Four Downs: Jerry’s Talk, Kizer’s Break, More Chargers Problems, McAdoo’s Grip on Locker Room

The fallout from Jerry Jones’ talk with players about anthem protests
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1. Jerry’s message to his players. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has always valued his relationships inside the Dallas locker room. That’s why the Wednesday afternoon meeting he held with the players was an important one, in the wake of his comments Sunday that any Cowboy who didn’t stand for the national anthem wouldn’t play. I can’t tell you how every player received the message, but I can say that the content of the message, as I’ve heard it, is consistent with who Jones has always been: the ultimate businessman and deal broker. Basically, Jones explained to Cowboys players how far the league has come as a money-making entity since he bought the team 28 years ago, and emphasized that more 90% of the audience driving that income never attends a single game, watching instead on TV. The President, Jones continued, is targeting that audience, and continuing the fight, as he sees it, will only make things worse.

Jones then, I’m told, advocated different ways that the league and players could work together to create social change. One idea was using NFL Network and league’s broadcast partnerships to promote the messages players are trying to send. Another was one we’ve heard, that teams and the league could fund boots-on-the-ground work in individual communities. And the overarching idea here is pretty obvious: Jones doesn’t see the sense in taking hits from a business standpoint when meaningful work can be done without incurring that damage. Jones also told players that, by saying they had to stand, he was trying to take the burden of that decision off their shoulders. And I’m sure we’ll hear a similar tone from Jones next week in New York. What Jones said to the team, on its face, carries some logic since players and owners are so linked businesswise (players literally get a percentage of what the owners make). But this is a deeply emotional issue, and how it plays out is awfully unpredictable.

What Roger Goodell’s Memo Means for the National Anthem Protests Going Forward

​​2. Browns give Kizer a break. Hue Jackson’s call to go with Kevin Hogan this week might look scattershot on the surface, but it’s being done with good reason. What the staff saw last week, and the last couple weeks, was a rookie quarterback who was clearly carrying the burden of all the bumps he hit in his first five NFL games. If we’re being blunt about it, the talent around Kizer isn’t great. Cleveland’s skill group is still a work in progress, and as a result coaches saw Kizer pressing to do more to lift the guys around him, something that no rookie quarterback is ready to do.

Two examples stuck out in the Jets game, and both cost the Browns points. The first was on a third-and-goal from the Jets’ 3. Kizer ran an option to the left side, and tried to outrun the defense to the sideline, then missed Isaiah Crowell with his pitch. Had he run it as called, the film showed he could’ve drawn the defense in, then pitched it to Crowell for an easy touchdown. The second came at the end of the first half, on a third-and-3 from the Jets’ 4. Kizer rolled right and hesitated just long enough for Jets rookie Marcus Maye to undercut tight end Seth DeValve and pick the quarterback off at the goal line. In both cases the effort to do too much hurt the team, and that habit can lead to a player regressing.

So rather than watch Kizer go into the kind of rut in which he spent most of his last year at Notre Dame, Browns coaches figured the best thing to do was give him a breather and let him evaluate the good and bad of the beginning of his NFL career. In the meantime, Hogan—a 2016 fifth-round pick of the Chiefs whom the Browns signed in September of last year, after he was cut—gets his look, and Cleveland will keep evaluating both young quarterbacks. And there’s still a chance Cleveland takes another QB high in the 2018 draft. Now, I do know the Browns see Kizer as having a future in Cleveland, and my sense is he’ll get another shot—Jackson said Wednesday at his presser that this is a week-to-week thing. But the other thing I’m sure of is that the team’s future at the position remains wide open.

Is Ben Roethlisberger Washed Up?

3. The Chargers’ frustrations. No one needs to feel bad for the Chargers. They chose to leave San Diego, where they had a half-century legacy, to try and be the second team into a gigantic market that showed few signs it could support two NFL franchises. Their choice. But now that they’re there, it’s incumbent on the league to help them make it work—and there’s a pretty significant area where, at least as I understand it, that’s not happening. The Chargers’ ratings haven’t been good, but the last two weeks they’ve been made worse by broadcast rules that have strangled their ability to rope in drive-by viewers.

Here’s the deal: In L.A., there are weekends when Fox gets the doubleheader and weekends when CBS gets the doubleheader. Two weeks ago CBS had it. The problem was that both the Rams and Chargers were on Fox. So Fox was forced to choose, and chose Rams/Cowboys on Channel 11 over Eagles/Chargers. As a result the Chargers game was moved to the KPOC, the former UPN affiliate known as My13. A week later, a similar problem arose with CBS having the rights to both Rams/Seahawks (an NFC game cross-flexed to ensure that Packers/Cowboys would air in L.A.) and Chargers/Giants on a Fox doubleheader weekend. CBS chose to put the former on its affiliate, Channel 2, and pushed the Chargers over to KCAL9.

The issue with all this is that L.A. viewers have been conditioned forever to watch the NFL over the air on Channel 2 and Channel 11, and that left a large number of people without any clue that the Chargers were even on TV. Predictably, the ratings were dreadful, especially for last Sunday, when the call was made late to accommodate the Cowboys’ broadcast. Again, I’m not crying for the Chargers. They knew the challenge they were facing. I’m just wondering why making L.A. work for them hasn’t been a higher priority for the league and the networks in this particular case.

Understanding Aaron Rodgers’s Unique Wavelength

4. More trouble in Gotham. The Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie situation won’t affect the Giants’ shot at making the playoffs—those hopes are dead. But if you follow the events of the last few days, they’re indicative of the fact that Ben McAdoo’s hold over his locker room is now tenuous, and the next 12 weeks will be important in regard to his ability to lead that group beyond then.

Here’s what happened, as it was explained to me. On Friday, Rodgers-Cromartie left a recovery period early, and on Sunday, he left the bench area in the second half unannounced, before returning a short time later. That led to a meeting Tuesday, during which McAdoo told Rodgers-Cromartie that he’d be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Broncos, but the coach still expected to the veteran corner to go through the practice week with the team. So Rodgers-Cromartie showed up to work on Wednesday morning, then left before meetings. Weird? You bet it is. And I’ve been clear on what I think of the way McAdoo and the Giants handled Odell Beckham Jr., lost for the season on Sunday, over the last nine months. In a nutshell, my sense is that their leniency with Beckham—McAdoo publicly stuck up for Beckham following his dog-peeing celebration, which came just six days after the coach publicly called out Eli Manning for a costly delay-of-game flag—has undercut his ability to lead the group. To me, Rodgers-Cromartie’s actions become Exhibit A of that. Beckham, clearly, has been allowed to play by his own rules. Which makes it unsurprising that other players might test what kind of allowances they can get.