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Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Kaepernick Protest Still Has NFL Teams Worried

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 02:  (L-R) Eli Harold #58, Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eric Reid #35 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline during the National Anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterMarch 8, 2017

The Kaepernick protest still worries the NFL, it's a good time to be a college DB, and Mike Glennon suitors should be careful.

    

1. There's No Escaping Politics

It's been said that sports reflect society, and the NFL is America's biggest mirror. This past week's NFL Scouting Combine offered an example as players were asked series of questions about their views regarding Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protest. 

Go back in time, for a moment, to when Kaepernick's taking a knee during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was one of the biggest stories not just in sports but across the country. The nation was divided, almost in half, it seemed, between those who believed Kaepernick's actions were disrespectful and unpatriotic and those who felt he was bravely drawing attention to racial inequality in the wake of police shootings of unarmed black men.

The NFL also noticed. Some players backed Kaepernick, and some did not. But as I reported then, many NFL team executives despised what Kaepernick was doing.

Some of these execs, reached during the combine, said they felt the same way about Kaepernick now. One called him "an embarrassment to football." Other front office personnel whom I asked about Kaepernick during the combine said they were happy to see he had adjusted his stance toward kneeling during the anthem (Kaepernick will stand for the anthem next year, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported).

But let's focus on the present and the fact that enough teams were concerned about the Kaepernick issue to make his protest a point of discussion with prospects at this year's combine.

Three agents told Bleacher Report their clients told them teams had asked players about Kaepernick. The agents added that the combine interviews included more political questions than any of them could ever remember. And all the questions, the agents said, focused on Kaepernick's protest last year or the possibility of future protests by other players.

The topic is still a highly sensitive one in football.

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 09: Ron Brooks #33 of the Philadelphia Eagles and Malcolm Jenkins #27 raise their fists during the National Anthem prior to the start of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on October 9, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo
Leon Halip/Getty Images

When one of the agents' players responded that he agreed with Kaepernick's protest, he was asked by the team why. Then he was asked if he would ever participate in such a protest. The player said he wasn't sure.

"Teams are trying to gauge if they would have a potential Kaepernick situation," the agent said.

The Kaepernick protest, and the storm it generated, didn't just anger pockets of the NFL, it shook the league to its core.

The preoccupation with Kaepernick by teams seems to be a reaction to that.

The combine has always featured silly, and at times obscene, questions: If you had to kill someone, would you use a gun or a knife? Boxers or briefs? Would you rather be a cat or a dog?

Dez Bryant was asked if his mom was a prostitute. Players have been asked about their sexual orientation. On and on it goes.

One defensive player was asked by a scout if he were a fish, what kind of fish would he be? His answer: "A shark."

(Solid answer. I would have said dolphin. But since dolphins are mammals, I would have failed.)

A different team asked that same player if he was afraid of clowns. (I'm assuming the question wasn't about the Browns.)

Another player said he was asked by one team how many times a week he has sex. (He believed the point was to see if he valued football over women—or something like that.)

I don't know how many prospects were asked about Kaepernick. But the topic was prevalent enough that some players felt the need to tell their agents.

It's also apparent many players agreed with Kaepernick. So if a prospect wanted to protest, he'd find allies in the locker room.

In any year, questions at the combine can be ridiculous, even offensive. This year, the questions got political. In other words, the NFL is mirroring much of the country.

    

2. Deshaun Watson Is Crushing It

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 04: Quarterback Deshaun Watson of Clemson throws during a passing drill on day four of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Clemson quarterback impressed NFL types with his answers to their questions. According to one scout: "Maybe the best interview I've ever had with a guy. Quick learner. Probably knows as much about football as any other prospect I've been around, and that includes guys like Peyton Manning. He was that impressive."

    

3. Joe Mixon's Second Chance

LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 22: Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners gets past Jah'Shawn Johnson #7 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the first half of the game between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Oklahoma Sooners on October 22, 2016 at AT&T Jones St
John Weast/Getty Images

We know about the Oklahoma running back and his ugly assault. The disturbing nature of the video is why Mixon's draft position is so precarious.

