By Pete Prisco
(CBS Sports)- NFL teams think they found some of the answers to their problems in free agency and the draft.
Sometimes, though, those answers create more questions. Every team still has plenty of them, even the good teams. So with the opening of training camps two months away and teams set to close up shop in a less than a month for summer vacation, it’s time to take a look at every team’s biggest question heading into the season.
For most, it involves the quarterback.
That’s because if there isn’t an answer there, it’s always the biggest question. So here’s a look at each team’s pressing question heading into the summer months.
How long until Josh Rosen takes over as the starting quarterback?
Sam Bradford was signed to be the Cardinals‘ starter this season, but they didn’t have any idea they’d be able to land Rosen in the first round. Sitting Rosen for an entire season would make no sense, especially since he’s one of those players who would seem to be ready to play soon. The team is already excited about his progress. I can’t imagine Rosen doesn’t take over before November at the latest – and I bet it’s even before that.
Can Steve Sarkisian get the offense rolling again in his second season after some first-year struggles?
You would think the way some talked that the Falcons‘ offense was horrid last season. It was far from that — ranking eighth in total offense and 15th in scoring — but it wasn’t the NFL’s top-scoring offense like it was the year before under Kyle Shanahan. That’s why Sarkisian took so much heat. But Matt Ryan likes Sarkisian, and I think they will mesh in their second season. It took Ryan a year to mesh with Shanahan, so look for a jump forward in 2018 for the Atlanta offense.
Can Joe Flacco keep Lamar Jackson from taking his job?
Let’s be real: Flacco hasn’t exactly lit it up the past few seasons. In fairness to him, his weapons have been limited. But he’s got to be better. The Ravens traded back into the first round in the April draft to take Jackson, with the idea he would be their quarterback of the future. The question now is whether that starts this season. If Flacco can play well, Jackson will obviously sit and watch. If Flacco struggles, Jackson should take over.
Who starts at quarterback in Week One?
Will it be rookie first-round pick Josh Allen or AJ McCarron, who the Bills signed as a free agent? You would think McCarron has the edge, but for how long? Can he keep Allen off the field early in the season — or maybe for the entire year? You don’t draft a passer in the first round to sit him for long. We keep hearing how Allen is raw and might need time, but what will waiting to play him accomplish? Nothing. Get on with it.
How will Cam Newton fare in Norv Turner’s offense?
Turner’s major focus is to get Newton’s completion percentage higher. He’s been in the 50s the past few seasons, which isn’t good enough. The Panthers want him in the mid-60s this year. They’ve worked on getting the ball out more quickly, but Turner is also a big believer in chunk passing plays off play action, which should play to Newton’s power arm. The addition of weapons like first-round receiver D.J. Moore will help Newton as he adjusts to the new coordinator. The Panthers were simply too slow last year on offense, which limited what they could do in the passing game.
Will the addition of more weapons help Mitchell Trubisky make a big jump in Year Two?
Trubisky showed flashes last year as a rookie, but he was handcuffed by playing with a terrible group of weapons. The Bears made a point this offseason to change that by signing receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and tight ends Trey Burton and Dion Sims. There is no clear-cut No. 1 star pass catcher in that group, but as a collective group they should help Trubisky’s development in a big way. I don’t know if he will have a Jared Goff-like leap in his second season like some have predicted, but he will be much better.
Will all the coaching-staff changes get this team back on track?
The offense is new, with Bill Lazor now running things after taking over as coordinator last year when Ken Zampese was fired. Lazor will put in his system. Teryl Austin takes over as defensive coordinator. I think a fresh approach will help the Bengals on both sides. This team has been stale for a while, and some new minds will help the Bengals get back closer to being a playoff team. There is a lot of young talent on this roster.
How long before Baker Mayfield starts? How long should it be?
For now, it’s Tyrod Taylor‘s job. The team is firm in that. But when you take a quarterback first overall, which the Browns did, it’s only a matter of time before he takes over. If Taylor struggles at some point, Mayfield will be the guy. Will it be by November? Earlier? Or at all? I think it happens midway through the season, because you have to play the kid at some point if you thought he was worth the pick.
Can Dak Prescott get back to his 2016 form and show he’s ready to be this team’s long-term quarterback?
