When I was a senior in high school at Valley Forge Military Academy, every cadet complained about the dark ages -- the time between returning from Christmas break to going on spring break. This was due to the depressing weather and having to march each cold morning in Pennsylvania. There was nothing exciting on the horizon except to count the days until spring was upon us. Unfortunately, the dark ages are upon us in the NFL. We all have nothing to look forward to aside from counting the days until the next game.
However, the offseason will be filled with major stories to discuss and debate. Some topics are fairly obvious, but others are below the surface now and will be major talking points in time. Not to copy David Letterman, but here are my top 10 stories that will dominate the landscape in the coming months.
1. When will a deal get done?
After having their second meeting Wednesday, the owners and players cancelled Thursday's session, which is not a good sign. Agreeing to disagree is not what we need in these labor talks -- we need a labor deal. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is in a tough position, in part because this will be his first deal and it has to be less favorable than the one his predecessor negotiated. The owners must give Smith a win in this deal somewhere -- whether it is dropping the 18-game schedule or shifting the distribution of money from the unproven rookies to the veterans.
What must happen to get a deal done is both sides have to act and negotiate as partners, not adversaries. The right deal for both sides will only occur when there is trust between the negotiating teams. Posturing about which group is more united or stronger is just delaying talks about the core issues.
I strongly believe that if the players let March 3 come and go without a deal, they will eventually sign one that is worse than what was offered before the collective bargaining agreement expires. Once the CBA expires, the owners will start to lose revenue from sponsors and those hits will be passed along to everyone, including the players. Nothing good can occur from not having a deal in place prior to March 3.
Within the labor talks, the 18-game concept will be strongly discussed. However, making a decision about that as a single item is not a good idea. How the offseason will be monitored along with how the league will change training camps must be attached when viewing the practicality of an 18-game regular season. There is much to discuss before that becomes a reality and the same can be said before a labor deal gets done. So please, for the sake of all us fans, can both sides start discussing?
2. How big a deal will Manning get?
It is universally understood that Peyton Manning will be the highest-paid player in the league, exceeding Tom Brady's recent deal (four-years for $72 million and $48.5 million guaranteed). The issue at hand will be how much more than $20 million per year can Manning get the Colts to pay and how high will the guarantee be. For example, if Manning agrees to a five-year deal for $110 million (average of $22 million per year), his guarantee will be somewhere between 50 to 65 percent of the total contract.
The hard part moving forward for both sides will be how to structure the contract to take advantage of the new rules that will be in place once there is a labor deal. This is a difficult task without knowing what the landscape of the league is at this point. This landmark deal will be a major talking point all offseason.
3. Where will Vikings play next year?
The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission approved the installation of a new roof for the Metrodome and time is of the essence. If work is not started ASAP, then the stadium might not be ready for the start of next season. The Vikings might be a team without a home, which could increase the talk about them relocating to Los Angeles.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been on record saying talks about a team playing in Los Angeles will not happen until labor peace is in place. But once that happens, (and it will) get ready to read about who will be relocating. The Vikings seem like a likely choice with no home field and no new stadium on the horizon.
The Los Angeles Vikings? Maybe, especially if you remember there was another team that started in Minnesota and ended up in Los Angeles -- the Lakers.
4. Who will sign Asomugha?
Rarely does a shutdown corner make it to the market as an unrestricted free agent. Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the best corners in the league. He is able to play bump-and-run coverage and handle most top receivers. Asomugha turns 30 this summer and has at least four good years left as a premier corner. Let the bidding begin.
Asomugha must go to a team that plays press-man-to-man coverage, which highlights his skill set. Could the Jets be a player to give them both Darrelle Revis and Asomugha? He would fit, but it would be hard for them to sign both Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, franchise David Harris and add Asomugha unless they have a money machine and the league has no cap.
I could see Miami, New England and Green Bay all being a great fit since each will have a ton of cap room and the scheme that fits Asomugha. In fact, most teams will be in play for Asomugha, and his decision will not be based on money or scheme, but rather where he feels most comfortable and can make the playoffs.
