDaniels torch his reputation so completely?

    

10. Don't give up on the NFL

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Quarterback Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the New England Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (P
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The NFL has tons of problems. Head trauma is a frightening issue. The NFL is too corporate and sometimes ignores the fans. Making money is often its primary concern even though it makes so much that Roger Goodell could smoke dollar bills.

Yet it's still incredibly fun. We just watched one of the better Super Bowls and playoffs ever. We're seeing young stars emerge, and the overall quality is improving.

Have you ever watched the Browns?

I said "overall" quality.

All in all, it's still a great show, and it still will be next season.

          

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL. 

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