AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com with an optimistic report on the critical merger talks between QB AARON RODGERS and new coach Matt LaFleur:

 

It began, the relationship between the ambitious new coach and his headstrong quarterback, over something they both love.

 

No, not a glass of scotch.

 

As Rodgers would soon discover of his new coach: “He’s not a big scotch drinker.”

 

Rather, it was in Arizona, in the comfort of a home owned by Rodgers’ girlfriend, retired race car driver Danica Patrick, where LaFleur and Rodgers first met as coach and player — while watching sports.

 

Sure, the two had hung out once before — on a chance meeting in Santa Monica, California, a few years back. Rodgers was out with his then-quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt when they ran into LaFleur, then the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator. LaFleur knew Van Pelt but had never met Rodgers until that day, when they had a few drinks together.

 

“I hadn’t had much interaction with him,” LaFleur recalled recently. “There was that one time I ran into him and Van Pelt where we hung out for, I don’t know, an hour or two.”

 

This, however, was a planned meeting to start an arranged marriage — one orchestrated by Packers president Mark Murphy, who fired coach Mike McCarthy in December and hired LaFleur in January after just one round of interviews.

 

Yes, there would be plenty of time for LaFleur to get to know his quarterback once he arrived in Green Bay to start offseason workouts on April 8, but he felt an offsite meet-and-greet would prove beneficial. Just days after LaFleur attended his first NFL meetings — where team owners, general managers and head coaches assemble annually, this year at the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix — a much more important get-together took place.

 

So there sat the 39-year-old first-time head coach and the 35-year-old two-time NFL MVP who had played for one head coach his entire time as a professional starter.

 

With the NCAA basketball tournament as the television backdrop, the two sports junkies spent the day together. Their player-coach relationship began over the Michigan State-Duke game in the Elite Eight.

 

“It was the first time I had hung out with him,” LaFleur said. “We had talked on the phone a bunch, but it was the first time because there’s nothing like … you can talk to somebody on the phone, but it’s so impersonal. You just want to see their face and just sit there man to man and talk. We sat and watched the NCAA tournament.”

 

More than two months later, as the offseason program concluded, LaFleur and Rodgers conveyed how important the beginning was to their relationship-building.

 

Both said the most critical thing, especially at the start, was listening.

 

“Two things I think are really important: listen and communicate,” Rodgers told ESPN at the conclusion of this month’s minicamp. “Everybody, in general, wants to know that what they’re saying is important and that people care about what they’re saying, and the best way to do that is listen. I wanted to get to know who he is and what makes him tick and what’s important to him.”

 

However, if both wanted to listen, somebody needed to talk.

 

“He is a really good listener,” LaFleur said in an interview with ESPN. “I feel like he absorbs everything.”

 

Rodgers took his turn to speak, too. He felt it was critical to “clearly communicate expectations on both sides.”

 

“What I’m expecting from him and what can he expect from me,” Rodgers continued. “What kind of approach do I have? What do I like? What do I not like? What has worked for me in the past? What maybe hasn’t worked as well in the past and just what kind of guy I am.

 

“But at first, I think it’s just really important to listen and to listen a lot, not just to who he was but what his philosophy is, what the offense looks like, how he sees it through his eyes, and kind of take it all in and kind of let him know what he’s getting. I’ve got a lot of experience; I’ve played a lot of football, and I thought it was important in a super-respectful and honest way [to say], ‘Hey, look, this is what I’ve done, what I like doing, I think this can work,’ and then communicating on where we have crossover and where we have to come together in certain areas.”

 

‘Somebody’s going to have to change something’

Come April 8, when players returned to Green Bay for offseason workouts, Rodgers and LaFleur already had a basic understanding of each other.

 

So they went to work on the specifics of LaFleur’s offense, which was mostly new to Rodgers.

 

“It’s a foreign language, it really is,” Rodgers said.

 

With LaFleur as the playcaller, it also meant he stood in front of the room and taught the offense — first to his coaches, including offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, who will work most closely with Rodgers, and then to the players.

 

“He was the one that was talking through everything, and that was important because it’s his offense,” Rodgers said of LaFleur. “It’s not Nathaniel’s offense; he’s been in different offenses, Luke has been in different offenses. So to have those two in the room, it needed to be him because it’s his offense and it’s through his eyes, and I needed to hear how he sees things.”

 

There were, however, some bumps along the way. While Rodgers has to adjust to LaFleur’s system, the coach also altered some things to make it easier for the quarterback.

 

“There was just good dialogue back and forth about how we can do things,” LaFleur said. “We worked together on calling things, because what was interesting is, here’s a guy that has 13 years of experience, and he’s ran some of these plays before. I’ve called them one thing, he’s called them another. It’s how do you marry that and who do you pick? Somebody’s going to have to change something, so just working through that and see what names made the most sense. There were certain things that we kept calling the same as he’s always called it and some things we changed.”

 

The audible issue

 

For years, Rodgers enjoyed wide-ranging freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Some believed Rodgers had too much freedom, while others felt he abused it.

 

Either way, LaFleur made it clear that his offense isn’t built that way.

 

He has what he calls “can plays,” as in the quarterback can occasionally change the play.

 

“There’s a lot of things he’s taught me,” LaFleur said. “That’s what I told him in terms of how do we make this offense the best for us, because in our system, there hasn’t necessarily been a lot of true audibles and things of that nature.”

 

They still need to figure out how they can marry those differing philosophies.

 

“Some of that, you just have to figure out ultimately, but the most important thing is trust,” Rodgers said. “It’s a real, true trust. And I think it just comes from conversation, him understanding that I’m just trying to win, and I have to trust my instincts, and me trusting him, that he’s calling what he thinks is the best play in that situation and that he needs me to make it work.”

 

On the same page

 

Rodgers hasn’t played much during the past few preseasons: one series for a total of seven plays last summer and 26 snaps the previous two years.

