The Daily Briefing Monday, June 4, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
This from Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
The NFL is going to show some pride.
According to Cyd Zeigler of Outsports.com, the NFL is sponsoring a float in the New York City Pride March on June 24, the first time the league has participated in the event.
The NFL float will feature former Chiefs and Patriots offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan, who came out publicly last year, along with former defensive back Wade Davis.
Also, 49ers assistant Katie Sowers, the league’s first openly gay coach, will march in the parade with Outsports.
The NBA, WNBA, MLB, and NHL are also registered to have floats in the parade. It will also mark the debut for MLB, along with the NFL.
The NHL participated last year, and the NBA and WNBA were the first sports leagues to participate in 2016.
Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com on what has changed – and what hasn’t – in Detroit:
The main factor is that going from Jim Caldwell to Patricia isn’t the sea change that some might think it would be. For one, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and special teams coach Joe Marciano remain. For another, it’s not as if Caldwell didn’t lead disciplined groups. Those Lions played a clean brand of football, and his emphasis on how guys conducted themselves showed in how Detroit’s off-field issues vanished over the last four years. Really, the biggest differences under Patrica to this point have come in the ramped-up tempo and efficiency of practice, and the delivery of the message. While Caldwell was hesitant to use the word “shoot,” Patricia isn’t afraid to drop a few four-letter bombs. And where Caldwell would fine guys to the moon if they weren’t with the program, Patricia’s style is more confrontational. So you’ll probably hear some of that coming from that camp this week.
Ouch. Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews took a line drive off his face Saturday during a charity softball game near Appleton, Wisconsin.
Matthews tweeted that he suffered a broken nose and will require surgery.
Thank you for all the concern and well-wishes. I busted my nose pretty good and will have surgery once the swelling subsides. Thankful as it could have been much more serious 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼
Packers players have put on a softball game annually at the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The game has been hosted by Brett Favre, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson over the years. Matthews and Davante Adams took over as co-hosts this year after Nelson was cut.
Adams told spectators that Matthews “got a little boo-boo on his nose.” The game resumed without Matthews, who was pitching at the time.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.com says that things are coming to a head contractually with WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr.:
– Odell Beckham, Jr. wasn’t at the Giants’ practices this week, which didn’t matter much since he hasn’t been cleared to fully practice anyway. But he’s getting “pretty close” according to head coach Pat Shurmur.
And that means a showdown between the Giants and Beckham could be getting pretty close too.
It may never happen, of course. It’s possible the Giants and Beckham truly have reached a peace, or at least a mutual understanding of where their contract negotiations are heading. But two months ago there was that report that Beckham “will not set foot on a field without a contract extension” — a report Beckham has yet to publicly dismiss.
Until he does, the possibility can’t be ignored because a holdout is the last bit of leverage the star receiver has in his quest for a lucrative, new contract. And while holdouts rarely work in the NFL, Beckham’s leverage seems pretty strong.
For the moment, Beckham is still slated to play the 2018 season under the terms of the “fifth-year option” on his rookie contract — a decent salary of $8.459 million. Beckham, of course, wants to join the ranks of receivers like Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry, who signed long-term deals this offseason. And he rightfully wants his to be the largest — possibly as large as $20 million per year.
The Giants — after their brief, bizarre, and ill-conceived public flirtation with trading their star receiver in late March — seem to want the same thing. They just want it done on their own timetable. Their preference, according to a team source, is to first make sure Beckham has fully recovered from the ankle surgery he underwent in October and is still the same explosive player, and to give it a little time to make sure he really is doing his best to remain controversy-free. Then they will be willing to open their vault.
But what if Beckham tries to force their hand by withholding his services? And not at the team’s upcoming mandatory minicamp, since a mid-June “holdout” is largely irrelevant. What if he decides to sit through the start of training camp, or the preseason, or even longer than that?
Well, holdouts rarely work in the NFL because teams have too much built-in leverage in contract negotiations. Careers are short, so players often don’t want to risk the money they’re already making. Plus teams have the ability to fine holdout players $40,000 per day all summer long. And the NFL is really the ultimate team sport, where one missing player is rarely the difference between success and failure. Even a key absence can be overcome.
