Figuring out what's behind the Kaepernick case, Dwight Freeney gets real, and Aaron Rodgers has a long recovery ahead of him. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.
1. A Primer on the Colin Kaepernick Case
Before embarking on this voyage, we need to understand something. This isn't about what we want to happen, or don't want to happen, or what Donald Trump thinks, or the NFL, or anyone else.
This is strictly about facts and the likely outcome of Colin Kaepernick's grievance against the NFL, claiming collusion among owners to keep him out of the league.
In short, the chances Kaepernick wins are slim, at best. One former NFL executive I'd trust with my life, and who supports Kaepernick, called his situation "extraordinarily hard to prove, albeit not impossible."
People close to Kaepernick tell me he doesn't necessarily care about the odds. He despises how the NFL treats its players—more like cattle than equals, in his opinion—and wants the system bettered for them. Kaepernick sees this as a fight, and he is a fighter in every sense of the word.
What lies ahead? Let's break down each component in this groundbreaking case.
What's the basis for Kaepernick's case? Kaepernick is asserting that his protests led to the NFL's blackballing him. From a strictly football standpoint, there's no question that something stinks. Look at these names: Keenum, Cutler, Kizer, McCown, Flacco, Manuel, Fitzpatrick, Glennon, Cassel and Hundley, to name a few, are playing.
Hell, you could roll out tape from almost 30 to 40 percent of NFL games every week and see quarterback play that would make John Unitas roll over in his grave. In fact, many of today's quarterbacks couldn't hit John Unitas' grave from five paces.
So he has an easy case then, huh, counselor? I didn't say that, smart ass. On the contrary, he has a near-impossible case because of the collective bargaining agreement. Courts, especially the higher ones, bow to the CBA in that it serves as a de facto NFL constitution. (It's why Tom Brady ultimately was suspended for Deflategate.)
And the CBA, in this case, says the fact a player is unsigned, even if that player is more talented than others, does not constitute proof of collusion.
Well, what would constitute proof? Proof would be owners, for example, communicating over text messages how they didn't want Kaepernick in the league. That seems unlikely, though not impossible.
So you're saying some owners are dumb? Let's just say I wouldn't be stunned if an owner had a file on his laptop called "Super-Duper Secret Kaepernick File—Do Not Share."
What kind of guy is Kaepernick that he would do this? I've met him, interviewed him and interviewed people around him. He's a genuine, fiercely principled man. Few that truly know him are shocked he's taking on the league.
Will Kaepernick play in the NFL again? Hell no.
So what is Kaepernick's goal? Interestingly, I believe, it's similar to Brady's: to win.
Brady also wanted to prove a point: that Roger Goodell was corrupt and the NFL's decision-making process was flawed. Kaepernick, I believe, wants to do the same, except with the NFL owners.
Kaepernick is a fighter, that's true, and he's resolute. His fearlessness makes him uniquely suited to mount this charge.
But this is a battle that promises to take a long time, and, in the end, it's likely Kaepernick will lose.
2. Words of Wisdom
Dwight Freeney played 15 seasons in the NFL with four different teams, and though he is a free agent, he remains one of the most respected players in the game and is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's also one of the smartest players I've covered and a perfect person to provide perspective on the player protests that have been roiling the league.
"I think players look at the flag, respect what it means and what it stands for but also know the flag has several meanings," Freeney told B/R. "One of the meanings is equal justice for all. That's what players are protesting for. They want everyone in the country to be equal.
"No player is protesting the military or the police. That's just absurd. ... They want people to listen and hear their message. That's why they take a knee during the anthem. And that's the dilemma.
"How do you protest something and get your message across while also trying to bridge a gap where there's misunderstanding?"
Players want to use the moment to get their fellow Americans to focus on the issue of social equality, yet some Americans refuse to get beyond the fact players are protesting during the anthem.
Making things worse is the rhetoric coming from the White House, according to players with whom I've spoken. Freeney agreed.
"[Trump]'s lighting a match and setting everything on fire," Freeney said. "He's also trying to use the NFL to divide America."
Freeney also noted something that has gone largely overlooked, that players didn't come out for the national anthem for every game until 2009. "I've been in the league since 2002," he said. "We never came out for the anthem. The only time we did was Monday Night Football, maybe, or the Super Bowl."
