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CBSSports.com National Columnist

End of lockout brings us the most fun NFL ever

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You may have missed Marion Barber's ouster, or $76M for Charles Johnson. Yep, $76M. (US Presswire)  
You may have missed Marion Barber's ouster, or $76M for Charles Johnson. Yep, $76M. (US Presswire)  

The lockout was the best thing to happen to the NFL in years. How many years? I'm thinking. And I'm coming up empty. So I guess what I'm saying is, the lockout might just be the best thing to happen to the NFL in my lifetime, and I'm no spring chicken.

That was a big freaking statement, and it's based on imprecise data. Or no data. It's only an opinion, but I'm guessing you understand exactly where that opinion is coming from, and that you're nodding your head. You agree with me -- because you're smart, and because I'm right.

Look at us. We're following the NFL offseason more closely than we ever have. From Tuesday to Thursday, the NFL Network saw a 288-percent jump from the same span a year ago. The league's digital media -- its website, smart-phone apps, etc. -- rose 143 percent in unique users from a year ago. Why? Because we've been starving for the NFL, and the league just opened the doors to its buffet.

Other years, as real news drips out slowly, we're left with empty stories about free agents making meaningless visits to this city or that city, leavened by the occasional hard news story about a free agent actually picking a team. But those news stories have typically come in drips. A plink-plink here. A plink-plink there.

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This week, the stories are gushing. We've hit the mother lode, free agency and trades galore, and it's like The Weather Girls sang in 1982: It's raining men! Nnamdi Asomugha splashed down in Philadelphia. Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth fell into New England. Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning to Houston. Plaxico Burress to the Jets. Takeo Spikes to San Diego.

Wait a minute. Takeo Spikes to San Diego? I must have missed that one.

But that's what I'm talking about -- so much is going on, it's impossible to keep up. But it's fun trying. Again, I'm speaking only for myself. I don't have imaginary sources inside my head telling me Asomugha is leaning toward the Jets the average fan out there is enjoying the NFL more now, after the lockout, than ever before. I'm just telling you, I'm enjoying the NFL more now, after the lockout, than ever before. And I'm as, um, average as it gets.

And I'm not the only one. I see you folks out there on Twitter, following NFL writers, trying to keep tabs on this stuff. Hell, in addition to our fine scribes here at CBSSports.com, I followed a few NFL writers from other organizations, just to get a handle on what's going on. And not professionally, either. I'm not following folks on Twitter so I can be as expert as possible about the changing-by-the-minute NFL landscape. No, I'm following those folks because it's fun.

TweetDeck purrs at me, and there you go. Tyson Clabo re-signs with Atlanta. There's another purr, and it's Charles Johnson getting $76 million (!) from the Carolina Panthers. Purr ... the Cowboys just released half their damn team, including Marion Barber, Roy Williams and Leonard Davis. And Marc Colombo.

Wait. Colombo got released too? Must have missed that one.

The avalanche of news is amazing, and soon it'll be time for exhibition games, and let me tell you something: I'll be watching exhibition games. You will, too. For one thing, we'll want to see how Vince Young looks with the Eagles, and what Buffalo has in mind for versatile Brad Smith. Reggie Bush in Miami, Darren Sproles in New Orleans and Barber in Chicago? Show me. Let me see it now, because it just happened, and I'll tune in to watch even if it is a lousy exhibition game.

See, exhibition football doesn't seem so lousy now. Does it? For months we heard that there might not be football, exhibition or otherwise, this month. Or next month. We'd been told to get ready for a long and cold autumn, to pack our NFL memories like squirrels pack nuts. Shove it into our cheeks, Ron Jaworski-style, and savor it. Because there wouldn't be actual football. Because of the lockout.

Instead, we have football. Disaster averted. After four months of digesting and ultimately ignoring endless and pointless stories about bargaining tactics and revenue streams and 54 percent for the owners -- no, 52 percent and $1 billion off the top ... no, 53 percent and none off the top -- we can digest football morsels about actual football.

For example, did you know the Redskins lured nose tackle Barry Cofield away from the Giants? I did not. Maybe I'm following the wrong guys on Twitter ...

Whatever. There's plenty more news where that came from. This offseason is the NFL on steroids, and I'm thinking TV ratings might be in for the same sort of spike once the regular season starts. Mad at the NFL? Maybe some people still are, but for most people there was relief when the lockout ended, and relief has given way to fascination as the news stories -- real news stories, not that boring crap that normally dominates the first week of camp -- are coming in fast and furious.

So ... furious? At the NFL? Not me. The lockout didn't take away my appreciation for the NFL. It enhanced it. Far be it from me to think the unthinkable, but maybe the NFL should lock itself out every summer.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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