Once again, this offseason, we have been treated to the madness that is free agency in the NFL, with $100 million dollar contracts and players being franchised against their wishes. Slowly it has occurred to me, that perhaps this is why there are no great rivals left in football.
Most of us can remember when, every year, we marked our calendars for the Steeler/Cowboys game and the Green Bay/Chicago game. Perhaps it was Redskins/Chiefs or Oakland/anybody. We lived for those few weekends every year, regardless of how our team was doing otherwise, because we knew that it would be a knock-down, drag-out, fight to the finish.
In those days players stayed with their team for most, if not all of their careers. Players like "Mean Joe" Green, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw. They left nothing on the field every weekend and often played injured. Teams knew who they were facing every year and planned for it to the point where it came down to which team wanted it worse.
Fast forward to this year. Players seem to play at 75 percent, until their contract year, then they go all out. If you don't believe me, look at Julius Peppers' or Albert Haynesworth's numbers over the past few years. Peppers' numbers were lower in '07 at 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks and higher in '08 at 51 tackles and 14.5 sacks. Haynesworth has a similar increase in his stat's also. What did they have in common? 2008 was a contract year!
Then, when the team puts the franchise tag on them, they get upset and really start laying back on their efforts. I understand that they want to get paid what they are worth, but what about the loyalty to their team? Do players in this modern era have no loyalty to their team and teammates?
It is still thrilling to watch your team every year, cheer them on during the high points and wish for better times during the low points. But wouldn't it be even better, if we still had those great rivalries like years gone by and if we all still watched some matchups every year, even though they weren't our home teams?
Maybe this year we will see a slow shift back to those days-gone-by and players will start remembering what football is really all about: "the team."