This week was a historic one for our country. It was also a historic one in the little corner of it that the National Football League occupies.
We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe that Black Lives Matter.
I personally protest with you and want to be a part of the much-needed change in this country. Without black players, there would be no National Football League.
Those were the words that a group of 19 black players asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to recite last Thursday night. Those are the words that Goodell recited into a camera from his basement in suburban New York on Friday.
Goodell doing so doesn’t erase how messy the NFL’s handling was of player protests during the national anthem in 2016 and ’17. But make no mistake—this was a massive step for a league that’s always tried to stay out of these matters, with a laser focus on appealing to the largest audience it possibly can.
And that’s the thing about what happened this week. A brilliant effort by those 19 players, and a few of Goodell’s own employees, wouldn’t allow for the league to straddle the fence anymore, like it’s tried and failed to do over the last four years.
In fact, that was the brilliance in what Saints receiver Michael Thomas and the 18 stars he recruited did. It forced Goodell, and by proxy the league in which all these players play, to pick a side and be done with it.
Goodell did. And late Sunday night, the President responded via Twitter.
At the start of 2018, the NFL and NFLPA quietly agreed to leave the old anthem policy alone and on the books, months after owners passed a new policy that only created a minefield for each team. They did so based on data that showed them that, as one source told me at the time, “the Trump tweets are Trump tweets,” and that those weren’t affecting the conversation. What was affecting it was owners reacting to Trump tweets.
In essence, the edict was simple: Work with the players, don’t change the anthem policy, ignore the Trump tweets. Now, that policy gets put to the test.
And after a tumultuous week, so will Goodell’s resolve to stand behind the players.
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We’ll have football in this week’s MMQB, you’re just going to have to wait a little bit for it, given all that’s happened in our country since we were here with you last week. Inside the column, you’ll find …
• Green Beret Nate Boyer’s thoughts, four years after he advised Colin Kaepernick.
• How the Broncos’ march in Denver came together.
• An account of where we are in the NFL’s plan to return.
• Which coaches were actually back in the office Friday, and who will be Monday.
• Why Larry Fitzgerald’s New York Times column spoke to me personally.
But we’re starting with all the tumult of the end of last week.
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So, the truth is that by the time the players’ video posted on Thursday night, Goodell was trying to head in their direction anyway. The commissioner’s statement the previous Saturday (May 30) wasn’t well-received, and skepticism was high over how the league would handle all the mounting tension in our country, given all the water that’s flowed under this particular bridge the last few years.
But Goodell has been chipping away at how to proceed, really, for two weeks. Two Tuesdays ago, the day after George Floyd was killed, he did a call with the Players Coalition. That Thursday, the owners met virtually and Anna Isaacson, the league’s SVP of social responsibility, had an update on what the players had been doing. And last Monday, he spent time talking to players, team execs and owners, trying to put together another message for later in the week.
At 6:32 p.m. ET, from the NFL’s official Twitter account, came this: This is a time of self-reflection for all—the NFL is no exception. We stand with the black community because Black Lives Matter. In the thread to follow, the league committed to donating $20 million to causes addressing systemic racism, adding to the $44 million it’s already given.
One-hundred-and-forty-eight minutes later, at 9:00 p.m. ET sharp, the players’ video came, first from the account of Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
Goodell knew he had to respond. At 10:00 a.m. Friday, he convened a meeting of the Executive Operating Committee, made in part of the NFL’s EVPs, to discuss his response. At 11:00, the call ended and he asked a few of the execs to stay on to keep working. At 1:00 p.m., he spoke at an all-hands town hall, telling stories of being a kid in D.C. in 1968 after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. And then, he taped the response.
Its significance was twofold. One, it showed a public willingness of Goodell to follow the players’ lead on this. Two, and more significantly, it was the first admission from the NFL that it mishandled the players’ protests of three and four years ago. And while it wasn’t what everyone was looking for—it didn’t mention Kaepernick, though the players’ video didn’t either—it was a very big step forward.
And it may have been felt most by the young people who were so adamant and passionate in pushing the issue with the league. The players represented one faction of where that push was coming from. Interestingly enough, Goodell’s own staffers were another.
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By now, you may have heard the story of Bryndon Minter, the 27-year-old social media creative producer at NFL Media who quite literally put his job on the line to spearhead the effort that wound up featuring 19 high-profile players directly calling out his employer.
I talked to him on Saturday afternoon. By then, the dust had settled on his effort, which started with a Wednesday night direct message to Saints star Michael Thomas, led to the video directed at the league, and finished up with Goodell’s unprecedented statement in response. And when it was all over, and Minter had a chance to take stock, there was a lot to sort through.
But mostly, he felt pride that his black colleagues—those so frustrated by the NFL’s initial response to the protests—felt like their voices had been heard.
“The most rewarding thing is being able to recognize my black colleagues that time and time again were passionately outspoken in telling stories and sharing their voices,” Minter said. “That’s what resonated with the other creators, the power in the message. And it’s not just one person wanting to do something, and that’s why I feel like it’s super rewarding. It isn’t about me, it’s the collective sentiment, voices that have wanted to be heard.
