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10 things to watch this offseason

7:06 AM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS -- Reality set in Monday for NFL fans. The next meaningful down won't be played for seven months.

The good news is the incredible demand for information and the number of outlets that provide it means there is no offseason for football news.

There will be plenty of interesting developments beginning as soon as, well, yesterday, when the Detroit Lions cut insubordinate wide receiver Titus Young.

Here's a look at 10 intriguing storylines to watch as players conduct their offseason workouts on the practice field while teams reshape their rosters through free agency and the draft.

1. Robert Griffin III's recovery from a torn ACL

This may be the most closely watched rehab in the history of the NFL. From the time Griffin was sitting in Dr. James Andrews' facility the day after his surgery last month, he was surrounded by about a dozen Washington Redskins employees -- doctors, trainers and members of the media-relations crew. This situation will be carefully monitored and managed from a physical and perception standpoint. The Redskins would be wise to not rush Griffin and allow Kirk Cousins to begin the season as the starter while Griffin remains on the PUP list.

2. Sean Payton gets to work rebuilding the New Orleans Saints

In addition to regaining organizational pride after the bounty scandal, there are some holes on the roster that need to be filled. Oh, and the team has yet to hire a defensive coordinator. Look for coach Sean Payton, a fiery presence in a normal year, to be ultra-vocal this offseason in practices and OTAs as he tries to reestablish a dominant mentality.

3. Joe Flacco's contract

Imagine the backlash if the Super Bowl MVP comes anywhere close to the July deadline to sign his franchise tender without having a new long-term deal. The Baltimore Ravens understand that, and that's why both sides have said this should be a fairly smooth negotiation.

Like any contract negotiation, there will be some hard lines taken at some point and perhaps the franchise tag will be used to provide time for further talks. But don't expect it to linger into the summer.

4. The second No. 1 overall pick to hit free agency in as many years

Last spring, Mario Williams got $96 million over six years from the Buffalo Bills. Now, it's Jake Long's turn. The Miami Dolphins' left tackle won't come close to nabbing the type of deal Williams received. Long hasn't been the same player over the past two injury-plagued seasons he was early in his career, but he does play the premier position on the offensive line. That said, there might be a bunch of tackles on the market (Ryan Clady, Brandon Albert, Jermon Bushrod and Will Beatty ), so supply may hurt Long's demand.

5. Who is the No. 1 draft pick?

This is what happens when there isn't a top-flight quarterback available. Teams can suddenly go in a bunch of different directions. It doesn't happen often. Twelve of the last 15 No. 1 picks have been quarterbacks. Long (2008) was the last non-quarterback taken in the top spot. Williams (2006) was the last defensive player to come off the board first.

It's not easy to project non-quarterbacks, so look for a lengthy debate on whether offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) defensive end Bjoern Werner (Florida State), nose tackle Star Lotulelei (Utah) or other candidates deserve to be first pick of Andy Reid's tenure with the Kansas City Chiefs. That's of course, if Reid keeps the pick.

6. The evolution of the Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly

The first decision Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman, have to make is whether to retain Michael Vick. He's due a bonus of $3 million this week. But the Eagles won't have pay all or even any of it if they release him and he signs with another team since his new salary would offset the Eagles' payout. Vick will have to take a cut to stay in Philly. The likely scenario is the team goes with Nick Foles for now. Kelly says he would tailor his offense to his personnel.

7. Alex Smith's destination

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback has had quite the up-and-down career. With Colin Kaepernick entrenched as the future of the franchise, Smith is a goner. The Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills have already been mentioned as possible landing spots.

8. Jay Cutler's approach under new coach Marc Trestman

The former Montreal Alouettes coach wants to rebuild Cutler, mechanics-up. Cutler is hoping for a contract extension this offseason, which would be the first step toward a bright future. Developing a solid working relationship with Trestman is more important for the Bears in the short term.

9. Tim Tebow's future

The New York Jets saw him as a versatile player (that should be kept on the bench. Tebow still thinks he's full-time QB. He's about to learn that might only be the case if he heads to the CFL. Will Tebow accept a role as the jack of all trades? That might be his best bet of staying in the NFL.

10. HGH testing

Don't be fooled by the placement of it as our final item. It's extremely important to the health and safety of the players. The NFL Players Association and the NFL both stated last week they believe they're close to an agreement on testing. Commissioner Roger Goodell said he thinks it'll be in place before the start of the season. Good, because the game needs to be as clean and safe as possible.

Mike Garafolo, USA TODAY Sports

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