Super Bowl XLIV was a story book ending for the New Orleans Saints, a franchise that had not won very much of note in its 43 year history.
With the final football game of the season over now all eyes except for maybe those in New Orleans turn to the off season. This off season should have plenty of story lines and stories to watch.
This NFL off season starts with a deep draft class that might not have any future hall of famers but should have several solid players. Speaking of the future, this summer will be another off season of will Brett Favre return or won’t he.
Free agency will have teams searching for their Drew Brees to lead them to a championship. Plus one very big dark cloud that could doom football for 2011.
Here is a look at the off season stories every NFL fan should keep an eye on. This NFL off season should be as busy as any with the potential of an uncapped year and a labor dispute on the horizon.
Talent Rich 2010 Draft Class
While one could question if this draft class has any super stars are sure fire hall of famers, this draft class is loaded with potential stars. This draft class also has no quarterbacks that are considered can’t miss either.
The 2010 Draft Class is nearly the who’s who of the 2009-10 college football season. This draft class starting with the quarterbacks includes, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Tony Pike and Tim Tebow.
The NFL Combine starts February, 24 in Indianapolis and besides any on campus workout it’s the last chance for former college stars to show NFL scouts what they can do. The biggest question could be if Tebow is given a chance to be a quarterback in the NFL.
Bradford and McCoy will have to show they are healthy after injuries ended their season. Other quarterbacks in this draft need to show that they can play in a pro style offense, with the proliferation of the spread offense in college football.
Even Jimmy Clausen, a quarterback who did play in a pro style offense in college, must answer questions about his ability to play in the NFL. Former Ole Miss Quarterback, Jevan Snead, has to show he is NFL ready after flopping this season when he burst on to the nation stage in the 2008 season.
Pike, who many consider the best NFL ready quarterback, has been injury prone in college and has to show he can survive an NFL season. NFL teams will be looking at Dan LaFevour to see if he can be the next Joe Flacco from a small school.
Two players, Dexter McCluster and C.J. Spiller, who are small in stature, will get a long look from NFL scouts. Mainly because of the play of Percy Harvin, Darren Sproles and Michael Turner showing that small players can be stars.
This draft could be as deep as any when it comes to running backs. There are several who could have long productive careers from Anthony Dixon, Ben Tate, Toby Gerhart, and Ryan Williams.
Running backs Stephon Johnson and Jahvid Best both are questionable from injuries sustained in college. These two running backs will join a large group of skill players in this draft.
This draft might be weak in wide receivers as far as can’t miss stars after Dez Bryant comes off the board. That is not to say there could not be some solid wide receivers in this draft class like Reilly Cooper, Mardy Gilyard and Brandon LaFell.
Defensively this draft might be just as deep as well. The best player in this draft, Ndamukong Suh, is from the defensive side of the ball.
There are other defensive linemen in this draft that could be solid players in the NFL. Linemen like Derrick Morgan, Jean Pierre-Paul, Greg Hardy and Carlos Dunlap all could see playing time as rookies.
In a record tying draft class with 53 underclassmen the best linebackers could all be seniors. Linebackers like Brandon Spikes, Sean Lee, Eric Norwood and Pat Angerer could all be a big part of their new team’s defensive schemes.
In the secondary this draft has two big names in the form of Eric Berry and Taylor Mays. Other players who could be coveted in the secondary are Javier Arenas, Major Wright, Joe Haden and Chad Jones.
This draft class could be as deep as any and has the possibility of several stars to emerge. On the down side this draft class could be forgotten by the time these players are eligible for free agency.
Will Two Legends Return for the 2010 NFL SEASON?
While Warner might not return it is only early in the off season and the weather is bleak and the aches and pains of the season are still felt. As time passes and the weather begins to warm up will Warner get the inch to return to the NFL.
Warner knows that if he does decide to return, he can play out the final year of his contract and with a team that has a good chance to make a Super Bowl run. Arizona looks content to leave the door open for Warner if he wants to return.
Two things could keep Warner from returning to the NFL. The first is his commitment to his faith and wanting to share it with others. His faith could fill up the loss of football.
The second could be that Warner does not want to be seen as waffling like Brett Favre. Warner might not get the backlash Favre will if he waffles but he could seen in the same light as Favre.
Speaking of Favre, fans in Minnesota hopes the old gunslinger returns to the Vikings for the 2010 season. The Vikings were a game away from the Super Bowl this season and the core of this team will be back.
Favre will be 41 during the 2010 season but had one of his best seasons in his career in 2009. The temptation will be great for him to come back next season to see if he can finish what he started.
