The Daily Briefing Monday, March 27, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Peter King previews the NFL meetings. First, on Dean Blandino (and Al Riveron) taking ultimate power:
Between meetings at the Biltmore late Sunday afternoon, Blandino, the career office guy, swore he didn’t think the likely vote to give him replay power would be much of a change. (How likely? The influential Competition Committee endorses it unanimously.)
“I really don’t see it as a major difference compared to what we’ve been doing,” Blandino said. “Other than New York having the final say, we’ve been doing this for three years. It’s been a collaborative effort, with the ref giving input. Ultimately, we’ll make the final decision, but it doesn’t feel like any more pressure than what we’ve been handling since 2014. I don’t think it’s going to change very much. The logistics of the referee having the hand-held device [the tablet] is different, but it’s more efficient.”
In 2014, I spent part of an afternoon in the command center to see how the mechanics of the replay review system worked. It was intriguing to see the refs on the field consulting with the league office in New York, but it was also clear that there was some time to shave from the process. On a Giants-Cowboys review of a fumble/non-fumble play, Blandino was occupied and so Riveron took control of the play, watching it at one of the replay stations in the Art McNally GameDay Central room. It was soon ruled the Giants’ player didn’t fumble, but now there was the matter of ball placement. And instead of ref Jerome Boger taking charge of the situation, it was Riveron taking control, because he’d seen more angles of the play by the time Boger got under the hood. “Guys,” said Riveron, “let’s get this straight. Listen up, listen up. Put the ball down at the 46-and-a-half and let’s measure.” The measurement confirmed the placement. End of review. Time: 3 minutes, 41 seconds. Waaaay too long. Later, Blandino told me, “Let’s get to the point, versus taking the scenic route.”
It made sense to me that day that New York should make the call. By the time Boger went under the hood to review the play in question, by my count, Riveron had already spent 20 seconds or so at the monitor looking at the fumble/non-fumble. On most replay reviews, that’s enough to make a call. It’s redundant for a referee to then look at one or more of the same plays that already show the result. Now, there are going to be some plays that are painstakingly close that the ref and Blandino or Riveron could discuss. But they’re not the majority. This is not only more efficient, it’s the smarter choice for consistency of the calls.
Blandino said the only issue from the membership was something a bit conspiratorial. “The concerns that I’ve heard is, Who’s in the room?” Blandino said. “We’ve been very clear. Access to the room … As an NFL employee, you get a key card. That key card gets you in the building and it gets you to your floor. It does not get you in GameDay Central. You have to have a working function. There’s a select group that has access to that room, and that’s it. Everybody in there has a working function.”
Second, on The Commish and his war on Wasted Time:
Regarding the time of game, Goodell has been known to call his staff while watching games at home on Sunday. Occasionally, he rails about time wasters and the back-to-back commercial breaks used after some touchdowns. So he formed a working group last year of league employees to examine all time-sucks. The measures owners will vote on here are a result of those meetings and studies. For instance, when commercial breaks in a quarter have been exhausted and a touchdown is scored, a 40-second clock will be started after the extra point or two-point conversion is attempted. Once that 40 seconds expires, the ball will be handed to the kicker, and a 25-second clock will start. If the kicking team doesn’t kick by the time the 25 seconds ticks off, a delay-of-game flag will be thrown. Formerly, there wasn’t a rule about timing between PATs and the ensuing kickoff.
“We have 156 plays in a game,” said Goodell. “We are not talking about changing that at all. What we are trying to do, and what I believe we’ll be successful in doing, is making the game from an overall fan standpoint both in the stadium and at home more compelling. We won’t judge ourselves simply on does the game go from 3:07 to 3:02. What we’ll judge ourselves on is did we make it more compelling by taking out some downtime?”
And some other rules stuff:
• Credit John Madden when the NFL this week votes to abolish the field-goal or PAT play in which a defender leaps over the center to try to block the kick. (Exciting, I know, but risky.) The abolition of the play is expected to be approved. Madden, in retirement, is co-chair of the NFL’s safety committee and chairs the NFL coaches subcommittee. Madden turns 81 on April 10. He’s still a mentor to Roger Goodell and others on football and football-safety matters. When the subject of the kick-block-leaper came up, Madden told the Competition Committee: “Why should we wait till somebody gets seriously hurt on a play like this before we do anything about it? It’s got to be outlawed.”
• Buffalo and Seattle advanced a proposal to allow a challenge on any play during the game, without increasing the number of challenges. In a season when cutting time of game is of importance, that one has no chance of passing.
• Could a rule pass that incentivizes a kickoff through the uprights? Possible. Washington proposed it, and the one worry is that a team like Denver, in high altitude where balls carry better, could have an edge for eight games a year. (I’m serious. That is a concern.) Under the proposal, a kickoff through the uprights would result in ball placement at the 20-yard line instead of the 25 on first down. This could be close, but I would guess it will not pass.
• Now here’s one out of left field: Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian suggested to Goodell at the Super Bowl that the overtime be shortened from 15 minutes to 10. Goodell liked it (safety reasons—fewer plays), as did the Competition Committee. It’s not a huge deal, but the two overtime games that ended in ties last year had 39 and 36 plays in the overtimes. Not a big deal, but if those two games had 26 and 24 plays, respectively, that would reduce the threat of injuries a bit.
• Regarding the addition of the “double-box” on the telecasts: NBC has used this on NASCAR while cars are circling the track, and on the Ryder Cup. NFL Network actually, quietly, experimented with the double-box in Week 16 last year, doing a commercial on half the screen and showing a team timeout in Houston-Cincinnati on the other half of the screen. I’d expect this to be used during some replay reviews in 2017, to see if the system works.
• If the NFL is serious about limiting house ads on game telecasts, I’d be all for it. On my podcast this week, I brought it up with Goodell, and he talked about wanting to make the drama the late-game focus, not the league or network promotions. He said, “All of that is great. All of that is drama. That’s what we’re trying to get [networks and league merchandisers] to focus on, rather than seeing a promotion of, ‘This is how you buy a jersey,’ or ‘This is what’s going to be on the network next week.’ And we’re going to address that.”
Peter King on the connection between Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and AARON RODGERS:
In Unbreakable, the West Hollywood gym of Jay Glazer, Aaron Rodgers was training on Friday. “He’s been here about a month pretty regularly,” Glazer reports. He says that most players in the gym this offseason—Glazer has a slew of them—have a set schedule with trainers for working out. But Glazer said Rodgers was told, basically, Whatever you’re doing seems to be working. Keep doing it. We don’t want to screw you up.
This tweet from RB ADRIAN PETERSON, a man without a team:
“Here is something Straight from the horse’s mouth … finding the best fit and helping a team win a championship is my main objective. I’m in no rush.”
—Free-agent running back Adrian Peterson, who turned 32 last week, in an extended Friday Tweet.
