Thursday, April 6, 2017

How the draft is hurting some free agents

Every year as the end of free agency winds down and the clock starts to tick towards the draft, several high profile free agents will find themselves without a new team. This is the case again this year with free agents like Adrian Peterson and Jay Cutler not finding new homes.

Part of this may stem from what people may perceive will be the asking price of such high profile free agents. Adrian Peterson has been the starting running back for the Vikings for nine seasons though in recent years has gone through off-field issues and injury. For his career he has rushed for 11,747 yards and 82 touchdowns, but turned 32 on March 21 which in running back terms is considered old. The Vikings did not exercise the option to retain Peterson this season and the veteran back has been a free agent ever since. Peterson recently quelled rumors of an asking price of $8-$10 million and stated he only wished to play for a contender. Despite meeting with teams like the Patriots, no team has yet to sign him.

Jay Cutler has been a starting quarterback in the NFL since the end of the 2006 season. The 33-year-old has played for both the Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears in that time. Cutler has been known to be a gunslinger, being at times flashy and brilliant and atrocious and unpredictable. For his career 32,467 yards, 208 passing touchdowns, nine rushing touchdowns but also 146 interceptions. Injuries have mounted over the last few seasons and his often blase attitude gives the impression of a quarterback who doesn't lack the conviction to win the big game. The Bears released Cutler on the first day of free agency and no team has so much as hinted at signing him.

The problem with both of these players isn't just their high profile careers and age, but also the timing. With the 2017 NFL Draft fast approaching, many teams are in a wait and see mode. Players left in free agency limbo are likely to stay that way until after the draft. Not because of their lack of skill but because a younger prospect is easier to develop than an established veteran. While Peterson is likely to find a home shortly after the draft, Cutler's future is uncertain at best. There is a chance he will retire. There is a chance that a quarterback hungry team like the Texans will make a move to acquire him. There is a chance he will remain unsigned until an injury sidelines a starting quarterback sometime later in the season. Whatever the case, neither Peterson nor Cutler are likely to be signed as a starter for any team. Given their ages and injury history both will likely find a home as a backup with limited numbers next season.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Let's call this Kaepernick situation what it is..blacklisting

As the weeks of the offseason drag on and numerous quarterbacks find their way to new teams in the backup or starter role, one quarterback has remained noticeably absent from any free agent signings, Colin Kaepernick. While speculation remains on where Jay Cutler will end up or if he'll just retire, the rumblings on Kaepernick remain stedfast that no team is interested in his services.

How far removed we are from the young sensation who wowed the NFL back in 2012 and 2013. Jim Harbaugh took a chance starting Kaep after Alex Smith went down with a concussion. Kaepernick would lead the team all the way to the Super Bowl that year. The following season he lead the team to the NFC Championship where the team lost to the Seahawks. When the team struggled in 2014, Harbaugh was fired and Kaepernick lost his biggest supporter and ally. Halfway through the next season he would also lose his starting job. He requested to be traded before the 2016 season, a request that was denied by the 49ers, and regained his starting job in week six of the 2016 season. On March 3, 2017, Kaepernick opted out of his contract to become a free agent.

During the 2016 season, Kaepernick began to silently protest by sitting during the National Anthem. His reasoning was simple, why should he stand to celebrate a country that routinely disenfranchises people of color? This silent protest did not go unnoticed and received severe and critical backlash across the league and the media. Several unnamed team executives expressed displeasure and outrage at Kaepernick's bold assertion. Many made it clear that Kaepernick would not be welcome to play on their team. So now with Kaep being a free agent, no team has made the move to sign him. Not one. Even teams in desperate need of a quality starter or even backup have avoided contacting him.

So begins the spin job of the league. Reports surfacing that Kaepernick wants more than $9-$10 million to play for a team despite other reports claiming this assertion is false. Multiple reports that Kaepernick is unsigned because he is not a good quarterback and even reports that Kaepernick was not a good teammate despite winning the Len Eshmont Award for courage in 2016 as voted on by his teammates. At every turn even sport pundit and every football analyst has given their reasons revealed to them by unnamed sources and executives to why Kaepernick remains unsigned. Even President Trump had something to say, claiming he was the reason for Kaep's unemployment.

