The Daily Briefing Monday, April 3, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
There was a secret owners-only meeting in Phoenix, but someone clued Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com in on it:
Every league meeting includes a variety of sessions attended by a variety of people. Last week in Arizona, one specific session included only the owners.
Unusual but not unprecedented, the owners-only meeting (technically an executive session of the Finance and Compensation Committees) focused in part on discussions regarding Commissioner Roger Goodell’s next contract and succession planning, based on a potential transition that would be initiated by Goodell after the next labor deal and TV contracts are finalized. The owners-only meeting also included an opportunity for any and all owners to speak about any and all topics they chose.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke extensively during the meeting, per a source with direct knowledge of the session. As a source close to Jones explained it to PFT, Jones knows from experience that most of the membership will choose not to speak up in those situations. Jones decided to introduce topics about which he and other owners have questions or concerns.
As to the issue of Goodell’s next contract, Jones suggested that all owners be involved in the process. Currently, the Compensation Committee handles the determination and negotiation of Goodell’s pay. Multiple owners currently believe that broader involvement of the membership would result in terms more favorable to the league. (To put it more bluntly, some in the room think they may be paying Goodell too much money.)
Jones also raised the question of the NFL’s position on marijuana. Jones, per a source who heard the comments, wants the league to drop its prohibition on marijuana use. Jones was reminded that the issue falls under the umbrella of collective bargaining, which would require the players to make one or more concessions in exchange for significant changes to the marijuana prohibition.
Separately, the league office reiterated to PFT its position that any changes to the substance-abuse policy would occur within the confines of labor negotiations, and that the league is willing to listen to the medical community about any potential changes to the rules regarding marijuana.
Jones likewise urged an end to the practice of investigating off-field misconduct. The NFL became more proactive regarding these issues after the Ray Rice situation forced the league to no longer defer to the criminal justice system, which often imposes insufficient sanctions for clear acts of misbehavior.
A league spokesman told PFT that the NFL continues to maintain its commitment to pursuing investigations that are relevant and meaningful, and that the league office always looks to be efficient when conducting investigations.
The Cowboys had no comment as to any aspect of this story.
Jones’ concerns regarding marijuana and investigations are understandable; he has seen players like Rolando McClain, Demarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory lost in recent years to suspensions under the substance-abuse policy. As to the league’s recent decision to investigate misconduct even after a criminal case is closed, Jones has lingering frustrations flowing from the Ezekiel Elliott situation, which has still not been resolved by the league.
That said, a source close to Jones insisted that he remains fully committed to Goodell. Which is important for Goodell, given the influence Jones has over many league matters.
He’d apparently like to have even more influence as to the three specific issues mentioned. For now, though, it appears that dramatic changes aren’t coming, on any of those points.
As once source explained it, it’s possible that owners-only meetings will occur on a more regular basis moving forward. This would give Jones and others a chance to raise any and all ideas or concerns that they may have regarding a wide variety of topics and challenges facing the league.
Peter King of TheMMQB.com with some schedule thoughts:
The Falcons believe they will play on the road (but not in New England) in Week 1, then open their new stadium on Sunday night of Week 2 against an undisclosed opponent. The NFL will announce the 2017 schedule in mid- to late April.
So if Atlanta opens at home on national TV in an NBC game in Week 2, the Falcons almost certainly will not play on NBC to open the season in Week 1. Which leaves open the best possibility I listed seven weeks ago in this column: Kansas City at New England. Could be Houston, could be Carolina. But my money’s on Kansas City. The fact that the Chiefs have an excellent defense and a competitive offense, and the fact that they’re likely to play the Patriots tough (K.C.’s had one double-digit loss in its past 31 games) gives Andy Reid’s team the best chance to play at Foxboro in game one of 256 in 2017. This way, the league can save Atlanta-New England for a big Sunday night game on NBC later in the season, or for a key FOX doubleheader game.
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Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com says the ease with which the Raiders abandoned Oakland means that someone else will be moving over the pond.
To some in the room, the speed at which everything moved on Monday morning at the NFL’s annual meeting was jarring.
Maybe it was that 18 of the 32 teams were represented on either the stadium or finance committee, so there was little need to belabor the particulars about the Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas. Maybe it was this particular relocation had been thoroughly vetted in the fall. Or maybe the owners were just sick of talking about it.
No matter the reason, this is how it went in the room: the Raiders made their presentation, the floor opened for discussion, that discussion was minimal, and owner Mark Davis was given the green light to move his team by a 31-1 vote. It was a relatively painless phase of what’s supposed to be a painful process, and to some it begged an obvious question: Is it becoming too easy for teams to chase the next dollar?
The next obvious question: Where does the next dollar come from?
The answer I got Monday afternoon after asking around at the Arizona Biltmore was just as simple as the morning’s business proceedings. The next frontier isn’t likely to be the vacated markets of Oakland, San Diego or St. Louis. It’s overseas.
“I’m not aware of anyone else who’s interested in leaving their home market at this time, so I’d be surprised if anything popped up in that regard,” Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt said. “However, as chairman of the international committee, we are discussing what the best way is to continue to grow the business internationally and it’s no secret that a subject that’s been floated is one day having a team that’s playing at least their regular season schedule overseas.
“So that’d be the only thing I’d see in the near future. It’s certainly not imminent.”
Maybe not. But at the very least, London seems to have moved into the on-deck circle.
First, some history. Near the end of the old CBA, as the game’s popularity was exploding and reaching a saturation point, the NFL recognized that it was going to become harder to grow up, so it needed to grow out. That meant adding inventory, which was the talk about 18 regular-season games, expanded playoffs, Thursday night games, a return to Los Angeles, and, perhaps most notably, globalization.