 

That might change this August.

 

How else will Rodgers and LaFleur get on the same page?

 

“I don’t see everything, but just from what I have seen, it seems like they’re working to get on that same page,” receiver Davante Adams said. “It’s been pretty good as far as what I’ve seen in meeting rooms and team meetings or whatever it is, just how they communicate with one another. Matt is really open, so it helps with a guy like Aaron, who obviously has been doing things a certain way for a really long time. So it helps with us being able to carry over some things the way we did before. That’s a big thing — just being open and communicating. That’s two things that he preaches a lot.”

 

If it’s trust Rodgers values from a coach, what do LaFleur and his staff need from their quarterback?

 

“I expect him to be an extension of the coaching staff,” LaFleur said. “I expect him to be a leader, to communicate and be the commander out on that field, and I think he’s demonstrated a really good job of that. It’s hard to learn a whole offense in an offseason, to have the ownership that you’re looking for, but I think he’s got a really solid foundation.”

 

Said Hackett: “As much as possible, you want the quarterback, when he’s out on that field, you want him to be able to anticipate the call before the call has even come in. I think that’s huge. … I think right now, just watching those two guys get on the same page is so critical. We want to be sure that Matt and Aaron, more than anybody, they’re thinking the exact same way.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Is RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT going to get off with this apology – or is it a precursor to action from The Commish and NFL Justice?

 

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott issued a statement about his meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, saying he had made a poor decision in Las Vegas and needs to work harder to not put himself in such situations.

 

Elliott was briefly detained but not arrested in Las Vegas in May when a security guard fell to the ground after being bumped by the running back.

 

Elliott was seen on video having an argument with his girlfriend when he turned his attention to the security guard.

 

In his statement, which he posted on social media, Elliott said, “Earlier today, I met with the Commissioner to share with him what occurred in Las Vegas and what I have learned from that incident. I’ve worked hard to make better decisions and to live up to the high standards that are expected of me. I failed to do that here and I made a poor decision.

 

“I apologized to [security guard] Kyle Johnson at the time and I meant it.

 

“I need to work harder to ensure I do not put myself in compromised situations in the future. I am rededicating myself to use all of the resources that the league has made available. But in the end, it is up to me and I am determined not to be in this position again.”

 

Elliott is subject to a fine or suspension under the league’s personal conduct policy, which does not require an arrest or conviction for a player to be penalized.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com tries to read the tea leaves:

 

(Elliott) issued a statement after meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell that seemed, frankly, a bit ominous.

 

Still, as with Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, no one knows what Roger Goodell will do. And anyone who tries to predict what Goodell will do is doing just that — predicting.

 

A pair of NFL Media reporters have offered their own predictions in the aftermath of Elliott’s meeting with the man who suspended Elliott two years ago. Mike Garafolo says there’s “optimism” the Elliott will avoid a suspension for his interaction with a 19-year-old security guard at a Las Vegas music festival. Jane Slater reports, citing an unnamed source with knowledge of the situation, that “they’re confident there won’t be a suspension for Ezekiel Elliott.” Unless the “they” is Roger Goodell or his inner circle, they could be as wrong as they were two years ago, when they were confident Elliott wouldn’t be suspended the first time, and that after he was he’d successfully avoid it in court.

 

Regardless of any optimism or confidence, only one man knows what the outcome will be, and that one man said enough to Elliott today to spark a social-media mea culpa suggesting the kind of contrition that comes only after someone has had the fear of Go(o)d(ell) placed into him.

 

It’s important to remember that Elliott already has been suspended for a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy. This makes him a “repeat offender” in the eyes of the policy, and the policy plainly states that “[r]epeat offenders will be subject to enhanced and/or expedited discipline, including banishment from the league with an opportunity to reapply.”

 

So unless the NFL Media employees are getting their information from the guy who signs their paychecks, it’s impossible to know what said paycheck-signing guy will be doing when it comes to whether Elliott will be forfeiting one or more of his own paychecks during the 2019 season. Soon enough, we’ll all know what Goodell has decided to do.

 

The DB will throw out a one-game suspension as our guess – bargained down from more by the apology.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Not a good sign for the finances of RB ADRIAN PETERSON.  ESPN.com:

 

Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson has been ordered to pay nearly $2.4 million to a lending service after he defaulted on a loan, according to court records reviewed by the Baltimore Business Journal.

 

Democracy Capital Corp. of Bethesda, Maryland, sued Peterson in June claiming that he didn’t pay the balance of a $4 million loan he took out in April 2016.

 

According to court documents, the loan carried a 15% interest rate, but when Peterson did not make the first repayment of $200,000, that number jumped to 23%.

 

The loan was due in February 2108 and was not repaid, but the company did receive a $1.65 million payment in July of that year after properties in Rhode Island that were used as collateral were sold. Another payment of $50,000 was made in December 2018.

 

Judge Richard S. Bernhardt ordered Peterson to pay $2.4 million on June 12. The sum includes legal fees and interest.

 

Peterson, a seven-time Pro Bowler, resurrected his career last season with 1,024 rushing yards after two injury-plagued campaigns that saw him go from the Vikings to the Cardinals to the Saints.

 

He has earned more than $99 million in his 12-year NFL career.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Matt Bowen of ESPN.com has a huge opus on the concept of play action in the NFL, giving out a bunch of awards.  You can read them all here.

 

The Rams show up in quite a few of the listings, including the main award:

 

TEAMS

The best play-action team overall

 

Los Angeles Rams

Stat to know: The Rams led the league last season with 124.5 passing yards per game off play-action concepts.

 

What makes the Rams the best: In Sean McVay’s system, L.A. can marry the outside zone run game, screen package and play-action concepts out of its 11 personnel grouping (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) with wide receivers in reduced sets. This means the Rams can lean on the run action while using pre- and post-snap misdirection to create open-window throws for quarterback Jared Goff — and an open field for running back Todd Gurley in the screen game. And it all looks the same to a defender. McVay makes it tough to stop.

