A Federal appeals court is expected to rule Monday on a permanent stay of the injunction to lift the NFL lockout. If the court rules against the owners, it could be business as usual on Monday and free agency would begin. If not, free agency will most likely have to wait for the lockout to end, and might look radically different from usual -- especially if the labor issues aren't solved by the time the regular season is slated to begin. No one knows exactly what will happen to standard practices like restricted free agency and franchise tags, or if they'll simply revert to 2010 rules.
The uncertainty about free agency appeared to affect the way teams drafted, especially at quarterback. Four quarterbacks went in the first 12 picks. At least one or two may have fallen if teams could have acquired veterans.
But several teams still didn't address their big areas of need early in the draft and are counting on free agency or trades. Here's a look at 10 teams whose draft-day decisions are tied to the ability to add players once the league year begins.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals passed on a quarterback at the No. 5 overall pick and will presumably pursue a veteran in free agency or via trade. According to a CBSSports.com report, the Cardinals have "an understanding" with free agent Marc Bulger. That could be a smoke screen to give them leverage in the trade market, because Bulger doesn't seem to have the same confidence he did back in St. Louis. Look for the Cardinals to pursue the Eagles' Kevin Kolb, even though he might cost them a 2012 first-round pick.
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons made the boldest move of the draft, moving from No. 27 to No. 6 in the first round to take wide receiver Julio Jones. Now they have to address a defense that gave up 48 points to the Packers in the NFC divisional playoffs. The Falcons ranked 20th in the NFL in sacks and are reportedly interested in signing free agent defensive end Ray Edwards.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys allowed 27.2 points per game last season (31st in NFL) and still used only two of their eight picks on defense. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan needs help in the secondary, and should make a strong run at free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha or safety Michael Huff.
Detroit Lions: The Lions needed help on the offensive line and the secondary, and added another first-round defensive tackle, Nick Fairley, with the No. 13 pick. On paper, pairing Fairley with Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line seems scary for opposing QBs. But this team hasn't had much luck when it invests high picks at the same position in successive years. Let's see how the Lions do in free agency before giving a final grade to GM Martin Mayhew. If they strengthen their defensive backfield, they could be a bona fide playoff contender.
Houston Texans: The Texans have a glaring weakness in the secondary, and raised a few eyebrows by passing on cornerback Prince Amukamara at No. 11. They took cornerback Brandon Harris with the No. 60 overall pick and two other defensive backs later in the draft, but they need more immediate help. Look for them to make a strong run at Asomugha or free agent cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
Miami Dolphins: The 'Fins passed on a quarterback with the No. 15 pick in the first round, leaving Chad Henne as the likely starter for now. Miami did add some offensive talent in the draft -- guard Michael Pouncey, running back Daniel Thomas and wide receiver Edmond Gates -- but Henne will have to play better to take advantage of his new weapons. Henne had 15 touchdowns and 19 interceptions last season and struggled against divisional foes New York and New England. At the very least, the Dolphins have to bring in a mid-level free agent to compete against him. Don't be surprised if they give the Bengals a call about Carson Palmer. Cincy says it won't deal its disgruntled quarterback, but maybe the right offer would tempt the Bengals.
New England Patriots: The Patriots didn't have a player with more than 5.5 sacks last season and struggled to get offenses off the field on third down. But even though they entered the draft with six picks in the first three rounds and this was supposed to be one of the best defensive end drafts ever, they didn't take any pass rushers in the early rounds. Now they'll have to find someone who can get after the quarterback in free agency.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles need to find a consistent starter at cornerback across from Asante Samuel. Some Philly fans believe the Giants took Prince Amukamara at No. 19 just so Philly couldn't fit that hole with the 23rd pick. The Eagles also need to bolster their defensive line, and ignored all the highly touted defensive ends to take guard Danny Watkins in the first round. The Eagles had the worst red-zone defense in the league last year and need to improve their personnel to help new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo succeed.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers could lose starting cornerback Ike Taylor in free agency and had a chance to get a possible replacement at No. 31. Instead, they opted for Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward. They took cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in the third and fourth rounds respectively, but neither is likely polished enough to play a significant role on a Super Bowl contender. Now Pittsburgh has to re-sign Taylor, who could be expensive, or sign a free agent that fits its system.
Seattle Seahawks: The 'Hawks passed on Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Mallett at No. 25 on Thursday, leaving free agent Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst as the leading options to start at quarterback. Because of the Pete Carroll-Carson Palmer USC connection, the Seahawks are considered a front-runner if the Bengals are willing to trade their quarterback. Seattle should also enter the Kolb sweepstakes, since he fits its West Coast offense.