Beckham, though, could be unique and maybe immune to those factors, especially since there’s a strong argument that without him the Giants have little chance to succeed. Yes, they’ve rebuilt their offensive line, fortified their defense, and added the electric Saquon Barkley. But Beckham remains their most dynamic and explosive player. He has almost literally been their offense over the last few years.
Just look at last season — a terrible season that was markedly less terrible before Beckham got hurt. He played in four games last season before he fractured his ankle in Week 5, and he caught 25 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns, even though the ankle that he initially hurt in the preseason clearly wasn’t 100 percent. Yes, the Giants lost all four of those games.
But as miserable a season as 2017 was for Eli Manning, he was actually a good quarterback with Beckham on the field. In four games with Beckham, Manning completed 65.8 percent of his passes (108 of 164) for 1,118 yards, eight touchdowns and only three interceptions — good for a passer rating of 94.0. In his 11 games without Beckham, Manning was 244 of 407 (59.9 percent) for 2,350 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions — a passer rating of only 74.8.
With a better offensive line and better health for his surrounding cast, maybe Manning wouldn’t be that terrible without Beckham again. But the stronger point — the leverage-related point — is that with Beckham on the field, how much better will the Giants be?
The answer is: A lot. And if he’s fully cleared in the next two months, in time for the start of training camp in late July — which seems likely — it’s an open question whether that’s a leverage play he’s willing to wield.
It’s certainly risky. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald held out last summer while looking for a new deal and returned so late he sat out Week 1. One year later, the Rams are coming off a playoff berth, Donald doesn’t have a new contract and is holding out (for now) again. Seattle safety Kam Chancellor missed the first two games of the 2015 season while holding out for a new deal. The Seahawks still went to the playoffs that season and Chancellor’s new deal didn’t come for two more years.
In general, owners dictate the timelines and terms of contract extensions, and the franchise tag rules give the Giants years of leverage to use over Beckham if they want. Whether Beckham will try to use his own leverage, for better or worse, is still a mystery. But if he really is “pretty close” to being cleared to fully practice, then he’s pretty close to having to make that decision. It’s almost time for Beckham’s next move.
Albert Breer with a couple of notes from the Panthers:
There’ve been questions about fit regarding Carolina’s new offensive staff, behind coordinator Norv Turner and QBs coach Scott Turner, and Cam Newton. I’ll say this: If you’re worried about the Panthers jamming a square peg into a round hole, don’t be. As I understand it, there’s no makeover of Newton going on right now. Instead, the offense is being worked to Newton’s strengths as a guy who was the MVP just two years ago. The quarterback and his coaches have focused on the details of individual plays being installed—from start to finish. The idea is to get investment on each one, so that Newton is playing quarterback, and not just playing football. If there’s a difference you’ll see, I’d say it may be a little like the makeover Ben Roethlisberger underwent about five years ago in learning to play the game a little more like a point guard, to get the most out of the guys around him. But I don’t have much question that the Panthers offense will be tailored to what Newton does well.
One thing that should help there, and I mentioned this on the podcast last week, is that word is first-round Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore already looks like the real deal. Add him to big targets like Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess, slash-types like Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, and that Carolina offense should be fun to watch.
The NFL has suspended San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Victor Bolden Jr. for the first four games of the 2018 season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He uses the “I didn’t verify the contents” excuse.
“As a professional athlete, I take full responsibility for not verifying the ingredients of the supplement,” Bolden said. “In the future, I will be much better educated when choosing what to put in my body. It hurts to know that I will not be on the field with my team for the first four games of the season.”
This from Nick Waggoner of ESPN.com:
Bolden made the 49ers’ roster as an undrafted rookie out of Oregon State in 2017 and appeared in nine games, with most of his action coming as a returner. He did not register any receiving stats but averaged 20.8 yards on 19 kick returns.
During the Niners’ offseason program, Bolden has been competing with new additions at wide receiver such as Dante Pettis and Richie James, among others, a competition that will likely continue into training camp.
Niners general manager John Lynch said in a statement that Bolden made a mistake but learned a “valuable lesson.”
