Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Offseason promises to be wild
By John Clayton
Get ready for a wild offseason.
Unlike last year, when labor news dominated the headlines, the NFL can look ahead to one of its busiest and craziest offseasons. Although the cap isn't expected to increase too much above the current $120.375 million ceiling, most teams have plenty of room to do deals.
More than 470 free agents -- including star receivers DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson and Dwayne Bowe -- are ready to be re-signed or hit the free-agent market.
Now that the draft is under a strict rookie salary structure, the chances of trades increase. The Rams should have no trouble getting great value for the No. 2 pick, particularly if Robert Griffin III interests the teams looking for quarterbacks.
The NFL has to decide whether it wants to continue the Pro Bowl, which has been getting worse and worse each year. HGH testing will be a big topic. Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to start testing now. The NFLPA doesn't want to be bullied into these tests.
The offseason may determine whether new stadiums will be built in San Diego, Minnesota and St. Louis, along with revealing whether Los Angeles can move closer to getting a new stadium to attract a team back to its market.
With the scouting combine coming up in two weeks, things should be moving quickly on all fronts.
From the inbox
Q: With the Browns having so many needs, what are the chances that they trade down in the draft with Washington or Miami and acquire more picks? Both Washington and Miami need a quarterback and could pick Robert Griffin III in the Browns' spot in the draft order (No. 4).
Deanna in Chagrin Falls, Ohio
A: The Browns have plenty of needs, but they also have two first-round picks. Better to take the best player available and hope he is a starter. I really don't think Griffin would fall to No. 4. If he does, the Browns get a break. I still operate under the idea that Griffin will go to the team that trades for him at No. 2 or No. 3.
Q: The Super Bowl could have been redemptive for New England and Chad Ochocinco. He had just lost his father and was poised to be the star of the game -- if New England had the foresight to use him, especially the last minute. I think the problem was New England's failure to grasp the moment.
Fred in Huntsville, Ala.
A: That would have been a great story, but that wasn't an option the Patriots were going to explore. He was no better than the fourth of fifth option in any offensive set. Ochocinco no longer has the outside speed. He's more of an outside possession receiver. Though he could be a No. 2 or No. 3 on another team, the Patriots' offense is constructed to get the ball to the two tight ends and Wes Welker. The next option is Deion Branch. Ochocinco never showed enough in practice or in games to elevate himself above that level.
Q: Roger Goodell's comments regarding the Pro Bowl are well-founded. However, has any consideration been given to the idea that moving the game to the week before the Super Bowl ruined it? It is supposed to be a reward for playing well. And a good portion of the players cannot participate because of the Super Bowl.
Joel in Guthrie Center, Iowa
A: I wrote about that last week, though I wasn't surprised to hear Goodell make the comments about shutting down the Pro Bowl. The best thing to do is move it back after the Super Bowl and let it fend for itself for ratings. Having it between the championship games and the Super Bowl creates the best ratings, but it also makes for the worst game. You don't have the Super Bowl players. Moving it to after the Super Bowl makes it an afterthought. The best thing to do is reward the players by having the game in Hawaii after the Super Bowl. Those who want to watch it can watch it. The players want it, and so do enough of the fans.
Q: With 17 seconds left in the Super Bowl, the Giants, with 12 men on the field, broke up a pass play that lasted eight seconds. A penalty was assessed but the clock is not rewound. So, the penalty gave the Patriots 5 extra yards but robbed them of valuable time. Do you foresee a rule change on how replayed downs and the clock are managed together within the final two minutes of halves?
Chris in Ontario, Calif.
A: Great observation. I was thinking the same thing. I think they should look at a rule change that would give the offensive team the option of declining the 5 yards and getting the time off the clock back. Like having defensive players going down with fake injuries to stop no-huddle offenses, the Giants accidentally showed future teams how to eat up clock time by having an extra guy on the field. The league should look at that.
Q: I have an idea for NFL scheduling. I suggest the NFL go to a 17-game season. This will include eight home games, eight away games and a neutral site game. It should also add another bye week. Here is why this idea is so great. The NFL would have 16 games a year to move around. This means multiple games overseas without teams losing home games. The extra bye week could help ease the pain of the long commute. Also, college stadiums could be used to give other cities a chance to see NFL games.
Paul in Tewksbury, Mass.
A: Well-thought-out premise, and I'm sure the league thought about it. The NFL would like to have 16 more games to play with for overseas options, but I think we are many, many years from finding 16 sites that work for sellouts and demand. There would also be a concern about having the extra bye week, because that would extend the season for too long. It would either push the Super Bowl back a week later or move the start of the regular season to the first week of September. The problem with doing 17 games is that owners aren't going to give up the extra preseason game to make the bye-week concept work.
Q: As a Chargers fan, I actually liked the move to bring back Norv Turner, but I didn't like that Alex Spanos decided to bring back GM A.J. Smith. Will the Chargers finally make some high-value free-agent moves to improve the roster this offseason? If so, what free agents can you see the Chargers bringing in? They need to get to and win a Super Bowl soon, not to mention win the fan vote in the city to build a new stadium and keep the team from moving to hated Los Angeles.
Chuck in Seabeck, Wash.
A: What they need to do is get back to the playoffs and show progress with the roster. Turner and Smith are paired together. I'm glad they get one more chance. Turner is a great playcaller and has a great quarterback (Philip Rivers). Smith is a good evaluator of talent. Putting a new general manager above Turner would only lead to changes in the roster that might not fit Turner's philosophy. If you are going to bring back Turner, you needed to bring back Smith to see whether they can get back to the playoffs. If they don't, they are gone.
Q: As a Packers fan, it would be obvious to say that drafting defensive backs and pass-rushers is the thing to do this year. But what about the offensive line that's still shaky? What about the non-existent running game? Which area must Green Bay address in this year's draft?
Nick in Roanoke, Va.
A: They have been addressing the offensive line in the past few drafts, and GM Ted Thompson will continue to do that. But he needs to shift the priority to defense, and he will. It's harder to get pass-rushers and corners than guards.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter