On NFL Relegation, Mail and the Story That Won’t Go Away

6:04 | The MMQB
24 Hours … with Sean McVay
Wednesday June 21st, 2017

An open-field mailbag this morning, led by your words on tanking to get high draft picks, graduation speakers, Hall of Fame snubs, the Colin Kaepernick saga, and Emily Kaplan. As you’ll see, Kaepernick is still very much the topic that will not go away. 

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ON TANKING STRATEGY AND RELEGATION

As I preach to anyone who will listen (and to many who won’t), tanking can be avoided 100 percent if North American sports leagues had a relegation/promotion system as world fútbol has.  The Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia 76ers and other teams of their ilk would be wallowing away in their respective sports' second or third tiers by now if we had that system here. With the threat of relegation, how anxious would a fan base be to foot the bill for a new stadium if the owner can't or won't put a decent product on the field? How reluctant would an owner be to shell out a megabuck contract to one player when the rest of the team is mediocre at best? In essence, there would be multiple playoffs at the end of the season—one we already know and love at the top end of the standings; a second one at the bottom of the top tier; a third at the top of the second tier, with teams fighting to get into the First Division; and the rest up and down however many other lower divisions there may be in each sport.

—Jim H., Wenatchee, Wash.

If the NFL adopted a relegation system, consistently losing teams would have more to worry about than just embarrassing their fans.
Getty Images (3)

Interesting point, Jim, and I believe all who believe in the sense of fair play and even competition think relegation could control lots of ills in sports. Want to know why it’s not a viable situation for American pro sports? Because cities and teams and owners build stadiums based on expecting a certain revenue stream; if that revenue stream were, say, halved by being relegated, a team might default on payments for stadiums and player contracts. It’s a noble concept, but it’s hard to ask an owner building a major-league-caliber stadium to then risk playing what are essentially minor-league games.

• 1967 WEEK AT THE MMQB: Our series of articles on what the game, the players and the culture of professional football were like a half-century ago

NFL CONTRACT EVOLUTION

Given that it is the off-season for three professional sports leagues and much of the discussion is about team rosters and salary cap issues, I was wondering if you could explain how it has come to be that the National Football League is the only major sports league in North America not to have fully guaranteed contracts? Thank you for any information you can provide and keep writing your very interesting articles.

—G.S.

Teams haven’t been willing to give fully guaranteed contracts across the board in football because of the specter of rampant injuries, which exists more in football than other sports, obviously. Could the players do something about that? Absolutely. Fight, and go through with the threats their union would have to put on the table in talks with owners. As I see it, players would have to be willing to miss multiple game checks, perhaps for as long as a full season, to get fully guaranteed contracts as the norm.

• MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK: Peter King on Randy Moss, equality and commencement speeches

FOUR EMAILS ON KAEPERNICK

Seems like you and [Pro Football Talk’s] Mike Florio are joined at the hip with regard to Colin Kaepernick. Over the top. I would suggest that each of you read or re-read Andy Benoit's column on him not being at the top of the backup QB list. He just doesn't seem to fit the systems currently in place. Do other factors come into play? Of course, but as been often said this is a business. Kap doesn't fit the mold on multiple levels.

—Phil S., Los Angeles

Labeling Colin Kaepernick the quarterback who “was most careful with the ball in 2016” based upon Cian Fahey's analysis of interceptable passes minimizes the host of other problems with Colin's game.  On June 7, Andy Benoit wrote, “The Niners went 1–10 in games that Kaepernick started, and each week, the tape revealed a startling number of plays where Kaepernick’s read was clear, but he didn’t attempt the throw. This has always been an issue with Kaepernick, and it’s one that fans can never see on paper. There’s no way to statistically capture the impact of balls that should be thrown but aren’t.” Given this, we'd fully expect Kaepernick would be throwing a really low number of interceptable passes! This single stat alone does not indicate Colin is an effective QB.

—Scott

Thanks for that stat. I was on the brink of tuning out MMQB based on the columns by Albert Breer and Andy Benoit and the slanted take on his unemployment. But stats haven't gotten in the way of the bias. I doubt this one will either.

