The Daily Briefing Friday, August 31, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com is quick to process the full preseason data on the new helmet rule and it seems manageable at this point.
Penalties for the NFL’s new helmet rule remained at a lower level in Week 4 of the preseason, signifying that a midsummer slowdown will hold as the league moves into the regular season.
Officials threw 11 flags for players illegally lowering their helmets into opponents during Thursday night’s preseason finales, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They threw nine in Week 3, meaning that the NFL had a 60 percent reduction in such penalties after its competition committee said Aug. 22 that “inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or face mask is not a foul.”
In the first 33 games of the preseason, officials called the foul 51 times for an average of 1.55 per game. In the final 32 games, there were 20 for an average of 0.625 per game.
Overall during the preseason, enforcement focused largely on defensive players and especially on defensive backs. Of the 71 total flags, 59 went against defenders, nine during special teams and three on offensive players. Defensive backs were targeted on 40 of the 71 calls. There was only one ejection, of then-Indianapolis Colts safety Shamarko Thomas in Week 1.
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Arbiitrator Stephen Burbank sends a chill through the NFL ownership ranks as he says the grievance of QB Colin Kaepernick can proceed. Michael McCann of SI.com provides an analysis:
In a landmark ruling that substantially alters the complexion of the collusion grievance brought by Colin Kaepernick, arbitrator Stephen Burbank has denied the NFL’s request for summary judgment. Burbank’s ruling means that, absent a negotiated settlement between Kaepernick and the NFL, Kaepernick’s grievance will proceed to a trial-like hearing before Burbank later this year. Burbank’s ruling also indicates that all 32 teams remain parties in the grievance. This is a subtle but potentially groundbreaking point since if Burbank finds that 14 or more teams engaged in collusion, the NFLPA could acquire the option of terminating the collective bargaining agreement.
Why Burbank ruled in favor of Kaepernick
The technical reason for Burbank’s ruling is that the NFL and its teams failed to convince Burbank, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, that they had met the necessary standard for summary judgment. Under Article 17 of the CBA, Burbank would have granted summary judgment if Kaepernick hadn’t shown enough evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact.
The “genuine issue” is whether the 30-year-old Kaepernick has been victimized by collusion, which in this context refers to two or more teams, or the league and at least one team, conspiring to deprive Kaepernick of his collectively bargained right to sign with a team. Kaepernick, who earlier in his career led the 49ers to a division championship and a Super Bowl appearance, contends that teams have conspired to keep him out of the NFL. They have allegedly done so on account of the controversy surrounding his kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.
A key element of Kaepernick’s argument is that owners are fearful about the capacity and the willingness of President Donald Trump—an ardent critic of Kaepernick and of other players who kneel during the anthem—to damage the league’s business and legal interests. Such a concern was documented in audio recordings of owners during an October 2017 meeting that centered on Kaepernick and the national anthem. This same concern resurfaced in June 2018 when Trump rescinded a White House invitation to the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on account of his perception that Eagles players disagreed with him on the anthem (in reality, not one player on the Eagles kneeled during their Super Bowl season) and because only a handful of Eagles players were likely to attend.
To be clear, Trump opining about Kaepernick or even the President openly discouraging owners from signing Kaepernick would not prove collusion. Trump, for purposes of the CBA, is merely a third party. Collusion requires some combination of governed parties—be they multiple teams or the league and at least one team—colluding. Still, if owners joined hands to exclude Kaepernick because of their reaction to Trump, the President would become a relevant person in Kaepernick’s grievance and even a potential witness (see more below).
Kaepernick, who hasn’t been offered an NFL contract since he opted out of his deal with the San Francisco 49ers 547 days ago, filed his grievance on Oct. 15, 2017. Since that time, his legal team has deposed a targeted group of owners and executives. This group includes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Denver Broncos general manager John Elway.
Elway recently shared his depiction of his testimony in response to a press conference question posed by The Athletic writer Nicki Jhabvala. Elway’s answer raised questions about why he was interested in paying Kaepernick $7 million in April 2016 but not at all interested in Kaepernick in March 2017—especially after Kaepernick had played better in the 2016 season than in the previous campaign. Burbank might have interpreted Elway’s changed position as related not to Kaepernick’s play but instead to Kaepernick’s anthem protests, which began in August 2016.
Other owners and officials were targeted for different reasons—and their responses were surely studied by Burbank. Kraft, for example, was of interest to Kaepernick’s attorneys because he flew with Trump on Air Force One on March 19, 2017. One day later, Trump, in a much-publicized speech in Louisville, sharply criticized Kaepernick and his anthem protests. It was the first time the President had done so publicly. Kaepernick’s attorneys—led by Los Angeles attorneys Mark Geragos and Ben Meiselas—likely asked Kraft about whether he and Trump had discussed Kaepernick on Air Force One.
While NFL officials and owners have steadfastly denied that there is any conspiracy to deny Kaepernick a chance to play, Burbank clearly believes that the matter necessitates more scrutiny. Burbank has reviewed witness testimony and related evidence, possibly including video, audio recordings, texts, emails and written memoranda. He has reached the decision that a trial is warranted.
