Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Is Flag Football the Future of the Game?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJuly 11, 2018

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR THE AMERICAN FLAG FOOTBALL LEAGUE - Godspeed's Jason Avant tries to avoid the flag pull during a semifinal game against Holdat at the American Flag Football League (AFFL) U.S. Open of Football tournament, Sunday, July 8, 2018 in Kennesaw, Ga. (Kevin D. Liles/AP Images for American Flag Football League)
Kevin D. Liles/Associated Press

Flag football may be bigger than any of us anticipate, NFL owners do a lot of double-talk when it comes to politics, and debating the NFL's greatest receivers. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

   

1. Is the future of football already here?

While many of you spent July Fourth week at cookouts, or swimming, or stuck in traffic, I was watching flag football.

Call it my duty to keep you, our esteemed readers, up to date on all that's happening in pro football. Or maybe it was just what was on the NFL Network as I flipped channels. Either way, it was on, and, to me, it was wholly unwatchable. I mean, it was Battlefield Earth bad.

There was no defense. No strategy. Despite the high caliber of the athletes, it still resembled the football I played in Central Park when I was a flag football all-star.

It was awful.

But it could also be what we're all watching years from now.

Despite my feelings, two people who know a lot of something about the game of football believe flag football could take a major hold.

One was Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player and scout and current analyst, who tweeted how much he enjoyed watching the game:

That was soon followed by a similar proclamation from Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, a Super Bowl winner:

Wait, what?

Watson isn't prone to hyperbole, and he's smart as hell. So what gives?

Brooks then did the math for us, tying together the reasons why it's not so outlandish to think flag football could become big:

People like me look at flag football and see it's missing several elements that make us love football—namely, the violence. Americans love violence, and we especially love it in our football. This is unfortunate, but it's true.

There's a younger generation of football lovers, however, that wants less violence in the sport, and in some cases, none at all. They are more educated about head trauma and CTE and, unlike a lot of football fans, don't see players as drones. They actually care about their health.

This is how flag football can gain a foothold. And while us old-school NFL diehards may not see it now, there might be a hidden market for flag football that could emerge—soon.

Now, this isn't to say the NFL should be worried. We've been reading about the league's end days for some years; hell, I wrote a book about its potential demise. Yet the league keeps raking in cash, and it's popularity hasn't decreased all that much (Deadspin's Timothy Burke wrote), despite attacks from the POTUS and the controversy surrounding the protests during the national anthem.

Still, it's unclear how long this run will last, and at what point Americans, despite our craving for barbarism in some of our sports, might say, I no longer want to watch a sport that destroys brains.

Flag football could fill that void. There are people throughout the league who believe this, and they say in the coming years the NFL will push more flag football.

The NFL wants to be prepared for the day when there's a CTE test, I'm told by numerous team and league sources. If, in a few years, scientists develop a way to test for the disease, and parents begin testing their 10-year-old Pop Warner players, and some start testing positive for a deadly brain disease, parents could start pulling their kids by the millions from tackle football. That would crush the NFL.

That's where flag football could swoop in. It would give those parents an outlet for their football-loving kids.

Watson already is on board, tweeting:

Maybe I'm too old to fully buy in just yet. Maybe the lack of physical play makes the whole thing feel too soft for old football heads.

The future, though, could change quickly.

   

2. Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers at an impasse again

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Anyone who says they know details about the contract talks between the Steelers and Le'Veon Bell, outside of the Steelers and Le'Veon Bell, doesn't. Almost no one does.

Both sides are keeping talks extremely quiet. I'm not even sure there are substantial talks.

If the Steelers and Bell don't work out a long-term deal by July 16, his contract essentially reverts back to a one-year deal. It gets complicated, but if Bell wanted, he could basically wait until November before reporting to the team.

It's possible the sides reach a deal soon, but for now, no one except Bell and the Steelers knows exactly where things stand.

   

3. A man of his words

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26:  Josh Rosen of UCLA reacts after being picked #10 overall by the Arizona Cardinals during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Josh Rosen recently spoke with Lisa Matthews of the Cardinals' website and revealed a lot of what could make him an excellent quarterback. Confidence. Cockiness. It's all there and why I think the Cardinals made a smart choice in April. It's worth watching.

   

4. Stick to sports, right?

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill  before the start of the NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Ima
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Almost to the minute that President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for appointment to the Supreme Court, the Cardinals released a supporting statement from president Michael Bidwill. He followed that up by lauding Kavanaugh again the next day on a conservative radio program, according to Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith.

Bidwill was a high school classmate of Kavanaugh's, but the public show of support was a highly political act. It was the same when John Elway, the Broncos general manager, publicly backed Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.