Half a dozen team executives have told me they don't believe he'll get drafted. The thinking goes that no owner wants that video to stick to him or his franchise, and it would.

Increasingly, however, a number of team sources say they believe not only will Mixon get drafted, but he won't last beyond the fifth round.

For the first time in a long time, when it comes to something NFL-related, I don't know how it will go.

But the feeling I'm getting is that Mixon is a good bet to be selected in the middle to late rounds of the draft.

    

4. Draft Could Be One-Stop Shop for Pass Defenders

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 06: Defensive back Marlon Humphrey of Alabama participates in a drill during day six of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 6, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There's a general sense from team executives that this class of defensive backs could be one of the best of the past five years.

"This draft is 10 players deep with DBs who can start," one AFC general manager said.

And he meant start right away and play well.

What does this mean for the draft? It means we might see a run on defensive backs far earlier than usual as teams race to get their share of good players.

    

5. The NFL Is a Genetic Chess Game

Per Mike Mayock, 21 of 36 defensive backs at this year's combine were at least 6' tall. In 2003, that number was seven.

About 10 to 15 years ago, smaller, faster wide receivers dominated the sport. Then fast, big receivers arrived on the scene and outmatched smaller defensive backs.

Now, those defensive backs are physically catching up to the bigger wide receivers. The next move can't be too far behind.

    

6. The Best Draft Prospect May Not Be Who You Think It Is

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

More than a few scouts said they believe T.J. Watt, of Wisconsin and brother to J.J. Watt, eventually will be seen as one of the top three players in this draft, if not the best.

You read that right.

It wasn't just the Watt name or the combine performance that impressed the scouts; it was also what they saw on video. One scout called Watt "the second- or third-most impressive guy I saw on the tape."

    

7. There's Only One Deion

Leave it to Deion Sanders to remember the combine experience in a way only he can. As he relayed on NFL Network:

    

8. Be Careful What You Wish For

Mike Glennon, a backup quarterback for the Buccaneers, is among the hottest names in the sport right now. This is, well, sad.

Glennon is Brock Osweiler 2.0. A trap. It'd be a sucker play for a team, a desperate team—just like the Texans were fooled.

The Bears are the leading candidate to get Glennon, numerous team officials said they believe. Those officials think he'll command at least $15 million per season. That is, um, outrageous.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 20: Mike Glennon #8 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars during a preseason game on August 20, 2016 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Tampa Bay defeated Jacksonville 27-21. (Photo
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

There's no doubting the value of the position. But now, with the complexities of defenses ever increasing, and the ability of teams to change their fortunes overnight with good quarterback play (see: Prescott, Dak), teams are more desperate than ever before.

And that leads to more aggressive and possibly ill-advised moves. Glennon's popularity is a symptom of this.

I hope I'm wrong, and that he is worth every dollar he gets, but I have serious doubts.

    

9. T.O. Deserves Better

ESPN's Jim Trotter spoke the truth in a recent podcast with Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch when he said he believed part of the reason Terrell Owens wasn't voted into the Hall of Fame was because some of the electors had a personal dislike of the receiver. Not all. But some. And I think it's an important truth.

    

10. Man vs. Wolf

Arian Foster tweeted that he could kick a wolf's ass. He wasn't talking about the Timberwolves. He meant an actual wolf.

It was captivating to read, in a nerdy sort of way. It got me thinking of Superman vs. Batman or Star Trek vs. Star Wars.

Foster is also a nerd, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. He's a highly intelligent man, and for him to openly ponder who would win in a battle of wolf and man is nerd nirvana.

Initially, I thought Foster would get crushed in such a duel. Then I thought he might actually win.

Then I saw this video.

I'm sorry, Arian. You'd lose.

But thanks for the entertainment.

    

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

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