This is going to be a mad dash, no doubt about it. If all of what we read and hear comes true, and the NFL and the players come to an agreement for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and business opens in the league, it's going to be crazy. Unprecedented. Those teams that have spent the time during the work stoppage preparing for every possible scenario will benefit the most.
I think the Eagles are the team to watch when business opens. And as I continue to look ahead with great anticipation and excitement about what is to come, here are the dominating topics, random and otherwise ...
1. What Happens With Kevin Kolb?
This is an obvious storyline. It has been a foregone conclusion in many circles that the Eagles will deal Kolb, no matter what. I don't agree. The Eagles know they have a very valuable piece in Kolb, a seasoned quarterback with his best days ahead. He started three games in 2010 when Michael Vick was injured and the Eagles won two of those games -- losing only in Tennessee after a momentum-changing fumble near the goal line turned the game into a disaster for the Eagles. Kolb can play. We know that. We've seen that.
Vick is a fearless, aggressive quarterback who probably took too many hits last season. The Eagles entered the offseason wanting to protect Vick more adequately, so they hired legendary line coach Howard Mudd, used three draft picks -- including their first, on guard Danny Watkins -- on offensive linemen and will welcome back veteran Jamaal Jackson to the center position.
If the Eagles trade Kolb, they will look to Mike Kafka and perhaps a veteran to add to the quarterback depth chart. If the Eagles keep Kolb, they have a great, great situation at quarterback.
2. How Important Are The Un-Drafted Rookies?
This is huge, actually. The Eagles will sign 15 to 20 rookies who weren't drafted, understanding that out of that group one or two will make a series run at the roster this year. It always happens. There are still players out there whom the Eagles rated as middle-round draft picks. There is plenty of talent on the streets. And there is nothing as frantic in the NFL as the mad scramble to sign that group of players after the draft ends.
Usually it occurs immediately after the draft, all through Sunday night into Monday. This year, of course, business ended the moment the final draft pick was made. Players are left hanging. Teams are going to reach out the instant the NFL gives the "go" signal. And the competition is going to be plenty heavy.
There is a lot of recruiting going on here. Players and agents are sure to look at the track record here and see the opportunities un-drafted players have gotten -- see the files on Jackson, safety Quintin Mikell, cornerback Rod Hood, wide receiver Hank Baskett and many more have gotten over the years -- and consider the Eagles as a team to join. There are roster spots to be had here.
3. Determining Offers For Eagles Free Agents
Will players be unrestricted free agents after four NFL seasons or after six NFL seasons or, exactly, how will the new rules look? There are several key players who will be affected by these rules, including middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, cornerback Dimitri Patterson, running back Jerome Harrison. Mikell is slated to be an unrestricted free agent, regardless. Placekicker David Akers was given the transition tag by the Eagles, so we will know if that tag is still applicable.
Teams are likely to be given a very short window of time to address these kinds of situations. The Eagles, I guarantee you, have worked through these scenarios many times in the 92 days -- and in the time prior -- of the work stoppage.
It's part of the very unusual roster picture that teams have to handle. The Eagles are forward thinkers and they have used their time wisely. We will soon -- I hope -- see what their intentions are for some veterans who were instrumental in last season's NFC East title performance.
4. Diving Into Free Agency
Let's say business begins in the NFL on, random date here ... July 5. Let's say teams then have until July 8 to handle their internal roster business and that free agency begins in the NFL at 12:01 a.m. on July 9. In theory, that is a date less than three weeks before training camp would normally begin for the Eagles at Lehigh University (which, I think, is very much in play at this point). Basically, teams are going to have about one week, maybe two, to get everything done in free agency that they want to get done.
That, folks, makes for a really great couple of July weeks to get the fans pumped for the 2011 season. No matter how you slice it, free agency is one of the most exciting periods of an NFL year. But for teams trying to work out contracts and understand the new business landscape in the league, it makes for a lot of long nights and quick decisions. Teams that have prepared multiple scenarios have an advantage, but they still have to arrange interviews with players and agents, travel plans, workouts (if necessary), contract talks. It's going to be absolutely nuts.
At the same time, as I envision, players currently on the roster will jump into the team's offseason conditioning program for a few weeks and get in some classroom work with coaches. I'm not sure any team will conduct Organized Team Activities on the practice field. There may be some time for new players -- mostly rookies -- to get on the field and walk through some of the concepts and at least have a working knowledge of the X's and O's before training camp.
Can you imagine, for example, wide receiver DeSean Jackson running rounds against rookie cornerback Curtis Marsh in training camp without Marsh having any real idea of what the defensive coaches are looking for from him? It would be a mismatch, and it would be an unfair evaluation of Marsh's abilities at this level. Rookies swim enough mentally in normal offseasons even after having the post-draft camp and a month of OTAs. Without any of that, they would basically go in cold against players who have worked in the same offensive system for several seasons.
It makes me wonder if the NFL will increase roster size to allow teams to give their rookies a full season to truly show what they can do. Is a couple of weeks of practice and then some -- four, I presume -- preseason games enough time for a rookie to play to his highest ability?
Anyway, I know the fans will enjoy free agency and the frenzy that it is sure to be. I know I'm going to enjoy, because I think the Eagles have big plans and are going to have an aggressive approach. It's going to be a nightmare for teams making a lot of tough decisions, though.
5. Signing Draft Picks; Other Contract Issues
Backtracking just a bit, all of these draft picks are going to need to sign contracts before training camp begins. The Eagles drafted 11 players, remember. How will the new CBA account for rookie contracts? It may not be extraordinarily difficult signing the draft picks, but it is going to consume some time that the truncated offseason just won't allow.
Then there is the matter of those existing contracts that players want to improve. It's going to happen around the league -- the veteran who wants his current contract ripped up and re-done. How in the world can teams get to that this summer?
Well, in some cases it's going to be impossible. In other cases, the contracts will be addressed one way or the other in due time.
There is a sense around the NFL world that the progress being reported on the labor front is real, and that is extremely exciting. The deal has to get done, of course, and then we're going to see teams in the sprint of a lifetime, with the start of training camp as a finishing line to the beginning of a season.