The Cowboys got a steal taking Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 draft and then saw him play well as a rookie that season, taking over for the injured Tony Romo. But 2017 didn’t go as well. His numbers dropped significantly last season, which makes this somewhat of a proving year for him. He didn’t have much help outside in the passing game, and Ezekiel Elliott missed six games when he was suspended by the league. Even so, Prescott needs to show major improvement this season if the Cowboys are going to give him a mega-deal. I think it happens, but there are concerns heading into this season.
Was last year an aberration for Case Keenum or is he going to make this a playoff team?
There are some who will say Keenum’s 2017 season, when he led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, will not be repeated. Keenum plays the game with a swagger and a confidence that made him a big story last season when he took over as the starter after Sam Bradford went down. The Broncos signed Keenum as a free agent, and then didn’t draft a quarterback, which says how they feel about him. Keenum will take too many chances at times, but I really don’t think last year, when he threw 22 touchdown passes and seven picks, was an aberration. He will never be a star, but he is plenty good enough to take a team to the Super Bowl and win it.
Can new coach Matt Patricia instill the Patriots way and succeed after many other of Bill Belichick’s former assistants have failed as head coaches?
Patricia will certainly bring the Patriots way to the Lions. He will instill a disciplined, attention-to-detail culture that should show up on the field. He is a smart guy, who knows defense, but was wise to keep offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who has done a nice job with Matt Stafford. The Patricia era didn’t get off to a good start with a story detailing a long-ago arrest, but the Lions clearly aren’t bothered by it since he was never convicted. Patricia has to buck the trend of Belichick assistants who have failed when they became head coaches.
Green Bay Packers
What does new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine bring to that side of the ball?
Aggression. In his past stops, including as head coach of the Browns, Pettine was a coordinator who liked to be on the attack. He wasn’t one to sit back in a few coverages and fronts. He will change things up, showing a bunch of different looks. This isn’t a system that is predictable. It is one that will take chances, and it puts a lot of pressure on the corners outside, which is why taking two corners in the first two rounds of the April draft was a smart move by the Packers. Pettine will bring some much-needed life to the defense. It got stale under Dom Capers.
Will Deshaun Watson be the same player after tearing his ACL?
With the way medicine is these days, you would like to think so. But this is Watson’s second torn ACL — he had one in college — which is a concern. If this injury cuts down on his ability to take off and run, it will make teams defend him differently. That will force him to be better within the constraints of the play. I think he’s more than capable of doing that, but let’s hope he can still move around the way he did before the torn ACL last season. It was fun to watch him play for the short time he did as a rookie, but it’s too easy to say he’s just going to walk back out there and be the same guy. Let’s hope so.
When will Andrew Luck be healthy? Will he start the season?
Who knows? The Colts don’t. They say they aren’t concerned that he’s not throwing a football yet after shoulder surgery, but that can’t be true. We’re less than two months away from training camps opening, and he isn’t throwing. That’s worrisome, no matter what lip service the team has given it. There’s also no saying he will be the same guy once he is cleared to throw a football. Will he be able to let it rip? The cloud of secrecy that has hovered over this injury makes it one that many are questioning in terms of if he will ever be the same. Time will tell, and the Colts’ future hangs in the balance.
Was last year an aberration or are they built for the long term?
The Jaguars were a bad fourth quarter away from the Super Bowl, which shocked many. But this is a team that will be even better than it was in 2017. They’ve improved up front on offense by adding guard Andrew Norwell, but the real improvement will come from young players taking major steps forward. Among those players will be linebacker Myles Jack, left tackle Cam Robinson and running back Leonard Fournette. The addition of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will help the offense. I know some will say Blake Bortles will hold them back, but he was good in two of his three playoff games and had a nice stretch late in the season. I think that will carry over. The Jaguars will be a Super Bowl contender again.
Kansas City Chiefs
Is Patrick Mahomes ready for the big stage?
The Chiefs obviously think he is, which is why they traded Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins. Mahomes was impressive in his only start last season as a rookie, but now it’s his job. That’s different than a relief role. But I think Mahomes has the tools to be a star. He can make all the throws, and he’s got the arm to bail him out of problems. I see a passer who will make his share of big plays, but might make a few mistakes, like the many gunslingers we’ve seen in the league in the past. This year will have some rocky moments, but this is a star in the making.
