Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz stretches before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Michael Perez/Associated Press

Storylines that have the league buzzing, why no one in the NFL seems to understand the meaning of the word voluntary and a subjective list of the sport’s most exciting players ever.

   

1. The explosive offseason

It’s been a hectic, intense and wild offseason so far, but one of the more important developments in the league has been happening quietly in Denver with quarterback Joe Flacco.

I’m told Flacco has fit in perfectly with the Broncos and has done so quickly. This isn’t a shock. Flacco is an incredibly likable person (albeit mercurial). Of course, what Flacco does on the field when the games count is what will matter most.

If Flacco’s on-field play goes as well as his off-field transition, it’s possible John Elway finally got a quarterback right for the first time in a long while.

While Flacco’s arrival in Denver has gone smoothly so far, many of the NFL’s other offseason stories have been far from calm. Indeed, the NFL’s offseason remains one of the unbeatable forces in sports.

Let’s take a look at the latest in some of the biggest offseason stories that have emerged in a league that never sleeps…

Carson Wentz could be in for a big season. Teams have shifted in their thinking that quarterback Carson Wentz can stay healthy for a full season. There once was a belief that because Wentz tore his ACL and fractured his back, he just might be snakebitten. Now, teams think the Eagles have found some ways to keep Wentz upright and healthy and, because of that, believe he’s poised to have one of the best years of any quarterback in the league.

The Saintly. Many teams around the league have been impressed with how the Saints have handled the disaster that was the non-pass interference call in the NFC title game. It would be easy for a team to get bogged down trying to relitigate what happened, but the Saints have plugged along and put that moment behind them. They drafted well. They lobbied the rules committee successfully to make non-calls reviewable. They’ve played the offseason game without much outward rancor. A lot of credit goes to coach Sean Payton.

Steelers will miss Antonio Brown. Well, duh. What’s surprised me are the rumblings I’ve heard that some of the Steelers assistant coaches have been grumbling quietly to other assistants around the league that getting rid of Antonio Brown was a mistake. We’ll see; the Steelers have proved to be pretty good (and have been for decades) at restocking the roster. 

The Chargers could be super. After another strong draft, expectations are high for a team that went 12-4 last season. “They could have the scariest defense in football this year,” an NFC general manager said. “The Chargers will make the Super Bowl.”

Tyreek Hill will play most of next season. Teams think Hill will face a minimum suspension. This doesn’t seem right, but what teams tell me is the silence from the NFL speaks volumes. They think the league will try to bury the child abuse case involving Hill.

The NFL still doesn’t get it. Team executives tell me they are looking to the league for more leadership on issues of player behavior off the field and domestic violence. Of course, teams could avoid having to deal with the controversy arising from Hill’s arrival in the league (after pleading guilty to domestic abuse charges in college) by simply not signing or drafting players like Hill. Still, it isn’t like they are getting a lot of strong guidance from the league. The NFL hasn’t originated any new plans to combat this issue, and Roger Goodell has been invisible on it.

Nothing stops the Patriots machine. If any other owner but the Pats’ Robert Kraft were charged in a prostitution sting during the offseason, that team’s offseason would be wrecked. At least, that’s what a lot of other teams across the league think. But not the Patriots, those same sources argue. They are robots. Nothing shakes them.

Kissing Cousins. I’ve heard more than a few times how the Vikings’ first-round pick, NC State center Garrett Bradbury, was one of the best of the draft. On the other hand, teams also tell me their faith in quarterback Kirk Cousins remains low.

Butch Dill/Associated Press

Will Cam be ready? After Cam Newton detailed how “vulnerable” he felt last season with a throwing shoulder that required surgery this offseason, most teams expect him to be healthy again. While some wonder if his shoulder injury is more problematic than either Newton or the Panthers are saying, from what I’ve heard, that’s likely wishful thinking. Few in the league would be surprised if Newton has a blockbuster season.

There’s no “I” in team. I’ve heard that during meetings with players this offseason, Raiders coach Jon Gruden has emphasized the concept of team. He’s told players, point blank, he will always do what’s best for the organization, not an individual player.

In Baker We Trust. I know he had a good rookie season, but Baker Mayfield seems to have the rest of the league convinced he is the real deal. To be honest, it’s a bit stunning how much confidence teams have in the Browns quarterback to keep a young locker room full of powerful egos corralled. 

LOL. Teams are still wondering what the hell the Giants were thinking when they drafted quarterback Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall. Some of that wonderment has turned to laughter.

Aaron Rodgers will have to be superhuman again. “It’s going to be all on him again,” said one AFC scout of a Packers roster that didn’t show significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball.

Ryan’s resurgence. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is spectacularly average. But I’ve heard from more than a few assistant coaches who believe Ryan will have a huge year.

Missing you. One of the most significant moves of the offseason is the retirement of Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin. He is second in Seahawks history with 49 receiving touchdowns and third in team history with 493 receptions and 6,563 receiving yards. That’s a lot to try to replace.

Baldwin, though, was more than a player. He was a leader and role model in Seattle and across the league. During a time of great change this offseason, Baldwin’s departure was one of the biggest.

    

2. Thanks, but no thanks

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

While Flacco, as noted above, seems to be fitting in well with his new Denver teammates, he also seems to be wary of repeating what sent him out the door in Baltimore.

Though the Broncos drafted Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round, ostensibly as their QB of the future, Flacco isn’t itching to play the role of veteran mentor anytime soon.

“Listen, I have so many things to worry about,” Flacco said, according to a transcript from the team. “I’m trying to go out there and play good football. I’m trying to go out there and play the best football of my life. As far as a time constraint and all of that stuff, I’m not worried about developing guys or any of that. That is what it is. I hope he does it well. I don’t look at that as my job. My job is to go win football games for this football team.”

