In an offseason dominated by a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Pro Bowl defensive player changing teams, not to mention a raging controversy about bounties, important issues still linger going into next week's NFL draft.
One is a premier quarterback negotiating what will likely be the biggest contract in league history. Another is a top all-around running back working out a new deal under the threat of sitting out the season.
Yeah, the situations involving New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte might pale in comparison to Peyton Manning, Mario Williams and the bounty scandal, but that's just a measure of how absurd this offseason has been. The draft debate over Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III at picks 1 and 2 has been little more than a subplot. Of course, that matter will be answered next week. In the meantime, some issues remain:
1. Get Brees signed: If there has been a good signal (and it's hard to find any good news regarding the Saints these days), it was the word last week that owner Tom Benson personally called Brees to indicate something will get done. Whether that something will be close enough to Brees' request for $23 million a year remains to be seen. That said, the Saints can't afford to have this issue linger. While Joe Vitt may have been the absurd choice as the team’s interim coach, the truth is that Brees is the unquestioned leader. If the Saints hope to survive the bounty penalties, they need to have Brees signed. He has an tremendous amount of leverage.
[ Michael Silver: Saints sending bad message by naming Joe Vitt interim coach ]
2. Get Forte signed: At a time when running backs aren't supposed to be that vital, Forte is an exception. Over the past two seasons, the Bears are 14-2 (playoffs included) when Forte has carried the ball at least 16 times. They are 5-9 when he doesn't, including 0-4 last season. Forte is looking for a contract along the lines of Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson. The Bears want to pay him along the lines of an average runner. This is going to be ugly.
3. Late action on Wallace: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace remains the most prominent name in free agency, even though he is a restricted player. While Wallace's contract demands are high, it would only cost a first-round pick to acquire the most dangerous deep threat in the league. Wallace is still not a complete receiver, but he's getting closer every year, and in a pass-oriented league his impact is huge. Plus, losing him would be a huge problem for the Steelers.
4. Abundance of available veterans: Although more than 260 free agents have signed (or re-signed) this offseason, more than 300 players remain on the market. In fact, last month at the league meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., several agents weren't having much luck drumming up business. Because offseason programs didn't start until April, teams haven't been pushing to sign veterans, particularly veterans who are expected to sign for the minimum. Throw in the fact that there are no minimum spending requirements for teams this season and it explains why a lot of teams are waiting out the market, hoping to pick off solid veterans after the draft.
5. Bounty effect: If the league succeeds in suspending a large group of current and former New Orleans players (Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove are among those rumored) for their roles in the scandal, that figures to have another ripple effect on the market. Several teams will have to figure out how to deal with possible suspensions.
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