The NFL is Stale as Hell
The NFL’s TV ratings dipped again for the opening weekend, and they had a convenient excuse lined up again as well. Last year it was the election that disrupted their numbers early in the season. All things considered, that was legitimate. The entire country was collectively on edge. Over the first weekend this year, a significant portion of the country was on edge awaiting or experiencing the arrival of Irma in the southeast. Again, also rather legitimate on the surface.
Anything will sound better than admitting your product is stale as hell though, right? What is new and exciting about the league this year? Where did the big offseason moves occur to change the landscape of the league? Who did all the pundits tip as the surprise contender this year to knock off the Patriots who have won like 13 titles in the last decade? It’s all the same crusty ass teams with the same crusty ass quarterbacks either fighting for a chance to lose in the playoffs or actively trying to lose for better draft position. Matt Stafford getting paid the most obscene money the league has ever known to keep the Lions utterly irrelevant is not interesting. Trying to generate 3 days of content over it is even less so.
HOW IS ANDY DALTON STILL A STARTING QUARTERBACK??
All of this crustiness is the result of one massive blind spot (or fear?) that has infected the entire league, and that is the aversion towards the high profile transaction. Sports fans have an innate and undying love affair with the offseason transaction. We thirst for it as soon as the season ends. I know we are talking about humans, but for lack of a better term, we want the new shiny toy on our team. Maybe I am speaking only for a younger generation, but isn’t that the most important group to consider? NFL GMs do not share this lust, or if they do they are just too handicapped to act on it, which is a shame. With a hard salary cap to navigate, trades and big signings are just not easy. There are too many factors limiting them from happening. Those factors are put there of course by both players and ownership through collectively bargained deals in the sport. To be fair, the focus has shifted both from an internal standpoint and external (media) to player safety and well-being. Maybe the players union has had a say which makes it tougher for one of their guys to just get traded to the Browns out of nowhere (can’t blame them). But it is no coincidence that as the league has poured its focus into these things that their consumers have felt neglected. It’s a precarious tightrope for any organization the size of the NFL to walk.
The draft comes along each year, and yes it is exciting, but it is also the built in safety net for front offices across the league. Down year, or decade in some cases? There’s always the draft. And not only is that enough to keep the low expectation fans hanging on, it’s also the very cheap alternative to bringing in proven talent for organizations. The league has gone all in on the draft in terms of offseason talk. Compare that to the NBA over the past decade or so. Look at how they have used free agency and BLOCKBUSTER trades to grow their fan base throughout the offseason. A ton of NBA fans and even pundits would tell you that offseason has been just as good if not better than regular season and sometimes the playoffs. Yes, it leads to some sort of flash in the pan baby dynasties like the Heat and now the Warriors, but that liquidity in dominance has made the league more appealing than ever on a 365 day basis from a consumer perspective.
I write this with a decent enough understanding of how different the two sports are. To build a contender in the NBA can take sometimes just one offseason or one player. There are so many more things that go into building a contender in the NFL, and it does take time, more than anything. But let’s not even talk about building contenders, let’s just talk about building excitement. Was Peyton Manning leaving the Colts the last offseason move universally considered interesting? Was it Favre’s late career antics before that? So over the hill QBs is the best that league can serve up? Come on.
Is it that there isn’t enough value at any position other than QB to be giving up assets for? And QB’s of course are virtually off limits, ones of the franchise ilk at least. If that is indeed the case, then the league may have no choice but to modify its rules yet again in a way that spreads value a little more evenly amongst other positions.
My guess is that it won’t happen, and that Phillip Asshole Rivers will be the next “big” move. Stale. As. Hell.