Not one reporter, pundit, analyst, writer, etc. have claimed to have spoken to Kaepernick directly to hear what he has actually wanted in compensation on incentives to play for another team. Not a single article names Kaepernick as their souce for their assertions. All claim to have sources "inside the league", but none with the player himself. This poses a problem since the same claims were made about running back Adrian Peterson until Peterson himself took to Instagram and dispelled all rumors of him requesting $8 million to play for a team next year.

But all of these stories aside, let's be clear that Kaepernick's protest has gotten him blacklisted by the league. This would not be the first time a prominent professional athlete has found himself being punished for being vocal in his protest of an unjust system. Muhammad Ali was once banned from boxing for three years and had his title stripped because of his protest against the Vietnam War. Though later lauded as a national hero, Ali was seen at the time as a troublemaker. America does not take kindly to those who draw attention to their inequities and injustices in particular towards people of color. Getting blacklisted and called a distraction to your sport is not a new strategy.

Whatever nonsense you believe, some facts are evident. Kaepernick has a passer rating of 88.9 and a 4-2 playoff record for his NFL career. This despite 3 regime and offensive scheme changes. His protest aside, Kaepernick has had some struggles with injury that affected his accuracy and his weight, but not his ability to efficiently and effectively manage and win games even when surrounded by a poor offense and ineffective coaching. If given a chance, Kaepernick could be a solid backup for any team in the league.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Super Bowl Prediction

Atlanta Falcons (12-5) vs New England Patriots (15-2)

Falcons come in on a six game winning streak. The offense ranked first in points per game in 2016 scoring an average of 33.8 points. This came behind the strong play of QB Matt Ryan who had a passer rating of 117.1 with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu put on stellar performances combining for 10 touchdowns during the season. Add to this the potent rushing attack behind running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman who combined for 19 touchdowns during the season. While the defense finished ranked 15th against the run, they made marked improvement through the final six games of the season.

Patriots come in off an eight game winning streak. The offense ranked third in points per game and fourth in yards per game. QB Tom Brady finished 2016 with a passer rating of 112.2 completing 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The team has been able to overcome the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski with outstanding performances from wide receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan. Running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016. The defense finished 2016 ranked first in scoring defense and third in rushing yards allowed per game.

These two teams are pretty evenly matched on offense which means the game will come down to turnovers and the power of the defense to stop the scoring. Patriots lead the series matchup 7-6 and will get their fifth Super Bowl win on Sunday. Prediction: Patriots

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How the Rooney Rule has helped bring record number of minority head coaches for 2017

The Rooney Rule is a NFL policy that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. The rule is named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the league's diversity committee. It was created as a reaction to the 2002 firings of head coaches Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings. The rule has seen an increase of minority hires from six percent prior to its inception to 22 percent. The rule was expanded in 2009 to include front office executives including general managers.

2017 will see a record number of minority head coaches leading NFL teams. This year eight teams will have a minority head coach. Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals, Todd Bowles with the New York Jets, Mike Tomlin with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jim Caldwell with the Detroit Lions, Hue Jackson with the Cleveland Browns and Ron Rivera with the Carolina Panthers will be joined by Anthony Lynn with the Los Angeles Chargers and Vance Joseph of the Denver Broncos.

On top of the eight head coaches are the six African American general managers- Doug Whaley with the Buffalo Bills, Rick Smith with the Houston Texans, Jerry Reese with the New York Giants, Reggie McKenzie with the Oakland Raiders, Ozzie Newsome with the Baltimore Ravens and Chris Grier with the Miami Dolphins.

While this is a record number, the fact is that minority hires are still severely lacking and diversity in ownership is nearly nonexistent. While two-thirds of NFL players are African American, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is the only minority to be the owner of a NFL franchise and since the Rooney Rule does not apply to ownership, this fact is likely to remain unchanged. Eight head coaches and six general managers may be minorities, the remaining 24 head coaches and 26 general managers still remain white. The league is also more likely to give white head coaches second chances even when minority head coaches have better winning percentages than their white counterparts.While we can applaud the efforts the league has made to improve diversity in the coaching ranks, the NFL has a long way to go to reflect the faces of its players and viewers and give equal opportunity to minorities.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Conference Championship predictions

Green Bay Packers (10-6) vs Atlanta Falcons (11-5)

Packers come in off a win last week against the Cowboys. The team is riding high on an eight game winning streak. QB Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 40 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season and has a passer rating of 104.2. The defense finished the season ranked 11th in takeaways.

