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 3 more to follow over the next few months. Check back tomorrow for another installment.
1. No consensus No. 1 pick.
Ask 10 NFL analysts who they have rated No. 1 in this year’s draft and you might be supplied with 10 different answers. Some believe Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel is the safest pick in the draft but if the Chiefs re-sign Branden Albert than they have no use for Joeckel at No. 1. Besides, some think Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher is the best offensive tackle in the draft, not Joeckel.
Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore and even Florida State’s Bjorn Werner’s names are atop some analyst’s rankings. Why so much uncertainty? Point to the fact that there’s no consensus top quarterback in his year’s draft class. Twelve of the last 15 first-overall selections have been quarterbacks, with only Jake Long (2008), Mario Williams (2006) and Courtney Brown (2000) being the exceptions. With no potential franchise signal caller to be had, the ultimate crapshoot is even more unpredictable than ever this year.
2. Veteran quarterbacks in limbo.
Flacco is the best free agent quarterback this offseason but the Ravens won’t allow him to escape Baltimore without at least slapping him with the franchise tag. That means backups will litter the open market, unless you still consider guys like Jason Campbell, Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Moore capable starters. (And why would you?)
The more intriguing names are Alex Smith, Michael Vick and Matt Flynn, who are all currently under contract but could become available either via trade or release at some point this offseason. While the 49ers will certainly honor Smith’s desire to start elsewhere, at the end of the day they don’t owe him anything (non-monetarily, that is). If they don’t acquire what they feel to be decent compensation for the 28-year-old veteran, they could use him as insurance behind Colin Kaepernick for another season. That may not be fair for Smith, but the Niners will ultimately do what’s best for the franchise.
As for Vick, Chip Kelly will take his time evaluating the quarterback situation in Philly but at some point the Eagles will be forced to release him in order to avoid paying the $12.5 million that he’s still owed. Unless Kelly convinces himself that Vick can be the featured player in his offense, there’s no sense paying an injury-prone 33-year-old quarterback who’s never been an accurate passer. Chances are Vick will wind up in a city like Jacksonville or Buffalo in hopes that he can work his way into the starting lineup. (Unless of course Bruce Arians wants to make him the starter in Arizona.) The better option for quarterback-needy teams might be Flynn, who could be had for a mid-round pick after serving as Russell Wilson’s backup in Seattle. Then again, his services won’t come cheap either.
3. The revival of the Saints.
The 2012 NFL season will forever be viewed as a lost year for the Saints, who finished
7-9 and struggled without suspended head coach Sean Payton. But Payton has been reinstated and you know that’s music to Drew Brees’ ears, who thrives under his head coach’s brilliant playcalling. Rob Ryan has a huge challenge on his hands in fixing a defense that set the NFL record last year for most yards allowed in a season with 440.1 yards per game. But if he can make the team’s transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 a smooth one, the Saints will be a postseason contender yet again. Ryan already has a few solid pieces to build around in Cam Jordon, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette, and don’t be surprised if he lures free agent linebacker Anthony Spencer away from Dallas. Mickey Loomis still needs to find Ryan a nose tackle and build depth at all three positions, but at least the Saints hired a veteran 3-4 coach to install the new scheme. With Payton and Ryan both out to prove something to the rest of the NFL, nobody should sleep on New Orleans in 2013.