“Professional athletes must be meticulous in their supplement choices,” Lynch said. “We know Victor is disappointed, but we hope this is a reminder to all our players how important it is to make educated decisions on what to put in their bodies.”
Albert Breer with a primer on the Denver ownership situation:
Denver’s ownership situation was in the news, so I figured it would be instructive to lay out how things have worked there over the last five years, since owner Pat Bowlen got sick. At the time, the decision was made that there wasn’t one specific candidate out of Bowlen’s seven children who was ready to run the franchise, so his ownership was turned over to a three-person trust made up of team president Joe Ellis, general counsel Rich Slivka and attorney Mary Kelly. Ellis was named controlling owner delegee, making his role roughly equivalent to the one Packers president Mark Murphy holds in Green Bay—he doesn’t own the team, but he carries out the duties of an owner. And more recently, the league voted to approve the Denver arrangement for another four years (stretching past the expiration of the CBA) in 2017. So where does Beth Bowlen’s move last week for controlling ownership play into all of this? It’s unlikely to change anything in the short term. The trust isn’t squatting on the team, but it is charged by Pat Bowlen to determine when there is a son or daughter ready and capable to take over. (Some have worked for the team, but none have been involved in ownership circles at the league level. The team would be sold only if the trust comes to the determination that Bowlen’s kids will never be prepared to lead the franchise, and any such determination is still a ways off. Now, if there is one Bowlen child who’s shown promise, it’s probably 28-year-old Brittany Bowlen, a Notre Dame grad and Duke MBA. As for how the ownership situation has affected the team, the truth is, it really hasn’t much. The Broncos renewed a league-high 98 percent of their season tickets for 2018 coming off a 5-11 season, and they won a Super Bowl a couple years back under this arrangement. So they’ll probably be fine, despite all the drama.
Nick Shook of NFL.com on the signing of LB MYCHAL KENDRICKS:
John Dorsey continues to reshape Cleveland’s roster in his image, and his latest addition comes at a familiar position: linebacker.
The Browns are signing linebacker Mychal Kendricks to a one-year contract worth more than $3 million, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per sources informed of the situation.
Kendricks was a salary-cap casualty of the reigning-champion Eagles, let go as a post-June 1 cut to save Philadelphia $6 million. He joins a Browns team that seems fairly set on the edge with Jamie Collins but lacks overall linebacker depth, with Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey serving as the other two starters at Mike and Will linebackers.
Schobert was a Pro Bowl selection (originally an alternate), but racked up his tackles in part as a result of the Browns’ defense spending a lot of time on the field. We aren’t taking away from his accomplishment — he was an important and effective part of Cleveland’s defense — but it’s no coincidence Kirksey joined him in the league’s top five for most tackles recorded in 2017.
Cleveland isn’t making a corresponding roster move to accommodate for Kendricks, instead bringing him in as a starter-quality player to compete for a job. Should Kendricks arrive, buy in and make the necessary efforts he’s always made, Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is expected to find plenty of uses for Kendricks within Williams’ myriad of packages.
Shook also has this report on The Cleansing of Coach Hue Jackson:
The deed has been done. Hue Jackson has taken the plunge.
It wasn’t an icy Lake Erie — having just been there myself, I imagine it was rather warm and muggy, the type of humidity that makes you sweat just from existing in it — but it was indeed the waters of the Great Lake. And it was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns trotting, not quite jumping, into said lake to make good on his promise.
It was…The Cleanse.
“I made a promise to our fans … I have to own up to that.”
Jackson, as we all know, is 1-31 as the head coach of the Browns. His team in 2017 became just the second in NFL history to finish a season with an 0-16 record, joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in infamy. Armed with a new collection of acquired talent, the franchise is aiming to leave that in the past, starting with this June dip.
“We’re gonna cleanse ourselves, and we’re going to be done with the past,” Jackson said in the above video posted to Twitter on the team’s official account. “Everything that’s gone on in the past in the year 2016 and the year 2017, we’re closing the book on. I truly believe that as we move forward that we’re heading in the direction where we have a chance to win and win consistently.”
