The Jets did wrong by cutting David Harris when they did, but no one should be surprised by how NFL teams treat their players . . . plus a look at Kaepernick’s ongoing unemployment, the Ryan brothers’ bar room scuffle, the best trolling of Cam Newton, and more
1) I think I agree with the comments David Harris’s agents made to ESPN’s Adam Schefter in regards to the linebacker’s sudden release on Tuesday. Brian Mackler and Jim Ivler said they were “very disappointed in the timing of this event . . . The Jets could have done this prior to free agency instead of waiting three months, especially to a player who has exhibited nothing but class and loyalty for 10 years.” Not only has Harris been one of the most respected players in the Jets’ locker room for the better part of a decade, he has also played nearly every snap for the team. In 2013, when Pro Football Reference began tracking snap counts, Harris was on the field for 99.8% of the team’s defensive plays. In 2014: 99.4%. In 2015: 92.4%. And in the 15 games he played last season: 98.0%. That he was cut just now—on the same day he participated in a voluntary OTA, no less—shows that NFL teams really don’t care about what is best for their players, regardless of what the player has done for the team. For all that teams preach about family, brotherhood and sacrificing for the good of the franchise, there is no reciprocity in that bargain.
I had similar feelings about the Chiefs’ releasing Jeremy Maclin last week. The most confounding part is that Maclin is still a very solid receiver, last year’s groin injury notwithstanding. It’s a peculiar move for a team that is in “win now” mode, and it reminds me of something that Vikings safety Harrison Smith told me last year when we were out to dinner. “We are commodities, if you think about it from a strictly business standpoint,” he said. “If you are not producing you are gone. I know that one day they are going to kick me out.” Smith wasn’t complaining; he went on to say, “I love that because it’s real. You can’t argue it.” But I think that’s a telling quote from an All-Pro safety about the realities of the NFL.
2) All of that said, I think it’s ludicrous for anyone to criticize Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for sitting out voluntary OTAs. So far in Beckham’s three-year career, he has made $7,095,135 in salary. Over than span he has 288 catches, 4,122 yards, and 35 touchdowns. That’s the fourth most receptions, third most yards, and the most touchdowns in the NFL. And, please, don’t tell me, He shouldn’t complain about making seven million dollars. When you know that at any moment—despite your past production—the team can and will unceremoniously cut you, it’d be downright irresponsible to not do everything in your power to get paid your true market value. Beckham has clearly outperformed his contract and deserves a hefty raise.
3) I think I don’t understand the rationale behind ESPN’s decision to bring Hank Williams Jr. back to Monday Night Football. Let’s set aside the fact that Williams once compared Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler and used both homophobic and xenophobic language. Let’s even assume that the statute of limitations for making such comments is six years, the amount of time it has been since Williams ranted on Fox News. What I don’t understand is why the network felt compelled to bring him back in the first place. Who among us has ever watched a Monday night game and said, “Oh, man, I really wish Hank Williams and his rowdy friends were still singing their pregame song”? Does Hank Williams really add to anyone’s enjoyment of MNF? The next person I meet who shares such a sentiment will be the first.
4) I think I have no problem with the NFL reversing course and allowing hard liquor ads during games, but I find the hypocrisy in these decisions laughable. Bud Light has a $1.4 billion sponsorship deal to be the official beer of the NFL—which includes having customized cans for every team—so clearly the league has never had a moral issue with the monetization of alcohol. So why did the line of demarcation as to what kind of alcohol is deemed acceptable by the league change now? As with all NFL decisions, it’s as simple as following the money. Over the last 13 years, beer’s share of the market value has fallen 8%, while hard liquor has climbed 4%. Yet while booze is now in vogue, the NFL still doesn’t allow advertisements for energy drinks or condoms. I think that will be the case until it’d be fiscally irresponsible to not do so, at which time the league will inevitably amend their moral compass.
5) I think I feel compelled to give my Colin Kaepernick take, because doing so seems to be a prerequisite in our profession these days. Mine is pretty simple: I respect Kaepernick as much as I respect any athlete and I think he should absolutely be on an NFL roster right now. Any explanation for his free-agent status that doesn’t begin and end with his kneeling during the national anthem last season—and thus the ensuing media attention or potential fan backlash that signing him would bring—is veritably inaccurate. What struck me most about the Seahawks’ decision to not sign Kaepernick was Pete Carroll’s reasoning that the quarterback is “a starter in this league” and thus overqualified to be Seattle’s backup. Carroll is the most open-minded coach in the league and has fostered a team culture that allows players to be themselves. But that has to be the first time in NFL history a coach has ever said he didn’t sign a player because he is too good. If Russell Wilson were to go down with a season-ending injury, wouldn’t you want a starting-caliber QB to step up?
6)I think that Ryan Kalil’s spoof of Cam Newton’s birthday music video was further proof that offensive lineman are often the funniest members in every NFL locker room. The pettiness and production quality alone is worthy of praise. But including Greg Olsen rapping and dancing was a great flourish that put it over the top. I am fully in favor of there being more fun in football, and this was a good start to 2017.vrdf
7) I think I disagree with what my colleague and friend Jonathan Jones thought yesterday about J.J. Watt tweeting that his No. 35 rating in the NFL Network’s Top 100 list was too high because he played in only three games last year. Jones said that he appreciated and agreed with Watt’s opinion; I think that the tweet was perfectly on brand for Watt, who has created a very carefully crafted image for how he wants the public to view him. With his log cabin and his perpetually broken nose, Watt is as shrewd a manipulator of public opinion as any in the NFL. Being the only guy who has ever argued that he was rated too highly fits into that image perfectly. There is literally no chance that Watt—no matter how many games he played last year—doesn’t believe he is one of the 35 best players in the league. I’m calling malarkey.
8) I think Rex and Rob Ryan’s being accused of assault in a Nashville bar fight last weekend is a poor portent for the brothers’ year out of football. Although the filing of a police report doesn’t mean that the Ryan bros will be charged or arrested, the video is still a pretty bad look. Neither has gone a season without being on the coaching staff, either college or pro, in more than 30 years. They’re going to have a lot of free time to be, well, Rob and Rex. Hopefully their future exploits will be more reality-TV-show-quirky and less TMZ-bar-fight-video-unfortunate.
9)I think the Washington football team shouldn’t be playing a game of chicken with Kirk Cousins over his contract extension. Cousins has given the franchise stability at the most important position for three seasons, the first time that can be said for this franchise in decades. No, Cousins is not a top five NFL quarterback, and I’d feel confident in betting that he never will be. But in a league where teams spend years desultorily searching for a quality starting quarterback, Washington already has one. You can win a Super Bowl with Kirk Cousins if you build all of the right pieces around him. There is no reason for the team not to lock him up long term right now. And if they don’t think Cousins is worthy of a long-term, high-priced contract, then they shouldn’t have franchise-tagged him yet again. Either you find a cheaper starting-caliber QB (ahem, Kaepernick), or you bottom out and hope to find your guy at the top of the draft.
10) I think we should all stop with the cross-generational sports comparisons. I don’t need to hear a debate about whether Lebron James is better than Michael Jordan, or whether the 2017 Warriors could beat the 1996 Bulls. You might as well be arguing about whether the Warriors could beat the Monstars, or who would win in a game of one-on-one between Sidney Deane and Billy Hoyle; it’s just as futile of an endeavor. Why can’t we just appreciate greatness for what it is, and not feel the need to examine all of these hypotheticals? If you’re going to embrace debate, at least argue about something that will eventually have the possibility of being answered.