Column: This offseason it's all NFL all the time

By Tim Dahlberg

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 21 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is seen on the television as Saints fans Bryce Powers, left, and Jonathan Hebert watch news reports of the NFL's punishment of the New Orleans Saints football team at Walk On's sports pub in New Orleans,Wednesday, March 21, 2012. The NFL suspendED New Orleans coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season, and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is banned from the league indefinitely because of the team's bounty program that targeted opposing players.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

Drew Brees declared himself speechless, so you can only imagine how Sean Payton felt after learning he would be taking a year off without pay.

Imagine, too, those chilly weeks this fall when Mark Sanchez will be overthrowing receivers, and fans at the Meadowlands just might be chanting Tim Tebow's name — assuming the Jets can clean up this mess of a deal. If Tebow does end up with the Jets that will happen just as surely as Rex Ryan will declare that Tebow is the final piece he needs for the Super Bowl run he always guarantees.

Nothing really stretches the imagination anymore in the NFL. Not bounties, not stiff suspensions. Certainly not some crazy moves from crazy Rex himself.

I mean, raise your hand if you ever thought Peyton Manning would be under center for the Denver Broncos and fans there would happily bid farewell to the last vestiges of Tebowmania.

This used to be the time of year where only the most hard-core NFL fans had anything to talk about. And talk they would, spending hours before their computers debating the merits of drafting some obscure lineman with a sixth-round pick or using it on a running back who might be the next big thing.

The draft is as big as ever, even though everyone already knows this year's No. 1 pick. But the events of the last few weeks have proven one thing.

We're a nation consumed by professional football.

Think about it. This weekend we'll find out which schools will be in the Final Four, and Albert Pujols and his teammates are getting ready for opening day. In the NBA, the playoffs are drawing closer, and teams are scrambling for position even as Linsanity fades away.

And all anyone — even the speechless Brees — wants to talk about is the NFL.

Brees expressed his dismay over the yearlong suspension of his coach in New Orleans via Twitter, which is probably just as well. After declaring Payton "a great man, coach, and mentor" there wasn't much else for Brees to say.

"I need to hear an explanation for this," the Saints quarterback said.

Commissioner Roger Goodell would be glad to give Brees one. Or he can read the papers or the Internet, which are full of details about how Payton's team arranged for thousands of dollars in bounties to go to headhunters if they knocked targets — including Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers — out of crucial games.

Some of those details should make Brees cringe. Sticking up for your coach is admirable, but before Brees goes too far he ought to think a bit about how he would see things if the bounty hunters were on another team and were coming after him. Probably be a pretty good price on his head, enough maybe to deliver that one late hit that might make his older years very uncomfortable.

Goodell's sense of timing might be a little off in announcing the suspension of Payton for a year, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for who knows how long. He could have waited until Tebow left town in Denver or even until Brees got the long term contract he has been agitating for in New Orleans.

But that's about the only thing wrong with it. As head of a league being sued from all sides for failing to protect the health of his players, Goodell had no choice but to come down hard on the Saints and everyone involved in the deplorable practice. The penalties may be the most severe since Paul Hornung and Alex Karras sat out the 1963 season after being suspended indefinitely by commissioner Pete Rozelle in a gambling probe, but the punishment fits the crime.

The timing was a little better in running Tebow out of Denver. John Elway and company took only a few hours before shipping Tebow away for basically nothing, though a new subplot developed hours after the Jets announced the trade when questions arose over who was responsible for advances paid to the quarterback.

Nothing surprising there. Get the Jets involved and expect the bizarre.

Just how Tebow would fit in on the Jets may be a mystery only solved by Ryan. He's the one who declared Sanchez his quarterback, and he's the one who helped reward him with a new $40.5 million contract earlier this month despite a shaky and unproductive season.

Now the Jets try to add Tebow, but why?

To make some noise, for one thing. The other team in New York won the Super Bowl, but New Yorkers now can spend the rest of the offseason talking about how Tebow will fit in or why the Jets went after him. It may have been a move born of desperation but, should Ryan and the front office finally land Tebow, they will have created another act for a city that loves a circus.

There hasn't been a NFL game played in more than six weeks. There won't be another played for real for another five months. The lure of the league is such, though, that it no longer matters.

Give us a big free agent chase, and we forget about baseball. Throw in a Tebow controversy and a bounty scandal, and basketball isn't nearly as interesting.

Tebow Time may have run its course. But it's now NFL Time, all the time.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org

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