It’s becoming harder and harder to separate sports from real life, but that’s OK. Sometimes we shouldn’t be looking for an “escape” from day-to-day struggles. Sometimes we should face the issues that make us uncomfortable and, in so doing, search for solutions that will bring people together, not divide them.
And so today’s PFT mailbag won’t contain only football questions. It will delve from time to time into issues that some would rather ignore, ostensibly because they are looking for an escape but more candidly because some don’t like confronting issues that give them discomfort as to their views on the way things are, or the way things should be.
None of this is intended to be “political.” I have beliefs as to how others should be treated, beliefs that reflect a combination of my upbringing, my religious values, and the fundamental concepts on which our nation was founded. You may agree with the things I have to say, and you may disagree. Hopefully, we will all become more willing to listen to each other’s perspectives, abandon rigid and inflexible adherence to our own, and continue to strive for ways to get better.
From @SkolVikings: “How much attention will the Patriots and Buccaneers receive this year. Rightfully so I think this will be a weekly topic to see who actually carried the franchise Bill or Tom. At this point I think Brady is at a disadvantage due to his age.”
Fans, media, everyone will compare the Buccaneers and the Patriots throughout the 2020 season. Even though the two teams won’t meet this year (unless they both qualify for the Super Bowl), much attention will be paid to Tom Brady‘s performance without Belichick in Tampa and Bill Belichick’s performance without Brady in New England. Although it’s not nearly that simple, many will make it that simple. Or at least try to.
For Brady, the question becomes how quickly he can learn a new offense, how quickly the offense can be adapted to him, how quickly others in the organization will respond to Brady’s knowledge, experience, and leadership. And then there’s the defense in Tampa Bay, which is a far cry from the defenses Brady enjoyed in New England.
For Belichick, the question becomes the size of the gap between Brady and Jarrett Stidham, and how effectively Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can close it. The team still lacks a high-end complement of weapons around the quarterback, the offensive line will have questions with Dante Scarnecchia retired (again), and the defense will be a work in progress as Belichick adjusts to the departure of several key players.
But it will be sold, and consumed, as Brady vs. Belichick. It’s easy, it’s simple, and it’s compelling. Whether it’s fair, accurate, and/or complete won’t matter.
When the Buccaneers traded for unretired tight end Rob Gronkowski, my first thought was that Howard, a former first-round pick, would be traded. He wasn’t. Although a trade could still happen, the Buccaneers may be thinking that the better plan will be to keep three tight ends in order to avoid Gronkowski being chewed up early in the season.
During his final year with the Patriots, the team made sure Gronk had gas in the tank for the postseason run. The end result? Big plays in key games like the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl.
So maybe the Bucs will use Gronkowski more sparingly in September and October, potentially trade Howard at the deadline, and then ramp up Gronk during the final half of the season, as the Bucs try to get to the playoffs and make some noise once they get there.
From @leepers500: “How absurd is it, in the light of what has transpired, that Colin Kaepernick bore such vitriol, hatred and vilification — driven from the league. What else was that but whites not wanting to hear it? And now many do not want to see this? What is left at that point?”
In 2016, Kaepernick began protesting during the anthem because of the way African-Americans and people of color are treated by police. For a pair of preseason games, his gesture went unnoticed because he wasn’t in uniform. Only when his last name was visible across the back of his jersey did the issue explode.
Despite his explanation, some refused (and still refuse) to see it as anything other than an insult to the military, the nation, and/or the flag. Rather than acknowledge the merits of his message, they attacked him for his method — a convenient device for avoiding a subject that makes them uncomfortable.
And here’s what makes them uncomfortable: Acknowledging their own unreasonable and unwarranted fears of “the other.”
