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Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Are We Seeing the Fall of Rome, NFL-Style?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJuly 15, 2015

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1. More bad news for the NFL

The last time we saw the sports news dominated by an NFL assistant who was in trouble, Detroit defensive line coach Joe Cullen was driving naked through a Wendy's. And, hell, we've all done that, right? 

What an assistant coach was accused of this past week has to make the NFL pine for the days of nude drive-throughs. It's another highly disturbing story in what seems to be a never-ending stretch of highly disturbing NFL news.

Bills assistant coach Aaron Kromer is accused of punching a minor and then threatening to kill that person's family. The accusations are serious and ugly.

We don't know if the accusations are true, but if they are, Kromer will never again work in the NFL.

As you might imagine, everyone in the sport is talking about this. I had several assistant coaches text me about it from vacation. There is a sense of amazement and weariness that this kind of news keeps coming.

This isn't just about the fact the NFL has to come down as hard on coaches (and team and league employees) as it does players. That's obvious. There's a much larger issue.

Everyone, myself included, was hoping that the NFL's crazy Year from Hell—which started with the nefarious Ray Rice punch—was over. It's not. It's starting to look like it will be the Two Years from Hell, at least. The wild stories continue.

Teams across the league are watching all of this closely, and the conclusions drawn depend on whom you speak to. Some team officials blame the media, saying all of the coverage of the NFL leads to a warped perception that there's a problem when there isn't. There is some truth to that. The massive media presence can lead to a belief that there are more perps in the league than there really are.

(This is the part where I say, There are lots of good people in the sport. Not all of them are dumbasses. OK. Got that out of the way.)

But I did hear another explanation, which might also be partly true, and that theory was about arrogance.

Some general managers and assistant coaches believe that the NFL has become so flush with cash, power and ratings that everyone from the commissioner and owners to the coaches and players have a sense of invulnerability.

That sense extends to the Patriots equipment dude who called himself "the Deflator" in text messages and did so without fear. And Rice. And Adrian PetersonAnd Greg Hardy. And if this assistant coach did what he's accused of, it extends to him, too.

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

I think there is some accuracy to this theory. The sport is in some ways so full of itself that almost everyone in it has succumbed to the belief that it's bulletproof.

I've had people tell me that these incidents, all of them, are just a blip on the NFL's timeline, that they don't mean anything in the long run. Others think this is the beginning of the fall of Rome.

We've heard the Rome analogy before, and football has gone on to make more money than ever before. So far, all of the off-field issues haven't touched the sport. But how long will that last?

Again, there are lots of good people in the sport. Not all of them are dumbasses.

But something is definitely wrong. When you get assistant coaches now allegedly into the act, yes, something is definitely wrong.

2. Who is Aaron Kromer?

Uncredited/Associated Press

Many should know the name, especially Bears fans. Remember, Kromer was the guy who trashed quarterback Jay Cutler to NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport after the team lost 41-28 to Dallas. The story by Rapoport was excellent. The move by an assistant coach to trash Cutler behind his back...not so much.

Kromer was forced to admit before the team what he'd done. He was let go after the year.

It's actually surprising Kromer got another job after that. How would players trust him?

Now comes an even tougher road for the coach. Several team officials believe the Bills will fire Kromer by the end of the week.

3. Watt is amazing, but...

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

I'm not one to complain about lists. And of course J.J. Watt deserves consideration as the best player in the NFL, which is what he was named recently both by a vote of NFL players and by the metrics of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.

Watt is amazing in many ways. It's quite possible that in 10 years we will be talking about him as better than Reggie White or Bruce Smith.

The problem with calling Watt the top NFL player, though, is that the NFL is a passing league, and in a passing league, there's no way Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady aren't Nos. 1 and 2. Rodgers, to me, is clearly the best player in the sport. Brady, to me, is second. This is almost indisputable.

Then Watt at third. Putting him behind two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks is no insult. It's a reflection of the times. If Watt played when White played, when defenses were allowed to have more of an impact, his presence at No. 1 would be more justified. But not now.

As For the Win's Nate Davis pointed out, "Not even Watt, the only defender to even crack the top three in the five-year history of Top 100 polling, would argue" that a QB should have topped the list:

"I think Aaron definitely deserved it," said Watt when asked who got his vote for No. 1.

"I think there's a reason he won the MVP."

