I joked earlier on Twitter that had Brandon Marshall gotten to free agency, he probably would have been selling an hour-long special to announce his decision, as LeBron James is regrettably doing tonight. But really, I can’t see a circus like this happening in the NFL. Here’s why:
- One player doesn’t win in the NFL. Sure, Peyton Manning might be an exception, but there are too many moving parts in the NFL to overinflate the value of one guy. The closest we’ve seen in the NFL is Reggie White’s free agency, when he chose the Packers over a host of suitors. Still, White doesn’t win a Super Bowl in Green Bay without Brett Favre in place already.
The NBA is much different. A team has incredibly long odds of winning a title without a superstar (and we’re talking about a real superstar, as Bill Simmons of ESPN has pointed out this week, a guy like Chris Bosh is not a superstar. Neither is Amare Stoudemire, Knicks fans). Aside from the 2004 Pistons, every title team of the past three decades has had at least one surefire all-time great, whether it’s Jordan, Magic, Bird, Duncan, Hakeem, Shaq, Kobe … every championship team. In the NFL, winning a title raises a player’s profile to a higher status, but the past 10 years have been dotted with Super Bowl champions who do not have a Reggie White or Peyton Manning-type transcendent player. For example, the Steelers won two championships in the last five years without a player who most would consider an all-time great. Getting LeBron makes a NBA team an instant Finals contender. There’s very few NFL players throughout history who come with a similar guarantee.
- The NFL free agency period doesn’t allow for a dog and pony show. I really, truly hope the NFL looks down on what has happened in the NBA the past week instead of thinking that it could help get more attention to the league. The NBA has been in the headlines, no doubt about it. But the week to court free agents before any can actually sign has done only one thing, and that’s allow players to preen and teams to grovel. I don’t think that turns fans onto a sport, to see pampered stars get even more attention.
In the NFL, there’s usually not enough time for that. During the free agency period, the clock strikes midnight and teams are in a mad dash to sign the best guys – see Albert Haynesworth and Washington last year. The NBA opened itself up for a player like LeBron James to have an hour-long public party for himself by staggering the free agent process. It would be bad for the NFL to follow suit.
- It’s not in their culture. There are plenty of NFL players who are driven by ego, let’s not kid ourselves. But I’ve been around very few who would actually think it’s a good idea to have an hour-long television show to announce where they’re going (and yes, Brett Favre is certainly one of them). The culture of the NFL locker room is that one player can’t be above the team. The Broncos are certainly wary of that dynamic with rookie quarterback Tim Tebow. They can’t avoid the attention Tebow will get but are certainly trying to make sure he is not placed on a pedestal. That culture is also a reason Marshall is in Miami.
- The NFL doesn’t promote itself that way. The NBA made a decision in the 1980s to market stars over teams. And it worked very well. But the NFL would much rather promote the game and teams. They’re not against a superstar driving the storyline for a game, but that rarely happens outside of a quarterback. Careers are too short, non-guaranteed contracts mean little continuity for the players and, as stated earlier, it has never been in the NFL’s culture.
So, for those reasons (and probably many others), I can’t see a NFL player – no matter how good he is – staging a television special that most fans find insulting, to announce his free-agent destination. At least, I hope it never comes to that.