“They just needed the perfect situation, with someone OK with moving on from the league, from their job. I was OK with being reckless to make sure my colleagues’ and our players’ voices were appropriately heard.”
All that said, Minter couldn’t have imagined this would all come together like it did. And it didn’t start with the players, but those colleagues he referenced, who were working alongside him and were fed up with how the NFL was handling matters like these.
There wasn’t some eureka moment for Minter on the idea, either. It started with dissatisfaction with the widely-panned statement of May 30. It continued with Minter doing a lot of listening, and taking in a lot, in particular, from a Zoom call with about 40 members of the league’s social media and influencer team during the week. And it came with input from guys like NFL influencer/talent marketing manager Jarick Walker and senior director of influencer marketing and brand partnerships Maurice Jennings.
“My black colleagues are the ones who called it out immediately—This is an empty statement,” Minter said. “Those voices of my black colleagues, those played a large part in inspiring the video. The fact that my co-workers had strong, passionate voices, and want to work at the NFL, like I do, and hold the same morals I do, was what was behind it.”
So here, then, is how it came together.
• Wednesday night: Minter sends a message request to Thomas on Instagram, which, because Thomas doesn’t follow him, requires Thomas not just to see it, but accept the message first. As part of the league’s social team, Minter has actually worked for Thomas in the past (creating social content as ordered by the front-facing social team), which is why, even though Minter doesn’t know Thomas personally, he chose to reach out to him first. Minter’s plan was to reach out to a number of players to find someone interested. But before he could he do it, within 15 minutes of the initial DM, Thomas responded. He was in.
• Thursday morning: Thomas’s idea, to get 10 of the highest-profile players in on it, winds up mushrooming. He reached out to a bunch guys and got a stronger response than he expected. By the time Minter woke up on the West Coast, video files from Cowboys RB Zeke Elliott, and Vikings LBs Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr were in his phone. Thomas asked, Can we add Saquon? And then, an iCloud link came from Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. After that, at about 10 a.m., Minter jumped on a call with Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes’s marketing manager Jacquelyn Dahl (Minter had worked with Mahomes’s team in the past, and had relationships there). Meanwhile, Thomas worked on the script, going back and forth with Minter on it, with NFL social media editor Nick Toney helping out, too. Minter also gave his supervisor a heads up that it was coming, just so he wouldn’t be blindsided, and got his support.
• Thursday afternoon: As all of this was going on, Thomas was also navigating the situation involving his quarterback Drew Brees—a video of Brees telling Yahoo! Finance that he’d never agree with protests “disrespecting the flag” dropped on Wednesday. And he resolved in the process, tweeting just after 1 p.m. ET: “One of my brothers made a public statement yesterday that I disagreed with. He apologized & I accept it because that’s what we are taught to do as Christians. Now back to the movement! #GeorgeFloyd.” Meanwhile, Minter was editing video as it came in, and worked right through the day as more players wanted in, having to continue to add new voices to the piece.
• Thursday night: The video goes live, with Barkley’s account being the first (due to some wires getting crossed) to post it. I wondered if, at that point, Minter got nervous. Instead, he said, he was at peace. When I asked what was running through his head when he first saw it online, he responded, “Relief. It’s done. As a creative project, up until the very last second, you’re always working to make it better, with color and audio refinement, all of that. And we were. But none of that really mattered, it could’ve looked a lot sh------, and that would’ve been OK. The message was what was important. So it was just a feeling of relief, after a 12-hour day of straight editing, no breaks, it was done.”
• Friday: Minter wound up hearing from a number of league executives, who were thankful for the effort, and he was also apprised of the fact that Goodell would be responding. He knew Thomas’s idea was to create a revised statement and see if the commissioner would actually read it. But deep down, he didn’t expect Goodell’s response to be … that. “I definitely did not,” Minter said. “It’s a testament to the players and the voices that spoke up time after time, my colleagues, black and otherwise, that spoke up, and kept letting NFL executives know how they felt.” In the end, they were all heard.
When it was over, Minter lauded the effort of Thomas, first and foremost. “He’s an All-Pro receiver, so this isn’t what he does, but to manage 100 videos and send them, all while the Brees thing is going on, he was the executive producer. He really had an All-Pro performance on this.” And then he turned the spotlight to colleagues like Walker and Jennings.
So that’s where we’ll turn the spotlight now.
Over the weekend, Jarick Walker’s frustration was palpable. The NFL influencer/talent marketing manager was ticked with the silence two Fridays ago, to the point where he reached out via email to the league’s chief marketing officer, the highest-ranking guy he’s gotten to know in his short time at the league, to get his point across. And it only got worse when that silence was broken the day after with the aforementioned statement.
“I was disappointed,” said Walker, 31. “I’ve been with the NFL for seven months, and my expectations were high. I worked for Nike, and Nike makes bold statements. And I expected a lot from a league that I truly believe is America’s game. So yeah, I was disappointed.”
