Under The Bleachers: I Pledge Allegiance To…

Above: DeMarco Murray (Running Back, Dallas Cowboys)

Tom Brady is a rare creature. No, not because he’s both an ultra-talented, championship-winning quarterback and ridiculously good looking – though both are true – but because he’s spent his entire career as a member of the New England Patriots.

As a team, the Bill Belichick Era Pats have been a symbol of system over player – an organization that has jettisoned Pro Bowl talents and let stars walk on the regular, confident that they’ll find someone at a lower price that will be able to do the job just as well. Through it all, Brady has been the one constant.

It’s rare for the Patriots and it’s rare for the NFL where player movement isn’t confined to aging veterans chasing championships, guys that provided added depth or insurance and a handful of recognizable names.

So far this offseason, we’ve seen the best tight end in the league, Jimmy Graham, get traded to Seattle and last year’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, skate out of Dallas to sign with division rivals Philadelphia, who have pretty much overhauled its entire roster.

Out are tenured running back LeSean McCoy (traded to Buffalo), quarterback Nick Foles (traded to St. Louis), wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (free agent) and defensive end Trent Cole (signed with Indianapolis). Joining Murray as new additions to the Eagles roster are his former Oklahoma teammate, best friend and former first-overall selection QB Sam Bradford, RB Ryan Mathews (from San Diego), MLB Kiko Alonso and cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond. They also re-signed QB Mark Sanchez and have talked about moving Pro Bowl offensive lineman Evan Mathis as well.

And that’s just one team!

The San Francisco 49ers will enter the season looking completely different. They parted ways with their head coach Jim Harbaugh, who went back to coach at his alma mater (Michigan) after four successful, but contentious years that produced a Super Bowl appearance and two NFC Championship game appearances, and had defensive standouts Justin Smith and Patrick Willis hang up their helmets. Running back Frank Gore was not retained (he’s moving to Indianapolis as well), offensive lineman Mike Iupati signed with Arizona and a number of other familiar names are not expected back.

There have even be whispers about the 49ers potentially moving quarterback Colin Kaepernick, though general manager Trent Baalke has denied those rumours.

When the 2015 season begins, quarterback Josh McCown will be playing for his third team in as many years and fellow signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick will be suiting up for his sixth team. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will be spending his winters in Miami, with Haloti Ngata taking his spot on the line in Detroit after being traded from Baltimore.

In the space between now and the 2015 NFL Draft (April 30, mark your calendars), there will be more signings, more trades and more movement.

None of this is all that suprising – Joe Montana was traded to Kansas City and Peyton Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts, so if those iconic quarterbacks can switch teams, anyone can – but that doesn’t mean it’s any less difficult being a fan these days.

You can’t be connected to a team and a player – it’s one or the other, because at some point, said player is probably going to be wearing a different jersey.

As amusing as some parents have found it amusing to tape their kids having a meltdown to learning their favourite players have been released or traded, that pain isn’t something those adults didn’t necessarily have to endure during their youthful fan days.

A player spending their entire career with the same franchise was commonplace. Free agency was around and guys got traded from time-to-time, but there were certain players you could count on seeing year-in and year-out with the same team. If you bought a jersey, you could wear it until the number started to fade and the name started coming off the back because you just knew that Dan Marino was going to be a Miami Dolphin and Emmitt Smith was going to be a Dallas…

Nope – even the all-time leading rusher in NFL history switched teams at the end of his career. As much as Smith with always be associated with the Cowboys, he played his final two seasons as a member of the Arizona Cardinals because Dallas was ready to move on before he was.

These days, that kind of movement is the norm.

Running backs are disposable, defensive backs and wide receivers are mercenaries and lineman are interchangeable on both sides of the ball. Teams get three, maybe four years to figure it out and have some continuity to their rosters and then BOOM – it’s time to blow it up and see if something different will work.

That gives the media plenty to talk about and keeps the NFL front and center in the sports news cycle south of the border (and to a lesser extent up here in Canada), but it can make it hard to be a fan. You either have to accept that at any moment, your favourite player could be shipped off to Jacksonville or simply pledge allegiance to the logo on the side of the helmet (except in Cleveland where they don’t have a logo on the side of their helmets) and not the names on the back of the jerseys.

You can’t have both any more. Except with that handsome bastard Tom Brady.

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