The NFL monster gets bigger

PITTSBURGH – The National Football League is taking over the world.

At least the sports world.

The NFL has transformed itself into an almost year-round topic of discussion.

The season runs from September through December, as it always has. But the postseason has expanded to the point that the Super Bowl is played in February, which has added nearly a month.

Prior to the NFL-AFL merger, the league championships were settled before the end of the calendar year. Even when the postseason got bigger, it was still over by mid-January. The Steelers won their first Super Bowl on Jan. 12, 1975.

February also brings the scouting combine, which gives draft fans a chance to get a head start on projecting what players their favorite team should select.

The 2014 NFL season officially started on Tuesday, with the beginning of free agency. That’s another month’s worth of headlines and talk show discussions that will stretch into April.

The draft has been pushed back to May this year, and that will keep another month filled with NFL talk. Most teams will have mini-camps and/or rookie orientation camps, which means more NFL media coverage.

In June they rest. Most of the coaching staffs take their vacations over the six-week period that begins in June.

By mid-July, they’re mapping out training camp, and the players report before the month ends. August is the pre-season, and the regular season is ready to go again right after Labor Day.

Even the regular season has changed with the addition of Thursday night games.

Is there a saturation point? Doesn’t seem to be. No talk show in Pittsburgh has ever experienced dead phone lines when introducing Steelers subjects.

The NFL is already a big part of our sports culture, and it still seems to be growing.

Bargain price?

OK, the Steelers saved significant salary cap room by knocking cornerback Ike Taylor’s 2014 salary down to $2.75 million from the previous $7 million commitment.

But does that help a defense that struggled last season?

Taylor’s game has clearly declined, which probably made him agreeable to sacrificing $4.25 million. The cap benefits from that, but the secondary may not.

Taylor is still a player with diminishing skills, so the Steelers still have a problem at his position.

The price tag is less, but the quality isn’t any better.

The alternative was releasing Taylor, and he and his agent had to be aware of that reality. Unlike James Harrison, Taylor put aside his pride and took the lesser deal.

It’s doubtful he would have done much better as a free agent, and he stays in a system he knows. It’s a comfortable fit.

No reality show

Don’t get carried away by spring training performances, good or bad.

It’s one of the worst environments for statistical evaluation because the level of competition is so uneven.

MLB requires teams to take four starting players on road trips, and most teams take only four. So some of what happens may come against players who won’t see the major leagues in 2014, if ever.

Spring training is a profitable warm-up, and not much more than that.

Mehno can be reached at