On Monday, he called the CMO. He expressed his frustration. He vented. He shared his expectation that the league would be better and discussed how that could happen. He was angry enough that he couldn’t focus on his work. But there was that Zoom call coming with the social media and influencer team that Minter referenced as an inspiration. On Tuesday, did it ever come.
“I definitely don’t think it went in the direction leadership thought it would,” Walker said. “It started off, we got opening remarks that addressed the situation, on the problems in America that needed to be solved, and then they opened it up for people to share thoughts on the matter. We have these town halls all the time, and when it gets opened up, you usually don’t get questions. But there was this fire inside me boiling, so as soon as they opened it up, I shared the sentiment of feeling let down, by leadership, by our statement, and shared that the statement wasn’t strong enough.
“I also shared a solution—to apologize for stopping something that was protesting this very thing [police brutality]. I gotta say, I’m new, and I’m still learning the team, but to hear every single person say the same thing, that they believed that we needed to do more, it was special.”
Maurice Jennings, the senior director of influencer marketing and brand partnerships, was on that call too. Unlike Walker and Minter, who work out of L.A., he’s at 345 Park in New York, sharing an office with Goodell and all those EVPs. He’s also a little older, at 36, and was there for everything in 2016 and ’17.
And with the younger voices taking the lead, he could hear a distinct difference in tone.
“Our leader opened it up, and understood our frustration and he wanted to talk it out,” Jennings said. “It wasn’t like any meeting I’ve been in, and I was around for Colin [Kaepernick]. This was different. People were speaking up, saying we needed to apologize to the guys that protested and that we needed to apologize to Colin.”
Minter took inspiration and went in his own direction with it. The rest of the team worked to take action.
Guys like Jennings and Walker “felt supported, we felt heard,” on that call. Walker had already been doing some rough work on a letter, after the back-and-forth with the CMO, and came up with the idea for he and about 20 or so of his colleagues to craft a letter to send to the CMO and one of the league’s senior vice presidents. The letter, Walker said, had a nearly identical sentiment as the players’ video.
“We stressed just that we were disappointed in the lack of leadership, not knowing where the company stands, and we asked, ‘Who would George Floyd have needed for there to be quicker action on the matter? One of us?’” Walker said. “It was just what we believed was the right thing.”
That day, they all got on a call that involved the entire marketing department—some 120 people were on it—and the CMO said that he was listening, particularly to the black voices at the forefront. “It went really long,” Jennings said. “It was powerful and emotional and it needed to be done.”
Wednesday night, the NFL released its second statement, which Jennings and Walker viewed as a step in the right direction. And Thursday, Walker was on another Zoom call, when Minter revealed the player video as it went up on social media—the other guys on the call had no idea, at first, that he was even behind it.
“Bryndon’s a wild man,” Walker said, laughing. “Those words were so similar to what we were all thinking here. … That man is a legend. I have so much respect for him, he’s a leader for doing something like this, fighting for what he believes in. It’s a young team we have here, and I’m so honored, so blessed to work with people like that.”
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So what’s next? Walker says he hopes to use this as a jumping off point to advocate for a more diverse office, so more voices like his, that often mirror what the league’s players think, are heard. Jennings sees it more as a turning point, in that there were a lot of younger people working at the league office who were waiting for their voices to be heard. And there’s no question that, for Goodell, this was a big moment too.
For all of them, it was, at the very least, a step forward. The key now, they agree, is that those steps keep coming.
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CHECKING BACK IN WITH NATE BOYER
Nate Boyer is a Green Beret who served six years, with multiple tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was one of the first people I thought of after Brees said what he did on Wednesday. Brees since has done a pretty serious about-face, apologizing to teammates on a Thursday Zoom call, then firing off a social media missive to the President, after Donald Trump tried to use his words as political capital.
But really, the big thing I couldn’t get my mind past was how many people forgot how Kaepernick came to kneel in the first place: advice from the kind of soldier that many people felt the action offended. So I called Boyer and asked him to take me through how it happened one more time, mostly so everyone could hear it again.
As you’ll remember, Kaepernick initially protested by sitting on the bench during the anthem. After NFL Network’s Steve Wyche first reported on it, Kaepernick was set to play a preseason game in San Diego, a city with an enormous military population.
“I was like, ‘What does this guy know about oppression? I’ve been to Darfur, and 400,000 people died in a genocide. And I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve seen real oppression. This place, we abolished slavery 150 years ago, we already had a civil rights movement, what is this even about?’” Boyer said. “I had those same feelings, frustrations. But then also knowing how frustrating it is to be in a divided time, I also knew, first of all, me just giving my opinion on why he’s right, why he’s wrong, why he’s uneducated, that’s not gonna help anything. So instead, I wrote this open letter.”
The Army Times published Boyer’s letter. Kaepernick responded by reaching out, and they set up a time to meet in San Diego.