Falcons come in off a win last week against the Seahawks. The team is on a five game winning streak. QB Matt Rayn threw 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2016 and has a passer rating of 117.1. The defense finished the season ranked 15th against the run.

Packers lead the series matchup 17-14 and despite the Falcons home field advantage, will get the win on Sunday. Prediction: Packers

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) vs New England Patriots (14-2)

Steelers come in off a win last week against the Chiefs.QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a passer rating of 95.4 in 2016. The defense finished 2016 ranked third in yards allowed per game.

Patriots come in off a win last week against the Texans. QB Tom Brady threw for 28 touchdowns and two interceptions in 2016 and finished with a passer rating of 112.2. The defense finished 2016 ranked first in points allowed per game.

Steelers lead the series matchup 15-14 but Patriots will get the win at home on Sunday. Prediction: Patriots

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Marijuana use and the NFL

In 2011 I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. During chemotherapy I was prescribed OxyContin to help deal with the pain from both the chemo drugs and the bone marrow stimulant that caused excruciating pain in my chest and lower back. The drug didn't make the pain go away, rather I was too high to notice I was in pain. When the high would start to wear off the pain would return along with fever, chills, sweating, nausea and vomiting. This was explained to me as withdrawl from the OxyContin and the only thing that would make the symptoms stop was the next dose of OxyContin. After three days of being high and crashing hard, I had enough. I spent two days sick in bed neither eating nor sleeping nor taking my medication. Finally on the third day a friend called and offered to help. He showed up that night with a batch of edibles (marijuana infused baked goods). Upon the first dose I felt the pain slip from my body and the hunger return. I was able to eat food and keep it down for the first time in three days. I slept through the night without pain or nausea. It helped me through the last several months of chemotherapy. Even now cannabidiol (known as CBD oil) helps with my severe migraines that often leave me in so much pain I have to sleep on the bathroom floor. Marijuana does wonders without causing the complications of opiod drugs.

The view on the benefits of marijuana for medicinal purposes have slowly been changing in the United States in the last several years. Marijuana is legal in 28 states for medicinal purposes including several states that host NFL teams. However, the NFL has continued to take a strong stance against the drug. While the league increased its minimum positive testing limit from 15 ng/mL to 35 ng/mL, the limit is still below every other professional sport and a hindrance to players who need the drug in order to live and function normally.

Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson is one such player. Henderson suffers from Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. He had two surgeries to remove parts of his intestines due to the disease. Because of the surgeries, Henderson could not take traditional pain killers as drugs such as Toradol can cause gastrointestinal bleeding. Instead, medicinal marijuana helped Henderson to deal with the pain. Unfortunately, while the NFL has a therapeutic use exemption for the use of Adderall by players with ADHD, the league does not have an exemption for medicinal marijuana use, so in so doing, even for a medically approved reason, Henderson was suspended by the league for 10 games in 2016.

For many years the go to drug for pain management in the NFL was Toradol  While the side effects from Toradol include upset stomach, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea the league never studied the long term effects of the drug on players including whether or not the blood thinning properties would cause damage to the brain. In recent years, many teams have switched to stronger more effective pain medications including opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. However, the use of opioids has brought about a new set of complications.With prolonged use, pain-relieving effects of opioids lessen and pain can become worse causing a player to take higher doses in more frequent intervals. In addition to being less effective, the body can develop dependence on the drug. Opioid dependence causes withdrawal symptoms, which makes it difficult to stop taking them and addiction to the drug occurs. Also, opioids can cause respiratory depression so players run the risk of overdosing.

According to an ESPN story, which published findings by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, retired NFL players misuse opioids at a rate more than four times higher than the general population. 52 percent of the players surveyed admitted to using the drugs during their playing days with 71 percent admitting to abusing them. According to an Associated Press story, a class-action lawsuit being brought by 1,800 former NFL players claim they were encouraged by medical and training staff  of NFL teams to abuse painkillers and continue to play without regard to the long term effects the drugs would have on their health.

