Wednesday 13 December 2017 / 08:41 AM

Stay Involved In The Offseason

The Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona charges US$80,000 to slice out your brain, cryogenically freeze it, and stuff it away into a chilly bin. They claim that one day they’ll sort out a way to bring it back to life. Wouldn’t it be sweet to get your dumb ass thinking cap plugged into a new body to ruin?

Unfortunately, I don’t have 80 grand. And if I did, I’d end up blowing a big chunk of it on bacon and cheese.

Best I get as much football in as possible before it’s time to float away to the stadium in the sky.

And you should, too.

Yes, the Super Bowl was two weeks ago. Chill out and bear with me here.

My work is cut out for me.

It’s bad enough that I’ve been charged with selling my Yankee sports wares to the Land Down Under. My rugby ball is much too pointy and I heap praise on a bunch of Sheilas who insist on wearing helmets and passing the ball in the wrong direction.

To make matters worse, the season is over.

Fortunately, the NFL offseason is by far and away the most captivating and fun to follow in all of sports. With luck, by the end of this article I’ll have you convinced it’s worth your while to keep up with our year-round coverage.

Ever play Dragon Warrior, World of Warcraft, or Final Fantasy?

Managing an NFL roster is a lot like playing a nerdy video game. You get a certain number of magic points to distribute (dollars) and you’ve got to divide them out evenly between attack and defense.

You need a mage (quarterback), dwarves (running backs), ogres (linemen), rangers (wide receivers), warriors (linebackers), thieves (defensive backs), and a couple of elves to punt and kick field goals. And as players earn more XP, they require more magic points to stick around.

OK, I’d better cut this analogy ASAP if I don’t want to come off as the 40-Year-Old Virgin.

The NFL’s not like European soccer where some Sheik or the Vatican can jump in and decide to buy all the best players.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I love the salary cap. It’s what keeps the NFL competitive year in and year out and a big part of what makes the offseason chess match so intriguing.

Without further ado, let’s break down all the different phases of the offseason so that you’ll have a better grip on what’s going on if you’re still fairly new to the game.

Cleaning house.

Every offseason begins more or less in the same way. The shitty teams fire their coaches and general manager and then the new management gets to work analyzing which players will and won’t work under the new regime.

For example, if the old defense ran a 3-4 and the new coordinator runs a 4-3, they’ll need to determine if any of the outside linebackers have the size to move up and play defensive end.

Bye-bye roster bonus.

You’ll notice that during the first few weeks after the Super Bowl teams will start jettisoning big name players. The reason why clubs are in such a rush has to do with roster bonuses.

When players sign these huge $60million contracts, a very small chunk of this money is guaranteed. Few players actually collect on the whole shebang. Often times roster bonuses are included, meaning that if the player is still on the roster by a certain date (usually March 1) then they will receive a big payday. The concept basically protects players from being cut right before the season begins. Teams that want to avoid paying the bonus must cut the player loose, giving him ample time to land with another team.

Just this week we saw the New Orleans Saints release four key defensive veterans from the 2009 Super Bowl winning team. Defensive end Will Smith, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, safety Roman Harper, and cornerback Jabari Greer are all gone.

The combine.

The NFL Scouting Combine is a week-long, invitation-only showcase of player skills occurring every February in Indianapolis. This year the combine will run from February 18-25.

Every team sends scouts and personnel directors to evaluate incoming NCAA talent by subjecting them to a series of physical and mental tests. Performance at the combine does not make or break a player’s draft status, but it can sway a team’s perception of a potential draft pick.

March 11, let the bidding begin.

Free agency begins on March 11, and this is not only the time for near-contenders to plug holes with one or two top players, but also a time for poorly managed teams to spend way too much and cripple their salary cap for the coming half-decade.

Many players are criticized for making a money grab during free agency as opposed to showing loyalty to fans and teammates, but NFL stands for “not for long” and it’s hard to fault a guy for getting what he can before an ACL tear prematurely ends his career.

Defensive end Michael Bennett of the Seahawks had this to say when he was asked whether or not he’d take a lower salary to stay with Seattle and try to win another title: “There is no such thing as discount. This isn’t Costco, this isn’t Walmart; this is real life.”

Top free agents that ought to see big paydays this offseason are Jimmy Graham, Saints TE, Greg Hardy, Panthers DE, Brian Orakpo, Redskins LB, and Jairus Byrd, Bills S.

There are two types of free agents: restricted and unrestricted.

An unrestricted free agent can sign with any team that he wishes for any salary and any conditions. If an unrestricted free agent wishes to leave, there is nothing that a team can do to stop them. For restricted free agents, the player is permitted to test the open market and obtain contract offers from other teams, but if his current team so chooses they can match the other team’s offer and retain the player’s rights.

With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans pick …

This year’s draft will be held May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. It’s an exciting event where teams jockey for position by trading players and picks in order to have the best crack at top NCAA talent.

In recent years salary cap implications have made the draft even more important. With new standardized rookie salaries, it is more vital than ever to fill holes in your roster with incoming rookies that make much less than established veterans.

Teams that consistently find NFL talent, especially in the later rounds, tend to enjoy more success year in and year out than teams that splash out on free agency and then find themselves with a bottle-necked salary cap snafu (see: Dallas Cowboys).

This year all eyes are on three players: Johnny Manziel, quarterback from Texas A&M, Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end from South Carolina, and Sammy Watkins, wide receiver from Clemson.

Manziel claims that his college success will translate to the NFL and has dared the QB-needy Texans to pass on him. Spending your number one pick on a QB, however, is often a boon-or-bust scenario. Clowney possesses the raw physical skills to be a monster in the NFL, but his NCAA numbers last season were slightly disappointing. Watkins is probably the safest pick of the three, a big receiver with strong hands that’s quick enough to break for big yardage after the catch.

Training camp and pre-season.

At the start of camp teams are allowed to stock their coffers with 90 players. Then, throughout the pre-season they whittle the roster down to 53.

While pre-season games famously “don’t count”, it’s always an exciting time of year, watching players fight for their dreams as the new crop of NFL wannabes gives their all in an effort to boot out veterans and take their jobs.

If it matters, you’ll find it here.

So that’s the timeline.

I’m a football junkie and spend my free time scouring the web for every tidbit of info that might provide insight into the coming NFL season. I’ll do the work for you; all I ask is that you have an open mind about reading about a sport that doesn’t kick off for another six months.

Trust me, keeping up with all the behind-the-scene juxtaposing makes next season that much more exciting.

 





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Michael Airhart

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