The Daily Briefing Monday, August 14, 2017

Peter King breaks down the big trades made by the Rams, Eagles and Bills:

 

“We researched trades at this time of year,” Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane said Sunday afternoon, “and there’s aren’t many like this.” Trades for picks, the Bills’ GM meant. There was Sam Bradford from Philadelphia to Minnesota last year for first- and fourth-round picks, Vontae Davis from Miami to Indy for a second-rounder in 2012, and Greg Olsen from Chicago to Carolina for a third-rounder in 2011 … all in the preseason. Beane did two of them in one day. On Friday he sent wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Rams for a second-round pick plus cornerback E.J. Gaines; then he traded cornerback Ronald Darby to Philadelphia for a third-round pick plus wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

 

Everyone would say Darby is a better corner than Gaines, and Watkins is a better wideout than Matthews. I don’t worry about the Darby deal for Buffalo, because he hadn’t bought into the new administration of Beane and head coach Sean McDermott, and because he wasn’t a great scheme fit for McDermott’s zone coverage. Buffalo did get a gutty, durable (Matthews played 46 of 48 games in three NFL seasons) possession receiver who will take Watkins’ spot in the Bills’ offense. The Watkins deal could hurt in the long run, for two reasons. He’s healthy this year after being plagued by a nagging foot injury. And the veterans on the Bills loved him, and won’t be happy with this deal. I can’t imagine LeSean McCoy singing kumbaya over this trade for the future. He wants to win now.

 

The reality of this situation, though, is that the Bills are not going to win now, even if Darby and Watkins had been playing great. Playing for 2018 is smarter. And Buffalo also had to worry about Watkins and the cap. Because the team didn’t exercise the fifth-year option for Watkins, ensuring that he’d be a free agent after this season, Beane would have had to try to sign Watkins late this season (when the team has just $8.1 million remaining under the cap) or likely face franchising him next spring. So they risked Watkins playing great this year and looking dumb for letting him go … or trading him now for real value. A pick around number 40 or 45 in 2018 appealed more to Beane.

 

Interestingly, Beane didn’t tell McDermott about his tentative deal with the Rams before their game against Minnesota. Imagine the Rams’ shock when, on the first four plays of the game on offense for Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor threw to Watkins. Beane wanted McDermott, in his first game as coach, not to be shackled but rather to be able to use his 90 players the way he saw fit. They didn’t discuss the chance for the trade until after the game.

 

The trades leave Buffalo and Cleveland with a league-high six picks in the first three rounds next year. “The onus is on me and my staff,” Beane said on Sunday. “We have to draft well. We’ve taken the first step—accumulating high picks.”

 

Interestingly, Beane said: “If this was baseball, we’d probably have kept Sammy, because we wouldn’t have had the cap to worry about. But every decision you make in football, with the cap, is a calculated risk. We had four inquiries for Sammy, and three offers, and got to a point where the Rams were willing to give a high pick, and we thought it was the best thing for us.”

 

The Rams, with speed threat Tavon Austin idled by a hamstring injury, now could have a three-man starting receiver set of all new guys: vets Robert Woods and Watkins, and rookie Cooper Kupp. With the uncertainty surrounding 2016 top overall pick Jared Goff, it’s hard to envision Watkins putting up premier-receiver numbers. So the Bills may not look bad. But at some point they’ve got to start keeping their top picks. That’s a big reason why Buffalo hasn’t been in the playoffs in 17 years.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Peter King:

 

The most interesting thing about the impressive debut of Chicago quarterback Mitch Trubisky (18 of 25, 166 yards, one touchdown, no picks) was how he threw on the move. Watch that reel of all 25 throws. Three or four times, once in the middle of a dead gallop, he whipsawed a perfect throw for a completion. The book on Trubisky didn’t have a big chapter on mobility and being accurate on the run, but in this game, at this time, that trait is huge.

 

MIKE GLENNON, meet Matt Flynn.

 

 

DETROIT

Did the Lions hit third round gold?  Peter King:

 

Another big receiver shines for the Lions—6’4″ third-round rookie Kenny Golladay from Northern Illinois. He scored twice and was the best player on the field Sunday in Indianapolis.

 

Golladay, from St. Rita of Cascia H.S. in Chicago, was productive once he got to NIU.

 

Golladay began his collegiate career at North Dakota in 2012, where he played his first two seasons. He transferred to Northern Illinois in 2014. After sitting out one season under NCAA transfer rules, he put together two impressive seasons. Golladay had 73 catches for 1,129 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015 and had 87 catches for 1,156 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Ty Montgomery tells Peter King why he prefers being RB TY MONTGOMERY to WR TY MONTGOMERY:

 

“It’s just me. It feels natural. It’s fun. I like being back there. From the running back position, I can still motion out and go run a route, go run a 15-yard comeback. I think of the perfect drive I want to have in a game. I want to be able to have a few good runs, have an explosive run inside and outside. Go get the yards on a third-and-short. Motion out from the backfield, run a route, catch a football. Stand in there and pick up a few blitzes as Aaron [Rodgers] throws a touchdown pass. Or if that doesn’t happen, we get to the goal line and then I get a goal-line score. Just to be able to do everything. Running back gives me the ability to do everything.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Peter King, with the help of legal eagle Michael McCann, weighs in on the six-game suspension for RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT:

 

The NFL gave Baltimore running back Ray Rice a two-game ban initially; howls of protest. The NFL gave Giants kicker Josh Brown a one-game ban; howls of protest. The NFL draws a line and says “a baseline suspension of six games” for league employees found to have engaged in domestic violence. Then the NFL gives Ezekiel Elliott a six-game ban. It’s stunning, and Elliott will fight it, but it’s not unexpected. This is what America, and the owners, wanted: action on domestic violence. Maybe not the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, but the other owners do. They want domestic abuse punished, and significantly.

 

This story can go so many ways … but the first thing I thought of when I heard about the Elliott ban was the future of Roger Goodell. In his first 11 years as commissioner, Goodell has had—in my estimation—five major influential owners as the cornerstones of his power base: Pittsburgh’s Dan Rooney, Carolina’s Jerry Richardson, Jerry Jones of Dallas, Robert Kraft of New England, and the Giants’ John Mara. Rooney died this year. Richardson, 81, has declining influence. Jones, as Adam Schefter reports, is furious with the commissioner for the Elliott suspension, and as I believe, thinks the commissioner is too suspension-happy. Kraft is still wounded over the Brady suspension and verdict. Mara’s still in Goodell’s corner—rock-solid, I believe.

 

That’s quite a change in the Goodell power base. How much will that factor into Goodell’s long-term future? We’ll see.

 

Now to the Elliott story. First, the legal expert for Sports Illustrated, Michael McCann, gives us a weekend update of where we stand after the league’s suspension of the defending NFL rushing champion.

 

MMQB: So many are asking: How can the NFL suspend a guy for six games when he was never charged with a crime by investigating authorities in the case?

