Sign in / Join
1503

How March went mad — again — in the NFL news cycle

The official Twitter announcement came at 7:49 a.m. on March 24, confirmation that the Bears had signed veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez. Not surprisingly, an avalanche of GIF-heavy Twitter reaction immediately followed with a throng of anxious Bears fans creatively expressing their dismay.

There was a GIF of apoplectic Northwestern kid; a GIF of a befuddled Barack Obama grimacing; a GIF of “Saturday Night Live” Superfan Carl Wallorski giving fellow Superfan Todd O’Connor the Heimlich.

And naturally, there were multiple GIFs of Sanchez’s infamous 2012 butt fumble on Thanksgiving night. The early social media consensus: the Bears had taken the most important position in sports and screwed it up royally.

Again.

Never mind that the draft was still five weeks away and that it’ll still be 22 weeks from now before the next meaningful snap is taken. The Sanchez arrival offered a perfect snapshot of March in the NFL, when otherwise mundane middle-of-the-roster transactions can create hyper-reaction and hyperventilation. Instantly. With no time for context or perspective.

Believe it or not

At this point of the spring, you’d think the NFL would have its curtains closed and be fading into a nice long offseason nap. Au contraire. With the exception of a three-week snooze in early July, Roger Goodell’s league has achieved its goal of becoming a year-round headline machine, inanity be damned.

A football-crazed public hankers for something major to be happening. Even when nothing major is really happening.

Thus as college basketball sorted through its March Madness – a delightful blend of charm, suspense and, yes, actual competition – the NFL’s coverage found itself in the annual cyclone of hysteria and hullabaloo, sending fans into a tizzy on a weekly basis.

On the afternoon of March 3, for example, a headline on SBNation.com proclaimed this: “Leonard Fournette is not having a great NFL combine.” That assertion accompanied an article characterizing Fournette’s trip to Indianapolis as “disastrous,” expressing worry about the LSU running back’s hefty weight (240 pounds) and unimpressive vertical leap (28½ inches).

Yet that same day, after Fournette blazed through his 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, a headline from the Advocate in Baton Rouge offered a different take: “How Leonard Fournette’s 40-yard dash helped erase memories of a lackluster jump.” Those “memories,” mind you, didn’t even require a night of sleep before being erased. So could they really have been that traumatic?

And what do you know? Fournette now heads into April just as he finished February, as one of the top two running back prospects in the draft and a likely first-round pick.

Plus, Fournette wasn’t the only draft prospect subject to absurd over-coverage at the combine. Consider the news North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky made last month.

Cleveland.com headline from March 2: “Hue Jackson thrilled that Mitch Trubisky measures over 6-2 – ‘That’s important.’”

A Tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter a day later: “North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky has asked to be referred to as Mitchell.”

Somehow, that latter nugget garnered 2,304 likes, 763retweets and countless pithy replies, the most fitting coming from @PhonyGrossi who quipped “no worries, the Browns have plenty of L’s to loan him.”

Tribune reporter Brad Biggs provides his first 2017 NFL mock draft projections as of March 31, 2017.

(Brad Biggs)

Lost and found

But see, that’s just March in the NFL, a month where it’s often difficult to separate NFL news from noise. And this year, the hysteria faucet remained cranked.

It was a month where Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott exposed a woman’s breast at a St. Patrick’s Day party in Dallas, a nonsensical yet very newsworthy misstep for a young star previously accused of assaulting a former girlfriend.

March was also a month in which Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jersey was found and yet Jay Cutler went missing entirely, cut by the Bears with no guarantees he’ll resurface in the NFL again.

(Somehow, the jersey’s disappearance produced far more public outcry.)

But not to worry, proof of life of Cutler came via Kristin Cavallari’s Instagram account where a from-behind vacation snapshot of the quarterback wearing only a watch indicated that he, too, had had some of his clothes stolen.

As Cutler’s old pal Brandon Marshall asked into a TMZ camera: “Jay, what the hell are you doing?”

Photos of former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

Thrown for a loop

In a quarterback-centric league, quarterback-centric storylines always create uncontrollable buzz. So it was no surprise that a passionate debate exploded over Colin Kaepernick’s current unemployment plight. Is it part of some league-wide backlash against his high-profile social activism? Or is Kaepernick still a free agent simply because he’s a mediocre quarterback who has lost 16 of his past 19 starts. After all, Cutler, Robert Griffin III and Blaine Gabbert all always stood for the Star Spangled Banner. And none of them have jobs right now either.

Also, what about that five-month inquisition into where Jimmy Garoppolo might be playing in 2017? Turns out Garoppolo isn’t moving anywhere after all, still in New England and still a Patriot. Which, as March taught us, makes Garoppolo an enemy of FBI Director James Comey, who openly proclaimed his hatred for the Patriots during a House Intelligence Committee hearing regarding possible Russian interference in the election.

To be fair, though, it turns out Comey’s organization was also responsible for returning Brady’s lifted Super Bowl jersey to the Patriots.

Go figure.

Photos of Bears quarterback Mike Glennon.

No competition required

As always, March also provided a dizzying flurry of free agency movement, the perfect fix for the transaction-obsessed fan. And if you blinked, you might’ve missed that Marshall is now with the Giants, Martellus Bennett became a Packer and Josh McCown landed with the Jets. Between the three of them – and for all sorts of different reasons – those former Bears have now been a part of 15 of the league’s 32 teams.

Thankfully, it’s April now. So all we’re left with now is the stretch run of obligatory speculation over the draft and the annual flood of mock drafts and revised mock drafts and updates to the earlier revised mock drafts.

At present, it looks like the Bears might pick LSU safety Jamal Adams, as projected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Unless they go with Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore (per NFL Network’s Charley Casserly). But they could still select Trubisky (Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller).

Unless they don’t.

So stay tuned. And bottle the inevitable outrage until an actual pick is made.

Last week, March in the NFL wrapped up at the owners meetings in Phoenix where, among other things, 15 rule-change and six bylaw-change proposals were debated. Among them: the Redskins’ pitch that teams be allowed to opt out of wearing those blinding color rush uniforms for “Thursday Night Football.”

Washington’s official reason, as documented in the meeting itinerary: “Garish uniforms.” (You’d think that would be change people could get behind. Instead, the proposal was tabled until later in the spring.)

More significantly in Phoenix, the Raiders provided the exclamation point on a hectic month, gaining full approval for their controversial move from Oakland to Las Vegas.

Raiders owner Mark Davis was asked how his late father Al, the franchise’s longtime owner and general manager, would have reacted.

“My father used to say that the greatness of the Raiders is in its future,” Davis said. “And the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is one opportunity that will give us the ability to achieve that greatness.”

It is, in fact, a fitting union, this Vegas-NFL marriage. After all, are there any two partners that can speak more expertly about money and hype, glitz and excess?

The widespread debate and outcry over the Raiders’ move also hammered home how prolific the NFL can be in producing headlines. Even in March. With this kind of year-round attention, who needs the games?