The NFL's powerless rookies, a player responds to Michael Bennett and, oh, about that Donald Trump debate story...
1. A Lesson in Leverage
This is what a Texans player, on Sunday morning, told me about the holdout of teammate DeAndre Hopkins: "I don't know how long De will hold out, but I know he's determined. He knows his value. I think a part of him also sees this as a fight for other players, especially rookies. He thinks rookies get screwed on their contracts."
In speaking to players and agents late last week about the Hopkins holdout, I found many believe his stance is motivated by a bigger cause. Many NFL contracts are viewed as one-sided. NFL rookie deals, these sources believe, are among the worst in all of sports.
The main reason is they are easy to outperform. This is what Hopkins has done. At this point, the Texans aren't just getting a bargain; they are, in many ways, almost getting him for pennies, on an NFL scale. Last season, Hopkins had 111 catches, 1,521 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. Those are top-five receiver numbers.
His base salary: $1 million. That's $30.7 million less than what Roger Goodell made last year.
So Hopkins said: Enough of this.
"I think it could be a little bit before he shows up," said his Texans teammate. "He's pissed. I don't blame him."
That was Sunday morning. Then came Sunday evening. Hopkins reported to camp.
The holdout was destined to end quickly because most NFL players have little contractual muscle. NFL rookies have the least contractual muscle of all. In fact, they have none.
What Hopkins discovered was that players on rookie contracts are second-class citizens in football. The last CBA effectively took money and power from the rookie class and gave it to veterans. That may make sense on a karmic level, but it left rookies virtually powerless.
Rookies are capped on their contracts, the draft prevents them from truly shopping their services and if they fail to report to camp, as Hopkins initially did, they are subject to a fine of $40,000 a day.
So, say Hopkins held out a week (carry the one...divide by two...three to the second power) that would be $280,000 in fines. Two weeks would be...I can't do that much math, but you get the point.
A short holdout would wipe out his base salary.
I know what you're going to say: He signed the deal. The union negotiated the slotted system. The union negotiated a collective bargaining agreement in which contracts aren't guaranteed.
That is all true.
But Hopkins didn't agree to that deal. He had no say in CBA talks. So he decided to exercise the little power he has—his services.
Hopkins said on Monday, per the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson, that he wasn't trying to send a message to the Texans. But I don't believe that. Many in football don't believe that, either.
NFL teams don't hesitate to use their power when it comes to cutting a player or asking him to renegotiate a contract to reduce salary. Players have every right to use their only weapon in getting what they want, which often is more money. In a sport where careers are extremely short, where players' brains are ravaged by CTE, why not get what you can, any way you can?
What Hopkins found, however, was that despite being a young, talented player who will be a star in this league, as a player working under a rookie contract, off the field, he's powerless.
Hopkins has two more years left on his deal. He wants that contract ripped up the way the Texans ripped up J.J. Watt's with two years left. Hopkins is special, but Watt is from Krypton.
When I reconnected with the Texans player after Hopkins ended his holdout, he said the relationship between the Texans and Hopkins was "borderline poisonous." But the player expected the two sides to repair the damage. The Texans need Hopkins, and Hopkins—for the moment, at least—wants to stay in Houston.
"He's not going to keep quiet about this," the teammate said.
Hopkins can get as loud as he wants, and he should. But in the end, he has no power. None.
The teams hold it all.
2. Michael Bennett Forces NFL to Think Yet Again
Seattle's Michael Bennett is one of the most important men in football. Maybe in all of sports. Even when he sometimes crosses the line. Even when he's wrong.
He speaks about social issues, and he speaks about them eloquently, with passion and intelligence. Also, and maybe this is the biggest point, Bennett says things that he knows will make people uncomfortable, and he says them anyway, because he feels that discomfort is needed.
Most recently, Bennett challenged players across the league to match their NBA counterparts and to use their fame and power to become part of the causes that affect African-Americans. Bennett wore a Black Lives Matter shirt to training camp and criticized players like Cam Newton for not using their power to help make change.
"The women and WNBA have really stood up for what they want, and I think that it's time for the players in the NFL," Bennett told reporters at training camp, referencing the WNBA players who wore black T-shirts following a series of police shootings, and when officers were shot, throughout the country.
"But a lot of things in the NFL are so broken. You don't see a lot of great players talking about things socially, whether it's Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers; all of these guys, they're white. They don't have to deal with the things that we deal with as black players, so it's not as many.