The pending trial and the significance of Burbank—and not a jury—presiding over it
Burbank has not announced when the trial will occur, but it will most likely happen before the end of the year. Keep in mind, the forthcoming trial won’t be a “trial” as that term is commonly understood. There will be no jury, Burbank won’t be robed as a judge and it will all be conducted in private. This is because Kaepernick’s “trial” is technically an arbitration hearing. The term “trial” is used mainly out of convenience and because it will resemble a trial in many ways—evidence will be presented and attorneys for each side will question witnesses, who will testify under oath and swear to tell the whole and complete truth.
Witnesses in the upcoming trial will almost certainly include Kaepernick, Goodell, Jones, Kraft, McNair and Elway. Kaepernick’s attorneys might also pursue Trump as a witness. Whether the President can be compelled to testify in a legal proceeding is, of course, a legal topic of much debate these days. However, it is generally understood that the President is immune from civil litigation over matters that occurred while he or she is in office (but, per the U.S. Supreme Court in Bill Clinton v. Paula Jones, the President is not immune from matters that occurred before he or she took office or that are unrelated to the office of the Presidency). This legal framework indicates that Trump, who was in office when he began to opine on Kaepernick and did so presumably for political purposes, cannot be compelled to testify in Kaepernick’s trial.
For NFL owners and league executives, being called to testify at Kaepernick’s trial will be, at a minimum, disruptive. This is particularly the case since the hearing will likely occur during the NFL regular season. Obviously, their schedules are extremely busy during this part of the year. In addition to having to expend their limited time and energy on a legal dispute, owners will need to be careful that their trial testimony is consistent with the testimony they previously gave during their depositions. If they change their accounts, Burbank will be much less inclined to believe them. In such scenario, it would also be possible that the owners would have perjured themselves.
The scope of evidence presented in the trial will also be more expansive than what Burbank has already seen. A trial will be a full merits hearing. This means the NFL could be compelled to share sensitive and confidential records on any matters related to Kaepernick. Expect Kaepernick’s attorneys to dig deep and attempt to force the NFL to reveal information the league would prefer to keep private. To illustrate, the attorneys will want to know about interactions between league officials and EA, the makers of the Madden video game series, which in recent years has excluded Kaepernick’s names from songs as if his name was a curse word.
The fact that Burbank will make the decision also deserves close attention. He has already ruled against the NFL and in favor of Kaepernick on the summary judgment. That means that Burbank has already seen some evidence of collusion and/or hasn’t found the owners to be fully credible and honest about Kaepernick. In a courtroom trial, a party who loses on a motion for a summary judgment before a judge will sometimes feel confident that a jury will later rule for them. That’s not the case here: Burbank was, is and will remain the decider.
It’s been said that Goodell is judge, jury and executioner for player misconduct. You might say Burbank is the judge, jury and executioner for NFL misconduct, at least as it potentially relates to Kaepernick.
Kaepernick is by no means guaranteed to win the trial
While Kaepernick is no doubt thrilled by Burbank’s summary judgment ruling, the ruling doesn’t guarantee that Burbank will ultimately rule in Kaepernick’s favor. Under Article 17 of the CBA, the burden of persuasion for a summary judgment is whether Kaepernick has shown enough evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact. In contrast, the burden of persuasion for Kaepernick to prevail in the trial is whether he demonstrates by a “clear preponderance of evidence” that collusion occurred and that such collusion caused him economic injury.
The phrase “clear preponderance” reflects a high standard of persuasion. It is a burden decidedly higher than the “preponderance of evidence” or “more likely than not” burden used in civil trials.
It is thus possible that Burbank could find that while Kaepernick proved there was a genuine issue of material fact, Kaepernick didn’t prove by a clear preponderance of evidence that collusion occurred.
Burbank will likely have the final say on Kaepernick’s grievance
Whichever side loses the trial could then sue the other in a U.S. District Court. The lawsuit would demand that a federal judge vacate Burbank’s arbitration award (ruling) on grounds that it was improperly decided.
The chance of such a lawsuit succeeding would be very slim. Federal judges seldom vacate arbitration awards. This reflects federal law, which requires that judges accord arbitrators high deference. It also reflects common sense and judicial economy: If two sides agreed to resolve their dispute privately before an arbitrator, then they should accept the outcome of that arbitration. Accordingly, those parties shouldn’t demand the finite time of judges and taxpayer-funded resources of courts just because an arbitration didn’t turn out as they had expected.
Of course, both the NFL and NFLPA have hastily gone to court to challenge arbitration awards in the context of player discipline (for example, see Deflategate). Ultimately, though, the courts have upheld those awards. The same would likely prove true here, especially since Burbank is a neutral arbitrator (unlike Goodell, who has served as the arbitrator for player challenges to punishments that Goodell originally issued).
It is possible (albeit unlikely) that Kaepernick winning would lead to the CBA’s termination
One of the more unusual clauses in Article 17 of the CBA—which is set to expire in 2020—is that the NFLPA can elect to terminate the entire CBA if the arbitrator identifies certain kinds of severe and pervasive collusion. One circumstance relevant to Kaepernick’s grievance would be if Kaepernick shows “clear and convincing evidence” that 14 or more teams colluded against him and if Burbank finds that teams engaged in “willful collusion with the intent to restrain competition among teams.”
Kaepernick would obviously need to possess substantial evidence to convince Burbank that nearly half the league willfully colluded against him. Yet, as mentioned above, it is potentially telling that Burbank has not dismissed any of the 32 teams from the grievance. It’s thus theoretically possible that Kaepernick could not only prove collusion but also prove that there is a wide-ranging conspiracy against him.