Stephen Jones speaks on the Cowboys’ defensive makeover. David Moore in the DallasMorning News:
Stephen Jones wants to talk you off the ledge.
If you’re a Cowboys fan concerned by the sheer volume of losses on the defensive side of the ball, if you fret that the smattering of free agent signings and upcoming draft isn’t enough to address these obvious shortcomings, the club’s executive vice president offers this message:
“There is a little bit of method to the madness here.”
The strategy: think long and hard about signing a good player to a generous third contract, restraint the club exercised when it came to safety Barry Church and cornerback Brandon Carr. Offset key losses with “efficient signings” — corner Nolan Carroll and a safety Jones indicates will be added to the mix down the free agent road — and dive deep into a draft that has the potential to shore up the Cowboys weaknesses.
“Right now, going into the draft, we feel really good about our numbers,” Jones said Sunday a few hours before the NFL’s annual meeting got underway. “But at the same time we feel this is going to be a great opportunity for us to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
“It just so happens we feel the draft is inordinately strong on the defensive side of the ball.”
The Cowboys have lost 10 players in the opening weeks of free agency. Seven of those defections have come on the defensive side of the ball. Five of those players started seven or more games for the team last season.
Jones respects those players and the contributions they made to a 13-3 record. He would have preferred to keep several of them. If the club had a little more cap room, the losses would probably have been reduced.
But if you were expecting an emotional farewell or internal doubts about whether the team has employed the proper strategy, you’ll be disappointed.
“Players we want to keep, we keep them,” Jones declared. “Most of these players, I’m not going to single out guys, but most of them we were ready to let move on.
“Now, there were a few if they would have been for the right price, we would have done it. But we certainly didn’t want to get into overpaying for anybody.”
Strong man Bruce Allen speaks, without clarifying, on the firing of GM Scot McCloughan. Conor Orr at NFL.com:
Bruce Allen, president of the Washington Redskins, broke his public silence Sunday surrounding the firing of general manager Scot McCloughan.
Speaking in Pheonix at the Annual League Meeting, Allen noted that McCloughan, who was let go two weeks ago, now has an opportunity to latch on with a team before the draft.
“I thought it was the right thing to do for where we were at the time,” Allen told The Washington Post. “We wanted to give clarity to our free agents and to our staff of where we were going. For Scot, it was good timing because it allows him to be hired by anyone right now before this draft.”
Allen probably knows better than anyone that the chances of McCloughan joining a team just a month before the draft are unlikely. However, he tried to put a positive spin on the breakup amid reports of disagreement and chaos behind the scenes.
“I heard all the different things that were said afterward,” Allen said. “Scot and I had a wonderful relationship. I do like him as a person. And I wanted him to do great. And it just didn’t work out.”
McCloughan leaves Washington having had one of the best first-year drafts as a general manager that we’ve seen in some time. Nailing Brandon Scherff, Preston Smith, Matt Jones (in year one) and Jamison Crowder in one draft formed the foundational core of a Redskins team that was finally trending upward.
Now, the pressure is on Allen to maintain the high bar set by the man he let go.
And if you are thinking that QB KIRK COUSINS will end up in San Francisco by September, harken to this from Allen. Michael David Smith from ProFootballTalk.com:
For a team in a town known for politicians who speak in absolutes that are often absolutely untrue, take this for whatever you will: Washington president Bruce Allen insists that Kirk Cousins will be the team’s quarterback in 2017.
“That’s why we franchised him,” Allen told CSN Mid-Atlantic.
“I can’t keep up with the rumors,” Allen added. “Kirk and I have talked almost a dozen times this offseason, and we get to laugh when we hear these different rumors. We haven’t talked to anyone.”
The fact that they haven’t talked to anyone doesn’t mean they won’t, especially with the entire NFL gathered in Arizona for the annual league meetings.
“Our goal from the beginning has been long-term [contract],” Allen said. “I’m still hopeful and confident we’ll do it.”
Before he was GM in Indianapolis, Bill Polian was in Charlotte. This is what he told Peter King about his very first draft pick:
• Polian, the GM of the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995, on the late quarterback Steve McNair, and picking between McNair and Kerry Collins in the first round: “Now Steve was an absolutely arresting talent. I have never seen a guy throw the ball better than Steve McNair. He was outstanding. And he was outstanding in every other way and he was Johnny Manziel long before Johnny Manziel was ever thought of. He was more scintillating than Johnny Manziel because he could do more things. He could hit it at 60 yards at a string. We knew we were taking either Steve McNair or Kerry Collins. We get through all the psychological testing and we found out that Steve had a little bit of a learning disability. While not debilitating or disqualifying in any way, it would put him in a position where he was going to be slower to develop. We were in a situation where we had to sell PSLs and we were going to try to come out of the box really good … We thought Kerry was ready to play sooner and I was a little concerned that because Steve ran so much, he would get hurt. And it did take Steve awhile in Tennessee but of course, when he got it he was tremendous and we remained good friends until his unfortunate passing.”
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Should the Panthers have shut down CAM NEWTON last December? Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton suffered a shoulder injury in Week 14, and last week decided to have surgery to repair the shoulder. Now the Panthers are facing questions about why Newton played the final weeks of the season after Carolina had been eliminated from playoff contention if his throwing shoulder was injured badly enough that he’d eventually need surgery.
But Carolina G.M. Dave Gettleman says the Panthers still try to win even when they’re out of playoff contention, Newton wanted to play and the medical staff thought he could.
“We are in the business of winning,” Gettleman said, via the Charlotte Observer. “That’s what we’re here for. I just know that’s my responsibility – put the best club on the field and to win games, that’s Ron [Rivera’s] job. That’s why we’re all here. You talk about our culture here and the No. 1 priority is winning football games. Those conversations happen. Cam’s a football player. He wanted to play and the medical people felt it was fine, so we did.”
As Newton was playing hurt, the Panthers were shutting down Luke Kuechly with a concussion, but Gettleman says it’s not fair to compare the two situations.
“It’s two different cases and I’m not going to go down there,” he said. “There’s always conversations with injuries. We have this crazy idea we should care about them as people. They’re going to have long lives beyond their NFL careers.”
Unlike a concussion, Newton’s shoulder injury isn’t the kind of ailment that raises concerns about his life after football. And so the Panthers said he could keep going at the end of 2016, even if it affects his readiness when training camp opens in 2017.
The DB doesn’t know enough about orthopedic issues to call this a second guess, but we wonder why the surgery didn’t happen until March. Would it have happened earlier if he had been shut down? Why couldn’t it have been done in January, not March?
It took six weeks for this scoop to percolate out of Ian Rapoport:
Sources: #Saints coach Sean Payton & Johnny Manziel were spotted together Super Bowl week, at breakfast. They discussed a return to football
Nicki Jhabvala in the Denver Post looks at the TONY ROMO situation from a Mile High perspective:
Minus the bling and the bragging rights, there’s a familiar feel to this Broncos offseason. Sure, the follow-up to their Super Bowl 50 title run ended with a 9-7, playoff-less thud, but many of the same issues and questions remain unresolved from a year ago.
