by Rob Joyce
The NFL regular season kicks off on Thursday in a rematch of Super Bowl 50, as the Broncos host the Panthers in Denver. As is life in the NFL, neither team looks the same as they did in February – Denver features a new quarterback (and a new backup for that matter), while the Carolina defense no longer boasts its 2015 breakout star in the secondary.
These two teams were both affected by the departure of some of the most recognizable names in the league during the offseason. Here’s your primer on those stars, and some other impact players who will be suiting up in new uniforms come next week:
Osweiler was finally handed the reins of the Denver offense in the middle of last year as Peyton Manning struggled. He went 5-2 as a starter, but had long stretches of ineffectiveness, was ultimately benched in the middle of Week 17 against the Chargers and didn’t see the field again as the Broncos won the Super Bowl. With Manning retiring the job and Osweiler set to become an unrestricted free agent, the 25-year-old chose not to stay in Denver and instead signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Texans. He is the clear-cut starter for a team last year that cycled through four different quarterbacks.
Norman thrust himself into the conversation as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks last season, but Carolina didn’t want to pay him long-term, high-end money so they placed the franchise tag on him. However, Norman didn’t want to play under the tag, he and the Panthers couldn’t agree to a long-term deal, so in April the organization rescinded the tag and Norman became a free agent. Two days later, he signed with a record-setting five-year, $75 million deal with Washington, the biggest contract ever signed by a cornerback.
Robert Griffin III:
Speaking of Washington, their saga with RGIII finally came to an end this offseason when he was released. Now the quarterback is in Cleveland on a two-year deal, and he is the Week 1 starter according to new head coach Hue Jackson. The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year hasn’t played a snap since 2014, as the Redskins kept him inactive for all of last season.
After leading the league in rushing in 2014 with Dallas, Murray signed a lucrative deal with the Eagles. Almost immediately his stats plummeted. He surpassed the 100-yard marker in a game once, had only 702 for the year and never had a heavy workload. Philly was able to trade the back and his hefty deal to the Titans, where Murray will in theory split the workload with rookie and reigning Heisman winner Derrick Henry.
Another Oklahoma alum who spent last year with the Eagles, Bradford’s journeyman career continues. Slated to be the starter with the Eagles next week, Philly shipped the former No. 1 overall draft pick to Minnesota, who was in sudden need of a quarterback after Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending knee injury. The Vikings paid a high price – in addition to taking on his contract, they gave up a first-round and conditional fourth-round draft pick. Bradford hasn’t started 16 games in a season since 2012.