Los Angeles Chargers
Is this the year they can finally get over losing so many close games and get to the postseason?
The Chargers opened 0-4 last year — losing three close games by a combined seven points, including one by two points to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Eagles. But the Chargers rallied to go 9-3 down the stretch and just miss the playoffs. At some point, those close losses have to turn around? Don’t they? Philip Rivers has seen his share of heartbreaking losses in recent years, but this Chargers team might be the best in the AFC West. The loss of tight end Hunter Henry last week with a torn ACL won’t help the cause, but at some point this team will win those close games and win the AFC West. Will it happen this year? I say it does.
Los Angeles Rams
How does defensive coordinator Wade Phillips mesh the star-studded defense?
Phillips is one of the best coordinators we’ve seen on the defensive side of the ball, so I think he will be fine handling all the star power, including feisty corners Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Phillips has the right temperament and experience to handle any type of player. The Rams should be fine from that standpoint. The biggest challenge for Phillips will be to get the edge rushers going.
Will Adam Gase’s belief in Ryan Tannehill pay off?
Gase knows quarterbacks. And if he thinks Tannehill can become a franchise passer, it’s hard to argue with him. There have been a lot of things working against Tannehill in his career, and a big one has been the turnover he’s dealt with at coordinator. This will be his third year in Gase’s system — counting last season when he sat out with a knee injury — but that should make it easier on him. Yes, this is a big season for Tannehill. But Gase is a big believer, and he’s had major success with quarterbacks.
Can Kirk Cousins handle the pressure of being the high-paid franchise free-agent quarterback?
Cousins has been really good the past three seasons for the Redskins, but they didn’t really want him back for a reason. What is it? Do they have doubts about his long-term viability? The Vikings clearly don’t, and they paid him like it with his new deal. With that, comes more pressure. Cousins has never won a playoff game. This Vikings team went to the NFC Championship Game last season, so anything less than that will be considered a failure for Cousins.
New England Patriots
Will the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick supposed spat spill over to the field?
There is clearly something there between the two men, but both are professionals when it comes to the game and can still perform their jobs as well as anybody has ever done it. So I don’t think it will carry over. The fact Brady has stayed away this offseason might be a shot at his boss, but it won’t matter when it comes time to lace them up the first week of the regular season. The spat makes for good copy, but whoever thinks it will impact the product on the field is woefully misguided.
New Orleans Saints
How do they handle the running game with Mark Ingram out the first four games?
It should be Alvin Kamara, Alvin Kamara and more Alvin Kamara. He was sensational as a rookie, but coach Sean Payton has warned that Kamara won’t simply get 15 more carries in the games where Ingram is suspended. Even so, I expect him to see his carries go up significantly from a year ago, when he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He had 120 carries and 81 catches, but I think even if Ingram was around the entire season, Kamara would be getting more carries in 2018. And he should.
New York Giants
In 2015, Manning threw 35 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. Last season, it was 19 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. His yards-per-attempt average was down to a paltry 6.1. Manning had little in terms of weapons when he lost top receiver Odell Beckham Jr., early in the season with a broken ankle. Beckham was limited to four games. Then there were more injuries to the receiving corps and Manning had little help. The offensive line was bad as well. Now the line has help, signing left tackle Nate Solder from the Patriots and drafting guard Will Hernandez. But the biggest help should come from Barkley, the second-overall pick in the April draft. His ability to run the football will help get the pass rushers off Manning. Getting Beckham back will help as well. Manning is 37 now, but I still think he has some good football left in his right arm — and the help on offense will show that.
New York Jets
When does rookie quarterback Sam Darnold start?
If he lights it up early in camp, he can be the Jets‘ opening-day starter. The job is open, but realistically I think he might take over somewhere in the middle of the season. The Rams started Jared Goff in the final seven games of his rookie season, and I think the Jets might follow a similar path. They have Josh McCown — who played well last season — and Teddy Bridgewater ahead of Darnold. I would play him right away, but I doubt the Jets do that.
What does Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline mean to the Raiders?
