After months of back-and-forth negotiations and media powerplays, the NFL Lockout is finally, mercifully, over. The players and owners agreed on a deal over the weekend, and now it's official: the crisis has been averted, and our days of focusing on women's soccer are over. And God it sucked. Sucked, sucked, sucked.
The only thing worse than the lockout was talking about the lockout, trying to make sense of all the speculation, the red herrings, and the neverending smarm anytime somebody brought up actual football, when someone else would inevitably chime in to qualify, "You know, if we even have a season." That was the worst part of the lockout.
You couldn't talk about real football without somebody reminding you that you should be talking about revenue sharing, player benefits, and other real-world corporate nonsense that we try to escape by talking about football. So how do we get the nasty taste out of our mouths?
Well, here's a start. In honor of pro football rising from the ashes, here are 10 stories that should make us forget about the past six months. Beginning with the next few weeks, actually.
1. Free Agency Anarchy. The rules are still unclear, teams have had all summer to talk themselves into taking unnecessary risks, it all happens in two weeks, and in the immortal words of Gilbert Arenas, it's time for "Everybody get drunk and make bad decisions."
Yes, NFL free agency will begin sometime this week, probably as early as Tuesday, and then, all hell breaks loose. Reggie Bush, Bernard Berrian, Willis McGahee, Vince Young Joey Porter... Those are just a few names that could be on the move. Best of all? The offseason that used to keep teams busy from May to August will now happen in about 10 days. Plus, we have different rules now. For example, restricted free agents like Antonio Cromartie are fair game for any team in the league.
Here's what one NFL source told Sports Illustrated's Peter King about the new rules:
"Did anyone in the negotiations think how absolutely crazy this could be?'' one coach told me Saturday. "Suppose you're counting on a guy who's restricted to come back, and a week or so into free agency he gets blown out of the water with some offer, and we've already lost the chance to get anyone good to replace him -- and we're three weeks away from playing a game that counts. Whoever made some of these rules ... I mean, we could be recruiting free agents while we're trying to put together installation periods for the playbook in training camp.''
For now, just about everything's up in the air, but here's what we know--everyone's confused, there's less time than ever for teams to make decisions, and in the NFL or any market, "panic" means that a handful of teams will get unfairly rich exploiting the uncertainty, and another handful of teams will get absolutely screwed.
The real question is, who's going to be the lucky team that overpays Nnamdi Asomugha by about 20 million dollars? Seems like a total Jets move, doesn't it?
Another highlight from the new CBA? Teams will be forced to spend 99% of the salary cap. This means that teams like Buffalo ($35.9 million under), Chicago ($37 million under), Seattle ($39 million under), and Tampa Bay (an amazing $59.2 million under) have a built-in excuse to spend an insane amount of money on guys they may not even need. Basically, financial insanity's not only encouraged, it's required.
In other words, Vince Young picked the right year to be a free agent.
2. James Harrison And The First Million Dollar Fine. Honestly, I'm just glad that James Harrison plays in the NFL. He's like a character from Any Given Sunday. The Men's Journal interview from earlier this month just confirmed what we already knew:
"My rep is James Harrison, mean son of a bitch who loves hitting the hell out of people," he says. "But up until last year, there was no word of me being dirty — till Roger Goodell, who’s a crook and a puppet, said I was the dirtiest player in the league. If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him."
Who's excited to see Roger Goodell try to suspend and/or fine him for all this?
3. PLAX IS BACK. He could go to the Chicago Bears and form the douchiest quarterback-receiver combo in history. He could to the Eagles and team up with Michael Vick, thereby forcing LeSean McCoy to commit petty larceny because he feels insecure about his street cred. He could go to the Jets as part of Rex Ryan's continuing mission to piss off the entire world. He could go to the Patriots, just because Bill Belichick likes to screw with us. He could go to the Redskins, making him a mortal lock to turn into a washed up malcontent by Week 8. He could go to Detroit, where I don't even think firing an automatic weapon is illegal anymore.
Wherever he goes, it should be fun to follow along.