At the NFL’s annual meetings in Phoenix running Sunday to Thursday, some of those questions may be answered. Perhaps a big one in particular.
The Broncos’ contingent heads to the desert with a docket headlined by Tony Romo, the lame-duck Cowboy quarterback who is expected to be released unless owner Jerry Jones finds a willing trade partner.
Last year, the Broncos’ contingent of president and CEO Joe Ellis, general manager John Elway and then-coach Gary Kubiak arrived in Boca Raton, Fla., amid speculation of Colin Kaepernick‘s availability. Peyton Manning had retired. Brock Osweiler had defected. And Trevor Siemian was just that kid out of Northwestern the Broncos drafted in the seventh round the previous year.
Denver didn’t have a clear starter at quarterback then and a year later still doesn’t, not with a promised competition between Siemian and Paxton Lynch and not with Romo’s availability hanging in the balance.
Face-to-face meetings of the Broncos’ and Cowboys’ brass may bring clarity on Romo’s next stop and Denver’s future at quarterback. The Broncos and Texans have been pegged as the top teams to acquire Romo, should Jones finally free his veteran QB and should Romo pass on advances from CBS and Fox Sports. ESPN reported that both networks are strongly pursuing Romo as an addition to their broadcast teams if he opts for retirement over playing a 14th season in the NFL.
The Texans, after shipping Osweiler to Cleveland, has more than $30 million in salary cap space and a quarterbacks room that holds only Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden. They need a starter, and more, and they have the means to acquire both.
The Broncos have about $21 million in cap room — more than enough to get Romo — but they have much less of a need for a starting quarterback. Elway and coach Vance Joseph have said repeatedly that they’re happy with their two quarterbacks.
They also have had multiple opportunities to shoot down their interest in signing a starting veteran such as Romo, and they have yet to do so. Neither the Texans nor the Broncos have, so far, been willing to trade for Romo, who made only four starts the past two seasons because of injuries.
The NFL’s annual meetings, however, could be grounds for informal discussions between Jones and other prospective Romo suitors. Although it seems unlikely, there’s always a chance that the businessman in Jones will be able to convince one of them to give up something — anything — to lessen the blow of Romo’s $19.6 million dead money value, which will count against the Cowboys’ salary cap.
Of course, Romo, the most notable free agent-to-be, isn’t the only subject that may consume the Broncos’ attention in Phoenix this week. Elway was added to the league’s competition committee last season and was in Phoenix for much of last week to pore over proposed rule and bylaw changes.
The question everyone wants answered, though: Where’s Romo going?
Peter King on the Raiders relocation:
I couldn’t find many (just one, actually) club officials or owners Sunday who thought the Raiders’ move wouldn’t be approved. The one was an AFC team official whose owner might vote against it simply because the owner thinks abandoning a rising team in America’s sixth-largest market—with some evidence that the revived Raiders could overtake the swooning Niners in the market, particularly with the 49ers playing 50 minutes to the south in Santa Clara now—for the 40th-largest market, Las Vegas. Obviously, Vegas has some unique aspects to it. But this would be the second rabid market in California in 2017 to lose a team for either a laissez-faire place (the Chargers leaving San Diego for Los Angeles) or a mystery place (the Raiders jumping from Oakland to Nevada).
“It is painful all the way around,” commissioner Roger Goodell told me Thursday in New York. “The first thing you think about is the fans. It’s disappointment that we weren’t able to get to a successful conclusion—I said that when the Chargers moved. We worked tirelessly to try to get an outcome that would allow the Chargers to stay there. We didn’t get there, so I am disappointed in that. The same would be true if that is the case with the Raiders.
“We have sought to get stability for the Raiders for several years. This goes back several decades back into the early eighties and probably even into the seventies. We really want to figure out a way to make sure that all 32 teams have that stability and a stadium is a big component of that. When we don’t get that done in our current market, it is a failure, a collective responsibility on all of us—us, the community, the team, and that is disappointing to us.”
Goodell clearly didn’t want to say it’s over to me. But it’s over. On Friday night, he sent a letter to Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf making it clear that Oakland’s last-ditch efforts to save the franchise were failing. “Despite all of these efforts, ours and yours, we have not yet identified a viable solution,” Goodell wrote. “It is disappointing to me and our clubs to have come to that conclusion.” On Sunday, Goodell told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio he felt the owners “will have a positive vote” for the Raiders, which can mean only one thing.
So Mark Davis appears to be following in the footsteps of his father. The late Al Davis spent 22 seasons in Oakland and couldn’t get a stadium deal done to his satisfaction. So he moved to Los Angeles in 1982; the Raiders stayed there until moving back in 1995. The Raiders, again, have spent 22 seasons in their second Oakland life, couldn’t get a stadium deal done to their satisfaction, and now the family heir will move the team south again. Southeast, actually.
For years the NFL treated anything in Las Vegas like it was poison. Two years ago, even, the league made Tony Romo cancel a fantasy football convention because it was to be held at a Las Vegas convention center that was on the same grounds as a casino. Now the league is poised to vote to put one of its 32 crown jewels, and one of its most storied franchises, in that same city.
On Thursday, I asked Goodell, “Why isn’t the league put off by being in a place where there is legalized gambling?”
“We are not changing our position as it relates to legalized sports gambling,” Goodell said. “We still don’t think it is a positive thing. We want to make sure that the integrity of our game is the primary concern and we do everything possible to protect that. And that people are watching it for the outcome, and they know that it is not being influenced by any outside influences. We are very determined to continue that, and we will; that’s a first priority for us.
“I think also you have to realize the changes that are evolving in society on gambling. Second: I think Las Vegas has evolved as a city. It’s not just a singular industry. While it is still dominated by [the gambling industry], there is a lot of entertainment going there, including political conventions. Our leaders in government are all going there. You see it a lot of different ways where this city has become much more diverse as far as the industry and the events it is attracting. It is really an entertainment city now, much more broadly than it would have been thought even a decade ago, much less two or three decades ago. In our analysis, we’ve been able to look at Vegas and it is actually one of the fastest growing cities in the country. We project by 2037 that it will be the same size as Oakland. It isn’t now, but it is continuing to grow rapidly.”
The population of Oakland proper really isn’t the issue; it’s the entire market. The sprawling San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose area had an estimated population of 8.71 million in 2015, about four times the population of the extended Vegas market. City size, really, isn’t that significant. It’s market size that matters.
Regarding gambling: It’s understandable in an era of dried-up public funding that the league is going to try to find a way to make its gambling rules work when Nevada politicians promised $750 million in public money toward a $1.7-billion domed stadium in Las Vegas. But the NFL will now face an interesting new problem. Instead of players in most NFL cities having a casino or two within driving distance, players on the Las Vegas Raiders could go out at night and choose from 76 casinos in Las Vegas alone, according to Vegasclick.com. Imagine being the security officials for the Raiders, and the NFL, in Vegas.
