What to watch for in 2009: NFL
Tom Brady's return will get Brett Favre retirement watch-like attention
The Cowboys' new stadium will open with ongoing soap opera on field
Titans will have to choose between Kerry Collins and Vince Young at QB
1. The Return of Tom. I predict the saturation coverage of Tom Brady's rehabilitation from knee surgery will warrant special editions in Boston-area newspapers and daily ESPN camera crews in Foxboro. And that'll be just at May mini-camp. In training camp, think more along the level of the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal and the Brett Favre un-retirement saga. Times two.
But Brady's return will be big news, because he's the NFL's ultimate glamour player, and his absence in 2008 had ripple effects that altered the outcome of the season. Brady was the league's MVP last season, but he starts 2009 with what will be a very well-chronicled drive toward the Comeback Player of the Year award.
2. America's Train Wreck. The Cowboys are opening a new $1.3 billion stadium this year, and you have to wonder if the product on the field will even come close to befitting the opulence of the venue? Jerry Jones has vowed to err on the side of continuity this offseason, which in and of itself strikes us as an error. Can we really all endure another season of Tony Romo having to pacify T.O., the ongoing Pacman follies, Wade Phillips' descent into irrelevancy, and the owner/enabler who never met a soap opera he didn't love? Tune in again next season for all new installments of "As the Cowboys Turn.''
3. Will the The Chin be back? Bill Cowher is making noise about being content to sit out a third consecutive season and let 32 other guys take the bullets on the coaching sidelines. Maybe, maybe not. Let's see what he says when the Broncos come calling with their money piled a Mile High. Cowher has already told the Browns and the Jets thanks, but no thanks. But if you're Cowher and you could avoid having to play -- and lose to -- the Steelers twice a year, why wouldn't you? Maybe he really means he's not getting back until at least 2010, but he would be the first ex-coach to run a double-reverse with his intentions.
4. Will VY or KC be QB in Tennessee? The Titans have themselves a quarterback question as 2009 arrives, because the re-born Kerry Collins is eligible for free agency in March, and that could force some kind of decision on the fate and future of 2006 first-round pick Vince Young. While the jury remains out on whether or not Young is Mr. Right for the Titans offense, Collins is clearly Mr. Right Now based on his stellar performance in 2008. The face-off between the present and future could make everybody tense in Tennessee this year.
5. For the good of the union. Maybe the most pivotal NFL topic to be tackled in 2009 will have nothing to do with what takes place on the field. The NFL Players Association will select a new executive director, replacing the deceased Gene Upshaw, and their new leader will largely decide how to proceed in terms of the coming battle with team owners over a new collective bargaining agreement. Nothing's at stake except the fate of the NFL's current salary cap system, not to mention the labor peace and prosperity that has elevated the NFL to the king of professional sports leagues.