The path toward success continues when Cleveland opens training camp late next month. With the swim now complete, we can also leave this quirky story in the past. Yes, in the year 2018, an NFL head coach went swimming in a lake to make good on a guarantee he likely thought he’d never have to revisit beyond that day.
Let the record show he brought plenty of fellow employees with him in an effort to raise money for his foundation — but forgot his towel.
TE DELANIE WALKER is enthralled with his abilities, but perhaps he should be. Jason Wolf of The Tennessean:
Delanie Walker snatches a pass from Marcus Mariota near the sideline, the ball whizzing just beyond Kevin Byard’s outstretched hand, and turns to race toward the end zone.
The Titans’ trusty tight end still looks like a force — the chiseled physique, crisp routes, soft hands on full display — and primed for a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl season. But the games that count remain a long way off. This is a non-contact drill, a voluntary offseason practice.
“Honestly, I feel like I’m the best tight end in the league in all phases,” Walker said this week. “Blocking, run blocking, catching the ball, breaking tackles, stuff like that. At the end of the day, if you don’t feel like that you shouldn’t be in the league.”
More: Why Corey Davis is the second-most important Tennessee Titans player
Walker is preparing for his 13th NFL season. He’s entering the final year of his contract. He turns 34 in August. But he remains an indispensable fixture on offense, and his production remains elite.
Walker led the Titans with 74 catches and 807 receiving yards last season, tying for the third-most catches and fourth-most receiving yards by any tight end in the league. He only caught three touchdowns, an admittedly disappointing total, but even that ranked second-most on the team.
The biggest question is how long this late-career surge can continue.
Over the years, aches pile up. Players slow down. Bodies fail. Walker withstood several injuries last season, willing himself to appear in all 16 regular season games. His performance ranks among rare company.
Only five other tight ends age 33 or older have recorded at least 800 receiving yards in a single season since the NFL-AFL merger, according to pro football reference. Only two from that group have accomplished the feat more than once: Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates.
“Traditionally, it’s a young man’s game,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “For him to be able to do what he’s been doing — and the thing that I appreciate and our coaching staff appreciates — is he’s not just relying on his reputation of what he’s done in the league. … He’s a great example for our young players.”
The Titans drafted Walker’s heir apparent last season, selecting Jonnu Smith in the third round.
Smith appeared in all 16 games his rookie season, but contributed little as a receiver, though his two touchdown catches were good for third-most on the team, which speaks to the offensive struggles last season.
Walker remained by far Mariota’s favorite target, with 20 more receptions than Eric Decker, who led the wide receivers with 54 and, at 31 years old, remains unsigned.
“Every year I try something new,” Walker said, explaining the keys to his success. “I don’t eat pork, I don’t drink alcohol. That’s been helping me, keeping me fit and in shape. Just go out here and I try to bust my butt every day in the weight room, on the field, and it’s tended to work so I’m going to stick to that regimen.”
Walker’s production last season, in terms of catches and receiving yards, was relatively consistent to the previous year. But it still represented a drop from 2015, when he set career highs with 94 catches, 1,088 yards receiving and six touchdown catches and made the first of three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.
He again set a career high with seven touchdowns in 2016. And he capped last season with two scores in the Pro Bowl, on the way to being named the all-star game’s offensive MVP.
Walker said he wants to finish his career with the Titans, and believes he deserves to be paid as an elite tight end. That’s not currently the case — his average annual salary of $6.68 million ranks 13th at his position. He insists he has several good years remaining. And he aims to prove it.
“You see me out there,” Walker said. “You can write about it and tell them how well you think I look out there, but I feel great. At the end of the day, until I feel like someone can take my spot, I’m going to keep playing. I feel like I can play for four years. As long as I still feel that way and I’m moving as fast as I am on the field, and making plays, I’m not going to stop.”
Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com looks at the Dolphins:
Adam Gase knew that the offseason plans he and rest of the Dolphins brass were putting in place would shake things up in the building. So he wanted to make sure, first, that the plans wouldn’t mess too much with his rehabbing quarterback.
Just before the Senior Bowl in January, the Miami coach sat down with Ryan Tannehill and explained how in the months ahead, no matter the final result, it may look an awful lot like Miami was gearing up to replace him.
