Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Giants' Mara Exposes Kaepernick Conundrum

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 31, 2017

New York Giants owner John Mara stands on the field watching the team warm up before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Sept. 11,  2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

Summer has unofficially started, but there is plenty to chew on around the league. Is the NFL ready to start talking about why Colin Kaepernick can't find work? The Tiger Woods situation isn't all that surprising to NFL players. And the Jets are, well, the Jets.

    

1. Giants Owner Breaks Wall of Silence Surrounding Colin Kaepernick

By now, you've heard that Giants co-owner John Mara told Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB that he received numerous letters from fans saying how angry they would be if a Giants player protested like former Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick did.  

"All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue," Mara said. "'If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game.' It wasn't one or two letters. It was a lot. It's an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, moreso than any other issue I've run into."

Vrentas made it clear to me on Twitter that Mara wasn't saying the letters had any influence on if the team would sign Kaepernick.

But you read that quote and tell me what you see. What do you hear?

I hear an owner saying: I can't even think of signing this guy because the fans may take a bite out of my ass.

It was an extraordinarily honest moment for an NFL owner. None of his ownership brethren has come close to saying anything like this about the possibility of signing Kaepernick.

(I know I just wrote recently that I was done writing about Kaepernick, but Mara changed things big time. And as someone close to Kaepernick told me, he continues to work out daily. The controversy apparently hasn't slowed his drive to return to the NFL at all.)

Beyond the mere surprise that he addressed Kaepernick on the record, Mara's words will go down as one of the more staggering things any owner in the NFL has ever said. Here's why:

First, they directly contradicted Commissioner Roger Goodell, who stated at the owners' meetings recently that Kaepernick wasn't being signed strictly for football reasons. By merely noting fan reaction, Mara said something different. True, he didn't say it influenced the team's decision, but what's the point of discussing possible fan reaction if not to add context, a reason why?

Second, it's an odd stance for the Giants to take after they signed kicker Josh Brown, a confessed domestic abuser, last year in one of the most egregious cases of a team overlooking a player's ugly behavior for his talent the league has ever seen. Brown even inked his new deal following his arrest in a domestic violence case. Then, the team kept him on the roster after the league suspended him.

Josh Brown, former Giants kicker.
Josh Brown, former Giants kicker.Tom Canavan/Associated Press/Associated Press

It was only after a massive public outcry that the Giants released Brown. The fact fans would be more outraged over Kaepernick's silent protest of the national anthem than Brown's abuse of his wife is another sorry part of this saga. Interestingly, Mara didn't mention any fan reaction to the team's handling of Brown.

Third, and perhaps most important, Mara's comments marked a departure from the wall of silence that has accompanied any public discussion of Kaepernick by teams.

Owners have gone out of their way to say little, if anything, about Kaepernick. Their silence, in many ways, is a statement: We're unified in our opinion of Kaepernick, and we're unified in not wanting to sign him.

Mara represents a break in that silence.

Why would Mara bring up fan reaction if it had no palpable weight? He could have conveniently forgotten about the letters or spoken about Kaepernick in more general terms. He could have done what most other owners have and said nothing.

One owner told me in a text that he wouldn't even discuss what Mara said, and this owner is among the most talkative (off the record) of any in the league. That silence also spoke volumes.

Mara, to me, is the NFL ownership equivalent of the canary in the coal mine.

Remember who this is. Mara is a legend in the NFL. His father, Wellington, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There's little doubt John—considered by most in football a classy man with a big brain and a good football mind—will one day join his father in Canton.

So if a fair-minded, good man like John Mara suggests, "Fans would be really peeved if we signed Kaepernick," think about how other owners might feel and how that would influence them.

Mara, in some ways, broke ranks with his honesty and, perhaps inadvertently, spoke truthfully about the unspoken obstacle Kaepernick faces as he aims to return to the field.

    

2. Finally, Some Words of Support for Kaepernick

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 1: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers fires the team up on the field prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 25-23.
Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

Privately, I've heard from players—particularly African-American players—that they support Kaepernick, but many are afraid to talk on the record about it. It's what makes Kaepernick's actions, to me, so brave.

One player who has been vocal, however, is his former 49ers teammate, Torrey Smith.