NFL people assume Raider fans will follow the franchise—especially if it keeps rising. I don’t doubt fans will support a winner. But Las Vegas is a mystery, and everyone knows it. The Black Hole was filled, even in the team’s decade-long awful period that just finished. Will the transients in Vegas, and those who come to gamble, stay for a Sunday afternoon football game? Will Raiders season-ticket-holders from California follow the team to Nevada? No one knows.
By the end of the day today, the NFL likely will have traded fervor in two California cities for shiny stadiums in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Add in the Rams, and these three transient franchises, in the past seven seasons, have combined to win zero division titles and one playoff game. They’d better just win, baby, or the honeymoons in shiny new places won’t last long.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com thinks the NFL isn’t taking the gambling influence in Vegas seriously enough:
When it comes to the potential practical consequences of putting a professional football team in Las Vegas, the NFL isn’t completely ignoring the situation. It seems, however, that not nearly enough people are taking the situation as seriously as they should.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, some are indeed sounding alarms about moving a team to the nation’s gambling capital. Those alarms seem to be obscured by the sound of the league’s looming jackpot.
As noted on Saturday, the NFL can’t (and thus isn’t even trying to) reconcile its desire to put a team in Las Vegas with its supposed aversion to all things gambling. But if, after the owners get together this week with a chance for any opponents to chime in, the league gives the Raiders the green light to leave Oakland for Las Vegas, it will be important for both the team and the NFL to have clear plans in place for plopping players, coaches, executives, and other team employees into a place where gambling is more prevalent than good food quickly.
Put simply, players and their families will be moving into a place where gambling is everywhere. While some have argued that nearly any player on any team already is within driving distance of a casino, casinos in most places are destinations. In Las Vegas, where both casino games and sports betting are legal, a player can’t walk out of his apartment without being smacked in the face by the “here it is, why aren’t you here?” prevalance of it.
At some point, the lure of gambling will tempt everyone — even those who believe they are sufficiently self-disciplined to avoid it. At some point, someone connected to the team will develop a gambling problem. At some point, someone with a gambling problem will develop a significant gambling debt. At some point, someone with a significant gambling debt will be ripe to be compromised.
The league needs to be ready to prevent it (which may be impossible) and to spot it when it happens (which may be just as difficult). And even if the league manages to keep it from ever happen for the duration of the Raiders’ stay in Las Vegas, the league needs to be ready to hear more of the same-old conspiracies about corrupt officiating and points shaving, realizing that a layer of craps-table felt will make the tin-foil hats seem less nutty.
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Andie Hagemann of NFL.com says that wherever they play, QB DEREK CARR is all in on helping the Raidgers:
Derek Carr took a hands on this offseason, helping the Raiders and offensive coordinator Todd Downing land two highly desired free agents: tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
“He’s pretty hands on with everything when it comes to football. He lives around the area, hopped in when we needed him and it paid off,” Downing said Thursday, according to the Bay Area News Group.
Carr, who resides in the neighboring suburb of Dublin, said recently he’s a “Raider for life.” Because of Carr’s immense passion for the club, it was no surprise to the coaching staff that the signal-caller expressed interest in recruiting during free agency.
Cook said during his meeting with Carr, the two discussed the tight end’s potential role with the offense.
“Yeah, me and him sat in on a meeting,” Cook said soon after signing. “We watched some film together today. Love the kid, man. He’s cool. He’s a real down to earth guy. I enjoy talking with him about the offensive system and different plays that they run and how they see me fitting in this offense.
“(I’m) just another weapon for Derek to use, man. To be able to stretch the field, get down to the secondary at a fast pace, create separations off different routes … it gives him a different elements to put the ball in different places and keep the chains moving.”
Patterson expressed a similar sentiment.
“I met him the night before (I signed),” Patterson said at the time. “He popped up, said hello to me and was telling me how he would love to have me here and I can help them on offense and special teams.”
The DB finds it interesting that Carr is from Bakersfield, California – which is 267 miles from Oakland and 286 miles from Las Vegas. A good spot to be from if you are a “Raider for life.”
The Bengals have always been classy to their peeps and they are allowing longtime p.r. director Jack Brennan the retirement he deserves.
Some thoughts on Brennan from Peter King:
I think I’d like to salute my 1984 Wilmington College dorm-mate, Jack Brennan, on his retirement (Friday) from his job as the public relations director of the Bengals. Those days in training camp (at least in Cincinnati), the beat writers and coaches and executives of the team lived on the ground floor of the players’ dorm. Jack, then of the Cincinnati Post, was across the hall from me. Fun times. He morphed into the Bengals’ media guy for the last 23 years of his career, and he was one of the most easy-going, efficient, get-it-done guys I dealt with in the league. Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com got Carson Palmer, the Bengals’ first pick in 2003, to riff on Jack, and I liked what he said, because I know it to be true: “Jack took me under his wing and was a mentor to me. [Dealing with the media] isn’t something I was comfortable with and I’m still not. But he made it as pleasant as it possibly could. Being from Los Angeles, I was in a new market and he took the time to educate me. He’d let me know if I made a mistake, and if I said something he liked, he’d pat me on the back. He’s got a lot of knowledge because he’s been on both sides of it and you knew it. Even in the most crazy, chaotic weeks he was always rock-steady.” You’ll be missed in the business, Jack, as a person and a professional.
Bill Polian on how Peyton Manning got to Indianapolis and why Ryan Leaf headed to the scrap heap:
• Polian on the choice between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf with the first pick of the 1998, when he was GM of the Colts: “I queried the scouting staff and it was 50/50 split right down the middle. So I said, okay, we are going to go back and look at all the film and we’ll start from scratch, ground zero … We get to March and as much as I told everybody to block out the noise, you couldn’t. Because it was, my Lord! It was like the Russians and Trump it seemed like every day. It was all anybody ever talked about. Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning? So the things we had heard were, with Peyton, number one, he is a poor athlete. Number two, he has a weak arm. Number three, he is a product of the system. To this day I don’t know what that meant. But we went down to work them both out and we found out that Peyton is a much better athlete than you think. He just looks awkward but he’s not. Secondly, he throws a terrifically tight ball. Really a good spiral. Every once and awhile he would throw a duck, but I found out that was only because he gripped the ball too tight on certain occasions. Two days later we go work Ryan Leaf out and he was out of shape and I remember saying to Tom Moore, ‘Holy mackerel. Peyton’s arm is much stronger.’ All these misnomers about Leaf existed out there in the ether.
