Newton shows some NFL teams are still clueless about signing QBs

NFL teams recently showed once again recently that they often don’t tend to get the quarterback position.

When Cam Newton hit the market, the Browns were the only team to even show an interest until the Patriots scooped him up for a bargain basement price of $500,000 guaranteed on a minimum base salary of just over $1 million that maxes out at $7.5 million if he hits all the incentives.

It was described as a gamble for the Patriots but there is no gamble. If he doesn’t beat out Jarrett Stidham for the starting job, they can cut him and he will only cost a half million, which is rookie salary money.

They spent the offseason acting as if they were committed to Stidham but that may have been a smokescreen.

So now that the Patriots have Newton, what were the rest of the teams thinking?

Granted, he could be a gamble. He is coming off a Lisfranc injury, which is devastating for a running quarterback, and he couldn’t work out for teams because of the league shutdown. And his shoulder problems are troubling.

And he wanted a place where he could start. He didn’t want to take a backup job the way Jameis Winston did for $1.1 million in New Orleans, where he could replace Drew Brees next year. Winston lost bargaining power because he was an interception machine last year even though he led the league in passing yardage and is the first quarterback to do that and not to start the following year.

Newton’s problem was that he was hurt the last two years. If he’s healthy, the Patriots will be a contender again despite Brady’s departure.

And look at what some of the teams that passed on Newton did.

Chicago traded for Nick Foles and guaranteed him $21 million over three years. Newton would have wanted more from the Bears than he got from the Patriots but he isn’t any more risky than Foles, who had a broken clavicle last year and nobody knows how he will recover from that.

Or look at the Los Angeles Chargers. They drafted Justin Herbert as their quarterback of the future. But will he be ready this year without an offseason? Tyrod Taylor is their alternative. Would Newton have been a better choice for a year?

The Jaguars are betting on Gardner Minshew and ignored Newton. This is a team that bypassed Patrick Mahones, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson in two consecuctive drafts because they believed in Blake Bortles. That was a great example of a team that doesn’t get it.

So when Newton didn’t get any better offers, Newton took the Patriots’ offer that Richard Sherman called “disgusting” and “ridiculous.”

Newton brushed off the talk about his low salary by saying on Instagram that it’s not about the money. It is about the respect. And Newton has already made $100 million in his career, so signing with the Patriots may have been the best option for him.

Now we find out if Newton is healthy and how good he is coming off his injuries.

If he can still be a top quarterback, he will make big money next year from the Patriots, who can franchise him, or from another team.

But if he is a good quarterback, some of the teams that weren’t willing to take a chance on him will look foolish.

He will become another example of how NFL teams often don’t get it when it comes to signing quarterbacks.

Bittersweet vindication for Kaepernick

I used to say the verdict of history would vindicate Colin Kaepernick and he would be remembered as a civil-rights icon like Rosa Parks.

I was thinking this would happen 10 or 20 years from now.

I didn’t realize it would take only three years.

It turns out Kaepernick was ahead of his time in kneeling for the national anthem to protest police brutality against blacks.

His critics – including Donald Trump – said he was disrespecting the flag while NFL teams refused to hire him.

When he started kneeling, the majority of Americans thought the killings of blacks by police were isolated incidents. Now the majority doesn’t think that.

What changed is that in the cellphone era, police incidents of violence against blacks were caught on video tape.

And then came the eight minutes and 46 seconds when an officer killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck.

That video changed America and led to protests all over the nation.

And it changed the NFL.

When commissioner Roger Goodell first issued a bland statement, players were outraged and with the help of an NFL employee put together a video expressing their dissatisfaction.

That led to Goodell’s apology in which he said they should have listened to the players about the protests and that the league encourages peaceful protests.

And even before that, Drew Brees and his wife both apologized publicly for not recognizing kneeling was not disrespecting the flag but a protest against police brutality.

Trump, of course, knocked Brees for apologizing and Goodell for his statement, but Goodell knows he has to stand with the players to be on the right side of history.

Unfortunately, Goodell didn’t mention Kaepernick. That was still a bridge too far for him.

It remains to be seen if Kaepernick will get hired. Goodell’s words will seem shallow if he isn’t.

But if the NFL plays the anthem this fall before games – they might skip it since there will probably be no fans in the stands – players will be kneeling.

And Kaepernick, whether he plays or doesn’t play, will be remembered as a man ahead of his time.

NFL needs to pick up minority hiring where Rooney left off

As the NFL grapples with its minority hiring problem, one thing is becoming obvious.

The Rooney Rule doesn’t work without Dan Rooney.

Or, as his wife, Patricia, said in a book “A Different Way To Win” about Rooney by one of his sons, Jim, “Maybe they thought when he left, the (Rooney) rule left.”

