A ilttle more than 30 weeks ago, New England Patriots hoisted the Lombardi trophy – again. Now, a summer of new leagues failing, a new class of rookies and some frantic negotiations has set us up for another great season of NFL.
Among the interesting developments seems to be the NFL finally embracing the skillsets of rugby players, as was made evident by Inverness lad Jamie Gillan beating out Pro Bowl Britton Colquitt for the punter’s job in Cleveland. A former youth rugby player for Highland Rugby Club and Merchiston Castle School, Gillan moved with his family to the US and attended college there before joining the Browns after the draft.
The other former rugby player to make a splash this pre-season was Christian Wade. The former British and Irish Lion joined the NFL international pathway programme last year and has been assigned to the Buffalo Bills. Wade made headlines when he took his first hand-off for a 65-yard touchdown, albeit in a pre-season game, but still an impressive feat. Wade – unlike Gillan – didn’t make the cut for the Bills but will be designated to the practice squad where he will spend the year learning more about the intricacies of the NFL.
The opening week’s focus – as per usual – will be on the number one pick Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals when they face Detroit. The pressure won’t just sit with Murray as first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury made the decision to let 2018 first-rounder Josh Rosen leave and bringing in the smaller, speedier Murray.
The only way is up for the Cardinals after last season when they finished with a porous defence and a league’s worst-performing offence – the reason Kingsbury got the job. Kingsbury’s college record isn’t great, but he did develop Chiefs star QB Patrick Mahomes in his high-pace high-scoring offence so, as long as the defence can hold up, maybe the fans in Phoenix will have some fun.
The Cleveland Browns are ready to build on the promise of last season and have made some big moves. With the addition of Odell Beckham jnr and Kareem Hunt – despite his eight-week ban – the team looks like they could be play-off bound.
The team has been recruited based on adversity and this year could be the final season for Paul DePodesta – the brains behind baseball’s Moneyball – and the adaptation of his theory.
But, as ever, there is some risk attached. The team stacks up with every chance of being explosive both on and off the field, and first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens will have a lot of personalities to manage. The Browns are a team which could implode if things get difficult with outspoken Beckham, Hunt’s disciplinary problems and second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield – most second season quarterbacks face a decline.
Last year’s holdout LeVeon Bell, who took a year out after not agreeing to a contract with Pittsburgh, has signed with the New York Jets who seem to have a stability the fanbase is not used to seeing. The other half of the city is less settled as Eli Manning is set to remain as the starter. Saquon Barkley looks ready to repeat his outstanding rookie year, but the real questions raised came in the pre-season.
The Giants took quarterback Daniel Jones early in the draft and the fanbase was astounded at the pick. Social media exploded with fans shocked that the Giants would take a risk on an average college quarterback. Skip forward, and suddenly Giants fans are asking when Jones will take the reins. In a solid if unexciting pre-season the rookie showed he has poise and accuracy, leading to pressure on veteran Eli Manning.
In the last-minute deals completed this weekend, Seattle acquired a former No 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney from Houston, while Houston traded two first-round picks for much-needed strength on the offensive line in left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The Texans allowed 62 sacks last year and have smartly added some protection for rising start QB DeShaun Watson. The trade means Miami have all but given up on the season the week before it starts while for Houston it’s win or bust.
Last season’s losing finalists LA Rams have spent the offseason stewing after a defensive battle in a game for football purists. The question mark over the season is how productive can star running back Todd Gurley be after a diagnosis of arthritis. Head coach Sean McVay has had Gurley on a long-term specialised training plan but will the most explosive offence in the league fare well without Gurley and his usual explosive plays?