Termination of the CBA under Article 17 also requires that the NFLPA was the party that brought the proceeding which lead to a finding of 14 or more teams colluding. The NFLPA clearly supports Kaepernick’s grievance and has been actively involved in it. However, Kaepernick is the party that originally brought the grievance. It’s unclear from the language of Article 17 if the NFLPA has played the requisite role to trigger the potential option of terminating the CBA.
The termination of the CBA would be a monumental consequence. At the risk of brutally summarizing American labor law and antitrust law, the CBA effectively immunizes NFL rules that restrain competition over wages, hours and other working conditions from antitrust lawsuits. Those rules include major pieces of the NFL economic model, such as the salary cap, the draft and the rookie wage scale. Think of how each of those rules could be described as grossly anti-competitive: The salary cap bluntly restrains the capacity of players to maximize their earnings while the draft and rookie wage scale sharply restrict the capacity of amateur players to sign with their preferred team and at salary amounts that reflect competition for their services. However, since each of those rules is collectively bargained, they gain the protection of what’s known as the non-statutory labor exemption. Through a series of influential court rulings, the exemption expresses that workplace rules impacting wages, hours and other working conditions are exempt from antitrust litigation if those rules reflect the good-faith bargaining of the union and management.
In reality, even if the NFLPA elected to terminate the CBA, the salary cap and other rules would likely continue to enjoy immunity from antitrust litigation. This is because the immunity can continue even after a CBA has expired so long as the parties (here the NFL and NFLPA) remain in good-faith negotiations.
Nonetheless, the termination of the CBA would open the door for the NFL and NFLPA to enter a new labor crisis that could lead to very different economic rules for players. One might imagine that the NFLPA would have serious reservations about pursuing such a path, at least without a clear sense and shrewd strategy as to where it would land them—and whether that would be a better or worse place than they currently occupy. In other words, even in the unlikely event that the NFLPA could terminate the CBA, it’s unlikely that the NFLPA would invoke that option.
The NFL may want to reach a settlement with Kaepernick—but would Kaepernick be willing settle?
Expect some owners to privately encourage the NFL to now try to strike a settlement with Kaepernick in order to avert a trial. Even if the league ultimately prevails in the trial, the trial itself could cause reputational damage to certain owners and league officials. It could also lead to disclosure of sensitive information to which the public isn’t aware.
Plus, if Kaepernick prevails in the trial, he would be awarded substantial monetary damages. Under Article 17, Kaepernick would be awarded both compensatory damages and non-compensatory damages (the latter of which can be regarded as punitive damages or punishment). Compensatory damages would reflect the amount of money Kaepernick would have earned but for collusion, while non-compensatory would equal twice the amount of compensatory damages. In other words, if Kaepernick could prove he would have signed an $8 million contract but for collusion, he would be awarded $24 million in damages: $8 million compensatory + $16 million non-compensatory. Kaepernick’s attorneys would cite contracts signed by comparable quarterbacks as a means of trying to establish the deleterious impact of collusion on his earnings.
For a league that generates $14 billion a year in revenue, offering Kaepernick (say) $20 million to settle his case would be a drop in the bucket. Billionaire owners who Kaepernick’s attorneys would aggressively cross-examine in a trial might view a payment of $20 million to avoid a trial as money well spent.
But like tango, a settlement takes two. It’s not at all clear that Kaepernick is even open to a financial settlement, let alone what he would demand in a settlement. Kaepernick appears to view his grievance more as a tool for social justice rather than a means for money. Remember, this is someone who was willing to see his lucrative NFL career ruined on account of protesting over social issues. Whether one loves, hates or is indifferent toward Kaepernick, he doesn’t seem like a person who is making decisions with his bank account as his guiding light.
For Kaepernick to accept a settlement, he’ll likely want more than millions of dollars. He’ll probably demand that the NFL agrees to an anthem policy with the NFLPA that permits kneeling. He’ll probably also demand that the league will have to donate to charities. One thing is for sure: don’t expect a settlement to be a simple matter of dollars and cents. For that reason, a settlement might not happen and then both sides would see each other in a trial.
Meanwhile, the billable hours are piling up as the NFL wrangles with the NFLPA on what the official anthem policy for 2018 might be. Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:
The NFL and NFLPA have been encouraged by their ongoing discussions on the league’s national anthem policy, and while there is optimism a resolution can be reached, one is not expected by the start of the regular season, sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano.
Members of the NFLPA’s executive committee met with select owners earlier this week to discuss the policy. In a joint statement Monday, the sides labeled those talks “productive” while noting they “remain committed to working together on solutions.”
Sources familiar with that meeting told Graziano that as the talks continue, each side is curious to see how the other handles issues that arise moving forward, such as whether players will continue protesting during the anthem, what owners and/or the league will do, and if President Donald Trump continues to mention it.
The league’s new anthem policy was unanimously approved by owners in May but put on hold last month.
NFL owners had approved a policy in which teams would be fined if players didn’t stand during the national anthem while on the field. The rule forbid players from sitting or taking a knee if they are on the field or sideline during the anthem but allowed them to stay in the locker room if they wish. The league left the punishment of players up to the teams.
The NFLPA filed a non-injury grievance in July challenging the legitimacy of that policy, and shortly after, both sides decided to hit pause on the new policy and discuss a resolution.
