Monday, April 20, 2015

Managing An NFL Roster Has More Questions Than Ken Jennings.

It seems every pick of professional sports drafts is accompanied by some spirited crowd reaction, and much of the time it's negative. "Oh, not that guy," fans moan. Because fans always know more than seven-figure management, right?

Sometimes, they actually do. The Cheesehead and the 12th Man are often plenty smart to avoid some of the crazy choices made each spring.

But remember some of the endless variables that GM's are trying to conquer, all in the confines of salary caps, irrational coaches, and the ongoing debate about the quality of the game.

Polama-losing Players

First thing to hit the roster is the known departures. Guys like Troy Polamalu are hanging it up permanently, leaving roster holes that aren't filled the way they are when a trade takes place. Hey Art: #43 and his hair are gone. Find yourself a safety.

This moves the debate right to the draft. What do the Steelers do? Conventional wisdom says they'll use their first-round pick to go with Bama's Landon Collins, but not every roster gap is as cut and dried elsewhere in the league.

The X factor is always the choice between free agents, trading, and drafting, and even drafting then trading. The teamless guys essentially become more draft options, so the front office can decide to settle certain roster issues before the draft by signing a free agent. They can also offer a trade to do the same thing, or, if they have a nice high pick in the draft, they can select a high-value guy and make an immediate trade to address several shortcomings with a single #1 jersey photo op.

Off-Season Surprises

But at least the Steelers know that Polamalu is done. Limbo players provide the most headaches for GM's and fans. Late breaking word of Adrian Peterson's reinstatement throws everything into a tailspin. Does he seek a fresh start outside Minnesota? What draft choice does he supplant if he's picked up as a free agent? His April 17th return gives team just 13 days to decide if and how Peterson can figure into their plans.

Peyton Manning gave his decision to return early on, so the Broncos have made their calculations. But other banged-up, high-mileage vets may have intentions for another season but could lack the physical ability to follow through. Do they release somebody, a la Jerry Rice, and get a fresh face, or do they gamble on the rickety knee or catchy back for one more season?

Keeping Up Via Cable

Seriously, what would we do without it? The draft is a lot to keep up with, especially as contracts approach bonus deadlines, the draft sneaks closer, and the unexpected arrest or injury keeps popping up. Haunting the phone for breaking word is not good for your posture or your relationships.

And when there are packs of journalists roosted around all 32 stadiums and shadowing dozens of agents and players, the news will be out there, and the first sources to report most of it are sports networks on cable TV. When season ticket prices go up and it's time to lower the grocery bill and cut cable costs, true fans will give up any number of cooking channels and news networks to maintain their limitless sports sources.

With the advent of the NFL Network, the draft gets coverage on par with a presidential election. We need to know, ice pack by ice pack, who's not physically ready for the season. We want to spy on therapists to find out who's unhappy with the new defensive coordinator, or the new stadium, or the film guy.

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