 

McCann: The relevant standard is the key. In a court of law, probable cause is required for a criminal charge. In the NFL system of justice, probable cause is not required. The NFL standard for whether someone committed a wrong is up to the discretion of the commissioner, on a case-by-case basis. The authorities have not charged him; the NFL would say that’s irrelevant. They would say the reputation of the league is at stake, and the commitment to curbing domestic violence … Without having seen the evidence, it’s hard to draw the conclusion that the league [made the correct ruling]. The key question is what’s the guiding force for the NFL here? Is it a PR strategy? Does the league want to appear tough in the wake of Ray Rice and Josh Brown? That said, the panel that Roger Goodell used is very credible; they are authoritative voices. We have reason to believe that outside experts of that caliber would be committed to make the right decision.

 

MMQB: The league points to significant forensic evidence in suspending Elliott. Did the local authorities not have that evidence?

 

McCann: It’s a little hard to think a private company that does not have subpoena power would be able to obtain more evidence and better evidence than law enforcement. That said, the NFL may have the capacity to get people to talk—people who might be unwilling to talk to law enforcement. They may have access to additional electronic evidence than law enforcement.

 

MMQB: What’s next?

 

McCann: It appears Elliott will file an appeal. After an appeal is filed, the NFL would have 10 business days to hold a hearing. I think the appeal will be influenced by whether Elliott expresses contrition. This commissioner has lowered sanctions when players have voiced contrition or said they’ve done something. If there is an appeal that doesn’t have the outcome Elliott wants, he would have the option of filing a federal lawsuit. The NFL will rush to court, to the New York Southern District federal court, most likely. They would have the positive Brady verdict from the Second Circuit there as precedent. So we’ll see.

 

MMQB: Do you believe it’s most likely Elliott starts the season suspended?

 

McCann: I think that’s extremely likely—unless his appeal works with Roger Goodell and it’s totally vacated. He would have to get an injunction, and it’s hard to imagine that happening in this case.

 

Elliott will appeal, of course, and he should if he believes he’s been wronged. We shouldn’t pass judgment until the Elliott team has had its day in the appeals process. But what could the Elliott side have left? I’m reminded of the Saints’ bounty case, when New Orleans owner Tom Benson and coach Sean Payton flew to New York to make their case fervently and with finality before Roger Goodell issued his ruling. It was impassioned, I was told afterward, with Payton, in particular, saying he wasn’t aware of many of the bounty-related charges the NFL felt were solid. Payton threw it all on the table, but Goodell still suspended him for a year. When Elliott and his representatives met with the NFL weeks ago to argue their side, surely they used their most persuasive arguments and evidence. So what’s left now? Elliott must hope there’s something.

 

As one legal expert told me over the weekend, the Elliott side must hope to be able to poke holes in the NFL “metadata” points, and in the fact that the alleged victim, Tiffany Thompson, had some inconsistencies in her story.

 

Goodell relied on the metadata—quite literally, a collection of data about data—to make this call. In this way: When you take a picture on your smartphone, the photo has a time stamp. But the time stamp, and the location on the photo, can be doctored. What can’t be doctored are the GPS coordinates and the information embedded in the phone that show when and where a photo was taken, and also some information on data (photos, texts) shared by the phone-owner. That’s the metadata discovered by the analysts who looked at Thompson’s phone, and the phones of those with whom she shared her texts and photos. As for the incriminating photos of bruises, the league relied on two medical authorities who established the medical equivalent of time stamps on when the bruises on Thompson occurred. There’s no question that the Elliott side, in its appeals and attempts to make Elliott able to play on opening night, will attack the credibility of the experts attempting to link the time Elliott and Thompson spent together in July 2016 and the bruises she suffered and photographed as proof of his alleged abuse.

 

If you think an appeal is open-and-shut in the league’s favor, don’t. The Greg Hardy 10-game domestic-assault ban was reduced to four games in 2015. So let’s give Elliott his due process. The league has fumbled frequently in the domestic-violence arena, so make no predictions here. But the Cowboys have good running back depth (Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris), and I’m not buying the gloom and doom predictions if Elliott misses six games.

 

Let’s give Elliott his fair chance to prove his innocence. If he can’t, let’s acknowledge the fact the NFL had a major problem in image and morality and moved to address it, and did exactly what it said it would do.

 

This from ProFootballTalk.com previews how Elliott will attack the position of NFL Justice.

 

On Monday, Stacy Elliott provided some more details about how things will play out, now that the NFL has suspended his son for six games.

 

“My son’s legal team is ready to fight!” Stacy Elliott tweeted on Monday morning. “Let’s deal!!!! You will know the set up and PLOT!”

 

The tweet contains excerpts from a new Fort Worth Star-Telegram story from Clarence E. Hill. Jr. regarding a review of certain documents from the case — documents that have yet to be publicly released.

 

According to the report, the documents reveal threats from Tiffany Thompson to Ezekiel Elliott, apparently coming after Elliott tried to distance himself from her. “I’m going to ruin your life,” she allegedly said when Elliott told her that her didn’t want her at his house. “You will see.”

 

When Ezekiel Elliott told Thompson that she wasn’t welcome at his birthday party, she allegedly said, “That’s the worst decision you made in your life. I’m going to ruin your life now.”

 

Ezekiel Elliott contends, based on the documents, that Thompson told him, “You are a black male athlete. I’m a white girl. They are not going to be believe you.”

 

So far, the NFL has believed Thompson just enough more than Elliott to tip the scales of in-house justice in her favor. Moving forward, the question is whether the court of public opinion and, ultimately, whoever handles the appeal will agree.

 

However it turns out, it’s abundantly clear that a fight is coming.

 

Whoa – the from Darren Woodson in a podcast with Ed Werder:

 

“This is not an excuse, and I don’t want people to think this is an excuse, but if we would have had social media, Twitter, Instagram, back in the ’90s, half our team would have been suspended. Not for PEDs and not for any drug enhancement. Just for what we did off the field.”

 

Which reinforces the notion that Elliott is truly a knucklehead.  He should know that we do have social media.  And he surely know that avoiding a suspension was hanging on a knife’s edge.  And he still behaved badly at the 2017 St. Patrick’s Day parade.

 

The NFL’s long series of all over the board decisions leaves David Steele of The Sporting News ready to doubt that The League actually got things right for once.

 

The roller-coaster ride of NFL player discipline starts again. So does the stain on the NFL’s credibility.

 

Once again, there’s no reason to trust that the NFL did the right thing in suspending Ezekiel Elliott under the personal conduct policy Friday. You sure can’t tell from the league’s history of previous similar suspensions. For example, Greg Hardy’s and Josh Brown’s.

 

MORE: Fans unhappy with NFL’s decision on Elliott

 

They were the two more notorious domestic violence violators of the past two seasons, since the NFL unilaterally imposed a new policy in 2014, out of the ashes of its Ray Rice investigation.

 

Between them, Hardy was suspended four games, Brown one. Five combined. One fewer than the six Elliott got Friday.

 

Somehow, someone is going to have to explain what justified that. And when that’s done, explain how the NFL could manage to look even more capricious and arbitrary with every investigation, of every kind, but especially the ones involving players and violence against women.

 

Often when handing down justice, making all sides mad is a sign that you’re right. This isn’t one of those times — because this isn’t one of those leagues.