Many politicians have achieved and held power by promoting wariness of “the other.” In our society, “the other” is most easily identified through the superficiality of skin color. So, for some, political power is amassed and retained not by tearing down that wall but by reinforcing it, giving the majority reason to be fearful of “the other” and in turn supportive of extreme measures for holding “the other” in check. If, as some in the majority class may sense without even consciously realizing it, “the other” is being brutalized and terrorized by police, it will be much harder for “the other” to ever act on those things for which “the other” is feared.
That attitude causes some to view “the other” as guilty of crimes that haven’t even been committed, and that most likely will never be. To calm the fear that “the other” will inevitably do something bad, “the other” is kept in constant fear that one false move, one menacing glare, one instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time will result in a police officer serving as judge, jury, and executioner — with the entire process being resolved in nine minutes, or much less.
To fix the situation, the fear of “the other” that has been wired into millions of American brains must be dismantled. It won’t be easy; beyond political power there is much money to be made by private industry through promoting fear of “the other.” The first step toward real change comes from waking up to the reality of efforts to manipulate the majority, in many different ways, to fear “the other.”
For Kaepernick’s sacrifice to ever have any meaning, and for change to ever be made, this very basic premise must be acknowledged, accepted, and corrected at every level of society.
From @RobertBlock07: “When examining NFL hiring practices, some point to the disproportionate number of minority players compared to coaches and front office employees. Why do people try to equate playing with coaching when they are completely different skillsets?”
This is The White Cornerback argument. And it’s the ultimate deflection for those who are made uncomfortable by the NFL’s poor performance when it comes to diversity in the ranks of coaches and General Managers. Instead of acknowledging the problem — a problem that the NFL now freely admits — the person who prefers not to be made uncomfortable argues that if teams should be expected to hire more minority coaches then they also should be expected to hire more white cornerbacks.
It is a stupid, idiotic, pig-headed notion that exposes anyone who utters it as being totally devoid of even the most basic understanding of how football actually works.
On the field, the NFL is a meritocracy. While that concept has some flexibility (e.g., teams that insist on playing a high draft pick to justify how high the player was picked, even if he stinks), the 22-man sausage-making process that plays out for months in the offseason and training camp, 17 weeks of the regular season and four weeks of the postseason separates the best players from the not-good-enough. Coaches who want to remain coaches don’t care about skin color or anything other than who can perform the discrete physical skills that are required to build a successful football team. (This doesn’t mean the lower levels of the sport are free from positional pigeonholing based on race. By the time the players progress to the NFL level, however, it’s typically far too late to make a running back a cornerback or a safety a quarterback or a linebacker a left tackle.)
On the sideline (and in the front office), it’s not nearly as easy to draw lines between the very best and the not-good-enough. There is no fastest, strongest, most agile, most accurate, etc. There aren’t countless hours of game film or practice footage that allows teams to determine who is the best and, in turn, the most deserving of employment. It’s all much more subjective and qualitative, and the ultimate hiring practices simply don’t reflect the demographics of the people who are trying to work their way into the most coveted non-playing positions.
To put it as simply as possible, there aren’t many white cornerbacks on NFL rosters because there aren’t many white cornerbacks in the pool of potential employment by NFL teams. The same definitely isn’t true for African-American coaching and G.M. candidates. And that’s why The White Cornerback argument is and always will be a red herring.
From @JonnyKrens: “Why are the Jets not using Leveon Bell properly?”
The question isn’t whether the Jets are using Bell properly. The question is whether the Jets have the right roster to make proper use of Bell.
A great running back is rarely the engine that powers an offense. But for Barry Sanders, who got his yards even without blocking or much of a passing game, a running back is the cherry on top of an offense that has a potent offensive line, a great quarterback, and receivers who can get open and catch.
Despite the perception that the Jets didn’t use Bell enough in 2019, he finished eighth in the league touches, with 311. But his impact wasn’t what it had been in Pittsburgh because the Jets don’t have Maurkice Pouncey or David DeCastro on the line, Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, and Antonio Brown at receiver.
