Now that the NFL lockout is over, it's time to look at the real issues of the day, or at least of the season. Here's a look at the top 10 issues facing the NFL as we head toward the start of free agency and training camp:
1. Quarterback merry-go-round – From Kevin Kolb(notes) to Donovan McNabb(notes), Matt Hasselbeck(notes), Carson Palmer(notes), Vince Young(notes), Tarvaris Jackson(notes), Marc Bulger(notes) and Kyle Orton(notes), there's all sorts of intrigue at QB around the league.
Kolb is all but delivered to Arizona barring a massive offer to trump what the Cardinals are about to give up. After that, Hasselbeck is probably headed for Tennessee and McNabb could end up in Minnesota, although that's tenuous. Orton is the least likely to move and still has a good shot to remain the starter in Denver because Tim Tebow(notes) still has much to learn.
2. Signing one thousand or so players by July 31 – This isn't as bad as you might think considering that roughly 500 of them will be draft picks and undrafted rookies whose contracts are fairly standard. However, the fact that so much work has to be done before everyone reports to camp by Sunday will make for one frenetic week. It will be fast, furious and fun. Cell phones will have to be charged constantly.
While the focus will be on the star players on the market, such as Nnamdi Asomugha(notes), Antonio Cromartie(notes) and Santonio Holmes(notes), the interesting part will be to see which teams or players panic and sign either too early or for too little money under the rushed circumstances.
3. Should I stay or should I go? – That will be the big question facing a number of veteran players in free agency. They will have to quickly decide if it's better to stay with previous team, where they likely will know the system and the coaching staff, thus allowing them to play their best on short notice. Or will players risk changing teams and going to a new place, where picking up the system may be hard and where a new set of coaches will not know them as well. While that won't be a problem for the top players in free agency, it will weigh significantly on the middle class of the league.
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4. Stopgap veterans or rookies – Conversely, teams will have to measure short-term and long-term needs more than ever this season when they choose between veteran players who know how to play and rookies who have little or no clue. This will be a particularly difficult problem for teams that think they have to a chance to make a playoff run this season. Expect at least three or four teams to go heavy with a number of veterans on one- or two-year contracts.
Sorry, ain't happening.
The richest deal in the history of the league is going to be just that. Manning is currently due $23.6 million next season as a franchise player. If Manning refuses to sign a long-term deal, the Colts will have to franchise him again. Under that scenario, Manning could make between $80 and $85 million over the next three seasons.
There is no incentive for Manning to take a serious discount off that figure. Though there have been reports that offseason neck surgery could sideline him during the start of camp, Irsay has publicly expressed no concerns. We'll see if it has any bearing on contract talks.
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6. Disciplining the offenders – Hey, what would an offseason be without a fair number of off-field arrests and incidents, including Pacman Jones?
Jones, Aqib Talib(notes), Cedric Benson(notes) and Kenny Britt(notes) are among a list of players who were arrested this offseason (multiple times in the case of Britt). The thorny issue here is whether commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to enforce the personal conduct policy for incidents that took place when there was no collective bargaining agreement. In all likelihood, expect the answer to be yes because the NFL Players Association is unlikely to put up a huge fight.
7. Respect for Goodell – Speaking of the commish, one of the ugly byproducts of the lockout has been the increasing level of disrespect tossed his way from players. From Derrick Mason(notes) to Chester Pitts(notes) to Raheem Brock(notes) to the profane and stupid rant from James Harrison(notes), this has been an ugly offseason for Goodell.
Some of the anger was to be expected. However, the lack of respect was disturbing. It'll be interesting to see how Goodell handles this going forward.
8. Rush to get ready (Part I) – After more than seven months of waiting, the eight new head coaches (Ron Rivera in Carolina, Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, Hue Jackson in Oakland, John Fox in Denver, Mike Munchak in Tennessee, Jason Garrett in Dallas, Pat Shurmur in Cleveland and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier) will finally get to start working with their teams.
Frazier and Garrett have a head start, having taken over on an interim basis last year. And Jackson was previously the Raiders' offensive coordinator. However, each of these coaches have a lot to do in a very short amount of time.
9. Rush to get ready (Part II) – For the 254 guys who got drafted (and another 250 or so who will get signed), training camp is going to be a blur.
The hard part will not only be getting them into football condition physically, but getting them mentally ready to handle even a limited amount of the game plan. For quarterbacks, this offseason has been a disaster.
10. James Harrison and the Steelers – Having brought up Harrison's stupid remarks about Goodell, there were also a few about teammates Ben Roethlisberger(notes) and Rashard Mendenhall(notes) that he will have to deal with. Harrison isn't going anywhere and neither are Roethlisberger or Mendenhall, so there is going to have to be some détente among the trio.
While they have put a good face on it to this point, the Steelers can't expect the issue to go away. Moreover, the team is probably going to have to fine Harrison, if for no other reason than show.