The 2016 season will be played without Peyton Manning on an NFL field. His recently uncertain playing status was resolved Sunday when the Denver Broncos confirmed they’d been informed by Manning that he is retiring.

What are the chances that a portion of the 2016 season also will be played without the other legendary quarterback of their era of shared greatness, the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady?

Attorneys for the NFL and NFL Players Association were back in federal court Thursday in New York regarding Brady’s DeflateGate suspension. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard the league’s appeal of the ruling in September by a federal judge that overturned Brady’s four-game suspension.

Some courtroom observers and legal analysts were convinced that, while both sides faced sharp questioning by the appeals-court judges, the toughest were aimed at the lawyer representing Brady, the NFLPA’s Jeffrey Kessler. That seems to create the possibility that the appeals court will side with the league and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might have a chance to enforce Brady’s suspension, if he chooses, during the 2016 season.

Legal experts always warn against reading too much into judges’ lines of questioning in court. That is not always indicative, analysts say, of which way a ruling will go.

But when U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman seemed tougher on the league than on the union in court last year, he followed by issuing the decision that nullified Brady’s suspension and put the four-time Super Bowl winner on the field for the entire 2015 season.

So the fact that the appeals court judges seemed, to some, to be giving greater deference than Berman did to the NFL’s disciplinary process and Goodell’s power to rule on Brady’s suspension under the collective bargaining agreement, while perhaps putting more emphasis than Berman did on Brady’s decision to destroy his cell phone before it could be turned over to league investigators, might be meaningful. Or it might not.

Let’s say that it is. Let’s say that the NFL now has a slight advantage in court as all parties await a ruling expected in several months.

Should Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo stay loose for the season opener?

It never hurts to be prepared. But that’s still several steps off.

Even if the judges rule in the league’s favor, and that’s not a certainty, the timing is unclear and the appeals process would not be completed. The losing side at this point can appeal to the full Second Circuit appeals court, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The appeals judges, as an alternative, could remand the case back to Berman’s courtroom.

Goodell declined to say at his annual state-of-the-league news conference two days before the Super Bowl whether he would reinstate Brady’s suspension if the league prevails in its appeal. Why continue to pursue the case if not to enforce the suspension? Goodell has said it’s about the league’s rights under the CBA, not about Brady.

There also might be a chance at some point of a settlement. The league and union have been negotiating potential changes to the sport’s system of player discipline and Goodell’s role in it. The NFLPA is seeking third-party arbitration for players’ appeals of discipline imposed by the NFL under the integrity-of-the-game rules, like Brady’s suspension, and under the personal conduct policy.

Former Oakland Raiders executive Amy Trask has suggested that the league and union could reach a global settlement that would include an agreement on the player-discipline system and a resolution of Brady’s suspension.

“My prediction/suggestion: global settlement between NFL/NFLPA to include modified disciplinary authority/processes [and] end of this matter,” Trask, now a football analyst for CBS Sports, wrote last week on Twitter.

That, of course, would require an awful lot of agreeing between two sides not always known for mutual accommodation. The league and union resisted Berman’s efforts to bring about a settlement of the Brady case.

But maybe, just maybe, a measure of DeflateGate weariness has set in. Perhaps the leverage has shifted enough to enhance settlement chances. Would Brady be suspended as part of an overall settlement? Would the suspension be reduced? There’s no way to tell at the moment. But if it were to happen, DeflateGate might finally be put to rest.

This can’t actually end, can it?


1. Six seconds or less?

It took a matter of seconds—anywhere from six to nine, depending on the estimate—for the media members who serve as voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to discuss the candidacy of Brett Favre at their selection meeting last month in San Francisco.

Favre was elected to the Hall of Fame of the eve of the Super Bowl as part of an eight-member class.

Could it take even less than that when Manning’s name comes up after his mandatory five-year wait?

After all, how long does it take to say, “It’s Peyton Manning.”

2. What will Manning say?

Manning is scheduled to speak about his retirement decision at a news conference Monday.

It will be interesting to see what he says about how seriously he considered playing another season for a team other than the Broncos.

Manning’s father Archie said in the immediate aftermath of the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers that Peyton probably was done in Denver even if he wasn’t done in the NFL. The Broncos, if Manning hadn’t retired first, probably would have released Manning this week to avoid having his $19 million salary for next season become guaranteed under the terms of his contract. Quarterback-needy teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans thus would have been free to attempt sign Manning and convince him to keep playing.

Manning’s associates had stressed in recent days and weeks how much he loved to play the game. Manning made a couple public appearances in which he spoke of his playing career in the present tense and gave no hints that retirement was at hand. It took Manning a month since the Broncos’ Super Bowl triumph to make his retirement announcement. He either was doing a tremendous job of avoiding tipping his hand, or he gave consideration to continuing to play.

Another topic of interest will be what Manning says about his next professional tasks. He undoubtedly will be in demand as a prospective broadcaster. Some in and around the sport say they could envision him stepping into a general manager role or running a franchise’s football operations. He might have the financial resources to become a partial owner of a franchise.

It probably would be unlike Manning to say too much this soon about his future plans. But he might at least provide some hints about what is being considered.

It also will be the media’s first chance to question Manning since the recent reports re-examining his decades-old incident while in college at Tennessee involving a female member of the school’s training staff. Manning has had a good deal of time to plan his responses to such questions.