Cowboys cuts include DE KONY EALY.
T LANE JOHNSON thinks he’ll be blocking for QB CARSON WENTZ next Thursday. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Common sense would suggest that Carson Wentz won’t play in six days when the Eagles host the Falcons. But common sense may not prevail in this case (as if it ever really does).
Tackle Lane Johnson thinks that Wentz will be the guy when the regular season launches, even though he hasn’t been cleared for contact.
“[Wentz] looks ready to me,” Johnson said Thursday, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I saw him throw a ball a couple weeks ago about 65 yards, so he looks about as impressive as I’ve seen.”
Does this mean it will be Wentz next Thursday night and not Nick Foles?
“Kind of the way I’m feeling,” Johnson said.
That’s a surprise and a shock, and perhaps maybe even an effort to get players involved in the effort to keep the Falcons guessing as to who they’ll see under center. Really, what does the ability to throw the ball 65 yards have to do with whether Wentz can take a hit to his surgically-repaired knee less than nine months after injuring it?
Ultimately, the Eagles have to decide whether to risk Wentz’s health or whether to risk a slow start to the season, one that they may not be able to overcome and still force the road to Atlanta through Philadelphia.
On the other hand, cautious words from Wentz’s surgeon. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
The doctor who repaired the torn anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament in Carson Wentz‘s left knee recommends a “cautious approach” in the quarterback’s return.
“What’s a few games over 12 to 15 years?” Dr. Jim Bradley, the Steelers head orthopedic surgeon, told John Clark of NBC Philadelphia. “. . . Common sense should take over the day.”
Wentz has yet to be cleared for contact, with the season opener less than a week away.
Bradley told Clark that Wentz is “definitely ahead” in his rehab and has met every milestone, but that the longer Wentz waits, the less chance the third-year veteran has of a re-rupture.
The Eagles quarterback needs to be “tournament tested tough,” with many repetitions of avoiding rushers so everything slows down again.
“The ligaments, tendons, and muscles need to learn to work again like a symphony,” Bradley said.
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The Eagles cuts included QB CHRISTIAN HACKEBERG whom the defending Super Bowl champs had inexplicably added to their roster a few weeks ago. He left us a snapshot of his ineptitude on Thursday on his way out the door to Bustville.
In Thursday night’s preseason finale, Hackenberg turned in an ugly performance while going 7-for-16 for 69 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a lost fumble. The 2016 second-round pick out of Penn State never saw the field in a regular season game in his two season in New York and has now been discarded by both the Eagles and the Oakland Raiders.
QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER says all the right things about backing up DREW BREES.
Teddy Bridgewater and coach Sean Payton both said it was too soon to speculate on whether they might consider extending the quarterback’s one-year contract beyond 2018 after the New Orleans Saints acquired him from the New York Jets in a trade Wednesday.
For now, anyway, Bridgewater said he was more than happy to wait and learn behind Saints starter Drew Brees.
Although Bridgewater, 25, has had only a day to process his second move in six months, he said his first reaction was excitement because he has been studying the Saints’ offense since he was in college at Louisville.
“I definitely don’t mind waiting,” said Bridgewater, who began his career as a first-round draft pick with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014 before a major 2016 knee injury wiped out nearly two full seasons of his career. “For me, I get to take advantage of this opportunity to grow as a man and as a football player.
“I’ve been following this offense since I was in college, and to be able to be a part of it now, it’s a great feeling,” added Bridgewater, who explained that he tried to pick about three quarterbacks and offenses to study each offseason to try to better his own game. “You watch the tape, you look at the numbers and things like that, and you say, ‘Wow.’ It’s an opportunity to be a part of something like that.
“I don’t mind waiting. I get to learn from one of the best players to ever play this game, get to be in the room with a great group of guys, get to learn from Coach Payton. So I look forward to that.”
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The Saints cuts included some familiar names. Mike Triplett of ESPN.com:
The New Orleans Saints released veteran receivers Michael Floyd and Brandon Tate on Friday, and they placed veteran running back Shane Vereen on injured reserve.
The Saints also released defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha, a former second-round pick, as they began paring their roster down to 53 players.
Vereen suffered an unspecified injury in New Orleans’ final preseason game on Thursday night. But he was already on the roster bubble before that because he plays a similar runner/receiver role to that of Saints starter Alvin Kamara.
The Saints likely will lean on a combination of third-year running back Jonathan Williams and rookie running back Boston Scott to back up Kamara to start the season, while veteran Mark Ingram serves a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Vereen, 29, spent his first seven seasons with the New England Patriots and New York Giants before signing with the Saints in July. He had seven carries for 22 yards and nine catches for 41 yards with the Saints during the preseason.
Floyd and Tate also signed with the Saints late in the offseason — both on Aug. 1 — for what amounted to one-month training camp auditions.
Tate, 30, appeared to have the best shot at making the roster because of his kick-return abilities. But ultimately neither veteran was able to wedge his way into a crowded position group that also includes Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Cameron Meredith, Tre’Quan Smith, Austin Carr and Tommylee Lewis.