And then, I have to take you back to the combine, Leaf blew us off, he missed our appointment. Leigh Steinberg said that I had given him the wrong time. That’s not true and Leigh has since came clean on it, I’m glad he did after all these years. So we hadn’t interviewed Leaf. Peyton came in, he had his yellow legal pad, he sits down. Remember you only have 15 minutes to interview. We get through the pleasantries and he says, ‘I have a few questions if you don’t mind.’ So he begins to ask us a ton of questions, about the offense, about the city, how we view things, how we view his role in the organization, etc. All of a sudden the horn blows. BLOOP. It’s over. He gets up, he says, ‘Thanks guys, I really appreciate it, great meeting you.’ And walks out. I turn to our personnel director and Jim Mora and said, ‘He just interviewed us!’ Little did we know that is what we could expect for the next 14 years! We get through the workouts and we are interviewing Ryan, and Jim Mora says to him, ‘We have minicamp opening on such and such date, and that’s the first date you are allowed to report and I want to let you know, because if we take you, we are looking forward to having you there.’ And he said, ‘Well, I can’t make it.’ And the room went silent. Ryan says, ‘Well, we have this trip planned to Las Vegas, my buddy and I, and we’ve had it planned for about a year, so I will be about four days late.’ Jim didn’t say anything. Jim said nothing to me. He didn’t have to.”
Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News says the torch of power has quietly passed from GM Doug Whaley to new head coach Sean McDermott.
I’m actually beginning to feel sorry for Doug Whaley. Bit by bit, the Bills’ general manager has seen his power and stature diminished as the Pegulas conferred unprecedented control of the football operation to their new head coach, Sean McDermott.
Whaley has become a mute, emasculated figure. He’s not allowed to speak for the organization anymore — even on the rare occasions where they used to trust him. The latest indignity is his exclusion from next month’s pre-draft media luncheon.
This is like Trump telling Sean Spicer he’s still the press secretary but won’t be allowed to run the daily press briefing. The draft luncheon has historically been the GM’s province, an annual opportunity to engage in a convivial back-and-forth with reporters.
Evidently, the Pegulas want a single voice to speak for the Bills on the major issues from now on. I suppose our chances of getting the Pegulas to talk publicly on Bills matters — giving Terry an opportunity to say something really wooden — goes out the window for good.
The voice now belongs to McDermott, who has never been an NFL head coach or the spokesman for an organization, but is being positioned as an all-knowing Bill Belichick-like figure in Buffalo. Bills fans can only hope that the new guy possesses half of Belichick’s ability to coach and construct a winning roster.
Barely a year ago, in a transparent attempt to show unity in an embattled organization, the Bills gave Whaley a contract extension. Then, when the Rex Ryan experiment went up in flames, they fell for the first competent football coach who walked through the door and handed McDermott the keys to the kingdom.
The dignified move for Whaley now would be to resign. But why would he quit when he can wait for Kim and Terry Pegula to run him off, adding him to the lengthening scroll of coaches and executives that they’ve paid not to work?
They should fire Whaley right now and be done with it. Stop the charade that he’s still empowered. Put him out of his misery. If this goes on much longer, it’ll make their decision to fire Darcy Regier seem hasty and impulsive by comparison.
According to a recent report by CBS’ Jason La Canfora, the Whaley-McDermott “marriage” is destined for a breakup. That’s hardly a surprise. The wonder is that Whaley is still there. He admitted after Ryan’s firing that he was likely to lose some power over personnel decisions to the new coach.
On the day he was hired, McDermott repeatedly said the Pegulas had made him feel “comfortable” about his role in personnel matters. He used the word comfortable so many times, you had to assume he’d been given assurances about his ability to put his personal stamp on the personnel operation.
McDermott said Whaley would still have control over the 53-man roster that day. But recent events, which saw several of Whaley’s favorites go out the door and Tyrod Taylor retained as the starting quarterback, made it clear that McDermott’s vision is the one driving the operation these days.
The La Canfora story said McDermott is likely to bring in his own executive and personnel types to run personnel. One name that’s floating around is Don Gregory, who became the Panthers’ director of player personnel last year and could eventually wind up in Buffalo in a similar job.
Presumably, the Bills want to keep Whaley around for the draft, to complete the work he’s been doing over the past year or so. But why wait? Considering the mess he’s made of this Bills roster, why would it be imperative for Whaley to preside over another draft? Why run another draft with his fingerprints all over it?
The roster is a monument to weak drafting and short-sighted personnel management. At the end of last season, the Bills had fewer of their own draft picks on the roster than any other team. They had 22 unrestricted free agents on March 1. They had precious few “value” players, young stars who are on their first contracts and help balance the roster.
Why entrust Whaley and his crew with another draft? A fan with a bunch of draft guides could have done as well over the last 15 years. When are the scouts going to be held accountable for all those brutal decisions — like overdrafting the likes of EJ Manuel, Cyrus Kouandjio and Adolphus Washington, or rarely hitting on a pick in the later rounds unless it was a bad actor like Karlos Williams?
Not to mention Whaley’s propensity for overpaying people, creating false hope and a financial imbalance that left them unable to make significant additions in free agency this year. The receiver position is a disaster. As Jay Skurski wrote, they’re a Watkins injury from Andre Holmes being the No. 1 wideout.
So you can’t blame the owners for wanting new blood in personnel, even if they’re doing it backwards by hiring the coach first and giving him sway. It would have been wiser to find the football czar and have him build from the top down. But at least they appear to have come around to the realization that Whaley isn’t the right guy.
The sooner they get a new personnel department in place, the better. They should take a leaf blower through the building. It’s long overdue, like Whaley getting pink slipped. It’s puzzling why Pegula keeps him around. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to whack another person to whom he swore allegiance, so soon after firing Ryan.
The Sabres’ disappointing performance was Whaley’s best friend this winter, deflecting criticism from the football team’s shortcomings. But the Sabres are essentially done, the NFL draft is approaching and it’s getting hotter at One Bills Drive. Change is here, and Whaley looks like the old furniture.
It seems only a matter of time before Whaley gets moved out. The time might as well be now.
NEW YORK JETS
Gary Myers of the New York Daily News orders the Jets not to draft yet another bad quarterback (or any QB for that matter) until QB CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG proves what “everyone knows” – that he stinks:
If Jets GM Mike Maccagnan’s plan is to keep drafting quarterbacks until he gets it right, then somebody else needs to be picking the quarterbacks.
Maccagnan is attending his third NFL owners meetings since Charley Casserly recommended Woody Johnson hire his former assistant in Houston and he has the Jets going backward. He has gutted the roster in the offseason, which is usually done in the first year of the program, not the third year, but the real issue is he’s just the latest GM who can’t solve the quarterback problem.
Josh McCown is the expected starter to open the season. He has out-journeymanned Ryan Fitzpatrick eight teams to six. In his 15 years in the league, he is 18-42 as a starter.
Are the Jets even trying to get better long-term if they play McCown or is Todd Bowles just trying to save his job? McCown will be 38 years old in July and is more qualified to be the quarterback coach than the starting quarterback.
