Once again, microscope's on Favre
For third straight year, veteran QB's future tops list of offseason storylines
The NFL seems to be headed toward an uncapped season and the possibility of having a lockout in 2011.
No fan wants to hear about labor problems. Fans want football. With that in mind, it's time to look at the five main offseason storylines that aren't related to talks between the NFL Players Association and owners.
1. Brett Favre: For the third consecutive offseason, Favre is the main headliner, and he should be. Even at the age of 40, he carries a big impact on a team. With smarts and accuracy, he carried the New York Jets to an 8-3 start in 2008 before his biceps problem affected his accuracy and the Jets faded down the stretch. His presence in Minnesota added 5.7 points a game to the Vikings' offense and propelled the conference's most talented team to a 12-win season and the NFC title game.
Favre's retirement or return will play a big role in what happens in the NFC in 2010. If he returns, the Vikings can still be an 11- or 12-win team. If he retires, the Vikings will have to scramble to make a trade for Donovan McNabb to stay at that 11- or 12-win level and stay ahead of Green Bay in the NFC North.
2. The Eagles' quarterback situation: No team has more going on at quarterback than the Eagles. McNabb could be traded. Michael Vick could be traded or cut. Kevin Kolb could end up with the starting job, but there might be enough momentum in trade circles that his trade value could be higher than McNabb's.
As talented as McNabb is, there might not be a huge market for one of the NFC's best quarterbacks. He'd be the natural fit in Minnesota if Favre retires, but would the Eagles be willing to trade him for just a second-round pick? The Cardinals, Panthers and Broncos aren't going to get into the bidding. The Bills and Rams are too far away from winning to think McNabb's the one player who could turn them into playoff teams.
One worry for the Eagles: If they trade McNabb and go with Kolb as their starting quarterback, they might have to forget about the playoffs for a year. Aaron Rodgers threw for more than 4,000 yards in the first season Favre was gone, but the Packers went from 13-3 to 6-10 because Rodgers, like most first-year starting quarterbacks, struggled to win close games. Kolb might be ready in 2011 to win those games, but Eagles fans might have to temper their hopes in 2010 if McNabb is gone.
3. The Browns' quarterback situation: New Browns boss Mike Holmgren decided to keep coach Eric Mangini even though Holmgren was hired to completely change the culture of the Browns' organization. Now Holmgren has to figure out what to do with Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Both quarterbacks have floundered during the transition from Romeo Crennel to Mangini, and it's hard to tell if either can function effectively as the team's starter.
This puts Holmgren in a tough spot. Without having a training camp to observe Quinn and Anderson, Holmgren has to decide whether to find a quarterback in the offseason or stick with the status quo and hope for the best. It's possible Quinn or Anderson could draw trade value, but it's hard to imagine either quarterback garnering anything better than a third-round choice.
4. Peppers' future: Panthers DE Julius Peppers is the key free agent in what will be a diminished free-agent pool if there is no salary cap in 2010. It is unlikely the Panthers will franchise him because the franchise tag will be worth more than $20 million. At the moment, there are about 240 unrestricted free agents, but the list will shrink slightly when teams hand out franchise tags.
The Panthers are in an interesting spot. They could franchise Peppers and try to trade him, but that might be difficult. They could also let him go and try to quickly sign Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch to a long-term deal for much less than Peppers could get on the open market. Like Albert Haynesworth last season, Peppers could command a $100 million contract over seven years because he brings the potential to add more than a dozen sacks to a team.
Peppers could be an intriguing fit for the Eagles, who have been one of the most active teams in free agency over the past couple of years. Imagine a defensive line with Peppers and Trent Cole. The action on Peppers, Vanden Bosch, Karlos Dansby and a few others will be fast once free agency starts on March 5.
5. The Martz-Cutler dynamic: How new Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz works with QB Jay Cutler will be watched closely. At first, Cutler seemed resistant to having Martz as his offensive coordinator. As Chicago's disappointing 2009 season progressed, Cutler tuned out offensive coordinator Ron Turner and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton, leading to the Bears' sacking of most of their offensive staff. Bears coach Lovie Smith was turned down by about a half dozen coordinator candidates, but he knew he could get Martz, an offensive genius who was his boss with the St. Louis Rams.
Martz met with Cutler before getting the job and seemed to come to an accord. Martz runs a quarterback-friendly offense, and if it works, Cutler could easily surpass 4,000 yards and put up a lot of points. But if it doesn't work, the situation could be volatile.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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