-- Of all the annoying and meaningless rituals associated with the NFL preseason, this one's my favorite: the annual parade of players proclaiming with 100 percent certainty, and for all the world to hear, that they are, without a doubt, in the Best Shape of their Lives.
If you're also a connoisseur of football clich?s, of exaggerated, unfounded and ultimately hollow declarations of elite fitness and impending greatness, it will come as no surprise that the biggest training camp BSer (Best Shape) of 2016 was none other than the Dallas Cowboys -- a team that prints money and is everyone's "surprise" playoff pick for the 20th year in a row despite the fact that no one in Jerry's World has sniffed a Super Bowl in two decades.
Way back in May, in fact,? Dez Bryant got the annual training camp platitude parade started early when he proclaimed: "I am in the best shape that I've ever been in" just a few days after Dallas VP Stephen Jones mentioned that the team's All-Pro wideout might not have been in, ya know, "his best shape last year." Then, just before camp opened, Dallas defensive back Orlando Scandrick, coming back from a major knee injury, got in on the action, claiming that, wouldn't-ya-know-it, he too is "in the best shape of my life." A few days later, after an unflattering photo made Tony Romo look as if he had arrived at fat camp instead of football camp, Jones quickly declared with the utmost confidence that the pear-shaped Romo was -- wait for it -- in "some of the best shape he's been in."
Well, of course he is. And so is Terrell Suggs. Sure, he's 33 and playing on two surgically repaired Achilles tendons. But he recently cut out pizza, fried food and gefilte fish and, wham, is now ready to declare himself in the BSL (Best Shape of his Life). Brandon Marshall? Yep, BSL. Heck, even the doughy Jay Cutler is in the BSC ( ... of his Career) according to reports from camp, where, I bet, Cutler is also the happiest he's ever been, the most focused on winning he's ever been, the most confident in his supporting cast he's ever been, the most comfortable with the offensive scheme he's ever been, the closest he's ever been with his head coach, and the warmest, most humble and approachable he's ever been.
After all this BS talk, we decided to investigate all the other "Best Shape of my Life" claims that were made this summer.
BS Line: "I'm in the best shape I've ever been in," Tebow declared at the end of July in yet another attempt to return to the NFL.
BS Level: 10. Tebow -- the guy who is willing to do anything on earth to make his QB dreams come true (except, ya know, go play in the CFL) -- was so confident in his life-altering conditioning that shortly after this statement he quit football altogether to pursue a baseball career.
BS Line: "He came back in the best shape of his life," said Chiefs special-teams coach Dave Toub at the start of camp.
BS Level: 3. Seems legit, at least to Toub, who added: "The conditioning test, I think he was first out of all of those guys. He's lean, he's ready to go, he's focused and he's ready to compete."
BS Line: "I'm in the best shape I've ever been in," Bell declared on his Facebook page this summer.
BS Level: 0. Uh, have you seen the workout videos the Steelers running back posted? A few examples: here, here and here. Have you seen him run during camp? But last year, the 244-pound Bell posted a medical report that listed his body fat as 2.9 percent. Now, who actually believes he's in better shape this season? Well, me for one.
BS Line: "This is actually the best shape I've been in for the beginning of camp for the first five days," Gronk told Sirius Radio during camp.
BS Level: 8. The proof Gronk used to back up his claim? He really got intense and super-focused with his training for the entire two weeks before camp opened.
BS Line: "Enters his 11th NFL season feeling in the best shape he has in some time," stated a recent CBS report in Philadelphia.
BS Level: 6. The 33-year-old "Tank" says he dropped his body fat but kept his weight the same, in part, by cutting out candy. I'd give this a higher BS Level, but the wording leaves it unclear whether this is the best Sproles has felt in the past 11 years or the past 11 hours. ?
BS Line: Chip Kelly will make the 49ers "the best in-shape team in the NFL," Bowman told the NFL Network this offseason.
BS Level: 9. Sorry, but Chip Kelly doesn't look as if he has jogged around anything but a buffet table. Although I do give Bowman credit for expanding the boundaries of this camp clich? to an entire team.