“We talked about all this stuff, and it was through our conversations that he asked me, ‘Do you think there’s another way I could protest that won’t offend?’” Boyer recalled. “And I said, ‘No, there’s nothing you can do that’s not going to offend some people, but if you’re looking to do something different, I think being alongside your teammates is the most important thing. So the only other option I see if you’re committed to not standing up during the anthem, would be to take a knee alongside teammates. You just need to make it very clear you’re not protesting the flag, you’re not protesting the military, you’re not protesting the anthem, you’re protesting during the anthem.’
“And he has done that. He’s continued to say, ‘Why is there police brutality, racial inequality and social injustice?’ That’s really where that happened. He said he thought it was more powerful actually to take a knee. He said, ‘I think that’s a great idea, I’ll do that.’ And I told him that if he was willing to do that, I’d be willing to stand next to him and show that I support what he’s doing, support what he’s saying, support the mission.
“I didn’t wanna take a knee, because I feel the same way Drew Brees feels when the anthem plays, I want to stand with pride and all that. But I’m also willing to listen and willing to stand by people’s right, if they feel differently, to do something peacefully and continue to speak out on issues. I want our country to be better. I don’t want to see what happened with George Floyd. I don’t wanna see that happen. There are things we do need to improve.”
Four years later, Boyer’s Twitter avatar remains the picture of him standing by a kneeling Kaepernick at the old Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. He’s done a lot of research since. He’s continued to work with players, through the MVP program he and Jay Glazer lead, and he feels as good about the idea he gave Kaepernick today as he did in 2016.
And he had plenty else to say the other day. So here’s more from Boyer.
On George Floyd, Boyer didn’t mince words.
“First thing I noticed, beyond it being disgusting, was the irony of him taking a knee to end someone’s life,” he said. “It was just very inhumane, that’s what it looked like, man, it just looked inhumane. I wasn’t a cop, but I know what that feels like, to serve alongside people that disrespect the uniform, because I had those people I served with in the military. And everybody says, ‘You’re all heroes.’ No, we’re not. I don’t even see myself as one anyway.
“But beyond that, there’s plenty of people that I served with that got honorable discharges, and I think about some of the people I knew, they just weren’t great people, they weren’t the right person for the job, and they were protected in some ways. That’s not OK. And I stood by idly, too. That’s not OK. I didn’t see it that much. For sure, I never saw anything like that. … I would hope I would’ve stood up and not let something like that happen, because that’s disgusting.”
From cops, Boyer has gotten some feedback.
“I got a ton of cops that hit me up all the time that are not democrats even, they’re pissed, man,” he said. “It’s a disgrace to the uniform, it’s a disgrace to the badge, it’s a disgrace to the oath they took as well. It sickens them, because they know, ‘This is a major problem we’re gonna have now, it’s one we already do have. But it’s only gonna get worse unless we figure out a way to improve this.’”
Boyer then mentioned the disdain he’s seeing for cops, and asked, “Why would you wanna be a cop? What’s the benefit? It’s hard job that doesn’t pay very well, and everyone hates you. And the reality is we need cops, we need good cops, we need better people to come in and do this. So that’s something that I’m focused on.”
On Brees, Boyer understood his point, but is still frustrated by it.
“Like I said, I feel all those things he feels when the anthem is played, I feel all that,” Boyer said. “What was disheartening, over last three years there’s been such a concerted effort by a lot of players in the league and people around the country, to maintain the narrative that protesting during the national anthem isn’t protesting against the anthem or the military or the flag or the country, it’s not that. It’s protesting during the anthem against police brutality, departments not holding them accountable, racial inequality, social injustice. …
“And Drew knows that. I think it was just an emotional moment, and it came out, and like I said, I want to make sure this is in the article: I said it before, Drew is a really good dude, and he does a lot for the community in New Orleans. He’s done a lot for state of Louisiana, he’s done a lot for the veteran community, and he should not be judged as a human being for this one situation, but he definitely needs to learn from it.”
On his time with Kaepernick, Boyer thinks we can all take a lesson, and that goes back to why he’s so frustrated that people still misunderstand what Kaepernick was doing.
“It was an important lesson and people need to know the story,” Boyer said. “He reached out to a white guy that served in the military to at least have a conversation, and so I could listen to him too, in the midst of all that. It’s kind of crazy. It’s important. He was willing to listen, too. And that image of me standing next to him kneeling is an important one, too.
“That’s two people who look nothing alike, got a bunch of different ideals and feelings and emotions, beliefs, but we’re still American, and we can still respect one another and love one another, fight for one another and work together toward a better country.”
Which, in the end, was Boyer’s mission in the military. And from talking to him as I have the last couple years, I can tell it continues to be his mission now.
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HOW THE BRONCOS’ MARCH CAME TOGETHER
A lot of what happened with players this week was spontaneous—and came from discussions teams had on their regularly scheduled Zoom calls. From what I’ve gathered, very little football was on the table this week. Instead, meeting plans pivoted and calls centered on life, what’s happening in our country and where everyone goes from here.
Personal experiences have been shared, tears have been shed and progress has been made. And in some cases, action has started to come.