 

There aren’t many uglier chores than judging which instances of violence against women are worse than others. The details that have come out about Elliott, Hardy and Brown each have been awful.

 

But none of them has explained why the punishments have been all over the map. Once again, there’s no consistency from the league, no logic, no sense of what guides its decisions, because it doesn’t appear to be precedent. If you look at the Giants and the way they enabled their kicker for so long after they learned of what he did, you’d think there was more preference than precedent in play.

 

The league has rushed to judgment, then has dragged its feet. It’s handed out wrist slaps and, now, swung hammers. Too much of what it does seems steered by how the winds of publicity blow. Appearance of playing favorites in letting Brown (and favored owner John Mara) off the hook? Let’s fix that by clapping another favorite in the Cowboys and Jerry Jones.

 

Yes, this should sound familiar, the whiff of politics that funked up Deflategate and the punishment of the Patriots, Tom Brady and Roger Goodell ally Robert Kraft.

 

That probe united pro- and anti-Patriots partisans in charging the league and Goodell with gross ineptitude. History may be repeating itself here with the lightning-rod Cowboys.

 

The process, the randomness of it, the way the explanations always end up needing explanations, and then create the need for more explanations, well, it’s what the NFL drags around every time it has to investigate, and possibly punish, a player.

 

Doing that with Ray Rice three years ago is what made the league stitch together this new policy, yet nothing has changed.

 

Who knows whether what Elliott did is worth six games, or 10, or three, or any specific number? You can’t tell from how the NFL has handled everything — anything — before or after it put this new policy in place.

 

And the NFL is the one that’s supposed to know, and let its teams and players know, and let the public know.

 

So don’t feel bad. No one has figured out how Josh Brown got away with one game, and that was a year ago. The roller coaster rolls on.

 

And Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com shows some support for Elliott as he notes that one of the four members of the “expert” panel Mary Jo White was involved in the fiasco of the Bountygate investigation that threw the book at Anthony Hargrove for something he clearly did not say:

 

Whatever anyone thinks of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s past handling of internal investigations should at a minimum prompt a willingness to keep an open mind, to listen what Elliott has to say, and to be willing to poke holes in the facts, findings, and logic applied by the league.

 

That attitude likely won’t earn me any friends at 345 Park Avenue (if I have any), but it’s a clear consequence of the manner in which the league has Machiavellied its way through other investigations, at times ignoring common sense and reason to make the square peg of P.R.-driven justice fit in the round hole of reality.

 

Here’s the first clue that maybe a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted before concluding that Elliott did what they now say he did (apart from, you know, the fact that he wasn’t arrested or charged): One of the four experts who participated in the Commissioner’s advisory panel for the Elliott case is Mary Jo White.

 

For Saints fans, that name has nearly the same connotation as Ted Wells does for Patriots fans. Five years ago, the NFL hired White to serve as a supposedly independent evaluator of disputed facts and evidence regarding the bounty scandal. At one point, she met with multiple reporters and reviewed what she decided was “overwhelming evidence” of Saintly guilt.

 

Here’s the piece of “overwhelming evidence” many regarded as a smoking gun, as explained at the time by Peter King: “The NFL Films-recorded quote from defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, as first reported by SI in March, with Hargrove saying to defensive teammate Bobby McCray, ‘Give me my money,’ after Vitt told the team that Favre was out of the game with a leg injury. (Favre did return to the game without missing a play, but that wasn’t apparent when Hargrove made his declaration to McCray.)”

 

The problem with White’s insistence that Hargrove said “give me my money” is that careful, objective assessment of the video and audio leads to the fair conclusion that it’s inconclusive, at best, that Hargrove said the words. After watching it over and over and over again, I personally became convinced that he didn’t. Making White’s claim even more problematic is that she defended the conclusion that Hargrove said “give me my money” by saying “you can see his lips moving.” The video did not support that interpretation, at all.

 

The league later retreated from the insistence that Hargrove said “give me my money,” but the zealous, and erroneous, effort by White to put words in Hargrove’s mouth raised real questions about the overall credibility of her work, since it created a fair impression that she was serving not as an independent evaluator of the evidence but as an advocate for the league’s preferred outcome.

 

While the bounty scandal had more fundamental flaws (including, as former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue explained in his ruling scrapping the player suspensions, an effort to change a widespread NFL cultural dynamic by catching one team and hammering it with discipline), the effort by White to sell the strength of the case by insisting Hargrove said something that he didn’t obviously say became, at least for me, a key moment. Once I realized that Hargrove didn’t say “give me my money,” a little switch flipped in my typically limited brain. That was the moment where I decided that I wouldn’t just assume that whatever the league says in disciplinary matters is truthful and accurate. Those statements and claims from the league may ultimately be truthful and accurate, but I resolved at that point to resist the urge to say, “Well, if Big Shield says it, it must be true” and to look critically and carefully at every nook and cranny of the proof in order to ensure that everything makes sense.

 

Now White is back on the scene, hired once again by the NFL to provide opinions, insights, and perhaps eventually explanations regarding the strength of the league’s evidence against Elliott. Although there’s no reason to assume that there definitely will be a repeat of her inaccurate claims from 2012 (apart from the fact that she previously made an inaccurate claim in 2012), it’s a reminder that there are always two sides to the story, but that the league strongly prefers that its side be accepted as truthful and accurate, no matter what.

 

It will be harder to look at both sides of this case than it is in other cases. Elliott is accused of domestic violence; any effort to push back against the claims made against him will, at some point, feel like a failure to properly support the victims of domestic violence. Perhaps that makes it even more important for Elliott to receive a fair shake.

 

Also, it will be easy while trying to understand Elliott’s position on the situation to assume that the league is right by asking, “Why would the league want to make one of its brightest young stars look like a criminal, especially if he didn’t do it?” But that ship sailed two years ago, when the league tried to make one of the greatest players in the history of the sport look like a liar and a cheater, absent adequate proof that he lied or cheated.

 

The ultimate lesson from multiple botched investigations is this: The league does what it wants, when it wants, how it wants. It’s one of the spoils of being the dominant and most powerful sport in America. It also makes having a willingness to ask fair questions and, if need be, push back against questionable findings even more important.

 

Elliott has appeal rights, and legal rights beyond that. He has not yet publicly presented any evidence in his own defense, but that clearly is coming. Before assuming that he’s guilty as charged, it’s important to consider all of the evidence fairly and objectively.

 

Will Elliott’s appeal be heard by The Commissioner or his handpicked puppet?  Mike Florio:

 

The NFL’s next step becomes a critical one.

 

Commissioner Roger Goodell will have to decide whether to personally handle the appeal, whether to designate it to a league employee, whether to assign it to an “independent” person deemed friendly to league interests, or whether to hand the baton to a truly independent arbitrator.

 

That decision will have a significant impact on the outcome. If the Commissioner handles the appeal of the decision the Commissioner already made, it’s hard to imagine him changing his mind. Indeed, in recent years the language characterizing the appeal process has subtly morphed from ensuring the initial decision was correct to giving the player one last chance to introduce new evidence that would possibly change Goodell’s mind.