—DeAngelo S., Denver

Kaepernick is the victim of a system that is intellectually and socially corrupt. It is, in my view, emblematic of everything that is wrong with professional football (a sport and league, incidentally, which has a history of treating its key employees as serfs whose health and safety is of negligible importance). I think you have a social obligation to offer your frank views on this man's situation. If you continue to dance around the subject with little tidbits and hints about his relative abilities, you are complicit in his oppression. I'd like to think you are better than that.

—Chip P., Toronto

Well then. I have said (May 8) that it’s crazy he’s unemployed, and if I had a good quarterback coach I’d sign him right now. The next week I said too many teams are engaging in group think about Kaepernick. In May, on my podcast, I debated Albert Breer about it, saying clearly that it’s ridiculous Kaepernick is unemployed. But to get it fully on the record, this is my take on Kaepernick: I understand why a team has not signed him. He has holes in his game, and there’s a fear due to his anti-anthem stance that fans will strike back at the team signing him, either by not going to games or some other form of protest. But I think it’s short-sighted, not a smart football decision, and downright vindictive that he has not been signed by any of the league’s 32 teams—the same teams willing to give domestic abusers and PED-users additional chances to play. It’s baffling to me that not standing for the anthem is a worse offense than domestic abuse.

Our Andy Benoit has written about Kaepernick’s poor decision-making, his reticence for making downfield throws even to receivers who have an open window, and the fact he doesn’t fit most teams’ backup-quarterback needs because he’s not a classic pocket passer. But we’re not talking about Kaepernick being a top-10 NFL quarterback; we’re talking about him being a top-60 NFL quarterback. Who could argue that he’s not one of the 60 best quarterbacks in pro football? If his downfield judgment is flawed, coach him. And to simply disregard his experience is dismissive and ignores important facts. Four years and four months ago, Kaepernick was an end-zone incompletion from being a Super Bowl champion. In that post-season, he had one of the best playoff games a quarterback ever had, throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns and running for 181 yards and two touchdowns in outplaying Aaron Rodgers and beating Green Bay. He has 75 career starts. He is 29. This guy couldn’t be a better backup quarterback than Austin Davis, Sean Mannion, Kellen Moore?

On Sirius XM NFL Radio Monday, Ross Tucker brought up the money point—that Seattle signed Davis for the NFL minimum and Kaepernick would likely not sign for the minimum, and who knows how much he would cost? That’s the thing, though: We don’t know. Neither he nor his agent has made a single outrageous demand, or a demand of any sort. So that argument to me is specious. Because Kaepernick knows at this point he’s not going into any NFL team’s camp as the starter, it’s highly unlikely he’ll ask for significant guaranteed money. Let’s say he’d want $2 million to play this year, and you consider that excessive. And let’s say we use the Seattle situation as an example. The Seahawks’ offensive line has been leaky, and Russell Wilson was beat up most of last season. My question is this: If Wilson goes down for the year with 10 games left, would you want Austin Davis to go in to try to save your season, or would you want Kaepernick, making $1 million or so more? You can’t be serious if you’d say Davis.

COLLEGE RULE

Why does the NFL prevent that very small percentage of draftees from participating in OTAs if their college has not ended yet? Christian McCaffrey and John Ross are two high picks who had to skip due to this odd rule.

—Scott C., Cincinnati

The NFL, in an effort to encourage players to stay in school through the end of their spring terms, made a blanket rule a few years ago: No player would be able to practice with his drafting team till the player’s school’s term ended for the spring. In McCaffrey’s case, because Stanford has a late spring term, he couldn’t work out with the Panthers till the last day of spring practice. I don’t see this changing. The imagery for a league that touts the importance of education for its players would be bad.

