Colin Kaepernick, the National Football League’s lightning rod, continues to pursue litigation alleging collusion on the part of team owners.
On Sunday, ESPN reported that Roger Goodell will be deposed and asked to hand over all cellphone records and emails relating to Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the National Anthem in protest at perceived police brutality toward minorities in fall 2016. Among the owners deposed so far are some of the NFL’s most powerful, including the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Patriots’ Robert Kraft. Jed York, the San Francisco 49ers owner, will also be deposed. Kaepernick led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and an NFC Championship game in his time with the franchise before he opted out of his contract in March 2017 prior to being released. Kaepernick has not played a game in the NFL since.
In Kaepernick’s absence—not because of it directly, though as Forbes pointed out last week, there may be a tangential connection—the NFL has struggled through the first nine weeks of the 2017 season. Aaron Rodgers, the league’s best quarterback bar maybe an ageless Tom Brady, went down for the season, in all probability, with a broken clavicle sustained against the Vikings. Andrew Luck will not see a football field for “months,” according to NFL.com, as he attempts rehab from shoulder surgery. Luck was placed on injured reserve by the Indianapolis Colts last week and won’t play an NFL game until the start of the 2018 season. The league’s best running back, Ezekiel Elliott, is at the epicenter of a convoluted legal battle over a suspended suspension for alleged domestic violence that could or could not cost him playoff appearances—no one really knows, not even the NFL. On the defensive side of the ball, we won’t see J.J. Watt until the start of the 2018 regular season, either.
Then, last week, Deshaun Watson—one of the rare bright spots for the NFL in the 2017 season—tore his ACL in practice. Watson was on pace to break all sorts of rookie records for a Texans franchise that has been screaming for a quarterback to match its dominant defense. In came Tom Savage for Watson and down went the Texans to a redundant Colts team. “What we saw with the Houston Texans on Sunday wasn't just a glimpse of life without Deshaun Watson,” Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report wrote on Sunday. “It was a team wasting everything. Wasting its talent. Wasting its time. Wasting your time.”
"It's the most frustrating game of my career," Savage told the Houston Chronicle. Frustrating, too, for Texans fans potentially watching another season slip away in the entirely winnable AFC South. Frustrating for Goodell, for whom a flawed product is hard to sell. Frustrating for the television networks that have to sell that product to the viewers. The rest of the week nine slate wasn’t much better. Andy Dalton just existed for the Bengals in a defeat to the Jaguars. The Chiefs’ loss to the Cowboys in Arlington was pretty fun, as was the Panthers’ narrow win over the Falcons, who look nothing like the team that blew a Super Bowl. The Rams are good and proved it again by pasting the Giants, but no one in L.A. seems to care about football and if a touchdown lands with no one there to see it, does it really count?
But it may have been the Eagles’ blowout of the Broncos that encapsulated the NFL’s problem in 2017. “In a year without an overwhelming favorite, the Eagles are as close to dominance as the NFL has right now,” Judy Battista wrote for NFL.com on Sunday. After Watson went down, Carson Wentz may be the NFL’s most exciting young quarterback, especially when compared with his counterpart under center on Sunday, Brock Osweiler. Handed another chance to be the Broncos’ starter, Osweiler threw for two interceptions and 208 yards. If anything—and almost unbelievably—the Broncos’ offense seems to be getting worse as the season goes on.
“This [Houston] is a team that has a legitimate chance to make the Super Bowl, and it could still make it with Kaepernick,” Freeman writes. Ditto, surely, for the Broncos had they pulled the plug on Trevor Siemian/Osweiler a few weeks ago. Both teams could ride all-worldly defenses and competent quarterback play through the playoffs. But for whatever reason, they continue to ignore Kaepernick. And the NFL’s product continues to suffer.