With a Hail Mary toss that bounced off the hands of a few Eagles’ defenders, which included Patriots’ TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Phillip Dorsett contorting to adjust to the ricochet of a ball that refused to be possessed by any one human being, the conclusion of a magnificent Super Bowl LII contest came to an uneventful end as the pigskin ceased its travels while still on the field. That incompletion set forth the unofficial start of the off-season in the NFL.
Mind you, if you have paid attention to the college all-star circuit and took notice of the Alex Smith trade, it appears the transition into what some have coined as #DraftSzn will be a rapid one. From scouting the incoming draft prospects to setting up for the new league year that kicks off free agency and a host of other maneuvers with the roster in preparation for the 2018-’19 season, the off-season can be as eventful as the regular season in some regards.
That last-ditch throw by Patriots’ QB Tom Brady was the final shovel of earth on the casket of last season. There is little time to revel if you’re an Eagles fan, or dwell upon the ‘mistakes that were’ if you’re a New England fan the next day. The NFL Scouting Combine is less than a month away, taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. All 32 teams will be in attendance as the time, test and interview prospects for the NFL Draft on April 26th in Dallas, Texas. Not long after—March 12th, to be accurate—certified player agents may begin contacting teams across the league to negotiate free agent deals. On March 14th at 4PM EDT, those negotiations can become official and signed in ink… though given how far we’ve come technologically, is it strange that these deals are done with traditional pen and paper instead of a styles version of the former and tablet version of the latter?
What helps to make the NFL the Franken-league it has become today is that the league has built such a loyal following and put so much work into the production of the product that an on-field interview in gym shorts and tank tops is an entertaining endeavor, sitting on the precipice of being a must-watch event in the league year. Most scouts who do attend the annual combine will tell you that even if a guy runs a 4.40 or has a short 3-cone time, those drills only help to affirm who a player is on film or serve as a tie-breaker for some franchises that are deadlocked on a given prospect.
Free agency, while it is similar to the draft, is a hit-or-miss period (as most sports-related periods are). Clubs identify a player who they feel will be an upgrade at a given position and negotiate terms to acquire said player’s services for a given period of time. Where free agency and the draft differ is that the former deals with substantially larger amounts of financial investment, given that free agents are usually proven commodities or have a high potential to turn into valuable assets. We’ve seen that work out for a few teams last season, with the Jaguars signing DE Calais Campbell who was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate; however, on the other hand, we have disasters such as Washington making DT Albert Haynesworth one of the highest-paid players in the league back in 2009, signing him to a seven-year, $100 million contract that he only played two seasons on before being released, with the move considered one of the worst free agent signings in league history.
With the flurry of activity in the off-season, are we at the point where the NFL has reached year-round relevancy?
I don’t think that it has gotten to that point. While players need an off-season to regain their health, fans of the league also need to recuperate from the season in a different form. With games taking place on Mondays, Thursday, Sunday and the odd Saturday matinee, the league surely tests the dedication of its fan base throughout a week. Gutters go unclean for weeks at a time, significant others shunned for the warm glow of a flat-screen—in the ongoing battle to remain sentient in this current culture, it’s for the best that the league does go on hiatus so its fans can also recuperate. For the leagues such as the CFL , AFL and the impending XFL, the NFL taking a break is good for business.
Even though the next couple months will be filled with more football discussions, there will still be fewer than those inspired by the White House. Personally, I cannot lie to you: I will consume each football headline with a wide-eyed emoji and feel the urge to toss a hot take into the ocean of sports takes on social media. That won’t stop me from ‘geeking out’ as multi-million dollar corporations throw their money around for the purpose of luring free agents and researching players who could be the cornerstone of the franchise in one to three seasons. It’s that minutiae of the off-season that has the potential to turn into the winning chess move that makes a team walk away from a Super Bowl victorious. So, to the off-season, I say “Hello, I’m glad you have come around. Make sure you take your shoes off before you walk around the house and make yourself at home.”