By Don Banks
April 01, 2010

As April dawns, the NFL offseason has already spanned almost three months for the majority of teams. The orgy of hope that is the draft remains three weeks away, but most of the heavy lifting on the personnel acquisition front has been completed and new plans and programs are firmly in place.

Before we turn our attention fully to the draft, it's a good time for a review of the major moves, newsmakers and storylines:

• Headline hire of the offseason, player -- We're calling this one the first annual Jay Cutler Award, and handing it straight to the newest Chicago Bear, defensive end Julius Peppers. But is there anyone else out there who thinks that the same team making the biggest personnel acquisition of the offseason two years running might not be such a good thing, especially since Cutler's first year in Chi-town turned so deflating so quickly? At least Bears fans should know better this time around. Peppers and underachievement are well-acquainted.

• Headline hire of the offseason, coach -- The subterfuge surrounding Seattle's hiring of Pete Carroll was fascinating, but not exactly airtight, since all of seven minutes elapsed between the time of Jim Mora's firing and Carroll's name surfacing. Still, give the Seahawks credit for landing the big fish from the University of So Cool, and boldly tossing him the keys to the franchise. If nothing else, Seattle just brought an abrupt end to the boring phase that had engulfed Seahawks football the past two years.

• Worst offseason, franchise -- I'm guessing that last year's ambassadorship appointment to Ireland is looking pretty good these days to Steelers owner Dan Rooney. All he really missed is last season's non-playoff 9-7 finish and the trainwreck that has been Pittsburgh's 2010 so far. The last Rooney knew, Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes were just playing pitch and catch in Tampa, and then the big confetti shower commenced. But there have been a few unfortunate developments since.

• Worst offseason, player -- Sure, Terrell Owens can't find a city or a team to call his fifth NFL home, but that's not as bad as Roethlisberger has it. Big Ben was in position to own Pittsburgh, and he's in the process of revoking all territorial rights. It's enough to make you pine for those hazy, lazy days of 2006, when the riskiest thing he did was ride around helmet-less on his motorcycle.

• Trend of the offseason -- Trading veteran players for draft picks has been all the rage in this salary cap-less year. Trades once were tricky in the NFL due to the acceleration of cap charges that resulted, but not anymore. Antonio Cromartie, Anquan Boldin, Brady Quinn, Charlie Whitehurst, Kamerion Wimbley, Seneca Wallace, Kerry Rhodes, ShaunHill, Corey Williams, Chris Clemons, Darryl Tapp, Chris Houston and others were moved in March in deals involving draft picks. Who knows? Maybe we'll even see a few moves made at the October trading deadline this year.

• Non-trend of the offseason -- With more than 200 potential unrestricted free agents being forced into restricted free agency due to rules in place for the uncapped year, the RFA market was expected to be busier than usual. But that has not been the case. At least yet. Brandon Marshall is still a Bronco. Vincent Jackson remains a Charger. Anthony Hargrove hasn't left the Saints. Unless you count running back Mike Bell jumping from New Orleans to Philadelphia as big news, nothing much has happened

• Division of unemployment -- Tough to beat the NFC West for surprise firings this year. First, Seattle head coach Jim Mora gets canned two days after being trotted out for a season-ending news conference, and then, just weeks before a draft in which they own a pair of first-round picks, the 49ers ask general manager Scot McCloughan to turn in his parking pass. Whoever thought we'd look at the Arizona Cardinals as the picture of front office and coaching stability?

• The move that had to happen -- The pendulum swing of history tells us it had to be Mike Shanahan in Washington this year. Since taking over ownership of the Redskins in 1999, Daniel Snyder has hired a proven, veteran head coach (Marty Schottenheimer), followed by an NFL novice head coach (Steve Spurrier), followed by the veteran (Joe Gibbs), followed by the newbie of all newbies, Jim Zorn. So it was clearly time for a proven veteran like Shanahan. What's that line about the definition of insanity? Nah, too easy.