Who struck fear in opposing defenses last year for the Jets? Who forced teams away from a Cover One defense that featured a single-high safety who typically shaded toward Robby Anderson while the box was clogged to stop Bell?
Then there’s the fact that Bell had missed the 2018 season, that he’s closing in on 30, and that he quite possibly burned out during Sam Darnold‘s mono-related absence, leaving Bell tapped out by the time Darnold tapped back in.
The Jets really aren’t doing anything different with Bell than the Steelers did. But the Steelers had a fully-formed offense. The Jets put the cart before the horse by signing Bell without having the other pieces in place.
From @DrJ144: “If the season has to be modified and games missed and NFL owners and players started arguing over how to distribute money this fall like MLB has been doing, do you suspect fans would side with owners or players? Who should they side with?”
The CBA has no device that would limit the financial obligation to players in 2020, but for language in the Standard Player Contract that possibly allows teams not to pay players if there is no season at all. The bigger fight will come in 2021, when the league and players try to set a new salary cap. But it will be in the interests of the teams not to set the cap so low that key players will have to be cut. That’s why it’s possible that the lost revenue from 2020 will be spread over multiple years.
That said, some believe NFL teams will be more ruthless this year about squeezing veterans to take pay cuts, with the threat of a late-preseason termination of their contracts if they refuse. That could allow teams to save millions in 2020, but it also will require them to be comfortable with younger, cheaper players who may not be as ready to go as they could or should be given the absence of an offseason program.
But if a fight breaks out between the league and the players over distributing money in 2020 or 2021, look for more fans to side with the owners, because that’s what fans typically do. The fans should, especially in this case, realize that the players are assuming the risk of practicing and playing in a pandemic, which should make fans more supportive of player efforts to get everything they were due to earn this year — especially since it easily could be argued in light of the current situation that they should get even more.
From @JonHaley94: “Recent events and impact on Kaepernick’s chances of getting an NFL job — more likely, less likely, or no impact (i.e., all 32 starting NFL QBs could get COVID-19 and Kaep’s phone still wouldn’t ring).”
Before Colin Kaepernick ever gets a job, he has to get an offer. Before he ever gets an offer, he has to get an invitation to show up and perform in a tryout setting. So the first step would be something that Kaepernick hasn’t gotten in more than three years of unemployment: A workout with an NFL team.
After that, the question becomes whether the team believes he’s good enough to have a spot of the roster, given the three years of unemployment. The question also becomes what he’s looking for financially, and whether the team can or will pay that amount.
Kaepernick likely would be leery of any immediate effort to show interest in him, just as he was leery last November when the NFL suddenly wanted to arrange a workout for him that teams were invited to attend. Kaepernick will realize the connection between recent events and the interest in his services, and he’ll likely want to be sure that the interest is real and not part of a publicity stunt or P.R. play.
The better approach would be for Kaepernick to draw interest based on needs that arise in the future, whether due to quarterback injury or coronavirus infection. But plenty of quarterbacks were injured last year, and teams relied on the “next man up” concept — even if the next man up was Mason Rudolph, Kyle Allen, or someone else who has never done and never will do what Kaepernick has done on a football field.
Thus, there’s a good chance that, despite recent events, nothing will change when it comes to Kaepernick’s unemployment.
From @PSegelke: “Will the Seahawks ever let Russell Wilson walk in FA?”
The short answer is no. The longer answer is that, if Wilson ever leaves the Seahawks, he’ll be traded.
Some think a trade is inevitable, possibly in lieu of what would be his fourth contract with the team. Although the cap hit makes it impossible in 2021, a trade can’t be ruled out in 2022 or 2023 — especially once Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, raises the question of when/if another extension will be coming.
Rodgers has finagled four-year extensions twice for Wilson, a rare feat for teams that typically want to control player rights much longer into the future. Because Rodgers has only one NFL client, it’s easier for him to drive a hard bargain without worrying about the manner in which that one hard bargain may impact current or future clients on the same team. The relationship aspect of the agent business becomes far less relevant when the agent doesn’t have relationships that keep the agent from taking a no-holds-barred approach to getting the best deal for his one and only client in the entire industry.