 

Runner-up: New England Patriots

 

The best zone play-action team

 

Los Angeles Rams

Stat to know: The Rams led the NFL with 6.9 first downs per game off play-action concepts. As we discussed above, Sean McVay’s play-action system is tied into the zone run game. For a better look, check out the video below from NFL Matchup to see how the Rams can open throwing windows inside the numbers for Jared Goff to pack the stat sheet.

 

@NFLMatchup

 The @RamsNFL offense is built to put defenders in conflict with plays designed to initially look alike and work off each other.

 

Runner-up: San Francisco 49ers

 

The coolest play-action concept I saw in 2018

 

Los Angeles Rams’ throwback wheel

What makes them so good: Remember that Vikings-Rams game on Thursday in Week 4? Jared Goff hit Cooper Kupp for a sweet, 70-yard score in the second quarter. The concept? The same outside zone action the Rams always run, with McVay running off the cornerback and safety to the play side. With Kupp releasing underneath to run the throwback wheel, however, the Rams got the matchup they wanted: a wide receiver versus a linebacker. And Goff threw a dime.

 

The best rhythm play-action QB

 

Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

Stat to know: Goff led the NFL with 204 pass attempts and 15 touchdowns off play-action concepts in 2018.

 

What to look for in 2019: Goff played lights-out in the play-action game last season outside of two matchups: the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots and the Week 14 defeat in Chicago. I want to see how Goff, McVay and the Rams adjust to the film from those two games being passed around the league this offseason. What’s the answer for the split- safety coverages that can take away the frontside skinny post, backside dig and post-cross concept? I’m betting McVay has the answers that allow Goff to get to the top of the drop and rip the ball — on rhythm — to a clean window.

 

Runner-up: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings. Cousins completed 78.5% of his play-action throws in 2018 (No. 2 in the NFL), with eight touchdown passes and a QBR of 86.9. Those are top-tier numbers, and the Vikings’ play-action system should expand even more under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.

 

The best QB-WR/TE play-action combo

 

Jared Goff to Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams

Stat to know: Cooks and Woods combined for 55 receptions and six touchdowns off play-action throws from Goff a year ago.

 

What to look for in 2019: Cooper Kupp can be added to the mix here, as he caught 17 play-action targets in just eight games last season. That speaks to the Rams’ aggressive approach on early downs out of 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). They led the NFL with 959 snaps out of 11 personnel last season, almost 200 more than the second-ranked team (Packers with 776). Yes, Sean McVay will have to make adjustments after the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, but that system can create productive situations for Goff and the Rams’ top three wideouts off the run action.

 

Runner-up: Carson Wentz to Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles. In 2018, Wentz ranked seventh overall on play-action QBR (82.8). When he’s on the field, Wentz is a top-10 quarterback. The system under Doug Pederson will continue to put both Wentz and Ertz — the league’s best route runner at tight end — in winning matchups.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Will the Ravens continue to run a minimalist passing offense in 2019?  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When then-rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson got a chance to turn cameo appearances into full-time starting, the Ravens threw the NFL a curveball, turning the offense into a run-heavy attack.

 

Jackson’s first start included a whopping 26 rushing attempts. (In contrast, Joe Flacco had 19 total rushing attempts in his nine 2018 starts.) Through seven 2019 starts, six of which the Ravens won, Jackson ran the ball 119 times — an average of 17 per game. He also gained 556 yards on the ground in those seven starts.

 

The success of both Jackson and the team has created the impression that the Ravens will do more of the same in 2019. But the Ravens have done a nice job of clouding the issue, from swapping out Marty Mornhinweg for Greg Roman at offensive coordinator to adding a pair of fleet-footed receivers in the draft (after being unable to attract any quality wideouts in free agency) to making it clear via owner Steve Bisciotti that Jackson won’t run the ball 20 times per game to strongly hinting via G.M. Eric DeCosta that a far more diverse attack will be used to, most recently, the vow from backup quarterback Robert Griffin III that the new offense will “shock some people.”

 

It’s still not clear what the Ravens will do, and that’s good news for the Ravens. Whether it’s the Dolphins in Week One or the Cardinals in Week Two or come Week Three a rematch of an epic 2018 regular-season battle in Kansas City with the Chiefs, those early-season foes may be on their heels as they try to figure out whether the pre-snap looks are hinting at a run or a pass.

 

Until the Ravens tip their hands by generating several games of film, opposing defenses would be wise to look at 49ers games played with Roman as the offensive coordinator. The Ravens in turn would be wise to use some of those 49ers games as the basis for making what once was a pass into a run, and vice versa.

 

However it turns out, the fact that no one quite knows what the Ravens precisely will be doing on offense is a bonus for Baltimore. It becomes a bigger bonus if Jackson, who ran the ball last year nearly as well as he did at Louisville, can begin throwing the ball like he did in college.

 

Through it all, the overriding goal should be ensuring that Jackson doesn’t run the ball so much that he gets injured. In the NFL, that’s the biggest reason why teams choose to avoid putting their quarterbacks at risk by repeatedly subjecting him to the kinds of hits that usually only running backs absorb.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on the lack of loyalty Browns players felt towards departed coach Hue Jackson.

 

Quarterback Baker Mayfield was the Browns player most visibly upset with Hue Jackson after Jackson was fired as the team’s coach last season and went to work for the Bengals, but he wasn’t alone in harboring bad feelings about the former coach.

 

Tight end David Njoku was a guest on The Rich Eisen Show Tuesday and was asked whether Mayfield’s slam of Jackson following a game against the Bengals last season was a case of the quarterback speaking for the entire locker room.

 

“Well, obviously we weren’t happy with what Hue said about us after he left. It is what it is,” Njoku said. “Baker didn’t appreciate it. We came together after Hue left and took it upon ourselves to work extra hard to finish the year strong. . . . Baker has a voice, as we all do, and he didn’t appreciate what happened. It’s not like we’re robots. We felt, in a way, disrespected. It is what it is.”

