The word “shopping” is thrown around pretty loosely in today’s NFL. It almost always means a team is looking to unload one of its overpaid, overhyped or overaged players in the form of a trade. Agents and general managers alike, prefer to think of the off-season as a shopping mall where one can waltz into a team’s store and talk business, then go next door to another team and compare prices.
Among the bored suburban teens and the power-walking elderly of this place sits a large man in the food court, eating hamburgers with his leg propped up on the seat beside him. He is Levi Jones, injured and deflated, wishing he could just go home.
Football had its way with Levi, leaving him permanently scarred and far older than his anatomical age suggests. Fans watched his career climax in 2005 with all the other stars on that offense, earning him Pro-Bowl accolades and granting Levi with the NFL’s golden ticket: a reputation throughout the league. The phenomena of reputation can elevate a player’s career to impressive plateaus, sometimes unfairly. Levi was named a Pro-Bowl alternate after the 2006 season based solely on his rep over his play.
Since then his health has deteriorated like a cardboard box left out in the rain. When he does manage to suit up, he is devoured by speed rushers who have eaten him for Sunday brunch for the past three seasons. After his foreseeable collapse last season, his replacement, Anthony Collins, managed to stop the bleeding along a severed offensive line, seemingly overnight. He was once pulled from a game in Kansas City due to his general crappines, exemplified by his three sacks given up in the first half.
The reason his agent dragged him to the NFL mall today – kicking and screaming – was to help the Bengals shop him around. It’s hard to imagine a team more desperate than the Bengals for offensive tackles, and the ones that do come to mind have better draft positions than Cincinnati. This year’s draft is a bumper crop of premium, freshly-picked tackles that can be used right away in all kinds of teams’ recipes. Levi follows his agent from one team to the other, head down and speaking to the floor, while it becomes increasingly apparent to the Bengals that no one is interested in trading for the once-was.
Levi will likely be released from the team and be allowed to finally go home. He’s been beaten up on the field and off it, he’s fell out of favor with the fans and he now lumbers along as a huge pile of crumpled talent and dollar bills. His tale is that of the fiery harlot that is the NFL; as a young man, he limps away satisfied but unloved.
Mojokong – walking backwards through time.