The season may be over, but the NFL never stops. The combine is just a few weeks away, and free agency follows shortly thereafter. Player acquisitions this offseason might not be as attention-grabbing as player departures. Let's look at 10 storylines for the offseason, with the top slot going to Brett Favre for the second straight year.
1. Favre's future: The drama might not be as great as last year, when we were thrown for a curve when the New York Jets cut Favre to kick-start his desire to play again for the Minnesota Vikings, but there will be drama. Favre likely will string out the process. He played at an MVP-type level and was as healthy as he'd been in years. He also endeared himself to his teammates, who desperately want him back. If Favre watched the Super Bowl, it also had to hit him in the gut knowing that could have been the Vikings hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, if not for his interception in the waning moments of the NFC Championship Game.
2. Labor deal: The bickering between the NFL and the Players Association might not resonate much with the general public now, but it will come early March, when free agency starts and there is barely a ripple of movement. If the owners and NFLPA don't reach an accord by March 1, unrestricted free agents like Denver Broncos WR Brandon Marshall or Washington Redskins QB Jason Campbell become restricted for two more years. A team like the Bears, which doesn't have a first- or second-round pick, might not be able to fortify its roster much this offseason. Even worse, if there is no collective bargaining agreement in place in just more than a year from now, there could be a work stoppage in 2011. That would be a shame.
3. Michael Vick: We're not talking about his television reality show. Like Favre, Vick could dominate headlines this offseason, just like he did last offseason, but for much more positive and football-related reasons. The Eagles' backup quarterback is primo trade-bait for a team (the St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers) in need of a starting quarterback. There's even a chance that Vick could be released because of a $1.5 million roster bonus due in early March. There is a lot of talk coming out of Philly that the Eagles might hang onto Vick, but all it takes is one team to make a good offer. We still don't know if Vick will turn into what he was -- a three-time Pro Bowler, who provided a sense of electricity into every game -- but he might be worth the risk to a whole lot of teams in need of an upgrade.
Brees will have Canton credentials
4. Can Who Dat do dat again?: The Saints are still partying after Sunday's Super Bowl victory. Soon, though, they'll have to decide what to do with a load of free agents and other veteran players that helped them earn the Lombardi Trophy. Darren Sharper was one of the best free-agent signings of last offseason, but the Saints have to wonder if the 13-year vet, who is a pending free agent, has at least one more year left in him. Reggie Bush is owed $8 million in 2010, but is that too hefty for a part-time player, albeit a valuable one? New Orleans will likely retain most of this roster because of its success.
5. Julius Peppers/Terrell Owens: While the free-agent pool looks to be small, Peppers and Owens are vets who could be looking for work with different teams. Peppers' days in Carolina appear over and Arizona's Darnell Dockett is lobbying for Peppers to join him. The Cardinals might not pony up for a guy like Peppers (and if they do, the contract Dockett's been clamoring for might not materialize), but someone (Chicago, New England, New Orleans) could. As for Owens, the suitors aren't going to be rushing for his services, and it will be interesting to see if anyone brings him in, especially since there are a few teams in need.
6. Tim Tebow: The Florida quarterback isn't close to being the best quarterback entering the draft, but he's the most decorated and scrutinized. Will he go anywhere close to the first or second round? What team will take a flyer on the ultimate college gamer, whose mechanics need a lot of work before he's ready to see playing time in the NFL? On that note, the race to be the top quarterback selected between Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford will be interesting; as will be the team that rolls the dice first on a quarterback.
7. Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Jay Cutler: As we try to peg which of the incoming quarterbacks will materialize, it's time for the class of 2006 to show itself. Leinart may be most on the hot seat because he takes over (at least it appears that way now) for Kurt Warner. Young was very good after taking over six games into the season, and it's time for him to take the next step in his second go-round as the full-time starter. All eyes will really be on Cutler. He's working with Mike Martz as offensive coordinator now, and he's going to be pushed. The Bears gave up a lot to get Cutler and he needs to show that the investment was worthwhile. Otherwise, heads other than his, will roll.
Tomlinson expects to leave
8. LaDainian Tomlinson: It's always bittersweet when a franchise player is no longer the franchise's player. The split between L.T. and the Chargers is inevitable. The harsher reality might be that there aren't any takers once he hits the open market. Teams are becoming more reluctant to invest much into veteran running backs, and with vets like Larry Johnson, Willie Parker and Chester Taylor possibly on the open market, Tomlinson might have to wait a while to find work.
9. Quarterbacks hitting it big:Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are in line for big money, and they're about to re-set the pay scale. It could be interesting to see who signs first, and sets the bar for the other two. Though Manning and Brady will probably top the chart, Brees can't be paid enough for what he's done for the Gulf Coast region.
10. Brandon Marshall/Josh McDaniels: Can this strained relationship be mended? Marshall is a dynamic player, but he might not be worth the headache. A (likely restricted) free agent, Denver probably will tender him to retain his rights. It probably will entertain trade offers and will make a deal if it gets something too good to refuse. I can't see them moving him just to move him, though. They better get something comparable in return. The Dolphins and Bears could use a difference-maker like Marshall, especially Chicago, where he could be reunited with Cutler. Thing is, Chicago doesn't have much trade ammo, having emptied the vault for Cutler.