3. Available: One Hall of Fame-Bound Pass-Rusher
As mentioned above, Freeney is without a team, having last played for Atlanta in 2016. But I get the feeling Freeney will be back this season if he wants. He says he gets calls from teams almost weekly.
"I get a call from a different head coach telling me, 'Stay ready,'" Freeney said.
There aren't many teams who couldn't use a good pass-rusher, which is why we probably haven't seen the last of Freeney in the NFL.
4. Is Hollywood Calling Martellus Bennett?
"Creative" remains the key word with Packers tight end Martellus Bennett. No player that I've been around has ever prepared himself for life after football more than Bennett, and his vision of life is why. He loves football, but his true passion is making things.
Recently, he directed "Martellus Bennett's Text Back Pack," which is a collection of GIFs with some of his Packers teammates, including Aaron Rodgers. Bennett wanted to find a more creative way to text during NFL games.
His teammates were impressed.
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"When you direct your first movie," teammate Ricky Jean Francois told Bennett, "I just want to be on the set."
Said Bennett: "Being creative is when I most feel like myself. Every player, when it comes to [football] practice, is like, 'Man, we got to practice again.' I've never had a time when I stayed up late making something and regretted it.
"I've said this: The world needs more creativity. If the world had more, we'd see less turmoil."
5. Chiefs Loss May Be a Good Thing
No one thought Kansas City was going 16-0 (at least no rational human), and the loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday ended its undefeated run.
But there is a positive for Kansas City to take out of the game.
Losses, especially in the NFL, can serve as both a pressure release and a teachable moment, and I think the Chiefs will use their loss to the Steelers as both. Sometimes the longer a team tries to make history apart from winning in the playoffs, the heavier the weight becomes.
This doesn't mean the Chiefs were looking to lose but that their first loss doesn't change the fact they remain formidable Super Bowl contenders.
6. Two Greats Talk Two Great Rookies
It can take a lot to impress a veteran player, but two of this year's most prolific rookies—Deshaun Watson and Leonard Fournette—have understandably caught the eyes of two of the better players in NFL history, and both offered their thoughts on CBS Sports Network's NFL Monday QB.
First, Hall of Famer Warren Moon offered some perspective on Watson:
"The only guy I can remember having a better start as a rookie is maybe Dan Marino. He's doing all of the things that you want a quarterback to do, but he is doing it as a rookie. It's very, very impressive for him to be doing this, this early in his career."
Then there was retired linebacker London Fletcher, speaking of Fournette:
"We haven't seen a combination of size, speed and power since maybe Bo Jackson. He can take it the distance. He'll run through you. He'll run over you. He'll run around you. That's Leonard Fournette. It's unfortunate he got injured in that ballgame because the Rams defense could not stop him."
Recall, if you will, that Marino had one of the great rookie seasons, and careers, of all time. And if Jackson hadn't gotten hurt early in his NFL career, he might have ended up the best runner ever.
Those are some lofty comparisons, especially from two men not prone to hyperbole.
7. Aaron Rodgers' Road to Recovery Looks to Be a Long One
On Sunday, the best football player on the planet, Aaron Rodgers, broke his collarbone, likely sidelining him for weeks. To get a little insight as to what Rodgers faces, I spoke with Dr. Leesa Galatz, systems chair of the department of orthopaedics at the Mount Sinai Health System. Her specialty is shoulder and elbow surgery, and she's one of the country's experts in this field.
My question to Galatz: What are the challenges for a quarterback, particularly, coming back from this type of injury?
"Typically, it takes six weeks for a fractured clavicle to heal, but with an injury to a quarterback's throwing shoulder, that period of healing will need to be followed up with a period of physical therapy and rehabilitation," Galatz told me. "His arm will be immobilized in a sling, meaning he won't be able to exercise the muscles surrounding the injury. Because of the demands a quarterback places on their throwing shoulder, the muscles surrounding the injured area must be strengthened to regain an optimal level of performance."
The Packers have 10 games left. Will we see Rodgers again this season?
8. The NFL in One Highlight
• The block: It comes from Washington guard Brandon Scherff against poor 49ers linebacker Brock Coyle. It was a violent hit.