 

That’s not how appeals should work. And the fact that the Commissioner already made the decision to suspend Elliott six games could make it easier for Elliott, the NFL Players Association, and/or Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to argue that Goodell should designate a truly independent arbitrator to take a fresh look at the case and to determine whether Goodell got it right.

 

If Jones is truly furious over the suspension, he could best channel that fury by pressuring Goodell to let someone who hasn’t already formed an opinion on the case — and someone who will feel no express or implied compulsion to rubber stamp the Commissioner’s decision — to handle the appeal. And there’s good reason for Jones to push for true independence; the last two times Goodell delegated an appeal to a truly independent arbitrator (Ray Rice in 2014, Saints bounty scandal in 2012), the arbitrator scrapped the suspensions.

 

However it plays out, the identification of the arbitrator isn’t just the next step in the process, but arguably the most important.

 

Will Paul Tagliabue return?

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

GM Howie Roseman’s decision to shuffle WR JORDAN MATTHEWS off to Buffalo was not done with the approval of his budding franchise quarterback – and quite a few others on the Eagles roster.  Martin Frank in the Wilmington News-Journal.

 

Carson Wentz said he made it clear to Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman that he wasn’t happy about the team trading wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

 

Wentz said Saturday that he wasn’t informed about the trade until after it was made. But he was clearly shaken by it, saying that Matthews was “one of my best friends” and that trading Matthews to Buffalo on Friday was “tough personally.”

 

“Obviously, he knew how I felt with Jordan being one of my best friends,” Wentz said when asked what he told Roseman. “So on the personal side, it was tough. He knew that. He was prepared for that, and I told him that. But keeping business, business, that’s just part of this.”

 

Wentz was among five players to take Matthews to dinner Friday night, just hours after the trade was made. The Eagles traded Matthews and a third-round draft pick in 2018 to the Bills in return for cornerback Ronald Darby.

 

After dinner, Wentz drove Matthews to the airport for his flight to Buffalo.

 

“This is my first time experiencing this with someone that’s one of my best friends,” Wentz said. “Seeing him [Friday], it was tough on him too. It was kind of out of the blue. There’s really no other way to put it. It’s just tough personally.”

 

Wentz wasn’t alone.

 

To offensive and defensive players alike, Matthews’ impact went far beyond what he did on the field. Matthews was well respected in the locker room for his leadership, his work ethic and his camaraderie.

 

Matthews was also a dependable slot receiver. He’s one of five receivers in NFL history with at least 65 receptions and at least 800 yards receiving in each of his first three seasons.

 

“He was an infectious guy in a great way,” said linebacker Jordan Hicks, one of those at Matthews’ last supper as an Eagle. “In a sense of every single day, he’s bringing energy. Every single day, he’s coming with a positive attitude, no matter the circumstance. Obviously, he went through his ups and downs, but he always had a positive attitude.

 

“When you look at a guy like that who has every right to complain about situations and whatnot, and take everything in stride and look at it in a positive light, it inspires you. That’s infectious. You can look at him as an example, and take his mindset and take his attitude into life.”

 

That’s why it wasn’t easy for several Eagles to move on during the first practice after the trade.

 

“It was emotional for sure, somber,” said tight end Zach Ertz, another of those at the farewell dinner. “Guys were sad. I mean, you’re losing a brother. Our group was extremely close … [Matthews] was sad, obviously, leaving his boys. He understands the business, obviously. He’s such an intelligent human being. But the saddest part was him leaving us, and us leaving him.

 

When Matthews showed up in Bills camp, he promptly got hurt.  See BUFFALO.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

After missing two kicks on Friday night (one an extra point) in Cincinnati, the ROBERTO AGUAYO Era is over.  The generational kicker that the Buccaneers traded up to snatch in the second round will start over in Chicago as the Bears claimed him on waivers while Tampa Bay brings in former Saint ZACH HOCKER to challenge NICK FOLK.  Folk hit from 45 yards out in his only FG try of the opener.

 

All great GMs have moves in their history that won’t make the highlight reel.  Scott Reynolds of PewterReport.com defends Bucs GM Jason Licht:

 

In a league where many GMs care more about their egos and their job security above all else, Licht deserves tremendous credit for promptly cutting Aguayo, who looked good in training camp, but missed an extra point in the first half and a 47-yard field goal in the waning minutes of the team’s 23-12 loss at Cincinnati.

 

Licht had seen enough.

 

Head coach Dirk Koetter had seen enough.

 

We all had seen enough.

 

The missed 47-yarder was especially damning because Aguayo has struggled from long distance and he was set up on the left hash with the kick missing wide right.

 

Licht doesn’t care about his ego. He cares about doing what’s right for the Buccaneers and building the best possible 53-man roster. That’s it.

 

Cutting Aguayo was the right move for Tampa Bay. Now he should bring in competition for Nick Folk, who made last night’s lone attempt, a 45-yarder, for the rest of training camp and the preseason. Folk hasn’t exactly been automatic in practice. He too needs competition.

 

The failed Aguayo pick didn’t ruin the Bucs’ 2016 draft class, which features key defenders like starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, the team’s first-round pick, and defensive end Noah Spence, the second-rounder selected right before Aguayo. And it didn’t ruin Licht’s reputation. With the talent Licht has stockpiled since joining the Bucs in 2014, to suggest otherwise is foolish.

 

What about hitting on first-round picks like wide receiver Mike Evans, quarterback Jameis Winston, Hargreaves and likely tight end O.J. Howard? Evans, a Pro Bowler with three straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his NFL career, is one of the top 5 wide receivers. Winston, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and became the first NFL quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards back-to-back in his first two NFL seasons, is already the most talented quarterback the franchise has ever had.

 

What about finding some third-day steals in middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and guard Kevin Pamphile? How about mining some undrafted free agent gems like tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Adam Humphries, in addition to some hopeful prospects like nickel cornerback Javien Elliott, tackle Leonard Wester and running back Peyton Barber?

 

Finding so many valuable contributors after the second round makes occasionally missing on a second-rounder tolerable.

 

Licht has even fared well in the tricky world of free agency, signing the likes of defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr., punter Bryan Anger, running back Jacquizz Rodgers and wide receiver DeSean Jackson as well as a few others. Licht also re-signed Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David, too.

 

ESPN’s Trey Wingo – among others – was quick with some hot takes following Aguayo’s release, suggesting it was the worst draft pick in the history of the league.

 

@wingoz

It’s officially the worst draft pick in NFL history. Traded UP to get a kicker in 2nd round .. didn’t make it to a 2nd season https://twitter.com/nflstroud/status/896404919841939456

 

Absolute nonsense and it makes Wingo look foolish. What about the host of first-round busts – top 10 picks – that didn’t do squat in the league?

 

What about Bo Jackson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1986 draft, that didn’t even sign with Tampa Bay and opted to play baseball instead?

 

It’s not like Aguayo was worthless in a Tampa Bay uniform. He certainly missed his kicks, but he did make the game-winning kick at Carolina and was 4-of-4 on his field goals in the Bucs’ 19-17 win at Kansas City. Take away those two victories and Tampa Bay is 7-9 in 2016.

 

Licht whiffed on Aguayo. That’s a fact.

 

He also lost the gamble he made on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, his first ever second-round pick, from the 2014 draft class.

