Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: 'We Won't Allow the NFL or Trump to Bully Us'

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 30, 2018

Philadelphia Eagles players Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Rodney McLeod (23) raise their fists as they stand with head coach Doug Pederson during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Mike McCarn/Associated Press

NFL players aren't likely to take the league's new national anthem policy standing up. A team and a player to watch. And just who is the NFL's version of LeBron James? All of that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

    

1. Players 'disappointed, but not surprised' about NFL's anthem policy

As the national anthem plays across NFL fields next season, you might see a handful of players raising their fists.

Others might sit on the bench. Or stay in the tunnel. They could wear hats with a message on them. They may kneel momentarily between quarters of a game.

Those are just some of the ways players tell me they are considering protesting this fall.

Last week, the NFL banned players and league personnel from kneeling during the playing of the anthem. Players who decline to stand must stay in the locker room, or their teams could be fined.

While a handful of players told B/R they felt the new rules wouldn't stop further protests, that feeling wasn't entirely unanimous. However, there was a greater sense of agreement on what they thought of the league's choice to pass the new policy in the first place.

"Disappointed, but not surprised," Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith, one of the league's most socially active players, told B/R. "The next steps are the same as they have been. Continue to work toward holding police accountable for their actions, fight to change the criminal justice system and create better educational and economic opportunities for our communities. ... We just want to do our part to make America a country that is truly equal for all."

In other words, some players will redouble their efforts off the field to fight for social causes, and not protest on it.

Make no mistake, however: There is great anger in many corners of the league. One player, who asked not to be identified, said some players will continue to protest to demonstrate they cannot be intimidated by anyone, including President Donald Trump.

"We won't allow the NFL or Trump to bully us," one veteran NFC player said. Steelers receiver Antonio Brown went public with his strong feelings about the edict. 

Players do have some support on this issue from their teams. Coaches, in particular, despise the new rule. Several assistants said the mandate potentially could create massive locker room issues that coaches will have to calm.

When kneeling, players were on the field with teammates. Some coaches fear that if protesting players stay in the locker room while others are on the field, it would lead to more of a divide.

One coach feared a plausible scenario where some players stay in the locker room during the anthem to avoid the team getting fined, some players protest on the field not caring about the fines and other players do neither. Teams could have three different groups of players doing three different things.

What's clear is the NFL created myriad problems with something that was supposed to be a resolution.

    

2. Anthem policy could have an impact on free agency

As controversial as it is, the new anthem rules are unlikely to affect where players sign.

Money talks, bulls--t walks.

If a player has, say, a $20 million offer from the Titans and a $15 million one from the Giants, the difference is so significant that the player likely is going to Tennessee.

What happens, though, if the offer is close, as former NFL player Geoff Schwartz asked on Twitter?

The anthem policy will (supposedly) be implemented team-to-team. If one team has a draconian anthem policy and another team does not, does that become a factor for a free agent to weigh if the offers are relatively equal?

It's not a stretch to think it would be part of any contract discussions.

    

3. When, and where, will Dez Bryant sign?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 31:  Wide receiver Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during warmups before playing against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 31, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell L
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Dez Bryant was one of the most electric, unstoppable and hard-working players in the sport. So, why he is still a free agent?

Several team sources think the former Cowboys receiver will sign with a team soon; at the latest, in time for July training camps. Bryant recently posted and deleted on his Instagram account that he wanted to play for the 49ers. My guess is that he gets his wish.

There remains a belief among NFL execs that Bryant has lost a step, and he'll have to play for much less money than he's used to. 

It's my belief, however, that he is going to prove a lot of teams wrong by playing well in 2018.

    

4. The Jets made a smart move

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

ESPN.com's Rich Cimini reported Jets quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did well during his first week of OTAs. Well, duh, of course he did.

Bridgewater was impressive in Minnesota until he suffered his major knee injury, and he remains one of the best relatively young quarterback prospects in the league. In fact, Bridgewater is better than any QB on the Jets, including No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold.

So, why didn't more teams jump into the Bridgewater sweepstakes to compete with the Jets? They feared the knee injury he suffered in 2016 might have been too devastating to overcome.

Thus far, the knee hasn't been a problem for Bridgewater, which has allowed his full talent to emerge once again. That's why teams might inquire about trading for him in the coming months.

Suddenly, a Jets team long plagued by horrid quarterback play has a number of options.

It's a nice problem to have.

    

5. Watch out for Washington

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Could this year's Washington squad be the best Jay Gruden has coached there? FanSided's Ian Cummings made the case that it might be, and I don't disagree. It's also possible Washington could be one of the top three or four teams in the NFC.

Don't laugh.