The NFL had launched the International Series in 2007 with a singular focus on building in London, while quietly setting a 15-year goal of becoming the first North American sports league to base a franchise there. One London game for the first six years became two in 2013, and two in 2013 became three in 2014. This year, the NFL will play four games in London (half of a home schedule) for the first time.
Next year, a dual-purpose stadium the NFL invested in at Tottenham will open; it’s the first one being built overseas for both American football and the British kind. After that, the hope is to eventually get to an eight-game series in London, which could either be the precursor to a club landing there or simply the long-term solution.
“First time we went there, I said that in the next decade, I think there should be a team here,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “I still think we should have a team there, and then probably on the continent. I don’t know how it’ll work, we’ll have to work the logistics … How would it work? Who would it be? … But I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next five to seven years we have a team there. Maybe sooner.”
The logistics won’t be easy.
The league has looked at adding a second bye week to the schedule to help manage such a massive undertaking, and concepts such as having the London team play in blocks—three games in the U.K., then three stateside—have been discussed. Air travel remains an issue, as does making tricky one-off situations (say, a Seattle vs. London wild-card game) doable. In addition to being based in the U.K., the team would likely have a U.S. training facility as well, maybe in Florida, for extended stays.
There’s also the question of who would go. As Hunt said, there aren’t very many immediate candidates.
“No fan or community is going to suddenly wake up and find out that their team is thinking about moving,” NFL EVP Eric Grubman said. “The precursor is an aging stadium that is not being maintained, a lack of competitiveness in that stadium as an economic engine, and nobody doing anything about it. If those things are present, the clouds are gathering, and usually people aren’t silent about it.
“So if you look around the league, I don’t think all those things are in place in any other market. Could they be in five or 10 years? Yes. But not now, and I see no reason to suggest that’s going to happen.”
Grubman also affirmed Hunt and Kraft in saying that working on the International Series now becomes “the most important thing that people are working on that involves the playing of games.” And again, in five years or so, maybe that means playing eight games with different teams in London. Or maybe it’ll mean a franchise like Buffalo or Jacksonville starting to explore the idea of going there permanently.
Which brings us back to the expedience of Monday morning’s process. Two or three years ago, Las Vegas wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a potential landing spot for whoever would lose out in the race to Los Angeles. But an incredible deal for the Raiders emerged from the ashes of their failed Carson project, one that was so good that only one owner could manage to tell Davis no on Monday.
The bottom line: the next dollar was in the desert, so now the Raiders are there too. And the cold business of that process tells us that whoever comes next may well be looking for a good exchange rate.
The Lions may want WR ANQUAN BOLDIN back for another year. Justin Rogers in the Detroit News:
The Detroit Lions are publicly saying they’d like to bring veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin back in 2017, but there’s an underlying tone of uncertainty the two sides will get a deal it done.
Signed just prior to the start of training camp last season, Boldin made a significant impact in his first season with Detroit. Operating primarily out of the slot, the 14-year veteran caught 67 passes for 584 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns.
‘Workhorse’ Worrilow adds grit to Lions’ defense
“I think Anquan, he did a great job for us this year, really stepped in and provided a real reliable target for (quarterback) Matthew (Stafford) and had 60-plus catches this year,” general manager Bob Quinn said. “So he’s definitely an option. We haven’t made any decision on that one way or the other, but he’s still out there.”
Boldin, who had been on the fence about playing in 2017, made the decision to come back earlier this month, personally informing Lions coach Jim Caldwell. Like Quinn, Caldwell just isn’t certain the receiver will be suiting up in Honolulu blue.
“Not real sure, you never say never,” Caldwell said.
One of the most productive receivers in NFL history, Boldin will have an opportunity to climb the rankings next season. If he remains healthy, and produces at a similar level to last season, he should crack the top-10 in receiving yardage while rising as high as fourth on the all-time receptions list.
Peter King thinks the Panthers may have cut things too close with QB CAM NEWTON’s shoulder surgery:
I think, with Cam Newton beginning rehab of his surgically repaired right shoulder today in Charlotte, it’s going to be very interesting to see if he’s ready to throw the ball as normal come training camp. Newton injured the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder Dec. 11 against San Diego, and the Panthers, hopeful that it would heal on its own, waited 109 days before choosing to have surgery last Thursday. Training camp opens in 16 weeks. Newton wasn’t the same quarterback in 2016 as he was in 2015; completion percentage fell from 60 to 53 percent, and TD-to-pick differential declined from plus-25 to plus-5. If Newton can’t participate in a camp that’s vital to him and the offense after last year’s struggles, the Panthers erred in waiting so long to have the surgery done.
Peter King sees the London Raiders in 2019, their final year before landing in Vegas:
The Raiders will play in 2017 in Oakland, and they’ll likely play there again in 2018, while their new stadium is being built in Las Vegas. As for 2019, it’s totally up in the air. My suggestion: Why not have the Raiders play four home games in London in 2019—say, two in September, two in November? Play them back to back, say in Week 3 and 4 and then in Week 10 and 11 … and the disadvantage the Raiders will have in taking two long trips to London will be made up at least in part by the fact that they’ll build local support by being a “home” team and by the fact that wherever they play that year (unless it’s a slightly larger Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas, the UNLV home field) will be awkward.
“I love the idea,” said one owner who is very bullish on the NFL putting one of its 32 franchises permanently in London. “I doubt the Raiders will. But that’s not the first time I’ve heard that.” Hmmmm. Interesting.
One other reason the league might be interested in four games in London by one team? Assuming the NFL keeps the current format of four games by other teams on the 2019 calendar, it would be a chance to test the fervor of fans for eight games, perhaps by first offering season tickets to the eight games. The league is selling four-game season-ticket packages this year, and already 40,000 season seats have been purchased. So far, the league has sold out 16 of 17 regular-season games in London, with one game in 2011 falling 7,000 tickets short because they went on sale late due to the threat of a lockout that season.
