Empty offseason storylines, often over-promoted because, well, what else is there to talk about, fade. Offseason deadlines and events have come and gone, handing off the baton to what really matters: The regular season.
It’s about damn time.
During the quiet restlessness between January and August, the league goes through a systemic change. Rules are created, discarded, and modified. Even rules concerning instant replay evolve, it seems, every year, eventually leading to a change where everything will be reviewable. Seriously; watch for it. Players are tagged, teams are threatened by agents, stadiums are demolished, enhanced, and built, or more recently, abandoned because teams are moving to plush cities. Los Angeles, often used as a negotiation tactic for small market teams wanting to maximize negotiations at home, now has two teams. Las Vegas will have their own team soon, at least until an irritated Mark Davis follows family tradition and moves the Raiders back to Oakland.
Eventually the league gives way to deadlines and events that impacts the field, beginning with the opening weeks of free agency. Money is spent, wasted, and banked. Analysts ask, “who is serious about winning this year”, incorrectly articulating this as a mechanism to improve struggling teams. Entertainingly, the same bad teams make the same bad free agency decisions, creating a caricature to be mocked. Well, if we’re not going to get positive attention during the regular season, might as well make an impact during free agency, they sigh, dumping stacks of cash into their leaky cauldron. Cincinnati yawns during the opening weeks of free agency, expertly waiting until the market comes to them, not to enhance their roster, rather supplement it, electing to be frugal despite hurricane-strength anger emanating from fans.
The NFL draft bookends free agency, with bowl games, combines, workouts, interviews, and visits, culminating with an exhausting weekend that celebrates the introduction of new players by the hundreds. Depressingly, many will eventually exit with an inaudible sigh, never to be heard from again within the NFL lexicon. A year, maybe three, many of the names people wasted countless hours analyzing for the draft will be gone. Regardless, arbitrary grades are subjectively awarded, not for the impact these players have on a team, rather their collective potential, based on an analyst’s perspective of those players. You need to wait three years to judge a team’s draft, an analyst cautions just after judging a team’s draft, minutes after the draft’s completion.
What else is there to talk about?
Once the draft is completed and undrafted players are signed, the summer is saturated with camps, from rookie minicamp, (not really) voluntary minicamps, mandatory camps, and training camp, all leading to a horrific number of exhibition games that the league should reduce (and says it may).
Playing four preseason games hasn’t made sense in a long time; the threat it brings to important players isn’t worth it. Four preseason games provide additional opportunities for younger players, true, and that time is invaluable to them. Yet, losing starters and superstars to a significant injury has a devastating impact. Cases of an unknown player rising during the preseason are well-documented, but there are many more examples where an injury threatens an entire season. And for what? Injuries are part of the game. Regular season games. Playoff games. They don’t need to be part of preseason games.
Once the preseason is over, rosters are reduced to satisfy the 53-man limit, and continually altered to accommodate fluidity of injuries, recoveries, and suspensions. In addition, many players that were released on Saturday will find new homes and players that survived cuts will be released soon.
Aside from the endless evolution on the active roster, the offseason and preseason noise is over, inviting open arms to the regular season. Andy Dalton is healthy with an array of weapons including A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, John Ross, Josh Malone, and their triumvirate of second-round running backs. Cincinnati’s defensive line has evolved, getting younger and more talented to the optimistic mind. The defensive backfield will see a growing impact from Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III, a pair of former first-round cornerbacks. It’s exciting.
The regular season is here. Now the real fun begins.