Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance: NFL Finally Gets It Right in Expanding Replay
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 20: Tommylee Lewis #11 of the New Orleans Saints drops a pass broken up by Nickell Robey-Coleman #23 of the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 20, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C.  Cox/Getty Images)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The NFL‘s new pass-interference replay rule is a most welcome change, Robert Kraft is fighting to save his legacy and the Raiders may not be as all-in on Derek Carr as they say. All of that and more in this week’s 10-Point Stance.

1. Right on time

This week as coaches, team executives and owners met behind closed doors at the league meetings in Phoenix and debated expanding replay to include pass-interference calls, Saints coach Sean Payton passionately made his case in favor of change. League officials say his arguments were smart, and in the end, extremely convincing.

Now, some people in the league are calling the NFL’s decision to expand replay to include pass-interference in the last two minutes of each half “the Sean Payton rule.”

There are times when the NFL gets things massively wrong. This is one of the times when the league got something totally right, and Payton is the main reason.

The change comes two months after officials missed a pass-interference call on the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman late in the NFC title game. Around the NFL, this change is seen as one of the most significant rule shifts of the past few decades.

While the rule was implemented on a one-year trial basis, numerous league sources say it’s likely to stay. The only team to vote against the change was the Bengals because, well, they’re the Bengals.

That the rule was adopted so quickly is significant in a league not known for being collectively nimble or open to adaptation. The NFL occasionally is like a brontosaurus; it can get hit in the tail and won’t feel the impact until much later.

This was different, and it’s not a coincidence that Payton is the main impetus. Of course, some of this is self-interest, as it was the Saints who felt the full impact of the egregious non-call on Robey-Coleman. Had the flag been thrown, the Saints likely would have been in the Super Bowl, not the Rams.

But it’s more than that. Payton is one of the most innovative thinkers in the history of football, and overall, innovators hate when progress is slowed and doesn’t have to be. We all see the calls on television and on our phones. We know when the refs screw up. The league couldn’t keep acting like we don’t.

Payton, who is a member of the NFL’s competition committee, told Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams:

“I think it’s more about the football element [than a personal victory]. Honestly, when you’re on this committee, you really try to look more toward the history of the game. I just pulled up copies of … all these other [proposals] we’re not using to look at some day and be like, ‘Ah, these are the ones that didn’t pass.’ I think it’s more of that ‘owe it to the game’ that we have responsibility, and really, I mean that.

“This isn’t going to be perfect always, and we know that. The mere shape of the ball tells you it’s not going to bounce the same way. But these are fouls that the analysts are able to point and say, ‘Hey, they’re the most impactful fouls.’ I think we got it right.”

Did they ever. Big time.

2. A legacy in question

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Patriots owner Bob Kraft has long been one of the most popular owners in the NFL. The late Art Modell (of the Browns and Ravens) sometimes referred to Kraft as “Nice Guy Bob.” It wasn’t meant sarcastically.

Considered a genuinely nice man, Kraft wasn’t viewed as cutthroat or nasty, unlike many fellow owners. He was opinionated but fair, firm but decent, a nice rich guy.

Even though Kraft played politics to get a new stadium and battled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell over Spygate and Deflategate, he generally avoided the sometimes ugly reputation that other owners in the league have, such as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Until now.

Kraft has been charged with two counts of solicitation stemming from a Florida prostitution sting last month. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and issued a statement last week in which he apologized.  

(Kraft’s arrest came as a result of a wide-ranging investigation into human trafficking that included the spa he allegedly visited, which is obviously a much larger issue than the legacy of an NFL owner. But this is a sports column, so we’re only dealing with Kraft’s story here.)

Kraft isn’t fighting for his freedom. He likely won’t go to jail. Instead, he’s fighting for his legacy. He’s fighting for how football history views him.

That isn’t only as a six-time Super Bowl winner, but as one of the league’s good guys. After the past month, will he still be seen that way?

Some in the league believe Kraft will speak to several news outlets in the coming weeks and months and apologize again. This week, several of Kraft’s friends spoke to Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe about his agony in this moment. 

“Bob apparently made a serious mistake in judgment,” Jack Connors, a friend of Kraft’s who recently spoke with him, told Hohler. “But I think you will now see him redouble his efforts to do good things for the folks who have been victims in these kinds of cases. And if he follows through on supporting those kinds of charities, I’m going to be proud of my friend.”

People in the NFL also believe Kraft’s apology tour, stories like the one in the Globe and others to come are softening the ground and readying the public for what happens when the videos of Kraft’s encounters emerge. The smart money still says TMZ will get the video, but the sheriff in the case told CNBC’s Scott Zamost that the videos “are probably going to get released.” 

And as we all know from countless other scandals, it’s difficult to erase something from the memory banks once a video emerges unless you fight like hell to do so.

Time will tell if Kraft is successful.

3. Raiders keeping their options open

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

On Monday, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden tried to put to rest weeks of speculation by telling Jim Trotter of NFL Network that Derek Carr remains the team’s starting quarterback.

“Yeah, he’s going to be our quarterback,” Gruden said. “I’m not going to address all the rumors. I could care less about the rumors, you know? He threw for 4,100 yards. Threw for almost 70 percent in a very dire, tough circumstance. So I’ve got a lot of confidence in Carr, what he can do with Antonio Brown, with Tyrell Williams, with Trent Brown coming in here to help our offensive line, with a better defense. I’m excited about Carr.”

That may be true, but the Raiders, who hold the fourth overall pick in the draft, seem to be doing their due diligence on quarterbacks in the draft for a team supposedly settled at the position. 

According to Albert Breer of The MMQB, the Raiders will work out Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins next week. 