That’s why the Jets need to open the season with Christian Hackenberg. If he stinks, as most suspect, then let’s find out right away. If Maccagnan blew it with his second-round pick in 2016, then he must be held accountable. It’s not like he was a throwaway sixth-round pick.
Plenty of quarterbacks get taken after the first round and make it big: Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr.
Dak Prescott, an emerging star with the Cowboys, was taken two rounds after Hackenberg last year. New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round pick, is the best quarterback not starting. Even though Hackenberg was not a high first-round pick, Maccagnan still drafted him with the expectation he would be a franchise quarterback.
Waiting until mid-October to start Hackenberg doesn’t give him the best chance to succeed. By then, the Jets season will basically be over, the morale in the locker room will be toxic, the first wave of injuries will have hit and the fans will already be fed up. If Bowles, with a nudge from Johnson overseas, puts the kid in on opening day, at least he will give him a fair shot before the season is lost. Most of these young guys start opening day their rookie year.
McCown will be more useful to the Jets as an extra set of eyes and a sideline mentor to Hackenberg than anything he might provide on the field. Hackenberg was so bad in practice last year that the Jets didn’t want to ruin him by putting him on the field. The last we saw of him was in the final preseason game in Philadelphia when he was a dreadful 11-of-31 for 54 yards with an interception. Even as the Jets went from Ftiz to Geno to Fitz to Petty to Fitz, he didn’t get a uniform until the final game when he was the only healthy QB other than Fitzpatrick.
Maccagnan did not rule out taking a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in the April 27 draft. But Johnson should not let it happen. Maccagnan selected Bryce Petty in the fourth round of his first draft in 2015 and then picked Hackenberg even though his stock had dropped dramatically after he played poorly his last two years at Penn State. He just can’t keep taking quarterbacks.
If Maccagnan saw something in Hackenberg that convinced him he could play and be a potential franchise quarterback, then he must at least get on the field before the GM is allowed to use another premium pick in the first or second round on another quarterback.
He denied taking another QB would be a referendum on Hackenberg, but of course it would. How could it not?
“I don’t think taking a player at one position is a referendum on another player,” he said. “I think the goal is to always put together the best roster you can and, of course, the quarterback is a very, very important position in this process, but I wouldn’t necessarily view it as a referendum.”
Simply put, that’s absurd.
And what happens if the Jets take North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, who started one year in college, and he is not impressive as a rookie, the Jets earn the first pick in 2018 and Maccagnan takes Southern Cal QB Sam Darnold? That’s not a referendum on Trubisky, either, I guess.
This is not a strong quarterback draft. Next year could produce a handful of potential franchise quarterbacks. Maccagnan must find out what he has in Hackenberg before he should be allowed to go quarterback shopping again.
It was his decision to take Hackenberg, so Maccagnan’s job performance will be based on his development. Johnson has generously given Maccagnan a do-over in his third year. He signed Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and traded for Brandon Marshall and Fitzpatrick soon after he arrived in 2015 The Jets won 10 games and nearly made the playoffs. He won executive of the year using all the cap space John Idzik left him. Then it all fell apart last season and the Jets finished 5-11.
Cromartie lasted one season and now Revis, Marshall and Fitz are gone along with long-time center Nick Mangold. Maccagnan wants to go with the kids and trade down in the draft and add lots of extra picks. It’s not a bad idea. But that’s the plan he should have had two years ago when he inherited a 4-12. Instead Maccagnan went for the competitive rebuild, which ultimately set the program back two years.
He’s got a lot at stake with Hackenberg. The Jets need to find out if he can play and whether Maccagnan knows how to pick quarterbacks.
THIS AND THAT
FEWER HURT QBs
An injury note from Peter King:
Interesting byproduct of NFL injury research from 2016: This was the least-injurious season for starting quarterbacks in at least 12 years. Charting games missed due to injury by starting quarterbacks over the past four seasons:
The average number of games per season missed by starting QBs since 2004: 75.
The NFL defines this statistical category as being games missed by the declared starting quarterback of a team. So even though, for example, Cody Kessler did not open 2016 as the starting quarterback, he was knocked out of two games that he started (concussions) and missed a total of four games because of them. Those count on this list.
Why so low in 2016? Could be an outlier. Could be the start of a trend. The Competition Committee believes it’s because defensive players are getting wiser about late hits on quarterbacks, and officials are watching hits on quarterbacks with more focus, because the league office is harping on it so much.
KAEP IN EXILE
Joe Thomas, left tackle of the Browns who knows bad quarterbacking, stated the plain truth:
My thoughts re: @Kaepernick7? Teams don’t currently view him as a starting QB, and NFL teams accept ZERO distractions from their backup QBs.
Kaep is not being “blackballed” as some excitable liberal writers would have you believe. That word implies some sort of organized cabal to keep him out of the NFL – and we’re sure the powers that be at the NFL office and among the member clubs would just as soon have him signed and out of their hair (pun intended). But no member club has seen the confluence of talent vs. perceived distraction as worth signing Kaepernick at a price that Kaep, used to a much bigger payout, would consider worthy.
This from Peter King:
I think if we take away the emotion of this story—are teams blackballing Colin Kaepernick?—and bring the story down to football, the one thing that is undeniable about Kaepernick is that he does not attempt the throws into downfield windows like some of the consistent veteran quarterbacks. This is not to say he can’t do that; it is simply to say he bypasses throws the Tom Bradys and Drew Breeses and Russell Wilsons will try (and complete, often). You’ll look at Kaepernick’s 16-to-4 touchdown-to-pick ratio in 2016 and think he’s efficient in a sea of badness in San Francisco. But people who watch the tape think otherwise. They see a jittery guy in the pocket who either doesn’t, or won’t, make downfield throws that other quarterbacks do. The thing is, it’s easy to say he’s getting blackballed based on 2012 and 2013. But life changes. Priorities change. Who is he now? The people Kaepernick needs to convince have no idea who he is right now.
So the member clubs are not going to give him north of $10 million per right now (and I know the Bears did so with MIKE GLENNON who is more of a blank slate).
Greg Cote of the Miami Herald makes the case for a Kaepernick signing:
The NFL is not always especially choosy about its quarterbacks. If unlike Venus de Milo you have an arm attached to your body, chances are you’ll be good enough for somebody. Recent examples litter the league…
Josh McCown, about to turn 38, has an NFL record of 22-63 as a starter including 20 losses in his past 22 games. He got signed by the New York Jets.
Mike Glennon has thrown all of 11 passes over the previous two seasons. He just signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the Chicago Bears.
Mark Sanchez also was signed by the Bears, despite his being Mark Sanchez.
Nick Foles, who with one fanciful run in 2013 formed the mistaken impression he’s good, was reacquired by the Philadelphia Eagles and is being paid $27.5 million to not start.
The San Francisco 49ers decided journeyman career reserve Brian Hoyer deserved another shot, and also exhumed the flagging career of Matt Barkley.
There are now reports the New Orleans Saints are looking into signing the toxic One-Man Party, Johnny Manziel. No, seriously.
