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NFL's Offseason Nonsense Index: Topics You Will Be Sick of Before Spring

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 5, 2015

B/R

The Super Bowl may be behind us, but NFL nonsense knows no offseason.

There's an entire industry built upon round-the-calendar speculation, rumor-mongering, scandal-stoking, drama-manufacturing and out-and-out spitballing about football's most fascinating teams and personalities. That industry keeps dinner on my table, so hooray for tale spinning!

With the scouting combine, the draft, free agency, owner's meetings, salary-cap cramming and other events looming on the near horizon, the smart groundhog takes one quick look at his shadow and then boldly predicts six more months of nonsense.

Determining which offseason stories will generate the most silliness and hot air is both an art and a science. To create this Offseason Nonsense Top 10, I started with a few dozen potential NFL storylines. Each topic was graded on a scale of 1 to 5 according to the following criteria: 

Star Power

The more famous and interesting the personalities involved, the greater the nonsense.

Market Size

How big is New York nonsense compared to Tennessee nonsense?

Chan Gailey saying there will be competition for the Jets' starting job is roughly equivalent to Zach Mettenberger grabbing a blowtorch and setting Charlie Whitehurst on fire.

Football Relevance

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Will this story have any real impact on the 2015 standings? Does it affect starters on a contender in a way that could alter their performance, or some prospect on a 4-12 team?

Football relevance is actually inversely related to nonsense, so stories get docked a few points if they really matter. If Marshawn Lynch retires tomorrow, it will generate some nonsense, but it is also a legitimate NFL news story that will affect the league's balance of power.

We are seeking fluff purity here.

Speculation Value

The more concrete and comprehensible a story is, the worse it is for nonsense generation.

If the Patriots trade two sixth-round picks for Larry Fitzgerald and Brian Orakpo next week, we may sling some silliness about dark Bill Belichick magic, but then we will be talking about a story with football relevance (see above) that can be addressed with facts and statistics. Boring!

The 130-proof, single-malt sportstalk-and-blogosphere drivel is filtered through veils of the unknowable. Who has time for stats when we are weighing the contents of a quarterback's soul?

Shelf Life

High-end nonsense should stay fresh through training camp and the start of next season.

If the story ends with a March free-agent signing or contract extension, it lacks the octane to get us through those long June afternoons when we just want to file a "Friction in Washington" column and then take the kids to the pool.

Morality

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 05: Suspended Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice (R) and his wife Janay Palmer arrive for a hearing on November 5, 2014 in New York City. Rice is fighting his suspension after being caught beating his wife in an Atlantic Cit
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

This is a huge nonsense driver.

Does the storyline allow us to feel morally superior to a player, coach or commissioner? (That last one is admittedly a low bar these days.) Does it pit a perceived good against a manufactured evil? If so, it's nonsense gold.

Prefabrication

Reliability is important when it comes to predicting offseason storylines.

The best sports narratives can be crammed into one of the molds laid out for you in an introductory novel writing class: Pride goes before the fall, tortoise beats hare, plucky backup quarterback is better than overpriced starter (if only the owner wasn't too wracked by greed to admit it!) and so on.

When a new story is just like the old stories we roll out every year, just with some fresh faces, it's like nonsense comfort food.

Legacy

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 11: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after losing 24-13 to the Indianapolis Colts in a 2015 AFC Divisional Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 11, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Phot
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Because "legacies" (whatever the heck they are) now mean more than championships, any storyline that can reasonably be tied to a legacy gets a bonus. To simplify: Tom Brady has a legacy; Nick Foles does not.

Weights and adjustments are applied to each of those eight categories, a little pixie dust is sprinkled, and presto! My editors can take the rest of February off, because we know what we are covering until the season opener!

Here's a count-up of the 10 biggest nonsense generators of the 2015 offseason. Plan your vacations and ibuprofen intake accordingly:

Honorable Mention

The Browns' texting scandal broke too late to be included in the calculations.

Also coming up short:

  • The Cowboys' cap situation (Dez Bryant/DeMarco Murray)
  • Chip Kelly's rise to general manager
  • Rule changes based on close playoff calls
  • Marshawn Lynch's contract
  • Michael Sam's comeback attempt
  • Darrelle Revis
  • Anything related to Trent Richardson and the Colts' running back situation

Serious ongoing issues, like concussions or union wrangles, are beyond the chitchat-oriented scope of the nonsense calculations.

