There’s an actual, real-life NFL football game Thursday night, the Hall of Fame Game. (Alright, it’s an exhibition game, and it's the one that never made it to kickoff last year. Close enough.)
Does that mean the offseason is over … finally? That is, what passes for the NFL offseason. It never really was off, we all know. There was no down time, no space to breathe, no pause button.
Yes, training camp has been going on for more than a week in most places. However, this is what people circle on the calendar: when the post-Super Bowl drought ends, the games return and are here to stay until February. But as we know, and as we're accustomed to now, you can't return if you never actually leave.
The games will be a respite from all the time there were no games. This year, seemingly more than ever, there was everything but games for six months.
There’s the backup quarterback that nobody wanted to sign for fear that he would be a distraction. Yet, as kickoff for the Cowboys and Cardinals in Canton approached, guess what was the biggest distraction in the NFL: the backup quarterback that nobody wants to sign. If somebody had signed Colin Kaepernick in March, the distraction would be over. Instead, it’s an international story that has no end in sight. Well done, NFL.
There's the report on CTE that has sent active players into retirement, into consideration of retirement and into "passionate" declarations that, no problem, a football field is “the perfect place to die." That shed yet more light on concussions in the sport, including the frightening battle with post-concussion symptoms by Michael Oher, who ended up being released at the start of camp, still struggling nearly a year after his injury.
There’s a team in the league’s biggest market, the Jets, gutting its roster, denying it was tanking for the No. 1 pick and having the commissioner back it up.
There’s the wave of players who howled in protest over how much NBA players earn in free agency compared to them, in a more brutal, potentially-lethal sport that takes in a third more in revenue every year.
There’s the star player, Ezekiel Elliott, on the league’s most marketable team, waiting for the end of a year-long investigation into a domestic violence accusation. There also is the handful of players drafted with criminal histories or accusations hanging over their heads, as teams wrestled with the risk-reward balance and with their own checkered past on accepting or rejecting such players.
There were the players released with almost no warning for cap reasons, players scolded publicly for skipping workouts they weren't required to attend … and players carted off the field at those same series of workouts, bringing their necessity into question once again.
There was the unprecedented volume of general managers getting fired deep into the offseason — as late as mid-July, in the Panthers’ case.
There were all the players who didn't even make it through the first week of training camp without potentially serious injury: Sterling Shepard, Will Fuller and Forrest Lamp on Wednesday, Dominique Easley and Nico Siragusa Tuesday, Mike Williams and Joe Flacco even before their teams’ first workouts, just to name a few. (The Ravens may be closing in on an unenviable record.)
There is the league's still-baffling intransigence about marijuana, as players continued to get suspended for using, Martavis Bryant still not being cleared to return from his year-long ban last season, and yet another tease of a report that the NFL wanted to discuss the topic with the union. The skepticism of the league’s motives by onlookers was immediate and widespread.
All of that, on top of the endless hype about the Combine, the draft, the OTAs, the minicamps, leading up to training camp … and finally up to players in pads on a lined field with a clock and scoreboard and live national TV.
The Hall of Fame Game promises to be … not entertaining. It’s still a breath of fresh air after what went on since the last game that counted.
It's still not clear if there was no offseason this year, or too much.