 

The Browns responded well after Jackson was fired, but the same kind of in-season motivational boost isn’t expected this year. They’ll need to find something, though, because coming close to a winning record this year won’t be seen as the same kind of accomplishment.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com says that WR TAYWAN TAYLOR is name to remember with the Titans:

 

The biggest storyline for the Titans heading into the 2019 season is whether quarterback Marcus Mariota will show enough in his fifth season to earn a new contract with the team.

 

The play of the wide receivers will have something to do with the final analysis of Mariota’s work this season and wide receivers coach Rob Moore has his eye on giving Taywan Taylor a chance to help Mariota out. Taylor had 37 catches for 466 yards and a touchdown and Moore believes the team hasn’t looked his way often enough.

 

“I think Tay has done a solid job for us,” Moore said, via the team’s website. “Honestly, I just think we need to give him more opportunities. Give him more opportunities to showcase what he can do and I think he’ll take advantage of his opportunities.”

 

More opportunities for Taylor will come at the expense of chances for other wideouts. Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, A.J. Brown and Tajae Sharpe are also on the roster so it should be a competitive atmosphere when they get to camp this summer.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAEP AND BETSY

With a daily stream of tweets, proclamations and interviews, Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D – New York) has frantically been seeking the title of Person Most Annoying to Traditional Americans.

 

And then, with a barely heard whisper in Nike’s ear, Colin Kaepernick steals her thunder.

 

ESPN with the nuts and bolts of the controversy about the Betsy Ross flag:

 

Nike struck down a plan to release a shoe featuring the original version of the U.S. flag this week at the request of Colin Kaepernick, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

 

The shoe, the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July, featured a logo of the original U.S. flag, the design of which by popular lore is credited to Betsy Ross, with 13 stars in a circle.

 

The Journal reports that Kaepernick told Nike it shouldn’t use that version of the flag, as he and others consider it an offensive symbol due to its connection to a time when slavery was legal.

 

In a statement, Nike said it chose not to release the shoe “as it featured an old version of the American flag.”

 

Nike released a second statement later Tuesday, saying, “We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services. NIKE made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.

 

“Nike is a company proud of its American heritage and our continuing engagement supporting thousands of American athletes including the US Olympic team and US Soccer teams. We already employ 35,000 people in the U.S. and remain committed to creating jobs in the U.S., including a significant investment in an additional manufacturing center which will create 500 new jobs.”

 

Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. He was the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback at the time; he has not played in the NFL since opting out of his contract after that season.

 

A Nike-sponsored athlete since 2011, Kaepernick was featured in a new ad campaign at the start of the 2018 NFL season.

 

Nike still offers the Air Max 1 in red, white and blue, saying the shoe “updates the legendary design with patriotic colors.”

 

According to the Journal, Nike asked retailers to send back the shoes with the U.S. flag on them.

 

So far, no human being – either Kaepernick or a Nike representative has actually shown their face to explain the decision and answer questions. 

 

So rather than “unintentionally” offend Kaepernick and his kind, Nike has chosen to intentionally offend those who thought the idea that the 13 colonies throwing off the yokes of a big government/tax-heavy tyrant was a good thing.  And to tarnish the name of a feminist hero of early America, the heroic Betsy Ross, whose work may or may not have been appropriated by shadowy white supremists.

 

More from the AP:

 

Nike’s sales have only grown since it seized attention with its ad campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. So, the shoemaker deferred to its star endorser when he raised concerns over a sneaker featuring an early American flag.

 

Nike pulled the Air Max 1 USA shoe, which included a Revolutionary-era U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle on the heel. Kaepernick reached out to Nike after learning they planned to release the sneaker to explain that the flag recalls an era when black people were enslaved and that it has been appropriated by white nationalist groups, a person familiar with the conversation told The Associated Press.

 

The person requested not to be named because the conversation was intended to be private.

 

Nike decided to recall the shoe after it had been already sent to retailers to go on sale this week for the July Fourth holiday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

 

The decision caused an instant backlash among conservatives who accused Nike of denigrating U.S. history, with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey tweeting that he is asking the state’s Commerce Authority to withdraw financial incentives promised to Nike to build a plant in the state.

 

Others expressed surprise that the symbol known as the “Betsy Ross” flag, so named after the beloved Philadelphia woman credited with designing it, could be considered offensive. Although some extremist groups appear to have appropriated the flag, it is not widely viewed as a symbol of hate, and is used in museums that focus on 18th century U.S. history.

 

The Anti-Defamation League does not include it in its database of hate symbols. Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow for the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said extremist groups have occasionally used it, but the flag is most commonly used by people for patriotic purposes.

 

“We view it as essentially an innocuous historical flag,” Pitcavage said. “It’s not a thing in the white supremacist movement.”

 

Nike said in statement that “it pulled the shoe based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.” The company pushed back against criticism that the decision was being “anti-American.”

 

“Nike is a company proud of its American heritage and our continuing engagement supporting thousands of American athletes including the U.S. Olympic team and U.S. Soccer teams,” Nike said.

 

Nike is showing consistency by listening to Kaepernick, the star of the brand’s “Just Do It” campaign last year that ultimately proved a win for the company, said Chris Allieri, founder of New York public relations firm Mulberry & Astor.

 

“Listening to somebody that has helped the brand in so many countless ways, it makes sense. It would be completely hypocritical for them not to listen to him,” Allieri said.

 

Kaepernick was the first NFL athlete to take a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Some people called for boycotts after Nike featured him in a campaign last year that included a print ad featuring a close-up of his face and the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

 

The boycott calls fizzled.

