NFL offseason storylines: Joe Flacco, Darrelle Revis contracts in spotlight
The NFL has the longest offseason of any of America's major pro sports. Yet, save for maybe a couple of weeks in May, the league hardly takes off any real time.
The Baltimore Ravens were crowned Super Bowl XLVII champions less than a week ago, and already teams have begun making roster moves, as free agency and the draft approach in rapid fashion.
So, which storylines are at the top of the list as we prep for the 2013 season? Here are 10 to watch:
1. How much will Joe Flacco get paid?
As recently as early January, there were questions about Joe Flacco's capability to ever lead the Ravens to the promised land.
What a difference a Vince Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl MVP award can make.
Now, as Flacco embarks on an offseason in which he could hit free agency, his agent is lobbying for the Ravens to make Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the league -- surpassing Drew Brees' $20 million-per-year and Peyton Manning's $18 million-per-year averages.
Outside of Baltimore you still would be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks Flacco is a superior quarterback to either Brees or Manning. But Flacco was absolutely brilliant during the playoffs (11 touchdown passes, no interceptions) and has every right to strike while iron is hot.
There is no chance the Ravens let Flacco leave in free agency, so the fallback plan would be to slap the exclusive franchise tag on him. Doing so would cost Baltimore $20 million for the 2013 season. If they think Flacco is worth that much anyway, the Ravens may wind up signing a huge paycheck.
2. Darrelle Revis' future
Are the New York Jets really, truly committed to relocating Revis Island? Because of their horrible salary cap situation, they may not have a choice.
The Jets currently sit about $20 million over next season's projected cap -- a number that includes the $6 million ($3 million base plus bonuses) Revis is due in 2013. That, obviously, does not leave room for the Jets to bump Revis' contract up to where the cornerback wants it. Revis is in the final year of his deal, so the Jets may opt to deal him and get something in return, rather than watch him leave next offseason for nothing.
Despite coming off a torn ACL, Revis believes he should be the league's highest-paid defensive player (last year, Mario Williams got $100 million over six years, with $50 million guaranteed) , which is a hurdle any team looking to trade for the shut-down corner will have to jump.
3. RGIII's rehab
The heart of every Redskins fan sank on Jan. 6, when Robert Griffin III crumpled to the FedEx Field turf, clutching his knee during a playoff loss to the Seahawks. The torn ACL and LCL that Griffin suffered that day required extensive surgery and put his status for the 2013 season in jeopardy.
Griffin has promised to be ready for Week 1 -- an Adrian Petersonesque timetable for recovery. The safer bet is that Griffin misses at least a few games to start next season, with Kirk Cousins and a yet-unnamed veteran duking it out to replace him in the lineup.
Peterson's sensational return from his own knee injury set an extremely high bar for injured players after him. Expecting Griffin to come back as quickly and in as incredible shape as Peterson is unfair. That's what Redskins fans are hoping for, though.
4. What will the Chiefs do at No. 1?
The Chiefs do not have such good fortune this year.
There is no clear-cut No. 1 pick on this year's board, and the consensus best player available (offensive tackle Luke Joeckel) may be a luxury pick Kansas City cannot afford, if free agent tackle Branden Albert re-signs with the Chiefs.
So, the drama surrounding the top spot in the draft could last until late April, when the league heads to New York. Will Kansas City nab Joeckel? How about Geno Smith or a new quarterback for Andy Reid to mold, a la Donovan McNabb? Or is a trade-down scenario on the table?
No one knows for sure right now, and that likely includes the Chiefs' front office.
5. The Manti Te'o mystery
Another draft storyline to track involves that of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, whose bizarre, fake romance captured the attention of the nation after the BCS title game.
Te'o once was believed to be (erroneously) a top-10 prospect in this year's draft class. Then his stock took a hit in that national championship game, when he often looked lost against Alabama's offensive line. Now, after the catfish scandal, any speculation about his stock is on hold until Te'o arrives at the Scouting Combine and conducts interviews with teams. Will Te'o do enough in Indianapolis to convince the NFL that his on-field abilities outweigh his mystifying past?