3. Manning and Woodson

Manning was the top overall selection in the 1998 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

Three picks later in that draft, the Raiders chose defensive back Charles Woodson.

Now Manning and Woodson are retiring in the same offseason. And in five years, they undoubtedly will go into the Hall of Fame together.

They both outlasted the two players drafted between them by 15 years in the NFL.

The second overall pick in the ’98 draft, quarterback Ryan Leaf by San Diego, last played in the NFL in 2001 for Dallas. The third selection, defensive end Andre Wadsworth by Arizona, last played in the league in 2000 for the Cardinals.

4. Broncos and Osweiler

With Manning now officially out of the picture, the biggest quarterback issue in Denver is whether the Broncos can re-sign Brock Osweiler to take over as the starter.

Osweiler is eligible for unrestricted free agency Wednesday. He can begin negotiating with other teams during the legal tampering window that begins Monday.

The Broncos are thought to want to re-sign Osweiler for around $15 million per season. It remains to be seen whether that is realistic after the Philadelphia Eagles just re-signed Sam Bradford for $18 million per season and the Washington Redskins placed a $19.953 million franchise-player tag on Kirk Cousins.

Osweiler remains untested over anything more than half a season. But he is the most promising quarterback about to be available. And while the Broncos and other interested teams might be pledging to keep the price tag for Osweiler within reason, given his lack of experience, the price only promises to go up once the bidding begins in earnest.

5. Legal tampering window

Players eligible for unrestricted free agency are permitted to negotiate with other teams beginning at noon Monday. They cannot sign with other teams until 4 p.m. Wednesday when the free agent market opens, although they remain eligible to re-sign with their current teams at any time.

No agreements in principle are supposed to be struck or announced during the so-called legal tampering period. The NFL says that violations of the policy can be considered conduct detrimental to the league, presumably with corresponding potential punishments.

Last year, the league conducted an investigation after there were reports of numerous tentative deals being put in place during the legal tampering window, including one between Ndamukong Suh and the Miami Dolphins. But no punishments were handed out. It remains to be seen if teams and free agents will be more discrete this time around.

6. No Cousins worries for Redskins

It cost the Redskins an additional $2.257 million to use the franchise tag rather than the transition-player tag on Cousins.

It is money well spent. The Redskins now have no concerns about losing Cousins as the free agent market opens this week.

Cousins quickly signed his one-year franchise player deal, taking him off the market. That was done perhaps in part because there was little chance of another team signing Cousins to an offer sheet as a franchise player, given that it would have had to surrender two first-round draft choices to the Redskins if Washington had opted to allow Cousins to leave.

If the Redskins had used only the transition tag on Cousins, there would have been no draft-pick compensation involved. Cousins likely would be still on the market, and another team signing him to an offer sheet—which the Redskins would have had the option to match and retain him—might have been a distinct possibility.

7. Inappropriate combine questions

Why don’t NFL teams learn?

The latest example of an NFL draft prospect being asked an inappropriate question at the scouting combine came when Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple said he was asked by an Atlanta Falcons assistant coach about his sexual orientation.

“The Falcons coach, one of the coaches, was like, ‘So do you like men?’ ”Apple told Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, according to an ESPN account. “It was like the first thing he asked me. It was weird. I was just like, ‘No.’ He was like, ‘If you’re going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that’s how it is around here. You’re going to have to get used to it.’

“I guess he was joking, but they just ask most of these questions to see how you’re going to react.”

The Falcons issued an apology to Apple via a written statement by Coach Dan Quinn.

It isn’t the first time the issue has arisen league-wide. Is it too much to hope it will be the last?

Really, is it that difficult?

8. Market for Hasselbeck?

Manning is retiring just before his 40th birthday. But Matt Hasselbeck, who already is 40, just might play on.

The Indianapolis Colts have indicated they will not re-sign Hasselbeck. But he has said he is likely to continue playing, and is stands to reason there should be some interest in him as a backup quarterback.

Hasselbeck played well for the Colts this past season when pressed into starting duties while Andrew Luck was hurt. He threw nine touchdown passes, five interceptions and posted a passer rating of 84.0 in eight games.

In a league with so many teams in such desperate need of quarterback help, Hasselbeck should have the opportunity to keep playing if he remains interested in doing so.

9. Will anyone sign Hardy?

One free agent worth watching closely is defensive end Greg Hardy.

Hardy managed to land a significant contract last offseason from the Cowboys despite his off-field issues with while with the Panthers and the suspension by the NFL that he was facing. He did so because he was, at the time, one of the league’s most productive pass rushers, coming off a 15-sack season for Carolina in 2013 before sitting out all but one game of the 2014 season.

But Hardy managed a more modest six sacks in 12 games this past season for the Cowboys. His diminished on-field production changes the equation considerably for any teams that might consider signing him this offseason. The question now becomes not whether Hardy will receive a lucrative contract, but whether he will be signed at all.

10. Does Roddy White have anything left?

Another player with uncertain job prospects is wide receiver Roddy White, who just was released by the Falcons.

White once was among the sport’s most reliable pass-catchers, with six straight seasons above 1,100 receiving yards between 2007 and 2012.

But now he’s 34 and he’s had three straight seasons of less than 1,000 receiving yards. He had 43 catches for 506 yards this past season, and he was critical of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan following his exit.

He seems likely to get another chance somewhere, but he might have to settle for a relatively modest contract and a comparatively small role in an offense.