Funny thing about the NFL’s smooth-brained scheme to hold a Colin Kaepernick Showcase on Saturday? Everyone knew it was doomed.
The NFL’s sudden bout of benevolence was rightly regarded by Kaepernick and his camp as a ruse, a bone thrown so they could say, “Look what we did for Colin in 2019?”
And Kaepernick wasn’t going to, “Yes sir, no sir…” his way through the day and give the NFL the satisfaction of bossing his ass around just to say at the end, “Thanks for your time, we’ll be in touch.”
That mindset was plainly stated by Kaepernick’s wardrobe choice: a t-shirt with the name Kunta Kinte on it. Kinte was the lead character from Alex Haley’s book “Roots, The Saga of an American Family.” Kinte was kidnapped from Africa and made a slave. Haley’s books were made into a miniseries in 1977 and was a seminal TV event that year.
So, yeah. The NFL was making a statement with the workout that its door is and always has been open to Kaepernick.
And Kaepernick was stating that even if he returns to the NFL, he’ll continue painting the league-player relationship as an owner-slave dynamic.
Gee. I wonder why it didn’t work out.
Meanwhile, there are 25 team reps dispatched to Flowery Branch, Georgia to watch a workout for a 32-year-old quarterback who hasn’t played since 2016. It’s November. There are seven weeks left in the regular season.
Most teams have a starter who’s better than Kaepernick. Those that don’t – like the Bills, for instance – have invested in a guy who they hope is ascending.
Physically, Kaepernick showed nothing during the workout anyone didn’t already know. He can throw the ball far and hard. He eats right and exercises.
But the resulting absurdity when Kaepernick’s camp balked on Saturday (NFL’s version of events) at media access plans and an ambiguous argument over a waiver resulted in a 60-mile jaunt over the Georgia countryside to see Kaepernick play catch on a high school field pretty much sealed the fate Kaepernick wanted. No team is going to sign a guy – a backup – who’s going to require the amount of care and feeding Kaepernick is going to demand.
Who’s to blame? The league threw the first punch, in my opinion, with this Trojan Horse of a workout scheme. They tried to back Kaepernick into a corner on short notice, calling his bluff on wanting to return.
He’d either work out and they’d have their proof they’d given him a chance or he’d find a way around working out and they’d be able to say – also with proof – that Kaepernick’s business is activism, not football.
For both sides, it’s all about business and creating public perception that appeals to their respective constituencies. And in their ongoing pissing contest, the constituencies become more entrenched, more cynical about motives on the “other side” motives and more divided.
Take the argument over the waiver Kaepernick was asked to sign, the issue that’s become the biggest point of contention from Saturday.
The league says it was standard fare and given to Kaepernick’s people on Wednesday. He returned in Saturday with unacceptable revisions made.
Kaepernick’s camp made no comment on the timing but knew the best way to incite cynicism the NFL was trying to trap Kaepernick was by saying the waiver addressed “employment-related issues.”
The legal gobbledygook in the actual waiver – which Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk obtained – is dense. Both sides know few people will delve into it to find the truth.
(Florio did and said that, while Kaepernick’s side misrepresented up to a point, there were items that a sharp lawyer would ask to have clarified in the agreement)
And that’s the whole point. This week’s circus, one that nobody was asking for, was an NFL effort to write an epilogue to the Kaepernick saga. One that made it seem like an olive branch was extended.
Well, the olive branch hit the intended party right in the cornea and he reacted predictably. Trust, transparency and progress once again slain on the altar of the dollar.
On the Myles Garrett front, beyond “He shouldn’t have done it…” I really had no larger take to add to the take deluge competing to have the takiest take of the day.
Clubbing an onrushing opponent with his own helmet is, in a culture constantly obsessing over the quality of a “look,” about as bad as a look can get.
But it doesn’t represent toxic masculinity, the withering of societal values, where we are in Trump’s America, a total disregard for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or warrant a move toward helmetless football. It does confirm Freddie Kitchens shouldn’t be in charge of a fifth-grade field trip, but we knew that.
Garrett lost his shit as 20-something professional athletes (and 20-somethings in general) sometimes do. Rudolph was also in the process of losing his shit and Maurkice Pouncey’s shit was also a casualty of the moment. This happens, especially when the job involves smashing into people for 50 plays and executing maneuvers during those 50 plays that would – if executed on the street – be assault.
Todd Bertuzzi, Marty McSorley, Albert Haynesworth, Juan Marichal if you really want to go back are just a few of the guys whose shit was irretrievably lost in a moment of rage. Most of Friday’s media reaction was be performative.
My reaction was more of a shrug. What are you gonna do? I’m glad for both parties there was no cranial damage, and it will be a long time before we see anything like that again. But you know what? We will probably see something like that again.
The Patriots face the Eagles on Sunday and that fact has us picking at the scab of Super Bowl 52 again.
The 2017 season was as strange as any the team experienced since 2009. The Super Bowl win over the Falcons ushered in a period of contentiousness, cynicism, competing agendas and a climate where a lot – not everyone, but a lot – of key people were growing silently sick of each other.
From Garoppolo to Gronk to Guerrero to Brady to Belichick to Butler, the would-be coaching exodus and the ceaseless intimations that the thrill was gone, it was a drama-infested time and a lot closer to coming undone after the 2017 season than people really realize.
Relitigating it all isn’t the point. The point is appreciating that the 2018 Patriots pocketed their agitations, shook on it and became the first team in a dog’s age to follow up a Super Bowl loss with a Super Bowl victory.
Think of all the teams undone in the final game since 2000: the 2001 Rams, 2002 Raiders, 2003 Panthers, 2004 Eagles, 2014 Seahawks, 2015 Panthers – hell even the ’07 Patriots dealt with a reboot after they lost. The 2017 Patriots not only lost a close one, a controversial personnel decision with Malcolm Butler quite likely cost them the game.
That’s kindling and kerosene for a disintegration.
Yet the 2018 Patriots eventually moved through it because the principals – Tom Brady and Bill Belichick – decided to.
"In a lot of ways we learned from that year and we came back stronger the next year," Brady said on WEEI last week while also adding there’s “a lot of mental scar tissue from that year.”
Everything’s not perfect now. Brady was sufficiently irked by the way his contract dealings went over the summer that he negotiated for his independence after this season. And his “work to rule” approach has been apparent since August.
But the Patriots are 13-1 over their last 14 dating back to last December when the team – after a loss to the Steelers – decided to stop feeling sorry for themselves.
“There comes times over the course of your career or over the course of a season where you get caught up in producing and the pressures of this game, the expectations on you,” Slater explained to me in the days leading up to Super Bowl 53. “You kind of get away a little bit from understanding, ‘Hey, we played this game at recess as kids and we played it for free and we loved to do this.’
“I think this year, with everything that’s transpired, all the ups and downs on and off the football field, after that Pittsburgh game we said, ‘Hey, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We still have a great opportunity. We’re playing football for a living. Let’s enjoy this thing.’ I think a lot of guys said that after that game. And we went out there and played for each other. We’ve done that all year but we stopped caring about other narratives, success and failure. It was just about going out and having fun and making the most of our opportunity.”
It’s ironic that – after the Eagles beat New England – their war cry was that they knew how to have fun and the Patriots didn’t. We scoffed. But it wasn’t until the 2018 Patriots got their brains back on the enjoyment of the game that they kicked it in.
It’s impossible to see these two teams on the field today and not think of the paths traveled over the past 21 months.
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