The opening of the NFL’s calendar year last week — also known as The Only Sports Story in the Entire World — brought a remarkable flood of trades, free agent signings, releases, and general upheaval to what is usually a pretty staid sport even in its busiest times.
When a week ends with Jarrett Stidham as the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots, you have to admit it’s been quite a show.
The question is whether the sheer amount of action that took place would have been the same under ordinary circumstances in our country, or whether everyone’s itching desire to do something in this time of doing nothing led players, agents, and general managers to be less inhibited about making major changes.
Around the league, quarterbacks were passed around like dinner mints, back in the day when you would actually accept an unsterilized dinner mint from a dish that had been touched by who knows how many other people, some of whom probably had Chinese takeout in the last six months.
The Carolina Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater. Philip Rivers went to the Colts after 16 years with the Chargers. Nick Foles, who was signed for four years by the Jaguars, but played just four games, was traded to the Bears and will be paid approximately five times the amount of incumbent starter Mitch Trubisky. (And what did it cost Chicago to get a former Super Bowl MVP? That would be a compensatory fourth-round draft pick; No. 140, to be precise).
Case Keenum went to Cleveland — fare thee well, Case — Marcus Mariota landed with the Raiders, the Broncos waived Joe Flacco, and on and on. The Titans resigned Ryan Tannehill, as did the Vikings with Kirk Cousins, and the Eagles with Nate Sudfeld, who secured the backup job when Josh McCown limped into a retirement more lasting than his previous one.
Then there was the small matter of Tom Brady, who decamped from New England after 20 seasons, apparently by choice, in favor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who haven’t won a playoff game since Brady was 25.
In signing Brady, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, No. 199 overall, the Bucs showed the door to Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 draft. The decisions to draft Winston then and sign Brady now might shed some light on why there has been that 17-year gap between Tampa Bay playoff wins, but underestimating Brady is perilous. The man does turn 43 in August, however.
The least surprising fallout from the Brady signing — aside from the predictable moaning of annoying Patriots fans — was that Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin said he would be willing to give up the uniform number 12 he has worn since high school. Good call, Chris.
In Philadelphia, the biggest move made by the Eagles was a deletion, not an addition. That was the decision to let Malcolm Jenkins walk into free agency after six seasons as the team’s strong safety/locker room leader/moral compass.
The comparison was made in some circles to the franchise’s move after the 2008 season to continue without Brian Dawkins. While there were some parallels, the reaction was far more muted in the case of Jenkins.
Sure, Dawkins played 13 seasons with the Eagles, and he didn’t take political stances that would have caused some split among the fan base, but from a merely football standpoint, linking the two players is understandable. Jenkins, at 32, is four years younger than Dawkins when he wasn’t resigned.
Figuring out the public reaction might take us all the way back to the original question: As the smallest routines of everyday life are tossed into the Bass-O-Matic, is there still the energy for outrage about the makeup of the Eagles defensive backfield?
Jenkins wanted a new contract — and got one with the New Orleans Saints, his previous team, for an amount of money that wasn’t overwhelming — but the Eagles are budgeting their resources for other things apparently.
For those calculations, in which fan reaction is certainly factored into the equation, these are likely times when harsh decisions about things that don’t really matter can be made without the fear of normal blowback. When people are hoarding toilet paper and buying firearms to prepare for food wars, the Eagles front office can do what it wants in relative obscurity.