Commentary

Drama doesn't stop after SB XLVIII

Offseason certain to produce unpredictable storylines -- just look at recent history

Originally Published: January 31, 2014
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- After the curtain comes down Sunday night on the 2013 season, players will take off their pads, but reporters will not get much of a chance to put down theirs.

There is no off in the offseason anymore, just one continuous NFL season.

Players might go on breaks, but teams almost never do. There are firings, hirings, players going, players coming, trades, arrests, contract extensions, a morass of moves. From the time players leave the confines of the structured, football-like environment they're confined to from July through now, chaos can ensue.

Just look at the storylines that have flowed out previous "off" seasons; they're often more chaotic than the events that transpire in-season. Last offseason, there could not be a more jaw-dropping turn of events than those that surrounded former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who remains incarcerated, awaiting trial that will determine where he gets to spend the rest of his life.

In the offseason of 2012, there was a doubleheader with a Cajun flavor.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning's new beginning in Denver was easily the biggest story of the 2012 offseason.

First, the Colts cut -- cut! -- four-time NFL MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, who grew up in New Orleans, before he wound up signing with the Denver Broncos over a host of other teams that recruited him.

Then, in the same March month, as a result of the bounty scandal, the NFL suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for a full season, New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis half a season and four Saints players varying lengths of time, while docking the team $500,000 and second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.

During the previous offseason, 2011, the lockout and new collective bargaining agreement froze all other NFL news from March through July.

In the 2010 offseason, the NFL suspended Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy after prosecutors decided not to charge the Pittsburgh signal-caller in a case involving a 20-year-old college student who accused him of sexually assaulting her in a Georgia nightclub that March. As the league was handing down its punishment, Pittsburgh considered trading Roethlisberger to Jacksonville.

And there was offseason Brett Favre drama, as there usually was in the latter part of his career, with him deciding to return to Minnesota for one final season after an offseason of more speculation.

One offseason earlier, in 2009, Michael Vick was released from prison and wound up signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, Favre came out of retirement to sign with the Vikings, Terrell Owens got released by the Dallas Cowboys and former NFL co-MVP Steve McNair was killed on July 4.

None of this even includes all the moves that are made during free agency or during the NFL draft, when there is more news than fit to print. All together, the past five offseasons have brought us Aaron Hernandez, Peyton Manning, a bounty scandal, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Brett Favre and much more.

NFL offseasons have become their own running drama, like any sort of reality TV miniseries. From year to year, the subjects and storylines change, but one thing does not. There are events that cannot be imagined nor duplicated. They are stranger, and sometimes bigger, than fiction. But they are fact.

And the facts are that when this season ends with a confetti shower on either the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos, the headlines will start showering down on each of the 32 NFL teams.

Some team will make a huge move no one is expecting. Some player will find trouble no one is expecting. And this offseason, like every recent offseason, will provide more drama to succeed the drama from Super Bowl XLVIII.

Change on horizon: Every team in the league is watching Sunday's Super Bowl. But even more, they are watching the free-agents-to-be on each Super Bowl team's roster.

The players the Seahawks and Broncos line up in Super Bowl XLVIII will not be the same they line up next season. Fifteen Seahawks are entering the last game of their contracts, and 17 Broncos are doing the same.

The most notable Seahawks free-agents-to-be include cornerback Walter Thurmond, defensive end Michael Bennett, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, wide receiver Golden Tate and kicker Steven Hauschka.

But the more pressing issues for the Seahawks will be redoing other players' deals. Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman, who made a mere $555,000 this season as one of the best players in the league, finally can redo his rookie contract. Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas will be entering the final year of his deal next season, as will offensive tackle Russell Okung. And don't forget, after next season, the Seahawks finally will have to pay quarterback Russell Wilson.

To accomplish all this and more will not be easy; Seattle heads into the offseason with a mere $2.11 million in salary-cap space, so some tough financial decisions will have to be made.

Denver has some of its own tough decisions to make. The most notable Broncos free-agents-to-be include running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Eric Decker, guard Zane Beadles, defensive end Robert Ayers, linebacker Wesley Woodyard and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Broncos linebacker Von Miller is eligible to redo his rookie contract this offseason, though Denver will be unwilling to give him anywhere close to the guaranteed money he will want. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will be entering the final year of his contract, as will tight end Julius Thomas.

To accomplish all this and more also will be challenging; Denver heads into the offseason with $4.39 million in salary-cap space. Like Seattle, Denver faces its own tough financial decisions.

And most likely, the winner of Sunday's game will wind up paying an even higher premium on some of its players. Super Bowl wins are tremendous for any organization. But they also turn out to be costly, a problem any team would happily welcome.

Encouraging words: Back in 1995, Jason Licht was a scouting intern for the Miami Dolphins, someone who would do the menial jobs full-timers would rather not. One of those jobs was to make runs to and from the airport, picking up players who would be working out for the Dolphins.

One of those players that winter was free-agent quarterback Rich Gannon, who was coming off a year in which he underwent shoulder surgery and missed the entire 1994 season.

Licht shuttled Gannon from the airport to the Dolphins' training facility and back to the airport after he was done. Before the then-free-agent quarterback got on a flight and a path that eventually would take him to Kansas City from 1995-98, then Oakland from 1999-2004, when he won the NFL's MVP in 2002, Gannon delivered a simple message to Licht.

Gannon told Licht, "Keep working hard and you may be a GM someday."

Well, Gannon nailed it. On Jan. 21, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Licht, who also was a finalist for the Dolphins' general manager job.

And Licht reminded Gannon, now an analyst on Sirius Satellite Radio, about what he told him back in 1995, though the former NFL MVP had forgotten by now. Licht never did, though.

Through the years, Licht often thought about the message Gannon delivered to him. In an odd way, he felt inspired and motivated by it. And Licht wants other young scouting interns across the league to know they can blaze the path he did.

But it's also interesting to note that nearly 20 years ago, the Dolphins had a GM- and NFL MVP-to-be right under their noses, and nobody would have known it. Yet Gannon did.

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