The Buccaneers continue to decline to say that QB JAMEIS WINSTON will be their Week 4 starter, even after a stellar preseason. Jenna Laine of ESPN.com:
Despite a strong showing from quarterback Jameis Winston in the preseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not committing to a starter in Week 4 when he returns from his three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Speaking on the Buccaneers’ television broadcast on WFLA TV on Thursday night, general manager Jason Licht said, “I don’t think it’s fair to say right now that he’s going to be the guy.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick, who won two of three starts for the Bucs last season while Winston was recovering from a shoulder injury, will get the nod to start this season. The Bucs play the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football in Week 3.
Licht cited the short week in Week 4 and momentum as factors that could influence the decision.
“[If] Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin, whoever it is, is playing lights out, I don’t think it’s fair right now just to say, ‘Yes, automatically, [Jameis] is going to be the guy,'” Licht said. “Now, he may be. Dirk and I — Dirk in particular — he’s got some time to think about that.”
At the beginning of training camp, Koetter was also noncommittal about Winston returning as the starter. He had Winston working primarily as the third-string quarterback before gradually getting more work in with the first- and second-team units.
But then Winston turned in arguably his strongest training camp and preseason to date, completing 30-of-41 passes (73 percent) for 388 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His 126.9 passer rating was the fourth-highest of any quarterback this preseason.
“I think performance-wise, you’d have to give Jameis an A for the preseason,” Koetter said after Winston’s final preseason performance in Week 3. “I don’t think anybody in their right mind would say that wasn’t an A performance on his part. I think he handled it well. I think he performed very well, and I think he did a really good job of working on things he needed to work on.”
By comparison, Fitzpatrick completed 17-of-28 passes for 183 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 79.9.
Despite the lack of commitment, Winston said he’s appreciative of the support he’s gotten from the organization and teammates. He also acknowledged the predicament that he put the team in and the uncertainty of the situation.
“I’m just going to work my tail off,” Winston said. “Who knows how things will go? Hopefully they go great. I know it’s going to be a tough situation for our coaches but I just want to get back with my team. That’s out of my control. I’ve just got to get back and work hard and make sure I’m ready for Week 4.”
Silly DB – when we saw the headline to this story we wondered who Jordan Brand was – an actress? A singer? Nick Waggoner of ESPN.com:
49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo says joining Jordan Brand is a dream come true
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is one of the newest members of Jordan Brand.
Garoppolo, who was a child in the Chicago area at the peak of basketball legend Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame career, told ESPN this week that he signed with Jordan’s signature brand over the summer, making it the newest addition to his endorsement portfolio.
An official announcement about the addition of Garoppolo and other newly signed Jordan Brand athletes is expected next week.
“Since I got in the league, it was one of my dreams to be with Jordan and it came true, so I’m pretty excited about it,” Garoppolo told ESPN.
Garoppolo’s dream is tied to his Chicago-area roots. Garoppolo, 26, grew up in Arlington Heights, Illinois, in a family full of Chicago sports fans. His basement was full of tributes to the Garoppolo family’s favorite teams: the Bulls, the NFL’s Bears and MLB’s White Sox.
At the center of it all was Jordan, who was dominating the NBA when Garoppolo was just a child. And while his specific memories of Jordan are limited — Garoppolo was 6 when Jordan won his final title in 1998 — he was never far away from tales (and YouTube clips) of Jordan’s on-court dominance and off-court brand-building.
“I was pretty young, but even when they were winning those championships, I can remember staying up with my three brothers, mom and dad — we’d all be in the living room watching it,” Garoppolo said. “It was so exciting. Ever since I was a little kid, he’s been my favorite athlete, so it’s pretty cool to be part of his brand now.”
Garoppolo, who has mostly kept his focus on football since joining the 49ers last October, said he and his agency began weighing various opportunities presented by Under Armour, Adidas, Nike and Nike subsidiary Jordan in the spring, just before the Niners started organized team activities.
Around that time, Garoppolo gave the shoes a test drive after the company sent over a pair of the Jordan 11s in cleat form. He’s since tested others and counts the 3s as his favorites while noting that there’s something new and special planned for the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 9.
Jordan Brand is obviously most known for Jordan himself and his signature shoes, but former and current athletes such as Derek Jeter and Russell Westbrook are also part of the company’s stable.
Jordan Brand has a number of NFL players under its umbrella, with defensive backs such as Earl Thomas and Jalen Ramsey among the best of the group. Garoppolo is the only known starting quarterback signed to the brand, though Green Bay backup DeShone Kizer is also part of the Jordan team. More NFL players are expected to be announced along with Garoppolo next week.
In addition to his new deal with Jordan, Garoppolo also has endorsements with New Era and Bose. For the time being, Garoppolo said not to expect to see any big marketing campaigns involving him, though he acknowledged that there are more business-related initiatives in the works.
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Is it a good sign that the 49ers want an offensive lineman the Browns can’t use anymore? Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Shon Coleman started all 16 games at right tackle for the Browns last year, but as Cleveland shuffles its offensive line, Coleman is on the way out.
The Browns traded Coleman to the 49ers for a 2019 seventh-round draft pick.
Coleman was competing to replace Joe Thomas at left tackle, but he didn’t perform well on the left side and eventually found himself back at right tackle, and on the second team. Now he’s heading out of Cleveland altogether.
The 49ers have Joe Staley at left tackle and first-round rookie Mike McGlinchey at right tackle. They’ll see if Coleman can provide depth and compete for playing time protecting Jimmy Garoppolo.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
We have a deal in the case of DT AARON DONALD. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
PFT has learned, via a league source, that the Rams and Donald have reached agreeement on a long-awaited long-term deal. The six-year deal has a total value of $135 million with $87 million in guarantees included in the contract.