And this from King:
Mark Davis confirmed to me that he copyrighted “Las Vegas Raiders” in 1998. He would not tell me why he did that 19 years ago, but his business “guess” came true.
Peter King of TheMMQB had a long conversation with Paul DePodesta who is either a genius or a baseball guy out of his depth. Some highlights:
Paul DePodesta, the Cleveland Browns’ trump card on the rest of the NFL. Nice fellow. Harvard guy, and, to his credit, doesn’t intimidate you with his Ivy League brain. Fifteen months into the new job after two decades with five Major League Baseball teams. Nowhere to go but up. The Browns are in a three-year run with the most high draft picks of any team in football every year: nine in the first four rounds last year, nine in the first five rounds this year, seven in the first four rounds next year. DePodesta, Cleveland’s chief strategy officer, is the mover and the shaker and the Moneyballer in this show. Right?
I spent 40 minutes with DePodesta at the league meetings the other day. I don’t doubt his import to the organization and to the cause of rescuing the Browns from a life of awfulness.
But I still have no idea what he does.
“I think part of that maybe is intentional,” said DePodesta, 44, in shorts and a T-shirt, sitting on a folding chair in a garden at the classic old Arizona Biltmore Hotel. “I’m trying to think of the most succinct way to put it. I really focus on process as much as anything else: process for how we evaluate players, process for how we make decisions, process even for how we hire people internally, process for how we go about integrating our scouting reports with guys watching tape in the office. It is really about how we do the things we do. I think part of the reason they brought me in is because I am completely naive about the National Football League. I have no preconceived notions about how things ought to be done or how they have been done in the past, and I can look at it with a fresh set of eyes.”
“Is there an example you can give me?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” DePodesta said. “We are trying to develop things that ultimately will give us a competitive advantage and will get us back onto the landscape in terms of those competitive teams that are playing in January every year. So, I am hesitant to give away too much of what we’re trying to do. The other reason I think it’s hard is because it is really collective. We have a lot of people in our office who are very bright and have been around the game for a lot longer than I have, who had a lot of these ideas before I ever showed up.”
So I can’t draw the specifics out of DePodesta—which, though I wouldn’t tell him, I actually like, because the last thing you want on your team is some baseball know-it-all coming in to tell the football guys how to win, and the second-to-last thing is then bragging about what you’re doing.
Let’s try something else, then. The one thing that’s obvious about the Cleveland approach—and it has to be a big part of the DePodesta way, seeing that he’s the strategy guy—is the accumulation of draft choices. When he starts talking about that, clues start surfacing.
“We’ve looked ourselves in the mirror and said, ‘Do we think that we are actually superhuman when it comes to picking players?’ And we pretty easily answered that with a resounding no. So how are we going to increase our chances? We need to have more picks. So, if we have the same number of picks every year as everyone else, we don’t expect do better than anyone else.”
“Sounds like Jimmy Johnson’s philosophy,” I said. “You aware of that?”
“Yes,” he said, smiling.
“Had any conversations with him?” I said.
“I’ll keep that to myself. I’ll say this: I’m a big admirer of what he’s done.”
Yes, Johnson has spoken with the Browns. He just won’t say about what.
But it’s no deep, dark mystery. Just as acquiring all these picks wasn’t deep and dark. The Browns in 2016 traded the second pick in the draft down to Philadelphia’s eighth slot in the round, and then again to Tennessee at 15. That netted Cleveland seven picks over multiple drafts in the first four rounds.
“That’s good,” Johnson said from Florida on Friday. “There’s strength in numbers. I always wanted to have more picks in the middle rounds and at the end, because you can build a good team with the role players you get in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. With the Browns now, with all those picks, really, you’re one free-agent class and one draft from being a contender.
“But I’ll tell you, here’s the danger of having so many picks: You think, ‘We’ve got so many picks, let’s move up and take that guy with a little risk.’ You think you’ve got so many picks and you can afford to waste them on guys. I never looked at it that way. You have to look at every pick like it’s the only one you’ve got. Like I’ve told Bill Belichick, ‘You don’t have to use ’em this year. Bank ’em. Trade ’em.’ He knows. One time he told me he had a good team, and he had some extra picks, and he was afraid the guy they’d take might not be good enough to make his team. Fine. You don’t like what’s there? You can always find someone to take your four this year for a three next year. Like I said, bank ’em.”
“[Rebuilding a team] is like redoing a house—you need to rip down all the walls and get it down to the studs,” DePodesta says. “When you do that, you look at it and go, wow this looks terrible. We never want to go through this again and I think that is our attitude.”
What Johnson and the Cowboys were so good at was hitting on some of the late ones—and that’s due to the fact that they could afford to err because of the multiple picks. The Cowboys hit on Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith with first-round picks in 1989 and 1990, back when the draft was 12 rounds long, and in 1991 got Leon Lett in the seventh round and cornerback Larry Brown, a future Super Bowl MVP, in the 12th. “In college I was my own recruiting coordinator at Oklahoma State,” Johnson said. “That helped me later on, because Oklahoma was the top program in the state, and so I didn’t just get the best guys; I had to look for some of the hidden guys. So when you’ve got all these picks, and a lot of them come down the line, you’d better know players.”
There’s the pressure on Cleveland. With 31 competitive front offices, the Browns had better have a cadre of scouts DePodesta and GM Sashi Brown and VP of player personnel Andrew Berry can trust. Said DePodesta: “We don’t get any points or win any games for having the most picks. We need to turn that into talent. It’s part of the reason we are so excited for this April. I think our team will look fundamentally different in May than it does right now.”