“He was well aware of everything we were doing,” Gase said of Tannehill, as he drove home from the team facility on Friday. “He was good, never batted an eye. He focused on himself, he focused on making sure he was healthy for the spring. We wanted to make sure he’d be able to participate in everything. He didn’t have any setbacks. Everything went really smooth. At the end of the day, he’s focused on doing what he needs to.”
You know how the story played out. The Dolphins hosted Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen in the weeks leading up to the draft. Buzz persisted that Miami was in play for some combination of those three quarterbacks. The Jets traded up. The Bills traded up. The Cardinals traded up. The Dolphins wound up with a defensive back, Minkah Fitzpatrick, rather than a QB.
During the process, Gase would give Tannehill—who suffered an ACL injury in August 2017 that cost him the season—a heads up before the team would have one of those players in or go out to see them, just so the quarterback wouldn’t hear about it somewhere else. And Tannehill kept working and rehabbing as he went from six months off surgery to seven, then seven to eight, and the team’s offseason program began.
After all that, Tannehill is back in command in Miami. Not that he ever wasn’t.
“I really think his thought was—don’t waste the draft pick,” Gase said. “He focused on work and bringing the same intensity he does every day. He’s very competitive. He’s not going to bat an eye at any of those things. He just keeps going. If there’s some kind of internal thing going on, you’re not going to know. He’s not going to show his cards. So I never worried about it.
“Just being around him, this being my third year, the guy competes as hard as anyone I’ve been around, especially at that position. And it’s a good feeling as a coach when we’ve got him back out there.”
The end result: The one major element that a lot of people expected to change this offseason in Miami hasn’t. And maybe that’s good, since so much else on the roster, in the locker room, and throughout the building in Miami has changed.
Gase knew a reset was coming by Christmas of last year, after he saw his team go from an upset of the eventual AFC champion Patriots on a Monday in Week 14 to playing like they had no interest in being in frigid Buffalo six days later.
“They basically drummed us, and it wasn’t even really a game,” Gase said. “That was disappointing. You knew that was a big game, and it was following a big game. We’d gone up there and won the year before. And we didn’t show up.”
Since then the Dolphins …
• Cut Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey, the second- and fifth-highest paid players on their roster, and traded the mercurial Jarvis Landry, who is now making more than any Dolphin not named Tannehill. This after Miami had dealt away Jay Ajayi in October, for fit reasons.
• Signed Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, Josh Sitton and Frank Gore, and traded for Daniel Kilgore and Robert Quinn.
• Hired Dowell Loggains, who worked with Gase in Cleveland and Chicago, as offensive coordinator.
Gase is careful now to say that it doesn’t mean that everyone coming in is great and everyone walking out the door was horrific. He just knew what he saw last year, and that was a team that struggled with adversity and prosperity—and needed leaders to steady the ship no matter how good or bad things might be at any given time.
To be sure, there was plenty that went wrong last year. There was the day in August when Tannehill and guard Ted Larsen suffered major injuries at the same practice. There was Hurricane Irma, and the resulting postponement of the team’s opener and loss of its bye week. There was the bizarre AWOL of linebacker Lawrence Timmons in September, and the Sunday night in October when the video of ex-offensive line coach Chris Foerster surfaced.
It’s hard to say how many teams could handle that. What we know, and Gase does too, is that the 2017 Dolphins weren’t one of them. And he took something from that.
“I think it’s that no matter what happens, we’re gonna play Sunday,” he said. “Even when our bye week got switched, we played that game—we just played it later in the season. Our job is to get ready for the game we’re about to play. And I think what a lot of guys learned was, nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. Our jobs are to put our heads down, ignore any kind of noise or distraction and find a way to win the game.
“A lot of guys tried to do that. Some guys might have gotten distracted. And so many of our young guys went through some stuff they never thought they’d experience. It’s a good lesson for all of us on how to operate under adversity.”
So what’s different now? Gase says he can see it in practice—and not just the practice itself, but how prepared the vets are before each one. Amendola’s competitiveness and Wilson’s conditioning and Quinn’s motor and Gore’s grit are part of that, of course, and it’s why those guys were offseason targets to begin with. “Old-school, put-your-head-down-and-work type players,” as the coach describes them.
