The NFL is a soap opera. One that never ends.
The league goes about seven months between games that count, but there is never a shortage of headlines. The interest in the league off the field might exceed what happens on Sundays.
There are controversies that have been discussed all summer but not resolved, some that are bubbling beneath the surface and others that haven’t started yet but could with just a couple of bad games. Here are the 10 brewing controversies for the NFL season.
Aaron Rodgers vs. New York
Everything is great now. Rodgers was a star on “Hard Knocks,” he had a fantastic touchdown pass in his only preseason action after giving an “I love you sign” to the fans and has generally done and said everything right. But let’s look at the Jets’ first four games: vs. Bills, at Cowboys, vs. Patriots, vs. Chiefs. What if the Jets start 1-3? It’s possible. Expectations are high and Rodgers is going from almost two decades in the NFL’s smallest market to New York. Everything is great between Rodgers and New York now. What happens if a losing streak hits?
Maybe Wilson plays great and he and Payton live happily ever after. But the Denver Broncos’ starting offense didn’t look great in the preseason. Jarrett Stidham, Wilson’s backup, was 17-of-28 for 236 yards and a touchdown in Denver’s preseason finale. He looked good, and his two-year, $10 million contract seemed like a sign that the Broncos were preparing for the possibility of a change. Would Payton really bench Wilson if he’s ineffective early in the season? Wilson might want to get off to a fast start just to avoid the potential controversy.
Sean Payton vs. the Jets
Payton doesn’t mind the spotlight, and he brought it on himself with a memorable USA Today interview at the start of training camp. Payton blasted former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett, who is now the Jets’ offensive coordinator, saying the job Hackett and his staff did last year “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.” Plenty of Jets came to his defense, and Payton unconvincingly said he regretted the comments. And what do you know, the Jets play the Broncos on Oct. 8. Score one for the NFL’s script.
Stefon Diggs’ Bills displeasure
The Bills and Diggs have been in damage control for a while. Diggs yelled at Josh Allen on the sideline of a playoff loss, he was absent from the start of Buffalo’s minicamp and there was also a rumor from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that Diggs wanted out of Buffalo. The Bills and/or Diggs were quick to put out all those fires, saying there was nothing to them. Maybe there’s not. But there’s a lot of smoke for everything to be OK. It could all be overblown, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this season.
The NFL Defensive Player of the Year has been holding out from a Super Bowl contender, and nobody is talking about it. Maybe everyone assumes Bosa will report, or a new deal will get done, but it’s strange that one of the NFL’s best players hasn’t been around the team and it’s getting no attention. They’ll all probably live happily ever after, but perhaps we should keep this situation in the back of our minds.
Chris Jones and the Chiefs
All of the above with Bosa? The same applies to the Kansas City Chiefs’ star. The biggest difference might be that the Chiefs’ defense isn’t as deep and can’t afford to be without Jones, by far their best defensive player. Jones has already said he’s willing to hold out through Week 8, and while that’s hard to believe because the fines for that would reach eight figures, it hasn’t been resolved. That’s a big deal for the Chiefs.
Running backs against the market
Giants’ Saquon Barkley and Raiders’ Josh Jacobs came to agreements on slightly better one-year deals after being unhappy over the franchise tag. Both are saying they’re happy to be back. Maybe that’s true. However, they’re still on one-year deals, both backs want to hit free agency, and what happens if there’s a minor injury during the season or their respective teams handle their workload like they want to run them into the ground? Would those backs be happy to stay in the game for their 25th or 30th carry after their teams didn’t show them enough respect at the negotiating table?
Watson was the talk of the NFL last summer, and not for anything good. He was suspended 11 games after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Then he didn’t play well when he returned. Watson had a quieter offseason, but there were reports that the Browns’ offense hadn’t looked great in camp. If Watson struggles, what are the Cleveland Browns going to do? It’s not like they can bench or dump Watson and his $230 million fully guaranteed deal.
The Colts think the relationship with Taylor can be mended. Maybe they should ask Taylor about that. The Colts said Taylor could seek a trade, but it seems like they were doing that just to placate him, given the reported wild trade demands from the team. It appears like they were never serious about trading him. Then Taylor ended up on the PUP list, which means he’ll be out at least the first four weeks of the season. Will he hold out when he’s eligible to come off the list? Will the Colts get real about trading him, even after their self-imposed deadline (spoiler alert: probably not)? With the Colts’ dog-and-pony show regarding Taylor’s trade request and their unwillingness to this point to pay him, it could get even uglier between the two sides.
More gambling issues?
The NFL would love if nobody ever violated its gambling policy again, but it’s going to happen. Combine the increased access to legal betting with more legal entities watching out for scandals, and it’s not a big surprise we’ve seen more players suspended in the past few months than we saw in the decades before. There hasn’t been a massive scandal like one that involves point shaving accusations, and the NFL has to hope it never happens.