10. Russell Wilson's Looming Contract Extension (Nonsense Rating: 17.00)

Nothing gets the irrational-argument spidey senses tingling like the phrase "highest-paid quarterback in the NFL." No one—no one!—is deserving of that honor, except of course Tom Brady, who is too noble and pure-intentioned to accept it.

Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) greets Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) after Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

It's a well-established factoid that a huge quarterback contract not only breeds resentment in the locker room (where football players are shocked to discover they make less money than the quarterback) but cripples the team financially for the next decade.

Look at the teams that laid out huge money to quarterbacks, like the Packers, Ravens, Cowboys and Lions. Did you see any of those teams in the playoffs, coming within a trick play or an iffy call of going much further? Didn't think so.

What's worse, the Seahawks will soon lay out highest-paid-quarterback money to a guy who didn't get it done in the Super Bowl. "Getting it done" means running onto the field to help the defense hold a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, or scurrying to the sideline from the 1-yard line, slapping Pete Carroll on the face and saying, "What the heck did you just call?"

No, Wilson has become a good-not-great quarterback, not worthy of a big contract, to the opinion-mongers who quietly shredded the Brady cannot win with a fully inflated football columns they wrote late in the third quarter Sunday and switched to Narrative Plan B.

Wilson's looming contract situation—he is in the final year of a rookie deal that pays him approximately $12.75 an hour plus tips, and letting him test 2016 free agency would not be wise—is highly prefabricated, involves one of the NFL's brightest stars and is surprisingly low in football relevance.

He is staying in Seattle for the rest of the decade, and the rest is just accounting. Its shelf life is limited, however, and there is little real speculation involved because it is inevitable. Once the contract is signed, this story will settle into a predictable Is Russell Wilson elite? groove, which is mass-market nonsense, not the premium hooch.

9. The 49ers Saga (Nonsense Rating: 17.25)

Jed York, Trent Baalke and Jim Tomsula provide a perfectly prefabricated story that we can all relate to. It's the football equivalent of the folks at marketing taking over the company's research-and-development division, then installing a mouthpiece manager who says things like, "When will you build something we can sell, like a time machine?"

Every 49ers decision for the next five months will be interpreted through the prism of suits versus football guys, Moneyball versus tradition. Every Tomsula soundbyte will weighed and studied for signs of autonomy. Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and others will be perceived as pawns in an ongoing power struggle.

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers in action against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Kaepernick bashers will have a field day casting him as a "Harbaugh guy" while simultaneously pillorying Baalke-York for every free-agent defection or suspect roster move. The best nonsense comes from a scenario where everyone can be criticized as doing the wrong thing without any inherent contradictions.

The 49ers saga has high football relevance (this is a playoff-caliber roster) but also has incredible shelf life and is built on pure speculation. We will insert ourselves into board rooms and make up our own motivations for decisions that would not raise an eyebrow if, say, the Cardinals made them.

8. Johnny Manziel Reborn (Nonsense Rating: 18.25)

Manziel's laudable decision to seek counseling will do more than actually help him grow as a person. It will boil off some of the most pungent nonsense that had already overflowed from the 2014 season. Both the boozy frat humor and the kid just doesn't get it, smh moralizing will have to be back-burned in favor some basic (hopefully genuine) concern for somebody's well-being.

But the nonsense will not cease; it will just change form.

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

The ripest storylines are the ones that force us to use vague euphemisms and trip all over ourselves when discussing the topic. Manziel, well, good for him for seeking help…but you have to wonder…character concerns, er, trust issues…will teammates accept him…it's a long journey back, is what I'm saying.

The Browns will almost certainly seek a veteran quarterback in free agency, or—at the very least—re-sign Brian Hoyer. The draft looms before Manziel can reasonably be expected to emerge from a counseling program older and wiser. There will be plenty of quarterback controversies in the weeks to come, but only one will force us to conversationally tap-dance, qualify each statement and generally stammer like a malfunctioning robot in the name of sensitivity.

The over/under for the number of television or radio personalities suspended and crucified on social media (the Sportz Nutz at KDUM are dead wrong about Johnny Manziel and alcoholism. Here's why…) for misguided jokes or poorly considered statements is 1.5. Keep in mind the same jokes and opinions would be considered hysterical or mainstream back when we only assumed that Manziel was drinking his career away.

