Ten issues of ’10: Money matters unresolved
Some day when the history of the NFL is updated, the 2010 season may become known as the Year of the Contract Squabble. Not only are we sitting on the edge of possible labor strife, but the trickle-down effect is that three prominent players are entering this season not under contract. Their absence could go a long way toward impacting the season, but that’s far from the only issue to consider on the eve of the campaign:
1. Then there were three
With the Darrelle Revis(notes) situation settled, there are three meaningful holdouts left on the market, including two in San Diego. So what happens to the Chargers and wide receiver Vincent Jackson(notes) and left tackle Marcus McNeill(notes), and New England guard Logan Mankins(notes)? The Chargers would be a reasonable pick for the Super Bowl this season if they had both Jackson and McNeill on the roster. San Diego talks a good game about having good receivers to replace Jackson, but there’s little outside speed and that’s going to put more pressure on the rest of the offense, particularly on the left tackle. The Chargers could find a reasonable solution to keep both players, but general manager A.J. Smith is a hard-headed man in situations like this, so trading Jackson and waiting out McNeill seems much more likely. As for Mankins, the Patriots haven’t made a bad long-term offer, but Mankins is sticking by his principles (and his price). Replacing a guard is easier than most positions, but there’s no question the Patriots will suffer in the short term.
2. Super party for the Jets?
Now that Revis has a new contract, can New York Jets fans start buying Super Bowl tickets? Clearly, having Revis helps the Jets play the kind of defense that coach Rex Ryan was planning to have all offseason. Getting started late doesn’t help, but it’s not like cornerbacks need a month to get ready. Revis should be in football shape in two weeks. The Jets’ lingering problem is that QB Mark Sanchez(notes) still can’t be trusted to make all the plays necessary to win critical games. It’s not for lack of talent; it’s lack of experience. Moreover, anyone who has seen Sanchez during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series has to be concerned about his body language. Too often Sanchez comes off as a guy who has a hard time accepting criticism. Yeah, he listens politely enough, but there are plenty of instances when he looks like he has tuned out his coaches. Trust me, I know the look, I have a teenage son.
3. More magic from Favre?
Speaking of quarterbacks, Brett Favre(notes) gets to open the season in New Orleans, the site of where he closed last season in a flurry of brutal hits. Is this the year that Favre, who hasn’t missed a start since the Truman Administration, finally succumbs to human frailty? As hard as it is to bet against Favre, there are three concerns here. First, Favre’s ankle injury, which got aggravated in the NFC championship game at New Orleans, isn’t completely healthy coming into this season. Second, he’s missing his best wide receiver (Sidney Rice(notes)) for at least six games and that’s going to hurt the offense’s timing (although the Vikings certainly have weapons). Third, the opener is going to be brutal. The Saints are going to be jacked up as they return to action in front of their home crowd. It might be the loudest, most frenetic environment in NFL history as the city that loves to party gets to celebrate its biggest sports moment. Favre gets to be the piñata of this event, getting whacked until he opens up and the interceptions start pouring out. Don’t think for a second that New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will show mercy on the 40-year-old Favre.
4. The ultimate host?
If Dallas owner Jerry Jones gets to host the Cowboys in his own stadium for the Super Bowl, is it possible his head will explode? No question, Jones is in grave danger of physical trauma if the Cowboys play for the championship in Jerry World. The chances of such an occurrence are pretty remote when you have Wade Phillips leading the Cowboys. In so many ways, Phillips is a great guy and a great coach … if he’s the defensive coordinator. As a head coach, he doesn’t know how to motivate people at the right time.
5. Is there any hope that the negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement will get concluded before the end of the season, and what’s the most tangible impact?
