Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Kap Return a Possibility in Trump-Proof NFL

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 20, 2019

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2018, file photo, former NFL football quarterback Colin Kaepernick smikes on stage during W.E.B. Du Bois Medal ceremonies at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have reached settlements on their collusion lawsuits against the NFL, the league said Friday, Feb. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

Colin Kaepernick's return to an NFL huddle may be only a matter of time, a few logical fits for Antonio Brown's future and how the Bills could become one of the NFL's best in a hurry (stop snickering). All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

    

1. He's back

If there is one big takeaway from the news that Colin Kaepernick and the NFL settled their collusion case, it is this: The chances we'll see Kaepernick back on an NFL sideline are higher now than at any time since he opted out of his deal with the Niners almost two years ago.

The fact that the odds are above zero is remarkable since not long ago it appeared virtually impossible that he'd be back in the NFL, not with the attention his stance for social justice drew or with a standing lawsuit against the league.

And while the end of that suit will allow Kaepernick to pursue a return to the league with a lot less rancor in the air, an equally important development is the fact that the NFL no longer has reason to fear repercussions from President Donald Trump.

As Kaepernick's protest took hold, and his cause gained national attention, the president became a central antagonist in the drama. The NFL feared Trump's words and the effect they might have on a large swath of the football-loving public.

But the threatened boycotts and the name-calling—recall that the president described players who kneeled during the national anthem as a "son of b---h"had no negative long-term effect on the league's ratings or popularity. That ratings were reportedly 5 percent better last season than the year before has not gone unnoticed by the NFL.

Kaepernick's lawyer, Mark Geragos, alluded to this during an interview with CNN.

There are still owners who don't like what Kaepernick did, but without that fear of Trump, and with a settlement in hand, teams are simply ready to move on.

That doesn't mean they didn't mishandle this from the start. He was protesting social injustice and the league—he alleged—banished him. Then they ended up paying him anyway. At least that's what a handful of league officials believe.

Meanwhile, history will still view Kaepernick as a civil rights symbol, and, if there is any football justice, a man with a second act in the NFL.

    

2. Where to next for Kaepernick?

Geragos told CNN there were three teams he believes Kaepernick could end up playing for but only named two of them: the Panthers and Patriots.

The chances Kaepernick joins the Patriots are the same as me becoming a runway model. There's no way. While the fact that owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have voiced support for Trump at various times has been somewhat overplayed, they still, nonetheless, have done so. Not judging; just spittin' facts.

The Panthers, however, do make sense and may be the most likely destination for Kaepernick if he does return. After all, Kaepernick's fellow protestor, Eric Reid, is already on the team.

Cam Newton recently had shoulder surgery and should be fine, but having a solid backup like Kaepernick wouldn't hurt.

If Kaepernick does sign this season, look for something to happen after the scouting combine. Teams will first want to see the quarterback prospects up close before making any decision on Kaepernick.

        

3. Coming to a bookstore (do those still exist?) near you

If you're wondering why Kaepernick has been quiet post-settlement it's because, I'm told, he's saving his comments for a planned book. In 2017, the New York Post reported Kaepernick signed a deal worth $1 million for the upcoming tome. From everything I'm hearing, the project is churning along.

     

4. Never stop never stopping

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

It's impossible to say exactly how close the Patriots were to acquiring Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. last season, but according to a Pro Football Talk interview with B/R alum Chris Simms, there was a chance.

The fact that it was even a possibility says a lot about the Patriots and why they are who they are.

Like a computer program looking to learn, the Pats are constantly trying to improve. They are relentless in this way, and that, more than anything else they do, makes them great. This is their primary mission in all aspects of their operation. They look to grow in how they scheme plays. They look to get the best possible talent.

The Bengals don't do this. The Jets don't do this. The Dolphins don't. A number of other teams don't, and that's the problem. It's easy to say the Patriots have Brady and Belichick and that's why they win so much. There's some truth to that.