 

Nike’s annual sales have jumped 7% to more than $39 billion, according to the company’s last quarterly report. Its stock is up 12% since the start of the year. And Nike CEO Mark Parker has said the Kaepernick campaign inspired “record engagement with the brand,” an important goal for a company trying to strengthen its direct-to-consumer business.

 

Because the Betsy Ross flag is not widely considered a racist image, it’s difficult to judge whether Nike should have designed the shoe in the first place.

 

“Can a brand be expected to know everything possible that could be offensive? That’s probably tough, but that’s why you have to have inclusive teams,” Allieri said.

 

While some took to Twitter to thank Nike and Kaepernick for yanking the sneaker, several Republican politicians were quick to condemn the company.

 

“If we are in a political environment where the American flag has become controversial to Americans, I think we have a problem,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell.

 

Ducey ordered Arizona to withdraw a grant of up to $1 million that was slated for Nike, said Susan Marie, executive vice president of the Arizona Commerce Authority, which administers the grant. But the governor has no authority over more than $2 million in tax breaks over five years that were approved Monday by the City Council in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear, where Nike committed to opening a $185 million factory that would employ more than 500 people.

 

Nike is unlikely to suffer financially over the flag flap, said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at NPD Group Inc.

 

“I’m sure there are plenty of states out there that would love to have a Nike factory that would employ 500 people,” Powell said. “Today’s consumers really want brands to be vocal on social issues, especially the younger consumers. This very much aligns with the social position of their core consumers.”

 

Indeed, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham responded to Ducey’s tweet with her own: “Hey @Nike, Let’s talk.”

 

The abandoned shoe sparked a discussion on social media and beyond about the Betsy Ross flag itself.

 

In 2016, a Michigan chapter of the NAACP said the flag has been “appropriated by the so-called ‘Patriot Movement’ and other militia groups who are responding to America’s increasing diversity with opposition and racial supremacy.” The statement came in response to a high school football event where the NAACP said some white students used the flag while attempting to intimidate players from a predominantly black school.

 

The Anti-Defamation League says “Patriot movement” describes groups that include militias and others who have adopted anti-government conspiracy theories. The ADL says there is some overlap between the “Patriot” movement and the white supremacist movement, but that overlap has shrunk over time.

 

Lisa Moulder, director of the Betsy Ross House in Philadephia, said she has never heard of the flag being used as a hate symbol.

 

“Personally, I’ve always seen it as a representation of early America,” Moulder said. “The young nation was not perfect, and it is still not perfect.”

 

Obviously, until Nike and Kaep pointed it out, very, very, very, very few people even knew that “white supremists” had done to the Betsy Ross flag what they are alleged to have done to the OK sign. 

 

Asche Show at the Daily Wire:

 

In an article about athletic company Nike’s decision to pull a line of sneakers featuring the original U.S. flag — designed by Betsy Ross — Buzzfeed News attempted to tie the flag design to white supremacists. Because, of course.

 

The sub-headline for the article reads: “Some white nationalists have adopted the historic flag.”

 

So, what’s the outlet’s evidence that the flag has been adopted by white nationalists? Here it is:

 

In recent years the flag has also been used for political purposes, including by some white nationalists.

 

A 2018 story by The Outline noted the flag was on display in the home of a member of white nationalist group Identity Evropa.

 

In 2016, students at a high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, displayed the Betsy Ross flag along with a Trump campaign flag. The students’ school superintendent later apologized to parents.

 

That’s their evidence. A single instance of the flag appearing in the home of someone who belongs to a white nationalist group and a school that dared to display the flag next to President Donald Trump’s campaign flag. That’s it. Obviously, the belief by anti-Trump people that Trump is a white nationalist means anything displayed near his campaign merchandise is also a symbol of white nationalism — none of which is true.

 

On Twitter, The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross wrote that media outlets trying to tie the Betsy Ross-created flag to white nationalism gives white nationalists an incredible amount of power.

 

“So we all have to cancel something because some extremist groups have started using it? Or how about we not give extremist groups that much power. These people are insane,” he tweeted.

 

Ross also noted that making this claim about our country’s original flag will “further and further” marginalize it “so that indeed only white nationalists and people like that will display it.”

 

“Self-fulfilling prophecy,” he added.

 

The media has done this before. In 2016, outlets linked the popular “Pepe the Frog” meme to white nationalists, even though most people had never seen the meme used in such a way. Rather quickly, the meme disappeared from most forums except for those using it for racist purposes. Now the media can claim it was right about the meme all along, even though they caused the situation.

 

The same thing has happened to the “OK” hand signal. Some white nationalists or alt-right people used it, and now anyone who uses it to mean “OK” (or playing the “circle game”) gets shamed as racist, so the symbol is disappearing from the mainstream.

 

Beyond the lame attempts to tie the Betsy Ross flag to today’s white nationalists, the “woke” outcry over the flag — that it should be cut from history because it was created when slavery was legal — may be just as absurd. Today’s outraged liberals are literally trying to cancel history because it isn’t woke enough.

 

On Instagram, people complained that the flag was racist. “I wasn’t free yet,” one commenter said regarding the time period in which the flag flew. Others suggested Nike’s next sneakers would feature the Confederate flag.

 

 

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com with a look at what is to come.

 

The important thing to know about the current state of collective bargaining talks between the NFL and its players union is that the sides are, in fact, talking. This is a big deal because if you go back 10 years, to the tail end of the previous CBA, they weren’t. The owners had decided to opt out of the deal and lock out the players after 2010 in an effort to swing the revenue split back in their favor. They did just that.

 

This time around, with two full seasons left to play before the CBA ends, the two sides have already begun talking and are scheduled to ramp up talks this summer. There’s even some motivation to get the new deal done before the 2019 season starts, which would head off any chance of an ugly work stoppage and allow the league to lean hard into its “NFL 100” marketing campaign and renegotiate its TV deals in peace.