It very likely will. But this Browns administration cannot afford to have a B-minus draft. “Cleveland doesn’t have to build their team all this year,” said Johnson. “But after three years, they better have a contender. If they’re not a contender after three years, someone ought to be fired. Simple as that.”
And this from King:
The one thing that bugs me about Cleveland is the loss of too many players they’ve developed. Center Alex Mack and wideout Taylor Gabriel left in 2016 and were keys on Atlanta’s NFC title team. A good right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, left in free agency a year ago in his prime, at 26, for Kansas City. This year the Browns lost a potential star wide receiver, Terrelle Pryor, after transitioning him from quarterback; they couldn’t bridge a contract dispute, and he signed in Washington.
That’s four holes Cleveland didn’t need to have. At some point—like, now—the Browns won’t be able to justify losing good players on the road to contending. I asked DePodesta why they’ve lost key players whom they probably should have kept.
“Great question,” he said. “I’d say going back a year when we did have a handful of free agents and we allowed them all to sign elsewhere, that was a moment in time. That is not something that we want to do continuously. Again, that was a situation that we felt like we really do need to rebuild the foundation of this organization, and it is almost like redoing a house—you need to rip down all the walls and get it down to the studs. Now, when you do that and you tear out all the walls and the floors and all you have left are the studs, you look at it and go, wow this looks terrible. We never want to go through this again, and I think that is our attitude.
“Even as we got into the season last year, there was a monumental shift in our organizational evolution, and it was when we traded for [New England linebacker] Jamie Collins. What we were trying to show everyone in our organization hopefully, and all our fans, was that that is now behind us and we are adding to this and building; this is not going to be about tearing it down all the time. This offseason we were able to re-sign Jamie, we were able to re-sign [guard] Joel Bitonio, and we added free agents this year. We feel like we’ve got a handful of players that will be part of our core going forward, and our goal is to now build out that core and ultimately, when it comes time, retain it. It did come time right now, with guys like Bitonio and Jamie, we had to retain them and we did. And we will have more players that will be like that.”
The Patriots are kicking the tires of RB ADRIAN PETERSON. This from USA TODAY:
Adrian Peterson is getting a closer look from the defending Super Bowl champions.
The four-time all-pro running back is scheduled to visit the New England Patriots on Monday, a person familiar with Peterson’s plans told USA TODAY Sports’ Tom Pelissero. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the visit had not been disclosed.
Peterson’s father, Nelson Peterson, said prior to free agency that the Patriots would be an attractive option if they showed interest.
“If you have an opportunity to play for an organization like the New England Patriots, you have to consider that,’’ Peterson’s father told The St. Paul Pioneer Press. “To have an opportunity to play with Tom Brady, you have to keep that door open as a possibility.’’
Peterson previously visited the Seattle Seahawks. But the team later opted to sign former Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy.
The Patriots have not re-signed LeGarrette Blount, who led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns last season, but added former Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead in free agency. New England also returns Dion Lewis and James White in the backfield.
Peterson, 32, ran for just 72 yards on 37 carries last season as he missed all but three games with a torn meniscus.
But this from Peter King:
Just what does it mean that Adrian Peterson is visiting New England? I doubt that it’s very much, but you never know. Unless Peterson is willing to take very little guaranteed money, I wouldn’t expect he’d sign with the Patriots. Adam Schefter reported Sunday that Peterson will spend the day in Foxboro. Bill Belichick is not a sentimental guy who signs 32-year-olds who have had one great season in the past three years, particularly at a position the Patriots use as a train station. Dion Lewis, James White and ex-Bengal Rex Burkhead will account for $5.4 million of the Patriots’ cap in 2017, according to Spotrac, which means two things: They could afford to spend more at the position without crippling their budget … and Bill Belichick never spends big on backs, particularly backs like Peterson who would be dead weight on New England’s special teams. Peterson likely wouldn’t play them.
For now, I’ll believe this is a fact-finding mission for a veteran who would certainly help the Patriots. But only if he takes very low pay. A good example is defensive end Chris Long, who could have probably tripled his $2.375 million salary in 2016 had he signed with one of the other teams that pursued him a year ago. But he signed with the Patriots, earned his Super Bowl rin, and then left for the Eagles. I know Peterson says he’ll play for not very much and winning is the most important thing for him. But it’s hard for me to believe he’ll sign with the Patriots for, say, $4 million in total 2017 income.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets worked out Texas Tech QB PATRICK MAHOMES on Sunday.
THIS AND THAT
KAEP IN EXILE
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com hears that teams are concerned about more than the fact that QB COLIN KAEPERNICK thinks police officers shoot innocent people too often.
Another day, another effort to throw water on the notion that Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL.
Earlier this week, a report emerged that Kaepernick wants $9 million or $10 million per year plus a chance to compete for the starting job. The only problem with that report is that no one knows what Kaepernick wants because no one has expressed sufficient interest in him to even get to the point of talking terms.
Now comes another report that tries to explain the crickets when it comes to Kaepernick. Via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, teams are concerned about his commitment to football and his vegan diet.
Although we don’t question whether one or more people from one or more teams have expressed that viewpoint to Maiocco, we do wonder about the veracity of the claim. If teams have questions about Kaepernick’s attraction to football and/or his aversion to animal products, they can ask him. Given that no one has shown any interest in Kaepernick, chances are those discussions haven’t happened.
So as the NFL’s teams continue to repeatedly press the button on the “Reasons For Kaepernick’s Unemployment” generator in the hopes of the final outcome being something other than “Owners Don’t Like His Political Views,” the effort to pin his status on something other than the obvious serves only to make the obvious even more obvious. Obviously.
