This is the third of an eight-part series on the offseason moves in the NFL. Today's installment covers the AFC South.
There was more interesting news in the offices of the AFC South contract negotiators than in the offices of the division's coaches this offseason.
The Indianapolis Colts face some huge contract issues. Quarterback Peyton Manning is entering the final year of his contract. And two other Colts stars, receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive end Robert Mathis, want new deals, even though their contracts have two years remaining.
Meanwhile, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson held out of mandatory minicamp because he wants a new deal in the wake of his record-breaking season in 2009.
Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards last year and set an NFL record with 2,509 yards from scrimmage. He said he "can't play for $550,000" this year, his scheduled salary. He doesn't have much choice, however, but to report to training camp by Aug. 10. He won't get credit for a year of service toward free agency if he doesn't report by then.
The same holds true for Wayne and Mathis. Colts President Bill Polian says it's hard to negotiate new deals this offseason because the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players runs out after this year and no one is sure of the salary cap rules going forward.
Regarding Manning, Polian thinks a deal will get done.
"But there's a lot of work that we can do between then and now to lay groundwork and cover areas that we need to cover and talk about various different structures, and we'll do that," he said.
The AFC South saw little free-agency movement this year, which leaves AFC champion Indianapolis as the favorite once again.
Key gains: DE Jerry Hughes (TCU), LB Pat Angerer (Iowa), G Andy Alleman (Chiefs).
Key losses: G Ryan Lilja (cut).
Breakdown: The outlook is bright because Manning is 34 and shows no signs of slowing down. The Colts were fortunate to get Hughes at No. 31 in the draft. He's an edge rusher who fits the system. Ditto for mobile but undersized Angerer. He's the heir to MLB Gary Brackett, who signed a new contract.
Key questions: Can star S Bob Sanders, out 37 games the past four years, stay on the field? Tony Ugoh or Mike Pollack must take over at guard for Lilja. Can K Adam Vinatieri, 37, come back from injuries? Can the O-line provide more push for the run game without major reinforcements?
Key gains: CB Kareem Jackson (Alabama), RB Ben Tate (Auburn), K Neil Rackers (Cardinals), G Wade Smith (Chiefs).
Key losses: CB Dunta Robinson (Falcons), RB Ryan Moats (Vikings).
Breakdown: The Texans had one of the quieter offseasons in the league, aside from the fact defensive rookie of the year Brian Cushing got busted four games for violating the performance-enhancing drugs policy. The big need was running back, and San Diego beat the Texans to the punch in drafting Ryan Mathews. So Houston settled for Tate. He isn't overly elusive but should fit the system. Rackers takes over for Kris Brown, who cost the Texans two games with misses in the final seconds. Houston locked up MLB DeMeco Ryans for $21 million guaranteed and WR Kevin Walter for $8 million guaranteed.
Questions: Can star TE Owen Daniels come back from a knee injury? Can injury-prone S Eugene Wilson bounce back? Can Amobi Okoye and the other DTs develop? Can journeyman Smith help the run blocking in the middle? Is Jacoby Jones the No. 2 WR? Will Dan Orlovsky or John David Booty back up QB Matt Schaub? Is there quality CB depth?
Key gains: LB Will Witherspoon (Eagles), DE Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech), WR Damian Williams (Southern California), LB Rennie Curran (Georgia), QB Chris Simms (Broncos).
Key losses: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (Lions), LB Keith Bullock (unsigned), TE Alge Crumpler (Patriots), RB LenDale White (traded).
Breakdown: QB Vince Young got into a 3 a.m. scrum at a Dallas strip club but received only a citation. Meanwhile, the Titans rely on good drafts. Morgan helps replace Vanden Bosch. Williams is a good route-runner who may complement No. 1 WR Kenny Britt. New deals locked up two good young players, G Eugene Amano and DT Tony Brown.
Questions: Young is 26-13 as a starter. Can he develop in Year Three with offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger? Can Curran challenge Gerald McRath for Bullock's old job? McRath was suspended for the first four games. Will CJ be happy? Who wins the No. 2 CB job? Can LeGarrette Blount fill White's big-back role?
Key gains: DT Tyson Alualu (California), MLB Kirk Morrison (Raiders), DE Aaron Kampman (Packers), WR Kassim Osgood (Chargers), G Justin Smiley (Dolphins).
Key losses: DT John Henderson (Raiders), DE Quentin Groves (Raiders), WR Torry Holt (Patriots).
Breakdown: The Jags disappointed fans by not drafting Tim Tebow. They did make some solid moves to help their 23rd-ranked defense after being forced to cut Henderson for financial reasons. Alualu looks like a good player. Kampman didn't fit the 3-4 in Green Bay and should help, if healthy. Morrison looks like a super addition at a bargain price (a fourth-round pick). Justin Smiley is a good pass blocker if healthy.
Questions: Can the Jags sell out more than one home game (their total in 2009)? Kampman, coming off a down year, must rebound from knee surgery in November. How fast can he help? Can Smiley, who missed 16 games the past three years, stay healthy? Can S Reggie Nelson make a play? The Jags' quest at receiver continues. Is there a No. 1 WR?
NEXT: AFC West
Colts: Still atop stand-pat division
Texans: RB Be Tate joins potent offense
Titans: Will CJ run for low dough?
Jaguars: Can fans embrace Tebow-less team?