Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Is It WrestleMania or the NFL Draft?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 3, 2017

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 27:  Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell speaks during the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on April 27, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The NFL draft takes an entertaining turn, bad news for Jaguars fans and good news (sort of) for patient Jets fans.  


1. The NFL and WWE

If you are like me, and have the humor of a fourth-grader (OK, third-grader), you thought Drew Pearson totally trolling Eagles fans at this year's draft was a thing of beauty. 

I have watched the Pearson video maybe 20 times (and counting), and I laugh every...single...time. It was good-natured fun and one of the best moments in the history of the draft. It was awesome.

Yet what we've learned since that moment has made it all the more interesting.

Before Pearson's trash-talking moment, he went to Commissioner Roger Goodell and asked if it was OK. Goodell said, hell yeah, dude, do it.

"I'm thinking he might say, 'Oh, no, don't say anything like that, that might get them too fired up, might cause a riot out there in that crowd,'" Pearson told PFT Live. "But to my surprise, he encouraged me to say that and to get the crowd even more riled up."

This is remarkable on a number of levels.

First, I'm not sure any past NFL commissioners would have greenlit Pearson's plan. I just can't see the soft-spoken, measured Paul Tagliabue agreeing to this. Just an inclination.

Second, I'm not so sure it's smart to rile up a crowd of thousands, some of whom may or not have been enjoying a few, well, adult beverages. The NFL was certainly concerned about this. Pearson told ESPN that he had a security escort from the stadium directly to his hotel room.

Third, and most importantly, the moment signified a shift in the NFL's thinking about the draft.

I don't believe Pearson's speech will be the last time we see something like this, and Goodell going full heel reinforces something that's been slowly happening in the NFL for a few years. The league, unlike even 10 years ago, if not less, sees the draft as a big, glossy show. Why else would it be OK with a zoo orangutan announcing draft picks?

Dallas Cowboys @dallascowboys

This is greatness. @88DrewPearson you are greatness. #CowboysDraft https://t.co/hMKjvA3xnc

This has always been true to some degree but not to the extent we saw this year. It's a new era now, and the draft has become the equivalent of professional wrestling.

Making the draft a prime-time event was part of the transformation. Encouraging Pearson to poke the beehive that is Eagles fans may have been the finishing leg drop.

Some in the league have long wondered why Goodell sticks with introducing the first round when he is roundly booed. The answer Goodell has always publicly given is that getting booed is part of the job.

But I've always believed, and now more than ever, that Goodell felt his being booed caused more people to tune in.

It's also interesting to note, however, that Goodell has been a staunch opponent of on-field celebrations. Natalie Ravitz, the senior vice president of communications for the NFL, contacted me on Twitter and contradicted this saying Goodell has repeatedly stated he wants players to have more freedom to express themselves. Fair enough, and noted. Goodell's desire for this is recent, and Ravitz added the league is in the process of reviewing its player celebration policies.

Why has there been some disconnect?

Part of the answer is about control and ratings. Owners and the league office have long believed that celebrating hurts the league's ratings with some of its viewers.

On the other side, since the league wants to improve its draft ratings, thus increasing the number of cities bidding for it, they've decided to take more risks, including trolling fans.

No matter the reasons, this year's draft turned a corner on an event that has long been a show but now is something else.

Now, it's the WWE.


2. Power Ranking the 2018 Draft

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

I asked one AFC scout to give me his best guess on what teams would have the top five picks in the 2018 draft. His answer was interesting.

1. Jaguars: "Total rebuild mode and Blake Bortles will fall off a cliff."

2. Jets: "You can't win in this league without a quarterback."

3. Bears: "This is [coach] John Fox's last year in Chicago."

4. Rams: "In two or three years could be a powerhouse."

5. 49ers: "This team is definitely on the right track."

Notice one team that isn't in this scout's top five: the Browns. He thinks they'll make a leap to 8-8 this fall.


3. Options Were Few for Joe Mixon

John Minchillo/Associated Press

There's no way to know exactly how many teams removed Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon from their draft boards. But an NFC scout, based on his conversation with teams, said he believes 20 to 25 teams were out on the controversial Mixon, who was caught on a video released in December hitting a woman inside a Norman, Oklahoma, cafe.

