Lots of questions: Who'll replace Dean Blandino, does anyone want Adrian Peterson, and has Dak Prescott already seen his best days pass him by?
1. Why You Should Care Who Replaces Dean Blandino
Before we get to why the replacement for the NFL's top ref is one of the more important moves the league will make, and why as a fan you should greatly care, let's go back to something that happened in February.
It was Super Bowl week when I first heard that Dean Blandino, the head of NFL officials until he stepped down from the position last week to take a job on TV, wanted out of the NFL and was headed to CBS. I asked several different sources what they knew and a picture emerged: Blandino was miserable, I was told, and hated working in the NFL office because it was too political, and no one had your back.
Blandino, according to my sources, had been trying to leave the NFL since November.
So I went to CBS. It said he wasn't headed there. Knew nothing about it. I asked the NFL. Hadn't heard anything like that, I was told. It seemed like the story wasn't true.
But it was, and the NFL couldn't have been caught by surprise. It knew of the rumors just as I did.
And now the league has been forced to find a new voice to guide its officiating crews after Blandino exited a job he apparently wanted out of for some time.
That leaves us trying to understand two key issues: Why is this job so hard, and why should you, the fan, care who holds it?
The difficulty of the position is obvious. It's not heavy lifting or digging ditches, but it's, easily, one of the most thankless jobs in all of sports. Every Monday brings complaints from coaches. The media on every platform find ways to cast you as inept. And, at least in Blandino's case, neither Commissioner Roger Goodell nor league owners offer any support, publicly or privately, an issue I was told was a major concern for Blandino.
But again, why should fans care?
Simply put, because the league needs people like Blandino to make sure officiating crews are legit.
"Confidence in the integrity and quality of officiating are of paramount importance to the league," said Amy Trask, the former Raiders team executive and current analyst for CBS. "There are instances in which businesses can't afford not to spend whatever necessary to effectuate a goal in the best manner possible, and this is one such instance.
"I have said this with respect to full-time officials and I will say this with respect to filling Dean's position—the league can't afford not to spend whatever it takes to instill confidence in fans."
Who replaces Blandino isn't as important as what the NFL will allow that person to do. Blandino's replacement needs autonomy, and the allowance to make mistakes, without fearing repercussions from ownership, coaches or fans. The politics that have surrounded the role need to be lessened.
Fans, in particular, maybe more than ever before (or maybe it only seems that way because of social media), see a conspiracy in every call. They need a reason to believe the officials are being held accountable by someone with authority.
Some team officials believe that Goodell and Troy Vincent, who oversees the position, would sometimes get too overbearing with Blandino. That led to a sense among some teams that Blandino had lost almost all autonomy.
To that point, Scott Green, head of the game officials union, told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio and the Sporting News that the NFL's officiating brain trust in New York was "making their opinion known" to the referees from league headquarters far more during the previous two seasons than in past years.
I've been told—repeatedly—this was more a product of Goodell and Vincent than it was Blandino.
When it comes to Blandino, and what his relationship was with Goodell, this needs to be made extremely clear: This is what I was told by team officials who for years have spoken to Blandino, Goodell and Vincent.
Whoever gets the job has a daunting task ahead. Owners last month approved a new system whereby the officiating chief is now responsible for overseeing instant replay challenges and whether or not a play stands. In the past, the referee would head to a sideline booth and review the play, then make his own decision.
Add those to the list of reasons the job needs an independent thinker. The more the person is allowed autonomy, the more fans will trust, and the more fans trust, the more they (and everyone else) can believe nothing is being manipulated.
That's the way the man who held the position prior to Blandino, Mike Pereira, did his job, and why he was so good at it. Nothing influenced him other than making the right call.
Pereira was good at what he did, so good that Trask believes the league should invite him back.
"The league should do whatever it can to entice Mike Pereira to come back, but if it is unable to do so," she said, "it should at a minimum do whatever it can to engage him in the search to fill Dean's position and advise the league through this process."
As little as whomever takes over for Blandino will be seen on NFL Sundays, it's a hire all fans should care about. The league has to get this right.
2. Can Kaepernick Still Play? One Former Teammate Thinks So
One of the more impactful players I've ever covered is tight end Vernon Davis.
Davis won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015, is a two-time Pro Bowler and in 2009 co-led the NFL in touchdown catches when playing with San Francisco. He was, in many ways, a sort of pseudo-Rob Gronkowski. Davis, 6'3" and almost 250 pounds, appeared to be slowing down in recent years before seeing a bit of a resurgence last season, when he caught 44 passes for 583 yards with Washington.
For four-plus seasons, Davis also played with Colin Kaepernick. Maybe you've heard of him.
When I got the opportunity to speak with Davis this week, I wanted—needed—to ask him two questions: Why does he think his former Niners teammate isn't playing? And does he think Kaepernick can still quarterback in this league?
"I'm not really sure why he's not playing," said Davis, one of the few past teammates of Kaepernick's to speak on the record about him. "I wish him the best. He deserves a chance to play again. I do know that. I played with him and he's my brother and he deserves another chance."
Indeed, Davis played with Kaepernick, and played well with him. Reached a Super Bowl with him. Caught 13 touchdowns from him in 2013. So, if anyone would know how to answer if Kaepernick is still capable, it would be Davis.
"Looks like he is to me," Davis said. "I saw him play last year, and he looks like he can still play at a high level to me."