There are many reasons for the NFL’s woeful record on minority hiring in the front office and coaching ranks in a league where over 70 percent of the players are minorities. Among them are cronyism, nepotism and the lack of minority owners.

But the absence of Rooney, who died in 2017, has been a major factor in the league’s lax record in recent years.

There were six minority coaches in 2005 and eight by 2011. It then took a dip before going back to eight in 2017 and 2018 and now it is down to four.

Jim Rooney’s book goes into much detail on how Rooney not only lobbied to get the Rooney Rule passed in 2003, but kept the issue on the front burner and encouraged his fellow owners to hire minorities.

But he took a step back from league affairs in 2009 to become the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

And nobody in the league picked up the torch, leading the league’s executive vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent, to say in a recent conference call that the league has a broken system.

Vincent can’t knock his boss, but another problem is that commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t exactly been a leader in the campaign to promote minority hiring.

And his proposal to give teams that hire minorities improved draft position was a nonstarter.

Although the league did pass some measures to take a step in the right direction. The owners agreed two minority candidates must be interviewed for head coaching jobs and there has to be at least one minority interview for the coordinator jobs. And one minority candidate for the senior football position, usually the GM.

And teams can’t deny assistant coaches to be interviewed by other teams even if they are under contract.

They also have to interview minorities or women for all senior positions including club president and executive roles in communications, finance, human resources, legal. football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology and security.

But if things are going to improve in a major way, Goodell needs to step up and lobby the owners to hire more minorities. He has to do the work behind the scenes to make it happen. He has said he talks with each owner at least once a month. Minority hiring has to be a big part of those conversations.

The buck stops at Goodell’s desk now to fill Rooney’s role since none of the other owners have stepped up to the plate.

If things don’t start improving, he has to take responsibility for not finding ways to convince teams to hire more minorities.

Granted, he can’t order them to do it but he can find ways to convince them that it is good for the league and the teams to improve their minority hiring.

Goodell needs to pick up Rooney’s torch.

Leagues need to slow down with restart efforts

When one player tested positive for Covid 19 in March, the NBA shut down immediately.

That was then. This is now.

The sports leagues are eager to get back to playing, even though they admit some players will test positive.

The NFL is the most vulnerable because it has more players than the other sports.

Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s top medical officer, said in a recent conference call that obviously football and physical distancing are not compatible.

“We fully expect we will have positive cases that arise because this disease is endemic in our society,” he said.

“Our challenge is to identify them as quickly as possible and to prevent spread to other participants,” he added. “Everyone that’s around each other in a football environment is going to share risk.”

Not exactly. The owners won’t be sharing the risk.

And just because the players are young and healthy doesn’t mean they can’t have severe consequences. Just listen to Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times editorial board who wrote about getting the virus.

“The day before I got sick, I ran three miles, walked 10 more, then raced up the stairs to my fifth-floor apartment as always, slinging laundry with me as I went,” she wrote.

Then she got the virus and her life changed.

“The second day I was sick, I woke up to what felt like hot tar burned into my chest. I could not get a deep breath unless I was on all fours. I’m healthy. I’m a runner. I’m 33 years old.”

In the emergency room, she was asked if she smoked or had pre-existing conditions. The answer was no.

The doctor replied, “I wish I could do something for you.”

She said she was one of the lucky ones. She didn’t need a ventilator and survived. But 27 days later, she still had lingering pneumonia.

“I use two inhalers, twice a day. I can’t walk more than a few blocks without stopping.”

Her plea to America was, “Please take this virus seriously.”

The question is whether the sports leagues are taking it seriously enough.

It could be players who are infected will have minor cases. But the virus can cause permanent lung damage, which could have severe consequences for the rest of their careers.

The sports leagues, including the NFL, will try to take a lot of precautions.

But the players and the leagues may ultimately regret opening in the middle of a pandemic.

New book details Dan Rooney’s huge impact on NFL

When Dan Rooney was the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, he had an interesting way of communicating with President Obama.

He sent him postcards.

Instead of bothering the president with phone calls or emails, he would jot down a few thoughts on the front of a postcard and send them to the White House via the president’s aide, Reggie Love. On the back of the postcards, of cards, were lovely pictures of Ireland.

That vignette was one of many about the life of Dan Rooney chronicled by one of his sons, Jim, in a book entitled, “A Different Way to Win: Dan Rooney’s Story from the Super Bowl to the Rooney Rule.”

Rooney is known to most fans as the oldest son of Art Rooney Sr., the founding father of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He started running the team in the late 1960s and under his direction, the Steelers became one of the most successful teams in sports. They have won six Super Bowls and have a national and international following.

But it is Rooney’s approach that makes him a unique figure in the history of the NFL, which has become a multi-billion-dollar empire fixated on ways to increase revenue.

