Dec 17, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s 2024 league year won’t officially begin until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

But the engagement bait is already underway.

With the league’s legal tampering period beginning on Monday, we have already seen a flurry of player movement across the league. And such moves have provided the social media accounts for media outlets with fodder to tout teams’ new lineups — even if those lineups aren’t actually all that impressive.

Take for instance The Sporting News’ X (formerly Twitter) post regarding the Minnesota Vikings.

After Kirk Cousins opted to sign with the Atlanta Falcons, the Vikings turned to former first-round pick-turned-journeyman Sam Darnold, who has started a combined seven games in the past two seasons. But despite Darnold being a indisputable downgrade from Cousins, The Sporting News’ X (formerly Twitter) account presented his signing — along with the addition of running back Aaron Jones (who, to be fair, is an upgrade from Alexander Mattison) — as something the rest of the NFL needs to take note of.

What exactly is this suggestive eyeball emoji here supposed to be looking at? That a team currently has Darnold at the top of its depth chart? Sure, Jones, Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson is a nice set of skill players. But even if Darnold proves to be one of the league’s great reclamation projects, nobody — other than The Sporting News, apparently — is currently saying to themselves, “man, watch out for the Vikings.”

The madness didn’t stop there.

Following the news that the Carolina Panthers are acquiring wide receiver Diontae Johnson from the Pittsburgh Steelers in the rare double salary dump, FanDuel’s X account tried its turn at hyping via hyperbole.

“Scary?” For whom, exactly? Panthers fans?

Bryce Young was one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks last season. Miles Sanders is a year removed from being a prized free-agent signing, who wound up getting benched midseason for Chuba Hubbard, who posted pedestrian numbers in his place. Adam Thielen has had a nice career, but is five years removed from his last Pro Bowl selection and will be 34 when the season begins. And while Johnson showed flashes throughout his five seasons in Pittsburgh, it’s telling that the Steelers were only able to net cornerback Donte Jackson and a late-round pick swap when trading him.

Call me old fashioned, but back in my day, the eyeballs and smoke face emojis used to mean something. The Big 3 Miami Heat. Tom Brady teaming up with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski. Even the hype surrounding the “Now this is going to be fun” Lakers was at least justified at the time.

But over the years, the value of such posts has been diminished to the point that the no longer mean anything. Do we really need to post a flame emoji every time an NBA play-in team adds a journeyman point guard or an NFL Wild Card contender adds a third-down running back?

Look, I understand that social media managers have a job to do and I have no issue with even the most miniscule of transactions being highlighted in the name of #content. All I’m asking is for is to restore the sanctity of the smoke face emoji and to stop asking “who’s stopping this team?!” when the answer is “almost everyone.”

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.