We're just past the midpoint between the end of the NFL draft and the start of training camp. Even for a sport that truly has no offseason, this is clearly the calm before the storm.
Therein lies a problem: People love talking football, yet this upcoming stretch is traditionally quietest when it comes to actual news. Rumors, speculation, projection -- they're our greatest tools when battling this stage of offseason ennui.
That naturally means big stories become overinflated and mid-level narratives bump up to take their place. We can't help gazing at the contrails left from another dizzying spate of offseason movement.
Of course, offseason conjecture is a zero-sum game. Talking more about certain things likely means we're ignoring other worthy NFL topics we should be talking more about.
So, let's navigate some notable offseason stories, both ones overblown and those deserving of more attention.
1) QB battles
Soon we'll set some plotlines regarding quarterbacks and the open jobs at that position, but it appears to me that they're mostly either settled already, for all intents and purposes, or not that buzzworthy to begin with.
Several involve rookies, namely those who went high in the 2023 NFL Draft. But would it shock anyone if the three quarterbacks drafted in the top four overall are all starting by Week 1 -- or shortly thereafter?
I don't expect Bryce Young to sit long, if at all, in Carolina. Same with C.J. Stroud in Houston. Anthony Richardson has to beat out Gardner Minshew in Indianapolis, but whether he does so in Week 1 or Week 5 isn't ultimately all that consequential. It might be a different story in Tennessee, depending on how Will Levis fares with Ryan Tannehill possibly in his final season there, but the pizzazz is muted with Levis falling to Round 2.
Among battles not involving rookies, it's even more drab. Should we be drumming up Sam Howell versus Jacoby Brissett as a heavyweight fight in Washington? Is Baker Mayfield versus Kyle Trask a gladiator showdown in Tampa? Perhaps Mayfield is due for a Geno Smith-like revival, or Howell or Trask can revive their college glory, but those feel like stretches.
Sorry, folks. I suspect this just isn't the year for sizzling QB competitions to burn up your screens.
2) Mac Jones drama
The intrigue around the relationship between Mac Jones and Bill Belichick ramped up in the Patriots' Week 7 loss to the Bears last season. Even with Jones coming back from injury, it was still surprising to see Jones get benched in that game. Fans shouting Bailey Zappe's name thereafter upped the weirdness factor.
Things got more awkward when Belichick seemingly declined to anoint Jones the starting QB at one point this offseason. While owner Robert Kraft publicly supported Jones, Belichick's comments only fueled speculation that the coach was ready to stage a Zappe-led mutiny in time.
Belichick apparently has said enough magic words publicly on Jones, who is receiving most of the starter reps so far, to quell that chatter. Jones and new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien are reportedly working well together.
For all we know, Jones might be closer to what we saw during last year's struggles than what he showed during an encouraging rookie year. The team could move on from him if he struggles again. But Jones also could bounce back, and he and Belichick don't need to have weekly tea parties to make it all work again.
3) Eagles losing both coordinators
Super Bowl losers tend to draw suspicious eyes annually, with talk of curses haunting teams that fail to win the previous season's big game. That was a real trend for many years, after all. But there are more recent counterexamples of Super Bowl losers performing well the year following, which is why this shouldn't be a question we reflexively default to every offseason.
Take this year's Eagles. On paper, they could be even better than a year ago, keeping the bulk of the roster intact, adding four quality draft picks in the top 66 overall and having most of their stars in their primes.
Losing both coordinators, Shane Steichen (Colts) and Jonathan Gannon (Cardinals), can't go overlooked. But it can be overblown, and I think that's what's happening here.
Steichen helped Jalen Hurts develop, but QB coach-turned-coordinator Brian Johnson should step into that role seamlessly and could himself be a head-coaching candidate one day. Plus, let's not forget head coach Nick Sirianni is a pretty gifted offensive mind, too, and this offense is still his baby.
Also, I won't be shocked at all if the defense doesn't miss a beat following Gannon's departure. The group could be as good, or maybe even better, under new coordinator Sean Desai, especially with first-round picks Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith joining the lineup.
If losing both coordinators is the Eagles' biggest worry now, these should be considered first-world problems for an NFL team to have.
4) 49ers' QB situation
Admittedly, the 49ers are in an unusual spot at quarterback. Then again, it always seems to be that way for Kyle Shanahan's teams.
Brock Purdy deserves a shot to start. That's what going 5-0 down the stretch and leading the Niners to the NFC Championship Game should earn him, no matter his draft provenance. Still, Purdy's elbow injury has slowed him this offseason and triggered a smidge of long-term doubt.
There's also the Trey Lance matter. He struggled in the only full game he played in 2022 before sustaining a season-ending right ankle injury that required a second in-season surgery to fix. Don't forget that the franchise traded a massive tranche of draft picks to land Lance in the 2021 draft. The other quarterback in the mix to start is former first-round pick Sam Darnold, which is somehow fitting after his strange, wayward career to this point.
