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NFL Free Agency: Hope Springs Eternal -- or Does It?

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Until Tuesday at 4 p.m., every team in the NFL was looking at an Easter season filled with the joy of rebirth, the anticipation of acquiring new toys and the boundless belief that their franchise would surely have a Super Bowl-winning 2012 season.

Yet here we are -- only a couple of days removed from the NFL version of the checkered flag -- and already some fan bases are left to wonder "What were they thinking?" when cogitating on their team's front office strategy.

I'm as much a Peyton Manning-loving football fan as the next woman, but even I get tired of the endless hype over the league's top-tier signal callers. With the possible exception of Denver's Tim Tebow, none of these gentlemen walk on water. If I hear one more offseason pundit describe the NFL as a "quarterback-driven league" I may be forced to do something unthinkable -- like watch a television show devoted to real news.

However, with the immutable trending of rules towards promoting the passing game, the man doing said passing has indeed become every team's one essential chess piece.

Elite quarterbacks are the ones who make the playoffs," ESPN's John Clayton wrote. "The league has 12 playoff spots, and 10 or 11 of the elite quarterbacks fill those positions."

And don't trot out that old saw about Tampa Bay and Baltimore winning Super Bowls with "game managers." Those days are gone. Check with the defensive backs who now have to play their position in a phone booth. Can I say that when there aren't any phone booths anymore? What will Superman do? Let's ask Cam Cameron.

I don't blame the NFL. The public has spoken. "Chicks dig the long ball." Even the Pittsburgh Steelers have become a high-flying offense. Do I hear the sound of hell freezing?

If you have the ego and the pocketbook to own a franchise, write the quarterback check! Don't take your fans' money and then spend a decade hoping you draft the next Joe Montana in the sixth round. Oh, wait, New England did that. Well, aside from that one bolt of miraculous good fortune.

The Colts will get credit for a genius transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Maybe. If Luck is great. But, no one could have predicted that Manning would be hurt and the team couldn't manage three wins without him in the very year that Luck graduated.

I try not to credit the existence of fate, but the Patriots and Colts do tend to make you believe that "fortune favors the bold." (For the purposes of this article, we will ignore that Turnus shouts this right before he is annihilated by the Trojans.)

This is why John Elway and Titans owner Bud Adams are acting like schoolboys chasing the prom queen in pursuit of Manning. Without that level of catapult, the 2012 NFL offense has nothing. But 1-800-QUARTERBACK remains as elusive as the Fountain of Youth and football teams often search in vain for that one transcendent passing hero. John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino snapped their first professional footballs in 1983! Do the math.

Fans understand that it's not easy, or thrifty or an exact science. They just want to see the effort. The Green Bay Packers' philosophy was to take a passer every year to see when they would hit on "the next big thing" at QB. They could afford to. They had Brett Favre and backup Doug Peterson. They had the luxury of time in which to experiment. Miami -- not so much. The 'Fins have needed a grand quarterbacking gesture since March 13, 2000.

Then there are the franchises that jettison good quarterbacks, hoping that someone else's backup is suddenly going to morph into the next Kurt Warner. Yes, I mean you, Seattle. The last time that happened was... Kurt Warner.

Shame on you Kansas City and Cleveland. At least Denver, Miami and Arizona are trying to land a big fish. Even Al Davis (bless him) swung for the fences with JaMarcus Russell. It didn't succeed; in fact it was a failure of epic proportions. Virgil would have been proud. But at least Al tried.

Fans know. Take the big risk with Cam Cameron and if it doesn't work everybody has to move their family to a new city (if they are lucky enough to get another job). It's not that fans don't understand that. But that's why you get the big bucks, guys.

It's useless to hang a franchise tag on Dwayne Bowe if Matt Cassel is the quarterback. That's "solid" throwing to "dazzle." It never works. Marques Colston figured this out and is staying in New Orleans with Drew Brees.

I'm not suggesting that the Browns should be in the Manning derby. Seriously, did anybody think Peyton would end up on the worst team in the AFC North? But Washington, for all of their talk, has no greater number of talented players than Cleveland -- and they ponied up the draft picks for Robert Griffin III.

And, amazingly enough, the minute they were in a position to grab what they hope will be a dynamic, franchise quarterback -- wide receiver Pierre Garcon decided to become a Redskin. You see how that goes?

You have to reach for the stars. It's football! Isn't that the point?

This post has been updated since its original publication.

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