I love football. I love the NFL (the games, not the seemingly dictatorial administration). The last whistle of the Super Bowl signals a depressing time in my life, the longest possible time until more NFL football. And yes, I watch the Super Bowl for the game, regardless of who is playing. I watch the NFL Draft. All of it. Every round, every pick. I cannot wait for training camp to begin; to hear about the progress of returning players, about the potential of incoming players and rookies, and how my team stacks up against their division. Do they have a chance at the playoffs this year? Training camp is the countdown to the preseason, and as meaningless as the preseason may be I still watch every minute. The preseason a countdown to the regular season. Real football games!
I am glued to the television for every minute played. I have Sunday Ticket to make sure I can watch any game I want. The perfunctory function of my DVR becomes to make sure I don’t miss anything in case I have to do something important during the course of a game, like go to the bathroom or (gasp!) work. I will even take time to watch the indomitable Tennessee Titans take on the football goliath that is the Cleveland Browns, in Week 6, at 1:00pm Eastern Standard Time. I need my fix. And to be clear, I am not a fan of either team, I do not now nor have I ever lived in Tennessee or Ohio, and I do not have any specific interest in the AFC South.
I know, it’s a problem. I admit it. It is the first step to recovery, if I had any interest in fixing it or any modicum of thought that it is actually a problem to fix. But there is a problem. I’ll watch the draft, scour the Internet for training camp news, watch the preseason, watch all of the regular season even if my team will probably be eliminated from the playoffs by Week 8, watch the postseason even if my team was eliminated from the playoffs by Week 8, and I’ll watch the Super Bowl, but between the NFL Draft and the beginning of training camp nothing happens that matters. I wish it did, but it doesn’t. So stop it. Please, just stop. Stop with the human interest stories that aren’t interesting. Stop with the contract speculation. Stop with the reports on who does or does not look good in shorts after their “summer break”. And stop with the “reports” from OTAs. These things have nothing to do with football or how good a team might be by the time the season actually starts.
You can argue that it matters if a team’s best player signs a long-term extension or has to play the season on the franchise tag, or that it’s always encouraging to see everyone come back in even better shape than they left, or OTAs are really the first chance we have to see how rookies, undrafted free agents, veterans and even coaches look this year. It might even be possible to argue that these human interest stories help to spur interest in the team. It’s always nice when an undrafted free agent who walked on to his Division III college team and adopts battered shelter dogs finds his way onto a team, if even for a short while. I’m sure he’s a great guy and it would be awesome for him to make the team, but for him to make the team he has to be able to play football. Can he play football? Is he any good? No? Well then stop telling me about him. This may seem a bit cynical and perhaps even a bit cruel, and he probably does have a great story. It’s not his fault the media decide to report on him. My issue is with the media, not the player. The media should stop trying to frame it like it matters for football. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t.
Give me reports on if a guy is holding out for more money and a longer contract. Let me know if our injured players are going to return for OTAs or for training camp, and then tell me how they look. Have they lost a step? Is he favoring that shoulder he had reconstructed? Have the rookies been working out with the veterans during their spare time? Is someone getting signed? Is someone getting released? Did someone get injured? How long will he be out? Give me news. It may only be sports, but your job is still to disseminate news. Even then, if it’s before training camp starts stop trying to tell me it matters right now. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Training camp has started? A lot of it still doesn’t matter right now. It’s the preseason? Nah, I’m still good. Regular season games matter. Before that the news may be interesting, it may be important once the regular season starts, but it’s not important now. I want to know what’s going on with my team during training camp and the preseason. I want to know all of it. But I know it doesn’t matter. Team went 0-4 in the preseason, it doesn’t matter. Maybe it sucks, but it doesn’t matter. If a key player(s) is going to miss time in the regular season due to injury, suspension or holdout then it may matter. But you don’t know how much until the regular season actually starts and the games are played. You can speculate, you can prognosticate, I’m sure it’s fun and since the NFL has become a year-long sport there is plenty of time and space to fill. What else will fill up the Internet? But then again, 99.9 percent of what is on the Internet doesn’t matter. So give me news, but don’t pretend it matters.
However, some things just need to stop. And I mean stop altogether. Things that fit firmly into the realm of prognosticating and speculation. Who “won the offseason”? How good are your rookies? What will the final 53-man roster look like? Who will comprise the practice squad? How good will your reconstructed [add position group here] look? How will your new head coach/offensive coordinator/defensive coordinator/ special teams coordinator/ strength and conditioning coach/etc. acquit themselves to their new position? How will Player X replace Player Y? Is this the year the team finally takes a step back? Is this the year the team finally breaks through? I’ll tell you a secret…nobody knows. The front office doesn’t know, the coaches don’t know, the media doesn’t know, you and me…we sure as hell don’t know. Sure, we can all guess. But why are we guessing? If we wait we’ll actually know. Is there really nothing better to do?
I’ll give you concrete examples taken from my favorite team, the Chicago Bears. Lots of turnover and lots of changes means lots of guessing. Plus they were bad last year so everyone has to know if they’ll be bad again this year. I will pose questions such as those above as well as related questions and apply them to the Chicago Bears. I will then answer these questions to the best of my ability based on media prognostication and speculation so far this offseason.
