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If you had to come up with a title for this NFL offseason, it would have to be "There is No NFL Offseason."
There might not be any games being played right now, but it certainly doesn't feel like the NFL is in the closet somewhere waiting to be pulled out with the sweaters and corduroys you'll need once autumn rolls around.
Every week brings another story that leaps to the top of the radar screen, all of them combining to strengthen the NFL's place of sports primacy to an uncontested level.
Some of the eternally heightened state of affairs is justified. Peyton Manning, the Saints bounties and even the Tim Tebow trade are stories that legitimately cross that invisible line of interest that separates the hardcore fan from the casual one.
Jake Ballard being claimed off of waivers by the Patriots, though? That's the moment where we wonder if everything might not have been better back when offseason transactions were relegated to agate type at the bottom of a newspaper page.
The Giants waived Ballard on Monday because there is no chance that the knee he seriously injured in the Super Bowl would recover enough for him to play in 2012. They hoped that they could sneak him through waivers and then place him on injured reserve to stash his rights for 2013.
Bill Belichick had a similar idea and claimed Ballard. That touched off a firestorm from Giants beat writers and fans on Twitter that made you double-check your memories of Ballard's season to make sure you didn't miss the moment he morphed into some unholy amalgam of Mark Bavaro, Rob Gronkowski and John Mackey.
Ballard had a nice season for the Giants and made some very big catches, including the one to beat the Pats in the regular season, but he isn't an irreplaceable part of the team. You didn't hear this kind of uproar when Mario Manningham left for the 49ers and he was a pretty good player for the Giants too.
Manningham's catch to set off the winning drive in the Super Bowl even gives him equal bonus points to match Ballard's courageous attempt to return to the game after blowing out his ACL. Still, Ballard leaving made a lot more noise.
Perhaps that's because Manningham left by his own choice while Ballard was claimed off waivers while injured by the nefarious Belichick as a way to get back at the team that's beaten him twice in the Super Bowl.
As much as we might think Belichick is in touch with the dark side, it's hard to find the outrage for this move.
The Giants knew that they could have kept him on the 90-man roster before figuring out a way to get him on injured reserve later this year. They chose not to do that and did so knowing that Ballard might not make it through waivers.
These are the breaks, the same breaks that led to Kevin Boss signing in Oakland last summer. That set off another little tizzy around the Giants, one that no one seems to remember working out perfectly fine for the team and not all that well for Boss.
It's a tough way to lose Ballard, but the facts are that he suffered a very serious injury that might well result in diminished ability when he returns to the field. Ballard's baseline wasn't all that high to begin with in that department, so there's probably better outlets for your energy than a tight end who might be able to make your team over a year from now.
Not that Patriots fans are any better. They began wondering if claiming Ballard meant that Aaron Hernandez would be gone after his contract expires following the 2013 season.
Anyone who has watched the two players realizes that replacing Hernandez with Ballard would be like replacing a thoroughbred with a plowhorse. They are both horses, but they do very different jobs.
This was a team taking a no-risk shot on a player who could help them down the road after another team felt like he wasn't worth a roster spot. It's not the first nor the last time it will happen.
The fact that a transaction about a player who will, again, not even play this season sparked this kind of reaction is all about how big the NFL has become. There is no offseason anymore.
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