Instead of delaying free agency, the NFL gave us a distraction we desperately needed

These are strange days, to put it mildly.

Essentially all of the American sports landscape is barren, save for one sport — the one league that never misses an opportunity to treat a minor event like a major one if it means ad revenue: the NFL.

When Monday began, it seemed ridiculous that the NFL was going to press forward with business as usual, frivolous in a frantic time. As the country continued grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and the negative impact it could have on millions of citizens as well as the economy, everything related to NFL free agency could have waited.

But as the day went on, it provided a welcomed distraction.

During normal times, Twitter is like a giant sports bar, with everyone debating best games or arguing over play calls or looking for fantasy advice.

On Monday, with so many of us working from home — well, some of us were working from home, others may have loved the distractions being outside of the office provides — and nothing else sports-related to discuss, it was even better. Selection Sunday, which usually would have dominated the day in sports headlines, was canceled by the coronavirus, and spring training, soccer and a host of other events have been halted, too.

Everyone was on social media, or so it seemed, including players, and we all got to react in real time to what was happening.

Monday morning was all about the franchise tags. In all, a dozen players were tendered under the restrictive tag, which pretends to use money as a substitute for the ability of a player to make his own decision and explore the market. The big-name players who were tagged include Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers sack-man Shaq Barrett.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, right, stands behind quarterback Dak Prescott (4) as player warm up before an NFL preseason football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Dak Prescott. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

We can wonder how the Cowboys let it get to this point with Prescott another day, but it remains a mystery how they haven’t agreed to a long-term pact with him yet. Jerry and Stephen Jones apparently aren’t big on setting the market, but when it comes to quarterbacks, that’s part of the deal. If you have one that’s successful, a good leader and a good member of the community, you pay him. That’s the rule. We didn’t make it up.

Somewhere in there came news that Kirk Cousins had agreed to a two-year extension with the Minnesota Vikings, showing that he clearly was an honor student in the Sam Bradford School of Securing the Bag Again and Again.

Minnesota’s resident drama king, Stefon Diggs, responded to the extension by tweeting, “It’s time for a new beginning.”

Was he saying (again) that he wants out? Was he in the market for a new significant other? Was he looking for a new protein drink? Turns out the answer was No. 1, as we found out later in the evening when word dropped that he’d been traded to Buffalo for four draft picks.

Around 11:15 a.m. ET, the NFL announced that it will still hold the draft April 23-25, but it will largely be a television-only event, with fan events in Las Vegas canceled. Putting on a major television production like the draft takes a few dozen people, including production staff crammed in a live truck, but who need social distancing when there’s TV money to be made, right?

And then, just before 1:30 p.m. ET came the deal so lopsided, so head-scratchingly dumb, so “what the hell is happening?”-crazy that NFL Twitter lost its collective mind.

Bill O’Brien, who shouldn’t be allowed to run a high school bake sale, let alone an NFL franchise, traded receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.

Hopkins is one of the three best receivers currently playing in the NFL. He’s in the prime of his career. He’s been chosen as a first-team All-Pro three years in a row. He’s so good that in 2017, when O’Brien started the season with Tom Savage, switched to then-rookie Deshaun Watson after a week, then had to start Savage and T.J. Yates after Watson tore his ACL, he still had 96 catches for 1,378 yards and an NFL-best 13 touchdowns.

And what did O’Brien get in return for Hopkins and a fourth-round pick? The first-rounder his team so dearly needs? Nope. He got a second-round pick and running back David Johnson, who’s owed $10 million in salary this year and had just 94 carries last season.

As Cardinals players like Chase Edmonds (“We got a whole ass armed robbery”) and Chandler Jones (“BEST NEWS IN 2020!!!”) celebrated, J.J. Watt gave a window into his thoughts about these being “wild times.”

The wildness continued with big free-agent news later in the day: ex-Cowboy Byron Jones getting a record deal for a cornerback courtesy of Miami and still-Cowboy Amari Cooper agreeing to a $100M offer to stay in Big D.

Reality wasn’t far away, as new cases of the coronavirus and new stories about the stock market and workers without needed sick pay and out-of-school children with food insecurity aren’t hard to find.

But for a few hours on Monday, those of us who are sports fans got a needed break from it all, and without having to crowd together in close quarters.

Oh, and Tom Brady is still a free agent. After his announcement on Tuesday morning, the social media frenzy isn’t dying down anytime soon.

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