If we’re being honest about 2017’s most impactful player then we have to say it was the quarterback who was deemed toxic for the crime of making us think
Someday people will look back at the just-completed 2017 NFL season and behold the brilliance of Tom Brady at 40 and Drew Brees at 38. They will marvel at how eight teams made the playoffs who had not done so last year. They will chuckle at Cleveland’s 0-16 record and wonder how the New York Giants could have tumbled to 3-13.
But these recollections will be footnotes in a record book. The 2017 NFL season had little to do with what happened on the field. It wasn’t about the quarterbacks who defied age but rather the quarterback who wasn’t there, the one who once nearly won a Super Bowl and then became too toxic to touch – all for the crime of making us think. If we are being honest about 2017’s most impactful player then we have to say it was not Brady or Brees or Carson Wentz or Todd Gurley or Aaron Donald for the touchdowns they scored and the quarterbacks they sacked. It was Colin Kaepernick for the contract he never got.
Kaepernick had already changed football in the summer of 2016 when he refused to stand for the national anthem. His plea for the nation to start a conversation about race moved other players to speak out as well, breaking through an unwritten edict that football players should be seen but not heard. By sitting he freed others to take stands they wouldn’t have dared to make.
He paid for this with his career. It wasn’t hard to see the sacrifice he was making. When the 49ers didn’t re-sign him last winter, the rest of the NFL soon followed. No team seemed willing to take a chance on a quarterback who awakened so many players and outraged fans who couldn’t understand how an athlete refused to stand for the anthem. Seattle considered him for a backup quarterback job, Baltimore’s coaches seemed interested in signing him only to be refused by the team’s owner who polled fans and decided he was too radioactive to add to the roster.
When US president Donald Trump tried to stir a nation’s anger against Kaepernick and the African American players who carried the unsigned quarterback’s protest into this season, he ensured the 2017 season wouldn’t be about the games. Owners turned against owners. Racial lines were drawn in locker rooms. Prominent league sponsors like Papa John’s threatened to pull their advertising. Games started with tallies of who stood and who didn’t for the national anthem. Players wondered why Kaepernick was being kept from the league. Many fans asked this, too.
In the end, the NFL will not be the same. The league has been forced to listen to the concerns of Kaepernick and other players. Social issues far from football are being discussed. While many of these conversations might be empty public relations stunts designed to get players to stand for the anthem again, the fact the league is having any talks at all is still progress. This is the season many players discovered they had voices on important matters and they learned to use them.
The longer Kaepernick goes unsigned the less likely it seems he will play again in the NFL, this despite the fact he is probably better than two-thirds of the quarterbacks in the league. Few around the NFL believe he should be sitting out. But even if he never throws another pass he will have impacted the league in ways that many of the other stars can’t. He made a football season about things other than football. He started a conversation and then kept it going.
In the end, that will be the enduring memory of 2017 – not a tackle or a touchdown. A sport that needed awakening is a little more socially conscious heading into 2018. Maybe someday we will look back at the four months that made up the 2017 season and say this was the year that football finally found a soul.
Fantasy player of the week
Matthew Stafford. Talk about too little too late. The Detroit Lions, playing for pride, playing for a winning season and perhaps even playing for coach Jim Caldwell’s job, got a game they desperately needed on Sunday in beating Green Bay, 35-11. Stafford, who was underwhelming in the previous Sunday’s 26-17 loss to Cincinnati that knocked Detroit from the postseason, was fantastic against the Packers. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
Of course, these are not the same Packers whose Super Bowl dreams died when quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone. And Sunday’s win might not have done anything for Caldwell whose job security has been in constant question despite being the only Lions permanent coach with a winning record in six decades. Before Sunday’s game, the NFL Network reported that the Lions will fire Caldwell and hope to replace him with New England’s defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
Stat of the week
586, 754. These are the rushing totals for Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, both of whom led their teams in rushing this season. It is the first time in the modern NFL era that two quarterbacks were the top rushers on their teams and raises the question of will this become more of a trend. NFL teams prefer their quarterbacks to remain in the pocket out of fear they will get hurt running around, but with the rise of players like Wilson and Newton whose elusiveness makes them better throwers, it’s likely more coaches let their quarterbacks run.
Neither Wilson nor Newton intended to lead their teams in rushing the way Philadelphia’s Randall Cunningham did four times in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Seattle went through six running backs this year, losing most to injury while the Panthers mix of Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart diluted their numbers, allowing Newton to out-rush them.
Ultimately, only Newton was able to run his team to the playoffs, though the Panthers lost the NFC South to New Orleans and will have to face the Saints on the road next weekend. The Seahawks, decimated by injuries, lost three of their last four games including a 26-24 defeat to Arizona on Sunday, finishing 9-7 and out of the postseason for the first time in six seasons.
Video of the week
And they complain that soccer players flop too much …
Maybe it says a lot about the Jets’ season that the only real shot they had to take down the Patriots was this spike from receiver Robby Anderson that bounced off the turf on the Gillette Field sideline and smacked Johnson Badamosi in the helmet. After a surprising 3-2 start, New York quickly plummeted to the bottom the AFC East. Sunday’s 26-6 loss to New England was the final dreary blow in a 5-11 season too wretched to savor and yet too successful to land them the first overall draft pick.
As for the Patriots, Badamosi might be one of New England’s few flops in a season that took off in October. In the end, this has been one of the Pats’ most efficient seasons with equally as effective offenses and defenses. Somewhere in the playoffs someone will give them a game, but with home field through the AFC championship game, it’s hard to imagine which team that will be.
Quote of the week
“Paul Stark passed away December 27, 2017 of complications from a brief illness, exacerbated by the hopeless condition of the Cleveland Browns” – from an obituary in the Sandusky (Ohio) Register
Fittingly for the Browns their season ended the only way it should: with receiver Corey Coleman dropping a fourth-down pass at the 11-yard line that would have given Cleveland a last chance at winning their first game of the year. As far as drops go this was as comical and head-smacking as any should be in a 0-16 season. The ball simply rolled through his hands before clunking off his helmet. skittering away and securing a 28-14 loss to Pittsburgh.
No one should blame Coleman, however. This season was a collective effort. Few Browns players escape blame for the disaster that unfolded. Cleveland is the second team in NFL history to go winless since the 16-season was introduced in 1978. The other, the 2008 Detroit Lions, recovered to go 10-6 three years after their 0-16 year. For the Browns, though, the losing has been established as last season’s team went 1-15 and 2015’s was 3-13. The good news is they can’t go 0-17 next season. The even better news is they have two picks among the first five in April’s draft, including No1. Sooner or later, they are bound to be much better than this.
Elsewhere around the league
• Oakland fired coach Jack Del Rio after a disappointing 6-10 season that included a 30-10 loss to the Chargers on Sunday. The firing allows the Raiders to pursue former coach Jon Gruden, who has been working on ESPN’s Monday Night Football the past few years after winning a Super Bowl back in the 2002 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
• New Orleans clinched the NFC South despite losing 31-24 to Tampa Bay. Drew Brees threw for 245 yards and a touchdown in the defeat.
• Tennessee made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, clinching a wild card spot with a 15-10 victory over Jacksonville. Marcus Mariota threw and ran for touchdowns in the victory for the Titans, who finished 9-7.
• Baltimore looked certain to have wrapped up a wild card spot until Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left to give the Bengals a 31-27 victory and put Buffalo (who beat Miami, 22-16) into the playoffs.
• Kirk Cousins was intercepted three times in what may well be his final game in the nation’s capital as Washington lost 18-10 to the Giants.
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