NFL free agency is a two-minute drill this year


Seattle quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck, left, has been the subject of much free-agency speculation. (Otto Greule Jr/GETTY IMAGES)

I know I wrote just last week that I was ready for the end of the NFL lockout and the return of football. What I wasn’t ready for was the frothing reaction of ESPN, which immediately brought in Chris Berman to scream and Hank Williams Jr. to sing — okay, it was taped — and every other commentator on the network to talk talk talk about it. The only missing piece was poor Rachel Nichols on Brett Favre’s lawn. I fear she’s on a plane to Mississippi right now.

In one hour Monday I’d already heard the name “Matt Hasselbeck” 63 times, which is about 62 too many.

But I think the NFL and the players’ union have opened an unexpected can of worms with this lockout and subsequent settlement. This has nothing to do with the deal itself. I don’t want to talk about the winners and losers — both sides won. Both gave a little and got a little, neither will be starving in the hedgerows any time soon. The fans won, too, because they won’t have to give up any games and for the first time in memory, the preseason games should actually mean something.

No, the fans came out of this in good shape, and that’s the potential problem. Because things will happen quickly in the next two weeks. Many, many things. Trades will happen fast. Teams will re-sign their own players fast, or cut them fast. Undrafted free agents are already signing fast. The Redskins have signed two already — wait, make that three, here comes Ben Chappell. It’s 9:16 a.m.

The entire offseason will essentially be squeezed into two weeks. It will not be boring. There won’t be protracted talks. Agents won’t be able to drag their heels. Players will need to show up on time and perform immediately. Coaches might be forced to tear a few pages out of their ridiculously weighty playbooks.

It will be messy, it will be fun, it will be a fortnight tailor-made for Twitter — news bites that will easily fit in 140 characters. If you play fantasy football, you’ll have to sneak your draft in during all the hubbub as well. Summer just got interesting.

And fans — even those who don’t play fantasy football — will love it. Because all the extraneous blather will be eliminated (well, not all of it, obviously) and stuff will happen, just the way we’ve come to expect it: right away. It’s no secret we are an increasingly instant society; we don’t want to wait for anything. And we bore oh so easily.

NFL fans, who are legion and vocal, are going to love a short, action-packed offseason and preseason games in which starters will take more than three snaps. And I wonder if they’re going to be happy going back to the protracted negotiations and dribbling offseason news spigot next year.

No one wants a lockout every year. I’ve never found more boring stories in sports than labor negotiations, because it’s the rich fighting with the rich and when it’s over, the rich are both still rich and for fans, ticket prices haven’t been reduced, concessions are still pricey and parking is still impossible.

But the NFL might want to pay close attention to the next several weeks. If, as I suspect, cuts and signings and trades dominate coverage and fans are mesmerized by all of it, the league might want to find a way to duplicate at least some of that excitement next year. One positive of our collective short attention span is that fans will quickly forget the long, boring . . . what was it again? Oh, right, the lockout.

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