Belichick’s exit plan and a JJ Watt commerce: NFL subplots to observe in 2021
Will Aaron Rodgers depart Inexperienced Bay after an MVP-caliber season? Will Invoice Belichick go away New England earlier than it turns ugly? There’s no scarcity of meaty NFL plotlines in 2021The NFL’s basic angle in direction of 2020 could be summed up succinctly: What pandemic?Whereas different leagues floor to a halt, thought-about voiding their seasons, entered into advanced bubbles or confronted existential crises, the NFL thundered alongside, with the type of bravado that’s afforded solely to the largest and baddest and most-watched on the block.Some precautions had been taken. Preseason was out. Masks mandates had been in. However the backside line was this: Irrespective of the lineup, regardless of the ridiculousness of the spectacle, regardless of the well being penalties, soccer might be performed. And, generally, it was a hit. Covid has the potential to embarrass the league in Week 17, the ultimate week of the season, and we nonetheless have no idea the extent of the well being penalties, however for probably the most half the league received its want: The season might be accomplished on time. Because the calendar flips from 2020 to 2021, listed here are some subplots to keep watch over. Aaron Rodgers’ futureAs of now, Rodgers probably has his identify etched on the MVP trophy. Voters love a story, and the Rodgers Revenge Tour is a greater narrative than ‘isn’t Patrick Mahomes droningly wonderful?’ It’s the Michael Jordan syndrome. (Voters really gave Karl Malone an MVP award throughout Jordan’s prime. That’s an actual factor that occurred.)But it surely’s not that way back that the Packers chosen Jordan Love within the first spherical of the draft, that Rodgers’ future was up within the air, that the crew had clearly chosen his substitute, that it was only a matter of when not if Rodgers would depart.Rodgers has been terrific this season. His recreation has developed. The improvisational off-script, jazz artist remains to be there, however he’s married that with the on-script rhythm that outlined his early years as a starter. It’s a lethal mixture.The facility to resolve his future now sits with Rodgers. He’s acting at an MVP stage and will information the Packers to a different Tremendous Bowl title. Inexperienced Bay will wish to maintain the 38-year-old round till he really begins to say no. However will Rodgers take issues into his personal arms this offseason? How upset was he actually by the love choice? With attainable quarterback openings in such sizzling spots as New England, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, may Rodgers look to push his method out of title city as the ultimate act of this yr’s tour? A franchise saleThe NFL as an entire has executed a good job of inoculating itself from the monetary losses which have hit nearly all of sports activities leagues through the pandemic. Relatively than push video games or add weeks, the NFL stripped again its preseason and steam-rolled forward at any time when there was an indication of a well being scare. We’re enjoying soccer! Who’s able to play? Who’s watching? We’ll play them on Monday nights and Tuesday nights and Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, the standard of the video games or the well being of the gamers be damned.That was a profitable technique for the league, as a lot as any league is creating wealth within the Covid age. However the league remains to be made up of old-school homeowners who made the majority of their cash in an old-school method. Whereas a number of homeowners have stomached the monetary hit to their sporting establishment, lots have taken vital losses of their non-sporting ventures.You solely must look over to the NBA to see how even the tech-savvy, self-dubbed ‘good’ sport homeowners have been hit by the pandemic: Tilman Fertitta, the NBA’s newest proprietor, who paid a document $2.2bn for the Houston Rockets franchise in 2017, makes his cash in casinos and eating places. His operation has been lowered to 4% through the pandemic and he has been pressured to take his firm public, in addition to accepting an working mortgage from the league.There are related points within the NFL’s higher chamber. Some homeowners are feeling the monetary prices way more than others, notably these whose wealth is predicated on proudly owning an NFL franchise. (The NFL stays the sports activities league with probably the most ‘legacy’ possession households.)No one might be shedding a tear for the fattest of fats cats, however NFL franchises are notoriously arduous to prize away from homeowners as a result of they print cash. The pandemic has modified that. The yr 2021 may usher in a band of recent homeowners as these present homeowners who’ve been most severely impacted by the pandemic attempt to get better funds. Will there be any Cam Newton takers?Newton’s one-year plan in New England was clear: Get himself to the neatest, most inventive and constant group within the sport; present that he nonetheless had loads of juice left, that he simply wanted a break; after which signal a mega-deal this coming offseason, be it re-upping with New England or elsewhere.However for as a lot as Invoice Belichick has tried to promote the Patriots-Cam Newton expertise to the