There was a visceral reaction to my recent decision to place the 49ers No. 3 on the list of the NFL’s most complete teams, with the most common naysayer refrain boiling down to: "But they don't even have a quarterback!" Folks: Let's try to be objective here.
Purdy has shown encouraging strides back. Lance has drawn praise for how he's seemingly improved. Even Darnold has impressed.
These things have a way of working themselves out. Plus, the 49ers have a great team that went 6-0 against division opponents last season. If there's a roster that can survive some QB bumps and thrive without consistently elite play there, it's the 49ers. They proved that last season.
5) The Cowboys' play calling
It's hard to find an offseason, any offseason really, where the Cowboys are not tied to a major storyline. This year is no different, as Mike McCarthy taking over play calling has become one of the big narratives to dissect.
There are a few layers to this, including the surprise exit of former offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, the question of whether McCarthy's preferred offensive system can work in today's NFL and what it all means for the futures of Dak Prescott, a Super Bowl-hungry Jerry Jones and a roster that looks built to win now.
But on the day McCarthy was hired in Dallas in 2020, would it have been a shock then to suggest he might want to call plays eventually? Even with Moore considered a rising star in the business, that possibility always seemed like one to not completely rule out.
Could this be a bigger story if the Cowboys struggle offensively? Of course. And it's completely fair to have a dash of suspicion at the rebranded "Texas Coast" offense. But if Dak and CeeDee Lamb continue thriving, Tony Pollard continues his ascension and, most importantly, the Cowboys win more games, all the offseason bluster will be rendered pretty moot.
DESERVE MORE ATTENTION
1) Kyler Murray's future
I realize the Arizona Cardinals don't draw the national attention that other franchises do, but it still baffles me that Kyler Murray's future in Arizona isn't a bigger story.
When he signed his extension less than a year ago -- which included a bizarre "independent study" clause that was later removed -- I felt it had the potential to blow up in the Cardinals' faces down the road. The amount of guaranteed money Murray received ($160 million), especially for a player who still had a lot to prove, was eye-opening.
Murray has been hot and cold, at times looking anywhere on the spectrum between game-changing talent to passable starter. Now he's coming off an ACL tear that puts a healthy start to the season in doubt. Oh, and did I mention Murray has six years left on a deal that could make it very hard to move on from him next year?
The Cardinals have stripped down significantly this offseason. They're in rebuild mode. They could be in line for one of the top picks in the 2024 NFL Draft and, for good measure, also hold Houston’s No. 1 pick. Could the Cardinals decide to make a change at quarterback one year into the Monti Ossenfort-Jonathan Gannon regime? And would any team potentially take on Murray's contract?
All those questions are swirling aimlessly around the desert air until we get more clarity on Murray.
2) The Browns are a sneaky contender
This year, the Browns seem to have slipped into the background. That's the effect of one highly disappointing season. Watson struggled during his six starts after returning from suspension, and Cleveland quickly descended back to also-ran status.
Yet, if there's a last-to-first-place possibility (not named the Jets) I'm fascinated by, it's the Browns. I couldn't quite wedge them into my list of the 10 most complete rosters, but I'm already prepared to regret that decision.
If Watson can play anywhere close to the way he did during his Texans career, when he went to three straight Pro Bowls, the Browns will win. There's no need to make excuses for his 2022 play, but strictly from a football perspective, I expect a vastly improved performance.
The roster is in good shape, with their offseason moves precisely geared at targeting weaker spots and avoiding short-term fixes. That's a sounder approach, and they still managed to do well in the draft despite lacking first- and second-round picks.
Either way -- if Watson thrives or struggles -- the Browns are a story in 2023. If they struggle, even in a tough division, it could result in major ramifications. But this seems like a sleeper team. In a way, they remind me a bit of the Vikings heading into last season, when Minnesota won 13 games. A similar one-year flourish in Cleveland won't stun me.
3) The QB transition in Green Bay
It's not surprising that Aaron Rodgers and the Jets are positioned to become one of the biggest success stories of the 2023 season -- or perhaps the biggest flops. One way or another, the Rodgers-Jets storyline is huge. But new starting quarterbacks don't come around often in Green Bay, so it's a bit shocking there hasn't been more national chatter about Jordan Love taking over.
Perhaps it was like this back in 2008, when Rodgers took over for Brett Favre (a Jet then, of course). But I was expecting to hear more when it comes to discussing Love -- outside of Wisconsin, anyway. The parallels alone between Favre-Rodgers and Rodgers-Love make it an easy connection and the lowest hanging of fruit, which makes it even more surprising that the conversation seems to be muted.
What do we know about Love? The 2020 first-round pick has started one regular-season game, had cups of coffee in a handful more and is roughly the same age now that Rodgers was when he first took over. We just haven't seen Love much in the spotlight.
This could be the start of another generation of QB royalty in Green Bay, and in a start-them-early era of NFL quarterbacking, Love succeeding after a protracted incubation would provide a fascinating counterargument. Or, likewise, if Love struggles, would the Packers start immediately looking for his replacement after spending so much time cultivating him?
Everything seems to be on the table in this new era in Green Bay. More people should be talking about it.