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Jay-Z puts credibility on the line with Roc Nation-NFL partnership

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USATSI

Jay-Z puts credibility on the line with Roc Nation-NFL partnership

OK, Jay-Z. Show us what you got.

It was announced Wednesday that the billionaire business executive and musician is climbing into bed with the NFL, the league he once castigated for being indifferent toward injustice and turning its back on Super Bowl quarterback and prominent social activist Colin Kaepernick.

Jay-Z and his sports/entertainment company, Roc Nation, became the league’s official Live Music Entertainment Strategists. That’s two corporations doing business for mutual benefit.

There is another component, though, as Jay also is to be involved in Inspire Change, the NFL’s tepid response to a movement inspired by Kaepernick. It is conceptually designed to promote causes directly related to justice and equality.

This is where the decision by Jay-Z comes into question. It would be reckless to assume Jay has been bought. But no matter his business savvy, which by all accounts is prodigious, that possibility can’t be dismissed. Is this strictly about money? Or is Jay of the belief that the conservatives running the NFL suddenly will become progressives because of his presence?

“With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country,” Jay-Z said in a press release. “Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas – instead, we unify them. This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America.”

Because profitable old habits die hard, there is good reason for skepticism. Jay isn’t exactly going to the White House to share grins and hugs with President Donald Trump, but he is buddying up with rich folks who have stood beside such avowed racists as David Duke in support of Trump.

Eric Reid, the Carolina Panthers safety who remains a vocal critic of the NFL and also a staunch supporter of Kaepernick, responded with multiple tweets expressing his distrust.

“Interesting timing on the partnership with Jay-Z on the heels of (Miami Dolphins owner) Stephen Ross’ fundraiser for Donald Trump and the backlash his other companies are getting because of it. #PayAttentionFolks,” was one such tweet.

Is this the same Jay-Z that over the past couple years shoved fat kernels of truth up the noses of NFL hierarchy, telling the league it needs him more than he needs it? And that it should look elsewhere for its Super Bowl Sunday entertainment? He was not for sale. Or rent.

Jay went on Saturday Night Live two years ago and wore a jersey in support of Kaepernick.

That was all before April, when New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft brokered a meeting between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Jay-Z. And long before Jay, knowing any such union would result in widespread splintering from his global fan base, felt comfortable putting his credibility at stake.

Jay-Z has spent most of the last 23 years using his music as a vehicle to shed light on various social ills. He evolved from peddling drugs as a young man to becoming a successful rapper to becoming the biggest name in the game – and perhaps the most influential shadow preacher ever to roam the planet.

He’s now gambling that the league that has always done as it pleased, swimming in revenue while routinely squelching the voice of its labor force, is desperate enough to listen and respond to grievances that have existed for decades. That the almighty NFL will take his advice.

“Roc Nation is one of the most globally influential and impactful organizations in entertainment,” Goodell said in the release. “The NFL and Roc Nation share a vision of inspiring meaningful social change across our country. We are thrilled to partner with Roc Nation and look forward to making a difference in our communities together.”

The first measurement of success in this endeavor has to be linked to Kaepernick, who has been locked out of the NFL for almost three years. He last played in 2016, for the 49ers. Since opting for free agency in March 2017, Kaepernick has continued to work out, keeping himself ready for a call that has yet to come.

And, please, spare us the slander about his ability. Kaepernick was among the NFL’s top 15 starters, with run/pass skills that break defenses. At age 31, he is 11 years younger than Tom Brady, almost nine years younger than Drew Brees and in the same age group as Ryan Tannehill and Case Keenum, neither of whom has electrified a team as Kaepernick did the 49ers.

Jay-Z apparently will be aligned with the league-approved player’s coalition, a group that long ago split from Kaepernick – as well as Miami receiver Kenny Stills and Reid – over philosophical differences. In short, the trio was unwilling to accept compromises made by the coalition.

Jay has been shown for years that he is a business-first dude. As his financial portfolio expanded, he became less of an entertainer and more of a venture capitalist. In spitting out an album every year from 1996 through 2003, he became a millionaire. In the years since then, as he approached billionaire status, Jay released a total of five solo albums. With multigenerational wealth, his timeline is not subject to the desires of art or his fans. He sets his own.

