With the Hall of Fame game out of the way, the NFL Preseason can officially begin. However, a lot has changed after one of the most chaotic NFL offseasons in recent memory. With all the moving parts that changed places, there has been a lot to keep up with in the NFL world. Here are five of the most interesting storylines going into week one of the NFL preseason.
Carolina’s QB Clash
With the way that Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were hyped as rookies entering the 2018 NFL Draft, you would think the only way to get them both on the same team would be to edit the rosters in Madden. But here we are, as the Panthers have the first and third overall picks in the 2018 Draft battling it out for the same starting job.
Let’s start with Sam Darnold. Last year, The Panthers acquired Darnold from the Jets in April 2021 in return for a 2021 sixth-round pick, as well as second and fourth-round picks in the 2022 draft. Darnold was named the starting quarterback for the Panthers to start the season but didn’t exactly pan out. In fact, at one point, things got so bad that the Panthers signed Cam Newton in the middle of the season to try and maintain their playoff hopes. Darnold ended the year playing in 12 games, starting 11 of them, throwing for 2,527 yards, nine touchdowns, and 13 interceptions while completing 60% of his passes.
There was speculation that the Panthers would look to draft a quarterback in the 2022 draft, as they were linked to Kenny Pickett numerous times. The Panthers would pass on a first-round quarterback, and the only QB pick they made was Matt Coral in the third round. It appeared as though Darnold was the clear-cut favorite for the job until the Panthers made a move that had been heavily speculated for months.
On July 6th, 2022, the Panthers traded a 2024 conditional draft pick to the Cleveland Browns in return for Baker Mayfield. The Browns had been looking to trade Mayfield for months after their controversial deal for Deshaun Watson. After leading the Browns to the playoffs in 2020, Mayfield followed up with a mediocre 2021 season, playing in 14 games and starting all of them, throwing for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions while completing 60% of his passes. The Browns’ struggles were blamed mostly on Mayfield, as they had a strong roster on paper.
Darnold and Mayfield have gone back and forth throughout training camp, and head coach Matt Rhule has said he won’t name a starter at least until after their second preseason game at New England. With both quarterbacks appearing neck and neck in the race, the Panthers will certainly be a team to keep an eye on in the preseason.
Superstar Wide Receivers in New Places
Premium wide receivers are very rarely made available, so when so many wide receivers found new homes this offseason, it was stunning to see some of the ones that moved. Let’s look at four of the biggest name wide receivers to move this offseason.
Davante Adams: Las Vegas Raiders
Aaron Rodgers’ former favorite target was among the biggest names to move this offseason. Davante Adams has been in the conversation for the best receiver in the NFL for the last few seasons and was one of the main reasons the Packers were as dominant as they were. When Aaron Rodgers re-signed with the Packers, many people thought Adams would be back, too. Instead, he was shipped off to the Raiders, reuniting him with his college quarterback, Derek Carr. Adams’ presence helps make the Raiders one of the most dangerous offenses in football now.
Tyreek Hill: Miami Dolphins
Tyreek Hill’s issues with the Chiefs came out of seemingly nowhere. Hill wanted more money, and the Chiefs were unwilling to give it to him. Within hours, Kansas City traded Hill to the Dolphins for a package of draft picks. Miami then gave Hill a massive contract, and Hill has been praising quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ever since. He’s even gone as far as calling him “the most accurate quarterback in the NFL.” While that may be a bit much, the Dolphins must love seeing Hill buy-in quickly. Whether or not Hill’s production remains the same without Patrick Mahomes remains to be seen.
AJ Brown: Philadelphia Eagles
Many wide receivers needed to get paid this year, and AJ Brown was the first domino to fall. Brown had been outstanding for the Titans, giving them a player that can produce with the ball in his hands outside of Derrick Henry. However, Tennessee was not willing to give Brown the money he wanted, so they shipped him out to Philadelphia for a package of picks, including a first-rounder they turned into Treylon Burks. Brown now gives the Eagles another good receiving option alongside Devonta Smith, and now Jalen Hurts needs to take the next step in his development.
Amari Cooper: Cleveland Browns
In a move that has gone somewhat under the radar, the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper to the Browns to save cap space. Cooper was originally going to get cut, but the Browns offered up a fifth-round pick and swapped sixth-round picks with Dallas to ensure they got him. If Deshaun Watson misses time due to his pending suspension, having Cooper will make it a bit easier on whoever needs to step in.
Tom Brady’s Last Ride?
On February 1st, 2022, Tom Brady announced his retirement from the NFL to be a family man. But after spending about a month with his family and a head coach change later, Brady came out of retirement. Having lost Gronk, Brady will have to try and make up his production with little-known players like all-pro talent Julio Jones and two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph. Though One has to wonder, with an expiring contract and having retired once before, will Brady ride off into the sunset after this season? Or will he ride off into the commentary booth instead? Brady inked a lucrative contract to join FOX’s commentary booth once his playing career is over, so a path after football is there.
The AFC West in General
For years, the NFC West has been viewed by many as the best division in football. However, it seems like their AFC counterparts may have them beat this year. Let’s take a brief look at what each team looks like this year.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have been the AFC’s resident superpower since Patrick Mahomes became their quarterback. However, they don’t even look close to the best team in their division this year. They lost Tyreek Hill and are trying to replace him with names like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Kansas City still looks like a very strong team but will have some work to do to catch up to their fellow AFC West teams.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were mere seconds away from a tie that would have sent them to the playoffs, but the Raiders kicked a field goal to eliminate them. Their offense was already deadly enough with Justin Herbert at quarterback and names like Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams at the skill positions. So they brought in Pro Bowl talents like Khalil Mack and JC Jackson to bolster their defense. On paper, the Chargers have everything they need to win the division and make a Super Bowl run, they just need to put it together on the field.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders made a surprise playoff push last year before being eliminated by the eventual AFC champion Bengals. Despite the playoff run, the Raiders look a bit different coming into this season, bringing in Davante Adams to make their offense even stronger, Chandler Jones to bolster their pass rush, and a new head coach in Josh McDaniels. If McDaniels has truly learned from his mistakes after his first go-around as a head coach in Denver, the Raiders could be going back to the playoffs.
Perhaps the team with the biggest shake-up this offseason was the Denver Broncos. They started by bringing in Green Bay’s former offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, to be their new head coach and bringing in a real quarterback for the first time since Peyton Manning played for the team. Russell Wilson will be under center for Denver this year, and he will look to elevate the games of young receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. Add that to a defense that was among the best in yards allowed last year, and the Broncos could be a dark-horse playoff team.
Can Rams Run it Back Without Significant Pieces?
The Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams have had an interesting offseason themselves. Early on, there were rumors that Sean McVay and Aaron Donald were going to hang it up and retire from football, but fortunately for the Rams, they came back.
They did lose a few important pieces of their championship run. Von Miller, who opened up a lot of space for Donald, signed with the Bills, cornerback Darious Williams agreed to terms with the Jaguars, the team traded Robert Woods to Tennessee, and their all-world punter, Johnny Hekker, left for Carolina. Odell Beckham Jr has yet to sign anywhere, but he will likely miss some time after getting injured in the Super Bowl.
The Rams have responded by bringing in names like linebacker Bobby Wagner and receiver Allen Robinson, but it remains to be seen how well they fit into Sean Mcvay’s schemes.