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Monday, July 25, 2011
Wrapping up labor loose ends

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Last Thursday, reporters were expecting "American Wedding.'' Instead, we watched "Runaway Bride.''

Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a 10-year labor agreement with the NFL Players Association. Players didn't say, "I do.'' They backed away from the 10-year agreement because they thought some terms had been changed and some new things were added.

While both sides sort out a few remaining issues, I thought I would spend a little time tying up some loose ends and surprises learned during a crazy trip to Atlanta for the owners' meeting.

First, there seems to be a little uncertainty about the team guaranteed spend, which requires teams to put up at least 89 percent of their salary cap in cash. Players believe that system will start this year, but the NFL released information that the system starts in 2013. It will be interesting to see how this sorts out.

The change to 46-man active rosters will significantly change how teams approach having three quarterbacks on the active roster. Teams will no longer have to designate a third quarterback, just seven players who won't wear uniforms. That 46th player might be a position-special teams player who might be able to fill in as a third quarterback, but watch for most teams to use the 46th spot for utility players. Pure third quarterbacks will be on practice squads.

Another minor change is that there will no longer be a restricted free-agent designation in which a team can receive a No. 1 and No. 3 draft pick.

Here are a few tidbits on free agency: I think the Seahawks are leaning toward signing Tarvaris Jackson as their starting quarterback and possibly not re-signing Matt Hasselbeck. Now that the Atlanta Falcons have studied the new salary cap, they will concentrate on re-signing right tackle Tyson Clabo. That could prevent them from going after defensive end Ray Edwards. The St. Louis Rams have $39 million of one-time cap charges on Sam Bradford, Jason Smith and Chris Long but still have about $12 million of cap room left.

From the inbox

Q: The Eagles seem to be at the center of every free-agent conversation. Reggie Bush? Great fit for their offense. Same with Plaxico Burress. They need Nnamdi Asomugha to help bolster their D. Some even think they should keep Kevin Kolb as well, given Vick's playing style, or sign Vince Young. Why is Philly seemingly the first team pundits bring up every time a big-name free agent is mentioned?

Aran in Kirkland, Wash.

A:
The reason is that the Eagles seem to be in the mix for some interesting players. Andy Reid and the organization sense they are close to getting back to the Super Bowl. The Nnamdi Asomugha signing looks as though it won't happen in Philadelphia because the Eagles might be able to acquire Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a Kevin Kolb trade. The Eagles haven't shied away from making big moves. Why not add Reggie Bush and Plaxico Burress to the offense? While the Eagles might be loaded on offense, it doesn't hurt to get as many weapons as possible.

Q: What level of compensatory picks would the Jets have been able to receive, under the old CBA, in the event that Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards were to leave in free agency?

Mark in Eatontown, N.J.

A:
First of all, the compensatory draft pick system survived the transition into the new proposed collective bargaining agreement, Figuring Cromartie, Holmes and Edwards would get top dollar in free agency, the Jets would be in a position to get three No. 3 choices if they have a net loss of three players. That figure, however, is deceiving. If the Jets lose three starters like that, they would be hitting the free-agent market hard to find three replacements. Compensatory picks are determined by salary and performances, but there has to be a net loss for a team to receive compensatory picks. If the Jets lose those three players and sign three more in unrestricted free agency, the best they would do is a compensatory seventh.

Q: The Lions were expected to take a cornerback to in the first round of the draft but surprised and picked Nick Fairley. In the short time of free agency this year, what do you think the Lions go after? Do they go after a big-money person like Nnamdi Asomugha, or go small and build other positions?

Mike in Michigan

A:
The price of Asomugha is too much, and the Lions, while better, aren't just one defensive player away from the playoffs. I think they will go for Stephen Tulloch, the linebacker from Tennessee. They have to re-sign Chris Houston at cornerback, and it wouldn't hurt to find something in free agency at corner. Hey, why not go for Antonio Cromartie if the price is right?

Q: Based on what I've seen in the past from teams that have won the Super Bowl, it occurs to me that the teams poised to repeat are the teams that maintain their core players while having the presence of mind to add additional role players instead of bringing in additional "superstars." It would appear to me, based on the offseason so far, that the Packers have done just that. So my question to you, Mr. Clayton, is do you believe the Packers are the clear-cut favorites to win it again this year?

Anthony in Hamilton, N.J.

A:
It's hard to have anything clear-cut with this crazy season marred by a labor dispute. On paper, the answer is probably yes. But bad things can happen to Super Bowl teams. It's pretty safe to say the Packers' core group is young enough and talented enough to contend for three Super Bowls in six years. But you have to wonder whether not having any offseason together along with the pressure of trying to repeat will catch up to them in the playoffs this year. It usually does to Super Bowl teams.

Q: With Adrian Peterson coming up on free agency next year, can you see him really staying in Minnesota? With the Vikings having trouble just getting a stadium and in a transitional period right now, it doesn't seem the Vikings can offer him what a team like the Cowboys can. Also, I have heard AP has family in Texas. Wouldn't the lure of Dallas be hard for AP to say no to? Also, if anyone will throw money at AP it will be Jerry Jones. It may be a bit early to speculate on next year's free agency, but what do you think?

Jarrod in Maple Grove, Minn.

A:
I can't see the Vikings letting him go. If they can't come to a long-term agreement, the Vikings will franchise him. Peterson is one of the best players in football. With stadium issues, the last thing the Vikings can afford to do is let their best player walk.

Q: I've read there is a new rule going into effect this year that makes every scoring play (PAT, touchdown, field goal, INT return., etc.) be automatically reviewed. If there were any question as to the outcome of the play, the replay official will stop play and review it. I'm wondering why the NFL doesn't do what most colleges do and make every play reviewable. That seems like it would save these lengthy challenges and save coaches' challenges.

Jared in Mississippi

A:
Understand that the review of every score will be in the replay booth, not on the field. You're not going to see the referee put his head under the replay machine cover to look at every score. This is just a quick confirmation that the score was right. The NFL never wants to go to a system in which every play is eligible to be reviewed. It would slow the game and bore fans.

Eli Manning
To be a Super Bowl contender, Eli Manning and the Giants must address turnovers.
Q: A 10-6 record. A 7th-ranked defense. Eli Manning throws for more than 4,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns but has 30 turnovers, which plagued the whole team. Tom Coughlin is known for correcting turnover issues (Tiki Barber). Can the Giants realistically be a Super Bowl contender if the number of turnovers is reduced?

James in Trenton, N.J.

A:
Yes, I think they can, but I have two concerns: linebacker and offensive line. The linebacking corps is very talented and seems always to be in transition. The offensive line is old, and I don't see enough young potential starters ready to step up and help out. Because the NFC East plays the NFC West, the Giants have a great chance to go 3-1 or 4-0 in those games. If they can do that, they can get to 11 wins and have a chance at winning the division, and that's the first step to making a Super Bowl run.

Q: I am a huge Detroit Lions fan. I love what the Lions are trying to do, but one thing that I am blown away about is that they haven't been serious about upgrading Matthew Stafford's blind side. In the NFC North, the Lions will face Clay Matthews, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers six times collectively this season. Can the Lions have a breakout year without addressing a weak left tackle position? Also, is it possible they could use some of their defensive line strength to trade for help up front?

Joshua in Twin Lakes, Mich.

A:
They might have to find something. Left tackle Jeff Backus has a pectoral injury. The team doesn't know how bad the injury is because there is no contact between team and players during the lockout, but once he gets to camp, the Lions might have to be in the market for a left tackle if Backus is going to miss a significant part of the season. It is a concern that must be addressed.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.