PHOENIX — Perhaps the NFL is on its way to blackballing Colin Kaepernick.
Either way, it’s far too early to know.
There already have been pronouncements that Kaepernick is being wronged, that the free agent quarterback is being kept jobless as a leaguewide reaction to the political statement he made this past season by refusing to stand for the national anthem to protest the treatment of African Americans in the United States.
That very well could be. But for now, it is prudent to withhold judgment. It is late March. It is 2 1/2 weeks into free agency. He has not missed so much as an offseason workout. He has not missed an offseason practice, not to mention training camp, the preseason and regular season.
Kaepernick’s case is complicated. He played relatively well this past season, with 16 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a passer rating of 90.7. But he didn’t keep the San Francisco 49ers from going 2-14. He was, at one point, a backup to Blaine Gabbert. It is not clear if he can recapture the on-field star quality that once made him a Super Bowl starter for the 49ers.
Along with that comes the issue of the political statement that he made. Executives from multiple NFL teams said at the scouting combine that any team that considers signing Kaepernick will have to take that into consideration.
Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas wrote over the weekend on Twitter: “Teams don’t currently view him as a starting QB, and NFL teams accept ZERO distractions from their backup QBs.”
No one claims that Jay Cutler or Adrian Peterson — both unsigned free agents — is being blackballed. No one said last offseason that Ryan Fitzpatrick was being blackballed when he didn’t re-sign with the New York Jets until the eve of training camp.
“Always degrees between extremes,” former Green Bay Packers executive Andrew Brandt wrote on Twitter. “Do I think Kaepernick is being blackballed? No. Do I think teams weigh adding him purely on football? No.”
It’s possible that Kaepernick is being blackballed.
But it will take some time to find out.
1. Raiders vote: If the owners vote Monday at the annual league meeting to ratify the Raiders’ proposed move from Oakland to Las Vegas, as seems likely, there will be the usual franchise-relocation talk about feeling the pain of the community that is losing a team. There will be lament about what a bittersweet moment it is.
Maybe the league and the owners should go easy on that this time around.
This is the second time that the Raiders are leaving Oakland. It is the third franchise relocation league wide since last year, with the Rams and Chargers having moved to Los Angeles. The sport will have left behind Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis.
It’s all about business. It’s all about new-stadium money. That’s fine. But don’t pretend it’s anything else.
2. Jones and Romo: In Phoenix, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones presumably will have a chance to meet with Houston Texans owner Robert McNair and Denver Broncos executive John Elway.
Jones can determine whether he thinks there’s any chance that the Texans or Broncos will trade a draft pick to the Cowboys for quarterback Tony Romo. That seems like a long shot, given that neither the Texans nor the Broncos has blinked so far in the Romo-related stare-down with the Cowboys.
Jones should make his move after this meeting. If he can’t trade Romo, he should release him. Romo did right by the Cowboys this past season when he gracefully handled his demotion in favor of rookie Dak Prescott. Jones needs to do right by Romo and allow him to land with a new team before offseason activities begin.
Keeping Romo is not practical for the Cowboys, given the $24.7 million that he is to count against next season’s salary cap.
Going to the television booth sooner rather than later probably is not Romo’s preference. He’s made it clear that he wants to keep playing. It’s about time for this to be resolved.
3. Texans’ Plan B? If it’s not Romo at quarterback for the Texans, then who?
The team already has moved on from Brock Osweiler. The Texans like Tom Savage. But are they really going to go into the season with Savage as the starter on a team with so many other pieces of a legitimate Super Bowl contender already in place?
Would the Texans turn to Cutler or Kaepernick?
The more you think about it, the more this feels like a Romo-or-bust situation.
4. Cutler’s market: There does not appear to be much of a market for Cutler now that the Jets have signed Josh McCown.
The 49ers have added Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, giving them options to get by if they can’t pry Kirk Cousins from the Washington Redskins.
The Browns continue to have a dire need at quarterback. But their solution seemingly will come by using the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft, either in a trade or to select a rookie starter-to-be.
