NFL owners looking out for self

Which side are the NFL owners on you ask? The side of money, of course.

After Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest during the national anthem last season, the NFL and its owners distanced themselves as far away from him as possible, leaving Kaepernick unemployed to this day. But following President Donald Trump’s attack on players who take a similar stance as Kaepernick, the owners spoke out in defense of the players’ right to freedom of speech. 

Only one thing can make wealthy billionaires change their minds so quickly, and that’s money.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!” -Donald Trump

With those words said at a campaign rally in Huntsville, AL last Friday, Trump put all 32 owners in a precarious position with their workforce and fanbase. Even if they wanted to, the owners couldn’t fire every player protesting during the national anthem. For one, some of those players are key contributors to what’s supposedly the ultimate goal – winning. Secondly, that would surely turn off the fans who reluctantly stuck around after Kaepernick’s exile.

If the same owners appearing to be blackballing Kaepernick said/did nothing after the president’s comments, they would have looked as if they were in agreement with Trump, the same man whose campaign many of them donated to. This would have led to splintered relationships within organizations. And even the fans who didn’t care about the protests would lose interest soon after.

The above tweet and similar rhetoric further exacerbated the NFL’s need to show a united front, as Trump called on his legion of supporters to boycott a league that is already being boycotted by Kaepernick supporters. The NFL doesn’t stand a chance in a war with the President over the type of people who support him. These are the same people who see the protests during the national anthem as disrespect to our country and military even though Kaepernick verbally expressed exactly what his intent was.

The NFL had no choice but to target the other segment of fans. It couldn’t be divided within its own ranks if it expected to keep the type of people that didn’t see eye-to-eye with the President. Thus, the league and its owners switched sides, some owners even joining their players in linked arms Sunday and Monday on the sidelines.

The only thing left for the NFL owners to do to complete their about-face is re-employ Kaepernick. The odds of that happening are slim to none however, because everything the owners did is a front. Kaepernick is a free agent because the owners didn’t care enough about the issue he was raising awareness for to put up with what they perceived as bad press or a “distraction.” And in linking arms, the owners (and players) effectively hijacked the narrative of what the protest was originally about – police brutality.

So which side are the owners on? They’re on their own side, and their side will always be about the bottomline, and never forget that.
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Cowboys’ season not a failure

I hate the Cowboys.

As much as any self-respecting fan of a non-Dallas NFL team, I have an extreme dislike of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s the only team to ever make me inflict damage to my own possessions – an innocent basement wall that had nothing to do with the Giants allowing a game-winning TD to slow-but-somehow-always-open Jason Witten in 2015.

 

And so life goes on. That was the season-opener of a year in which Tony Romo was injured and the Cowboys finished 4-12. Satisfying enough. But then, Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the 1st pick of the 2016 draft, and with Romo expected to return, suddenly looked like a team primed to reclaim its 1st-place form of 2014.

The rest of the story is well known: Romo is re-injured in the preseason, Dak Prescott emerges as Dallas’ QB of the future with one of the more improbable rookie seasons, the offensive line remains a juggernaut, and Elliott was everything he was advertised to be.

The Cowboys weren’t supposed to make it this far. Expectations of a turnaround hinged on the return of Romo. An almost all rookie-led run to the playoffs was unforeseen. And yet, here we are, the day after Prescott went head-to-head in the Divisional Playoffs as the No. 1 seed with arguably the game’s best QB, Aaron Rodgers, and almost won. Not to mention, the reason Dallas lost was less his fault than the defense and offensive play-calling.

When Romo went down, conventional wisdom said the team would repeat 2015. Instead, they went 13-3 (Giants sweep – hehehe) and received a 1st-round bye. At the end of such a successful season, it’s reasonable to expect a more fitting ending. But in proper perspective, this season was already a success when the team clinched the division and more in the regular season. This playoff game was merely a necessary get-knocked-down moment for a new regime led by Prescott and Elliott, and they’ll be hungrier than ever to get back next year.

