Stop Locking These Rookies Out
Why it’s past time for the NFL to retire an antiquated rule that is keeping top 10 picks Christian McCaffrey and John Ross from practicing. Plus, J.J. Watt takes NFL Network’s Top 100 to task, and Josh Norman is ready to battle the best once again
Do large paydays make for big wins? Here are three high-spending teams from recent years, and their ensuing results.
1. I think it’s 2017, and if we are warming to the idea of players leaving school early, skipping bowl games or sitting out pro days, the NFL needs to relax its rule regarding rookies coming from quarter-system schools being prohibited from organized team activities.
Let’s take the case of Christian McCaffrey. The Carolina Panthers’ eighth overall pick left Stanford with one more year of eligibility left and is no longer enrolled at the school. But he can’t join the team for OTAs or minicamp until June 14, the day of final exams at Stanford.
“I just think if a young man, on his own, decides not to enroll, don’t hold that against us,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “You don’t know who you’re going to get through the draft, and if those young men decide on their own, they’re being punished for something that’s their choice. And it really only hurts the player because he has to come in and learn and grow and fit in. They’re missing that opportunity.”
McCaffrey is missing out on valuable time learning and training in his profession due to an antiquated rule. The Panthers, and other teams in their position (that includes the Bengals with former Washington wideout John Ross), do the best they can with Skype sessions and playbook tablets, but it’s clearly not the same. It’s time to move on from this rule.
2. I think I appreciate J.J. Watt calling out the NFL Network’s Top 100 show, which had him at No. 35 in 2016. “I played 3 games. This list is a joke,” Watt tweeted Monday night, much to the delight of reasonable people. He is clearly the best at his position and one of the best players in the NFL, but playing 19% of the regular season and tallying 1 ½ sacks should not put Watt ahead of, say, No. 40 Vic Beasley, who had 15 ½ sacks last season and was a contender for Defensive Player of the Year.
Almost every NFL player I know has some gripe with the list, even though they should understand it’s as official and serious as your middle school student council secretary race. It fills hours for the league-owned network and gives your local radio stations something to fill a segment or two before returning to summer’s tried-and-true “Mount Rushmore of X” hits.
3. I think I’m rooting for Stedman Bailey and Mike Zimmer to get back to full health. Of course I am.
Bailey is the former Ram who took two bullets to the head in a drive-by shooting back in 2015. He recently told TMZ that he has a surgery coming up and wants to do everything in his power to get back on the field. But he also knows there’s a possibility the doctors shut him down, and he appears to be at peace with that.
Zimmer, the Vikings head coach, just underwent his eighth eye surgery since October and is back at work. Here’s hoping that’s the last of his eye surgeries and that he can get out and enjoy some time off after next week’s minicamp. As Steve Kerr has reminded us during the NBA Finals, nothing’s more important than your health.
4. I think Colin Kaepernick continues to get effectively blackballed. I say “effectively” because I don’t believe decision-makers for all 32 teams met in a secret location and made a pact not to sign him because of his anthem protest. Yes, there are some teams that don’t need him. And if Seattle actually thought he was a starter in the league, why not add him instead of Austin Davis? Especially when a Pro Football Talk report stated money was not the issue for him not signing there.
I thought about this on my way down to Atlanta on Monday (and even missed my exit thinking about the possibilities). I went to Pro Football Reference to compare some of Kap’s six-year statistics against every other quarterback in the post-merger era. Using the Play Index tool, I looked up the first six seasons of every quarterback since 1970 who: (1) started at least 50 games, (2) had a career passing touchdown percentage of at least 4%, (3) had a career interception percentage of less than 2%, and (4) had a career passer rating of at least 85. I imagined about a dozen players would pop up, but instead there were only two: Russell Wilson and Kaepernick.
5. I think three cheers are in order for Charean Williams, the excellent veteran NFL reporter who wasn’t a free agent for long thanks to NBC Sports and PFT. Known as “Mother Football,” Williams was shockingly laid off by her long-time employer, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in mid-May. Mike Florio made a great hire.
On a personal note, I made two trips to Dallas last season, and I’m not sure any local media member has ever been nicer or more accommodating than Williams was to me. And yes, Charean, that second BBQ joint we went to was much better than the first.
6. I think the NBA will listen to LeBron James opting not to go to the podium Sunday night like the NFL appeared to listen to Cam Newton after his miserable Super Bowl 50 press conference. However you felt about Newton’s pouty presser—and I think there were legitimate gripes—there was no denying it was poor planning by the league to have Broncos players talking about stopping Carolina’s high-powered offense when Newton was on the other side of a curtain, within earshot of it all.
After Super Bowl LI, I didn’t notice any overlap with the victors and losers, as the two teams appeared to be more effectively separated. And that could have been even worse considering the way Atlanta lost. Of course, as a media member, I want players to talk after losses. And as a human, I understand how difficult it can be to face the music. But LeBron’s point is a good one: If you want me to talk after a tough loss, at least accommodate me properly and don’t waste my time.
7. I think Josh Norman going back to shadowing the opponent’s No. 1 receiver, as has been reported, is great news for football lovers everywhere. The NFL could always use more rivalries and feuds, and Norman is about to do his part to deliver them. Norman made his name in 2015 through his play and his mouth. He was a first-team All-Pro and a first-team All-Trash-Talker in his final season with Carolina. In Washington his play dropped just slightly; he was stuck on one side of the field and didn’t make the kind of noise he did a year earlier.
This year he’ll match up against Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant and Alshon Jeffery two times apiece. Norman will also get Mike Evans, Amari Cooper and Demaryius Thomas. This’ll be fun.
8. I think Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s appreciation for the military and armed forces is real, and he’s been backing it up for years. For a third straight year, Quinn and the Falcons hosted 100 military members at Tuesday’s OTAs. Army members from Fort Benning, Ga., took the 160-mile bus ride Tuesday morning to see the Falcons practice—and it was all on Quinn’s dime. He chartered two buses to Flowery Branch, where they stayed and watched the 1 ½-hour practice before getting autographs and taking pictures with most of the Falcons.
9. I think Peyton Manning golfing with President Trump isn’t a big deal, at least relative to Tom Brady and his relationship with Trump. The issue with Brady was not that he had a personal relationship with Trump before Trump became the 45th president. It was that he essentially offered a pseudo-endorsement of Trump, then clammed up and decided he wanted to un-ring that bell.
In Manning’s case, every sign points to him being a Republican, from the politicians he’s been seen with to the donations he’s made to his speaking at a GOP retreat. Many people believe that he’ll run for office one day. And on top of it, he’s retired. You can do whatever you want when you’re retired.
10. I think in a world of superteams, the best story in sports today is the Davidson Wildcats baseball team. Davidson had never won a conference title in the baseball program’s 115-year history, until late May when they took home the A-10 title. They had the unenviable task of being placed in overall No. 2 seed North Carolina’s regional. No problem.
The Wildcats never trailed in the regional. They beat the Tar Heels in the first game and then topped my alma mater again Sunday night to advance to the super regionals. Oh, and Davidson’s most famous alumnus is up 2-0 in the NBA Finals.
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