Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Has NFL Culture Really Changed Since Bountygate?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 17, 2016

It's been four years since suspensions were handed down for Bountygate, but the incendiary words of Gregg Williams are worth remembering.
It's been four years since suspensions were handed down for Bountygate, but the incendiary words of Gregg Williams are worth remembering.Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

Remember that Gregg Williams is in the NFL? Because I forgot, and Adele apparently forgot how big a deal the Super Bowl halftime show is. This is the last time Williams and Adele will be in a sentence together. Ever. 


1. Forgive but never forget

I saw Williams on television the other day. It was the first time I've seen him in quite awhile. I forgot. I actually forgot. I forgot the hell Williams brought to the NFL.

"Kill the head, and the body will die."

Williams, now the Rams defensive coordinator, became a line of demarcation between old and new football when he was with the Saints. The old NFL: Where head-hunting was OK. Where unmitigated violence was acceptable. And the new NFL: Where a series of rules did more to protect players and disallow that type of violence—and the rhetoric meant to inspire it.

"We've got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head."

Williams was the warp core of Bountygate—a flawed, totally screwed-up NFL investigation. But the one part the NFL got right was exposing Williams as a provocateur of almost evil rhetoric. It was all exposed on a leaked audiotape (Warning: NSFW language). I've included italicized portions of that audiotape in this column.

"Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head."

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Williams was suspended for a year following the NFL's investigation, during which he acknowledged bounties were paid to encourage the injuring of other players.

"Early, affect the head. Continue [to] touch and hit the head."

Williams deserves forgiveness, but we should never forget.

"We need to find out in the first two series of the game—the little wide receiver, No. 10—about his concussion."

The Rams are back in Los Angeles, and it's become a good story about football's glorious return to a city it should have never left. But when I saw Williams, it brought me back to the past—that ugly past.

"He [Michel Crabtree] becomes human when we f--kin' take out that outside ACL."

Seeing Williams again made me wonder just how much football has changed. I think it's changed a great deal since Williams made that infamous speech over four years ago. Coaches don't really speak that way anymore. Players are far more educated about what football does to the body.

Most players wouldn't accept that kind of language from a coach. If the league office ever heard about a coach speaking that way now, the coach would likely be disciplined.

"We need to decide how many times we can beat Frank Gore's head."

The game has changed for the better. It still has a slew of issues, not the least being that the actual, every-down movements of football may cause CTE. Now, however, at least we don't have that sort of rhetoric and bounty mandates from coaches. At least, I don't think we do.

It's true Williams deserves forgiveness.

But we still shouldn't forget.


2. Not buying it

Tim Donnelly/Associated Press

The Super Bowl 50 Host Committee recently asked a company called Sportsimpacts to evaluate how much money was brought into the Bay Area following the game between Carolina and Denver.

A press release from the host committee sent to media (including me) this week stated that Super Bowl 50 brought $240 million into the Bay Area economy.

That is...doubtful.

I would go so far as to say there's no way in hell that's true.

Super Bowls simply do not bring in gobs of revenue, and often, they bring in very little. Also, many of the studies touting economic boon from a Super Bowl are often flawed and inaccurate, as Edwin Rios reported in Mother Jones.

Every year, there is a study like this, and every year, the study seems misleading.


3. NFL needs to release PSI numbers

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe had an interesting note regarding random PSI testing of footballs. The league instituted the measure after the notorious and uber-flawed Deflategate investigation. Or, as Patriots fans call it, The Greatest Conspiracy in the History of Humankind—Even Worse Than UFO Coverups and the Fake Moon Landing.

NFL referee Ron Torbert was in New England last week to officiate practices. Then, afterward, in speaking to the press, Torbert demonstrated an unusual amount of frankness when asked about the random PSI tests. Torbert said last season there was one game his crew worked in which footballs were tested. Just one.

So if, as the NFL maintains, the random testing is used as a deterrent, well, that's not much testing—and not much of a deterrent.

The NFL needs to release all of its data on the testing. It needs to be transparent because so many fans and others believe the NFL rigged the entire process. My guess is if the NFL truly believed it's random testing showed cheating, it'd release or leak the data. But since the league won't, it probably doesn't.


4. Scorching heat and head trauma

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

At a recent Eagles practice, the heat index reached 105 degrees. It was hotter in other places.

Two things to remember about these brutally hot practices.

First, I've always been told by players and members of team medical staffs that inside helmets it's at least 10 degrees hotter. At least.

Then the players are hitting each other, causing the brain to rock back and forth inside the skull, which studies have shown is a precursor to CTE. So the brain is roasted, and the brain is shaking.

They volunteer to play and are well-compensated. And yes, I know, there are far more dangerous jobs. So save your tweets to me.

I just want you to think about what the players are doing. What they're sacrificing. What will happen to them in the future.

That's all. That's my only point.

Carry on.


5. Adele tells the NFL: No Rolling in the Deep

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  BeyoncŽ, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Bruno Mars perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Singer Adele said she told the NFL thanks but no thanks for its offer to perform in the Super Bowl 51 halftime show. (Or, to hear the NFL tell it, she was never extended an official offer.) The NFL could have had it all. She had the NFL's heart inside her hand. And she played it to the beat.