 

It’s one thing to make mistakes. All GMs do.

 

But it’s another thing to admit them and quickly move on from them for the good of the team. Holding on to mistakes too long only compounds them and makes them worse.

 

Licht continues to show a willingness to move on, as he did when he cut most of the 2014 free agent class just a year after Tampa Bay underachieved and went 2-14 in Lovie Smith’s first year as head coach. Guys like quarterback Josh McCown, left tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson were players that Smith coveted while watching football in his basement in 2013, the year he was out of football after being fired in Chicago.

 

Licht followed orders and signed those players, but stood up to Smith a year later and said they needed to go. It was the right thing to do for the franchise even if it made Licht look bad after his first year on the job.

 

The Glazers appreciate Licht’s willingness to move on from mistakes quickly, too. They share the same approach and the same vision. That’s why they have moved on from Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Smith to get to Koetter after just two years in each regime.

 

If you want to criticize Licht, fire away. But he’s the best general manager Tampa Bay has had since Rich McKay. That point can’t be debated.

 

“This is an exciting time for Tampa,” former Bucs head coach and ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden told PewterReport.com. “The expectations are huge and I hope that Monday Night Football game when I get to come back in December is a big one.

 

“I give Dirk Koetter credit, I give Mike Smith credit, and I give Jason Licht credit for working together and all doing a hell of a job in leading this team back.”

 

Licht is a big reason why you, the team and many in the media and the Bucs fan base are thinking playoffs in Tampa Bay this season, too. That’s worth remembering while debating the debacle of a forgettable second-round pick.

 

On the phone with Peter King, Licht uses TheMMQB.com scribe to get back his mojo:

 

So many stories on the NFL training camp trip. One actually happened on the phone in my hotel room, late Saturday afternoon. Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht, internet punching bag du jour, sounded defeated.

 

“How do you feel?” I said to Licht, half a day after he cut Roberto Aguayo, the kicker he traded up to draft in the second round just 16 months ago.

 

 “You never feel good when you shatter someone’s dream,” Licht said. “That is always tough, especially someone you had such high hopes for. You don’t have good feelings about that. It is a little bit of a sense of, I don’t want to say relief, but we’ve ripped off the band-aid, and we move on. We’re moving forward.”

 

“It’s officially the worst draft pick in NFL history,” ESPN’s Trey Wingo tweeted Saturday. Quite an over-the-top take about the 59th overall pick in 2016, and seeing that the NFL has held 82 drafts. But Wingo had company over the weekend. Licht got avalanched for dealing third-round and fourth-round picks in 2016 to move into the second round to draft a kicker. He, and the world, watched Aguayo turn into football’s Rick Ankiel before our eyes. Just as phenom pitcher Ankiel couldn’t find home plate for the St. Louis Cardinals 16 years ago, Aguayo was the kicker who internalized the pressure, tried to please everybody and, apparently, just blew a mental fuse.

 

Friday night in Cincinnati, Aguayo boinked a PAT off the right upright, and shanked a 44-yard field-goal try. The kicker entered this year with Nick Folk as competition and had close to zero room for error. After the game, Licht and coach Dirk Koetter talked about it, and the GM said: “Let me sleep on it,” Licht said. When he woke up Saturday morning, Licht knew Tampa Bay had to get off the kicker-go-round. With HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in the house Saturday morning—I’m told NFL Films got the whole scene and will show some of it Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET—Aguayo was released.

 

Hours later, his reputation punched in the jaw, Licht faced the music.

 

“I’m owning up to it,” he said quietly. “I’m owning up to it by releasing him. It was a bold move and it didn’t work out. I don’t know what else to say. I know I have the support of my coach and my ownership.

 

“At the time, I was bound and determined to get the best kicker we possibly could. I thought Roberto had the chance to be a special kicker in the league for a long time. That’s a position that had been a rough spot for us. What did I learn from this? I’ve said this before, but when we took him, we essentially anointed him. If I could do it again, I would have gone back and brought in competition to challenge him. I look back on that a lot. Roberto is a great kid, but the magnitude of that position, and the pressure on a 21-year-old—his performance is affecting the lives of men who have families to support. That got tough.”

 

When we spoke, I got the impression—through his words and his tone—that he didn’t want the Aguayo pick to make him gun-shy. This is a flame-out, and a big one. Using the 74th and 106th picks to trade up for a kicker who’d been just 71-percent accurate from beyond 40 yards in college. The 74th and 106th picks are team-builders. Licht used the 61st and 124th one year earlier on a couple of players (Ali Marpet, Kwon Alexander) who should be Bucs cornerstones for a while.

 

“Look, I want to digest this for a while,” Licht said. “But this is not going to make me afraid of making bold moves. You can’t make decisions, or not make them, based on fear. I will say that you have to learn from things that didn’t work out. Whatever that is in this case, we’ll figure it out.”

 

Here’s what it is: You should take only an extraordinary kicker in the second round, a generational kicker. And Aguayo, fairly average on the long college kicks, hadn’t proven himself to be one at Florida State. He also hadn’t kicked in an unusually high number of high-stress situations with games on the line—which is what NFL kickers have to do eight or 10 times a year. It’s good to be bold, but not for bold’s sake.

 

But bigger names than Licht have made worse picks, as it turned out. Hall of Famer Al Davis chose JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007. Bobby Beathard, up for the Hall this year, picked Ryan Leaf second overall in 1998. Licht is right: He can’t allow the Aguayo mega-mistake to make him skittish on future draft days.

 

“I gotta snap [out of it],” Licht said. With the opener four weeks away, he’s got no choice.

 

The DB is a bit puzzled by Licht saying he put too much pressure on Aguayo, but the one thing he would have done differently is bring in someone to put more pressure on him. 

 

Not trading up for him would have been a start. He very, very probably would have been there at 74, instead of chasing him to 59.  That was the move that most draftniks, in foresight, not hindsight, said was less than smart.  And if he is drafted in that interim, no one knows you were thwarted and you move on and make good picks.

 

Or even better, ticket Aguayo for the 5th or 6th round.  He is still likely to be there because most other scouts have noted that for someone with all that college acclaim and clearly a strong leg, his record on long kicks at Florida State was slender and sketchy.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

A coaching intern has impressed the 49ers so much, a fulltime job for 2017 has been offered and accepted.  And the big news is that the preferred pronoun is “she.”  Cam Inman of BayAreaNewsgroup.com:

 

Katie Sowers, the first female coach in 49ers history, is expected to remain on staff through the season after completing her internship Friday.

 

A season-long position on Kyle Shanahan’s coaching staff would make her only the second full-time female assistant in NFL history, although details have yet to be finalized about her pending role.

 

Last year, the Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as their special teams quality control coach, and she was not retained by Sean McDermott after a coaching change this past offseason.

 

The 49ers declined to confirm Sowers’ status when reached for comment Saturday night.

 

Sowers shared the news of her season-long appointment on her Facebook page. She emphasized how grateful she was to Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli for helping open her door into the NFL as an intern last summer with the Falcons, whose offensive coordinator was Kyle Shanahan, now the 49ers coach and Sowers’ boss.

