— Just because we won’t have football until next August doesn’t mean we won’t have football activity. There will be plenty of that, starting with the scouting combine later this month.
Here are the major storylines we’ll be hearing about over the next six months.
1. The labor war
Don’t expect anything to be resolved between the league and the Players Association. But expect for the rhetoric, posturing and chest beating to be ramped up. This is all a precursor to the inevitable showdown next February, when the threat of a lockout likely will force an agreement.
2. Brett Favre’s retirement watch
We’ve been down this road a time or two (or three or four or five) before. Will he or won’t he? The last person to ask is Favre. The Vikings aren’t going to like being held hostage by their quarterback, but it’s not like they have a better option. Expect a decision no later than the opening weekend of the season. Maybe.
3. The auctioning of Julius Peppers
It is likely the Panthers will allow the defensive end to walk because they don’t want to pay him more than $20 million for one season — the cost to tender him as a franchise player. It isn’t often a premier pass rusher in his prime like Peppers is available on the open market, so he could have multiple suitors. But the price will be steep. There is little doubt Peppers will be the highest paid defensive player in football when the season kicks off.
4. The draft fortunes of Tim Tebow
Will some team take a chance on Florida’s darling in the first round? Will his hometown Jaguars make a play for this potential ticket selling machine? Can he play quarterback in the NFL? Will a team try to convert him to another position? He will be the most fascinating player in the draft.
5. Trade winds
Among the big names who could be discussed are Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall, Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and perhaps even Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. The relationship between Marshall and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels has been a rocky one, and both parties might be happier apart. Boldin wants to be paid like one of the best receivers in football—and for that to happen, he might have to leave the Cardinals. As for Vick, he’d like a starting job and at least two teams have expressed their interest. It seems unlikely the Eagles will part with McNabb, but there have been rumblings.
6. T.O.’s next team
San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas, Buffalo. Who’s next? The talent remains enticing, but the ego remains problematical. Chad Ochocinco has been lobbying, but the Bengals might not have enough footballs to make this work.
7. LaDainian Tomlinson’s divorce
It seems certain that LT will leave the Chargers and look for a new team at the age of 30. His production has dropped off dramatically in the last two seasons, and it will be interesting to see how much gas Tomlinson has left in the tank.
8. Coaching contracts
Two established, successful coaches are entering lame duck seasons, and the Panthers and Bengals need to make decisions about the contracts of John Fox and Marvin Lewis, respectively. If they don’t sign those coaches to extensions, they risk the possibility of Fox and Lewis losing their teams. But they also will have the benefit of not having cumbersome coaching contracts on their books in the event of a 2011 lockout.
9. Mike Holmgren’s influence on the Browns
We are sure to see Holmgren’s fingerprints all over the Browns as he hires people he trusts, acquires players he likes and gets rid of dead weight from previous decision makers. How he meshes with holdover coach Eric Mangini will be interesting indeed.
10. Quarterbacks cashing in
Among the big names who are expected to get big raises are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. And a trickle down effect is likely to follow.
Q: Now that the Saints won the Super Bowl, will they run away with the NFC South next season, or do my Falcons have a chance?
— Ted Michaels, Dectaur, Ga.
A: Of course your Falcons have a chance. And so do the Panthers, and to a lesser degree, the Bucs. If there is anything history has taught us it’s that the NFL pecking order can change dramatically from one season to the next.
There are good reasons only one team, the Patriots, has repeated as Super Bowl champions in the last 11 years. It’s difficult for a champion to maintain its edge and its hunger. In addition to great effort and performance, it takes a little luck and injury avoidance to win a Super Bowl. And those are two elements that cannot be guaranteed from one year to the next.
Q: How much of a difference will Charlie Weis have on the Chiefs’ offense next season?
— Brad Walker, Andover, Kan.
A: I would think the difference would not be dramatic — and that’s not to say I don’t respect Weis’ ability. I do. But the Chiefs had a pretty sharp offensive mind running the show last year in Todd Haley.
And Weis’ impact at Notre Dame certainly was not what many thought it would be. Sometimes, it’s easy to overrate the potential influence of assistant coaches.
Q: What’s with Alabama’s prospects and their flab? Last year it was Andre Smith. I almost threw up when I saw photos of Terrence Cody at his weigh in last week.
— Walter, Nashville, Tenn.
A: Cody was way overweight and out of shape in the photos you are describing. I wouldn’t blame Alabama for that, but sometimes teams emphasize size over muscle.
A lot of coaches wouldn’t have even allowed Cody to practice at that weight. Others say the bigger the better. But there is no question Cody will have to get a handle on his weight and conditioning if he is going to have a chance of reaching his potential in the NFL.
Q: Is there a generally agreed upon list of "all-time" greats? Where would earlier stars like Merlin Olson and Hugh McElhenny fit in, or would they?
— R.J. Ward, Las Cruces, N.M.
A: Nothing is generally agreed upon in regards to ranking players. Where there are rankings, there are debates.
And, truth be told, it’s too difficult to rank the top players who ever played the game at any position. It’s easier to rank players against others who played the same position they did, or players against others who played in the same era they did.
But Olsen and McElhenny are two of the all-time greats, as their busts in Canton suggest.