Indeed, owners and team executives often don't stick to sports the way they ask players to. Just six months after publicly not sticking to sports by backing Gorsuch, Elway said in a statement that the NFL should "take the politics out of football" when it came to protests during the anthem by players. And in October, it was Roger Goodell, the commissioner, who said, "What we're trying to do is stay out of politics."

The truth is, politics and football have been intertwined for decades. They cannot be separated. They will never be separated. The NFL lobbies constantly in D.C., and politicians are always around the NFL.

The only time the #sticktosports crowd seems to get upset is when players don't. Like, say, when players peacefully protest the unjust shootings of unarmed minorities in America.

It would be nice if everyone could just be honest about it.

   

5. I beg to differ...

Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

I like lists. I do them all the time. They're fun. And while I try not to take them seriously (as should you), they're still a good reason to engage in some debate.

Take this ranking of the all-time best wide receivers by respected, longtime personnel man Gil Brandt. No disrespect intended, but his list left me questioning a number of choices:

• No way in hell can you have Antonio Brown ranked as fifth-best. It's too soon. You also can't have him ranked ahead of Terrell Owens (No. 6).

• Don Hutson (No. 2) cannot be ranked ahead of Owens or Randy Moss (No. 3). Not in this universe or any other.

Andre Johnson (No. 16) is ranked way too high.

• Tom Fears at No. 17? Da hell?

On and on it goes.

Have fun debating this one.

   

6. Age is a state of mind

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

The Dolphins will have a crowded and talented backfield. Don't be surprised, however, if 13-year veteran Frank Gore dominates it. Dolphins coach Adam Gase clearly doesn't think Gore, 35, is too old.

"It's irrelevant," Gase said of Gore's age, according to Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post. "He's a different dude."

   

7. Stick, move and improve

NFL players use a variety of training methods to improve. Some run sprints and hills. Some pull trucks. Some push ridiculous amounts of weights.

To me, the best training for football remains boxing. No sport duplicates the fast-twitch-ness or deft footwork needed like boxing.

Titans corner Logan Ryan has been doing just that, according to a story on the Titans' website by Jim Wyatt, who detailed how Ryan has been taking boxing lessons with former Tennessee running back Eddie George.

"[Boxing] translates to you being on the football field, especially for a guy like Logan," George said. "When you are playing the press coverage and jamming up a receiver, knowing where the hand placement goes, which shoulder to go after to get the receiver off-balance and so forth, all that helps out. And from a mental standpoint and hand-eye coordination, it puts you in a different frame of mind, if you will. I like to call it spiritual conditioning. ...

"And I'll tell you what: He's picked up the nuances of the punches and knowing when to slip and when to dip, and when to lay a combination. It's now gotten into his muscle memory, and it is fascinating how he is able to mirror the hands with the feet, and it is going to translate well when he goes on the field."

   

8. A tainted legacy

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

The sale of the Carolina Panthers was officially completed this week, leaving new owner David Tepper fully in charge.

Former owner Jerry Richardson released a farewell statement through the team's Twitter account. Noticeably absent from his remarks, as has been for some time, was some type of apology.

Let me explain.

In December, Sports Illustrated detailed an extensive series of harassment allegations against Richardson. The story described multiple incidents of sexual harassment by Richardson against female employees as well as an allegation Richardson used a racial slur toward an African American scout.

After a league investigation, Richardson was fined $2.75 million by the NFL, but at no point did Richardson offer even a cursory public apology for his behavior.

Richardson's legacy is a simple one to digest. Strictly in football terms, he deserves credit for bringing the NFL to Carolina. And with two Super Bowl appearances during Richardson's tenure, the Panthers—again, strictly in terms of football—have been one of the best-run teams in the sport.

But Richardson's legacy also includes credibly documented accusations about abuse of power.

And as he takes his leave of the league, that part of Richardson's legacy cannot, and should not, be ignored.

   

9. No respect for the Jaguars

John Raoux/Associated Press

Oddsmakers in Las Vegas normally do and say things as a way of getting suckers to bet.

That was my first thought when I read John Reid's story on Jacksonville.com about how the Jaguars' over/under win total is only nine.

Meanwhile, a handful of team executives are skeptical the Jaguars can repeat their success from 2017. They wonder if the Jaguars were lucky last season.

That's absurd. This is a team that was a matter of minutes from beating the Patriots in the AFC title game and returns 10 starters on defense.

And while Vegas often isn't off by much, if at all, I think it is in this case.

Bet on it.

   

10. Far better than advertised

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Dolphins' Kiko Alonso is one of the nastiest linebackers in football, and one of the best. He's also typical of many NFL sons of bitches.

Alonso recently held a free football camp for kids in Puerto Rico. The island is still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma and has massive problems with housing and its electrical grid.

Alonso is among a number of players who have flocked to Puerto Rico since the devastation, contributing their time and cash. Not bad for an NFL S.O.B.

      

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

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