5. Can Tebow start?
Once the Broncos changed head coaches, moving from the man (Josh McDaniels) who drafted Tim Tebow to John Fox, the possibility of the quarterback being the eventual starter was put jeopardy. Tebow is a unique player and for him to start, he must have a coach that believes in his style of play. He is not for every coach, and with Fox now in charge, I do not see Tebow being the starter next season.
6. How will Payton's commute work?
Saints coach Sean Payton has decided to move his family back to the Dallas area -- a place his family has grown to love. This will cause Payton to have to commute to New Orleans for work and cost him valuable family time with his children.
I can understand the fans' reaction to their coach moving away, but Payton will probably work harder under this arrangement than ever before. He will not be able to run home for the kids' softball game or concerts, therefore every waking hour will be spent on football. His time will be devoted entirely to the team when he is in New Orleans and to his children and wife when he goes back to Dallas. It is a win-win for both parties.
Payton understands he has a civic obligation to the city of New Orleans and the surrounding community. As long as he gives back to the community and prepares his team to the best of his ability, this move will not cause him any harm.
7. NFL going toward former players as head coaches?
From Leslie Frazier to Ron Rivera to Jim Harbaugh to Mike Munchak, former star players dominated the head-coaching hires. Will their success or failure determine if other teams choose this course in the future? The league is all about trends and copying other teams, so these coaches will be under a watchful eye.
Every new head coach inherits different teams, so the level of expectation in each situation will be different. Yet, how each one handles their new position will be critical to the next set of former players looking for a head-coaching opportunity. The NBA is filled with former players coaching teams and the NFL might be heading in the same direction.
8. What will be the first major trade?
Will it be Eagles QB Kevin Kolb being dealt to Cleveland or maybe Minnesota? Could Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald be on the trade market? There will be many rumors, but one thing we know for certain, trade talk will stay part of the offseason conversation.
The Eagles would only trade Kolb for the right price, which I am being told is a first-round pick. Can they get more for Kolb than they received for Donavan McNabb? While it is unlikely, he might be worth more to the Eagles next season than a second-round pick, because they have to be concerned about the durability and long-term future of Michael Vick.
Fitzgerald will be entering the last season of a four-year deal worth $40 million. He is the face of the franchise, but if Arizona feels it will not be able to re-sign him, would they consider making a move to help rebuild the team? Probably not, but much like the Carmelo Anthony situation in the NBA, if Fitzgerald tells the Cardinals no way on an extension, they might ask him to waive the no-trade clause in his contract.
9. Where will McNabb land?
With a $10 million bonus due this offseason, it would appear unlikely that McNabb would be back in Washington or be a tradable commodity -- unless he redoes his contract. No team is going to trade for McNabb and then assume a huge contract.
McNabb understood how hard it was to learn a new system this year, so if he does go elsewhere, which seems likely, I could see his next team being the Vikings or any team that runs the West Coast offense in need of a quarterback.
10. Can Castillo be a successful defensive coordinator?
In one of the most bizarre moves of the offseason, the Eagles promoted their offensive line coach Juan Castillo to be the defensive coordinator. Strange twist indeed, but somehow Eagles coach Andy Reid believes this will work. Castillo has not coached defense since high school, but apparently had a drop-dead interview with Reid.
I have heard of coaches going from the defensive backfield to offense, or from offensive line to defensive line, but never from offensive line to running an entire defense. I am not saying it will fail, but I am skeptical in the sense of Castillo being able to react and make adjustments during the course of the game.
One of the main reasons the Eagles parted ways with former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was they felt he was not able to adjust and react quickly enough during the course of the game. So their solution to this problem was to hire a man with no experience making defensive adjustments during the game. It's a risk for Reid and the Eagles organization -- one worth monitoring.
As hard as the dark ages will be the new few months, at least there will be interesting topics to monitor. Stay tuned.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.