4. More Wattage

Watt is one of the best users of social media, and he showed that again by posting a picture of himself squatting a small planet:

JJ Watt @JJWatt

Friday's. #NoItsNotAMaxOutRep #MorningSessionIsCake #AfternoonIsRealDeal #BradTriesToCrushMe #Hashtags @NXLevelBrad http://t.co/7udo7BjKNl

It was 585 pounds, and he said that's not his maximum amount.

The more I learn about Watt, the more impressive he becomes. I don't think, in the entirety of NFL history, there have been more than a handful of guys like him. I'm talking about what he does on and off the field. While so many players end up in trouble, Watt continues to escape the pitfalls of an increasingly hyper-scrutinized social-media world, and I get the feeling he always will.

5. One more amazing feat of note

I've come to really like Tyrann Mathieu. After a rocky finish in college, he's proved to be someone who takes his NFL job seriously. He is smart and dedicated and will be a good addition in Arizona long-term.

He also hit one of the greatest trick shots you'll ever see:

Tyrann Mathieu @Mathieu_Era

Stop Playing like I can't play every sport!! #Natural. http://t.co/i12bMgyyRq

Not that the shot has anything to do with anything, but damn, it's incredible.

6. Can JPP still be great, minus a finger?

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

A specialist tells the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman that Jason Pierre-Paul should be fine, even after reportedly having his finger amputated. The two key quotes from Dr. Michelle Carlson, an orthopedic hand surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York:

The long ring and middle finger are more involved in power grips than the index finger is.

And:

It's surprising how normal that looks. Most people who have index ray amputation, people don't even notice they're missing a finger. It looks surprisingly normal and functionally, people do very well. ... You can actually make up for it very well. In fact, they do better with that finger amputated than if the finger remains but is not functional.

7. Craziest story of the week (though the week is still young)

David Richard/Associated Press

About 350 people paid between $125 and $155 per ticket to get items signed by Johnny Manziel, according to the Bryan-College Station Eagle. Some of the people who did it traveled hours.

Some of you will read about this and say: I love it. It's great. Some of you will feel the way I do and say: Why would anyone ever do this? Pay that kind of money for an autograph? That is, at least, partial airfare to Comic-Con. You can get William Shatner's autograph there!

8. Players support Dez

LM Otero/Associated Press
Dez Bryant @DezBryant

As much as I love football...on my beautiful babies.. I apologize #cowboynation but I will not be there if no deal #fact

I heard from a handful of players around the league after Dez Bryant tweeted this. They resoundingly support Bryant.

One player put it this way: "There's a general feeling that the CBA doesn't serve players, it serves owners, and we get the short shrift. The only way that changes is if guys like Dez stick their neck out and make a lot of noise. We need to change the system so there's more guaranteed money, and Dez holding out can help change that."

Bryant holding out won't force changes to the CBA—there's no reason the owners would do that now—but it is true that there is a general sense of dissatisfaction with the current financial environment. Players I speak to feel the current deal with the owners favors the owners. I don't think that's the case, but I can tell you that sentiment is not uncommon.

9. NFL pushes back against brain injury statistic

In September of last year, a story published by the New York Times had a startling piece of data: Actuaries hired by the NFL in the concussion lawsuit filed by players estimated that one-third of retired players would suffer from serious brain trauma at younger ages than the general population.

Almost a year later, this week, the NFL started to push back in earnest against that statistic. I'm not sure why the league is doing it now (though a league lawyer did give a similar explanation in the original Times story).

The NFL told me Wednesday morning that it had pushed back on this with other media members months ago--not just this week--and the league went to me this week because I had mentioned CTE in my column on Ken Stabler.

An NFL official gave me the statement below. It's presented without comment:

The actuarial report assumed this level of claims on a hypothetical basis to determine if the settlement fund would be sufficient to cover future costs. The study concluded that even if, hypothetically, claims rose as high as one-third of players, the fund would still be sufficient to pay the claims. The one-third hypothetical was not a prediction of the number of players actually expected to develop neuro-cognitive impairment.

10. 'Sports: The thing you weren't quite good enough at for your dad to love you'

HBO's John Oliver had a funny—and incredibly accurate—skit Sunday about taxpayer-funded sports stadiums. They are a bit of a sham, and localities keep wanting to foot the bill for them when evidence shows they really aren't worth the expense and sweet tax breaks the NFL gets.

This is a particularly important story to remember now as the Chargers, Raiders and Rams all threaten to leave for Los Angeles unless they get new stadiums. Maybe, this time, cities will just say no to funding new stadiums. But I doubt it.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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