NFL 2018: 10 brewing controversies including, yes, the new helmet rule

The NFL can seem like a soap opera at times.

Because there’s such immense interest in the league, every story seems to become a big deal. Some stories are bigger than others.

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We know there will be controversy this season, whether it’s player vs. player, player vs. team or a new rule that replaces our catch rule angst. We’ll avoid the anthem/President Donald Trump/Jerry Jones angles (which we know are coming) for this list of the top 10 brewing controversies as we head into the NFL season:

10. Jon Gruden already under pressure

Before the Oakland Raiders ever took the field for their first game, Jon Gruden put even more pressure on himself than his $100 million contract ever could. His strange offseason had everyone talking. He cut punter Marquette King because he apparently didn’t think his personality was a fit. He traded a third-round pick for troubled Martavis Bryant, who was suspended again and cut. He signed a bunch of old veterans while benching or cutting plenty of recent Raiders draft picks. Then the move that will follow him, good or bad, for his entire tenure: Trading Khalil Mack to the Bears. If the Raiders start slow, there will be a ton of heat on a coach who will still have more than nine-and-a-half years left on his record deal.

Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden's moves this offseason have been the talk of the NFL. (AP)
Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s moves this offseason have been the talk of the NFL. (AP)

9. Vance Joseph’s job security in Denver

Joseph was almost one-and-done for the Broncos, though he could always be excused for a bad quarterback situation. That changes now that general manager John Elway got quarterback Case Keenum in free agency. If the Broncos get off to a slow start, keep an eye on Joseph in Denver. He doesn’t have a ton of job security.

8. Jalen Ramsey vs. everyone

Ramsey has put the target on his own back. While it’s great for the game to have a star with some personality, the NFL doesn’t take kindly to someone who likes to talk. And the Jacksonville Jaguars All-Pro cornerback likes to talk. Remember the fight with normally mild-mannered A.J. Green last season? It wouldn’t be a surprise to see something similar happen this season.

7. Second-guessing the Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes decision

While it was inevitable, let’s not act like the Chiefs trading Alex Smith wasn’t a gamble. Smith led the NFL in passer rating last season. They were a dangerous team heading into the playoffs, until a terrible second half in a wild-card game against the Tennessee Titans. Mahomes played well in the preseason, but if he struggles as a first-year starter, there will be second-guessing about moving on from Smith.

6. The Giants’ conundrum if Eli Manning struggles

This could be a multi-year entry. The Giants watched Manning slide for the second straight season, and still passed on a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick to take running back Saquon Barkley. Maybe Barkley and a healthy Odell Beckham will help 37-year-old Manning bounce back. If not, and if third overall pick Sam Darnold plays well for the New York Jets, we’ll hear about that decision for a long time. And it won’t be easy for the Giants to find a replacement if they decide to move on.

5. Le’Veon Bell playing on another franchise tag

While it’s possible Bell signs a multi-year deal with the Steelers this offseason, that seems unlikely. A second franchise tag seems to be the end of the road for this relationship. Will Bell, who held out all of training camp and hasn’t reported as of Monday afternoon, be as willing to log 431 touches, which is what he did including playoffs last season? He led the NFL in that category. Every carry and reception puts unwanted miles on his legs. Bell is finally on the verge of hitting free agency and getting the long-term deal he covets, which makes for a potentially uncomfortable situation.

4. Jameis Winston’s uncertain future in Tampa

When Winston was suspended three games, it had to strain his relationship with the Buccaneers. What if Ryan Fitzpatrick plays really well when Winston is away? What if Winston struggles after three weeks off? Due to the suspension, and the fact that the Bucs are going to have to make an expensive decision about Winston’s future very soon, which means that every bad (or great) game Winston has will be magnified.

3. Will there be any more Patriots strife?

It’s possible we don’t hear anything about Bill Belichick vs. Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski this season. Gronkowski’s new contract should help. A small thaw in the Alex Guerrero issue might too. But whether it was real or perceived, there was a lot of talk of Patriots friction for the first part of 2018. New England is very good at turning those types of things into non-issues, but it also seems we might not have heard the last of it.

2. Are the Browns really going to sit Baker Mayfield all season?

I’ll say it over and over: It makes little sense why the Browns aren’t starting Mayfield right away. He looked like he belonged through the preseason. We know he has talent. No. 1 overall picks don’t sit anymore (unless it’s Jared Goff with an overmatched coaching staff on the Los Angeles Rams). At some point this will be an issue. What if the Browns are just good enough to go, say, 7-9 with Tyrod Taylor? Would Mayfield sit all season? What a waste that would be for a franchise that needs to be more forward thinking.

1. The Helmet Rule

The stories about the helmet rule got a little out of control early in August when there wasn’t much else to talk about. The NFL set out to make a lot of calls regarding the new rule early in the preseason, then adjust. That’s what happened, and helmet rule calls went way down in the third and fourth preseason games. But now it’s a talking point, and it’ll quickly ignite once the first game is significantly altered by a helmet rule call. And it will happen. It’s basically the new catch rule, and just wait for the first freak-out over it.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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