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Manning saga, questions about Patriots headline offseason storylines

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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When Gisele Bundchen was videotaped defending her football husband from his alleged butterfingered wide receivers she had inadvertently hit on what will perhaps be the second biggest story of the upcoming offseason: how will the Patriots respond to their Super Bowl loss?

The irony is that more than a few team officials around the NFL privately agreed with Bundchen, but it's more than that. There has been a belief the Patriots' failing to replace Randy Moss with another speed option would eventually bite them in the rear. That seems absurd to say about a team coming off a Super Bowl run, but this season's success is more the greatness of Tom Brady. He's so good he can overcome the fact New England has no speed threat at wideout.

The Patriots might be the most watched team this offseason not named the Colts because it's believed that coach Bill Belichick will reload by attempting to greatly increase the level of athleticism and speed on both sides of the ball.

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The Super Bowl was close, but the difference in athleticism wasn't. The Giants' speed and explosiveness was demonstrated at critical moments. Mario Manningham is the Giants' third wide receiver but he's still more explosive than any of the receivers on the Patriots and it showed on one historic play. Exemplary tight ends like the ones on the Patriots are obviously good to have but it's the speed on the outside that makes a difference in a game. Again, Manningham is exhibit one.

Vince Wilfork is extremely talented, but when he's the best defensive player on a team that's a problem. Look again at the Giants.

In one segment on Inside the NFL, a wired Brady is talking about the Giants' defensive line. Brady says it's like trying to throw through a forest because of their length. I would add their speed and athletic ability are equally problematic.

I'm told Belichick knows he's been getting away with all of this and wants to try and change things beginning this offseason by adding a fast wide receiver and more speed across the roster. We'll see if he can.

The Patriots will be a huge offseason story amid a sea of them. Last offseason we saw the ugliness of the lockout. This offseason we have the wonderment of football being back, but there will still be massive drama and upheaval beginning with the biggest story: The Man Who Shall Not Be Named or TMWSNBN.

TMWSNBN: I'm kidding about Peyton Manning and if you are sick of hearing about him, well, it's just getting started. He's the biggest story of this offseason.

There are two pieces of information being discussed now throughout league circles that are important to know. First, there remain a handful of team personnel men who have serious doubts he will ever play again or at the very least will miss most of next season. The Manning camp denies this. But again there are skeptics.

Second, despite the denial of the Colts, most in the NFL believe they've already made the decision to pick Andrew Luck mainly because they don't have a choice. The simple reason is money. If Luck gets his expected $15 million next year and Manning commands salaries of more than $35 million for 2012 if he stayed in Indianapolis that would be more than $50 million committed to one position. That's virtually impossible. The Colts couldn't field a competent team if this happened, which is why the Colts must choose one or the other.

Despite owner Jim Irsay's sort of funkadelic rep on Twitter, he is respected around football as a smart man, and no one believes Irsay will roll the dice with Manning with Luck at his fingertips. That's why Manning is gone. Now the only question is can Manning play?

To the Victor Cruz's go the spoils: Every Super Bowl champion faces this: the pilfering of their players and staff and a sudden money grab by players. The latter has already started for the Giants. Star wide receiver Victor Cruz said in an interview with Profootballtalk.com that he deserved to be paid more. Cruz didn't even wait for the Lombardi trophy to find a new spot on the Giants' shelf before asking for a raise.

Team in Los Angeles: I think there's a slim chance the situation becomes much clearer this offseason. The most likely option, according to a person familiar with the situation, remains a current team moving to California. The betting money remains on the Rams.

Quarterback Drew Brees: He'll get a new deal, but the road there might be rockier than initially thought.

The Math of Khan. The Jaguars were purchased by new owner Shahid Khan and this offseason continues one of the great football experiments: can small market teams make money and find stability? Khan believes so.

In the meantime, can the Jaguars win next season? "Absolutely we can," tight end Marcedes Lewis told me in an interview. "We can turn things around quickly in this league. Look at teams like the 49ers and others. It can be done."

Lewis was then asked if there was one thing he'd change about last year for the Jaguars, what would it be? "Keeping David Garrard through the entire season," Lewis explained, referring to the former Jacksonville quarterback who was cut by the team early in the year. "Blaine [Gabbert] could have learned a lot from Dave, and I would also say cutting Dave and some of the other stuff like firing Jack [Del Rio] ... I don't want to say people gave up but it was a lot for the team to handle."

More Luck: He'll go first in the draft and it's possible no pick in recent memory will ever feel as much pressure to perform as Luck, not even the quarterback he'll be replacing. Can he do it? Who knows? But the hype leading up to the draft will be enormous. This from an NFL scout: "Not only can he make every throw, but he's a lot mentally tougher than you think." The scout compared Luck to Eli Manning.

Salary cap: Might go down slightly causing some teams to make a few more surprise releases of veterans than normal.

The Tebow question: He'll go into mini-camps and training camp as the starter, but there's no way general manager John Elway will go into the season without a backup plan. What that backup plan is we may not know until the summer but there is one. It's like the Pentagon's plan to defend the U.S. against an attack from Canada. We know those plans are around, they're just ultra-secretive.

HGH: The league will finally have a policy in place likely by training camp and it'll be almost an unbeatable one ... until the next drug comes along.

Just consider this ... According to David Schwartz, director of UNLV's Center for Gaming Research, the total amount gambled in Nevada casinos in 2011 was $138.6 billion. That has nothing to do with the offseason, but my goodness. You've got to wonder, how much of that money was bet on NFL games?

The Jets: a total mess. I'm told quarterback Mark Sanchez wants to have a meeting with key offensive players on the team sometime before mini-camps get going. Sanchez is a good player who has become a scapegoat for a Jets franchise that simply doesn't have as much talent as it thinks it does and a coach that runs his mouth a tad too much.

And let the offseason begin ...

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