The NFL is the most-watched soap opera in the world.
The games are fun, but what happens between the games keeps our interest all week. There is always some drama, and we can see plenty of it coming already. It doesn’t make it any less entertaining.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 brewing controversies for this NFL season:
10. Vaccines and protocols
None of us want to talk about this so let’s just acknowledge it and get it out of the way. There will be players or coaches who aren’t vaccinated and subjected to the NFL’s protocols, perhaps missing key games or even causing a forfeiture. We’re already seeing it with Dallas Cowboys star guard Zack Martin likely out of the season opener. The social media arguments that will start after that happens will be equally baffling and circular. Just be warned: It’s nearly impossible for COVID-19 to not be a story of the NFL season. Again.
9. Something or another with the Cowboys
If you’ve never read Bryan Curtis’ profile on Jerry Jones for The Ringer, it’s worth your time. You realize after reading it that Jones has figured out something the rest of the NFL hasn’t: Controversy sells, and it’s good for business. When you laugh at the Cowboys for their latest weird headline, Jones is laughing to the bank. Best guess for a controversy this year is something related to Dak Prescott’s shoulder.
All of the preseason headlines with Barkley have had to do with his recovery from a torn ACL. But there’s also the business of his second contract. The Giants didn’t draft Barkley No. 2 overall to not extend him at some point. Right? If Barkley does everything to return for Week 1, plays well and doesn’t get the extension (the Giants can wait another year, as they exercised Barkley’s fifth-year option for 2022), we’re sure to hear about it.
It seems Washington is closing in on a new name. They teased recently that they’re down to three names. The rebrand could wait until the offseason, but working down from three to one doesn’t seem like a four-month process. Regardless of which name they pick, everyone on social media will hate it (to be honest “Washington Football Team” hasn’t been bad).
6. Urban Meyer’s debut season
With every weird quote and stupefying decision, Meyer gets compared to “Steve Spurrier 2.0,” a reference to another college coach whose act didn’t go well in the NFL. Meyer’s time with the Jacksonville Jaguars has been so strange at times, it might be an insult to Steve Spurrier. Maybe Meyer wins and wins and wins and we forgot the nonsense like signing Tim Tebow or refusing to name Trevor Lawrence his starting quarterback, but we’re to a point of needing to see those wins.
Hey, remember when everyone thought Russell Wilson would be traded? That was fun. It was an overreaction, but nobody is denying there was discontent. Wilson and the Seahawks have made up, but what happens if the offense struggles and it goes back to the old ground-and-pound way without consulting Wilson? Winning cures all, but it still seems this story hasn’t gone completely away.
There’s no conclusion to this story that will make any sense. The NFL has not taken any action against Watson after many allegations of sexual misconduct, the Texans are treating him like he’s not a part of the team, teams can’t exactly trade a fortune for Watson not knowing what the NFL (or the legal system) will do … so we wait. We know Tyrod Taylor will start Week 1, and presumably beyond. It’s not like Watson starting Week 2 (or Week 5, or Week 11) would make any sense. Neither would the NFL suddenly suspending Watson after months of silence. The Texans voluntarily making their best player inactive all season, presumably to get better trade value next offseason, would be unprecedented. The entire story is a mess, in many ways.
3. A Bears QB (and coach) controversy
What, really, is the point of the Bears starting Andy Dalton at all this season? Bears fans are probably asking the same thing. Matt Nagy seems intent on starting Dalton in Week 1, even when everyone is aware Justin Fields can and should start from opening day on. For a coach on the hot seat, it’s a weird hill to die on.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers’ starting QB job
When the San Francisco 49ers moved up to the third overall pick to draft Trey Lance, and still kept around Garoppolo, we knew what was going to happen next. Rookie first-round quarterbacks, especially those drafted as high as Lance, don’t sit anymore. A finger injury to Lance gave the 49ers a reason to go with Garoppolo in Week 1. They won’t keep Lance on the bench for long, but when does the change happen?
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. the Packers
Oh, it’s not over. Perhaps Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers win a Super Bowl this season and whatever happens after that doesn’t matter quite as much. But with every single bump in the road, Rodgers’ discontent through the offseason and his future with the Packers will be brought up. Prepare yourselves.