• The moves we thought had to happen, but never did -- The Tom Cable deathwatch in Oakland has somehow made it almost three months past Black Monday, and he's still the Raiders' head coach. Adalius Thomas isn't an ex-Patriot (or expatriate). Jason Campbell remains a Redskins quarterback (for now) and Michael Vick is still No. 3 in Philly. But are they the winners or losers in this scenario?

• Team that had the most to lose, and did -- In the span of a few weeks, the Arizona Cardinals bid farewell to Boldin, Kurt Warner, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and Bertrand Berry via retirement, free agency or trade. But of that talented group, Warner is the only one who likely will be missed early and often in 2010. And that's no knock on Matt Leinart, who we think has a chance to exceed expectations. It's just the reality of where the two-time NFC West champs find themselves as their mini-reloading phase begins.

• Team that doesn't recognize itself from 2009 -- Nobody does upheaval better than the Cleveland Browns, but they might just be getting it right this time. Brady Quinn? Gone. Derek Anderson? Gone. Kamerion Wimbley, Jamal Lewis and Corey Williams? Gone, gone, gone. I like most of what new Browns football czar Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have done, with the glaring exception of giving $7 million to a quarterback (Jake Delhomme) whose new nickname should be T.O., as in turnover.

• Coaching trend -- What have Carolina's John Fox, Oakland's Cable, Chicago's Lovie Smith, Cleveland's Eric Mangini, Houston's Gary Kubiak, Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio and Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris all accomplished so far this offseason? They've held on to their jobs despite things looking a little bleak on that front at times late in 2009.

Some folks around the NFL believe it's hardly a coincidence that so many head coaches survived to work another season. With the looming uncertainty of 2011's labor situation, team owners came to the incredibly shrewd decision to stand pat rather than risk the chance of having to pay two entire coaching staffs for not working next year.

• Taking It On The Chin award -- Bill Cowher finally let it be known he was ready to make his celebrated return to the NFL, but it turns out the NFL wasn't ready for him. Did we mention he won himself a Super Bowl ring in Pittsburgh? So it's back to TV in 2010 for Cowher, who now hopes that CBS stands for "Carolina Better Stink'' this season.

• Left standing in the game of musical chairs -- Cowher wasn't the only one who didn't get a seat this year. What about Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who was supposed to be the No. 1 hot assistant in this offseason's hiring/mating game between teams and coaches? Oh, well. There's always next year, right? Try telling that one to Jason Garrett, Ron Rivera, and Russ Grimm.

• Silliest feud-- The Jets, the Giants, and the coin flip that neither called had tempest-in-a-teapot written all over it from the moment the story broke. Seriously, can't we all just get along? It's a stadium opener, not a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

• Soap opera of the offseason -- The Tim Tebow Chronicles have included a controversial Super Bowl commercial that wasn't really controversial, a disastrous Senior Bowl week that went over like New Coke, a scouting combine workout that wowed everyone, a pro day showing that turned some heads and changed some minds, and a who-cares story about Tebow, the Wonderlic Test, and a prayer (or not). And we're still three weeks away from the draft.

• The story that needs to start fading a bit -- When are the Saints ever going to get around to celebrating their Super Bowl victory? Check that, I meant stop celebrating it. There's a statute of limitations on the length of one's victory lap, but New Orleans wouldn't know because one of the Saints' parade floats backed over that statue sometime toward the end of Mardi Gras. Who Dat say we have to get back to work?

• Biggest no-brainer call -- Rex Ryan and the Jets get the nod for HBO's Hard Knocks training camp series? Well who saw that one coming? All I can say to NFL Films is you better have plenty of extra film and fresh batteries in those cameras. Because we're all about to OD on the HC of the NYJ.

• Strangest admission-- The Texans actually lobbied and lobbied hard for the Hard Knocks assignment, and then admitted they did so when it became apparent to them that the Jets were the choice. I get that Houston owner Bob McNair wants to raise his team's profile, but winning still works that particular re-branding magic better than anything else in the NFL.