• The pile on: It was kind of dirty but not wildly so.
• The flag: A symbol of how the NFL is trying to clean up the sport. It's a penalty that would not have been called 10 years ago. Still, I guarantee you that in meetings with his line coach, Scherff is being told, "Nice job, bro."
It's a play that encapsulates the NFL today. The violence. The extra violence. The league's attempt to clean up the latter (and sometimes the former).
9. NFL Still Wants Culture of Silence About CTE
With the world seemingly teetering on the edge of international conflict, and the Vulcans set to land any minute, you likely have missed one of the more interesting stories of the past few months, if not years.
On Friday, former Lions player DeAndre Levy testified before Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on the Judiciary. He told them the Lions had instructed him not to talk about CTE, the brain disease, after he had spoken to ESPN and sent a letter to the Detroit Free Press about it.
Levy testified (per an ESPN.com report):
"The moment I said anything about it, I had two calls telling me I shouldn't talk about it. And I don't know if it was because of CTE or if it's because the general NFL rule, like only football, only talk about football, only think about football. So I posted simply the research. I spoke with Dr. [Robert] Stern a couple summers ago, and I wrote the paper and was told not to talk about it the first day it was out. It was like, it could have been just because locker room culture is nobody wants to talk about anything other than football, but it didn't sit well with me when I'm talking about brain injury, you know, my brain.
"It's not my shoulder. It's my brain. It controls everything I do. It controls everything we think, we feel, and if I don't have the right to speak about that as a player, I think it kind of really speaks about the culture of the NFL, what the conversations are. I think that's indicative of the conversations that we don't hear, the closed-door conversations between the owners. They still are trying to find ways to silence us."
The Lions vehemently denied that anyone from the organization did this.
But why would Levy go before a congressional committee and make something like that up?
What's more likely—Levy is lying or he's telling the truth about what's long been the culture of football?
A culture that says you don't talk about CTE or almost anything related to football's ills.
10. What About Zach Ertz?
Here at 10-Point Central, we love passion. I'm serious. I got an email recently that I loved because it was an agent sticking up for his client.
Last week I wrote about how some in the NFL believe the Chiefs' Travis Kelce is the best tight end in football. That column drew a ton of reaction, from positive to negative to snarky (shocker). The most interesting response came in an email from Steve Caric, the agent for Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. Take a look:
I saw your article on Kelce overtaking Gronk as the NFL's top TE. I have a ton of respect for both guys and actually don't disagree that Kelce is the best YAC TE at this point, but I have to make my case for Zach Ertz as the best TE in the NFL right now. Zach has been overlooked as a top TE since he was the 2nd TE selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. He's different that those two, and maybe not as sexy, but you can't argue with his production:
- Last year it was Ertz, not Kelce or Gronk, who was the only TE to lead his team in catches, receiving yards and receiving targets.
- If you examine their production since they came into the League in 2013 (see attached chart titled "2013 Draft TE Rankings") you'll see that Ertz is currently leading Kelce in career catches, yards and TD's.
- Ertz currently leads all NFL TE's in catches, yards and receiving TD's, and ranks 4th among all NFL receivers in catches and yards.
- In 2016 he ranked 5th among all NFL TE's in catches and yards.
- In 2015 he was 6th and 7th in those same categories.
- He holds the Eagles' franchise single game reception record with 15.
Despite all of this, Ertz is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Gronk, Kelce, Graham, Witten, Reed, Olsen, etc., and he has never been named to a Pro Bowl. Maybe it's because Ertz isn't flashy, but he has the best hands of any TE in the NFL, and is the best pure route running TE in the League. He knows how to get open, he stays healthy, and with the same QB in consecutive seasons for the first time in his pro career, he is showing he's ready to take the title of the best TE in the League.
For whatever reason, Ertz has not been given the attention that his career production deserves. He has been the most productive TE in the League to start the season. He has been a Pro Bowl worthy TE the past 2 seasons. He is easily one of the top 3 TE's in the NFL today. He is on pace to be one of the best TE's in the history of the game. He deserves some love! Keep him in mind when ranking TE's moving forward. He's earned it.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.