The slow time is over (not that it ever gets very slow)

It’s part of the annual NFL calendar, a key piece of the rhythm of the league. The slow time. As of today, the slow time ends.

Not that it will end with an avalanche of news. But the fact that rookies from the Bills and Raiders report to training camp today becomes the first tangible sign that football is coming back.

On Wednesday, the Raiders veterans report, 15 days in advance of the team’s appearance in the Hall of Fame game. By next Monday, five camps will be up and running. Next Tuesday, they all will be.

And it will continue, day after day and week after week and month after month until the regular season ends, the Super Bowl arrives, free agency unfolds, and the draft happens. Then, we’ll trudge through another slow time, and eventually we’ll do it all over again.

And the slow time never is very slow. Although, as noted by Peter King in his return to the Football Morning in America column, the fact that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson skipped the team’s voluntary offseason practices will mean nothing if/when the team has a three-game losing streak in November, it means plenty as it’s happening — because millions of fans of every team monitor every chunk and nugget and whisper of news in the offseason.

They do it because they’re looking for reasons to feel good, or otherwise, about their favorite team’s prospects in the coming season. Plausible hope — something that becomes even more plausible when the Bengals go from basement to Super Bowl in one year — fuels the offseason demand for NFL news and information.

King attributes the detailed coverage of the league during the annual slow period to the glut of reporters who actively cover the league. He’s got the cart before the horse on that one. The regular coverage of the league continues in May, June, and early July happens because there’s a demand for it.

It’s basic economics. People want non-stop information about the league, all year long. And if media outlets weren’t making money from covering the NFL in even the slowest periods of the year, they wouldn’t do it. (Or they would do it, and eventually go out of business.)

For many, it’s not just about fans watching and waiting and wondering and hoping about the prospects of their favorite teams when the season rolls around. For many, it’s part of their routine. During our break from PFT Live (which has lasted four weeks and will last one more), I’ve heard from viewer after viewer after viewer that have had their routine interrupted by our absence. That have one fewer thing to serve as a distraction and diversion from the stuff that we all worry about on a regular basis. That keep asking, “When are you coming back?”

And as to the fact that the 2019 league MVP, who had refused for months to engage in contract talks with the Ravens, suddenly no-showed for voluntary practices as he supposedly hopes to have the kind of season that will set him up for a history-making deal, of course that’s significant. Of course that’s relevant. While it may indeed have nothing to do with a three-game losing streak in November (then again, neither will training camp — unless the Ravens have another rash of season-ending injuries), the challenge is getting ready for the first four or five games of the season.

They’ll be double-digit favorites to start the season in New York. What if the Jets throw one of those crazy Week One sucker punches and beat Baltimore? How will the Ravens respond? Next come the Dolphins, who bedeviled Jackson with aggressive blitzing last year on a Thursday night. Then it’s at the Patriots, a team that constantly has been a thorn in the side for the Ravens. Next up, the Bills and Bengals — two of the favorites in the AFC.

If the Ravens struggle out of the gates, will frustrations bubble up? This year, reporters will be back in locker rooms. Players haven’t had that dynamic in place for two years. Maybe someone will say something that traces back to Jackson’s decision to not be around when the team was learning the playbook and laying the foundation for camp.

By the time a three-game losing streak does or doesn’t happen in November, it may already be over or close to it. Or the Ravens may be trying to thread a needle to the postseason after starting 2-3. By November, Jackson’s absence from OTAs definitely won’t matter. It will matter when it comes to how they do (or don’t) get themselves up and running to start the season.

Wins in those first five weeks of the season become money in the bank for January. Losses become burdens that pile up and eventually put a team in position to have to win and win and win down the stretch in order to have even a shot at the playoffs.

So, yes, everything leading up to Week One matters. And even if there’s no bright or dotted line from early June to mid-September, plenty of football fans want to know what’s going on. Supply. Demand. And as we’ve learned during four weeks of no PFT Live, when the supply shrinks, the fans get very demanding.