That dynamic could ultimately make the Seahawks wary of the entire situation, with one market-value four-year deal followed by another and another and another until Wilson retires at (as he says) 45. At some point, the Seahawks may decide to get the most they can for Wilson in trade, and to start over with a young quarterback on a rookie contract.
Especially since the Seahawks went to a pair of Super Bowls while Wilson was on his rookie contract, and they haven’t been back since they made him one of the highest-paid players in football.
From @DonPerrien: “Why is it so hard for the NFL to adopt common sense rule changes? The XFL kickoff, the 4th & 15 onside kick, offsite video replay review to get an extra set of eyes … these things work to improve the game, but the NFL doesn’t seem to want them. Why?”
The NFL is notoriously conservative. Not in the political sense, but in the “we don’t want to change” sense. That’s why rules are changed very rarely before something happens under the current rules that prompts someone in the league to say, “Maybe we should change that.”
Complicating matters are the struggles the league has experienced in recent years to change things that definitely needed to be changed, from the catch/no catch misadventures (which eventually were solved) to the failed 2019 pass interference replay review experiment aimed at preventing another Rams-Saints debacle. The unintended consequences that flowed from these recent efforts to change the rules will make the league less even likely to embrace change, especially without a clear and obvious reason to do so.
Of course, many unintended consequences aren’t unforeseen. For some reason, however, the league often lacks the ability to apply foresight both in spotting problems generally and in spotting specific problems with the potential devices for fixing problems. There are enough brilliant minds in the league to properly brainstorm every potential consequence of every potential rule change. The NFL doesn’t do enough of that both when trying to fix known problems and when trying to spot flaws in the rules that could lead to future problems.
From @TFBHuddle: “This is a question for aspiring ‘analysts.’ How do you recommend getting into the industry?”
Twenty years ago on Wednesday, I saw at NFLTalk.com an open call for potential columnists. The pay? Zero dollars plus benefits, babe.
But I was intrigued by it. I was drawn to it. I threw something together, and within a couple of weeks, I had the non-paying job.
I loved it. Initially, I wrote two columns per week, happily and passionately and zealously. So they gave me more. (Work, not money.) I always said yes to more. Working and working and working and honing and refining and enjoying every second of it. From June until April, when the website and its parent company financially crashed and burned, I did everything they asked and constantly asked for more.
Obviously, a certain amount of ability and skill is required. But working hard and working fast and working without complaint and above all else working goes a long way toward creating better opportunities. And, along the way, the constant investment of time and effort and desire and passion and heart and sweat and everything else pushes you toward the limit of your God-given abilities, whatever they may be.
I was able to spent what ultimately was several years of doing this job without making any money at it, because I also had a real job that paid the bills. It still required sacrifice, since working one job that paid and one that didn’t left not much time to do other things. But I ultimately loved it and that’s why I did it, without any master plan that entailed making a lot of money or even enough money to quit my job that paid.
I kept going because I enjoyed it. The enjoyment, as explained in this conversation between Howard Stern and Jerry Seinfeld, makes the work not work.
“When you love something, it’s a bottomless pool of energy,” Seinfeld told Stern. “That’s where the energy comes from. But you have to love it, sincerely. Not because you’re gonna make money from it or be famous or get whatever you want to get. When you do it because you love it, then you can find yourself moving up and getting really good at something you wanted to be good at. . . . Love is endless, will is finite.”
The demonstration of your love of the sport, the industry, etc. needs a chance to grow. And it usually starts in a place where doing it for little or no money proves that, at the core, you’re doing it because you love it.
So the advice is simple: Find a place where you can work, even if you’re not paid for it. And then work. And work. And work. And work. And if you truly love it you’ll never feel like any of it is work.