 

So rejoice now non-Cowboys fans alike, because this team will give us plenty of nervous moments in the future. All we can hope for is that our teams (*cough* Giants) come back just as motivated.

Oh, and after a few down years, the NFC East is back.

It’s OK to root for Tyreek Hill

I completely understand if people have been conflicted this season watching Chiefs standout rookie Tyreek Hill set the NFL ablaze, contributing to his team’s success far earlier than most 5th-round picks.

During his time at Oklahoma State in 2014, Hill punched and choked his then-girlfriend following an argument. He pleaded guilty to abuse by strangulation in 2015 and was sentenced to three years probation on a plea agreement. The entire ordeal was horrid and unforgettable, even before  mention that the woman was eight-weeks pregnant at the time.

It’s important that we don’t forget what happened, because Hill may one day become an example of what not to do, who not to be, or how a person can and should change. But more than two years later, it’s OK to look past his transgressions and enjoy him play.

We like to think of violence against women as a football issue, something exclusive to athletes. We act as if domestic violence is something that only league’s need to deal with and that we all can judge from a distance. Maybe this way of thinking somehow makes people feel disconnected from a real-world issue. But the reality is “regular people” deal with domestic abuse too, and it’s an issue we all have a hand in fixing. It’s a culture that our country needs to address. Whether it’s OK to hit a woman isn’t something we should look to our favorite teams to set moralities and make us feel good about – essentially exiling anyone with a tattered past so we can act like the issue doesn’t exist daily outside of sports.

We should want people who have abuse problems to get help, so the cycle of abuse doesn’t continue. We should want personal reform more than punishment. And although punishment is often necessary for that reform, it should come from a fair judicial process, not a potential employer. People should be given second chances after paying their legal dues, and if a second chance proves to be insufficient, the justice system should have a next-step program for multiple offenses. And when someone is successfully reformed, we should applaud the outcome. We should be happy that another woman doesn’t have to be subjected to abuse. Simply banning an athlete from playing a sport doesn’t ensure that. It may actually have adverse affects.

The people an offender deal with day-to-day have more reason to take extreme action than someone that comes along after said offender has dealt with the issue. Hill’s girlfriend rightfully pressed charges against him. Oklahoma State rightfully released him from the football and track programs following his arrest. Afterwards, Hill enrolled at West Alabama for a season, and in 2016, the Chiefs drafted him with the 165th overall pick in the NFL draft.

Any team that passed on Hill because of his past did so to avoid having to address the questions and potential distractions, not because they were trying to stand on a moral high-ground. And as businesses, they shouldn’t be criticized for those decisions. In the same vein, we shouldn’t condemn West Alabama for taking a chance on a kid who had hopefully learned a valuable lesson. And we certainly shouldn’t condemn the Chiefs for giving Hill an opportunity to make a living. All we can hope for is that the organizations did their due diligence in the interview and background-check process.

Hill confessed to his transgressions and apologized. And as far as we know, he hasn’t had another issue since. It would be nice to see him advocate on behalf of domestic violence groups, but he’s not obligated to. He remains on probation and will likely go to jail if he doesn’t abide by it. That should be enough to keep Hill in check. Unless he has another incident, it’s not on us to hold it over his or his employers’ heads anymore.

Washington’s bright future not guaranteed

I get it. Football fans are generally optimistic about the futures of their favorite teams, specifically fans of teams that made the playoffs in the previous season. So when it comes to fans of the professional football team in Washington, D.C., this theory is enhanced by ten.
Washington fans were already irrationally optimistic, and after losing to the Packers in the wild-card round of the playoffs, their optimism is at an all-time high. Their heads are so in the clouds that they were barely upset after losing to the Packers, because “nobody expected us to be here” and “we’ll be back next year.” Only New England fans are as sure.
Now, while even I have to admit Washington showed some promise for the future, there’s cause for pause that the fans aren’t heeding to.
The first, and most glaringly obvious issue, is the one at quarterback. Kirk Cousins played amazing down the stretch this season but as has been noted time and time again, he has yet to win a game against a team with a winning record in his career.