"In the NBA, everybody is standing up for it, so the greatest players are in the forefront of the movement. Here in the NFL, the greatest players aren't in the forefront of the movement. Whether it's the CBA, whether it's things going on with trying to change the way—concussions. The greatest players aren't involved like LeBron James, Chris Paul and all these guys [in the NBA]. Our great players are sitting back just taking the dollars, whether it's Cam Newton, all these guys. They're not really on the forefront of trying to change what's going on."
But Bennett crossed a line in dragging Newton's name into the mix. It made Newton sound like a sellout. He's not. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com recently reported that Bennett called Newton to apologize for what he said. This is also what's good about Bennett—he recognizes when he's wrong.
(Another problem with what Bennett said is that he plays with Russell Wilson, who hasn't taken a stand on anything. So for Bennett to criticize Newton conveniently overlooks his own QB's silence. And one other thing: The Seahawks attempted to scrub Bennett's words about Newton from the team transcript and the team video. Did they think no one would notice?)
But in his statement Bennett challenged white players to get involved as well. So I did something no one has done since Bennett made his remarks. I asked a white NFL player what he thought of Bennett's comments. His response revealed more introspection than you might imagine.
"I'm white," the player said. "I have no perspective on Black Lives Matter because I've never dealt with those issues before. I don't feel comfortable discussing issues publicly that I don't have firsthand knowledge of.
"It's interesting you [asked] me this tonight because my [friend] is black and we had a 30-min convo on politics and BLM tonight. It confirmed my belief that it's best to stay quiet on these issues because I'm not educated enough on it. Also, in our culture now, if I didn't fully agree with BLM, but maybe agreed with some of it, I'd be called a racist, bigot, etc. Not worth it. You can't have discussions like my agent and I had tonight in public anymore."
Other white players I spoke to expressed similar feelings. Still, I can tell you with certainty that off-field issues, particularly when it comes to police shootings, are big topics in locker rooms.
Speaking out, especially on issues of race, remains a highly tender point in locker rooms. White players don't feel comfortable talking about these issues for fear of being misunderstood or portrayed as racist if they disagree.
The white player gave an example of this when he was asked about Bennett wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt.
"I'm not quite sure what wearing shirts supports," he said. "We all agree that death is bad and killing people that are unarmed is awful. Do I need to wear a shirt that states that? I dunno, man."
It's unknown territory for everyone.
3. Some People Just Don't Get It
Ryan Fitzpatrick told reporters that during his holdout, he heard from fans who called him greedy. To those unfortunate, uneducated souls, let me explain how the process works.
NFL teams cut players all the time. Cut them if they get old. Cut them if they find someone better. Cut them if they are late for meetings. Cut them if they're a distraction. Cut them if they are too much of a strain on the salary cap.
The only recourse players have is to leverage their abilities. Everyone in the free world tries to get best deal possible. Why are NFL players exempt from this?
4. What Exactly Happened with Trump and the NFL?
(Political-y post...I'm approaching slowly...with caution...because politics is more radioactive than sports...continues to approach slowly...puts fingers on keyboard...types...fears message board becomes nuclear wasteland despite caution...here we go...)
Presidential candidate Donald Trump said the debates were a rigged process and, in an interview with ABC, pointed out several of the debates were on Sundays or Mondays, the same as NFL games. Which is interesting because, well, NFL games have long been played on, you know, Sundays and Mondays, and the debates were apparently set by a non-partisan commission long before, you know, Trump got the GOP nomination.
(Refrains from snark because of political-y post...still uses great caution...prepares to mute-block on Twitter...fears message board will become Bleacher Report version of Manhattan in Escape from New York...continues, approaching this item the same way a kid approaches a haunted house...)
Trump said in the ABC interview that he had received a letter from the NFL stating the league's irritation over the debates occurring on the same days as NFL games. The NFL responded: Um, no dude, we sent no such letter.
(Ducks Patriots fans saying "Roger GODdell is a ly-ah!)
One high-ranking NFL source reiterated that not only did the NFL never send any such letter, it wouldn't due to fears Trump would make any such letter public.
"He'd tweet the letter out," the source explained.
The Trump campaign later clarified that such a conversation happened in private. However, the NFL source said no one in a position of authority had any such chat with Trump.
(Escapes political-y post without too much collateral damage.)
5. Political-y Post No. 2: ESPN and the Election
I like to post stories that are interesting and well done. This is one of them. It's about ESPN interviewing candidates during its Monday Night Football broadcast and if that is wise for this particular election. Is it worth the headache it will surely get from it? It's an interesting discussion.
