is right now--at least for us as fans. The two months between the end of February when free agency begins and the end of April when the draft is completed constitute a magical period of anticipation for fans. It's better than rookie mini-camps, better than all the off-season OTAs, better even than training camp. How can this be so? Why is this such a great time to be a fan?
No games are played and the "team" isn't really together at all as a team but by the end of this two month period, fans can look to the season ahead knowing which free agents have been signed and lost, knowing which players the team has drafted, and (by early April) know the definite schedule of games. In just two short months, the speculation is largely over and we know what the roster is likely to look like. While there will always be late additions (like Deltha O'Neal last year) and late deletions (like Fernando Bryant last year), the roster feels "real" for the first time. We no longer have to guess about who the Patriots may or may not sign or who they will take in the draft. Those are all established facts by the end of April.
The schedule makes the season feel "real," too. We've known since 2002 the names of the teams New England would play in 2009. But since most teams change so much from year to year, simply knowing the names of the teams in advance means little. But when the schedules are released--hopefully a week or so from now--we know not only which teams the Patriots play but when and in what sequence we face them--and we also know what those opponents have done in free agency and the draft. Suddenly, rather than the schedule simply being a random list of teams we play, it now has a concrete feel to it and we can go through the games from week to week and anticipate how the season may unfold. What was cloudy is now clear. Suddenly the 2009 season begins to take shape in our minds. And THEN we can think about who needs to do what in training camp, who needs to emerge, what stretches look like the really difficult weeks in the schedule.
But these times are, again, magical for fans. How much have we all enjoyed thinking about what role Fred Taylor and Shawn Springs and other free agents will play next year? And wondering if we'll add Julius Peppers or Jason Taylor to the roster? And what the Pats will do with the 23rd pick and the 34th and the 47th? And then when the schedule comes out we can wonder where the trap games will be, think about how we'll have only six days to prepare for a game when our opponent might have ten days, silently calculate "if the Patriots are 8 and 2 by this point in the schedule, they might win all the remaining games."
Soon enough, unpleasant realities will set in. Maybe the free agents won't be as good as advertised. Maybe the rookies won't step up and contribute. Maybe key guys will get hurt, fail to develop, finally lose a step or fail to master a change in roles or assignments. In time, the hopeful projections we all make about what the new guys will do and how the season will play out could become cruel jokes.
But not just yet. During these special times, all is possible. Super Bowl? Sure. World champions? Why not. 19-0? Maybe. All this is great fun to think about and it's the anticipation of the season ahead that makes this, in my opinion, the best part of the off-season. Enjoy it everybody. We've got a few more weeks to go!