“If we can’t get this done in, like, five years,” Jay told the New York Times, “then we need to sit down and evaluate where we are.”

The clock is running on Jay. Only a few hours in, he is behind schedule.

Chris Simms wouldn't be shocked if 49ers faced Patriots in Super Bowl

Chris Simms wouldn't be shocked if 49ers faced Patriots in Super Bowl

If you're looking for someone to slow down the 49ers' hype train, sorry, NBC Sports' Chris Simms isn't here to help.

Actually, it's quite the opposite.

Simms wants you to know San Francisco's 5-0 record doesn't lack substance, and he expects the 49ers to continue progressing to the highest levels this season.

Are they legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

"Yes they are," Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. "They're not going anywhere."

"They are arguably the best team in football," Simms continued. "OK, yeah, I'll give the Patriots the advantage right now because they're the Patriots and we've seen them do it, but when I look at the San Francisco 49ers, I look at -- it's a first-round bye. Is it a one-seed, or is it going to be a two-seed? That's how good the San Francisco 49ers are."

Simms has been impressed by San Francisco's depth and balance, particularly within the offensive and defensive lines.

"It starts up front," Simms explained, "and the 49ers -- yes, Mike McGlinchey's out ... and I know Joe Staley's out, and that hurts, and we might not see him the rest of the year -- but when McGlinchey is back in the fold, this is still one of the best offensive lines in football. Let alone, [Kyle] Shanahan is one of the best game-plan designers in football with the run game, the play-action. And the defense ain't going anywhere.

[RELATED: Staley, Witherspoon closest to return among injured 49ers]

"They might be battling it out with the Patriots for the best defense in the sport," Simms elaborated. "It's the best front four in the sport I think right now, as far as size, physicality, ferociousness, their speed at the linebacker positions. I like Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt at safety. The corners are good -- they're coached well."

Put it all together, and Simms believes the 49ers have the potential to play into February.

"The 49ers are for real, and I would not be shocked if we were down in Miami watching New England and San Francisco in the Super Bowl," he said.

Hype train, full speed ahead.

Jalen Ramsey-Aaron Donald best NFL duo? Marcell Harris says this isn't NBA

Jalen Ramsey-Aaron Donald best NFL duo? Marcell Harris says this isn't NBA

The 49ers' much-improved defense has plenty of star power, but so do their rivals in Los Angeles after a blockbuster trade Tuesday. 

The Rams traded three draft picks -- two first-rounders and one fourth-rounder -- to the Jacksonville Jaguars for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, giving LA two of the NFL's best players at their respective positions when you remember that defensive tackle defensive lineman force of nature Aaron Donald also plies his trade in Tinseltown. 

It'd be difficult to find two players on the same defense better than Ramsey and Donald, so ESPN's "SportsCenter" account asked on Twitter if there is a better duo of defensive cornerstones around the NFL. The problem, according to 49ers safety Marcell Harris? There are nine other players on a defense.

Harris has a point. Star power only can get you so far in the NFL -- even at historically important positions like quarterback or edge rusher -- because of the league's commitment to parity above all else. When it comes to the NBA, a team with the two best players on the court wins in the regular season and playoffs more often than not. 

[RELATED: Shanahan busts out jokes leading into 49ers vs. Washington]

While this is not necessarily Harris' gripe, the 49ers have a strong case to have a duo under consideration. Whether pairing defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and edge rusher Nick Bosa or swapping out one for one of linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner, San Francisco has a few cornerstones in its front seven. It's that group that made the Ramsey trade a head-scratcher to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, who argued that the Rams' offensive line should have been a bigger concern than their secondary, considering the 49ers' success in Week 6.

Still, Ramsey and Donald are as good as what they do as just about anyone else in the NFL. The 49ers will get their first look at them in the same defense in Week 16 at Levi's Stadium, and they'll see firsthand whether the duo's dominance lifts the rest of the Rams' defense.