6. Pure Violence
Interesting tweet from reporter Jennifer Hammond in Detroit from Fox 2 Sports. I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn't drunk from watching too much Star Trek.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell was praising offensive lineman Riley Reiff and spoke about how in one recent camp practice, Reiff shattered not one, but two of his own facemasks.
The facemasks on NFL helmets are tough, and while they do break, it is still fairly rare, and to break two of them in one practice is highly unusual. Reiff is hitting dudes. This is both scary and impressive. Scary because of what that kind of force is doing to his brain. Impressive because, well, he broke them.
7. Steelers' Bell Facing Long Odds on Appeal
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell has been suspended for missing multiple drug tests, as I and others have reported. The news was first reported by ESPN.
From what I can tell in speaking to team officials familiar with this type of suspension, it still remains long odds that Bell will have it overturned. To be clear: This doesn't mean it won't be. It just means the odds are tough.
Bell's best option, according to those team officials, is to get the suspension reduced. If he can prove the tester screwed up, he might get only three games instead of four. The problem for Bell is that it takes multiple missed tests to get a suspension. All of those missed tests can't be the testers' fault.
8. Draft May Be On the Move Again and Again and Again
The Detroit Lions want to host the NFL draft. The Eagles might be next in line. I continue to hear from several different league officials the NFL wants to hold the draft in a different city every several years. At most, every five or so.
The NFL, it appears, wants to have the draft become a sort of traveling road show. The draft could eventually be in every city, from Los Angeles to Green Bay to Washington. It would be a way to keep the idea of the draft vibrant and ever-changing (or at least give the appearance of that) while maintaining its core purpose of bringing new indentured servants into the league.
Sorry, I mean bring new talent into the league.
9. Pokemon Go Is Mind Control
I've been saying it for weeks: Pokemon Go is mind control. It's a prelude to an invasion. Aliens control our minds with Pokemon Go, make us all pliant and silly, and then take us over. Been saying it, been saying it, been saying it.
This is some Borg-type s--t. Finally, someone agrees with me. Lions guard Larry Warford believes that Pokemon Go is the beginning of the end of us all.
"I'll tell you why I stopped playing it," he told the Detroit Free Press' Carlos Monarrez. "I was walking down Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona, pretty much on [Arizona State's] campus. I was walking down and literally everyone that was on their cellphone walking down that same street was playing Pokemon Go. I was looking at their screens and it was about 30, 40 people walking down Mill [Avenue]. It was a bunch of people playing it and I was like, 'I don’t like this.' I deleted it because I was like, 'This is some mind-control stuff.' I don't like it."
Finally, someone sees the threat. Finally!
"I was like, 'This is bad, this is bad,'" Warford said. "They were playing it and I was, like, 'Nope!' And I deleted it right there, right when I got to the restaurant. The funny thing is, the people I was eating with, they were playing it, too."
Resist, fellow humans. Stay woke.
10. Euros Boehringer and Dable at Edge of NFL Future
Anthony Dable, in many ways, is a typical rookie. He's trying to make a team, in this case the Giants, and enduring the blazing heat and long days. Each day there are 12 hours of meetings with coaches and three hours of practice. Also, since he's a rookie, there are the usual things rookies have to do, like carry the veterans' helmets and buy them snacks.
Moritz Boehringer, in many ways, is also a typical rookie. He is also trying to make a team, the Vikings, and he is also dealing with heat and meetings and rookie zaniness.
They are typical, and in many ways, highly atypical. Dable is a native of France. He played professionally in Grenoble, France, and then in the German Football League. In his last two seasons in Germany, he caught 145 passes for just under 2,500 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Boehringer is a 2016 sixth-round pick and became the first European player to be selected in the NFL draft without playing college football. He is also the first German selected in an NFL draft to play a skill position on offense. I interviewed both players, who were made available by TransferWise.
Dable and Boehringer both have a solid chance to make their teams, and if they don't, scouts I speak to believe both can make it somewhere in the NFL. There is, however, a larger point here.
The NFL has long wanted Europe to be a place where football is big. That hasn't quite happened, but Dable and Boehringer represent what could be the beginning of a gentle tide that sees more European talent making it on NFL rosters. I'm not saying a flood of talent, but an increase.
Dable represents the kind of passion some European players have for the NFL. He says he learned English by watching Hard Knocks. He's seen them all.
He also knows this bottom-line truth.
"In training camp and the preseason, you are just one play away from getting noticed," he said.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.