You wake this morning to face a stretch of seven painful, football-free months. The 2018 season is more than a half-year away, and you’re already aching to see what happens next.
We’ve got you covered.
For the third year in a row, we have looked into our crystal ball and foreseen many of the key events of the next NFL season, so you don’t have to wait. As you know from reading this column the past two years, all 10 of these predictions are absolutely, 100 percent guaranteed to come true.
Now, get to reading while I excuse myself to go scrub the internet clean of the past two years’ editions of this column. Here are 10 bold predictions for the 2018 NFL season:
1. Free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins signs with the Jets
It’s a six-year, $186 million contract with $100 million in guarantees, including $75 million fully guaranteed at signing. The Jets outbid the Browns, Jaguars and division-rival Bills for Cousins, who becomes the highest-paid player in NFL history after hitting the market following two seasons as Washington’s franchise player. He then leads the Jets to a 10-6 record and a wild-card playoff spot.
2. Odell Beckham Jr. sits out at least one regular-season game
Beckham’s contract situation is going to be a tricky one for the Giants, who hold a 2018 option on him and aren’t in a hurry to give him the extension he wants coming off an ankle injury that cost him almost the entire 2017 season. Uninterested in taking the field without a new deal, Beckham stays in California throughout training camp and, Aaron Donald-style, sits out the season opener in protest. New coach Pat Shurmur and quarterback Eli Manning continue to insist they can get by with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram as their top receiving options — and are wrong.
3. There are a least five new playoff teams, including the Jets, Chargers, Raiders, Packers and 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo helps San Francisco snag a wild-card spot with a fast start and a furious finish. Aaron Rodgers returns to put Green Bay back where it belongs. Philip Rivers has one more big year left in him, and this time the Chargers don’t start 0-4. Jon Gruden’s return revitalizes a Raiders team that should have been better than it was in 2017. And you already heard about the Jets.
The two AFC teams that repeat as playoff participants are the Steelers and Patriots, of course. The crystal ball is fuzzier in the NFC, where it can’t tell yet whether the Rams can repeat or the Cowboys can bounce back.
4. Le’Veon Bell signs a contract extension with the Steelers
Bell’s new deal is heavily front-loaded but guarantees him more than $25 million and averages more than $12 million per year — not the mega back/receiver deal of which Bell has been dreaming, but still pushing the top of the running back market well above where it is right now. A 2017 training camp holdout, Bell shows up on time for everything in 2018 and helps drive Pittsburgh’s offense where it needs to go.
5. Josh Allen is the first pick in the April’s draft … but he doesn’t start a game in 2018
The Browns take the big Wyoming quarterback No. 1 overall but sit him for at least a year behind AJ McCarron, whom they acquire when they lose out on Cousins. McCarron doesn’t love having to play with a first-round pick looking over his shoulder, but his reunion with coach Hue Jackson — his former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati — makes it more palatable. Besides, if you can win a couple of games with the Browns, think of how attractive that would look to future employers.
6. Six more teams change head coaches after the 2018 season
Philadelphia enters the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites, even though the NFC East hasn’t had a repeat champion in 14 years. Questions about Wentz’s return from a torn ACL haunt the offseason, but Foles puts them to rest with a hot start that has the team in position to repeat as division champs once Wentz is healed and back in the lineup. A soft September schedule that includes the Buccaneers, Colts and Giants helps.
8. Andrew Luck returns and plays all 16 games for the Colts
9. The NFL changes the catch rule to appease fans and increase scoring
Seriously, there’s no way the league likes seeing touchdowns taken off the board by a rule that confuses and infuriates its fan base like no other. Expect a big competition committee discussion this offseason that results in a great deal more leniency in determining whether a player completed the catch. It’s probably too much to expect common sense to rule the day and for the NFL to relax the extent to which it uses its infernal replay review system, but new guidelines will result in fewer catches being overturned into noncatches because they didn’t “survive the ground.”