• Return we didn't see coming, coach -- Chan Gailey last year couldn't even keep his job as the Chiefs offensive coordinator through August. Now he's the new head coach in Buffalo, and back in the 32-man club he left after the 1999 season in Dallas. Then again, how many guys can say they've never missed the playoffs in their entire NFL head coaching career?

• Return we didn't see coming, player -- It's not official yet, but from all indications are Pacman Jones is about to become a Detroit Lion and get his absolute last NFL chance to wake up and smell the coffee. If you can't make it this time, Adam, Pacman, Mr. Jones -- whatever you wish to be called these days -- the only name that will fit is ex-player.

Best new-fangled innovation -- I've never been a proponent of messing with the overtime format (Peter King and I have been point-counterpointing that one to death over the years), but the modified sudden-death tweak that was approved last week at the NFL's annual meeting is an intelligent fix that should add drama and another layer of decision-making to next year's playoffs. And maybe next year's regular season, too, from the sound of things.

Headline move that was much ado about nothing -- When it comes to LaDainian Tomlinson's potential impact on the Jets, I'm a skeptic. LT says his declining numbers in San Diego had everything to do with the Chargers becoming a more pass-first team behind Philip Rivers. But San Diego had to become a more pass-first team because Tomlinson's production had been dropping every year, including his all-important average yards per carry. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The story that remains stuck in limbo-- No, not the never-ending Donovan McNabb trade talks. That deal will probably get done at some point before the draft. But for sheer lack of progress, it's tough to compete with the CBA negotiations between the NFL and its players. Here's the reality: Until the start of the new league year next March -- and maybe not even then -- little or nothing will get done in regard to a deal. It'll be rhetoric and posturing from both sides, and you can probably tune the whole thing out and not miss a single noteworthy development until mid-summer 2011.

Prediction of the offseason-- Now it seems like solid consensus that Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is going first overall to the Rams. But in mid-February, before the NFL Scouting Combine even opened, ESPN's Adam Schefter went out on a limb and all but guaranteed the selection. If it comes true, the line for draft experts starts somewhere behind Schefter for the time being.

Groundhog Day Award-- Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress and the rest of the organization will wait patiently until a certain quarterback decides if he wants to play in 2010. Then they'll continue to wait while that quarterback changes his mind twice more, eventually suiting up sometime in August. And with that, Brett Favre will pronounce himself ready for a 20th NFL season.

Best rebuilt position -- Denver's still-new 3-4 defensive line, in the span of a few days, added nose tackle Jamal Williams, defensive end Jarvis Green, and tackle-end Justin Bannan, adding the size and requisite run-stuffers to succeed in that formation. Quickly landing three potential starters isn't a bad makeover, if you can manage it.

Best planning for the future -- From what I hear, the unspoken understanding in Washington is that new Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will someday succeed his father, Mike, as Washington's head coach. The younger Shanahan is a well-respected coach in his own right, and I'm told that he insisted his dad grant him the authority to call the plays for the Redskins before he agreed to leave Houston for Washington. Sometimes nepotism can be a great policy.

Biggest, boldest gamble -- There aren't too many entirely blank slates in the NFL, but the Seahawks acquired one in quarterback Charlie Whitehurst earlier this month. The former Chargers No. 3 has never thrown a regular-season pass during his four NFL seasons, and he comes to Seattle in the pole position to eventually replace longtime starter Matt Hasselbeck. Watching how the Seahawks' bet unfolds the next two years will make for some of the best theater in the league.

No. 2 and willing to move -- Backup quarterbacks in the NFL aren't usually second-teamers for long. At some point, almost every one has to step in and play for a game or two. That's why the market for their services always stays strong, as it did this month. As the 2010 season looms, Seneca Wallace has relocated to Cleveland, David Carr to San Francisco, Anderson to Arizona, Quinn to Denver, Whitehurst to Seattle, Rex Grossman to Washington, and A.J. Feeley to St. Louis. Which ones will wind up playing pivotal roles for their teams this season?

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