7. Jets' Rebuilding Project (Nonsense Rating: 18.5)

At first glance, the dramatic building blocks just aren't in place for primo silliness.

Todd Bowles is an old-fashioned coach who should enjoy a honeymoon in the wake of Rex Ryan's goofiness. The new general manager isn't exactly Bill Polian. We wrung all we could from Geno Smith and Michael Vick last year; the fact that neither can really play kept getting in the way of a great story. If Bowles and Mike Maccagnan were going about their business in San Diego or Jacksonville, there would be no nonsense.

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 14:   Michael Vick #1 congratulates Geno Smith #7 of the New York Jets after a touchdown during a game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on December 14, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Jets defeated the Titans 16-11.  (P
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

But oh, New York, New York. The Giants went out of their way to do as little as possible at season's end, and there are only so many articles you can write about Odell Beckham Jr. hugging kids at YMCAs in the Bronx.

The Jets must supply intrigue, even though they are at least a year away from being anything more than their traditional Patriots speed bump. They are a defensive line and some semi-motivated has-been playmakers in search of everything else.

The Jets rank this high in nonsense based on their market and low relevance-to-talking-point ratio, plus the faded luster of guys like Vick, Chris Johnson and Percy Harvin. The Jets will also pop up at each stage in the offseason news cycle—Bowles and Maccagnan's first combine press conferences, free agency, the draft and so on—meaning we will be stuck thinking about them when there are much more important things to think about. As usual.

6. Jay Cutler, John Fox, Ryan Pace and Adam Gase (Nonsense Rating: 19.5)

Premium whiskey is the product of a wide disparity of temperatures: When casks are stored for years, summer and winter climate changes cause the clear liquor to expand and contract, soaking and releasing chemicals within the barrel wood that result in color, complexity and character.

Similarly, premium football nonsense is the product of a wide disparity of what we think an organization can do (trade Cutler to the Bills for two No. 1 picks and Kyle Williams! Cut him outright as a lesson to all other overpaid quarterbacks!) and what an organization really can do (um, Adam, maybe you can trim Jay down to three back-foot throws per game while I try to find a safety who can actually tackle).

LAKE FOREST, IL- JANUARY 19: The Chicago Bears new head coach John Fox speaks to the media during his introduction press conference on January 19, 2015 at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
David Banks/Getty Images

Cutler drives the new Bears storyline. The Broncos' coaching staff can accomplish a lot in Chicago by restoring order in the locker room and rebuilding the defensive depth chart, but nothing can be done about Cutler and his anvil of a contract this year ($15.5 million base salary for 2015).

Even if something could be done, a quick look at the waiver wire and draft class makes it obvious that Cutler is the best quarterback the Bears can hope for. So what we get is cognitive dissonance: new general manager Pace attempting to chart a course, while Fox and Gase are trying to prove they are not jilted Peyton Manning suitors on the rebound, while Cutler and other familiar faces are making it look like business-as-usual in Chicago.

From the dissonance comes the wacky-trade-rumor, tension-in-locker-room nonsense.

The Bears drama gets bonus points for being two mini-morality plays mushed together: Fox and Gase storming away from Camelot; Cutler as the NFL's answer to Loki. The draft is in Chicago this year, providing an additional boost: Eagles and Jets fans will get a break when the world realizes that Midwesterners boo when their team drafts a guard, too.

5. RG3 Part 4 (Nonsense Rating: 20.75)

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 28: Quarterback Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins reacts after throwing a fourth quarter interception against the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField on December 28, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. The Dallas Cowboys won, 44-1
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Redskins' quarterback situation was a raunchy hot-tub threesome last season. This year, it's going to devolve into a full-scale key party.

The Redskins—it is terrifying to type this—almost certainly need to add a quarterback. And Washington cannot add just any quarterback. It must be Nick Foles. Or Marcus Mariota. Michael Vick? How about Drew Stanton in exchange for a second-round draft pick, with a six-year, $70 million contract thrown in?

The Redskins stay high on the nonsense indexes because no rumor or trade proposal is too outlandish for them. New general manager Scot McCloughan is supposed to save the Redskins from themselves by folding the tent on the transaction-wire and leaked-rumor circuses, but that is what the last general manager was supposed to do.