Frustrated divisional-round losers this season, New Orleans and Pittsburgh put the past behind them quickly and reach the Super Bowl in Atlanta. It’s the second straight year one of the Super Bowl teams has a 40-year-old quarterback, and Drew Brees doesn’t disappoint, hitting Michael Thomas for the game-winning touchdown pass with 24 seconds left on the clock.
Gardner Minshew’s mullet is no more
Mondays are heavy days historically, but this one is particularly so because Gardner Minshew II‘s mullet is no more.
Yeah, Minshew may have gotten a hair cut yesterday, but this is the first I’m learning about it. So the pain is as fresh as if the stylist had just swept the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ backup quarterback’s fallen locks from the floor.
In what feels like the last remnant of a phenomenon once known as “Minshew Mania,” the former pride of Duval County chopped off his power source:
At the risk of sounding rash, it seems to me Trevor Lawrence came to town and basically told his new QB2 that there wasn’t enough room for both of their glorious heads of hair in that town and, well, we know who won that battle.
To be fair, I sort of knew this was going to happen as soon as Tim Tebow signed with the Jags.
Tebow, Lawrence’s mane AND one of the defining mullets of our generation? That’s just too much juice for one team.
Now, let us take one last look at Minshew’s former masterpiece for posterity:
In the haunting words of Michelle Branch: “Goodbye to you, goodbye to everything that I knew.”
Minnesota Vikings expect DE Danielle Hunter at mandatory minicamp, source says
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings expect to have defensive end Danielle Hunter back in the fold this week during mandatory minicamp, a source told ESPN, after the Pro Bowl defensive end missed the team’s entire voluntary offseason program.
Hunter, 26, sat out the 2020 NFL season with a herniated disk that required surgery last October. At the time of his surgery, it was reported that the defensive end was unhappy with the state of his contract and wanted a reworked deal ahead of the 2021 season.
NFL Network, which first reported that Hunter planned to attend minicamp, is reporting that the Vikings and Hunter have agreed to terms on a reworked deal that will give the defensive end $5.6 million of the $12.75 million he is set to make in 2021 as a signing bonus. Hunter now has an $18 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the 2022 league year.
With $14.272 million in cap space, the Vikings moved up a significant amount of money to satisfy Hunter’s desire for more compensation in the short term while allowing both parties the time to work out a long-term extension following the 2021 season, NFL Network reported. The Vikings will need to make a decision on Hunter’s future by the fifth day of the 2022 league year.
CB Stephon Gilmore doesn’t report for New England Patriots’ mandatory minicamp, source says
Gilmore could be making a statement about his contract, as he is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2021.
The Patriots had advanced $4.5 million of Gilmore’s 2021 salary to him last year, leading to this year’s low figure.
Gilmore, who turns 31 in September, is in the final year of the five-year, $65 million pact he signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. The deal included $40 million in injury guarantees and $31 million fully guaranteed at signing.
At the time, a contract with those guarantees and an average of $13 million per season was viewed as a strong deal. The cornerback market has since exploded, with Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams topping it with a contract averaging $20 million per season.
Acknowledging they didn’t have specifics of the situation, teammates noted Gilmore’s absence in the locker room Monday, as well as on the practice field.
“I support my brother. I wish he was here, but I support him all the same,” veteran safety Adrian Phillips said. “What he has going, whenever he gets back here, he’ll let you know how it went.”
Longtime captain Matthew Slater added: “That’s a situation I don’t want to get too far into, because it’s frankly none of my business. Obviously you support all your teammates, whether they are here or not.”
Head coach Bill Belichick deflected questions on Gilmore earlier Monday and wouldn’t reveal whether he has given him (or any player) an excused absence. Players who don’t report for mandatory minicamp can be fined up to $93,085 — which breaks down to $15,515 for the first missed day, $31,030 for the second missed day and $46,540 for the third missed day.
Gilmore partially tore his quad in a Week 15 loss last season, landing on injured reserve.
The Boston Globe first reported Gilmore’s absence.
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