The first few months of the 2022 NFL offseason featured a flurry of activity, from teams indulging on wild free agency spending sprees to a draft that included a record-number of first-round trades. The next few months will focus on a smaller collection of storylines that still haven't been resolved. These are the types of issues that will drive constant debates as we move deeper into the summer.
Some of these stories obviously revolve around money disputes. Others have more to do with personnel shuffling or the next home for aging veteran free agents. What everything discussed here has in common is impact. Every situation on this list has the potential to positively or negative impact a team's hopes of pursuing a championship.
So what we'll do today is break these storylines into two categories. The first focuses on issues that are being hyped a little too much, largely because the end result might not be as sexy as some expect. The second list delves into situations that probably deserve more attention, simply because they've been overshadowed by other news all spring.
It's your classic overrated versus underrated discussion ...
1) Lamar Jackson's contract
This is the most obvious place to start, because we all know the Baltimore Ravens star quarterback is going to get paid at some point. Yes, Jackson is entering the final year of his rookie contract, during which he'll make just over $23 million. There also hasn’t been any major rush on the part of either Jackson or the team to reach an agreement on a long-term extension. That doesn't mean something apocalyptic is going to happen to the Ravens' franchise, because this has dragged on for a couple offseasons and Jackson isn't attending OTAs. The team has made it clear it wants to take care of Jackson. Jackson has watched the quarterback market explode this offseason, with Cleveland guaranteeing Deshaun Watson $230 million over the next five years. For all the debate about the risk involved in paying big money to a quarterback who runs as much Jackson does, the reality is that the entire Ravens offense is built around his remarkable skill set. He already has won a league MVP and just last year carried an injury-riddled team through most of the season (until his own injury sidelined him). He deserves every penny he gets. The only question is what number he and the Ravens eventually agree upon.
2) Deebo Samuel's unhappiness
The most common reason that wide receivers get sideways with teams is fairly predictable: money. This is why it's hard to imagine the San Francisco 49ers not finding a way to remedy the current frustration felt by their All-Pro wide receiver. Niners general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have made it clear that they love Samuel and want him to remain with this franchise, despite Samuel's trade demands. Lynch just recently said he'd be a "fool" to deal the dynamic playmaker. Since the draft came and went without a trade being presented that even intrigued the 49ers, it's clear Lynch isn't going to let Samuel force his way out of town. There's been speculation that he's unhappy with how his value and career might be affected if the team continues to use him frequently on running plays. It's also not hard to envision him thinking about the potential bidding war he could create after seeing the massive contracts Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams and A.J. Brown signed this offseason. Whatever the case, this much is true: The 49ers hold a lot of cards here. Samuel will lose money if he decides to hold out, and it's highly unlikely Lynch would deal Samuel just as second-year quarterback Trey Lance is about to become San Francisco's full-time starter. Most importantly, a strong long-term extension can resolve a lot of things. Just ask the Green Bay Packers. They watched quarterback Aaron Rodgers air his frustrations with them last offseason before he eventually found his own peace of mind.
3) Baker Mayfield's trade status
This situation has become as clear cut as it gets. The Browns already have another franchise quarterback in place in Deshaun Watson. Even if Watson were to be suspended, both Mayfield and the Browns have made it clear they're ready to move on. What makes his departure tricky is that he's carrying a salary that guarantees him $18.9 million on his fifth-year option. The Browns think they'll find somebody desperate enough to eat at least some of that money and give up a decent draft pick. The feeling around the league, however, is that Cleveland will be forced to release Mayfield at some point. Somebody stop me when this starts to sound compelling. Sure, it was major news a few months back, just after the Browns aggressively pursued and landed Watson. The quarterback market has now dried up substantially, so much so that only one team makes clear sense for Mayfield at this stage: Seattle. Mayfield is a better option than the best quarterback currently on the Seahawks' roster -- Drew Lock, whom they received in the blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson -- but even a deal there wouldn't greatly alter Seattle's fortunes this year. Mayfield's best route may ultimately be similar to the one Ryan Tannehill took after his career eroded in Miami. Go some place else, be a backup and then capitalize when the opportunity to start presents itself. For that to happen, the Browns need to realize they don't have much leverage here, especially not with a quarterback like Mayfield who can be pretty vocal and volatile when he's dissatisfied.
1) Orlando Brown's contract
Nobody should be surprised that the Kansas City Chiefs haven't yet gotten a long-term extension done with their left tackle. Coach Andy Reid said last week that Brown is still in the process of finding an agent, and it's pretty clear the 26-year-old wants to cash in after making the Pro Bowl in his first season with the team. (UPDATE: After publishing on Thursday, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that Brown signed with an agent.) Remember, Brown wanted out of Baltimore -- where he'd been a two-time Pro Bowl right tackle -- because he wanted to fulfill a vow he’d made to his father to someday become a starting left tackle in the NFL. The position is not only tougher, but more lucrative. So while Brown relished the opportunity to showcase himself in an offense led by Patrick Mahomes, he also saw the potential value to be had once negotiations on a new deal began. Brown -- who is currently carrying the franchise tag -- proved he could help the Chiefs last season. The question is whether he deserves to be one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in football, which would put him in the $20 million per year category. The Chiefs have to be extremely prudent about how they spend their money now that Mahomes is off his rookie deal. They've already shown as much by parting ways with stars like Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu earlier this offseason. If they overspend on Brown, they might be limited in how aggressively they can make other moves to improve their team in the future. It's a tough position to be in. It's also one the Chiefs should've anticipated when they sorely needed a starting left tackle last season and gave Brown the opportunity he'd long coveted.
2) Rob Gronkowski's return
It seemed like we'd seen the last of the Tampa Bay star tight end when the Bucs' 2021 season ended. His pal, quarterback Tom Brady, announced his retirement just days later, and Gronkowski, who returned to football in 2020 largely because he so enjoyed playing with the future Hall of Famer, was thought to possibly be following suit. Then Brady turned his back on retirement, and now the Bucs are once again waiting to see what Gronk thinks about one more year of catching passes. The chemistry the two share cannot be overlooked, with their 90 career TDs second to only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison's 112 for most by a QB-pass catcher combo in NFL history. The Bucs' offense has been loaded with playmakers since Brady's arrival, but he often looks for Gronkowski when he needs a clutch play. Gronk finished last season with 55 receptions for 802 yards and six touchdowns despite playing in just 12 games. There's no doubt he's taken his share of punishment over the years. Gronk also just turned 33, so it's not hard to see why he's taking his time with this decision. While the Bucs surely don't need him running around at OTAs at this time of year, they will need him come late July if they're looking to make another run at a championship.
3) The next home of Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham isn't going to help a team right away because he's still recovering from the torn ACL he sustained in the Rams' Super Bowl win over Cincinnati. But that game told us there's still plenty to like about Beckham when he's right, which is something several receiver-starved teams surely noticed. Beckham was on his way to dominating that game before his injury. He gave the Rams' offense a huge boost after the Browns released him in November, producing five touchdown receptions in eight regular-season games and exploding in the NFC championship win over San Francisco (nine catches for 113 yards). The Rams remain a possibility for Beckham even though they signed Allen Robinson in free agency. Of course, there are other teams that could use him once he's healthy, with Green Bay being an obvious potential landing spot. There was a time, not that long ago, when the idea of grabbing Beckham sounded like a risk. Now he's primed to prove he can once again be a difference-maker, if everything goes well with his recovery.