Donald is set to make $6.892 million this year, so the total package would come to $141.892 million over seven years. It’s the richest deal for a defensive player in the history of the league and it is one that should have Donald smiling pretty wide when he reports to the Rams to start preparing for their Monday night opener against the Raiders.
With Donald signed, all eyes will turn to those Raiders and Khalil Mack as that is now the biggest contract impasse in the league.
The Seahawks, one of the few teams to ever even nibble at Colin Kaepernick, would rather have QB BRETT HUNDLEY backup QB RUSSELL WILSON. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Russell Wilson will have a new backup quarterback, and so will Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers have traded quarterback Brett Hundley, who filled in after Rodgers’ injury last season, to the Seahawks, according to ESPN. Seattle is sending an undisclosed 2019 draft pick to Green Bay in the deal.
Hundley did not play particularly well last season as the Packers struggled in Rodgers’ absence, and the Packers traded for former Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer this offseason. So it’s not surprising that Hundley was traded.
Preseason performance has not led to a roster spot in each of the last two years for WR JORDAN LESLIE. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com
Jordan Leslie was the Broncos’ leading receiver this preseason, but that didn’t stop him from getting cut.
Leslie revealed on Twitter that he’s been cut today after catching nine passes for 110 yards and a touchdown this preseason. That was frustrating for Leslie, who also led the Browns in receiving last season but failed to make it to the 53-man roster as well.
“Back to back years of leading a team in receptions/reception yards and still being cut,” Leslie wrote. “Crazy business.”
Leslie, who entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of BYU in 2015, has also spent time with the Vikings, Jaguars, Falcons and Titans. He has played in two regular-season games, catching one pass for 26 yards.
Adam Schein of NFL.com says the Raiders “must” trade DE KHALIL MACK.
Here’s the cold, hard truth:
The Oakland Raiders absolutely, positively must trade Khalil Mack, sooner rather than later. Like, NOW.
Please, before Raider Nation goes bonkers, understand something very important: I, Adam Schein, would never trade Khalil Mack. I drove the Mack bandwagon when he was coming out of SUNY Buffalo. He’s a star. As an AP voter, I’ve selected him Defensive Player of the Year. Mack and Von Miller are the two most dominant edge rushers in the NFL today. I’d give him the money he craves on a long-term extension. For the third straight year, Derek Carr came on my SiriusXM Radio show and said Mack is capable of sacking the QB 30 times in one season. I won’t argue.
But I don’t run the Raiders. Jon Gruden does. (Apologies to GM Reggie McKenzie, but let’s be honest here — when you give a man a $100 million deal, you also give him the keys to the car.) And Gruden clearly disagrees with me.
Communication between the two sides is reportedly nonexistent. Gruden and Co. know they have contract leverage: This is the fifth year of Mack’s rookie deal, and Oakland could theoretically slap the franchise tag on him in 2019 and 2020. Raiders brass apparently wants to exploit this upper hand in the relationship, hoping Mack will cave. But Mack and his team won’t play ball, literally and figuratively. They’re dug in. They think the Raiders’ approach is crazy and disrespectful. This is what we call a major impasse. And the Grand Canyon-sized divide only got bigger on Friday, when Rams DT Aaron Donald signed a six-year, $135 million extension with $87 million in guarantees. I don’t see these two sides coming to an agreement that even approaches those monster numbers.
So, if Mack isn’t going to play football under his current contract and the Raiders have no desire to pay him what he wants … well, then trading him is a must. Again, not my choice — it’s a must, based on circumstance and reality.
So, where could Mack end up? While the entire league should be calling Oakland in pursuit of No. 52’s game-wrecking services, here are five hypothetical fits that would make a bunch of sense:
1) Green Bay Packers
If the Green Bay Packers trade for Mack, they become the Super Bowl favorite. He’s that impactful. Mack would be a sensational fit in Mike Pettine’s defense. And both top corner picks, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, would benefit greatly from a top-notch disruptor getting after the quarterback up front. Aaron Rodgers, the most talented quarterback in NFL history, wouldn’t have to carry the team all by himself.
A few weeks ago, I talked to Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst on SiriusXM Radio. Without mentioning Mack by name, I asked him a “hypothetical” question about swapping top draft picks for a superstar defensive player. Gutekunst revealed, “I think with any players that are available, we’re going to look at every avenue to help our football team. I think we’ve always been a draft-and-development team here for a long time, but if there are players that can help us — and right now — I think we will use every avenue to help our team.”
Well alright then!
At the moment, the Packers are the only team in the NFL with two first-rounders in 2019, thanks to Gutekunst pilfering one from the Saints on draft night four months ago. And hey, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero says that price — two first-rounders — feels like the starting point for any potential trade.
Gutekunst’s predecessor, Ted Thompson, was rightly criticized for refusing to strengthen the roster with veteran acquisitions. Gutekunst is already off to a sizzling start with the free-agent additions of Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson, a fine draft weekend and this week’s contract extension for Aaron Rodgers. A trade for Mack would be a game-changing cherry on top. You absolutely give up both first-rounders to get him. That’s the kind of move that gets you a street near Lambeau. Gutekunst Avenue, anyone?