4. Betting Against Inexperience. Parity has turned NFL gambling into a crap shoot, and while that won't change long-term, after a summer-long lockout and a thousand hours of missed practice, at least we'll have an advantage. Teams breaking in a new coach, a new offense, or a new quarterback will be at a serious disadvantage in the first few months of 2011. It's just common sense. Imagine working in a new starting quarterback with just three weeks of practice. Or the poor coach that's trying to implement a brand new system in under a month. It may not last all year, but at least for the first few weeks, betting against inexperience will be a convenient way to talk yourself into a few hundred dollars' worth of irresponsible wagers every week.
5. Rex Ryan And The Jets: The Sequel. No Hard Knocks this year, but still...
It will be great to have Rex Ryan back in our lives, and I'm counting down the days till James Harrison wears out his welcome in Pittsburgh and finally gets traded to the Jets.
6. Michael Vick: The Sequel. In case you forgot, Michael Vick's stats against the Redskins on Monday Night last season: 20 of 28 for 333 yards and 4 touchdowns, plus 80 yards rushing and two scores on the ground. Even a year later... Jesus Christ. Then he got hurt later,, his MVP season tailed off, and his comeback came back to earth. But still.
Last year was the first time we've ever seen Vick put it all together, and the glimpses we saw—like that Redskins game—were as breathtaking as football gets. The Eagles have no choice but to give him a ton of money and pray he stays healthy, so whatever happens should be fun—either he gets hurt and we get to mock a bunch of outraged Philly fans freaking out at Andy Reid (for stupidly trading Kevin Kolb), or he stays healthy and we get to see Vick single-handedly shred the rest of league, bringing our wildest video game fantasies to life. (And no, we're not mentioning option C, which involves He Who Shall Not Be Named).
7. The Peyton Hillis Reality Check. He was already due for a drop-off after those ridiculous numbers last season, but now he's on the cover of Madden. And... Put it this way: superstar athletes from Cleveland don't need any extra jinxes. 2011 could get ugly for 'ol Peyton.
8. The NFC North Celebrity Deathmatch. If the Lions can take a step forward and the Vikings can bounce back from last season's Favre-induced disaster, we're talking about the best division in football. The Bears and Packers both bring back most of their stars, and if Minnesota can find a decent option at quarterback, the Vikings could finished ahead of both. For that matter, so could Detroit.
If Matt Stafford stays healthy and they get some secondary help in free agency, the Lions could be the sleeper team of 2011. It's just too bad these teams can't play each other all 16 weeks.
9. The Stormin Mormon And The Washington Redskins! The 'Skins find new and creative ways to make themselves a punchline every year, but this season should be especially good (or bad, if you're a Redskins fan). Not only do they bring back the same offensive line that got destroyed last year, but as of now, they're planning on starting ex-BYU QB and former Dolphins flameout, John Beck. They will be BAD this year. Like, one of the two or three worst teams in the league.
On the bright side? This strategy's probably better than signing Vince Young and/or drafting Terrelle Pryor, "Stormin Mormon" is officially Beck's new nickname and it's the best nickname ever, and if things go as bad as they should, this season could leave the 'Skins in prime position to land Andrew Luck next spring.
On the other hand... There's still plenty of time for them to panic and sign Young and/or Pryor, and because Dan Snyder's best laid plans always end in catastrophe, there's no way in hell the Skins land Luck next year. There's a better chance of Peyton Hillis surviving the Madden jinx.
10. Less NFL, More Football. Because when it's not preachy and uptight, Roger Goodell's NFL office is manipulative and dishonest. Last Thursday's theatrics were just the latest example, but it's been on display all summer long. The lockout's made it impossible to ignore the hubris.
Now? Those problems still exist, but whatever. We have more important questions now.
Like... Will James Harrison kill someone on the field? Will Josh McDaniels' players finally revolt and leave him hogtied in an equipment closet? How will Darnell Dockett's alligator be incorporated into a sack celebration? How many different ways can announcers call Jay Cutler a p****y on network television without ever actually saying it? Will Todd Haley ever unleash Jamal Charles on the world, or just keep screwing with fantasy owners? Have the Jacksonville Jaguars moved to Los Angeles yet? Even Jessie Jackson is like, "How is Marvin Lewis still employed"? On a scale of one to ten—one being the 2010 draft, ten being the day Blink-182 broke up—how butthurt will Jimmy Clausen be watching Cam Newton all year in Carolina?
It's football season, everybody. Let's talk about what really matters.