But it manifests itself everywhere. How these guys take notes. How they ask they ask questions. How they show up for everything prepared, no matter what it is. That can’t help but set an example on the field.
“You can see the tempo is exactly the way you want it—they’re staying off the ground, making sure they’re doing the details of the job correctly, whether it be in individual periods or team periods or 7-on-7,” Gase said. “Individual is where you really do see a difference. They treat those periods like it’s a live period. They go on air, whether it’s a route or a pass set or a schematic thing in the run game, and these guys are going through the work full-speed.
“All those little details that are behind the scenes, that people don’t get to see, these guys set a great example, because it’s full speed, it’s game atmosphere, through the entire practice.”
For Gase, this isn’t so much a start as it is a reset. A year ago, he was seen like Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan are now—a young offensive guru on his way up. Last year knocked him back a little bit. And the lessons he learned are written all over his roster.
Will it make a difference? We’ll see.
Some talent went out the door, to be sure. The Dolphins need young guys like Fitzpatrick and 2018 second-round linebacker Raekwon McMillan—players Miami loved in part because they already have hints of the intangibles of Amendola and Gore—to grow up fast. Tannehill, who got full clearance from his Texas surgeon the week before OTAs began and didn’t even wear a brace the last few weeks at practice, has to re-acclimate quickly, too.
The upshot: With a minicamp looming that Gase’s staff views as the final exam of the offseason program for players, Miami’s in a better spot than it was a half-year ago.
“I’ve really enjoyed being around these guys, love the way they’ve worked, I love the energy they bring to practice,” Gase says. “Every day there’s a lot of juice, a lot of talking. I think both sides are doing a nice job competing … Just a good start heading into training camp, and then we have to figure out where we’re at with tackling, blocking with pads and how we’re going to come together.”
Which is really all he could ask for at this point.
TE ROB GRONKOWSKI is heading to camp. Blake Schuster of YahooSports.com:
The latest offseason of uncertainty for the New England Patriots is slowly becoming less dramatic with the news the tight end Rob Gronkowski will, in fact, attend minicamp this week with his teammates.
A few months ago it didn’t even seem like Gronkowski was all too interested in continuing his pro football career, so to call this a positive step for the Patriots would be a slight understatement.
After the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, the All-Pro tight end talked about taking some time to consider his options. It certainly sounds like he’s now made up his mind and then some.
“We’ve got mandatory minicamp this week. So I’ll be there this week. I’ll be full go.” Gronkowski told reporters at a charity event on Sunday. “I’m looking forward to it. Can’t wait to get back to work. I’m excited.”
NEW YORK JETS
Rich Cimini of ESPN.com wonder if/thinks/hopes free agents will flock to the Jets so that they can kneel for the National Anthem:
Jets CEO Christopher Johnson’s pro-player stance on the national anthem issue has fueled some chatter on whether his position, which has galvanized the Jets’ locker room, could actually help the team in free agency. In other words, could free agents consider the Jets more appealing because their CEO broke ranks and sided with the players?
It’s an interesting question, one that has been raised in recent days on Twitter and in an insightful piece by Conor Orr of SI.com. I polled four prominent agents and the responses ranged from negligible impact to “slight advantage.” A sampling from the agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity:
“If two teams are close and the player sees the Jets as a more favorable environment, yes, it could have some effect,” one agent said. “I’d say 10 to 15 percent, but the total economic package is always the deciding factor.”
Another agent said, “I think it could be a small factor. Of the top 10 reasons, I’d say it’s on the bottom half. I wouldn’t jump up and down about it — it doesn’t hurt — but I don’t think it’s that big a deal.”
One agent said he always asks his clients to make a list of non-economic factors when considering a team. In that case, “You could put a checkmark next to Chris Johnson if you’re a player,” the agent said. But he quickly added, “The only thing that really matters is the green, and I’m not talking about Jets green. The [owner-player unity] won’t move the needle. People will say it will, but it won’t.”