 

That all sounds great, but it’s not likely to be that simple, right? This is a complex negotiation with pitfalls, impasses and points of agreement, the specifics of which no one can foresee from this side of it. Collective bargaining, for the vast majority of you who’ve had no direct experience with it, is not a cut-and-dried series of issue-for-issue concessions. To some extent, everything has a price. And if you’re, say, the NFLPA, and a couple of months from now you find out that one of the owners’ main priorities is a thing you didn’t expect, that might change your mind about a thing on which you didn’t expect to compromise. It would be a mistake to enter a negotiation such as this with a single make-or-break issue in mind, and the experienced negotiators involved here understand that.

 

With all of that in mind and with full knowledge that there’s a long way to go on this and we don’t know on which issues the major compromises will eventually be made, let’s look at some of the main issues around which these CBA talks could revolve. Think of it as a handy guide for following the talks to come. It would be our pleasure if you’d keep it bookmarked and refer to it as necessary over the coming months.

 

The two macro categories into which these issues fall are pretty simple: economic and non-economic. They’ve been dealt with separately in talks so far — both in talks between players and owners and in talks between staffers for both sides. The NFLPA has asserted publicly that it isn’t interested in conceding on economic issues, so that’s worth remembering as we begin with the economic ones.

 

The revenue split

The current CBA provides that the players’ share of revenue average at least 47% of all league revenue over the 10-year life of the deal. It is here that the NFLPA takes some of its most significant criticism over the 2011 deal because the main top-line success of the owners’ lockout strategy was to reduce the players’ share from where it was in the 2006 deal. In that deal, players got 60% of league revenue, but the NFLPA would point out that this is not an apples-to-apples comparison because under the previous agreement, the players got a share of net revenue (meaning after the owners took money off the top), while the current one grants the players a share of the gross revenue and gives the players more say in how much the owners take off the top, when and for what purpose.

 

Regardless, you can expect the players’ side to push for an increase in the players’ share of gross revenue in the next deal. This is as simple a principle as you’re likely to encounter in the coverage of the negotiations. The players would like to get more of the money the league generates, and the owners would like to keep it the way it is.

 

The takeaway: Odds are there will be some (or several) financial concessions made on one side or the other that affect the final resolution here, and one of the biggest from the owners’ side is the one we’ll deal with in the next section.

 

Stadium credits

Historically, the CBA has provided NFL owners the ability to take money off the top of the revenue pile, before splitting it with players, to use for new stadium construction or stadium renovations. The owners effectively ran out of that money during the first half of the current deal; at this point, they would be unable to take out more stadium credits without pushing the players’ share of gross revenue under 47%, which isn’t allowed. This is seen by many connected with the talks as the main reason the owners are interested in doing a new deal as soon as possible — they need money to help with stadium projects in places such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Carolina, Washington and even Los Angeles, where Rams owner Stan Kroenke would likely enjoy a bit of league-sponsored help with his project.

 

If stadium credits are, indeed, the owners’ main motivation for doing a deal soon, then they are the fulcrum for most, if not all, of the economic issues in this eventual agreement. The NFLPA will be open to the idea of fresh stadium credits, but it will also want to establish a price for them. Just to throw out some random numbers: If, for example, the owners upped the players’ revenue share to 53% but were allowed to use as much as 3% for stadium credits, that would get the players’ minimum revenue share up to 50% and likely would be a palatable deal for them.

 

Apart from the raw numbers, it’ll be important to remember that the players probably won’t want to give back on some of the controls the 2011 deal established on the owners’ ability to take out money for stadium costs. The current stadium credit rules require the owners to earmark the money for specific uses and show a minimum return on the investment. Union executive director DeMaurice Smith suggested in an interview with ESPN last summer that the players could seek, if the owners want to take stadium costs out of the players’ end, to have a say in where and how those stadiums are built. That might be far-fetched, but it goes to show how the players feel about the stadium credit issue: They know it’s important to the owners and think it’s ground on which they might be able to secure other financial concessions.

 

The takeaway: The extent to which the owners are willing to concede on other issues will tell you how important the stadium credit issue is to them. The feeling is that it’s paramount. The players likely will agree to a new round of stadium credits, but in return, they should be able to make gains on other issues such as those outlined below.

 

The franchise tag, fifth-year option and fully funded rule

The surprisingly commonly held notion that the players could somehow secure fully guaranteed contracts as a condition of the next CBA is rooted in fantasy. Nothing in the NFL’s CBA prohibits fully guaranteed deals, just as nothing in the CBAs for the NBA or MLB requires them. Fully guaranteed deals became the accepted norm in those sports because, over time, players and agents insisted that they would not sign without them.

 

To this point, the only veteran NFL player who has secured a fully guaranteed deal is Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, who have negotiated extensions since, have declined to push the issue far enough to secure full guarantees, and until such players do, it’s hard to imagine NFL deals looking anything like those in the NBA or MLB anytime soon.

 

That said, the NFLPA this offseason has sought and received feedback from players and agents on possible changes to the game’s economic structure that could help them negotiate more favorable deals. The salary cap itself is the biggest restriction on player earning power, but the players don’t believe the owners will consider a conversation about eliminating that, so the attention turns to other salary-restricting mechanisms such as the franchise tag, the fifth-year option on first-round rookie contracts and the league’s antiquated “fully funded rule.”

 

Of those three, the fully funded rule is probably the one the players would have the best chance to completely eliminate because there’s no modern reason for it to exist. The rule requires teams to hold in escrow any portion of a player’s contract that is fully guaranteed. For instance, when Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million contract that paid him $25.5 million in the first year, the Vikings had to deposit the remaining $58.5 million into an account to ensure that they’d be able to pay the guarantees.

 

This rule is used by teams as a common excuse when they tell agents that they can’t guarantee more money, but it’s ridiculous. It’s a holdover from four or five decades ago, when the league wasn’t as financially healthy as it is now and there was a legitimate chance that teams might not be able to make their payrolls. Obviously, with league revenues hovering in the $15 billion-per-year range and teams being sold for more than $2 billion, this is no longer a concern, and as a result, players and agents would like to see the rule (and, therefore, the excuse) abolished.

