This, my friends, could be our last "dark" NFL weekend until, oh, February 2012 or so. Yes, if all goes as hoped and the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is ratified in the coming days, we'll at least be readying for a wild free agent marketplace next week at this time.
It's possible we could even be at training camp if the Chicago Bears report as scheduled to Olivet Nazarene University. In either event, things will most definitely be on.
If that's the case, I think we'll look back on this lockout and wonder what all the fuss was about? What exactly did we miss out on? Free agency is always a fun early-spring activity, but we'll get it soon enough. The draft took place as scheduled. Only the most hard-core fans (and media members) could seriously be dismayed about the loss of organized team activities and (gasp!) minicamp.
Sure, the NFL subjected itself to public scorn over the unseemly specter of billionaires and millionaires fighting about $9 billion in revenues. But based on how often I heard some version of Let me know when it's over from you, I really think the damage is minimal.
That sentiment might have been different if regular-season games were canceled, but to me that never seemed likely. There was way, way, way too much money at stake.
Enough on that -- hopefully forever.
If we're going to get back in football mode, I can think of no better way than to resume the weekend mailbag. It got a bit thin in there over the past few months, but I'm thinking we'll have plenty to discuss in the coming days, weeks and certainly months.
Brian of Urbana, Ill., writes: What do you think of the Chicago Bears' age on defense? Do you feel they are more susceptible to injuries or will be a little slower than usual? I guess what I'm asking is if you feel the Bears' age will catch up with them this season.
Kevin Seifert: I don't necessarily think the Bears' age will catch up to them in 2011, but what's clear is that their roster is aging. One illustration: Only one of their players, rookie tackle Gabe Carimi, made ESPN.com's list of nominees for a mythical Dream Team of Tomorrow.
Think about it. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are 33 and 30, respectively. Their starting defensive ends, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, are at least 30. Cornerback Charles Tillman is 30. Center Olin Kreutz (a pending free agent) is 34. Longtime guard Roberto Garza is 32.
A team with key players at those ages can compete in 2011. But in a perfect world, you would like to see more potential replacements in the pipeline than the Bears have. Who will take over for Urlacher? What are the Bears' long-term plans for center and guard? Some of those questions could get answered in free agency, but they can't all be addressed at once.
The Bears' nucleus isn't old. But it's aging.
Kyle B of Kentwod, Mich., wants to know if there is anything of substance in our continued discussions about the Detroit Lions possibly signing free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Kevin Seifert: Despite months and months of speculation, all we really know is this:
Asomugha is in line for free agency.
The Lions need a starting cornerback (or two) and will have about $16 million in salary cap space to work with.
Nationally, discussion has centered around Asomugha choosing a team on the East Coast, which we call EAST COAST BIAS. The reality is the Lions have an interesting situation to offer a cornerback: A potentially high-scoring offense and an elite defensive line to account for consistent pressure.
During our SportsNation chat Tuesday, we discussed the merits and pitfalls of devoting the kind of cash and salary cap space that would be required (for any team) to reel in Asomugha. Would the Lions be better off with, say, a starting cornerback and a starting linebacker or one elite difference-maker?
You could make arguments on both sides, but to me there are only a handful of players like Asomugha in the game. They almost never become available on the free market. It's true that the Lions have more than one need, but how many chances will they have to land a veteran, instant-impact player who is one of the best at his position in the game?
I think they owe it to themselves to at least pursue the idea. But that's just me.
Ryan of Louisville is worried that Green Bay Packers players never came together this offseason for group workouts as many other teams did: I certainly can understand that being SB Champs is a HUGE accomplishment and players deserve to celebrate but as a fan I am afraid that they are gonna oversleep on the opportunity to get some fine tuning done.
Kevin Seifert: I guess we're getting ready to find out whether the Packers overslept or were the smart ones. I truly think the answer varies per team. But most of the Packers' offensive players have been together for at least three years.
The opportunity for fine-tuning is minimal, but the chances of a mishap is greater. Coach Mike McCarthy was planning a more laid-back offseason regardless of the lockout, allowing players to physically recover, from their extended playoff run, and I would be really surprised if the Packers are rusty in training camp because they didn't work out en masse during the offseason.
Big Fan writes: Any chance we could get some Vikings news BESIDES stadium issues? I know it's a lockout, but EVERY day I look on your blog and every day it's nothing but stuff about the stadium. We're really, really tired of reading about it.
Kevin Seifert: No issue is more critical to the future of the franchise, and I make no apologies for the frequency of posts on it. But you have a point. There is still a team, a 2011 schedule and a roster to fill. So here is one football-related topic I think we're going to hear a lot more about in the coming weeks: Sidney Rice's hip.
A lot of you are wondering why the Vikings weren't more aggressive in their attempts to re-sign a 24-year-old receiver who is one year removed from an 83-catch season. Part of it, I think, can be attributed to Rice's interest in at least testing the market. It's not often a player of his age qualifies for unrestricted free agency. (Remember, he entered the NFL as a 20-year-old.)
But I think the surgery Rice had on his hip last summer, known as a mircrofracture procedure, has at least given the Vikings pause as they contemplate how much of a future financial commitment they might make to him. Are they using the fear of long-term health issues as a negotiating tactic or is it real? I'm not sure, but if anyone gives Rice big-time money this summer, they will need a high level of assurance that the hip does not present a long-term issue.