With less than a month before training camps open, there are a lot of unknowns.
Which first rounders will be under contract on time? Who will be the Bills' quarterback? Will Brett Favre return to Minnesota (everybody seems to think that's a done deal -- after camp, that is)?
One issue currently simmering that could eventually start boiling is the widespread player discontent with the terms of the final year of the CBA that seriously limited the earning potential of many. There are some obvious cases of this -- namely Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson opting not to sign his restricted free-agent tender in order to force a long-term deal -- but players and agents continue to say there is far more anger than portrayed.
Let's take a look at some of the issues that are at the forefront of the NFL and peer into how things could work out or affect players, teams and fans.
The Vick situation
Even though the shooting at Michael Vick's 30th birthday party didn't directly involve Vick, it did involve people he knew, and he was present when some type of incident escalated tempers prior to the shooting. That's not good for anyone on probation. Vick will be talking with commissioner Roger Goodell, but unless it is proven that Vick lied about his actions or somehow violated the terms of his probation or re-instatement, Vick will likely only be found guilty of bad judgment.
What it means for Vick: He is further going to have to prove himself off the field and must channel everything he has going for him to shine in the preseason, thus putting pressure on starter Kevin Kolb. If Vick flops, it could be career crushing because his contract runs out at the end of the season; most teams aren't that interested in him as it is. The probationary travel restrictions aren't a problem if he gets permission, which he will for games.
What it means for the Eagles: If they are wise, they better keep Jeff Garcia on speed dial and save some chips to possibly deal for Minnesota's Sage Rosenfels. This Vick brushfire is similar to several minor flare-ups he had in Atlanta before the dogfighting catastrophe. The Eagles' support seems unwavering, which could prod Vick to capitalize on this chance to remain in the NFL. However, Andy Reid and Joe Banner better have a backup plan.
The Albert Haynesworth saga has been the biggest story of the offseason. The Redskins have undergone a massive makeover on defense, and Haynesworth doesn't want any part of the new 3-4. He says he'll report to training camp in shape. We'll see. Too many times, disgruntled players report then come up with a hamstring or lower back issue. If he comes ready to play -- even if it is to show he's focused enough to draw trade interest -- then good for him.
What it means for Haynesworth: His brooding over not wanting to play in a 3-4 defense has proved all his detractors right. His teammates are hot, coach Mike Shanahan is unhappy with him, and fans would love to see him exiled. Haynesworth is an incredible talent, but he will become the poster boy for selfishness and give owners the example they need to have restrictive contracts mandated into the new collective bargaining agreement.
What it means for the Redskins: The good thing is most of the drama has already taken place. If Haynesworth wants to earn his money, they can use his versatility and dominance to their advantage. If he wants to be a pain, Shanahan will squat on him and the locker room will isolate him even more. Look for Donovan McNabb and other players to try and make headlines early in camp to ease this potential distraction.
The Chargers don't have a healthy relationship with Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson on several fronts. Neither player signed their restricted free-agent tenders and had their prospective 2010 salaries dropped from more than $3 million to $600,000 or less. Both said they plan to hold out. Jackson was then tagged with a three-game suspension for a second DUI charge.
What it means for Jackson and McNeill: Unless some love is found in the next few weeks, the players won't get paid what they want and they won't be on the field long enough to earn a new contract with the Chargers or another team before the 2011 season. Jackson's suspension really hurts because this moves him a step closer to extended discipline with one more slip-up.
What it means for the Chargers: The transition from LaDainian Tomlinson to rookie Ryan Matthews might not be so smooth. Without the top offensive tackle (McNeill) and Pro Bowl wide receiver (Jackson), Matthews becomes a much easier mark for defenses. Failing to reach long-term deals with a number of free agents, including OLB Shawne Merriman, also could hurt the team's business reputation with players and agents. That might not be a major deal, though, because the Chargers continue to find a way. Jackson's absence opens the door for free-agent acquisition Josh Reed and gives someone like two-year practice squad player Gary Banks (featured in NFL.com's On The Fringe series) a shot. A seemingly easy schedule should allow the Chargers to overcome this issue -- until playoff time. McNeill and Jackson should be back by then because they plan to return in time to gather an accrued season toward free agency, but will the chemistry be right?
Remember this Titan
Chris Johnson, arguably the most exciting player in the game, has outperformed his contract that will pay him $550,000 in base salary next season. He wants a new deal, as he has said all offseason. And though his rhetoric is sometimes spicy, it hasn't been overly contentious. The Titans have been relatively tempered in their reaction, which goes to show that some bridge likely is being built.
What it means for Johnson: By all accounts, a short-term team deal could be reached, with Johnson getting some up-front money. It won't be as much as he wants, but if the deal is structured so he can re-up in two more years, he could have a chance at another payday. He has to be careful not to get too greedy.
What it means for the Titans: If Johnson gets what he wants, he could be even more of a factor since he'll be playing with Vince Young from the start of the season. Young's threat to run keeps defenses from loading up on Johnson and gives him lanes to gash and go. Backup RB Javon Ringer and undrafted short-yardage RB LeGarrette Blount (also featured on NFL.com's On The Fringe series) need to be ready in case things get funky with Johnson and the Titans, or Johnson gets hurt. Ringer has gotten a ton of reps this offseason with Johnson not participating, and Tennessee is hoping Blount can help, but he has to make the team first.
Necessary calls for backup
Two different issues, two different teams but one glaring offshoot: Cincinnati and Carolina have little depth or options behind running back Cedric Benson and wide receiver Steve Smith, respectively.
Benson's arrest on charges of assault could be a personal conduct policy issue because of prior run-ins when he was with the Bears, but any punishment shouldn't keep him out of action for a long time. Smith's broken arm suffered while playing flag football could keep him out until the regular season, but he should be back to help provide the one receiving threat Carolina has.
What this means for Benson and Smith: For Benson, his arrest could thwart a contract extension now, but solid play this season could lead to that later on. For Smith, he could lose some chemistry-building time with quarterback Matt Moore, but he's practiced with him for years and played in games with him, so it shouldn't prove too adverse.
What this means for the Bengals and Panthers: Cincinnati likes backup RB Bernard Scott, but he is not the power back who makes the offense run. Maybe Cedric Peerman or Brian Leonard steps up, but the Bengals might have to open up their passing attack -- something they need to do anyway. The additions of WR Antonio Bryant and rookie TE Jermaine Gresham provide options. In Carolina, Dwayne Jarrett and Kenneth Moore need to step up because the rest of the crew is very young, and the Panthers have shown this offseason that they don't plan on adding free agents. Even though Benson and Smith should be around for most of the season, the teams need to formulate depth at those spots in order to be competitive. Should they miss extended playing time, their teams' offenses become much easier to defend.