Cutler’s options appear limited at best.
5. Panthers in QB market? It will be interesting to see whether the Carolina Panthers enter the quarterback market, with Cam Newton set to undergo shoulder surgery.
The plan is for Newton to be ready in plenty of time for the 2017 season. But if the Panthers have any doubts, it would make sense for them to add a quarterback as an insurance policy. And either way, they’ll have to get through their offseason program without Newton.
6. Redskins’ proposals: The Redskins don’t have a general manager after firing Scot McCloughan. And they have been disparaged for their handling of the McCloughan situation.
Yet they seem to have had time to come up with plenty of proposals for this meeting.
They proposed having the football placed at the 20-yard line (instead of at the 25) for a touchback on a kickoff on which the ball travels through the uprights. They proposed giving each team an unlimited number of replay challenges as long as it keeps getting them right. They proposed eliminating the preseason roster cut to 75 players per team. They proposed giving teams the option to decline to wear “color rush” uniforms for Thursday night games. They proposed allowing a team to place a player not cleared to return from a concussion on the exempt list and replace him on the roster with a member of the practice squad on a game-by-game basis.
It’s good to see the Redskins have so much time on their hands.
7. More ties? The proposal made by the competition committee to trim overtime from 15 to 10 minutes during the preseason and regular season conceivably could lead to more tie games.
Committee members don’t seem to care.
The proposal is being made as a player-safety measure. It would save wear and tear on players, and it could save a team from the potential of playing what amounts to a five-quarter game on a Sunday and then having to come back to play again four days later on a Thursday night.
Will there be more ties? Possibly. But teams play according to how much time is left on the clock, so it’s not simply a matter of figuring out how many games were tied in the past with five minutes remaining in overtime.
There were two ties this past season, the Redskins versus the Bengals in London and a Cardinals-Seahawks game.
And if there are more ties, some within the sport reason, that might not be a completely awful thing. Ties actually help in some cases late in the regular season to make tiebreaking procedures for postseason spots less complicated. A 9-6-1 team, for instance, finishes ahead of a 9-7 team but behind a 10-6 team without having to go through the tiebreaking procedure.
8. Ravens’ tactic addressed: Remember when the Baltimore Ravens ran out the clock in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals this past season by lining up in punt formation, then having all of their blockers intentionally hold Bengals defenders while punter Sam Koch stood by with the football and then eventually ran out of the end zone for a safety?
That was, at the time, legal.
It wouldn’t be legal any more if a proposal by the competition committee is approved.
Under the proposal, it would be an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a team to commit multiple fouls on the same down in an attempt to manipulate the game clock. A team would be penalized 15 yards and the clock would be reset to where it had been.
So the Ravens would have to find another way to wrap up wins.
9. Automatic suspensions: The competition committee is suggesting that certain illegal hits be subjected to automatic ejections or mandatory suspensions.
Committee members say the new standard would be applied infrequently. The committee plans to show only four or five such plays to the owners as part of its presentation on the issue. The intention would be to punish the most egregious illegal hits, on the premise that fines issued by the league have not served as a sufficient deterrent.
Among the plays viewed by the competition committee at the NFL Scouting Combine was the hit applied by the Redskins’ Deshazor Everett to the Philadelphia Eagles’ Darren Sproles while Sproles was waiting to field a punt.
In practice, it is probably more likely the league will lean toward mandatory suspensions for such hits over automatic ejections. The problem with an automatic ejection is that the committee is not proposing to make such ejection-worthy hits subject to instant replay review. The on-field officials already are empowered to eject a player for an egregious hit. But they have been reluctant to do so. And, given that the lack of replay confirmation leaves open the possibility of a player being ejected for an erroneous call, that probably would remain the case.
10. Proposals rundown: Here is a look at all the rule-change proposals, bylaw proposals and resolution proposals made by the competition committee and by individual NFL teams …
Rule Proposal No. 1 (by the Eagles): Long snappers would be given additional defenseless-player protections.
