Welcome to March, which if you're an NFL fan comes in like a lion every year, with roaring headlines, ferocious rumors and the next king of the jungle only one fast 40-yard dash away.
If off-season drama led to victories in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns would be a perennial playoff team and multiple Super Bowl winner and the Cincinnati Bengals would be 1-15.
But rumors and innuendo often work in inverse proportion to on-field results, which is why the Browns are the one-win team and the Bengals have been in the playoffs five of the last six years.
The Browns almost always lead the NFL in drama from March, when free agency starts, through the end of training camp. And it's certainly no different this year.
Because they have the No. 1 overall pick, and No. 12, and No. 33, and because they have more salary cap space than any team in the NFL, the Browns are front-and-center at the NFL Scouting Combine, just as they will be during the draft.
The Bengals might as well secede from the league between the end of the season and the start of the season. The Bengals are so boring it's a wonder they don't change their team colors to gray and white.
You'll note the difference in coming days as NFL free agency heats up. The Browns will be front and center, with tons of money to spend, and eager veterans in search of one more big score, eager to lap up Cleveland’s cash.
One of those guys with his hand out may be Bengals' guard Kevin Zeitler, who's likely to command around $10 million per-year. The Bengals won't pay that. If they do, call the authorities, because it will mean that someone has chained Mike Brown to a chair and is illicitly signing his name to offer sheets.
The Bengals are likely to lose more than Zeitler. They have around a dozen unrestricted free agents. If you've been going to Paul Brown Stadium in a Dre Kirkpatrick, Domata Peko or Margus Hunt jersey, next year that jersey may qualify as vintage.
Those guys are no better than 50-50 to return, and it wouldn't surprise me if Rex Burkhead joins them leaving town.
That's how it is on good teams like the Bengals. They go right up to the edge of the salary cap every year in an effort to win the Super Bowl. Then, every March they're faced with significant roster rebuilding amid hard decision-making.
It's not that Brown has no loyalty to a long-term Bengal like Peko, it's that good teams can't afford blind loyalty and big dollars for a guy whose best days are behind him.
Just read between the lines of Marvin Lewis' comments about his unrestricted free agents.
“Everybody is in our plans until they’re not,” Lewis said. “That’s the way it is. Conversely, we’re in their plans until we’re not. Early in the season, I said I liked our guys. We finished, and I still like them. We didn’t get to where we needed to get to. We fell short. But there’s more gas in the tank for a lot of these guys, and we’ll see how it works out.”
The Bengals likely will make a play to keep wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who they signed to a team-friendly, one-year, $2.5-million deal last season. Lafell wound up leading the team in receiving and earned another $500,000 in incentives.
What the Bengals paid him is the most I'd be comfortable the Browns giving Terrelle Pryor, who's the only Browns unrestricted free agent of note.
Why does Cleveland only have one guy who could leave and the Bengals have a dozen? Because when you stink like the Browns, you don't let your veterans get to the start of a new league year before you cut them.
Tramon Williams, Josh McCown and Andrew Hawkins have already been shown the door.
Pryor's agents are supposedly sitting down with the Browns at dinner this week in Indianapolis to pursue a new deal. Cleveland's executive vice president, Sashi Brown, said Wednesday the Browns would like to keep Pryor, but won't be devastated if he leaves.
That's just good negotiating.
Browns coach Hue Jackson likes Pryor a lot and Pryor likes Hue, but once teams start telling TP how great he is, that could lead to him leaving.
He might be a priority for someone to sign as their No. 3 wideout.
The Browns always believe they can find a Hall of Famer hidden between the couch cushions. And, when you’re a one-win team, it's not like Pryor's departure would make an appreciable difference.
Cleveland will always be marking time until it finds a quarterback. It's the Browns’ misfortune that in a year where they have the No. 1 pick, there's no Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck waiting for them.
The experts say DeShaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Mitch Trubisky aren't worthy of a first-round selection, let alone the No. 1 or even No. 12 overall pick.
The reality is that all three will likely be gone by No. 12.
So the Browns draft choices, as they pertain to quarterbacks, may turn out like Goldilocks' pooridge. No. 1 is toooooo high. And No. 12 is tooooo low.
So that might force the Browns to go with Cody Kessler or Robert Griffin III next year, which if so will prompt opposing defenses to say, "All the better to eat you with, my dear."
Not only is there not a quarterback worth taking at No. 1, there's no one compelling enough to fetch a tempting trade offer of multiple picks in future drafts for the Browns to trade out of the top spot.
Texas A&M's Myles Garrett and Alabama's Jonathan Allen are the likeliest selections at No. 1 overall, unless either of them has some dark, evil secret or medical condition.
Those sorts of things come to light this week at the Combine, where team officials get 60, five-minute interviews with the draft prospects they are most interested in.
Think of the Combine as a job fair for wannabe NFL rookies. Think of the five-minute interviews as the league's version of speed dating, and think of the Combine workouts themselves as the Underwear Olympics.
Browns fans will get caught up in whatever their team does between now and September, then get their hearts broken again.
Bengals fans know not to obsess about the off-season, assured that Marvin Lewis and Co. will at least be in the mix until we get close the post-season.
It's arguable which fan base's fate is worse…not having any chance to win in Cleveland, or having every expectation of a deep playoff run in Cincinnati, only to get crushed.
It's like two paths to the same destination that both veer off course in different directions. Oh, well, at least the ride to oblivion is entertaining.