It's hard to imagine the NFL and its media partners doing a better job at preventing heart rates from stabilizing between seasons.
It's like one of those carnival acts where the guy runs around keeping 10 plates spinning atop 10 poles while the audience waits for the main attraction to crawl inside the cannon.
The first round of the draft is a season unto itself. If today's mock drafter displeases you, simply take two aspirins and Google him again in 1.0 to 2.0 mocks.
Saturday, free agency begins with an open negotiating period, replacing the old hush-hush, wink-wink negotiating period. But, technically, we're supposed to set our NFL Countdown Clock! to 3 p.m. Tuesday. That's when players will be free to sign not-so-free contracts.
The initial wave of excitement will exceed many people's ability or willingness to remember the pitfalls of high-priced individual movement in an unparalleled team sport governed by a salary cap. Knee-jerk "winners" will be crowned for no other immediate reason than spending money.
A year ago this month, the Buccaneers were universally hailed as "winners" because they gobbled up first-wave free agents while outspending 31 other teams in terms of cash value ($147 million, according to spotrac.com). Today, the Bucs are riding an NFL-worst 2-14 record and preparing for the first pick in the draft.
They will select a quarterback because, well, nothing else you do when it comes to building a franchise matters when you don't have one.
"I don't think you can turn your team around in free agency unless you have an outstanding quarterback," said Ruston Webster, Titans general manager. "The guys who are going to take you to the next level will be drafted."
That's not to say free agency isn't an important piece of the puzzle. The Patriots used free agency to build another championship-caliber secondary with cornerback Darrelle Revis. But New England also was a selective shopper last year, ranking 16th in free agency spending despite Revis' exorbitant contract.
Money changing hands won't be a problem this month. The salary cap climbed another $10 million to $143.28 million. That, coupled with a rookie salary cap and the ability to roll over cap space from the previous year, has nearly half of the league — 15 teams — with $25 million or more of cap room, according to overthecap.com.
Suh likely gone
The woeful Jaguars lead the way with a salary cap of $168.5 million and $68.5 million to spend. The Raiders are second with $57.4 million to spend, followed by the Browns ($53.1 million) and Jets ($50 million). The Vikings, after Matt Cassel's trade, will be around $24 million, third in the NFC North behind the Packers ($32.5 million) and Bears ($28.6 million).
The Lions are last in the NFC North ($18.3 million) and might have mismanaged themselves right out of the running to retain star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who at age 28 is a four-time first-team All-Pro and the premier free agent available, albeit at a historical cost.
Prior restructurings to Suh's contract elevated his 2014 cap number to $22.4 million. Placing the franchise tag on Suh would have enacted a percentage increase to $26.9 million rather than the relatively reasonable franchise tag figure of about $11 million.
Five players — Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski — received franchise tags and were essentially taken out of the market. The Dolphins used their transition tag on tight end Charles Clay, keeping their right of first refusal but surrendering their draft pick compensation if Clay were to sign elsewhere.
Even with Houston, Pierre-Paul, Bryant and Thomas off the board, this appears to be a good year for pass rushers, receivers and running backs, although the trend toward lukewarm interest in that position via free agency could continue.
Of course, this also is the time of year when buyers should beware.
Two years ago, then-Steelers receiver Mike Wallace was the gotta-have deep threat. The Dolphins swooped in with a five-year, $60 million contract as part of a league-high $160 million in cash value they spent on free agency that offseason. The crowd roared.
Wallace was given an $11 million signing bonus and $30 million guaranteed. Two years later, he's a major disappointment with a $12.1 million cap figure and $9.6 million in dead money should he be released.
Meanwhile, two years ago, the Seahawks ranked 24th in free-agency spending. But they did manage to win the Super Bowl that next fall and the NFC championship the following year.