As sports fans, we always need someone to blame when things don't go our team's way. Taunting grief consumes us after each season-ending loss, and we need to channel it at a target. It's simple enough blame a previously anonymous official or player - we know this is easy because we watch TV announcers do it. As they summarize each game for us, they reach into their cliche list of generic complaints, providing us the basic blueprints to springboard into the comment section as pirhana sports fans. Armed with these talking points, we have all the answers, and from the safety of our keyboards, immune from any consequences, we pounce.
Which is all the NFL wants.
The NFL doesn’t care who wins, and isn’t interested in the best team winning or the best product on the field. They focus on pushing the blame for our angst away from The League, using this meticulously constructed prism that promotes mediocrity and deters greatness, transforming football from a sport into a parity driven season-long battle of attrition.
Their most prominent self-serving tool is the collectively bargained salary cap... and its associated capped roster sizes and limit on how much each owner can invest in his or her own team. Think about that for a moment: a league of billionaires, that can almost print money from multi-billion dollar TV deals and endless streams of merchandise, has convinced athletes with a very limited shelf life to spend their few productive years working for a discount. Why are they taking a discount?
Because every NFL deal involves making the dollars work under the cap, like a family going to the grocery store with a budget, cutting corners where they can. Of course, we know money is no real life concern to NFL owners, who pay north of a billion dollars for a ‘toy‘ and membership into the country club.
When it comes down to it, if you want to play professional football, the NFL is the singular option. Player salaries are controlled by the collective owners. The NFLPA doesn’t have any actual power; sure, the owners will humor them during negotiations, but ultimately the owners are more fearful of public relations damaging the NFL shield than of anyone involved with the PA. And there's a good reason for that, because where is the talent going? There isn’t an threat of losing a disgruntled NFL star to a rival organization, and in a work stoppage the players know they will never recoup the money they lose, so where is their incentive to revolt?
The owners have used this all-encompassing power to create the collectively bargained rookie wage scale that blue-prints the cost of rookie contracts, locking young talent into team-friendly deals that are designed to protect the team's owners and managers from their own mistakes. The players association agrees to this because none of its leaders are rookies and therefore do not worry much about rookie deals.
On the contrary, limiting what rookies make frees up more money for clubs to spend on veterans, who are always looking for more checks, in particular that second contract. Of course we know that it doesn’t necessarily work that way, and organizations will routinely cut ties with a fan-favorite player and opt for a team-friendly rookie deal. Next man up!
Regardless of how much you enjoy the media build-up and the farce that is the NFL draft, no one knows what’s going to happen. There is no crystal ball; after day one or five, no one has a clue if their team is better then 24 hours previous. Fans plea for players most of them have never seen play, blindly listening to ‘experts’, and regard their glut of mock-drafts as scientific proof rather than science fiction. Praise and condemn organizations for trading, drafting, whatever the gas-bags on TV tell us to do. Where is the skill? No organization has mastered the NFL draft because there's so much luck involved. Luck comes and goes, and thus so do GMs (who most sports fans couldn’t recognize, outside of maybe their guy). Generally teams get lucky one year and unlucky the next; it's a roll of the dice.
Super Bowl champion Baltimore exploited this system last year. They had a franchise quarterback under a rookie deal, drafted well for a few years, and cherry picked veteran free agent talent. That model was destroyed at the end of the season when Joe Flacco’s rookie deal ended and the team was forced to pay 'fair market price' for its quarterback and, by extension, to perform mandatory self-surgery on the rest of their roster.
The evidence is overwhelming that any NFL owner who says winning is his priority is lying; making money for the collective is the most important part of owning an NFL team. I’m not suggesting that's wrong, of course, but guaranteeing a profit isn’t the way to go. If an owner hires atrocious people to run his franchise, it should lose money; that’s the economic model we live in, and it's within that model that most of the owners made their fortunes in the first place. The owners collective idea of making the league idiot proof cripples teams' ability to win on a year-to-year basis.
The stupid silly part is that any owner who legitimately believes they have a shot at winning the Super Bowl, or even going on a sustained playoff run, would happily pay anything to keep/bring in talent. So before you run away ripping your 36-year-old QB for missing a pass to an undrafted QB-turned-WR whose most notable athletic quality is his versatility, remember his owner could have actually paid up for a legit wideout instead of rolling the dice searching for value in the rest of the league's leftovers.
The NFL is always happy if you follow their narrative and spend the post-game talking about an arrogant athlete's ridiculous behavior, or a hit between an WR and cornerback. Either way, they don't care who's better, as long as you keep buying what they're selling and you don't blame them when your team loses.