Forget Basketball, the NFL has March Madness


March Madness is all about the NFL this year.

From Peyton Manning in Denver to Tim Tebow in New York.

From Sean Payton
getting suspended for New Orleans’ bounty system to Saints players
awaiting possible punishment for participating in it.

to mention the other big free agent signings. How did Mario Williams
wind up in Buffalo? Answer: There’s 100 million reasons.

about Calvin Johnson’s $132 million deal through 2019 with the Lions,
merely the richest contract in NFL history, with Megatron getting $60
million guaranteed?

No matter what happens in
the NCAA basketball tournament, with the Final Four in the Big Easy of
all places, it can’t top what the NFL has produced in March.

And that’s with the draft, usually the focal point of the offseason, still a month away.

has become impossible to escape NFL headlines pretty much since the
Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl – that was Feb. 5. The next
meaningful pro football game is more than five months away.

The past two weeks, in particular, have been off the charts for NFL interest.

love it and they crave it,” said Rich Gannon, the 2002 NFL Most
Valuable Player and now a host on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “They don’t want
an offseason and there hasn’t really been one, from the Super Bowl and
the one-month buildup to the combine and free agency, and then to
everything lately.

“I took my car in for
service and three guys there, all they were saying was what about the
Saints? And then the Tebow stuff; I am not surprised by that at all. And
Peyton in Denver.”

In addition to the front-page news, there have been some offseason moves that would be a big deal – in any other year.

A: A massive trade of picks between Washington and St. Louis already
has spiced up the draft, with the Redskins in position to land Heisman
Trophy winner Robert Griffin III (if Indy doesn’t take him at No. 1
instead of Andrew Luck).

Example B: The same Redskins and their division-rival Cowboys, each get dinged for huge salary cap reductions by the league.

Rarely does anything in sports push The Big Dance off center stage. But all the NFL action has done just that.

reason to think it will stop now, with penalties for Saints defensive
players sure to come, if not by the end of this unpredictable month then
quickly in April.

By then, the Senate
Judiciary Committee could be holding a hearing about the bounties that
led to Payton being suspended for the 2012 season; former assistant
Gregg Williams, who ran the program and now is defensive coordinator in
St. Louis, getting barred indefinitely; New Orleans general manager
Mickey Loomis suspended for eight games and Saints assistant Joe Vitt
for six games; and the team stripped of two second-round draft picks and
fined $500,000.

“Let’s be real basic about it
here,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, who is calling the bounty hearing. “If
this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a
court, nobody would have a second thought (about whether it’s wrong).
`You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?’

goes way beyond the rules of any sporting contest, at least team
contest, to intentionally inflict harm on another person for a financial

It does grab attention; scandals
always do. So two of the NFL’s transcendent quarterbacks came along to
rescue the league’s image a bit: Manning and Tebow.

a four-time MVP changes addresses, it’s huge news. When that player
never missed a start in 13 seasons before sitting out an entire year
after four neck surgeries, interest is piqued a mile high.

is a huge plus to have a Peyton Manning on your roster,” Broncos boss
John Elway said upon signing Manning to a five-year contract worth $96
million if fulfilled.

And a huge plus to have him in the league to deflect some attention from the bad vibes surrounding the Saints.

for Tebow, whose job disappeared in Denver when Manning joined the
Broncos. Where else for him to land but with the Jets, who seem
determined to win the back pages of the New York tabloids while their
co-inhabitants at the Meadowlands, the Giants, win Super Bowls.

Jets’ swift action – well, swift until there was an eight-hour delay as
the Jets discovered a clause in Tebow’s contract that would have cost
them $5 million before it was renegotiated – shifted the glare away from
the Saints, as well.

In the middle of all
this, the Cowboys had $10 million of salary cap space stripped and the
Redskins lost a whopping $36 million, spread over this year and next.
Yet both have found ways to spend enough on free agents to fill some

What chaos could be ahead? Plenty.

New Orleans star quarterback Drew Brees has yet to reach agreement on a
new contract and, given the Saints’ precarious situation, imagine how
ugly things might get if he ignores the franchise tag the team plunked
on him and stays away from offseason workouts.

With a rookie wage scale limiting financial investments, more
blockbuster draft trades could happen. As it is, the Redskins mortgaged
much of their future to move up four spots to get RG III. Yet, after his
sensational pro day at Baylor, there’s thought Griffin has become a
challenger to Stanford’s Luck as the top overall pick, owned by

– Still out there ready to grab
attention, if not many passes, is Terrell Owens. So might be Chad
Ochocinco if the Patriots, as expected, release him. And Randy Moss, who
didn’t even play in the NFL in 2011 and was no factor the previous
year, landed in San Francisco.

– Tebow vs.
Mark Sanchez. Just wait until the incumbent stumbles, even momentarily,
and the Big Apple is rocked by screams from Tebow’s loyal legions.

New jersey designs by Nike resemble the Oregon Ducks’ varied uniforms,
causing a surge to – or away from – the merchandise shelves.

least there are no labor battles to be waged for 4 1/2 months by
America’s richest sports league and its players. Last year at this time,
we were in the middle of the lockout. No one knew if the 2011 season
would even happen.

“I think the NFL is in great shape,” Manning said, “with some great owners, great coaches and great people in leadership.”

Don’t forget plenty of newsmakers.