Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Kaepernick Ordeal Reveals a Changed Chip Kelly

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2016

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Head coach Chip Kelly of the San Francisco 49ers on the sidelines during a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on September 1, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

(Chip Kelly might not be the same non-people person he was in Philadelphia. Oh, and let's not forget my idiotic Super Bowl pick.) 

   

1. Has Chip Kelly Changed?

To truly understand how well Kelly is handling the furor over Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem, you have to remember how bad he handled players in Philadelphia. 

The Eagles' Kelly was different. He was an X's and O's savant who didn't seem to care all that much about developing relationships. He was, in fact, terrible at it.

One of the more blunt assessments of Kelly's management style came from former Eagle-turned-Bronco Evan Mathis. Mathis wrote a scathing note to Mike Klis of 9News (via USA Today) in February.

"There were many things that Chip had done that showed me he wasn't building a championship team," Mathis wrote in his email. "Two of the main issues that concerned me were: 1. A never-evolving, vanilla offense that forced our own defense to play higher than normal play counts. 2. His impatience with certain personality types even when they were blue-chip talents. The Broncos team I was on would have eaten Chip alive. I don't think he could have handled the plethora of large personalities."

Kelly has denied this vehemently, but it's clear that he got rid of DeSean Jackson because he didn't like Jackson's strong personality. He was accused of being a racist, though that wasn't likely the issue. The issue was, again, communication.

"The biggest reason in which he's not in Philadelphia any more is just his ability to communicate with the players," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins told ESPN's Michelle Beadle. "He's not proactive enough to really get the pulse of the team, especially when you have the offseason that we had last year, where he's getting rid of guys and making all these changes. When you have a situation like that, you have to be able to communicate with your players to instill confidence in them so they know that their jobs are secure, and that they can trust you. And that, it just wasn't there."

And now?

Kelly and the 49ers handled a complicated issue that captured the nation with deftness and tolerance. He did something I believed was impossible for him: He adapted.

Joe Mahoney/Associated Press/Associated Press

Kelly learned from his previous stint and communicated better with his 49ers players, one player told me. The player said Kelly asked some of the team leaders what was the best way to proceed. Some of them, I'm told, suggested a team meeting. Then they had one.

This is not to suggest he's now Martin Luther Kelly. He is, however, definitely different.

It's possiblepossible—that Kelly can be like Bill Belichick. When Belichick was in Cleveland, he was known to be, well, less communicative. Then he grew.

It may be fair to argue that Kelly was forced to adapt by unusual circumstances, but the 49ers player said that isn't really the case. He insisted that Kelly had changed well before the Kaepernick protest.

I'm uncertain how long Kelly will last as the head coach in San Francisco. He's not being served well by a front office that's made some questionable draft and free-agent moves. But at least Kelly is doing what he can to make himself better.

He's adapting.

     

2. What's Next in the NFL's Latest Saga?

Kaepernick remains with the Niners, but the future of his protest depends on how much he ends up playing.

If he stays on the bench, the protest will draw minimal attention. If he starts, it will draw a great deal more.

What I've heard from players around the league, however, is more than a few plan to join Kaepernick's cause in the coming weeks. That will get interesting.

    

3. An Eerie Silence from 345 Park Avenue

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference prior to Super Bowl 50 at the Moscone Center West on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

More than a few players, assistant coaches and team executives have asked when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will speak about the Kaepernick protest. I don't know if he ever will, other than with something perfunctory.

The fact is, though, he needs to address this in great detail. Heck, the president of the United States spoke on it.

      

4. NFL Criminal Rankings Offer Interesting Contradictions

Seattle Times reporter Mike Rosenberg updated the arrest data on NFL teams for this decade. It's an interesting read.

The Broncos lead with 19; the Texans have just two. We won't get into why one team leads and another is low, or how the NFL arrests compare to non-NFL players. That would take more time and space than we have here.

In looking purely at the numbers, what's most interesting is that bad behavior doesn't prevent winning. Denver won the Super Bowl. The team that ranked second in total arrests made the playoffs. So, too, did the Nos. 8 and 9 teams, Cincinnati and Seattle, respectively.

    

5. And You Thought Von Miller Was Good Last Year…

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20:  Outside linebacker Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos stands on the field during player introductions before  a preseason NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 20, 2016 in Denv
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips thinks stud pass-rusher Von Miller is ready to pick up where he left off last season. That is, well, terrifying.

"I think Von is better right now than he was at this time last year," Phillips told the media this week. "He seems to be more comfortable in everything. He's really focused. I'm really pleased where he is right now. That seemed to be where he was at the end of last year."

Phillips added: "Maybe it's just the comfort in the defense, but I think he wanted to prove to everybody that maybe he's the best player. Maybe he's the Defensive Player of the Year. He was the MVP in the Super Bowl, but I think his next goal is to be the Defensive Player of the Year."

If that happens, there's a good chance the Broncos get back to the Super Bowl.

    

6. Super Bowl Loss Was Personal for Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 26:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers signals to his receiver against the New England Patriots in the 1st quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on August 26, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streete
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I checked in with a Panthers player as the team prepares for its season opener against Denver. "We're as relaxed as we've ever been," the player said. "We feel really ready.

"The main thing I see is the difference in Cam [Newton]. I think he took [the Super Bowl loss] personally. He's worked harder this offseason than I've seen him and he was already one of the hardest working guys out there. I think you're going to see an even better Cam this season."

       

7. Union and Concussions

The NFL players union this week sent its players a concussion-related educational video. This is pretty significant.

While the union has supported its players when it came to issues of brain trauma, I've heard from some players that they don't think the union has been pre-emptive enough on the issue.

This latest move by the players association signifies a more aggressive, and likely welcome, approach.

    

8. The Comeback of Manti Te'o

Aug 19, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA;  San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Manti Te'o (50) gestures during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Remember former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o? Remember how he was a national joke? With the fake girlfriend and all? Remember that?

In the three-plus years since, we have moved on from one-liners and smug jokes, and he went on to the NFL. And though he's not a great player, he has the work ethic and the dedication to become a good one. No wonder his teammates love him.

How much? This week, Te'o was named one of the Chargers' team captains.

He's come a long way.

    

9. At Least He Has His Health…for Now

Arian Foster is one of the most supremely talented backs of his generation. A complete back, too, with speed, pass-catching ability and smarts. There's no question about his skills, which is why it's not a shock that he will start for the Dolphins on opening day.

But Foster is destined to get hurt again because he always gets hurt. All snark aside, I hope that doesn't happen.

If somehow, some way, he doesn't get injured, the Dolphins can be special—truly special. If Foster can stay healthy, he can rush for 1,200 yards. Yes, he's that good.

If he can stay healthy...

    

10. My Dumb Super Bowl Pick

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 26:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers drops back to pass against the San Francisco 49ers in the first half of their preseason football game at Levi's Stadium on August 26, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (P
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

I'm picking Packers-Texans.

I know, I know.

The reason for the Packers is obvious. Aaron Rodgers will be the old Aaron Rodgers and wreck this league. His best weapon, Jordy Nelson, is also healthy. A better defense. A slimmer Eddie Lacy. Plus, the division still stinks.

And the Texans?

My gamble is that quarterback Brock Osweiler will be better than people think and so will that defense. Plus, the division still stinks.

Don't worry. You'll be able to throw this back in my face soon.

        

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.