OK, now here is a brief description of an available quarterback who has not been signed in free agency and remains curiously available:
Is a healthy 29 years old and coming into his physical prime.
Has led his team to a Super Bowl.
Topped a 90 passer rating rating and threw 16 touchdowns vs. only four interceptions last season.
Is a dual threat who was second among all QBs in rushing and averaged 6.8 yards per run.
Sound like a decent candidate?
One small issue:
His name is Colin Kaepernick, and the only thing more obvious than his talent is his social conscience.
I am not suggesting there is collusion at work among NFL owners, general managers or coaches – at least not the kind of actual collusion that is, you know, illegal. But if it turns out the NFL is telling Kaepernick his career is done, there will be no logical conclusion to how it ended that does not involve the strong suspicion he was blackballed over his social activism.
The filmmaker Spike Lee, a friend of Kaepernick’s, recently posted on Instagram: “What crime has Colin committed?” and said Kaepernick’s continuing unemployment “smells MAD fishy to me, stinks to the high heavens.”
I don’t disagree. It is suspicious. Just Friday On ESPN’s First Take, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, asked if he thinks Kaepernick is being blackballed, said, “I’m sure he is.”
But I do not believe it’s a bunch of teams secretly agreeing (colluding) on a course of action here. I believe it is a bunch of individual cowards deciding on their own they don’t want to take on the challenge of a free-thinking, free-speaking, tatted-up athlete at the single most attention-getting position in sports.
Let it be some other team’s problem, think the weak teams – overlooking all of the potential positives a motivated Kaepernick might bring to their rosters. There are not many teams this guy might not benefit – Miami Dolphins included. (Would I take Kaepernick as Ryan Tannehill’s backup over Matt Moore? Oh hell yes, thank you).
Kaapernick, his points about social injustice made, already has said he plans to stand for the anthem this coming season. Unfortunately he’ll be standing in his living room unless some team comes forth with the offer of a sideline.
What are teams afraid of? That the Commander-in-Tweet, Donald Trump, might unleash one of his 3 a.m. storms against whatever team signed him? That there might be a small, brief backlash from fans who never understood that Kaepernick kneeling was far closer to patriotism than to treason?
It feels demeaning to say Kaepernick deserves another chance when he has done nothing – or or off the field – to cause him to beg.
His career lull is not entirely or even mostly on him. The 49ers didn’t start losing because Kaepernick got bad. His star dimmed because the Niners swapped Jim Harbaugh for coaching calamity, went from a Pro Bowl-laden defense to a bad one, and got old around him on offense.
His rebound last season – despite all the pressure he took on over the national-anthem kneeling controversy – showed he is hardly done as a viable quarterback, perhaps even one still on the ascent.
I am still not convinced Kaepernick won’t be playing for somebody come summer. A lot still has to happen on the quarterback front. Some teams who could be interested in Kaepernick are first waitig to see when the Cowboys finally release Tony Romo, and if the Patriots trade Jimmy Garoppolo. Jay Cutler and his bleak future also are still out there.
Amid it all, there should be a home, somewhere, for Colin Kaepernick.
By the way, he just re-Tweeted a statement that the U.S. “has the largest incarcerated population in the world. No other society in histiory has imprisoned more of its own citizens.” He also just quietly donated $50,000 to Meals On Wheels, one of the social programs being defunded by Trump.
Kaepernick’s activism hasn’t ended.
Let us hope the same of his NFL career.
This isn’t exactly Kaepernick related, but Jonathan Lehman in the New York Post points out that the TONY ROMO situation has frozen part of the QB market, maybe the part where Kaepernick sits.
The Cowboys’ patient manipulation of what remains of the NFL quarterback market has put Romo in a bizarre status and has left a host of big-name Opening Day starters from last season — Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Robert Griffin III — to wait helplessly for the dust to settle.
Seemingly the Cowboys — with room under the salary cap to carry Romo and his $24.3 million charge until enacting their plan to designate him a post-June 1 cut, according to ESPN — are trying to get the Houston Texans or Denver Broncos, the teams most prominently linked to Romo, to crack and make a credible trade offer before he gets to free agency. Those teams have weeks remaining until they begin their offseason programs (April 3 for the The Broncos, April 17 for the Texans), so there is a lack of urgency. This could drag on for weeks, even months.
That’s bad news for the unemployed quarterbacks of the world. Cutler still may be considered a starting-caliber QB; could he fit in Houston if the Texans (current first-stringer: Tom Savage) fail to snag Romo? Then there are teams apparently in need of a sage veteran backup type, the logical reversion for the 34-year-old Fitzpatrick after a disastrous 2016 season with the Jets: the Rams, the Bucs … the Cowboys.
It’s believed to be untenable for the Cowboys to keep Romo as the backup to Dak Prescott, though they can pretend — and wait. (Romo also could opt to retire, with an attractive broadcasting gig for the telegenic nearly-37-year-old on the table.)
Griffin’s reputation has sunk to the point where he’s looking for a show-me training-camp deal, like the one Geno Smith received from the Giants this week.
And please don’t forget Colin Kaepernick, who started a Super Bowl after the 2012 season and started 11 games last season, but seems to be regarded as a radioactive dissident in NFL circles, rather than a 29-year-old depth-chart option.
Which one of these four QBs – JAY CUTLER, RYAN FITZPATRICK, ROBERT GRIFFIN III or Kaepernick – would you rather have if you had to have one?
Dan Graziano at ESPN.com has this to say – and it is close to what the DB feels:
Whichever side you take in the current Colin Kaepernick debate, you’re looking at it the wrong way.
One side cries, “Kap’s being blackballed!” The other side harrumphs, “It’s just that he’s not that good.” Each side’s truth is undone by its blindness toward the other’s, and the Kaepernick conversation is too important to drown in the careless language of 21st century bickering.
To assert “blackball” is to discard basic facts about the marketplace. To cite “merit-based” football reasons for why Kaepernick might struggle to find work in the NFL is to ignore what makes his situation unique. Regardless of anyone’s opinion or the passion with which they hold it, the NFL establishment has thrown Kaepernick and his politics into the bin labeled “distraction,” and much of the league’s support structure has nodded in agreement.
But we really don’t stop and think enough about what some of these words mean.
Technically, if Kaepernick were being blackballed, that would mean all 32 teams had conspired to keep him out of the league — or that the league office had somehow ordered or convinced teams to stay away from him. That’s not exactly what’s happening here.
One of the main factual problems with this argument is that there aren’t 32 teams that need a quarterback. And there are only a half-dozen that could offer Kaepernick what he wants. Kaepernick, remember, opted out of his San Francisco 49ers contract — a deal that included $16.5 million in non-guaranteed money this year — because he wanted a better situation for him and his career.
Further, we know from multiple sources that Kaepernick isn’t just looking for any job. Two people to whom I spoke last week say he’s looking for a place that offers him a chance to compete for a starting job and a salary befitting a high-end backup quarterback or a low-end starter. Think something like $9 million to $10 million.
