The NFL season is set to begin Thursday night in Foxborough, Mass., and Colin Kaepernick remains without a quarterbacking job.
It’s a bad look for the league, whether or not you agree with how Kaepernick conducted his protest.
Not everyone feels the same way about Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem before games last season, while with the San Francisco 49ers, in protest of the treatment of African Americans in the United States.
Some can relate directly to the issues raised by Kaepernick. Some cannot relate directly but empathize. Some view the world differently.
Some support how Kaepernick chose to bring attention to the issue. Others believe the manner in which Kaepernick protested was disrespectful to the country and those who serve and protect it.
Passions have been inflamed.
That’s okay. Not everyone needs to feel the same way.
That’s the point, actually. This is a nation in which people are permitted to have different beliefs.
And yet 32 NFL teams have taken the exact same view on Kaepernick: that his actions have disqualified him from employment.
Let’s not hear any more about this being about football-related considerations. Let’s not have another league official or owner of a franchise say that NFL teams do whatever they can to improve themselves and to win games.
It’s not about football. Kaepernick has taken a team to a Super Bowl. He had 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions last season. He has not yet turned 30. No, he is not an MVP-caliber player. Maybe he never was. Perhaps he is not even starting-quality now. But he certainly belongs on a roster.
Enough with the talk about him not being a conventional pocket passer and his skill-set being such that a team would have to change its offense for its backup quarterback if he were to be signed and forced into playing. Okay, fine. Teams tweak their offenses all the time. It’s called coaching.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have Blake Bortles starting at quarterback. That’s because Chad Henne could not play well enough to take the starting job despite Bortles’s ever-accumulating, on-field miseries. Tom Coughlin, the former two-time Super Bowl-winning coach for the New York Giants now in the Jaguars’ front office, won’t even say publicly why he’s not interested in Kaepernick.
The New York Jets say they’re not tanking the season to position themselves for next year’s NFL draft. Yet they have Josh McCown starting at quarterback, backed up by Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty.
The Buffalo Bills recently were down to one healthy quarterback, rookie Nathan Peterman, after Tyrod Taylor and T.J. Yates suffered concussions. The Denver Broncos just brought back Brock Osweiler to back up Trevor Siemian, with Paxton Lynch hurt.
The Indianapolis Colts plan to open the season with Scott Tolzien as their starter, with Andrew Luck still working his way back from shoulder surgery. The Carolina Panthers, likewise, have Cam Newton coming back from shoulder surgery, with Derek Anderson as the alternative. The Baltimore Ravens have Ryan Mallett behind Joe Flacco, who is coming back from a back injury. At least Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was sufficiently transparent to acknowledge that there were non-football considerations to the Ravens’ decision on Kaepernick.
Enough, also, with this silliness about distractions and Kaepernick being more trouble than he’s worth. This zeal for avoiding “distractions” at all costs is mindless coach-speak. It should not be given any credence. This is professional football. The players are grown men. They are perfectly capable of answering a question about a social issue if asked or of declining to do so if they wish. Having Kaepernick is the same locker room is not going to keep any player from being able to do his job.
Is Kaepernick being blackballed? It depends what is meant by that term. Use whatever word you want. There is zero evidence at this point that NFL teams have conspired or colluded to keep Kaepernick out of the league. But if 32 teams separately have come to the same conclusion about Kaepernick, it is misguided groupthink.
Social protests come with costs. There are ramifications. If taking a stand (in this case, by refusing to stand) was easy, more would do it. Kaepernick probably knew that his actions could have job-related consequences. If he didn’t, he should have known that some prospective employers could turn their backs. But not every NFL employer should be turning its back. On a polarizing issue on which there is such emotionally charged disagreement, there should not be unwavering, 100 percent agreement among NFL teams.
Even if you disagree with Kaepernick’s protest, you should want him on an NFL roster.
Simply because that’s where he belongs.
1. Elliott’s appeal… The NFL Players Association never has considered Harold Henderson a neutral arbitrator, given Henderson’s ties to the league office as a former labor executive for the league.