 

“It’s groundbreaking and all that stuff, but the more normalized it is, the better it is,” Sowers, 31, told this newspaper last week about her then-role with the 49ers. “As a female, the more someone can ask me what I do and I say ‘I coach football,’ the less shock on their faces will mean the better direction we’re moving.”

 

As part of the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship, Sowers has worked with the 49ers wide receivers under passing game specialist Mike LaFleur, and it’s unclear if she will resume those duties or take on a generalized role.

– – –

Several players and 49ers ownership also have been impressed by Sowers, who grew up in Hesston, Kansas, and played professional football up until last year. She’s served both as an adviser for USA Football and as general manager of Kansas City Titans in the Women’s Football Alliance, where her twin sister, Liz, is a star receiver. Their father, Floyd, coached Bethel College’s women’s basketball team.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Nikki Jhabvala in the Denver Post on the running back situation:

 

The Broncos have a problem that started with the NFL draft in April and was complicated by a pair of phone calls in the ensuing months, first to Kansas City and then to Natchez, Miss.

 

It’s a welcome problem — one that teams strive to have and one the Broncos are cherishing for the remaining days of training camp and the preseason. But it’s one they soon will have to solve.

 

With the selection of sixth-round draft pick De’Angelo Henderson, the signings of veterans Jamaal Charles and Stevan Ridley and the returns of C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker (when healthy) and Juwan Thompson, the Broncos’ once-dormant running game has seemingly been revived with a unique blend of talent.

 

The preseason opener at Chicago on Thursday was a test of patience as the Broncos continue to work through the kinks of a new scheme and search for the starter at multiple positions, none more significant than quarterback. But among the more promising aspects was their ground game, which gained 106 yards (4.1 per-carry average) against the Bears and included the winning 41-yard touchdown run by Henderson late in the fourth quarter.

 

“What we saw tonight is what he’s been since we drafted the guy in the spring,” first-year Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said of Henderson after the 24-17 victory over the Bears. “So I’m not surprised to see that tonight.”

 

For the past two years, the Denver running game has failed to launch in the way general manager John Elway envisioned. But this season — thanks in large part to a remade offensive line whose pride is tied to run blocking — sure has the potential to be the charm and the key to supporting Denver’s quarterbacks and still-developing offense.

 

“From what I watched on film to what I see now, it’s a different attitude,” Joseph said. “In my opinion, it’s the offensive line that has made the most improvement. Now, running back-wise, adding Jamaal Charles and adding a guy like Ridley, that obviously makes you better. It makes the competition tough in that room.”

 

Training camp opened with a setback. Booker, Denver’s No. 2 running back who had been pushing to be No. 1, suffered a fractured wrist. A pair of screws would fix him, but the Broncos couldn’t fill his void on the field for the remainder of camp and the preseason.

 

Enter Ridley, a free agent who spent four years with the New England Patriots and topped 1,200 yards rushing in 2012 but started only six games over the last three years because of injuries. His shot at a career revival was offered July 27.

 

“I told my mom about it at Subway,” he said with a laugh. “A small country town in Natchez, Miss., there’s not too many options. You’ve got Wendy’s, McDonald’s and pretty much Burger King, so Subway takes it.”

 

Then he drove three hours to New Orleans, boarded a plane to Denver and worked out for Joseph, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and running backs coach Eric Studesville inside the Broncos’ field house. Then he signed on a dotted line, suited up in a No. 47 practice jersey and took the field for his first walkthrough.

 

All in a day’s work.

 

The next morning, Ridley announced his arrival after throwing on shells and a helmet. He “flashed” — a term Denver coaches have used often to describe their rushers — showing his ability to find his holes at the line and power through them.

 

Ridley said he wanted to provide “stability” to the running backs room, but he has been a welcome disruption — and a contender for a coveted roster spot.

 

“He’s a pro,” Studesville said. “He approaches this the professional way. And he knows the great opportunity that’s sitting here. We’re very excited about him.”

 

The Broncos also are excited about Charles, once an AFC West nemesis as a Kansas City Chiefs star who signed a one-year contract in May to fit with Joseph’s theme of infusing the offense with speed. Charles didn’t play Thursday against the Bears, but he is expected to take the field at some point in preseason as he eases his way back from knee surgeries that hindered his last two years in the league.

 

He says his troublesome knees no longer are a concern. The Broncos hope he’s right.

 

“I don’t feel rusty. I feel good,” Charles said after two days of camp. “I told the guys in the locker room, when I see one of you kids beat me, it’s time for me to give it up.”

 

So far, that kid testing Charles is Henderson, a 5-foot-7 speedster from Coastal Carolina who has given the Broncos a weapon on the ground and in the passing game.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Was RB MARSHAWN LYNCH showing solidarity with the unsigned Colin Kaepernick when he failed to stand for the National Anthem in preseason Week 1?  Was he speaking out about Nazis in Virginia?  If so, he isn’t saying and he told Coach Jack Del Rio another story.  Peter King:

 

“Talked to Marshawn trying to make sure we’re on the same page. He said, ‘This is something I’ve done for 11 years. It’s not a form of anything other than me being myself.’ I said, ‘So you understand how I feel, I very strongly believe in standing for the national anthem. But I’m going to respect you as a man. You do your thing. We’ll do ours.’ It’s a non-issue for me.”

 

—Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, on Marshawn Lynch sitting on a cooler on the sideline for the national anthem in the Raiders’ preseason game Saturday night.

 

Lynch has sat for the anthem throughout his career? News to me.

 

More from Jerry McDonald of BayAreaNewsgroup.com:

 

The question is whether a story has “legs,” and Kaepernick was a veritable centipede given his predilection to for addressing it every other week or so when it was brought up by local or visiting media.

 

That’s all well and good. Kaepernick said what he believed, believed what he said and wanted to relay a message.That’s his right whether you agree with him or not.

 

Lynch, on the other hand, hasn’t spoken to the media since training camp began. The hope is he would talk once in Napa, but only three sessions remain until the club heads back to the club facility in Alameda.

 

 

Kaepernick told his story to NFL Media on the night he was seen sitting for the anthem. Lynch said nothing, at least not for public consumption.

 

And while the story won’t end there, it doesn’t leave a lot of food for the media beast unless Lynch cooperates and begins talking, perhaps linking the action to Saturday’s white supremacist rally and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Va.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers may have suffered a serious loss in the preseason opener at Stub Hub Center.  LB DENZEL PERRYMAN, the team’s leading tackler last season, left on a cart.

 

As we go to press, we hear it is “just” a severely sprained ankle with an estimated recovery time of 4 to 6 weeks.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Peter King stares with sad eyes from the press box in Cleveland:

 

In the three sections in front of me as I sat in the press box at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Thursday night, I saw 14 fans in the one-third-filled sections with replica Browns jerseys. The jerseys:

 

• Two each: Joe Thomas, Peyton Hillis and Myles Garrett.

 

• Single jerseys of: Josh Cribbs, Ozzie Newsome, Braylon Edwards, Trent Richardson, Colt McCoy, Brian Hoyer (!), Joe Haden and Isaiah Crowell.

