OK, got word from a production assistant over at Sony pictures and this is how she says John's "death" will all play out. Drake will be returning in late January as John Black. Only he and Marlena know of his fake death.
He faked his death in order for Marlena to marry Stefano. This "marriage" will take place in late December/early January and will get Sami off the hook. That's why there has been a lot of mention of Stefano's "love" for Marlena.
John and Marlena discovered Santo and Colleen's daughter in Salem, aka the woman in black. That forced John to fake his death and head overseas to look for Colleen. They believe she is still alive as she obviously did not die on the cliff. John will return with Colleen after Marlena and Stefano's wedding. The Vendetta will then be over as Colleen was never dead.
Stefano, however, will not back down and will once again kidnap Marlena. This will ultimately lead to John tracking them down and having a final showdown to the death with Stefano. (Joe's contract is only for a year.)
This was the plan all along. That's why Deidre has deflected questions about Drake's "firing" and that's why the show refuses to comment.
Despite the ratings and money troubles at Days. Corday is a HUGE Drake fan. He and Hogan have come to blows over this apparently and that's why Ed Scott was the determining factor. He wants the DiMera's to be out of the picture and get to more character driven story with John and Marlena heading the cast....we shall see I guess but this is straight from someone who works on the show.