Poor McCloughan is actually trapped in a no-win nonsense scenario with regard to his quarterbacks:

  • If they give Griffin another year with no serious challenger, it will be interpreted as a sign that Dan Snyder still holds all the real power and refuses to acknowledge his mistakes.
  • If they seek a high-profile challenger, it will be interpreted as a sign that Snyder still holds all the real power and has not learned from the doomed trades of the past.
  • If they draft a quarterback in the first round, Washington will look like it's been attacked by the aliens from Independence Day.
  • If the Redskins draft a quarterback in a middle round, the poor Garrett Grayson-type (or whoever) will immediately draw Russell Wilson comparisons due to McCloughan's Seattle roots. A groundswell of support will immediately surround the kid, who will not resemble Wilson in any way, and an entire literary genre of when will Jay Gruden give XXX the starting job will emerge.
  • If Gruden does get to moe in his game of quarterback eenie-meenie, it will be interpreted as a sign of business as usual in Washington.
  • If he does not, it will be interpreted as a sign that Snyder still holds all the real power and refuses to let McCloughan and his next Russell Wilson prove themselves.

Depressing, isn't it?

Griffin clouded the situation himself with a string of semi-tolerable late-season games. He will have plenty of "one more chance" defenders to debate with the "straight-up trade for Cutler" boosters and the ragtag "Team Kirk Cousins."

The football relevance of all of this is iffy—the Redskins roster is a mess—but the D.C. market is big and noisy, the personalities pop, and the morality (Snyder is greed incarnate) and speculation (Griffin hides secrets behind that easygoing smile) factors remain strong, no matter how tired some of us get of hearing from this bunch.

4. Peyton Manning's Physical and Emotional Wellness (Nonsense Rating: 21.0)

When Peyton left the football stage a few weeks ago, he looked like the old wizard whose magic had abandoned him, disappearing behind a shroud of uncertain injuries and festering doubts about the future. A massive Broncos coup erupted moments after his absence, and suddenly Gary Kubiak is the new head coach, while Peyton bestie Gase has been exiled to Cutlerville.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 11:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks on against the Indianapolis Colts during a 2015 AFC Divisional Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 11, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's very Shakespearean.

Was Manning pulling any strings, or is Kubiak's arrival a sign that the strings slipped through his grasp? Is John Elway just making life uncomfortable for Peyton in the name of a hastened rebuilding project? What will happen if Demaryius Thomas and/or Julius Thomas leave as free agents? And even if Peyton fits snuggly into the new regime, is he even healthy and hearty enough to be more than a shadow of his former self?

No one has real answers to any of those questions, many of which are severely overdramatized. But that's what nonsense is all about, folks: purple speculation about skullduggery, executives and players transformed into dukes and warriors engaged in backstabbing politics. It's a lot more fun than the reality: a soon-to-be 39-year-old man rehabbing in a gym, lots of meetings, a dude from accounting explaining why the 2015 budget won't budge.

Denver's smallish market and the lack of a gripping moral component weaken the nonsense potential here. Plus, Manning's injury and the fate of the Thomases are each football-relevant. But the legacy factor for this tale is huge, and every Broncos transaction will be seen through Fate of Peyton lenses.

As soon as our current Brady high subsides, we will remember Elway brooding upon his throne while Peyton meditates and chops wood outside a mountain cabin somewhere.

3. Deflategate (Nonsense Rating: 22.75)

You may think this story has exhausted itself in the wake of the Patriots victory in Super Bowl XLIX. It's simply in a state of dormancy.

Deflategate's utter football irrelevancy—mushy footballs are not a Super Soldier Serum that turns Thad Lewis into Tom Brady, folks—make the story the province of people who want to write NFL stories without the messy business of watching or understanding football.

While all of us worker bees interview draft picks or try to figure out where Julius Thomas will sign as a free agent, some political or music magazine will go to press with "Patriots: The NFL's Shameful, Shameless Legacy" as a cover story. The Boston media will counterattack after some Fred Sanford fake heart attacks, and the nonsense sliders will be set to 11.

MANUEL VALDES/Associated Press

Deflategate is also not fettered to the rest of the NFL calendar, so it will spackle the narrative cracks between the combine, free agency, draft, minicamps and training camps. I predict the Deflategate investigation results will be announced Friday, April 3, which is an ice-cold lull between free agency and the draft, not to mention Good Friday and Passover. (The announcement will at least come between 3 p.m. and sundown, not out of reverence but to sneak through the first news cycle.) Until then, every angry-player rant or leaked kernel of gossip will become a talking point.

