- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The key to the NFL's success is not fan interest but rather excessive enthusiasm. The product has its merits, to be sure. But what has elevated the NFL from "very popular sports league" to "worldwide marketing monster" is not the quality of that product or its number of fans. It's the frothing excitement the NFL manages to instill in its fans over every single year-round aspect of football, no matter how minute. The draft. The schedule release. The start of preseason games. And of course, free agency, which began Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.
This is one of those weeks that proves the excessive-enthusiasm theory. Nothing anyone has written or said in prior weeks, months or years about how free agency isn't a franchise panacea matters anymore. Fans are monumentally worked up over the idea that their team might succeed at something, even in the middle of March, as temporally far from the start of the season as the calendar allows us to get.
The result is that fans whose teams are signing big-game players are more excited than they ought to be and fans whose teams aren't signing anyone are frustrated at the lack of action. Here in the NFC East, the past 24 hours have been about the latter. The Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and New York Giants are all cap-strapped. The Philadelphia Eagles are judiciously signing unexciting players of whom fans have not been fantasizing.
Do not fret. Instead, read this from Grantland's Bill Barnwell, who throws cold water on the whole idea of the first day of the league year as anything more than an overhyped, irresponsible spending spree by teams that just don't ever seem to learn. Bill writes that it's all too much, and that the rush to sign players on the first day leads, historically, to bad deals. "Players who would have gotten a couple million dollars if they had signed next week got three or four times that figure in guaranteed money Tuesday," Bill writes. "Good for them and great work by their agents, but that sort of behavior in this marketplace simply beggars belief."
If you're wishing your team were more active, Bill's column will set your mind at ease. And if you're an Eagles fan, you'll particularly enjoy the ending, which seems to sum up the Eagles' Tuesday as intelligently dull. They signed five players -- tight end James Casey, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, safety Patrick Chung, defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga and linebacker Jason Phillips. All to sensible deals. In spite of their excess of cap room:
The sort of logic that went into those moves — buying low on a low-risk, medium-reward player — seemed absurdly out of place on the dumbest day of the NFL year. Some of the teams that made headlines Tuesday by following a now-infamous Eagles plan that didn't work might have done well to follow the new Philadelphia brain trust's lead.
There is, of course, irony in the fact that Andy Reid and the Chiefs had one of the most active Tuesdays. But if you're an Eagles fan, that's not your problem. Take a deep breath and enjoy the idea that your team has a plan and is going to try to execute it with intelligence and sobriety. That may not make for a very fun March, but it could make December and January a lot more fun down the road.