 

The owners like the franchise tag, which allows each of them to hold one player per year off the free-agent market, and aren’t interested in making it go away. But the union could seek alterations to the way the tag is applied, the cost of applying it and other means of discouraging teams from leaning on it.

 

Same with the fifth-year option, which allows teams to keep their first-round picks off the market (and delay the use of the franchise tag on them) for a year after their four-year rookie deals expire. Rookie compensation was a major priority for the owners 10 years ago, and as a result, the CBA includes a rookie wage scale that limits salaries at the top of the draft and the fifth-year option system that further delays the major payday for first-round picks. If you’re looking for places where the players might seek financial concessions from the owners in exchange for something such as stadium credits, this is where they might find some solutions.

 

The takeaway: The best way to combat the tyranny of the franchise tag would be to get the owners to agree to shorten the length of rookie contracts and allow players to hit free agency sooner. (Patrick Mahomes wouldn’t mind being franchised this year or next, for example, but in Year 6?) I don’t think that will happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the fully funded rule abolished, the franchise tag position designations altered and the price of using it — especially more than once — to increase.

 

An 18-game regular season

This seems like it was legislated (and discarded) years ago, but sources say it has indeed come up in some of the early discussions this time around.

 

Some owners remain in favor of expanding the season from 16 games to 18, eliminating two preseason games in the process. At this point, the issue remains a nonstarter for the players, whose research tells them that an 18-game season would reduce the average career length from 3.4 years to 2.8 (no small drop-off, given that three years is the point at which players become vested in post-career pension and benefits plans) and would add only about $10 million in revenue per team per season.

 

But we add this here as an example of a fringe issue that could, conceivably, come into play if something unforeseen were to change. There’s a price for everything, right? If the owners wanted an 18-game season badly enough to offer players, say, 70% of the revenue pot, the players would have to listen. But it’s extremely unlikely that the sides find common ground on this issue.

 

The takeaway: No chance this happens.

 

Lifetime health care for players and their families

This is a perfect example of an issue that seems easier than it is. The concept of lifetime health care is one that every player would support in theory, and some have already been vocal about their support. But there are a couple of issues that make it an unlikely goal.

 

First of all, a lifetime health care policy would not cover workplace injuries, which would be the primary reason a former NFL player would need health care. If you need a knee replacement at age 45 for an injury you suffered playing football when you were 30, that’s going to require a successful workers’ compensation claim.

 

The NFLPA routinely encourages players to file workers’ comp claims on any injury they suffer, minor or major. But many players don’t file, in part because of fear that the team (as many employers do, across many industries) would contest it. Every NFL team gets a salary-cap credit out of the overall revenue pool to cover its workers’ comp insurance, but the problem is every team gets the same amount, despite the fact that the laws governing workers’ comp claims differ from state to state.

 

While the credits the teams get ostensibly make it easier for players to collect on these claims, in practice it doesn’t work that way. Let’s simplify and say, for example, that the Browns and Bengals pay $1 million a year in workers’ comp insurance because the workers’ comp laws in Ohio are more favorable to employers, but the 49ers, Raiders, Chargers and Rams pay $4 million a year in workers’ comp insurance because the laws in California are more favorable to workers. This means the credit, which is a flat number, doesn’t help the California teams as much as it helps the Ohio teams, making the California teams more likely to contest a claim.

 

During the 2011 CBA negotiations, the NFLPA proposed a new system that would allocate the workers’ comp credits proportionally, instead of as a flat rate, which means the teams with higher insurance costs would get more than the teams with lower insurance costs. But the measure failed because (surprise!) the teams in states with lower insurance costs wouldn’t approve it. Then things got really ugly, as teams in California, Louisiana and other places lobbied legislatures to pass laws that would make it difficult for pro athletes to qualify for workers’ comp. You might remember Drew Brees lending his name to the opposition to such a law in Louisiana.

 

Even if players could secure “lifetime health care” for themselves and their dependents, that wouldn’t solve their biggest problem, which is care for health issues resulting from workplace injuries. What the union tells its members at this point is that the Affordable Care Act has made it far easier for people with preexisting conditions to obtain health care, so it pushes former players toward the ACA as a solution to this problem.

 

As for non-injury lifetime health care, the NFLPA says it did the research into the potential cost and found it prohibitive. One NFLPA source said the union went to “four or five” different major health care providers, and only one of them was willing to do the actuarial work and offer an estimate. The estimated cost of lifetime health care for players and their families was between $1.5 billion and $2 billion per year. Carving that amount out of the players’ share of revenue under the current CBA, the union estimates that the players’ share would effectively drop from its level of about 47% to about 43%. That’s a heavy cost at a time when the players are interesting in increasing their proportional share of league revenues.

 

Would it be worth it? Probably not. If the union’s research into former players is accurate, the majority of former NFL players will end up finding another job and getting health care through that. The current CBA offers players and their families five years of post-career health care designed as a bridge to that theoretical next job, and the NFLPA says it encourages those who don’t find post-career employment to sign up for health care under the ACA.

 

The upshot on lifetime health care as a CBA issue is that it sounds great, but when push comes to shove, it might not end up being worth the cost.

 

The takeaway: It doesn’t sound like the NFLPA thinks this is a place it needs to push. Don’t expect this to happen.

 

The drug policy

This is one of the non-economic issues on which there should be some optimism for significant change. The recent joint announcement by the NFL and NFLPA about new mental health programs indicate that the two sides are working together on issues regarding players’ long-term health and well-being, and potential changes to the drug policy could continue to demonstrate that.