We know that the number of teams whose current quarterback situations would offer Kaepernick a chance to start is small. I count five, generously, and they’re the Browns, Jets, Texans, Broncos and 49ers. We can rule out two right away, because the 49ers are the team he just left and the Jets are owned by Woody Johnson, a valued political friend of a U.S. president who recently and proudly claimed responsibility for Kaepernick’s current state of unemployment.
The Texans are waiting for Tony Romo to be released. It may be that the Broncos are, too, but Romo can’t go both places and Denver did try to work out a trade for Kaepernick last year, so keep them as possibilities. Even so, he’s basically down to two teams, assuming one of those last two gets Romo. That’s Kaepernick’s current field of potential suitors, given what we understand to be his current expectations.
Could he take a deal like the one Geno Smith just got with the Giants, which guarantees him $300,000 for the summer and nothing — not even a 53-man roster spot — beyond that? Sure, but at this point that’s not what he wants, and who can blame him?
The facts just don’t fully support the notion — articulated most recently by Richard Sherman — that Kaepernick is being “blackballed.” Do I believe there are teams that won’t look at Kaepernick because of his political stance? Sure, and the Woody Johnson example is the most glaring. Do I believe there are 32 of them? Heck, no. Not every team needs a quarterback, and it’s to Kaepernick’s detriment that one or two of the teams that do are inclined against him. That’s not a “blackball.” It’s an unfortunate collision of circumstance and prejudice in one or two specific cases.
Oh, man, is this a nasty NFL establishment code word. NFL people use it casually, without stopping to think what it means. No less dignified a league ambassador than Tony Dungy was throwing it around three years ago with regard to Michael Sam, whose crime against the establishment was being gay and open about it. Teams weren’t quite sure what to do with that. The comments of some players who also weren’t sure what to do with it didn’t help. And when Sam didn’t make it in the NFL, we heard the same kinds of things we’re hearing now — how the real problem was that he wasn’t a good enough player.
Sam’s situation and Kaepernick’s obviously aren’t the same, which is why it’s alarming that the word being used about them in NFL circles is the same. “Distraction,” as applied to the concept of players and coaches having to answer nonfootball questions from the media while engaged in their ultraserious football preparations, is a convenient catchall. It helps those who see the issue through shield-shaped glasses ignore what makes each situation different.
Further, it’s unfair that the word only gets used to connote something negative about players, when distractions persistently abound in front offices too. Was Kaepernick’s national anthem stance any more distracting to the 49ers than the decisions by 49ers owner Jed York to fire his coach in each of the past three offseasons? Is constant turnover and upheaval in key leadership positions not a greater distraction to a team than what its quarterback is doing during the national anthem?
The people who run these teams regularly create distractions that go unpunished or easily forgiven. Was it not a distraction to the Colts when owner Jim Irsay got busted for driving while intoxicated and suspended six games? Is it not a distraction to Patriots players to be asked about their feelings on their upcoming White House visit while team owner Robert Kraft hobnobs with our polarizing president? Were the Giants not subjected to distraction last fall when GM Jerry Reese ran and hid from the Josh Brown issue while his players and his first-year coach — none of whom were responsible for signing Brown with knowledge of his violent past — were forced daily to answer questions about the issue?
There’s an obvious double standard at work, but Kaepernick has committed the dual sin of (A) creating the dreaded “distraction” while (B) not playing well enough for teams to overlook it. You fall into one of those boxes, and you run the risk of the NFL being done with you. Fall into both of them? That’s a bumpy road back.
In that regard, Kaepernick is just another NFL labor-versus-management issue — not an issue of race or politics or really even football. Unless you’re Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Von Miller or one of a dozen or so indispensable superstars, you’re a disposable piece in today’s NFL. And the engine of NFL commerce grinds too ruthlessly and relentlessly to keep anybody up nights worrying about the inhumanity of that concept.
Which brings us to:
No, Kaepernick has not been an especially good quarterback for a few years now. No, he has not demonstrated progress as a reader of defenses or a pocket passer. There are surely merit-based reasons to pass on Kaepernick as your potential answer at quarterback, and there’s been no shortage of analysis this past week about the complex headaches that would go along with changing your system around him or bringing in a backup for whom you’d have to change your system if the starter got hurt. All fair enough, but it’s bullheaded to set those up as the sole reasons for the current situation.
Kaepernick makes some people squirm. He shouldn’t, because he’s done nothing wrong or even un-American. He has quite clearly taken a stand on behalf of citizens of this country who are poor and oppressed. He has put his money where his mouth is, actively participating in and donating to charities that stand for the same things. Just this week, after the president’s proposed budget included cuts to Meals on Wheels, Kaepernick donated $50,000 to the group. This is a young man who isn’t just talking about the problems but actively trying to do something about them. There are things Kaepernick is doing worth commending.
Unfortunately, he plays in a league that sells the flag and the military and the police as part of its brand. And what Kaepernick did by wearing socks with pigs dressed in police gear and refusing to stand for the national anthem is viewed by a segment of our population — and of the NFL fan base — as un-American, even treasonous. Never mind that the NFL just last year agreed to pay back more than $700,000 of taxpayer money it had received from the armed forces to support game-day military tributes. The symbolism of Kaepernick’s peaceful protest conflicts with what the NFL and its fans want to believe about the game’s connection to “patriotism.” It makes people uncomfortable.
Look, it’s only been two weeks since free agency started. It’s still nearly five weeks until the draft, and Kaepernick isn’t the only qualified veteran quarterback still out there. It’s too early to draw any real conclusions about why he’s out of work, because a lot of guys are still out of work who won’t be come September.
But it’s not too early to find a better way to talk about Kaepernick — to examine what we think, say and believe and the reasons why we think, say and believe it. Whatever your feelings on Kaepernick and his political positions, he’s opened up an opportunity for dialogue on some important issues that get to the heart of who we are and what we want to be — not as a football community, but as a society.
Kaepernick the player could go a variety of ways from here. He could get another shot somewhere, play well and make good on it. He could get another shot somewhere and flop. And sure, there’s a chance he might never play in the NFL again.
But in the meantime, we don’t know whether he’s still good enough to help anyone. We don’t know that he’s being “blackballed.” And the people who are yelling at each other from those two distant ends of this discussion aren’t helping their cases or his.
There are a lot of helpful, worthwhile, untapped discussions to be had about Colin Kaepernick. Unfortunately, too many people seem stuck in the same old patterns and don’t seem to want to get out.
We agree with Graziano about just about everything here, but we feel he is wrong to presume without evidence that just because Woody Johnson supports Donald Trump, he would issue an edict prohibiting the signing of Kaepernick by the Jets. Graziano may be right, but we don’t think you can just presume that. Surely, Johnson does not require that all his employees, in New York of all places, support Trump.