NFL trope season is here! The finest in recycled themes

Print

Every NFL offseason is unique. It's also exactly the same.

If you follow the sport closely, springtime is a familiar carnival that totes with it an intense feeling of déjà vu. Look at the NFL offseason like a long-running sitcom: Absent fresh inspiration and new places to take the central characters, writers often grab well-received storylines from earlier seasons and repurpose them with different characters and slightly varied circumstances. If it works, everyone wins: The audience doesn't notice (or mind) this recycling of ideas, and the writers, cast and crew get another couple years of paychecks.

While not an apple-to-apples comparison, the NFL machine has a similar manner of business. Many of the storylines that drive the news cycle this time of year should be extremely familiar to fans, but we tend to follow the plot even if we pretty much know how it will turn out. Beat writers, like sitcom scribes, need to rehash shopworn themes to keep the machine in motion.

Perhaps that familiarity is part of the appeal. The NFL offseason is comfort food for pigskin obsessives in the same way "Friends" reruns on Netflix scratch an itch for couch potatoes. We all know Julio Jones will be on the field for the Falcons in Week 1 just like we know Chandler and Monica will get married in Season 7. Sometimes it's nice to just turn off your brain and enjoy the show.

With mandatory minicamps coming to a close, let's take a look at some prevalent storylines this time of year. Behold, the top offseason tropes of 2018 ...

Aging Veteran X Has Never Felt Better Physically Or Mentally

Recent examples:
» Steelers' Joe Haden 'training like I never have before'
» Demaryius Thomas feels great, says hips are not bothering him

This storyline is especially useful for an aging star who is in need of a big season to restore lost luster to "the brand." Fans usually eat this stuff up because, man, that guy used to be so awesome and it would be exceedingly useful if he were that awesome again.

Braggy Player X Changes Diet To Make You Feel Bad About Yourself

Recent examples:
» Jets safety Jamal Adams inspired by health nuts LeBron, Brady
» Fast-food free, T.Y. Hilton embraces Colts' new era

"The Tom Brady Diet" is inevitably floated in these pieces, leading to an obligatory response along the lines of, "Hey, I'm not gonna take it that far, but ...". OK, so you're really just eating sensibly like most professional athletes? We're not handing out gold jackets because you quit french fries, man.

Draft Bust X Looks Like He's Ready To Turn The Corner

Recent examples:
» Mike Williams finally healthy, looking to 'redeem' himself
» Todd Haley advises Corey Coleman it's a 'make or break year' for him
» Bengals' John Ross eyes rebound armed with advice

This is typically reserved for the high draft pick who has seen his career short-circuited by injuries. Bears wide receiver Kevin White was the subject of roughly 2,000 of these pieces in 2016 and '17. Perhaps tellingly, Chicago-area beat writers stopped doing that this spring.

Player X Ahead Of Schedule In ACL Recovery

Recent examples:
» Nagy: Allen Robinson ahead of the game in ACL rehab
» Vikings RB Dalvin Cook 'ahead of schedule' in ACL rehab

Is it time to revisit the official timetable on ACL recoveries? After all, when's the last time you heard a player was behind schedule in his recovery from reconstructive knee surgery? Have we ever even heard someone say they're on schedule? If everyone is ahead of schedule, that means there's something wrong with the schedule. JUST ADJUST THE SCHEDULE, GUYS.

Tavon Austin Will Be A Weapon in Team X's Offense

Recent example: Dak Prescott on Cowboys' Tavon Austin: 'He's a steal'

Nah.

New Quarterback/Wide Receiver Tandem Enjoy Insane, Fallon-and-Timberlake-Like Chemistry

Recent examples:
» Mahomes to Watkins is becoming a thing
» Tannehill to Amendola is gonna be a thing in 2018

Put it this way: If your team's best quarterback and best wide receiver don't look functional during pitch-and-catch sessions in May, you're probably in trouble.

Player X: I'm Better Now Than I Was Before Devastating Lower-Body Injury

Recent example: Broncos tight end Jake Butt: This is "the strongest I've ever been"

You root for Butt and all players attempting to work their way back from career-threatening injuries. Just remember: They need to have that optimism to defy the odds. Broncos fans can temper the positive vibes ... or take the ride and pencil Butt in for 70/1,000/10. Go ahead, pencil that Butt.

Middling Team X Will Shock The World

Recent example: Josh Gordon: Browns have best receiving corps in the NFL

A little bummed no random AFC South linebacker guaranteed a Super Bowl conquest this spring. Guess we'll have to wait until training camp.

Second-year player: The Game Has Slowed Down For Me

Recent example: Giants TE Evan Engram: The game has slowed down a lot for me

A clockwork statement for all second-year players in conversation with the media during OTAs. I question how this can be stated as fact when they haven't actually appeared in a game since they were rookies, but hey, who cares what I think: I NEVER PLAYED THE GAME.

Established Franchise Quarterback Will Be Something Totally Different Now

Recent example: Norv: Cam Newton capable of high-60s completion rate

It is the job of a coach to unlock hidden potential in his players, even the stars. So, using the Panthers story above as an example, I don't hate on Norv Turner for his belief that a new offensive system can make Cam Newton as accurate as Troy Aikman or Steve Young. That's a coach being a coach. But we don't have to buy it!

Soft-Spoken Star Ready To Take On Vacant Leadership Role

Recent example: Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott adopting vocal leadership role

This storyline is popular around teams that have seen roster turnover remove established vets from the mix. In the case of the Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott will step into the shoes of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten because ... um, he's super good at running back? Anyone who's been watching "All or Nothing" knows Zeke is hardly a lock to deliver a Pacino monologue for the ages.

Some other well-worn tropes to keep an eye out for in August:

» Actually, Extremely Raw Rookie Y Is Ready To Contribute Immediately
» Quarterback X Reminds Veteran Player Y of Brett Favre
» Player X: The Offense Has Never Been Faster
» Player X: I've Never Played With Someone Quite Like Player Y
» Injury-Prone Player X Added Muscle To Frame In Offseason
» Coach X: We're Extremely Impressed By Camp Body Y/Faded Vet Z

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus. Submit questions for his next mailbag using the hashtag #dotcommailbag.

Print