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NFL

10 takeaways of NFL offseason before training camp

| Monday, June 18, 2018, 5:54 p.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hands off to fullback Roosevelt Nix-Jones during NFL football practice, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Pittsburgh.
Keith Srakocic | AP
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hands off to fullback Roosevelt Nix-Jones during NFL football practice, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Pittsburgh.

With the completion of mandatory minicamps across the NFL last week, the business and on-field preparation phase of the offseason is now wrapped up until training camps open in July. The past few months featured no shortage of action, and many of the developments will have an impact on the regular season and beyond.

Here are 10 of the top takeaways:

1.Game-changing QB market — Members of the league's premier position group got paid at record-setting clips. But two deals stand out in particular: Matt Ryan's record five-year, $150 million pact with the Falcons and Kirk Cousins' three-year, $84 million agreement with the Vikings, the first fully-guaranteed multi-year contract in league history. Cousins' structure could be a desirable model for many stars in the coming years. At the same time, Ryan's contract likely won't last long as the league's richest. Up next: two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers.

2.Cleveland's aggressive makeover — The Browns held our attention in 2017, but only because it's hard to look away from an 0-16 train wreck. But new general manager John Dorsey has directed an aggressive offseason, which included the acquisition and extension of wide receiver Jarvis Landry and trades for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and defensive back Damarious Randall. In the draft, they landed players they hope to be future cornerstones in Baker Mayfield (No. 1 overall) and cornerback Denzel Ward (No. 4). The Browns appear to have the pieces in place to improve — a must for Hue Jackson after going 1-31 the last two seasons.

3.NFC West shake-up — On the heels of the Rams' division-winning campaign, general manager Les Snead remained aggressive by adding a cadre of stars in cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, wide receiver Brandin Cooks and also defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The 49ers also look to be on the rise after signing Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term deal and adding cornerback Richard Sherman. The Seahawks, meanwhile, find themselves in a rebuild with Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Jimmy Graham all gone. Pete Carroll's crew will have to embrace change as the team tries to capitalize on Russell Wilson's prime years.

4.Patriots' Super Bowl hangover — Cracks started to surface last season amid reports of friction between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and questions about the Patriot Way have persisted in the months following the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. From the outside, it certainly appears as though Belichick doesn't have his usual air of infallibility. Brady, however, insists that things are fine between him and his coach. Will training camp and the regular season bring a return to normalcy?

5.Holdout club — This will go down as the offseason of the holdout. Unhappy over their contracts, six high-profile players skipped mandatory minicamps, risking fines of nearly $90,000 each. The list features Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, Raiders pass rusher Khalil Mack, Falcons wideout Julio Jones, Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, Titans tackle Taylor Lewan and Cardinals running back David Johnson. Some of them, most notably Donald and Mack, seem to have better chances than others of winning these standoffs. But players like Jones, who have multiple years left on their contracts, might have to cave.

6.More anthem drama — NFL owners reignited the debate about protests during the national anthem by approving a policy requiring players to either stand or remain in the locker room during the playing of the song. Teams with violators face the risk of a fine by the league. But division remains as the league will let individual teams set their own policies. And the rule did nothing to quiet President Trump, who has not relented in his criticism of players. All of this continues to distract from the true mission of the players: creating awareness and affecting change in their communities. As Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins put it, "You aren't listening." He and his peers will continue their efforts by working with law enforcement agencies, at-risk youth, lawmakers and more. But a bigger battle on the anthem policy itself is likely ahead.

7.Rehabbing quarterbacks — The 2017 season proved unkind to a number of high-profile players around the league, including quarterbacks Deshaun Watson (Texans, torn anterior cruciate ligament), Carson Wentz (Eagles, torn ACL) and Andrew Luck (Colts, shoulder injury). The Eagles have the luxury of a quality backup in Nick Foles, but Houston and Indianapolis are different teams without their franchise passers. Watson and Wentz are both aiming for Week 1 returns and took part in limited team work this offseason. Luck, meanwhile, didn't start throwing publicly until last week.

8.QB controversies on tap? — Two of the most intriguing quarterback succession situations happen to reside in the AFC North. The Ravens and Steelers both have proven starters in Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger, but they used early-round selections on their potential replacements (Lamar Jackson, first round, and Mason Rudolph, third round). These moves could create for some friction and signal the end of eras in the long term. Meanwhile, the Bills have no clear-cut answer among first rounder Josh Allen, AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman. And the Jets have a three-way race with rookie Sam Darnold, Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater.

9.Order restored in New York? — The Giants have long stood as one of the most stable franchises in the league. But Big Blue's 2017 campaign was rife with infighting and turmoil, with a breaking point coming at Eli Manning's benching. New coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman addressed that issue by not only backing Manning but also bolstering his support by giving him Nate Solder to protect his blind side and rookie running back Saquon Barkley to aid the run game. Meanwhile, Odell Beckham Jr. has opted against holding out despite making it known that he wants to be paid like one of the top players in the league. Suddenly, stability appears to have returned.

10.Unsigned free agents — The peak of free agency has come and gone, but there are still proven veterans on the market. Dez Bryant, Adrian Peterson, Johnathan Hankins, Kenny Vaccaro and Bashaud Breeland are all still searching for a landing spot. Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are also available, but both have filed collusion grievances against the NFL.

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