The Broncos gave us one such case. Like the Jaguars did Friday, Denver players, coaches and executive staff took to the streets to march on Saturday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The concept stemmed from Denver’s Monday and Tuesday meetings, in which police brutality, social injustice and systemic racism were on the agenda. One thing led to another, and team captain Todd Davis, going into his seventh season, raised the idea.
“I thought it would be perfect to do a march, bring guys together, especially in a time where the world is so divided,” the linebacker said on Sunday night. “You have riots going on, you have people looking at every situation from two sides of the table. I thought it would be great to bring people together, coaches, management, all different races and ethnicities on the team, for us to walk together to really show our unity at a time when the world is divided. So that was the original idea. We had a lot of great input.”
From there, Davis, Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Justin Simmons got to work, with veteran defensive back Kareem Jackson taking a lead role. Jackson knew people connected to a couple other groups marching (one was the Black Lives Matter 5280 organizers) on Saturday in Denver, so he got in touch with them to coordinate the effort.
Because there was an existing march planned, a lot of logistics were already hammered out. And without much effort at all, the leading players were able to get the whole organization on board with the idea.
There was one problem. Davis is local, but because of the nature of this offseason, a lot of players were scattered across the country. Even the guy doing a lot of the legwork, Jackson, was out of town—back home in Houston. But it was important enough to a few guys to make the trip into Colorado just to be with their teammates, which underscores how deep and powerful the conversations were earlier in the week.
“Justin Simmons and a couple of the guys flew back just to be a part of it and that meant a lot, because it showed that support was huge for it, that they would fly back from whatever city they were in,” Davis said. “Overall, the support from the team was huge. I'm grateful for that.”
And the really interesting part is that Denver was one of the teams that became embroiled in a controversy earlier in the week—coach Vic Fangio said on Tuesday that he didn’t believe there was racism in today’s NFL, touching off a national conversation on the subject. Fangio walked the comments back on Wednesday and addressed it privately with his team.
It was addressed. It was taken care of.
“We talked with Vic about everything,” Davis said. “Us talking with him and him talking with us, he had a great understanding of how we felt. Everything after that went great. I think that him showing his support and being there really meant a lot. You can see where his heart is. Sometimes the media nitpicks every single word. We just understand where his heart is and appreciate his support this Saturday.”
Fangio wasn’t the only one. Team president Joe Ellis was there too, as part of a contingent of 75 or so team employees, nearly 50 of which were players. More than a dozen of the players came in from out of town, with vets arranging to pay for some rookies to fly in. And in the end, the experience of the whole week was meaningful to everyone involved, even if it was a little bumpy at times.
In that way, Saturday showed how the group was coming out of it together.
“It felt good to know not only that we had our coaches’, and teammates’, and friends’ and families’ support, but I felt like a lot of support was given by the fans and everybody that saw us online,” Davis said. “It felt like they supported us a lot. That meant a lot because you know you're always worried how everything can be perceived. You want to build and share your message and you want people to hear it, and not be closed off or not like the way you said what you said. So it was great to have our message heard and received well.”
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WHAT’S NEXT AS THE NFL RE-OPENS
There are three weeks left in the NFL’s virtual offseason and the league keeps taking steps toward reopening, the latest one having come Friday, with coaches allowed to return to team facilities. After that? Well, there’s a lot to be discussed, and negotiated between the league and union, and, even still, a ton of uncertainty ahead.
Here's what I can tell you, on June 8 . . .
• As one source put it, “minicamps are dead.” Yes, it’s been highly unlikely throughout that teams were going to be in a position by the end of June to stage a series of mandatory, full-squad practices as they normally would. But we’re at the point now, where it’s pretty much logistically impossible for the league and union to make full-squad minicamps happen before the end date for offseason programs, which was negotiated to be June 26.
• So could some players return to team facilities before June 26? The answer is yes, it’s possible, though maybe not likely. If players are allowed back in, what has been discussed is having it be rookies and new veterans, allowing those guys to take physicals and close the loop on their rookie contracts, free agent deals or trades. The inability to take care of that business is why just 51 of 255 draft picks (20%) and only two first-rounders were signed by June 1. At the same juncture last year, 204 draft picks, including 20 first-rounders were under contract. (My guess is a lot of those young guys wouldn’t mind getting paid.)
• The new CBA dictates that teams can report 47 days before their first regular season game (a change from the old 14-day rule), meaning the report date for most teams would be July 28. Meanwhile, the joint committee on health and safety is recommending an acclimation period before camp, given the lack of football activity these guys have had, of at least a week or two (and up to three). The good news is, the new CBA builds in a five-day acclimation period. The bad news is players may need more than that under these unique circumstances. So the league has floated the idea of an earlier report date closer to the middle of July, to give players a better chance to get their feet underneath them.
• The union has been, understandably, protective of the players’ vacation time. And the desires of individual players are all over the map (a rookie and 10-year vet are going to have different needs and priorities, of course). One more extreme option that’s been discussed, if the union holds firm on the report date, is the idea of canceling the first week of preseason games to allow for an acclimation period and enough actual football practice before players head into live action.
