- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The timing wasn't right when NFL owners met lawyers for the locked-out players in a court-ordered mediation session May 16 and 17 in Minneapolis, and the league has leverage heading into a June 3 hearing with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The players hope to regain some momentum when damages are determined on the league's multibillion dollar deal with its TV partners.
The players should also present a formal response to the league's previous offers in collective bargaining negotiations, but June is the time for serious discussion on those issues.
In the meantime, let's look at the biggest deals that need to get done once free agency gets under way. No one knows what format will be in place once the lockout ends, but assuming there is a free-agent signing period, here are 10 big deals that should happen once the league is back in business.
1. A new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings agreed to contribute $407 million to a billion-dollar plan to build a stadium in Arden Hills, Minn., on a 430-acre site that used to be an ammunitions dump. The bad news is the Vikings have only until Monday to persuade state legislators to approve it, and resistance from politicians is immense. The clock is ticking on the Vikings' lease at the Metrodome, which has outlived its time as a viable NFL stadium. With Los Angeles making progress on its stadium projects, the Vikings need a deal backed by the state to stay in Minnesota.
2. Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals
It's starting to sound like Marc Bulger, an East Coast guy with family considerations, might not be lured to Phoenix by the chance to be the Cardinals' starter. That may be the reason we're hearing more about a trade that could bring Kolb to Arizona. The Eagles want at least a first-round pick in return for Kolb, but the Cardinals might be willing to part with two second-rounders instead. Adding Kolb would be the most important addition in the quarterback-starved NFC West, and his presence could move the Cards back toward the top of the division.
3. Matt Hasselbeck re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks
Alex Smith's expected return to the San Francisco 49ers may not be exciting, but it was necessary. Jim Harbaugh was hired to foster a winning culture in San Francisco, and with no offseason to train players it makes sense to bring back Smith because Harbaugh won't have time to break in a new quarterback. The argument could be made that the Cardinals could be just a quarterback (Kolb) away from a 10-11 win season.
Hasselbeck is aging but managed to get Pete Carroll a playoff win last season, and the Seahawks are more than a quarterback away from 10 wins. Giving up draft picks in a trade for a signal-caller would rob Carroll of the chance to draft key players for the long term, so bringing Hasselbeck back is the best option for Seattle.
4. WR Randy Moss, RB Darren Sproles to the St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford proved with a very good rookie season that he could be on the verge of being an elite quarterback, but he is working with a young group of receivers. Too young. Moss and his speed would give Bradford a tall, proven deep threat. What do the Rams have to lose signing him to a one-year deal? And with the Rams opting not to add a No. 2 running back through the draft, adding Sproles could be a sleeper move. His quickness and explosiveness as a runner and receiver, along with his special-teams contributions, could make the Rams' offense scary.
5. CB Nnamdi Asomugha to the NFC East
No one throws to Asomugha's side of the field, but years of losing with the Oakland Raiders put this high-priced coverage specialist in the mood to sign with a winner. Why not go to the ever-aggressive NFC East? He's a perfect fit with the Philadelphia Eagles opposite Asante Samuel, which would send more passes to Samuel's side and possibly set him up for a double-digit interception season. I don't see the Dallas Cowboys signing Asomugha because they like their top three corners, but the Washington Redskins expect to lose Carlos Rogers and could be one of the big spenders in whatever short free-agency period there is.
6. DT Albert Haynesworth to Philadelphia
The Eagles got away with trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. Can the Redskins do the same if they move Haynesworth within the division? Mike Shanahan can't have Haynesworth back because the Redskins run a 3-4 and Haynesworth simply doesn't fit. There are 18 4-3 teams in the league, but many can't afford Haynesworth. The Eagles can, and he would be an incredible fit along the Eagles' four-man line.
7. DE Ray Edwards to the Atlanta Falcons
As long as he doesn't get knocked out and injured while trying his hand at boxing during the lockout, Edwards is the pass-rushing defensive end the Falcons need to get. They traded four draft choices to move up and select WR Julio Jones, the deep threat they needed, but the draft didn't resolve their desperate need for a second pass-rusher opposite John Abraham. Unless the league runs the 2010 system that would require the Falcons to trade for him, they can pay big and get Edwards under contract.
8. WR Steve Smith to the San Diego Chargers
This may seem like a strange trade, but take a closer look. Smith isn't the big target the Chargers seem to like and he may be a little too fiery for the Chargers' taste, but they still need to take a look. Their current top three wide receivers won't be around by 2012. General manager A.J. Smith has to completely revamp the receiver position over the next couple of years. Smith would be a good start if the trade price is right.
9. QB Vince Young to the Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins want to bring in competition for Chad Henne, and although they would prefer to trade for Carson Palmer, the Bengals aren't expected to fulfill Palmer's request to be dealt. Matt Hasselbeck would be too expensive, and although Donovan McNabb might be an option, Young seems to be a better fit. He's a running quarterback, and the Dolphins plan to run the ball. With Young, they can still use Henne and put Young in Wildcat-type formations. Young has to land somewhere, and Miami would be a good spot.
10. Chad Ochocinco to the New York Jets
Figuring it's going to be hard keep both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, the Jets could be in the market for a receiver. They're concentrating more on keeping Holmes, so Ochocinco could be a nice fill-in for Edwards. Rex Ryan can handle personalities and shouldn't have much trouble working with Ochocinco. If Chad gets a two-year deal, HBO needs to schedule the Jets for a "Hard Knocks" encore.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
5hEric D. Williams