3. Davis Finding There's Life Beyond Football
While polishing what may be the latter years of his NFL career, Davis also has taken steps to establish himself in business. He is part of a group that includes former NBA Commissioner David Stern and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim that's helped launch SportsCastr.Live, a live streaming platform that allows users to be color commentators and enables viewers to select which sportscaster they wish to have call, recap or make predictions on a game.
It's a damn good idea, and Davis' efforts at developing post-career business interests is something I'm seeing increasingly from players. And now they are starting at an earlier stage in their careers and making deeper forays into the business world. It's something I hear about repeatedly from players and others, and Davis is another example.
"I really started looking at the business world about five years ago," Davis said. "I was really intrigued by it, and that's how this investment came about."
So when will Davis, who is 33, dive full-time into the business world?
"I'm going to play for as long as I possibly can," he said. "My girlfriend wants me to play for three more years. She's worried about me getting hurt. But I want to play longer than that."
4. Poll Reveals Fans' Thoughts on Domestic Violence and the NFL
A recently released HBO Real Sports/Marist poll on the NFL draft and domestic violence is interesting on many levels.
No finding is as telling as this: "Nearly nine in 10 football fans, 87 percent, say they oppose their favorite NFL team drafting a top college prospect with a history of physical violence against women. Three percent favor recruiting such a player, and 9 percent say it makes no difference to them."
This is my question: Who are those 3 percent?
5. Are Predraft Workouts Destined to Fade Away?
An amazing thing has happened.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey decided to forgo participating in any private workouts for teams as we head toward next week's NFL draft.
And no one freaked out about it.
McCaffrey's move is smart and also likely the future. More players are starting to figure out they have some power in this process.
Will some teams choose not to draft a player if he doesn't work out privately for them? Maybe, but for talented prospects who say no, teams won't have a choice. They'll either have to trust the game video and scouting or not. And the players won't have to subject themselves to a costly fall on draft day because their workout day with a team didn't go as well as hoped.
I think what McCaffrey did will catch on. A lot. Especially for those who want to gain some measure of control over their NFL future.
6. Available: Hall of Fame Running Back
Adrian Peterson is still unemployed.
Teams have told me that no one—for the moment—is all that interested in Peterson. Instead, because the draft has a significant number of good backs, teams seem content to wait until after next week to sign Peterson.
This has to be a strange place for someone like Peterson, who has been one of the stars in the sport not just today, but in league history. And still, he waits.
7. A Whole New Bill
Credit Mike Reiss of ESPN.com for first putting into words what many around the league, including me, noticed a few months back: Bill Belichick is having more public fun than ever before. I've known the Patriots coach since the late 1980s, and I have never seen him smile or joke as much as he has recently. Never. No one has in public.
It's possible there isn't anything more to this than Belichick, all these decades later, finally letting his guard down a bit. Who can blame him? He's the best to ever coach in the NFL, and it's no longer even close (at least to me it's not).
I've heard coaches around the NFL speculate privately that they think this new look means Belichick will retire soon, but I'm not so sure about that. This might just be a simple case of a man finally learning to enjoy what he does. At least, publicly so.
8. NFL Has Plenty To Worry About with St. Louis Lawsuit
The city of St. Louis has sued the NFL in what could become an ugly suit for defrauding the city as it planned to move the Rams to Los Angeles, as Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated detailed. The city won't get the Rams back, but it is asking for some of the millions the league made because of the move.
As much as the league hopes to not lose the case—after all, lots of cash is at stake—what concerns the NFL about the lawsuit is the bad publicity that will come from it. The plaintiffs will portray the NFL as greedy and selfish, and there will be no shortage of journalists waiting to get any and all details possible that the lawsuit will generate, and it will generate a lot.
This could get nasty. Really nasty.
9. The Spring League
The Spring League @TheSpringLeague
WATCH: This is the Spring League. Be a part of it. https://t.co/1PeEQaocPi4/16/2017, 10:24:39 PM
Compelling promo from the Spring League, a developmental program based in West Virginia run in accordance with NFL rules. Made me want to suit up. More on this league to come.
10. Has Dak Prescott Already Peaked?
I know. It's stupid to ask, but let me explain.
A tweet came across my timeline that said the Cowboys quarterback had nowhere to go but down after his impressive rookie season.
Granted, my Twitter feed often is full of such nonsense. Usually, you just chuckle and move on. But for whatever reason this notion caught on with people, many of whom agreed Prescott had peaked. And while I argued that it's impossible for a quarterback of his abilities to peak as a rookie, others then compared Prescott to Robert Griffin III.
The whole thing seems dunderheaded to me, but the volume of responses suggests the idea that Prescott is headed for a decline isn't a joke, at least to Cowboys haters.
So let's quickly debunk this before it gathers steam. Remember, in his rookie season, RGIII tore his ACL and LCL. His return was totally mishandled by the team. Also, RGIII relied almost exclusively on his legs to generate his passing offense, and that knee affected everything he did and may have screwed up his head as well.
Prescott, on the other hand, was never that badly injured (that we know of), and his game is different than RGIII's. Prescott is both comfortable, and highly dangerous, from the pocket. He's not a running quarterback.
Pocket passers of his caliber almost always have steep learning curves. He's not Tim Tebow. Prescott is infinitely more talented.
And he has a far better cast around him than RGIII ever had.
Hope this is now debunked forever, like UFOs.
My bad: UFOs are real.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.