Analysis

Five biggest NFL questions as teams break until training camp: What's next for Deshaun Watson?

After its longest regular season and most frenetic offseason, the NFL is finally pausing for its version of summer vacation. For some (or all) of the time before training camps open in the last week of July, players will go home, coaches might sneak out to the golf course and the practice fields will be empty.

None of this should be confused with relaxation, though. There are plenty of issues lingering around the league, some of which will likely be solved by the time camps open, others that will probably turn into primary storylines for the season.

Here's a look at five of the biggest questions as teams take their breaks.

1) What happens with Deshaun Watson?

No issue will shape a team -- and, frankly, the entire league -- like the NFL's conclusion on Deshaun Watson following its investigation into allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, some of which are contained in 24 civil cases against Cleveland's new quarterback.

A lengthy suspension could doom the Browns' season before it begins and would further call into question the organization's decision to tie its future -- and to give a fully guaranteed $230 million contract -- to a player facing so many disturbing accusations. A brief suspension -- or no suspension at all -- would allow Watson, who was inactive for the Houston Texans over the entire 2021 season, to resume his career and the Browns to reap the full rewards for their aggressive pursuit of him. It would also likely expose the NFL to considerable criticism over how seriously it takes accusations of sexual misconduct made against its players. A decision is expected before camps open.

2) How will the remaining quarterback dominoes fall?

After an incredibly tumultuous offseason, the quarterback landscape could still generate more news. Are the Carolina Panthers still in the market for a veteran? Are the Seattle Seahawks really going into their first post-Russell Wilson season with Drew Lock and/or Geno Smith under center? Do the Cleveland Browns set Baker Mayfield free? (The team excused him from attending mandatory minicamp.)

Meanwhile, San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who underwent shoulder surgery in March, is expected to start throwing again near the end of June or early July. He was excused from San Francisco's mandatory minicamp, as the 49ers continue to explore trade opportunities. How quickly Garoppolo throws -- and how he looks when he does -- will impact what the 30-year-old's market is, whether the 49ers can find a trade partner or will have to release him, and if there will be an opportunity for Jimmy G to win a starting job somewhere in 2022.

3) What's next for Deebo Samuel and the 49ers?

There might not be a more important bridge to be built in the next few weeks than the one the San Francisco 49ers need to construct with Deebo Samuel. He asked for a trade, the 49ers have ruled it out, and there seems to be more than just money creating the schism. Among the suggested reasons for Samuel's dissatisfaction are a yearning to play closer to his home state of South Carolina and -- this is key -- a desire to run the ball less. Given the size of contracts handed out to pure receivers this spring and the limited shelf life on running backs, it's hard to blame Samuel if his deployment in Kyle Shanahan's offense is a real sticking point.

Samuel did attend San Francisco's mandatory minicamp -- and appeared to be having fun -- and Cooper Kupp's new contract should provide some clarity about what a Samuel extension could look like. Important note: The 49ers would have more money to play with if they can move Garoppolo.

4) Whither Rob Gronkowski?

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended minicamp, there was no update on whether Rob Gronkowski would return to the team. The tight end has been consistently non-committal about his desire to play, even after Tom Brady returned to the fold following a 40-day retirement.

Gronk can afford to take his time -- he would certainly be on a reduced practice schedule in training camp, and has made clear that, if he returns, it will only be to the Bucs. Tampa Bay appears to be holding open a spot for him -- after the departure of O.J. Howard, the Buccaneers have Cameron Brate and a handful of very young players at the position. The Bucs would undoubtedly be better with Gronk -- Brady said he was "hopeful" for his return -- and for those who like fun, the NFL is better with him in it, too.

5) What will come of Congressional and NFL investigations into the Commanders?

Commissioner Roger Goodell accepted an invitation to testify (via video) during the House Committee on Oversight and Reform's June 22 hearing on the Congressional investigation into the Washington Commanders' workplace, owner Dan Snyder and the NFL's handling of its probe into widespread sexual misconduct at the franchise. Snyder's appearance was also requested by the committee, but the owner declined the invitation, and it is unclear if the committee will subpoena him.

In the meantime, former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White has been conducting a separate investigation on behalf of the NFL into Snyder's behavior following an allegation that came to light in February that he grabbed a team employee's leg under the table at a function and then tried to force her into his limousine, stopping only when his lawyer interceded. The league has said it will make the findings of White's investigation public and it could impose further discipline against Snyder.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter.

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