So, let’s be real here for a moment. We’re talking about the preseason. I know that we’re all excited to see NFL Football, but let’s not crown a new Super Bowl Champion just yet. The best teams are showing very little of their real potential this early, using the games as extra practices, while the worst teams are getting as many reps as possible for their top talent. You want to know who went undefeated in the preseason last year? Yup, the Browns. It’s a weird time of year. That doesn’t mean we can’t watch the tape and learn some things around the league.
1. Nike knows who is on the right side of history
With about as much splash as you’d expect, Nike has begun teasing out their thirtieth anniversary Just Do It campaign, and man, are some folks grumpy. The first images depict Colin Kaepernick with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It’s a nod to the quarterback’s refusal to tell teams that he would stop his protests against police brutality going forward, even as he hunted for a new team. Kaepernick is the new face of Nike, and while it’s a gamble for the sporting goods giant, I think it’s a good one. As Kaepernick engages the NFL in a court case that alleges collusion to prevent him from signing with a new team after leaving San Francisco, the league still faces controversy between fans who understand the nature of these protests, and fans who refuse to learn what they are about. Kaepernick’s fate will be decided by a judge, instead of on a football field while somehow, Nathan Peterman has been tabbed to start week one in Buffalo and Brandon Weeden, Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler are all on rosters. Quick reminder, Kaepernick took the Niners to a Super Bowl a few years
back. Just saying. You don’t have be a football savant to know that Colin Kaepernick would give at least three or four teams a better chance to win than their current starter. Or that he’s decidedly better than most of the game’s second stringers. He’s out of the game for only one reason: because the continuing protests that he started in 2016 challenge the bedrock of white supremacy in this country and the owners are afraid that he’ll make more waves. They’ve released a milquetoast statement stating that the issues “ deserve our attention and action…”. Sorry, but you can’t un-ring a bell, gentlemen. Good for Nike. And good for Colin.
2. The Rams signing Aaron Donald means that they
know they have a chance We all knew that Aaron Donald would reset the market for defensive players when (not if) his deal with the Rams went down. It didn’t disappoint. The six-year, $135 million deal made him the highest paid defender in the league’s history. At least for a day (but more on Khalil Mack in a moment). What does that signal after Donald’s second year holding out? It signals that the Rams know that they are contenders. Right here, right now. Any more power plays or friction with their star defender would likely have caused more trouble than they’d be worth. We’ve all seen how things go when a frustrated player wants out. Frankly, Aaron Donald was right. He was being paid like a lower-mid tier player, and he’s the most important defensive player in the game and a sure-fire hall of famer. He’ll need a ring to go with that yellow jacket, and I can easily see him earning one this year.
3. The Raiders letting Khalil Mack skip town means that they know they don’t
We can debate all day long whether Jon Gruden can still feel the pulse of the modern game, but one thing is for sure: Gruden knows that Oakland can’t contend right now. That’s why bringing Khalil Mack back on a monster deal wasn’t in the cards. This defense has been putrid, and there’s no question that sending Mack to Chicago makes them worse, at least in the short term. I’m guessing that this deal will do two things. First, it makes the AFC West a two-horse race between the Chargers and Chiefs. Oakland probably can’t win any of those games without some serious luck. Second, it makes the NFC North feel just a little nastier, doesn’t it? The Bears are on the ascent, and trading for Mack, then making him the highest paid defender in history signals that they know they are close. The Bears were quietly a top ten defense last year, and they just got a LOT better. Does this make them better than the Packers or Vikings? Probably not. But it means those divisional games are going to be awesome this year. With another year or two to develop, their young quarterback could be leading a dynamic, balanced team that could go all the way.
4. The Steelers are playing a game of chicken
They will lose in the end. Le’Veon Bell has just witnessed Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack resetting the market for their positions. Bell has been looking to do the same thing for a couple years. He now knows that it’s possible. I really don’t see what the Steelers are trying to gain here with their disgruntled star. Very few backs can produce the way Bell can and his presence makes the Steelers offense vastly more dynamic. Letting him feel unwanted will only end one way. With him doing touchdown dances for a rival. Maybe the Steelers feel like they can get similar performance from a younger back. I’d like to see them try.
5. Shaquem Griffin is going to blow your mind
Sure, he dazzled at the combine and got drafted by the same team that took his brother, Shaquill, and it was a nice heart-warming story. But I’m not sure how many of you thought you’d see a one-handed linebacker making the 53-man roster at the end of camp. He’s not going to be limited to special teams, either. Shaquem Griffin can flat out play the game. He finished the Seahawks final preseason game with four tackles and three assists to lead the defense and has a legit chance to make the starting lineup next week against the Broncos. I’ve been rooting for the guy, but he doesn’t need my support, he’s clearly got more than enough game savvy and tenacity to play the game at the highest level. I’m looking forward to his first meaningful plays in the NFL.
Image source: Nike