Futures of Law, Harrington, McNair to be determined
In an offseason that has featured a new collective bargaining agreement, Paul Tagliabue's retirement announcement, 10 head coaching changes and an overly active free-agency period, the NFL would appear to be hitting a quiet time.
Not so. Minicamps start this weekend. Coaches still have to complete their organized training activities. Rookies have to be signed. Though head coaches may target parts of June and July for vacation, the work never stops in the NFL.
Here are the burning questions still to be extinguished.
• Will teams reach the salary-cap limit?
This might be the hardest challenge of all. Thanks to the $16.5 million increase in the cap, to $102 million, teams have to spend like they haven't had to before. More than $280 million of cap room still remains. Fourteen teams still have $10 million of remaining cap room. That leaves plenty of room for signing draft choices and negotiating extensions. For those extensions, teams will put more money in roster bonuses, eating up 2006 cap room and saving room for future years. Teams aren't burdened by the cap if they want to trade or release players. However, one new aspect of the CBA is that it will be harder for teams to use bogus incentives at the end of the year that create credits in future years. The NFLPA is forcing teams to reach the maximum on their caps now.
• Where's Joey Harrington going?
The Lions have virtually no choice but to release the four-year veteran. He reached a two-year agreement with the Dolphins, who have pulled their offer of a sixth-round choice in 2007. Over the weekend, the Lions tried to get a mid-round draft choice out of the Browns but Harrington balked at going anywhere except Miami. The NFL told the Lions the Dolphins were legal in reaching an agreement for Harrington. He has to be released before June 15, when he's due a $4 million roster bonus. Once in Miami, Harrington will press Daunte Culpepper for playing time while Culpepper recovers from knee reconstruction.
The McNair situation is not much different than Harrington's. The Ravens want him but aren't going to give the Titans more than a fifth-round choice next season. The Titans still want time to talk him into staying, but they don't hold the cards in this one. Barring McNair from the facility while the team attempts to resolve his contract situation didn't sit well with him. McNair has a $23 million cap number, and the Titans have only $112,000 of room, so he could stay if he readjusts his $9 million salary. Since he doesn't want to go back to the Titans, McNair will have to be released so he can move to Baltimore.
• Who will replace McNair?
The Titans have to decide if they are good enough at quarterback with Billy Volek, Matt Mauck and rookie Vince Young as the quarterback of the future, or if they should bring in Kerry Collins as an insurance policy.
• What's next for Ty Law?
The top free agent is cornerback Law, who wants a $10 million signing bonus and a $7 million salary. Since he's coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he had 10 interceptions, he's in a position to get it. The Chiefs remain the most likely team. The Seahawks were interested but drafted Kelly Jennings in the first round. The Patriots didn't draft a cornerback, and they still have $17 million of cap room. Could the Patriots bring Law back? They could, but that's being presumptuous. The Chiefs might be the more viable option.
• Will free agency ever slow down?
It's hard to believe how few players are on the streets. Approximately 240 of the 351 unrestricted free agents have deals, leaving roughly 100 free agents if you discount retirements. This leaves the pool of replacement players at an all-time low for this time of year. Teams have to be more careful and avoid major injuries during their minicamps. If a key performer goes down, teams will struggle to find a free agent to replace their injured player in what has been the second busiest free-agency year ever.
• How long will it take to find a new commissioner?
Paul Tagliabue wants to step down in July, so things will start heating up for his replacement in two weeks when the owners meet in Denver. The league hired a head-hunting firm to poll the owners about the type of replacement they're seeking. Roger Goodell, the NFL's executive vice president and chief operating officer, remains the favorite. But the process hasn't really kicked into gear. Tagliabue might have to stick around through the summer and into the season if the process drags.
• Will there be NFL football in southern California?
The Denver meeting could give more clarity to where a future team could play -- either the Los Angeles Coliseum or Anaheim. The process is moving to the point that a decision could be made at the owners' meeting in two weeks. Once the owners pick a site, the harder thing is finding a team to move there.
• Could San Diego lose the Chargers?
The city of San Diego has no money to build the Chargers a new stadium, so the team is looking around the county for a site and for funding. The area has until the end of the year to resolve the situation or the Chargers could look to other cities in 2007. Because the Chargers want to stay in San Diego, they may be able to find something in the county.
Cornerback Nate Clements of the Bills and left tackle Jeff Backus of the Lions are unsigned franchise players. Some of the top potential free agents of next year are tight end Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City), safety Ed Reed (Baltimore), safety Roy Williams (Dallas), left tackle Bryant McKinnie (Minnesota), four starters on the Bengals offensive line (Rich Braham, Willie Anderson, Levi Jones and Eric Steinbach), defensive end Dwight Freeney (Indianapolis), linebacker Lance Briggs (Chicago), quarterback Chris Simms (Tampa Bay), defensive end Charles Grant (New Orleans) and defensive end Leonard Little (St. Louis), just to name a few.
• Can the Saints sign Reggie Bush?
Face it, Bush blew the chance to be the first pick in the draft. The Texans wanted a deal, but Bush gave Mario Williams enough room to take the honor away from him when Williams accepted a deal worth only 10 percent more than Alex Smith, the first pick in last year's draft. Bush will try to make up the money with the Saints, but that won't happen. The Saints will pay him good money to be the No. 2 pick, but he won't get a six-year, $54 million deal with $26.5 million in guarantees. It may take a holdout for him to understand that.
• How's the rehab?
Chad Pennington (shoulder), Carson Palmer (knee), Daunte Culpepper (knee) and Drew Brees (shoulder) will be the most watched rehabs this offseason. Pennington probably has the least chance to play of the three. The other three are trying to be ready for the start of the regular season.
• Will the Cardinals sell out all of their games?
The addition of Edgerrin James and the drafting of Matt Leinart have excited the Phoenix area as fans get ready for a new stadium. The report that 54,000 season tickets have been sold is encouraging.
• Are there going to be front-office changes?
The Vikings might be in the market for a new personnel director. The team reportedly is in the process of buying out the contract of player personnel director Fran Foley, who has been on the job for only three-plus months. Just another mess. Stories have been published about exaggerations on his resume. From the Love Boat saga to Daunte Culpepper's release to this, the Vikings can't seem to settle down as an organization. There also could be some shakeups in St. Louis and Houston
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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