media and followers this season as a hit, it hasn’t labored. The Patriots’ offensive workers has been inventive and mailable, working round Newton’s idiosyncrasies and lack of accuracy. However all too usually when Newton has dropped again and tried to play with some type of rhythm, it’s appeared like he’s making an attempt to throw a medication ballNewton’s well being is the query right here. He not has the identical type of zip on his fastball, and his throwing accuracy that was so-so even throughout the very best of instances has now fully fallen off a cliff.Maybe the Patriots discuss themselves into Newton for an additional season as a bridge to regardless of the crew’s quarterback future seems like. Maybe they inform themselves he appeared OK previous to his Covid prognosis. Maybe Belichick believes Newton, even together with his flaws, might be fantastic as soon as the Patriots are in a position to convey again the chunks of their roster that missed this season as a consequence of COVID. However that appears unlikely. It looks like Newton, the good pioneer, the paradigm-shifter, is finally shot. And if Belichick isn’t keen to indulge one other season, will another crew? And if not, what does Newton do? Retire? Sit out one other yr and hope to heal? It’s arduous to think about Newton doing the rounds as a one-year employed gun on a ready-to-tank, rebuilding crew. Is that this it for Invoice Belichick?It doesn’t really feel like Belichick is slowing down. However, in some unspecified time in the future, Belichick goes to stroll away from the Patriots’ job. Belichick tried rolling issues again for yet one more push this season, band-aiding collectively a roster that was lacking the core of its protection as a consequence of Covid defections and which lacked a quarterback given Tom Brady’s transfer to Florida.Is Belichick, at his superior age, post-Covid, prepared and keen after a par yr to begin one other rebuild? He has no quarterback, and the spine of the roster that delivered the final Tremendous Bowl is beginning to creak – a majority have already or are anticipated to exit this offseason. Plus: Belichick’s workers is predicted to be picked aside once more through the offseason, each on the teaching facet and within the Patriots entrance workplace. Is it attainable he opts to stroll away earlier than issues get ugly? The Justin Fields surgeThe Jaguars have locked up the primary decide within the upcoming draft. The choice is predicted to be Trevor Lawrence, Clemson’s once-in-a-lifetime-type quarterback prospect. However as at all times in a draft cycle, anticipate there to be a run on Justin Fields, the Ohio State quarterback who can be the sure-fire prime choice in a standard yr.And if former Ohio State head coach City Meyer winds up as the pinnacle honcho in Jacksonville, look out. The chatter will improve. Leaks will circulation. Commerce gives will arrive.Lawrence needs to be the highest decide, however there’s a likelihood that Jacksonville change spots with the Jets (for a major haul). A JJ Watt tradeJJ Watt and the Houston Texans are synonymous with each other. But when Houston is trying to generate some type of belongings to have the ability to enhance its roster this offseason, shifting Watt is among the solely methods.The Texans have little to no draft capital and have one of many worst cap sheets within the league. Additionally they have a jumbled roster that’s the strolling embodiment of the fractured entrance workplace that oversaw its building over the previous 5 seasons. But there, in the midst of all of it, is Deshaun Watson, probably the most gifted quarterbacks within the league. Having a terrific quarterback fixes rather a lot. So for the Texans to leap again into competition, even with the roster holes and lack of flexibility available in the market, may take as few as 5 to 6 good strikes. One method to open up some form of flexibility, to extend the margin of error when making an attempt to make such strikes, can be to maneuver on from Watt whereas he nonetheless holds worth.It might be a troublesome transfer financially and culturally, however it might even be a savvy one. And it might permit Watt to get a shot with a special group, the place he might get a shot over the following 24 months to advance past the divisional spherical. New TV dealsAs famous within the Guardian’s 2021 daring predictions piece, the NFL’s present spherical of TV rights offers are set to run out in 2022. As sports activities proceed to be the only place that networks can financial institution on to supply a big, reside viewers, and because the NFL continues to reign supreme as the largest supplier of reside content material (eight of 2020s 10 most-watched single telecasts had been soccer video games or publish video games) the bidding is predicted to be intense and costly.The league may look to re-up with its conventional broadcast companions. Or it may hand a extra favorable deal to ESPN/Disney, with the potential of Disney snagging itself a coveted Tremendous Bowl and shifting its broadcasts to ABC. Or it may supply bigger packages to a streaming shopper, like Amazon Prime, within the hopes of getting forward of the reside sports activities streaming curve or to attempt to make up for a few of the income the league and its homeowners misplaced in 2020.