With Johnson saying there will be no repercussions for players who violate the new league policy, the Jets could be perceived as a safe haven for protestors — a “player-friendly atmosphere,” as one agent described it. Personally, I don’t think that will matter much, but it wouldn’t shock me if it comes up in recruiting conversations between current Jets and free agents. They can try to use it as a selling point.
Want to know the biggest selling point? The Jets have close to $90 million in cap room for 2019. If you pay them, they will come.
THIS AND THAT
Benjamin Ohrbach, who makes his living getting players socially active, outlines his plans in a guest column in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
NFL players stand at a crossroads following the league’s announcement that they must stand for the national anthem if they are on the sideline. As athlete activists consider their next move, they should appreciate that while their advocacy for criminal justice reform and racial equality is working, a shift in tactics is needed to have greater impact.
It is true that the new NFL policy curtails players’ freedom of speech, Colin Kaepernick and now Eric Reid are being blackballed for their roles in initiating the demonstrations, and more important, African Americans remain subject to racial discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. However, NFL player protests have raised awareness among a broad group of Americans, brought together disparate groups on behalf of criminal justice reform, and demonstrated that athletes can exercise pressure on team owners and the league.
Racial equality and aspects of criminal justice reform are now being discussed at every level throughout the country, from elementary school students taking a knee to the owner of the Sacramento Kings committing to support the Build.Black.Coalition after the shooting of Stephon Clark. Undoubtedly, the positions and policies of the Trump administration have triggered a heightened level of consciousness, yet the NFL protests have certainly raised awareness.
It is also significant that player protests have captured the attention of the White House. The president may consider his attacks on NFL players a way to stoke his base. However, each of his racist, misogynist, and xenophobic comments brings together advocacy groups, activists, and individual citizens from Parkland, Fla., to Chicago. These coalitions are working towards local change, yet they are seizing national attention and support in their opposition to the president as he unintentionally lends them his social media platform.
Further, in a reversal of power dynamics, team owners and league officials find themselves scrambling in response to the player protests. After contentious meetings, owners have agreed to support $90 million of programs that advance social justice issues through 2023, and this most recent announcement comes across as a panicked attempt to preempt damage next season. Owners have drawn the conclusion that it was the player protests that led NFL ratings to drop about 10 percent last year and have unwittingly ceded power to the players. In reality, that downturn was surely impacted by factors that included injuries to star players and the data now available about the effects of concussions.
So, as athlete activists consider what’s next, they should remember that they were never going to kneel their way to bail bond reform or the elimination of mandatory federal sentencing. Rather, with this administration, criminal justice reform will occur through policy changes at the local level and cultural change at the grassroots level, i.e. the election of reform-minded candidates in November and the creation of new relationships between law enforcement and people of color at the community level.
While players will feel a natural urge to counter this latest NFL edict with single-act defiance, there are at least three other ways to more effectively initiate change.
First, players should keep their message sharp and articulate key points about the need for criminal justice reform at every opportunity. Players should speak to specific issues, cite statistics, and introduce personal anecdotal evidence on social media, at football camps, in public appearances, and in post-game interviews.
Second, players should focus on their team communities and hometowns. They should lobby elected officials, from senators to district attorneys; endorse candidates who align on the issues; and support voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote campaigns. In particular, players should seek out alliances with local organizations and initiatives that support veterans, from suicide prevention to helping the homeless. Supporting veterans is universally considered a decent thing to do, and it undercuts the bait-and-switch patriotic angle that is currently being used against NFL players.
Third, players should demand more from team owners and the league. Owners need to do more within their networks if they want to avoid end zone re-enactments of John Carlos’ black power salute in Mexico City. Specifically, they should join players in meetings with congressional representatives and support real criminal justice reform. A current target of opportunity is the prison reform bill that now sits in the Senate and that does not eliminate mandatory sentencing for drug offenses. In addition, $90 million for social justice programs falls short; the league was expected to reach $14 billion in revenue last year. In every NFL city, the league should support a consistent portfolio of grants and programs that change relationships between law enforcement and underserved communities.
Grassroots-led social change is born through holding the moral high ground and persuading a critical mass to join the movement. At this stage, NFL activists’ push for criminal justice reform relies on players remaining focused on why they chose to kneel in the first place and engaging in tactics that match this current situation.