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10 thoughts on the NFL

Offseason narratives, player salaries, and timid game-calling highlight this week’s musings on the NF League.

NFL: Chicago Bears-Minicamp Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

1. Training camp superlatives are fast approaching. Do they mean anything?

My past standpoint on this question has been a firm no. Any player hype coming from training camp seems to correlate more with what teams hope will happen than what actually occurs in the upcoming season. My new opinion is that positive hype doesn’t mean anything, but a lack of hype can tell you that things are going poorly. I, for one, am hoping the training camp hype of Kevin White is loud, as meaningless as it may be.

2. My favorite cliché offseason news headline:

“Player X is hoping to improve for the upcoming season.” I love this type of headline because of how transparently uninteresting it is. I doubt there are many NFL players who don’t want to improve in the upcoming season, but I love this because I still want to click when it’s a player that I want to improve. Yay Charles Leno Jr. wants to get better at run blocking! I want that for him too. If both of us want it, it’s sure to happen.

3. My least favorite cliché offseason news headline:

“Player X close to coming to terms on new deal.” This is right behind “Player Y signs rookie contract.” Contract news is rarely interesting, but when it’s not actually news, it’s painfully tedious. And with rookies, the terms of the contracts are mostly set in stone by the CBA. It’s incredibly rare for a hold-out to happen, and if it does, I’m certain we’ll hear about it ad nauseum.

4. Sammy Watkins thinks NFL stars need to be paid more.

This was a reasonable response to the massive contracts mediocre NBA players have been receiving this offseason. But what would it really mean for teams to pay their stars more? In a salary cap system, it would mean non-star quality starters and backups would all be paid less. Have you ever done an auction-based fantasy draft where everyone aggressively overpaid for the top talent? If you did, you would remember getting quality players going for peanuts at the end. I personally don’t like the idea of stars getting bigger figures at the expense of undervalued journeymen.

5. Speaking of the salary cap, do people know that it has gone up by about 10 million every year?

I’m not sure if NFL teams have realized this, but I’m pretty certain that analysts and pundits have ignored it. Every time I hear someone talking about whether a contract was good value, I hear them compare to players with contracts signed several years ago. The salary cap has gone up 39% since 2012. This means, in terms of cap percentage, a 7 million dollar contract in 2012 is about equivalent to a 10 million contract now, and a 10 million contract in 2012 is equivalent to a 14 million contract now. My biggest concern about Ryan Pace is that he’s using a strategy of sticking to his number but his number is based on outdated data. I hope that isn’t true, since the adjustment to current cap space is literally middle school math.

6. Speaking of math, what’s with that John Urschel NFL commercial?

If you’re not familiar, Urschel is a backup linemen for the Ravens who is a Math PhD candidate at some Boston school. Apparently, he's also good at chess. I say apparently, because in the commercial, all he does is beat a bunch of children at it. I think the premise of the commercial is that I’m supposed to be impressed that he can beat so many children at chess, but I’m not. They're children. Children are the only people I can beat at chess, and that’s not something I brag about.

7. Could there be something to Dowell Loggains’ frustrating pass/run ratio?

Despite having an impressive run game, the 2016 Bears only ran the ball 40 (and a half) percent of the time. Many of us Bears fans have been annoyed by this, especially considering looking at the situations of when Loggains decided to pass over running doesn’t fit with traditional wisdom. My annoyance at this has waxed and waned, but at the moment, I’m trying to give Loggains the benefit of the doubt based on two thoughts. First, maybe the run game was as effective as it was precisely because the Bears only did it 40% of the time. In a passing game led by Matt Barkley and unproven (at the time) receivers, opposing defenses were likely eager to stack the box against the run. And the Bears’ running game was significantly worse against 8 man boxes, where Jordan Howard's yards per carry dropped to 3.4. Maybe the 60% passing attempts are what kept the defenses honest and the run game alive. The second thought is just that the passing game was remarkably effective considering it consisted of Matt Barkley passing to Josh Bellamy half the time.

8. Why isn’t aggressive matchup-based play calling more common?

I think about this intermittently, but it came up again recently when a non-football fan asked my why the Patriots are always winning. I avoided any explanations involving Tom Brady being a farm animal and focused on the fact that they are better than any other team at game planning against an opponent’s weaknesses. When he asked why other teams don’t do it as well, I mentioned something about them valuing players with flexible skill-sets more than other teams, but I think that’s only a small part of the story.

And I don’t think the other half is that people are too dumb to do it. My best guess is that people are too insecure to do it. Almost everyone’s job in the NFL is hanging on a year-to-year (if not week to week) thread. Coordinators have systems, schemes, and game plans that they are familiar with and are comfortable defending. They are based in years of experience passed down from their mentors and gathered from colleagues. Venturing away from those tried-and-true schemes is a risk, and one they will have a hard time defending if it goes poorly. I wouldn’t underestimate this factor as a contributor.

9. When is Rihanna going to perform at the Super Bowl?

Seriously. It better be 2018. I learned everything I know about football from RiRi's "Wait Your Turn" Fumble don't you fumble that's a flag on the play...

10. Enjoying fandom is a difficult endeavor

With the Bears coming off their worst season in years, I’ve been thinking about how being a fan of an NFL team is a recipe for heartbreak. There are 32 team in the NFL, and only one has the satisfaction of winning the Super Bowl every year. As obvious as it is, thinking that in a completely even playing field, you can only expect your team to win once every 32 years seems shocking (although my math says this means the Bears are due this year). To make it through the other 31 years as fans, we have to find a way to enjoy the losing seasons. For me, it’s reveling in the momentary successes of Bears players, or enjoying the Thanksgiving upsets over Green Bay even if they fall in a losing season. While we hope for the best for our Beloved, I think it’s worthwhile to share our strategies for finding joy in the worst as well.