There is an interesting aspect to this story. It's extremely rare for a musical act to turn down the NFL. The halftime show is considered one of the greatest opportunities for a musician. Prince did it. The Rolling Stones did it. Michael Jackson did it. U2 did it. Springsteen did it. Beyonce did it. Almost no one says no.

Why did Adele? Whether it was pre-emptive or in response to an actual offer, it's possible her saying no has no great significance other than she doesn't care about the NFL. There's also the possibility football's power no longer means what it used to.

There's no fire starting in her heart.

Double sorry.


6. The Dak Prescott lesson


Defenses beware. @DezBryant is doing @DezBryant things. And there's nothing you can do about it. #DALvsLA https://t.co/7FxizeqZxl

That is what patience, smarts and impulse control looks like.

In the Cowboys' preseason game against Los Angeles, a bigger deal was made about Dez Bryant's catch than the throw. And it was a good catch.

But that throw wasn't bad, either. It was put in the perfect place. It was made by rookie Dak Prescott.

Yes, this is what impulse control looks like. In the recent past, owner Jerry Jones would have taken a run at Johnny Manziel or Mike Vick to be Tony Romo's backup. Instead, he seems to be placing trust in his draft process and the personnel people around him. Oh, the Cowboys' drafts and moves have been far from perfect, but the Prescott pick looks solid, and it's smart to not undermine that pick with a bunch of silliness like a washed-up Vick or Manziel.

Prescott had his own issues, but it's clear that if he can keep his life under control, Prescott is a solid talent who can do big things in the NFL. I know scouts who think that despite the arrest, he was one of the best picks in the draft.

It seems likely the Cowboys have found their backup quarterback, and it's not a 40-year-old dude or punk party boy. It's a real quarterback with a real future.

How about that?


7. Will Lamar Miller lead the NFL in rushing?

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 14:  Quarterback Brock Osweiler #17 of the Houston Texans hand the ball off to running back Lamar Miller #26 against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at Levi's Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (P
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

That's what one scout believes. He thinks the combination of a solid offensive line and the presence of a real quarterback will free up Miller to the point where he will be one of the top two runners in football.

I've heard this type of thing before about Miller (and written it). More than a few people in football think he is set for a huge season. Lead the league in rushing? That would be quite a leap, but it's not totally unbelievable. Miller always showed great bursts of talent when in Miami, but because the Dolphins gonna Dolphin, they completely underutilized him. The Texans won't, and I keep hearing from scouts that they think he might have a season for the ages. We'll see.


8. 'That won't work with the NFL'

David Richard/Associated Press

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported that Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who filed a class action lawsuit over the ridiculous debacle that was the Hall of Fame Game, on Monday sent a settlement offer to Roger Goodell. The offer was $450 to every patron who held a game ticket.

It would be a smart PR move, but as one team executive told me, it would be shocking if the NFL accepted it.

"That won't work with the NFL," the team official said.

He could be wrong, but settling the case in that fashion isn't the way the NFL typically handles lawsuits. Historically, though not all the time, the NFL waits out lawsuits, hoping to wear the plaintiff down. It battles through attrition (see: Brady, Tom) and hopes its opponent wears down or can't afford to keep fighting.

So, a quick settlement would go against the way the NFL does business, even in an embarrassing case like this one.


9. A coach to know

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

I just wanted to pass along a story from Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer about a really good man, Panthers assistant Bruce DeHaven, who has cancer. One of my biggest complaints is that we in media (myself included) don't talk enough about assistant coaches. Some of that is our fault (myself included), and some of that is the fault of the teams. Some franchises cling to draconian media polices that disallow even the most modest of on-the-record interactions.

We need to know more about a lot of these guys. Learn about DeHaven. You won't regret it.


10. Way to take a stand, Lions

Dec 27, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Andrew Quarless (81) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Packers 38-8. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If a police report is to be believed, Andrew Quarless and another man got into an argument in July 2015 with a group of women outside a nightclub at 5:30 in the morning (as usual, nothing good happens in public after midnight). Quarless then took out a handgun and fired it into the air.

One of the women, as reported by Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times, informed police that Quarless discharged the weapon "in an attempt to emphasize his dominance and manhood," according to the police report.

When police arrived, Quarless ran, the report states, and he subsequently attempted to hide his weapon in a potted plant.

No, wait, check that. He attempted to hide his entire body and the gun in a potted plant.

I mean, you cannot make this stuff up. (Was it a fern or peace lily?) Quarless was subsequently sentenced to probation and a fine. Then, last week, the NFL suspended Quarless for the first two games of this season.

Remember, the NFL has its own investigative arm now, and it's a well-run, highly professional group. The NFL found enough credible evidence—the league investigates these types of cases no matter what happens in court—to punish Quarless.

So what do the Lions do this week? They sign him, of course.

This isn't necessarily about the Lions; it's about the larger NFL culture. Another team probably would have signed Quarless. But what was the rush? I mean, Quarless allegedly shot a gun into the air as a way of intimidating a group of women.

A team couldn't wait a month? Two? Just to see how sincere Quarless was about change? They had to sign him even while he was still suspended? Really?

Some teams still don't get it. I'm not sure they ever will.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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