Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Why Is the NFL Still So Scared of Kaepernick?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 18, 2018

FILE - This Jan. 1, 2017, file photo shows then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick speaking at a news conference after the team's NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Santa Clara, Calif. NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart says the league expects Colin Kaepernick to be invited to the next meeting between owners and players to discuss social justice initiatives. Lockhart adds that the meeting probably will take place next week. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

A veteran player thinks he knows why the NFL is so afraid of Colin Kaepernick. A team executive thinks Saquon Barkley is still going first. The New York press thinks the Giants might skip taking a quarterback with the No. 2 pick. All these theories and more in this week's 10-Point Stance. 

   

1. Fear of Kaepernick

You may have missed the latest news regarding one of the league's most discussed players, but the news is important because it raises a question: Why is the NFL still so scared of Colin Kaepernick?

First, a quick review. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported late last week that Kaepernick was scheduled to work out with the Seahawks but that the trip was canceled when Kaepernick declined to stop kneeling during the national anthem. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport then reported that the workout wasn't canceled but postponed, and the Seahawks were pursuing a more nuanced conversation about Kaepernick's plans than just whether he was going to kneel.

Now, this is what I can say with certainty. Schefter's report was accurate. According to a league source who'd know, the Seahawks did want Kaepernick to tell them he wouldn't kneel, and Kaepernick wouldn't agree to do that. That's the truth. A fact.

This next part is more speculation: What might have happened is that the Seahawks told Kaepernick they didn't want him to kneel, but then the team got a notice from the league stating, "Um, fellas, we're in a legal battle about collusion with Kaepernick. You can't do that." So then the Seahawks tried to change the story. Again, that's just speculation.

But it brings us back to that original question: Why is the NFL still so scared of Colin Kaepernick?

Is it because he's radioactive to a team's brand? If so, why did the North American head of Adidas say he wants to sign Kaepernick if he returns to the NFL? Is Adidas in the habit of signing athletes who won't help them sell product?

Is it because of the looming collusion case? Maybe. But also...if a team signed Kaepernick, the collusion case might end.

Is it because of potential fan reaction? Maybe. But the NFL, and many of its teams, is excellent at countering bad press. Teams do it all the time. They did it with Mike Vick. They did it with Greg Hardy. The owner of the Giants, John Mara, defended a kicker, Josh Brown, who admitted to domestic abuse.

Is it because President Trump might attack the league or team if Kaepernick signs? I've reported before some in the league fear Trump's Twitter reaction, and that remains the case. But the NFL could defend itself against Trump easily. How do I know this? Because it's done it before.

So then what? How is this so terrifying?

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

This is what one veteran player told me, and it makes sense.

The league is scared of Kaepernick because Kaepernick represents the potential for a dramatic shift in the league's power dynamic.

The NFL sees Kaepernick as someone who could rally the players to stand up to the league, to owners.

As it is, players don't really do this. They don't push for guaranteed contracts or more long-term security. The owners get whatever they want.

Kaepernick could be a transformative figure in pushing players to fight for more say in just about everything. He would be like a great union leader who unites a fractured membership against a common enemy.

In other words, Kaepernick has the moral authority, the clout, the will and the power to dramatically challenge the current power structure of the league in ways it hasn't been challenged in decades.

So, ultimately, do you know what the NFL really fears? That the NFL, in terms of its players, becomes more like the NBA.

Remember Donald Sterling's bigoted idiocy? It was effectively the players, like LeBron James, who banded together to put pressure on the NBA to get Sterling out of the league.

That's something that wouldn't happen in the NFL. Yet a player like Kaepernick could change that.

He'd have, in some ways, more power than the owners.

And they are terrified of that.

     

2. Team exec: 'Barkley is a Boy Scout'

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

One team executive on meeting with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley: "Barkley is a Boy Scout."

The executive explained it this way: "Everything in the interview was, 'Yes, sir. No, sir.' His answers were detailed and unrehearsed. He's the real deal in every possible way." 

How impressed was he? This executive thinks Barkley goes first overall to Cleveland.

      

3. Non-sexy draft?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: USC quarterback Sam Darnold (right) and Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen look on during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

One thing I've been hearing from team sources around the league is that they think the first round of the draft won't feature much drama in terms of trades. 

There's a lot of trade talk right now between franchises, but in the end, these sources say, the trading will be minimal. The reason? They don't see these quarterbacks as valuable enough to make big moves.*

And quarterbacks are often the key to fueling big trades.

(*This is your regular reminder that everyone in the NFL lies this time of year. Thank you. Signed, 10-Point Management.) 

     

4. Teams aren't buying the Giants' not taking a QB

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

A New York Post story from Paul Schwartz late last week speculated the Giants weren't going to take a quarterback but instead were focusing on Barkley.

The story, posited more as a collection of rumors, may end up being correct. What I can tell you, though, is that few around the league believe it.

Most NFL sources I speak to believe the Giants will take a quarterback with that No. 2 overall pick—or trade out of the spot and take a quarterback lower in the first round.

     

5. Encouraging sign for Bucs

Thought this video of Jameis Winston working out with receivers DeSean Jackson and Devin Lucien was a good one. Receivers and quarterbacks working together in the offseason is always a good thing.