Chip Kelly is saying he has no concerns about Kaepernick’s commitment and Jim Harbaugh shows a lot of support for Colin’s social justice activism. That among the pro-Kaepernick facts helpfully provided by Michael Rosenberg of SI.com in a piece Peter King says is “nuanced”:
You run into all sorts of people in New York City, and these days you might see a muscular, freakishly athletic, highly motivated 225-pound vegan who has divided the country. Colin Kaepernick is back to his old playing weight after being noticeably slimmer in 2016, when three surgeries kept him from his usual training regimen. The question now is whether Kaepernick’s adversaries will get their pound of flesh.
After three weeks as a free agent, Kaepernick remains unemployed. This is not a typical case of unemployment, of course, where friends give sympathetic hugs and contribute to a GoFundMe campaign. Kaepernick has made millions, and he may yet make millions more. He will be fine. Still, he is only 29, he has been an NFL starter in each of the last five seasons, and nobody has signed him.
There are many theories as to why. Teams are punishing him for kneeling during the national anthem. They fear he will do it again. They don’t think he can play anymore. Football isn’t a priority for him. He isn’t worth the distractions he creates. Each theory makes some sense . . . until you talk to the men who have actually coached him.
He can’t play anymore …
“He’s big, athletic, he can hurt you both throwing and running,” says Chip Kelly, Kaepernick’s coach with the 49ers last season. “The last couple of years, he was banged up. I think he is going to be better next year than he was this past year because physically he will be better.”
Last year, Kaepernick finished 17th in the NFL in passer rating and 23rd in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating. That’s certainly not Pro Bowl-quality. But it wasn’t bad for a player recovering from surgeries on his right thumb, his left knee and a torn shoulder labrum, a player who was leading an offense full of castoffs and afterthoughts.
Football is not a priority …
“Every day his car would be the first one in the parking lot,” says Jim Harbaugh, who almost won Super Bowl 47 with Kaepernick in San Francisco before moving on to the University of Michigan. “He’d be studying film and he’d be working out in the morning. I mean, no later than 5:45. He was already in a full lather when I would see him.”
He’s a distraction to his teammates …
“There was zero distraction,” Kelly says. “He met with the team immediately after [his first protest]. He met with the other team leaders. He explained his position and where he was coming from. And literally, that was it. Colin was focused on football. He was all about the team and trying to help us win.”
There are 32 NFL teams, which means there are 64 quarterback jobs. Harbaugh believes Kaepernick can still be a starter, if not an elite player. Kelly says, “Do I think he is one of the top 64 quarterbacks in the world? There is no question. Does he have the ability to play quarterback on a winning team in the NFL? There is no question.”
So why is Colin Kaepernick looking for a job?
We could blame NFL teams for being obtuse. We could blame Kaepernick for being obstinate. We could argue that the NFL cares only about public relations or that Kaepernick is un-American. But saying Kaepernick is unemployed simply because of his politics or bad publicity is like saying Adrian Peterson is unemployed simply because he was accused of child abuse. It may be a factor, but it’s not the only one.
If we view Kaepernick’s free agency as a straightforward referendum on his protests, then we make the same mistakes people usually make when it comes to Colin Kaepernick. We simplify a complicated issue, and we get mad instead of trying to understand.
* * *
One thing Kaepernick does not do well is speak about himself. Since the 2016 season ended, the President of the United States has publicly said more about Kaepernick than Kaepernick has. Donald Trump did not quite take credit for Kaepernick’s unemployment, but he came close. In classic Trump fashion, he said some people are saying teams won’t sign Kaepernick because they’re afraid Trump will rip them on Twitter, and “Can you believe that?”
Kaepernick did not respond. He also declined to talk to me for this story, as I figured he would. He does not like publicity. This sounds preposterous: Kaepernick caused a national debate in the middle of a presidential campaign, landing his name and face everywhere through actions of his choosing. But it’s true: he does not like publicity. He has declined requests for one-on-one interviews from virtually every major media outlet since his first anthem protest.
His aversion to publicity places himself in an awkward position, because the cause he has championed needs publicity. He wants us to listen to his message about oppression and police brutality and justice, but pay no mind to the messenger.
But America wants to talk about the messenger. We always do. And so Kaepernick’s critics throw various darts his way: He hates his country. He hates the police. He hates the military. He resents being adopted by a white family. He is trying to draw attention to himself because he isn’t a star anymore. He is a naïve pawn in a political game that he doesn’t understand.
None of it is true. Kaepernick is bright, thoughtful, quiet, and fiercely independent; you could sooner talk a tree into making you a sandwich than talk Kaepernick into doing something he doesn’t want to do. When college scouts said his future was in baseball, he declared he would be an NFL star. When his mother asked him to skip a high school baseball game because he had pneumonia, he pitched a no-hitter. When a writer criticized his tattoos, he responded by kissing his tattooed biceps after touchdowns.
Kaepernick may not have fully anticipated the firestorm he caused last fall, but once he caused it, he wasn’t going to back down. Stubbornness may be his hallmark trait. It helps explain why he went from a lightly regarded recruit to an NFL star. Harbaugh says of his time coaching Kaepernick: “It got to the point where nobody could challenge him in a workout. Otherwise, he’d bring them to their knees. Like in running workouts—nobody could hang with him. Nobody was in the kind of shape he was.”
You might argue that was the old Kaepernick, before his head turned toward the Black Lives Matter movement. But there is no evidence that Kaepernick’s interest in social justice sapped his interest in football. Kelly says Kaepernick did not miss a day of the 49ers’ voluntary workouts last summer. Remember: Kaepernick was recovering from three surgeries and was not happy with the organization. But he was unrelenting, and he remained that way all fall.