As odd as it may sound about a franchise that has been a dumpster fire at times, Washington added both depth and speed across the roster this offseason. And new quarterback Alex Smith will bring a sense of stability to an offense that hasn't had much in some time.

Yes, Smith's playoff record isn't great, but he is one of the best at transforming an average offense into a playoff one.

Cousins was goodvery goodbut Smith is a sounder player (to me). And with everything else now on the roster, Washington could be scary.

Believe it.

     

6. Watch out for Tyrann Mathieu, too

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19: Tyrann Mathieu #32 of the Arizona Cardinals warms up before the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on November 19, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

When Tyrann Mathieu was in Arizona, his skills allowed him to play a variety of defensive positions, including corner, safety and nickel. He did everything because he was talented enough to do everything.

However, playing all of those positions put a strain on Mathieu.

How do I know? Because he's a human being, and football is hard enough on the body and mind. It becomes even more brutal when you're asked to play all over the field.

That's why you don't see many players in the modern era doing it. It's too hard. This isn't the 1930s.

It's also why Mathieu is now focusing almost exclusively on playing safety in Houston.

"Yeah, it definitely helps me slow things down," Mathieu told the team website last week. "Just focusing on one position, trying to be the best at that, rather than just being good at everything. So, I think it's important for me to just embrace it like I have been and just trying to continue to grow as a safety."

If the Texans don't get tempted to move him around, look for the newly streamlined Mathieu to be one of the league's most dominant safeties next season.

     

7. An uncomfortable truth

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 22: Cassius Marsh #55 of the New England Patriots looks on before a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Patriots are the greatest team in NFL history. We could go down the list of achievements, but you can use Google for that. 

However, it has become increasingly clear that the winning has come with a price.

Former Pats defensive end Cassius Marsh, who's now with the 49ers, recently told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle how glad he was to be in San Francisco because the Patriots "don't have fun."

Marsh doubled down on his negative comments about the Patriots in a video post on Reddit.

If you think Marsh is wrong, he isn't. Patriots players have privately made similar comments for years. They don't care because they win, and winning is the ultimate fun to a lot of players. The not-fun stuff isn't as relevant.

But to players like Marsh and some others who have played for Bill Belichick, the winning isn't worth the misery they feel.

    

8. Is Dak ready?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 31:  Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys looks to pass for a second down against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter of the game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 31, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsy
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

In one offseason, the Cowboys lost Jason Witten to retirement and waved goodbye to Dez Bryant.

Witten, one of the greatest leaders in Cowboys history, and Bryant, one of the team's most productive and vocal receivers, leave a leadership void that cannot be overstated.

Dak Prescott is now facing the greatest professional challenge of his young career, but everyone I know in the Cowboys organization believes he is more than capable of meeting it.

"Those guys did a great job encouraging me to be the leader that I am, kind of making me take charge," Prescott told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. "So now with those guys gone it's really no different. Nobody trying to tell me to do it, nobody making me do it. It's becoming more and more natural. It's having fun, just getting those guys going."

When things went awry in past seasons, Witten calmed the locker room. Now, when things go badand they always do during an NFL seasonplayers will look to Prescott.

And Prescott will be just fine. 

     

9. Adrian Peterson wants back in, but does anyone want him?

Future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson has made no secret of his desire to play in the NFL again. On ESPN's NFL Live, he recently discussed how much he'd like to suit up for the Texans:

Few teams, though, believe Peterson can be a dominant back again. Few believe he can even be a solid back.

Most teams, I'm told, think he's done and that he should retire. This would explain (at least in part) why Peterson is still available.

Considering the attrition rate of the NFL, some team likely will take a shot on Peterson (maybe even Houston). His story may not be done quite yet.

     

10. Who is the NFL's LeBron James?

After watching LeBron James all but singlehandedly beat the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals (not to mention the Pacers and the Raptors), it made me wonder: What are the NFL equivalents of what James did this year?

Some of the obvious names include Aaron Rodgers, who is basically the entire Packers team almost every year, and Tom Brady in his early Super Bowl runs, before Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Or a few years of Peyton Manning.

There was also Terrell Davis rushing for 581 yards and eight touchdowns in the 1997 playoffs. Or Mike Vick or Dan Marino. Or Ray Lewis during the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl run. Or Cam Newton now.

If there was one ultimate comparison, however, it would be Barry Sanders.

Sanders didn't reach a Super Bowl, but almost no player consistently produced greatness with almost nothing around him like Sanders did. In fact, a lot of the absurd moves Sanders made were out of necessity. In a lot of his games, he was often trapped behind or near the line of scrimmage.

We'll likely never see another LeBron James nor another Barry Sanders again.

           

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

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