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10 thoughts on the NFL

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The most important position, quarterback, comes into focus around the league with training camp just around the corner.

NFL: Oakland Raiders-Minicamp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Quarterback contracts are the hot topic in the NFL this time of year.

From the Oakland RaidersDerek Carr and his recent $125 million dollar contract with $70 million guaranteed that made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, to conversation surrounding the Tennessee Titans’ young gun, Marcus Mariota, and him being the first to ever top $30 million per season when his extension time comes. The price for a premium quarterback in 2017 is a costly one.

That’s why teams such as the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson are so fortunate to have won a championship before having to worry about an extension. Once you have to pony up for a passer, the team building aspect immediately becomes that much more difficult under a new cap crunch.

Though, remember, highest-paid does not mean “best.” It merely means most recent good quarterback to get paid.

2. On that note, while all these young quarterbacks are ready for new paydays, the New England PatriotsTom Brady continues to be the league’s greatest bargain as he will have just a $14 million dollar cap hit in 2017. For a future first ballot Hall of Famer and a still top-five quarterback, that is a tremendous bargain for the Patriots. The price of winning and being the face of the league is enough for the incentive to win.

3. It’s never too early to look ahead to next year’s NFL Draft and in particular, the quarterback class.

A projected group featuring USC’s Sam Darnold (who may not actually enter the draft according to NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah), Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and even Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, has a lot of hype surrounding it.

If I was drafting a quarterback for the future next April, I would prefer Rosen. “The Rosen One” is to me the most complete passer with the best instincts and mechanics of all these amateurs. Even despite a “down” year last season, I’m still of the belief he has the brightest future of anyone in the 2018 class.

On who I wouldn’t touch, I would avoid Allen. He’s receiving a lot of acclaim because of tremendous physical abilities and athleticism, but a 56.2 completion percentage in the subpar Mountain West conference last year raises alarms. There are aspects of his game he could fix to become a more functional quarterback, sure, but it’s not as if inaccurate quarterbacks in college against bad competition will suddenly become the opposite as professionals. Allen is too monumental of a red flag.

3. Off-season hype for teams is also near the front of most discussions in the summer.

SB Nation recently fixated on four teams receiving a lot of attention for a potential leap in 2017 and for teams that are probably be discussed a tad too much: the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Patriots.

*To the tune of Sesame Street’s, One of these things

The Jaguars are clearly miscast. They may have had a strong free agency period and draft with additions of A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Leonard Fournette, and Cam Robinson. But, the Jaguars still have Blake Bortles at quarterback, he of a “sparkling” 78.8 passer rating in 2016 (26th in the NFL last year) and a 58.9 completion percentage. Fundamentally he is one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL, at this point is an uber-bust, and will hold back whatever progress Jacksonville makes on the rest of it’s roster.

4. As far as Atlanta, Dallas, and New England, I don’t think they’re at all overhyped.

The Falcons, in my mind, will almost certainly not be able to keep up their torrid offensive pace from last year under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. However, I’ll boldly predict they’ll have a top-five defense under Dan Quinn in 2017, which will keep them among the NFC’s elite.

Dallas lost some starters on the offensive line and will have to work in players such as La’el Collins at right tackle, but otherwise still has one of the best rosters in football. Their defense will improve with additions of Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis in the draft. They also still possess perhaps the best young quarterback-running back duo in the NFL in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. With that in mind, Atlanta-Dallas is my preseason NFC Championship Game.

5. Meanwhile, the Patriots had a “ho-hum” off-season adding electric receiver Brandin Cooks in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, acquiring tight end Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts, and signing mega-bucks cornerback Stephon Gilmore as well as snatching away Mike Gillislee (who quietly led the NFL with 5.7 yards per carry last year) from the division rival Buffalo Bills. Eh, they barely improved, right?

All of that heavy roster upheaval is noted while also retaining Malcom Butler, Jimmy Garoppolo, Donta Hightower, and Duron Harmon: all incremental pieces of last year’s Super Bowl title team (Hightower, Harmon) or quality future trade assets (Butler, Garoppolo).

Expect the Patriots to repeat, folks.

6. For one team that had a down 2016 but is still, at it’s core, talented and poised for a rebound, I’ll go with the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens, in case you forgot, actually came within grasp of last year’s AFC North title that they lost on a remarkable play by the Pittsburgh SteelersAntonio Brown in the final minutes late last December.