One reason Favre might come back is that he will get the chance to finish what he started this time unlike the year he took the Green Bay Packers to the NFC Championship game. Favre also could be motivated by sticking it to the Packer and winning a second Super Bowl.
Fans in Minnesota have to hope Favre comes back knowing that if their team did not have five turnovers they would have beaten the Saints easily. Even with the five turnovers a stop in overtime by the defense would have given the offense a chance to win that game.
The biggest question could be if Favre wants to take the week to week grind of a NFL season. Toward the end of last season it looked like the grind had taken its toll on the 40 year old quarterback.
Favre will also take into account that the road to the Super Bowl is much easier in the NFC than the AFC. This team will not have too many challenges in its way if Favre decides to return.
The Vikings could sign some key free agents and draft well to shore up any weakness in this team. Favre knows that this city, these fans, players, coaches and ownership all want Favre back.
While Favre might announce his plans early, before the draft the Vikings hope, he could always change them once again. The answer to this question lies with Favre and could chance like the wind.
Old Faces in New Place for 2010
This off season could see some big names move to new teams. There are several big free agents out there and the money to sign them could get high (this will be discussed later).
Before any free agents are discussed there is one team who could entertain several trade scenarios. That team is the Philadelphia Eagles and there three quarterbacks who will all be free agents next year.
The Eagles have to decide what to do with Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Kelvin Kolb. All three are under contract for 2010 but become free agents in 2011 and Philadelphia does not seem able to re-sign all three.
McNabb has played for Eagles since he came into the league and so has Kolb. Vick was signed after he was reinstated after being jailed for dog fighting.
The Eagles need to retool their defense and get healthy this off season to make a run at the Super Bowl in 2011. Kolb played well when McNabb was injured this season so a case can be made to make a move to the younger quarterback.
Expect Philadelphia to entertain offers until after the draft. After that the Eagles may decided to give one quarterback a long term deal and hope they can resign another one for a back up.
If the Eagles quarterbacks are not in the news heading to new places it could be the 2010 NFL free agents. Here are some of the biggest free agents this off season; some can have the franchise tag placed on them, by position.
Free agency this season does not have any super star quarterbacks on the market. There are some interesting quarterbacks out there though.
One is Tarvaris Jackson of the Vikings could be huge if Minnesota cannot sign him and Favre retires. Another quarterback is Chad Pennington of the Miami Dolphins and if he can come back from injury reminiscent of Drew Brees.
Two other quarterbacks are Jason Campbell and Chris Redman. Campbell might not be re-signed by the Washington Redskins if they decide to go a new direction and Redman is the backup for Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
Parker could find himself, ex-spendable if the Steelers think Rashard Mendenhall can carry the load. The Chargers have to resign Sproles if they are going to cut LaDainian Tomlinson.
The rest of the free agent running backs could find a nice spot as role players. One running back who could break out would be Jerious Norwood of the Falcons finding a home as a feature back.
Two big wide receivers who could cash in this free agency could be Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos and Terrell Owens of the Buffalo Bills. The biggest problem for both these players is no matter productive they are on the field come with a lot of baggage off the field.
Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys will tell Jerry Jones to show “him the money” or someone else will after his 2009 season. One question is will any team take a chance on Donte Stallworth after the Cleveland Browns cut him after he was reinstated.
The defensive side of the ball could have bigger names up for free agency then the offense this season. On the defensive line there are plenty of good free agency pickups.
The biggest name could be Julius Peppers of the Carolina Panthers and the biggest defensive free agent pickup since Reggie White. Peppers wants out of Carolina but the Panthers could use the franchise tag on him.
Other big name defensive line free agents are Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins, Will Smith of the New Orleans Saints, Richard Seymour of the Oakland Raiders and Derrick Burgess of the New England Patriots. These defensive linemen and others could be highly coveted in this NFL off season.
The linebacker free agents are a step down from the defensive linemen but there are some big names out there. The biggest could be Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos and Shawne Marriman of the Chargers.
Other free agent linebackers are Scott Fajita of the Saints and Odell Thurman of the Cincinnati Bengals. There are some other names out there who could cash in on this free agency but not as many as there on the defensive line and secondary.
Big names in the secondary who are up for free agency are Darren Sharper of the Saints. Sharper might be the biggest priority for the Saints in the off season.
Some other names in the secondary are Antoine Bethea of the Indianapolis Colts, Atari Bigby of the Green Bay Packers, Terrence Newman of the Cowboys and Daunta Robinson of the Houston Texans. There are other solid secondary players who could cash in big this off season.
The offensive side of the ball lacks a lot of big name free agents but a team could rebuild a defense quickly with some free agent pickups and draft picks. Two teams could be crippled after this free agent period and those teams are the Saints and the Broncos.
