The NFL has done a masterful job of keeping itself relevant all year round. What can best be described as roster reconstruction period, comprising of free agency, trades, and the draft, starts just a month after the season, with inklings of news coming out as early as two weeks after the season at the Combine.
Draft season takes on a life of its own with prospects, mock drafts, and more mock drafts. There is even some intrigue to OTA’s and Minicamps. Despite the league's best efforts, though, all things football go dark for a six week period in June and July. For just a short while, coaches, players, and front office men all head home to their friends and family to do anything but football for once.
In terms of news, nothing good can come out of this time. No, it doesn’t mean anything that Sam Bradford and his receivers are practicing and together in Oklahoma or that Geno Smith is supposedly light years ahead of where he was last year. That’s all nonsense. In reality, the old mantra that “no news is good news” applies here. Coaches warn their players of the dangers of making poor choices during this time, but that doesn’t always get through to their players. Inevitably, some player will wind up getting themselves hurt or into trouble that will mess up their entire season, like JPP’s infamous firework incident last fall. The media knows it, coaches know it, and the fans know it. The best thing that can happen to any player during this six weeks is nothing.
Here are five things to keep tabs on during the only true offseason of the country’s most popular sport.
Like every year, there are a number of huge contracts in the works that should be resolved before the start of training camp. The July 14th deadline for players who were franchise tagged to reach a long-term deal stands out as the only landmark date of this period of the off-season. Last year, we had Justin Houston, Dez Bryant, and Demaryius Thomas all sign massive extensions at the deadline. This year, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kirk Cousins stand out as the most interesting cases of the franchised players because there is no guarantee that either will reach a compromise with their respective teams. Von Miller and Andrew Luck will both sign deals in the coming weeks that will blow away all other benchmarks and make them the highest paid players in league history. The forever tiring Ryan Fitzpatrick contract standoff has to come to an end at some point with teammates and coaches now publicly declaring how tiring this storyline has become.
The most overused trope of the offseason is that an injured player will be “ready by the start of training camp”. Of course, many of those players won’t be healthy in time which could have meaningful implications on their team's plans for the season. Watch out for updates on the health of players who are trying to regain their health as well as ones who hurt themselves in their own workouts. Sammy Watkins, Victor Cruz, Jalen Ramsey, DeMarcus Ware, and Steve Smith stand out as some big names trying to regain their health by training camp.
Watch Game Film
We tend to grow more complacent and baseless in our takes of players as the offseason goes on. When things slow down and there are less meaningful things to talk about, it can be a good time to take a step back and increase your own football acumen by watching a game or two of last years tape. NFL Gamepass is cheap enough and provides access to the same All-22 film that coaches and scouts use. If you look around hard enough, there is a decent collection of full games buried on Youtube. You can watch these games to both better assess players as well as to just enjoy actual football.
Watch the NFL Top 100 Players list
Look, I know that the actual list itself is woefully inaccurate clickbait designed to give fans something to chatter about and writers something to debate during the offseason. I know that Blake Bortles and Kirk Cousins aren’t as good as Andrew Luck. I know that Jordy Nelson is a better receiver than Allen Hurns or Jarvis Landry. Even so, the list makes for a good jumping off point for discussion about where players are, what they can do, and where they are going next year. Listening to players talk about each other based on actually playing against each other on the field is refreshingly different from the same tired takes we hear again and again. The list can shed light on players that you may not have known much about before.
Step Away from FootballThe NFL is all consuming. For too much of the year, we can get wrapped up in all of the news and headlines that are a relatively small part of life. When there is really nothing important to follow, do yourself a favor and just step away from it for a bit.