And this brings us to two seemingly contradictory statements about Kaepernick:
1. He is absolutely, completely, 100% committed to playing in the NFL this year.
2. If NFL teams demand he put aside his social justice work, he will walk away from the game.
Those statements are tough to reconcile. But I believe both to be true. He wants to be some team’s hardest worker, but he won’t change who he is. This is why the concept of “risk” is actually limited with Kaepernick. His performance might be a risk. Fan backlash could be a risk, especially in certain markets. But his character is decidedly not a risk. The notion of Kaepernick loafing while cashing checks is laughable to anybody who knows him.
“When Colin is with us, he is 100 percent football,” Kelly says. “There’s not, ‘Hey, Coach, I don’t have time for this.’ That was never him. [The protest] never affected how he worked or what our workplace was like. And that’s a credit to Colin.”
Generally, pundits and fans only see what players show us. Kaepernick’s protests were public, so they became fodder for national debate. Players see much more. They know who shows up to late to meetings hung over and who likes to hit strip clubs three times a week. This is why Kaepernick’s protests did not affect his standing in the locker room: Teammates saw how hard he worked.
But we cannot discount what the public sees. NFL teams are businesses, owned by prideful billionaires. Owners want to win, but they also do not like to be embarrassed. Some would be embarrassed to have their famous guests look down from the owner’s box and see the starting quarterback kneeling during the national anthem.
In early March, about a week before NFL free agency opened, ESPN reported that Kaepernick will stand for the anthem this fall. That report led many to logically conclude that Kaepernick dropped his protest because he wants a team to sign him. Well, maybe. First of all, Kaepernick has not said publicly that he will stand for the anthem. Second: if he does stand, he may just have decided he is tired of people misinterpreting the intent behind his kneeling. Remember, the first time he protested, he sat on the 49ers’ bench. When he was told that seemed contemptuous, he started kneeling.
The Star-Spangled Banner (and the star-spangled banner) evokes visceral reactions. And when a fellow American declines to stand for it, that evokes other visceral reactions. Harbaugh may be Kaepernick’s biggest advocate in football, but he bristled when the anthem protest began.
“I was like anybody: I didn’t really like this,” Harbaugh says. “I wish he had chosen a different way to do this, a different action.”
When a reporter asked Harbaugh about Kaepernick’s protest, Harbaugh said, “I don’t respect the motivation or the action.” He quickly regretted his choice of words, and he clarified that he respected the motivation, not the action. But he still didn’t approve. Harbaugh is a stand-for-the-anthem kind of man.
But then Harbaugh did what too many have not done: he thought hard about it. He had no choice. Some of his Michigan players supported Kaepernick and raised their fists during the anthem.
“It wasn’t a distraction because we were listening to what they were saying,” Harbaugh says. “And they had a valid point. And they continue to have a valid point.”
For a moment, try doing what Harbaugh did last fall: Listen.
“The issue is, the more money you have, the more access you have to justice,” Harbaugh says. “The less money you have, the less access you have to justice.”
Harbaugh has seen this himself, through his work on the Legal Services Corporation, which funds civil legal services for poor Americans.
“Somebody is trying to make a foreclosure on you, an unlawful foreclosure,” Harbaugh says. “You don’t know where to go. You don’t have legal representation. Do you even know how to access the form to make a grievance? … [or] if you are a woman who is being battered and abused: in some courts, you have to pay $500 to get a divorce. Maybe you don’t have $500. How do you get a restraining order against somebody who is doing you bodily harm, without representation? It’s hard to know where to start to do that. If you don’t know how to do it or you’re not successful or you don’t have the means, then the person finds out, it can be life-threatening. That’s what civil legal representation can provide. Somebody who has money has access.”
Not surprisingly, Harbaugh has ideas of how to address the problem. Among them: Harbaugh thinks the government should employ paralegals to work in post offices, to help low-income Americans navigate the legal system. But the point is not that there are easy solutions. It’s that, if you step away from simplistic online screaming matches (“Cops are abusive racists!” “No, they’re not!”) you see a complex, systemic problem.
And this is what Kaepernick is trying to address. You can reasonably disagree with his actions: the anthem protest, the socks that depicted police as pigs, his choice not to vote in the presidential election. But there is common ground if we look for it. He is not against cops; as he has written on Instagram, he is against “rogue cops.” He did not give money to Meals on Wheels as a “political stunt,” as Sarah Palin recently suggested; he donates to numerous charities, and really: are we criticizing somebody for donating to Meals on Wheels? He is not against America; he is for a better America.
Listen to Harbaugh talk about the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after Michael Brown was killed: “Now that they’ve had a chance to reflect on Ferguson, one of the real culprits were the fines and fees they were putting on low-income Americans, [that] 48 states have been implementing on all of us, all Americans. For Colin, and what Colin’s doing and has been doing, when you really stop and listen and know where Colin is coming from … he’s trying to do this for his future kids, for my kids, for all of our kids. He’s a special person and a hero, in my opinion.”
The math seems clear: If Kaepernick is one of the 64 best quarterbacks in the world, somebody should have signed him by now. And since they haven’t, many people assume his protests are the reason. Some people think this is just. Others, an outrage.
But Kaepernick’s unemployment, like his political stance, is not that simple. Those 64 jobs are not all equal. Let’s assume at least 20 teams are set at starting quarterback. (One could argue that the number is as high as 25, but let’s stick with the lower estimate.) And let’s assume that Kaepernick wants a chance to compete for a starting job. That eliminates 40 of the 64 jobs right away, because 20 teams won’t sign him as a starter, and he won’t sign as a sure backup.
So now there are 24 jobs available, not 64. Some of those remaining 12 teams hope to nab their quarterback of the future in the draft. Some may not have been impressed by how Kaepernick played last year. Some may have been impressed but don’t think Kaepernick fits their system. Some may not have the money left to sign him. And yes: some may be shying away because of the protests.
