NFL stands for kneeling, Allen Robinson contract and more

On Friday night, the NFL and Drew Brees changed the narrative around league-wide protests.

There’s no going back for the NFL. The stance has been taken. Now the fight begins.

In an 82-second social media video Friday night, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made the strongest statement the league has ever made in favor of player protests. Goodell, in response to a poignant video released Thursday evening by many black stars including Patrick Mahomes, Saquon Barkley and Deshaun Watson, repeated three sentences of incredible gravity.

“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 black players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.”

In 48 words, the NFL struck a tone in shocking contrast to the one in 2017.

Then there’s Drew Brees. On Thursday, the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback was the center of a nationwide argument when he equated taking a knee during the national anthem to disrespect for the flag. Immediately, star teammates including Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas came out and criticized Brees for his comments.

Brees backtracked the same day and issued a half-measure apology via Instagram. However, Brees doubled back on Friday and after receiving criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump for doing so, Brees wrote a letter addressed to Trump, essentially asking Trump to reconsider his position on the matter.

Only three years ago, the league was embroiled in a season-long controversy. Then, the NFL famously discouraged players kneeling during the anthem, with some teams asking their athletes to stay in the locker room during the Star-Spangled Banner.

So what changed? Many factors.

In 2017, the league appeared to be appeasing Trump’s anger, who wanted players fired for kneeling during the anthem. At Indianapolis during a game between the Colts and San Francisco 49ers, vice president Mike Pence famously left Lucas Oil Stadium after players silently protested during the song.

Now in an election year with Trump universally behind in polls to challenger Joe Biden, perhaps the NFL isn’t as concerned with his rhetoric on its business. If the league feels Trump doesn’t last through the Nov. 3 vote, it could be enough to withstand any potential political firestorm for a few months.

Without diving into politics, let’s say this: the NFL is picking its employees over the president.

Additionally, this isn’t Colin Kaepernick out front and supporters behind him at the start. This is a league-wide request.

The players wisely presented a united front with some of the biggest stars in the game within their video demanding the NFL speak up. It’s one thing to blackball a fringe starter and hope the criticism goes away. It’s quite another to ignore a league full of black stars demanding better. Nobody is blackballing Mahomes, Watson, Barkley and the like.

If Goodell said nothing, it would have been damning and caused division. The league decided to back its players and specifically say it will “encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” There can’t be talk of staying in locker rooms and not playing the anthem after that sentence. Support means allowing the protests to happen.

Finally, 2017 wasn’t a nationwide movement. It was largely confined to an NFL player attempting to bring awareness to police brutality towards the black community.

In this instance, almost every American city has seen significant protests in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd being killed in recent weeks. The league would have been risking massive backlash if it didn’t side with change and progress in the United States for minorities.

On Friday, Goodell and the NFL took their stance. Now, no matter what, they must stick with it.

Power rankings

Top 10 great-player, weird-uniform moments in NFL history

1. Joe Montana, Kansas City Chiefs
2. Johnny Unitas, San Diego Chargers
3. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Emmitt Smith, Arizona Cardinals
5. Jerry Rice, Seattle Seahawks
6. Joe Namath, Los Angeles Rams
7. Brett Favre, New York Jets AND Minnesota Vikings
8. Tony Dorsett, Denver Broncos
9. Larry Csonka, New York Giants
10. Ken Stabler, Houston Oilers


“I can’t sit here and remain silent because that’s exactly what we’ve done every time our black community screams and yells for help. We have to end social injustices and racial inequalities. We have to end the police violence against our black communities. Black lives matter. I don’t understand why that’s so freaking hard for the white community to say. Black lives matter.

“I’ve been ignorant. I’ve been ignorant to the real problem, and I’m ashamed of that. I just came to the realization here over the last 10 days with some really hard, difficult conversations that’s we’ve had as an organization, as a team, with my family, with my sons. And I’ve been ignorant to the real problem.”

– Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard on racial injustice in America

Well said. Ballard is pushing the conversation forward. It’s something everyone in our society ought to do.


Random stat

The Dallas Cowboys played 28 playoff games before allowing an 100-yard rusher, doing so against Wilbert Montgomery of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1980 NFC Championship Game.

Montgomery went for 194 yards in a 20-7 Philadelphia win.

Info learned this week

1. NFL moving towards training camp with various steps

On Friday, the restriction mandating NFL coaching staffs stay home was lifted. It’s a small but important step towards the league staying on schedule for training camp in late July.

We already know teams won’t be traveling for camp, something which impacts a bevy of clubs. Most will adapt fine, although a few organizations may be scrambling to do their drills without enough fields to utilize at the team facility. Of course, these are small problems compared to what other sports have faced during the COVID-19 crisis.

For now, everything remains on a normal timeline for the league. While fans won’t be allowed to view camps across the country, it’s unknown whether they will be permitted into stadiums at the beginning of the preseason and regular season. Recently, Texas governor Greg Abbott announced pro teams can fill their stadiums to 50 percent capacity.

Whether the NFL allows teams to have fans while others can’t — if that’s the case come September — remains unclear.