6. Which uniform will Michael Vick wear in 2013?
The Eagles opted not to cut Vick on Wednesday, and in doing so, guaranteed $3 million of the $15.5 million Vick currently is set to make for the upcoming season. At some point, Philadelphia has to pay Vick that other $12.5 million, renegotiate his deal to whittle down that figure, trade him or release him.
That final option is the gutsiest, as it could leave the Eagles still on the hook for Vick's full contract.
By holding onto the controversial QB for now, Philadelphia gives Chip Kelly more of an opportunity to analyze his current QB situation and figure out his next move. Perhaps Vick will wind up figuring into the Eagles' plans, after all.
If he does not, then the likely conclusion here is a trade. There are several teams in need of a starting quarterback -- Kansas City, Arizona and Jacksonville come to mind. Would any of those teams be willing to roll the dice on a soon-to-be 33-year-old Vick?
7. Key offseason for new coaches
While Chip Kelly's name is in the discussion ...
The former Oregon coach now has the reins in Philadelphia, and a lot of intrigued eyes will be cast his direction to see if Kelly's style can translate at the NFL level. He is one of two college coaches to make the leap this year -- Buffalo's Doug Marrone, most recently of Syracuse, the other.
The man that Kelly took over for, Andy Reid, ought to garner his fair share of attention, as well. Tasked with turning the Chiefs back into contenders, Reid faces an uphill climb after Kansas City inexplicably slumped to a 2-14 finish in 2012. That's seven fewer wins than Bruce Arians racked up as the Colts' interim coach, while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia. Arians parlayed his masterful fill-in job with the Colts into the top spot in Arizona.
Three coordinators will get their shots as head coaches, too: ex-Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley (Jacksonville), ex-Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy (San Diego) and ex-Panthers OC Rob Chudzinski (Cleveland).
Oh, and Chicago, primed to be a contending team, pulled the trigger on an extremely interesting hire, plucking the offensive-minded Marc Trestman from the CFL.
For more on all of those moves, check out my grades for all of this year's coaching hires.
8. Dealing with disgruntled QBs
Vick may not be the only big-name quarterback on the move this offseason. Both Alex Smith (San Francisco) and Tim Tebow (Jets) will be in new uniforms next year, if they have anything to say about it. And Matt Flynn, who lost Seattle's starting job to Russell Wilson, also might find a new home before the 2013 campaign.
Tebow's NFL ship may have sailed by this point, but Smith played extremely well in 2012 prior to the injury that opened the door for Colin Kaepernick to take the 49ers' job. Could he be the answer for Kelly in Philadelphia or Reid in Kansas City?
9. Welcome back, Sean Payton
Finally, there is a sense of normalcy being restored in the Saints' organization. After a tumultuous and frustrating 2012 season, New Orleans is eager to deliver a bounce-back 2013 effort -- and the recent reinstatement of head coach Sean Payton from his year-long NFL suspension ought to help.
Even better for the Saints: Payton wanted to stay in New Orleans, signing a new long-term deal, when he could have jumped ship. He made his presence felt immediately, firing DC Steve Spagnuolo after just one season with the team, and announcing a switch to the 3-4 defense, just three days after Payton was allowed back with the team.
10. Tracking a tantalizing free-agent class
There's a former No. 1 pick about to hit the market in Miami left tackle Jake Long. Oh, and several very talented wide receivers, like Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker all could be free agents. Plus, longtime defensive stalwarts Brian Urlacher and Ed Reed are in need of new contracts -- and possibly new teams.
And all that is just the tip of the iceberg on 2013 free agency.
Complicating matters for a lot of teams: a salary cap that's expected to stay mostly flat, meaning several more big names could wind up being cut (like the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw on Wednesday).
This free agent class could be loaded, but how many teams will have money to spend?