BS Line: "I'm in the best shape I've ever seen," the 49ers tackle said after his first practice since 2014.
BS Level: 6. After a year of retirement, he's down 35 pounds and, remember, he is on the "best in-shape team in the NFL."
BS Line: "Just having the opportunity to get in shape, with this being my first [NFL] offseason, was very important to me," Winston said this offseason. ?
BS Level: 2. The Buccaneers QB showed up to camp 20 pounds lighter and without the doughy dad midsection that went viral before the draft.
BS Line: "I would say this is the best shape I've seen him in," coach Mike McCarthy said at the start of camp.
BS Level: 3. Rodgers reported at 218 pounds, his lightest since his rookie season and well below the 230 pounds he has sometimes carried. And the Packers QB did it while eliminating dairy from his diet, no easy task when you play in Wisconsin.
BS Line: This is "probably the best shape I've been in," the Texans wideout told reporters at the start of camp after wowing the not-easily-wowed Bill O'Brien.
BS Level: 1. Strong reported 33 pounds lighter than he did as a rookie.
BS Line: "I would say he's in the best shape of his life," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters about his running back in June.
BS Level: 7. This is the same coach who says his players are like "family" to him, right before running them through an extra unsanctioned practice in pads.
BS Line: The Detroit linebacker is in the "best shape of his professional career," the Lions' team website reported, a statement backed up by coach Jim Caldwell.
BS Level: 6. Saying he's in the best shape of his "professional career" doesn't really mean much. He was injured as a rookie and played 7.6 percent of the team's snaps last year.
BS Line: "He's in great shape right now," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
BS Level: 8. Of course one of the game's best RBs is in great shape. This statement from Fisher means almost as much as when he vowed not to go "f---ing 7-9" again at the start of camp after, ya know, six straight non-winning seasons.
BS Line: "His conditioning level is the best I've seen it since I've been here," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak says of the now 217-pound back. I also saw a report that says Anderson is in the "best camp-opening shape" of his career, in an effort to become more of an every-down back.
BS Level: 6. It makes me suspicious when a guy credits the heat in Houston for his newfound physique. I mean: Vince Wilfork lives in Houston.
BS Line: Asked by the Pioneer Press whether he's perhaps in the top shape of his career, the Vikings RB replied, "I'll say that."
BS Level: 4. If there's one player who can reverse the trend of a running back's production dramatically declining after the age of 30, it's Peterson. ?
BS Line: "Right now I'm in the best shape I've been in a long time," the Dolphins left tackle told reporters in May after the team drafted a tackle in the first round.
BS Level: 4. Albert has worked hard to come back from knee surgery; they moved that rookie to guard; and, really, who doesn't love the fact that an offensive lineman can be considered svelte at 313 pounds?
BS Line: "I'm happy. I'm in the best shape of my life, and I know if it doesn't happen this year it's probably something I have to deal with," the former starting running back told NJ.com in July.
BS Level: 2. I wholeheartedly believe Rice's assessment of his physical condition, and at 29, he might still be able to help a team. But Rice also acknowledged that he's mostly "training for life" at this point, which is probably a smart move on his part.
BS Line: "The big thing for me was to be in the best shape of my life this year," Franklin told San Diego's KLSD.
BS Level: 8. Just before saying this, the Chargers O-lineman admitted he's been hurt, heavy and not all that flexible in the past.
BS Line: "Feel good, feel great, probably the best shape I've ever been in," the Browns DB told reporters in camp after explaining he's gained about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
BS Level: 1. Although most of these BS declarations are wild speculation, this one is a scientific fact, thanks to the Browns' new commitment to sports science and wellness. This includes players logging into terminals all over the facility to record everything from bench-press numbers to increases in REM sleep, which typically skyrockets for Browns fans at the start of every fourth quarter.
BS Line: "I haven't been in shape like this since coming out of college," the Super Bowl MVP told reporters at the start of camp after a jam-packed offseason spent away from the facility.
BS Level: 8. "Dancing With the Stars" is a vigorous workout, I'm sure, but, uh, Von already said he was in the best shape of his life -- in 2013.