Bummed out about no more NFL football until next September? You're not the only one. But before that sadness turns into a full-bore lack of football depression, check out these four things that you have to look forward to in 2010.
1. An unprecedented business season. Granted, a lot of fans don't really care about things like contracts, free agency and restricted tenders. But for those die-hards who like to watch teams put together their rosters and see how the sausage is really made, 2010 will be unlike anything the NFL has ever seen. As scary as the unknown may be, there's no denying it will add a new level of intrigue.
Will Dan Snyder, Mike Shanahan and the Redskins go on a spending spree the likes of which we have never seen given the absence of a salary cap? Which teams will use the lack of a salary floor to significantly reduce their payroll and make the 2010 season one of the biggest cash grabs in professional sports history? How handcuffed will the final eight playoff teams (Saints, Colts, Vikings, Jets, Chargers, Cardinals, Cowboys, Ravens) be given since they can't sign a significant free agent until they lose one of equal or greater value? And from a player perspective, how many talented guys will even be available after all of the restricted tenders, transition tags and franchise tags are doled out?
That nobody really knows the answers will make the coming months anything but boring.
2. Talented young teams making their move. The only thing better than having a good team in the NFL is having a good young team with sustainability. The Packers have already proven that they are here to stay. The Texans took a step in 2009 and hope to take a much bigger one in 2010, although it is never easy in the AFC South. The Falcons had the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history as they continue to build a consistent winner with a little bit of tinkering on the defensive side of the ball. The 49ers suddenly have a great young core of playmakers at the skill positions, stalwarts on the front seven defensively, and a couple of first-round picks to boot.
3. The greatest season of quarterback play in NFL history. This is not a very difficult prediction given the reality that 2009 had probably the best overall quarterback play that we have seen in quite some time. The loss of Kurt Warner and potential retirement of Brett Favre will hurt things. But still, try to name the top 10 QBs in the NFL right now. It is not easy and that is in stark contrast to five years ago when there was a public outcry about the lack of quality starting quarterbacks and the huge dropoff after Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
That is no longer a problem. Manning continues to revolutionize the position while Drew Brees has firmly cemented his place in the highest tier. But the depth after that is what is impressive. Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger are young stars. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan will likely take the next step in year No. 3 after both experienced some growing pains in their sophomore campaigns. Even Vince Young burst back onto the scene down the stretch for the Titans.
4. Michael Vick's return as a starter. This is far from a lock but seems more likely than not. Despite what they have said publicly, the Eagles aren't keeping Vick unless they unload Donovan McNabb. Since Vick is the more likely signal-caller to be used as trade bait, his chances of being the man for one of the league's moribund franchises in the NFL are good.
The Rams are desperate for a guy who can come in and reverse the trend of losing. You have to imagine Vick would find a way to pull out three or four wins for them. That may not seem like much but it is progress. And don't rule out the Raiders or Bills as a Vick landing spot. Buffalo typically likes to do at least one thing every offseason to spark some interest among the fan base and gain the attention of the national media. Considering the hiring of Chan Gailey didn't exactly light up the phones in the ticket office, they may have to turn to Vick. Stay tuned.