There's an offseason in here somewhere and we are determined to find it.
With OTAs underway and minicamps approaching, the NFL's dog days have arrived -- but that doesn't mean there won't be news. There is going to be plenty, in fact, including what could be a career-defining appeal by Tom Brady. But even the whirling dervish that is the NFL slows down in June and July, when coaches get away and everyone has a chance to catch his breath before training camps begin.
With about eight weeks until the first training camps open, here are eight storylines to watch:
1) Tom Brady's appeal
While no date for his appeal has been set yet (both sides let pass the Wednesday deadline for such date-setting), Brady will still be the most important figure of the summer.
The league undoubtedly would like to have the appeal of his four-game suspension heard and decided long before training camps start, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has opened the door to Brady presenting new information that could impact the appeal decision.
The fascinating dynamic to watch here is not only the one between Goodell and Brady but between Brady and the players' union. Brady has never been the most public NFLPA booster -- his name was first on the union's lockout lawsuit, but he never appeared anywhere near the negotiations or court dates. You can't blame union leaders and their lawyers, though, for seeing Brady as the perfect figure to front their broader quest to reduce Goodell's vast disciplinary powers. The question is how far Brady will be willing to go.
Brady has had no public comment since his suspension was announced, but it is clear through statements from his agent, Don Yee, that Brady feels wronged by the Wells Report and its findings. If his suspension is upheld in whole or in part on appeal, will Brady remain angry enough to see this through all the way to court, which would almost certainly overlap with at least the start of the season and could take months, if not years, to be resolved? Brady and his lawyers would have to receive an injunction from the court to allow him to play while the case winds its way through court. If they don't get an injunction, Brady would have to serve the suspension. The New England Patriots have already stood down as an organization, although they admitted no wrong-doing. You wonder what the conversations between Robert Kraft and Brady and between Bill Belichick and Brady will be like as the Pats icon ponders his options.
2) Adrian Peterson: What's next for the disgruntled running back?
Peterson wasn't at the Minnesoata Vikings' OTAs this week, but he was on Twitter in a screed that morphed from centering on his own future to questioning why NFL players don't have guaranteed contracts. A valid topic for discussion, certainly. But Peterson's stand as the aggrieved party -- either in how the Vikings treated him in the wake of legal troubles over child endangerment, or as a player whose long-term contract no longer suits his purposes and is now frustrated with the system -- is befuddling, at best.
It's not a big deal that Peterson is skipping OTAs -- he did that even in happier times. Peterson and his agent, Ben Dogra, have made clear that if Peterson had his druthers, he would play elsewhere this fall. But the Vikings hold his rights and continue to insist they want him. On Wednesday, coach Mike Zimmer made his strongest statement yet on the staredown: "He's really got two choices: He can either play for us or he can not play."
That has been the private position of the Vikings all along: They will not trade or release Peterson, so his only option -- outside of playing for Minnesota -- is to retire.
It's clear that Peterson would like some part of his remaining contract, which currently contains no guarantees beyond this year, to be guaranteed. He has no leverage. It is merely a question now of how willing the Vikings will be to acquiesce to a demand in order to have a happy, productive player.
Minnesota needs Peterson to ease the burden on second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Furthermore, the Vikings would almost certainly demand a king's ransom in exchange for Peterson, and because of his age (30), his hefty contract and the fact that most RB-needy teams have already filled their holes, such a trade is an extreme longshot.
Would Peterson really retire, and walk away from millions, just to avoid playing for Minnesota again? Or will Peterson eventually report to the Vikings, collect his money and play, however grudgingly? The rhetoric will ratchet up if Peterson fails to show up for the Vikings' minicamp in June, although he has missed that before, too.
Crunch time truly comes in late July, if Peterson fails to materialize for training camp. There could be significant fines at that point, to counterbalance what would be a very real distraction for Zimmer and the Vikings.
3) The two-point conversion
With the move to make the extra-point kick much longer, keep an eye on how much time teams are devoting to practicing the two-point conversion. The Steelers opened their offensive team drills one day this week by practicing the two-pointer. That's probably a good indication of how often coach Mike Tomlin -- who had put forth his own two-point conversion proposal, before the NFL adopted a different one -- anticipates going for two instead of kicking for one.
4) The people who protect the Mannings
Starting left tackle Will Beatty tore his pectoral muscle last week and is out at least five months, prompting New York coach Tom Coughlin to say this week that the Giants are going to experiment with different line combinations in the weeks ahead. The first iteration had first-round draft pick Ereck Flowers at left tackle, with Justin Pugh -- who was the right tackle his first two seasons -- beside him at left guard, a slot he had been moved to even before Beatty's injury. Weston Richburg was at center, Geoff Schwartz, who was injured most of last year, split time with John Jerry at right guard, and former Packer Marshall Newhouse, who was signed this offseason to provide depth, was at right tackle. All that could change, though. Schwartz, who is not completely healthy following an ankle injury last year, could play right tackle, too.