Will the Bears be better on defense this year? They were pretty bad on defense last year; installing a new defensive alignment under a new defensive coordinator, fitting round pegs into square holes. They focused on defense in free agency to shore up some positions with more talented players who better fit this system. They also focused on defense in the draft. So, will they be better? Well, that depends. Will the defensive line be able to able to actually stop the run this year and provide a bit of pressure on the quarterback? That depends. Will Akiem Hicks be more like what he showed with the Patriots or with the Saints? Nobody knows. Will Eddie Goldman be in shape all year, and be able to avoid injuries, and take a step forward in his development from his rookie year? Nobody knows. Will the edge linebackers be able to supply more of a consistent pass rush this year? Maybe. Will Willie Young and Lamarr Houston stay healthy and produce like they did the second half of last year? Nobody knows. Will Pernell McPhee stay healthy and lead the defense? Nobody knows. Will Leonard Floyd provide the speed rush that was missing last year? Nobody knows. Will the inside linebackers be better this year? They couldn’t be any worse, so yes. Will the secondary actually be able to cover people this year? Maybe. Does Kyle Fuller start playing like a first-round pick and de facto number one cornerback? Nobody knows. Will Bryce Callahan and Tracy Porter stay healthy to be solid if unspectacular nickel and number two cornerbacks, respectively? Nobody knows. Does Adrian Amos make more impact plays this year? Nobody knows. Do the Bears actually have a second starting safety that is any good? Nobody knows.
Will the Bears have a better, more explosive offense this year? Despite the loss of Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett they do have the ingredients to be a pretty explosive offense, definitely better than last year’s injury-riddled side. The Bears didn’t really add anyone who screams immediate impact during the offseason so far, but if the players they have live up to their potential we may be looking at a very good offense in Chicago. Will they live up to their potential? I mean, they could. Will Alshon Jeffrey be healthy this year and provide a true number one option in the passing game for Jay Cutler? Nobody knows. Can Kevin White come back healthy after missing his whole rookie year be that second threat on the outside? Nobody knows. Will Eddie Royal be healthy and a threat in the slot? Nobody knows. What about the running game? Jeremy Langford may be the primary ball-carrier. Jordan Howard may be the primary ball-carrier. They may split carries. Maybe Ka’Deem Carey or Jacquizz Rogers or even Senorice Perry also get some carries. Nobody knows. The offensive line got reshuffled a bit with some new players and Kyle Long back at Right Guard, will they be better? Is Bobby Massie a good Right Tackle? Does his relationship with Kyle Long mean the right side of the line will be better? Nobody knows. Is Hroniss Grasu bigger and stronger this year so he doesn’t get bowled over by opposing Defensive Tackles? If he is does it mean he’s a better player? Nobody knows. Who starts at Left Guard? Ted Larsen? Cody Whitehair? Nobody knows. Will Charles Leno still be the starting Left Tackle or will the team sign someone to take his spot? Nobody knows.
Finally, just a little special teams love. Will the Bears special teams be better this year? Well, if Robbie Gold can rebound from a poor year, and Pat O’Donnell keeps improving, and the Bears find decent punt and kick returners, and turnover at the bottom of the roster doesn’t harm continuity and viability on special teams as it seemed to last year then yes. So, will those things happen? Nobody knows.
The answer to all of these questions could be “yes”, it could be “no”. Some are more easily answered than others. Some may actually be pretty easy to answer one way or another. But right now the answer to all of them is “maybe”. In other words we don’t know right now. Such uncertainty may provide ample material to write about, talk about, and ultimately argue about, but why? We don’t learn anything. We are no closer to actually answering those questions, as well as others, until training camps start. Then we have to wait awhile to actually determine anything from what is seen at training camp. Even then training camp is not actual games. How do the players perform in games, both individually and collectively? Well, preseason is kind of games. In the third preseason game the presumed starters may play a full three quarters, maybe even into the fourth quarter (me oh my!). Every other preseason game somewhere between nil to at most one half. So we answer all of our questions based on maybe one full game? Spaced out over four games? And they don’t really matter? Let’s wait for the regular season.
If you want to write about football, if you want to read about football, there are things going on. Beyond the “news” from the NFL offseason, what about Baylor football? It’s not the NFL but it’s football, and what’s going on there is quite frankly more important than sports. Plenty of time and space should be spent on writing and reading about that. There’s some nasty things going on at Tennessee as well. Read about that. What about the latest in the concussive head injury lawsuits against the NFL? That’s about the NFL and it’s important non-sports information. Or maybe, just maybe, look outside of football. Call yourself a sports fan? NBA Finals. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors. LeBron vs. Steph Curry. Soccer, or futbol. Euro 2016. Best players from Europe playing against each other for their national teams. Don’t care about some weird sport where you can’t use your hands? Show some patriotism and cheer on the USA in the Copa America Centenario!
Come on, nothing is happening with your NFL team right now.