2) New York Jets
Mike Maccagnan smartly dealt Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints for a third-round pick. Pretty sweet compensation for a player you just signed in March on a low-risk, one-year deal. And we all knew where the Jets’ quarterback position was headed when the team spent the No. 3 overall pick on Sam Darnold. Darnold is going to start in Week 1, and I think he’ll eventually develop into a stud. The team has a franchise quarterback to grow with, but this roster still has holes. The Jets are going to struggle again this year, as Darnold experiences the inevitable growing pains that come in Year 1. Thus, New York is in line to possess a pretty high draft pick in 2019. Regardless, you undoubtedly include that — and your extra third-rounder — in a deal for Mack. It’s a no-brainer. And the Jets have plenty of cap room to absorb a Mack megadeal.
Todd Bowles is a fine defensive mind. Giving him a piece like Mack would work wonders for a unit that ranked 25th in total defense and 28th in sacks last season. And it’d give the Jets a bright young stud to build around on each side of the ball.
3) Buffalo Bills
A homecoming to the place where Mack starred as a collegiate. Bills coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have proven to be quite aggressive in the trade market during a relatively short period of time in Buffalo. The Bills have the need, ranking 29th in sacks last season. They have cap room. McDermott is a defensive guru. This is a dreamy hypothetical for the Bills Mafia.
4) Chicago Bears
Imagine Mack playing in Vic Fangio’s defense. Imagine Mack being the next legendary Bears linebacker. And maybe most crucially, put yourself in GM Ryan Pace’s shoes and imagine looking across the division and seeing Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins as the opposing quarterbacks. You rightly believe you have a franchise quarterback of your own. How about a franchise pass rusher?
5) Indianapolis Colts
Indy GM Chris Ballard is sharp and proactive. And he currently has about $50 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap. The Colts’ 2019 pick could be a very high one, something that could get the Raiders’ attention. And I’d ask Gruden if there are young players on the Colts defense he’d like. Nobody would be untouchable.
Thoughts from Mike Florio:
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has gotten paid, a lot. Raiders defensive tackle Khalil Mack hasn’t, yet.
Eventually, he will. With the “how much” issue now set by Donald, the only remaining question is, “By whom?”
Some continue to believe that Mack and the Raiders were waiting for Donald to get a deal done before finishing their own contract. Perhaps the more accurate reality is that the four teams that are seriously exploring a trade for Mack now know what it will take to get Mack, setting the stage for a deal to be done as soon as this weekend.
This isn’t a report or a prediction that a trade is coming. It’s simply an analysis of the circumstances. The Donald deal gives the Raiders clarity regarding what it will take to sign Mack, perhaps allowing them to realize that they just need to move on, especially since Mack’s resolve will now be strengthened by the knowledge of what his ultimate financial reward will be. The Donald deal also gives a potential suitors the information necessary to know what it takes to sign Mack, if an agreement can be reached with the Raiders for compensation.
So keep your eyes open this weekend for potential news that someone has struck a deal with the Raiders for Mack, and in return has struck a deal with Mack for a contract very similar to Donald.
Mark Leibovich is a New York Times reporter who is bringing that institution’s brand of journalistic focus to a new book. Among his claims – QB TOM BRADY is “fed up” with aspects of being a tool of Bill Belichick. Nik DeCosta-Klipa of the Boston Globe scours the tome for Patriots-related scoop:
As both a Massachusetts native whose football-rooting loyalties remain with the Patriots and a reporter specializing in politics, Leibovich spent much of the past few years reporting on Brady, on Trump, and on the “uncomfortable” intersection of the president and the Patriots. As a result, some newsworthy details in the book have already been made public — Brady’s dad predicting his son’s career will “end badly” with the Patriots, Trump asking a Times photographer who’s “got a better body, me or Tom Brady?” — or at least rumored, such as the reason the Patriots quarterback skipped the team’s 2015 White House visit.
That said, there’s hardly a shortage of new, colorful “nuggets,” to put it in NFL media terms, in “Big Game.” And that’s especially true when it comes to Leibovich’s beloved hometown team.
The discontent of Brady and Gronk
The so-called Patriot Way appears to be wearing on Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The apparent friction between the Patriots and their two stars hasn’t been much of a secret this offseason, but Leibovich further corroborates the reporting that both Brady and Gronkowski are getting tired of playing in what has been called a joyless work environment under coach Bill Belichick.
According to Leibovich, Gronkowski has told numerous people that he’s sick of going to work in such a “dreary monolith” (the author’s words, not Gronk’s). But more explosive is the suggestion that Brady wouldn’t have minded being released by the Patriots after nearly two decades with the team.
“They can do whatever they want,” Brady told Leibovich this past April.
Leibovich — who says that he stayed in close touch with people in the quarterback’s circle while writing the book, not in the least Tom Brady Sr., who is quoted often — writes that it was “pretty clear that things were not great between ‘they’ and Brady right then.” In the book, he writes that Brady has become “fed up himself with the Belichick culture” and has told friends, teammates, and relatives that he has earned more deference and gratitude than what he gets from the Patriots coach. An additional source of friction is the arrangement between the team and Brady’s personal body coach Alex Guerrero, which remains unresolved.
“My sense is — informed by talking to some people close to him — that it wouldn’t kill Brady if the Patriots were to release him into free agency, allowing him to control his next move,” Leibovich wrote.
