NFL IN THE CROSS HAIRS

To collude or not to collude, that is the question

Colin Kaepernick and now Eric Reid might expose more issues in the NFL. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Word hit the NFL Wednesday that former 49ers safety Eric Reid, brother of newly drafted Texans safety Justin Reid, has followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead in filing a grievance against the league alleging collusion to keep him from playing. The doubling of players filing collusion grievances will return to an afterthought again while the offseason rolls on, but I thought I would take a moment and address this and its potential impact on the league, which could go beyond the original intent.

First, Kaepernick is and continues to be a lightning rod in the NFL and its relation to politics and community interaction. When he began his protest, it split the country into groups either for or against him. His original intent was lost in the narrative of divisive political pandering that even the President of the United States Donald Trump used opposition to it as an issue to rally his base.

One such owner who has gotten himself into hot water over this and other issues is Texans owner Bob McNair. His comments in a league meeting about “inmates running the prison” was widely denounced at the time it was leaked, but further quotes from him have showed he is completely against the protest.

It was no surprise then that he was deposed this past March in the Colin Kaepernick case. He was not the only one, as Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has also been under the spotlight. But to many it was easy to look hard at the Texans. Especially in 2017 when starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who plays a similar style as Kaepernick, went down with a season ending injury and it was obvious his replacement wasn’t very good.

But it has been six months since his grievance was filed. More importantly it has been seven weeks since Eric Reid hit free agency and has had only one conversation with an NFL team, the Cincinnati Bengals. During that conversation Reid was asked directly about whether he would continue his protest and when he declined to provide a commitment that he would stop, he was left without an offer.

In their minds, and in the minds of others; both players are being blackballed because of their protest. Both players remain committed to it and both remain unsigned. But the interesting argument against them is simply their perceived lack of talent. And neither player can make a clear case that their play on the field makes them a shoe-in for the 53-man roster of an NFL team.

But in the bigger picture, the Kaepernick case is moving forward and the discovery process will include communications from owners across the league. Reid has hired the same attorney, Mark Geragos, to handle his case and will be privy to the same evidence. What comes out of that may or may not be damning, but it could expose how owners communicate their displeasure with players on any number of issues.

Beyond just collusion against these two players, there may be others who have ruffled a few feathers and have subsequently been withheld from rosters by owner collusion. Evidence may also show how much corporate sponsors play a role in this protest. Papa John’s Pizza has already been exposed in this regard. It’s not a stretch to assume that a lot the league’s dirty laundry may be aired during this process.

At a time when the NFL is facing bad PR from these anthem protests; they are also still dealing with the blowback from domestic violence incidents and the focus on head injuries, as well as other concerns from the public. They can ill afford more secrets being spilled. They also can’t afford to have more players jumping on this grievance claim, which is why they will have to throw everything they have at this to keep it out of the courts.

I can’t say what will happen because I’m sure both Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid will try their best to expose the ugly truth. They may not settle for anything less than an open airing of what has really kept them off an NFL roster.

As a final thought, how will this affect Texans rookie Justin Reid? His brother has just filed a grievance related to the anthem protest. Will he take up the mantle and kneel during the national anthem? Or will Bob McNair put the kibosh on it before he has a chance to start?

 



 

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The NBA is doing it right with their restart inside the Orlando Bubble at the Disney resort. A centralized location for the 22 teams picked to finish out the regular season and vie for the playoffs. A nice twist of a play-in for the eighth and final spot in each conference adds some intrigue. With teams not having to travel as extensively as they would under normal circumstances, this could have a positive effect on players and teams by them being more rested between games.

When I say it could benefit players and teams, I'm specifically talking about the Rockets. Head coach Mike D'Antoni typically employs a tight rotation when it comes playoff time. He's notorious for only playing a strict seven or eight man rotation. This usually overworks his starters who play close to 40 minutes per game or more. Meanwhile, guys that have gotten a decent amount of minutes are relegated to being cheerleaders with jerseys on. Given the current conditions, is small-ball sustainable in the bubble?

Yes: the extra rest will help

As previously stated, I believe the rest will help. James Harden and Russell Westbrook aren't spring chickens. Neither is P.J. Tucker or Eric Gordon. All four of these guys are keys to the Rockets being able to make a run. Given the lack of travel allowing for extra rest, I think the older guys who've played significant minutes and have overcome injuries will be better rested. Better rest and time to heal should give them a boost.

No: can't win being out-rebounded

In their impressive win over the East leading Bucks in their second game of the restart, the Rockets were out-rebounded by 29! Now the possession gap was tightened via the 23 turnovers they got from the Bucks, including several down the stretch. But you can't expect to be consistently out-rebounded and win.The last NBA champion to be out-rebounded by their opponents was the '12-'13 Miami Heat team who were loaded. This team isn't suprememly talented like that team was so I doubt they can overcome shortcomings on talent alone.

Yes: threes are more than twos

Three is greater than two. That is a fact that can't be debated. The fact that the Rockets shoot more threes than any team in the league isn't debatable either. Their shooting percentage on those threes (34.9%) ranks them 22nd in the league. But when you shoot roughly 45 a game and make about 16 of them yielding 48 points off threes, it makes the risk worth the reward. Not to mention long distance shots often give way to long rebounds which can help a team that doesn't play a regular player taller than 6'9.

No: defense is too inconsistent

The inconsistency at which this Rockets team plays defense could be their downfall. The way they played down the stretch against the Bucks is the way you'd hope they play all game. They stepped up when it counted in that game, but don't play that way consistently enough to be considered a real threat. When you score 118.7 a game, but give up 114.9 a game, you will always be in close games. Add the rebounding desparity, and that's a recipe for too many close games which they could end up losing if they aren't shooting well. When you can't get stops, you can't win. It's that simple.

Overall, this team has a shot to do sometihng special, but will need lots of things to go right for them. Do I think they have a shot at a title? Yes. Do I think the road will be tough? Yes. All it takes is 16 wins once the playoffs start. Being the best team in a best of seven series four times in a row is more daunting than it sounds. The confines of the NBA bubble make it a little more advantageous to the Rockets' style of play. But will their deficiencies impede their progress? That remains to be seen. Until then, let's enjoy the ride.

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