Rule Proposal No. 2 (by the Eagles): Defensive players would be banned from leaping over the line of scrimmage to attempt to block a field goal or extra point. The was recommended by the NFL Players Association at the scouting combine and has the backing of the competition committee, so it seems likely to be approved by the owners.
Rule Proposal No. 3 (by the Eagles): The penalty for tackling with the crown of the helmet would be expanded to include hits made with the hairline area.
Rule Proposal No. 4 (by the Eagles): Each team would be given a third instant replay challenge in a game if it is correct on either of the first two, instead of the current standard of going two for two. This proposal also would expand the list of reviewable plays. The Eagles reportedly have withdrawn all of their proposals except for the ban on the field goal and extra point “leaper.” But that theoretically does not prevent the competition committee or the owners from taking them up. Of course, any proposal made by a team without the backing of the committee faces long odds of getting the 24 votes among the 32 teams necessary for ratification.
Rule Proposal No. 5 (by the Redskins): Each team would receive an unlimited number of replay challenges in a game as long as it keeps getting them right.
Rule Proposal No. 6 (by the Redskins): The ball would be placed at the 20-yard line for a touchback on a kickoff when the ball passes through the uprights on the kick.
Rule Proposal No. 7 (by the Bills and Seahawks): Teams would be able to challenge any ruling by the officials, including penalties called and those not called. The New England Patriots have made proposals like this in the past. The competition committee opposes this approach, and it’s very unlikely that the owners will support it.
Rule Proposal No. 8 (by the competition committee): The owners last year approved on a one-year trial basis a mandatory ejection for any player penalized twice in the same game for unsportsmanlike conduct. This proposal would make that a permanent rule.
Rule Proposal No. 9 (by the competition committee): Likewise, last year’s rule having the ball placed at the 25-yard line (instead of at the 20) for a touchback on a kickoff was ratified for one year only. This proposal would extend that for another year.
Rule Proposal No. 10 (by the competition committee): This is the proposal that would shorten overtime to 10 minutes in the preseason and regular season.
Rule Proposal No. 11 (by the competition committee): Defenseless-player protection would be extended to a receiver running a route. Such a player could not be hit in the head or neck area by an opponent. Currently, such defenseless-player protection is given to a receiver who is in the process of making a catch, and immediately after an interception.
Rule Proposal No. 12 (by the competition committee): Crackback blocks made by an offensive player who is in motion in the backfield at the time of the snap would be prohibited.
Rule Proposal No. 13 (by the competition committee): Instant replay rulings would be centralized. The rulings would be made by members of the NFL’s officiating department stationed at the league office in New York. They would make the rulings in consultation with the referee from that game, who would view the replays via a tablet brought to him on the field. The idea is to make replay rulings more consistent. This measure also is part of a series of steps that the league plans to take to speed the pace of games.
Rule Proposal No. 14 (by the competition committee): It would be unsportsmanlike conduct to commit multiple fouls on the same play to manipulate the game clock.
Rule Proposal No. 15 (by the competition committee): This proposal allows for 10-second clock runoffs in certain instances in the final two minutes of a half or game.
Bylaw Proposal No. 1 (by the Redskins): The preseason roster cutdown to 75 players per team would be eliminated.
Bylaw Proposal No. 2 (by the Redskins): A player who has suffered a concussion and has not been cleared to play could be placed on the exempt list by his team and could be replaced on the roster on a game-by-game basis by a member of the team’s practice squad.
Bylaw Proposal No. 3 (by the Redskins): Teams could opt out of wearing “color rush” jerseys on Thursday Night Football. There are other bylaw proposals by the competition committee related to procedural matters.
Resolution Proposal No. 1 (by the Eagles): A team could have an alternate helmet to match its third uniform option.
Resolution Proposal No. 2 (by the competition committee): Remember when the 49er had wait until after the Super Bowl to hire Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as their coach? This proposal would permit a team to reach an agreement to hire an assistant from a team still in the playoffs as its head coach.
Resolution Proposal No. 3 (by the competition committee): Permit a non-football employee from a team, if given permission by that franchise, to interview with and be hired by another team during the season.