The ink has been dry on the final NFL draft report cards for less than two weeks and we have rolled into the three-month period before training camps get under way known as "OTA season," when teams generally like to make as little news as possible. After the free-agency frenzy and the spectacle of the draft, the NFL fades into the background … sort of.
While the spotlight may shift to other sports, there are some major stories simmering that could keep the league in the headlines during the weeks to come. We've ranked our top five fire stokers below, though the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations – or lack thereof – could overshadow all of them. The owners and new NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith are on the clock, with less than 10 months to go until the league enters an uncapped year, and a new resolution, although highly unlikely, would be a breakthrough development.
Barring that unforeseen conclusion, these five questions will dominate the rumor mill and threaten to shape the season for several teams.
Will Vick get the chance to escape pass rushers in 2009?
1. Any takers for Vick?
It has been about three months since Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff announced publicly that he was willing to listen to offers for Michael Vick(notes). While various reports have suggested at least a few teams are interested in Vick, no deal appears imminent as personnel officials wait to hear whether commissioner Roger Goodell will reinstate Vick or allow his suspension to continue into the '09 campaign. There were rumors that the Falcons dangled Vick for a seventh-round pick on day two of the draft, so the price of acquiring Vick doesn't appear to be steep.
Vick is scheduled to leave federal prison on May 20 and reportedly will serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement. The sentence will conclude on July 20, just in time for the opening of training camp.
2. Is Peppers planning to hold out? And what will the Panthers do about it if he does?
Peppers and his agent, Carl Carey, have figured out that the market for a freakish athlete only one season removed from a puzzlingly awful 2½-sack campaign who totes a massive price tag isn't exactly swimming in suitors. Carey was unable to find a team willing to surrender a bounty of picks, including at least one first-rounder, maybe two, for Peppers on draft weekend, which seemed like the unofficial deadline for getting a deal done.
The brooding Peppers, who asked to be allowed to leave the Carolina Panthers in January – before receiving the franchise tag in February – skipped Carolina's minicamp last weekend and there is reason to believe he'll hold out well into training camp. He has yet to sign his tender of $16.7 million, and Panthers GM Marty Hurney can't trade someone who is not under contract. Peppers fears he would lose some leverage by signing the deal, but it would appear he has little to lose. The Panthers have been consistent throughout this ordeal that they want to keep Peppers and he probably is going to stay put.
Although this situation has lingered for nearly four months, it has been short on drama. That will change, though, if Peppers signs his tender and is a no-show for training camp, testing the mettle of Hurney and head coach John Fox.
3. Is Marshall going to be suspended?
Brandon Marshall(notes) was arrested in March on a disorderly conduct charge and the buzz was he would face a lengthy suspension for perhaps as many as eight games, even though the charge was eventually dropped. Marshall, who is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, is a repeat offender of the league's personal-conduct policy and had a three-game suspension reduced to one game at the start of last season.
Goodell hinted that a stiff punishment could be coming Marshall's way at the owners' meetings on March 24, but there has been nothing further on the topic.
It's not clear what has transpired in the conversations between Goodell and Marshall. However, sources say the longer this lingers with no official suspension from Goodell, the better it is for the Broncos. If a long suspension was coming for Marshall, the commissioner probably would have informed Denver before the draft so head coach Josh McDaniels could modify his plans if deemed necessary.
With no word from Goodell after all this time, there may be no suspension at all for Marshall.
4. How, and when, will the StarCaps case end?
The five players suspended for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances after they tested positive for StarCaps – a diuretic and masking agent that contains bumetanide, which is a banned substance – will be in court next month and their lawsuit against the producers of StarCaps could be decided.
A U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota barred the NFL from suspending the players while the case played out last December, but there's still a chance that New Orleans Saints defensive ends Will Smith(notes) and Charles Grant(notes), Minnesota Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams(notes) and Pat Williams(notes) and free-agent running back Deuce McAllister(notes) could have to serve those four-game suspensions at some point in 2009, which would threaten to devastate the Saints' and Vikings' seasons. Those teams are both led by head coaches facing pressure to make a run in the playoffs this season.
5. Is Favre retired for good?
We've seen this movie before and know how it ends. We could be wrong, but the only question now is how long it will drag on before the future Hall of Famer reverses his decision not to buckle the chinstrap again and sign with the Vikings. The Favre comeback saga grabbed the national media by its collective neck last summer, and it appeared we were headed for Round 2 before Favre reportedly told the Vikings by phone that he would not be playing in 2009.
As the summer wears on, will that itch to stick it to the Green Bay Packers by playing for their division rival subside? Could he buck the Vikings and decide the grass is greener in another NFL city in need of a starting quarterback? What if a contending team loses its starter in the first few weeks of the regular season? It's hard to imagine Favre turning down an opportunity to roll into town and save the day in the dramatic fashion he is said to crave.
He may think retirement is his best option for now, but that could change in a hurry if the right opportunity presents itself.
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