Top 10 offseason stories

First, thanks to all who tuned in to the first NFP Webinar on Wednesday. I hope I was helpful educating participants about how we got to where we are in the NFL and where we’re heading. We’ve had dozens of inquiries from people who were unable to take part, so we’ll make the recording available for purchase on the site soon.

Now that we’re entering one of the most important offseasons in the history of the NFL, it’s time to take a cue from David Letterman and list the top 10 stories to watch in what could be a turbulent 2010 offseason. Let’s start with the bottom five:

10. Franchise free agency

The Rams – or at least 60 percent of them -- are reportedly being sold to an Illinois businessman who’s intent on keeping the team in St. Louis. The purchase price supposedly would be significantly less than the value of the team calculated by Forbes magazine a few months ago.

If true, the NFL will use the price as proof to refute the NFL Players Association argument that all is healthy in the economic world of these teams and that their asset values are in decline due to the economy -- supporting their complaint about financial difficulty and request for collective sacrifice.

Farther north, the Vikings have been rebuffed again by the state of Minnesota, as the budget was just presented without any public funding for them. As the Vikings have watched public financing for the University of Minnesota and the Twins, their frustration level is boiling in their revenue-deprived bandbox of a facility, casting one eye toward L.A.

9. American Needle

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in January on this case involving an apparel company pushed to the curb when the NFL did a collective deal with Reebok in 2002. Although none of the questioning concerned labor, there is at least the potential for a sweeping antitrust exemption for the NFL that would insulate it for the NFLPA strategy of decertification employed successfully by Gene Upshaw in the early 1990s.

The more likely result is the preservation of limited antitrust exempt status – for broadcast contracts, apparel and other licensing – while not addressing the bigger issue of player rights, although the NFL thought it was worth a shot to take a free play and present it to the highest court in the land.

With a decision not expected until May or June, the case has the potential of slowing the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations even further.

8. The 2010 NFL Draft class

Although some ideas have been floated in bargaining sessions, it appears that the draft compensation system will remain unchanged. The interesting issue regarding these top draft pick contracts comes in March 2011. The way the contracts are structured – due to the operation of the tight rookie pool that will continue without a cap – the vast majority of bonus money comes in the second year of the contract rather than the first, a potential amount of $250-300 million. That should get management’s attention as it structures these deals.

7. Who will pick a Peppers?

The most attractive unrestricted free agent (UFA) on the market is Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. He’s been vocal in the media about not wanting to return to Carolina, and it may well oblige him. The Final Four teams – Saints, Colts, Vikings, Jets – are also ruled out, as are the Packers; their defensive line coach is Mike Trgovac, who clashed with Peppers in Carolina.

The interesting issue for Peppers, however, may not be who the team is, but how much he gets. As a player who has made north of $15M for each of the past two seasons, it’s a question whether he’ll equal that average as a UFA.

6. Being Brett

No offseason list is complete without Brett. My belief this year is the same I’ve had every year since I’ve known him (and since the speculation started): He will play.

Brett is under contract with the Vikings for $13M, so there is no contract to negotiate nor retirement list to skirt (see Jets, 2009). Brett played with a calm and poise this year that spoke well of his ongoing relationship with Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, someone Brett has come to trust after a rocky start in Green Bay years ago. I’ll be shocked if he truly retires.

I’ll have the top five stories Monday.

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