When teams started camp, the buzz surrounding the offseason never subsided. In the NFL, the news cycle does not stop. Regardless if the pads stop popping, the news is always dropping. The league managed to find itself, ensnared in controversy this year. Yet, which off-field issues ranks as the most important. In order to answer that, FPC editors, Rolfe, Smith, and Ray give their astute opinion.
Ben Rolfe (Falcons Managing Editor)
The off the field issue that could have the biggest drama comes in Dallas. The anthem issue is bigger than just one team but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has taken it too far. Telling players they are expected to have their “toe on the line” was not required. His son then went one step further suggesting that players may not remain with the Cowboys if they do not stand for the anthem. To go so clearly against something the NFL has put in place is frankly a bit silly from Jones and his son. However, his statement will have surprised not many people.
His comments were met with frustrated comments from other NFL players but so far, the Cowboys players have remained quiet in terms of criticism. The issue now is whether someone challenges the Jones’. It will need to be a player of some standing within the team. If someone who is on the bubble does it then the Cowboys will not hesitate to move on from them.
However, it would be interesting if a player such as Ezekiel Elliott decided to challenge them. I am not sure how willing the Cowboys would be to simply release their star running back in that situation. In addition, they would likely not be able to suspend or fine him seeing as this is what the league has put in place.
I really hope that if there are players on that team with the belief that they want to stay in the locker room, they are strong enough to follow through on their desire. If they do then a lot of pressure will go onto leaders on the roster, such as Dak Prescott and Sean Lee. Will they just stand by why the Jones’ completely disregard something the NFL has said players are allowed to do. If they do then ultimately they should take as much criticism as Jones and the Cowboys if that player ends up being released.
Sam Smith (Vikings Managing Editor)
The NFL vs. Players vs. the President. Last year, the NFL and its owners appeared to be making steps to meet the players halfway when it came to not only kneeling during the anthem, but the players’ reasons for doing so. Seth Wickersham’s piece for ESPN on the owners’ meeting detailed a disjointed, oft-interrupted but generally well-intended effort by Roger Goodell to work with the players, not rule over them. Yet, fruitful attempts to find common ground seem to have since gone by the wayside.
Instead, there is Bob McNair choosing to not back down from calling the players “inmates”. Jerry Jones demanding his players stand. Owners publicly, through team media, expressing support for a president who called their players “SOBs,” while simultaneously asking same players to keep their mouth shut on game day. Moreover, most recently, there was the anthem policy that could levy harsh punishment to players who kneel. There was no compromise, no desire to meet halfway. Jones offered a mandate with no voice of the people included.
The fact that the president consistently Twitter-bashes Goodell for allowing the players to kneel is a signpost of what is driving decisions up top. The president tweeted his support of Jones after the Cowboys owner stated his demand that his team will stand. In turn, the league told Jones to keep his mouth shut. Owners who wish to have a good working relationship with the players have likely done the same. Why? The simple answer? The league fears the president. The president’s criticism of the league is a dog whistle to his base.
A call for boycott from him could result not only in loss of viewership or sponsorship. It could create irreparable divide within the league itself. This is why the league has largely remained silent whenever possible. Definitive statements one way or another will get a response from the most powerful Twitter account in the country. In addition, it will be in all-caps and lead the morning news.
However, some optimism exists. There is a league with similar popularity in this country that has players stands for the anthem with no uproar. This league also allows the players to wear shirts with messages in warm-ups; works closely with the players’ causes and only vocalizes support for the players when asked by the media about them. That league, of course, is the NBA.
Obviously, Adam Silver immediately established a player-friendly tone by dealing with Donald Sterling. Goodell, on the other hand, has years of head-butting to work through before earning player trust. However, the blueprint is there for the NFL. By tabling the anthem rule pending further discussion, they took the very, very tiny step of allowing player voices to guide action just a little bit. It is progress, albeit minute progress from rock bottom, in terms of player-league relationship.
Reaching a point of total trust like the one the NBA has will take years and a whole bunch of compromise. Nevertheless, by the end of the 2018 season, I believe the NFL will have begun to take measured steps towards that end. Unfortunately, for them, that may mean facing the backlash from the president and his base.
Brandon Ray (Bills Managing Editor)
The most important off-field story circling around the NFL is the investigation involving Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy and his ex-girlfriend, Delicia Cordon. McCoy stands accused of somehow being involved in the home invasion in which someone beat Cordon and stole jewelry.
When looking at the Bills roster, they downgraded on offense. They lost both Richie Incognito and Eric Wood, and the quarterback position does not have a starter. The offense seems set up to take a setback. McCoy is the teams’ best player on offense and even on the roster. With these allegations against him, the team could potentially head into 2018 without their star running back.
The photos that surfaced of Cordon are very disturbing and the overall situation is just downright horrific. If police conclude McCoy figured in any of these accusations, he could face criminal charges. The team will need to let him go and move on. I believe that the investigators need to do their job and come out with some conclusion. Until there is proof of involvement, nothing should change about McCoy’s status with the team. Although, should something come up, Bills fans should prepare for McCoy’s absence.