By Mike Florio - SportingNews
Feb 9, 11:36 am EST
Fret not, football fans. Sure, the games are over but the NFL now is a year-round pastime. There’s almost as much intrigue from February to June as there is from July to January. Here are ten things that could happen in the coming months:
1. Defensive linemen will cash in
The success of the New York Giants confirmed that one of the most critical components of a successful NFL team is an overpowering defensive line. Having four men who can pressure quarterbacks without blitz help allows the other seven defenders to cover the five (at most) eligible receivers.
The greatest beneficiaries of the Giants’ success are the defensive tackles and defensive ends who qualify for free agency Feb. 29. Defensive linemen will be the most overpaid players of the offseason.
2. Jared Allen will remain a Chief
Given that the market for quality defensive linemen just went through the roof, there is no way the Kansas City Chiefs will let one of the NFL’s top defensive linemen get away. Chiefs GM Carl Peterson undoubtedly will use the “franchise tag” to hold on to defensive end Jared Allen if no long-term contract can be ironed out before the start of free agency.
In fact, the Chiefs likely will use the “exclusive” version of the franchise tag, which will prevent any other team from even looking at Allen. The Colts did that last year with defensive end Dwight Freeney, who ultimately signed a six-year, $72 million deal that will keep him in Indianapolis.
Allen might huff and puff about being slapped with the franchise tag, but in the end he’ll have two options: 1. Play for the one-year franchise tender; 2. or don’t play at all (and get paid nothing).
3. Bills will keep Losman
Bills quarterback J.P. Losman was supposed to be the next Jim Kelly. That hasn’t happened.
Now, with ‘07 third-round pick Trent Edwards is firmly entrenched as the starter, Losman wants out of Buffalo. But Losman is under contract for one more year, and Bills officials realize the importance of having two men who can play the position in case one is injured.
Losman can pout all he wants. After the ‘08 season, he’ll be free to leave. Until then, he is not going anywhere.
4. Eagles could trade McNabb
Unlike Losman, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb isn’t saying he wants out of Philadelphia and team officials say they plan to keep him. But the Eagles didn’t draft Kevin Kolb in the second round last spring because they want to make him a running back.
Surely, the Eagles will listen to trade offers; they just don’t want to appear interested in a trade so they can maximize leverage. And McNabb is playing along (just ask FOX’s Pam Oliver) because he realizes doing so increases the likelihood of securing a fresh start elsewhere.
There’s too much smoke not to believe McNabb is available for the right price. That doesn’t mean a trade definitely will happen, but it means a trade definitely could happen.
5. Union will assert itself
With several NFL owners rattling their pens about opting out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw is starting to talk tough. And that’s a break from the too-cozy relationship between Upshaw and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, which was good for labor peace but bad for appearances.
The union and management are supposed to fight from time to time, and with management poised to pull the plug on the labor contract two years early, Upshaw is prepared to become a pain in the butt.
For starters, Upshaw seems ready to resist moving the Pro Bowl from Hawaii to the mainland, which hardly is one of the league’s most pressing issues. Once free agency begins, look for Upshaw to be far more zealous about teams’ failure to use the “poison-pill” provisions in offer sheets. It’s a device that, if employed properly, renders the right of first refusal meaningless in bids for restricted free agents.
Minnesota Vikings officials hatched the idea two years ago by inserting into an offer sheet for Seattle Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson a provision that made his entire seven-year, $49 million deal guaranteed if he wasn’t the highest-paid offensive lineman on the team at any point during the term of the contract. The Seahawks responded by signing Vikings wide receiver Nate Burleson to a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet that becomes fully guaranteed if Burleson played five games in the state of Minnesota during any year of the contract.
The league tried to write this loophole out of the labor contract, but a deal hasn’t been reached with the union. So it’s still a viable tool to enhance player movement.
Last offseason, no NFL team used a poison pill and the union could have claimed collusion but didn’t. This year, Upshaw probably won’t be so nice.
6. Cardinals will mishandle Fitzgerald
Because of a rookie contract that included big-money escalators for the final two years of the deal, the Arizona Cardinals face a salary-cap mess in ‘08 and ‘09. The money owed to receiver Larry Fitzgerald is directly responsible.
It’s a thorny problem for the Cardinals. They owe Fitzgerald $14.592 million this coming season and $17.355 million the next. A long-term extension is possible, but if the guaranteed money is less than $31.947 million (the sum of the salaries he is owed), the Cardinals shouldn’t bother. Trading Fitzgerald is another possibility, but who’d want to pick up that contract?
This situation could go in several directions. The only safe bet, given the history of the franchise, is that the Cardinals will find a way to screw it up.
7. Jerry Jones will make a big splash
With another embarrassing and early exit from the playoffs and a new stadium on the horizon, Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones will feel compelled to make a big splash this offseason. The most popular speculation is he’ll trade his two first-round picks and running back Marion Barber (a restricted free agent) to the Miami Dolphins for the No. 1-overall selection in the NFL Draft. Jones then could select Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.
That’s not the only power play Jones might make. With wide receiver Randy Moss hitting the open market Feb. 29—unless the Patriots use the franchise tag on him—hauling in the single-season touchdown receptions leader would create a compelling Texas tandem of Terrell Owens and Moss.
There is only one football, though, and that could create a problem. Likewise, Jones would have to give Owens, who is entering the final year of his contract, a big raise to ensure there would be no locker-room rivalry.
Regardless of whether he acquires McFadden, Moss or someone else, count on one thing: Jones will do something big aimed at making his team better.
8. Daniel Snyder won’t make a big splash
With the Washington Redskins’ payroll reported to be $20 million over the cap—and a recently acquired habit of not spending money like a billionaire with a terminal illness—owner Daniel Snyder likely won’t be plunging with both feet into the free-agent market. Besides, the more conservative approach honed in the final years of the Joe Gibbs Era II makes it easier for Snyder to justify restraint.
Even with a guy like Moss available, don’t expect the Redskins to make a play for any big-name free agents.
9. Patriots will reload
Last year, the New England Patriots came up short in their quest for a Lombardi Trophy. So they identified their biggest weakness—the receiving corps—and bolstered it with Wes Welker, Donte’ Stallworth and Moss.
This offseason, the secondary needs help. Cornerback Asante Samuel is free to leave as a free agent, and he most certainly will depart. Cornerback Randall Gay is due to become a free agent as well, and the team is unlikely to use the franchise tag on him. Safety Rodney Harrison might retire.
So look for the Patriots to address this area aggressively via free agency and the draft. It’s the team’s only real weakness. Based on the Giants’ last drive in the Super Bowl, it’s a big one.
10. Giants will open the show
The only sure thing on this list is that the ‘08 season will start the same way the ‘07 season ended—with the New York Giants on the field. One of the league’s newest traditions is that the Super Bowl champion opens the new season with a Thursday night home game.
In ‘04, the Patriots played host to the Colts. The next year, the Raiders visited New England. In ‘06, the Steelers and Dolphins played in Pittsburgh. Last year, the Saints went to Indy.
Based on the ‘08 schedule formula, the Giants’ possible opponents are the Cowboys, Redskins, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens, Bengals and Panthers. The obvious candidate would be the Cowboys, but the NFL has yet to arrange a divisional matchup for the season-opening game.
The most likely candidate from outside the NFC East is Seattle because the Seahawks are three years removed from an NFC title and made it to the divisional round in ‘07.
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