That view clearly will be reinforced if Henderson — appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to hear and resolve the appeal of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott of his six-game suspension imposed by the league under the personal-conduct policy — upholds Elliott’s suspension.
But what if Henderson reduces or even overturns Elliott’s suspension? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. In 2015, Henderson reduced Greg Hardy’s suspension from 10 to four games.
Would the NFLPA then have to reassess its view of Henderson’s impartiality? That could be significant going forward, with the system of player discipline and Goodell’s role in it likely to be a key bargaining topic during the upcoming negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement.
There should be plenty of activity Tuesday on Elliott’s challenge of his suspension. Henderson could issue his ruling, and a hearing is scheduled at 6 p.m. on the NFLPA’s request to a federal court in Texas for a temporary restraining order that would keep the suspension on hold.
The Cowboys host the New York Giants in their season opener Sunday night.
2. Burfict’s reduction… The NFLPA had an independent arbitrator in the Vontaze Burfict case. James Thrash, one of two appeals officers for on-field discipline jointly appointed and paid by the league and union, last week reduced the five-game suspension given by the NFL to the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker to three games. Burfict had been suspended following a hit on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during the preseason.
Thrash, it appears, agreed with the NFL’s assessment that Burfict’s hit on Sherman was illegal but thought a five-game suspension was excessive.
Here’s the problem with that: Burfict already has demonstrated that a three-game suspension is not a deterrent to him. He was suspended for three games at the outset of last season. And yet here he was, hitting Sherman that way — illegally, in the league’s view — in a game that didn’t even count.
The union has a duty to represent players. So it had to represent Burfict, whether it agreed with him or not, in his appeal. Burfict contended that the hit on Sherman was legal, and the Bengals backed him on that.
But it is a bit of an awkward situation for the NFLPA. Sherman also is a union member. So, too, are the players who have been hit illegally by Burfict in the past, and those who could be hit illegally by him in the future. He puts the careers and livelihoods of those players at even greater risk than they already are by playing as he plays.
Football is plenty dangerous when played legally and correctly. It doesn’t need players who consistently play outside the rules. This is not the NFL of the 1970s. It is not even the NFL of five or 10 years ago. Much more is known now about the risks involved. Players need to understand that and change how they play.
Some still aren’t getting the message.
3. Texans’ opener… There were reports Monday that the Jaguars were informed their season-opening game Sunday against the Texans will be played in Houston, as scheduled. The Texans reaffirmed that after previously expressing their preference for that. Their stadium did not sustain significant damage in the flooding that ravaged the city during and after Hurricane Harvey.
If there had been a need for the game to be moved, the Jaguars and Texans could have switched their Week 1 and Week 15 games so that Sunday’s contest would be played in Jacksonville and the Dec. 17 game would be played in Houston. That would have left the Texans playing their first three games of the season on the road, and Houston would not have had to be ready to host a game until Oct. 1. Alternatively, the Alamodome in San Antonio offered to host this weekend’s game.
4. Brissett trade… Tolzien is scheduled to start the Colts’ opener with Luck remaining sidelined. But the trade with the New England Patriots that sent Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis creates the possibility that Brissett is the best healthy quarterback on the Colts’ roster.
The Patriots won a game last season with Brissett, as a rookie, starting in place of the suspended Tom Brady and the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. Brissett might have been in position to be the primary backup to Brady this season in New England. But the Patriots, to the surprise of some, held on to Garoppolo rather than trading him to Cleveland or elsewhere for a package that likely would have included a first-round draft choice and another pick or two.
That made Brissett expendable, and the Patriots took advantage of that to fill a need at wide receiver by getting Phillip Dorsett in the trade with Indianapolis. Dorsett so far has not lived up to his potential as a former first-round selection. But if the Patriots can get the best out of him, his arrival could help to offset the loss of Julian Edelman to a season-ending knee injury.
The trade also could be meaningful to Garoppolo’s future. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. But with Brady having turned 40 and no other quarterback of the future in the fold, the Patriots might be inclined to try to keep Garoppolo beyond this season. Could that include using their franchise-player tag on a backup quarterback? That would be unconventional and it would be expensive. But Brady cannot play forever, and the exit of Brissett seems to commit the Patriots to Garoppolo as Brady’s eventual successor.