Now with the Eagles, Smith wrote extensively about Kaepernick on Twitter on Monday.

"It's amazing what folks consider going too far," Smith said. "You can do all kinds of crazy things and get a 2nd chance but you can't get over a protest? ... My issue really isn't just the hate on Kap...it's what folks prioritize as wrong....hit a woman cool...sexual assault cool...kneel OH NO."

    

3. And Still He Waits...

While speculation swirled in recent weeks that the Seahawks might have some interest in Kaepernick, there is still no indication that they are going to sign him. As I constantly warn, things can change quickly, but for the moment, it's quiet.

    

4. Russell Wilson Can't Let This Go Quietly

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman all but metaphorically clotheslined his quarterback Russell Wilson in a recent story on ESPN.com by Seth Wickersham. The piece details the resentment the Seattle defense feels, and has felt, toward Wilson and how he is treated by the team's coaches and the blame they assign him for throwing a game-ending interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

Parts of the story have been known to reporters for years, but seeing it all laid out for everyone to read can't sit well with Wilson. It demands a response, and it likely will get one, but Wilson's way isn't to ramp up tensions, so don't expect any fireworks.

But there is certainly more to come.

    

5. Tiger Woods' Situation Isn't a Surprise to One NFL Player

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

I asked a veteran player about Tiger Woods, who was arrested early Monday morning on a DUI charge, and what he thought about it. While the player mistakenly assumed Woods had been stopped because he was drinking (the police report noted Woods claimed he had taken several prescription medications and registered 0.00 on his breath test for alcohol, per ESPN.com), he offered an interesting view on why an impaired Woods would get behind the wheel:

"There's no excuse for driving while drunk," the player told B/R. "Especially if you're as wealthy as he is. ... [But] players feel like they can't trust Uber or limos because if they had too much to drink, some Uber driver will take a picture and post it on Instagram. They don't trust any car service the team might provide. They don't trust anyone but themselves.

"It's not an excuse, but this is how it goes. What happened to [Woods], that could be a lot of us."

    

6. Don't Hang Up Those Spikes Quite Yet, Tony Romo

FORT WORTH, TX - MAY 27:  Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and on-air talent Tony Romo exits the broadcast booth during Round three of the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational at Colonial Country Club on May 27, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Several front office executives have told me that if they need a quarterback in the near future because one of theirs gets hurt, Romo's agent will be one of their first phone calls.

Most teams still believe Romo will be back to play again and it will happen sooner than later.

    

7. The Jets Aren't Impressing Anybody

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 1: Quarterback Christian Hackenberg #5 of the New York Jets rolls out against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 1, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images for New Yor
Al Pereira/Getty Images

Oh, those Jets.

Several scouts with whom I recently spoke chuckled at the thought of the Jets' quarterback situation. Many are amazed that the Jets seem willing to go into the season with quarterbacks Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty and Josh McCown. It's a group one scout described as one of the worst quarterback situations he's ever seen.

    

8. Not So Fast

Former Raiders defensive great Charles Woodson recently told ESPN he'd be fine with Marshawn Lynch wearing his No. 24 jersey now that the former Seahawks running back is making an NFL comeback with the Silver and Black.

But on second thought, maybe Woodson isn't so cool with the idea after all:

    

9. A Mistake That Looks Worse By the Day

Jason Behnken/Associated Press

Tampa Bay moved up to the second round last year to surprisingly pick kicker Roberto Aguayo. It hasn't gone well and is shaping up as one of the worst picks in recent memory.

Last year, Aguayo made an NFL-worst 71 percent of his field goals. In March, the Bucs brought in Nick Folk and guaranteed $750,000 of his salary. Aguayo didn't respond well to the new competition, failing to impress in OTAs.

You know where this is leading, right? Unless he suddenly morphs into Stephen Gostkowski, Aguayo may not make it to opening day on the Bucs roster. And jettisoning a second-round pick after one year is no way to build a roster.

    

10. A Tribute

A belated Memorial Day thank you to the men and women of the military who have served and protected our nation, especially a few, in particular, who I went to basic training with at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Some of those I trained with went on to fight in wars. They're heroes, like so many others. Thank you.

    

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

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