DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA — Believe it or not, the current NFL offseason, the 2020 edition, could be the best one ever. Let’s explore the reasons why.
It is not easy to find optimism in America when a good chunk of the American public is confined by a quarantine lockdown. In the worst of times, the National Football League (NFL) has helped with the healing. The New York Giants played inspired football after 9/11. The Saints rocked the Louisiana Superdome in the first game back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The 2008 financial crash was followed by one of the most exciting plays in Super Bowl history as the Pittsburgh Steelers edged the Arizona Cardinals.
Today, courtesy of the Wuhan coronavirus, Americans find themselves trapped at home with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Due to fear of spreading the virus, professional sports games have gone on hiatus. The NBA and NHL decided to postpone their seasons just before the playoffs. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball (MLB) postponed its season just before it started. Thankfully for letterheads, the big dog of American sports has not been crushed. Yet.
Enter the NFL offseason, 2020 edition
The 2020 NFL regular season does not begin until September. Thankfully, the NFL remind us that there is no real offseason. From a football standpoint, and only from a football standpoint, this may turn out to be the best NFL offseason in league history. And this 2020 edition is already underway.
Surprise! Labor Peace. Almost forever…
Start with labor peace. By a slim margin, the NFL Players Association ratified the collective bargaining agreement the owners supported. The players gave the owners virtually everything they wanted. For the next decade, there will be labor peace.
In 2011, a public hug between New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday “saved the game of football.” A decade later, there will be no work stoppages. There is a lockdown across America, but there will not be a lockout or a strike in the NFL.
For those who would love to roast NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on a spit, give him his due. 20 years of labor peace is a big deal. Goodell also made the move to target Europe first before plunging into the Chinese market. This means that unlike the NBA, the NFL does not take orders from China on how to proceed. This allows the NFL to maintain a uniquely pro-American stance at a time when the league — and the country desperately need it.
With a labor deal in place, the NFL free agency period started out with a bang. The quantity of trades has been normal. But the quality has proved spectacular during the 2020 edition of this NFL offseason.
The Tom Brady legend continues
Tom Brady ended his 20 year relationship with the New England Patriots and just signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now the debates at the bar can begin in earnest. (When the bar re-opens, that is.) Can Tom Brady win without Bill Belichick? Can Belichick win without Brady? Is Brady the greatest NFL quarterback of all time? Could Belichick be the greatest NFL coach of all time? Is Gisele Bundchen the hottest woman to ever be seen with Tom Brady? (No, no, no. Because Brady is only the third best quarterback. And no, because Belichick is only the sixth best coach. And certainly no, because Bridget Moynihan of “Blue Bloods” is much hotter than Gisele.)
In other news, the San Diego Chargers of Los Angeles saw Philip Rivers leave for the Indianapolis Colts. Teddy Bridgewater is now leading the Carolina Panthers. Joe Flacco, Jameis Winston and Cam Newton are currently unemployed and looking to keep playing.
The excitement just keeps on coming
Outside of the quarterback carousel, there has been plenty of excitement during the current NFL offseason. The Los Angeles Rams cut Todd Gurley outright only one year after he played in the Super Bowl. Gurley then signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Melvin Gordon took less money so he could get revenge. The former Chargers running back was desperate to stay in the AFC West so he could run over the Charger twice a year. Now he is with the Denver Broncos. Brady has yet to play a down for the Buccaneers, and he has already begun quietly making waves. Various reports spot him lobbying management for talented head case Antonio Brown to join him.
Even the coaching carousel offers an intriguing development. Michelin Man Wade Phillips remains one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time. The Rams released him in January but he insists he does not want to retire.
In terms of excitement, it is hard to match the 2009 circus over Favrewatch. With helicopters flying overhead, Brett Favre left the Green Bay Packers to make a pitstop with the New York Jets before landing with the archival Minnesota Vikings. When Favre got his revenge over the Packers, he became the first quarterback to defeat all 32 NFL teams.
If Brady actually plays for the Buccaneers in 2021, he will get his chance to play the Patriots. If you thought the “Tuna Bowls” between Bill Parcells and Belichick were intense, just wait for the moment when Brady takes on Belichick. Both men have already circled April of 2021 on their calendar. That, of course, is when the 2021 NFL schedule will come out. The 2020 edition of the schedule has yet to begin. But the 2021 edition is already heating up.
The Wuhan virus claims its first NFL victim, but the Draft continues
On the medical front, Saints coach Sean Payton became the first person affiliated with the NFL to test positive for the Wuhan virus. Expect him to use it as a rallying cry. He will have little sympathy or patience with players claiming injury.
The NFL offseason Draft may not be the extravaganza that the league hoped for. Located in Las Vegas, the Raider Nation was supposed to be prominently featured. Yet even without the rabid Raiders fans from Oakland, Los Angeles and everywhere else, the Draft will still be a success. At its core, the Draft is a bunch of billionaires making telephone calls. Then a bunch of multi-millionaire sports analysts speculate as to what the billionaires are talking about on those calls. That becomes a television event. Mel Kiper Jr. and his pompadour are quarantined the other 362 days of the year anyway. He will be ready, as will Chris Berman, Rich Eisen, and the rest of the television gangs for the 2020 edition of the Draft.
Unlike other sports, the NFL managed to create annual excitement a full six months before a single actual regular season football kickoff occurs. For those who know that there is no substitute for a game, the offseason is torture. For those who follow every nuance of football, the NFL offseason always proves meaningful.
With actions and transactions that will reverberate for years to come, the 2020 edition of the NFL offseason may turn out to be the best one yet. If not ever.
— Headline image: Screen capture, official NFL logo.