• Moving the season back to an October start is one option that I know some teams support—it’d allow for the NFL to observe how other leagues start back up, watch them do things right and wrong, and buy more time for all this stuff—but the league office hasn’t been receptive at all to the idea at this point. Changing the dates of the season would have to be negotiated with the union, too. That said, there’s flexibility to move the Super Bowl if needed, which creates that option.
• The NFL and NFLPA have been in communication pretty consistently, and things have been civil, but part of that is because they haven’t gotten to the money yet. That said, this won’t be a situation like what you’re seeing in baseball. The NFL has a cap, and a negotiated piece of its revenue going to the players, which makes the dynamic much different than baseball’s. Really, this is going to be about the 2021 cap, how much it’s affected by lost revenue in 2020, and what the NFL and union might do to make sure that it’s, at the very least, flat over the next two years. That might mean borrowing cap dollars from 2022 and ’23, which, of course, would have to be bargained.
Put all that together, and here’s the sum of the parts: This summer will be different, we just don’t know how different. And it’s hard to know when we’ll know, since the NFL and NFLPA are taking this, right now, day-by-day.
That’s a nice luxury to have, one they get because their season is still a few months away.
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WHICH COACHES ARE BACK AT THE OFFICE
The idea of coaches flashing their key cards at 12:01 a.m. on Friday to get back into team facilities? Yeah, it didn’t play out that way. So here’s a look at what actually is happening across the NFL …
• Some coaches did go back in on Friday. The Bengals’ staff was in the office. Packers coach Matt LaFleur has been in, but made it optional for his staff. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was in Friday. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone was in, too, though without any of his staff there. Washington coaches who live locally were also in on Friday.
• Some staffs will return Monday. Among those: the Titans, Falcons and Dolphins. The Ravens’ coaches will return to the office Monday too, with assistants only required to be at the office as needed for the time being.
• There are some that are bringing pieces of their staffs back. The Bills and Texans, for example, will have their head coaches and coordinators in-house at some point this week. Houston is going to use the opportunity to wrap up their virtual offseason program on Friday.
• Others are taking the approach that coaches will return when the players do, believing they hit a nice rhythm in working remotely. The Eagles’, Browns’ and Panthers’ staffs have that mandate. (Cleveland does have some coaches in, but it’s voluntary.) The Vikings seem to be moving in that direction as well.
• The Giants will have coaches in this week, but that one’s also voluntary. The Patriots’ approach is similar. Some were in Friday, but all of it will be voluntary until further notice.
• The Buccaneers have given their coaches next Monday, June 15, as a return date. The Rams will also open their facility to coaches on the 15th, but on an optional basis.
• Some coaches aren’t expected back in the office until the start of training camp—the Saints’ and Colts’ staffs are two under those conditions. The Bears and Lions are working remotely until further notice, and trending in the direction of not having a mandate until July. The Cardinals also are working remotely, and for now just know they won’t be in the office this week.
And that’s just a sampling. One thing that people might be missing to a degree here—a lot of coaches maintain full-time homes in cities other than the ones they work in, and retreated back to those places when the virus hit. And then there are the new staffs, stocked with people who hadn’t yet moved their families when the shutdown happened, and then returned to them after it did.
All that, obviously, complicates some things. Add it to the fact that many of these staffs have become pretty good at working remotely, and it’s easy to see why, while the idea of allowing coaches back was a big one in the league’s timeline for a return to normalcy, the effect it’s going to have on the coaches themselves should be relatively minimal.
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I applaud Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for being honest in discussing the Jake Fromm situation. If you missed it, a text exchange surfaced on Thursday from a couple years back, in which Buffalo’s fifth-round pick suggested, as a form of gun control, pricing guns so only “elite white people” would be able to buy them. “He knows that he has a lot of work to do to earn the trust of his teammates back," Daboll said the following morning. "And I'm a big believer in actions speak louder than words. So I know he'll be committed to that. We have a strong leadership group, a strong culture in our room.” The interesting piece of this is that, in going through the 2020 draft cycle, for all his flaws, Fromm’s leadership and character were consider unimpeachable—and a big reason why he was able to beat out heralded recruits Jacob Eason and Justin Fields to hold the starting job at Georgia for all three of his collegiate seasons. And those traits were a big part of why the Bills loved the kid, enough to spend a piece of draft capital on him, despite having Josh Allen on their roster and a pretty limited amount of picks after the Stefon Diggs trade. So now they’ll count on who Fromm is as a person to shine through. And I think Daboll showed some leadership on his own end here—not sidestepping something that will clearly be a part of Fromm’s entry into the NFL. Now, his players have cover to talk about it privately and publicly, and everyone can handle it head on.
