2009's Most Overrated & Underrated Stories

In theory, the NFL offseason runs from the end of the Super Bowl through the start of training camps. However, there is no shortage of NFL stories throughout the offseason, perhaps more so than during the season. Here’s a look at what have been the most over-hyped/over-reported/over-dramatized stories of the offseason and what have been under-the-radar issues that may actually be more important stories.

Most Over-hyped/Over-analyzed/Over-reported

1. Brett Favre

Enough said.

2. Michael Vick

Ditto.

3. Players complaining about contracts/missing offseason workouts/demanding trades.

This is an annual rite of the offseason, usually beginning around the Pro Bowl when the whisper crew (players, friends, hangers-on, agents) puts a bug in a player’s ear that he’s being taken advantage of and needs to take a more aggressive stance with management. The second phase usually comes after the big-ticket spending in free agency and players see the market go through its annual uptick. This strategy has gone on for years, as the offseason months are “me” time before “we” time in training camp. There will be griping, complaining and threatening, but come September, they will all be lining up. They always do and always will.

4. Andre Smith

We may have heard more about Andre Smith in the past few months than we’ll hear about him in the next 10 years. Smith was vilified in the winter for contact with an agent that caused him to be kicked off his Alabama team for the Sugar Bowl, then was criticized for miscommunication of his whereabouts at the NFL Combine, then was further crucified for appearing out of shape at his private workout. Now he hires, fires and re-hires agents at will. What does all this mean? Nothing. He was the sixth pick in the draft and will earn more than $22 million guaranteed. I think we all would take that fallen stock.

5. The Matthew Stafford contract, rookie salaries and their ruination of the world as we know it.

Yes, it's terrible how a player who has never taken a snap in the NFL can make many multiples more than players who toil for years at the highest level. OK, we get it. Focusing on Stafford and the top, however, ignores the reality of the rookie pay system in the NFL, which provides teams a cheap and reasonable base of compensation to balance their Cap against the large free-agent veteran contracts. Usually, the more players that teams have under rookie contracts, the more Cap room they will have. Stafford is an over-publicized aberration; 98 percent of rookie contracts are more than affordable for teams.

6. The 17th or 18th game in the NFL season.

Sounds good, seems interesting and lucrative, but a non-starter until there is buy-in from the networks and the players. Then it will be a story.

Most Under-reported/Under-hyped

1. The Effect of the Economy

There has certainly been fallout – layoffs and furloughs at the league and club level, some ticket sales being off and shortfalls of sponsorship money – but the worst appears yet to come. The meltdown of the economy will have a delayed effect into 2009 and beyond. While the focus has been on the short-term impact felt by the NFL, the more important and less discussed issue is the long-term effect. Which leads to…

2. Lotteries, Liquor and Logos

The NFL has opened up the sponsorship category of state lotteries, and several teams have jumped in feet first, with several more deals pending. Liquor may be next, potentially followed by sponsor identification on practice jerseys. The economy has made less and less inventory sacred, and proactive teams will look to every available source of revenue allowed by the league. We have traditionally spoken with derision about European soccer teams having sponsors on their jerseys, believing that would never happen in the NFL. Never say never, which leads to…

3. The End of the Salary Cap

As we sit here today, there is no Salary Cap beyond this season. While that appears to be cause for alarm on the management side of the labor equation, what has been under-reported and under-appreciated by the labor side is that life for players will not be all peaches and cream without a Cap. Players will need to have six years of service – rather than the present four – to be free agents, eliminating a potential 150 players from free agency in March. And perhaps more importantly, as there will be no Salary Cap maximum spending limit, there will also be no Salary Cap minimum spending threshold. Thus, a team could spend $25M on payroll if it so desires. Major League Baseball – where team payroll disparities approach $150M – could be coming to an NFL city near you.

4. The NFL Network Deal with Comcast

On the surface, this is an innocuous cable deal for the carriage of the NFL Network on a more basic and subscribed-to tier than it was previously. I have a suspicion, though, that there will be more to this story. Although extensions have been made with Fox and CBS, there is still the Sunday night package with NBC that has not been extended, as well as NFL Network games that could theoretically be sold to another partner. Comcast and its subsidiary Versus will be players in this game.

5. Kellen Clemens

I feel for this guy. He was the anointed future, destined to take over the helm of the New York Jets once Chad Pennington moved on (or was asked to move on). Then came Brett Favre, unhappy in retirement and unwanted in Green Bay, and the Jets put Clemens on hold. As many expected, Brett was one and done in New York, and the future seemed bright again for Clemens. Uh, well, until the Jets traded for their future in the name of Mark Sanchez. As to the plan for Clemens, well, not much is said about it anymore.

6. Oldies, Not Goodies

The league is getting younger on a lot of fronts. Head coaches are being hired in their early 30s while long-time assistant coaches in their 60s are taking retirement packages rather than face the uncertainty of pension funding. Younger, cheaper players with more upside are replacing older players with stellar Pro Bowl resumes. While Favre decides whether to un-retire, older, accomplished players such as Marvin Harrison, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Deuce McAllister and Rodney Harrison wish that someone would un-retire them. While there is much concern over whether rookies take money away from veterans, which they don’t, the true issue is whether younger players take jobs away from older players, which they do.

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