Gruden comes down from the broadcast booth to take over as the Raiders head coach for a second time. He is being paid a ton, which puts even more pressure on him to turn around a team that went backwards last season. The question is whether Gruden will be able to handle the modern game since he hasn’t been on the sideline since 2008. He’s a smart guy, and he’s been around the game, so I don’t think that will be a problem. But just remember: He was 45-51 in his last six seasons at Tampa Bay.
How do they handle the pressure of repeating?
The team appears ready to make a real push to repeat. In fact, I think the Eagles will be a better team than the one that won it last season. That doesn’t mean they will win it again, but coach Doug Pederson will have his team ready to handle the pressure that comes with being the champs. One more thing: He won’t change the way he plays, which is aggressively, just because they have those rings. That matters.
Will the Le’Veon Bell contract situation impact their season?
It didn’t last season, even if Bell got off to a slow start — 119 rushing yards in his first two games — after missing the entire offseason and training camp. The Steelers once again have put the franchise tag on Bell, but since he wants a long-term deal he’s staying away again. That’s never a good thing, but it doesn’t help that a star teammate like Antonio Brown questioned Bell not taking part. That can bring dissension to a team because the NFL motto is to stay out of teammate’s money business. I don’t think this will be a long-term issue, but it’s not a good look for the Steelers right now.
San Francisco 49ers
Is Jimmy Garoppolo‘s five-game sample from a year ago a hint of what’s to come?
We love to rush quarterbacks up the star tree. And Garoppolo seems to be on the fast track up it. But he hasn’t even started the equivalent of one full season. He was impressive in Kyle Shanahan’s offense last year in his six-game stretch — with five starts — after coming over in a trade from the Patriots. But it’s such a small sample size. Plus, he now has the added pressure of being one of the league’s highest-paid quarterbacks. I think he will be really good, but he did throw only seven touchdown passes against five interceptions for the 49ers last year. That has to be a better ratio going forward. The tools are there, but now the league has tape on him in San Francisco, which will make it tougher for him.
Will the depleted defense be able to play close to the lofty standards set the past five seasons?
There will be a lot of changes, including a new defensive coordinator in Ken Norton Jr., who was fired by the Raiders last season from the same position. Norton will face a challenge because many of the key defensive players who helped the Seahawks become a power are gone. Michael Bennett is in Philadelphia. Richard Sherman is in San Francisco after being let go, and Cliff Avril was let go because of his neck issues. Safety Kam Chancellor hasn’t been cleared because of his neck issues either. That leaves a lot of young talent that needs to step up and become major playmakers, players like corner Shaquill Griffin and defensive linemen Jarran Reed and Dion Jordan.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How much will the defense be improved?
Let’s put it this way: It can only go up after finishing last in yards allowed last season. The defense struggled to get pressure on the passer, which led to a lot of big plays and a passing defense that was putrid. But coordinator Mike Smith now has pieces to help him call his defense. The Bucs added edge rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry, and signed tackles Mitch Unrein and Beau Allen as a free agents. Plus, they drafted massive tackle Vita Vea in the first round. They also drafted some much-needed secondary help. There is no doubt the defense will be improved, but it needs better play from corner Vernon Hargreaves and some others. If this defense can get into the low teens in terms of yards allowed, the Bucs could be a playoff team and more.
What will new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s impact be on the play of quarterback Marcus Mariota?
I think the change will really help Mariota, who looked off in terms of mechanics last year in Mike Mularkey’s offense. LaFleur comes over from the Rams, where he was the team’s quarterbacks coach. He helped Jared Goff take a big step forward last season, and the belief is he can do the same for Mariota. LaFleur is a big believer in play-action passing, getting chunk plays, but also using a lot of pre-snap movement and bunch formations to help get guys open. Mariota was very good on play-action passes last season, so I think this marriage could be a good one.
Will Alex Smith be an upgrade over Kirk Cousins?
The Redskins clearly decided they didn’t want to make Cousins their franchise passer, which is why they traded to get Smith. He is coming off an outstanding season for the Chiefs, his best ever, so the Redskins have to hope he can continue playing at that level. If not, they will hear a lot of doubters who will wonder why they didn’t just keep Cousins.