For a generation of sports fans, the National Football League is quietly surpassing Major League Baseball as America's new pastime.
As baseball's hot-stove cools, the competition in the Cactus and Grapefruit league heats up, and the World Baseball Classic gets underway, the NFL's 2009 free-agent signing period is in full swing.
Now, it's time to discuss those top four 2009 free-agents who have yet to sign a deal.
The list is exhaustive, but that doesn't mean we can breakdown some of more notable names, especially those coming off rather impressive 2009 campaigns.
So, let's get started.
The first on our list has to be Kurt Warner.
While he didn't earn comeback player of the year as that went to Chad Pennington, Warner did something big bad Chad will likely never accomplish: He led his team, the Arizona Cardinals, the Super Bowl for the first time in the organizations' horrid history.
As a former MVP, two-time Super Bowl loser, and one-time Super Bowl winner, Warner fits right in with the Cardinal's electric passing arsenal attack. With the three-headed monster attack of Steve Breston, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin who all may have been more responsible for the Cardinals success this season in earning them a trip to the playoffs for the first time a long time, then an aging quarterback who simply played pass-and-catch much like he did in St. Louis with the greatest show on turf.
Still Warner played up to the level of one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL this season, which is why he's demanding the Cardinals show him the money.
Warner passed for more than 4,500 yards, threw for 30 touchdowns and was only intercepted 14 times. And for the venerable measure of a QB, Warner's passer rating was a respectable 96.9 and his best since the 2001 season when he led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory.
Both Warner and the Cardinals avoided contract negotiations all season long, and as we enter the heart of the off-season, will the Cardinals play Warner the money he deserves for last season or will they opt for the less experienced, but still highly paid franchise QB in Matt Leinart.
Warner rejuvenated his career in Arizona, which is why I think the Cardinals owe to him to pay him top QB money. If not, he may head to grungier pastures of Detroit in an effort to resurrect another dying franchise.
With the resigning of Brandon Jacobs, it appears evident that other running back from the New York Giants who racked up 1,000 rushing yards this season will not be back for an encore performance in 2009
Derrick Ward proved he's a top back in the NFL, even with the help of Earth, Wind, and Fire. Not sure which elements refer to which running-back, but one thing's for sure: Ward will definitely make some team very, very happy.
Ward averaged well over five-yards per carry this season while playing somewhat the role of a reserved back.
Whether his offensive production will decline will be a risk some teams are more than willing to take, especially for a 28-year-old back, who out of the backfield also caught 41 passes totaling more than 400 yards.
Those weary of Ward's age still may not risk offering him a hefty contract, which would undoubtedly be his last big deal.
Should the Cardinals left Edge go, we're banking they sign Ward to a multi-year contract.
With the defensive mastermind of the Baltimore Ravens, Rex Ryan, becoming the Head Coach of the New York Jets, will Ray Lewis join his partner in crime Bart Scott to help anchor a much improved Jets defensive, and possibly make a run toward the Super Bowl.
We're not quite sure, as rumors circulated last week that Demarcus Ware spoke with Lewis about his interest in wearing the lone-star on his helmet and joining America's old team: The Dallas Cowboys.
If you think the future Hall of Famer is past his prime, Ray Lewis thinks you're dead wrong. Lewis' been the face of the Baltimore Raven's franchise since its inception, and it will be weird seeing him sans a different uniform next season, which is why we're skeptical he'll join the Cowboys or the Jets.
Talks about whether he's a better wide-receiver than his counterpart in Cincinnati are fruitless.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a Pro-Bowl caliber player who understands the concept of team sports. After being the number two guy for the Bengals over the years, he's ready to be THE guy for some team next season.
Who will be the lucky to team to sign Houshmandzadeh? We'll speculate that if the Giants don't bring back Plaxico Burress, they'll be shooting themselves in the foot (pun intended) for not giving Eli Manning an option like Houshmandzadeh to throw the ball too. Remember Manning threw ZERO passes to a wide-receiver once Plax wasn't around.
Even though Houshmandzadeh struggled mightly this season, we blame a QB by the name of Ryan Fitzpatrick whose inexperience didn't help.
That said, Houshmandzadeh still caught 92 passes this season, and did lead the entire NFL in 2007 with 112 receptions, in addition to 12 touchdowns and ZERO TD celebrations.