Football is about moving forward, so even in the immediate afterglow of Super Bowl LII, questions about the NFL in 2018 hang in the air like so much green, gray and silver confetti.
There’s uncertainty about stars and stripes — the future whereabouts of standout players, and where officiating is heading — the sale of the Carolina Panthers, the league’s renewed focus on social justice, and just where some of the most coveted college players might land.
The end of one season marks the beginning of another, with barely enough time for a commercial break.
There’s even murkiness surrounding the two quarterbacks from the season’s final game, Philadelphia’s 41-33 victory over New England in the Super Bowl, which gave the Eagles their first Lombardi Trophy.
Asked after the game if he plans to return for next season, when he’ll be 41, Patriots star Tom Brady indicated he would be — but left that door ever so slightly ajar with: “I expect to be back. It’s 15 minutes after the game ended, so I would like to process this. I don’t see why I wouldn’t be back.”
More murky is the future of quarterback Nick Foles with the Eagles. Yes, Foles was the Super Bowl’s most valuable player, but the face of the franchise remains Carson Wentz, who is recuperating from a season-ending knee injury. Foles has a year remaining on his contract, but with all the quarterback-needy teams out there, and the prohibitive expense of keeping what amounts to two starting quarterbacks on the roster, all bets are off.
At the traditional Monday-after-the-Super-Bowl news conference, featuring the winning coach and the game MVP, the last nine questions to Philadelphia Coach Doug Pederson concerned the task of sorting out next season’s quarterback situation.
“I knew I wouldn’t get off this stage without answering that question,” Pederson said to laughter.
“You know what? We’re just going to enjoy this moment. It’s not just about one guy. It’s about the team.”
But the coach also said that he turned to Wentz in the aftermath of Sunday’s victory and essentially told him to absorb what he was watching unfold.
“Hopefully, we’ll be back in this game with him leading the way,” Pederson said.
Foles isn’t the only accomplished quarterback who could wind up elsewhere. There’s Case Keenum, who played his way into the MVP conversation in Minnesota because of injuries to Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford; and Kirk Cousins, who will be the subject of a bidding battle now that Washington has moved on to Alex Smith, acquired in a trade with Kansas City.
The New York Jets are looking for a quarterback, as are the New York Giants (to receive the baton from Eli Manning), Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals. The urgency Jacksonville felt for a long-term answer at that position was likely quelled by the strong play of Blake Bortles at the end of the season, but the shifting sands of the league never fail to produce surprises.
Then there are the newcomers. For the first time, there could be a pair of first-round quarterbacks coming out of USC and UCLA in the same year. It wouldn’t be stunning if the Bruins’ Josh Rosen and Trojans’ Sam Darnold were selected among the top 10 picks in this year’s draft. The only other time in the modern era that quarterbacks from the rival schools were selected in the same year was 1989, when UCLA’s Troy Aikman went No. 1 overall and USC’s Rodney Peete was taken in the sixth round.
The quarterback-prospect spotlight isn’t trained only on Darnold and Rosen. Among the other potential first-round picks are Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. With the top six picks going Cleveland, Giants, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Denver, Jets. Of those, only the Colts have their quarterback situation locked down — assuming Andrew Luck is healthy after sitting out this season because of shoulder problems.
When it comes to officiating changes, the NFL is going to take a hard look at what is and what isn’t a catch, a vexing issue that seems to crop up on a weekly basis. Commissioner Roger Goodell has formed a committee to clarify the rule, and intends to start from scratch in looking at the definition.
Also on the table is the situation with the Panthers. Not only has owner Jerry Richardson put the team up for sale, but he’s under investigation by the league for his alleged inappropriate workplace conduct and comments. It’s unclear what the league will do about the investigation if or when a sale happens. Regardless, it’s a dark cloud.
The NFL announced last week that Fox has bought the broadcast rights for Thursday Night Football for the next five years, and it will be interesting to watch how that network promotes and presents those games.
There are situations to watch in the broadcast booth, too. Who will ESPN hire to replace Jon Gruden on Monday nights, now that the scowling coach has returned to the Raiders? And what of retired Arizona coach Bruce Arians? How will his colorful personality transfer to TV, with networks lobbying for him to become an analyst?
The Coliseum, home to the Rams, is getting a face lift, and the Chargers are hoping StubHub Center can feel more like a home field.
Some of the answers will come sooner, some later, but, like with that fluttering confetti, the air will eventually clear. Just in time for more questions.