Rooney was not driven to accumulate wealth. He was, as Jim Rooney writes, “never comfortable with the amount of wealth that he personally gained. And even more so, he felt the largest impediment to long-term success was in regard to the willingness of those involved to continue to strive for the highest levels of excellence once wealth was achieved.”

He also lectured his children about not putting on airs, although his wife, Patricia, joked that she wasn’t sure they all got the message.

He warned his children, “Don’t make money your god. If you believe money is going to make your life easier and solve your problems, you’re wrong. It’s education. That will determine if you are happy, if you are successful.”

Before the team played in Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix, most of the Steelers contingent attended an NFL party, and he teased them about going to a “rich dudes” party. He and his wife got in their rented Ford and drove to a nearby Denny’s because he said he wanted to do “something normal” the night before the game.

Jim Rooney also writes that his plan was that the Steelers would win championships, but he wanted them “to be great in all things.”

He wanted people who worked for the Steelers to think broadly, to read and learn about things that were uncommon and done well, and then to bring greatness to every effort in their daily lives and work.

He wrote very specifically about what he expected each person within the organization to do. He kept the plans in the credenza behind his desk and would refer to it often.

It included a sense of purpose and he believed that the team should be doing something that was meaningful for football and also for Pittsburgh.

When fans came to the game, he wanted them to feel it was an enriching experience, and when people thought about the Steelers, he wanted them to have a sense that the Steelers were about more than wins and losses.

He also hired the right people. One of them was Joe Gordon, described by Jim Rooney as Dan’s his most important business partner. Most books on the Steelers overlook Gordon’s role in implementing Dan Rooney’s vision and putting his own stamp on the team.

“He became Rooney’s closest collaborator in what we would now call marketing and branding,” Jim Rooney wrote.

Gordon’s role involved much more than just being a PR type. “Gordon was a one-man band, arranging interviews and sponsorship deals, booking player appearances and always keeping an eye on what was being written and said about the team,” Jim Rooney wrote.

He said Gordon and Rooney were a perfect match because they would argue but not compete with each other, and that Dan created an environment where, as with his other executives, he and Gordon could freely share their ideas and hash them out.

But while they saw the value of marketing, they didn’t go overboard.

Dan once sent commissioner Roger Goodell a football jersey resembling a NASCAR driver’s uniform, adorned with sponsorship decals and corporate logos. He was sending a message that they needed to draw a line on marketing.

“Our business is the game, we’re not in this to make all the money in the world,’’ Rooney once told The New York Times. “I think some other teams still do things our way. But on this, we might be the last guy on the mountain.”

As the league tries to find more and more ways to increase revenue, he may well have been the last guy on the mountain.

Rooney even hated to see blue-collar fans who could barely afford it wearing too much Steelers gear because he felt the league was exploiting them.

The league even once had an idea of signs wrapped around the goal posts that read, “Feel the Power.” Rooney ordered them removed. When the league told him they had to stay up, Rooney replied, “We’re not feeling the power.”

He also opposed expanding the season, which will be extended to 17 games in the new CBA and probably eventually to 18 in the next one.

“I would rather not get the money (from expanding the season),” Dan said, “You have a system that works. Why add them?”

He often said when he left a stadium, “Pull down the center pole.”

Jim Rooney writes that Dan always felt the spectacle of NFL games was not better than the circus and that the league should never forget that.

It has already forgotten that.

Although Dan Rooney was noted for having a stable organization – the team has had just three head coaches in a half century – he has made tough decisions like firing his own brother, Art Jr., as head of personnel (a decision I still question) and firing a personnel executive, Tom Donahoe, who was the grandson of the man who presented Art Rooney Sr. at his Hall of Fame induction.

And when he died in 2017, he left the organization in stable hands with his oldest son, Art Rooney II, in charge.

Despite his impact on making the Steelers the team they are today, it could be argued that he had even more important accomplishments in being a close confidant of three commissioners, devising “The Rooney Rule” to improve minority hiring in the NFL and as ambassador to Ireland.

Long before he became ambassador, he worked behind the scenes to bring peace to Ireland in the era known as The Troubles.

President Clinton acknowledged the role he played in building bridges in the decades before the peace process.

Clinton said so much of what took place in the 1990s “would not have been possible without what (Rooney) did for 15 or 20 years before the so-called process started.”

And The Rooney Rule changed not only the NFL but corporations around the world, and a version was adopted in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Unfortunately, the NFL has not been making as much progress in minority hiring as it did with Rooney being on the scene to prod his fellow owners.

As Patricia Rooney said, “Maybe they thought when he left, the rule left.”

It is another example of how much Rooney’s vision is missed in today’s NFL.

The likes of his leadership may never be seen again in the NFL.