Luke Kuechly’s path to rise through the scouting ranks is one that’s been beaten before. Like Kuechly 11 years later, Dan Morgan was a highly regarded, high-profile college linebacker taken by the Panthers in the first half of the first round, who became a Pro Bowler, and had his career cut short by injury. Morgan jumped right into scouting six months after retiring, doing an internship alongside Panthers pro scout Trent Kirchner in the summer of 2009, then following Kirchner to join the staff of then-newly hired Seattle GM John Schneider. He started there as an intern, and quickly rose to assistant director of pro personnel, then, in early 2015, director of pro personnel. Three years later, the Bills plucked him from Seattle and named him director of player personnel. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar rise for Kuechly, if he takes to scouting like Morgan did. Per those who know both, there are plenty of similarities between the two. Both were tape junkies as players, who always had a thirst to know not just the ins and outs of their jobs, but the big picture around them. And both were team-first in a way that allowed Morgan, and should allow Kuechly (who easily could’ve had a job in Washington or Buffalo too, for obvious reasons), to come in on the ground floor without ego, and blend into the group around them. Bottom line here: I wouldn’t bet against him.
I was sad to see the death of Reche Caldwell on Sunday morning. I covered Caldwell on my first beat, in New England—and as he become Tom Brady’s unlikely No. 1 receiver for a short time in 2006, after David Givens bolted in free agency and Deion Branch held out and forced a trade. Caldwell had a pretty troubled post-football life, and had some skeletons in his closet as a player, but was plenty friendly and good to deal with personally. And he made an impact that year too, including the game-tying touchdown and a 49-yard catch to set up the game-winning field goal during New England’s improbable comeback over the Chargers in the AFC divisional round. RIP, Reche.
I really liked the story that Larry Fitzgerald wrote in the New York Times. And part of that is because it spoke to me, and something I shared with my friends on Facebook the other day (s/o to old colleague Robert Klemko for encouraging me to share this more broadly, where I was worried it’d be a little self-serving from a guy whose voice isn’t very important on this subject). Like Fitzgerald’s childhood, my childhood gave me a different view of where I grew up—outside of Boston—than most people had. By the standards of most affluent, predominantly white suburbs in America, my high school was pretty diverse, and the football teams I played on were even more so. Bottom line, my childhood showed me that Massachusetts was a very educated, progressive place, and as I got older and moved around the country, then came back, I honestly felt like it was the least racist place I’d lived. Then, the Adam Jones incident happened at Fenway, and I felt compelled to say something. And I was wrong to present my experience as everyone’s, because I felt like I owed it to the place I’m from. And I know that because a few of my childhood friends reached out to me and told me I was wrong, and explained how they’d shielded a lot of us white kids from what they saw outside our little bubble, where it was easy to be fooled into thinking racism was a thing of the past. I’m so grateful for the perspective going to high school at Lincoln-Sudbury gave me. In a lot of ways, it still feels to me like the way things should be. But it also left me with a skewed view of what was around me, just outside our sphere. I missed stuff that a lot of us growing up there missed. So three years ago, I listened, in the aftermath of what I’d said about Jones. In the same way, I hope everyone is listening this week. I know after my experience, I’ll always try to do a better job of that, from here on out. As Fitz said in his story, “People of color across this nation are screaming to be heard.” Let’s listen.
Bears coach Matt Nagy conceded something this week that, I think, is going become apparent when we get to the summer—teams are going to have to be creative in generating more chances to get work for players. And what he conceded was fairly simple, and something he and I touched on in the May 18 MMQB, that he’ll probably need to see more of Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles in preseason games than he would’ve otherwise, based on having lost the entirety of the spring’s on-field work. Here’s what Nagy said when I asked him about what the Bears have to make up for with regard to the QB competition, given the circumstances: “When you have the offseason, you have the OTAs, what Mitch is going to be able to do with the players is show his improvement at that position. What Nick is going to be able to do with the players on the field at OTAs is show who he is as a quarterback and what his strengths are. And now, Mitch isn’t gonna be able to do that, and Nick isn’t gonna be able to do that. So it’s gonna be very important, whatever time we’re given. It’s just a fact, there’s just not going to be as much time for that to naturally happen and for us to see it. It’ll all play itself out, and because there’s zero agendas in this thing, and because there’s complete honesty, it’s very healthy. Credit to both of these guys, Mitch and Nick, they’re both really good people.” The impact of this should be felt all over. More creative practice structure. Maybe a little less opportunity for bottom-of-the-roster guys to prove themselves. And, yes, more preseason playing time.
Internal reaction to Tom Brady’s leadership in Tampa has been predictable. But it is notable to hear it come from Bruce Arians. “When he talks, they listen,” Arians said, to the Tampa media, this week. “It’s so different than a coach. I think for us as coaches, there has to be a bond between the coach and those guys so that you give them ownership. You ask them questions. How do you want to do things? So if they think they have a big hand in it, they send a message to the rest of the guys. They send your message to the rest of the guys. With Tom, it’s been fantastic.” A few days after Brady agreed to terms, one high-ranking Bucs source said to me, on the cultural impact the new quarterback was expected to have, “The standard has just risen.” And it has. (One other Bucs note: Take Arians’s declaration this week that the Bucs would be a base two-tight-end offense as a good sign that he’ll adjust what he’s doing to Brady’s strengths. Brady’s always feasted with inside players, tight ends and slots, and putting more of them on the field lines up with what Brady does well.
