One thing I've noticed in my years doing this column — and my years writing about the Jags, especially — is that NFL players are, in the final analysis, commodities, nothing more, nothing less. The commodification of the gridiron hero has facilitated many narratives, none more so than the tendency of sportswriters to put those narratives in the Manichean framework of heroes and villains.
Consider how Jimmy Smith was treated as he wrestled with addiction issues; or, more recently, Justin Blackmon, who entered rehab after being indefinitely suspended from the team in November. Contrast that with the lionization of Brad Meester, a wholly average interior lineman whose gifts have been longevity and staying out of trouble.
For Jacksonville's white-bread sports media, that's more than enough.
The Meester narrative, along with the team's slow-crawl improvement over the last weeks of the season, allowed the Jags' home finale to feel better than earlier ones at the ass-end of lackluster campaigns. The Dec. 22 game against the Titans, in the sun-soaked, surprisingly full confines of EverBank Field, was a capstone on the Meester era — and a fine illustration of how reality once again was framed by a convenient narrative in Jagland.
The Meester farewell had everything, including a treacly message on the videoboard from his kids. It was easily the greatest send-off for an interior lineman in franchise history. And why not? He'd been here since the Coughlin era. Meester even got a gimmick play in the red zone — shades of former Jags lineman Guy "the Human Turnstile" Whimper.
That was a nice moment. A few days before, however, the Jags sent another veteran off with considerably less ceremony. It wasn't nearly as pretty.
On the cusp of Jeremy Mincey's 30th birthday, after cultivating a well-earned reputation for tardiness (he missed the Jags' trip to Houston because he overslept), he was cut. The defensive end and Gators alum, who's always been real with his fans on social media, posted on Facebook about it. He also told me in an interview that he
"felt freed" after his release; he just wasn't Gus Bradley's guy, he said.
He wasn't unemployed for long. The playoff-bound but injury-racked Denver Broncos quickly scooped him up. After the Broncos clinched the division title — the very same Sunday as Meester's feting — an exuberant Mincey tweeted about it: "Be happy for me. I deserve this. It's been a long time coming."
Anyone who knows how the convergence of Twitter and pissed-off fans works knows what happened next. My Twitter timeline filled with people putting Mincey on blast for claiming that he'd an instrumental role in Denver's season — especially after having all of one tackle in that day's victory in Houston. A sample: "You're weak as f**k. Missed team meetings, didnt buy in. Now celebrating with a team that aint yours. You have no team, Chump" [sic].
Knowing what we know of how the NFL machine chews up and spits out its talent, ponder this: What's the real difference between the contributions of Brad Meester and Jeremy Mincey? Both gave their best years and physical primes to the Jags franchise. Meester was, if we're being honest, exceedingly mediocre. Mincey was at least above average for a few years. Neither was a difference-maker, and both fell off this year.
The difference? Mincey's decline was framed as a lack of commitment; Meester got a pass on account of being too old to be effective — which has really been the case for the last couple of years. If I were to speculate, the real difference seems basic: Meester is more of the corn-fed Iowa type, Mincey is more hip-hop. One of these plays better in the press.
The fact is that Meester's calling card was his longevity. That's it. For a city and a franchise as starved for tradition as the Jags, that's enough.