With such high risks involved in the use of opioids, the league must look to alternative forms of treatment for pain management. Medicinal marijuana advocates such as former NFL player Eugene Monroe feel that cannabis can be just as effective as the prescription pain medications used by the league today, without the long term adverse effects that those drugs can cause. Monroe, along with Doctors For Cannabis Regulation,  have openly requested that the league reconsider its policy on marijuana. Now is the time for the league to finally make a consideration for it.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The six head coach openings

Buffalo Bills- Bills made the decision to part ways with both head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan before the last game of the season. Bills finished 15-17 in the two years under Ryan. The team is looking to unload QB Tyrod Taylor in the offseason to avoid paying his $27.5 million contract in 2017. The new coach will have QBs EJ Manuel and Cardale Jones if the team is able to unload Taylor.

Despite the issue at the quarterback position, the team has a strong rushing game behind running back LeSean McCoy. The run defense however finished ranked 27th so the new defensive coordinator will have issues to address immediately on their defense.  The team will likely hire an offensive minded head coach who can work through the issues at quarterback.

Denver Broncos- Gary Kubiak made the decision to step down from coaching which caught many by surprise. Kubiak is one year removed from winning Super Bowl 50, however, after having continuing health problems, he made the decision that it was best for him to leave coaching. Kubiak had suffered a complex migraine condition back in October which kept him away from the team for a week and a mini-stroke back in 2014 when he was the Texans head coach.

While the coaching opening is a surprise to the organization, the team has already made the decision not to promote any of the coordinators or coaching assistants to head coach which gives the team the opportunity to search outside the organization. The team has the number one ranked passing defense, but the 23rd ranked rushing defense which means the new coach will need to rush issues on the defensive line. On top of the issues on defense, the team will need to fix issues on the offensive line that saw both QB Trevor Siemian and running back C.J. Anderson go down with injuries. The team will also need to draft or sign a running back to backup C.J. Anderson next season. The team finished 8-8 in 2016  because of the lack of a healthy run game and the problems on run defense.With Wade Phillips at defensive coordinator the team needs an offensive minded coach to replace Kubiak.

Jacksonville Jaguars- Jaguars fired head coach Gus Bradley two weeks before the end of the season. The team finished 3-13 in 2016. The team made tremendous strides on defense last offseason and finished ranked seventh overall. There biggest issues were spending too much time on the field at the end of the games because of a week offense. This fell squarely on the shoulders of QB Blake Bortles. Bortles threw 16 interceptions in 2016. Add this to a paltry running game where running backs T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory combined for a lowly four touchdowns all season. The team will need to address the quarterback issue this offseason and an offensive minded head coach would be the best decision for the team.

Los Angeles Rams- Rams fired head coach Jeff Fisher after a loss in Week 14. The Rams finished 4-12 in 2016. The team banked on rookie QB Jared Goff. This leaves the team without any first round draft picks in 2017 so will need to make improvements through free agency including re-signing their own key free agents. The team's defense finished ranked sixth overall meaning their biggest issues will be to address their offensive woes. This includes fixing issues at offensive line that left QB Case Keenum injured. With a strong defense, the best decision for the team would be to get an offensive focused head coach who can improve the team without draft picks.

San Diego Chargers- Chargers fired head coach Mike McCoy after the last game of the season. The team finished 5-11 in 2016. With a strong passing game behind QB Philip Rivers and tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, the team's biggest needs are on defense. The team finished ranked 18th in total defense in 2016. The team runs a base 3-4 defense that suffered numerous injuries during the season. A defensive minded head coach would be able to parlay the seventh overall draft pick into a defensive player ready to play next season.

San Francisco 49ers- 49ers fired head coach Chip Kelly after the final game of the season. Kelly was the head coach for only one season so his firing came as a surprise to many despite the team's dismal 2-14 record in 2016. The defense finished the season ranked fourth against the run which speaks to the strength of the defensive line but the secondary was often beat on the long pass. The team will also have to make a decision on their QB dilemma. The team will either need to support QB Colin Kaepernick going forward or unload him on a team in need of a QB that has played uneven in the last several seasons. They will also need to decide what to do with QB Blaine Gabbert who played poorly in 2016 and was eventually benched for Kaepernick. The team may need to go in a different direction altogether and draft a QB with the second overall pick they currently hold as well as address the issues at wide receiver if the team makes the decision to release wide receiver Torrey Smith. All this suggests that the team needs to find an offensive minded head coach who can address the numerous issues that currently plague the team.