Adding Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr, and Marlon Humphrey to a previously porous passing defense (at least on the back-end) will do wonders for Baltimore against their North rivals in the Steelers and in a division with otherwise lackluster quarterbacks such as Andy Dalton with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterback Joe Flacco is in fact, not “elite”, but is enough for the Ravens to win and push for a playoff spot as well as the division once again. In a down AFC overall, winning 10 games is not out of the question for the Ravens.

7. I didn’t have to consider a team that outplayed expectations last year and will take a step back in 2017 for long. It’s going to be the Detroit Lions.

In 2016, Detroit played in the most games within a touchdown at 13. They had one multi-score win at one, which was third-least in the NFL just ahead of the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams at zero. They only had a lead for one full fourth quarter in ONE of 16 games.

The 2016 Lions had tremendous fortune and outside of some improvements to their offensive line, are due for major regression. They still have nothing resembling a competent pass rush that features Ezekiel Ansah, heavy youth in Teez Tabor in the secondary, and will likely again have one of the bottom-half defense’s in the NFL.

On offense, I’m not a fan of their running back stable in Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick even though their offense has relatively thrived of late. This is a dink and dunk game masquerading as spreading the field with explosive weapons. The Falcons and Patriots are the teams with actual explosive multi-faceted offense’s. Matthew Stafford and company have worked a game-manager offense that isn’t sustainable.

It’s the Green Bay Packers and everyone else in the NFC North, as usual, though the race for second will be fascinating.

8. In case you missed it, Season 2 of the NFL’s All or Nothing documentary program premiered over the holiday weekend, this year featuring last season’s Los Angeles Rams; who fired head coach Jeff Fisher mid-season.

All or Nothing, to me, is a mixed bag while giving unprecedented access. I would one day love to see the Chicago Bears agree to being filmed in a manner such as this, but in compelling fashion instead. If you love football, you’ll probably appreciate most of the locker room dealings, inside looks at coach’s conversations, and more.

Otherwise, it feels like mediocre non-primetime football between the Browns and San Francisco 49ers. Easily digestible on the surface, but shallow overall.

9. In non-football news, free agent running back DeAngelo Williams also made his wrestling debut over the weekend as a performer.

His time in the ring didn’t all go according to plan.

That was clearly un-choreographed and painful as the actors scrambled to make everything look natural. Of course, Williams later made sure to say that was his only appearance as a wrestler, perhaps citing the dangers posed with inexperience like above.

Regardless, it seemed to be a fun experience for the 34-year-old as he looks for a team to latch onto during training camp. If only other NFL players could stay so loose while their career hangs in the balance.

10. A “controversial” topic this week in other American sports leagues was free agency, loyalty, and the the hoopla concerning former Utah Jazz turned Boston Celtics guard, Gordon Hayward in the NBA. I’m not sure if this could happen in the NFL, as owners in football hold a lot more power than NBA owners, but it’s an interesting fandom discussion nonetheless.

Hayward had an interesting Independence Day, reportedly shuffling between the Jazz and Celtics throughout the day before eventually settling on Boston with a ready-made, roughly 2,100 word piece at the Player’s Tribune. His decision capped a wacky two weeks in the Association of teams loading up with trades such as Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, all in combat of the super team, Golden State Warriors.

Hayward’s decision was not met without backlash, as the typical jersey-burning and general whining of doing it the “hard way” ensued out of Utah: a not too uncommon exercise from other fan bases in the NBA recently. All of that begs the question as to why fans feel the need to go after professional athletes in this fashion.

There’s no clear rationale to decry and excommunicate athletes like Hayward - who is rejoining his college head coach in Brad Stevens with last year’s No. 1 seed in the East - and in turn advancing his career on a real platform. Ultimately, it was his decision. The ideal of staying with one team in the salary cap era in any sport without taking a look at other potentially much more beneficial options is an archaic model that some fans inherently adhere to a little too much.

Athletes are people too outside of their freakish abilities. On the rare opportunity that they have a chance for a sizable payday in what is their mind, a better situation, just as any regular person would search for greener pastures in their work field, they shouldn’t be vilified so childishly.

We watch and pay attention to sports for the athletic marvel and pageantry on hand. Moving forward, collectively, people need to remember that the next time an athlete becomes the subject of intense scrutiny for merely moving cities.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.