 

It doesn’t sound like there will be any Osweiler jerseys in the Cleveland crowd five or 10 years from now:

 

I think I’ll be surprised if Brock Osweiler makes it out of Browns camp with a job. In his four series of plays in the preseason opener, he threw seven passes wildly high. He’s just not accurate enough to be trusted with a starting job, and probably not a high-profile backup job either.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The Colts are implying that QB ANDREW LUCK is throwing somewhere out of the eyes of prying media, that his arm is better than it was at anytime last year and that he may, may be ready for the opener.  Zak Keefer in the Indianapolis Star:

 

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is throwing and will be ready around the start of the season, owner Jim Irsay said following Sunday’s preseason opener.

 

Irsay couldn’t say unequivocally that Luck will play in the Sept. 10 opener against the Los Angeles Rams but added: “I would say his progression could not be better.”

 

Irsay’s comments followed those by General Manager Chris Ballard during the telecast of the game that he’s pleased with Luck’s progress with the regular season less than one month away.

 

@GreggDoyelStar

Irsay on QB: Luck could play opener. Could miss one game. Could miss two “hypothetically.” Replacements were considered. Kaepernick was not.

 

“His strength levels are probably better than they were at any point last season,” Ballard added.

 

Luck played through partially torn labrum in 2016 and had surgery shortly after the season ended. The Colts have been patient as he rehabilitates the injury, placing him on the active physically unable to perform list. Luck can be activated from that list at any time.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

WR JORDAN MATTHEWS did not stay healthy in Buffalo.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bills have updated the condition of wide receiver Jordan Matthews after he suffered a chest injury during his first practice with the team on Sunday.

 

Matthews, who was acquired in a trade with the Eagles on Friday, went through the entire practice before checking in with trainers and the team announced he wouldn’t meet with reporters because he was undergoing a medical evaluation. They announced the results of that evaluation on Monday and it will be some time before Matthews takes part in his second Bills practice.

 

The team said Matthews has a chip fracture in his sternum and his return timeline has been pegged at week-to-week as a result.

 

Matthews will be able to do work in the playbook and attend meetings while he’s recovering, but the lack of time on the field with quarterback Tyrod Taylor will likely slow his immersion into a new offense. That makes him a good fit as a replacement for oft-injured Sammy Watkins, but not in the way the Bills intended.

 

 

MIAMI

We could see JAY CUTLER’s Dolphins debut on Thursday night.  Conor Orr of NFL.com:

 

Jay Cutler’s on-field debut could be less than a week away.

 

Dolphins head coach Adam Gase strongly hinted to reporters Monday that he would start Cutler against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday. Matt Moore was 1 of 1 for five yards with the starting group in Miami’s preseason opening win over the Falcons last week.

 

@AdamHBeasley

Gase said he’s “trending” toward letting Cutler play, but he hasn’t made a decision yet.

10:50 AM – Aug 14, 2017

 

Gase added that Cutler has “pretty much” learned — or re-learned — the offense.

 

The news comes exactly one week after Cutler’s arrival in Miami, and while quarterbacks have been tasked with far quicker turnarounds in far bigger situations, this week’s start provides some context to Cutler’s situation. In just eight days, he was thrust from a broadcasting role into that of a 34-year-old unretired NFL quarterback who some fans and analysts around the football world believe will be better than injured starter Ryan Tannehill. Is it possible to live up to the hype in that amount of time?

 

The debut will likely be quick — just a series or so — but could give the world at large a window into how far Cutler still has to go.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

PRESEASON RANT

Peter King on the top players sitting out preseason games:

 

The absurdity of paying legitimate NFL prices for preseason games cannot be overstated. When is a responsible owner going to do something about it and slash prices to preseason games? The following players did not play in their teams’ first preseason games, which fans paid to see from coast to coast, and they paid for parking too ($40 in Foxboro, for instance):

 

Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Julian Edelman, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, Jeremy Maclin, Jordy Nelson.

 

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer, Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Mike Pouncey, Joe Thomas, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten.

 

Donta’ Hightower, Sean Lee, Malcolm Butler, Tyrann Mathieu, Devin McCourty, Patrick Peterson.

 

Madness. Just madness. The madness isn’t premier players being kept out of the games. The madness is fans paying big-league prices to watch backups.

 

By the way, if you attend home games in Green Bay or Foxboro, and you go to preseason games, there’s a good chance you won’t see Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers play in person this summer. The Patriots and Packers have home games in weeks one and four, and those two players didn’t play in week one and are unlikely to play in week four.

 

 

FULL-TIME OFFICIALS

Peter King:

 

I think I’m not being critical of the NFL’s decision to make at least 21 officials full-time employees for the 2017 season. But I don’t think it’s going to affect officiating very much. Mistakes are made because of the speed of the game and the instantaneous calls human being have to make. Having officials do more studying, and even having them work on reaction time (if that’s possible), is not going to make the game significantly cleaner in officiating. And the league is not mandating that officials who become full-time give up their other jobs entirely. So are these officials really full-time? If Ed Hochuli, for example, is one of the full-timers but allowed to keep his lawyer job in Arizona, is he really a full-time NFL employee? Roger Goodell’s a full-time commissioner; it’s all he does. Seems a little misleading to call employees full-time when they keep their other jobs—even if they’ll do those jobs less than they did previously.

 

 

 

KAEP

Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times finds those who are willing to say Colin Kaepernick isn’t really being blackballed.  Farmer’s full story has been edited.

 

He’s the most talked-about NFL player, yet free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick doesn’t even have a team.

 

He remains a polarizing figure, a martyr to some, malcontent to others, and lightning rod for virtually everyone since he took a knee during the national anthem in the name of protesting social injustices.

– – –

While I do believe the kneeling protest and others — the Fidel Castro T-shirt, the socks depicting police officers as pigs — have completely dissuaded some NFL owners from signing Kaepernick, I do not believe owners have colluded with each other on that. With most, if they felt he was a player they needed to win, they would sign him.

 

What’s more, I think Kaepernick will be in the league by midseason, if not earlier, depending on which quarterbacks get hurt — something that always happens.

 

But this is a complex and multifaceted issue, one that in many ways transcends sports. For different perspectives I spoke to six people in and around the NFL for their views.

 

Warren Moon

 

Certain teams don’t want to deal with the backlash of bringing him in. There is going to be a lot of controversy, a lot of distraction for their players to have to answer those types of questions. In training camp, teams just want things to be as normal as they possibly can be. That’s part of it.

 

You’ve also got to remember there’s a lot of quarterbacks that teams are trying to develop right now. You look at what happened in the draft. There were four quarterbacks who went in the first two rounds this year. That eliminates four teams right there, because you’re not going to bring in a backup and put him ahead of one of these first- or second-rounders that you just signed to develop.

 

And then there’s certain offenses that he just can’t play in. He’s just not good enough to play in those types of offenses where you have to really go through your read progressions, throwing the ball down the field.

 

But I still think as soon as one of these starters goes down — and that’s one of the reasons the Seahawks brought him in, not so much to have him as a backup. They brought him in to see how Colin Kaepernick was, see how dedicated he was to football. Because if something happened to Russell Wilson and they needed a veteran to come in and win games, then they would go after somebody like him. Because of his experience and he fits into some of the things they do offensively.