There is some buzz out there among team sources I've spoken to that this is the season we see Winston finally break out. I heard some of that last year but not to the extent I am this offseason.

The unforced errors are the big thing with Winston, and there was some positive momentum on them last season. His interceptions per game went from 0.94 in 2015 to 1.13 in 2016 to 0.85 in 2017, while his completion percentage increased from 58.3 to 60.8 to 63.8.

      

6. Dez Bryant wants revenge

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

I've stated before that many in the NFL believe Dez Bryant, recently released by Dallas, is done as a top receiver. They believe he is now a possession receiver. They say barely.

I'll also state this again: I see Bryant still having a lot left. At least several years.

One of the reasons why is his motivation. Bryant has told both former teammates and other players around the league he will get revenge on the Cowboys. That is the word Bryant is using: revenge.

A current player said Bryant told him, speaking of the Cowboys: "They are going to wish they never let me go." 

            

7. More All than Nothing

NFL fans, and especially Cowboys fans, are going to find All or Nothing, the Amazon series on the Cowboys' 2017 season, pretty fascinating. It comes out April 27, but I've watched the review copies.

Not to get too deep into this, but the best thing about it is access. Most teams hate these types of shows. The culture of football is still secretive, and teams want to shut down access instead of granting it.

These series are the opposite and give us a rare, and actually not too polished or phony, look at the Cowboys.

As you might guess, owner Jerry Jones is the star of the show.

      

8. On Paul Posluszny

The name Paul Posluszny may not be a big one to a lot of NFL fans. First, it's difficult to pronounce. Second, he spent the majority of his career in Jacksonville, a great football city but nonetheless an NFL outpost on the edge of Federation space.

But Posluszny, who officially retired Monday, was a terrific player. He's one of those players who, inside the sport, has always been highly respected. One of the main reasons was his longevity. He played 145 career regular-season games.

What he said at his retirement ceremony is worth noting. Many players go out as broken men. Posluszny didn't. It's notable because it's more of a rarity for players to go out this way than a commonality.

"I absolutely loved being a Jacksonville Jaguar," Posluszny said. "I tried to give everything that I could while I had the privilege of serving here. Thank you for sharing your locker room with me. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it for the time I was here. It was an honor and it was pleasure. I loved every minute of it.

"I love the game too much and I respect it too much to not be able, physically, to do everything that I've done in years past. If that's a year too early, I'll regret it, but I'd rather be a year too early than one play too late."

     

9. Chris Borland continues to inspire

There are many types of heroes, and they come from all walks of life. One of the people who has long been a hero to me is Chris Borland.

Borland's story is well-known. He retired at the end of the 2014 season at the age of 24 because of concerns over the long-term effects of football on the brain. He was one of the best young linebackers in the NFL after a college career as an All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year at the University of Wisconsin.

Retiring in his prime was a brave thing to do for a player whose life was dedicated to football. But he has rededicated himself to being an advocate for mental health since leaving the NFL. According to his bio on Athletes for Care, "He has partnered with The Concussion Legacy Foundation, Gridiron Greats, and worked with The Carter Center. Borland is founder and CEO of T Mindful, a company aimed at integrating meditation into athletics." 

"If you had told me in 2014 I'd be running a meditation company," he told me recently, "I wouldn't believe it."

I also asked him about Eric Reid and Kaepernick during the conversation. Borland played with Kaepernick, and his voice is important because he comes from a military family and many critics of kneeling during the anthem say it is anti-military (it never was). 

Joe Borland, one of Chris' brothers, is a captain in the Army JAG Corps. Joe is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2009-2010), Operation Enduring Freedom (2013) and Operation Inherent Resolve (2017-2018). John Borland, another of his brothers, is an Army major and currently serving as an instructor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The family is involved with After the Impact Fund. ATIF's board of directors consists of former coaches Mike Ditka and Dan Reeves; Brigadier General Rich Gross, U.S. Army (ret.); Art Pue, former Army Special Forces Green Beret; and former player Matt Birk. It facilitates custom treatment plans for military veterans and former NFL players with traumatic injuries. The three Borland brothers will run in a race sponsored by the Pat Tillman Foundation. Tillman was a former NFL player turned Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan.

Chris Borland made something clear in his interview: He supported Kaepernick and Reid and still does.

"I support [Kaepernick] because he was always protesting systemic racism and police brutality," Borland said. "That's all he was protesting. I always admired him and Eric for what they did. They were truly brave men, and they are now.

"I'd add that a player of Colin's caliber not playing is wrong. For the people who say what he's doing is un-American, he spends so much of his time helping kids—helping a lot of people—get better lives. There's nothing more American than that."

     

10. Borland doesn't watch the NFL

Two last things on Borland that I thought deserved attention.

One is the way he spoke about Tillman. To a lot of people who followed the NFL closely (or played in it) and also have close familiarity with the military, it remains amazing what Tillman did.

Tillman left millions of dollars and NFL fame behind to join the Special Forces following the September 11 attacks. His sacrifice has never been forgotten by Borland.

"Pat Tillman was a hero of mine," said Borland. "He was a critical thinker who examined the world around him. He didn't just follow the crowd. I loved how he passionately followed his dream with football but then decided to fight for his country."

Lastly, I asked Borland how much football he now watches.

"I don't watch football at all," he said. "Not out of protest or anger. Just hard-earned apathy."

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