5. Richardson trade… The trade of Sheldon Richardson from the Jets to Seattle gives the Seahawks a formidable defensive line. They now can use Richardson alongside Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark. When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl title in the 2013 season, they had a defensive front that was both extremely talented and extremely deep. This season’s version might be able to rival that.
There is a potential downside, however. Richardson was suspended twice while with the Jets, once under the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and once under its personal-conduct policy after an arrest following a car chase with police. Richardson conducted a very public feud in New York with former Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall. There already has been talk about a reportedly volatile locker room situation in Seattle. If that is true, adding Richardson to the mix could make things even more unstable.
6. Trades, trades, trades… Remember when the NFL was a no-trade league? That’s not the case any longer, as the Richardson and Brissett-Dorsett deals reconfirmed. Rather than waiting to see if a player will be released, teams actively pursue potential trades. It’s a new generation of young general managers who view trades as a viable means of roster construction. Is it a better way to build a team? Who knows. But it makes things more interesting.
7. Other moves… Some quick thoughts on other prominent moves made in the final flurry of activity as teams reduced their rosters to 53 players apiece by the deadline:
• The Broncos might regret releasing safety T.J. Ward. The acrimony increased Monday, when Ward told reporters that the Broncos handled the situation in an “unprofessional” manner. Several of Denver’s defensive players expressed support for Ward before the move was made. John Elway has been very good as a front office executive and he gets the benefit of just about every doubt at this point. But there’s a chance that this one could backfire, with former defensive-coordinator-supreme Wade Phillips no longer around to hold everything together. Ward landed quickly in Tampa, and the Buccaneers could be the beneficiaries.
• The Steelers likewise could benefit greatly from signing cornerback Joe Haden after he was released by Cleveland. Are the Browns really in position to get rid of talented players?
• Osweiler is back in Denver, backing up Siemian while Lynch is hurt, after stints in Houston and Cleveland. Osweiler’s bank account wouldn’t be quite as healthy if he’d never left. But would his NFL career be in far better shape? And would the Broncos’ quarterback situation be more settled?
• It’s too bad wide receiver Victor Cruz, released by the Bears, couldn’t revive his career in Chicago. Cruz was a terrific story and an exciting player for the Giants in 2011 and 2012. But he hasn’t been able to recapture that for several years now, and it’s fair to wonder if his NFL career is pretty much done.
• Kicker Roberto Aguayo was released by the Bears, who’d claimed him off waivers after he’d been released by the Buccaneers. It’s tempting to declare that Aguayo’s NFL story is done, sealing his fate as a second-round draft choice gone terribly wrong. But sometimes NFL kickers are best educated by the school of hard knocks. Maybe Aguayo will get another chance and do better with that opportunity.
8. Single round of cuts… Teams had to deal with only a single round of roster cuts this year. Roster limits went directly from 90 to 53 players, eliminating the previous in-between reduction to 75 players. It made for a hectic weekend, but things seemed to go relatively smoothly. Coaches had more players available for the final round of preseason games and those bottom-of-the-roster players had one final chance to impress. It’s doubtful that changed much, if anything, about the composition of the season-opening rosters, but this new roster-cutting formula seems likely to be retained going forward.
9. Jets and McCown… The Jets’ handling of McCown during the preseason was a bit baffling. McCown played in only two of the four preseason games and attempted a total of 12 passes. This is with a new team, remember. So he’s had very little work under game-like conditions to familiarize himself with his new offense and teammates, and now the regular season arrives. At least expectations are about as low as possible.
10. Glennon and Trubisky… The Bears’ quarterback situation will be worth watching closely. Free agent newcomer Mike Glennon opens the season as the starter, as Coach John Fox reaffirmed Monday. That was the plan from the moment the Bears signed Glennon in free agency. But rookie Mitchell Trubisky, chosen second overall in the NFL draft, looked like the superior quarterback at times during training camp and the preseason. He is clearly the franchise’s quarterback of the not-too-distant future, and there will be calls for Fox to turn to Trubisky as soon as Glennon experiences any struggles.