 

John Wooten

 

I think that whatever he did, he did it in terms of trying to protest what was happening to black people in this country for years and years and years. Not just here recently. But just the way it’s been.

 

I doubt if there’s a black man over 45 years old who has not had a shotgun or a pistol pointed at his head from a policeman. Including the guy you’re talking to right now. Because that is the way things happen, and as I told my son . . . “If you’re stopped, or a policeman approaches you, you put your hands up, and you say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and, ‘No, sir.’ Do not get into, ‘Well, why did you stop me? What’s going on?’ Because if you are lying there dead, there’s nothing I can do. So you get your hands up and keep them up until the incident, or whatever, is resolved.”

 

Now, you can say that’s a shame that black kids and people have to put up with that, but that’s the way that is.

– – –

He just put himself in a position where it’s me versus the world, and sometimes you lose that battle. His message probably got through, so I guess he’s happy about that. He’s had several guys around the league join him. But it could have possibly cost him his career.

 

If he would have spoken to me about it, I would have advised him not to do it. My feeling is, don’t do it during a football game without the ownership knowing. If I was ownership, I would have said, “Hey, man, you certainly have a right to do whatever you want to do, but can you wait until the game is over with and do that outside the stadium? Protesting the national anthem is not one of the things I pay you to do”

 

When you take those hard stances, you’ve got to be ready for the consequences. There are a lot of people who are on his side right now, and I get it.

 

NFL team executive

 

The main thing is, no one wants the distraction. Is this guy good enough to bring in and be a distraction? I would say maybe if your guy got hurt. Maybe he’d be a guy we’d bring in. But, one, he’d be a distraction. Two, you’ve got to change everything you do on offense.

 

Does he really love ball? Does he really work at it? I don’t know that. He’s not a natural type of pocket passer. He throws a very hard ball to catch. He throws a lot of fastballs, not a lot of touch.

 

Phil McConkey

 

I think you’re going to get diversity of opinions from military people. The majority of them will say, ‘Hey, that’s why we do it, for people to have the right to express their views freely.’ So as a military person it really didn’t offend me. But I have a dad who’s a cop, and I know how loving and compassionate my dad is. It’s a really tough situation.

 

I want my quarterback, especially my starting quarterback, to have every bit of his fiber into this game. All the preparation during the week. I don’t want his mind on something that’s very controversial, that’s going to bring attention to the team, and everybody’s going to be talking about that.

 

There are 52 other guys on the team. What do they think? That, I think, is the bigger reason he’s not on a roster.

 

Leigh Steinberg

 

I admire the courage of Colin Kaepernick in raising an issue. As a practical matter, placing him has some difficulties. Because does he really want to start over again at a minimum salary? And the answer seems to be no.

 

There are those to think that it is incompatible to think that Google was wrong to fire engineer James Damore for his internal memo that offended Social Justice Warriors, both those who were fellow Google employees and those in the media around the world, but at the same time be okay with Kaepernick’s possible blackballing by the NFL.  Clay Travis at OutkickTheCoverage.com draws some distinctions:

 

I’ve long said that most people in America don’t defend the first amendment, they defend the first amendment when the person being attacked has the same views as them. Having said that, I think what Kaepernick did is quite a bit different than the Google engineer.

 

Let me explain.

 

To begin with the Google engineer was specifically endeavoring to make his company better by writing about diversity in a company created database where employees debate ideas. And, if you read the memo — which hardly any of this guy’s critics actually did — his goal was to actually get more women employed at the company. So the Google engineer’s opinion — along with his coworkers — was specifically sought out on issues such as these. Moreover, he didn’t share anything but facts. And we’ve entered a strange world where facts make people uncomfortable if they don’t also correspond with their opinions. (I’ll explain this below).

 

What Colin Kaepernick did was take an individual stand while on the job. Take Kaepernick away from the football field and what would you think if someone at your office showed up with a Clinton or Trump sign and put it in the front yard of your office building? I think we’d all agree that someone doing that at home in their yard would be perfectly fine. But once you enter the physical premises of your employer, I think most people would say that putting up a yard sign in front of the office building would be a step too far.

 

Think of it this way, what would you think if the next time a UPS or Fed Ex driver showed up at your house and drove away with a Hillary or Trump sticker on his truck? That’s basically what Kap did. Once that same employee parks his company truck and gets into his own car, everyone would agree he or she can put a bumper sticker on that personal vehicle. But would anyone dispute that UPS and Fed Ex should fire a guy who refused to take a bumper sticker off his car?

Moreover, unlike the Google engineer Kaepernick’s stance had nothing to do with making his team better at their job or business. If Kaepernick had shown up at the 49ers facility with his own playbook and said he thought the team should run these plays instead of the ones they were running, the offensive coordinator might not agree with him, but he’d probably consider his suggestions. It’s unlikely that the offensive coordinator would look at Kap’s playbook and fire him because he found the suggestion of the plays he wanted to run to be unacceptable.

 

So I think there’s a pretty big distinction here between Kap and the Google engineer.

 

I do agree, however, that if Elon Musk had written the same memo he would have kept his job. Just like Aaron Rodgers would still have a job if he’d taken a knee in protest during the national anthem.

 

Having said that, I’ve asked all of you to think about this hypothetical, imagine Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem to protest gay marriage being legal. Do you think the same people would be demanding that Kap be on an NFL roster? Of course not. That’s because most people use the First Amendment as a fig leaf to cover up the fact that the vast, vast majority of the time, it’s not the speech itself you think should be protected, it’s the speech you agree with you think should be protected.

 

I’m a first amendment absolutist, I think we need more speech, not less. I believe in the marketplace of ideas. And I believe that we’ve entered an era in our country when our national discourse is artificially circumscribed. That means our national debate is lacking because all elements of discussion are not adequately engaged. Why aren’t issues debated in a robust and uninhibited fashion? Because the left wing in this country now brands any speech that challenges their views on race, gender, or sex, racist, sexist or homophobic. It’s not a debate when you personally attack the person who presents facts that make you uncomfortable.

 

Here are some further thoughts I have on this issue: 99% of the people who were offended never read the memo. Shouldn’t you at least have to invest the time to read the entire memo in order to get offended and demand someone be fired? Even worse, most MEDIA WHO WROTE ABOUT IT DIDN’T read the memo. They just trotted out liberal orthodoxy and tried to turn this into something it wasn’t.

 

Which brings me to this — THE MEMO WASN’T SEXIST. It analyzed actual statistical data and sought to explain why that data might exist without automatically assuming the reason was sexism. Isn’t that what intelligent people should do, consider a variety of factors at play instead of assuming one root cause? His goal in writing the memo was to suggest that multiple factors might be at play here. In other words, maybe liberal orthodoxy wasn’t 100% right.

 

He provided, wait for it, diversity of thought!

 

That’s why I argue diversity of thought is more important in companies today than diversity of color or sex. Why do companies want people who look different but think the same? Shouldn’t your goal be to have as many different opinions as possible, regardless of what the people look like? (The underlying rationale for diversity is also racist because it presumes that people are going to think differently based on the color of their skin.)