But the biggest question mark is the critical left tackle spot. Flowers is just 21 and was considered something of a project who was not ready to be a starting left tackle by many draft analysts. The Giants are more confident than that -- and they do not have many other options, as starting-caliber left tackles simply do not become available in May.
"We thought he was a heck of a football player, or he wouldn't be here," Coughlin said Wednesday. "He has outstanding feet, nifty for a big man, yes, all of the above. He's an outstanding young player. He's going to do nothing but get better. We know he's got some things to work on, but there's time."
The Giants did reportedly meet with free-agent tackle Jake Long on Thursday. The former No. 1 overall pick has four Pro Bowls under his belt, but his career has been marred by injuries over the last four years, which is the reason why he's a free agent in the first place.
If there is good news for the Giants it is this: They aren't the Broncos. With left tackle Ryan Clady suffering what is likely a season-ending torn ACL this week, the Broncos now have four open spots on the offensive line, with only right guard Louis Vasquez set at his position. It's hard to overstate how bad this is -- offensive line was already the weak spot of a team that is built to take advantage of Peyton Manning's remaining time before retirement. Manning spent this week working under center, which is where Denver wants him to spend more time in 2015. And the Broncos are expected to rely heavily on the run under new head coach Gary Kubiak.
5) The new-look Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia's radical makeover gets its first, very limited tryout during these weeks. Tebow's role in Chip Kelly's offense will be a talking point -- Kelly said Tebow is going to be a quarterback -- but let's worry about a more critical overarching issue: When will Sam Bradford's surgically repaired knee be cleared for contact? It hasn't been yet, and while he would be the favorite to start when healthy -- Kelly didn't trade a second-round draft choice for Bradford to sit on the bench -- it's not at all clear when that will be.
In the meantime, we can watch to see if Mark Sanchez has improved enough to give Bradford any kind of competition at all. And to see if Tebow can do enough in these early practices to make a case to be a versatile No. 2.
6) The Dallas Cowboys' backfield
With DeMarco Murray now in Philadelphia, the Cowboys spent the week splitting running back reps between Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle. The latter was Murray's backup last year -- and from that perch, Randle determined, as he told reporters, that "there was a lot of meat left on the bone" during Murray's league-leading rushing campaign. OK then.
Dallas has assembled arguably the best offensive line in the league, and seems to believe that anybody can run behind it effectively. Still, as much as the run-pass balance helped Tony Romo last year, it is hard to believe the Cowboys are going with McFadden, hoping for a career renaissance, and Randle, hoping his legs will back up his words, as their lead backs. That's why Peterson's camp continues to whisper about his hopes of landing with a contender (read: the Cowboys). But these next few weeks will determine who goes into training camp as the presumed starter, because it's not going to be Peterson.
7) The quarterback competitions
This is not to say they are going to be high-quality, but they are going to be high-interest. When it comes to the Bills, Jets and Texans, there is great uncertainty at quarterback for teams that otherwise have pieces in place to contend for playoff spots. But ... EJ Manuel vs. Matt Cassel vs. Tyrod Taylor?Geno Smith vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick?Ryan Mallett vs. Brian Hoyer? No matter the victors, are any of them good enough to direct a deep playoff run?
The other competition to watch, of course, is in Cleveland, where Josh McCown would seem to have the lead as Johnny Manziel attempts to reconstruct his career -- and his life -- after a disastrous rookie season and an offseason stint in rehab. The reviews of his behavior have so far been positive, but the Browns are in a world of trouble at the most important position.
Bills coach Rex Ryan was correct when he said this week that you don't choose a starting quarterback in OTAs -- but you do start to get an idea.
8) San Diego
All of it -- on the field and off -- will be fascinating. Quarterback Philip Rivers, who once seemed to want to head for the exit, now is signaling that he wants to finish his career with the Chargers. Rivers is in the final year of his contract. But after plenty of speculation about a possible draft-day trade -- driven, in part, by the quarterback's apparent angst over a possible Chargers move to Los Angeles -- Rivers said this week it would be "awesome" to stay with the team and that he'd be willing to consider offseason contract extension offers.
So, what about that possible move to Los Angeles?
A spokesman for the San Diego mayor's office said the city would sit down with Chargers officials next week to begin negotiations for a new stadium, something the Bolts have sought for nearly 15 years. The expectation among NFL owners is that at least one -- and perhaps two -- teams will be playing in Los Angeles in 2016. The Chargers, Rams and Raiders are the three candidates for a move. The Chargers and Raiders have put forward a plan for a stadium in Carson, but there could be plenty of movement during the summer months that will provide clarity about which hometown stadium proposals have a prayer of materializing -- St. Louis is far ahead on that front -- and which teams are most likely to make the move. A special owners meeting to discuss Los Angeles is possible for August (owners don't usually meet then), and owners have been told that a vote on relocation is possible in December.