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Super Bowl XLIX was a great finish to the 2014 season. The 2015 offseason couldn't have gotten off to a worse start.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for the season. Teammate Johnny Manziel checked into a rehab center. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell faces a short suspension now that the judicial process has been completed for his arrest for DUI and marijuana possession.
Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was arrested on marijuana and firearms possession charges. Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was arrested for allegedly punching a pizza delivery driver in a conflict over a parking space.
If those weren't enough, Browns front-office executives are being investigated for sending text messages to coaches that violated rules prohibiting electronic communication during games. The Atlanta Falcons are being investigated for pumping artificial crowd noise into the Georgia Dome during games. Both teams could be penalized with fines and the loss of draft picks.
And of course, Ted Wells is investigating the New England Patriots for underinflated footballs.
All of these incidents will further challenge NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. On the Friday of Super Bowl week, Goodell said the 2014 season was humbling. He was heavily criticized for his handling of the Ray Rice case, and the NFL Players Association is challenging his authority on player conduct penalties, which have been all over the place. Goodell has also been inconsistent in disciplining of head coaches in the past. For example, Sean Payton received a one-year suspension for the Saints' bounty scandals while Bill Belichick wasn't suspended for Spygate, just heavily fined.
During the Super Bowl news conference, Goodell stressed the importance of protecting the integrity of the game. To back up the talk, he must be strong with rulings on the Falcons and the Browns and then figure out if there should be penalties for the deflated footballs.
Financially, the NFL is in great shape. Ratings, revenue and interest in the game are soaring. Goodell still has to show he can be effective in dealing with the league's off-the-field issues, though.
From the inbox
Q: Ever since the trade of draft picks in 2012 that gave Washington Robert Griffin III and St. Louis extensive depth, I have read perspectives that Washington ultimately came out on the better end because it has reached the playoffs since the trade and St. Louis has not. As the Washington front office continues to lose faith in RG III, capped with the news he was excluded off that season ticket-holder email, is it fair to ask again which team has emerged on the better end of that deal? Is it fair to judge the value of a trade based solely on playoff appearances?
Cody in Reno, Nevada
A: One playoff appearance does not make a trade successful. If Griffin doesn't bounce back next season, the Redskins set their franchise back significantly with the trade. It's a quarterback-driven league, so you can see why they made the move. Coming out of college, RG III looked like a good quarterback. But giving up three No. 1s and a No. 2 potentially cost the Redskins four starters. Under the collective bargaining agreement that went into effect in 2011, it has become vital for teams to get starters out of the draft. The Redskins got hit on two ends. They were penalized $36 million of cap room over two years for front-loading contracts during the uncapped 2010 season, limiting their ability to sign free agents. Trading away the draft choices so they could select Griffin set them back further. They really need RG III to turn his career around.
Q: The Seahawks have a glaring need at WR. They also have major decisions regarding contract extensions to big names. With Marshawn Lynch questions swirling and Russell Wilson's big payday coming, what are the chances that John Schneider and Pete Carroll target receivers such as Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb, or Jeremy Maclin in free agency? Will they draft and wait and see how Chris Matthews pans out? Or are they desperate enough at the position to pony up the cash?
Jake in Seattle
A: They can't afford to go for a high-priced free agent. They have to hit gold in the draft. Remember, the Seahawks tried the route of going for a high-priced receiver when they traded for Percy Harvin and gave him a big contract. That deal led to them losing Golden Tate and forced them to go with a thinner group along the defensive line. The money needs to go to the players who got them to two Super Bowls, not high-priced players from the outside. Plus, they don't pass the ball enough to spend $9 million a year on a wide receiver.
Q: It seems to me that there are so many benefits associated with the NFL creating a developmental league that it is something that has to be on the horizon. With an eight-team D-league, each NFL team could allocate 10 players to cover 70-75 percent of the roster needs. The other 25-30 percent could be filled with street free agents desperate for a shot. The teams could play a seven-game, round-robin schedule, with the top two teams playing in a championship game. The games would fill a major spring-time void on television. I feel D-league play should start the weekend after the NCAA Final Four and be finished by the first weekend in June. A D-league would do wonders for the development of players (especially QBs), coaches, referees and broadcasters.
Nate in Divide County, North Dakota
A: I agree with you 100 percent. A few developmental leagues are starting to position themselves for NFL consideration. I'm not sure what time of the year would work the best, but something needs to be done. There are investors willing to help fund leagues. The NFL would benefit if it could send players who don't get on to the field to a developmental league. It's good business to get players with more experience. I'm with you on this one.
Q: I just watched your most recent edition of "Inside the Huddle." Since I've always respected your analysis, I was somewhat surprised to hear you say, after pointing out the unlikelihood of an interception from the 1-yard line, that "the Seahawks should have handed off to Lynch." Of course, and that's what the Seahawks were setting up. It was second down with one timeout and 26 seconds left. Assuming no interception, which was a good assumption based on your analysis, the throw results in a TD or stops the clock. If the former, great. If the latter, then with the remaining timeout there's now lots of time for Beast Mode to embarrass the Pats' defense. It's unfortunate that Malcolm Butler's comments after the game are being downplayed in the postgame analysis of the end of this year's Super Bowl. When Butler was beat on this play in practice, Belichick pulled him aside and calmly explained what to do so he's not beaten next time. Now that's great coaching, even though I really don't like the guy. No wonder so many players have had Belichick's back for so long.
David in Sidney, British Columbia
A: By letting the clock run down, Belichick dared the Seahawks to run the ball. He had his goal-line defense on the field and was prepared to stop two runs. As you brought up, Butler was ready for Seattle's formation. He was beaten enough in practice that he knew what he needed to do on that play. I can understand the philosophy of throwing a pass there. If it had resulted in an incompletion, it would have stopped the clock and left the Seahawks with time for two running plays. But I would rather try two runs in that scenario than risk an interception.
Q: What is the rule for carrying salary-cap space forward from year to year? Are teams allowed to carry forward all unused cap space, including space from multiple years? If a young team is in rebuilding mode, is it better off staying under the cap for a couple of years, carrying that space forward and then using it to lock up a young core rather than spending on marginal veterans along the way?
Joe in Syracuse, New York
A: Teams are allowed to roll over unused cap dollars. Teams rolled over $181 million of unused cap room from last year. Jacksonville rolled over $21.77 million. Cleveland rolled over $18.9 million. Over a four-year period, though, each team must spend 89 percent of its total cap space, so rebuilding teams need to invest at some point.
Q: We all know the Bucs need a QB in this year's draft. With that being said, what do you think are the chances they trade the No. 1 pick away? For instance, the Bucs trade the pick to the Eagles for their first- and third-round picks and also get Nick Foles in the deal. The Bucs get a good QB and picks, and Chip Kelly gets Marcus Mariota.
Ryan in Tulsa, Oklahoma
A: The Eagles draft 20th. A first, a third and Foles isn't enough to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick. Plus, the Bucs have the choice of the best quarterback in the draft. If you need a quarterback, take a quarterback. For the Eagles to move up to get Mariota, they would likely have to give up at least three first-round picks. That's not going to happen. For the Bucs, what benefit would it be for them to trade out of the top five?
A Feb 8 story on ESPN.com incorrectly reported details around New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's NFL punishment in 2007. Belichick was fined $500,000 and the team was fined $250,000 for spying on an opponent's signals