A dozen NFL offseason questions
Plenty of intriguing quarterbacks available, including possibly Michael Vick
Wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be a highly sought-after free agent
What do Nnamdi Asomugha, Jordan Gross and Karlos Dansby have in common?
The buzz of a second consecutive spectacular Super Bowl has begun to die down, and the last of the head coaching vacancies has been filled, so it's time to fully turn our attention to an NFL offseason that is upon us. Here are a dozen burning questions that serve to preview the many issues to come:
1. What high-profile position might just feature a bevy of activity this offseason?
Other than the Brett Favre drama, which took until July and early August to play out, last offseason's quarterback market was a pretty quiet place, with Washington's 36-year-old backup Todd Collins actually being the most sought after name in free agency. Things should be a bit more interesting this time around.
For starters, you've got New England's Matt Cassel, who has been franchised in order to be dangled as trade bait. You've got Arizona wanting to re-sign Super Bowl quarterback Kurt Warner and Tennessee seeking to re-secure veteran Kerry Collins. Cleveland will explore a trade of deposed starter Derek Anderson, as might Tennessee with Vince Young.
And then there's a decent selection of former starters to choose from in Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia, Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich, Tennessee's Chris Simms, Chicago's Rex Grossman, Baltimore's Kyle Boller and Buffalo's J.P. Losman. With this year's draft not expected to produce any immediate starters a'la Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in 2008, that group of re-treads could be fairly popular.
Still not enough juice for you? Sit tight then until July 20, when Michael Vick is scheduled to be released from prison, with him filing for reinstatement to the NFL shortly thereafter.
2. Where will top-rated free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh wind up signing?
Other than quarterbacks Warner and Cassel, the Bengals' longtime No. 2 receiver figures to be the most sought after offensive player in this year's free agent crop. The Bengals could keep him in town by slapping the franchise tag on him, at $9.88 million for 2009, but they're not expected to take that costly route. So a year after Chad Johnson tried to talk his way out of Cincinnati, it looks like it's T.J. who's leaving and Ocho Cinco probably staying. Gotta love it.
Houshmandzadeh has been making the rounds on radio interviews in recent days, and he wisely stoked interest in his services everywhere he has wandered across the dial. He let it be known he wouldn't mind being an Eagle on a Philly station, and didn't dismiss the idea of becoming a Bear when talking to a Chicago sports chat show. The receiver-desperate Seahawks are thought to be targeting Houshmandzadeh early in free agency, and another NFC West team, San Francisco, has emerged as a potential suitor as well. Miami and Tennessee are two more obvious receiver-starved teams with sufficient cap room to afford Houshmandzadeh.
3. Which playoff team will have to spend handsomely to keep its winning formula intact?
Nobody figures to spend more to keep its own free agents from going elsewhere than the Baltimore Ravens, a surprise final four participant in 2008. The Ravens arguably have three of the top six potential defensive free agents in linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott. Don't laugh, but they might just have the financial wherewithal to keep all three at home. And don't forget starting center Jason Brown, a fourth-year veteran whom Baltimore also intends to keep on hand.
The Ravens currently rank right in the middle of the NFL in cap room, with about $19 million to spare under the projected $123 million pay ceiling. But they can push that figure considerably higher -- maybe into the $36 million range -- just by handing out expected pink slips to veteran cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle. Look for the Ravens to be very pro-active in the three weeks before free agency begins, trying to get as many of their top four re-signed before the market opens Feb. 27.
As for that rumored straight-up Terrell Suggs to Arizona for Anquan Boldin trade? Forget it. Does that sound like commensurate value in Ozzie Newsome's world view? A pass-rushing linebacker/defensive end for a veteran receiver? Think again.
4. Who's in the catbird seat when it comes to free agency this year?
That would be Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, meaning it's one very large catbird seat. The Titans can't franchise Haynesworth again because he reached his incentive clauses, and now they've got to face the reality that in three weeks the biggest cog in their stout defensive front seven might be gone. Haynesworth wants a six-year deal for more than $12 million a year, and he wants the distinction of being the highest paid defensive player in the game, ahead of Minnesota's Jared Allen. And those are goals he's likely to attain once he reaches the marketplace.
Haynesworth has already made it known he doesn't go for "hometown discounts,'' even though he played collegiately at Tennessee and has plenty reason to recognize the good thing he has playing for the Titans. It remains to be seen how aggressively Tennessee is going to try and re-sign him in the coming weeks. The Titans have the cap room -- about $30 million worth -- to get Haynesworth done, but they still may have questions about his durability, temperament and future work ethic after landing such a landmark contact. My instincts tell me Haynesworth plays elsewhere in 2009, though there's still time for the Titans to change the equation.
If Haynesworth is not in Tennessee, teams thought to be at least kicking the tires on him include Detroit, where ex-Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is now the head coach, Green Bay, where the defensive line dramatically underachieved in 2008, Chicago and Atlanta.
My money is on the Chiefs finally giving Johnson his wish and sending him packing. If there's anything that new Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli isn't likely to suffer, it's a chronic malcontent like L.J. But Johnson, of course, is not exactly at the peak of his value these days, so the Chiefs may have to settle for making the best of a bad trade situation.
As for Tomlinson, his story has a ways to go before it plays out. I believe he'll remain in San Diego after taking a pay cut, but some of it depends on how the Chargers handle Darren Sproles' impending free agency. San Diego won't lavish huge money on Sproles because it knows his best role is as a situational back/return man, not a No. 1 featured back.
As long as the Chargers handle the L.T. pay cut with some sensitivity, making sure not to embarrass or threaten Tomlinson with an ultimatum, he'll likely see the wisdom of staying put in San Diego. He'll still make more there than he would anywhere else at this point in his career, and after two injury-plagued seasons, he's got something to prove to the Chargers.