But as the Beckham revelation shows, it's more than that. It's a franchisewide relentlessness in the pursuit of getting better. It's something a lot more franchises should mimic.

     

5. Where to next, AB?

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 30:  Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on December 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It's a near-certainty that Antonio Brown is headed out of Pittsburgh. He's engaged in an all-out social media war against the Steelers, and they may have no choice but to comply.

If he is traded or released, which teams would suit him best as his next employer? I got three answers from several team executives:

Patriots: An obvious choice but a good one. The culture would force Brown to be more accountable for his off-field behavior. Not everyone conforms, but with the rings the Patriots have and the respect their winning demands, many do. A report last week from The MMQB's Albert Breer said the Steelers would rather not send him to New England, but would Pittsburgh turn down Belichick if he made the best offer?

Browns: This will sound odd to say, but the team is a potential juggernaut and Brown would be a major talent influx. He'd also get to play the Steelers twice a season…which is why this won't happen.

Raiders: Brown would provide them the type of star receiver they watched Amari Cooper become after they traded him to the Cowboys. Yet this seems like an odd fit. I don't see Brown and coach Jon Gruden getting along. At all.

          

6. Is Big Ben a big problem?

The fight between Brown and the Steelers isn't just about Brown. In many ways, it's also a proxy battle over Ben Roethlisberger.

Brown's view (and those of others) is that Roethlisberger doesn't always take responsibility for his poor play while being quick to point out the faults of others. Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe is of that same viewpoint, as he explained on Fox Sports' Undisputed:

This isn't to say Big Ben never takes blame; he has. And I'm not even sure Brown is saying Roethlisberger never does.

The larger issue is that truly great leaders rarely point fingers in public at others. As Sharpe notes, you don't see Tom Brady publicly blame teammates for the mistakes they make. It's all handled in private. Unlike what has happened in Pittsburgh.

     

7. Bullish on the Bills

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

Few teams are better positioned to reverse their fortunes faster than the Buffalo Bills.

No, you're not hallucinating. It's true.

According to Spotrac (via the Buffalo News), the Bills have approximately $80 million in salary-cap room for this upcoming season and about $120 million for 2020, the latter number being the most in the NFL.

These are staggering numbers. If the money is used properly—and yes, that's a huge qualifier—it's the kind of cap room that can transform a franchise. It would allow the Bills to be in the fight for any free-agent prospect. It could turn things around in Buffalo almost overnight.

    

8. It's quiet…but not too quiet

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 02:  Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers attends SiriusXM at Super Bowl LII Radio Row at the Mall of America on February 2, 2018 in Bloomington, Minnesota.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who didn't play last year while engaged in a stand-off with the Steelers over his contract, has been quiet. He hasn't made any public statements in weeks. His social media presence has been understated.

There's a method to this lack of madness. Bell wants to play, just not with the Steelers. And he knows lashing out publicly isn't the best way to entice potential new employers.

It's going to work. There is great interest in Bell (no matter what you hear differently), and now that the Steelers reportedly will allow him to become a free agent, he'll be someone a number of teams consider.

     

9. Thanks for the memories

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The smart bet among NFL types remains that the Eagles will use a franchise tag on Nick Foles, guaranteeing him about $25 million in salary, and then trade him. Nothing is set in stone, but that remains the most likely possibility.

And Foles' most likely destination, say some around the league, is the Jaguars, who could do with an upgrade at the position.

    

10. Maybe he wasn't elite, but he was effective

Joe Flacco is headed to Denver after the Ravens and Broncos worked a deal last week to send the veteran QB out west, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. While it's clear Flacco is in the waning days of his career, the impact he had in Baltimore shouldn't be forgotten. 

Flacco was a solid player who helped bring a Super Bowl title to the city. And though his status in the league became part of a long-running joke, he proved to be a skilled leader in Baltimore and a class person who was extremely well-liked by teammates. The stoicism with which he handled being benched for Lamar Jackson last season was typical of Flacco.

His 11 years in Baltimore weren't always perfect or elite. But it's hard to argue they weren't good.

         

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

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