That didn't leave many landing spots. Clearly, the Bengals, who drafted Mixon in Round 2, were one of them.


4. That's Just Plain Cruel

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

The Bears drafted Mitch, er, Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick after stupidly, er, trading up with the 49ers to do it.

That is their prerogative, and those who believe the move is dunderheaded may eventually be apologizing for it. But what the Bears did before picking Trubisky was just flat-out cruel.

They asked current starting quarterback, Mike Glennon, whom they signed in March to a $45 million contract, to go to a draft party for Bears fans. And they did this knowing they were going to draft his replacement.

The NFL, like much of life, can be particularly brutal at times. What the Bears did, though, was especially cold. Even for a league that at times makes it clear that emotions are optional at best. 


5. Raising the White Flag Early

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

If there was one message a team made crystal-clear to its fans over the weekend, it was the Jets' proclamation that they may as well meet them back atop the draft in 2018.

They didn't address their awful quarterback situation in the draft, which means this coming season likely will be a referendum on second-year QB Christian Hackenberg.

Of course, he's not even the penciled in as the starter for now. That's Josh McCown. Not great. It may not matter much. There are few in the league who believe Hackenberg can be any kind of savior. At best, they see the former Nittany Lion as serviceable at best.

If McCown isn't any good (as expected) and Hackenberg isn't any good (as expected), then welcome to what looks like the first pick in the draft, Jets, for 2019.



6. Overlooked No More

Michael Zito/Associated Press

I spoke with Chargers running back Melvin Gordon last week on a variety of topics. I've already written on some of the other interesting things he's said, but there was one more.

To me, Gordon was vastly underrated when he came into the NFL. That's hard to say about a 15th overall pick (in 2015) who entered the league as the second-leading rusher in college football history behind Barry Sanders.

Gordon told me he also felt overlooked in the draft and during his rookie season, and he believes it was because of the history of Wisconsin runners.

"I was underestimated because I went to Wisconsin," Gordon told B/R. "In the past, some Wisconsin backs haven't done as well in the NFL, and I think people thought the same was going to happen with me."

Gordon made the Pro Bowl in 2016. No one is overlooking him now.


7. Still Available: Super Bowl QB

KnowYourRightsCamp @yourrightscamp

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It's still quiet on the Colin Kaepernick front (though that could change at any moment).

So while he goes about proving how "dangerous" he is to the country by handing out his old suits to new parolees outside of a New York City parole office, it looks as if the only way he'll be signed is if a team is truly desperate and loses a quarterback to injury (or bad play) in training camp.


8. What Happens in Las Vegas…

John Locher/Associated Press

The draft is probably headed to Las Vegas, according to a variety of league sources. It won't happen in the next few years but not long after that, I'm told. The league wants it to happen, and if the NFL wants it to happen, it will happen.


9. NFL Coaches in Awe of College Counterparts

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 27:  Nick Saban, head football coach at the University of Alabama, walks on stage prior to the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on April 27, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Ge
Elsa/Getty Images

Got a text from an AFC assistant coach that was three letters long: "Wow." What followed was a link to this story on Alabama coach Nick Saban's new contract, detailing how he is going to be making $11.1 million a season. His contract extension also calls for a total of $8 million in signing bonuses. 

Wow, indeed.

The landscape in college football continues to enrich men in ways that amaze even NFL coaches. 


10. Not Everyone Needs to Play in the NFL

Young Kwak/Associated Press

This week, as the Charlotte Observer details, the Panthers signed free agent Washington State defensive lineman Robert Barber.

Seemed like your ordinary type of post-draft signing. Then something strange happened.

The Panthers rescinded their contract to Barber. Why? They learned Barber was facing a trial for second-degree felony assault charges.

Before you start applauding the move, there are a few items to consider...

First, the Panthers' interest in Barber shows the weakness of the NFL's and individual teams' security staffs. They miss things. Even someone from a large school like Washington State.

The decision to part with Barber should be a lesson to NFL teams that they can let people go who may not have the cleanest of records, but, to be honest, if Barber had first-round talent, the Panthers would have rolled out the black and blue carpet.

So talent matters, yes. See Mixon, Joe.

Still, it's likely, if not for all of the attention paid to this issue recently, the Panthers would have never cut Barber after signing him. Sometimes teams do decide they don't need to sign everyone.

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


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