The NFL season is far from completion with only one weekend of playoff activity complete.
However, it’s never too early for diehard fans, especially of the teams that aren’t still standing in the postseason, to look ahead in anticipation of the upcoming offseason.
It may be a bit premature to study which teams will look to be wheeling and dealing their talent, but we can take educated guesses by this point.
Plenty of other factors affect teams and trading. Trades aren’t that common in the NFL nowadays, especially those without draft picks involved as compensation. Today’s NFL is based off free agency and drafting. Rarely do clubs exchange players for players straight-up.
Having said that, it’s important to remember that both free agency and the NFL draft play big roles in trades. Free agency doesn’t even begin until March 13, whereas the draft begins April 26. That leaves oodles of time for clubs to make moves.
Franchises might even be uncertain where they will be picking in the rounds and even what positions they will need to improve at this given point in time.
Nonetheless, it is fun to look into our factious crystal balls and play God if even for a brief moment.
And, of course, the fun things like retirements and arrests always seem to pop up out of nowhere and catch teams blindsided. These unpredictable events add to the drama and uncertainty of the offseason.
Here now are five likely candidates who could potentially be on the move to new zip codes in 2012:
In a recent back-and-forth with fellow Denver Broncos teammate Jay Cutler, current Miami Dolphins wideout Brandon Marshall hinted at how fun it would be to reunite with Cutler and get back to the good old “#chemistry," as he described in his tweet.
This move, though entirely speculation, makes sense for both teams.
The Chicago Bears would finally get the tall, No. 1 receiver they need to increase their vertical passing attack as the Mike Martz era crumbles and a new offensive system begins.
The Dolphins, too, are going through some changes. They are currently without a head coach and might want to make some personnel moves. While trading Marshall seems neither likely nor a priority, the only reason Miami would pull the trigger would be if it gets a solid draft pick—maybe a second-round selection?
While on the topic of the Bears, defensively this team continues to grow long in the tooth. Wholesale changes will have to be made within the next two seasons as this current unit enjoys its limited amount of time it has left together.
Linebacker Lance Briggs expressed disinterest with remaining a Bear at one point last season when he complained his current contract did not satisfy his abilities. Let it be known: He signed a front-loaded deal.
If he’s truly unhappy with his current club, this could be a golden chance for the Bears to make a move and usher out Briggs for a draft pick.
Chicago would need some serious help at linebacker, though, if a deal was to be done. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher suffered an MCL sprain in the regular-season finale and Brian Iwuh is up for free agency.
There could be some big holes in the middle of the Lovie Smith Cover 2 defense if Briggs were to be relocated, but this is certainly a card that could be played if the right situation appears.
When the Tennessee Titans ushered out quarterback Vince Young last season, they signed veteran free agent Matt Hasselbeck to a three-year deal. This came months after the club had already selected Washington QB Jake Locker in the draft.
Why would the team acquire two potential starting quarterbacks in the same offseason like that?
The plan was for Hasselbeck to be the starter now and Locker to be the future in a year or two following some veteran grooming.
At what point does the “future” become the “present"?
Plenty of teams will be searching for starting quarterbacks come August (the Redskins, Dolphins, Jets, Colts, Browns, Chiefs and Buccaneers, just to name a few). Could this be an opportunity to ship Hasselbeck and begin the Locker era officially?
Tennessee also has the option of retaining Hasselbeck until it feels Locker is ready enough to take over the job. It could try and replicate the Green Bay blueprint for succeeding Brett Favre with Aaron Rodgers if it wishes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Here’s the realistic situation regarding the Philadelphia Eagles: Their team is nowhere near as grand as they thought when they constructed the “dream team” and is now in serious salary hell.
Money has to come off the books if the Eagles want to make a move to hold onto free agents like DeSean Jackson, Evan Mathis, Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri.
When Philly made a deal to the Arizona Cardinals last summer, it shipped Kevin Kolb to the desert for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a draft pick and salary relief on Kolb’s current deal.
On the heels of the Rodgers-Cromartie acquisition, the Eagles shocked the NFL when they landed the top corner in free agency, Nnamdi Asomugha. This gave Philadelphia incredible depth at the position with Asante Samuel already under contract as well.
As it came to be, Samuel was usually the odd man out and his playing time suffered because of it. Philly has other roster needs at this time and needs to again clear money in the books to keep some of its best free agents.
If the Eagles could swap Samuel to a team in need of a No. 1 or No. 2 corner for a draft pick, that move would make sense for the entire franchise. There’s no need for your nickelback to be that high a caliber player when other more important issues need addressing.
And finally, what offseason wouldn’t be complete without some unnecessary drama from the New York Jets?
In an organization where fourth-string quarterbacks running their mouths and head coaches making incredibly dumb comments are considered to be a slow news day, the plot can almost never be thickened enough.
The Jets this week announced the release of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and just filled his vacancy with former divisional head coach of the Dolphins Tony Sparano.
Sparano has seen Jets QB Mark Sanchez every year of his short career playing against him regularly in the AFC East. Now that he’s his personal project, does Sparano—and, more importantly, Rex Ryan—consider Sanchez to be the answer going forward, or should the team look in a different direction?
Ryan made it very publicly known he wouldn’t be opposed to welcoming Colts signal-caller Peyton Manning to New Jersey. It appears as if Manning is staying put in Indianapolis for the time being, but that simple fact alone should alert Jets fans Ryan is looking to upgrade at the position.
Might New York entertain the thought of shipping Sanchez to another team by draft day? Maybe the team Schottenheimer lands with (assuming it’s in the NFL) would want Sanchez under center?
Either way, Sanchez has yet to develop into the elite-caliber quarterback clubs need in order to win championships in this league. Will his day eventually come or is it time to fold the cards and reshuffle in New York?
Brett Lyons is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.