Let’s start with the second part of the question. The most tangible impact is that two really prominent quarterbacks – Peyton Manning(notes) and Tom Brady(notes) (that’s four Super Bowl titles and six appearances combined) – are going into the final years of their contracts. Brady appears to be closing in a three-year, $58 million pact. But if either of these two somehow get to free agency, it’s going to be a feeding frenzy with plenty of teams willing to give up two first-round picks (if not more) to get one of them. As for the actual talks of getting a new CBA done soon, the answer is a strong no, and that means that all the talk about a lockout and all the other issues will continue to float this season. That said, there are people in the know who believe that the issue can be resolved by the early part of the 2011 offseason. That’s some of the most optimistic talk we’ve heard in a long time.
6. Peace in our nation’s capital?
Can Washington coach Mike Shanahan and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes) coexist? Absolutely not and that’s sad. Shanahan is a brilliant coach, one of the best X’s and O’s guys in the history of the league (if you think that’s an overstatement, you don’t know football). However, Shanahan is also a guy who likes to have complete rule and that doesn’t work with a guy like Haynesworth, who is very bright and just as prideful. The problem is that Haynesworth, according to a source close to him, has twice tried to work it out with Shanahan, but the coach keeps pushing him. As a result, Haynesworth is shutting down. This situation is going to get uglier.
7. Rookie watch
So aside from first-round picks Dez Bryant(notes), Ryan Mathews(notes), Ndamukong Suh(notes) and Eric Berry(notes), who has a chance to be the best rookie in the league? If you followed my coverage during training camp, you know I believe Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams has a chance to be special. He’s talented and polished beyond his years. He also has a really good attitude for a young guy. But the most important thing right now is that he has the No. 1 receiver job and nobody else on the team figures to take it from him anytime soon. In fact, the top three wide receivers (Williams, Arrelious Benn(notes) and Sammie Stroughter(notes)) for the Bucs will all be in their first or second seasons by the end of this year, if not now. For fans who have been sleeping on the Bucs, they have a chance to be good very soon.
8. Back-to-back Bengals run?
Are the Cincinnati Bengals good enough that they can make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1981-82? Believe it. Yeah, I like to take my shots at the Bengals, but I really like this team and it doesn’t have a lot to do with Terrell Owens(notes). If he can catch 60 somewhat meaningful passes, then the offense should be fine. Jordan Shipley(notes) is going to be a nice slot guy and should push Andre Caldwell(notes) to get better. But the really important element to this Cincy team is the quality and depth on defense. Start with the best corner tandem in the league (Johnathan Joseph(notes) and Leon Hall(notes)) and go from there. Throw in great defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and you have a great mix.
9. Coach most likely to get a pink slip?
We’ve all heard the speculation that the Carolina Panthers’ John Fox, Chicago Bears’ Lovie Smith and Cleveland Browns’ Eric Mangini are the most obvious coaches on the hot seat this year. But is there some coach I wouldn’t suspect who is in trouble? The guy who needs to be watched carefully is Kansas City Chiefs second-year man Todd Haley. He did about as much imaginable as any rookie head coach could in alienating his players with his loud sideline antics. Beyond that, Haley needs to get on board with Matt Cassel(notes) being the team’s best option at quarterback if he’s going to make it work with GM Scott Pioli. Haley has a way of grating on people that makes the candle burn a lot faster than usual.
10. Who’s eyeing the No. 1 overall pick in 2011?
What team is the worst in the league? By about halfway through this season, Pete Carroll is going to think that the sanctions he avoided at USC really aren’t that bad. The Seattle Seahawks look like a giant mess right now. Seattle, according to a team source, has already come to the conclusion that Charlie Whitehurst(notes) wasn’t worth trading for (ouch) and 2008 seventh-round pick Justin Forsett(notes) is the best runner they have (double ouch). Forsett is a nice backup whose shortcomings are going to be exposed as a full-timer. And while the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams and Buccaneers all had worse records last season, all of those teams have young quarterbacks to build around. The Buffalo Bills are going to be bad, but coach Chan Gailey can fake it pretty good. As for the Seattle defense, half the line from last season is gone, the linebackers are so-so and the secondary is wildly inconsistent.