Who has the easier road back to the Super Bowl? Saints or Colts
The Super Bowl had barely ended and everyone started looking ahead to the 2010 NFL season and who has an easier road to return. The Saints will be playing to repeat and the Colts will be playing to solidify their place as a great team in this era.
Taking a quick glance at the road for both teams it seems like New Orleans will have a better chance to return to the Super Bowl. The Saints will get help if Warner of the Cardinals and Favre of the Vikings both decide to retire and hand their playoff teams to younger quarterbacks with less playoff experience.
The Eagles have big decisions on what to do with their quarterback situation and a miss step could keep them from the playoffs. The Cowboys could be the biggest threat to derail the Saints but the Super Bowl is being held in their new stadium and history goes against the Cowboys as far as that goes.
The San Francisco 49ers could be closer to being a player off team but might be a year or two away from being a true contender. The Falcons and the Panthers both should be better in 2010 and could keep the Saints from repeating.
The biggest obstacle for the Saints could be the fact they have 29 expiring contracts after winning the Super Bowl. New Orleans will have to make some tough decisions this off season to remain a contender.
New Orleans cannot afford to over pay for players and not be able to sign good backups and role players. The Saints could see their repeat end in the off season before it truly begins.
The Colts have the tougher road to return to the Super Bowl. Indianapolis has a few free agents they have to resign but not many.
The AFC could as tough next year as it has been in years past. The Patriots should rebound after an early exit in these playoffs.
The New York Jets look to be in a very solid place and ready to challenge for the AFC crown. One has to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers will bounce back and make the playoffs.
The Baltimore Ravens should be fine if they can find some offensive skill players. Another team that could be tough is the Bengals if they can put back to back good years together.
San Diego Chargers should be back in a weak AFC West and the Houston Texans could be ready to challenge the Colts for the division title in the AFC South. The AFC is very tough and just making it back to the Super Bowl would be a big accomplishment for the Colts.
Both the Saints and the Colts could make a return trip to the Super Bowl but history tells us that one or both will miss the 2010-11 playoffs. But if all things stay the same New Orleans has a much easier way back to the big game then the Colts do.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement, Uncapped season in2010 and a NFL Lockout in 2011
The biggest off season story could be the impending labor dispute after the 2010 season. If there is not a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place by March the NFL will enter an uncapped year in 2010.
This would have all kinds of effects to free agency and spending for the upcoming season. For one there would be 212 players who would have been unrestricted free agents but now would become restrictive free agents.
Each NFL team would get an extra “transition tag” for the upcoming season as well. Teams would have no maximum or minimum to spend this season.
Also the final eight teams that made the Divisional round of the playoffs can only replace players lured away in free agency. This would affect the Vikings, Saints, Jets, Cardinals, Cowboys, Ravens, Colts and Chargers.
Teams could spend as much as they want this season to try to win a Super Bowl this season. What is not known is how much teams will or will not spend.
Also it is not known if the 2010 season is played without a salary cap will there ever be one again in the NFL if this next season is played without a cap. If salaries boom the players might not want to go back to a cap and the owners might pusher harder for a cap.
It is also not known what effect an uncapped year would have on small market teams. Would the level of product on the field go down if the NFL moved away from a salary capped league.
The biggest question is what will happen after 2010 if there is no CBA in place for 2011. It looks for certain there will be a lockout by the owners.
One only has to look at the length of labor peace in the NFL to see why the league has grown in popularity. The NFL has not had a work stoppage since 1987, while the NBA, MLB and NHL all had a major stoppage in which parts or all of seasons where lost.
While other sports will fighting over labor disagreements the NFL was able to grow the sport and increase its popularity because all the action was on the field. If the 2011 season is wiped out will fans be as quick to return.
The NFL does not have a home run race to capture our attention like Major League Baseball or the star quality of the NBA and the NHL still has not recovered from its missed season.
Like a storm on the horizon this labor dispute as all the makings of destroying everything the league has built for the last twenty years. Fans are fickle and miss a large part or all of the 2011 season could have dire consequences for the NFL.
Fans do not care about what they perceive as a dispute between millionaires and billionaires. They only want to watch the game, players and teams that they love.
A work stoppage could be the biggest threat to the NFL’s dominance in America and its chance to build the league around the world. How this CBA plays out could affect how the NFL is viewed and the game is played since 1993 brought free agency to the league.
If there is a work stoppage will the fans comeback? The best bet for the NFL is to try not to have to find out what the answer to that question would be.
Both the owners and the players need to sit down and workout a new labor agreement. Fans in 2012 might not be so quick to come back to the game depending on the agreement reached if there is a work stoppage.