Of course, that hasn’t happen yet, and the Patriots recently restructured Brady’s contract to include more incentive bonuses over the next two years.
Robert Kraft was confronted by Arthur Blank over his relationship with Trump
Even though Robert Kraft has been critical of the president, the Patriots owner has maintained that he would rather have Trump’s ear and try to be a positive influence, according to Leibovich. A longtime friend and donor to Trump, Kraft apparently tried to argue that perspective to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. According to Leibovich, Blank was not buying it.
“I said, ‘You f***er, you’ve given him a lot of money,’” Blank told Kraft. “You have influence and spend time with him,’” Blank persisted. “‘Robert, there are things he’s saying and doing that are not great for this country. And the smartest people in the world today, you know they’re viewing him as a four-year mistake.’”
‘Did he really compare me to Romney?’
Despite their long, friendly relationship, Kraft and Trump have had a few rough patches. Leibovich notes that, like the president, the Patriots owner is easily offended.
In February 2017, Leibovich published quotes from an old interview with Trump, in which the president said Kraft “choked, just like [former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney choked [during the 2012 election]” in the Patriots’ appeal of Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension. (Earlier in the book, Leibovich says Brady felt “crestfallen” and “betrayed” by Kraft, according to a source who was with the quarterback on the day of the decision.)
Kraft apparently read the interview and approached Leibovich at a pre-Super Bowl LI league party.
“Did Trump really say I choked” Kraft asked.
Leibovich said yes, but noted that it was in an interview 18 months ago, but the billionaire owner was apparently still in disbelief.
“Did he really compare me to Romney?” Kraft asked, shaking his head. “It was a shock to read that.”
It was hardly the first time Kraft and Trump have been at odds. Earlier in the book, Leibovich reports that they two had something of yearlong falling out, after Trump became upset with the Patriots owner for not doing more, from Trump’s point of view, to support his failed attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014.
The rift reportedly persisted until the summer of 2016 (coincidentally soon after Trump won the Republican presidential nomination) when Kraft approached Ivanka Trump in Aspen, Colorado, and told her that he missed his old friend.
Going back even further, Trump was among several people who actually attempted to buy the Patriots back in 1994, along with current Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke. That was until they learned that Kraft had already previously bought the team’s old Schaefer Stadium, as well as the land around it.
“We went in there and we saw Robert had the lease under the stadium,” Kroenke told Leibovich. “We figured this out in three days, and we were gone.”
Kraft reportedly told Kroenke that it took 11 days for Trump to figure that out.
Brady enjoyed Trump’s gaffe in Maryland
As chronicled throughout the book, Brady is a responsive and enthusiastic emailer (i.e. lots of exclamation points, like his Instagram account). Though he did visit Brady at both his Manhattan apartment and Brookline home, as well as the Patriots locker room, Leibovich writes that it was their most consistent mode of communication and that the quarterback usually responded within a day.
One particularly enjoyable correspondence came in April 2016, as Trump was campaigning for president. As he often did on the campaign trail, the then-Republican candidate name-dropped the Patriots quarterback at a rally… in Maryland.
The crowd, presumably fans of the rival Baltimore Ravens, booed in response. Leibovich emailed the link to Brady.
“Funny,” Brady replied. “That made my day!”
Other odds and ends
Again, “Big Game” is dense with previously unreported nuggets and amusing anecdotes, conveyed in Leibovich’s sardonic, deadpan style. It would be difficult to include them all, but here’s a sampling of some other significant and not-so-significant Patriots-related details.
Gisele Bundchen apparently is (or was) a believer in the blue solar water fad. During a 2014 interview at their apartment, Leibovich noticed the blue glass water bottles. “Yeah, she puts the bottles of water in the sun and it energizes or charges them or something,” Brady explained. Weird that didn’t make it into the TB12 Method book.
Not just a body coach; Gurrero is also the godfather of Brady’s youngest son, Ben.
Tom Brady Sr. is no fan of the TB12 diet: “Not only can I not eat that stuff, I can’t even look at it.” Later in the book, the younger Brady tells Leibovich that his dad says he “would rather die than not eat ice cream.” Apparently, avocado ice cream isn’t cutting it.
Recalling his son’s lack of playing time at Michigan, Brady Sr. says he still has a nagging desire to “punch Lloyd Carr in the nose.”
On the back shelf in Kraft’s Gillette Stadium office, Leibovich spotted Gisele’s photo book, “the one that costs $700 and includes early nudes.”
Brady’s parents stopped attending away games over the intense Deflategate backlash from opposing fans.
Guerrero says it took much of the 2015 offseason for Brady to get “back to center” during the Deflategate proceedings, and even thought about retiring, though it’s unclear how seriously he actually considered it.
Leibovich says he personally heard two other NFL owners imitate Kraft’s “slow, Boston-accented” speech delivery and that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has apparently taken on Kraft’s cadence when quoting the Patriots owner. Did we mention that Kraft takes offense easily?
Apparently, it was the Patriots owner/Trump buddy who put that Make America Great Again hat in Brady’s locker.
At last, we know the secret to Kraft’s vitality: Organic eggs from chickens raised by the caretaker of his Brookline mansion: “I eat these eggs every day,” he told Leibovich. “That’s the reason I still have hair.” Leibovich confirms that the eggs were very good.