Is he the quarterback of the future? With Cousins’ impending free agency, Washington will have to pay him to find out. If Washington doesn’t, somebody else will, so naturally they’ll pay him and either prosper for the next four to five years or set the franchise back as much.
I’m of the belief that he’ll be a decent enough quarterback, though. Not as good as he was in the second half of 2015, but not terrible either. He’ll be good enough to win with, which leads me to my next issue. The way he earned the starting quarterback position in the first place.
Robert Griffin III will be gone next season. He’ll finally be a non-issue in Washington, the distraction that was but no longer is. The other person who contributed to the RGIII circus, however, is still around – Jay Gruden.
Gruden deserves SOME credit for carrying a four-win team in 2014 to a 9-7 playoff team the following season, but it was only a playoff team for winning the NFC East. No one’s giving Bill O’Brien any praise for winning the AFC South and the NFC East was just as bad. Let’s hold on to our Gruden praise for when he actually deserves it. And I’m not as sure whether he’ll ever earn that type of praise.
Are we sure Gruden is a good head coach with the way he originally mismanaged the most important position on the team? It wasn’t a matter of knowledge with him, it was matter of dealing with people, the same thing that got Chip Kelly fired. Gruden clearly made the right decision in who to start, but the way he arrived to that point was a mess. A lot of talk was made that if his decision to start Cousins didn’t pan out, he would be out of job. Well, Cousins beat up on bad teams and saved Gruden, but are we sure he won’t mismanage more of his players in the future? Let’s not forget that he’s only still around because of a quarterback that still hasn’t beaten a winning team. There are still a lot of question marks.
The final reason Washington fans should temper expectations for 2016 is the most obvious. The ‘skins aren’t the best team in a division that seems to turnover every year. There hasn’t been a back-to-back winner of the NFC East since Philly did it from 2001 to 2004. Not even the team fans were so excited about in 2012, behind the now exiled RGIII, could repeat – and I think that team was better than this one.
As much as it pains me to say as a lifelong Giants fan, I think Dallas is still the team to beat.
Obviously, the Cowboys have their own coaching issues, but with that offensive line still in tact and a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant returning, Dallas automatically leap frogs everyone in the division.
In addition, Cousins is still just the third best quarterback in the division, at best, behind Romo and Eli Manning. And New York’s offense will keep it in the division picture, especially if the Giants hire the right head coach.
As bad as New York was defensively, only two teams scored less than Washington did in either of its two games against the Giants. Cousins threw just two touchdowns against the Giants in 2015, and he threw for as many interceptions when New York won the first game 32-21. Washington won the second game 20-14.
So, congratulations Washington fans, you made the playoffs and I know its as much success you can fathom, but your best best was to go on a magical run this season, because getting back next year isn’t a sure thing.

Coughlin era in New York a success, not great

As I look back on the Tom Coughlin era in New York, which came to a crashing end on Monday, I desperately want to call it great – but that would be a lie.

I’m a Giants fan, so I witnessed a lot of Giants football over the last 12 years since Coughlin took over, in 2004. The underlying theme of this team over that time has been inconsistency. The Giants have always been what I called ‘sleeping Giants.’

At any given time, the Giants could rip off six straight wins but at the same time they were liable to lose six straight, and in the most excruciating fashion possible. That all came to a head this season, Tom Coughlin’s last, as the Giants lost eight games by just one score, often leading late into the fourth quarter only to give the game away. It was as if the thing Giants fans feared the most kept happening, week after week.

A season like the one New York had this year is always possible when a team lives on the edge as often as Coughlin’s teams have. That’s why his career record in New York is barely over .500 at 110-92.

While far from great, there’s no doubt that Coughlin’s tenure with the Giants was still a success. Winning two super bowl’s is nothing to shoo at, and the thing that was likely the ultimate factor in why Coughlin was basically forced to resign – losing close games – is actually what helped him secure those great super bowl runs. He won a lot of close games.

