Throughout the NFL offseason, NFL Deputy Editor Collin McCollough will be publishing a series—titled 'NFL Soup'—which promises to explore a variety of NFL topics, with a good deal of irreverence thrown in on the side. Consider yourself warned.
As I stare at the blinking cursor on the first draft of my first attempt at staking new territory with a personal series—and we'll all pour one out for for my short-lived previous series, Collin 'Em Out, seriously mom, I appreciate the read—I'm left with one glaringly obvious starting point.
The public relations playbook.
Because we live in a world where teenage pop stars can terrorize flight attendants with the gleeful I-dare-you-to-stop-me-edness we thought only a Martin Scorsese script could conjure, and former NBA players can embarrass an entire nation by scripting the Shaq Fu of international politics, there exists a need for people who can reign in celebrity meltdowns. Or at least, people who can hold the pillow over their faces long enough for them to stop kicking.
We call these people handlers, or public relations agents. Regardless of the exact nomenclature, though, they exist very specifically to clip the red wire before the timed explosive wired to every celebrity's career hits triple zeroes.
And when that explosion is imminent, when the situation is at its most dire, these handlers turn to the most obvious play in the book, the five-yard slant of public relations strategy.
You see, when all else fails, you can always usher a pariah into rehab, which should at least provide temporary shelter from the tomatoes, PETA fur splatterings, and even worse, the Jay Glazer interviews.
That's precisely how Richie Incognito's team chose to proceed, in light of a tumultuous stretch in which Incognito was revealed to have bullied former teammate Jonathan Martin, flippantly used a variety of racial and homophobic slurs, and finally, took a baseball bat at his Ferrari in a self-proclaimed art display that would have had even the most bohemian of East Village hipsters scratching underneath their fedoras and asking what, exactly, Incognito was attempting to showcase, if not the exact physical representation of his pro career—a luxury vehicle driven off the road, and ultimately destroyed in an act of self-sabotage.
Maybe Incognito does need help. Maybe you could have argued this when he was a suspect in a house party fight in 2001, or when he was charged with three counts of assault at a house party three years later, or when he admitted to drinking and doing drugs on nights before practice in an ugly St. Louis stint that ultimately ended after a nasty confrontation with Steve Spagnuolo. It would be difficult to argue against the mountain of evidence suggesting that some great deal of reformation is needed, if not to reclaim his NFL career, than at least his human dignity, the basic social contract of a human soul.
But we know what this move is, because we've seen it with countless celebrities prior, and too often, it's the career equivalent of ducking under a nearby awning during a downpour, waiting for the sun to suggest its presence once more.
We should hope Incognito does get the help he needs, if nothing else because he lives among us. But you'll excuse the pessimism from those who have seen this PR move countless times already, and are familiar enough with Incognito's history to be sold on mere lip service.
Incognito still deserves to be called out on his dumbassery. Rehab doesn't key a reprieve from harsh judgment. And until Incognito proves to be anything but the guy whose artwork has left both car parts and career prospects in his ruin, we should see this public relations play for what it is, and understand that while the ticking time bomb may have been slowed for the moment, it hasn't been defused outright.
The Hater's Guide to Free Agency
Free agency is approaching, as players and teams can enter into negotiations on March 8, with contract announcements schedule to begin after 4 p.m. eastern on March 11. But the winds of a long winter usher in even more foreboding news, the kind of inevitable truth that surfaces at this time every year.
Bad contracts are coming.
I've found that, perhaps one of the more entertaining parts of free agency occurs as you survey the fan landscape and find diehards celebrating financial commitment to the most mediocre of unwanted parts. Really, when you zoom out on the NFL landscape, free agency is remarkably akin to rummage sale, where teams and fans alike find themselves beaming as they hold up someone's old cigar box as if it's the Ark of the Covenant itself.
In the interest of tempering your expectations, or at least providing that sobering moment upon realizing you did not, in fact, unwrap your chocolate bar to find a golden ticket, let's take past the beer goggles of free agency.
Up first, Eric Decker.
Then, Hakeem Nicks.
And who could forget Michael Vick?
Or Ed Reed!
Okay, maybe we don't exactly have illusions of grandeur for Ed Reed, at this stage of his career.
Of course, on the whole, there are effective free agent signings. No one is arguing against that. You need only look at this year's Super Bowl champions—the Seattle Seahawks—and see names like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to understand that free agency can be a worthwhile cause.
But trumpeting success stories is no fun. Especially in a league where fans manage to convince themselves that Darrius Heyward-Bey will be an upgrade at wide receiver.
So, ahead of free agency, I offer these words of wisdom: bad contracts are coming. You may not notice them at the time. You may manage to convince yourself they're anything but, as Gordon Gecko mentality reigns supreme and we find ourselves fawning over names we never hesitated to see walk out the door of their previous franchise in the first place.