2. Kuechly will continue working with Panthers

Luke Kuechly was the league’s best linebacker for the better part of his seven seasons. Now, he’s retired before age 30, but is remaining with the Carolina Panthers.

Kuechly is becoming a pro scout for the franchise where he spent his playing days, helping the Panthers return to glory. It’s a move which may ultimately put him on the path to becoming a general manager. We’ve seen other players do so before, most notably Ozzie Newsome and John Dorsey, among others.

The larger question at play is could this represent a continuing shift in thinking for the modern player?

Kuechly is hardly the first player in recent memory to walk away before sustaining more injuries (think Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers). If a player takes care of his finances, he is free to pursue other avenues including ones that involve football, such as scouting.

For most players, they miss the competition and camaraderie of attempting to reach a common goal more than the game itself. Ensuring enough financial flexibility for retirement on their first two deals and then remaining in the game might be the perfect balance.

3. Bears would be crazy not to extend Allen Robinson

The Chicago Bears should be working to extend Allen Robinson as we speak.

Last week, Robinson spoke to reporters about his before becoming a free agent after this season. In the last year of a three-year, $42 million deal, Robinson has been fantastic, notching 1,901 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing three games in 2018, playing with no other perimeter weapons and catching passes from Mitch Trubisky.

Only 26 years old, Robinson is squarely in the prime of his career. He’s long been a model teammate and produces at an elite level. For the Bears to keep him, they’ll likely need to pay somewhere in the $14-16 million per year range, putting Robinson on par with Jarvis Landry, Mike Evans, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs and more.

The Bears could tag Robinson after the season for approximately $18 million in 2021. However, general manager Ryan Pace may shy away, as Chicago is projected to have one of the highest financial situations in the NFL.

4. Steelers are value sleeper for Super Bowl LV odds

Want to gamble on Super Bowl LV futures? The Pittsburgh Steelers are a solid bet.

At 40/1, Pittsburgh comes in tied with the Cleveland Browns for having the 14th-best odds in the league. This seems like a mistake for the Vegas sportsbooks. Last year, Pittsburgh was 8-5 before faltering down the stretch. This despite getting six quarters from future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roehtlisberger.

The Steelers have an elite defense, a great coach and Roethlisberger returning. Is there risk? Absolutely, thus the +4000 odds. Roethlisberger is 38 years old coming off Tommy John surgery. He may not recover. Pittsburgh also plays in the tough AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens — who have the second-best odds behind Kansas City — and the improved Cincinnati Bengals.

Still, as far as value is concerned, 40/1 is pretty damn good considering the talent and pedigree in Pittsburgh.

5. Bills believe Tremaine Edmunds on verge of stardom

Tremaine Edmunds is already one of the game’s best linebackers. Perhaps the world will know it soon.

Edmunds drew praise from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier when he spoke to reporters over the weekend. Edmunds, 22, earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2019 with 115 tackles, 1.5 sacks, terrific coverage downfield and incredible range on the line of scrimmage.

Buffalo reached the playoffs last season but bowed out in the Wild Card round. This year, the Bills will have far more primetime exposure with a Thursday night affair, a Sunday night contest and two showcases on Monday Night Football.

The Bills have one of the best defenses in the league, and with cornerback Tre’Davious White and Edmunds still on their rookie deals, the potential is there for internal improvement. Buffalo lost Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips off its front but fortified the unit with edge rusher Mario Addison, who head coach Sean McDermott knows from his Carolina days. Addison had 10 sacks in 2018.

The Buffalo line should keep Edmunds clean, allowing the athletic linebacker to turn some heads in his third campaign.

History lesson

The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints share one of the best NFL rivalries. They also share a pair of largely torturous histories.

New Orleans didn’t have a winning season until its 20th year, and didn’t earn a playoff victory until 2000. For context, the Saints came into existence in 1967.

Meanwhile, Atlanta didn’t enjoy consecutive winning campaigns until the 2008 and ’09 seasons. The Falcons have never won a title, famously blowing a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

Parting shot

Keep an eye on Yannick Ngakoue’s situation over the summer.

Ngakoue, 24, is on the franchise tag with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but has publicly stated he’ll never play another down in Duval. Thus far, general manager Dave Caldwell hasn’t flinched, but we saw Caldwell trade cornerback Jalen Ramsey last year at the deadline for two first-round picks. It’s in him to make a big move.

If the two sides don’t agree on a long-term deal by July 15 — and it’s highly unlikely they will — Ngakoue will play the year for $17.8 million before hitting free agency. The Jaguars could tag him again, but they’d lose both leverage and cap space on a player who isn’t returning.

Should we approach July and there’s no change of heart from Ngakoue, Caldwell would be wise to move him. A trade partner will obviously give far more for a player it can sign to a multi-year deal than for a rental.

Case in point: the Seahawks traded Frank Clark in April to the Chiefs last spring for a first and second-round pick.  Then, after the tag deadline, the Houston Texans dealt Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks for a third-round choice.

Ngakoue is one of the best young pass-rushers in football. If Jacksonville decides the relationship is beyond repair, look for a bevy of teams to be interested.

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