From a slew of head-coaching changes to an unpredictable draft (even more so than usual), there’s no shortage of storylines to keep an eye on this NFL offseason. Here are some to follow over the next few months.
1. Free agency.
Free agency is always an intriguing storyline but maybe more so this year with who’ll be available. The Giants recently released Ahmad Bradshaw, who joins Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush as some of the bigger names available at the running back position. There’s even more star power at receiver, where Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola might be switching teams. Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Branden Albert, Will Beatty, Sebastian Vollmer, Andre Smith and Sam Baker round out the offensive tackle group.
Defensively, Brian Urlacher, Ed Reed, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Henry Melton, Richard Seymour, Anthony Spencer, Jarius Byrd, William Moore and Dashon Goldson’s contracts are all up, and sleepers Brent Grimes and Chris Houston could be had as well. Overall, this is a much deeper pool of free agents than last year, and there are more players will become available as teams try to free up cap space. (For example, Michael Turner of the Falcons and Chris Gamble of the Panthers are likely to be released at some point this offseason.)
2. Harvin’s situation in Minnesota.
Speaking of one player that could become available this offseason, Mike Max of CBS Minnesota reports that the Vikings will attempt to trade Percy Harvin this offseason. Citing sources, Max reports that Harvin unleashed an embarrassing tirade on Leslie Frazier during the season and the situation left a bad taste in both coaches and players’ mouths. Acquiring a first-round pick for Harvin might prove to be difficult but one would think the Vikings could net a second-rounder for the troubled yet talented receiver. Then again, with Wallace, Bowe, Jennings, Welker and Amendola available in free agency, the market might not be to Minnesota’s liking. Plus, if they do trade Harvin, the Vikings’ cupboard will be completely bare of receivers. Whether they deal Harvin or not, Minnesota needs to give Adrian Peterson and, more specifically, Christian Ponder more help.
3. Tony Gonzalez’s future.
Before the start of the playoffs, Tony Gonzalez reiterated that he was 95-percent sure that he would retire at the end of the season. When the Falcons beat the Seahawks in the Divisional Round and thus gave Gonzalez the first postseason victory of his career, he said he was 97-percent sure that he would retire. But GM Thomas Dimitroff has started to lobby for Gonzalez to return in 2013 and Roddy White is apparently planning a “Brett Favre strategy,” in which a group of Falcons players will travel to California in hopes of luring the tight end back to Atlanta. Considering he caught 93 passes for 930 yards with 8 touchdowns last year (which was the most productive season by any tight end at his age), you can understand why the Falcons want him back.
His decision on whether or not to retire is multi-layered. If he does come back, the Falcons need to figure out how to fit him under the cap. It’s likely that they’ll cut Michael Turner, which will free up some space but they may need to restructure the deals of Dunta Robinson, Tyson Clabo and/or John Abraham as well. If Gonzalez doesn’t return, then the Falcons obviously need to make finding a pass-catching tight end a priority this offseason. Tyler Eifert and/or Zach Ertz could be potential candidates in the first round, but what if the Packers were to make Jermichael Finley available via trade? His ability to stretch a defense vertically would be attractive to a team like Atlanta, which employs Dirk Koetter as its offensive coordinator. Either way, Dimitroff is well aware of how important the tight end position is to Matt Ryan and that offense.
4. The mess that is the Jets.
If for nothing else, it’ll be worth following the Jets over these next few months for entertainment purposes. Last offseason they essentially apologized to Mark Sanchez for flirting with Peyton Manning by handing him a five-year, $58.25 million extension. While Sanchez played well in the team’s postseason appearances in 2009 and 2010, the Jets also reached the playoffs both years in spite of him. Handing him a contract he didn’t earn put the team in cap hell and now they may be forced to part with Darrelle Revis, Bart Scott and/or Calvin Pace (just to name a few). Their cap situation will also force the Jets to watch top guard Brandon Moore exit via free agency.
Thanks to the money still owed to Sanchez, it’s going to be difficult for the Jets to try and acquire a quarterback like Matt Flynn this offseason. That means the team could head into 2013 with Sanchez still the starter and even less talent around him than in 2012. Without a running game and Rex Ryan’s vaunted defense to carry Sanchez, both he and Ryan could be looking for jobs this time next year. (Did I mention Tim Tebow in this paragraph? No? Well, Tim Tebow.)