I don’t doubt Titans OC Arthur Smith’s intentions to lean on Derrick Henry a little less, as Henry goes into his fifth NFL season. It makes sense to, of course, after a year in which he led the NFL not only in rushing yards (1,540), but also carries (303). But I also know how these things go. It was the Panthers’ intention last year to manage Christian McCaffrey out of some short-yardage and goal-line spots, because that’s where the game is most physical, and thus where the team could most efficiently save some miles on his legs. What happened? Well, McCaffrey proved himself to be the team’s best player, and wound up with 403 touches, which was 48 more than any other player had. Which goes to show you these things are easier said in June than pulled off in October. (And that’s without considering the contract situation, that’ll either have Henry on a one-year franchise tender, or the Titans making a massive long-term commitment to him.)
I’m taking Baker Mayfield spending time in other position group meetings as a great sign. New Cleveland OC Alex Van Pelt revealed in a conference call last week that Mayfield is doing that, and that’s no small deal. It shows investment to teammates, of course, but it also builds toward ownership of an offense. The best quarterbacks have to know what the other 10 guys in the huddle are doing on every play, and Mayfield’s desire to get into the nitty gritty of that matters—and it’s a creative way to make the most out of the current circumstances, since a normal offseason probably wouldn’t allow for it. These are all baby steps, of course. But they are good steps, that Mayfield seems to be taking.
I was glad to see the Steelers will return to Latrobe in 2021. And maybe that makes me a traditionalist. I believe Pittsburgh is the last team to have this sort of long-standing off-site camp tradition, outside of the Cowboys’ rite of going to Southern California to escape the Texas heat (though they did have camp in San Antonio and Austin at certain points) every summer. And while I understand the benefits of staying at home, particularly with all the technological infrastructure teams have now and rules against two-a-days, I do miss when there were more spots like Latrobe. The Eagles going to Lehigh was another one that was great, as was (and this is a massively underrated one) the Cardinals’ annual summers up in Flagstaff. So St. Vincent really is a sort of last bastion of times gone by. Eventually, I know they’ll all be gone. Hope you can let me be happy that time isn’t now.
And so ends the Raiders’ 60-year run in California. The team’s new facility in suburban Las Vegas (Henderson, Nev., to be exact) is scheduled for completion by the end of the month. With the league informing teams that they can’t do camp off-site this year, the Raiders won’t be going to Napa, and they’re already in the process of moving out of their Alameda, Calif. practice facility. Their contract to train in Napa is up, too, and the University of Nevada in Reno has pursued hosting the Raiders in the past, so they may not be back next year either. And if that’s that, it was a hell of a run they had out there.
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SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
1) I know an Achilles tear is a serious injury, but I’ll admit I was a little disappointed to hear Kevin Durant say he doesn’t plan to try and come back when the NBA resumes play on July 31. That was one of the fun story lines that I hoped we’d be able to follow over the next couple months.
2) I love the NBA’s overall plan, but I really don’t get why they’d be so thirsty to go eye-to-eye with the NFL on critical dates in their calendar. Game 7 of the NBA Finals, if there is one, is set for the night of Oct. 12, head-to-head with a Chargers-Saints Monday night game. And the NBA draft is going to be on Oct. 15, which pits it against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs’ Thursday night trip to Buffalo.
3) I also love the NHL’s plan. Its playoffs are always great, and the idea of making it a 24-team tournament, in a postseason that’s always more of a crapshoot than the other pro sports, is tremendous.
4) Golf’s back this week!
5) The news of a COVID outbreak in the Alabama football program is, obviously, significant, as it pertains to the risks that NFL teams will be trying to mitigate in July. So it’s worth mentioning that more schools, including Ohio State, are welcoming back football players Tuesday. There should be some valuable data for NFL teams coming out of all these re-openings.
6) On the flip side, it does seem like the Bundesliga’s methods have worked over the last three weeks, and it’ll be interesting to see if they create a sort of blueprint for some American sports.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
Everyone was all over teams that didn’t respond right away as the temperature turned up last week across the country. I’m glad a lot of teams, like the Packers here, took their time to do something meaningful.
The former NFL lineman is dead on here. Do I believe some fans will be pissed if players kneel in September? Sure. Do I think they’re tuning out? Nope. Not at all. (And don’t be fooled if the ratings take their standard election-year dip.)
Need more of this, from good people like Eric Kendricks. Not hard to see how much this means to him.
At this point, it’s hard to tell what exactly that’ll entail. But I don’t think the sentiment is going to go away any time soon from high-profile places like this.
I’ll say that it’s been noticeable how many young quarterbacks, both black and white, have been involved in one way or the other over the last two weeks.
Words to live by.
This is a pretty good explanation.
Good work, as always, from Spencer Hall here.
There are too many stories like this where no one really wins.
Can we rule it out?
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
I remember writing here in March that I just hoped everyone would stay safe. And now, three months later, I can say the same thing for very different, but no less important, reasons.
Here’s hoping we make it out of this, as a country, stronger. And that I don’t have to say “stay safe” another three months from now.
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