Personally, I savor the mass pocket-book rationalization. If nothing else, in anticipation of just how far someone will go to convince themselves Chad Henne could compete for a starting spot this year.
Video of the Week
This week's video selection comes courtesy of West Texas A&M quarterback Dustin Vaughan, who recently participated as a throwing quarterback at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine after garnering attention with a parody highlight video posted nearly one year ago.
It's an old video in internet terms, true, but it's made relevant by Vaughan's participation in the draft process, and just generally because it appears only 21,000 souls have seen the damn thing, when that number should be closer to 21 million.
Look, I'm no scout, but from what I can see on that tape, Vaughan has it all: a rad Christmas sweater, an ice cream sandwich, the footwork of a 1920s flapper on amphetamines, throwing form that still admittedly looks better than any tape Tim Tebow has yet produced, and the most important trait any draft prospect can have: montageability.
If you've followed my thought processes in the past, I largely evaluate players based on how cool their names are. I had a field day with 2013's undrafted free agents. So while Vaughan doesn't do much for me in that regard, I think his tape clearly shows that his talents transcend name value.
And until Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or any of the other highly ranked quarterbacks in this year's class come forward with their own montage video, I remain adamant that Vaughan is at the top of my board.
The NFL Selfie
The now-famous Ellen DeGeneres brainchild selfie from the 2014 Academy Awards got me thinking—who would be in a NFL Awards selfie?
The way I see it, it breaks down as follows.
Aaron Rodgers clearly takes Bradley Cooper's place. Annual hardware contender, wears a beard well, seems like a personable guy you'd want to hang out with. I'll admit, though, Brett Favre's photography skills made him a tempting choice.
Alex Smith stands in for Ellen DeGeneres. Just an agreeable choice. Someone who's not going to rock your boat, but isn't going to deliver a memorable performance either. Smith is the movie you sit down to watch with your grandparents.
Chris Gronkowski figures to replace Lupita Nyong'o's brother, Peter, in that—if we're being honest—he's only in the picture because he is somebody's brother.
Peyton Manning is a natural choice to substitute for Meryl Streep. Both are mainstays on the awards circuit, but probably cost you some money when all the chips were down this year.
Finding Jennifer Lawrence's NFL doppleganger was a bit more difficult, but Russell Wilson seems a good fit. Both are young, in high demand, and have already reached the pinnacle of success in their burgeoning careers. Does Russell Wilson wear a dress particularly well? No. But he's GQ enough to get a pass for the fashion eyesore above.
Eli Manning works well as a half-visible throwaway fill-in for Jared Leto. He just wants to be in the picture so bad! But is he? We'll debate how elite his visibility is until the end of time.
In the back row, Tom Brady adequately swaps for Julia Roberts, because while both are instantly recognized members of the glitterati, they're cashing their paychecks on past successes only.
Skip Bayless is perhaps the most obvious choice in the photo, as he stands in for Kevin Spacey. No one completes a "look at me" photobomb quite like Skip Bayless does. Whether you like it or not, your eyes drift upward, and BAM, he has your attention. You never asked for it, but there he is, armed with hot takes and enough contempt for informed discourse and intellectual honesty to make even Frank Underwood's stomach roil.
Colin Kaepernick is the clear replacement for Brad Pitt. It's either the cool guy aura or the dirt on his chin. Not sure which.
Finally, 2014 Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith fills in for Lupita Nyong'o, as the award winner obscured by star power, but happy enough just to be there.
This all, of course, in good fun, and to say nothing of the pizza delivery guy.
'This Guy' of the Week
In every installment of this column, I will try to bring you a this guy we can all shake our collectives head at. You know this guy. This guy posts on message boards, on Twitter, in your local paper's comments section. Sometimes, he even makes his own YouTube video.
This week's this guy embodies everything guaranteed to make your head explode in casual NFL conversation this offseason.
Quote this guy:
Since we're dreaming. Firing Pagano. Making Gruden or Nick Saban hc. Firing grigson. Cutting Richardson and Satele. Perfect offseason.
Let's digest that for a moment.
Making Gruden (Jon, presumably) or Nick Saban head coach.
Firing Ryan Grigson.
There is a rational, scientific counter to this, of course, which points out the stunningly quick turnaround Pagano and Grigson have authored, the insanity of anyone assuming Saban would be a panacea for anything, and the overriding disconnect from reality apparent in this text.
But instead, I will just offer this more succinct response.
Look for this column to surface periodically throughout the NFL's offseason. Feedback and suggestions are welcome, and all hate mail in the interim can be directed toward my Twitter account—@cmccollo.