Kelly says, “There are 32 individual groups that make decisions on what is best. If you’re not part of those 32 teams, it’s very difficult to know what is going on.” Harbaugh thinks Kaepernick will be signed soon after the draft, when teams have a better sense of what their rosters look like.
If you think your favorite team should not sign a player who protested during the anthem, some bad news for you: it probably will. After Kaepernick started protesting, other NFL players joined him. So did plenty of college players around the country. Some of those collegians will be drafted this spring. You just don’t hear their names in the news cycle.
“He is singled out because he was first,” Harbaugh says. “He is going to be the one that people hold a grudge against.”
This is a choice Kaepernick made, whether he realized it or not. Colin Kaepernick will be a controversial topic in America this fall, and perhaps for the rest of his life. A smart NFL team will distinguish between the conversation topic and the man.
DeSHAUN WATSON IN TUSCALOOSA
This does not reflect well on Alabama. John Talty at AL.com:
Former Clemson star quarterback Deshaun Watson didn’t get the royal treatment after spotting up at a Tuscaloosa bar.
Watson, who guided Clemson to a national championship win over Alabama in January, was in Tuscaloosa for some reason Friday but bar patrons including two former Crimson Tide players weren’t pleased with his presence.
Alabama fans told Watson to leave Innisfree Irish Pub, one of Tuscaloosa’s most popular bars, according to Twitter user @doctor_59 who uploaded a video of the proceedings. He claimed on Twitter that former Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson approached Watson and told him to go. Anderson is seen in the background of the video behind Watson.
As Watson put his head and started walking out, one woman was overhead saying sorry to the former college star and that the situation was “sad.” That same voice could be heard earlier in the video saying it was rude that a fan approached Watson and told him to leave.
@Kimiko_CM @ryanderson84 came in and told him it was #timetogo
— Sierk (@doctor_59) March 31, 2017
In a Facebook post, Innisfree said it had nothing to do with Watson being asked to leave the bar.
“Unfortunately a customer attempted to invoke the right to refuse service on our behalf and after being identified, was immediately asked to leave the premises following the incident,” the bar wrote on Facebook. “We apologize for any inconvenience this incident caused to our customers. We appreciate anyone that chooses to visit our establishment and hope to continue welcoming sports fans for years to come.”
Later in the night, another video appeared that showed Anderson and former Tide star Wallace Gilberry confronting Watson and gesticulating for him to go. Anderson was one of the players most upset following Alabama’s 35-31 loss to Clemson in Tampa, refusing to talk to reporters in the locker room.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is trying to figure out why QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY is near the top of the draft. Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, a noted quarterback expert, sees the same physical ability in Mitch Trubisky that everyone else does, but the fact he couldn’t win the job his first two seasons at North Carolina haunts him.
“A really talented player,” Arians said Wednesday at the NFL Annual meeting. “The growth potential is obviously there. The question is why wasn’t all that talent starting for the last three years? That’s always bugging me. So you have to go and answer those questions with him, with his coach, but the physical talent is there.”
The former Browns offensive coordinator, Arians also scoffed at the comparison of Trubisky to Aaron Rodgers, which one scout made to ESPN’s Todd McShay.
“That’s a hell of a scout,” said Arians. “I don’t know how you can compare those two. When Aaron was coming out, he was in a totally different offense. I’m old enough to know when Aaron came out because I evaluated him.
“Mitch probably has a stronger arm coming out than Aaron did. But to say anybody reminds you of somebody, to me it’s just physically, stature-wise or just arm-strength wise. I wouldn’t put that much pressure on a guy to say he’s Aaron Rodgers.”
Arians, who has the No. 13 pick in the first round and is in the market for Carson Palmer’s successor, said only one of the quarterbacks is ready to start as a rookie. He wouldn’t say which, but Arizona Sports’ 98.7 FM reported that Arians was referring to Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer.
“All the rest, there are some really talented arms that need a year of learning how to play the position especially at this level,” he said. “If you’re plug-and-play then this draft is very small, but if you have time to bring them along, then this draft is large because the talent level is there.”
Arians isn’t the only NFL talent evaluator wondering why Trubisky — who worked out for the Browns in Berea on Friday during their local prospect day — couldn’t beat out Marquise Williams his first two years at North Carolina.
But coach Hue Jackson seems to have a comfort level with it, and likes Trubisky a lot.
“The tape is the tape,” he said. “There’s only 13 games of it. I think getting to know the player, spending more time, doing our due diligence like we have with every quarterback we potentially could draft. I think it’s important and we’re not through that process yet. We’ll know more about him as we continue to go. I’ll be ready to answer that question more honestly a week from now, two weeks from now.”
– – –
Here is a Mock Draft from Lance Zeirlein of NFL.com with MITCH TRUBISKY as the only first round QB and LB HAASON REDDICK going in the top five:
Myles Garrett – DE, Texas A&M
Garrett has an all-pro ceiling and combines elite traits with high-end football character. The Browns obviously need a quarterback, but they need great football players first and foremost, and Garrett has a chance to be special.
Solomon Thomas – DE, Stanford
(Projected trade with 49ers) The Panthers have an additional second-round pick that helps facilitate a move up to target a versatile pass rusher who can be moved up and down the defensive line in rush situations.
Marshon Lattimore – CB, Ohio State
The Bears are in desperate need of a true top corner, and Lattimore is that guy in this draft.
Jamal Adams – S, LSU
The Jaguars have some promising young talent, but they looked undisciplined too often last year. Adams is the ultimate “sheriff” in this draft, with an ability to lead from the back end and in the locker room.
