Lawrence: Let The Games Begin

The Super Bowl may be in the rear-view mirror, but the (NFL offseason) games are just getting started, Amy Lawrence says

Amy Lawrence
February 12, 2020 - 4:19 pm
Dak Prescott Cowboys

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You didn't actually think the games were over simply because the NFL crowned a new Super Bowl champion, right?

On the contrary, the league is launching into a whole separate slate of games where the score is kept in dollars and cents, and the decisions made impact rosters and records and playoff pictures for years to come.

Even before free agency and trades and franchise tags and the 2020 Draft, the NFL would like to push through a vote on a new college bargaining agreement. The league has reportedly offered multiple "rough drafts" for the NFL Players' Association to consider, including proposals to expand the regular season to 17 games. Despite chatter the league set a mid-March deadline for a vote, the players' union doesn't appear close to acting on any current labor proposals. At the most recent meeting of union leadership, no votes were taken. And the concept of adding another game to the schedule is earning a lukewarm reception from players. Some are on board with the idea as long as they get paid more and the preseason is shortened. Others believe adding a 17th game won't be worth the wear and tear on their bodies. They are far from resolution in mid-February.

If the two sides ratify a labor deal before the league calendar resets on March 18, the new agreement would replace the current one immediately, even though it doesn't technically expire until next spring. NFL owners desperately want to force the issue so they can start negotiating the next round of television rights. With another decade of labor peace guaranteed and viewership on the rise, the league could watch potential broadcast partners trip all over themselves in a bidding war for the chance to air games and events. In addition, the NFL is dying to jump headlong into the streaming arena and tap into a relatively new revenue source. While select games have streamed live on platforms like Amazon and Yahoo, imagine what the league could charge for an entire season's worth of games online. Think about the number of outlets that might be willing to throw money at the NFL for the opportunity. Commissioner Roger Goodell's stated goal of reaching $25 billion in annual revenue isn't so far-fetched anymore! Of course, the NFLPA is unconcerned with TV rights, so don't expect the union to rush a vote unless the players secure a greater chunk of the revenue in the process.

Far more relevant for the athletes is the start of free agency and those big names who could switch uniforms and shift the balance of power in the league. As usual, the offseason game of quarterback musical chairs is fascinating. With Philip Rivers and the Chargers parting ways, the 38-year-old is looking for a new home. Tom Brady will also test free agency for the first time, though the idea of Brady playing outside New England is mortifying to Patriots' owner Bob Kraft. He may opt to pay whatever it takes to keep Brady in Foxborough. Drew Brees is deciding if he wants to play another year; if he continues his career, it will most certainly be in New Orleans. If he retires, that's another open job.

The most fascinating QB case study may be Cam Newton. He's only 30 years old, a former MVP who should be in the prime of his career. In Miami, he told anyone who would listen that he will "absolutely" be playing for the Panthers again next season. But team owner David Tepper is taking a wait-and-see approach because of the shoulder and foot injuries that hampered Cam the last 16 months. Theoretically, he would be the top free agent available if Carolina cuts him loose, but the recent spat of surgeries and struggles could scare potential suitors away.

The Cowboys are trying to find common ground with Dak Prescott so they can avoid the franchise tag, but he's almost certainly staying put in Dallas. Ryan Tannehill found new life and a new home in Nashville, and he increased his asking price with his success the second half of the year. Teddy Bridgewater turned a lot of NFL heads stepping in for an injured Brees and leading the Saints to a 5-0 mark. Will he find a new starting job or will New Orleans keep him as the league's highest-paid backup? Jameis Winston compiled eye-popping stats this season with more than 5,100 passing yards and 33 touchdowns. But he still has a major interception problem. Does Bruce Arians keep working with him or pivot a different direction in Tampa? And there are always rookie quarterback questions to be answered. The Cincinnati Bengals wouldn't dare pass on Heisman winner and national champ Joe Burrow, would they?? How high does Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa get drafted and how quickly will he see the field after his hip injury? As always, the scrutiny and speculation are endless!

Why should quarterbacks have all the fun, though? Among the top-flight wide receivers, Amari Cooper and A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders are available. Randall Cobb and Breshad Perriman will cost less money but could add depth to a receiving corps. NFL teams are always in need of a few good offensive linemen. Andrew Whitworth and Anthony Castonzo headline a relatively thin free agent class on the O-line, so they should command top dollar.

With some high-profile free agents dangling in the defensive backfield, secondaries around the league could get a facelift in 2020. Veterans Chris Harris, Jimmy Smith, Logan Ryan, Bradley Roby, Devin McCourty, Rodney McLeod, Jimmie Ward and Aqib Talib are all unrestricted free agents. On the defensive line, Super Bowl champion Chris Jones bulldozed his way into a prime situation where he's poised to earn Aaron Donald money with roughly $87 million guaranteed. Fellow defensive end Jadeveon Clowney accumulated three sacks and four forced fumbles after his trade to Seattle, but are the Seahawks willing to pay up to keep him?

Proven, experienced head coaches Mike McCarthy and Ron Rivera are settling into their new digs. Others like Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland, Matt Rhule of the Panthers and Joe Judge with the Giants are getting their first opportunities to run teams.

The to-do list for the NFL offseason goes on and on. The games are only just beginning. And here's hoping the league will take the time to eliminate the failed pass interference rule after one year of doing practically nothing!

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, cbssportsradio.com and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.