The Giants always showed flashes of being a high-powered offense under Coughlin, but for one reason or another never seemed to peak. They couldn’t string together week-after-week blowout performances like the great Saints, Patriots, or Colts offenses over the same time period. When the Giants won, it was often ugly, close games requiring a late drive by Eli Manning and a defensive stop led by a great pass rush. Even the two super bowl runs came after sub-par regular seasons. In 2007, the Giants were second in the NFC East with a 10-6 record and reached the Super Bowl as a wild card team. In 2011, the Giants won the division at just 9-7. I actually think the best team under Coughlin was the 2008 team, following his first Super Bowl. That team finished 12-4 but lost three of its final four regular season games after Plaxico Burress shot himself. They lost to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs. Had Burress not caused such a distraction – and subtraction of the team’s best offensive weapon – I believe Coughlin would have three rings right now.

Still, for some reason, no matter how bad the Giants looked at times, there was always the potential for the switch to cut on. For that reason, Coughlin has two rings, making his time in New York successful, if not great, and that’s OK with Giants fans. He will go down as a legend in our book and definitely should be in the Hall of Fame when it’s time for his name to be called.

 

From an outside perspective: The Raiders belong in Oakland

Something dawned on me as I watched a Thursday Night Football game last week between the Chargers and Raiders, possibly the last NFL game in Oakland. I don’t want the Raiders to move to Los Angeles.

It’s a weird sentiment to have being that I’m an east-coast guy with no particular ties to Oakland or any actual care about the Raiders.

There was that one team, in 2002, when they made the Super Bowl with Rich Gannon, Charlie Garner, Tim Brown, and Jerry Rice, that I liked, and I’ve bought the Madden football game every year for as long as I can remember, but besides that the Raiders are basically obsolete to me, until they aren’t.

Even to someone like myself, who’s never been to Oakland, there’s a mystique about the area that seems to fit the persona of the Raiders, especially when they’re good. The big, bad, black and silver, the black hole, the lunatic fans, and the tradition that outdates myself but lingers enough for me to know its there. If the Raiders move to LA, it won’t feel the same.

Yes, I know it happened before. Back in 1982, the team moved from Oakland to LA and stayed until 1995, even winning the franchise’s last Super Bowl there, in 1983. But I like to think I speak for most people when I say we recognize the Raiders more as an Oakland team than a Los Angeles one.

That doesn’t sound like novel concept until you consider the fact that I don’t feel the same way about the Chargers and Rams, who are also possibilities to move to LA.

I want to preface what I’m about to say by acknowledging the core fan bases of these three teams, none of which want their teams to move, understandably. I wouldn’t want the Giants to leave the New York area. That being said, I really don’t care if the Chargers or the Rams move to Los Angeles.

The Chargers have been in San Diego for all of most of our lives, but it’s nothing about the city of San Diego that particularly connects the team to it for someone like myself, and I assume for others. Maybe it’s because the team is generally underwhelming from year-to-year. Even when they’ve been good, I never really thought they were THAT good, and they always fell short of expectations. For some reason, the team’s on-field success or lack thereof affected the perception of its connection with the city, although I’m sure it’s there for people actually living in the area. But outside of San Diego, and maybe the AFC West, who really cares if the Chargers leave?

The Rams have actually had the most recent success of the three teams, winning the Super Bowl in 1999. But even as transcendent as “The Greatest Show on Turf” was, my mind never fully made a connection between the Rams and St. Louis. Actually, even though I was just seven years old the last time the Rams played in LA, I’ve always kinda felt like it was an LA team. Maybe it’s from seeing Eric Dickerson highlights, or because older people still mistakenly slip and call them Los Angeles. I feel like they should be the first team of the three to consider a move to LA. The Raiders should be last.

As we all know, however, these moves will have less to do with franchise tradition and history and more to do with politics and money. Unfortunately, it looks as though Oakland is the likeliest to lose its team. My Giants don’t often play the Raiders, so my fan interest won’t change much, if any at all, but I think many share my sentiment that the Raiders don’t belong anywhere else.