 

Take, for example, marijuana. There seems to be strong feeling on both sides that the current punishments on the CBA books for marijuana violations are extreme and outdated, and some on the owners’ side have even suggested eliminating marijuana testing altogether. The two sides are exploring the best way to address this issue, including adopting something like the NHL model, which tests players for marijuana but does not punish them for using it. The idea there would be to use the marijuana testing as a diagnostic tool to identify players who might be using the drug to mask an injury or deal with some off-field issue with which they could use more help (perhaps under the new mental health initiatives).

 

Again, it’s important to remember that it’s unlikely that the players would accept an owner concession on a non-economic issue such as marijuana in exchange for a financial concession. But part of these talks will involve improvements to the league’s drug policy, and it appears that both sides are willing to discuss ways to make it better.

 

The takeaway: Expect the penalty for marijuana use to be significantly smaller, if not completely eliminated, under the new deal.

 

Commissioner’s discipline power

There have been complaints from players for years over the fact that commissioner Roger Goodell has complete control over player discipline, and those complaints have grown more intense since the league established the personal conduct policy in 2014 without a collective-bargaining negotiation with the union. It’s unlikely that the players can get the league to scrap that personal conduct policy and replace it with a collectively bargained one as part of this agreement, but some people close to the talks believe that Goodell is at least willing to engage in a discussion with the union about neutral arbitration for discipline matters. Again, everything has a price, and if the NFLPA is willing to concede something on an issue of importance to the owners, it’s possible that this agreement could see a change to the way discipline is administered.

 

The takeaway: Historically, the union hasn’t made this a high-priority item because a very small percentage of players run into discipline issues at some point in their careers, and the union would rather fight on issues that affect all players. But because of the high profile of some of these cases — and the belief among players that if Tom Brady could get burned by this system, anyone can — it’s an issue on which I expect the NFLPA to seek a change. I also think they can get one — again, depending on the cost in terms of concessions. I never understood why Goodell wanted to do that part of the job anyway, and I wouldn’t blame him if he were tired of it.

 

Player health and safety

The players’ big victory in the most recent CBA was securing a reduction in offseason work requirements, significantly reducing the amount of time they are required to be at the team facility. This has become a bone of contention with coaches and fans who complain about players exercising their rights to stay away when they don’t have to be there, and owners have heard those complaints from their coaches.

 

It’s certainly possible that owners could seek, on behalf of their coaches, to roll back some of the gains the players made on this issue the last time. But considering the financial significance of some of the other issues, it’s hard to imagine them fighting that hard for it. It’s even harder to imagine the players giving back on the gains they made in this area. Some have floated the idea of relaxing rules that limit contact between coaches and first-year players, and it’s possible you could see some tweaks such as that, but there aren’t likely to be major rollbacks of offseason rules.

 

Otherwise, the NFLPA will continue to press on issues that it has been pressing on during the agreement, such as the concussion protocol, holding teams accountable for violating the aforementioned offseason work rules and upholding standards on issues such as field conditions, which came into play this past season when the planned Mexico City game between the Chiefs and the Rams had to be moved to Los Angeles.

 

The takeaway: Don’t be surprised if the NFLPA pushes for — and gets — specific punishments established for teams that violate the concussion protocol and offseason workout rules. These issues have been amended via joint agreement during the life of the current deal, and they could end up being legislated officially in this one.

 

Former player benefits

This is another area in which the NFLPA claims some degree of victory in the 2011 negotiations, as the CBA established a “Legacy Fund” to which team owners make contributions. The fund benefits more than 4,700 former players who were vested in the league’s pension program prior to 1993.

 

Sources on the NFLPA end of the talks say they expect to try to build on that and push for further improvements to former player benefits in the next deal.

 

The takeaway: If the owners were willing to contribute here last time, there’s no reason they won’t be again. This is an issue on which both sides can come out looking good.

 

 

40 YARDS OF WHAT

The DB thought the payouts for the 40 Yards of Gold race far exceeded the event’s value.  Signs that could be true from Mike Florio:

 

The large novelty check that 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin received for winning the “40 yards of gold” competition isn’t worth the cardboard it’s printed on. At least not until Friday.

 

Daniel Kaplan of TheAthletic.com reports that event organizers have instructed competitors not to try to cash their checks until Friday, July 5.

 

“In regards to the tweets about payouts, everyone received their checks,” co-organizer Charles Stewart told Kaplan via email. “We instructed them that they would be able to cash it by Friday.”

 

Per Kaplan, Stewart didn’t explain the reason for the delay, and Stewart wouldn’t confirm whether the total prize money of $2 million hinges on money made via the $39.95 pay-per-view earnings.

 

An unnamed agent who represents one of the competitors expressed concern to Kaplan regarding the six-day delay between the event and payment, calling it a “complete joke.”

 

“I have been suspicious this whole time, but that’s a lot of money to pay out for a first-time event,” the unnamed agent told Kaplan.

 

Event organizers consistently have claimed that they have an investor, but they consistently have denied to name the investor. (Maybe they also were advised to not cash the check from the investor until Friday.)

 

Whatever the reason, and even if the money is indeed paid on Friday (or ever), it’s the latest misstep for an event that (in my opinion) hasn’t been marketed or otherwise handled in an optimal way. For example, Stewart has flat-out refused to acknowledge that “40 yards of gold” isn’t the first event of its kind — even though NBC televised the NFL Fastest Man competition 11 times, with Hall of Famer Darrell Green winning the thing on four different occasions.

 

“It’s not his idea,” Stewart told John Ourand of Sports Business Journal regarding Bob Basche, who conceived the NFL Fastest Man competition. “I never even saw his event. . . . I’m not acknowledging anything he did. Whatever he did was whatever he did in his time. I wasn’t watching. I don’t know what he did.”

 

I don’t know what Stewart gains from having such a gratuitously combative attitude toward an event that no longer exists. It would have cost nothing to embrace the Fastest Man concept; it actually could have helped stir a little nostalgia and perhaps persuaded enough people to support the event so that the checks could have been cashed immediately after they were written.