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News » NFL free agency takes emotional toll on fans

NFL free agency takes emotional toll on fans

NFL free agency takes emotional toll on fans
At some point during Jake Delhomme's January 10th stink bomb of a performance against the Cardinals in the NFC playoffs, I suffered from a case of trigger finger and started flicking around on the TV remote control. "Top Chef" was having a marathon on Bravo, Tila Tequila was up to absolutely no good on MTV and FOX had a nice old fashioned hour block of "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted."

But I ended up getting sucked into the season premiere of "The Bachelor." I know. Pathetic. Yet, there I was, posted up on my couch with a plate of Buffalo wings and a beer — watching "The Bachelor." Forget Larry Fitzgerald. I was observing 25 borderline crazy single women all just throwing themselves at a man they'd never met before, instead. There was crying, fighting, and more crying. Mildly entertained and now somewhat invested, I set the DVR to "Record Series" and realized I was in for the long haul.

For fans of the NFL, the past week has been a lot like one long episode of "The Bachelor." No doubt, the 2009 free agency season has been unlike any before it. Kicked off with a flurry of jaw-dropping mega-deals amidst news of the worst economic times the nation's seen since the AFL, there was endless courting, various false reports, and tons and tons of money thrown around. As an NFL fan, you try to ride the roller coaster out the best you can, all the while scratching your head, clenching your fists, and mending your broken heart.

Though there may be no rose ceremonies, there's just about everything else.

Criticize Washington owner Dan Snyder as much as you want for the amount of money the 'Skins threw at Albert Haynesworth ($100 million over seven years) or DeAngelo Hall (a head-scratching $55 million), his fans know they're getting new toys every offseason. Some fans aren't quite as fortunate.

Hello, Bengals season-ticket holders

Long-suffering Cincinnati fans tracked T.J. Houshmandzadeh updates throughout the weekend like old lovers hanging on to a dying romance via Facebook status updates. When the team placed a franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham instead of the 31-year-old receiver, the fans rationally and collectively reasoned that it was time to cope with the reality that Hoosh's days as a Bengal were now a thing of the past.

But after helicopter tours of Seattle (yes, this actually happened) and an all-day courting session in Minnesota by the Vikings on Sunday, reports leaked on various blogs, fan sites and local talk radio shows Monday morning that Houshmandzadeh was considering re-upping with the Bengals, the team that took a chance on him with a seventh-round draft pick so many years before. Rotowire.com had the Bengals as one of the few teams with the inside track on the former Pro Bowler. Popular fan site CincyJungle.com tracked the news throughout the day with a fleeting optimism so pure it made you feel like there was actually hope in this world.

A few hours later, he was inking a five-year deal with the Seahawks.


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Eagles lose lifer

Whether it's the mother or father to blame, divorces are never easy on the kids. The same can be said for teams, players and the fans that are left in the crossfire, picking up the emotional wreckage.

Take Eagles fans, for example. Brian Dawkins — hands down the most beloved Iggles player over the past decade — is now a ... Denver Bronco?

If you don't think there were at least a few Eagles diehards (Dawkins' No. 20 jersey is the most common found being worn at any Eagles home game) feeling lost and empty when they first heard the news on Friday evening, you could not be more wrong.

Deadspin.com editor A.J. Daulerio, a lifetime Eagles fan, explained to me Tuesday, "There are levels of disappointment any fan experiences going into the offseason, knowing that some players you've become attached to will no longer be a part of the team. In this case, with Dawkins, I think it was more jarring. This was a guy who defined the Eagles over the last decade more than any other player — more than McNabb, Westbrook, etc.

"Every Eagles fan right now is seeking the same closure that 20-something girls seek when they find out their boyfriend has just left town on them for another chick without leaving a goodbye note."

Daulerio pauses.

"But I didn't even know he was seeing somebody else."

Hoosh and Dawkins weren't the only signings bringing heartache to the masses. Chris Canty, an up-and-coming Cowboys star, chose the hated Giants over re-upping with Dallas. Where was he rumored to be going before inking the deal with New York? The hated Redskins. How's that salt for your wound, Dallas fans?

Hanging with the enemy?

Then there's Kurt Warner. After being given a second (er, third) shot in his career and delivering Arizona's first conference championship since 1947, Warner was in town, meeting and greeting with the hated San Francisco 49ers on Monday. San Francisco executives flew both Warner and his wife Brenda into San Jose on a private jet and had a limo cruise them around Northern California. The Cards weren't offering enough money when negotiations opened Friday morning. The Niners were. So they got together and spoke. No harm in that, right?

But if you're a Cardinals season ticket holder, to even imagine Warner — your beloved Kurt Warner — suiting up for the rival Niners in '09 after the miracle ride he took you on this January, it's nearly an impossible vision to stomach.

And, of course, after all of that public posturing (aka "torture for every Cardinals fan") Warner finally agreed to a deal Wednesday. Relief. Stomach unwinding. Cards fan has to be thinking to himself, "Did I really have to go through all of that?"

And how about those Niners fans, who for the first time since Jeff Garcia was throwing darts to Terrell Owens, thought they were actually getting a real NFL quarterback under center? Nope. Just a bit of leverage for Warner, like the head cheerleader giving the class president a night at the movies while the quarterback and her worked out a brief break-up.

It's a business, I know. Hell, after four World Series rings in five years with the Yankees, David Cone signed with the Red Sox in 2001. Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees a few years later. We, as fans, should be immune to this stuff by now. To cite a horribly over-used cliché that seems to be utilized end any conversation about anything these days: "It is what it is."

But "it" is never easy.

When it comes down to it, the NFL — with its non-guaranteed contracts and constant-state-of-flux-like parity — makes it essential for fans to focus solely on the front of the jersey, and not the names on the back.

Buccaneers fans won't even recognize their squad next year. A new coach, a new front office and — after completely shedding the payroll — an entirely new team will be suiting up in pewter and black this fall. After a combined 20 seasons in Tampa, Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn were released in cost-cutting moves last week. Lost in all the pithy puns about the country duo "Brooks and Dunn" was the official ending of an era in Tampa Bay. Joey Galloway and Cato June, team leaders over the past few seasons, were shown the door, too.

As fans, we read such news and go on with our days. Bucs fans will wipe their tears with hope for a new era. They'll replace those Brooks jerseys with Derrick Ward ones. But how quickly things can turn, and how quickly changes are made — it's a bit unsettling. But don't expect the Tampa faithful to start rooting for whichever team Derrick Brooks ends up playing for in 2009. It just doesn't work like that.

Fred Taylor was quietly released from the Jaguars; Laveranues Coles and Chris Baker let go by the Jets. The list of longtime veterans kicked to the curb goes on. Year after year, we become more immune and even less surprised by the salary-shaving roster cuts. Hell, if the Dolphins can lose both Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor in one offseason and actually see their defense improve the next season, no player on any team is untouchable.

As a fan, you just need to roll with the punches and support your squad. Regardless of who's playing for it.

The NFL free-agency period can make for a cold, hard world. For the teams, the players and the fans it's a lot of heartache, struggle and stress. In the end, not every player is given the $100 million-dollar deal; not every fan base is given a rose.

Sometimes you're left out in the cold.

But, what are you going to do?

After all, it is what it is.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 7, 2009

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