Some quarterbacks are good about showing their younger competition the ropes. Others aren’t.

Flacco seems to be in the latter category.

He saw how he was replaced in Baltimore by Lamar Jackson, and he’s not about to help another young player do the same.

     

3. Diminishing returns

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

This week quarterback EJ Manuel officially retired. He was the first quarterback taken in the 2013 draft and serves as an example of how wrong many people (including me) get the draft.

I thought Manuel would be good. I chose…poorly. He was picked 16th overall by the Bills and lasted four years there before spending 2017 with the Raiders. Pro Football Talk’s story from Michael David Smith of the QBs taken that yeara group that includes Mike Glennon and Matt Barkleyis a sobering reminder of how difficult it is to find quality quarterbacks in the draft.

So many times, we have no clue.

     

4. A class act leaves ESPN

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

If you ever met former Cowboys defensive back Darren Woodson, you’d know he was one of the best people the NFL has ever produced. He treated everyone he met with decency and kindness. He always had time for you.

Woodson departed ESPN this week after 14 years with the network to focus on his businesses. He did his job at ESPN as he did his job as a player: He studied and worked hard at what he did.

He’ll be missed on the network the way he has been in the league, which is greatly.

    

5. When will Robert Kraft speak?

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14:  Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots looks on during Game One of the first round of the 2019 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs between the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers at TD Garden on April 14, 2019 in Boston, Mas

Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Patriots owner Robert Kraft got a judge this week to suppress a video allegedly showing him engage in sex acts in his solicitation case. That doesn’t mean TMZ won’t one day get the video. (TMZ seems to get all the videos.)  

Eventually, the case will be over and Kraft will have to work to rebuild his reputation. But how?

The process will almost surely start with an interview and apology from Kraft with a friendly media source.

There will one interview only, I believe, and then he’ll return to public life, all while saying as little as possible.

Kraft will hope that time is his ally. He will hope that people will forget, and if the Patriots win another Super Bowl (and they probably will), his case will retreat farther in the rearview mirror.

It’s a plan that’s worked before with many different high-profile people. Now, Kraft will cross his fingers it will work for him as well. 

     

6. You know what you can do with your offseason workouts

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JUNE 4: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots, throws the ball during organized team activities at Gillette Stadium on June 4, 2015 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

One aspect of the offseason teams take far too seriously are voluntary workouts. Key to their overreactions is their misunderstanding of the word “voluntary.”

Loved seeing Tom Brady give the metaphorical middle digit to voluntary workouts. Brady can do it because he’s Tom Brady, but more players should skip them as well.

Teams continue to use them as blunt-force instruments, yet they remain one of the most unnecessary tools in the NFL’s arsenal. Despite what teams may claim about them and media members may yell about them, the fact that one of the most meticulous players of our time doesn’t attend them says it all.

“When he’s here, he’ll be here,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels of Brady’s presence. “When he’s not, he’s not. It’s voluntary. To each his own.”

Damn right. 

     

7. The truth hurts

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 9:  Owner Gayle Benson of the New Orleans Saints on the sidelines before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 9, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Buccaneers defeated the Saints 48-4

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Saints owner Gayle Benson recently spoke at a commencement about the disgracefully bad non-call in the NFC title game last year. If you missed it, what she said was pretty remarkable.

“Had this happened in another city, it is likely there would have been riots in the streets,” said Benson. “As bitterly disappointed as our fans were, our response was the opposite.

“Rather than riot, our protests turned into another cause: for parties. ‘Boycott Bowls’ sprang up throughout the city on Super Bowl Sunday. And our fans’ displeasure with the obviously terrible no-call was expressed to the NFL by tuning out at a historic rate, delivering the lowest Super Bowl rating in the country.”

That last part caught the NFL’s attention. A league official texted me, “What is she thinking?”

That’s because it’s rare to hear an owner publicly approve of fans boycotting their product.

But, hell, can you blame her? Or Saints fans? It was probably the worst call in NFL postseason history and not only cost them a Super Bowl berth but also may have cost them a title.

Benson may have broken owner protocol with her comments, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t right to say it.

     

8. Overlook him at your own peril

Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins retweeted a move he made against the Titans in 2016, and it’s gorgeous. The mark Hopkins left on that poor defensive back’s body is scary. The video should be rated PG-13.

Sometimes, incredibly, Hopkins’ greatness is lost among other names like Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr. But guys who average 14.1 yards per reception and score 47 touchdowns in 95 games don’t fall out of the sky too often.

Just ask that DB. 

    

9. Five most exciting

Doug Mills/Associated Press

One of my favorite parts of Twitter is hearing from current and former players. Recently, retired 12-year veteran and Super Bowl champion Will Blackmon listed his top five most exciting players to watch in NFL history.

As a football history nerd (or just a nerd), I love these lists. Here’s mine:

5. Devin Hester—perhaps the greatest return man in history. Every time he touched the football, the entire stadium took a deep breath.

4. Jim Brownwatch his highlights. They are mesmerizing.

3. Cam Newtonsometimes we forget.

2. Mike Vickthe greatest running quarterback the NFL has ever seen.

1. Deion Sandersimpacted a game on almost every play. Teams were terrified to throw at him, and often when they did, he’d run one back on them.

     

10. The greatest answer ever given

B/R is a sports site, and “10-Point Stance” is a world-class NFL thingy read by millions from coast to coast while sitting in the bathroom. 

But in rare moments, we like to venture out of sports and mention pop culture here, and nerd stuff, and Trek stuff, and goofy crap, and occasionally insult Star Wars fans.

This time, however, I saw something so remarkable that it surpassed even the dramatic overacting of William Shatner. In all bluntness, it moved me.

It’s from Keanu Reeves. If you haven’t seen it, you will love it.

           

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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