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The Real Winners of the NFL Offseason

It’s not the New England Patriots. No, it’s the guy who’s taking daily selfies in an airplane and the one who was tangentially involved in a near-fight between Migos and Joe Budden.

(Instagram/Ringer illustration)
(Instagram/Ringer illustration)

Training camp is a less than a month away, and because of this, conversation inevitably drifts toward which team "won the offseason." Last year Rex Ryan declared his Bills to be champs, and then they lost the actual season and he got fired. This year most pundits say the Patriots won the offseason after acquiring even more talent on top of a roster that won Bill Belichick a Super Bowl last season. This is a foolish argument because teams don’t win the offseason; players do.

"Offseason NFL champ" is the only title up for grabs in July, and it is as important a crown as the one handed out to teams in February. Don’t believe me? Tell that to Gronk.

So, how do you … win anything when there are no games? There are a couple of prerequisites: The player has to already be relevant in the NFL, and he has to be at the peak of his career or close to it.

If you fit that description, you then need to ask yourself these questions: Did you win a lot of games in the previous season? Are you primed to win a lot this season? How many boats were you on? How many exotic animals were you photographed with? Were you ever in another country? How much golf did you play? And if the answer is "a lot," how much funny golf clothing did you wear? How much live playoff basketball did you watch? Did you keep your own workout photos to a minimum? How many random celebrities were you spotted with? Were you somehow present for a number of absurd pop culture events — award shows, iconic social media moments? How many country music stadium shows were you on stage for? Is there a $300 nonrefundable deposit if someone wants to book your party bus?

Social media has made this easier to decipher than ever: If someone is having a great offseason run, we know in real time. But it’s also raised the stakes: Anyone can show up courtside to an NBA Finals game. In order to chase this title, you need to aim higher. You know, "hitting a nine iron into the sea of Japan off of an oversized yacht"-type stuff.

Presenting a great offseason is also harder than it seems. Left to their own devices, players can bore the hell out of everyone. We get it, J.J. Watt, you like working out. Jason Witten is posting Antonin Scalia quotes. Matt Ryan, whose MVP season last year could have propelled him into winning the offseason, has clearly elected not to run. He’s the Joe Biden of the 2017 offseason championship.

Sometimes the offseason winner will be successful and famous enough to snag the cover of GQ wearing a camel-hair jacket — or, in the case of 2011 offseason champ Mark Sanchez (really), you are wearing a tank top in the upper deck of your team’s lifeless stadium. From the "life comes at you fast" department, a year later, Sanchez found himself competing against 2012 offseason champ Tim Tebow in a quarterback competition. In 2013, Robert Griffin III won the offseason by being extremely famous and extremely visible the year after a devastating knee injury, and Russell Wilson won it a year later by going on a media barnstorming tour after winning the Super Bowl. In 2015, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman tied, and last year Von Miller lapped the field. (Cam Newton was the heavy favorite until the Super Bowl.)

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the 2017 results.

Honorable Mention

Aaron Rodgers

A classic offseason from Rodgers — nothing too fancy, some funny gags, some game show appearances, but short of legendary. He deserves some kudos for consistently great offseasons, but there’s nothing so over the top that he deserves to make the list below.

Zeke Elliott

Offseason champ in waiting, but not just yet.

Von Miller

You can win only once. But …

The Top Five

5. Jimmy Graham

This seems like a wild card. The Seahawks were eliminated in the divisional round, and the tight end had just 923 yards receiving in 2016. This is the only player who makes the list solely on the strength of his social media accounts. Graham, who is an avid airplane pilot, can’t stop flying airplanes. We talk about goals a lot when it comes to famous people, but let me tell you what everyone’s goal is: It is not to have a cool photo by a pool or sit near the court at the NBA Finals, it is to love something as much as Jimmy Graham loves flying this shit around every day. Look at this Instagram feed! It looks like a Top Gun reboot. He doesn’t even follow anyone on Instagram. Jimmy Graham has looked at Instagram and opted out of all norms except "I’m going to show everyone that I fly all the time and it rules." The only way I could have as much fun as Jimmy Graham is if I had an Instagram feed devoted to playing golf and the Darrell Armstrong Orlando Magic jerseys I bought off eBay. Forget wearing fashionable hats at Coachella or posing with Michael B. Jordan at the Stanley Cup, Jimmy Graham is living his best life.

4. Bill Belichick

3. Marshawn Lynch

Lynch is a dark-horse candidate for offseason winner. He’s been a football star for nearly a decade, so he’s not exactly ascending like previous offseason winners, and there’s a case that he’s already won an offseason here or there — most notably in 2014 or 2016. In fact, if you count his gap year as a season, he may have won last year, as he spent most of his time doing things like asking people in Scotland about the Super Bowl while popping wheelies. He did a couple of things this offseason that put him back in the conversation: He joined his hometown Raiders, he’s leading massive bike rides in Oakland, and he did this at a charity soccer game:

It’s good to have Beast Mode back.

2. Odell Beckham Jr.

Beckham was close to winning this thing, but he came up just short because the winner got further than he did in the playoffs and had more variety in his offseason. In another year, Beckham might’ve won: He was near a monkey and a giraffe. He had a jet — now considered basic in NFL circles — but upgraded to a helicopter.

Mostly, though, Beckham has danced.

Beckham has danced a lot.

He also hopped on the UNC hoops bandwagon for a while and feuded with a bunch of New York reporters. But mostly, he danced. Beckham is a heavy favorite for 2018 offseason champion, but we can’t give him the belt just yet.

1. Julio Jones

A couple of years ago, I was working on a story on how Josh Norman became a different movie character for each game. As part of that, I briefly became obsessed with on-field trash talk and which superstars said which things. The vast majority of top NFL receivers basically talk the same sort of trash that your corniest friend does in pickup. You know — "you can’t guard me"-type stuff. The one thing I’ll always remember about Jones is that no defensive back could remember one damn thing Jones did or said to them to get in their head. In fact, Jones was basically silent the entire game, and most of them said going up against him was a boring experience.

Hell, Jones did seem boring. What controversies have surrounded him? Which reporters has he feuded with? In fact, uh, could you tell me one thing about Jones’s personality?

That all changed in a massive way this offseason. Jones, who rose from stardom to super-duper stardom by being the most talented player on a juggernaut of a Falcons team that rolled through the NFL and three quarters of the Super Bowl, rules. First of all, we found out that Jones is friends with Gucci Mane and that Gucci, Migos, and Jones trash-talked the hell out of John Wall during a Hawks playoff game. Unlike Newton last year, who relinquished his offseason crown last season due to a temporary disappearance from the public eye after a dreadful Super Bowl loss, Jones has not had to power through any criticism from the season-ending defeat. He did his job in the Super Bowl, including what was assumed to be the game-sealing catch in the fourth quarter. The blame has mostly fallen on the shoulders of Kyle Shanahan’s conservative play calling, and the Patriots have rightfully been praised for making some incredible plays down the stretch. The loss was not devastating enough to Jones personally to prevent him from winning the offseason. His past few months have had it all.

Whatever’s happening here? You bet.

Chris Tucker, for some reason? Yes.

Going to Asia and showing off a bus pass? Absolutely.

Normally, this would put him alongside Beckham and maybe they would tie, but the tie was broken resoundingly at the BET Awards when Jones became a full-fledged meme while staring at Joe Budden–Migos beef.

Julio Jones is up 28–3 in the offseason, and he’s going to close this one out.