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Real winner during NFL free agency? The league

The trades and free agent signings in the NFL have shifted the focus away from commissioner Roger Goodell.
The trades and free agent signings in the NFL have shifted the focus away from commissioner Roger Goodell.David J. Phillip/Associated Press/File

Baseball is America's favorite pastime, but the National Football League is the American sports fan's obsession. If you needed any reminder or reinforcement of that notion it came last week during the start of NFL free agency, when rampant rumors became actual roster renovation.

The buzz around NFL free agency was louder than the front row at an AC/DC concert. The free agent frenzy and a few high-profile trades drowned out everything else on the sports scene. The updates and reports of ESPN's Adam Schefter were treated like Edward R. Murrow's dispatches from London during the blitzkrieg. The football news and rumor clearinghouse Pro Football Talk set a one-day record for traffic with 7.9 million page views on March 10, the first official day of NFL free agency.


The NFL's offseason trumped the regular seasons of the NHL and the NBA. It made baseball's Hot Stove season look lukewarm. It was madness of a different kind in March.

Former Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis got p-a-i-d by the J-E-T-S. Ndamukong Suh got the richest contract ever given to a defensive player, courtesy of the Miami Dolphins (six years, $114.375 million, with $59.955 million in guarantees). But the biggest winner in NFL free agency was . . . the NFL. The torrent of roster moves and the interest they generated shifted the conversation away from the still unresolved Deflategate inquiry into the Patriots using underinflated balls in the AFC Championship game and the mishandled punishment processes for Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.

As much as people complain about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, how the Rice, Peterson, and Greg Hardy domestic violence situations were addressed, and long-term concussion effects, nothing stops them from gorging themselves on the NFL's product.

NFL should stand for National Foolproof League. The league is such a colossus that even when it trips over its feet it lands in a pile of fan interest.


This offseason has been a godsend for the folks at 345 Park Avenue, shifting the discussion point from punishments and PSI to player movement.

The new league year has been particularly entertaining with the salary cap raised to $143.28 million. It was $123 million two years ago.

The National Football League Players Association tweeted that in the first three days of free agency 85 player contracts were filed worth more than $1.3 billion. (NFL contracts aren't fully guaranteed, but the guaranteed money awarded was more than $589 million.)

Trades are usually more of a baseball thing, but there have been some fascinating deals.

The Philadelphia Eagles swapped 2013 NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. Pumped and Jacked Pete Carroll dealt two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and Seattle's first-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. The Eagles and Rams exchanged starting quarterbacks, with St. Louis sending fragile former No. 1 pick Sam Bradford to Philly for Nick Foles.

Other big names who have been dealt are Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (to Detroit), Miami speedster Mike Wallace (to Minnesota), and Bears wideout Brandon Marshall (to the Jets).

Locally, the focus was on the Revis intrigue. After he helped the Patriots win their first Super Bowl since the 2004 season, the team did what few teams do on Revis — it passed. Revis reunited with the Jets via a five-year, $70 million deal that includes $48 million in the first three years and $39 million guaranteed.


Revis's fate and then his departure have dominated the sports talk radio airwaves in these parts.

The Patriots need a US Olympic Committee-style gag order on Revis debate at this point.

Nationally, the newsmaker has been New Hampshire native and Eagles coach Chip Kelly. Granted plenipotentiary football authority, Kelly has given the Eagles roster an extreme makeover.

It's hard to tell if Kelly, one of football's more innovative and perceptive minds, is ahead of the curve or in over his head.

The Eagles have spent money like a celebutante on Rodeo Drive to redo their roster. Curiously, in a league where running backs are becoming devalued Kelly signed two in free agency. He inked Ryan Mathews to a three-year, $11.5 million deal and then signed DeMarco Murray away from the rival Cowboys with a five-year, $40 million contract.

It's like Chip is playing fantasy football. That fantasy includes Byron Maxwell, who got a six-year, $63 million deal, going from Richard Sherman's sidekick in Seattle to No. 1 corner.

Kelly is not the only one engaging in gridiron gluttony.

Flush with cap space, the Jets not only signed Revis but lavished deals on cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine.

In an effort to be more than perennial foils for the Patriots in the AFC East, the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins have loaded up.

Miami also signed tight end Jordan Cameron and traded for wide receiver Kenny Stills. The Bills added enigmatic wide receiver Percy Harvin and traded for former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, whose last game as a Patriot came in Buffalo in 2008.


The Patriots have not partaken in the feeding frenzy like their rivals, but Bill Belichick has made a pair of shrewd signings, bringing in pass rusher Jabaal Sheard and tight end Scott Chandler.

There is still a lot of offseason left. But there is always a rush to anoint winners and losers in free agency.

The NFL has already won the offseason.

It's dominating the headlines and keeping its dirty laundry out of them.

The league would much rather have us talking about all of the roster machinations than wondering if Goodell is going to have to apologize to the Patriots for Deflategate, or when exactly Ted Wells's report on the matter will be finished, or how the league's appeal of a federal court repudiation of Peterson's suspension is coming.

As teams gain new players, the NFL remains the league that can't lose.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.