Haason Reddick – OLB, Temple
Surprised? Reddick’s outstanding athleticism and ability to play inside linebacker and roll outside to rush on third downs make him a flexible, ascending prospect.
6 NEW YORK JETS
Leonard Fournette – RB, LSU
If you don’t have a good quarterback, you better have a good defense and a good running game. The Jets have some defensive pieces, but in Fournette, they could get a potentially dominant runner to handle the heavy lifting for the offense.
7 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Malik Hooker – S, Ohio State
The Chargers could use a wide receiver, but this feels too early for that position. Hooker gives them a very talented, instinctive back-end presence.
8 SAN FRANCISCO
O.J. Howard – TE, Alabama
(Projected trade with Panthers) Of course the 49ers have other pressing needs, but Howard has tremendous upside and would be a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan’s play-action passing attack.
Cam Robinson – OT, Alabama
Robinson’s big, physical style could fit at right tackle if the Bengals are concerned about Cedric Ogbuehi’s strength, or they could kick him down inside to take over at right guard.
Mitch Trubisky – QB, North Carolina
This situation allows the Bills to bring Trubisky along behind Tyrod Taylor until they are ready to cut him loose as the starter.
11 NEW ORLEANS
Takkarist McKinley – OLB, UCLA
We all know the Saints need a cornerback, but in a deep cornerback draft, the Saints could afford to wait on that position while grabbing a talented edge rusher like McKinley.
Jonathan Allen – DE, Alabama
There are some concerns about the health of Allen’s shoulders, which could cause him to fall a little bit. It might be hard for the Browns to pass on a chance to pair Allen with Myles Garrett, though.
Reuben Foster – LB, Alabama
This would be one of the best marriages in the draft. Foster is fast, physical, and can cover. This is exactly what the Cardinals are looking for.
Gareon Conley – CB, Ohio State
The Eagles need a cornerback, and Conley has good size and the ability to press and cover all over the field. His strong combine performance helped his stock.
Ryan Ramczyk – OT, Wisconsin
Joe Haeg simply isn’t strong enough to anchor and hold up at the point of attack. Ramczyk is a tremendous run blocker who will improve pass pro on the right side for the Colts.
Mike Williams – WR, Clemson
The Ravens pick up a big, go-to target with fantastic ball skills who has the potential to become a WR1.
Jabrill Peppers – S, Michigan
This is probably earlier than I would go with Peppers, but with Deangelo Hall on the back end, Peppers would be allowed to play in space and be deployed all over the field like he was at Michigan.
Forrest Lamp – OT, Western Kentucky
The Titans need cornerback and wide receiver help, but they also need a quality guard as well, and Lamp is one of the safest offensive linemen in the draft.
19 TAMPA BAY
Taco Charlton – OLB, Michigan
Taco has loads of potential as an edge rusher, but his pedestrian combine could have hurt his stock a bit. Still, he has the traits and potential to get Tampa excited.
Garett Bolles – OT, Utah
Bolles is an insane athlete and would have been an easy choice in the Gary Kubiak era, but my guess is that Denver will still have a great deal of interest in him even if he is a little on the light side.
John Ross – WR, Washington
Let’s get fast, Detroit. Let’s get really, really fast and add a dynamic deep threat with scary run-and-catch potential underneath. The Lions can look for another pass rusher later.
Tre’Davious White – CB, LSU
White has top-notch feet and can mirror and match with the best of them. Miami is light at cornerback; White should be able to step in and be an immediate third corner with a chance to win a starting spot in camp.
23 NEW YORK GIANTS
Malik McDowell – DT, Michigan State
McDowell has a high ceiling and a low floor, but he has outstanding size and could become an extremely disruptive interior defender if he gets his motor right.
24 OAKLAND/LAS VEGAS
Marlon Humphrey – CB, Alabama
Another size-speed cornerback for the Raiders, but he’s also an exceptionally aggressive run supporter who sets the tone like a safety.
Zach Cunningham – LB, Vanderbilt
Cunningham’s tackle production at Vanderbilt is very impressive, but so is his ability to cover on passing downs. He gives the Texans Brian Cushing’s eventual replacement to play next to Bernardrick McKinney.
Kevin King – CB, Washington
I feel like this pick is a wild card in the draft because John Schneider is fairly wide open and hard to predict. King matches up with the a need and the physical profile the Seahawks look for.
27 KANSAS CITY
Corey Davis – WR, Western Michigan
I could see Davis going much higher in this draft, but I still think some teams might shy away from him until he is healthy enough to run and post a good time. He would be a great get for Andy Reid in this spot.
Derek Barnett – DE, Tennessee
Barnett doesn’t have the burst out of his stance to put fear into offensive tackles, but his production wasn’t an accident. With outstanding hands and good power, Rod Marinelli will be able to have him ready to produce early on for Dallas.
29 GREEN BAY
Charles Harris – OLB, Missouri
I know Green Bay needs a cornerback, but they could also use a pass rusher, and this draft is pretty thin in that department. Harris gives the Packers an outstanding athlete with loads of potential as a stand-up rusher.
David Njoku – TE, Miami
I would run this card up to the commissioner if Njoku dropped this far. Njoku has the ability to work all three levels of the field and has the potential to become a solid blocker.
Taylor Moton – OG, Western Michigan
Moton would be a kick-down player who would be coming from tackle to guard. He’s strong and athletic enough to handle the Falcons’ zone-blocking responsibilities. He might also provide tackle flexibility in a pinch.
32 NEW ORLEANS
Chidobe Awuzie – CB, Colorado
Earlier in the round, I had the Saints taking a pass rusher and this time they look at finding secondary help. Awuzie has good size and explosiveness and is a quality cover man. It also helps that he’s a talented gunner on special teams.