• HOW TO BUILD WINNING FRANCHISE IN NFL: Andrew Brandt on how tanking could be part of vital strategy to achieve to long-term success

MINORITY COACHES

Peter: Great story on minority coaches and executives in the NFL. One notable Honorable Mention: Will McClay is Assistant Director of Player Personnel for the Cowboys. He is assistant only because Jerry Jones is the head dude, but McClay has the power and, as you know, runs the draft for the NFL’s marquee franchise. Best of all for Cowboys fans, he's darn good at what he does.

—Steve, Dallas

Regardless who has the personnel juice, Stephen Jones is the chief in that draft room. I included seven men who either have the title of GM or are in charge of who the team drafts or are in charge of personnel and who share being the boss in the draft room. I don’t think McClay fits that mold, at least not yet.

COMMENCEMENT SPEECHES

Started reading your column this week and rolled my eyes when I read you would be sharing various commencement addresses thinking, “Come on Peter: This is a sports column and I don’t need to hear any commencement address material.” Then I read them … and I apologize for my attitude. Some great, powerful content and I have already shared some with friends and family. Thank you for taking the time to not only read through these but post for others to enjoy and learn from.  You demonstrated the selfless servant Mike Pence challenged the Naval Academy graduates to become as they look ahead 50 years.

—Doug, Atlanta

I'm a longtime fan of you, your column, and yes, commencement speeches. For sure, your choices were some of the best I saw/read this year. So when my alma mater, SUNY Cortland (of former Jets camp fame), invited me to receive an honorary degree and deliver a speech this past May, I leapt at the opportunity (once the shock wore off, that is). If you have the time, I'd love your opinion.

—Scott Williams, Executive Producer "NCIS"

Scott, you must be in show business. You’ve got talent! Really interesting presentation. Thanks for sharing.

HALL OF FAME

Peter, Cliff Branch and Joe Klecko were both good players, but I think Ken Riley, fifth on the All-time career interception list with 65, is more deserving of enshrinement in the Hall.  He was fourth all-time in career interceptions when he retired, behind three Hall of Famers. He’s tied with Charles Woodson and just ahead of Ed Reed, Ronnie Lott and Darren Sharper. I know Riley played for the Bengals his entire career, but he shouldn’t be punished for that. Why do you think Riley has been overlooked?

—Mike S., Cincinnati

My feeling, Mike, is no one watched the Bengals defense in the seventies and thought he was a dominant safety. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be considered more than he has to this point. I believe his strongest argument would be his longevity. At age 36, in his final season of 1983, Riley had eight interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. I have always believed that long-term consistency should be a factor in Hall discussions as well, and that would be my major pro-Riley argument.

THE VIKINGS’ BIG MISTAKE

Correction, the Vikings’ biggest mistake they’ll ever make was the trade of a boatload of picks for Herschel Walker that set up the ‘90s Cowboys dynasty. Letting Randy Moss go was a big mistake, but not close to being on par with arguably the most epic gaffe ANY NFL team has ever made.

—Glenn

Can’t argue with you there, Glenn.

GOODBYE KAPLAN

Gonna miss Emily Kaplan. Eloquent, easy readable style, comprehensive and incisive. Wish her well.

—Brian, Los Angeles

Thanks for the note, Phil. ESPN is gaining a great young talent in Emily, who will bring some fresh ideas and energy to the coverage of the NHL, which is her first love. The thing I’ll miss about Emily is her fountain of ideas and her willingness to do anything to make The MMQB a better site. Remember my Tom Brady podcast/two-part story a week after the Super Bowl, when I went to Montana and interviewed him for close to 90 minutes? I left Brady at about 6 p.m. Eastern time that Sunday, and had to write Monday Morning Quarterback overnight, and if I had to transcribe 90 minutes of tape, there’s no way I’d have been able to do the lengthy Brady column on deadline the way I did. Emily and another one of our young staffers, Kalyn Kahler, volunteered to each take half the tape and transcribe the entire thing. I had the lengthy transcription in my possession by 10 p.m. ET, and was able to turn it around and post by 5 a.m. ET Monday. The only way doing the piece that fast was possible was because of the selflessness and team-first attitude of Kaplan and Kahler.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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