Quarterbacks face an unsettled landscape

Jason Cole

HONOLULU – The Pro Bowl may have been an omen for quarterbacks around the NFL.

With the offensive linemen from both sides putting in less effort into their blocking than at a Houston offseason camp, quarterbacks from both sides had erratic and busy days.

Expect more of the same between now and the start of training camp (and maybe beyond if Brett Favre has his way). This offseason figures to be extraordinarily busy for quarterbacks.

Of the six quarterbacks who dressed for the Pro Bowl, Kurt Warner of Arizona and Kerry Collins of Tennessee are unsigned for next season, and Eli Manning of the New York Giants is going into the final year of his contract without a star receiver.

Throw in Favre's annual drama, Donovan McNabb's desire for a new contract from Philadelphia, a new deal for Philip Rivers in San Diego and plenty of speculation about Matt Cassel in New England, and this offseason could feature one intriguing story after another from the NFL's high-profile position.

Manning could top that with a contract that figures to feature an NFL record of up to $40 million in guarantees. Look for that story to break sometime in the next two months. The bigger issue with Manning is what he expects out of the Giants, who are currently locked in a money battle with Plaxico Burress and have veteran Amani Toomer thinking he's gone. In short, the Giants need to give Manning some receivers to go with all that cash.

Here's a rundown of what to expect:

1. Warner to stay indoors. Warner didn't exactly help his negotiating position when he declared that he's either going to play in Arizona or not at all. Agent Mark Bartelstein tried to spin that last week by saying that Warner is open to playing elsewhere, but anyone with any bit of common sense knows the deal.

"That's really my agent looking out for my best interests and trying to make sure I know what's available out there," Warner said Sunday. "But really, if everything goes the way I think based on what we think Arizona will do and the way I want, I want to be back with Arizona. I like what we're building out there, what we've done so far and what I think is ahead for us.

"I really don't want to start over with another team, pick up my family and go somewhere else. That just doesn't make much sense for everyone involved."

The Cardinals also don't think Warner wants to venture outside the friendly confines of the climate-controlled environment of the University of Phoenix Stadium.

"Kurt doesn't want to play anywhere where the weather is going to get really harsh," an Arizona executive said recently. "He knows it, we know it. That's OK. He's going to get a nice contract from us."

A side issue with Warner is what will happen with backup Matt Leinart, the former No. 10 overall pick in the 2006 draft who is becoming something of an afterthought. Look for Leinart to ask out in hopes of finding opportunity elsewhere.

2. Collins to piggyback on Warner. Once Warner gets a new deal, look for Collins to re-sign with Tennessee. Collins is looking for more than Warner, but the deals figure to be pretty similar and the Titans can't afford to let the 36-year-old Collins go. Then again, Collins doesn't figure to get much attention outside of Tennessee.

"There's no question, I want to play," Collins said. "Three years ago, coming off a couple of years in Oakland, I wasn't really sure. I needed to take a break and that's why I didn't sign with anybody right away. Now, I feel like I have at least two or three years left. I'm excited about what we were able to do last season."

Like Warner, Collins' situation will also have an impact on …

3. Vince Young's last stand. While Leinart hasn't won over many people in Arizona, he hasn't completely lost them the way Young did last season in Tennessee. Starting with how he basically quit on the team in the season opener by momentarily refusing to go back in after being booed, Young has lost the support of his teammates and coaches.

The only person left in Young's corner at this point is owner Bud Adams and even that's tenuous. Adams watched quietly at the end of last season, and Young pouted on the sideline during games, rarely paying attention to the coaches or his teammates. If not for the $26.1 million that Young was guaranteed and the fact that Adams still would like to have the Houston native become a star to show up the fans and officials there who wouldn't support the Oilers once upon a time, Young might have been gone already.

4. Manning's record contract and need for receivers. The eight-year, $102 million contract that Pittsburgh gave to Ben Roethlisberger in March 2008 featured $36.1 million in guaranteed money. The largest amount of guaranteed money remains $37 million for Michael Vick.

Three sources said this week that a new contract is expected and that Manning could be the first NFL player to get $40 million in guarantees despite the specter of a lockout after the 2010 season. There have been rumors that the deal could be done shortly, but one of the sources said a deal is probably two months away.

In fact, agent Tom Condon said before the Super Bowl that he was surprised by a report that a deal was imminent.

"Well, if it is, it would be good if I talked to the Giants first," Condon said.

For his part, Manning isn't concerned.

"I have a year left on my contract and I haven't really even discussed it with anybody," Manning said. "I'm sure we'll do something at some point, but it's not really on my mind."

What's more on his mind is getting the receiver position settled. Despite the travails of Burress, Manning seems extremely interested in having his lead receiver back.

"We have to wait and see how the whole situation with Plax works itself out and if he's going to be back," Manning said. "I'm hopeful, but I don't have a lot of control over that."

All things considered, Manning has a lot more say over that than he is leading anybody to believe.

5. Rivers to piggyback on Manning. One person closely watching what happens with Manning's contract is agent Jimmy Sexton, who represents San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. Once upon a time, Manning and Rivers were part of a trade between the Chargers and Giants. They now figure to be forever linked by their contracts. While Rivers didn't make the Pro Bowl, his stats measure up very close with Manning, except for the Super Bowl victory Manning bagged last year.

Like Manning, Rivers is heading into the final year of his deal. Don't expect the Chargers to roll out on a new contract until they have to, particularly given that Sexton and San Diego general manager A.J. Smith have an acrimonious relationship.

6. What about Favre? Favre isn't going to attend the Jets' offseason program, and he probably won't restructure his contract in order to help the team deal with a difficult salary cap situation.

And while most of the talk right now is that Favre will retire, even if he declares that he's done, that means nothing. What most people who know him expect is that sometime around June, he'll get the itch to play again. If he does, look for him to make a pitch to play for Minnesota.

7. McNabb wants a financial apology. After being benched briefly in November and then coming back to lead the Eagles to a the NFC Championship game, McNabb and agent Fletcher Smith want Philadelphia to come through with a financial commitment to him. McNabb, 32, has two years remaining on his contract, which complicates things for Philadelphia.

If there's no meeting of the minds, expect that McNabb will skip the offseason program. That won't be popular in Philadelphia, but McNabb hasn't ever really been all that popular with the fans anyway. The way he and Smith likely see it, what is there to lose?

8. Who wants Matt Cassel? New England is doing everything it can to make people believe that it's going to keep Cassel after declaring him a franchise player this week. However, the folks in Cassel's camp are hopeful to get him traded before the draft so that he can get a long-term contract rather than simply play on a one-year deal for $14.5 million. Expect Patriots coach Bill Belichick to drive a hard bargain, but he easily should have at least a couple of suitors with Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Kansas City all having unsettled quarterback situations.