Out of Bounds: No rest for the weary in the NFL's busy offseason

Pro football is not what it used to be. In the past, football fans would avidly watch the Super Bowl and then more or less forget about the sport until August or September. In recent years, however, players like Bears kick returner Devin Hester and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson have proven that NFL rookies are very relevant players. As the rookies have become more noticeable, so too has the NFL Draft.

While mid-February is admittedly much too soon to start discussing the draft, which takes place in April, there are some other very important events coming up in the world of pro football. The NFL Scouting Combine, one of the most important antecedents to the Draft, is happening this weekend from Saturday, Feb. 23 to Tuesday, Feb. 26. At the Combine, college players entering the draft will perform a series of tests to showcase their strength, speed, agility, jumping ability and other attributes.

In recent years, fans have been granted the opportunity to see their favorite college prospects at the Combine thanks to the NFL Network, which provides full coverage. Under close scrutiny at the Combine will be some of the best players that college football has to offer. Players such as LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Virginia defensive end Chris Long are all expected to be top picks in April, but a poor performance at the Combine could become a serious setback for any of these athletes.

The free agent period is also looming on the horizon. Several high-profile players, like Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas and Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler, have already been released from their respective teams. Several other talented players, such as Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss, Steelers guard Alan Faneca and Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth are slated to hit the market as free agents. This is also the time of the year when trade rumors begin, such as the buzz that Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson or Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey could be dealt to new teams.

Football, more than any other professional sport, is structured to allow for the greatest possible amount of parity. No matter how terrible a team looks during the season, fans can always look forward to the offseason as a time for their under-performing squad to break out the checkbook and add some difference-makers to the roster. It may come in the form of a high-priced veteran player, or it may be a collection of young talent selected in the Draft. In some cases, teams need to dispel a selfish player from the locker room by trading him away and they may get some great players in return. You never know what's going to happen, so it's important to stay informed. Whatever the case may be, pay attention and watch your team prepare for the future.