Deflategate gets extra points for its "legacy" value. If the NFL concludes that Brady and Belichick knew about and/or condoned the slight deflation of footballs, the question "What does this do to their legacy?" will become the sports talk equivalent of drawing breath.

2. Adrian Peterson/Ray Rice Reinstatements (Nonsense Rating: 25.0)

CONROE, TX - NOVEMBER 04:  Defense attorney Rusty Hardin, (L) and NFL running back Adrian Peterson of the of the Minnesota Vikings address the media after Peterson plead 'no contest' to a lesser misdemeanor charge of reckless assault on November 4, 2014 i
Bob Levey/Getty Images

There are meaty conversations to be had about domestic violence, child endangerment, an employer's role and responsibility in policing and punishing its employees for non-work-related activities, the proper limits of an employer's power, appropriate lengths of suspensions, the duties of sports personalities as role models and the overall health of society as reflected through the bad behavior of famous athletes.

We had none of those conversations last year, and we sure as heck are not going to have them now that the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson sagas have been reheated a dozen times.

Instead, we will chase rumors about potential signings, ask each other vague questions about whether Peterson or Rice "deserves" to come back (don't ask me; I majored in math in college, not Nicomachean Ethics) and defend our favorite argumentative anthills until the all-clear siren sounds.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 05: Suspended Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice (R) and his wife Janay Palmer arrive for a hearing on November 5, 2014 in New York City. Rice is fighting his suspension after being caught beating his wife in an Atlantic Cit
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

There will be "they paid their price" camps and the familiar protesters marching through with their "NFL is evil in all ways" placards; scouting and statistical types will leap into the "both players are in the downsides of their careers" foxhole.

Keep in mind that every Richie Incognito rumor of last season caused a mini news blip, and Incognito's story is an order of magnitude weaker than those of Rice and Peterson. Peterson's April hearing date creates an event horizon for his story, but with the morality, star power and speculation sliders set to full-blast, plus some "legacy" value, there is going to be a lot of ear-splitting nonsense disguised as "straight talk."

1. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota (Nonsense Rating: 26.5)

When it comes to prefabricated storylines, Winston and Mariota are like Joseph Campbell's Myth Cycle, the NFL draft edition.

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles looks on during the College Football Playoff Semifinal against the Oregon Ducks at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 1,
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

There are two quarterbacks, as there must always be, even though the top two quarterbacks in each draft class are never actually intertwined for the remainder of their careers, and these two particular quarterbacks are not very good anyway.

One is a Goofus, the other a Gallant. The Goofus is such a goofus that he brings the hand-wringing, character-issue, with all the problems the NFL faces and considering the investment a team makes in its quarterback narratives with him fully formed from Florida State. The Gallant, as necessitated by the plot, is not as much of an athlete as the Goofus. He does come with his own intrigue, though, including a former college coach panting for him in Philadelphia.

Both the quarterbacks are mobile, so we can fret about whether their playing style can adapt to the stationary dropback NFL style that is currently on life support.

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Chip Kelly celebrates with Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks after their 35 to 17 win over the Kansas State Wildcats in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 3, 2013 in Glendale, Ar
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Winston's scouting reports alone will be the stuff of nonsense legend; some of the more colorful draft analysts are bound to take their old Geno Smith reports and spike them with healthy doses of Nancy Grace and Increase Mather.

Winston and Mariota's Pro Days will inspire magic realist fiction, footballs thrown in empty practice facilities becoming omens, hovering premonitions of failure or greatness seen in a hitch of throwing mechanics, or an impressive, imperceptible bit of footwork.

In the months leading up to the draft, there will be dozens of "I would not dare draft Winston" or "Mariota looks like a sixth-round pick to me" opinions slung by everyone in search of a quick attention jolt. After the draft, every step each quarterback makes in training camp will be chronicled. The nonsense will not end until each is benched behind Josh McCown and Nick Foles to start the season.

Both quarterback prospects have exceptional star power. Their story is national. The morality and speculation factors are whoppers, and they have full-offseason shelf life. Winston and Mariota will generate enough nonsense to keep the lights on through early May. That's a lot of nonsense radiation. You may not want to stare directly at any Winston-Mariota storylines for a month or two.

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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