It’s a smart move by the Raiders, who’ve been making a lot of smart moves lately, like trading for wide receiver Antonio Brown. Just because Carr is the starting quarterback now doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t keep looking to improve, or at least find someone Gruden is fully in on.

I’m not the only one who believes Carr isn’t the long-term solution, and I can’t imagine the Raiders believe he is, either. Maybe that makes Haskins worth the gamble, as a lot of teams expect the Raiders will decide.

I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

4. A transformational player

Gail Burton/Associated Press

One day, when we all look back at the Jets acquiring Le’Veon Bell, I’m convinced it will be seen as one of the best free-agent signings of all time. (cc: @OldTakesExposed)

The reason why? Versatility.

People still dramatically undervalue how good Bell is. He has run for more than 1,200 yards while adding more than 600 receiving yards in three of his five NFL seasons.

Jets head coach Adam Gase recently discussed that with NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones.

“I love his variety,” Gase said. “I love that he could do everything. And I think the more film I watch since we’ve signed him, I think I tried not to tease myself too much by watching too much film.

“But since we have signed him, I’ve just amped it up and trying to figure out what has he done in Pittsburgh? You know, how far can we take him? What can we do in the passing game? What do we have to make sure we do right with him in the running game? How do we kind of build this thing around Sam [Darnold], him and some of the other pieces that we have? So you know, it’s been fun to watch, really go back and watch what he’s done in the past.”

My prediction: Bell will transform the Jets offense the way he did Pittsburgh’s, and it will be fun to watch. 

5. Well played, NFL, well played 

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 16:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is pursued by Roy Robertson-Harris #95 of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 16, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.The Bears defeated the Packers 24-17.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NFL bucked the tradition of having the previous year’s Super Bowl winners open the season in favor of scheduling the Packers and Bears to kick things off Thursday night this September.

That is a brilliant move for a number of reasons.

The NFL is entering its 100th season, so what could be more appropriate than starting with its oldest rivalry? And anytime we get to see Aaron Rodgers play, it’s a good thing. Not to mention, the Bears will be Super Bowl contenders.

It’s also a smart public relations move. Kraft’s solicitation case may still be in the public eye come September, which would make for some awkward moments if the Patriots were to play in the season opener.

6. The greatest

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - FEBRUARY 05: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots reacts during the Super Bowl Victory Parade on February 05, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

Billie Weiss/Getty Images

I’ve covered the NFL for 25 years, and I have never, ever seen a tight end as powerful, athletic and fast as Rob Gronkowski.

He announced his retirement Sunday, and his numbers alone should cement him as a Hall of Famer. 

In 115 regular-season games, Gronkowski had 521 receptions for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns. In 16 playoff games, he made 81 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 scores. As ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss noted, all of those playoff marks are records for a tight end.

Plenty more data speaks to Gronk’s greatness, but you get the point. He also did that at 265 pounds

More than just a unique receiver, he was also a hellacious blocker.

There wasn’t much Gronkowski couldn’t do. As a result, defenses had to shift massive resources to defend him. It isn’t as though Tom Brady needed the help, but Gronkowski opened up the New England offense.

Gronkowski will be remembered for a lot of things, but above all, he should be remembered as the best tight end ever to play the game.

7. The more things change, the more they stay the same

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 31: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady #12 chat before a preseason game with the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium on August 31, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Now that Gronk has called it a career, how will the Patriots adapt?

When you lose a player of his caliber, it hurts. But we’ve seen this song before with New England. By now, we can sing every lyric perfectly.

They’ve lost an extensive list of quality players, and there’s no need to recite it. But as always, they’ll adapt and keep winning.

None of us should be surprised to hear that familiar tune again next season.

8. Every picture tells a story

Mark Dalton @CardsMarkD

Say cheese: @NFL head coaches pose for group photo at the league’s Annual Meeting at the Biltmore in AZ https://t.co/n2PO6Ml4U5

NFL owners, general managers and coaches are meeting this week in Phoenix, and among rule changes and state-of-the-team addresses, the participants get together to hang out a bit. To commemorate, they usually take group pictures. 

While they are supposed to be portraits of camaraderie, you don’t need to look too closely to see they represent something more.

Mark Dalton, senior vice president of media relations for the Cardinals, tweeted this picture of the NFL’s head coaches. The lack of diversity was, well, striking. (Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who is African American, wasn’t present.)

Earlier that day, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted a picture of the league’s general managers. The lack of diversity was, well, even starker.

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

Twenty-eight of the NFL’s 32 General Managers…. https://t.co/gSTz6MNPou

The league knows its lack of diversity among coaches and general managers is a problem. These pictures underscored just how bad that problem is.

9. The ACL club

Plenty of NFL players suffer ACL tears every season, but it’s still staggering to see all of those names on one list. 

The Twitter account ACL Recovery Club compiled all 53 of the torn ACLs that NFL players suffered in 2018. 

ACL Recovery Club @ACLrecoveryCLUB

There were 53 torn ACL’s during the 2018 NFL season. Here is the list of every player 👇 https://t.co/GKkmQhQRNy

There are no conclusions to draw here. With roughly 1,700 players in the NFL, 53 torn ACLs may not be a lot.

Still, it provides yet another reminder of just how brutal the game is. That’s something to think about the next time someone gets upset over any player’s contract.

10. Watch this now

Dov Kleiman @NFL_DovKleiman

Bill Belichick+Paparazzi went as well as can be expected https://t.co/Ncti62vSY0

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick met the paparazzi recently, and it went exactly as you’d expect.

If you’re into awkward interactions, then follow my lead and watch this again and again. I promise you’ll laugh each time.

And if you aren’t into awkward interactions, it’s still a unique look at Belichick.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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